Archive for the 'Time Machine' Category

Time Machine: Birthday Bash, Home Office Feng Shui

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Originally posted March 10, 2002.

Birthdays for the Clinically Insane

Try to follow along: My wife’s stepmother’s stepfather had his 62nd birthday party today, which we attended. It was a pretty interesting event, mostly because Nikki’s dad has a pretty small house and there were a lot of people there. I’m not even going to try to go over the roll call. Trust me, there were more people there than most of us felt comfortable with. The catch phrase of the afternoon was “Oops. Can I get by you?

The truth is, I feel out of place at most family gatherings… including those for my own family. I am convinced this is a problem with me, and not gatherings or anyone’s family. But I felt a little more out of place because I knew that even Nikki wasn’t terribly familiar with this side of the family. Of course, they were all perfectly nice, but there’s just something odd about spending an afternoon with people whom you could easily go your whole life never even being aware that you had a distant familial connection with and be no better or worse off for.

A good example is Denny (Nikki’s stepmother’s stepfather, the one with the birthday, remember?) has a couple of sons who were there. Both of them were extremely nice, and the oldest had his wife with him. This is a woman that if I met under different circumstances (which isn’t actually completely unlikely, she’s a database architect in The City, which means I could bump in to her later in my career) I would have no idea whatsoever had any kind of distant relation to, through step-families and several layers of marriage. It’s people like this who are precisely strangers to me and yet I spend time with while people only slightly more closely related to me offer helpful “ice-breaker” commentary like “Paul’s a big computer guy, too!”

I know people have good intentions and in fact I appreciate the effort. It’s just a part of married life I haven’t gotten used to… It’s a feeling I can best describe as if everyone were trying to force me into their families with a giant human-sized shoehorn. It’s not that I don’t want to fit in, I just feel like saying, “Look, I’m an outsider, and everyone here knows it. I’m okay with that, and you should be too. Can’t we all just start shoving food in our faces to break the uncomfortable silences like real families do?” But somehow I feel like I might get kicked by my wife under the table for saying that right out loud. Instead I just hope everyone follows my lead.

Re-Arranging Furniture at 11:00 PM

The Computer Room, as my wife and I call it, was a disaster zone. This is where I spend the majority of my time and it was completely uncomfortable.

I have a nice computer desk with an overhead bookshelf, sliding file drawer, built-in tower hutch and CD rack. But I also have four computers, not counting Nikki’s. When it was just the Linux box and the Windows box plus the laptop and webserver, it wasn’t so bad. The laptop fits away nicely in a corner and the webserver wasn’t ever really suitable for everyday use anyway. Plus I didn’t need a monitor to work with it, I just ssh to it and administer it remotely. Finally I moved the webserver to ColoQ and was down to three, which was fine. Then I got the Mac, and for the first night I had it on a very low shelf that used to be our entertainment unit, but has since been used as a fax machine stand.

The fax machine got the floor but there was absolutely no comfortable way to use the Mac while sitting in a chair designed for adult human beings. But, I wasn’t going to complain. I had, after all, brought this on myself by accepting the offer to take the G3 and I didn’t want to suffer my wife with tales of woe about the computer room when it was 90% devoted to my junk anyway. Then she made the mistake of complaining about the set up.

She sat directly to my left, with her computer, a printer and scanner set up on a monstrous cast-iron desk I inherited from my parents when they moved. The desk is so old that it’s been dropped down a flight of stairs without any discernible damage, and it actually weighs more with the drawers removed. It is a huge pain to move, but it holds a load of equipment comfortably so I keep it around. But Nikki isn’t a fan of it because it’s too high for her 5’3″ frame to sit and type at comfortably and she got tired of me reading over her shoulder, which was easy since I could just turn my head and see what she was doing.

So a trip to Wal-Mart later we had a new some-assembly-required desk for her and a vague plan to rearrange the whole room. Unfortunately we started the project at about 9:00 PM so it was well into the night while I was banging with hammers and snapping measuring tape. Plus the grunting and dropping of computer equipment, yelling and slamming after getting shocked from the power outlet trying to plug in the 20 or 30 cords in the room and of course, the near-constant exasperated shouts at the cat, who was intent on exploring the insides of the cardboard box the desk came in.

I would have worried about our neighbors, but these are the people who I swear have built a Jai-Alai court directly above my side of the bed. At any rate we ended up with it so that the Mac is now on the cast-iron behemoth, along with the fax machine and the laptop. Nikki is now behind me when I’m working on the regular computer desk, so I can’t peer over her shoulder anymore without significant effort, which if history is any indication means I won’t be peering over her shoulder at all. She seems much happier.

