Thursday, August 27, 2009

"At The End..........."

".....of the beginning"

Well, it is time for me to sign off. This is my last day in the office and soon I will be gone to reaches of the planet where no cellphone or WiFi signal can touch me. Me and 40,000 other like minded people.

I won't be around for the next 3 weeks or so. When I get back there will be a whirlwind of things that I will have to jump back into. However, I hope to take a day off sometime in September and spend it just going through all of the blogs that I have not been able to read recently. Rest assured, I miss reading them, a lot of you folks do more than you realize to keep me sane sometimes.

I plan on taking a ton of pictures while I am there. Over 100 4X5 inch negatives on my trusty Speed Graphic as well as about 70 120mm negatives....(and even some digital). Look for them all in early October. In the meantime, here is a slide show of the 120mm Black & White negatives that I shot at Burning Man 2007.

Wish me luck...............hasta la

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Held Captive

A Prisoner In My Own Life

My apologies to all my readers and friends regarding my tardiness and reading habits. I haven't been able to read or comment on a lot of your blogs because life is conspiring against me these days and robbing me of most of my free time. Which means less time to read most of your exceptional and witty blogs about your unique and sometimes peculiar slant on life. I hope to get back into the swing and catch up by sometime in mid-September when things will hopefully start to cool down.

Currently, my life is consumed with covering jobs in my office that have been vacated due to the economic crisis in my state. The other all-consuming project right now is my preparations for the Burning Man festival at the end of this month. These preparations have taken on a life of their own. Having to coordinate getting 4 people and all their stuff from here to there (about 1500 miles) is quite the undertaking. And the geodesic dome project that I plan to take with me has been much more of a project than I had originally envisioned. Hopefully, you will get to read all about it when we get back. These two obstacles along with a slew of other day to day issues make for very lean blogging times.

So it appears that I am a prisoner of my own making. I don't have to work at my job, nor do I have to attend Burning Man, but I suppose I am more of a 'doer' than a slacker. At least I like to think so. But it raises the question that we are all prisoner of the lives that we have created for ourselves. Here is a case in point that brings home that concept.

I took the day off on Monday (8/17/09) to work on my dome project. One of my other projects is the maintenance of small park in our historic neighborhood called the 'triangles'. During my day off I had turned on the sprinklers at the triangles since the city has seen fit to stop watering the area due to budget cuts and the grass was dying.

At the end of the day, I was walking the 5th of a mile to the triangles to shut off the water when I heard someone yelling for help. I looked to my right and there was an elderly woman, maybe in her 60s, standing behind the iron screen front door of a house that bordered the triangles. I approached her and asked her what the problem was. She stated that she was locked inside the house and couldn't get out. (She was holding a mallet and screwdriver and appeared to have been trying to pound out the metal screen on the dead bolted front door.)

When I asked why she couldn't leave through the garage or other door she indicated that she was being held against her will by a strange man and was a prisoner. Well, that brought out my cell phone and I dialed 911 and explained the situation as I knew it up that point to the 911 operator. The police showed up within about 30 seconds (3 squad cars in all). One officer started talking to the woman through the door while another took me aside and questioned me. I told him the story and he indicated that they were already en-route when I had called 911. Someone (possibly a neighbor) had called for a welfare check of the resident. The officer indicated that the woman in the house may have mental issues and that I didn't need to stay and was free to go. I turned off the water to the triangles an walked home.

Now I am left with the nagging question. Was this woman a victim of dementia / Alzheimer's and locked in her own home by her husband / caregiver for her own safety or was she really being held captive by some deranged fiend for the past 2 years. Neither option made me feel very good. Either way, she was being held captive, either in her own mind, or by someone else. I might never know the end of the story. Whenever I go to do some work at the triangles, I look at that house and search for answers, that I will probably never get.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tinker to Evers To Chance

As I sat beside home plate last night, these words kept ringing through my head. I don't recall where I first heard them. Probably recited by George Plimpton in Ken Burn's 10 hour documentary on Baseball, but I can't be sure.

The wife and I had a bit of luck last night. A few weeks ago, our neighbor asked us to keep an eye on their house while they were out of town. In exchange, they gave us two baseball tickets to see the Arizona Diamondback play the New York Mets on 8/11/09. Seems that they have season tickets and weren't going to be in town to see the game.

