POWr Countdown Timer

Thursday, October 29, 2009 5 comments

Mid-week Mason-ry

Mason in his strollerMason has been at the manor more than not the last couple of weeks. DoubleRed thinks they’re taking advantage of us… on the other hand, we know we’ll do a good job of taking care of the kid, so I’m not all that bummed about it. Besides, Snippet has been taking on a bigger share of the night-time load… he starts crying, and she’s mostly down the stairs by the time I’m starting to shuck my robe on (or Mrs. Fetched, for that matter).

It’s finally gotten a little warm this week, and we got the stroller out. We learned yesterday that Mason likes being outside: if he’s crying, take him outside and he stops. So he was pretty cranky at first in the stroller, but as soon as I got him outside he got quiet. Three seconds later, he was asleep. I really want to get one of those slings to put him in, so I can walk around with him and have both hands free.


Five generationsOne of the things I’ve been wanting to do since he was born was to get a picture of the five generations extant on Mrs. Fetched’s side of the family… and yesterday, I finally got it. Here you see Mason, The Boy, Mrs. Fetched, her mom, and her granny. We’ll probably send this picture (or one I took inside the night before) to the paper.

It’s really too bad he was born in the fall… while he loves being outside so much, it’s going to be difficult finding nice days for him to enjoy until spring. The days (and years) are going to go by fairly quickly, methinks.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 2 comments

The New Publishing

My blog-buddy Beth has gotten the idea of putting more of her writing on her blog. I think that’s a great idea, but of course I would! She’s posted excerpts from some of her writing in the past, and I for one thought it was pretty good. In last night’s post, she brings some good insights to the difficulties writers (as performance artists) face:

…it isn't as though we can sit on a street corner and read our work. Kind of loses something if a person walks by and just hears a couple of sentences. Can't sell unpublished books at art shows or craft fairs. I guess we could convince a coffee shop to let us read our work, but unless you're a poet, that's a hard sell.


A lot of local or regional art shows include a writing segment or competition, but it can be difficult to put the entries on display. I think the Grand Rapids (MI) art festival has the closest thing to the right idea, putting the best entries in the Press. But unless it’s flash fiction (less than 1000 words), it’s not likely that you’ll see many people reading a story at a kiosk the way they’ll view paintings or photos in a gallery — or sit in a dark room to watch a short or long video. I suppose the closest thing to a display case for writing is a literary magazine… many of which have a readership in the low hundreds (my high-end estimate for this blog, so I’m not sneering except to say I don’t need a budget to do this).

But, as Beth points out, blogs can provide a place for writers to perform. Sure, it’s not a place where you can get immediate feedback like a musician gets in a venue (as Beth says: no one's going to stand up and cheer and clap after they read this, and chant, "Five more posts!"), but I’ve had plenty of feedback and encouragement on both FAR Future and the new White Pickups story in comments and email. Indeed, I got an email yesterday to correct a typo in FAR Future #45 (hi Alan!). You can also find a few short/flash stories down-blog, although I daresay they’ve been buried under the weight of 104 FAR Future episodes — I should probably re-tag them.

I’m certainly not the only person putting works of various lengths on a blog, and I’ve even plugged a couple of them in the past. Some of ones I keep up with include:

Carnacki — among the general news of the horror genre, and his own life, you’ll find vampire novellas and novels featuring the vampire Lucy Westenra and a band of humans fighting both Nazis and more supernatural forms of evil.

Apocalypse Blog — an alternative world, in which World War Three has come and gone and left a remnant struggling to survive in the ruins. The narrator tells the story as it happens in her world.

Dorlana Vann — a published novelist and short-story writer who still thinks the blogosphere is good enough to see some of her work.

Star’s Reach — by John Michael Greer, aka the Archdruid. This is a less-optimistic peak-oil novel than FAR Future, set several hundred years in the future.

Several authors have released their novels as audiobooks — or podcasted them, if you prefer. Scott Sigler is one of the best-known, but there are plenty of others. Thanks to sites like ourmedia.org, it’s not difficult to store an audiobook then release it through iTunes.

The web is a great leveler for the arts — it presents text, audio, graphics, and video with (almost) equal aplomb. I’m sure there were people posting fiction to Usenet back when the 'net was pretty much all text, but I don't remember seeing any. Each format has its strengths and limitations when brought to the web, and each requires modifications to work with the limitations of online publishing:
  • You can read serialized novels on a dialup, but anything much over 1000 words gets pretty long on a computer screen. Novels work best when written in 800–1500 word segments.

  • Photos have to be downscaled to load reasonably quickly and be viewed on a typical monitor.

  • Audio and video can take a long time to download unless they're compressed heavily enough to impact quality. Thanks to MP3 and more modern encodings like AAC, music might require the least amount of modification compared to more traditional publishing. Video, of course, is a tradeoff between length, quality, and download time.


You can even have a tip jar; I've thought of two kinds. One is the straight PayPal thing (which The Homeless Guy does); another is to turn on ads and encourage people to click the ads if they like the story or fragment. I suspect the latter would provide a more steady trickle of coinage… people are often happier to spend other people's money than their own. :-)

Those of us who write (or create other forms of art) for the love of it have the ability to reach a much wider audience than ever before. It’s up to us to make the most of it.