Ah, social awkwardness. I spent a lot of my least socially awkward times—and I’m referring to times when I didn’t personally feel awkward, mind you—in high school. The distinction between then and now is that I was awkward and spent a lot of that time saying and doing incredibly stupid things, things which my brain loves to recall now every time I encounter some new person or some new collection of people, but at the time I was oblivious. With the mixed blessing of enlightenment at how dumb I can sound and act, I now paralyze myself into a minimal interaction mode which is, in itself, stupid and awkward. I often come across as aloof, sour, boring or irritable. I actually am all of those things, but I’m so afraid that people will judge me as being over-earnest, saccharine, insufferable or annoying (which I am as well, only I inflict those particular traits on the select few I’ve decided to be comfortable with), I go too far.

About a year ago I wrote this entry in response to a series of encounters at a funeral. What I was trying to say then was that, remembering a man who was outgoing and friendly, who took the time to care about other people, I realized that my issues in social situations were products of my own devise (way to make it about you, man!—I know, I know). I don’t think I care what people judge me to be, except that I judge myself first which is the same, at least in essence. I don’t want to be an annoying guy, telling myself, “I hate annoying guys who don’t have any interesting stories to tell!” Then I realize I don’t have any interesting stories to tell so I decide I won’t even tell an un-interesting one and in fact I won’t say anything at all. I’ve lost friends because I second-guess myself into knots like this and let distances grow where, perhaps, they didn’t need to. I wanted to say last year that I decided to just get over myself, to stop worrying about it so much. Turns out, it’s not as easy as all that. But I’m trying.With patience and help from Nik, who is everything in social situations that I wish I could be, I’m making an effort.

What I get from the entry back in 2002 is that I spend too much time over-thinking the nature of interactions. Does it matter in the least that I’m in a room with a perfect stranger under the auspice of a family gathering? Of course not. When people try to assist in breaking the ice with comments about shared professional work, that’s a gift they’re trying to give me. “Here,” they’re saying, “you really suck at this, so let me get the ball rolling for you. Maybe you’ll actually make a friend.” Instead of being grateful I go on a tirade about how weird it is to be talking to the person in the first place. And, of course, not making a friend.

Oh, and for the record, we don’t have any of those three desks I talked about anymore. In fact, the notion of a desktop computer for anything other than gaming or specific professional applications seems a little quaint to me now. Ah, progress.

Time Machine: Lost Cats

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Originally posted January 3, 2002.

Last weekend our cat got out.

To most people, this probably sounds about as unfortunate as the fact that there is oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere. Cats go outside, they come back.

Most people are not my wife. While I hesitate to say that she was “freaking out,” she did develop a permanent crease between her eyebrows. For Nikki, that’s even worse than if she had been screaming hysterically… the fact that she didn’t was more worrisome. This was bad news.

The problem is that our cat (“Dixie”) was a stray at our old apartment complex. She was very friendly (after a dozen or so free meals courtesy of Nik) and liked to come around our place when it was cold outside. Eventually Nikki was so taken with her that she just adopted the cat, took it in for testing and kept it inside. Of course, Dixie was an outdoor cat for a minimum of six months before we got her, so she still had some reason to want to go outdoors. Nikki read that allowing house cats out (even fixed ones) was cruel because of all the possible dangers that could befall a cat in the wide world (car tires and bored boys with sticks spring to mind). So Dixie became a sort of willing captive.

Then we moved. Since we had found the cat at the old apartments, we assumed she had either come from there or been a previous tenant’s cat (we suspect she had lived in the very same apartment as we were in, under the previous occupants). We weren’t sure what would happen if she ever found her way out into these new apartments. When she accidentally got out (a door that was usually closed was left open after a party) the concern my wife had was that she wouldn’t be able to find her way home.

So I grabbed my Mag-Lite and headed out to track her down. Husband as hero… it could work. We found her in pretty short order, but she didn’t want to come to us when we called. Food didn’t lure her (she’d just eaten less than an hour before) and she was too fast and agile to be caught easily.

Suffice to say that it was a long, wet night rummaging through bushes and mud in the furthest corners of the complex, chasing a stupid cat who didn’t want to come home. She found another cat to help her run from us, and after the 20th time I’d passed some poor sleeping person’s window, cursing and making odd cat-calling noises, I figured she’d probably just come home when she was hungry.

