In memory of their sacrifice: June 6, 1944

By | June 6, 2019

Battles With Depression

By | June 5, 2019

The last seven years have been very bad ones for me, mentally speaking. I’ve been so depressed for much of that time that I’ve done a lot of stupid things, from procrastinating on things that matter, to putting on weight and not getting enough exercise, to spending money unwisely, to taking people for granted, to not saying “thanks” where thanks are due.

In that time, my father died and that didn’t help with my depression. My wonderful cousin Anne took on the vast, vast majority of the work involved with settling the estate, and I basically just let it happen and periodically wrote to say “Any word from the attorney?” And I’m sorry for that — for taking her for granted and for not doing more to help.

I have an aunt in Putney, Vermont that I grew up not knowing (my mom’s youngest sister Eva) but that I made connection with when Carole and I moved up here back in 1998. And even though Putney is only three hours (at most, depending on traffic, weather, and moose) away, I never, ever get around to reaching out to her. And I’m sorry for that.

Carole and I celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary last fall but I can’t say that things between us are great, partly due to my travel schedule having been extremely busy in 2018 (I was basically never not on the road) and partly due to communication problems. Carole loves to interrupt and talk over people and I’ve gotten so sick of that that I don’t even try talking to her some days. I kinda wish we could go to couples counseling, but one requirement of counseling is being able to attend counseling sessions and when you consider how much I travel for work, well, that’s a problem.

I’ve had a much harder time mustering the same balls-to-the-wall enthusiasm for the Susan G Komen 3-Day, and that’s sad too. I used to be so utterly gung-ho; raising money for the fight against breast cancer was practically intoxicating. And now I’m just mailing it in. I still care deeply about the fight against cancer, but I find myself going “I’ll compose a cool fundraising letter tomorrow. Maybe.” And now, today, I found myself thinking “Maybe I’ll take 2021 off.” And that’s especially sad, when you consider that I’ve … on so many occasions … sworn to never stop.

Some people drink when they’re depressed. Some people smoke. Some people binge eat and sleep a lot. I’m one of that last group of people. I’ve started working on the weight and have gotten myself down to the high 220s from a high in the mid 250s, but with the rainy weather we’ve had lately and everything else going on, I haven’t gotten in as much exercise as I’d like, and my weight loss has slowed somewhat.

I also have the problem of thinking that buying stupid-ass stuff off Amazon.com — usually books and things, sometimes food items that look particularly tasty but that I certainly don’t need, sometimes really impractical stuff (I’m still trying to figure out what to do with the 8′ Olmec stone head I ordered one day. It’s taking up half the garage1no, I didn’t really buy an Olmec stone head, although they do sell them.). I went kinda berserk recently buying new birdfeeders and stuff to put out on the front porch for the cats to look at. I didn’t need more birdfeeders, but as Carole has so often noted, one of my guiding principles in life appears to be “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.” I also went seriously berserk this year on gardening supplies: new planters, new raised bed setups, lots and lots of tomatoes and pepper starts, you name it. And I’m sure it’ll all look marvelous for a month or two along about August when everything’s bearing, but did I really need all that stuff? Did it make me happy long-term? Answer: not so far.

One thing that cheers me up — temporarily — is taking fun vacations. We just had a mini-vacation to central North Carolina to revisit old haunts from when we lived there in the mid-1990s and to see friends, and that was fun while it lasted… but now that it’s over, I’m back into my funk. We’re taking another mini-vacation over July 4 weekend to go down to New York City to see a couple of Broadway musicals that have been on Carole’s bucket list for some time, and I’m looking forward to that… but at the same time, I’m absolutely not looking forward to all the frustrations involved. (Carole is sort of the human embodiment of inertia; it is very hard to get her organized and out of a hotel room in under two hours.) And while I hope that the balance of accounts on that trip is weighted toward the fun and away from the “OH MY GOD WILL YOU STOP DOING THAT” I tend to do my share of the squabbling and sniping. It’s wrong of me to do so much finger-pointing and not look in the mirror from time to time as well.

Bad habits are hard to break and depression causes me to do a lot more bitchy, petty stuff than I have any right to do. When a computer doesn’t work reliably, you reboot it or power it off and back on, and a lot of the time, everything starts working just fine. I wish there was an equivalent for the human brain.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. no, I didn’t really buy an Olmec stone head, although they do sell them.

