Sunday, April 3, 2016

A-gang agley

Saturday afternoon I stopped by the local dollar store. I needed a bedside lamp, and though I'd purchased one elsewhere on Thursday (see below) It wasn't exactly what I wanted. It was too big, and too bright, and too fluorescent. Perfect, it turns out, for my gun-tinkering table, but not for the bedside.

As I was perusing the available selection of lamps, each one of a certainty produced in a Bangladeshi sweatshop, I couldn't help but notice a little kid shopping.

She was probably nine years old and cute as a bug with long brown hair and flashing blue eyes. The thing that caught my attention, though, was her shopping technique. She had a little pocketbook filled to the brim with change and a couple of grubby bills, and after carefully scrutinizing each potential purchase she referred back to the pocketbook to reassess funds. At least that's what I think she was doing. It gave me a big smile in my heart, for I remember doing something similar when I was her age. Being a young lad back then I had a pocket rather than a pocketbook. Also, we had Five & Dimes back then, with a rather different selection of merchandise, and where pennies went a lot farther than they do in a 2016. Nevertheless, once you've moved the decimal point there's no difference. It's the same thing. I remember how enjoyable the process was, weighing desire against available funds against the possibility of something better at some far-off point in the future against immediate gratification. I remember how grown up I felt, working through the options on my own, sometimes choosing wisely and well, more often not, but doing it myself and living with the consequences.

As it happened, by the time I'd selected my lamp, lampshade, and light-bulbs, I found myself in line behind the young shopper. All was well until the clerk totaled her purchases and she'd come up some thirty-odd cents short. "There's tax, y'know," sneered the tweaker clerk. I caught just the hint of a chin-quiver from the girl. That did it. I fished a dollar from my pocket and let it fall to the floor behind her.

"Did you drop some of your money?" I asked.

Her eyes got big and she carefully picked up the bill. She thought for a moment, then sighed. "But it's not mine. I had three dollars and 22 quarters and a dime. It's not mine."

Holy crap! I'd forgotten about honesty. And I'd been busted. I was being a bit sneaky and too clever by far, and more focused on making myself feel good about my wonderfulness than on offering a kindness. Now I was student, and the young shopper Master. Life's funny that way.

"Well, you taught me a lesson," I said, "how about I give you the dollar as a reward?"

Her eyes lit up again. "Really?"

And that was a much better deal all around.


A couple of days ago...

I rolled out of bed Thursday morning feeling pretty chipper. It was 5 a.m. and the sun had yet to rise on what was to be an interesting day.

On Wednesday we had a winter storm. Not a bad one, just a typical one. A half-inch of rain followed by four inches of snow, gusty north winds, low viz, drifts and ice. All was well with the cows at sunset.

My world is revolving pretty much around the cows these days. They're always important, of course, but they're due to start calving on Tuesday. April 5 is precisely 283 days after bull turnout, which happened on June 27 of last year. Generally, one or two come early. Or three or five. And there are at least a dozen cows who look very, very close.

But none of them looked closer than very, very close on Wednesday evening. I've done this a few times before and I felt okay about not doing any night checks Wednesday. The fact that it would have sucked to get out in the nasty weather in the middle of the night had nothing to do with it. Well, not much anyway.

So on Thursday at 5 a.m. I was ready to jump into the day. The first order of business was to feed myself some bacon and eggs. I don't do this very often, but sometimes I get a powerful hankering for a traditional breakfast. I could get one at a local establishment, but I'd rather do it myself than pay for a mediocre meal with crap service.

I lined out all the ingredients, plugged in the electric skillet, and put the coffee on. By the time I poured my first cup I was ready to rock and roll with the bacon. The skillet, however, was not ready. Stone cold. I fiddled with it for a few minutes but finally concluded that it was dead. Sigh. Oh well. It had been a good skillet for a lot of years. Unless I misremember, I bought it in 1994.

I put the ingredients away and headed on over to the local bakery, where they make an excellent doughnut. The baker is in fact one of my oldest friends. Went to school together, K-12. Played sports, wrenched on cars, chased women, drank beer. Almost joined the navy together, but the recruiter told him that with a name like John Paul Jones, he'd better be really motivated to be a sailor. He wasn't, and his path lay in a different direction. On reflection, I think that recruiter was one of the good ones. Maybe the good one. But I digress.

