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Wednesday, December 30, 2009 7 comments

Approaching the end…

… of the year, anyway. As I type, we’re getting the classic wintry mix: rain, sleet, rain, and (at the moment) sleet and snow.

I've been wanting to do this for a while, and here it is. The Boy on the left (scanned from a portrait in the hall), Mason on the right (one I took) — both about 3-½ months old, give or take:

The Boy and Mason

Yup, Mason is his dad’s kid awright. Just like his dad, he fights going to sleep and doesn’t like losing. There are differences, of course: The Boy’s happy place was the swing; Mason’s is getting walked around and he wants a lot more interaction than his dad did.

The refrigerator that came with the house definitely met its end yesterday morning. I was in the kitchen, fixing some coffee, when I heard a loud SPAT and saw sparks shoot out from the bottom of the fridge in my peripheral vision. The smell of burning electrical equipment made for a less than happy morning. After making sure the metal skin of the fridge wasn’t “hot,” I reached back and unplugged the sucker; Mrs. Fetched cleared it out while I was at work. Fortunately, we have (had) two refrigerators in the kitchen, side by side, so it’s not like we’ll have trouble keeping the formula cold or anything. I hope maybe we’ll be able to get along with one fridge and not worry about replacing it. If we have to have some extra cold storage, there’s a couple of small refrigerators in the studio and I’m not exactly keeping them both full of beer at the moment, unfortunately… we could move one into the kitchen as an overflow icebox.

I've been loading up my Kindle a little bit, and am getting to like this thing. I’m still not where I would have bought one myself, but I do like having it. One of the really nice features about buying a Kindle book from Amazon is that they send the book to the Kindle as soon as you buy it online, whether you’re buying it from the Kindle itself (not happening w/o a credit card) or your computer. The latter is a really nice convenience that Apple should adapt for iTunes customers; send a new track straight to your iPhone? Why not? OTOH, I’ve found a couple of glitches, only one of which is Amazon’s fault. It seems that Amazon wants you to have a credit card recorded with them to buy books straight from the Kindle — but if you’re buying from your computer, you can use gift cards and essentially run it as a pre-paid system. It’s only a minor hassle (like I said, once you buy a book it goes straight to your Kindle), but the rest of the purchasing system seems so well thought-out that this stands out.

The second problem is more of a publisher’s issue. I bought Maria Lima’s Blood Kin — third in the series, I have the first two in paperback — and it started right at Chapter One even though there was a Preface. I guess I should mention, Kindle books have a default starting point that isn’t necessarily the front cover… it could start with the Table of Contents, Preface, or wherever the publisher says. Juno (Maria’s publisher) might not quite get the whole e-book concept just yet. In addition to starting a little past (what I would consider) the most logical place to start, they include legal boilerplate about not buying books with the cover torn off. Somehow, i doubt that Amazon is going to sell e-books without the cover… that page could be eliminated entirely without hurting a thing.

On the freebie side, there’s two major places I’m going so far: Project Gutenberg, which digitizes as many books as they can find whose copyright has expired (so that the books are now public domain), is the place to go if (like me) you misspent your youth avoiding the classics. One title I thoroughly enjoyed was P.G. Wodehouse’s Love Among the Chickens, but I might be just a little biased for reasons well-known to longtime readers. Isaac Asimov spoke highly of Wodehouse, so I had to check out some of his titles. Of course, a sci-fi lover will go nutz just from the selection of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells titles.

Speaking of sci-fi, the Baen Free Library is another worthy link, and includes some more modern titles than Gutenberg. Baen’s evil plot is to get you hooked on the first books in a series so you’ll go out and buy the others… great idea, sez I.

I haven’t really had a chance to wander through the stacks of a third site, Manybooks, but some of the titles look like they’d be a good way to expand my horizons a bit.

Looking back at My predictions for 2009, I was a lot more pessimistic than the year actually turned out. Sure, I got a few things right, but I expected things to be a lot farther into the tank than they are now. Oh well, I’ll do a more detailed analysis tomorrow and maybe venture a few predictions for 2010.

If I miss you tomorrow night, Happy New Year, y’all!

Monday, December 28, 2009 7 comments

White Pickups, Episode 15


“On behalf of all of us,” Charles said, “I thank you for your hospitality. With more people here to do the work, we can certainly get things cleaned up more quickly. Now, do any of you have questions for me?”

Tim spoke up first. “You implied that there are other — I don’t know… groups? bands? in Atlanta beside your own. Do you have any idea how many people are left around, and whether they’ll be hostile?”

“Certainly there are,” Charles said. “As for how many people, I couldn’t guess, but at least a hundred. Possibly more. I hope so. I assume at least a few of the groups are hostile, as in looting with no regard for whether the dwellings might still be occupied, or hate groups like those we battled, or remnants of local gangs. One could hope the latter would wipe each other out. But there may be isolated groups or even single families or individuals scattered throughout the metro area, hunkered down and hiding from the more violent groups.”

“Do you think they’ll come looking for us here?” Sara asked.

“Sooner or later, I’d expect it. They can’t live on canned food forever, and it’s likely they’ll come looking for farms to raid or even for a place to start growing their own food. And maybe even people to do the work for them.”

“That reminds me of something we discussed Friday evening,” Tina said. “Assuming there’s enough food for all of us in pantries and grocery stores — enough to get us through the winter and until we can start living off our own crops — we still have to cope with winter. Keeping even a dozen houses warm could be difficult, and even if we could make the gas last through the winter, that’s a temporary solution. Whatever we decide to do, we’ll have to do it soon — the cold weather will be here in six weeks, tops.”

“What about fireplace inserts?” Cody asked. “We’ve got one at my place. It came in handy when we had that ice storm in February, at least it kept the living room warm and the bedrooms weren’t freezing. Dad got it somewhere, I don’t know who from though.”

“It sounds better than nothing, anyway,” Charles said. “How do they work, is there any special installation needed?”

“Nah, you just shove it in the fireplace. I was home the day they brought it in, they just stuck it in there and put a panel around it to cover up the fireplace hole.”

“That sounds like the way to go, then. I know a free-standing wood stove requires special installation, and I don’t think any of us here know how to do it. This would solve a lot of our problems, if we can find a dozen or so.”

