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Saturday, June 30, 2007 11 comments

More on Finding Stuff

I was close to overload this morning: between fixing breakfast, gathering up boxes for a yard sale at the in-laws’, and getting ready to button up the chicken houses for the new batch (coming tomorrow), I was amazed I kept it all straight.

One of the yard sale items was a commercial-grade VCR. Mrs. Fetched has nearly a half-dozen of them, leftovers from her analog video editing days. “See if you can find the remotes for the rest,” she said, waving the one remote she was able to locate (when your remote has a jog/shuttle wheel, you’re uptown!). Naturally, I didn’t find the remotes, but I did find: the voltmeter (in the coffee table drawer), Mrs. Fetched’s English Allen wrenches (on The Boy’s dresser), and my trouble light (buried under a bunch of stuff in a box in the garage). I vaguely remember carrying the Allen wrenches up to his room to dismantle a bed frame, but thought I’d put them back. The trouble light was about where I thought it should have been, but buried deeper than I’d expected. I have no clue why the voltmeter was in the coffee table.

After the chicken houses, I was sweaty and dirty: in other words, in perfect form to go pick blackberries. I cut the top off a milk jug I’d rinsed out for the purpose, sprayed myself down with bug bomb, and marched out to hunt and gather. There were a few nice big ones by Crissy the Shriekbox’s pen; I endured the barking and grabbed those, then hiked through the woods behind the manor to the pasture. There are a couple of really good stands of blackberries around some brush piles, and they did not disappoint. I also found where the Japanese Beetles have been hanging out; shaking the vines elicited a noise like a squadron of Zeros taking off. While they had sucked some of the berries dry, many others were intact and as big as a fingertip (all the way to the first knuckle). I don’t know how the berries managed to get so big what with the lack of rain through most of June, but I filled my jug and headed back as more rain threatened. I got three or four drops is all; most of the rain went about a half mile south. I’m looking forward to stashing some jelly for the winter.

Friday, June 29, 2007 5 comments

Good (technology) news

Current music: BassJunkees

Two news stories put a smile on my face this week. Quality journalism, as always, from The Register.

California, one of the more technologically-savvy states, has demanded that voting machine manufacturers submit the source code to their machines for a top-to-bottom review. ES&S whined mightily about it, and they were three months past the due date, but they finally coughed up the goods.

I hope the Secretary of State’s office was smart enough to insist that what they furnish could be used to generate software that they can compare with what’s already on the machines. Of course, ES&S would claim something like “oh, we accidentally shipped a debug load.”


The RIAA, being the scum of the earth that they are, tried shaking down a 10-year-old girl in 2005 — even going so far as to try contacting her at her school by claiming to be her grandmother. Her mom had the spine and brains to countersue the SOBs, and the RIAA (like any bully when stood up to) finally backed down. But mom? She’s upping the ante.

Good for her!

You keep siccing your dog on people, and eventually you’re going to run into someone with a meaner dog. Or lawyer.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007 7 comments

Not much happening

Current music: AfterHours.fm

Just counting down the days until The Boy is off house arrest, then gone, then vacation. I figure we’ll have to mark the blueberry bushes somehow, now that we know they exist, so we can prune them at the right time of year. I picked a handful while waiting for the coffee maker to warm up, and told Mrs. Fetched to put them in her cereal (but we had no milk, dangit). This is the time of year for blackberries, too; my first impression is that they’ll be small but sweet. Typical early-July weekend coming up: we’ll be picking berries, dodging thunderstorms, and what would life be without a chicken house to wreck those two days a week I have off? I like taking a few small jars of blackberry jelly and stashing them until winter. Then I can open one up on a cold morning, spread it on some toast, and remember how dang hot it was when we were picking them.

I have more jalapeƱos coming in than I’ll be able to use. I’ll have to can them, and I won’t have to plant more for a loooong time. Looks like I’ll have some bell peppers this weekend though, and the first ripe tomatoes should follow soon after. The basil growing in the bell pepper bed is doing very well… and once the tomatoes come in, I’ll probably be able to combine them into something really yummy.

The last few days have not been good for finding things. I got stuck fixing supper tonight, and had the hardest time finding the spaghetti. I couldn’t find the crescent rolls, even though they were in the crisper where Mrs. Fetched said they were (for a change) and I dug around looking for them. The bag of black beans were in the pantry today, although I looked all through there over the weekend. Mrs. Fetched said it’s never my day for finding stuff, and that’s mostly true… but the last few days have been worse than usual. Usually, if what I’m looking for looks like what I expect it to, and it’s not at some crazy angle, I can find it… but if it’s a different color or shape, I’ll often overlook it right in front of me. Small comfort, but The Boy couldn’t find the bag of lettuce in the crisper and it was right there (but I’d already started other veggies).

At least I’m working at home tomorrow, so I won’t have to look for the road.

Monday, June 25, 2007 14 comments

By the Numbers

Some random numerical thoughts…

Chance of rain today (forecast): 30%
Amount of dry pavement on the way home: 20%
Number of times I patted myself on the back for remembering the rain suit: 1
Cost to fill the motorcycle gas tank: $5.50
Chance of rain tomorrow: 30%
Hours The Boy’s girlfriend has spent at FAR Manor since Friday evening: 50
Hours on the road for Mrs. Fetched and Daughter Dearest this weekend: 20
Days until The Boy gets rid of the ankle bracelet: 7
Days until The Boy gets an involuntary TB01: 8
Days it took to finish the floor: 18
Boxes of flooring left over: 2
Days before my vacation starts: 18
Days of vacation I wish I had:

What’s got your number? or what numbers got you?