As the sun peeked over the horizon on the last morning of March, Nona the wonder dog and I navigated the frosty wonderland of this year's calving pasture. It was blowy and frosty outside, but Nona and I were snug and warm in the Ranger as we ate our doughnuts and looked at cows. I had a glazed and a plain cake doughnut, Nona had a pair of frosted raised donuts with raspberry filling. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

The cows were fine, and no new babies were on the ground or in the chute. The cows had sheltered in a tree line through the windy, snowy night. As unpleasant as the storm was for myself and my fellow humans, it was nothing for the cows. As I walked through them they were simply waiting patiently for the wind to abate. A few of them peered closely at me, wondering whether I would feed them hay.
"Well," said 757 while her sisters looked on expectantly, "I see you and the dog have had your doughnuts."

I fired up the hydrabed and rolled out a couple of bales of alfalfa. The cows trailed out of shelter and into the wind, and tucked in to the hay with gusto, seemingly immune to the bite of wintry cold and wind. As I cut away the bale netting the north wind was gusting at 40 mph. It was a cold and miserable wind, having blown across hundreds of miles of snow and ice. As I shivered and cursed I remembered my Grandpa describing such winds as lazy. Can't be bothered to go around, so it just blows right through you.

I got to wondering how much I really wanted to fight the wind and cold. I'd planned to tear into the tractor to fix a leaky hydraulic valve -- had all the parts and tools ready to go -- but I had second thoughts. A vision of bacon and eggs flashed back into my mind, and it occurred to me that I could stop by the junior wally world and pick up a new skillet. There's no law saying the breakfast foods must only be consumed before sunrise. Bacon and eggs for lunch. The very thing!

Back home, I placed a large, colorful box containing a brand new electric skillet on the kitchen counter and prepared to dig in and commence assembly. The picture on the box reminded me of a fellow I knew in the navy. He hailed from far up-holler in West-By-God Virginia, and had once informed me that this type of appliance is properly called an "electric fryin'-pan skillet."

Lunch was still some hours away and I had writing to do, so I quickly unboxed the new device, washed it, and set it in the drainer to dry. When I finished I noticed that the mud Nona had tracked onto the carpet was dry and ready for the carpet sweeper, which is what West-By-God Virginians call a vacuum cleaner.

So I dug out the old Hoover upright, plugged it in, and fired it up. It immediately gave off a loud snap, clank, and unusual hum, as well as a rapidly growing cloud of smoke. I snapped off the power switch, which changed nothing at all. The smoking got worse and the hum got louder as I flipped the switch back and forth, achieving nothing at all. Finally I yanked the plug and the devilish hum stopped. Firetruck.

I opened a couple of windows to let the breeze clear the house of smoke, then dragged the vacuum carcass outside to cool. Scratch one vacuum. Sigh. Oh well. It had been a good vacuum for a lot of years. Unless I misremember, I bought it in 1994.

The clerk at the junior wally world said, "Weren't you just in here?" Ten minutes later I walked out with another large, colorful box. This one contained a shiny new upright vacuum cleaner. Er, carpet sweeper. Whatever. I had opted for cheap and light, and the new one had a "dust cup" rather than an internal bag. Which I was rather pleased with as I really hate changing bags. It also had, according to the box, "Tornado Action." That's got to be as good as "cyclonic action," right? And rather more northern hemisphere, if you take my meaning.

Back home, assembly was quick and easy and I gave the new device a good trial. It not only made short work of the Nona-mud, but picked up a lot more dirt than I'd expected. Dirt that the old Hoover had left behind. Eew!

I wrote a bit, then prepared lunch. There was, of course, a learning curve with the new skillet. Though larger than the old one -- it's 15 by 12 inches rather than 12 by 12 -- it's lighter, so it doesn't hold the heat as well, which is a bit irritating. It actually does a better job on bacon, or at least makes it harder for me to burn it. Takes a few minutes longer, though, which threw off my timing. As I slid the eggs out of the treasured non-electric, range-top skillet, the bacon wasn't yet appropriately crisped, let alone drained. Ah, well. It's a process.

