Search Lobsterland

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Gut Instinct and the Intermodal

I wasn't too keen on the itermodal facility BNSF wants to put in my back yard. Not so much out of NIMBY instincts, I can actually think of a bunch of positives the facility would bring. But big business has a bad habit of panhandling local governments, and Gardner would be a sitting duck for a corporation that does $1.5 billion a year on an 11% profit. They have very little competition, and they have government-like powers.

So I signed a petition, put up a sign (later stolen) but figured if the bear wanted to shit in those woods, I could do little about it.

The petition, turns out, says Gardner can't annex the area BNSF has already said they will absolutely use for their intermodal park. They have federal law and Supreme Court decisions going back to the 1860s on their side, powers of imminent domain, and so on. In other words, this intermodal (train to truck) site is a done deal. The only thing a city would have any say about would be things like warehouses. If you want those to be up to code, and if you want to tax the property the railroad is using, you have to annex the facility.

If the ballot initiative (presented, falsely, as a way to stop the facility from even coming here) passes, the only thing that is certain is that for a 10 year period, the city of Gardner will have zero authority over even the warehouse facilities. We're not going to prevent this neighbor from moving in. Potentially, we might prevent ourselves having any voice at all in making this neighbor act neighborly.

I should have known better than to enter the Dolphin Song for any reason.

The only thing weighing in favor of reason: lots of people know that if they don't undrestand a question when voting, they should vote NO. This isnt' absolutely true, but it's a good reflex to have: 99% of all ballot initiatives will cost you money, hurt your community, or (most likely) both. Voting yes is for people who want to be taxed more and have less freedom.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Roots Festival & So On

I had the brilliant idea of taking the honyocks down to the Roots Festival. It was a pretty good distance to cover, but it didn't look like rain and I figured it to be more or less equivalent to a county fair as far as attractions and wallet vacuums.

Yes and no. It’s a big barbecue competition, which means the town square of Paola is ringed with the trailer-type smokers towed around by that flavor of fanatic. It's also a music festival, though that was kind of county fair like too, because this is the second time this month I've heard a band doing Foghat covers.

Mo pretty much sums it up, as far as the band we heard goes.

There was an admission charge, which irritates me. They know they're going to skin you good on overpriced refreshments and whatnot, it ought to be free to get in. I was the only one in my party over age ten, but still, eight bucks, and it doesn't even have as cool a rides as the county fair?

We did get homemade ice cream. Or rather, serious commercial ice cream made with an old fashioned rig.

I would have rather gone to Ani DiFranco in Lawrence, but there were a few glitches in that plan. For starters, I only got the spam from TicketBastard urging me not to miss Ani DiFranco on Thursday evening. Two days ahead of the show, it must have been a total last minute booking. I'd checked her tour dates a while back and she wasn't playing anywhere near here.

Plus, it would have been more expensive, especially if I took the girls along. I don't know how Mo would fair at an Ani show, and I know Em claims to hate Mr. DiFranco's music.

Grilled salmon and burgers for dinner when we got back. Great sale on burger this weekend, I spent less on four and a half pounds of it than a trip to McDonalds runs us, and I'm set with leftovers for a fortnight.

So then, today, Em gets an idea from watching Crocadile Hunter to start her own version of the Queensland Zoo. Except without animals. She figured she'd set up a nature exchange, lemonade stand style, and swap items from nature such as a pear she picked while we were walking the dog. With the throngs of nature tourists that come by our house in a steady stream.

It reminds me of when I used to put my parent's junk mail in a wagon and go up and down the street, 'Mail for sale! Mail for sale!'

Em was very disappointed to find that, as you might expect, Americans don't care about the outdoors. A couple of kids on bikes stopped to ask what she was doing, but then they didn't understand her explanation. She took this to be indifference to the environment as a whole.

So then we did pizza. But not ordered out. I got a copy of Cooking Light and did something out of character. I read the article on pizza and actually followed their directions/recipe.

I still improvised a bit, I can't not do that, but they at least explain why they prefer a given approach so you can make the stuff the way you like it. Best damn pizza crust I've ever made. Preheating the pan, then prebaking the crust a bit, that turns out to go a huge way toward making up for the woefully inadequate temperatures domestic ovens reach.