Sunday, June 24, 2007 3 comments

(Upper) Floored: The Final Frontier

After a nice afternoon at the resort, I stuck a couple of frozen pizzas in the oven and called it supper. As I didn’t have anything more pressing going on, I then decided to go ahead and finish up the floor. It took maybe an hour or so, and only hit one snag: I thought I would be able to slip the (thinned out) strips under the trim around the door, but it didn’t quite work that way. I ended up pulling the trim out at the bottom, and that gave me the necessary clearance. After feeding the last piece to the table saw, I put them back and got the camera.

Pictures? Ha. This occasion deserves a video! (10MB AVI) The bandwidth-challenged might prefer the thumbnail page instead.

I’ll leave it to the females to select (and preferably install) floor molding.

Friday, June 22, 2007 9 comments

Cuddlebuddies and wild berries

Wow. The last time I mentioned Daughter Dearest’s boyfriend was nearly two months ago. What with one thing and another, he never got back down here. They’ve been staying in touch on-line and by phone, and got into some arguments anyway, and actually broke up for a couple of weeks. But with school out, she hasn’t had enough to do with her part-time job and the chicken houses, and got to missing him big-time.

It hasn’t helped that The Boy hooked up with a girl on Myspace, ostensibly the keyboardist for the band, but they got more into each other than the music. She’s 16, kind of marginal age-wise, but better than the Nightmare Scenario that played out a while back: he hooked up with a girl who said she was 18, but was (according to her parents anyway) 12. P.O.D. went to pick her up, looked at her, and asked to see her driver’s license (“it’s suspended”) before letting her hop in. The phone calls started very soon after that, with everyone freaking out and P.O.D. taking her home as fast as he could. She kept calling after that, maybe even crossing the stalking line, and ran away a couple of days later with her 10-year-old cousin, then called here. The Boy got her to tell him where she was… and we immediately relayed that to her parents. They were somewhat peeved at The Boy, and I thought he might get busted (and that would Be It For Him until October) — but when I told them to check her Myspace page and look where she said she was 18, they were a bit more understanding. The current girlfriend is more on the up-and-up — we’ve talked to her mom — and very cute. I’m not sure what she sees in the uglified mess that is The Boy these days… but then again, she is blonde.

But I digress. DD hasn’t seen her boyfriend in a couple of months, and this girl being over here all too often lately hasn’t helped. She’s been pushing to spend a long weekend in his town when we go to Michigan next month, but then decided she just couldn’t wait that long. After I told her I couldn’t get time off work because I’m trying to finish a project in time to go when originally planned (the truth), she managed to persuade Mrs. Fetched to go up with her for a long weekend. So I’m stuck here with The Boy, a bunch of his friends, and my patience has been running thin with him this last week. Pray for me.

First harvest: jalapenos, blackberries, blueberriesAll is not doom and gloom, however. Mrs. Fetched left some mail for me to put in the box, so I walked it down when I got home from work. As I was hiking back up the driveway, I noticed that there were some ripe blackberries in the briars alongside. I grabbed a bowl and started picking, working my way around the back of the house and then behind the detached garage. That’s where I found several blueberry bushes; and some of them were ripe too — pea-sized but tasty. There’s plenty more to get next weekend too.

Finally, I worked my way around to where the jalapeƱo plants are. It looks like a dog might have run across the bed and knocked over two of the plants; the smaller peppers shown came off a stalk that was broken off completely. The Boy and his friends were hanging out at the bottom of the driveway, so I finished the circle and tossed him one of the small peppers. Several of us (including me) took a bite of it — the pepper part was fairly mild but the seeds were hot. But the blackberries were sweet too; I’ve got both The Boy and his girlfriend to agree to a little picking expedition tomorrow morning. Drop off a couple of things for Mrs. Fetched after that, then it’s off to the resort (where I escaped, sort of, last year) for basic hanging out at the pool. I was hoping to fix black beans & rice for supper tomorrow, but can’t find the beans.

Anyway… if The Boy can refrain from pushing my buttons, I might be able to salvage this weekend.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007 2 comments

FAR Manor, 2058: Augering In

Vision the Third, finally.

Vision the First
Vision the Second

This is perhaps the worst-case scenario, or maybe it’s only as bad as I want to imagine: Drastic climate change. Energy production plunges. Nuclear war in the Middle East: India vs. Pakistan; Israel vs. Iran. American citizens quietly starving in front of their TVs… at least until the power went out. Starving Americans then rioting in every city and most towns. The war of all against all was the end of the beginning.

Overseas, things were worse — especially in countries with large or dense populations. A desperate Chinese government rounded up millions of citizens, packed them into every ship they had, rigged with makeshift sails, and sent them across the ocean. Many ships were lost in storms or simply came apart under loads they were never designed to handle; those that reached the Americas were full of unarmed starvelings, too weak to fight but facing defenders little better-off. Some survived, and spread across the rapidly-depopulating countryside.

Nuclear winter blunted global warming for a few years, but by 2032 Greenland’s ice was all but gone — and much of the Antarctic ice melted away as well. Sea levels rose over 100 feet, changing everything. Planet Georgia, and much of the mid-section of America, endured near-desert conditions — until weather patterns shifted and brought rain, rain, and more rain. In 2058, FAR Manor’s climate resembled the equatorial rain forests of 2000; north of the Appalachians, however, the desert stretched to the Ohio Valley, cutting off most land travel between north and south. Hurricanes, the monster spawn of beastly-hot summers, brought rain and devastation to rain forest and desert alike.

A new civilization came together around the Great Lakes, New England, and the maritime provinces. Perhaps a few million people survived the first half of the century, but humanity is now on the rebound. A greatly enlarged Hudson’s Bay is a new frontier. A few stubborn souls clung to existence in the south, some of them old and some new…

“Revered Grandmother?” the Weaver woman spoke through the door. “It is time.”

Time to bury her husband, in other words. She wiped her eyes once more, then struggled to her feet. She knew better than to ask for help — that would fill her hut with Weavers wanting the honor of helping the Revered Grandmother. Her knees popped — the constant humidity was not kind to them — and she steadied herself with a cane.