“Put eight people in a house for the winter,” Max said. “Then you only need four. Three, if Cody is willing to share.”

“Sure,” Cody said. But if we hook up with more people, we’ll need more inserts. And those things are heavy as hell. How are we gonna move them?”

“Just load them on the back of — oh. Hey, how about a horse and wagon? Is there anything like that around?”

“There’s a horse farm… oh, let me think a minute,” Tina said. “It’s maybe a twenty-minute drive from here, or was. I was looking into riding lessons for Kelly, but she wasn’t interested. Maybe they’ll have a wagon. At least food won’t be a problem, they can eat the grass here.”

“Assuming we can figure out how to hitch a horse to a wagon,” Kelly said. “Sorry, Mom — I guess I should have taken those lessons.” She grinned.

“I don’t suppose you picked that up with everything else, did you?” Sondra whispered to Cody. Cody shook his head. “You’ll figure it out, then.” Cody smiled. He wasn’t sure what Sondra was after, although part of him (that had been disappointed so often before) insisted on hoping it was just him. They were all seated pretty close together around the table, but Sondra was closer to him than necessary, making contact at shoulder, hip, and leg. Every once in a while, she moved her leg back and forth, rubbing it against his in a way that made him unsure whether it was a habit… or something else. He’d been able to maintain his reserve with Kelly, and she didn’t give him any reason to let it go. And yet, Kelly wasn’t a prep or a jock, even if she played JV basketball — she had somehow moved around or through circles that didn’t even tolerate his existence. (Lucky her, she’d be in one of the trucks by now.) Sondra acted like she was interested in him, and they did seem to share some interests. He’d worked harder than he ever had this last hour, just to not act like a dork or blurt out something really stupid. She was eighteen, two years older than him — but maybe age didn’t matter so much now, with things the way they were.

“Well, I guess that settles it,” Charles said, returning to the table and taking up his slice of pie. “We’ll head back in the morning and start moving people up here Thursday or Friday.”

“I could stay here,” Sondra suggested. “There’s a lot of houses to clean up, and they could probably use the extra help.”

“We’ll decide that in the morning,” Max said. “There’s plenty of time to think about it, okay?”

“Sure,” she said.

“Swim time!” Sara said as she stood. “We have swim gear for anyone who didn’t bring any.”

“Which is all of us!” Max grinned. “We didn’t carry any extra weight.”

“You have something that fits me?” Sondra asked.

“I think so,” Sara said. “You ain’t much bigger than me. I think I’ve got something you can wear.”

Tina and Sara took the guests to retrieve their swimwear, leaving Kelly, Tim, and Cody at the pool. The guys moved to the lounge chairs; Kelly poured herself a glass of wine and downed it, almost at a gulp. She gasped, waited for the world to more or less right itself, then poured another and walked over to Cody and Tim. Cody had retrieved a six-pack from his dad’s seemingly bottomless stash and handed one to Tim before opening his own. She walked around Tim to Cody’s side, dragged a patio chair over, then sat facing Cody.

“Looks like you’ve got a… friend,” Kelly said.

“I guess so,” Cody said. Tim excused himself and made a beeline for the men’s room.

“You like her?”

“I guess so. She gets me… it’s like she knows me. She’ll be fun to hang out with, anyway.”

“Whatever. You getting in the pool?”

“Yeah. Soon as I finish this.” He waggled the beer can. “We fixed a pretty good lunch, didn’t we?”

“Yeah, I guess we did. I’m not waiting, I haven’t had a bath.” Kelly shed the clothes covering her swimsuit and jumped in, sending a light shower Cody’s way.

“Hey!” he yelled, covering the top of his beer. “No diluting the hooch!” Kelly ignored him and slid across the water on her back.

Tim returned a minute later. “Safe now?”

“Huh? I guess so,” Cody said. “Hope she didn’t splash pool water in your beer.”

“Nope, I slid it under the chair to keep it in the shade.” Tim retrieved his Bud and took a long drink. “Ahhh. How much of this do you have left?”

“A few cases. Dad had some, and the looters never got around to cleaning out the QuickFill. I towed a few more cases home on that trailer contraption. Come on by and help yourself to a case. I figure I’ll pass the rest out to the city people when they get up here, if they’re interested.”

“You might want to just pass out a few cans each. Some of them drink imports and wouldn’t touch this cheap stuff anyway.”

“More for us.”

“Beautiful day for a cookout,” Tim said, watching Kelly backstroke across the pool. “I don’t suppose you remember an extended forecast, do you?”

Cody held his hand out. “It’s sunny. Tonight will be dark, getting lighter by morning.”

“Yeah, I don’t know either. I used to know a few old saws about weather. They’ll come back to me, I guess.”

“What, you mean like red sky at night, sailor’s delight?”

“Yeah. But more than that.”

“Oh. I guess they could be handy.”

Banzai!” Max yelled and cannonballed into the other end of the pool, splashing Kelly and nearly reaching Tim with the spray.

“Good one!” Tim yelled, as Kelly hooked the side and glared.

“That’s the Cannonball King,” Charles said. “Would y’all believe that Tina kept a pair of my swim trunks?”

“I’m surprised they still fit!” Max grinned.

“Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for drawstrings!” Charles grinned back and jumped in.

“Pool party!” Sondra said, wearing a tight two-piece. Sara and Tina followed in their one-piece suits as Sondra jumped in.

“Guess it’s time for me to dive in,” Cody said, pulling off his shirt and staring at Sondra. He jumped in, spread-eagled, and hit the water with a flat slap sound.

“Yow, did that hurt?” Tim yelled, pulling off his own shirt.

“Yeah! But it was worth it!”


Friday, December 25, 2009 8 comments


Mason close-upMason ponders the true meaning of Christmas… or maybe he’s thinking about lunch.

We got a pretty late start to the day, except for Mason of course, who woke up at 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. Fortunately, Snippet took the early shift (after I got up) and The Boy got the second shift (after Mrs. Fetched got up). We slept until nearly 9, took our time getting breakfast together, and finally got to clearing out from under the tree around noon.