Monday, October 26, 2009 2 comments

White Pickups, Episode 6

Contents

Tina panted as she turned the last corner, a little wider than planned because of the trailer — fortunately, there was no oncoming traffic — and stood to power up the driveway to the house.

She hadn’t seen Kelly along the way… oh shit, she thought, slamming the bike up her driveway and skidding to a stop in front of the garage door, nearly hitting it, gasping for breath.

“Kelly!”

Through the garage door: “Mom! Help!”

“Get away from it, Kelly! I’m coming!” The garage door opener was in her car, if it even existed anymore, but there was an entry at the side of the garage — locked and deadbolted, of course. “Kelly! Can you get the side door open?”

“Noooooooooo! I won’t!” Tina wasn’t sure if her daughter was speaking to her or the truck. She could hear it whispering even out here.

She ran to the side door. “The key! Drop the key! Get rid of it!” Tina got the deadbolt unlatched; more precious moments wasted to switch keys and unlock the doorknob.

Kelly shrieked, and something banged the garage door. Tina yanked the door open, and Kelly nearly bowled her over.

“Mom!” she sobbed, clutching Tina harder than she had in years.

“It’s okay, honey,” Tina said, hugging her daughter and catching her breath. “You’re fine now. Come on outside. Where’s the key?”

“I — I threw — it at the door,” Kelly gasped. “Oh God, Mom, I thought it was going to get me.”

“It can’t, now,” Tina said, hoping it was true. “Let’s get the groceries inside. Do something else, you’ll calm down.”


“Whoa, Mom,” Kelly said, still shaky, looking at the bike. “You’re set for a cross-country trip with that thing.”

Tina laughed. “We should get one for you, too. Maybe we could find a place where nobody drives those… things.”

Kelly shook her head and unhooked the cargo net. “I think it’s everywhere, Mom.”

“Me too. Is the power still on?”

“Yeah. Do you think it will go off?”

“Well, it takes people to run the power plants and maintain the lines,” Tina said. “It might run by itself for a long time, but when the power plants run out of fuel or a storm knocks down the lines, there won’t be anyone to fix it.”

Kelly hefted a pair of bags. “Jeez, Mom, what is this stuff? Lead?”

“All bottled water and canned stuff, hon. We’ll use up what we have in the freezer first, but then it’s all cans and jars. I also got charcoal and a new grill, so we can cook if the power’s out.”

“It’s a gas stove, Mom.” Kelly opened the front door and held it for Tina to bring her own load through.

“But the gas comes from somewhere, too. Right?”

“Oh. You thought about this, didn’t you?”

“Not really. Just a hunch.”

“Well, if we don’t have electricity, and we don’t have gas, how are we gonna keep the house warm? It’ll start getting cold in a month.”

“I hadn’t thought of everything yet. Here, let’s get the rest of this stuff inside.” Tina stepped across the kitchen and closed the door going to the garage.


“What are you going to do about… about the garage?” Kelly asked over a late lunch.

“I think if you get rid of the key, it can’t talk to you as well,” Tina said. “I meant to tell you, I saw a guy at the grocery store get in one.”

Kelly goggled. “Why didn’t you stop him?”

“I tried. He said something about being done fighting it and got in.”

“Mom? What do you think happens to people who get in a truck?”

“I don’t know, honey. But I don’t think I want to find out. All I want to do is get rid of that key.”

“How?”


Tina looked into the garage from the kitchen. The white pickup — formerly Kelly’s green Civic — stood waiting across from her.

“I hear it again, Mom!”

Be one with us. No struggle. No trouble.

“I hear it too. Is it bad?”

“No.”

“Okay.” Tina hit the garage door opener, then closed the kitchen door. “I’ll just pick it up from outside.”

“But if the key is what does it, how are you going to keep it from getting you?”

Tina reached into a grocery bag and brought out a pair of BBQ tongs. “Maybe if I’m not touching it myself, it won’t be as strong. And I’ll put it in one of these,” she said, pulling an empty grocery bag out of another bag.

“Be careful, Mom.”

“I will. But you need to come with me, just in case.”

Kelly sighed and followed her mother out the front door.

The whispering got stronger when she picked up the key with the tongs, but not so strong as at the grocery store. She dropped it in the bag without incident, then went inside.

“Where are you going?”

“Same place I always go when I come through the front door in the evening,” Tina said, and went down the hall to the guest bathroom. She upended the grocery bag over the toilet; the key plopped into the water and made a soft clink as it hit the porcelain. “And now… it’s Gwinnett Water and Sewer’s problem,” she said, flushing it away.

continued…

Saturday, October 24, 2009 2 comments

Mason, Moonshine, Motor Vehicles

Mason, Snippet, The BoyMason has been in and out of the manor a couple of times this week. As I type, he’s here as expected — The Boy has his band buddies over on Saturdays, rain, sun… or Moonshine Festival.

I was hoping to avoid the whole zoo this year, and at first it looked like I’d be able to… I took care of a surveillance camera at the chicken houses and helped get a more solid hanger put up for one of the feed bins where the rafter cracked, and that was going to get me off the hook except to take Mrs. Fetched. We loaded up a couple of chairs, and I brought my camera Just In Case, and I dropped her off and headed back to grab a peanut butter sandwich.

I hadn’t gone a couple miles when the phone rang… “Can you turn around and bring the chairs?”

“I said something about that when you were getting your other stuff!” I said, “I figured you didn’t want them.”

