January 03, 2009

Four Days in Ohio

I feel a compulsive need to document vacations, even those spent at home, in order to sustain them or at least to post-mortem them in the case of failure. I treat vacations like lefties do Obama, like the dawning of a new era. Contrary to past experience. I see every vacation, even short 4-day’rs, as having the potential for a golden era of learning and reading. But this never quite happens over Christmas vacation especially. The Christmas holidays are survived, not thrived, and this was no exception. It was harrier than a harridan. Today, Saturday, was the first day things calmed down such that I could catch my breath.

New Year’s Eve was early spent at M’s house, where inexplicably I began sneezing early and often, eyes watering, sinuses plugged. In no time at all I was an allergic wreck; my body must’ve been rebelling from too many family gatherings in too short a time. (I joke!)

Families are interesting. Within them, siblings are often radically different in order to distinguish themselves from the others. And yet paradoxically there is a similarity within that gives a family some unifying characteristic that makes it unique from others. I've always been interested in 'fish out of water' stories where someone from France (like DeTocqueville) comes over and writes "Democracy in America" and ends up telling Americans what we are like far more than any American has ever done! Ironic? Does it takes someone outside the family to understand it?


Much of the wasted time the last three days was self-inflicted of course, especially the nausea over too much television. I was suffering from severe reading debt before I was aware of it, which had lowered my IQ a full ten points before this morning's partial recovery involving James Buckley’s oral history book, which scratched the itch of curiosity concerning his Senate career (before my time) and subsequent loss to Pat Moynihahn. (Well, if you’ve got to lose to someone….) I didn’t realize he ran for Chris Dodd’s seat a few years later, losing to Dodd and well there’s your crime. (Dodd’s father was well-beloved, proving that voter preference for ‘name brands’ has been alive and well for quite some time.) Followed that up with more on Mother Teresa, who along with the Buckley family seems to be my chief sources of fascination biography-wise for ’08 (and now into ’09).

This paragraph is of little interest and may be profitably skipped though I can’t guarantee any of this post will be profitable in any sense. The elephant in the room this vacation was Master TV. Our old cable company was limping along and when I learned I could get a cheaper deal with the new one along with a ‘universal dvr’ that allows the viewing of recorded shows on the bedroom tv, I was hooked. Unfortunately to say this was a hassle was an understatement. Guy comes out in early December. Spends 2 hours. Finds out a flood in St. Louis has affected their computer system & made all installs impossible. The next reschedulement was “8-10am” on Dec. 31st. We took the slot and the guy, none too bright a later technician would tell us, worked from 8:30 to 3:30. It’s oddly wearying having a stranger in your house that long. Around 5pm I notice that the TV reception is poor. The picture freezes occasionally and then unfreezes. I spend an hour playing with the cords and checking the connections. I also notice that the vaunted “universal dvr” wasn’t working – at all. Pathetic. I called the new cable company and am on the phone about an hour as the guy tests this and that as two power outages twice take down his system, requiring him to start all over. He tells me the signal coming into the house is good but the wiring is bad. He says there will be a new guy out Jan. 1st, 12-2pm. The new guy comes out, immediately sees what is wrong, fixes it, is bit in the thigh by our German Shepherd and promises not to sue. We hope. Fortunately the skin wasn’t broken but we learned a valuable lesson. We hope. (i.e. always muzzle our dog when a repairman comes over.)

So New Year’s Day was spent mostly reliving what went wrong with training our dog, creating about eight favorite channels out of a quadzillion mostly weak ones, and learning about the new software interface. Set up pgms to tape, watched some of the Rose Bowl parade, and finally settled all too belatedly on the Rose Bowl itself. PSU lost to USC unfortunately. Then later it was the UC game, who fell to the Hokies.


Grimly I find myself looking down the barrel at the end of what was billed as a four-day vacation, Thrs-Fri-Sat-Sun. The days burnt away like fossil fuels in Victorian Manchester, such that now only fragments remain like the ghost of Scrooge’s undigested bit of beef. Ill spent, it would seem, at least until today (Saturday). I find I can’t leap right into the vacation, a noun meaning falling into transcendental poementation. There needs to be a buffer. It’s like how reading over my lunch hour, other than about politics, has never worked. At work there’s all the foreknowledge of time’s limit and you know couldn’t lose yourself in the literary let alone beauty. The atmosphere smells of work somehow, like my old McDonald’s uniform would smell of fries and grease after a shift, and you don’t want to spoil the psychological scent of your book.