Miracle of miracles, there was no rain today — in fact, the sky was almost clear. “An auspicious sign,” Mother Weaver said. “The heavens open to receive the honored soul of Revered Grandfather Teacher.” One of the Weavers broke into song, and the others joined in. Like the Weavers themselves, their talk was a thorough mix of English, Spanish, and Chinese — she had long considered it impenetrable, but in the last few years she had started to catch on (and was startled to find that even into her 90s, she could still learn a thing or two) — and the song was simultaneously one of lament for the loss of their Teacher and one of joy for the soul entering Heaven. The cadence was simple enough, but the tune itself seemed to shift just as she thought she’d caught on. Some things about this new way of life she would never grasp in what time God had remaining for her. One phrase, “here between fire and flood,” she recognized as their name for the place where they lived, what her husband called “Planet Georgia” to his dying day. South winds from the Gulf, miles closer than before, brought rain this far, but only a little farther, into the mountains. Not far north of here, places once called Tennessee and Kentucky were called only Desert.

As the song ended, the Weavers joined hands, including Revered Grandmother in the line. They walked a narrow path, still joined, to the clearing where her husband — their Revered Grandfather Teacher — lay in state in a great basket of woven kudzu. Mother Weaver led them around the body in a circle, where she took the hand of the last Weaver in line. They remained quiet, some looking expectantly at her until she realized that the eldest was to speak first. A whim took her, and she began to sing — solo at first, but the Weavers soon joined her. Of course they knew the song; she had taught it to them:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see…

The grief overtook her, and the other Weavers continued the song as they could. It ended as he had, quick and ragged, and that seemed right somehow for this occasion. An unbidden smile came as she thought of how he would have rolled his eyes and reminded them that the ending was the most important part of the song. Mother Weaver then led the people in another song, whose tune was one she recognized — but the lyrics were some he had likely made up at some time. He rarely sang things like that around her… she bowed her head so the Weavers wouldn’t see her stifling a laugh. It was so like him, to take an innocent song and turn the lyrics into something bawdy. Perhaps he had achieved some sort of immortality on this side of Heaven: the Weavers would keep the part of him that he’d given…

They began another one of their own songs, one that she didn’t know, and her mind began to wander. They had managed to send their children and grandchildren to the Great Lakes, where he had family to sponsor them. Then they survived the desert time, back before the rains came back to stay, although the old house had burned to the ground in one of the constant forest fires. Soon after, the green came and with it came the Weavers. He had found one on a walk, left behind with a broken leg, fending off three wild dogs. He shot two of the dogs before the third ran for it, then set and splinted the leg and carried him (he was old, but the other was little larger than a child) to their camp of woven mud-faced huts.

Soon after that, they started finding kudzu baskets full of fruits and vegetables, and the occasional dressed game, left at their door overnight. The gifts had arrived at a providential time; one or the other of them had been too sick to both take care of and feed themselves. Eventually, they slowly learned to speak to each other, and then he began to teach them how to use the leavings of civilization to improve their lives. Kudzu had been a nuisance in their old lives; to the Weavers, it was Life itself: the roots and leaves were food, and they used the vines to make everything from baskets and mats to furniture and even shelters. When they weren’t looking for food or sleeping, they were singing and weaving baskets — thus had they started calling the hunter-gatherers “Weavers,” and they had taken the name for themselves.

Mother Weaver said something, and six men lined up on either side of the body. They gently lifted the basket, raising him over their shoulders, and carried him past the house. Near the old roadside, where a flagpole once stood flying the banner of a nation now all but forgotten, they stopped at a hole and lowered him in. Mother Weaver then touched her elbow and led her to the graveside. Again that expectant pause; she looked around and then down at the body.

“We… we come to honor the life of the man you knew as Revered Grandfather Teacher, and I knew as my husband. Today he would have been 100 years old. There were times, especially before the rain, that we never thought to live as long as we have. But God has blessed us: He sent the rain and brought us new friends. He became your Teacher: and what has he taught you?”

“He has taught us to control our numbers, that we may not strip the land of its bounty.”

“He has taught us to keep the old roads clear, that we may easily move from place to place in search of game, and to leave a message to others that this land is settled.”

“He has taught us to respect the leavings of the old civilization, and to use them properly.”

“He has taught us to read the stories and books of the old civilization.”

“He has taught us how our waste can be used to nourish the earth.”

They continued around the circle, each Weaver naming a teaching and tossing a handful of dirt onto the basket. After the last Weaver honored the Teacher thus, two of the men took up shovels, old spades undoubtedly salvaged from a long-abandoned garage, and filled the grave. They finished by pushing a great kudzu root into the mound and watering it. Again, she had to stifle a laugh: planting kudzu on someone’s grave would have been a great insult in the old days. Now, it was simply a matter of repaying the debt: kudzu nourished the Weavers in life; the Weavers (and their Teacher) would nourish the kudzu in death.

Mother Weaver and a few of the elders led her back to her house. “It is not right,” Mother Weaver said, “for Revered Grandmother to be left alone. We shall choose a young woman to stay with you, so that you are cared for and lack for nothing. It does not repay our debt to your husband, but we do this gladly to honor his memory.”

“Will any of your women be content to stay in one place like this?”

“Any of us will be honored to share your life, Revered Grandmother,” another woman said. “Revered Grandfather Teacher tells us that in due time, the land between fire and flood will cool and become as it was in your youth. Perhaps by living with you, our people can learn to live in houses so that we will know how when the time comes.”

She was startled: even now, when the End seemed to have come, she could still find reasons to live — and serve. “I will teach you what I can,” she said.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007 12 comments

In the “I didn’t really need to know that” department…

The Boy, yesterday, told me: “By the way, your Civic can do 140. That’s what it topped out at.”

He may have only been trying to harass me — but whether or not that was downhill with a tailwind, I really didn’t want to know. It would explain why letting him drive it affected the mileage like pouring a gallon of gas on the ground, though.