Now I hadn’t planned much in the way of gifts this year; I picked up Mrs. Fetched a pot of miniature roses (she likes). In my mind, this Christmas was going to be Mason-centric. Not that he’s much into the Grand Acquisition of Stuff just yet, but it's always fun to get stuff for a baby because the older folks have great fun showing him how it works… and then he just chews it. The Boy and Snippet, however, went all-out — I think I heard someone say they pretty much shot Snippet’s entire paycheck on stuff for everyone. But relatively, this Christmas was fairly sedate.

Wednesday, though… yeesh. Mrs. Fetched invited both Panda’s family and the Evil Twins (and family) over to the manor. I cut out of work early, urged to do so by my boss earlier in the day, and picked up a few things on the way in. You think we have a lot of people tramping around in our house, you ought to try Panda’s place… they have a two-bedroom house for: his family of four, a brother-in-law and his family of four, plus his wife’s mom and fiance. Ten people crammed into a smaller space than just the downstairs here… kind of puts things in perspective. Panda’s kids (ages 3 and 6 I think) had great fun checking out the presents under the tree (I remember doing the same thing at that age, certain none would be for me but you never know, right?) and the Evil Twins and I had great fun hassling each other. All the festoovities had Mason pretty wound up that night and he didn’t really get to sleep until past 11… and slept until 7.

Yesterday (Christmas Eve) I figured to cut some wood. Mrs. Fetched said the chainsaw chain was not cutting, but I had a non-working saw in the other garage that I thought was also 18" so I figured I could swap the chain and at least get some of it done. It turned out my old chain was 16" — and when I tried swapping the bar onto the working saw, it wouldn't fit on the bolts. The Evil Twins and parents were coming back to help, so I called them to let them know I didn’t have a working saw. “You have a ‘safety chain,’ and they don’t cut,” he said. “Go to a hardware store — take the saw with you — and get the best chain they have. It won’t cost a lot. If they have a hardwood chain, get that.” As it turned out, I had to take Daughter Dearest to the bank so she could deposit a check for next semester’s textbooks, so next stop was the TrueValue in town (which also carries Stihl saws, one of which I’d like to get if the funds ever come through).

“We don’t carry hardwood chains for saws that small,” he said, “but what we got will cut a lot better than the one you’ve got now.” Undoubtedly, seeing this one could barely cut kindling. After 15 or 20 minutes, I walked out with a new chain (looking wicked-sharp, with easily twice as many teeth as the previous) and a file and spent less than $25 on it all. The hardware store was pretty quiet; I could have done all sorts of last-minute Christmas shopping and bought Mrs. Fetched some power tools at my leisure.

I got home, fired up the saw, and applied it to a tree that DD, Sasquatch, Brand X and I pushed over a couple summers back and never gotten around to cutting up — and it went through almost like it was butter. I had everything cut up that I’d planned on cutting in about 20 minutes. Mrs. Fetched returned about then, and asked me to help her feed the cows — “then you can bring the splitter up the back way, it’s already hitched to the 4-wheeler.” I arrived with the splitter, to find our friends here.

“Is that all you planned to cut up today?” he asked.

“Pretty much,” I said. “I figured it would take longer.”

Wood stack“We could get that one,” he said, pointing to a dead-looking oak about 20 yards down in the woods. “Or that over there,” over to the side of the house. His legs were paining him enough to need the cane today, so we decided on the second tree because he wouldn’t have to walk much uphill back to the house. I dropped the tree (a fairly good-sized one) and it took out several more on the way down. Mrs. Fetched’s mom showed up, and told me to get the tractor to drag the trees up to the driveway (where it would be easier to carry). We ended up cutting 6-foot lengths, loading them into the grapple/claw, and carrying them to the stack point. The promised rain had held off so far, and only sprinkled on us a little as we cut and stacked everything — dry stuff went on a rack in the garage (shown here), green stuff off to the side. What you see here is about a third of what we did today. We should be good until February.

So at least I worked off one or two of my Christmas dinners…

Monday, December 21, 2009 6 comments

White Pickups, Episode 14


Cody put steaks on the grill as Tina and Kelly led the visitors into the pool area. Tim waved a wine bottle.

“Hey, how do you guys like your steaks?” Cody said. Then he saw Sondra and did a double-take.

“Medium-rare!” Max called back.

“Medium,” Charles said.

Sondra walked over to the grill. “I don’t eat much steak,” she said, “so whatever you think is best.”

“Medium, then?” Cody said, looking straight at Sondra, the grill all but forgotten. She was almost as tall as himself, and to Cody’s surprise was looking back at him. She wasn’t pretty, but something in her eyes…

Tina nudged Kelly, who stood in the gate watching the tableau at the grill. “Kelly, what… oh. Those two look like a perfect match, don’t they?”

“I guess,” Kelly muttered, and stepped forward far enough for her mother to pass. She shook her head, as if to clear it, and carried the soft drinks cooler to where Tim was pouring wine for Charles and Max.

“Rebecca Sanchez?” Tim said. Charles and Max shook their heads, and Tim sighed. “I didn’t think so, but it was worth asking.”

“Who is she?” Sara asked, taking the empty wine bottle and handing Tim a new one.

“My ex-girlfriend,” Tim said. “Not that I’d get back with her, ever, but that doesn ’t mean I wanted her driving off, either.”

“I understand,” Sara said. “My husband and I were separated, but even if we’d gone through with the divorce, I wouldn’t have wished that on him. But that’s probably what happened to him, too.”

“Who wanted medium-rare?” Cody yelled. “It’s about ready!” Max broke off, and picked up a paper plate for Cody to drop his steak onto. “Yours will be ready in another minute,” he told Sondra. “That other guy who came up—”


“Yeah. That’s Kelly’s dad? His will be ready too. I think everyone else wanted medium, too. Grab some plates, okay?”

“Sure. Just don’t expect me to be your plate-fetcher all the time.”

“Hey… that’s not what I was about.” Cody took a sudden deep interest in the steaks.

“I was joking,” Sondra said, poking Cody and making him look at her. “You’re kind of a loner, huh?”

“Yeah. I pretty much keep to myself, never could depend on nobody else so I quit trying. But I guess I ought to try again, there’s not many of us left.” He lowered his voice. “You know, I wouldn’t say this to the rest of them, they wouldn’t understand: I’m glad this happened. All the people who hated me because I wasn’t like them, all the jocks and preps, they all drove off. I feel bad about my mom and my sister, but not so much about anyone else.”

