Monday, April 30, 2012


In each guitar player's life, dead strings doth clunk ...

Which means you have to change the strings or it sounds crappy, even more so than normal. 

So I changed my strings today. This also means that for the next several days, depending on how much I play and keep re-tuning, the new strings will keep stretching out and going flat, until they reach a point of relative equilibrium.  Steel-string acoustics don't seem to take as long as nylon stringers do. 

Instrument strings tend to keep stretching over the course of their lives and when they stop, assuming they don't break, they start to sound dull and dead.

How you know they are dead for sure? Put your guitar away for a few months, then pick it up. If the strings are still in tune? They's dead, Jim. 

There is a sweet spot, between going flat because they are new, and dying when they are old and corroded, during which the tone is as clean and bright as it will get. Different players have differing sweet spots, depending on a number of things, including how hard they hit the strings, the climate, the acidity of the sweat in their hands, what kind and gauge or tension, the strings are, how long they practice, all like that. 

(There are players who are considered toxic–their sweat will corrode metal strings after a couple of times playing, so they have to either change the strings or use special cleaners to wipe things down after every session.)

There are guitarists who change strings as infrequently as possible, a year, two, longer. Others will put new strings on every month, sometimes every week, especially if they are doing concerts. 

Me, I'm usually good for four or five months, given my daily time and the relatively quiet levels at which I  play, but when it's time, it's time.

I broke a new string changing 'em today. That's rare, but it happens. Fortunately, I had extras. 

There's an old story of a guy who goes to a swap meet and finds a really nice guitar for sale really cheap. He picks it up, but the tuners are frozen. Guy selling it says, "Yeah, it's my brother's. He bought it, then got tired tuning it every day, so when he got it sounding the way he wanted, he super-glued the tuners in place ..."

Players will think this is funny. Non-players won't get it ...

Closer, Closer ...

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Notice anything interesting about the two cover illos?

Yep -- the bullet holes use the same image ...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Handmade Musical Instruments

Know what's fun about this guitar back, above? It's flat. Optical illusion ...

And look at the bracing, above. Down to the real nitty-gritty.

Steel bodies, from Port Townsend, WA, above.

We went to the annual show at Marylhurst University, as we always do. It's a two-day deal, we often go on Sunday, but today seemed propitious, so we went.

Saw the usual assortment of fine, handmade instruments, ranging from flutes and fiddle bows to double-basses and all manner of things in-between. Some gorgeous, high-end stuff, fine, fine things, and if I won the lottery, I'd have to rent a truck to get home with all the things I'd be forced to buy ...

Not the least of it is tooling across the yard and into what used to be a chapel on the third floor and listening the mini-concerts. Players get fifteen minutes to demonstrate how a freshly-minted guitar or fiddle or bass or whatever sounds like, and there are some world-class players who elect to drop by. 

We saw most of the folks on the list picture above, and there wasn't a clunker in the bunch and some who held a hundred and fifty or so attendees rapt with their performances. It's a great acoustic venue, and one kid, doing some serious string-tapping, managed to get the smallest notes on an outstanding unamplified steel string guitar all the way to the back of the room.

Once again, we had a fine old time. If you are around Portland tomorrow, give yourself a treat and go. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Black Steel - Wink

So, I put up a little slideshow, runs about five minutes, on the cylinder knife Chuck Pippin built. (I'm naming it "Wink," after the guy who owns the knife in the new novel series. 

Here 'tis:

Once I get the final mages of the sheath, I'll toss this one and put up a more complete one, this is a test to see if I could format pictures into a workable slideshow with a credit crawl at the start. 

Actually, I have a score of videos up on YouTube, a wide range of subject, from music, to magic, to knives, to other things, and if you want to see 'em, there's link in the sidebar, or you can go here.

Most YouTube movies I link to here are better viewed on the site directly, since the blog movie poster likes to offer a square format and chop off one side of a movie-screen format. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

Upon my telephones, landlines and cells, I have a couple of blockers. I opted for the sales list blockers when they offered 'em a few years back, and the landline also has a little electronic toy that strains even more. 

If you dial Steve's house, a somewhat-ominous-sounding voice comes on the line and tells you that we don't take sales calls and if that's you, hang up and go away. 

