Hilton Als, writing in the New Yorker this week, will absolutely blow you away. Make time.
A marketing mail from a neo-trad menswear line I’ve bought from:
Let’s talk about working from home.
So the whole damn world is on lockdown, or should be, and those of us that can work from home are doing so. This is good! It’s better for the economy — which is absolutely going to take a hit, so having some portions able to continue to function and those employed in those portions able to keep spending money will help the recovery.
(And, let me just say this out loud: If you’re in a job that isn’t impacted, and you expect to keep getting a check, SPEND SOME DAMN MONEY at places that are hurting.)
But working from home is a new idea to lots of you. You might never have really done it before — sure, that one time little Sally Sue had the sniffles, and you “worked from home” to take care of her, but at the time it meant you called into a staff meeting and sent 12 emails. This, candidly, is not that.
I, on the other hand, have worked from home for most of the last 19 years, in a no-shit home office. Let me tell you a few things I’ve learned about being truly productive away from a communal office environment.
Work your regular day. It’ll be tempting to drift in and out; that just sabotages you. Try to get some shit done. Nobody’s gonna come by and chatter about some stupid reality show! There’s no big play to discuss from last night! You can be hella productive!
Use a chat tool. Doesn’t matter what it is — my company just uses plain old Skype — but by signing in and being available, you signal to folks that you’re In The (Virtual) Office. This is useful. There are lots of options for this; ask a nerdy coworker if one of them seems to mesh better with your office than others.
Get dressed. This varies — not everyone needs to do it — but I’d advise y’all that are new to WFH to go ahead and get up at your normal time, take a damn shower, and put on adult clothes. You don’t need to dress in full biz-casual, but do put on a pair of pants and a decent shirt. Then, you can signal to yourself that you’re DONE working by changing into lounge clothes after quitting time.
Establish boundaries. There’s a real tendency in new WFH folks to let the barrier blur a LOT between work-time and family/personal time. Don’t do this, at least not at first. Again, you’re new to this mode of work, so take care to avoid disrupting either home life or work life by allowing one to intrude on the other. (I do this by only RARELY taking my laptop out of my home office.)
Designate a work space, and keep to it. Not everyone has the space for a true dedicated home office, but everyone can establish a place that is Work. Don’t make it the couch. Use one end of your kitchen table, or put something together in a corner that is now Your Office. Stay there when you’re working. It’s waaaaaay too easy to let “I can work ANYWHERE” get in the way of actually getting shit done, so don’t vary from this rule until you have a pretty good handle on it.
If this becomes an ongoing thing, buy (or expense!) a desk. A chair, too. I’ve seen some WFH setups that made MY back hurt just looking at them. Ergonomics still matters if you’re at home; take care of yourself here. You don’t have to go nuts on this stuff; just get something that’ll work.
Buy a headset. Seriously, buy a damn headset. Don’t be the guy who joined the telecon on a speakerphone and introduces crazy echo into the call. They’re not expensive, and don’t have to be giant heavy affairs. Mine is super light.
Upgrade your home internet. Since I work at home full time in a major city, I have the fastest internet connection you can buy (1Gbit symmetric). This is probably more than you need, but if you’ve only ever been occasionally streaming Netflix and scrolling Facebook, you may find the demands of constant conference calls and screen sharing and VPN connections to exceed the capabilities of your package. Talk with your provider about a bump, especially if your office will subsidize the increase.
Bring your second monitor home, if you’re used to using one. This is self-explanatory — just do it. While you’re at it, grab your mouse and keyboard, too, if you prefer them to your laptop.
Close the door. If you’re not at home alone during the day, close the door to your work area if you can. I realize this may not be possible if you’re also juggling your suddenly un-schooled kids, but if you CAN do this it’s a good idea.
Embrace the flexibility. You’re at home! This means you can, if you want, get a load of laundry done, or put something in the slow cooker, or do something similar with your coffee breaks. Don’t slack off this way, but you absolutely can and should lean into this aspect of WFH — it can be a real game changer. (At our house, if I didn’t do some of the laundry during the workday, we’d DROWN in workout clothes.)
Finally, you CAN and SHOULD (if it bothers you) say NO to video. Video rarely adds much to a conference call, and makes many people feel self-conscious. It also clobbers your bandwidth. Your camera can be “broken” or “for some reason it’s not working” or, if you’re senior enough, you can just say no. Video is great for talking to your mom or other loved ones, but in a biz context it’s mostly sizzle with no steak except in pretty narrow contexts. Avoid.
So, this guy was curious why his workbench was getting tidied at night….
No greater honor has this humble blog ever received than the news from longtime Heathen Ear O’Corn that this site is blocked at Shell due to “adult content.”
A while back, the longstanding Mac developer and blogger Brent Simmons noted that his site, Inessential, was now 20 years old.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that, well, MiscHeathen hit 19 years on 29 November.
In that first short month, I posted only one other time; it amuses me greatly that this first proper entry is actually about Lindsey and her journey to Russia. Lindsey was then the (relatively new?) girlfriend of my longtime best pal Eric. 19 years later, she’s been his wife for 13 years, and is mother to Heathen Godchild E. B., with whom we trimmed a Christmas tree on Sunday.
Obviously, I post way less in these days of social media than I did before, but as folks realize what a cesspool Facebook is I’m endeavoring to share things here more often.
Time was, people kept squirrels for pets.
This Twitter feed will inform you when certain parties pass what they refer to as the (Wilford) Brimley / Cocoon Line, which means they are now as old as Brimley was when he starred, as an “old person,” in the 1985 film of the same name.
At that time, Brimley was 18,530 days old, which is about 50 years and 8 months. (You may be surprised he was that young at the time; I know I was.)
