Stanley Milgram Knows His Stuff

Det. Paul Falsone: You know, I was thinking of printing up one of those bikini calendars. You know, “The Cops of Baltimore”-type thing.
Det. Rey Curtis: What happened?
Det. Paul Falsone: You seen the cops in Baltimore?

Homicide: Life on the Street, “Baby, It’s You” (11/14/97)


So this evening I’d just poured myself a nice cup of tea, and I stepped out back to stand on the deck and call in the dog, when I heard a peculiar sound. It was the sound of an accident that took place on the main road, a couple of hundred feet from my house. What made it peculiar is that it sounded backward: BANG, then screeeeeeech!

The accident being clearly nearby, I grabbed my phone and walked out to the road. The accident was actually almost a block further south than I thought. One car had rear-ended another, and they were both blocking the better part of this four-lane road. Both cars had about a half-dozen people each surrounding them, but it didn’t look like anyone was on their phone, so I made the call to 911 and reported the accident.

Now, it was actually possible for the traffic to squeeze through a single lane, but of course everyone on foot was still hanging around the cars, so I grabbed one guy and told him to help direct traffic for the southbound side, and I’d take the northbound. He and I coordinated this single-lane traffic until the police arrived and blocked off the lane. So now there was no northbound traffic, and the southbound also had nowhere to go, so I started directing southbound cars down a side street.

And kept on directing cars down the side street.

And kept on doing it.

Now, I’m just some guy out there in street clothes. Fortunately my shirt is light colored, because it was pretty dark out there. But I’m standing there in front of an accident, waving at cars and directing them down the road, and they’re actually going for it. One guy in a taxi told me he just had to get over there to that block, and at first he couldn’t get it through his head that there’s glass and car parts everywhere. “You need to go down there and come back around,” I said.

“But I need to get over there,” he said again.

Finally I lost patience. “I. Don’t. Care. Go. Around!” He sighed and complied.

I did this for almost an hour. After maybe a half-hour, a truck drove up with traffic cones and such in the back. As he got out of the truck  I asked him if he was taking over. “Nope,” he said. “I just came to pick up my sign over there.” He pointed to a RIGHT LANE CLOSED AHEAD sign on the sidewalk. But then he broke out about 10 cones and put them across the road for me, telling me to just stack them on the sidewalk when I was done, and he’d get them later. He got his sign and took off.

At one point one of the cops came over and thanked me, because they were short-handed and couldn’t get another car to that side of the accident to block off the road.

But here’s the weird thing. At one point there was a lull in the traffic and I got curious to see whether the person in the car that had been hit was still there. And sure enough, she was. Then the penny dropped. I knew this woman. She was my neighbor from the house behind me. I turned around and her husband was right there. I asked him how he was doing. He told me “Not so good.” Well, sure. He wasn’t in the car, but heard the commotion and came out, like the rest of us. Only in his case, he found his wife in one of the mangled vehicles.

This woman is pretty tight with Wife, so I figured she’d want to know what had happened. Wife had already gone upstairs, so I knew she didn’t have her phone on her, but she probably had her tablet, so I broke out my phone and fired up Facebook Messenger, and let her know.

“XX was just in an accident.”

“How do you know”

“Because I’m at the accident scene.”

“Where”

“Out on YY Road.”

She was outside in about three minutes. By then the neighbor had been taken to the hospital in an ambulance, and her husband was with the tow truck driver, trying to figure out how to tow the car safely the half-mile to his preferred garage. Meanwhile I’m still directing traffic. Some people stopped to ask about getting back to the main road, a couple whined at me about how their destination was so close by and do they really have to go around? (Yes, dammit.) But in the end, they all just listened to the random guy who just walked out into the middle of the street and started waving at cars, stopping them so others could move through, and so on.

You know, back in 1961, a psychologist named Stanley Milgram did an experiment that essentially measured people’s response to authority figures. People would do terrible things to other people (not really, it was a setup), simply because other people who were wearing lab coats told them to do so. It was a fascinating experiment that was inspired by the Nazi “I was just following orders” defense after the war. And sure enough, these people, who were asked to administer electric shocks to other people, said similar things: “I didn’t want to, but he kept telling me to.” or “I was going to stop, but…”

Somehow I feel as though I was a kind of living example of this experiment.

Here’s the Milgram footage, if you’re curious. It’s fascinating stuff.

Father’s D’Oh

Walter: One wrong note eventually ruins the entire symphony.

—Alien: Covenant (2017)


Let me tell you about my Father’s Day today.

It’s possible—but not likely—that this is my last Father’s Day with one of my kids in the house. Daughter is living the adult life in North Carolina, and now that Wee One has graduated from high school, we have to consider the possibility that she’ll be spending her summers working, or otherwise occupied somewhere other than this immediate area.

So I figured, hey. Let’s do a little day trip, just the three of us. And everybody was good with it, so we packed into the car and headed up to the little town of Gardiners, Pennsylvania. I had two destinations in mind. Up in Gardiners there’s a farm stand called Peter’s, which isn’t a huge deal or anything, but it’s a destination and it’s a reasonable distance from home. We head up I-83 from the city, jump off a few miles after crossing the state line, and from there it’s a bunch of rural and semi-rural roads. So…nice views, rolling hills, just relax and sing along with the radio and gab about whatever, and then buy some strawberries or whatever’s in season (plus a surprise for Daughter next time she visits). AND, as we cruise through the area, there are a bunch of little antique and second-hand stores in between that we can poke in and out of.