I knew pizza ovens ran hot, I've heard about it since I was a tiny lobster: Dad owned a pizza place before I was born, so every time we had pizza I got to hear about how it would be better if we had a 900 degree oven.

Plus, portabellas were on sale. It's what's under the pepperoni, cheese, olives on the rectangular pan. Damn, that's good. More leftovers, too!

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Day Late

Mo spent the night last night so I could take her, first thing in the morning, to see the mysterious Pediatric Neurologist. This is a doc who's writing Trileptal scripts without having laid eyes on Mo.

The Tegretol wasn't cutting it anymore, and it takes about six years to get into a specialist like this, so that's not that weird. It should be impossible, but welcome to America.

First off, Mo is a routine-oriented kiddo. So the fact taht Daddy was picking her up meant Weekend, no matter how it was explained to her, ad nausem, that I'd be taking her to the doctor and then back to school for Fun Friday.

AFKFL handed Mo her backpack for school, and Mo ran back to the togetherment* door and threw the backpack into the living room.

Normally, Mo is shot out of her cannon by six in the morning. There's never a guarantee she'll sleep all night, though medications have been deployed to keep getting up at midnight for the day from being the norm. Imagine my surprise when I'm struggling to get her ass in gear at 7:30.

The appointment was at 8:30, and I didn't leave as much time as I should. It was 8:40 by the time I signed us in. Through town, on the highway, through midtown, people shouted 'CUP!' and honked and waved and in one case nearly rear-ended a guy trying to get my attention, to tell me there's a coffee mug on my roof.

Of course there's a coffee mug on my roof, I glued it there. I had no idea the reaction would be so huge. It's a Magic Christian type prank, but if you think your fellow man is indifferent to you, glue a coffee mug up there. I even had a guy get out at a stoplight and come back to tell me when hand signals failed.

I don't want them to feel ill used, so I smile, thank them, explain I did it as a joke but didn't know it would get such a rise out of folks.

Most people, if they say, 'You have a coffee mug on your roof,' and I say, 'Yep!' they laugh, realizing the gag, shake their heads and move on. But I think some people feel like it's a sort of crying wolf. Still, it's sweet, how worked up people will get trying to save me from a shattered coffee mug.

It does seem to keep the tailgaters at bay, if they notice. Sometimes a car is the usual one-car-length back at 70mph, and they see the mug and all of a sudden there's a football field between us as they hit the brakes. Which means I probably won't take the mug down. My membership in the Caucophany Society is confirmed.

So we get to the neurologist, and you have to feed the meter, plus have a hanger they keep inside. So you have to take the kid who focuses on routine, go in, come out, go back in. Then they tell me the appointment was for 8/24.

A day ago.


They offer me a reschedule, the earliest they can offer is October 5. I'm not making this up. I'm not even sure I believe it.

On the way back to school, I took Mo to the Waffle House. We don't eat out much in the divorced world, but we'd been running late and by 9:00, my stomach thought my throat was cut. Mo loves the Waffle House, I'm not sure they offer anything she wouldn't eat on a given day.

My eyes were too big for her stomach, I guess. When I asked if she was hungry, she said she was. When I ordered the bacon, two gets, toast, hash browns, I figured the last was the only thing she might skip. She eats potatoes in every form, so hash browns might go over big, but I can't recall her ever eating them. At home, she'll even eat frozen french fries straight from the freezer.

She wouldn't touch her food. Even when I held out a piece of bacon, she'd shove my hand away. I've never, ever seen this kid refuse bacon. I didn't even think she'd have to be hungry to tie into it.

Then I thought, most of the trips we've made to the Waffle House, she's gotten a waffle. Maybe that's it, she wants the routine, so I ordered a waffle. At 99¢, I figured it was better than releasing her on the school in a fit of starvation.

She ignored that too, except to put syrup on it. She covered her ears against the country music and played with the wrapper from her straw and when I asked her if she was hungry she said 'no' even though it had been a good 15 hours since she'd eaten anything.

*They call them apartments, but they're stuck together. Not original to me, I think it was Steven Wright circa 1984, but maybe it was Emo Phillips.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Car Art

I want to live in an architectural folly. Tiny houses, castles, houseboats, I love weird homes, but circumstances dictate a raised ranch in the burbs for now.