TB05, TB09, and Banned Practice

The Boy, once again, has screwed himself over by not thinking ahead nor taking us seriously. After I bitched about his “band practice” leaving beer cans strewn all over the garage a few weeks back, I told them not to bring more beer to the manor. The Boy, of course, claims to have not gotten the memo (TB05)… but then why would empties be turning up in the trash can instead of the garage floor?

So this brings us to Sunday afternoon. Mrs. Fetched wanted the cooler to carry ice down to her mom’s. I found it in the detached garage… with a bunch of empty beer cans, and an empty (but still smelly) bottle of Jagermeister.

“That’s it,” said Mrs. Fetched when she got a look (and whiff). “No more band practice.” As happens all too often, it was left to me to execute the decision, since she had to spend the evening and all night at the chicken houses (it was the night to catch them). I usually hate doing this, because she has changed her tune and left me looking stupid too often, but she wouldn’t be there to rescind the decision (and she’s gotten better about that lately anyway). Besides, I was the one complaining about the drinking… probably because they were hiding it from Mrs. Fetched a bit more.

So when I picked up The Boy from his counseling session (which isn’t doing him much good as far as I can tell), he said something about band practice and I said it was cancelled.

“Why?” he demanded. “I’m having band practice.”

“Too late,” I said. “I already called P.O.D. and told him it wasn’t happening.”

“You can’t do that! I want to know why!”

“Because I said no drinking during band practice, and you guys bring it anyway. We found the beer cans and Jagermeister in the cooler. Don’t you remember why you have that ankle bracelet?” (Probation violation via underage drinking, for those of you just now tuning in.)

“I only have one or two.” (He’s told Mrs. Fetched that he hasn’t been drinking at all.)

I just laughed. “You’re always talking about Jagermeister, and presto! Here’s an empty bottle.”

Pause for two seconds. “That doesn’t mean there was anything in it. What if I just had it to draw a copy of the logo?”

Again, I laughed. “You expect me to believe that?!”

“Well, we’re having band practice today. You can’t tell me I can’t.”

“Our house, our rules.”

“It’s my house too!”

“You don’t pay for it, you don’t clean up anything…”

“I don’t mess anything up!”

“Except for the beer cans you and your friends leave all over the place.” (Cigarette butts too, although they started throwing them in a can since we threatened to cut off band practice earlier. He’s already as much as confirmed that he’s going right back to the pot as soon as his probation is over — when he asked why I thought that, he was grinning; I mentioned that all his new t-shirts, his lyrics, his drawings, all of it is drug-related. He started trotting out the justifications, naturally. TB09, it shouldn’t be illegal anyway.)

So this dragged on into the evening, with me alternately trying to introduce him to the Real World and just not saying anything (usually when he was demanding or cursing). I was waiting for a TB04, but fortunately that never happened. At one point, he accused us of not doing anything for him; I replied, “We moved heaven and earth to keep you out of jail the second time. Well, your mom did; I was ready to just let you sit there.” He had very little to say after that — he’s always been under the impression that Mrs. Fetched was the hardcase here.

Around 9 p.m., he finally gave up, after slamming only one door. After he settled down, I let him use the computer since I was getting tired anyway. I’m sure he said bad things about us all over Myspace… but I really don’t care what he thinks. A TB01 is coming, the day after the ankle bracelet comes off, whether he wants to leave or not. Mrs. Fetched told him so.

Sunday, June 17, 2007 5 comments

Who Ya Gonna Call?

The Boy and J had a brilliant plan this morning: stall going to the chicken houses by playing Need for Speed: Underground. So J was fiddling with the remote, trying to get the Game Cube up on the TV and only getting the broadcast channels or the DVD player. The Boy said “press the third button down,” but that didn’t work either.

Then Daughter Dearest picked up the remote. The Boy was going, “It’s not working,” but she had the Game Cube up in a matter of seconds.

Do you want to talk to the man in charge, or the woman who knows what’s going on?

Saturday, June 16, 2007 8 comments

(Upper) Floored: Approaching the Finish Line

Completed gable areaAs it turns out, Nothing Happened yesterday. We ended up watching a couple of movies (Flushed Away and Syriana) and that was pretty much it. The glue supply was getting low; we called Big V since she was at Home Depot, but she was at a different store than the one we usually go to and they didn’t have it in stock. Oh well.

Daughter Dearest and I went up this afternoon and used up the rest of the glue, putting down one entire row and two pieces of another before the glue ran out completely. Looks like we’ll get some glue tonight (and Mrs. Fetched will look at floor molding while we’re there) and finish up tomorrow.

If you look at the picture (as usual, click to enlarge), you might notice that the strip on the left is shrinking a little more than perspective would account for. Due to the non-squareness of the room, we hit the gable a little crooked (it’s tapered too) and had to finagle the sides. That's what table saws are for.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007 10 comments

(Upper) Floored: Laying it Down

Flooring going downLast time we went upstairs, the floor was ready for us to commence. And last night, Mrs. Fetched and I did just that, laying down two boxes worth.

Amazingly enough, Daughter Dearest didn’t see fit to come up and help us out in any possible way… I just can’t imagine her not wanting to make sure it got finished as quickly as possible.

Naturally, we have a few angles and corners, and that’s where the circular saw comes in. We had to slice about half an inch off the side of the board in that protruding corner in front of the closet door. I’m not really looking forward to the gable part; with our luck, we’ll have to slice off both sides. But if we can average two boxes a night, we should have it done in about a week.

UPDATE: I came home last night to find that Mrs. Fetched and Daughter Dearest had been busy through the day. It’s almost halfway done now!

Monday, June 11, 2007 7 comments

FAR Manor, 2058: Crash & Burn

Vision the First

Vision the Second.