Shortly before Peter’s however, in the town of York Springs, there’s a place called Concrete Jungle. It’s a small business dedicated to making, and selling, concrete statues, planters, birdbaths and such for people’s gardens. We’ve been there a few times and picked up a few items for our yard. This isn't ours because, as usual, I'm writing in the middle of the night and can't take a picture. More often than not, when we get something we’re paying a pretty low price for it compared to, say, Home Depot or Lowe’s. (As a For Instance, we purchased a pagoda lantern very much like the one in this picture for about $40; anywhere else it’d be twice that.) So this time around we popped in because we were in the market for a pair of matched planters for the front of the house. And sure enough, we managed to find a couple of nice ones that went for about $50 for the pair. Sweet! They’re plain concrete right now but we can color and then seal them to match the steps. I’d take a photo of them, but they’re still in my trunk. Also, it’s dark outside as I write this.

Anyway.

We picked up some strawberries and a couple of other goodies from Peter’s, then headed home. It was during this leg of the trip that we realized we hadn’t really eaten. As we passed through the town of East Berlin, Wife spotted a pit beef place and suggested we stop in there.

And that’s where things started to go south.

The place is called Hog Wild. It’s set back from the street and fronted by a patio with picnic tables. A few other, smaller tables sat on an elevated platform along one of the walls. The walls surrounding this area are covered with vintage (or, more likely, “vintage”) signs (not a knock, I know you can get a lot of these via catalogs and such). Inside are two or three tables and a service counter. We went inside and pored over the menu for a minute. Wife had a couple of questions because of her allergy, and the guy behind the counter, who turned out to be Rick the owner, was brief but forthcoming with his replies. His attitude seemed to have a little of “these guys aren’t locals; I’m gonna screw with them a little bit” or maybe he was just feeling a little acerbic, I don’t know. But Wife ordered Pit Beef without a roll (again, because allergies) but with onion. Then she asked if there was more than one size of the French fries, and he said, “There’s only one size: small.” So she ordered fries as well, and a lemonade. I was up next and ordered a Pit Beef sandwich with a roll, and with a little bit of onion. He asked if I wanted any barbecue sauce or anything on it, and I said “Oh–sure. I thought I saw it on the table, that’s why I didn’t bring it up.” He told me that it was out there, so I told him not to bother putting it on the sandwich, this way I could experiment with the different sauces out there. I ordered a can of Coke to go with it. Wee One ordered the Smoked Dip, which is essentially a Pit Beef sandwich with a side of Au Jus for dipping, an order of fries that she wanted to split with me, and also a lemonade. Total for these three lunches: $38.11. A little pricey, but OK. However, when I broke out my credit card, he simply pointed over my shoulder to the ATM and told me I could get money from there. Ugh. A little warning before this point would have been nice. I went to the ATM, withdrew $40 (and, of course, paid ATM fees since it’s an out-of-network machine), paid him and we went outside to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait some more. I thought maybe I was just being impatient and not keeping track of the time, but the timestamp on my ATM slip said that I’d taken the money out at 2:10. By this point it was nearly 2:40. I said to Wife, “It doesn’t seem like they’re especially busy and our order wasn’t that complicated; I wonder what’s going on?” Wee One noted that nearly everyone out on the patio was waiting for food, and they’d all been there at least as long as we had.

At about 2:55 our food finally came out. The girl who served us asked Wife about her food sensitivity, because she was having a problem of her own and hadn’t nailed it down yet. Before she walked away, I said, “Can I ask a question? Is a 45-minute wait for the food typical?” This was genuine curiosity on my part; I’d been in plenty of pit beef places and while all of them had some kind of wait, none of them took that long. She looked taken aback by the question, almost as though nobody had ever asked it before. She said, “It’s not fast food!”

I said, “I get that, but I didn’t think you needed to raise the cow first.” Which I admit was a little snotty, but also so hyperbolic that nobody could reasonably think I meant it. Her reply: “I’m not forcing you to eat here.” That’s when I said, “Whoa. All right, then.” and let it go.

After she left, we talked about whether I’d said anything that was truly out of line, and ended up with “eh, not really.” Because here’s the thing: it’s a yes-or-no answer, really: either the answer is “No, but we’re shorthanded/we’re busier than usual/something broke down in the kitchen/whatever” or it’s “Yes, we spend all our effort on each order before moving on to the next/we hand-cut the fries so they take longer/something else.” Going on immediate defense with something like “It’s not fast food” was a little out of left field.

We began to eat our food. My sandwich, which I’d ordered with “a little bit of onion” had nearly as much onion as it did beef, but that’s no tragedy; I took off what I didn’t want and moved along. The food was…fine. It was pit beef; we’re not talking Serious Gourmet stuff here. As we finished our food, Rick himself came out asking if there was a problem with the food. “No,” I said. “The food was fine.”

“OK,” he replied, “because you upset my daughter when she was out here, and—”

Now frankly, I don’t really remember what the rest of his sentence was, because now I’m replaying in my head and I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, all I asked was—”

Unfortunately for me, he was on a roll and told me he didn’t want to hear about my whoa whoa whoas. (Yes, he told me that.) I repeated: “I just asked her whether a 45-minute wait was typical.”

“Do you see all the tables in there?” All three of them? Sure, I guess. That launched him into another tirade about if the food was no good he’d be happy to refund our money and send us on our way. Again I said, “The food was fine.” Now he’s moved on to We don’t need your kind here and I’m going to ask you to leave. I’m literally just sitting there wondering what the hell is going on. At this point the most I can muster up is just “Wow….Wow…” and then “OK.” I stand up and without another word, walk away from the place. Wife and Wee One, who have said very little at this point (because they were just as stunned), also got up and left, but that didn’t stop Rick, oh no. He kept on yelling at us, and at the other customers about us. I didn’t realize at the time he was doing that, because I’d left so directly that I figured that Wife had engaged with him and now he was yelling at her. But nope: they were right behind me and he was still doing his thing as I reached my car, across the street, with the rest of my family pretty much on my heels.