So last night, the wife and I walked the mile to Central Ave in Phoenix, boarded the light rail, which took us directly to Chase Field in central Phoenix. It was nice, no traffic, no parking fees, just dropped us off at the front door. We had our first date at what was then 'BankOne Ballpark'. Economics changed the names, but the essence of the game and the team remains. Now, 4 years later, it was a chance to relive our first night out.

We had not been to Chase Field in about 2 years, as we wandered around trying find out seats, we quickly realized that these were not the 'cheap seats'. These were $200 a seat tickets that were 40 feet from home plate. We had a private restroom and waitresses that would come up and take our orders for hot dogs and beer. It was really sweet.

While taking in the sites and sounds that are Major League Baseball, drinking $9 beer and munching on a $5 hot dog, I pondered the American Dream. Despite the outrageous cost of it all (well over $450 if we had paid for everything ourselves), this whole scene summed up who we are. Over 24,000 people coming together to cheer and talk in the middle of the work week, to watch grown men play a game with precision and grace. This is all that is good about Americans, this is our culture.

It dawned on me that it is a precious thing. A community thing. A tie that binds diverse people together. The rituals that make us who we are from ethnic groups, to religions, to counties, to political parties. I wondered what some impoverished immigrant that knew nothing of baseball would think of the spectacle. To come from a place where there are no ties that bind people together. It wasn't a pleasant thought.

Back in 1910, sports writers thought so highly of baseball that they composed poems about it that have become part of our lexicon, our heritage. To be born into such a rich and vibrant enduring culture is not something to be taken for granted.

These are the saddest of possible words:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double –
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
"Tinker to Evers to Chance."

And last nights game? The Diamondback won, 6-2.

Friday, August 7, 2009

First Friday Flashbacks

I hope this little guy is laying on a sofa with his head in a boys lap and dreaming of chasing rabbits, I really do.

First Published March 15, 2006

Doing The Right Thing

Sometimes, Doing The Right Thing Just Sucks

I hate commuting. If you live in a major urban area you probably commute. Where I lived, it just kept getting worse and worse. The drive to work was usually around 45 minutes one way. So that is an hour and thirty minutes of my life sucked away from me just so I could get to an office and work for someone else. It was driving me nuts and the older I got, the more I felt that my quality of life was slipping away from me.

So I started taking the bus to work. This required a bit of a change in lifestyle but I found that the extra effort was well worth it. While I didn't get to work any quicker, I could basically 'zone-out' on the bus ride and just close my eyes an listen to my headphones. The reduction in stress alone was worth getting up earlier and making the mile long walk to the bus stop in the dark.

I enjoyed these walks. The path from my home to the bus stop wandered through a residential neighborhood. It was often cool and dark on my way there. There was no traffic noise or sirens and the news vulture helicopters had not yet left their launch pads. It was a quiet time when the world seemed much slower and more relaxed. During these walks I could be alone with my thoughts and contemplate my job, my marriage, my health, the whole meaning of life.

It was during one of these walks that I ran across him. Half way between my house and the bus stop he came scampering out of some bushes by the sidewalk. A little Labrador puppy. He couldn't have been more than 2 months old. I stopped in my tracks and smiled at him as he walked up to me with no fear and started to sniff my shoes. I stooped down and patted his head and his tail wagged as he slobbered all over my hand with his tongue.

He must have been lost or had escaped through an open back yard gate. I wondered how long he had been laying in the bushes, during the cold night with no one to play with. He rolled on his back and gently gnawed on my fingers as I rubbed his stomach. I must have been his savior that morning. The person that was going to make him wanted and loved again.

After a minute of bonding with the little fellow, I had to get back on my journey to the bus stop or I would miss the bus, which would make me an hour late for work. This is when the problem started.

You see, the puppy didn't know I had to go to work. He didn't have any concept of the world outside his back yard. He followed behind me, nipping at my heals and begging to be petted some more. This wasn't good I thought. If he follows me too far before getting bored with me, he will be too far away from home and will really be lost. And the closer we get to the main street where the bus stop is, the more likely he could be run over by a car. I stopped and pushed him away told him "NO" in a very firm tone. He just looked at me, cocked his head and continued to wage his tale.

As I started out again for the bus stop, he once again started following me, tail waging. "Jesus", I thought. If I picked him and took him back home I will be late for work. If I let him keep following me he could get killed. There was only one thing I could think of to do.