Some recent entries:
- Jennifer Aniston
- Bobby Brown
- Mo Rocca
- Patton Oswalt
- Jason Bateman
- Dave Grohl (as well as every member of Pearl Jam)
- Marilyn Manson
- Brendan Fraser
- Lucy Liu
Also, Lenny Kravitz is 4 years older than Brimley was. Keanu Reeves is a year older than that.
(Before you ask: Quick match suggests I’ve got about 13 months; Mrs Heathen is even farther.)
The Atlantic has a 1989 retrospective up as its photo feature this week.
In January of 1989, I was a freshman at Alabama, and I had NO idea that I’d meet Erin in just a few short months.
In 1998, I went dove hunting with some pals from Dallas.
I wrote about it for my own amusement, and ran the piece on my web site at the time (the ancestor to Miscellaneous Heathen, which didn’t go online until two years AFTER this piece was written).
It’s fall again, and I realized that it’s utterly criminal that this little bit of fun has been offline for quite some time, so I present it here, again, for your amusement. Enjoy.
Lawyers, Guns & Money
Return of the Native: Wherein our Intrepid Texas Correspondent Rediscovers His Hunting Roots
I am part Cracker, though you wouldn’t know it to look at me. I grew up in Mississippi, where my family has lived for generations. I hunted, camped, and fished; I drove a pick-up truck to high school; I owned boots. It was something of an oddball combination, though, at least – certainly – to outsiders. Weekends might begin in a field west of town shooting at birds and end with dinner at the Country Club, all with the same assortment of bankers, lawyers, doctors, and real estate developers. There’s an odd sort of gentility to these things in the South, so it never struck me as odd that Larry Foote would drive his Porsche to both dove hunt and dinner, or that Cadillacs matched pickups at most expeditions.
Somehow, I lost much of this in college. I left for Alabama at 18 and promptly became a tortured (okay, mostly just drunk) intellectual type, perfectly willing to discuss the meaning of life or the existence of God until 4:30 in the morning during the week as long as the other side of the conversation was cute enough or there were drugs enough to make it interesting. Both if I was lucky. I stayed in Tuscaloosa most of the time, venturing home rarely, and lost – to some degree – a bit of the old-school Faulknerian whiskey-soaked hunting ambiance of my youth. I should have known, however, that this wasn’t to be a permanent state.
By 1994, I’d moved to Houston. Houston is hotter, flatter, and more muggy than anything in Alabama or Mississippi, but I fell in love with it anyway. The combination of international business, flabbergasting amounts of eighties-style oil money, and old-fashioned Texas-dialect Southernism agreed with me, and still does. Slowly, I noticed I was becoming more like home than I had been in Alabama, and I didn’t mind. My drawl returned with a vengeance, particularly with alcohol. I bought boots again. I drank local beer. So when a pal from Dallas invited me on a dove hunt – my first since high school, easily – it didn’t surprise me at all that I jumped at the chance.
What follows is a rough chronology. The participants were Patrick, a college pal who has ended up in Dallas married to a local; Dwayne, his brother-in-law; and Richard, his father-in-law. Both in-laws are attorneys; Patrick is an administrator with a local college in Dallas. The events transcribed occurred over August 31-September 1, 1998, and are represented here more or less accurately. As best I remember.
12:30 Leave office. Drive to Academy Sports to purchase Hunting License I didn’t buy over weekend because wallet location became a problem; one must have photo ID for a hunting license in Texas.
1:00 Leave Academy. Express dismay to any listening deities at amazing process required to obtain state permission to shoot things from the air.
1:30 Arrive Hobby Airport. Attempt not to look suspicious carrying gun case into airport.
1:45 Check gun into loving arms of Southwest Airlines. Casually inquire as to insurance coverage for firearm.
2:50 Plane departs; order cocktail in response to somewhat exuberant toddler.
3:30 Arrive Dallas-Love Field. Encounter remaining members of hunting party. Wave goodbye to toddler with outstanding lung capacity.
3:50 Accidentally notice that my luggage – and gun – merrily riding the carousel for flight 119, not flight 34. Pounce on luggage while attempting to NOT step on aforementioned toddler.
3:55 – 4:15 Attempt, with 2 lawyers and a college administrator, to get shotgun, briefcase, and suitcase into already-capacity-loaded Pathfinder. Express wonder at the sheer volume of equipment required for 1-day hunting expedition.
4:20 Depart Dallas for wonderful downtown Brownwood, Texas. This will take 3 or 4 hours, so we stop for beer. Driver abstains. Lawyers and consultant do not, and continue to fail to abstain well into West Texas.
5:00 Remember, with college administrator, that Warren Zevon once sang of “lawyers, guns, and money.” Express pleasure that all three are present in at least token quantities, so no bad things can possibly happen.
6:00 All terrain for miles now visible. No meaningful trees present, though cactuses and scrub are plentiful. Toast landscape with beer.
7:00 Stop for restaurant suggestions at somewhat vague looking minute mart in Comanche, Texas. Elect younger lawyer to “work the clerk” for information re: culinary adventures in Comanche. Upon discovering all food in Comanche apparently unacceptable, purchase snacks at said store.
7:05 Convenience Store declared to be “lucky” by younger lawyer. All parties purchase Lotto tickets.
Younger Lawyer: “Has anybody won here yet?”
Karla-Faye-Tucker-lookalike-Clerk: “This is Comanche.”
This, apparently, explains it all.
7:45 Arrive Brownwood, Texas. Locate Tuesday’s rendezvous point (the Section Hand Restaurant and Boot Store). Select alternative cuisine for dinner.
