“Mending Wall”

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
‘Stay where you are until our backs are turned!’
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.’ I could say ‘Elves’ to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Robert Frost

My neighbors seem to agree.

Lauren and I live in a nice little neighborhood with sidewalks and common areas and a community pool. And like most neighborhoods with all those amenities, we have neighborhood dues. Every year, Lauren and I fork over in excess of $300 bucks just to live here and have them send me unpleasant letters everytime my weeds have gotten too tall.

But this year, the developer has finally built houses on almost every spare patch of land, so the neighborhood is finally able to take over the “association” (which has always sounded ominous to me). For Lauren and me, the first order of business was getting those dues lowered. But we soon realized that having any voice at all in our pleasant little community would require us to come out of our comfortable, lazy, little shells and actually take part in some of the stuff going on.

So we signed up for some committees.

The first one we signed up for was the Newsletter committee. The first meeting went well. One of the issues that the women (yes, I was the only man present, and Lauren and I were the only ones there under the age of 35 or 40) brought up were the “sewer cats.” These cats haunt the front of the neighborhood and live in the storm drains. I’m not sure what they live on, but they really irritate the people in the front of the neighborhood (where the really nice houses are). These cats are jet-black, and… oh yeah… they used to be ours.

Shortly after Lauren and I moved in, we adopted two black kittens from some friends. Even though they were both male, we named them “Merry” and “Pippin,” since the Lord of the Rings trilogy was really popular at the time. Of course, this also led to severe ridicule from our friends and family.

Merry was terrified of us from day one. “Oh, he’ll get used to us,” we used to say. We were wrong. Every time we came home, he would dive under the couch and stay there. Taking them to the vet was exhausting. We would have to stage 3 or 4 people all around the couch, one of us would jerk it into the air, and everyone else would dive onto the floor trying to grab him. It was really great.

But then Lauren got pregnant. By this time, we had decided that having indoor pets was something our fathers had avoided for a reason, so we uncerimoniously dumped the cats outside. We were fixing to get another little critter anyway – one who would be considerably cuter and take a LOT more time and money.

Eventually though, our furry little friends began taking longer and longer excursions throughout the neighborhood, until they finally decided to submit a change of address. Occasionally, we still see them darting in and out of storm drains at the front of the neighborhood. We got quite a chuckle to hear our neighbors complaining about them. 🙂

Anyway, the other committee we joined was the Landscaping committee. This was kind of funny too, since I avoid most yard work. I don’t mind cutting the grass when it needs it, but I despise spreading pinestraw, and I practically refuse to plant flowers.

But we joined up anyway. This meeting was pretty nice. We really enjoyed meeting our fellow committee members. In fact, there was another couple there who was just a few years older than us and actually have two young daughters too. We might try to get together with them soon.

The really enjoyable part of the meeting, however, concerned the nature trail that encirlces our neighborhood. Debbie, who was heading our meeting had heard several complaints about various issues with the trail, so she decided to walk it one day with her digital camera in tow. At the meeting, she treated us to these fascinating examples of dilapidation.

Two of the pictures were of my fence.

You know that saying “good enough for government work”? Well, in an effort to save money, I decided years ago to build our own privacy fence, instead of paying someone else to do it. My dad and a few friends helped out with it, and during the project, my dad shared a favorite saying of his: “good enough for my house…” (I really hope my mom doesn’t read this)

That saying became our mantra as we built the mockery of a fence that now surrounds my house. I recently heard that Alec Baldwin plans to release a book on divorce. I guess he figures that doing it the wrong way enables him to give others advice on the subject. I could write a similar book about fence-building.

I had bought 8-ft sections of premade fence from Lowe’s for the project. This proved to be a mistake for several reasons. In building materials, 8-ft sections of things are rarely 8 feet; they are usually about an inch or so shy of that figure. I wasn’t aware of this at the time. I decided to build my fence in stages – the first of which would be setting all the posts. I set them all 8 feet apart. In concrete.

So… I ended up having to splice sections of 2×4 onto the posts, just so the fence sections would reach. It was a real mess.

Also, these fence sections were poorly made. The boards were attached with headless nails. Have you ever wondered why nails have heads? It’s to keep whatever’s nailed down… nailed down. So, boards periodically fall off of my fence, leaving gaps that look like a redneck’s smile.

The poor woman next door has tried unsuccessfully to repair some of this herself, since I am too lazy. The rest of her fence is immaculate, having been built by Shelby Fence, so it’s a wonder that she hasn’t sent me a letter bomb.