“I think I understand,” Sondra said. “When you’re different, you stand out. I had a — a friend who said the nails that stick up are the ones that get hammered back down. If I had the choice, I’d make it go back, but it’s kind of nice to not be hammered on for a change.”

The eight of them crowded around a table meant to seat six, but nobody minded. The coolers were at hand with cole slaw, potato salad, bread, and drinks. As they passed around store-bought apple pie, Charles stood and took the step to the fence. “Sorry,” he said, “I'm used to having a wall behind me when I lecture, even if it’s just to support a blackboard, and I can’t break the habit just yet.

“First, I want to thank all of you for allowing us to visit. I can’t pretend to speak for all 27 of us who have gathered in Atlanta, but I’m pretty sure that when they hear about this place — a sanctuary of sorts, where there’s no trucks — most of them will want to move here. Not just because of that — Sondra has already mentioned setting up barricades — but because of some of the problems we’ve had over the weekend.

“Friday evening, a gang — I’m not sure whether they were gang-bangers, or simply a mob of the moment, and it doesn’t matter — began breaking into houses and apartments, mostly to steal liquor and jewelry or cash. We drove some off, but then others would pop up somewhere else. After we shot at one or two, they finally moved on to other neighborhoods. But we thought it might be best to gather everyone together along one block rather than being scattered around. That turned out to be a good move, because on Saturday a group came down — we think from Marietta — to eradicate anyone they could find in Atlanta. To those guys, we are all either gay, black, or communist. They rode in on motorcycles on Saturday afternoon and started shooting at anyone they saw. We shot back, which I don’t think they expected, and it got pretty messy. Somewhere along the line, when nobody was paying attention, their motorcycles turned into pickups. A couple of them didn’t stop to think, they just jumped in and drove off. The others ran, but we think some of them are still around, looking for a chance or maybe hunting softer targets. We don’t go out alone, and we don’t go out without weapons. You would think that wouldn’t be a problem anymore, but… Well, my partner James jumped into a truck Sunday afternoon. Living under siege is stressful.

“Otherwise, we’re currently living much like you do, raiding abandoned houses and groceries for non-perishable items, cooking over campstoves or grills, running a refrigerator and a few lights with a generator. We tried adopting a few dogs to watch the neighborhood, but they bark at the pickups all the time so they won’t give us much of a warning if we’re attacked again. You’ll have similar problems, but perhaps not so great in scope — your dwelling density is lower, for starters. Out here, former pets going feral may be your biggest hazard. From what Tina and Kelly told me, you’ve begun addressing that problem at least inside your own fences here.

“The question is: would you be willing to take us in?”

“Sure,” Cody said, shoulder to shoulder with Sondra. “I mean, why not? There’s plenty of room, and it sounds like you guys are pretty well armed if we do run into trouble.”

“Safety in numbers,” Sara said.

“I’m new to the community here, but I would have no objections,” Tim said.

“You think I’d turn my own dad away?” Kelly said, crossing her arms and leaning away from Sondra.

“To be honest,” Tina said, “I think it would be a relief to have more people here. So I guess it’s unanimous.”


Saturday, December 19, 2009 6 comments

Mrs. Fetched’s Village

Taken from the ski hill on the west side of town, a bit before dawn, after Mason had gone back to sleep…

Miniature village
ISO160, 60mm, f5, 2.5s, ambient light

The chicken houses are outside of town, not shown for obvious reasons.

The next episode of White Pickups goes up on Monday morning, as always.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 5 comments

Hardware, Mason, Hardware

We had a holiday party at work yesterday afternoon — good excuse to knock off for a couple of hours and nosh on some horsey-doovers. In the past, the company would rent out a club and invite spouses along; with the economy the way it is, they decided to dial it back… only a little. The big pile of geek-compatible door prizes was still there, though (the smallest prize was an iPod nano, or maybe a digital photo frame). For the first time in like, ever, my name got pulled out of the hat! The way this works, you come up and draw a number out of a second bag; they match the number to your prize. I got a Kindle and a $50 Amazon gift certificate.

While I was aware the thing existed, I’d seen a Kindle in meatspace only once, in the hands of a co-worker taking a break outside. The second one I’ve seen is sitting next to my keyboard on the desk. I haven’t registered it yet, still going through the user manual. (Professional courtesy, don’t you know.) Amazon says it’s about the size of a paperback — which is true, if you’re talking trade size:

Kindle/paperback comparison

I found myself surprised at several things as I unpacked the Kindle and got it going: on the display is a brief set of instructions telling you to plug it in and turn it on (with illustrations). I assumed that there was a transparent overlay on the screen, and actually tried to peel it off with my thumbnail before I realized the display was showing it. They claim their “electronic paper” display doesn’t require much power once it’s showing the page. The display is 16-shade greyscale, and it looks really clear and sharp. It’s not backlit, which means you can’t read in the dark, but that’s what wind-up flashlights are for; they claim you can read in bright sunlight, and I’m not too skeptical about that claim. Other surprises include a rudimentary MP3 player, web browser, and data access over the Sprint cellular network (on Amazon’s dime)… Sprint’s signal out here at the manor is better than I expected; I usually get 3 or 4 (out of 5) bars. It’s supposed to hold about 1500 books, which would keep me busy for a long time were I stranded on a desert island with the Kindle (and a solar panel to recharge it). Sleep mode displays random woodcut-like graphics: portraits of classic authors, ancient manuscripts, and so forth.

Like the iPhone, Amazon has built an ecosystem around the Kindle. Unlike the iPhone, Amazon is providing other means to access that ecosystem: Kindle readers for iPhone, PC, (eventually) Mac, and so forth. This makes sense; Apple is about selling hardware and Amazon is about selling books. Both companies are using the ecosystem they’ve built to sell more of their product. One thing the Kindle store does that I wish the iTunes store did: keep a record of your purchases and let you re-download them if necessary.

Downsides? The Kindle doesn’t feel like something you’d spend $259 on. It’s light, almost airy, and (despite the brushed metal backside) doesn’t give me the impression that it’s rugged enough to live the hard life of a mobile device. The buttons are probably better than they feel, but I wonder how long it will be before the labels wear off. The Kindle is too big to fit in a pocket, even a cargo pants pocket, but it could go in a purse or briefcase (or courier bag). Finally, I have to wonder how long Amazon will allow free data access beyond the confines of their store, especially since it has a lightweight web browser.

