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.

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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!”


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?


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.

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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.

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By | May 4, 2019

Being me means things like finding a bag of plastic tarantulas in your bongo drum bag and going “oh that’s where I put those.”1I posted this to Instagram the other day and Carole thought it was really funny. So, I’m resharing it here to immortalize it, so to speak.


1 I posted this to Instagram the other day and Carole thought it was really funny. So, I’m resharing it here to immortalize it, so to speak.
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Aurora Chamber Singers Babylon

By | May 1, 2019

Hi, everyone! I’m a member of the Aurora Chamber Singers and our spring concert is coming up on May 11!

If you live within two days’ drive of Burlington, Vermont I hope you’ll mark your calendar and plan to attend.

This will probably be the single greatest, most exciting concert any of us will ever take part in, either as performer or as audience member.

Remember all those people who say they were at Woodstock, even though actual attendance was only 400,000 or so? If everyone who says they were there had actually been there… well, let’s just say there’d be a lot more 49-year-olds named “Flower” or “Sunshine” roaming around today.

The same is going to be true of this concert (we cannot guarantee an actual open-air “love-in”, but we can’t guarantee that this won’t happen, either) … and you want to be one of the people who can truthfully say “I WAS THERE!”, don’t you?

Of course you do. So please make plans to attend.

What’s on the program, you ask?

Crossing Borders

R. Nathaniel Dett Chariot Jubilee
Listen to the Lambs
America the Beautiful (Katherine Lee Bates)
Howard Hanson Song of Democracy (Walt Whitman)
David Conte Three Mexican Folk Songs
Frederick Piket Sea Charm (Langston Hughes)

The concert celebrates music with ties to Canada, the United States, and Mexico. The two 20th century cantatas by African-Canadian composer R. Nathaniel Dett represent our neighbor to the north. U.S. composer Howard Hanson’s Song of Democracy sets words by Walt Whitman, and Frederick Piket’s song cycle Sea Charm sets the deeply moving words of Harlem Renaissance poet, Langston Hughes. David Conte’s arrangement of Three Mexican Folk Songs completes the border crossings.

We’re talking “total consciousness expansion” here, people.

I don’t want to see any of you sitting around on Sunday the 12th weeping openly because you missed this once in a lifetime experience. Mark your calendars now!

Once again, that’s:

Saturday May 11th, 2019 7:30 PM
College Street Congregational Church, Burlington

Tickets available via flynntix.com or at the door.


Be there, or be square.

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“The Frosted Pop-Tarts of Credit Unions”

By | April 21, 2019

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a tale of silliness.


  • Carole hates processing her personal email. A lot of it is stuff that’s only somewhat important, if that, and she finds it frustrating to have to sort through it all.
  • I read incredibly fast. I can’t sing worth a damn and I’m overweight and un-athletic, but I can read really, really fast.

So… Carole has me process her inbox for her and let her know what’s actually important. I draw the line at reading all the email content — I go by the sender, subject, and the first-line preview that Gmail gives you. So if you’re wondering if your private emails to Carole are getting read by me first — actually no. I just mark things that look unimportant “read” and leave the rest for her to follow up on.

There are, however, a few exceptions to this process. Chief among them are the “customer surveys” that various organizations and merchants send out now and then. I know Carole’s never going to do any of ’em, and I know that in the long run, what one person says in response to a “how do you like us” survey from one’s local supermarket (for example) isn’t really going to matter much.

So I fill out the surveys Carole gets in her email, and I tend to be very, very silly.

My attitude is that “some poor bastard has to sit there reading all the responses to the free-text comments at the end of surveys, and I might as well give them a little dose of surreality”. For example, I went through a period a year or two ago where my answers to just about every survey had to do with the pending zombie apocalypse (and I say that as someone who’s never seen a single episode of The Walking Dead — I just thought it was funny).

Generally, I do all this with no expectation of ever hearing back from the merchant or organization who sent out the survey, even if I tick the checkmark that says “you can contact me about my responses”.

But… well, we got this card:

And inside we found this:

And we opened it and we found this (click to enlarge to full size):

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


But it gets better.

They actually called up as well and left a voice mail thanking Carole for “her” survey response.

Apparently, “Carole” really made their day.

You know what, though? I have no idea what I said in that survey.

Except, of course, that apparently it involved frosted Pop-Tarts.

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Anyone looking for a wedding officiant?