“I didn’t hear you.” Didn’t listen, is more like it. Anything I say is optional for listening to.

“Whatever,” I said. “Send someone to meet me at the corner so I you can grab them.” There was nowhere to park, even for a few seconds, and the detours were packed with cars. Naturally, nobody was up at the corner and where I had to go was the wrong way on a one-way. I couldn’t even turn around; I had to follow the detour and every turn was the wrong way. I was getting hungry, and cranky, and I finally got to a place where I could text Mrs. Fetched and Daughter Dearest: If nobody is at the corner to get the chairs, I’m not coming back. It took a good half hour to get back to what should have been a five-second trip.

As I was about to turn to go past the booth, Daughter Dearest called. “Come to El Rio, we’re eating lunch there.” Naturally, that meant another lap through the maze, but I was beyond caring. I coughed up $5 for parking and ate, then walked the chairs over to Mrs. Fetched (with a few words of advice to pay attention to what I’m saying next time). But I figured since I was in the middle of the zoo, and had a camera, I’d go take a few pix:

Race cars on Main Street

I took about 40 shots, not including a couple botches I threw away… I’ll post a few of them over the next couple weeks as my own version of fall color.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 2 comments

Pink Laptops and Other Oddities

Work, as always, is work. I’ve been stumping to get a change into a new set of products that will make life easier on the people who have to set the things up, and it looks like it’s going to happen, yay! We have some outside people developing a part of the product that’s not really our core competence, and they came from Taiwan this week to sit down with various folks and get a better idea of what we expect. The young woman was carrying around this hot pink gator skin laptop which, like the proverbial train wreck, you just can’t take your eyes away from.

She was kind enough to let me get pictures:

ASUS S6, pink leather, open ASUS S6, pink leather, closed


Turns out it’s an ASUS S6 “pink leather” model. I figured something looking like that would sell only in Taiwan or Japan, but target.com carries it and it’s out of stock… I guess there’s a lot of middle school girls who have their dream computer. The pictures just don’t do justice to the massive pinkitude of this tiny computer. They call it leather, but it looks more like faux alligator skin, or at least the skin of some kind of reptile. To me, “leather” comes off something that looks more like this:

Cows

Cow → milk → baby…
Mason returned to the manor yesterday, along with Snippet. The latter is gone, supposedly doing laundry at her place, but Mason is still here. He’s fighting sleep right now, but last night he’d get a bellyful of formula then go to sleep… but “sleeping” doesn’t really describe it. It was like he’d gone completely boneless. He’s pulled that on us a couple of times this evening, but wakes up 10 minutes later. He was rockin’ and rollin’ for a little while, having a good time… but I think Mrs. Fetched has finally gotten him to give up and snooze.

I promised oddities… here’s a good one. Barnes & Noble have released their own e-book reader, called the Nook. And, of course, it has instantly earned the moniker Nook e-book reader (say it fast). While I’ve said before that e-book readers won’t take off until they can be purchased for $19.95 from the drugstore checkout display (you need $259 for a Nook e-reader), I might be interested in a Nook e-book…

But is that as odd as a toad that throws itself down a mountainside and rolls away from predators?

Reality, as always, is stranger than fiction.

Monday, October 19, 2009 4 comments

White Pickups, Episode 5

Contents

To Tina’s surprise, the bike shop was open and occupied. “Coffee shop’s in the supermarket, lady,” the red-haired guy behind the desk said as she pushed her cart in.

“What? Oh, no, I’m here to buy a bicycle and one of those trailers like the one in the window. My car isn’t… safe to drive, I guess, and I need to get home. You have anything that will carry this load eight miles?”

“Oh, sorry. Sure. What happened to your car?” He came around the desk to meet her. Without the desk in the way, she could see the guy more clearly. Obviously young, thin as a whippet, and dressed in one of those riding getups. His short beard matched his unruly red hair in both color and disarray.

“It… you see all those white pickups out there? It turned into one of them. Welcome to the apocalypse.”

“Ooo. There’s some really bad voodoo goin’ on out there with those things,” he said. I don’t blame ya for ditching the four wheels. You got a price range or anything you’re looking at?”

“No… I don’t think money’s going to be an issue. But I want something comfortable to ride. Those skinny bike seats are hard on my backside.”

“Yeah, they take some getting used to. But we got padded seats, I can slap one on for you. You do much riding, or you just starting out?”

“Only the ones at the gym, for a long time,” she said. “I have a bike at home, but there’s nowhere to ride with all the idiots on the road these days. I guess my daughter will take it.”

“Tell me about it — our group goes out to the country to ride. But I think you’ll probably want a mountain bike for the comfort. They have suspension and an easier riding position. I can put road tires on it to keep it quiet, you think you’d want that?”

“Sure. But it has to be able to pull a trailer like that one you have in the window. I need to get these groceries home.”

“No problem,” the redhead said, looking at the ceiling for a moment. “Yeah. We got a trailer that will carry up to 100 pounds of stuff, that should get you home with your groceries. Anything else you can think about? You probably want a spare tube, maybe even a spare tire if you’re gonna take a long tour.”

“Tube, sure. An air pump?”

“No problem, they mount to the frame. You want a carrier for water bottles? Yeah. I’ll bolt on a couple. Let’s get you fitted and we’ll see what we got.”