Continued Dumbassery, Duke Chapel Edition

By | June 2, 2019

Friends, consider the video embedded below. If I’ve done things right, clicking it should cause it to start playing at the 13 minute and 50 second mark. When the video cuts away from the the Rev. Dr. Carol Gregg encouraging us to share the peace of Christ with one another, look to the front row on the right. You’ll see a couple of idiots — a man and woman both wearing loud Hawaiian shirts — dutifully smacking each other on the forehead. You can’t hear what they’re saying (it’s probably best that way), but it, um, might have been a cheerful “Ja-HEE-zus!”

Might.

Carole and I were in Durham, NC over Memorial Day weekend.

We used to live in Durham (me, from 1993 to 1998, and Carole from 1996 to 1998) and would go to Duke Chapel now and then, usually for special music, like performances of Handel’s Messiah or for a Christmas concert by the Choral Society of Durham (Carole sang soprano). You really can’t beat it for quality of music and for the ambience.1I’ve been to a Thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Nice, but not better than Duke. Services are your basic ecumenical Christian, but people of all faiths are welcome.

It would have been easy to sleep in on Sunday morning, but I insisted we get up and go to the Chapel for the 11:00 service. The place is enormous and I wanted to see well, so I grabbed us seats close to the front. I hadn’t considered that the services are web-streamed every week and that, by sitting up front, of necessity we’d be on camera every time they pulled back to a shot of the audience, but there we were.

All told, it was a really nice service. Nice sermon from a visiting minister and Duke Divinity grad, Dr. Michael Brown, former chief pastor at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Wonderful music. You can watch the entire service if you want using the video link. The program for the service is here.

Oh, you’re still wondering about the head-smacking?

Well, I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where fundamentalist ministers were thick on the ground. Any number of ’em had weekly TV shows that permitted the pagans among us who didn’t go to church to turn on the tube on a Sunday morning and watch with perplexity and befuddlement at their faith-healing antics. These pastors all had their weird little customs and habits, but the head-smacking comes from a particularly amusing member of their clan (I think it was Ernest Angley) who was very fond of smacking people on the head and saying things like “You are HEALED!” and sometimes just “Ja-HEE-zus!”

Carole, bless her soul, missed out on that sort of thing by virtue of a) growing up in Ohio instead of the mountains of Virginia and b) attending Christ Church Kettering (Methodist) each week. But her heart apparently cried out for such a thing, because after I told her about my childhood experiences with TV preachers in general and that one guy in particular, she started smacking me on the head each week during “Sharing The Peace of Christ” at our church here in Vermont and, not to be unkind, I took to returning the favor. (I suspect the other members of our church regard us with mild confusion and alarm, but no one’s said anything about it yet.)

So anyway. We’re immortalized on the Duke Chapel webstream for last Sunday, for some definitions of “immortal”. (I haven’t watched the service end to end for fear of what else it might have caught us doing.)

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Footnotes   [ + ]

1. I’ve been to a Thanksgiving service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Nice, but not better than Duke.

Sometimes I say silly things…

By | June 1, 2019

Answer to Are people friendly in Blacksburg, VA? by Jay Furr

https://www.quora.com/Are-people-friendly-in-Blacksburg-VA/answer/Jay-Furr?ch=99&share=9ec0e47c&srid=kBcg

Wienermobile!

By | May 30, 2019

So Carole and I were down in central North Carolina over the weekend and while we certainly did lots of fun and interesting things in our old stomping grounds (we used to live in Durham in the mid-1990s), I’d have to say that one of the high points of our trip was our chance to see and pose with the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. (There are several, actually, all driven by pairs of college-aged kids who I presume get paid something for the honor.) It was parked from 2:00 to 5:00 on Sunday the 26th at the Harris-Teeter supermarket on Corners Parkway in Raleigh, and when we arrived it’d been there only a few minutes and was already surrounded by a bunch of people with very quizzical looks on their faces. I guess not everyone appreciates the majesty of a giant driveable hot dog the way Carole and I do.

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When we were done looking the beast over, I really wanted a hot dog. I’d had the odd idea that the appearance of the Wienermobile would be accompanied by someone selling hot dogs, but alas, no. I had to drive to a Lowe’s fifteen miles away in Cary which had a hot dog cart out front… and which didn’t even sell Oscar Mayer hot dogs.

Sigh. I made do.