And if I'm going to drive an old, unreliable, un-air-conditioned car, it should show some flair at least. Some individuality. An '88 LeSabre falls short in that category.

Hell, I'd settle for being able to take the key out of the ignition. But meanwhile, my folk art fetish reasserts itself. I was going to do this with an old truck I owned, and at the time I was married, so it mattered that AFKFL hated the idea. She wasn't mean about it like one of her friends was. Her friend seemed to think it was on par with an I'm With Stupid tattoo. Still, in the interest of marital harmony, I only bought the glue, I didn't go through with it.

It was more fun at the time to put it on my personal scoreboard: We each had one, a list of shit that we wanted to do or be or try or whatever, but that we couldn't because of the other person. It was childish, destructive and ultimately useless, but we did it. Big time.

Would it have been better if I'd just gone and glued a coffee mug to my roof? I don't know, but I can't imagine it'd have been worse.

It's not a wholly original idea. Chuck Palahniuk profiles a fellow Portlander who has covered three cars with shit. Mobile folk art libraries. I think one was covered entirely with door knobs. One has a scale model of the Golden Gate Bridge as a sort of Stegasoris spine.

The guy started out with a coffee mug. So it's unoriginal, especially since I don't regularly drink coffee.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Lions and Tigers and Meerkats...Oh My!

With the pool closed for the season, I’ve lost my default activity. With few exceptions, we’d gone every day I had the girls this summer, excepting the odd thunderstorm. The family membership was $78 well spent. Especially during the leanest portion of the summer, between freelance (my main client is a bimonthly magazine) and when overtime isn’t available, having something less than a mile away that was already paid for, that was golden.

Thursday, Mo blew chunks on the playground, and I got the call to pick her up. AFKFL* is in training for a new job, and I have an uber-cool boss who’s flexible as long as the freedom isn’t abused, so it was only logical I go. Plus, not wanting to be a Disney Dad, I want my kids to know I can be relied on when they’re feeling puny, come up limping, or otherwise need nurturing.

She was up and down as far as how she felt that afternoon. She asked for chicken, and when I nuked some nuggets (normally she inhales them, drowned in quarts of ranch dressing) she ignored them. In another peak of feeling better she said, ‘go swimming...swimming pool!’

Gawd, it was enough to make me fantasize about going to Watson’s. I can’t afford a pool of my own, but this is America, right? If I’m willing to be an indentured servant to some bank, maybe I could get one. Or maybe not.

Like a Hayseed Dixie show or Demolition Derby, the pool membership was a hard act to follow.

I had more or less forgotten about the zoo. I went on at least one field trip, when Mo’s school made a trek that way, and I’d been with Em at least once, but years ago. Looking into ticket prices, I saw they discount family memberships (Friends of the Zoo) at this point in the year. It’s only good for about half a year, but if we go at least three times, we come out ahead. It’s not quite like the pool, the gas to get there isn’t free and it’s considerably further from home. Also, there’s about no way to do it without at least buying a beverage from the overpriced concessions.

But still, considerably cheaper than a season passport to Worlds of Fun. Which I wouldn’t mind doing if I could swing it.

The original plan had been to do the Ethnic Enrichment Festival as well. Both are in Swope Park, and I took the girls to the festival a couple years ago. It was entertaining for them the first half hour, but it’s really about enriching ethnics through the sale of overpriced fair food. A Croatian version of the hamburger is all good and well, but $5?

By the time we were done with the zoo, we were too tired and I was too broke to go about enriching ethnics. Plus, the animals at the zoo are enriched if signs are to be credited.

I set out to not do the whole zoo. It’s too much. Plus, I reasoned, since I sprung for the membership, we can catch that other stuff next time.

We missed the chips and gorillas in the Africa section, but otherwise, we did the whole shooting match. I even popped for the boat/tram/train deal. It was an orgy of zoo.

We had a couple of Incidents, but not that bad. There was the cup of ice drained of Diet Coke Mo threw into the hippo tank. I’m like, ‘Why would you do that? I only gave you that cup because I know you like to eat ice and it’s hot out!’ As usual, those around us looked at me like I invented the impulse Mo had acted on. Ditto for when she bolted from the path in Australia, to chase the Canadian Geese that share the exhibit with more Aussie animals. There’s signs all over saying to stay the hell on the path, but it looks like you could go chasing the animals.