So in the end I really don’t know what set anyone off here. Maybe he was having an especially bad day. Maybe being in a town called East Berlin puts you in a Cold War frame of mind. Maybe when there are few other options for eating in a small town, you can generally get away with stuff like that. Maybe a million things. But the fact is, when you go to a small town, pay $40 for lunch ($2 ATM fee counts, in my book), and get abused out of the blue by the owner, it puts a bad taste in your mouth—you should excuse the expression—for the entire town.

Remember what I said several paragraphs ago about going antiquing as well? There are several places in East Berlin, PA that we had earmarked as potential stops when we were on the way up to Peter’s. Do you think we stopped in any of them on the way back? Not a chance. Our instinct was to get out of town as quickly as possible. But there were a few places that got our attention, and our money…in Thomasville, and Shrewsbury, and a couple of other spots on the way home.

Those Who Serve

Usually when I do a Memorial Day post, I’ll put in this space pictures of soldiers, or monuments, or a collection of editorial cartoons designed to remind you that it’s not all about the barbecues. This year I was looking at some memorial sites and it occurred to me that while we have lots of memorials here in the US, there are several thousand soldiers who never made it home, alive or dead. And it got me to thinking about how soldiers of any nationality are memorialized. Here are some images of war memorial activities and places in other parts of the world.

Australian War Memorial, Canberra
British veterans on the parade ground outside Westminster Abbey commemorating the 7oth anniversary of V-E day, 2015.
Cambridge American Cemetery in England. Over 3800 American soldiers are buried here.
French President Francois Hollande re-kindles the Eternal Flame at their Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, May 2016. Out of frame (a few feet to the photographer’s left) are American soldiers who joined the ceremony.
I’m pulling this caption in its entirety from the Air Force’s website: A spectator plants flowers on a headstone at the Netherlands American Cemetery prior to the start of a Memorial Day ceremony May 25, 2014, Margraten, Netherlands. Dutch families can adopt a gravesite and maintain it as a way of showing respect for the actions of the fallen service member.
Soviet War Memorial in Berlin
Sailors from Navy Munitions Command East Asia Division Unit Guam join their sister village of Talofofo at a Memorial Day service held near the Talofofo Mayor’s Office May 24, 2014
Memorial Day ceremony, Seoul, South Korea.

I think one of the things that struck me most was that they’re largely indistinguishable from their counterparts here in the US. Wherever we are in the world, we honor those who gave everything they had in service to their country.

Peace.

Thanks for Sharing

Frankie Heck: Okay, listen, Mike, I was thinking. You know how we always say that only losers and sad, pathetic people go out to dinner for Thanksgiving?

Mike Heck: So you’re saying we’re going out this year?

The Middle, “Thanksgiving VI” (11/19/14)

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Have you ever had a vegetable garden? They’re a lot of work at first, but if you plan carefully, a lot of the effort can be spread out over time and you end up having a much easier time of it in the end.

Once the garden is established that first season, the key is to plan ahead and start assessing what happened this past year: what went well? What was successful? What did you grow too much of, and what did you not grow enough of? Did you have all the tools you needed? For things that needed more than one person to complete, were you all coordinated, or were the lines of communication fuzzy? And how did this affect the final outcome?

And so you take this information, and you start planning for the next season. Too many green beans and barely enough potatoes. And perhaps you should have started some things sooner; better get a jump-start on ordering stuff for next season so it arrives in a timely fashion, rather than your going panic-shopping because you forgot. And so on.

Time passes and it’s time to start that garden again. You plant seeds and you water, and you fertilize, and you take care of stuff, and everything is great at first, until…

Destroyed from the inside…the Infestation.

It’s happened to me, a couple of times. The first time was the worst. Many years ago (mid-1980s), I planted a garden that included, on a lark, pumpkins. The pumpkins did fantastically early in the season. Then suddenly, they began to die. The die-off started at the ends of the vines and worked its way inward. After a few days of this mystery, I thought, “Maybe if I just cut off the dead stuff, it’ll encourage new growth.” So I worked my way along some dead vine until I found the point where it was still healthy, and I cut the vine. As it turns out, pumpkin vines are hollow tubes, so in my hands I had one healthy tube, and one—holy cow, look at all the borers inside there!

It’s some insidious stuff, let me tell you. An insect gets into your garden and somehow you didn’t count on it, which doesn’t make sense. Everything is OUT THERE, and what you’re trying to do is bring it in, take some slice of the world in with you and hold it close, get close to your earthly roots, bring order to chaos. But the world doesn’t play that way. It doesn’t know what your rules are, nor does it care.

The insect wants what it wants, and it doesn’t care about anyone else, because it’s an insect. And it’s amazing how much damage one insect can do to an entire garden. It can take the whole thing out and before you know it, your harvest is gone, just like that. More often than not, by the time you discover you’ve got something like that, it’s far too late.

So instead of eating your freshly-grown food which you created with your own two hands, you find yourself out somewhere, spending much more money than you would have in the first place, eating someone else’s work instead of your own. Despite all your work, despite your planning, despite everything, you don’t plan on an insect coming in and destroying everything. Because, really, you can’t plan on something like that. An insect’s actions are short-sighted, without consideration for the ramifications down the line and the effect that it’s going to have on the gardener—and everyone else who depends on that gardener to provide them with food.