The geeks are already hacking away at the device; it runs a version of Linux and some folks have managed to install software needed to make it a more general-purpose computer. Amazon has wisely taken a hands-off stance, although I suspect they would get rather exercised if people were to pound on the network too much. This is something I wouldn’t have bought for myself, but now that I have it I’m interested in seeing what it can do.

Mason was not in a wonderful mood much of yesterday. He woke up twice last night, maybe more… I got up with him twice anyway. Mrs. Fetched took him to the doctor today, and she suspects he has rotavirus, aka “baby flu.” Here’s hoping he gets over it soon. He tries really hard to be good-natured, and nothing brightens up a house like a baby laughing. Mrs. Fetched and Daughter Dearest got the tree put up and strung some LED lights on it, and he loves looking at all the colors.

Since Mrs. Fetched needed the car to take Mason to the doc, I ended up on the motorcycle. It was one of those mornings where I put in all the linings in the jacket, added more layers underneath, cranked up the heated gloves, and only my feet froze. I’m working at the office all week since we have a new contractor in and I need to throw all the stuff I can’t get done on him (and help him get started doing it). He and I worked at the same place about 12 years ago, and dimly recognized each other at the interview… he likes his motorcycle too, and was glad to see mine.

Monday, December 14, 2009 7 comments

White Pickups, Episode 13


We’re still in Tuesday, and will be for the next several episodes. This is a long day.

“Hey Dad!” Kelly pulled the gate open; he and his two companions rode through.

“How ya doin’ sweetie?” Charles said. “You remember Max Wright, right?” Max, a blonde guy who reminded Kelly of a teddy bear, grinned and nodded. “This is Sondra Lucado. I wasn’t sure about letting her come, but she insisted and did a fine job of keeping up.” He dismounted and hugged his daughter. “Good to see you.”

“You too, Dad. Hi, guys.”

“Hey.” Sondra reminded Kelly of Cody; about Kelly’s age, dark eyes, olive complexion, long black hair pulled back, wearing a ball cap, loose black shirt and black jeans. Even without the gun, a certain male friend of hers would have taken one look at her and described her as “All Business” — but he was probably off driving. Her right forearm and hand looked strange, a whiter shade than the rest of her. A shoulder holster cradled a handgun just below the ribs on her right side. The men carried rifles on their backs. All had small packs strapped to fender racks.

“Did you have to use those on the way up?” Kelly asked Sondra.

“No. But after Friday night, we aren’t taking any chances.”

“That bad?”

“Yeah,” Charles said. “But we’ll talk about it when everyone can hear. Then we want to hear your stories.”

“Sure. We aired out the house across from my place for you guys. Drop your stuff there, then we’re going to the pool and having a cookout. We got steaks and chicken yesterday, and picked through the produce that still looked good.” She mounted her bike and led the way.

“How are you keeping it cold?” Max asked as they pedaled past the mailboxes and into the community.

“Cody — that’s the kid who lives a few blocks down — had an extra generator. We siphoned some gas at QuickFill so we can run the refrigerator and a couple of lights. And we got what was left of the ice from the Super-Saver and the QuickFill.”

“All well and good until the gas runs out.”

“We had a fuel shipment come in Thursday evening,” Kelly said. “Considering what was happening by then, it’s kind of amazing it got through. But we won’t be needing the refrigerator much longer, I guess. Sara said the emergency power at Saver-Market was good for about a day, and we had power until Monday morning, so it probably died this morning. Once the meat and milk’s gone, there won’t be much else to put in it.”

“Yeah. Hey… is this a pickup-free zone?”

“I guess so. Cody let some out yesterday morning, and we haven’t seen any in here since then.”

“Ohh,” Sondra said. “I wonder if we should put up barricades, maybe it’ll keep them off our street.”

“Y’know,” Max said, “I never thought I’d ever say this, but moving out to suburbia is starting to look like a really good idea. Have you cleared out the other houses?”

“We just started this morning,” Kelly said. “Except for the place across from us where you guys will be staying, that we did last night. The fridge was stinky and we left some windows open. We’ll probably have to do that with all the houses, whether or not people are in them — Tim said it would keep vermin down.”

“Who’s Tim?” Charles asked.

“He owns the bike shop in the strip where Mom would get groceries. He’s in one of the walk-off houses, they were already cleaned up. Sara’s in the other. She was a cashier at the grocery store.”

“Walk-off houses?”

“Yeah. We had a couple owners pack up and leave earlier this year. They left their keys in the front door and just… disappeared. Nobody knew they were leaving, or why they left — probably couldn’t keep up the mortgage. It was a big stink with the HOA, but everything’s a big stink with some of those people, y’know?”

“I know the type,” Sondra said. “What was their big deal? Property values?”

“Probably,” Kelly answered. “Mom had to get involved some, but I didn’t want anything to do with it. The HOA got the banks and the real estate agents together and worked out an agreement to make sure the houses got kept up so they wouldn’t pull the rest of the community down, I guess. So when we brought Sara and Tim back with us, we had two houses all ready for them. Here we are.” She pointed to the Kumars’ house and led the visitors up the driveway. “There’s three bedrooms,” she said, “so I guess you won’t have any problem with that.”

“We just get to fight over who gets the master bedroom,” Max grinned. He unshouldered his rifle and unstrapped his bag from the rear rack. “Me, I don’t care. Just give me a bed and I’ll be happy.”

“I don’t want a huge bed,” Sondra said. “I guess that means Charles gets the master bedroom. He’s kind of our leader, anyway.”

“Such as it is,” Charles said. “Well, let’s get our stuff inside and then you can take us to your cookout.”

“Sure,” Kelly said. “We’ll have it at the pool, we rode by it on the way. Cody should have the grill going by now.”

“Cody… he’s about your age, right?”

“He’s sixteen. And… I don’t know. I guess he’s okay, but he’s not my type.”

“I think nobody is anybody’s type anymore.”


