Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Novel in the Works

It’s been over a year since I finished the novel No Refuge. I swore, never again. All in all I spent close to a year and a half on that project although there were weeks when I didn’t write a word. The plot lost direction at times, foundered, but eventually, most of the problems were solved. But despite the feeling of accomplishment, I wasn’t really happy with the effort. It had “amateur” written all over it. I read every day, usually at night and not more than a half hour before the sandman comes along, but I know what good writing looks like. Authors such as Pat Conroy, Sebastion Junger, John Sandford, and Greg Iles leave me shaking my head at their talent. I’m too old and without the education to ever reach the rarified air that those guys live in. But the thing is; I like doing it. Almost on the same level as photography, dreaming up a story with plot and characters and getting it on paper—well, a data file—is an outlet that I truly enjoy. I read somewhere that the second effort by a wannabe writer is always better that the first. We shall see.

Last September, I started working on another novel that I’m currently calling The Sheriff. Keep in mind that my work ethic isn’t up to the standards of real writers, my time per day ranging from none up to three hours, but eventually I’ll “git er done” as Larry the Cable Guy says. As of today, the end is in sight, three, four more chapters, tops. Of course this is only the first draft, the fun part, where I brainstorm and write scenarios and incidents as fast as my pudgy little fingers can type. The real work begins on the edit and rewrite and here it is almost July already.

I like this story. It features a county sheriff by the name of Lester P. Morrison. Lester made a brief appearance in No Refuge to track down a bad guy with the help of wildlife photographer Jim Cutter. Tired of constantly dealing with meth labs and dopers, the sheriff moves out to a quieter lifestyle in the Oklahoma Panhandle to live out his final years before retirement. The problems begin when an eighteen year old girl wakes up beaten, bruised, a victim of rape, and locked in a storm shelter with no food or water. Everyone but the sheriff is convinced that Melissa is a runway but Lester isn’t so sure. But was anyone in sparsely populated Cimarron County Oklahoma capable of kidnap and murder? Turns out there were several.

The plan is to hit it hard for the next couple weeks, finish the rough draft, and with the help of very nice editor lady, put some lipstick on this pig.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Longest Day

In case you missed it, June 21st was the longest day of the year, the equinox, the beginning of summer. But when your wife has four cats, all days seem equally long. Take this morning for instance, a typical morning at the humble abode, when my day began at 5:30 a.m. No, it wasn’t the alarm, I no longer have to deal with alarm clocks at my age; it was the sound of a cat scratching on a door to be let out.

Brat Cat is the first one up in the mornings when its own internal alarm tells it wake up and annoy the guy in the bed. Time of day isn’t much of a factor, could be 4:00 a.m., could be 6:00, might even be 3:00. Things got out of hand when the Missus began to reward this ridiculous behavior by opening the door for the little wench. From then on it was scratch, scratch, scratch, each and every morning. I came up with a counteraction. Since the damaged door is within sight of my bed, I found that a well aimed pillow discourages this nonsense in a most satisfying manner. And, if I twist my wrist just so and apply a little English, the pillow will bounce off the wall in a ricochet fashion, tumble down the hall, and hopefully instill some negative feedback along with some serious physiological trauma.

Once the Brat Cat gives up and goes back to bed, Minnie Le Mew, announces the presence of her fat ass by jumping on the bed, simulating one of those minor Oklahoma earthquakes we hear about every now and then. Hearing the commotion at the door, Minnie is now awake and hungry. But Minnie is quick to realize the futility of it all and gives it up, taking a position at the foot of the bed to sleep and wait for the sun.

Problem is, this awakens the yellow cat. Yella takes a more direct approach with his demands to be fed and stands on my chest, stretches, claws extended, fangs inches from my throat. Most mornings I call his bluff and push him away, but not before he manages to leave a few more red marks on my hide to remember him by.

If that weren’t enough, from out of the darkness, another cat is heard from. Blue, the gray cat, begins to complain quite audibly from her confinement in the pantry room where she is kept in medical isolation ever since she began to “mark” her territory inside the freakin’ house. “Mark” being a nice word for pissing on the wall. The cries are continuous until I get out of bed and unceremoniously dump her kinky butt in the back yard to go out and play with the coyotes.

