Entries Tagged 'Tales' ↓


The sun bakes the brown skin on my back. I peer through a knot hole at the water below. The warmth feels good but I’m not here for the sun. I’m here for the water.

I place my palms down on the gnarled wooden surface of the dock and hoist myself to my feet. I quickly look around to assess the situation: Who can I impress? Who should I avoid? Who might I frighten with a sneak attack?

I face the shore and stand on the edge of the dock plank, balancing on the balls of my feet. Hands at my sides I take a deep breath and fling myself into the space beyond the dock.

The water is barely six feet deep so the dive must be shallow. Shallow dives don’t allow for much finesse but as I jump, I sweep my arms outward until they meet above my head just before I hit the water. I feel graceful and superheroic never considering that I may look less so.

The water is cool and murky green. My older siblings won’t swim here and some friends level charges of “runoff” and “swimmer’s ear” but I never believe them. This is my habitat.

With eyes wide open I immediately glide to the sandy bottom. I take massive strokes with my arms, inverting the motion I used in the air moments before. My hands pass in front of my face each time I reposition my arms for a new stroke. I feel all the power and grace my non-athletic body will ever manage. I know I am a better swimmer than my peers and that is a great comfort.

I swim silently, slightly above the sand, with no other thoughts in my head but suppressing my desire for air. Eventually that desire will overpower me but I know I’m one step ahead of my future self. When at last I can take no more, I will begin the ascent to the surface, forced to continue swimming by virtue of my position at the bottom. This, I know, will give me an advantage in future underwater swimming contests, should they ever arise.

But none of that is necessary for this dive because the shore arrives before my air supply dwindles. I take one final stroke and glide into the shallow water where it is no longer possible to hide my awkward body from the world. When I can go no further, I raise my head above the surface, taking care not to stir the water unnecessarily or to make any gasping noises with my first breath.

I linger briefly in the shallow water, feeling my body float effortlessly while my belly rubs slightly against the sand. I revel in the moment. I know I belong here. I long for the rest of my life to be this effortless.

Dedicated to Mary Lou, 2016.08.21

Letter to my Uncle Lorell who is dying

September 3, 2011


Dear Lorell,

When I was a kid there were few things I liked more than going to my uncles’ farms. Being a “city slicker” (as my classmates often called me), the farm was a completely different world to me. When I visited my Uncle Merlin’s farm it was mostly about hanging out with my cousins who were close in age to me, but when I visited your farm, it was always about you and I spending time together. That is a gift that I will always treasure.

One time when I was there “helping” you, we tried to take a dent out of the local rat population. I’ll never forget when you lifted up a piece of plywood (or maybe it was corrugated tin) that was laying behind the big machine shed. The plywood was laying on a small pile of corn and when you lifted it, it revealed several rat “tunnels” and the rats inside them. I was surprised but you were not because you had a gun and started shooting the rats as they scurried away. Guns, rats, tunnels – everything about being on the farm was so cool.

You’ve always been there. You were at Grandma Christensen’s for all those Christmases with the toys in the bedrooms and the money in the envelopes. And you were at Grandma Ring’s for the oyster stew. I remember sitting in that little living room watching Vitas Gerulaitis play tennis and you laughing when I joked that his name sounded like a disease. Harold was there. And my dad. And Gene.

So many memories I have of you and so little time to tell you about them. You kept your golf cart in Grandma Ring’s garage. You drove that giant green Cadillac. You visited me at my first house in Portland. Remember? You got lost and I told you “find the first bridge you see and cross it.” I was so sad to spend what I thought would be our last birthday together three years ago but now I’m so glad that you have had three more years in this world. I’ve never had a birthday where I didn’t think of you. And I never will.

As I sit here with all these thoughts and memories swirling through my head, I’m desperately trying to figure out how to end this note to you in a meaningful way. I suppose that life mostly doesn’t come to an end in a dramatic or meaningful way so perhaps I should just end this by saying that I thank you for your many kindnesses towards me over the last (almost) 45 years and that I think you’ve been a good uncle and a fine man. I also thank you for my double cousins without whom my life would be lesser. I hope that you reach the end of your days peacefully and without regret. And I love you.


Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll

If you were a teen in the 80s like me then you probably remember the short-lived sketch comedy series, Fridays, on ABC. Although it only lasted two seasons, it left an indelible impression on my young brain.

Sadly, a DVD release of those two seasons is reportedly held up by Michael Richards. Luckily, YouTube has most of their great sketches including the ones I’ve included below the fold:
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Note for Neighbor with the Black Lab (second draft)

This is a slight revision of the note I originally wrote on Facebook and then posted here the other day. This version includes new information and will be delivered with three bags of poop that I have scooped from my yard.
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Page 2: In Which I Explain My Life To The Class of 1985

I’ve been in Portland since 1990 after a short detour to San Diego after graduating from Wartburg. I met and married my wife, Tina, in 1992. We have two awesome boys who dictate how we spend most of our time. Both are very active in Boy Scout Troop 820 (troop820.org) and both play the double bass in the school orchestra after converting from the cello.

Graham is a nerd of the first order and thinks I’m the coolest nerd on the planet. He loves to play video games on our Xbox and Wii but is enthusiastic in almost everything he does — even when I enlist his help in yard chores. Since he was a baby we have known that he is strong-willed and joyous. He’s also very intelligent and somewhat arrogant about that fact, regarding it as a fact of life that he’s smarter than everyone else. I’m trying to work that out of him.

Thomas is more reserved than Graham and less likely to risk looking uncool. A year ago I helped him buy his first electric bass. Since then he has learned to play all of his favorite sons and a few “classics” that I asked him to learn. He can also has pick up Tina or my guitar and play them much better than either of us. In many ways he’s very much like I was at that age: long hair, quiet except with friends, stubborn and often inconsiderate. He’s also very smart but not always willing to work hard for great grades.

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Note for Neighbor with the Black Lab

Dear neighbor:

I am surprised that your dog is still running free and pooping on my and Walt’s yard. You know Walt? He lives across from me and is 85+ years old. He also does not enjoy having to clean up your dog’s poop. I asked him because I wasn’t sure if it was just me. It’s not. NOBODY LIKES BEING POOPED ON.

I say “surprised” because my wife had already told you that we did not appreciate your dog pooping on our lawn. But still he runs free. It appears that you are either too dim or too insensitive to understand her request. Let me make it clear:

WE DO NOT LIKE BEING POOPED ON. Until this point we have not even investigated our legal and civil options. Please do not make us go that far. I have faith that there will be some recourse available to us that will make your life more difficult than it is now. Let’s just stop it here and you leash your dog. Or keep him in your fenced back yard. I don’t care as long as he is not in everybody else’s yard.

Also, I could not be happier that you want to go on walks with your dog. I encourage it. I also would encourage you to have evidence visible that you are prepared to clean up after your dog.

In conclusion, let me just say that you likely know that your behaviour has not been acceptable. If you didn’t know that, you should now. This is what society expects.

Reverse Baader-Meinhof Syndrome

Part One
Some time ago I renewed my subscription to Netflix in order to utilize their streaming video service which is offered “free” to all their subscribers. The service is nice but the selection of movies available to Watch Instantly (their term for internet streaming) is a very small subset of the movies that they have on DVD. Because I’m interested to know of any additions to this subset, I subscribe to their RSS feed for New choices to watch instantly. With that subscription I receive notification in my web browser whenever a movie is made available for Instant viewing. This morning there were approximately 20 new movies available which I quickly scrolled through, clicking open a new tab for each that interested me. One of these was Yojimbo by the legendary Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, who also directed the seminal Seven Samarai. After reading the description, I clicked the “Add to Instant Queue” button to save it for later viewing. Whenever you add a movie to your queue on Netflix they suggest 10 more related movies that they think you might like. This time, they showed me these (click to enlarge the image):

Netflix Choices

My eyes were immediately drawn to one of the movies on the bottom and in the middle, The Beider Meinhof Complex. The name was somewhat familiar so I read the description but it didn’t interest me so I closed the window.

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Letter To My One-Time Eye Doctor

Dear Dr. Nelson:

I can’t tell how happy I was to receive your postcard reminding me that I should schedule an eye appointment with your office. Two years ago I had the most delightful appointment with you and your staff. While I waited for the results, one of your employees helped me choose frames for my new eye glasses. When she showed me the frames that come with magnetically attached sunglasses, I was doubtful that I would buy such a thing. However, when she informed me that replacing the sunglasses themselves only cost $10, I was convinced.