And that’s just kind of sad.

A Little Poetry

Daffy Duck: [singing] From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli/Hear those bells of freedom ringing – Oh, no, it’s just the phone for me.

Draftee Daffy (1/23/45)

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This afternoon, I had the TV on, and I was watching the ceremonies surrounding the opening of the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, which is the newest museum to open up on the National Mall.

 

Image result for smithsonian african american museumAs it happened, I was in the area a few weeks ago with Daughter, and in our wandering through we were able to see the building from across the street (the museum side of the street was fenced off). It’s a truly impressive-looking structure. Older museums on the Mall are built to pretty much look like museums. Then along came the National Museum of the American Indian, with its curvilinear design which is meant to emulate naturally-carved rock formations and landscaping that simulates wetlands. Suddenly people got the idea that the building didn’t have to look so much like a building as all the others do. This new museum is a boxy building but it’s covered by an architectural scrim made of bronze-painted aluminum, designed to resemble a crown from Yoruban culture. The design also tricks the eye into thinking that it’s an inverted step pyramid. In addition to the three floors above the ground, the museum goes five floors down as well.

So, back to today.

I was watching the ceremonies on the TV up in my bedroom, and President Barack Obama was making his remarks. As he wound down, he referred to some people to his right, and identified them as members of the Bonner family, including seven-year-old Christine, up to 99-year-old Ruth.

Ruth’s father was born a slave.

Ponder that for a second—in a very real sense, we’re only ONE generation beyond slavery in this country.

Ruth’s father ran away, became a farmer and ultimately graduated from medical school.

President Obama then said:

“…in a brief moment, their family will join us in ringing a bell from the First Baptist Church in Virginia — one of the oldest black churches in America, founded under a grove of trees in 1776. 
And the sound of this bell will be echoed by others in houses of worship and town squares all across this country — an echo of the ringing bells that signaled Emancipation more than a century
and a half ago; the sound, and the anthem, of American freedom.”

Now, there aren’t a lot of churches in my immediate area, but perhaps there’s one or two willing to participate. So at that point, I stepped to the window and opened it up, and turned the volume down on the TV to listen to the outside.

I heard nothing. Well, that was a disappointment, but as I noted there aren’t a lot of churches close to my house. And the one that’s closest doesn’t have a real bell; it’s got pre-programmed recordings of bells. Ah, well. So I shut off the TV and headed downstairs to let the dogs outside.

When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I decided to open the front door and let some fresh air into the house. There was a lovely breeze going on, and it blew through my brass wind chimes on the front porch. Being big and brassy, they don’t do a teeny ping! ping! like the aluminum ones do. Instead they make a deeper bong! bong!, much like a church bell.

Good going, wind chimes.

Everything Comes in Trees

Cameron Tucker: Mitchell, where were we sitting when Lily first rolled over?
Mitchell Pritchett: Under this tree.
Cameron Tucker: Where is home base when we play hide and seek?
Mitchell Pritchett: Under this tree.
Cameron Tucker: And where did we sought shelter from that frightening lightning storm?
Mitchell Pritchett: It wasn’t a good idea, but it was under this tree.

Modern Family, “When a Tree Falls” (11/28/2012)

When we moved into the current Parkville Palace one fine Spring morning several years ago, Wife and I were especially taken with a couple of large trees that were in the yard.

One was a gum tree, which resided in the front yard. Frankly, it wasn’t long before the novelty of that tree wore off. The gum tree is one of those jobbies that drops the big spiky balls later in the year. And as the Spring became Summer and the tress all over started putting forth leaves and such, it was clear that this tree was in a bit of distress: there were several branches that weren’t producing leaves. Plus the spiky balls were just making it impossible for me to walk around barefoot out front, and they made the lawn mower sad as the blade would hit them, and the first couple of hits would just ricochet the balls around the inside of the mower before the blade managed to finish them off. When, during that first Winter, the tree actually dropped several branches, we realized that it was probably not long for this world and we should consider having it removed.

Farewell, old friend.The other tree, in the back yard, was a big cedar tree. It was about 50 feet tall and a beautiful old thing that provided just the right amount of shade for the corner of the yard where we had the patio and the pergola installed. We loved the tree, but unfortunately over the last couple of years, we could see that it wasn’t doing well: branches were dying off or falling from the tree altogether; it was starting to lean a little bit, and so on. We started to wonder if that one could be saved, or if it would have to go as well.

Finally we made the call to a couple of places and asked them to come in and give us estimates to have the trees removed. One place gave us a price that was over $2000 for those two trees, plus a dogwood that he’d noticed was also about at the end of its life. The other one, AmeriTree, was more in the realm of $1600 so we went with them. I called them up and the woman who answered the phone said, “OK, I think I have some spots open this week, let me get the calendar.” Before I could continue that there were some date constraints, she’d put me on hold. When she came back she immediately launched into “OK, I can get you down for either Friday, or Saturday—“ at which point I finally interrupted her and told her that she’d put me on hold too quickly, and I needed a date after July 11. (For those of you not in the know, July 11 is the second Saturday in July, the weekend that Wife and I stage our Annual Pig Roast. And if you’re not in the know, why not? Why haven’t you been coming?) We settled on the 13th.

On July 8th, AmeriTree called me to tell me that they see they have me down for the 13th, but a spot has “opened up” on Saturday the 11th, could they come by then? I told her no, we have a lot of guests coming that day, and they were all going to say goodbye to the tree. (Yes, I really said that.)