Remember the movie The Longest Day about the invasion at Normandy during World War II? It came out in 1962 starring John Wayne, Richard Burton, and Robert Ryan.  I think it’s time for a new film: All Days Are Long starring Brat, Yella, Minnie, and Blue about the feline invasion of Sand Springs. I would narrate from the losers perspective.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Saving Time

While it wasn’t a major problem, hardly worth mentioning actually, it bugged me. It had to do with the time it took to move a photo file from the memory card to the computer, roughly 12 megapixels per picture. Counting one thousand one, one thousand two, I got clear to five before the task was complete, for one stinkin’ photo mind you.

I don’t want to hear it. Please, do not tell me how five seconds is incredibly fast to move that amount of data from A to B. Not the point. Truth is, it should be faster, much faster. In fact it should transfer all those ones and zeros about five times that fast. I’ve seen it. We have the technology. It doesn’t matter that I’m retired, have time on my hands, and nothing better to do than watch a bar graph travel from left to right across the screen all day. It’s too slow damn it, unacceptably so.

To Google I go and within minutes find a new card reader, the internal kind, for the ridiculously low price of $13. Reviews were favorable. Had to have it. Days go by and UPS rings my doorbell.

It was small, only 3 ½ inches wide, with multiple slots for various cards. There was only one cord with a plug coming out the back end. I call my computer guru, number one son.

“Anything I should know before installing this baby?” I ask.

“Piece of cake,” he says. “Just plug it in where the old one came out of.”

Let the record show that my entire career in America’s work force was as an electronics technician. I analyzed problems, evaluated, tested, and replaced parts down to component level. Bad transistor? No big deal. Integrated circuit faulty? Give me 30 minutes. Swapping out a card reader? Huh. How tough could it be?

I removed the side panel from the computer and took a look. There were no screws to unscrew, no bolts to back off, just some silly sliding piece of plastic that said “lock” with an arrow on it. I moved the plastic and pushed on the reader from the front. Uh, oh. A maze of wires and plugs and circuit boards were blocking the path for removal. I call the guru.

“You have to take it out through the front of the computer. But first, take off the front screen. To do that, you’ll need to loosen the DVD drive and slide it out of the way. Then grab the screen by the bottom. It pops right off. I got to go.”

I stare at the phone. What the hell happened to “piece of cake?”

The DVD drive did not slide out of the way, the cover did not pop right off, and I swear the old card reader was welded to the frame. Soon the floor was littered with screw drivers, flashlights, a wrench, and a pry bar. Profanities filled the air causing the cat to wake up and puke on the carpet. You can’t make this stuff up people.

An hour passes, maybe more, but little by little, I gain ground. The old unit is removed, the new one slipped in. Naturally it was incompatible with the plastic slide thingy to lock it in but a couple screws fixed that. Plugs were plugged, wires were wired. It was time to throw the switch.

And LO. There was no fire, no smoke, no circuit breakers popping. A small green LED glowed from the front of the new panel, a good sign. I pushed a memory card with 37 photos in the slot and OMG. It worked. Photos flew across the screen, too fast to count. No more one thousand one, this was zippidy doo dah baby.

So let’s do the math. Instead of taking 5 minutes to download a typical card, it now takes only one! That gives me four extra minutes to do……

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A TV Signal Goes Astray

I got a call from an old friend and past fellow employee last night. I could tell Ron had been drinking a little; louder than usual, talkative, you know the symptoms. He told me his wife D.J. was trying a new recipe for a champagne drink. I pointed out that most women her age did chocolate chip cookies in the kitchen, not alcoholic beverages, but then D.J. is one of a kind.

Some of you alert readers will remember this story but it bears repeating from time to time. And yes, the tale  gets better with age but stay with me here.

It was a hot,  middle of summer, what month I couldn’t say. The scene was Tulsa, Oklahoma, Skelly Stadium on 11th street, the site of many sporting events. At the time, Ron and I were employed by Southwestern Bell Telephone or Ma Bell as she was affectionately known. One of our crew’s many duties was to set up point-to-point microwave links for the purpose of remote television broadcasts. The way it worked was that Ma Bell took the originating signal from the local TV truck at the site, feed it to our equipment, a transmitter, and send it over the air to the downtown ATT building which then distributed the event to stations across the country.