Nikki basically stayed up all night, alternating between doing patrols and watching the back door for her. I tried to sleep, but I had hurt my foot running around and in the end, I took the door guard and let Nikki catch an hour or so of sleep. In the morning, Nik was so convinced the cat was long gone or dead or something that she made up signs and asked anyone who’d listen if they’d seen the creature. Seconds before she was about to be written off as a missing pet, she wandered back home, muddy, wet, and acting as if it was all part of her normal routine.

Of course Nikki was both ecstatic and furious with Dixie, and weary from missing a night’s sleep. In the end, I’m glad the dumb animal is back. I like having her around, but I was more worried about Nikki. With it all over, I was able to relax a bit and laugh about it. But not too hard… there was something profoundly difficult about trying to comfort a worried and frightened Nikki about the loss of a cat.

Our collective relationship with the cat has grown far less significant in the years since this was originally posted. It’s pretty clear now that Nik was looking to fill a void for nurturing in her life and since we were still a few years off of our original time frame for children she contented herself with caring for Dixie. You can see that come through even here in this post.

We both have our fondness for her, simply as a matter of familiarity, but it was rapidly obvious that once Callie became a part of the picture Dixie’s place in our family would take a sharp turn toward the back seat. This has resulted in no shortage of guilt on my part and I think also on Nikki’s because we did accept the responsibility of having the cat as our pet but our priorities lie in providing the best environment for our daughter and that has clashed with our duties as pet providers. Early on in Callie’s life when Nik and I were frazzled, frightened newbie parents we talked quite seriously about trying to get rid of Dixie because she was having difficulty adjusting to the sudden lack of attention and acting out because of it. However, we’ve been pretty adamant about not simply surrendering her as that feels incredibly irresponsible and selfish. Not surprisingly, finding a good home for an 11 year-old indoor-only cat has proven next to impossible.

To Dixie’s great credit, she hasn’t ever seemed to blame Callie for her reduced station in the household and in fact as Callie’s gotten a little bigger she’s come to be exceptionally fond of the cat. Mostly Dixie has been patient and gentle with what can sometimes be a Lenny-like affection, though a couple of recent unprovoked attacks have us wondering again what is most appropriate for our future as cat co-inhabitants. Aside from the couple of outbursts the biggest challenge we face now is the sense that we’re not really doing Dixie any favors by essentially caging her into our confined apartment space and offering her sustenance. Neither Nik nor I feel like we have moments to spare offering the cat affection when we could be offering it to Callie instead, and thus far Callie is too little to really be providing the kind of attention Dixie is looking for. Plus we’re worried that the guilt that drives us to continue to provide food and shelter for her will eventually result in awkward decisions regarding the cat’s health as she inevitably ages. We operate on a tight budget as it is, with plenty of human health issues to be concerned about. It may not have been a worry when we adopted her back in 2000 as we both worked and had disposable income, nor even in 2002 when we didn’t have much income but had a young and healthy cat. As circumstances have changed, it can feel like a tightening noose.

In retrospect, I may have been better off encouraging her to escape off into the wild yonder when this post was originally written. But then, of course, I’d have missed the opportunity to crawl around in the mud for hours, risking arrest for stalking too closely to our neighbor’s windows in the dead of night.

Time Machine: Sickness, Work and Christmas Shopping

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Originally posted December 21, 2001.

I spent the last several days battling a wicked flu that has more stages than an Apollo space shuttle. Initially it was just a bad sore throat and some temperature control issues (too hot, then too cold). Eventually a nice bit of fatigue was added to the mix, followed by severe body aches and head congestion. By the third day the temperature issues had been replaced by a cough, and this morning the fatigue and part of the sore throat had given way to an incessantly running nose and fits of sneezing, usually when my hands are full.

I’ve felt like a walking germ all day and I’ve had to interact with far too many people. I’d feel badly for them, but I did have to get out of bed today, so it serves them right for not petitioning harder to make today null and void like I requested.

I was working on the Splendid Products web page until 4 am last night (not recommended for flu sufferers… sleep deprivation and sickness do not make a happy marriage) and dragged myself out of bed to finish the badly neglected pool route this afternoon. I still didn’t get in the pool truck until around 1:30, which meant that I wasn’t on the road back home until around 4:00.

