I love irony

I left Mississippi, in part, to get away from black mold. Now there’s a concern about it in my apartment after the leaking ceiling last week. The visible damage was minimal, but my landlady is waiting on her insurance company to advise what to do. They’ll at least have to scrape paint and and reseal the ceiling, whatever that entails.

Two movies

Expecting rain this afternoon, I rented a couple of films: “Inside Man” and “Trans America”. Both were okay, but I was really impressed with Felicity Huffman in “Trans America”. She played a man who was trying to become a woman. Fascinating. The plot was all right, a little slow.

And “Inside Man” didn’t make any sense. It was slow too but it held my attention well enough. I was watching an interview with Denzel Washington and Spike Lee. Man, is Spike Lee aging badly. He’s getting fat, but he looks like an old black man who dresses like a teenager. Kids must look at him and think “What the hell is wrong with that old geezer?”

My own taste in clothing is definitely changing as I get older. That’s why I can never understand these Hollywood types who feel they always have to look the same. For most of my life I’ve been watching Robert Redford shrivel up under his Bobby Kennedy hair-do. On the other hand, it seems to work for Woody Allen, probably because he always looks terrible. And on the far other hand there is Mr. T, who genuinely doesn’t seem to give a shit what people think. I can respect that if it’s personal taste, but not if these people are afraid they’ll become irrelevant somehow if they change. I think it shows a lack of capacity for personal growth.

Ugh, show biz. Thank God I never had anything to do with that morass.

Death of a Muskrat

An essay from January 18, 2000

When I got to work Tuesday morning, the first thing I did was put my lunch in the refrigerator. I could have just as easily left it in the car, since it was very cold. The second thing I did was look around the outside of the ranger station for a frozen muskrat. It wasn’t there.

I was the only ranger on duty for Martin Luther King’s Birthday on Monday. It was cold. I don’t know exactly how cold, but when I went out in the morning to chase down a few renegade garbage pails being blown around by the wind, my snot froze within two minutes. I later heard the wind chill had made it feel like in the negative 20’s.

I hate being at work by myself. The people who work at the park are a lot of fun. The people who visit it aren’t always as much fun. On Mondays, we keep the permit desk open. I had to stay in the ranger station the whole day unless there was an emergency somewhere in the park. At any rate, given the weather it wasn’t likely that many people would come to the ranger station for permits or anything else except maybe frostbite. So I got out my First Aid textbook and read the paragraphs on frostbite and hypothermia.

The Nicest Man on Earth came to rescue me from my boredom around ten o’clock. Manuel is Colombian and he hugs his friends when he sees them. I was uncomfortable with this at first.

The computer in the ranger office has a screen saver that features different Southwestern landmarks. The pictures are beautiful. Manuel likes to look at them. He’s even been to many of the places.

Manuel was at a brunch on Sunday that lasted until five o’clock. “You know the ladies when they talk,” he said.

One of the pictures on the screen saver is of a river in Idaho. “I found this out yesterday. Nelly and I have a friend who lives in Idaho. She is very smart. She spent her whole life studying and got all sorts of masters degrees. She never went out, she just studied and worked all the time. Then she got a job as a dean at a college. She was very happy because that was what she wanted to do. We haven’t heard from her in a long time. Every year we sent her Christmas cards. After a while she didn’t write back anymore and we stopped sending her cards. I asked Nelly once what happened to her, but she doesn’t know, she just stopped writing back. And yesterday my friend says, ‘Did you hear what happened her?’ ‘No, we don’t know.’ She was in a car wreck and was badly hurt. She’s disabled now. She can barely speak or write. Her writing is illegible. That is why we never hear from her anymore. She lost her job because she can’t do it anymore. She still works for the university, but not as a dean. It was her dream. She used to do nothing but study. She lived at home with her father; like a hermit. So much sacrifice. And now she is disabled.”

We spoke of some of the other pictures on the screen saver. “Some of these places are so amazing,” I said. “I think I would be overwhelmed by some of them.”

“You do become overwhelmed. Being there has brought tears to my eyes.”

Manuel is a mountain climber. He told me about the Unclimbables, a range of needle-like mountains in the Yukon. Only the best young climbers can scale them. “You need to be an acrobat because you may have to put your feet above your head to pull yourself up. Sometimes you are only hanging on by one finger.”

Manuel works for the Port Authority as an electrical engineer whose job is to map out the utility network of the Holland Tunnel. The Port Authority does not have blueprints of the existing system.

“I do not like to sit in the office all day. Some days I am at the computer all day. I really hate it. That is why I like to go climbing. I always loved the outdoors. When I was a child, I would wander off into the mountains. I would get into trouble because I would disappear for hours. My mother called me Dogfeet. It doesn’t sound so good in English, but there are wandering dogs in Bogotá with no owners. It’s like freedom.”

I told Manuel that my friend Chris suggested I go hiking with him in Northern California around Point Reyes in March. It will be cold in March.

“Go hiking with your friend. Do these things now while you’re young, while you can. There is an old saying that you never know who you are really working for.”

I don’t always understand the words that come out of Manuel’s mouth, but I know what he means. I took it all in. I have a lot of thinking to do about my life and my future. Hell, I tell myself, I am only twenty-five. Should I let it weigh on me so much? Do I have my whole life ahead of me? Or is my friend Lisa right: that I may die tomorrow?