Game Camera: May 2019

By | May 29, 2019

We’ve had a game camera for a year and a half now and it’s been intermittently recording the back yard for about a year. I say “intermittently” because I turned it off this past December (or thereabouts) and only turned it back on again at the beginning of May. Last year we got a nice video of a black bear roaming around our back yard, and any number of stills and short video clips of deer and rabbits, and once in a while, a bat. Not as many raccoons and so forth as you’d think.

So, anyway, it’s back out in the back yard after taking the winter off. We’ve got it set to take stills and short video clips when it detects motion. Once in a while we’ve gotten nice stills only to have the video turn out essentially blank, showing what happened just after the animal wandered out of shot. But on the other hand, now and then we get something like this:

This year’s batch had significantly more raccoons — one out of every three photos was a good sized bandit-masked critter, maybe the same one each time. We got a bobcat once, although blurrily, and we got a nice big black bear, although only on stills; by the time the video triggered the bear had stepped out of shot.

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Aside: I turned off the game camera one snowy day when I heard squealing out back and looked out to see a weasel of some sort killing a rabbit right there on the snow outside my window. I decided I didn’t want to capture any wintertime kills and turned off the game camera. I grant you that nature (red in tooth and claw) can happen any time, any date, but for some reason, I just didn’t have the heart to look at any more footage of my wintry back yard after that.

2019 Susan G Komen Twin Cities 3-Day

By | May 29, 2019

Everyone — for the 12th year in a row, I’m signed up to take part in one of the Susan G Komen breast cancer charity walks — the kind that goes on for three days, twenty miles a day (yes, sixty miles total — it’s groovy). This year I’ll be walking in Minneapolis/St Paul in mid-August — a much flatter route than the Seattle and San Diego walks I did the last couple of years, and it’ll be much easier to get lutefisk along the way.

I have to raise a minimum of $2,300 just to take part (the lutefisk costs extra) and my current employer doesn’t do charitable matching (alas!) so I could really use your help and support.

If you’re willing to sponsor me, you can do so here: http://www.the3day.org/goto/jayfurr

If you have questions about the event, where the money goes, or anything else, please let me know! Especially if you’d like to sign up to walk, crew, or volunteer.

Thank you all for everything you do to make the world a better place.

Earworms

By | May 15, 2019

It’s bad enough when you find yourself afflicted by an earworm, but you know what really sucks?

Having a song stuck in your head that you’re not actually very fond of and that you haven’t actually heard played in years — but somehow, nonetheless, which has swum up out of your unconsciousness and has taken over.

I’ve had the song “Ruby Dear” by Talking Heads stuck in my head most of the day — it’s from their final studio album, “Naked”. Not that exciting a song, pretty blah in my opinion, but yet there it is.

I suppose it could be worse: it could be “1985” by Bowling For Soup — a song I like, but which unfortunately gets stuck in my head for days. I make the mistake of playing it now and then and then I pay the price until the next snowfall.

… oh, God.

Jay’s Latest Venture Into Attention-Grabbing Idiocy

By | May 13, 2019

Back in the day, Carole and I loved the Discovery channel show Mythbusters, the show dedicated to testing the veracity and/or plausibility of various urban myths. We found that the show got old as the years went by and the producers spent more and more time milking the humor value and trying to fit as many explosions into the show as possible (to say nothing of the way that they spent the first few minutes after each commercial break recapping what they’d shown immediately prior to the commercial break, which got truly old), but along the way there really were some absolute gems.

My favorite, for what it’s worth, was the time they demonstrated that tightly sealing the pressure release valve on an ordinary hot water heater would eventually result in an explosion that basically put said water heater into orbit:

But that’s not something I care to test or attempt to replicate. Not anytime soon, anyway.

On the other hand, there’s episode 173: “Walk A Straight Line“. The guys tested the idea that a person who couldn’t see or hear (wearing blackout goggles and noise-blocking headphones or earplugs) would be unable to walk a straight line across an open field. I wish video from that episode was available on Youtube or elsewhere, but alas, it doesn’t seem to be.

Long story short: myth confirmed. Neither Adam Savage nor Jamie Hyneman were able to walk a straight line and in fact did really, really badly — looping around and crossing their own paths but thinking they were walking straight.

And that’s something easily tested — or would be, if you had a large enough, level enough field with no barriers, cars, other humans, trees, or anything else in the way. I finally stumbled across the perfect field while on a evening walk through Burlington, Vermont’s “Intervale” the other evening: a very large open area labeled “McKenzie Park” on Google Maps.