So Thursday went trailing away in a vapid of vaporous football, or vapor of vapidous football (although the first half of the Penn State game was tasty), leavened by the sterling start occasioned by Mass. Fit in also a trip to Target where I succumbed to buying a new high def TV/dvd combo for the bedroom since the prices have been coming down and the end is near anyway. They say men near death have an urge to have sex (why would they be any different?), as if to affirm the life principle on the precipice of losing it, and perhaps I feel an urge to spend now as the economy begins its death throes. It’s a ridiculous concession to the culture perhaps, but those summer Reds games were unwatchable on the bedroom tv after starting the games on the downstairs highdef (a Christmas gift from my wife). It illustrates my number one rule: never improve your standard of living if you can help it. I had no plans to ever buy a HD tv until I already had one, just as I had no intention of ever smoking anything but Swisher Sweet cigars.

So Thursday went by in about ten minutes, adjusting for vacationary inflation.

Friday dawned, as all days do, and now the real vacation would begin. No cable guy visits or dog traumas, and the televisions all present and accounted for and working fine. Nothing but net now. Spent an hour or so reading Flannery O’Connor’s “Wise Blood”, and so uncanny it was that I highlighted some revelatory passages for blog purposes. She says that which can’t be said because it’s too true to life, which is the mark of the great fiction writer.

Highlight I did but I never talk back to books of any sort, that is I never write in the margins, perhaps because either a) I’m too easily influenced to rebut, especially to someone found worthy of publication or b) I don’t see a book as a conversation but as a story (fiction) or lecture (nonfiction), though minus the harshness the latter word connotes, and I wonder now if some of the marginalia of a John Adams or anyone else is simply for posterity, a way to say beyond the grave that you didn’t agree with something. Worrying about one’s earthly legacy always seems slightly humorous to me, since 99.999% of us are forgotten a couple generations after our death. Not Adams though, of course, so he’s excused. On the other hand, perhaps there are those who write comments in order to remind a future self who reacquaints himself with a book to what concerns his past self felt. That is, they write their journal in the margins of books rather in the pages of a Word document.

I had jobs to do Friday. First I had to return the "old" HDTV that had a “stuck pixel” in the middle of the screen. How much trouble can a HDTV be? Let me count the ways. Somewhere Jim Curley and Jeff Culbreath are shaking their heads and quoting the apocrphyal Psalm 192: "I told you so." I’d ordered it a week or so back and tried every which way but lose to “fix” this manufacturer defect. It had been said that pushing it in, or flicking it, would work. Or not. Then there was this magical free software pgm that would fix it, but the distance between that TV monitor and my computer seemed to be big enough to quote an old Dwight Yoakam song:
Take a rock tie a rope
Throw it down in the sea
Let it fall to the bottom
Nobody knows how deep
Stare real hard through the water
And you might just perceive
The distance between you and me
The distance between you and me….

Climb the Earth's tallest mountain
To where it reaches the sky
Take a gun fire a bullet
Straight up out of sight
Where it stops in the heaven
Well that ain't half as high
As the distance between you and me
The distance between you and me
The problem essentially was that both the computer and the television wanted the “male” half of the RGB cable but such cables maddeningly had one male and one female.

But packing the TV and shipping it was nothing compared to finding the old cable company, who had moved from their previous location and who were bound and determined to thwart any attempt to reach a live human being for purposes of finding where their new building was. Neither did the Internet help. It was a secret wrapped in an enigma in order to keep their customer service office from being too busy. But through pluck and luck I got the person and the address and entered the building with only a phone modem in order not to have to hold the boxes while I waited in line. A customer rep eventually waved me forward and I dumped the modem and then said I would be back with more. I was still another modem short, one that hadn’t worked, for which I’ll have to return. (It’s always a tie in these things; no winner is ever recorded.)