8:00 Narrowly avoid Golden Corral dinner in favor of Blue Cactus. Everything is still fried, but at least a little spicier. And they serve beer. In theory. Waitress unable to serve beer for reasons unspecified but probably linked to age, so manager does. Several times.
8:45 Locate liquor store for purchase of after-dinner cigars.
9:00 Adjourn to Best Western poolside lounge area, still blissfully unaware of stock market gyrations. Enjoy cocktails and hunting stories. Return to hotel room for A&M v. FSU football. Note that all is right in the world, as the Trinity of Hunting, Football, and Cocktails are present. Express belief that this trumps earlier hat trick of Lawyers, Guns, and Money.
9:30 Channel change during commercial leads to discovery of stock market gyrations. Mix another drink. Remind self that investments are long term in nature.
10:30 Remind self again that investments are long term in nature. Advised by attorney to mix additional beverage.
05:00 Annoyingly cheery clerk delivers wake-up call. Stumble into clothing, gather firearms, and reload truck. A total of 7 degrees still required to shoehorn everything into vehicle. Collective need for coffee reaching fever pitch.
05:30 Arrive at Section Hand restaurant. It does not open until 0600. They are, however, serving coffee.
05:40 Purchase local newspaper.
05:42 Complete local newspaper. Opt for second paper.
05:50 Over discussions of market with other hunters, drink at least as much coffee as you did beer the night before. This is viewed as karmic balance, at least in terms of hangover reduction.
06:15 With addition of biscuits, sausage, eggs, and grits, begin to feel almost human despite the hour. Lawyers and administrator agree. More coffee administered.
06:35 Caravan of well-armed personnel leaves Section Hand restaurant for parts unknown. Guide wonders out loud which of 2 waitresses he should give his cell phone number to for late arrivals; another local opines “It don’t matter; they’re both stupid.”
06:45 Paved road ends. Caravan continues.
06:50 Now officially in the Middle of Nowhere. Gather ammunition (50 rounds) for first phase of hunt. Privately certain this is more than enough.
07:00 Discover Timberland boots not nearly as waterproof as advertised. Vow to never eschew more thematically correct Red Wings again.
07:10 Select position on east fence row under small mesquite tree.
08:00 Return to truck for additional ammunition with 1 for 10 record. College administrator by this point certain his initial stash of shells loaded with blanks, a theory shaky at best as same shell pool fueled aforementioned 5-bird hour.
09:30 Birds wisely decide field to be questionable. Appear to dining elsewhere. This, combined with additional supply shortages (e.g., shells) send hunting party back to hotel, 19 birds in hand (Sr Lawyer: 9; Jr Lawyer: 4; Consultant: 5; Administrator: 1). An average of three boxes of shells per hunter were consumed, however.
10:00 Return to hotel for much needed shower and nap.
12:45 Depart hotel for Wal-Mart for additional provisions. Attempt to not be stereotypes of city folk in Brownwood Wal-Mart almost certainly a failure, though markedly more successful than the prior year, when Senior and Junior Lawyers and Administrator made trip in Jaguar.
1:30 Return to Section Hand to sample lunchtime offerings and attempt to corner market on coffee. Chicken-fried steak deemed most appropriate meal.
2:45 Guide rendezvous at Section Hand; depart again for field after much discussion of temperature (now hovering in mid-90s). Provision check reveals almost certainly enough shells, beer, and Gatorade.
3:00 Arrive at same field. Guide informs hunting party that birds are probably 2 hours away, if tradition holds. Guide departs.
3:05 Upon hearing this news, junior lawyer strips to boxers and hunting boots and settles in the sun to drink beer and review Wall Street Journal.
3:30 Birds arrive, apparently hoping for a sneak attack. Junior lawyer continues mode of dress, perhaps not the best for running through tall grass and weeds to retrieve birds.
4:00 MORE birds arrive. Logistical problems ensue. Am unable to return to selected (and shady) post after bird retrieval due to continued bird overflights and subsequent retrievals. Crouching in weeds amid the field becomes de facto post despite lack of cover.
4:30 After taking a double, note that limit for group is likely looming large. Suggest inventory. Creative accounting brings group total to 59, though this fails to include the 9 birds total lost in brush and the 5 or so simply discarded as uncleanable due to unfortunate proximity to firearm barrel. Shotgun shell consumption at this point no longer worth examining. Express dismay at number of birds still eating in far end of field, occasionally fluttering up several hundred at a time.
5:15 Load truck. Again.
6:00 After gas, food, and beer, depart Brownwood. Consultant and lawyers resume lack of abstention.
10:30 Arrive Dallas. Purchase antihistamines to make up for squatting in weeds all day.
10:45 Arrive Patrick’s home. Collapse on couch after cursory hello to his lovely wife, who finds this all terribly funny.
So, as of now, it’s illegal — like, jailable illegal — to refer to burgers or hotdogs not made from animals as “veggie burgers” or “veggie dogs”.
This week, a new law went into effect in Mississippi. The state now bans plant-based meat providers from using labels like “veggie burger” or “vegan hot dog” on their products. Such labels are potentially punishable with jail time. Words like “burger” and “hot dog” would be permitted only for products from slaughtered livestock. Proponents claim the law is necessary to avoid confusing consumers — but given that the phrase “veggie burger” hasn’t been especially confusing for consumers this whole time, it certainly seems more like an effort to keep alternatives to meat away from shoppers.
I have a longstanding fascination with regional dialects. I think it’s because in my own lifetime, so many are vanishing thanks to easier mobility and the ubiquity of mass communication.
Only a few places retain a clear local accent or dialect — several areas of Louisiana, for example, including accents that outsiders would probably place in Brooklyn. There’s still a real Boston sound.
And off the coast of North Carolina, we find the hoi toiders. There’s video.