Em would offer such things as, ‘Yup, we need to go.’ Thing is, I can take Mo out of some situations as a consequence of bad behavior, but when you’re a thirty minute walk from the car, it lacks the leaving-the-restaurant punch.

The kicker, I think, was after we got back, and I asked Mo if she liked the zoo. ‘No!’ She loves to tease. I know she was teasing, because during the sea lion show, I heard ‘This is great!’ several times. She said the same for the meerkats, see also the SpongeBob ice cream thing, see also the boat ride, see also the red (non-giant) panda...

Oh, and Em is better about my picture taking now that I admit I’m a shutterbug. If the right deal on a good camera came along when I was solvent, I’d have to snatch it. I passed up on a digital Rebel with three lenses for less than 1/4 the original retail price, but it was only because I didn’t have the cash to close the deal. Though if a motorcycle was in sight, I wouldn’t get a camera at the expense of a bike...

I took like 400 pictures on this trip. This page probably takes an age to load, but this is only the best 26 shots I got. Remember when 24 exposures was a lot?

*This is deeply lame, but it’s tiresome typing out ‘the artist formerly known as Frau Lobster,’ and I haven’t come up with a new cool nickname for my ex-wife.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Adventures in Oral Hygiene

I balked when dental hygienists pushed these $80 electric toothbrushes. They told me the plaque on my teeth and the plaque in my arteries was related, that keeping my teeth extra clean was a way to cut the risk of heart disease.

I even balked after I'd had a heart attack. I can't say dirty teeth were at fault: I smoked for twelve years, though I'd been quit for six or seven years when I had my near-life experience. That was also the year I had a course of Celebrex while going through physical therapy for an ulnar nerve entrapment. And while I had gone uber-healthy a couple months prior to the attack, there were lots of years of trips to the Waffle House, Max's Auto Diner, Waldo's Wurst Wieners, etc. See also sedentary job, see also family history...

I'm not sure what turned the trick for me, but last February or so, probably out of tax refund money though I can't be sure of that, I broke down and bought a SonicCare. I had been back for a cleaning and another hygienist told me a story that convinced me.

First off, she told me lots of the ones on eBay are cheap because hygienists and dentists get flooded with freebies from Braun and Oral-B reps who know that if anyone can sell an $80 toothbrush, it's folks in a dentist's office. But since they can only use one unit themselves, if they have a couple, they auction them off new-in-the-box. Since it's not a collectible, you can get it for sub-retail price.

But more than that: When she was going to school to learn how to scrape teeth, she had a friend who came for the cheap campus cleaning. This friend, she said, was a brushing fanatic, but still had substantial plaque by the time it came to a real cleaning. Then, one visit, she had teeth so clean, the then-in-training hygienist asked her, 'Did you go somewhere for a cleaning already?'

She thought maybe her friend had been to a dentist and came out of a feeling of obligation. But the reply was, 'Nope. I did get one of those sonic toothbrushes, though.'

Considering that I used to spend as much money on cigarettes in an average month, I decided to pull the trigger. My next cleaning is coming up, and I'm curious to see if the hygienist will see the difference. I can feel a difference, even some improvement in my gum disease symptoms, but maybe that's placebo effect.

I was due, though, for a replacement head. They come in pairs, and while they're cheaper than the whole shooting match (I got mine for 80-ish, lists for $120-ish), at $25-ish retail for a pair, they ain't cheap.

I found a guy on eBay selling two sets, got them relatively cheap, and tonight I got to audition them on the honyocks.

Em loved it. She did the whole two minutes (it has a built-in timer for that), and gave it a rave review. Mo...she giggled a lot. And no way did we make it to two minutes.

I asked Molly, 'Did you like the new toothbrush or no?'


So I asked, 'Did it feel funny?'


Hopefully I can get her used to it. After the whole oral surgery thing, I figure anything that improves her brushing is a plus.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Who Let This Hippie In?

This is me and my boss' boss' boss. Nine years ago, he lived a block away, when I'd worked for him only a year and he was still on his first marriage. And when the company did 1/3 as much revenue on 1/2 as many employees.

In my first couple years, there were a few employees who made their ten year anniversaries. The company would cater in a meal, and Tom gave them plaques.