On July 9th, a guy working on a tree in another yard nearby came by and suggested to Wife that the gum tree probably needed to come down, and could he put in a bid on it? We told him that we’d already committed to a company. Out of curiosity, he asked who we went with. We told him it was AmeriTree. He said, “Okay.” Then, after a beat, he said, “You should be careful; those guys aren’t always so great with the safety side of things.”  We thanked him for his advice and that was pretty much it from him, although we did ask him to take out a smaller tree that AmeriTree hadn’t bid on. He said he’d come over after the job across the street was done, in a day or so.

July 10: we got another call from AmeriTree: “I see you’re down for the 13th, but there’s an opening tomorrow if you can accommodate them.” I told them that no, we STILL can’t accommodate them because, as I’d already explained, we had a lot of people coming to the house that day. This time she took the time to write on the estimate that it couldn’t be changed.

On July 11, we held the Pig Roast and a merry time was had by all, and there were, indeed, toasts to the impending demise of the tree. We even toasted once to the gum tree, but we were pretty drunk by then.

So Monday rolls around, the last of the guests have departed, and I’m getting ready to run an errand when the AmeriTree guys arrive at about 10:30 or so. They look at the gum tree, which is pretty accessible and shouldn’t pose a problem at all, and then we go to the back yard. The guy’s a little worried about the cedar tree, because they’re not sure about getting the pieces to the chipper. I take him into the alley to show him that big trucks, can, indeed, go back there, and he’s a little more confident about their ability to do the job without hassle.

Of course, if that actually happened, then I’d be writing a 140-character Tweet about how guys came and cut down my trees and that’d be it. Instead, I’ve got this story to tell you.

Right before I left, their lead guy said, “OK, before we get started, we’re just gonna go get lunch, all right?” Hey, what can you say, guy’s gotta eat some lunch. I don’t know why you check in and get lunch instead of lunching first, but whatever. I go on my errand, leaving Wife with the tree crew.

It was about an hour later when I got back. The gum tree was completely down already, and some of the workers were raking up the leftover branches for disposal. Wow, says I. That was quick. They’ll make short work of the cedar tree. Then Wife told me that the stumps weren’t going to be ground down that day; that was for another crew and another day that we had to arrange. I asked the crew chief if that was true, and he told me yes, that was always the case. I noted that I wished I’d known about that so we could have planned ahead; we thought everything would be done that day. So I got on the phone with AmeriTree and set up a second visit for the stumps. Nobody had an answer for me with regard to why I wasn’t told this in the first place.

So I sat in my dining room, looking out through the back door and paying my bills online. Wife sat on the small deck we have outside the dining room door, watching the guys work. In fact, she snapped the pic here shortly before they came to the back yard. They were doing a bang-up job of cutting away those lower branches and generally reducing the tree to a big stick before tackling the trunk—or trunks, as you can see: about ten feet up the trunk really split up into about a half-dozen main branches. I got wrapped up in what I was doing, which involved a more-or-less static screen, when Wife popped the door open and asked me: “Do you still have internet?”

“I think so,” I said, then I hit the F5 button to refresh. Nope, the internet had died. How did she know this had happened? That’s when I looked outside and realized that the work had stopped.

To hear Wife tell the story, one of the workers was up high in the tree, making the cuts, while another one or two guys was on the ground, pulling the tree parts this way and that with ropes as a means of guiding the pieces
down in a specific direction. One large piece, however, did a kind of pirouette at the end of the cut and, instead of falling to the left onto the grass (see the grassy area in the photo? There), it fell at about a 90-degree angle to that point, just missing the pergola but neatly hitting the two wires that are strung across my yard. One wire was the power line for the house next to ours; the other is the Comcast cable that provides my internet service. (Shut up, DSL isn’t available in this part of town, and FIOS isn’t available anywhere in Baltimore City.) The power line was pulled away from the neighbor’s house, and now hung about three feet over our yard, but was still connected; about half of the brackets that held the cable to the house had been torn out. Our cable had been torn out at BOTH ends: at the pole and at the house. So while our neighbor still had electrical service, we had no internet.

I got on the phone to AmeriTree to ask them what their protocol was for this sort of thing. She said she’d have to call the crew chief to see what was up. I went out back and asked where  he was, but nobody seemed to know at that moment. When he did turn up a minute later, I told him that the office was supposed to be getting in touch with him. This was the beginning of numerous phone calls, back-and-forthing with the crew and with the AmeriTree office, and a bunch of stuff you don’t really want to hear, but I’ll add these few tidbits:

At one point in the afternoon, around 4:00 I called AmeriTree to ask when Comcast was supposed to come out and fix the cable. She said she didn’t know; all she knew was that it would be sometime the next day and here’s the work order number if I want to call them myself. What about BGE, for the electrical wire? “Well, it’s not a high-power wire, they can probably fix it on their own…” And, in fact, they did that, putting the brackets back in and re-mounting the cable against the house. They did kind of a half-assed job of it, so the cable is no longer lying flush against the house, but they did something, I guess. They also trimmed the hell out of a tree that the cable was passing through. In addition, they took the time to trim my neighbor’s hedges for free AND, because she’d asked for the gum tree wood for her fireplace, they cut that up into smaller, more manageable pieces (still too big for a fireplace but easier to turn into fireplace-ready pieces). In the meantime, Wife is discovering a bunch of other damage they’d done to parts of her garden that we hadn’t expected to see damage on. Our cherry tree (at the far left in the photo) had a bunch of its branches broken, and the crape myrtle’s trunk had been split down the middle. The crew chief knocked $100 off the total cost as an apology and against the possibility that the crape myrtle would have to be replaced; as he’s writing the bill up he said to me, “Sometimes these guys, they want to work really fast and I have to slow them down because they don’t always do things the right way.” This statement flew directly against my next phone call to the office, which involved me being told that their crews are always concerned with doing things safely. She did not, however, have a reply when I repeated what the crew chief had told me. She did note, however, that they wouldn’t have been in business for as long as they were, with an A+ rating (from whom, she didn’t say).

