April 2010


Erin was nominated for the “Princeton Bookclub Award” and none of us knew what that was. After a bit of research and some info from the Princeton alumni organization, we learned that is a pretty cool thing and that only two juniors are nominated from each school.

A few of these were invited to a thing at TU for the actual awards. Erin got invited to this along with maybe 10 others. There was much blah blah about what an honor it was to be nominated, etc but in the end that seems to be true. They had brought in a speaker: Sheila Kohler – author of several novels, at least one of which made it to the New York Times best seller list. She is also a Princeton lecturer.

But the coolest part is that in introducing the essay part (which is how they choose the four winners because everybody has a perfect GPA to start with) Erin’s essay was quoted at least four times.

Even though she wan’t chosen to win (the prize was a book autographed by the speaker), she was totally pumped that her essay was quoted more often than any other. Also when the speaker was describing some of the extracurricular activities of the nominees, Erin’s were mentioned several times.

Erin was pretty excited as were we as parents. She was also strangely satisfied that the winners were all really nerdy and could barely make eye contact with anybody.

This is the first of a number of things that are coming up in our near future as she rolls into her senior year.

And then I came home and burned trash in a wheelbarrow. I just don’t know where else in the US besides Oklahoma that you could do that.

The fence must go on but it nearly got me on Saturday.

I was at a corner which meant that I had to tear down two sections; one on each side of the corner. I bought a load of pickets and a few other things Friday night and got to work the next morning.

Luckily I had no rotten posts but one of them was at a weird distance from the next one so once again, I have evidence that the builder was an idiot. Or at least he didn’t measure anything. I say ‘he’ because a woman would never tolerate such asymmetry.

I actually used up a five pound box of screws and had to charge my drill batteries several times. I’m building up my stamina but still managed to completely exhaust myself as well as get my back and knees to aching but that wasn’t permanent.

I also took some action on the ever growing pile of old pickets. I’ve been trying to think of something cheap that I could use to burn them in because they are so dried up and rotten they burn like paper. I haven’t been able to find anything cheaper than a wheelbarrow so I figured I’d just burn them in my old wheelbarrow and then pitch it and buy a new one when needed. I sort of break even that way. It has wooden handles so I had to squirt them with a hose periodically to keep them from bursting into flame. That wouldn’t be so bad but I should probably try to keep as much mobility as possible for awhile.

On Sunday I took it a little easier by only disposing of a few pickets and spraying the house for ants. I’m not sure why these ants have been appearing since they never get into the food but simply appear one or two at a time in every room of the house. At any rate I went to my brother in law who has a bottle of Diazinon left over from the old days before it was banned. It’s a commercial grade concentrate and so lasts forever. I helped him use just a bit more as I sprayed a swath all around my house.

We have some new neighbors who bought the abandoned house across the street. They seem nice; we caught them as they were working in their flower beds.

So except for the extreme fatigue, things went well.

Evan occasionally refers to any scruffy looking man beside the road as a hobo. Little did he know (until I told him) that his own Papaw had hopped freight trains back in the Great Depression back when such people were really called hobos.

As usual, I myself heard the story while we were watching History Channel and Dad made an off-handed comment about the show we were watching. The show involved hopping freight trains and I mistakenly thought the phrase meant that you actually hopped on board while it passed by. He said:

“No, you just got on before the train started. It wasn’t hard.”

I was incredulous. I said:

“You mean you’ve done it?”

As If he’d been a criminal or something.

He told me all about it.

“Lot’s of men hopped freights back then. We were all out of work and had nothing else to do. We’d hear gossip about how there might be jobs in some other town and we’d hop a freight there.”

Apparently if they got where they were going and there weren’t jobs (which was most of the time), they’d just hop a freight back. Evidently it was easy to find out what the train schedules were and freight trains apparently kept to a regular schedule.

You’d just find a good spot and get on before the train started and stay hidden as best you could. He said it wasn’t too hard unless they had Pinkerton guards which they called “bulls”.