Then after that we had an appointment with the vet. Our cat had a bulbous growth on his side and we feared the worse: cancer. He had grown odd-shaped over the past couple months; emaciated at the head, neck and thin at the back. Only his stomach bulged and my wife began calling him an Ethiopian while my stepson nicknamed him “Skeletor”. The vet took an X-ray and the picture was worth a thousand words: a gigantic something – he knew not what - had taken over the area which would otherwise be devoted to organs such as the kidney and liver. It had pushed the organs to the side and pressed against the bladder and we were amazed our cat hadn’t shown more obvious complaints about this foreign intrusion that had caused his belly to be hard as steel. It couldn’t be cancer, the vet said, because no tumor that big could not have already caused his death.

He couldn’t diagnose it and recommended we come back tomorrow (Sat) for an ultrasound, which we did and found out that our cat has a small tumor on the kidney that had produced a bunch of fluid, which was what showed up on the x-ray. The vet had proceeded to drain that fluid, or urine, which amount to a full liter. Our 10 lb cat was down to 8.5 lbs in ten minutes. The bad news was that the tumor looks to be cancer, so his time is limited but not quite as limited as it seemed Friday when he was almost going to quite literally burst.

So after the semi-good news about Sam, I hit the local park for a walk with our dog, and under the influence of lake-shine I felt that familiar verge of being on the verge of some important discovery, if only that of recapturing remembrances of time past, of feeling exactly what it was like to be there then. I remembered how short a time it seemed since we were in Manhattan and I was shaking the hand of Fr. Neuhaus, who now tragically is suffering from cancer.

What lingeration with trips! You can relive them so that they live even after the credit card payments come due and are paid. I wonder vaguely at the lifespan of vacation memories as I recall the thrill of riding the subway, full of anticipation, in going to a Yanks game and the Bronx for the first time. I remember stumbling around in deadeye fatigue around Union Square.

After the hike I pressed on, with a sense of mission given the rapidly evaporating vacation, driving towards Barnes & Noble. I’d received a gift card for Christmas and had done ridiculous amounts of prepatory work. I’d called one of them and asked for the biggest B&N in the Columbus area. I was told they were the biggest. Then I called another and they said Polaris was the biggest. I trusted them since they hadn’t said themselves. I was probably right since when I put in an obscure book Polaris was the only B&N to have it.

I picked up Dolan’s “Irish-Americans” and a book on Mother Terersa as well as “What Your Money Means: And How to Use It Well”, with had included a positive blurb from Archbishop Chaput and which I obviously need to read after buying a second HD tv. It was very hard to resist Avery Cardinal Dulles' book of lectures titled “Church & Society” but I did. The catechism chapter looked especially interesting so I hope to see a review elsewhere on the blogsophere.

And that's the way it was...


William Luse said...

I had a similar TV experience just before Christmas, except no dog was around to bite the sob on the ass. The thought of blogging about it makes me weary. You've saved me the trouble.

TS said...

Yeah I don't think the cable industry has got its act together yet. (I was thinking: this is way more trouble than it's worth - it took them a total of about eleven hours to get us changed over. In fairness, that included phone and internet too.)

Don't let my post keep you from writing something up on it as I'm sure all your readers including me would enjoy it.

mrsdarwin said...

Ah, vacation... We're just off our Christmas break, and though none of the noble projects came to fruition, we did accomplish lots of little tasks. (For instance, the children have curtains in their room again.) Also discovered that Ron Hansen's prodigious talents don't encompass the writing of a comedic novel.

We got a new tv just before Christmas and have been delighted, but then we haven't tried dealing with cable yet.

TS said...

Mrs D, thanks for the tip on Hansen. I'm inclined towards comedic novels but will pass on his.

but then we haven't tried dealing with cable yet

I just noticed that the new service doesn't allow slow motion instant replay. But that's not a big enough deal to claim tv poverty, as I once claimed toilet poverty. :-)

mrsdarwin said...

Hansen has a lush yet spare style that relies on placing focus on small details to set a mood. Unfortunately in his comic novel, it has the disconcerting effect of making a screwball comedy read like a movie script, or even just a treatment. (And I think it would make a delightful movie.)

Most of the funniest comic novels I have are brilliant when it comes to tossing in throw-away details -- I think of Wodehouse or Florence King. It's not just the joke, it's knowing how to tell it.