An hour later, with her credit card $1100 lighter (not that she expected to worry about it), and flat pedals (she didn’t trust the clip-on pedals with the special shoes), she and the redhead piled the last of the bags on the flatbed trailer in front of the store. He threw a cargo net over the groceries and secured the corners. “You’re good to go,” he said. “Come back if you need any adjustments. If you ride a lot, stuff will loosen up in a few weeks. Watch those idiots.”

She strapped on her new helmet and called Kelly before moving. “Hey hon, I got a bicycle and a trailer to pull all these groceries. I should be home in an hour. Are you okay?”

“So far. I locked the doors, I keep thinking I hear people talking.”

“I don’t think it’s people talking. If you don’t see anyone outside, maybe you should go to the clubhouse.”

“I’ll be okay, Mom. You be careful, though.”

“Seriously, Kelly.”

“I’m fine, Mom.”

In low gear, the bike was ridiculously easy to pedal, even with the heavy trailer behind her. Tina stopped a moment, looked at her directions, then shifted to the middle gears and got moving. The handlebar-mounted “computer,” as the guy insisted on calling it, told her she was going 8 miles an hour, pedaling at 56 RPM, and the time was 11:13. She slipped into the road, now populated only by white pickups. None of them gave her any trouble, even slowing down and waiting patiently for a chance to get around her — no horns, no thrown objects, no close passes, no curses from an open window. She stuck to side streets as much as possible though, according to her directions, and avoided most of the traffic. Still: riding a real bike, especially one pulling a heavy load, was a lot different from the exercise bikes at the fitness center.

The gate at Laurel was closed, but swung open when she used her card as usual. By habit, she checked the mailbox before thinking about it, but then was not surprised to find it empty. Inside the gate, it was pretty quiet. All the vehicles were white pickups now, only a few of them parked. The computer’s clock showed 12:09, so she must have made some good time on the downhills.

She called again. “Kelly?”

“Mom! Are you home yet?”

“Just came through the gate, hon. What’s wrong?”

“Hurry! It — I think it’s got me!”

“Kelly! Get out of the house — now! Come toward the clubhouse, as far as you have to!”

“Hurry, Mom!” Kelly hung up.

Cursing, Tina stood on the pedals and got her load going.

continued…

Sunday, October 18, 2009 4 comments

Some Mason pix

Six weeks old today. Time flies, kids grow like weeds… and sometimes fall asleep.

Mason and Snippet snoozing

I took these Thursday. The plan was to post them last night, but I didn’t want to put them with a “things went w0rNg” story. Snippet was a pretty good sport about the pic, and even asked for a copy to put on her MySpace page.

He was in a pretty good mood on Thursday:

Mason

Actually, he’s a happy kid overall. He has his moments, like when he’s hungry or is trying to load his diaper, but don’t we all?

Saturday, October 17, 2009 No comments

When it Showers, it Pours

Mrs. Fetched had pretty much lined me up to do some maintenance down at the rental place yesterday… seems the shower faucet was loose again, after I’d tightened it up just a couple months ago. She sent the plumber to have a look, he said the splash board was rotten and that wasn’t his line of work. Well, it had been up there for a long time, I think since we replaced the tub back before FAR Manor swallowed my paycheck. Having little choice, I ran to Home Despot and got a new splash board and a tube of adhesive.

Using hammers, chisels, and fingers, the old splash board came off, revealing a piece of plywood underneath that I wasn't aware was there… and it was rotten around the faucet too. We took measurements, I wrote them on my palm (as opposed to a Palm Pilot) and went back to Home Despot to get a piece of replacement board while Big G disposed of the original piece, and changed the water filter while I was gone. We cut off the water, removed the faucet, and then drilled new holes to fit. At the last minute, I remembered that we needed to glue up the splash board — and cut it to size before putting it up.

The new splash board is some kind of plastic, which is good since it won’t rot… but it was rather difficult to cut. Big G tried a utility knife and a hack saw blade; I tried heating a utility knife (which worked better than one at room temperature), but then Big G got the jigsaw and finished the job. I stuck the glue in the caulk gun and slathered it onto the plywood, we slapped up the splash board and I caulked the edges, then Big G held the board in place while I drilled out the holes from the back. Plumber tape on the threads, slap the mounting nuts and water lines back in, looks pretty good. We went out to turn on the water again. The filter did its usual “leak a little, then seal up” routine, and I heard water splashing. I checked the lines where they connected to the shower and everything was reassuringly dry… but we still heard the water.

Suddenly Big G squawked, “the linen closet is flooded!” and threw a bunch of towels on the floor… by then it was leaking into the bathroom. This is usually a sign of hot water heater FAIL, and I told them so. So it looks like the plumber (who installed the water heater in the first place) will be back to fix it under warranty.

The only reason I can think of for it failing now is that turning the water off and back on created a stress of sorts. Mrs. Fetched is convinced that someone ran the hot water after we cut the water off… but with no pressure, I asked her, where would the water come from? “Doesn’t matter, it would run back,” she said. But run back to where? The water is cut off under the house. Sometimes, I can’t come anywhere close to figuring out her logic.

Today was supposed to involve cutting wood, especially since we’re already using the insert what with the cool weather. I think Panda and Daughter Dearest did some, or should I say Panda did it while DD slept in the truck, maybe enough for a couple nights. Oh well, there will be wood cutting tomorrow.