I turned around and kicked him. He let out a little yelp and sat down looking at me with those big puppy-dog eyes. "Why did you do that?, don't you like me anymore?" they screamed.

I started off again and once again he started to follow me, but his tail wasn't wagging as much. I stopped, turned and kicked him again. Again he yelped and sat down. "NO", I yelled.

I turned and starting walking again. After several yards I looked over my shoulder and he was still sitting there, looking at his savior disappear into the darkness.

I arrived at the bus stop just in time to catch the bus. I sat down, put on my head phones and thought to myself, "What a great way to start the day.".

All day long it nagged me and I tried to convince myself that his family had found him and that he was playing in his back yard somewhere while planting hundreds of puppy-dog kisses all the child that he had been purchased for. At least I hoped so.

I took the bus home that evening and walked the same route as I had done that morning. There was no sign of the little fellow anywhere. I arrived home and my wife asked me how my day had been.

"Great", I said...."It started off with me having to kick a puppy."

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Fool And Their Money....

....are soon parted

A little background for those that don't live in Arizona. Phoenix, Arizona is a 'new' city. It was established about 100 years ago, but really didn't start to 'grow' until 1947. In the last 50 years it has grown into the 5th largest city in the United States.

Because it is so 'new' there isn't a lot of history or culture here. Most of the suburbs were created long after the concept of building a custom house fell out of fashion. Most of the 'burbs' here are considered 'ticky-tac' houses. Which are mass-produced developments, with each house having the same floor plan, with every 3rd house rotated 45 degrees so they all don't look the same.

Many of these developments are governed by Home Owner Associations (HOA) and not by cities or counties. Most of the houses are built with pretty unskilled labor and consist mostly of timber, particle board (thick cardboard) and stucco (sprayed on plaster). All the houses are required to look the same, with the same pre-approved paint scheme and window treatments.

So in order to preserve what little of the historic past we have, the City of Phoenix has designated some downtown neighborhoods and 'Historic'. These are homes that were built prior to World War II, that are what we consider today to be 'custom built'. That is to say each house is different with its own floor plan and design. My wife and I live in one of these neighborhoods called Encanto / Palmcroft.

So much for the background to the story.

One of the stipulations of living in an historic district is that you CAN'T CHANGE THE HOUSE! You have to leave the facade of the house intact to preserve the historic look and feel of the neighborhood. You can paint it any color you want and you can plant a gazillion shrubs in your yard, but you had better not replace the original windows or add an addition to the side of the building. That is a BIG no-no.

So it is always amusing when we spy one of the neon green notices (see above) pasted to the front of a house in our neighborhood. Let me explain what this means.

Someone, who considers themselves to be pretty smart, was able to get their hands on $200,000. This is what it would take to put a down payment on house in Encanto / Palmcroft that is below 1500 square feet. The prices here are still pretty high here because there are only so many of these houses available.

Their plan was to buy the house (which was probably in foreclosure), spend about $50,000 fixing it up so they could 'flip it' and sell it for $500,000, which is what a restored 1500 square foot house in Encanto / Palmcroft usually goes for.

Only problem is, they weren't as smart as they thought. Money is sort of like tequila, it makes you think you are smarter than you really are. Whoever this bozo was didn't understand or bother to look into the rules and regulations regarding historic neighborhoods in Phoenix. Take a look at the picture below to see just how much of a hole this moron has dug himself.

This is the house. It used to have a low block wall separating the front patio area from the lawn and garden. Mr. New Homeowner didn't like the old block wall, so out comes the jack hammer and down goes the wall. Two days later, the neon green sticker appears in the window. That was almost 2 months ago, and nothing has been done to the home since.

The corner that this new homeowner has painted himself into leaves him with two options:

Option A: He can go to the city with the original plans for the house (before he demolished it) and submit the architectural drawings for how he planned to modify the structure to show that the new structure would be in line with the original appearance of the home, plus pay a fine. Total cost would be around $15,000 and the process takes about 3 months. Even then, there is no guarantee that the city will approve the changes.

Option B: He can reassemble the wall to its original condition, thereby restoring the structure to its original appearance before he purchased it....and still pay a fine. In which case he would be right back where he started, three months gone and less the money for the rebuilding and the fine.