Wide open, with eight-inch-tall grass as far as the eye could see:

I said to myself, “This would be an excellent place to walk around blindfolded.”

I am probably the first person in Burlington history to make that assertion.

But anyway.

Today was cool and overcast, but not too cool: a nice day for a walk. We’re working on getting in shape for the Twin Cities Susan G. Komen 3-Day in August and since we’ve both been in major couch potato mode for the last few months, any exercise we can get is none too much. So we made a hike out of the project, starting at the CSWD transfer station on Patchen Road in South Burlington and winding up at the Miller Community Center on Gosse Court in the New North End of Burlington.

Our route took us down Intervale Road and on to McKenzie Park, where we took time out from our exercise for my little blindfolded-walking experiment.

I put in earplugs, put on a set of Bose noise-cancelling headphones, put an airplane sleep mask on and pulled an orange Buff headwrap down over that, and found that despite all this I could still hear ambient sounds well enough that it wouldn’t have been a fair test. So I had Carole pull up “Sounds of the Ocean” on my phone and blasted that while I walked. Problem solved. I couldn’t see a damn thing and all I could hear was the surf.

And so I started walking, trusting Carole to keep an eye on where I was going and to warn me if an unanticipated hole or other obstacle lay in my path. I carried my phone in front of me as I walked, the better to record my track on a GPS app.

I walked slowly and methodically and deliberately, my feet swishing through the tall grass and finding the footing secure, confident that I was tracing a true, straight course and that in due time Carole would stop me and say “Wow!” or “You did it!” or “Amazing!”

Um.

As it turned out, I’d started off well enough — well enough that Carole had irritably said to herself “Oh, jeez, another area in which he’s superhuman” (her words, not mine), but sure enough, I’d promptly doubled back on my path without realizing it, headed back the way I’d come, then traced a large loop. What caused Carole to stop me in the end was not that I was literally crossing my path, but that I was heading straight for a good-sized puddle that I’d somehow avoided the first time around.

And yet, if you watch the short video clip Carole took, I look so purposeful, don’t I?

Hmph.

I guess the Mythbusters were right. It is pretty much impossible to walk a straight line when you can’t see or hear where you’re going. Even when you’re more or less certain that you’re doing exactly that.

Critters

By | May 10, 2019

I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains just outside Blacksburg, Virginia, the son of a Virginia Tech physics professor and a librarian. Our house was outside town on a 23-acre hilly piece of land that had started out as pasture and that we’d allowed to grow up into woods. We didn’t really have neighbors in the traditional sense; there was a large dairy farm on one side of our property line and the house of one neighbor off in the woods in the other direction, but not so close that you ever ran into them. (The cows we had a more personal acquaintance with, on the other hand, but more on that in a bit.)

We had all kinds of critter experiences when we were kids. We had squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, skunks, a fox a time or two, and a bobcat that lived out in the pine trees that we’d occasionally glimpse at twilight. We had a zillion songbirds and Mom, a bird lover, dutifully kept birdfeeders full of seed twelve months a year. Deer were an everyday occurrence — so much so that we really didn’t pay much attention when they walked across the lawn, or at least, that’s how I remember it.

Dad didn’t hunt and had posted our property against hunting, but that didn’t stop some of the local jackwagons from trespassing. Dad would go just about berserk when he heard or saw hunters on our property, especially if they were near our house. One total asshole shot a fox dead in our front yard while we were having lunch one Saturday and I believe Dad wound up chasing him about a half mile into the woods shouting imprecations.

Then there was the possum. Mom and Dad and my brother were out of town at a conference one night in the summer of 1985 when I was just out of high school and hadn’t gone off to college yet. I heard something outside the house rustling in the dead leaves and grass — it sounded for all the world like someone walking around out there trying to be quiet, like they were looking for the best spot to break in. I shouted out the window “go away”, “get lost”, etcetera, hoping that they wouldn’t decide to force the issue now that they’d been heard and challenged. But the noises didn’t stop and it started to really skeeve me out. After some thought, I called the cops — “there’s something or someone poking around outside our house” sounds pretty stupid when you find yourself saying it to a 911 operator, but I had no idea what else to do.