Thursday, October 15, 2009 3 comments

White Pickups, Conversations: Tina Ball

Contents

An an aside: this is the 1000th post on TFM. Dat’s a lotta bloggin’.




Hi, I’m Tina. Um… what am I supposed to say?

Whatever you like. Talk about yourself, what you were doing before.

Oh, okay. I am — was — manager of Legacy Product Maintenance at Maxcom. We were one of the bigger IT outsourcing firms. You probably remember our billboards, the ones with pictures of cats. One said, “Better IT service for less scratch,” and another one was “We clean up IT hairballs.” So anyway, legacy product maintenance doesn’t sound too sexy, but it was one of the higher-margin portions of our business. I had eight people working under me, nine if you count Jaya, our contractor. We had maintenance contracts, and they could ding our margins like when Vista then Windows 7 came out, but most of the time it was just a matter of keeping the customers happy with minor fixes.

What were the “sexy” parts of an IT business?

Oh, the big thing was the worldwide data centers. We had the primary one in Atlanta, of course; there was also one in Bahrain, one in Indonesia, and we were almost done with the center in Hilo when everyone drove off. Pretty much everyone wanted to transfer to Hilo, but we had a policy of hiring local labor as much as possible. It helped with the contracts and so forth. Personally, I think the data center in Bahrain was the most interesting — it was all solar powered and used underground water pipes to help with cooling. We were doing something similar in Hilo.

We monitored loads and electric rates at each data center, and shifted applications from one to the next in real time. To the user, it looked seamless — they might notice a slight delay during the state transfer, but that was it.

So what about yourself? Atlanta native, education, that sort of thing…

Haha, who’s an Atlanta native? I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, went to Ohio State, got a degree in Computer Science and an MBA. I met Charles in college, we got married about a month before I graduated — April 7, 1993 — and then we both got job offers in Atlanta. He was teaching biology at Georgia State, and I went to the IT department at Coke. I lasted a year there, got a better offer from Maxcom, and jumped ship. He stayed with State right up to the end. Kelly was our only child, she came along in December '94 — she’ll be 18 this winter. He didn’t want to have more than one kid because he thought there were too many people already, and I guess he was right… at the time, anyway. Me, I couldn’t juggle more than one kid and keep my career. We moved out to the suburbs in 2000 when the dot-bomb dropped and it was easy to find a house for not a lot of money. I wanted to make sure Kelly had good schools and a safe environment, and the house was a good investment. We weren’t getting anything for our rent but a two-bedroom condo close to our work.

We got divorced in 2008, not long after I got this promotion. He… well, there really isn’t any way to get around it, is there? He was gay, but he said he never could even admit it to himself until then. I wondered sometimes if that was an excuse to get away… I was devoting a lot more time and energy to my career than I was to the marriage, although I tried to be there for Kelly whenever I could. So next thing I know, he left me for another man. To be honest with you, I’m still trying to process that after three years.

It almost sounds like you had a bigger problem with the gay thing than the divorce thing.

*sigh* That sounds horrible, but I really can’t deny it. Much. Let’s say they were equally big problems for me. My parents were really conservative Baptists. I couldn’t even bring myself to tell them what really happened with our marriage, they had enough problems with the idea that their “little girl” got a divorce in the first place. They started with the I-told-you-so stuff, because Charles wasn’t much of a believer to begin with. He went to church a few times with me when we were dating, but neither of us bothered to go once we moved to Atlanta. They put on a happy face for us while we were married, but they never really warmed up to him in the first place, and vice versa.

But yeah, it was like a punch in the gut when Charles “came out” to me, as they say. I’d been brought up to think of gays as “them,” and now my own husband was one of “them”? I didn’t handle it well. I told him to get out, and that’s just what he did. We haven’t talked much since then, mostly to schedule visits with Kelly. They get along pretty well, and I guess I need to start trying myself.

So what do you think happened? Why are you still here?

I don’t have the foggiest idea, about what happened, anyway. Some of the others like to throw theories around. Why I’m still here? I guess it was because when I walked out Friday, and heard that… thing… calling to me, I knew I had to decide what was more important to me. I decided I had to be there for Kelly.

Back to Episode 4…

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 1 comment

Happy Birthday, Daughter Dearest!

But I need to know… how can you be 20, when I keep thinking I’m 20?

We went to her fave restaurant for dinner this evening. Mason came, and managed to bring The Boy and Snippet along, and now he’s here with Snippet.

It’s been a strange day, in a lot of respects. DoubleRed was on her way to Toccoa, and I was settling in to get some work done in relative peace & quiet (I worked at home today), when she called in a dither about her spark plugs being worn out and she couldn’t afford to have them changed. I told her to get the plugs and I’d change them, especially when I learned the plugs are up on top of the engine (where they’re really easy to reach). Of course, I couldn’t find the 5/8" plug socket (seems like it’s been missing for a while) and we had to run to town to get another. Since it was lunch time, we grabbed lunch too. We spent 30 minutes or more looking for the existing socket, and it took maybe 10 minutes to change out her plugs once I brought a new one home. For 4 bucks, you really have to cut your losses.

So we’re getting ready to play Apples to Apples and everyone is asking me if I’m playing (yes). Come back tomorrow, when we’ll be talking with Tina ball of White Pickups

Monday, October 12, 2009 6 comments

White Pickups, Episode 4

Contents

Note: This story has more rude language than FAR Future did. Nothing gratuitous, IMHO, but it’s there. —FARf




Tina again stepped toward the truck, pulling the cart behind her. It swung around and caught, and she let it go.