We received the work order that a local station wanted to broadcast a soccer game with the Tulsa Roughnecks as one of the teams. The team didn’t last more than a few seasons but it had a pretty good following of fans. Now before we go any further with this story, please remember that this was back in The Day, before we had the miniature electronic marvels we have now. We’re talking HEAVY equipment, with tubes, hot, burn-the-skin-off-your fingers tubes, and transformers, big ones, presumably made of solid lead. Cables as big around as a tube of bologna and 300 feet long were strung from the press box to our little control center, a converted telephone truck. This mass of machinery had to be toted to the top of the press box, up 10,000 steps, by the mules of Ma Bell, the mules being Ron and I.

As I said, it was hot. We had worked all morning and by noon, we were beat; panting like lizards and our shirts soaked with sweat. Ron, in one of his all time moments of pure inspiration, suggested that we go to his house for lunch, only a few blocks away. We could relax for an hour with the cool breeze of his AC blowing across our fevered brows. He would call ahead and notify his wife D.J. to fix up a couple sandwiches. Sounded good, real good.

I should point out that D.J., besides being a housewife and excellent cook, held a second job as a bartender at a local pub. I should not have been surprised when a smiling D.J. met us at the door with an entire pitcher of frozen margaritas. But I was and I was grateful. I cannot describe how easily and smoothly and fast that delightful beverage slid down. When another pitcher appeared, we were powerless to say no. As you might image, Mother Bell frowned upon drunken employees driving her vehicles around the city, endangering the lives of Tulsans on the streets and sidewalks. With that in mind, Ron and I decided to forget the damn sandwiches and stay put, doing our company duty to avoid heat stroke and spare S.W. Bell any related medical expenses. The plan went well. We avoided any and all heat associated emergencies for the rest of the afternoon.

Our boss, bless his fat old heart, understood situations such as Ron and I were in (having been there and done that himself) and when D.J. called the office at quitting time to ask if he was missing a couple employees, he simply sighed and said he’d pick us up shortly. We met him at the door, grinning like lunatics. “Sorry about this Boss.”

“You boys be at work at 8 o’clock in the morning…sober.” End of conversation.

Best boss I ever had.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Chicken Wire

I’ve heard about the tornadoes, the floods, and the droughts. I know of the problems with the economy, health care, immigration, and tension in the Middle East. But today I want to discuss something really important, chicken wire. For you city folks, see photo below.

Chicken wire is a simple invention and does exactly what it’s supposed to do, keep chickens, ducks, geese, or other poultry confined and safe, well…sometimes. Other uses for chicken wire include parade floats, reinforcement for plaster or cement, and occasionally as a protective screen for musicians as seen in the move Blues Brothers.

However, necessity being the mother of invention, an entirely new usage for chicken wire was discovered by yours truly in a rare moment of pure inspiration. Alert readers of this blog may remember when the most beautiful bird in Oklahoma and possibly the last of the species—the Painted Bunting—was attacked and murdered by the wife’s pet, Brat Cat aka The Problem Child. The problems with cats and the birds here at the humble abode have been lamented ad nauseum and will not be repeated here. Seemingly there was no workable solution. It came down to birds or cats, but not both.

For the birds, the time of greatest vulnerability, the riskiest action of all, was when they dropped to the ground under the feeders, searching for any leftover tidbits that some careless bird had kicked out or dropped. The Brat Cat, speedy little bitch that she is, would be on them in a flash. Result: dead bird.

I pondered this problem over several spookers (bourbon with a splash of branch water) and that’s when it hit me. All that was needed was a barrier of some sort to interrupt the charge, to slow the cat down, thus giving the birds time to gain altitude, escaping fang and claw. Chicken wire! That was all it took. Only 24 inches high, encompassing the feeding ground in a mini-corral of safe haven, chicken wire has been the solution I’ve been searching for. No more dead birds, no more cats dodging heavy objects (rocks), no constant threat of divorce.

Peace has returned to the valley forever and ever, amen.

I hope.