We are heading into pessimistic territory here, but by no means the worst case: Wars abroad and chaos at home tore apart what little of America was left after GW Bush was through with it. Suburbia emptied out, then was repopulated by urban refugees once food supply lines collapsed for good. Climate change hit hard west of the Mississippi; the plains again became a Dust Bowl while sea levels rose roughly 20 feet (and counting), swamping most of the world’s great cities and inundating several small nations. Refugees from the former bread-basket collided with those fleeing the coasts, and the ensuing free-for-all was the final nail in the coffin of the US. The most optimistic estimates put the population of the former nation at just over 40 million; this remnant is scattered along most of the new coastal areas and around the Great Lakes. Planet Georgia’s inhabitants live mostly along the coast and the old pre-Fall city of Agusta (Augusta). Lately, both the weather patterns and civilization have begun to settle into new configurations…

Old Guy sat impassively in the wagon, cradling the ancient carbine, watching over the troop. Four of the younger folk sat or stood around the wagon, keeping watch although the whole month had gone by without seeing any hostiles. This far north, the wildlife had mostly forgotten about humans and made for easy pickings — this much seemed like the only luck on an unlucky trek. Old Guy had directed them north and west from Agusta, backtracking only once to put a wide margin between themselves and the ghosts that surely ruled Ol’ Lanna.

The old roads were more overgrown the farther they went; since skirting Ol’ Lanna, they had to cut their way through much of it. Fallen trees often blocked the way now, and they settled on having one horse pull the wagon and the second ready to pull trees out of the way. Kudzu covered the road; after rolling into a ditch once, Frenk and Tanni walked ahead and poked the ground to make sure the pavement was where they thought. It was slow going, unlucky, and the youths had begun to grumble when they were sure Old Guy wouldn’t hear.

Two nights ago, they had slept uneasily in a crumbling building at the center of a long-abandoned town; Old Guy called it “the old courthouse.” It was a government building, he reassured them, so they would offend no ghosts. But Tanni thought perhaps he had been lucky that the dream he’d dreamed in that place was just out of reach… to grasp it would have perhaps been grasping madness. Ghosts went where they would, Frenk’s da had once said, and those men who were more at home on the job might well haunt the offices and work stations that defined them in life. Since that night, they had managed all of eight or nine miles, going into a place where even the signs of long-abandoned dwellings were thinning out. It was an empty place, one that the kudzu and pines would try to fill in vain.

Around mid-afternoon, they reached a crumbling culvert. Old Guy leaned forward to look at the sides, and grunted in satisfaction. A creek ran under the old road here, quick and clear. “We’ll stop on the other side,” he said. “You can take the horses down for water, and take a break. It’s maybe a mile from here, up that hill and straight on.”

Take a break, the old pre-Fall phrase for a short siesta. Old Guy’s old way of speaking was one thing; the way he spoke person to person, low and almost slurring the words, made him nearly impossible to understand. But when he stood before the people with a song or story, it rang out loud and clear. He wasn’t just the eldest of the people, he was their bard (a word even older than the pre-Fall world, but it had come back in this time). That the people could afford such a luxury was a matter of honor and prestige — and a matter of life and death to Old Guy, whose other skills were suited mostly to a pre-Fall world of elektrissy and cahs. But anyone who had lived his entire adult life surviving the Fall and its aftermath commanded a modicum of respect and obedience; when he had asked the warlord for five young men and a wagon for a winter expedition, all was given without question.

Everyone worked their way to the creek, hacking a path through the ubiquitous plant life, leaving Old Guy to stand — or sit — watch. None of them felt guilty about this; he was often arrogant as a warlord, rude as a drunken teenager, and someone had to keep watch. Besides, they would have had to carry him: both feet and part of one leg were gone, long-ago victims to a pre-Fall disease they called die-beaters (Frenk often wondered at that name; a sickness that ate you piece by piece didn’t seem to have anything to do with living forever). But most of all, he had the carbine: a pre-Fall weapon, even older than Old Guy himself, and as old as he was he could shoot it better than any of the people.

So Old Guy sat in the wagon, under his hat, while the others filled flasks and watered the horses. Clouds were coming and going today; it was warm in the shade and nearly hot in the sun. The heat never seemed to bother him, but he would spend those few cold nights near the end of Janiary huddled close to a fire. After a quiet time, Frenk brought a flask of water to the wagon and offered it to Old Guy. He drank half of it at a gulp, nodded to Frenk, drained it then handed it back. Frenk turned back toward the creek, then stopped and turned back, putting a hand on the wagon and looking up at Old Guy. The old man looked back down and waited.

“You said we are nearly there,” Frenk said. “You know where we’re going then,” he said, looking expectantly at Old Guy. He merely nodded and looked back at Frenk.

Frenk looked back toward the creek, and leaned into the wagon. “Where?” he almost whispered. Asking a direct question, especially of an elder, was a grievous breach of protocol — unless one were inquiring about that person’s health or comfort.

But Old Guy was Old Guy, and only chuckled. “I wondered when you’d finally get around to it,” he said. “I knew those louts wouldn’t have the nerve or the wish to know.

“We’re going to my old home, Frenk, where I lived before the Fall. I’m going to make my peace with my family, since I’ll likely be joinin’ them before long.”

Frenk’s eyes grew to wheel size. “Their ghosts will be waiting.”

Old Guy laughed and shook his head. “Na. They won’t bother anyone but me, if they bother anyone. Tanni might have one of his dreams, though.

“Okay, go tell the others to come back up. We should get there before it gets dark.”

It took nearly an hour of cutting and pulling to make that last mile. Tanni spied the cemetery on a hill to the right, but nobody worried about the spirits of those who had a proper pre-Fall burial. Shortly past the cemetery, and on the left, stood an overgrown post with a sagging cross-piece pointing toward the edge of the road.

“This is it,” Old Guy said. “My old home.”