Our meeting last week was the last goad I needed to get started. Lauren and I smiled benignly as we looked over the photos, neither of us claiming ownership, just as we had done over the “sewer cat” issue. So this past Saturday, I found myself “mending fences,” just like Robert Frost.

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Christine

Anybody ever read Christine by Stephen King? It’s about a car that likes to kill people. I’ve decided that my car is similar, though a little more subtle.

When I got in it tonight, I looked down and saw that the digital odometer was proclaiming “LBuono.” I don’t know what that means, but I’m sure it’s some kind of message. It may not sound as threatening as the antics Christine put people through, but I just drive a 1999 Chevy Cavalier. It’s just not that ferocious.

It often delivers messages via the digital odometer, but they never make any sense. Often, they look like they’re in Russian, or maybe Klingon. Once it thinks I’ve gotten the message, my actual mileage pops back up. This is a good thing, since it’s the only way I can tell if my car has enough gas in it or not. See, the gas guage no longer works. It has apparently released itself of work by its own recognizance. It now lives a carefree life where it will proudly announce the tank is full one moment, then show it at a quarter the next.

I’m thinking my powers in the lazy side may have rubbed off on it.

Action matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my action, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And where you should not. For my ally is the lazy side, and a powerful ally it is. Inaction creates it, makes it grow. Its energy (or lack thereof) surrounds us and binds us. Lazy beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the laziness around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the sloth and the snail.

Ponder this over some snacks in a comfortable chair…

Triumph

As a boy (who am I kidding? I still do this), I used to daydream about survival. We spent countless hours playing with toy guns or beating each other with sticks in our “sword fights.” The movie Red Dawn was iconic to me. It’s the perfect guy’s movie. Communists invade the US, and some high school kids are left to defend it by running through the woods with hunting rifles. It’s hard to beat a scenario like that.

In February, Lauren and I went to Gatlinburg with Josh and Joy (my brother and his wife). We were staying in some cabins on top of a mountain, and we ended up getting snowed in one night. The next morning, the four of us got up, put on some warm, comfortable clothes, and began our trek down the mountain.

We hadn’t gone far when we ran across 3 old couples piled into a Lincoln Towncar, or something similar. They had tried driving down and slid into a snowbank. We offered help, but they said a wrecker was coming to get them. I don’t know how many miles we hiked, but it took us quite a while to get down. Of course, the footing was pretty treacherous in places, and that slowed us down considerably.

We finally got into town, bought some supplies at a grocery store, and ate lunch. As you might imagine, hiking back was significantly more difficult that hiking down had been, but we still had a lot of fun. We came across the Lincoln again on our hike back up the mountain. Apparently, the wrecker had pulled it out onto the road, only to have the car drift into another snowbank. The wrecker pulled them out a second time, after which, the car ran into a telephone pole.car-crash.jpg

The biggest thrill we had was when we ran across other people who had been staying on the mountain. Most had been unable to drive down, so they were pacing around their driveways like refugees. They would watch us anxiously as we approached them, and then they would come up to us with glassy eyes and ask us questions while hungrily eyeing our packs. “Y’all hike up from all the way down there?” Invariably, they were surprised when we told them we had actually hiked down early that morning, and were now coming back.

It was amazing how helpless people seemed to become when they could no longer rely on their modern conveniences. I mean, they couldn’t imagine traveling unless it was motorized. We felt like brave explorers, even though we hadn’t really done much. Sheeple need a shepherd, I guess.

I also felt that way a little bit on Saturday. We essentially had a family reunion at my grandparents’ house in Prattville. It basically consisted of my grandparents’ two kids and their families, as well as my grandmother’s two sisters and their families. There were quite a few of us there.

My grandparents own about 35 acres of woods that surround their house, which my siblings and I grew up playing in. A fairly deep gulley runs through the woods. After a while, it gets shallower, but it still has a small stream that goes on for quite a ways. The woods around the stream are extremely thick and green — almost jungle-like. It’s not uncommon to see magnolias, bamboo, and many, many briers growing all along it.

When we were kids, it seemed as though we were on some dangerous expedition any time we ventured down the length of the stream (which was rare). That part of the forest seemed to hold some deep mystery.

Saturday, a large group of us went out into the woods, and we followed the trails over to the gulley. After crawling around it for a little bit, my brothers and I couldn’t resist trying to follow that stream again. But almost half of our party didn’t want to go. As I said, the woods here were very thick. There was no trail to follow; you had to make your own.

 The only ones who ventured along the stream were me, Lauren, Madelyn (our 3 yr old), Josh, Joy, Bryan (their son), Daniel (my brother), Brittany (his girlfriend), Ryley (my sister), and David (her boyfriend).  I was proud.  The same kids who grew up there are the ones who went through the toughest parts of the woods on Saturday.  But this time, we brought others with us.