By | April 2, 2019

For what it’s worth, if anyone out there is looking to tie the knot this summer (and has a willing partner lined up) and wants to hold the ceremony in northern or central Vermont, I’m a legally elected Justice of the Peace (which you can check here) and am empowered to conduct weddings. I’ll even do the ceremony for free (schedule permitting). You want me to wear a rubber octopus on my head and wear sun-god robes, that’s fine with me. I mean, I’d probably need you to chip in toward the cost of the robes, but otherwise, I’m up for pretty much any bizarre freak-out-the-grandparents thing you might want to concoct.

My front lawn is available if you’re not particularly choosy, but there are any number of parks and things in the area that would probably work as least as well. I live in Richmond, VT and so am within a short drive of Burlington, Montpelier, Waterbury, Middlebury, and so on. Contact me at jp@furrs.org if you’re interested.

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Town Meeting Day 2019

By | March 19, 2019

You may recall that I’ve been working on my plans for brutal world domination in my spare time, and lately, those plans took another step forward! I got to exercise my status as member of the Richmond, Vermont “Board of Civil Authority” and help run Town Meeting! Next stop, THE WORLD!

Okay, I guess I should back up a bit there. Town Meeting?

Okay, see, in Vermont, the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March is “Town Meeting Day“. The voters of each town come together to meet, discuss, and vote on important matters like the town budget … and occasionally, on some rather strange not-so-important matters as well.

This was my first Town Meeting Day as a Vermont justice of the peace. The assembled JPs for each town (my town is allotted 12) make up a body called the “Board of Civil Authority”, which basically works out to “the folks who run the elections and maintain the voter list” and “the folks who hear petitions for tax abatements”. We didn’t have to do much to actually organize the voting; our town clerk took care of that. But I helped set up the gym and the voting machines the day before and I spent pretty much the whole day of Town Meeting proper sitting at a table with a stack of town ballots and a stack of school board budget ballots looking voters up in a notebook and checking ’em off and then handing them ballots. (We had it down to a science — one table for people with last names starting with letters A through L, and another table for the M through Z people. Two people at each table; one looks the name up, and the other hands the voter their ballots. We were a well-oiled machine.)

Polls are open all day on Town Meeting Day from 7 am to 7 pm for residents to vote via Australian ballot for town offices (selectboard, town constable, moderator, library trustee, stuff like that) and for the school board and school budget… but that’s not what really makes town meeting day Town Meeting Day. The Australian ballot is for the boring stuff — town offices and the school budget. The really fun stuff gets hashed out at a 9 am mass meeting where anyone who’s a) registered to vote and b) has enough free time to hang out in a gym for hours on a Tuesday morning, gets to discuss weighty matters of town business and ultimately vote on whether to adopt the town budget. You don’t necessarily get a representative sampling of the town’s electorate… but that’s understood and kind of expected. Town Meeting Day wouldn’t be the same without the quirkiness.

Most towns hold their meeting at the local school; for example, our town meeting takes place in the gym at Camel’s Hump Middle School We also use the school cafeteria; most towns hold town meeting in the morning, get the budget taken care of, and then break for lunch before resuming in the afternoon for any remaining business. I have a feeling that the “town potluck” aspect of Town Meeting Day is what some people like best. You hear stories waxing lyrical about the macaroni and cheese Mrs. Johnson used to make each year before she passed… and stuff like that. In Richmond, the ladies of the town grange sell baked beans, sandwiches, donuts, cookies, and what have you; their baked beans are semi-legendary. Then after that, we come back together for anything else people want to bring up. If someone wants to introduce a motion to declare war on North Dakota, they can do that. If they vote to declare the town a nuclear-weapons-free zone, they can do that too. This year a lot of towns passed resolutions taking a stance against climate change.

It’s a day for democracy on a very local level.

My duties as name-checker and ballot-hander-outer kept on going during the meeting proper; I had my back to the rows and rows of chairs facing the stage where the moderator and selectboard were seated, but I could hear everything just fine. It was sort of amusing watching voters — the ones who came by just to cast their ballot for town offices and the school board budget — blanch as they realized they were going to have to cross in front of everyone to get to the voting booths.

The town budget presentation was pretty straightforward and nothing strange happened during the ensuing discussion … which kind of disappointed me.