Frenk wandered over to the post, while the other youths chattered and worked at clearing what Old Guy said was the driveway, and stepped on something smooth and firm. He brushed away the leaves, and lifted a rusting metal sign; the remnants of a pair of chains showed how it had hung on the post. There was writing, which only Old Guy and Frenk knew how to read; it said simply: FAR Manor. He brought the sign to Old Guy.

“My dad called it that,” Old Guy grunted. “He had stupid names like that for everything.”

Finally, the driveway was clear enough to bring the wagon off the road. Old Guy strapped a pod to the bottom of his longer leg, picked up his crutches from the wagon floor, and slithered down to the ground. He paused only to make sure the carbine was secure, then led the hushed group to a large house, bigger than a warlord’s. Time and the Fall had not been kind to it; most of the windows were broken, and a large tree had at one time crushed through the roof of one wing (“my parents’ room,” Old Guy explained). The front door stood open; Tanni (the lightest) went in while the others went to work salvaging the good glass, wrapping the panes in old blankets and storing them in the wagon. Pre-Fall glass was hard to come by, and much better than modern glass. Enough glass might make this expedition worthwhile.

Tanni said the floor was weak but held him. “Go on,” Old Guy said. “Even if you fall through, you won’t go more than a couple of feet. The deepest part is under the bedroom, and I’ll go in there.” He didn’t feel it necessary to mention that the remains of his parents were in that room.

They filed into the house, scaring up birds and other wildlife. The few pieces of furniture were decrepit, moldering things barely suitable for the nests they supported. The walls had been ripped apart at some time, and the wiring was gone: Old Guy was not the first person to visit FAR Manor since the Fall, it seemed. But the looters were only after wire; the bathroom mirror and a glass door going to a porch were intact. The toilets were also whole, but nobody used those anymore.

Tanni went up the groaning stairs to check the upper rooms while the other youths carried their finds out to the wagon. Old Guy made his way down the hall, clearing the occasional spider web, until he came to a closed door at the end. The door resisted and protested his opening it, but Old Guy managed to push it open far enough to slip through. The crushed bodies under the tree had gone to bones, but otherwise the room was as he’d left it. He pushed the door closed and leaned against it.

Old Guy had lied to Frenk, but lying was his stock in trade and one believed Old Guy only at one‘s peril. There were ghosts here, all right. But Old Guy had been truthful about one thing: they weren’t interested in the others.

I told you to take care of yourself, didn’t I? his dad whispered. You’re lucky you still got all your fingers.

Why did you bother coming back? his mom asked. They obviously hadn’t gotten the word about new cultural mores, Old Guy thought.

“I came to wish Dad a happy birthday… today, if I got the calendar right. Your hundredth. And I came to say I’m sorry for all the stuff I put you guys through.”

Dad’s ghost made a sniff sound. You remembered. Good job. So what are you doing with yourself?

“I’m the bard in Agusta. I didn’t go on the world tour, but everyone still turns out to hear me sing and tell stories.”

That’s good, I guess, Mom’s ghost replied. At least you did something with that talent, instead of wasting it on that screaming crap.

“Huh. We all scream on new moon nights now. It’s how we chase away the other ghosts.”

Figures, Dad said. Is there anything left out there?

“Not much. A few cities. They say Chicago has electricity; one of the old nuke plants is still running. Could be a bunch of bullshit, though.”

Probably. I suppose my diary got rotted in the shelf over there, or started a fire.

“Nope. It’s in the library in Agusta. A couple of people, the ones who know how to read anyway, look at it from time to time. They say it gives them strange dreams, though.”

Dreams fade, Dad said. So do ghosts, Mom chimed in. We’ve been waiting for you. We’ll probably move on, now that you came. From the looks of it, you’ll join us before much longer.

“Yeah. They call me Old Guy now. The oldest man in Agusta, if you can believe it.”

A thumping noise came from under the floor, breaking the spell. Once again, Old Guy was alone in the room. The only thing in here worth salvaging was already in his memory, and he muscled the door open and stumped through, yanking it shut behind him. He made his way outside, and followed the sound of voices around the side of the house. Four of them stood there on the concrete between two garages, amazingly clear.

“Tanni said there was a back door down there,” Frenk said. “He’s checking it out. There’s a big old desk in that little brown shed over there — it’s too big to get out, but it was put in some way.”

“Sure. It comes apart. Lift the top off, and there’s screws underneath, I think. You can take it apart and carry out the pieces.”

Three of them went back to take the desk apart, and Frenk poked his head into the detached garage. “Pretty much empty in here.”

“If the roof looks good, we’ll sleep in there tonight, then. Have you looked in this garage yet?”

Frenk stuck his head through the door, ignoring the question; they were used to Old Guy’s ill-mannered ways by now. “Two old-time vehicles. We should get the sheet metal and glass from these, too.”

The others presently came by, carrying the dismantled desk, and then joined Frenk in cutting up the two vehicles. The larger of the two had a single word, Explorer, in chrome on the back. More blankets for the glass; the wagon would be fairly crowded on the way home. At least the way back was already cut. One of them snapped the Explorer off the sheet metal and tacked it to the back of the wagon, watching Old Guy for his reaction. Old Guy simply nodded; he’d lived here in the years before the Fall, and part-way into it, but it was new territory and they truly were explorers.

A sudden shout left Old Guy scrambling to unlimber the carbine, nearly falling off his crutches before the others caught and steadied him. If it hadn’t been for that, he might have shot Tanni when he burst around the side of the house, waving what looked like a red stick.

Copper pipe!” he shouted. “A whole pile of it, stacked underneath the house!”

The others forgot everything: the hardships of the trip, the bad dreams, the bad luck, their resentment of Old Guy. An ancient wooden desk was a good find, sheet metal and glass were always useful, but copper pipe was treasure. They rushed to the back door, leaving Old Guy shaking his head and getting a better grip on the carbine.