No more struggle. No more trouble. Come to us. Be one of us. Belong. It seemed like the thing to do… no more worrying about her job… the chaos… her daughter — Kelly!

“No!” Tina flung the key across the parking lot. She took a final step toward the truck, but shook her head and turned back. She pushed the cart back onto the sidewalk, panting, and fumbled her phone out of her purse.

“Hello? Mom?”

“Hi, Kelly. Um… something has gone wrong with my car. Could you come get me? I’m at the Saver-Market off the Pleasant Hill exit.”

“Sure Mom.” A minute later, Kelly called back, weeping. “My car, mom! They stole it right out of our garage and left… left….”

“A white pickup? That’s what happened here, too. Listen, honey: don’t go back in the garage. If you think you hear someone talking to you, get out of the house. I’ll get home, one way or another. If I have to walk, I’ll get home to you.”

“I’m scared, Mom!”

“Me too. But I’ll see you in a little while. I love you.” Tina disconnected and thought.

From memory, she knew it was seven or eight miles to the house from the Saver. A long walk even without a full grocery cart to think about, but what else could she do? She’d never come or gone to the supermarket without being on the freeway at least part of the time. After thinking about it a moment, she dug her Blackberry back out of her purse and started the map program. It took a fair amount of poking at the phone, but finally got a pretty good idea of how to go. She jotted the directions down in a notebook, tore out the page, and put it in a pocket. Now to get started —

Oh shit. She was wearing her work clothes, and that meant her work shoes. The good news was, there was a Shoe Rack in this strip and the Saver had cheap clothes that would work better for a hike. She pushed the cart back in the store and up to Sara’s register.

“Sara, can you watch this a minute for me? It looks like I’ll have to walk home, and I need some not-office clothes.”

“Sure, hon,” she said. “What happened?”

“My car got… replaced. By a white pickup.”

Sara’s eyes grew wide. “Those little trucks just spook me. I think you got the right idea. There’s t-shirts and sweat pants down by the pharmacy. Just slip into the bathroom and change, don’t worry about paying for them. I don’t think anyone cares now. I’ve changed my mind — if I haven’t heard from anyone in charge in the next hour, I’m getting outta here too.”

“I don’t blame you,” Tina said, “for being spooked or wanting to leave,” and hustled down to the clothes rack. She found a t-shirt in her size right away (it read “Super Saver” with the Saver-Mart logo reworked into a superhero emblem), and then a pair of grey sweat pants with a drawstring. These she took to the bathroom and they fit — a bit loose, but that was probably the right thing for a hike. On the way back to the checkout, she hooked another six-pack of bottled water and a box of energy bars. The only other “customer” left in the store came out of the beer aisle, pushing two loaded carts.

“Take those too,” Sara said upon seeing the extra merchandise. Too bad we don’t carry shoes, but at least you can find something at the Rack, right?”

“That’s what I’m hoping,” Tina said, writing on another page from her notebook. “Thanks for everything, Sara. If you need anything, here’s my number. I owe you.”

“Thanks, hon,” Sara smiled and misted up for a moment. “Hey. Maybe when this is over, we can have a coffee in the cafĂ© or something. You take care, now.”

Tina wheeled her cart down the sidewalk, work clothes draped over the groceries, just in time to see the man with two carts of beer wheel the carts up to a white pickup. He looked at the carts, then turned and opened the door. “Hey!” she yelled. The man stopped, turned halfway, then swung the door open. “Don’t do that!”

He looked at Tina for a moment, then shook his head. “I’m done,” he said. “Done. Done fightin’. Can’t do it.” He slipped inside, and the truck backed out of its spot and rolled away, as quiet as all the others. Tina started to glance at “her” truck, but thought better of it and pushed her own cart on down to the Shoe Rack.

A display at the bicycle shop just before the Shoe Rack caught her eye and she stood staring for a few moments. A touring bike stood proudly behind the glass, with a trailer of some sort attached. “Right!” she said, and moved on to the shoe store.

The Shoe Rack door stood open, but nobody was behind the register or on the floor — odd, the times she’d been in here there was always someone visible. “Hello!” she called, pushing the cart inside ahead of her. “I need to buy a pair of hiking shoes — anyone here?” No answer. Everyone had gone AWOL — she pushed away a mental image of her staff all driving white pickups and hunted for a suitable pair of shoes. It took nearly 20 minutes, trying different styles and sizes, to find a pair that felt comfortable enough for a long bike ride, then walked over to the register. She fished a pair of $20 bills out of her purse, gave herself $5 in change, and left. Maybe the world was ending around her, but principles were principles.

continued…

Conversations: Tina Ball

Saturday, October 10, 2009 3 comments

Breathing is Good

StinkbugI cut out of work a few minutes early yesterday afternoon, being Friday and all. As always, especially at any time before 6 p.m., the first three miles out of the office could almost be walked faster, and can certainly be bicycled faster (I’ve seen it). So as I was sitting in the clot, the smellphone rang.

“Come by the hospital,” Mrs. Fetched said. “Mom’s here, and it’s not good.” Well… after you’ve said in the hospital, then it’s not good is sort of redundant. But Mrs. Fetched sounded upset more than usual during one of these episodes, and my first thought was that her mom’s aneurysm blew… but when her blood pressure soared from seeing the cows knocking down sections of fence earlier this year, I figured if that didn’t do it nothing would. But it was another issue.