While I was talking with Manuel, a man came in to tell me that a person was parked across the street with the car engine running, the window down, and the radio blasting. The person hadn’t moved in half and hour.

“Okay, I’ll go take a look.”

I tapped on the side window. “Excuse me, miss.” I shook her. No movement. She was lying there, looking peaceful with her hands folded like a corpse in a casket. “Miss!” She finally stirred. “Are you okay?” She nodded groggily, “Yes.” Just sleeping.

Manuel left around 12:30 PM. I ate lunch. I fixed a couple of bird nest boxes in the garage. The lady in the car finally left the park around two o’clock. I did some research on winter wildlife ecology.

Around four o’clock, I got the idea in my head that I would go take a weather reading on this terribly cold day with the mobile fire-weather kit. It didn’t work. The psychrometer doesn’t measure temperatures below thirty degrees. The wick on the wet bulb froze solid. The wind was just too cold to face when I used the anemometer.

Mud, grass, and stick mound on the frozen suface of a pond.While I was struggling with the weather, I noticed a muskrat munching some frozen grass on the lawn in front of the ranger station. Two days before, I photographed a muskrat’s feeding lodge on the frozen pond down the road. The muskrats built the lodge so they can get in an out of the pond when the water freezes. A male muskrat might be driven out of its territory by another muskrat in the winter. He would have to find a new home soon or die. I went back inside and got the digital camera.

When I looked up after preparing the camera, I couldn’t find the muskrat. I had only taken my eyes off of it for a couple of seconds. The idea of a muskrat suddenly darting out of sight is laughable. They are very slow. So I decided to look around the lawn.

The muskrat was hiding behing a tuft of grass. I saw it after taking two steps. I laughed out loud. I got within about three or four feet of it, took some photos, and put the camera away.

I came back a few minutes later and the muskrat was by the corner of the ranger station, leaning to one side. A few minutes after that, I found it laying on its side, stretched out and twitching. Debi, my close friend and former co-worker, told me that they let you approach them and play sick. But this one wasn’t playing.

I started closing up the ranger station just before five. I thought about the dying muskrat. Most people can’t stand to see an animal suffer. Debi would try to help it. But death is a part of winter in the wild.

Should I feed it or hit it with a shovel? My job forbids me from doing either, so I noted in the log, “May have to look for a frozen muskrat in the morning.”

Corn and crawfish?

I went out to eat with a bunch of people from work at a new restaurant in West Branch (it now has three). It’s a Cajun restaurant, and there’s nothing like it in all of Iowa so it was pretty busy. I’ve never been to a restaurant on it’s opening night. They were missing stuff here and there like silverware and plates. I guess a restaurant has to open at some point and start making money?

At any rate, the beans and rice I ordered was pretty good. I thought it was odd that even though the place was new and different a lot of people were still ordering burgers and fries. And I mean a lot; a steady stream of burgers and fries flowed from that kitchen all evening. One of my colleagues party ordered a burger, she got a patty. The waitress asked her if she wanted a bun. We all had a good laugh about it.

The restaurant was so overwhelmed that friends of the proprietors were helping out. It all seemed very small-town-Midwestern. Anyway, I hope the place survives.

Nose to the grindstone

Work… O why do I wear a uniform?

The bureaucracy of this job didn’t go away while I was gone. I’m a little lacking in motivation as a result of my recent personal travails, but I didn’t miss the work anyway. I just can’t get a jump on anything: everything has to be done right away. There are no priorities just immediate deadlines, and that’s not how I like to work.
And yet there was some good news this week. It looks like we’ll get funding to complete a Comprehensive Interpretive Plan (CIP) over the next couple of years. The goals and strategies and annual work plans for our division should come from that document, but we don’t have one. When we have it we’ll be able to compete for funding for things like exhibits, and it will eliminate whatever excuses people now have for not doing the things they should be doing with our program. Yay.

Not so soggy no more

My apartment may be small and, as of late, leaky, but my landlady is all over it. She brought towels and fans the other day to help dry things up. Today she brought a dehumidifier that I’ll have to run for a while to dry out the ceiling, walls, and carpet. I was really lucky not to lose anything. I almost lost a framed photo to the wet and one of my bookshelves has a little water staining, but that’s about it.

Five years later

I can’t believe its been five years since the September 11 terrorist attacks, or “Nine Eleven” as people call it. Now it’s two movies and a miniseries. How crass. I bet Hurricane Katrina will go Hollywood even faster. I know the two films have been applauded for their gravity but that’s strictly a judgement call and should not detract from the fact that they are entertainment.

Anyone who is serious about reminiscing about the attacks should dispense with the entertainment and read the 9/11 Commission Report, which you can download for free.

A recollection: most people call it “Nine-Eleven” but in the days following the attacks there was a lot of euphemizing. One woman I worked with, casting about for her own euphemism and apparently not happy with “incident”, “tragedy”, or “event” called it the “accident”. It certainly no accident but I can sympathize with her not wanting to come to grips with the awful reality of it.

Lousy way to end a vacation

I got back to Iowa yesterday. The following things happened:

  1. Before leaving Las Vegas, my girlfriend dumped me for the second time in two weeks and for the umpteenth time in the last four years. It does not get easier with practice, it gets harder.
  2. After landing in Cedar Rapids the cabin filled with smoke and we had to exit via the inflatable slides.
  3. I came home to find my ceiling leaking from the kitchen upstairs.

Other than that, the vacation was okay. There was good and bad.

More later.