The end result of all this? This homeowner will most likely walk away from the house and abandon it, at which point it will go into foreclosure. We have seen this happen to several houses in our neighborhood after 'speculators' came in with a wallet full of cash and aspirations of making a quick buck by flipping a house.

So if anyone wants a really cute little fixer upper in a really nice neighborhood, close to downtown, the library, Chase Field and the Light Rail, it will probably be on the market, dirt cheap, in about 9 to 15 months.

To see what this darling little house looked like before the 'Moron Flipper' got his hands on it, click the blog title or click here. You can also just do a google map search of the address and look at it in street view, 1126 West Palm Lane, Phoenix, Arizona.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Time To VOTE!

I'll Make It Worth Your While

I am calling in favors here people. Remember all those witty and insightful comments I have left on 'your' blogs. Well, they come with a price. I have a friend that is entered into a contest. I am not quite sure what she is going to win. I think it is a trip somewhere and dinner and maybe a kiss from some famous movie star or something. In order for her to win, she has to get more votes than her competitors online.

This is a cooking contest where she has submitted a video of a dish she has prepared and explains what wine it goes best with. It is a pretty short video and my friend is pretty easy on the eyes, so there isn't any reason for you not to check it out and vote for her.

Plus, there is an added bonus. If you vote for her and post a comment here that you did, I will do the following three things for you.

1) I will let you ask 5 meme questions of me...anything goes.

2) I will post something 'extremely flattering' on your blog

2) I will write an update about her adventures if she wins.

That is a lot of work on my part, so cast your vote and watch me run around like a hamster in a cage.

The link to her video is the header for the blog, the blog graphic and also posted below. Ignore all the rest of the videos, don't watch them or vote for them, they are all crap, trust me on this. Just watch Debbie's video from Phoenix, Arizona and vote for it.....even if you don't like Basil Chicken, just vote for it. Do it NOW!

Debbie's Lemon Basil Chicken Video

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Truth Hurts

Wii Fit My Ass

I am a pretty frugal guy. Unless there are some exceptions, I don't' tend to run out and buy something the minute it hits the shelves. I don't want to pay the high markup and don't really want to be in the 'click' of being one of the first to have something. Experience has taught me that everything I have ever wanted will show up in a thrift store someday at a 90% discount. I am still waiting for the slightly dented Ferrari Testarossa to show up on Criagslist for $400 or best offer.

So, despite the fact that I am real Nintendo person (no Playstation or Xbox for me), I waited to buy a Wii. It wasn't hard, since they were pretty much impossible to find in my neck of the woods for the first 2 years that they were available. But I finally picked one up about 8 months ago and gleefully hooked it up.

I was impressed with its connectivity, design and controls. Hooked up to our wireless WiFi network it gets free news feeds from all over the world, has a weather channel, an Internet browser and loads of other nifty features....not to mention playing really cool games. It has re-awakened my love of golf.

So this past weekend, I was out at my favorite toy store (Fry's Electronics) and I spied a pile of Wii Fit add-ons for the Wii. I had wanted this since I played with one at my daughter-in-laws house about 6 months ago. So I picked one up. They have been out for about a year and have been impossible to get. So this was my chance.

I took it home and hooked up the balance board, which was a snap. Nintendo really knows how to make this product work well. As my wife worked at the dining room table on some stained glass design, I powered up the Wii and it greeted me with a cheery voice and said I had to take a test first so that it could set up custom routines for me. Sweeeeet. So I did the balancing thing and it weighted me and asked a bunch of questions like height and age and how much my clothes weighed, etc....

When it was all done, it told em to wait while it calculated my BMI (body mass index) and figured out what my Wii Fit Age would be. As my little avatar on the screen hopped up and down in anticipation of the results, my wife glanced up from her craft work to see the results as well.

The end result.......I am OBESE...with a Wii Fit age of 58 (I am 52 years old). Ouch....the truth hurts. No sooner was I informed of my condition than I heard my wife roll off her chair laughing.

The Wii told me I needed to lose some weight and that it would help me set up an exercise routine to meet my predefined goal. My response was an explicative that I can't repeat here.

So for the next 3 months it is going to be me against the Wii.....I will prevail. I will not be an obese 58 year old. I am going to be a sleek 52 year old that kicks ass. Bring it on is you and me....mano-y-mano.

( opinion of Nintendo went down a little yesterday, when someone tells you, you are fat, it is sort of hard to like them)