 It was tough going, but it was so much fun.  We had to duck and twist around branches, bushes, and thorns.  We had to cross and recross the stream several times over.  We had to climb up some banks and jump down others.  And the woods still held that sense of mystery, like you might uncover some ancient ruin at any minute.

We hadn’t gone very far when I found a hatchet stuck in a tree with an old hacksaw hanging on it.  Nearby, we found a 7-iron golf club.  I asked if we should take those things with us, and Josh said “we were meant to.”  He was joking, but not really, you know?  Exploring woods and caves gives you a sense of fate, a sense of purpose.

 Life is a lot like that as well.  It’s meant to be lived, not avoided.  Adventure, excitement, Jedi crave not these things.  But I do.  🙂  I can’t help it.  And deep down, I think everyone else does as well.  The difference is, some people take the risk and others don’t.

Teddy Roosevelt probably said it best:

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”The Strenuous Life

A Great Anniversary

This past weekend was truly excellent. First of all, Friday, April 20th, was mine and Lauren’s 6th anniversary. We pawned the kids off on Lauren’s parents, I came home from work early, and she and I had a nice, relaxing evening.

Now before I go further, I should make mention that April 20th is an important day to many people, for many different reasons. Adolf Hitler was born that day, it was the day of the Columbine tragedy, and 4:20 is supposedly like “happy hour” for pot-smokers. Quite a day, huh? You know, the really cool thing though, is that it’s also my grandparents’ anniversary. Last Friday, Lauren and I had been married for 6 years, and they had been married for 54. Pretty cool.

Anyway, we kicked things off Friday by catching the 4:30 showing of Blades of Glory, the new Will Ferrell and Jon Heder film. We both laughed pretty hard throughout the movie, and we both really had to pee by the time it was over. We had a stiff-legged race to the bathrooms as soon as the credits started.

After that, we went over toBernie’s on Main Street, which is one of the few restaurants in Columbiana, AL. Though it’s hard to believe, Columbiana has a quaint little area along their Main Street. I guess you’d call it a “downtown,” though it’s extremely small. Bernie’s is like an oyster’s pearl. It’s a great restaurant with good prices and a warm atmosphere, and you would never expect to find it in a place like Columbiana.

Neither Lauren nor I had ever been there before, but we definitely plan on going back. I liked the decor, and the food was excellent. I’ve heard their steaks and seafood are terrific, and they even have a wine list, if you’re into that kind of thing.

After dinner, we headed home (it was only around 8 or 8:30 at this point), and watched North by Northwest, which we had checked out from the library. I had seen the movie a long time ago, but Lauren never had. We enjoyed it. The acting is typical for that time period, so sometimes it seems a little overly dramatic and simplistic. Plus, there are several kissing scenes in it, and it was kind of funny to notice how there’s no tongue action going on. Pretty different from today!

Anyway, we went on to bed after the movie, and I never appreciated the joy of sleeping in my own bed the whole night through, as much as I do now that I have kids. No one was there to wake us up in the middle of the night, or early Saturday morning. Of course, Lauren, who is not nearly as aligned to the lazy side of the force as I am, still woke up a couple of times during the night. I, on the other hand, can sleep in any situation: chairs, desks, the floor, the car, the road, even hotel beds. Just another benefit that comes with mastering the lazy side.

The Power of the Lazy Side

Recently, Sloth Lord Meh, who has commented on this blog before, sent me some very insightful words on the Power of the lazy side of the Force.

Jabba the Hutt had it made. He spent all his time lying on a platform that could be moved around by his servants. All he did was laugh, eat, and lick slave girls. But all that went away when Luke Skywalker entered his life. Most of you know the back story of Jabba’s and Luke’s relationship, so I won’t go into all that. But what we want to look at is how abandoning the lazy side led to Jabba’s undoing.

I can’t fault Jabba too much for tricking Luke into falling into the rancor den. After all, it seemed like a quick, yet entertaining way to do away with the pesky Jedi. However, once Luke killed the rancor, Jabba stuck him in prison to await a public execution. Bad idea. If he’d just killed Luke on the spot, rather than drive all the way out to the stupid sarlaac pit, he’d be fine.

If you’re gonna go lazy side, go all out… lest you get killed by an over-zealous Jedi.

My Dad Was a Spy…

… but I’m pretty sure he’s retired now.

When I was a little kid, my father had the rare gift of striking fear into the hearts of all of my friends. This was an ability that seemed to require no effort on his part – he simply had an aura about him that caused sphincters to tighten and hair to raise.