Saturday, December 12, 2009 9 comments

Weekend Roundup [UPDATED]

Mason, innocent?Mason has been at the manor most of the week. Some nights Snippet has been here, some nights not… but this morning was the second time this week he slept until 6 a.m. I continue to hold out hope that this means he’ll soon be consistently sleeping through the night. Babies can be exhausting at times…

I guess he was somewhat of a pistol yesterday: Daughter Dearest had to go pick up Evil Lad NOT and bring him up here, which meant DoubleRed had to watch him for a few. For DoubleRed, very little can happen in her life without it turning into a crisis of one sort or another, and Mason picks up on her moods. So when Daughter Dearest got back, he was wailing with the volume at 11, DoubleRed was snarling and trying to take a test online… in short, nobody was happy. I got this second-hand from DD and Mrs. Fetched — what I did see was DoubleRed leaving the manor in a classic 8-cylinder huff; she returned just as I started writing this.

So while Mason is giving me the innocent look for all he’s worth, I’m not completely convinced. :-)

[UPDATE 13 Dec: He’s been working on turning himself over for a while now… he finally did it this morning. I got to see him do it the second time; Mrs. Fetched came out at 6 a.m. to find him on his back.]

I got home from work last night… and to Mrs. Fetched’s credit, “we need to swap a furnace at #3” was the third (rather than first) thing she said to me. Oh… did I mention that they got the houses sealed up enough to get birds? The good news was that it could (i.e. had to) wait until after supper. The not-so-good news was that we had to wait on Panda to show up, and he wasn’t able to get here until about 9. To be clear here, there are four or five furnaces in each chicken house — they hang on chains and blow hot air directly into the place. No ductwork involved.

Mrs. Fetched wasn’t completely sure about how to go about disconnecting a furnace from the gas line, but I sort of remembered looking at the hookups, and grabbed a pipe wrench and The Persuader (a 14" adjustable wrench) just to be sure. There was a handy nut just south of the gas cutoff, so I put the pipe wrench on, got the thing loose, started turning it… and the hose started kinking and twisting and not cooperating — like anything else in the chicken houses. With a combination of brute force and finesse, Panda and I were able to get the thing disconnected. Lifting it for Mrs. Fetched to get it off the chains was a relative breeze.

With the defective furnace off, we went to the back (which is closed off at this point) to get a working furnace. Same deal, but a little faster since we knew what we were doing. We threw it on the back of the pickup, rolled it down to where we needed it, and put it on — it only took two tries to get the hose counter-twisted enough for us to put it back on. So we plugged it in… and nothing. After some backing and forthing, Mrs. Fetched got agitated and took off, leaving Panda and I to deal with it. Figuring it was an electrical problem, we came back to the manor and got my voltmeter and a couple extension cords in case we had to plug it in elsewhere.

First, I tried the outlet. 120V. I opened the control box cover, and put the voltmeter on the AC terminals. 120V. OK, the thing’s getting power. I tried the thermostat terminals, 24V. Then I disconnected the thermostat, switched to ohms, and checked it. Open circuit.

"Make the thermostat click,” I told Panda. It was right behind us, so he did. Still open circuit.

"It’s either the thermostat or the cable,” I said.

"Mrs. Fetched said she just replaced that one,” Panda said, “but she might have done a different one and forgot.” We located a screwdriver and opened the thing up… it was packed with dust and feathers. Obviously she hadn’t opened this one up in a while. I blew the crap out of the thing…

“You think that loose wire might be the problem?” Panda said sarcastically. Someone, possibly the field man, pulled a bit too hard on it and there wasn’t much slack wire inside the thermostat. We didn’t have any pliers, but I managed to get the loose wire around the terminal and tighten it down. We plugged everything back in… and the furnace immediately coughed to life. After the high-five, we got a bit miffed at Mrs. Fetched for telling us the furnace was broke without checking the thermostat. I guess I need to send her to a troubleshooting methodology class.

Chopping WoodToday was jam-packed with all kinds of “fun.” Someone had to be here with Mason, but: DoubleRed was gone, Mrs. Fetched had to go to the bank, Daughter Dearest was going to the chicken houses with Panda, and I had to cut firewood. But since Mrs. Fetched was supposed to meet The Boy, and he wasn’t awake to answer his phone, she stayed home and I went outside. I’d located a dead tree close to the manor (identified as such by large swatches of missing bark), and found two more when I went out to cut it down. As the other two were relatively small (about four inches), I decided to tackle them first — no splitting required, just cut ’em up and they’re ready! Except for a dead branch breaking off and me stupidly standing my ground (it missed), there were no untoward incidents. The third tree was a foot across (or more) at the base, big enough to need splitting but small enough to split by hand.

After I cut that to pieces, then dropped an even larger trunk near Butthead’s dog run that I’ve wanted to get to for a while, I was pretty well worn out. I took Panda home (he came back with DD just as I was finishing up), then Mrs. Fetched and I loaded the cut-up wood onto the truck and took around to the garage. The biggest pieces, that need splitting, went under a tarp outside and the rest went in the garage where we can get to it. I think it will last until the rain stops later on Tuesday. My back was hurting pretty well at this point, so I figured I was done with the strenuous stuff for the day.

Family portrait (first draft)Somewhere along the line, when I wasn’t looking, The Boy and Snippet came in. Mrs. Fetched wanted us to do a family portrait today. Seeing as my hair was a rat’s nest, and I’d been sweating like a pig in 35-degree weather, I figured I needed a shower before anything else happened. Now earlier in the week, I started looking through a photography magazine I picked up at the grocery store a while back, and saw an ad for an iPhone app that provided remote control capabilities for DSLRs (WANT). Then, Mrs. Fetched told me she wanted a family portrait to include in the Christmas cards (WANT → NEED). I had some money sloshing around in my iTunes account, so I topped it up to where I could drop $20 for the “pro” version that lets you adjust exposure (among other things) from the iPhone. It took me a while to get the thing to talk, but when I got the cables plugged in a bit more firmly we were in business.

We took over 30 shots altogether, knocking off when the flash batteries wheezed out. After I threw out the obvious clunkers (flash didn’t fire, somebody had a “duhhh” look or was looking around), we had a dozen or so possibilities. Mrs. Fetched decided she didn’t like her green top, since the shoulders weren’t right, so we’ll be doing it again tomorrow. In this pic, I’m holding the iPhone behind Mrs. Fetched. I also took a couple shots with just The Boy, Snippet, and Mason, and one of those turned out pretty well. I think if the church ever decides to do another directory, it’ll be a breeze with the stuff I have at hand. Y'know, there’s all sorts of ads in that photography magazine for stuff I never realized I needed (and can actually afford).