After I received the glasses, I used the clip-on sunglasses all the time. Since I regularly rode my bike to and from work, it was very handy to keep them in my bike bag. Sure they started to get scratched from contacting everything else in my bike bag, but I knew that replacements were ONLY TEN DOLLARS. Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I dropped by your office three months later and was told that replacements cost ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS.

Flabbergasted, I protested only slightly to you. I was simply stunned and walked out of there with no replacements. A few months later I had a new job with new insurance and was able to return to my old eye doctor. In contrast to my experience with your office, this doctor always makes recommendations that save me money and maximize value from my optical insurance. He also lives up to his promises and makes sure his employees are well-informed about the products he offers.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for you and your business, which is what I have been telling all of my friends for the last two years. I’m grateful that you reminded me how poorly you treated me and provided me with an email address to tell you about it.

Sunday morning, 2 am

Somebody said they saw me, swinging the world by the tail
Bouncing over a white cloud, killing the blues

Wait? What’s that? Someone is spraying me with water.

“What the hell!?!?!”

I think I just woke up Tina. She asks me what’s going on.

“The wind blew the fly off the tent.”
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A junk yard fool with eyes of gloom

When things break, I am always compelled to take them apart in an effort to find out what is wrong. Most of the time, I remove the top cover/back panel/what-have-you, glance inside and conclude that I am simply out of my league. I can see nothing wrong or even recognize anything that I am looking at. On a few occasions I have been able to identify potential problems but did not have the expertise or knowledge to confirm and fix the problem. Last night I was able to make that final step: identify the problem and find a solution.

Sunday was the first anniversary of the new heating element we had to get for our dryer last year. At that time the dryer was less than a year old but surprisingly out of warranty. Although a certain amount of blame lies with us for failing to check the warranty terms (90 days) at purchase time, I mostly blame Sears for selling such shoddy products that they can’t warranty them for a year or three. I suspect they have done this in order to push their extended warranty programs, or “maintenance agreements“, as they prefer to call them. As you might imagine, we were angry over the warranty issue and even angrier when we had to pay the Sears repair man over $200 to fix something we considered to be “new”.

So how did our heating element celebrate the end of it’s first year in service? It quit. It totally stopped heating the dryer and Tina had to take our weekend laundry to the nearest laundromat to dry it. Once again we were angry, but there was no way we were going to call Sears this time. After mulling the situation for a day, I consulted howstuffworks.com for any advice they might have about fixing dryers. Their article on clothes dryers was informative, but did not contain any advice for fixing broken dryers. They did, however, point to a link at RepairClinic.com which eventually led me to a section entitled “There’s no heat.” That article lays out a basic inspection plan for determining which electrical component has failed. With this knowledge and my multimeter in hand, I unplugged our dryer and removed the back with only a little hope of actually accomplishing anything.

What lay behind the cover was much simpler than I had counted upon. After testing the thermal sensors (as prescribed by the RepairClinic article) it wasn’t long before I narrowed the problem to a little box near the bottom. After removing two screws, the little box came off easily and revealed that it had a matrix of coiled wires attached to it. I had discovered the heating element! A quick continuity test confirmed that this was the faulty component and I even found the broken coil after a quick inspection. An online search for the model number yielded an average price of about $40 for the replacement part.

I can’t tell you how good I felt at this moment. Not only was I victorious in finding the problem, disassembly had been so quick and easy that I have full confidence in being able to install the new element. It is also reassuring to know that if the element breaks again, I can replace it myself relatively cheaply. And we won’t have to call the damn Sears repair man ever again.


Update 4/17: I found a little additional information about Kenmore appliances on Wikipedia. Most large appliances are manufactured for Sears by Whirlpool, who also manufactures under the brand names Maytag, Amana, KitchenAid, Jenn-Air and many others. In addition to Sears’ OEM business, Whirlpool also makes products for Best Buy, Home Depot and IKEA. Iowa residents might note that in 2007 Whirlpool shut down the Amana manufacturing plant in Newton as well as plants in Illinois and Arkansas. I’m guessing those jobs probably went to China and Mexico where Whirlpool does much of it’s manufacturing.