This is pretty fascinating:
I mean, seriously.
When I woke up on the 10th of January 3 years ago, for a minute things were pretty okay.
Then NPR came on, and it told us that Bowie had died, and in retrospect I’m pretty sure that’s when things started going to shit.
I mean, think about it:
- Bowie died on January 10
- Alan Rickman on January 14
- ABE FUCKING VIGODA died on January 26
- Prince died on April 21
- Muhammad Ali in June
- Leonard Cohen, November 7
- Carrie Fisher, two days after Christmas
Even Scalia finally shuffling off this mortal coil in February didn’t help, because of how absurdly, disgustingly craven the GOP would be in outright denying Obama his SCOTUS pick.
Oh, and then something happened in November.
But when I woke up, for a few minutes on the 10th of January in 2016, things were at least a little bit better, weren’t they?
Holy CRAP I just got the most salesy-bullshit email EVER from VMWare.
GAZE up on this, together with my translation back to actual english:
I’m reaching out to introduce myself and to ask for your guidance. I’m responsible for the Commercial customer segment at VMware, and Forproject Technology Inc is currently aligned to my team. We’re in the process of finalizing our resource coverage for 2019 and before we make any changes I figured I’d ask directly about your preferred coverage to ensure we’re on the same page.
“I just got assigned your account.”
Our charter is to help lead our customers through secured cloud and business mobility transformations, which includes periodic overviews of the entire VMW portfolio of solutions. A lot has changed in the past few years, including our role in the largest technology merger in history (with Dell/EMC), several key acquisitions (Wavefront, VeloCloud) and our joint offering with Amazon Web Services – VMC on AWS. We’d love an opportunity to walk you through the current VMware roadmap and to understand your top priorities to see if there is an opportunity to expand our relationship.
“You’re on our customer list and we want to see if we can
get more money out of you pitch you some other products.”
If you’d prefer continued coverage from our sales, engineering, and specialist teams, my ask is for a 30-minute roadmap and discovery meeting with Brecca Hansen from your VMW account team.
“Can we waste half an hour of your time with a sales pitch?”
If you’re happy simply maintaining support, we can align you to the renewals organization who’ll be more than capable of facilitating support quotes moving forward.
“We have no idea if you’re currently under support, but we can put you in touch with those people if you want.”
Please let us know which option suits you best, or if there is someone else in your organization you’d like us to contact regarding this decision.
“Can we have some more email addresses to spam?”
I look forward to hearing from you.
“This is not my real email address.”
Over at GQ, of all places, there’s a really lovely set of remembrances of Anthony Bourdain by folks who knew him and worked with him. Worth your time for sure.
(From [The Atlantic’s “blue wave” photo feature today.
Via Kottke, here’s a live, 24×7 feed from a train in Norway. Enjoy.
With this memory from Facebook, we enter Broken Hip Advent!
Reader, we did in fact book that trip, but we never saw either show, because 48 days later, on November 20th, I did this, which well and truly starts the 128 day Cursed Holiday Season:
It was more or less a parade of Suck from 20 November until 21 January, otherwise known at this house as End of PICC Line Day.
We got a little reprieve in the Joco Cruise (30 Jan through 8 Feb; you can rent wheelchairs on cruise ships!), and then the real fun started on Glorious PT Day, 16 February.
Walker Liberation Day is 25 February. I wasn’t done — I needed a cane, which I bought at Southland Hardware — but we were definitely on our way out of the woods.
Finally, 128 days after my injury, there was this:
The whole saga, from the preamble of the potential two-plays-in-Chicago trip through the first time I rode my real bike again, is 176 days, or almost half a year.
Here is a simple statement of principle that doesn’t get repeated enough: if you possess billions of dollars, in a world where many people struggle because they do not have much money, you are an immoral person. The same is true if you possess hundreds of millions of dollars, or even millions of dollars. Being extremely wealthy is impossible to justify in a world containing deprivation.
Tony Hawk tweets about being not recognized, and it’s hilarious.
“When Dani came to buy my Porsche, my car washer was astonished to learn that the bruise on her arm came from sword fighting.”
….and let ol’Chet tell you about the late eighties.
(Seriously, don’t miss this photo set.)
ON THIS DAY, 214 years ago, Alexander Hamilton was shot in a duel by Aaron Burr.
He died the next day.
Here is an elk calf, playing in a puddle. Enjoy.
I went through most of my life thinking I was allergic to penicillin. I’d had hives with a dose of the stuff as a child, and an also-allergic family member taught me to look for an allergy section on every medical form I filled out, and make sure to write “penicillin” on the line.
But the reason I’m telling you this story is that it turns out I’m not allergic to it after all. About 10 percent of us have a penicillin allergy on our charts, but less than 1 percent of us have a legit allergy to go with it. And if you can take that fake allergy off your chart, you’ll likely have an easier and cheaper time in all your future dealings with the medical system.
I have my own tale about this, which longtime readers of Heathen know: Four years ago this November, I was in a pretty ugly bike crash and broke my hip. One of my surgical sites contracted a postop infection. It was NOT the very-scary MRSA; it was just garden variety staph, which is usually quashed with a cycle of garden variety penicillin.
Except I’ve lived my life believing I was allergic to it, which I dutifully explained. Well, sucks to be ME, because when you have a postop staph situation and can’t take penicillin, the next option is something called vancomycin — which cannot be taken orally. I had to get a PICC line and take it intravenously.
Three times a day, for about 90 minutes at a crack.
For seven weeks.
My mother, who was a physical therapist in her working life, had been following my medical misadventure very closely. When we got to this point, she commented, offhand, “well, you know, we’re not actually sure if you’re allergic to it or not. It’s just that your father was, and so we just assumed you were.”