A half hour or so later (during which time the noise continued unabated) a Montgomery County sheriff’s deputy showed up with a Blacksburg Police car in tow (we were outside town limits, but I guess it was a slow night) and they poked around out back for me. They said they didn’t see any person or persons out there, but they did see a possum that looked rabid — it was “acting funny”. So they shot it. And left it for me to dispose of.

And that was that… until I went out the next morning with a shovel to dig a hole and, well, dispose of the corpse… and it was gone. I assume that even the most apathetic sheriff’s deputy is capable of dispatching a standard possum, rabid or otherwise, so I didn’t figure that the possum had recovered and crawled away. Instead, well, I’m guessing that some other animal came along, found the fresh (rabies-infected) meat, and said “thanks!” Yeah, I know. I felt pretty stupid when I put two and two together; I should have done something with the carcass right away rather than leaving it for morning.

As for the cows — well, Mr. Price’s cows got bored a time or two, and they pushed down the fence that separated our property from the dairy pasture. And as cows will, they went off for a stroll, most of them heading up the hill along our dirt-and-gravel driveway to our house. I believe that I was the first to notice them one of the times; I glanced out my bedroom window early one Sunday morning and saw, in place of the black walnut tree that normally dominated the view, a bunch of cow derrières. Dad called Mr. Price, and Mr. Price showed up with some of his employees and a truck or two and in short order, Bessie and Mabel and company were removed and restored to their proper place next door.

Only the story doesn’t end there. Mr. Price asked Dad what he could do to make amends and Dad cannily offered to accept a load of manure to be used as fertilizer for our large vegetable garden. Upon delivery, we spread it liberally and tilled it in and went on about our lives.

Then we went on vacation to Texas and New Mexico and Arizona for a couple of weeks. It was one of those classic 1970s Great American driving vacations — the whole family in our green Chevrolet Beauville van (metallic mint green paint and everything) crisscrossing the desert Southwest in search of adventure. What we didn’t know was that the real adventure was waiting for us at home…

… in the form of the most heinous, Amazon-jungle-like spread of invasive weeds you’ve ever laid eyes on. Our beloved vegetable garden was completely choked with deadly nightshade and other fast-growing botanical monsters strange to behold. That manure, we came to realize, had been full of the seeds of every organism on the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service list of “Plants To Avoid”. And talk about fecund — that “fertilizer” had more than done its work. Certainly, we’d expected to have to do some weeding when we came home from being away for a couple of weeks, but we hadn’t expected weeds four feet high.

So yeah, the garden was a complete loss for that year. I think we eventually just walked away from it, waited until fall when everything died, and then burned it in hopes of incinerating the seeds left behind.

Thanks, cows.

At the end of the day, though, I think the memory of our house and its peripatetic population of wandering wildlife that I most cherish is the day the bicycle tire showed up on the doorknob of the guest bedroom.

Yeah, I know. “Bicycle tire”?

We were having lunch one Saturday around 1975 or so, when I’d have been around eight and my brother Rob would have been about five. Rob went off to the bathroom mid-meal and when he came back, he announced that there was a bicycle tire hanging from the doorknob of the guest bedroom. None of us had any idea what the hell he was talking about, so one of us went and had a look.

I can’t say “you guessed it, it was a ___________” because almost no one guesses correctly.

It was a sizeable black snake, which had somehow gotten into the house and slithered up the wooden door of the guest bedroom and, not having been content with doing that, had draped itself over the doorknob and was hanging, half on one side of the doorknob, half on the other, suspended at its midpoint as it were… and seemed content to remain there. I hadn’t known that snakes could basically slither right up a vertical surface; in fact, I don’t think any of us had. Nor do I have any idea why, having gotten into the house in the first place, the snake had chosen to go up an otherwise ordinary bedroom door. But there it was, eyeing us thoughtfully as we all trooped down the hall to see what was going on.

As I recall, Mom retrieved a large wastebasket and a wire clotheshanger and persuaded the snake off the door and into the wastebasket, whereupon it was returned to the great outdoors and allowed to resume the even and lowly tenor of its way.

It wasn’t that we were unused to black snakes, incidentally; there were lots of them in the woods around our house and we’d occasionally see one sunning itself on a log or on the driveway. We weren’t especially bothered by them. We had other snakes as well: copperheads a time or two and I won’t say I didn’t see a rattlesnake once, but my memory may be conflating a snake seen in my back yard with a snake seen at the local science museum (such as it was).

Snakes were no big deal.

A snake on a doorknob, on the other hand… well, that was just strange.