Mrs. Fetched’s parents went to Ryan’s for lunch yesterday, even though her mom wasn’t feeling all that good and only ate a bowl of potato soup. She got behind the wheel, said something along the lines of “this is it, goodbye,” and keeled over. He freaked out, which is understandable, and gave her chest squeezes to keep some air moving around. Then he saw her cellphone in the van, called 911, and got back to it. The paramedics took out her teeth, got her some oxygen, and took her on down to the hospital.

So I met them in the emergency ward… several people were walking (or sitting) around with face masks, which I figure were people showing swine flu symptoms (the masks do a better job keeping the virus in sick people than it does keeping it out of healthy people). Mrs. Fetched and her dad got me up to date with what was going on, and we sat around doing not much of anything for most of two hours. The ER staff at the hospital managed to misplace her teeth, and tried to claim the paramedics didn’t turn them over at first… this resulted in Mrs. Fetched going into “DO SOMETHING NOW (without actually doing anything to solve the problem)” mode, which cost us about two hours this afternoon.

Meanwhile, her mom recovered enough that they moved her from ER to ICU, and took out the ventilator shortly before noon. By the time we got down there, she was sitting up and able to talk. A gaggle of relatives filed in, and she finally got worn out. Mrs. Fetched and her older sister (not Big V, as you’ll see shortly) pitched in and got business taken care of. Right now, her primary concern is getting her teeth back.

Not to be outdone, Big V went into some kind of convulsion yesterday. As expected, she’s not doing a thing to take care of herself — her diabetes is pretty much eating her up, and she doesn’t seem to care. So now she’s in the same hospital, getting surgery on her foot (due to an infection). So there’s two members of the same family in the same hospital, and neither car wreck nor fire was involved.

A rather strange Saturday, even by FAR Manor standards.

Thursday, October 08, 2009 4 comments

A bad sign becomes a good sign…

Some longer-time readers may remember when the developers got too close, about a month before I posted the first episode of FAR Future. What a difference 2-½ years and a housing crash makes, right? Then and now…

New subdivision, May 2007 Defunct subdivision, October 2009


The developer put up a sign, mowed down some trees, cut a few roads into the land… and went Tango Uniform. The banks are trying to get their money — all their money — from a prospective buyer. I got two words: Fat. Chance. I suppose if they hold on long enough, they’ll get it… but in the meantime, they’ll be on the hook for the property taxes. Meanwhile, it’s an attractive nuisance of sorts: people hunt the place, and I’ve been sorely tempted to ride the motorcycle in and spin a few doughnuts. Last year, the cops busted some Gwinnett County folks who had started farming the former farmland… unfortunately, their crop was “a green leafy substance” aka The Evil Weed. Seems like most of the drug and gang issues we have here involve a Gwinnett County connection, although that didn’t cross my mind at all when I set the action (at least the early action) of White Pickups there.

Speaking of plants and weeds, the fall wildflowers/weeds are doing their thing now:

Fall flowers

I took these during a walk yesterday afternoon, as well as the overgrown sign, using the new 100-300mm lens. A couple little girls bouncing on a trampoline in the front yard stopped to talk to me and ask me what I was doing. I figured a parental type would be shortly outside, wondering what strange man was talking to their kids, but I was spared a potential grilling and went on my way.

Mason had his first-month checkup yesterday. He’s gained nearly 3 pounds, and is pretty healthy beyond the usual infantile afflictions. He has thrush, which looks like some milk got stuck to his tongue, but it’s already responding to the medication and right now his biggest problem is constipation. That’s pretty miserable for everyone within earshot, but fortunately it’s starting to (ahem) pass. He’s one of the most enthusiastic babies I’ve ever fed… I recorded some of the noises he makes when he’s chowing on the bottle. Have a listen…



And right now, he’s “sound” asleep. I hope he forgives me for this when he’s older.

Monday, October 05, 2009 6 comments

White Pickups, Episode 3

Contents

Friday, September 16, 2011

The phone rang once, waking Tina. A moment later, Kelly stuck her head through the bedroom door. “They closed school, Mom,” she said, and paused a moment. “Do you think you could just stay home, too?”

“I’m the boss, I have to be there, hon. Besides, I have to get groceries,” Tina said. “We have the cookout this weekend, remember?”

“You think we’ll still have a cookout? With everybody just… I don’t know. Disappearing?”

“Hey, it’s Friday. They’ll re-appear in time for the weekend.” Kelly laughed. “But we’ll probably close at noon, if people aren’t coming in. Just sit tight and I’ll be back as soon as I can, OK?”

The white pickups were a super-majority this Friday morning — perhaps every third vehicle was something else. But despite — or because of — the nature of the traffic, things moved along quickly and Tina got to Maxcom in record time. The parking deck was nearly empty, except for a few cars near the building entrance. She parked and crossed the breezeway to the office building.

A dozen people milled around the front door. “Outdoor meeting?”

“We’re locked out,” one of them said. “Nobody’s inside, as far as we can tell.”