So for reasons known but to God, some Internet rando just favorited a picture in my Flickr stream from 2007. It’s from a then-current meme about what we carry in our pockets. Click thru, because the picture is annotated, but here’s a smaller version:
I’m amused at what’s changed, and also at what’s the same.
- I still carry a Swiss Army Knife, but it’s a smaller model, since I never have to take computers apart anymore.
- I still carry that coupon.
- After years off the road, I quit carrying a Bluetooth headset — until this year, when I bought some Airpods, which are kind of crap for real listening but GREAT for phone conversations and online meetings. What interesting is that the Plantronics in the picture also did the “case is also a charger” thing that the Airpods do, if I remember correctly.
- Same ring. The annotation on the ring notes our “days married” count at the time, which was 662. It’s now 1,293.
- There’s always a book.
- The current flashlight is MUCH SMALLER, much brighter, and much cheaper.
- I never carry a USB drive anymore, probably because online storage is more viable with better bandwidth, and also because our phones are so much better.
- Same money clip. Different money, though.
- I still HAVE that watch, but for the last 2 years I’ve been wearing an Apple Watch pretty much exclusively. I got a series 1 watch in the spring of 2016, to support training for a half marathon I was doing that fall, and the overall utility was so great I wore it pretty much all the time. When the S3 was introduced last year, with real waterproofing and on-board cell, I upgraded.
- Yup, still notebook nerd, and I still use a Vanishing Point, though several years ago my brother gave me a nicer iteration of that pen.
- I never leave the house, so keys are in the hallway.
- No more contacts. I stopped being able to tolerate them several years ago; oh well.
- It’s more about Burt’s Bees now than Carmex, but life goes on.
- That Microsoft/HTC phone lasted like 6 months. Pretty soon, I was too frustrated with how unremittingly DUMB it was about so, so many things. For one thing, you needed a 3rd party mail client for IMAP, which is hilariously stupid. For another, it would do astoundingly silly things like continue to refresh web pages with the display off, so if you were reading CNN and put it back in your pocket, odds are the phone would be dead when you tried to use it later. I replaced it with a first-gen iPhone, and I’ve been on iOS ever since (OG -> 3GS -> 4 -> 5 -> 6 -> 6S -> 8).
- The wallet finally gave up the ghost; current version is a Saddleback I’ve had for many years now.
William Eggleston first tried peyote one summer in the early 1960s while visiting a friend in Oxford, Mississippi. You can find the story in a memoir by University of Mississippi football star (and later Dark Shadows actor) Jimmy Hall, who was there at the time. Eggleston had invited Hall to join him and his friend, and the three men puzzled over the green-blue cactus in its cardboard box, purchased via mail-order from a nursery in Laredo, Texas.
The house in the photograph belonged to a man named Tom “T. C.” Boring, a dentist born and raised in Greenwood, whom Eggleston has described as the best friend he ever had in the world. He was the scion of a well-respected Delta family, a sharp and promising Southern archetype who glided his way through the University of Mississippi, Loyola University, and the Navy before coming home to Greenwood and gradually, ungracefully losing his mind.
[…]Boring had a penchant for exotic plants, younger women, and corn whiskey. In public, he often wore tweed suits and turtleneck sweaters, and smoked a pipe. But more often than not, he wore as little as possible; at home, he preferred to avoid clothes altogether. At the height of summer, he’d keep his air-conditioner cranked up to full blast so he could always have a fire going in his living room, for ambiance.
He slept odd hours. He made cryptic jokes. He owned a number of iguanas. His prized possession was his pet capybara, which he’d walk around the neighborhood on a leash.
Keep the South weird.
(Astute readers will of course note that the photo mentioned in the title is also the album cover for Big Star’s Radio City, though the edition you probably own is a combo CD with #1 Record that has a different cover.)
In 46 days, I’ll ride my bike to Austin again. I’m in shape for it, and I feel good, but the real challenge this year is getting my fundraising to a new highwater mark.
Yeah, I said it. High. Water. My guess is that this year, on account of Harvey, the fundraising pace is going to be off. This isn’t just a number; less money donated means fewer resources for the National MS Society, and that translates to less help for researchers, less support for those living with MS, and — frankly — less good in the world.
Let’s do what we can to make it a good year. Here’s my link; I’m pretty sure you know how this works.
And now, as a reward, I give you TEN REASONS TO DONATE TODAY BESIDES IT BEING MY BIRTHDAY:
10. On this day in 1781, William Herschel discovered Uranus. The jokes write themselves.
9. Microsoft went public on this day in 1986. Had you purchased the stock on the day of issue, you’d be able to donate much, much more!
8. What better way for the Catholics among you to honor the elevation of Jorge Mario Bergoglio back in 2013?
7. Not to be outdone by Herschel, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto on this day in 1930. (Shut up. It is TOO a planet.)
6. Ten years before I was born, the world gained US bassist Adam Clayton. There’s a joke here about still-not-having-found-what-I’m-looking-for, i.e. a donation, but let’s just ignore it, okay?
5. Perhaps you could spare a wad(d) of cash today in honor of the 30th anniversary of the passing of John Curtis Holmes?
4. Don’t forget! It’s National Elephant Day in Thailand! (I know nothing about this, but how can something called National Elephant Day be anything other than awesome?)
3. If you’re nerdy, perhaps you can donate partially in honor of VMS and WinNT designer Dave Cutler, who turns 76 today.
2. You like rear-engine cars? So do I! Drop a bit of coin in my fundraiser here in honor of The Love Bug, which opened on this day in 1969.