Nikki was meanwhile waiting at home (cleaning and decorating with Christmas stuff… hey, shut up, we’ve both been sick and busy okay?) for me to return so we could get some shopping done. I had done some of hers Tuesday, but she hadn’t started on mine and the rest of our list was in danger of receiving IOUs. In the end we were out and about for almost six hours and managed to get some household products we needed and three gifts. When we got home Nikki hit the web and in about 45 minutes managed to basically finish the rest of the shopping. Odd that we didn’t do that from the beginning.

Meanwhile I have gone through two entire Pocket Pak® Kleenex© Brand pouches, about 40 cardboard-textured Burger King napkins, half a full box of pink Kleenex© Brand Facial Tissues and various assorted shirtsleeves, paper towels and old gas receipts in a vain effort to keep myself somewhat mucous-free. My nose is now the color and texture of road rash, and feels about as good.

I love winter. Merry Christmas.

I think this is the first post I made that had a couple of jokes I still like, which meant it was one of the first “funny” posts. I guess early on I talked about my work projects as if the people reading the site were supposed to know what I was referring to, which strikes me as pretty annoying now, like people who talk about friends you’ve never met as if they were mutual acquaintances. I think the mindset was that the original intended audience was simply me, the way any private journal or diary would be. The fact that it was publicly accessible seems to have been incidental and the presumption was that whenever I was going back and reading it, I’d remember what “the Splendid Products web page” referred to. It turns out I do remember that particular example, but others will turn out to be much more hazy.

It took a little while for the pattern to begin in earnest but this is the first example of the blog post titles being mini-lists which highlight my writer’s Attention Deficit Disorder as I jump from topic to topic. For whatever reason I tended to use groups of three. I’m not sure why three felt like a magic number, but this is where it began.

Time Machine: Odd Jobs

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Originally posted December 15, 2001.

So it’s been almost four months since I was laid off my cushy Graphic Artist position at a Coin-Operated arcade game manufacturing company turned Internet New Economy latecomer turned back manufacturing company. Or whatever. The point is, it’s been a while since I had a real office job.

I looked for a replacement office job, but that 18 month degree I got in Graphic Arts that made me a very much in demand web designer a year ago has made me a very much under-needed entry-level skill-deprived tech worker in a recessing economy. To help pay the bills I sort of stumbled into doing odd jobs for pretty much whomever asks me for some help in exchange for money. I’m helping one set of in-laws get their pool service business off the ground by cleaning swimming pools, lawns and rain gutters. I’m helping another set of in-laws with some actual web design work; I’m putting in more time as webmaster of a high-profile fan site for an actor and I’m holding open houses for a real estate agent on the weekends.

It’s very strange to go from getting nice consistent paychecks every two weeks to getting small personal checks in varying degrees of frequency. Really, I’m not complaining. I could be unable to find anything that brought in money. The weird thing is, I’m doing at least partially what I really wanted to be doing all the while I worked for the game company. That is, I’m designing web pages and working with computers on my own time, at home. I still have to do the pool cleaning, but it’s good for a guy who would sit in front of a monitor 24/7 if he could to be required to get up at least once in a while and move around, remind myself what the outdoors looks like.

It’s also strange how life throws you curve balls and most of the time you just close your eyes and take a wild swing. But you know, I’m starting to find that a good percentage of the time those blind swats connect at least a little, and sometimes that’s quite enough to at least keep you from striking out.

I mentioned to Dr. Mac a few weeks ago that I actually missed the dotcom boom/bubble. A lot of the nostalgia for that time comes from my being an undeserving beneficiary of the insane demand for people who could rub two HTML tags together rather than one of the fleeced investors who were hoping to get rich off of ethereal potential rather than, you know, business models and revenue and all that.

The odd job thing was incredibly stressful at the time and certainly wouldn’t fly for our family now, but in retrospect it was kind of an exciting time and the whole year that was to come would really serve to solidify the relationship between Nik and I since we didn’t have traditional careers to pull on our time and we didn’t have much money to engage in a lot of diversions so we had to learn to work together and lean on each other heavily for support (especially since at times it wasn’t clear what would be in store for me work-wise down the road and it definitely wasn’t obvious how we were going to keep the lights on and food on the table week to week). We sure made some mistakes as we stumbled through it (the pool cleaning service was a poor fit and an awkward transitional moment between the in-laws and myself, for example) but it turns out a lot of those blind swings don’t just keep the count steady at 3-2 but unexpectedly end up being the sacrifice bloop that scores the winning run.

The trick is to open your eyes when you’re done taking the rip.

“That echo chorus lied to me with its / 'Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on.'” – Neko Case