So the rum has numbed my back, and Daughter Dearest wants me to cook some supper. Whatever.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009 5 comments

White Pickups, Conversations: Sara Karsten


I’m not much for putting myself forward.

Don’t worry about it. Just talk about your personal history.

Fine. I was born, I went to school… well, I went to Morris Brown College in Atlanta, and got through one year before the college lost its accreditation back in 2002. The scholarships stopped, and I dropped out. My parents worked long hours so I’d have a chance to go to school, and then to have that happen… well, it was awfully discouraging.

Why didn’t you just transfer?

I was working on transferring to Georgia State. Then I met Jamal. We got married a few months after we met, and I thought I could put off going back for a while. That was about five years ago.

Things didn’t work out?

I might have been able to pretend to not notice his affairs, if he hadn’t let them become so indiscreet in the last year or so.


Exactly. I told him he could either have her — or them — or me… and he chose her.

I’m sorry to hear that.

Well, that’s not what he said he wanted. He claimed that he just wanted a temporary separation, to see if maybe we could work things out “once I calmed down about all that.” As if I was the one with the problem?

So you found work at Saver-Market…

The more fool me, I put off college for Jamal, and here I was with one year of college and no degree. The only jobs open to me were in retail. I told the Saver-Market people I was interested in finishing my education and having a career, and they said they would work with me on that and help me with some of the tuition as long as I passed the classes. I was getting ready to start taking classes at Gwinnett Tech in the evenings. That didn’t quite work out, did it?

I guess not. What were you going to major in?

General business: accounting, management, that sort of thing. I wanted to make something of myself. My parents were disappointed in how things turned out the first time, but they said they were encouraged with my plans. Then everyone drove off, and here we are.

Indeed. So what do you think happened?

Honestly? I think this was God’s way of starting over. He promised not to destroy the earth with a flood again, but He never said anything about white pickup trucks! I’d been reading a lot of scary things lately, about how the oceans will rise and we’ll have such hurricanes and droughts and so on. Maybe by the time there’s enough people to start hurting the earth again, it will have healed. Maybe we’ll be a little smarter about things next time, too.

I haven’t asked anyone else this, but what do you think you’ll do now?

Why not?

I just didn’t think about it.

Oh. Well, if we live long enough, I’d like to have children. I also want to go get those textbooks from the college and study on my own. Maybe by the time I have grandchildren, I’ll know enough to teach them something. But first, I want to live through this first year, knowing it’s going to be safe to have children. The children we have — and they’re almost not children anymore — are going to be enough for now.

Back to Episode 12

Monday, December 07, 2009 4 comments

White Pickups, Episode 12


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tina helped Cody and Kelly push the inward gate open and squeeze the trailer through. Kelly was right: all the pet food in the QuickFill fit easily on one trailer. “Your dad called,” Tina said to Kelly. “They’re on their way, they should be here before noon.”

“It’s only nine,” Kelly said. “I thought they would get here sooner than that.”

“Charles said the traffic downtown has gotten a little sticky since the power went out. He said they’d have to get on ’85 and ride the shoulder at least part way. Then the call cut out. I hope the cells aren’t down for good just yet.”

“Just a matter of time, I guess,” Cody said. “You know, the canned stuff won’t last forever, either. We’re gonna have to start growing our own food next spring. I just hope we have enough until then.”

“We should,” Tina said. “Between what people left in their houses, and there’s four grocery stores close by — not to mention all the convenience stores. We’ll get by.”

“I hope we got enough food for the animals,” Cody said. “We’re probably gonna have to hit a supermarket tomorrow.”

Back at Tina’s house, they split up the bags of pet food onto three trailers and Cody handed out cans of spray paint. “Let me make sure I got this right,” Cody said. “We check for pet doors first. If we find one, we pour some food through the door. If not, we knock, then open the door and listen. If a big dog comes at us, we throw food at it and close the door. Then we paint the door: check mark means nothing, D for dogs, C for cats. If we find any other kind of pet, we try to get it out of the house and release it?”

“Right,” Tim said. “If you find a big dog that really tries to attack you, jot down the address and I’ll come by and shoot it.”

Kelly sighed. “I hope you don’t have to. Well, let’s see how much we can get done before Dad gets here.”

Kelly and Sara reached the third house before finding their first pet. A grey kitten walked slowly into the living room and rasped at them.

“Oh, poor thing! I’ll bet it’s dehydrated!” Kelly gasped, and ran to the kitchen to grab a bowl. She opened the refrigerator and pulled out a half-empty gallon milk jug. “It’s not warm yet.”

“Water would be better for it,” Sara said. “Dip that bowl in the toilet tank. It’ll be all right. Then we can feed it.”

The kitten slurped up the water and mewed, still a little raspy but not as bad, so Kelly got a little more water and put some kitten food in a separate bowl. It purred and grumbled as it gobbled up the food, then walked over to Kelly and stretched itself up her leg.

“Ohhh… you want to come with me, don’t you?” Kelly picked up the kitten, who climbed up her shoulder and purred.

“There’s a cat,” Sara said. “They do know how to play you.”

“Well, we can’t just leave her here!”

“Sure we can. We paint ‘1 C’ on the door and come by to feed and water it.”

“Why not just take her home? It’s not like every house is going to have a kitten, and it’ll be easier if she’s close.”

“Well, if you’re holdin’ it, and we have a dog comin’ at us, it’s gonna slow us down. Just leave it here, you can come back for it later if your mother doesn’t mind.”

Kelly huffed, but could not find a way around Sara’s logic. She put the kitten down, with plenty of food, water, and promises to return, and left. The next house had a large dog that charged the door, teeth bared; they slammed the door before they had a chance to throw it any food. Kelly wrote down the address.


Conversations: Sara Karsten

Sunday, December 06, 2009 3 comments

¼ Candle, and Other Stuff

Mason, age 3 mos.Mason is three months old today, happy_birthday div 4 little dude!

He’s been working lately on grasping things. Of course, he can grab anything that touches his hand, but he’s starting to try grabbing by sight. He hasn’t quite got it down yet, but he’ll figure it out. He’s also trying to turn himself over, especially after waking up. He’s still not quite sleeping all night, but he catnaps through the day and crashes around 10pm, sleeping until about 4am or so; after a bottle and diaper change, he’s good until morning. He’s vocalizing a lot now, too.