1. Block that Thetan! It’ll help make you Clear, since this is also L. Ron Hubbard’s birthday.
When I was a kid, my dad was a veterinarian. In the 1970s, there was no office computerization, so he kept his patient records on yellow cards. As each card filled, he’d add another to the top of the stack, forming a reverse-chronological record of the client’s visits.
(I’ve never seen these size cards anywhere else, but they were cleary a Thing at the time. In my memory, they were each about a third of a sheet of typing paper, but on heavier stock; he also had sturdy steel cabinets to file them in, so it was clearly a standard of some kind.)
Obviously, over time, these card stacks got thicker and thicker — some quickly, because the client had lots of animals; some more slowly, just on the strength of long-lived pets getting their annual attention for years upon years. By the early 80s, when I was working part time there, a few were over an inch thick; these belonged to the families that had sought my father out when he first hung his shingle in 1964, and still used him, many pets later, in the 1980s. Perhaps the fattest belonged to the Slay family.
When my father first opened, he sent my mother out to find an accountant about their age. People didn’t move around as much back then, so the plan was to find one they could keep forever. Mother found Herbie Slay, and as the story goes that same day Mrs. Slay brought their dog to dad for a checkup. In small towns, there’s a lot of that sort of backscratching. (Incidentally, the firm Mr. Slay founded still does my taxes every year; Herbie, sadly, passed away a year or two ago.)
The Slay file was, to my early teen eyes, an artifact from another time. Sure, the top page was from last week or last month, but there at the back were records my father wrote when Johnson was president, when men wore flattops, when Vietnam was in the news every day. Impossibly long ago, I thought. When Dad died, in 1986, I meant to save that file, or at least the first page, but in the rush and chaos and haze of funeral and clinic sale and grief, it didn’t happen, and so now it lives on only in my memory.
I’m nearly 48 now — older than Dad ever got to be — and I know better than to think of 22 years as an eon, though of course it still is.
Today, I took our cats to our veterinarian for their annual shots. They hate it, obviously, and they hate it moreso because even though the clinic is inside the Loop, there’s no good freeway option, so it can be a half hour drive on congested surface streets to get there.
Because of this, every year before now I thought “I should really find a closer vet, since it’s just shots,” and every year before now I quashed that thought out of loyalty. I started using this clinic in 1994, soon after I moved to Houston, and I am not good with change.
Back then, it was just Dr. Alice Frei and maybe one tech in a storefront in Bellaire, around the corner from my first home here, and chosen for proximity as much as anything else. Over time, she grew that clinic, and I didn’t always see Dr. Frei anymore. She’d taken partners, or hired subordinate vets, or something, but that’s what happens, and they were all nice people. At some point, she moved to a nice new building. I was happy for her growth and success, and we always got good care there. Even when our old girl Bob was so sick we had to seek out specialists, they still reached out to us for updates, and sent us a card when the end came.
It’s like that.
But this time around, when we called for our annual appointment — several months late, I must confess — I learned that Dr. Frei wasn’t there anymore, and that she’d sold the practice and moved to Virginia. “Good for her,” I thought. But also: “Well, crap.”
So we went today, and at the end I mentioned that, gosh, if it’s not Dr. Frei anymore, I’m not sure I’m going to keep driving this far, and how would I go about transferring records?
The veterinarian completely understood. Of course they’d send records over to wherever we wanted. “That makes perfect sense; most of our customers are very close, so we totally understand.” I felt awkward about it, but he was very gracious and kind.
We boxed up the cats, and I went out front to pay. As I was paying, though, the vet came back out, smiling. “You know, Mr. Farmer, we have a sequential numbering system for client records here. Each new customer gets the next number.”
Sure. That makes sense.
“The newest record in the system is 7200 something.”
“You’re number 35.”
I had the sense, 23 years ago, that Dr. Frei’s was a new practice, and I liked that about it. I didn’t realize how new, or how early I was on that August afternoon in 1994. Driving home, I couldn’t help but remember those fat, multi-stapled cards in Dad’s office 30 years ago, and the history they represented. But math will get you; our file at Southside Place reaches back to August of 1994, which is deeper than any file my father ever had. To my everlasting shock and bemusement, we’re the subject of a file just as ancient as the Slay file seemed to me in 1986.
Among the many surprises of middle age are these moments when you find yourself looking at some aspect of life from exactly opposite perspectives, separated by a decade or two.
Life is weird and wonderful. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
This blog is 17 years old today.
Funny you should ask. This Longreads piece is really fascinating, and gives an insight into a professional world most of us never see.
This jackass cop — officer J. S. Bolen — seems to think it’s a good idea to detain and harass a guy for jaywalking. He even tries to make up laws to justify his actions.
Obviously, the Jacksonville LEO that employs him has taken no action at this time, even defending one of the obviously-invalid citations issued to the young man.
The Sheriff’s Office cited Florida statute 322.15(1) as to why Shipman was given a citation, but the statute only applies to drivers, not pedestrians. It states that every licensee must have his or her license on them “when operating a motor vehicle.”
Author Michael Lewis (The Blind Side, Liar’s Poker, Moneyball, The Big Short) gave a pretty spectacular commencement speech at Berkeley in 2012. Kottke has more, but the key bit is this, about the tendency of very successful people to discount the amount of arbitrary luck typically involved in their positions:
A few years ago, just a few blocks from my home, a pair of researchers in the Cal psychology department staged an experiment. They began by grabbing students, as lab rats. Then they broke the students into teams, segregated by sex. Three men, or three women, per team. Then they put these teams of three into a room, and arbitrarily assigned one of the three to act as leader. Then they gave them some complicated moral problem to solve: say what should be done about academic cheating, or how to regulate drinking on campus.