Tina thought it over for a moment. “Just go home, then. I’ll take the heat for the decision,” she said, giving them her name and position. “HR told me we might close early today — from the looks of it, we closed before we opened.” She walked back to her car and wound down the ramp, thinking she should have just stayed home and not wasted the gas. Something really weird was going on — even the street people were picking up on it; one standing on the sidewalk, across the street from the parking deck, held a sign reading “HIDE YOURSELF FROM THE EATER OF SOULS” — and the white pickup trucks filling the roads had to be related.

She got off at the Pleasant Hill exit, and the red light gave her an opportunity to scan the QuickFill across the way. There were people getting gas, but not one of the vehicles at the pumps was a white pickup. The customers watched the pickups, all with tinted windows and no other adornments, go by. Some looked wary. Some just looked scared.

The Saver-Market was open, thankfully, but only one register was running and Tina saw several people just walk out unmolested. The shelves were stripped of milk and bread, the usual run-up to an ice storm. As she picked up a jumbo pack of ground beef, the thought reminded her of power lines on the pavement after last winter’s storm and the stench of thawed and rotting meat. She put the ground beef back and filled her cart with canned food, several bags of charcoal, and a portable grill. Almost as an afterthought, she grabbed several bottles of wine and piled them on.

The cashier, a business-like black woman, turned from watching other customers walk out to Tina and her full cart. “You might as well walk out with that, too,” she said. “Nobody’s gonna stop you,” as Tina began loading the conveyor. Her name tag said SARA - CUSTOMER SATISFACTION and was festooned with various badges. She seemed a little older than her years, but Tina thought of “her” Sara, one of the early absentees.

“Well, you’re here, and there’s no line for a change…”

The cashier chuckled at Tina’s attempt at humor. “Good point. Don’t pass up the chance for fast service. Um, I hate to ask you this, but can you bag your stuff? There really aren’t enough people to keep the store open, but nobody who showed up today has the authority to close, either.”

“Sure,” Tina said. “So why are you still here, if it doesn’t seem to matter?”

“I guess I’m like you: I prefer to do what’s right than do what everyone else is doing,” she said, zipping cans across the scanner faster than Tina could load them into bags. “I’ll stay until my shift is over, or until someone closes the place.”

“Yeah — I got to work, and nobody had opened the office. I told everyone to go home. It’s a long drive, sometimes.”

“My place is only a couple miles,” Sara said. “I walk it unless it’s raining. Good exercise, and the parking lots are good as sidewalks. That’ll be… wow. $352.87. I don’t see bills that big very often.”

Tina fished her debit card out of her purse and swiped it in the reader. “Yeah, I’m stocking up. You might want to do the same, things are really getting weird out there.”

“Oh, I’ve already got a cartload in the breakroom. I’ll push it home and bring it back later. Enter your PIN, and you’ll be on your way.”

Tina punched 4793, the date of a wedding that ceased to have much meaning long ago, and the screen flashed APPROVED. She pushed her load out into the sunlight.

Every vehicle in the lot was a white pickup.

After a stunned moment, she pushed the lock button on her keychain, and the truck parked where she had left her Subaru chirped and flashed its lights. The truck… beckoned to her, somehow, and she stepped forward, almost leaving the cart behind. She stopped and shook her head, then felt the call again. You can belong, it seemed to say. Join us…

continued…

Friday, October 02, 2009 2 comments

Roundup for the Week

The Boy and His BoyThe Boy and Snippet (and, of course, Mason) spent last weekend and the first couple days of the week with us. To make a long story short, Snippet had strep, Mason had gas cramps, and neither one of them were doing very well. Pitching in is what extended families do, and so we pitched. Mason usually gets quiet (but curious) when I walk him around, so I did a fair amount of that trying to get him settled down. His issues turned out to be related to some cheap formula; switching that took care of him. Some antibiotics took care of Snippet’s. So they left Wednesday morning, and I managed to sleep through the night both Wednesday and Thursday. Seeing as I hadn’t done that in the weeks prior to Mason’s visit, it certainly wasn’t all his fault.

Mrs. Fetched’s knee is mending, far more slowly than she’d like. She’s gone down to one crutch, but can drive… us all crazy. :-) Actually, she’s mostly been pretty good about the whole situation.

The camera goodies I ordered a couple weeks ago arrived last week. I put the flash to work right away — you’ll notice the lack of background shadows in the above photo, compared to the one you’ll see following the link, bouncing the flash off the ceiling is really helpful — but the telephoto zoom had to wait a while to get a little testing. As I expected, it’s a great lens for outdoor work. Between the 28-135mm zoom that came with the camera for general use, the f/1.8 50mm lens for indoor venues, and the new one for long shots, that pretty much covers the bases. Having image stabilization in the lens would have been nice, but that adds nearly $400 to the price and I already have a monopod. The monopod should help with bug shots; once I’m in place — about 8 feet away — I can wait for them to land and not bother them much. (I chased a bee around and ended up with a lot of motion blur, bummer.)

But if your subject is holding still, it’s not difficult to reach out and grab it with this lens — I expect it will come in very handy for sports and candid shots outside:

Still life

Larger subjects… well, let’s just say this isn’t an architectural lens unless you have a lot of space. I was standing about 50 yards away for these… it gives you an idea of what the extremes are:

Zoom extremes

OK… you know I wasn’t going to let you get away with only one Mason pic all week, right?

Daughter Dearest feeding Mason

If something interesting happens this weekend, I’ll post… otherwise, Monday morning brings Episode 3 of White Pickups… and the story itself is going to pick up a little as well.

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