Pay attention to this, AmeriTree: you don’t keep on being in business by resting on the laurels of the previous work; you keep on being in business by delighting the NEW customers you have so that they’ll come back and give you referrals.

A supervisor came out the next day, and Wife and I toured him around the property, showing him everything that had happened and some of the attitudes we bumped up against. He was (sort of) apologetic and offered to replace the crape myrtle if it, in fact, didn’t survive its injuries, and said he’d send out a second crew to fix the power line. (Coincidentally, the Comcast guy arrived at almost the same time he did, so the internet was back up before he left.) But in the end, we weren’t left with any real assurance that the next person down the line wouldn’t experience something like this, or that they held any real remorse for what had happened. So we’re pretty much in a “time will tell” loop at the moment.

Small Measures

Principal Skinner: Justice is not a frivolous thing, Simpson. It has little, if anything, to do with a disobedient whale.

The Simpsons, "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" (5/5/94)

———————————————————————–

This morning, as I stumbled down the stairs in my usual fog of grogginess, a text message came in on my phone. It was from the folks at Discover; they'd identified some unusual activity on my credit card and needed to get in touch with me. I logged into my account online and got the same message, with a few details. Apparently overnight, "I" had tried to buy over $2000 worth of stuff from Franklin Covey, along with $4 of something else I didn't recognize. 

Now, Franklin Covey has some very nice stuff, but I–and most FC fans, I think–would have a pretty hard time coming up with two thousand dollars' worth of stuff to buy. So I called Discover, as requested, and spoke to the representative in the Fraud unit. They asked for a ton of information, basically trying to establish whether I actually had the card in my hands. They then went back through the last several charges (all of which had been declined because Discover thought they were fishy) until they got to one I recognized. So all is well, I'm not responsible for the fraudulent charges, and new cards will arrive in a few days. Happy ending, but not the way you want to start the day. 

So on the way to work, I'm headed up Belair Road and approaching the turnoff for the Beltway, when a guy in a silver Mercedes minivan** comes flying in from the left lane, cuts me off and continues into the on-ramp. As it happened, there wasn't anyone ahead of us, so he just kept rocketing down the ramp and disappeared into the traffic. 

And of course it's annoying because he's rude and I nearly spilled my tea and the crappiest part about it is that there wasn't even anyone ahead of him to slow his ass down, so he pretty much got away with it and that's the worst part. You're minding your own business and following the rules of the road, and you have to be extra careful when you're driving because there are ASSHATS LIKE THIS out there on the road. 

So for the uninitiated, from the Belair Road exit on the Beltway, it's maybe a mile to the interchange with I-95 and, about another mile or two south of that, the highway splits so that motorists have two tunnels through Baltimore to choose from. It's a very busy piece of road during rush hours, but for the most part it's well-designed and seems to go smoothly, even if the volume means that you're not able to go at full speed.

Today, however, was a little different. The merge to southbound I-95 was pretty easy, but after the split for the tunnels, the traffic seemed to slow down. It was kind of an unnatural place for this sort of thing to happen, and I got worried that I'd be late to school, because I'm also aware that there is construction beyond the tunnel that tends to slow things down. Could the slowdowns actually be backing up through the tunnel and continuing another four miles? This could be bad.

In the distance, however, I saw some police lights flashing, so I figured, cool. We get past that, and things should open up. I hope. 

As I get closer to the police activity–and, sure enough, I can see at this point that the traffic is lightening up after that point–I see that it's a single marked police car, and fortunately he's not reporting on an accident; he's got a single car stopped for some infraction. 

And that car is a silver Mercedes minivan. 

This may be a good day today, you know? 

 

**you can call it an "SUV" all you like, it's a minivan unless it's actually spending some time off-road. And this thing ain't spending ANY time off-road. 

My Social Experiment

Leslie Knope: By Swanson standards, we're close. I know when your birthday is.

Ron Swanson: So does Baskin-Robbins.

Parks and Recreation, “Ron and Diane” (12/6/12)

——————————————————————————

Back in 2011…

(This is the part where your screen gets all wavy and out of focus temporarily.)

…I was perusing Facebook, and it so happened that, according to Facebook, something like five of my friends all had the same birthday, and maybe I should write something on their timelines. Being the kind of guy I am, I didn’t want to just write “Happy Birthday” on each one and move along; I wanted to personalize it just a little bit. But when I got to the first friend’s timeline, I saw that something like 200 people had already posted some sort of greeting. I thought, is this person really going to wade through all these greetings? And, if Facebook hadn’t reminded them of the date, would all of these people have sent some sort of greeting? I pretty much thought, “Not.” At present, I have 306 friends on Facebook, and I know the birthdays of precisely nine of them, six of whom because I’m related to them (and one of THOSE because we share a birthday).

That’s probably on the low side of average, because I have almost no memory whatsoever of these things, whereas other people I know have that stuff nailed down, or have a good working system for keeping track. My sister-in-law keeps a calendar with all kinds of memorial dates on it: birthdays of people both living and dead, anniversaries of weddings, events, parties, funerals, especially good desserts she’s had…it absolutely exhausts me to look at that thing. But I figured that a lot of people were in the same boat I was: they’re only wishing each other a Happy Birthday because Facebook said that it was their birthday.