I think most of my friends were allowed to get away with many more things than I was. By a fairly young age, I had figured out how to keep a low profile and get into minimal trouble. My two younger brothers never seemed to get quite as good at that as I did, but they still knew how to play it safe. However, when our friends came over, we were usually persuaded to do something ridiculously stupid, which typically ended with spankings for me and my siblings, while our friends cowered in abject terror.

Of course, we (my siblings and I) had no problems getting into trouble on our own. We were fully capable of performing asinine stunts even when none of our friends were around.

For example, when I was about 11 or 12, my parents would sometimes go out for the evening and leave me and my brother Josh in charge. Why my parents needed a break from 4 children, I can’t imagine, but occasionally, they did. Anyway, let’s say I was 12 at this time; that would have made Josh 10, Ryley (my sister) 7, and Daniel 5.

As soon as my parents left (they were going out for dinner and a movie), we decided that it would be an excellent idea to have a watergun fight. Furthermore, we didn’t feel like doing this outside.

So we galloped about the house, darting in and out of bedrooms and bathrooms, firing water at one another in some bizarre acquatic urban warfare. Josh was, and I believe still is, rather prone to nosebleeds, and it was at this time that his nostrils gushed forth jets of blood. Under normal circumstances, a truce would have been called while Josh took care of this problem, but we didn’t go for that option that night. Instead, Josh tore off his shirt and smeared the blood all over his chest and face, never pausing in the watergun fight.

I remember rounding the corner toward the front door with Josh in hot pursuit when I heard the jingle of keys come from the other side of the door. I skidded to a halt in my sock-feet and watched in horror as the front door swung inward, revealing my parents. Apparently, the movie had sold out.

Yeah, we got in trouble over that one…

But I should probably point out that my father was in no way abusive; in fact, he enjoyed playing and roughhousing as much as we did. Now that I have kids of my own, it’s hard for me to believe that Dad actually took me and Josh for rides with him in one of those Radio Flyer wagons. We would all climb in and rocket down a hill, while he tried to steer with that little black handle. We rarely made it all the way to the bottom of the hill (at least not while still in the wagon), and our wagon didn’t long resemble the ones you see in the store.

But at the same time, he believed that there was a time and place for everything. For instance, the place for waterguns was not indoors…

But I think the other thing that may have contributed to his sometimes frightening demeanor was his work. On the surface, he worked as a general manager for Jenkins Brick Company. But while I was in high school, Josh and I began to wonder if perhaps he was doing something else.

In the early 90’s, Dad had to go to London on business, and then to Ireland, shortly after. Why would someone in the brick business need to go to Europe? He took other trips as well, though we didn’t always know to what locales.

And as the 90’s progressed, strange things would sometimes happen around our house. One day, Josh and I walked out into the front yard and noticed a Ford Ranger parked just up the street. We didn’t recognize it, but didn’t think a lot about it, until we saw some man sprint from the far side of our house, jump into the truck, and speed away. We’ve never been able to figure that out.

And then there was the Schwan’s ice cream truck. I think someone was spying on our family for a long time, and they were using the Schwan’s truck as cover. I know that sounds ridiculous. I mean, if someone really had been trying to scope us out, wouldn’t they have used something a little less conspicuous? But perhaps that was the idea. Using an ice cream truck for cover is so ludicrous that they probably thought everyone would dismiss it.

About two houses down from us, our street did one of those things that looks like a cul-de-sac, but is actually a 90 degree turn. I’d say at least once a week, a Schwan’s delivery truck would sit in that 90 degree bend for an hour or more at a time. We might have assumed that the driver knew someone at that address or something, but he never got out of his truck.

Ok, ok, so what, right? I mean, who really cares if the Schwan’s guy sits at the end of your street for no apparent reason on a regular basis. That doesn’t really mean anything.

And that’s true. But what made it a little more bizarre was that the Schwan’s guy started turning up in weird places. One afternoon, I had gone to the dentist, and my dad had met me at the dentist’s office, for some reason. After my appointment, he and I were sitting in his car talking (I was getting ready to get into my truck so we could go back home), and something across the street caught my eye. Across the street, not directly, but down the road a little ways, a guy in a Schwan’s delivery truck was sitting in an abandoned parking lot. I pointed this out to my Dad, but he didn’t really comment on it much. Shortly after that, we headed back home, but the Schwan’s guy sat there the whole time.