He lurves his Auntie Daughter Dearest… of course, she’ll give him her absolute undivided attention and play with him for a good long while. We met her for a late lunch today, with one of her roomies, and they (Mason and the girls) had a fine time.

Broken bitAs I mentioned last weekend, the chicken houses are unoccupied at the moment. Mrs. Fetched and her band of hired guns have made much progress, but not enough just yet… it was kind of strange today when she didn’t go over there. If they drag this out a little while longer, maybe they can avoid having to buy gas at all this winter.

Screwdriver bits tend to not last when used heavily, it seems. I could tell this one was starting to lose some grip, then I heard a SNAP and it became like this. That might explain why Home Despot sells ’em in bulk.

What with all the stuff going on, we haven’t even had time to do our Christmas decorations. Yesterday was completely absorbed with the choir first caroling (and delivering fruit baskets) at various shut-ins around the county, then going to Amicalola Falls to perform. Mrs. Fetched and Daughter Dearest usually tackle the decorations, but neither one has been available so far. DD would have been home this weekend if it wasn’t for the minor detail of four Christmas concert performances: Thursday, Friday, and two on Saturday. We went to the Thursday performance; it went well for the first one. [Aside: the brass section of the orchestra (I noticed this in earlier concerts) has been a bit sub-par this year.] I’d do it, but I’d hear a lot of whining about it not being elaborate/large enough and it would get torn down and re-done anyway. Then again, if I went ahead and did it, then Mrs. Fetched would do it just to mark her territory. It would help if I could get into the Christmas frame of mind without being bombarded by all-day Christmas music on the radio and non-stop ads on TV… one reason I don’t spend much time with either one. Whatever happened to just adding Christmas music to the rotation and easing people into it? Shoot, even one of the local TV stations noticed… the “news” ran a segment on Grumpy Shoppers where most people said they were tired of stores rolling out the Christmas stuff before the BBQ has a chance to cool off after Labor Day.

Another thing we haven’t had time to do is cut and split wood. We’ve done some, but it was all green and even that is starting to get used up. My chainsaw is scrod; if I could easily get hold of one (and not yanked onto some other spurious project) I could take down and/or cut up a few dead trees and fallen limbs around the manor. Lots of things I could do, actually, if I was unemployed and still had money. Oh well.

The next White Pickups episode rolls in tomorrow morning. I’ll post a conversation with Sara later in the week.

Friday, December 04, 2009 4 comments

White Pickups, Conversations: Tim Petro


Hi, I’m Tim Petro, proprietor of Town and Trail Bikes. Or was. Age 29 as of February. I’m told the family name was originally “Petrolakis,” when my grandfather came with his parents from Greece. His dad shortened it to make it less foreign-sounding. He married an Irish woman, that’s where I got all the red hair from. Is this the kind of stuff you want?

Sure. What possessed you to run a bike shop?

Well, it was really a dream of mine since I was like 12. We lived outside of Chicago back then, and my parents bought me a mountain bike from a yard sale. It needed a lot of adjustment, so I grabbed some of my dad’s tools and started fiddling until I had it mostly right. Then I rode to the library and found a book about bicycle repair, and went back and got it really right. Soon after that, one of the neighbor kids had a problem with his brakes and I got them adjusted. It sort of snowballed after that. Most of the neighbor kids wound up owing me favors, but I got cash for jobs that required parts. I bought another cheap bike at a yard sale so I could practice adjusting spokes, and that paid off pretty well.

By next summer, I was going around buying old bikes, fixing them up, and selling them for a profit. It was pretty good money for a young teen. My mom was an accountant, so she showed me how to keep a set of books and helped me open a bank account. I paid myself a salary, bought my own tools, and Dad cleared some storage space so I had a place to work. At the end of the year, I gave three or four good bikes to a local charity so poor kids could have a good Christmas present — they were surprised that “PetroVelo” was a kid!

After a couple of years, I got hired on by a local shop as a mechanic — Dad said they did it to eliminate some of their competition, and looking back he might not have been joking. But I learned a lot, and even steady minimum wage was better money than I was making on my own. I got them to donate some used bikes to the charity, and offered to work on them on my own time, but they paid me anyway.

You grew up around Chicago? How did you end up in Georgia?

Dad’s job transferred down here. I was 17. It wasn’t as bad as I expected — out here in Gwinnett, it was just another suburban school. Everybody was a lot more car-crazy here, but there were a few cyclists too. I ended up at UGA, joined the cycling team, got a business degree, got a job, worked hard and saved most of my money for a few years. I opened Town and Trail in 2007, and hung on until 2008 when things really picked up in June and July. You remember how gas prices went through the roof? The Christmas season was bad, but that summer more than made up for it. That’s when I learned about peak oil. I figured if I could just hang on until the fuel shortages got seriously bad, I’d be set. An ill wind and all that, right?

I lived my dream for four years, and even a few days beyond The End of the World As We Know It. Lots of people never take that kind of chance. Whatever happens next, at least I’ll have had that.

You shot that looter, but you don’t seem like the gun type…

I met somebody. You know how that goes: I ended up moving downtown to be closer to her, which was fine since I worked downtown anyway. Not that I moved in with her — Rebecca wasn’t the “live-in” type. But there was a home invasion in my apartment not long after I moved in, so I bought the gun and took some lessons. Things didn’t work out between us in the end, but she was there for me when I opened Town & Trail and painted that mural… I put some polyurethane clear-coat over the plywood, so it might be there in the shop window for a long time.

So what do you think happened?

I know what happened: she wanted me to convert to Catholicism. I wouldn’t do it. Sure, I could have gone through the motions, but that wouldn’t have been right… we’d have been living a lie if we ended up getting married.

I meant with the drive-offs.

Oh. I don’t know if this is really what happened, but it seems right to me. Oil supplies were getting tight — you’ve noticed how gas prices have been inching up this year, past $3.50 and kept going? I think it was really starting to get through to people that we were really running out of oil, and so many people wished so hard to keep the motoring fantasy going forever that they got what they wanted. Be careful what you ask for, right?

Back to Episode 11…


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