“Damn,” he said to nobody. “I still don’t remember that being down there.” The warlord would take a share, to be sure, but the six of them were now rich. For the youngsters, it meant prestige, wives, all the good things. Old Guy had all the prestige he wanted and the attention of women when it suited him, but it was still good. Perhaps he would have his share made into bracers or jewelry; he could work it into a story. He would go the way of all folk, sooner or later, but someone else could become the bard. Meanwhile, all of them would have a story to tell.

Vision the Third

Thursday, June 07, 2007 9 comments

FAR Manor, 2058: Happy Landings


Vision the First.

This is one of the more optimistic scenarios I can imagine in the next 51 years: Civilization reconfigured itself around natural, locally-produced energy rather than collapsing. There’s still a USA, but it’s a loose federation of independent regions. Planet Georgia was originally part of New Dixie, which was variously a white supremacist paradise or a dictatorship dressed up in a theocracy, but by this time has balkanized into a collection of freeholds and city-states. FAR Manor is now part of the New Hope Freeholders’ Community.

Climate change missed the “runaway” scenario, although a big chunk of Greenland ice let go in 2032 and flooded most of the seaports. Population declined without too much starvation or all-out war…

“Hop it, kids!” Mama yelled down the hall, harvesting some grumbles. “The digester’s clogged! I’ll fix breakfast on the patio while you’re taking care of it.”

As usual, Martina and Bobby were the first two moving, walking through the kitchen while Mama packed a crate with pans and food. “No gas?” Martina chirped.

“Nope,” Mama said, looking her over. Martina had a baby on the way, their first in a long time, and was just beginning to show. “You guys grab the tools and wait for the rest of ’em. Don’t reward ’em for being slow, right?”

“I heard that,” laughed Miguel, entering the kitchen. “You need some help with that crate, Mama?”

“Nah. But you can pump me a bucket of water while they’re getting the tools out.”

Mama had the fire going in the patio stove before Miguel brought the water, and it was starting to steam by the time the rest joined Martina, Bobby, and Miguel at the digester. Thank God I’m upwind, she thought, as the whoops and laughter told her what the smell was like when they lifted the cap. She looked up at the windmill, turning slowly in the morning breeze. They were pretty well off here at FAR Manor — there was usually enough juice for lights, and nearly always enough to run the small refrigerator. Air conditioning was a distant memory, but fans usually worked when needed the most, and they slept outside in screen tents most of the summer anyway. This time of year was pleasant, if a little cool for outside; the first frost would likely come in a week or two, and they would soon be harvesting and canning the last of the warm-weather veggies. With the digester down, though, they’d be cooking outside for a week or so until the methane pressure built back up.

Clad in their work smocks, the kids worked quickly to get the hardened muck out of the digester, tossing it on the Next Year compost heap. Once the biscuits were cooking in the Dutch oven, and the omelets were going, she turned to find all the boys — and two of the girls — standing on the benches around the open digester and pissing in it. Modesty these days was like gasoline: hard to come by, and mostly not missed. (“Boys” and “girls” — they were all adults, but she was Mama and they were the kids. None of them were hers — her only child sailed out of New Savannah on a merchant ship — but in another sense, they were.)

“Throw a couple handfuls of wood chips in there if you’re gonna do that!” Mama called. “And wash up after!”

“We know!” they chorused. Of course they did; the important parts of biochemistry were taught in fourth grade.

Don’t hassle the people doing the crap work, Daughter Dearest, Dad — or the part of her that used Dad’s voice — whispered in her head. You can’t afford to alienate them, especially.

I know, she answered. They expect me to hassle them, though. Just like I expected you to hassle me.

He laughed. You gonna work ’em ’till they drop today?

“All morning, anyway,” she laughed aloud. “This afternoon, we’ll do something really strenuous, like weaving kudzu baskets and deciding what to take to the community Thanksgiving dinner.”

“Plannin’ the day, Mama?” Liliana patted Mama on the shoulder and surveyed the cooktop. Mama was getting ready to start the omelets. “I was kinda hopin’ me and Roberto could get a little sleep here after breakfast.” Roberto stood grinning on the edge of the patio, holding her rifle and his bow. One of the cow dogs sat at amiable attention next to Roberto, grinning just like the boy and reminding Mama of a dog they had when she was even younger than these two.

“Yeah, if you sleep. I know how you two keep yourselves awake all night.” She rolled her eyes. “Newlyweds.”

Liliana just grinned. “I think we finally wore each other out this morning. We’ll sleep.”

“Nothing happening with the cows, I guess.”

Roberto shook his head. “Not even a coyote. We left the other dogs down at the pasture, we’ll hear ’em if there’s a problem.”

“Anything I can help with here?” Liliana asked.

“Nah, you two go wash up with the others. You both can help carry it in after.” A stray breeze carried the sound of the other kids chattering around the pump. “You missed the excitement, by the way. The digester clogged and the other kids took care of it.”

Roberto wrinkled his nose. “Oh, is that what we smelled coming up here? Give me night watchman duty any time!” The couple walked to the pump, arms around each other. The dog followed them a few steps, turned and sniffed toward the patio, then trotted back to lay on the cool stones.

Good bunch of kids there, Dad spoke up again. You’ve done well — I never did make this place home like you have.

“You almost got there, Dad,” Mama said. “You said it yourself. The last thing you wrote, I think.” She thought about Dad’s old diary, the oldest pages printed off his blog from back when Internet was something you could access just about anywhere (not just the occasional day-trip to the library in town), most of it in his loopy scrawl with an occasional photo or drawing pasted in. This was the time of year… tomorrow, in fact, she would gather the kids on the porch and read some of it to them, contrasting those early oft-despairing rants with the peace he’d realized in the last few months of his life. She thought she would end this year’s reading with one of her favorites: We were refined in the crucible of chaos, depopulation, and Pharisee warlords, and have emerged a purer, stronger people. We have come through the fire with hard-won lessons, and this is perhaps the greatest of them all: unbounded energy does not lead to unbounded happiness, quite the contrary. In the end, we have gained more than we lost.