After lunch, with the winds still howling outside, I got tucked into some spring cleaning. My main goal was to relocate the hard backed books and their beautiful book cases out of the office and into the living room. Once upon a time I wanted the books to be close to hand in the office. "For research purposes," I told myself. In practice, though, I don't do nearly as much book-in-hand research as I once did. These days most of what I need is only a few key strokes and mouse clicks away. And when I do need a book, the trek to the living room is not insurmountable.

As for general reading, I'm afraid I've transitioned almost entirely to the Kindle. I used to tell myself I was a dead tree snob, and that the heft and feel and smell of the thing was important to my reading experience. Once I got the Kindle, however, I found that my snobbishness didn't hold up. There are times when I enjoy perusing a physical book, and it'll be some years (if ever) before electronic formats can equal paper when it comes to images, charts, and maps, but by and large I've come to rely on the Kindle. Particularly the Voyage, which has a lighted screen and 3G capability. When the power went out during a recent storm I could still read, and what's more, could still purchase content if I felt the need. But I digress.

I got the heavy part of the chore done by 4 p.m. or so. Dang, but those bookshelves are heavy. So are the books. But now they've gained a decorative value to go along with their intrinsic bookish/bookshelfish value.

I rolled on out to check cows, pleasantly tired from a good lift-carry-drag workout. The clouds had cleared, and while it was still cold and windy, the promise of a nicer morrow was in the air. No babies, no signs of impending birth, water supply good, everything in order.

Back home I showered and prepared for bed. It was early yet but I was tired. Weary but clean, I wandered into the bedroom with my Kindle and snapped on the bedside light. Well, I snapped the switch, anyway. It worked fine with the exception of a complete lack of photon emission. I fiddled with it, changed the bulb, tried different outlets. No go. Dead as a hammer.

Sigh. Oh well. It had been a good lamp for a lot of years. I distinctly remember buying it at the old Five & Dime at their going out of business sale. In, you guessed it, 1994.

Shaking my head and grumbling a bit, I dressed and headed on over to the junior wally world. I could have waited, but I didn't want to. I'd rather get the thing done than have an unfinished chore echoing around my head while trying to read myself to sleep.

What's that? Yes, the Kindle does have a lighted screen, and it would have worked fine. It's just that there's a difference between "have to" and "don't have to." Doesn't make a lot of sense, perhaps, but there you are. Story of my life. I've learned to live with it.

It's spring. It's busy. It's gonna get busier. Feels good.


  1. Perhaps an example of the Rule of Three? (Not judging mind you, just observing.)

    Nice selfie with the electrical skillet fry thingie.

    1. Ha! WHICH rule of three? I kinda killed it by adding a postscript fourth, at the front rather than the back. I'm living proof of the theory of monkeys and typewriters.

      Almost didn't include that pic but it seemed appropriate for some reason.

  2. A) Well, at least you did not behave like a wee sleekit timorous beastie!
    B) What, no hash browns?
    C) In Wisconsin, jelly filled doughnuts are called " Bismarks ". I have wondered if they are called "Madisons "in North Dakota.

    1. In Germany a jelly donut is called "ein Berliner," not to be confused with a "Berliner." One is a jelly filled donut, the other is a resident of the capital city. Yes, linguistically JFK got it wrong, but the Berliners knew what he meant. And that's all that mattered.

      "Ich bin Berliner!" = I am from Berlin.
      "Ich bin ein Berliner!" = I am a jelly donut.

    2. A: Definite A++ for getting the Burns reference. Well done!
      B: Hash browns have become forbidden fruit for me, with one pound of spuds producing about five pounds of gut lard.
      C: Good question. Reminds me of good ol' Bismark North, Decoder.

    3. I understand Kennedy was taking an awful lot of opiate pain meds at the time. Are we CERTAIN he didn't think he was a Madison?

  3. I used to know a chap from Germany, who confirms A) JFK called himself a jelly donut, and that B), they knew what he meant.

    1. I've heard that a lot. They didn't care about the verbal stumble.

  4. I thought he was Fargo North, Decoder.

  5. Is the new light LED? I bought an LED bulb for my bed lamp, and an quite pleased!

    1. The new gun table lamp is four-tube fluorescent, the bedside lamp is pure Bangladeshi incandescent.