So I decided to conduct an experiment, to see A) whether my theory was correct, and B) how many people actually paid attention to this sort of thing. And hey: maybe I’d get a blog post out of it.

I went to my Facebook profile and edited it, changing my birthday from February, to April 5. It was late March by then, so I figured that was ahead of the timeline just enough that the date wouldn’t suddenly appear on people’s pages. By April 3, the greetings started coming in: “Hey, wishing you an early Happy Birthday since I won’t be around.” Late in the day on April 4, they started to pour in, most of them in the realm of “Have a great day tomorrow!” And, of course, on the 5th I got something like 75 greetings. I acknowledged them with a single post, thanking everyone for their good wishes.

A few days later, I went back into my profile and moved my birthday to June 5. Now, I have to admit that this one was a little bit of a time bomb. I set the date and pretty much forgot about it…until the greetings started coming in. And again I got something in the area of about 70-80 greetings. No kidding? Okay. A few days after the 5th I changed it again, to August 5.

This is where the experiment went to hell, in a couple of ways and for different reasons.

In early July, a guy named David Plotz got the same idea. However, he was on deadline and I wasn’t, so he sped up the process and celebrated his Facebook birthday on July 11, 25th and 28th. (Click the link for the story.) The story ran on August 2nd, only a couple of days before my fourth birthday of the year. My blog post had gone from Cool, Original Idea to a “Me-Too” re-hash of someone else’s project. Even though I started first and was taking my time about it, he got his story live before I did. It was also around this point that a couple of my Facebook friends were starting to catch on. Some of them had gone from “Have a great day!” to “How many birthdays do you have, anyway?” That part I was actually fine with, because that would have been the tipping point of the story: with the August birthday, I could end the project because finally people had figured out what I was up to.

Also, Facebook itself was getting kind of tired of me moving my birthday around, and offered up some suggestion that if I change it again, I’m not going to get any more opportunities to change my birthday. So I re-set it back into February and tanked the whole project. So that aspect of the Summer of 2011 was a little disappointing, in that I’d done all this but felt as though I couldn’t write about it, not without looking weird or bad or something.

(Temporarily wavy screen again.)

So why have I chosen to write about this whole thing now? I’m glad you asked.

As I noted above, my birthday falls this month; in fact it falls this week. And once again I’m inundated with the birthday greetings. Nowadays I take pains to reply to as many of them as I can. There’s over a hundred nowadays, and I feel bad when I find myself resorting to canned phrases when I acknowledge them. At least I have four or five of them to rotate through, and now and again I can break the chain by relating something a little more personal. (“Hope your chlamydia cleared up!”)

But among that hundred-plus posts, there remain about 10 percent of them who are doubters. They see it’s my birthday, and their greeting to me is “Happy Birthday! (assuming it’s really your birthday)”, or they’ll piggyback onto other people’s posts, including the greeting from Wife: “If Wife says it’s your birthday, then I can believe it. Have a great day!”

All’s I’m saying now is that it’s been four years, and I’m still in the virtual doghouse with some people. It’s kind of fun that they remember that prank from a few years back; I hope they still get a chuckle themselves out of it.

Drug Dealings

Raymond: [to Susanna] Are you taking any prescription medication?
Vern: He likes you, that’s just his way of showing it.
Susanna: When I touched him, he pulled away.
Vern: Don’t take it personal. He never touched me and I’m closer to him than anyone in the world, known him for nine years.

Rain Man (1988)

———————————————–

Here’s a poorly-kept secret: older people take a lot of medication.

Not pictured: the other 97% of the stuff I had to get rid of. When my uncle died a couple of months ago, he left behind a huge amount of medication that he hadn’t even touched. My cousin came to my Mom’s house (where he was living by then) to pack up his things and discovered all this stuff, so she figured she’d do a good turn by donating it to people who couldn’t afford it. It turns out that you can’t do that sort of thing. You can’t donate prescription medications (naturally), nor can you return it for a refund. Likewise, you can’t donate syringes (he was an insulin-dependent diabetic) to charitable organizations that provide that sort of thing to people. You’re essentially stuck (heh) with this stuff. So when she ran out of time and had to return home, there was still a bunch of stuff left behind for my mother to take care of.

But, as they say, the best-planned lays oft go astray and my mother, instead of taking the time to dispose of this extra medication, decided that dying herself was the preferable option. (This is mostly speculation on my part.) This left me with the task of getting rid of his medication AND hers.

My cousin and I were both trying to be good citizens here; you’re not supposed to flush this stuff down the drain because it winds up in the water supply and next thing you know, my brother is growing a vagina or something (not me; I drink the Baltimore water, which has lead in it instead of drugs). So…where to start? I decided to ask the hospital where my mother died.

I called the hospital switchboard and the operator had a ready answer for me: “Oh, you bring it to the Sheriff’s Department. They take discarded medications. I have the number right here—in fact, I can probably transfer you.” Really? Cool. A few seconds later I’m talking to a representative from the Sheriff’s Department. He tells me that yes, indeed, they do collect drugs. There’s a dropbox in the lobby of the office; you just come in and drop everything off. He then gives me directions to the building, and I’m off. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office (the local one, anyway) is on Little Road in New Port Richey. It’s part of a larger complex of government buildings. I turn into the complex and follow the signs to the office, park the car and tote an overfilled shopping bag of stuff into the building.

Once I’m inside, there’s a small lobby area which is staffed by two people who are safely ensconced behind thick plate glass. You communicate with them through an intercom system. There was a guy ahead of me who was having trouble with the intercom, though. He’s standing there hollering “Can you hear me now? How about NOW? I can’t hear you! Can you hear me?” The officer pushes a button on his side and finally says, “Can you hear this?”