And that was true. People had to travel in those days, just to get far enough away from home and work to rest. And then they would rush from place to place, wearing out themselves and their machinery and never really finding any rest. Compared to those times, every day at home was a vacation.

“Kids!” she called. “It’s ready! Someone come help me bring it in!”

Vision the Second

FAR Manor, 2058: Intro

Here follow a series of possible futures for both FAR Manor and America. Each of them will be set in an oil-depleted world, in late November of 2058, on or near my 100th birthday. (While I’d like to live that long, I might have come to regret that desire in some of these futures. I had planned to be around in at least one of the three, but none of them quite worked out that way. Other family members take the lead role in each of these futures, however.) My Muse is a hard taskmaster, and wouldn’t let me work on anything else until I got halfway through.

Each future vision is progressively uglier, but all of them end on what I think of as a hopeful note. To avoid cluttering the story itself, I’ll lead off each piece with some backstory and add some further commentary to the comments.

Now proceed to…
Vision the First
Vision the Second
Vision the Third

Wednesday, June 06, 2007 4 comments

Upper Floored: Preparation (H)

In between me buying a new motorcycle and looking about 50 years into the future, we’ve been working on putting down wood flooring in Daughter Dearest’s bedroom. We’d done the hallway before — we know what to do now, it should be a breeze, right? Rip up the carpet and glue down the new floor….

Of course, any job at FAR Manor is going to turn into a complete hairball.

Blood? on the plywoodFirst, we found a mixture of plywood and particle board under the carpet. And that’s not all: I’m not sure exactly what those spots are, but they look like blood. It wouldn’t surprise me that FAR Manor was causing pain even while it was being built.

The instructions for the new flooring specially say that it can’t be put down over particle board. To make things even more “interesting,” there was a pretty significant sag in the middle of the floor, almost two inches (no, I’m not exaggerating). I looked at Mrs. Fetched and said, “I was right about this place.” (While she was going completely berserk, and driving me berserk wanting to buy this place, I saw its many flaws and described it as a pig in a poke. Like any data that doesn’t fit the previously-made decision, she ignored it. At the time.)

We got two opinions on what to do. Our carpenter friend, who advised us on the last floor job, said it would be fine to just glue (and possibly nail) the strips to the floor as it was. A second person, who would be the one to do the work, said it had to be straightened out — we could either jack it up from the ground floor (yeah right) or put some shims between the sub-floor and the plywood that would eventually be the substrate for the wood floor. Cosmic Rule of the Universe Number One: given two choices, Mrs. Fetched is always going to pick the most complicated option. If I don’t fall in line immediately, she’ll besiege me with whines, nags, dire predictions, until I throw my hands up and say some variation of “Do what you want — you’re going to anyway.” Of course it’s not an issue to her: she’s not the one doing the actual work.

CrowbarIn a vain attempt to get some peace, I had The Boy help me measure the sag and mark some spots. I figured I could partially even it out, enough to satisfy Mrs. Fetched’s mania for complicating things. I wasn’t having much luck, and she called in the people who caused all the commotion. Upon inspecting the floor, they informed us that there was a layer of plywood under the top layer, and if we could crowbar it out it would save them some time. Well… taking a crowbar to FAR Manor is a pleasure surpassed by very few things, and one of those is taking a crowbar to the chicken houses. J (the son of our carpenter friend) has been our extra resident for a couple of months now; he tends to be quiet and helpful so he doesn’t get quite the coverage of M.A.E. or Lobster. We spent a happy evening of echar la casa por la ventana (literally, not the Hispanic idiom for a wild party) because the particle board came up in pieces and we could toss the small- and medium-size pieces down to the front yard instead of carrying them. In fact, Mrs. Fetched caught me singing some happy 80s tune, and wondered why I wasn’t mad anymore. How quickly we forget. :-P

Heave Ho!Somewhere in there, Mrs. Fetched got one of the farm trucks, and we finished up by loading up the fragged particle board. I got a perfect action shot of J tossing a big chunk on the first attempt.

That got us through the long weekend. Last night, Mrs. Fetched and I cut 1/4-inch plywood to lay down over the new floor (the guy who did the work said it would be best if we did). I was hoping to come home to find it already nailed down, but Cosmic Rule of the Universe Number Two says: if I don’t do it around here, it doesn’t get done. Taking a hammer to FAR Manor is less satisfying than a crowbar, but it’ll do in a pinch.

Tomorrow, we get to glue down the floor… since it’s Daughter Dearest’s room, she gets to help. A lot.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007 6 comments

New Toys

The company stock went up a fair amount in the last week, making it worthwhile to cash in some stock options. Then when I saw this DR-Z400SM at the bike dealer with 170 miles on it, for about $1200 off list, I decided it was time to stop talking about getting a smaller bike (like I’ve been doing for a long while) and do it.

My mental image of a motorcycle goes back to the '70s, when little dual-sports ruled the roads in the aftermath of the oil embargo. There aren’t many bikes that look like those, at least shipped to the US anyway, but this is a sort of modern expression of those bikes.

This bike represents a number of firsts for my adult-life motorcycling: it’s the first sub-liter bike I’ve had, the first (almost) new bike, the first I picked out (as opposed to the previous two more or less following me home), first with a radiator and chain drive (the previous two were shafties), first vehicle with a digital speedometer/console… and the first bike without a tachometer, centerstand, or self-cancelling turn signals (I’ll have to get used to the latter).

The ride is very smooth, which isn’t surprising since it has motocross suspension, and I sit at about the same height as a pickup truck driver. Insurance is actually less than the Virago’s (small engines make a big difference), and it gets close to 60mpg. Unfortunately, the tank is really tiny, so I’ll be filling it more often. Go figure.

Now to get really '70s-retro and replace that little bag on the back with a milk crate…


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