One of them will hit 19 years next month. Another is going on 18. This in a company approaching twenty in absolute terms. It graduated from Tom's kitchen in 1987.

The banquet today celebrated my ten years, but two others as well. Me and Steve were two thirds of the first night shift graphics department the company ever had. We're both on days now, but still.

Every once in a great while I get to compare notes with someone who works where else I could ply my trade. The metro area is fifth in the nation for print, so there are lots of prepress departments a production artist like me could punch the clock, but when I hear what is in those other pastures, they don't sound greener. TradeNet expects a lot, but the pay and benefits is above par too. Do a lot to get a lot, nothing wrong with that.

When I was on nights, I advanced to shift supervisor. It looked like a good job, one I'd be good at. Until I was doing it. I bitched up everything in sight, and when it came to a head I was sure I was going to get fired. But I was so stressed out and clueless, I thought mainly about what I could do witht he severence package.

But I wasn't fired. I could go elsewhere and see if my leadership skills magically transformed, or I could take back the gig I was good at, redrawing logos and setting type. Without taking a pay cut.

I can't think of another company I'd get that kind of offer from after illustrating the Peter Principle so thoroughly. Even harder to imagine, another company where I'd take that offer.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

She's a Missile

Back to school. The folks in charge have apparently forgotten that school isn't supposed to start until September. They have to build in some extra days so they can cancel school on account of 1/4" of snow.

Mo actually craves the structure of school so much, even with summer school, she gets a bit out of whack by this time of year. She could really do with a year-round deal.

The artist formerly known as Frau Lobster has a new gig and since the first day of school is a half day, I got first dibs on honyock time.

Em was not only entering a new school, she was doing so without knowing who her teacher was. There was an ice cream social last week for briefing us on that, but she was out of town on a cousin sleepover binder, so she missed it. I agreed to walk her in, which got an extra night of Daddy & Emmy time.

This is a kid who normally sleeps until noon when left to her own devices. I'm used to making three or four attempts to get her moving by 8:00. She poked me on the arm (scaring hell out of me) at 6:00. The other half of my family, for the record, was up at 3:00, Mo was way excited to get back into the routine.

Em didn't want me to take her picture on the way in.

We live about ten minutes from the former missile silo Em attends. Nike Intermediate is done saying 'boo' to the U.S.S.R., now it's part of a school district that's growing so fast they've just about broken it down to a building for each grade. We have a ton of brand new future children's museums and marginal churches.

The deal was, I would pick Em up from the missile silo at 11:00, then get Mo from the elementary at 11:30.

After waiting in line, snaking through the lot as they directed the massive column of parents, no Em.

She'd forgotten the deal and got on the bus. The bus that drops her off at the apartment her Mom wouldn't be at for hours.

Meanwhile, I had to get Mo, and then drive like hell for the apartment complex in hopes of catching the bus.

You ever see those railroad vehicles with rubber tires and train wheels? They can run on the street with the train wheels up, or they can prop up on the train wheels and the rubber tires propel it back and forth on the rails? Ever wonder how the make the transition?

Me either. But I got to see the process of getting on the tracks. It involves shutting down the crossing with a couple of flag men, while the truck backs and forwards to the gesture cues of another railroad worker until it lines up.

It takes like ten minutes, and I'm like, Uh, I'm in a hurry?

Through a series of semi-implausible events, I found Em and we went on about our day.

It included some TV time for Mo. Who isn't happy with the current lineup of videos I have from the library.

It also included getting a cell phone. I hate cell phones. A lot.

But I can't have my kids wander all over hell's half acre when I could be in touch.

I bought the cheapest prepaid phone, and I don't aim to buy minutes more often than they expire. About once a month something happens where I wish I had one, and I don't think I'll use it more than that.

I compared the cell with my wind-up lobster, and for price, usefulness and durability, the lobster wins across the board.

Em's new teacher spotted my camera, though, and asked me about it. I explained that after the first day of Theater Camp, Em was traumatized and I was not allowed to snap her picture at her desk.

'My Mom took my picture this morning,' the teacher told me. It's the teacher's first day, too, right? It's not that weird, it's her first day of official 'teaching,' she was a student teacher last year.

Fortunately, I had extracted a pic from Em before we left the house.