Exactly 30 minutes into the problem-solving the researchers interrupted each group. They entered the room bearing a plate of cookies. Four cookies. The team consisted of three people, but there were these four cookies. Every team member obviously got one cookie, but that left a fourth cookie, just sitting there. It should have been awkward. But it wasn’t. With incredible consistency the person arbitrarily appointed leader of the group grabbed the fourth cookie, and ate it. Not only ate it, but ate it with gusto: lips smacking, mouth open, drool at the corners of their mouths. In the end all that was left of the extra cookie were crumbs on the leader’s shirt.
This leader had performed no special task. He had no special virtue. He’d been chosen at random, 30 minutes earlier. His status was nothing but luck. But it still left him with the sense that the cookie should be his.
This experiment helps to explain Wall Street bonuses and CEO pay, and I’m sure lots of other human behavior. But it also is relevant to new graduates of Princeton University. In a general sort of way you have been appointed the leader of the group. Your appointment may not be entirely arbitrary. But you must sense its arbitrary aspect: you are the lucky few. Lucky in your parents, lucky in your country, lucky that a place like Princeton exists that can take in lucky people, introduce them to other lucky people, and increase their chances of becoming even luckier. Lucky that you live in the richest society the world has ever seen, in a time when no one actually expects you to sacrifice your interests to anything.
All of you have been faced with the extra cookie. All of you will be faced with many more of them. In time you will find it easy to assume that you deserve the extra cookie. For all I know, you may. But you’ll be happier, and the world will be better off, if you at least pretend that you don’t.
Share the cookie.
John Nova Lomax’s new piece in Texas Monthly is about his son’s decision to join the Army.
My son was jobless, directionless, and apartmentless. So when he decided to join the Army, we were just glad he was out of the house. What we didn’t know was just how much the military would change him—and us.
But the real kicker is this:
A picture I took of him that day in his camo, standing in the sandbag-lined trench that led into the Yankee tunnels, and that by a trick of the light appears almost sepia-toned, fills me with a mixture of dread, pride, and regret. Privates are always privates, and war is always war.
I say regret, because I have not served, and now, with middle age upon me, never will. Right before my eyes, the little boy I had known was becoming a man I could never know.
It’s pretty damn fine. Go read the whole thing.
I think my friend T. framed it best: “Please dunk on this extremely bad at life family with me.”
A key bit is this:
In September, we had learned that I was pregnant with our second child and we accelerated our plans. We needed a place with at least three bedrooms. Unfortunately, that dream was becoming increasingly unrealistic for a young family without a lot of money. Julian had just finished his PhD in education and was teaching part-time at Humber; I was an editor for the Food Network’s website and preparing to go on maternity leave. Still, we scoured the listings every day, searching for a fixer-upper that we could renovate ourselves to save money. We weren’t particularly handy, but we’d seen all the home reno shows, and it seemed like everyone in the city was doing it. How hard could it be?
Our budget was $560,000[.]
And it gets so much more bizarre, privileged, and tone-deaf — oh, and dumb as hell. For example: they end up spending their half-million-plus budget on a house they had not personally seen or inspected, and entered into a no-condition contract. They end up fine, apparently, but only because of the largesse of wealthy family and friends, and despite some astonishingly stupid choices.
Frankly: eat the rich.
On this day in 2015, we lost John.
Headlines like this:
Oh, for the love of God and all that is holy, go read this.
Here is a sample:
Gerald Ford, my birth President, flew in an Air Force One that allowed not just smoking, but hoot-fueled, wildly heteronormative screenings of Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. Parker House rolls and empty fifths of Cutty Sark were no doubt chucked at the closing credits with a simian brio the likes of which dignitary air travel rarely sees any more. Children born under this President are generally thought to display alpha behavior, as well as a natural tendency toward easing relations with Soviet nations.
My adult cycling career started awkwardly, really. I bought a hybrid bike, and rode it some, and then both Erin and I got more into it, and started doing more supported charity rides. In 2012, we both stepped up to nicer bikes more appropriate for 40+ miles at a go. We got Erin a Specialized Dolce, and we got me Surly Cross-Check. (Actually, we got me TWO of them, since the first one was stolen inside 90 days, dammit.)
And so I rode. Not enough, really, but I hit a bunch of social rides, and started going to some more intense rides (where I got dropped pretty much every time), and somehow convinced myself that signing up for Karbach’s 2013 MS150 team would be a good idea. When the fall rolled around and training for that REALLY started, I freaked out well and proper at what I’d done, but I did the work and made it to Austin — and in the process notched my first century since the 1980s.
Then it got hot again, and I rode less, and regained weight, and by the time the 2014 MS150 rolled around I wasn’t really any stronger than I’d been the year before. Clearly, this wouldn’t do, so instead of slacking off after the Austin ride, I doubled down, and rode hard all summer — averaging in excess of 100 miles a week for a while there. I lost a bunch of weight. I got a lot faster. I bought an even better bike — a 2015 Specialized Roubaix, which is a whopping TWELVE POUNDS LIGHTER than the Surly. And I rode, and rode, and rode, all up until I stopped rather suddenly on the 20th of November. I think you know that story.
I was on a pace for an estimated 4500 or 5000 miles in 2014, but ended up with only 3,308. I didn’t start tracking seriously until the week of April 6, and the real craziness didn’t kick up until the summer, but we can probably assume that I would have kept up the 90-100 mile weeks for the final six weeks of the year, and that I pulled at least 70 per week for the 12 or so weeks before I started tracking. Oh well.