“Yes,” the guy says. “Now I hear you.” The officer then explains for what must have been the twelfth time that the guy needs to push a button on the intercom box in order to talk to them. The button in question is about the size of a dime and has TALK printed on it. So he finally gets though to them that he’s there to repair the copier. The officer tells him to have a seat and he’ll call someone out. Instead of having a seat, he takes exactly one step to his right.

Now it’s my turn. I step to the window and, having both A) seen what just transpired and B) a couple of brain cells to rub together, I lift my free hand to push the TALK button. The copier repairman helpfully puts his hand BETWEEN MY HAND AND THE BUTTON and tells me that “you have to push this button to talk to them.”

“Oh,” I say. “You mean the button I was about to push until you got in the way? This one, that has TALK printed on it in big letters?” Copier guy mutters something about just wanting to help and slinks away, suddenly remembering a copier part he has to retrieve from his truck.

Also, no radioactive stuff. I wish I was joking. When I finally speak to the police, it turns out that I’m in the wrong building. I need the other Sheriff’s Office building. What’s more, it’s not in the complex proper; I have to leave the complex, go down Little Road a hundred yards and turn back in to get to the right building. I drift around until I find what looks like the public entrance and make my way inside. Sure enough, the drop box is right there (that’s the actual box in the pic to the left). The bad news is, there are rules printed on the box, and there’s a cop standing right there to make sure I stick to them. So, no sharps, no liquids, no hydrogen peroxide (I didn’t have any but I found that amusing enough that I remembered it), no aerosols. Ultimately, all I could get rid of were the pills and some powder inhalants (which he hemmed and hawed about before finally saying, “Yeah, throw it in.”). From a taking-up-space standpoint, this didn’t do me a ton of good. So I asked the cop standing there where I could go with the needles and inhalers. He told me to go to an Emergency Room; they should have the means to dispose of it. Really? Back to the hospital? Okay.

I drove to Bayonet Point Hospital and went straight to the Emergency Room. The last time I saw an ER that quiet was when Wee One had her appendix out; it was the night of the Ravens vs. Denver Broncos playoff game. You have to go through a security guard there, so I explained what I needed, and he took me to the Triage Nurse, so I could explain it a second time. The Triage Nurse wasn’t sure, so he went deep inside to ask around. A minute later he came back and said that they could take the sharps but not the other stuff. “Look, I’m trying to be a good citizen here,” I said. “This is literally my third stop. If I have to jump through many more hoops, I’m just going to take this stuff and cater a party somewhere.” The triage nurse told me that any pharmacy would take it. Swell.

Let me offer up a little geography here: my mother lived almost exactly midway between the hospital and the Sheriff. So I went about three miles south to the Sheriff, then seven miles north to the hospital, only to be told that I had to go four miles south again to the Walgreens, which is quite close to her house. Walgreens took the remaining stuff without a hassle, although they did ask to be given a heads-up about what had sharps in it and what didn’t. That’s a fair request, I think. So ultimately,
I could have gone a couple of hundred yards (as the crow flies) to dispose of ALL the drugs, instead of going on the wild-goose chase I went through.

This is why Florida usually bubbles to the top of so many “Weird News” stories, I think.

Plans.

Homer: OK, Marge, I'll plan everything: we can have the reception at Moe's. Wait. Why not have the whole wedding there? We'll do it on a Monday morning. There'll be fewer drunks.
Marge: Homer, don't be offended, but I've obtained a court order to prevent you from planning this wedding.
Homer: [looks through the papers of the court order] Well, these seem to be in order. I'll be out back in the hammock.

The Simpsons, “Lisa’s Wedding” (3/19/95)

———————————

My mom, she was a planner. She made plans for the organ donation, for her funeral, for her burial. And she did most of it when she was about the age that I am now.

She clearly didn’t plan to die this year. She had plans. And the more I talk to people, and the more stuff in the house that I look at, the more I see that she did not think she was anywhere close to being done with life.

She was contemplating buying a second house near me so she could visit more often.

She was looking forward to attending my annual Pig Roast in July.

She was working on a shopping list the night before everything went to hell.

And I guess that’s the funny thing about plans; they don’t always go the way you want them to. She planned out most of her funeral but she didn’t count on one of the funeral directors being rather insensitive with his constant interruptions when I was talking to him. She probably didn’t count on the communications snafu that almost caused us to miss our chance at a last goodbye, or the one that temporarily left her body in limbo between the hospital and the funeral home.

I’m told that one of the symptoms of grief-based depression is hostility. I’ve been told that on my best days I can be kind of acerbic; lately it’s not taking much for me to get downright snotty. Some people just assume that you know everything that’s going on; other people don’t really care whether you’re familiar with the procedures; still others are exposed to this sort of thing all the time and just plain forget the way it affects the people who receive the direct impact of these events. Sorry guys, but I haven’t lost many mothers before this one. I’m having a little trouble with the vocabulary and I’d appreciate a little guidance. I’m scared, is what I am, and I need to depend on strangers who are professionals in these areas to get me through some of this.

Mom put a lot of responsibility on me; she told me that she thought I was the one who could handle it; that I was the level-headed one. I told her that it’s a pretty dark day when I’m the voice of reason, but I understood where she was coming from. It’s not that she couldn’t trust my brothers to deal with these things; it’s that she knew that I was the one who would get it done first and fall apart later.

I’m sitting in a public park as I type this, because I just needed some time to be by myself and contemplate things. That’s it for now; I’m still processing. Thanks for following along.