See, I’ve rarely made it to Town Meeting in the past; I’m one of the working stiffs whose job just doesn’t lend itself to taking a day off midweek to hang out with my fellow voters at the school. But this one time that I did go — probably about fifteen years or so ago — the discussion relating to the school budget was absolutely hilarious. (This was back when the school budget was discussed and voted on in the town meeting proper; they subsequently changed it to Australian ballot because it was getting voted down in open meeting too often.) It’s not unusual for people whose kids are grown and gone, or who never had kids in the first place, to question the need for “spending so much” on the schools. And so that one time, people kept trying to amend the budget to remove this line item or that line item in the name of saving a token few thousand dollars. The poor town moderator had to keep explaining that the content of the budget was not up for vote; the school board is entrusted with that. The only thing the town voters were legally entitled to do was vote on the total amount to be spent. Voters who objected to a teacher’s aide being funded could move to strike exactly that much money from the budget, and their motion, if passed, would accomplish … pretty much nothing. The school board could still fund that position and reduce a different line item by the amount of the voter-demanded adjustment. (It’s like saying “I object to you spending $15 of your salary on that punk rock CD, son, so I’m reducing your allowance by $15.” Son’s still going to buy the CD.)

But anyway, since the school budget was moved to Australian ballot a few years ago, the 2019 town meeting budget discussion focused entirely on the town budget — highways and roads, police, stuff like that. And while there were a few questions, it wasn’t really a controversial issue. We didn’t even count the votes; it was just one big “ALL IN FAVOR: AYE ALL OPPOSED nay THE BUDGET PASSES” thing.

And then the meeting broke for lunch in the cafeteria. I stayed put, because I was so into my “HEY LOOKA ME I’M A JUSTICE OF THE PEACE AND TOWN ELECTIONS OFFICIAL” thing and wanted to keep on looking names up and handing out ballots.

After an hour or so for lunch, about half the crowd that had been there in the morning trooped back in and attended to “new business”. .. which mostly consisted of random complaining about this and that (parking in the “downtown” area, such as it is, especially). No motions were introduced and there was nothing to vote on. So we wrapped it up and all the attendees went home or off to work … and my fellow election officials and I got back down to the important business of … looking voters’ names up in the book and handing them ballots.

Voters kept coming by all afternoon, but it was pretty slow. We had more than enough bodies on hand to do the work of the ballot-handing-out, so I excused myself and went home and fed the cats and came back around 5:00 to be there for the after-work voting rush, such as it was. That was when Carole came by to vote; I got her to take several photos of me being all Mister Important and stuff, but alas, the volunteer working with me at the table for the people with last names starting with letters A through L told me she did not like having her picture taken and did not want me posting photos of her, so this is what you get — cropped (see below). I’m sure, though, that the excitement and drama still comes through.


At seven pm, we closed the doors and wrapped up. It took about ten seconds to find out the results — the tabulation machine spat out a tape with the total votes for each office and ballot question. (We only had two contested offices — one Selectboard seat and one seat on the Library Trustees. Neither wound up being especially close.)

But then came the real fun — the school budget. Richmond is part of a consolidated school district with four other towns — Huntington, Bolton, Jericho, and Underhill. Two JPs from each of those towns had to take their locked school board ballot box and bring it to our voting location, since we’re central. And two of us Richmond election officials had to stay as well (I, of course, had volunteered). We had to open the boxes, take out the big pink cards with “shall the budget blah blah blah be adopted YES NO” on it, and “commingle” them. Meaning, we had to dump them all on a table – over 2,000 of them – and sort of mix them around with our hands before gathering them back into stacks to feed manually into the tabulators. The idea was that by mixing the ballots up we wouldn’t know how the vote had gone in any given town, even though the ballots had no town-of-origin mark on ’em. (I honestly didn’t see the point, but who am I to argue with tradition?)

With two tabulators and three humans feeding the ballots into each, one by one, it took us about an hour to feed them all in.


And then when all was said and done, the budget passed by a wide margin. I was very glad about that, because frankly, it drives me crazy how some towns’ voters seem to take an infantile joy voting down their school budget over and over. I’ve seen towns have to hold follow-up budget votes three times before they finally manage to pass a revised budget. After each failure, the school board has to go and meet and issue a revised, lower, budget proposal. And, of course, a lot fewer people come out for the subsequent votes, so typically it’s the people with a real axe to grind who show up to cast a ballot. No wonder it can take multiple tries to get a school budget passed. So, like I said, I was very glad our budget passed; thrilling as the exercise of my official responsibilities was, I don’t want to have to do it again for a year or so.

People always ask “Why don’t we hold town meeting on a weekend, or in the evening, or just do away with it entirely and have everything, including the town budget, get voted on by Australian ballot?” The answer? Tradition. No matter what alternate time of day or day of the week you propose, there are always people who object based on various imaginary or real conflicts they’d have. Some towns have moved their meetings, and others have switched to all-Australian-ballot voting, but the vast majority of Vermont towns still do things the old-fashioned way. (If you’re curious, there’s a map that breaks it down.)

I guess it’s those baked beans that the Ladies of the Grange sell. No one wants to miss out on those, right?

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