Then, a couple of years later, me and some friends had been driving around Pensacola, where we lived, and decided on a whim to stop at this little roadside park. We got out of the car, and immediately, a Schwan’s truck pulled up next to us. We played around on the swings and stuff for a little while, and I kept stealing glances at the Schwan’s guy, who was still sitting in his truck. We didn’t stay at the park long, and as soon as we walked back toward our car, the Schwan’s guy started up his truck and pulled away.

It was also around this time that Dad quit his “job” at Jenkins in order to start his own masonry business (I won’t bother enumerating all the potential benefits that working with concrete could have for someone who might have to “dispose” of things), but this change only caused Dad to travel more than ever, and he managed to get into probably the best shape he’d been in in years.

But I also moved away from home shortly after that, so it’s hard for me to say if the Schwan’s guy continued to come around. Now, Mom and Dad have relocated to the Atlanta area, and Dad’s gotten a job with another brick company. Things seem to have settled down for them, and I’ve got a feeling that if my father ever did work as a spy, those days are behind him now.

But I still think about it every time I see a Schwan’s delivery truck.

The Virginia Tech Shootings and Their Local Effects

Yesterday, I was making deliveries inside Huntsville Hospital when I first saw coverage on the massacre at Virginia Tech. It seemed like everytime I walked past a TV the body count had risen.

Last night, I watched some more of the coverage on what had happened, and many were questioning the way the authorities and the decision makers at VT handled certain aspects of it – primarily why no one had tried to issue warnings or close the campus after the first shooting. I think that’s an excellent question. I understand that the authorities felt like the first wave of shootings had been an isolated incident, and VT’s president made the comment that thousands of students attend VT, and many of them would have been in route to classes at that time. Shutting down the campus would have been a tricky problem, logistically.

Still, it makes you wonder if things would have turned out differently if they had tried to do those things. I’m sure as the days and weeks go by, we’ll here more and more about that.

But what really irritated me last night was something that the local news (for Huntsville, AL) said in one of their ads for their upcoming broadcast: “…and we’ll take a look at the security on campuses in our area too, to see if such an incident is possible here…”

I’m probably overreacting about this, but comments like that infuriate me! Of course something like the shooting at VT is possible here; it’s possible anywhere! We live in a society that cherishes and protects freedom. We don’t have armed checkpoints set up all over the place, and we don’t want them either! But those freedoms also bring vulnerabilities.

Immediately after the events of 9/11, airports heightened their security to extreme levels, and there were very few complaints. We had been burned. Extra precautions made us feel safe, even when they added 2-3 hours to our boarding times. But as time went by and we had no major incidents, the security was relaxed a bit.

Last year, authorities were successful in disrupting a terrorist plot that was intended to blow up aircraft travelling from the UK to the US with liquid explosives. Once again, tight security measures were put into place that forbade all passengers from carrying liquids on the plane, aside from baby formula. Do you remember the public outcry? Since the plot was actually stopped, a vast number of people didn’t take it seriously. Do you think people would have complained nearly as much if 5 or 6 aircraft had blown up midflight? Or if they had blown up over some US metropolitan area?

Living in a free society means that you have vulnerablilities. Some can be limited, but many can not. So don’t act so shocked when something happens that we didn’t have a contingency plan for! You know who’s responisible for yesterday’s attack? The gunman. Some others may bear incidental responsibility in that they could have acted sooner or notified more people, but the ultimate blame lies with the man that pulled the trigger.

That’s also something to consider when you hear the increased debate over gun control during the next few weeks. Laws are for people that obey them. Someone like Virgina Tech’s gunman won’t be affected by increased gun laws – he was breaking several already.

And although I know this post has gone on long enough, I wanted to touch on one more thing that irritated me about the local media here. The attack happened in Virginia, not in Huntsville, Alabama. I find it disgraceful to take what happened there and try to show how it has affected us here.

During the insanity of 9/11, people stayed glued to their TVs or computers, absorbing every detail that came out of New York, Pennsylvania, or Washington. But every so often, our local news would break in to show us how the attacks had affected us in Birmingham, AL. You know what? THEY HADN’T! Not like people were being affected at the actual attack sites! I didn’t care if flights had been grounded in Birmingham. That “news” was so paltry it didn’t even deserve to be a short blip running along the bottom of the screen, yet they dedicated full reports to it. To me, it seemed like an insult to the real victims of that tragedy, and I felt the same way when I saw yesterday’s ad for the news here in Huntsville.

I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, or if this tends to be inherent in people in general, but we have got to get over ourselves! Everything that happens in this life does not revolve around us. Trying to force our way into the middle of every little event is incredibly pathetic.

So anyway, I’m sorry to go on so long about this. Please excuse this rant, and I’ll try to ease myself back into the lazy side…