2015 started quietly, obviously. As I was unable to walk initially, I didn’t touch the bike again until a very, very short ride on March 15 (3 miles, to visit the team party after Tour de Houston). I didn’t do a real ride again until the 28th of March, at the Center, where I rode an ambitious 27.5 miles. It came back slowly. I didn’t get over 50 miles in a week until late May (which really means “two rides”). I didn’t break 100 again until mid-summer. At the end of the year, I’d put in “only” 2,790 miles, but given the start, I’ll take it.
For 2016, though, I set a capital-G GOAL: 5,000 miles. That means shooting for 100 miles a week or better each and every week, with the understanding that logistics or weather or travel will get in the way occasionally.
Last night, this happened:
I’ve got a few weeks to go, even.
And now, ridiculous stats, taken with 50 weeks down (there being 53 weeks that end in 2016):
- Average miles per week in 2016: 99.88 (through 12/11/16)
- Number of 100-mile weeks: 36
- Number of weeks under goal: 14
- Number of missed weeks that were nevertheless 85 or better: 5. You’d think I could’ve done something about that.
- Longest stretch of 100s: 11, from 9/18 through Thanksgiving week.
- Longest stretch of short weeks: 3, from 2/21 through 3/6, with a cruise in the middle.
- Number of goose eggs: 2. One was for the cruise, and the other was a conflagration of business travel, a cold, and rainy weather.
- Biggest week: 207.1, which included the Ride to the River weekend back in October.
- Number of long-suffering wives who for some reason tolerate this behavior: 1
Yeah, so, that may be the longest fallow period in Heathen history — which is, I note, now nearly sixteen years long; my first post here was on the 29th of November in the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand. That’s kind of bizarre.
Bizarre, too, is the world we find ourself in today. I’m fearful for the future in a more existential way than I’ve ever felt before; the parade of grotesques certain to characterize the incoming administration is only now getting started, and it’s a nearly certain thing that we’ll look back on absurdly bad ideas like “Attorney General Jeff Sessions” with something like nostalgia before it’s all over. But there it is.
But I’m still trying to be Thankful.
A by-no-means inclusive list
I will, barring unforeseen conflagrations in the next couple hours, partake of a truly excellent Thanksgiving feast hosted by impossibly generous friends and peopled entirely by similarly delightful people. We only get to go in even years — we travel in the odd ones — and actually only made it the first time two years ago. That year, it was my first real trip out of the house following my little medical misadventure; I spent the meal damn near on the nod from the Norco and Tramadol, but by God I was there and not in a hospital bed or worse.
Speaking of which: I have made it out the other side of said misadventure, which started two years ago last Sunday. It was a longer road than it could have been thanks to the now-disturbingly-common complication of a postop infection. Thankfully (there’s the theme again), it wasn’t MRSA, but it still required IV antibiotics for weeks and weeks, and delayed the proper healing of one of my surgical sites for literally months. (Protip: Don’t browse too far back on Erin’s phone; she took pics daily to share with my medical team, because we live in the future.) But it did close, and the infection did clear, and I did heal, and earlier this month I “graduated” — by which I mean I’ve been pronounced out of danger for the last real complication possible. I celebrate, as always, by riding a lot.
I’m absurdly, overwhelmingly thankful for Erin. She was an amazing angel during my recovery, which was better than I deserved for putting her through that. She remains an incredible and stalwart support, and seems to have inexhaustible reserves of love and service to give when called upon. Just ask folks on the Karbach team, or people who’ve reached out for aid when life goes sideways, or my family, or her family. Eleven years on, I’m aware every day of just how much I outkicked the coverage here, and all I can do is be thankful.
My mother, now out the other side off a nearly two year period of Profound Suck that started with my late stepfather’s diagnosis in early October of 2014 and continued through his decline, passing, and her decision to leave my hometown for Jackson after “only” 52 years. She’s entered the next phase of her life, and has embraced it with verve and style. More than one person has told my brother or me about how she’s blossomed in Jackson, and it’s wonderful to see. I’m a little jealous of her proximity to Frank and his family. Erin and I can’t wait to meet her new pals at St Catherine’s this Christmas.
As long as we’re talking about family, let’s talk about my awesome brother. He has been an amazing support and help to our mom these last couple years, and now he’s playing that role again for his wife’s family as they go through a similarly crappy time. Frank is fantastic, and I’m very, very thankful for him — and sad I won’t see him and his family today, but thankful we’ll be spending Christmas with them!
My work, while not without its issues, remains rewarding. I get to do it from home. I work for a smart guy who shares my politics and principles (case in point: disturbed by the results of the election, and the divisions it has laid bare, everyone now gets some additional PTO for community volunteering — it’s a small thing, but it’s a REAL thing). My coworkers are smart and fun. And this year, for the 16th year running, I am free of the awkward command performance inherent in a corporate Christmas party. I WIN.
Our goddaughter (and her family) have moved much, much closer, allowing for drastically more time with her (and her family). It’s impossible to say enough about this, frankly. At 3, she’s in that phase where you’re not entirely sure she’s not a cartoon character, and she’s utterly obsessed with her Aunt Erin. (I get a little halo effect.) It’s delightful to see her so often, and to get to spend grown-up time with her parents once the tyke is off to bed.
MS150 training season has started again, and I’m entering it in the best cycling shape of my life (so far). I love to ride, and I love to ride with this specific set of delightful knuckleheads, ABI be damned. Plus, having missed a whole training season owing to the events of #2 above, I know better than to take any of this for granted.
I’m thankful that, regardless of the end of their lives, we still have the music of Bowie, Prince, Sharon Jones, Leon Russell, Leonard Cohen, Guy Clark, Merle Haggard, Phife Dawg, Maurice White, and so many others. Some of it’s playing now, as I write this.
I am thankful for the few shining lights of 2016 — Hamilton, the Cubs — that it feels like we really ought to savor after this motherfucker of a year.