The best spots were underneath some boxcars where there were pieces of metal hanging down. If you could find some boards to lay across these, you’d have a fairly comfortable place to lay down for quite awhile but the ‘professional’ hobos usually got those spots.

If you were lucky, a boxcar would be open or unlocked and you could hide in there. The worst spots were the spaces between the cars standing on a coupler or hanging on the ladder. That was also dangerous.

His most memorable trip was from Camden to Memphis where he couldn’t find a good spot and ended up behind the tender between it and the first boxcar.

The fireman quickly noticed him after they were underway and motioned him forward into the cab. He was then given a choice: he could jump off right then and there or he could shovel coal for the fireman. He chose the shoveling.

So from about Hampton to Memphis, he shoveled coal into the firebox and eventually emptied the entire tender, stopping for a break only when the train stopped for water. He said that he had never in his life been more tired or more dirty. He was covered head to toe in coal dust and was not fit to apply for any jobs had there been any to apply for.

That did not stop him or anybody else though. His only other story involved being forced off a train as it pulled out of town. Apparently a railroad bull with a .38 caliber revolver is incentive enough to jump from a moving train even at the expense of a sprained ankle.

These stories always make me wonder what other stories there were that I never got the chance to hear.

I spent 12 hours at work the other day. It’s a darned shame that thou shalt not blog about work because I think my job is more interesting than the average pizza delivery job and would make some good blog entries. Unfortunately, I’ll just have to say that I spent a long time in a dark room and leave it at that.

Years ago, I read a joke on the Internet on a pilots website. It told of a sign in an airport men’s room over the urinal that said:

“Pilots with short pitot tubes and/or low manifold pressure – taxi in close.”

I now work in a place where several of the engineers have their pilot’s license so I decided to tell that story to one of them.

His response was:

“Manifold pressure? That doesn’t make sense. The manifold pressure is usually low. It’s a vacuum – or at least lower than ambient. Manifold pressure usually means intake manifold.”

Me: “Yeah but you get it right?”

Him: “I suppose it could mean exhaust manifold pressure but you don’t usually care about that.”

Me: “Yeah, but it’s funny because they obviously didn’t want people getting pee on the floor. Or the rim of the toilet.”

Him: “It would be better to say something like ‘cylinder head pressure’ – that would work.”

Me: “Never mind.”

Him: “But you don’t usually have an instrument reading for that.”

Me: “Just shut up. The humor is gone now.”

Him: “For that matter you don’t really care about the length of the pitot tube either.”

Me: “I’m done. I’m going back to my desk now. Forget I ever said anything.”

This is fairly typical of conversations with engineers who are also pilots. I don’t try to tell them jokes any more.

The weather was not terribly conducive to more fencing this weekend. Nor was it conducive to having a garage sale but Mel did it anyway.

This was a fundraiser for Evan so we were mostly selling his old stuff. I hated to see those Legos go; I had plans for those in the future but those of course were some of the most valuable items. They all sold at full price.

The weather wasn’t actually rainy on Friday yet so she did pretty well. It started to rain Saturday but not heavily so she could carry on. We had the advantage of being able to hold it in her sister’s garage. Her sister lives in a nice house near ours but they had the misfortune of having a Wal-Mart supercenter move in across the street. This makes for great garage saleing though because anybody pulling out of the Wal-Mart parking lot looks directly towards the sale. They get a lot of traffic with no advertising.

They earned about $300 all together so it was worth doing. That gets him about halfway there.

It kept sprinkling off and on but held off long enough to let Erin and company get their dresses on and get to the prom. It pretty much poured all day Sunday which effectively put the kibosh on any of my outdoor plans. That was cool with me though; I always have plenty of things to do inside as well.

So it was another typically busy weekend. I always have more things on my list than I can get done but that keeps the boredom away.

Saturday was prom night. Erin isn’t a senior and so wasn’t technically invited but she’s on “junior board” which is a group of juniors that help put the prom on. They got to dress up and go set tables and enjoy many of the benefits. They certainly had fun. They all met at a friend’s house and left in a flock. Some good photos came out of the event.

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