If you are somebody with good reason not connected to trying to peddle something or get me to send you money for your political candidate, the message tells you how to ring through.

If you are somebody I know and who has called here before, your number is in the blocker, and it allows you past. Unless you are using a phone you haven't used before. 

So if my phone rings more than once, I answer it, because it's somebody I won't mind talking to–usually. Now and then, somebody gets cute, and in such cases, I have no qualms about hanging up on them.

Back in the day before I had these toys, and caller ID, I had to answer because it might be one of the kids or my wife; as a result, I got a lot of sales calls. I had a whole routine worked up to make them go away. Everybody has to make a living, I understand that, but I'm at my desk a lot and breaking into my work flow to tell somebody I don't want to switch phone carriers? Sorry, if I want your service, I'll come find you.

My best response was: "I just bought one." 

Didn't matter what it was. Selling hippos? Sorry, mine was delivered yesterday. And from your company, too. I'm surprised they didn't update your call list. Maybe somebody swiped yours and is stealing your customers ... ?

(My all-time favorite is the comic who pretends to be a homicide cop investigating a murder and who wants to know the salesman's relationship with the dead man. Hilarious.)

Sometimes the phone will ring once, and since I'm right here, I'll look at the caller ID and realize it is somebody I'd talk to who might be calling from a line I don't have in the system. Especially if it, like, you know, has their name right there. Or I recognize the number.

But a heads-up for folks who hide their caller ID and call here, then follow the ring-through instructions. I'm not going to pick up if it says "Anonymous" or "Blocked" or some other cloaking device. If you don't care enough to lemme know who you are, you'll have to wait until I get around to checking my messages later for a call-back. 

Just so you know ...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


It hardly seems fair that Chuck Pippin can do the knife and the leather, but as you can see, he can. Here, the roughed-out sheath for the cylinder knife he built. 

You can't see the tiny magnets that were strong enough to raise a blood blister on his finger when he peeled them apart, and they didn't like that; those are embedded in the body, and will be used to hold the blade in place, no strap necessary.

The belt carry will be canted butt-forward, edge leading, making the draw icepick-style.

This has been a fascinating story for me to watch unfold, starting with naught but a slab of steel and wood (and more than a little talent and craft) and coming to the denouement.

Stay tuned. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Writing Flow

Artwork by Benjamin Parry

Had another one of those rare and delightful mornings when I sat down to write a scene, looked up, and three hours had flown by. In this instance, I had two characters who were kidnapped and locked in a room, waiting for their captors to return. One of them had some history the other didn't know much about, and it was a part of the background he (and readers) needed to hear. 

I knew vaguely what the premise was, I'd alluded to it several times earlier in the novel: Basically, the character was forced to leave her planet because of some action that could have caused her and her family major grief had she stayed. I had been vague about exactly what it was she'd done, for two reasons: First, because it was a teaser that should help keep  readers curious enough so they'd continue reading until they found out. 

Second, because I didn't know what she had done. Not even a nod to the specifics.

That she had returned to her homeworld in spite of this bad thing might get her and her companion killed. She needed to tell him about it. 

Don't cross the streams, Egon tells Ray and  Venkman

Why not? 

It would be ... bad ...

Bad? What does 'bad' mean ... ?

I knew I had to figure this out eventually, it was important backstory, and probably I would want to hang a big plot-point on it. I didn't see an immediate answer, so I tossed it onto the back porch and let it be.

If you have the luxury of time, this is a great way to solve a writing problem. In our culture, through comics, books, TV, movies, story-tellers, we have plenty of experience at plotting and story lines. The three-act meme is part of our culture, we all know what it is: Beginning, middle, end. 

We also know the elements necessary to tell a tale, to make it interesting.

You don't need to be a skilled writer to tap into this, you grew up with it. While you might have some trouble parsing it insofar as the process, diagramming this or that, you know it, and you understand what a story is, and what needs to be in it to make it make sense.

You certainly know when somebody leaves it out. Wait a minute,  that's wrong. Why would he do that? Where's the motivation? Oh, come on! Nobody is that stupid!

As a beginning writer, I sometimes got a rejection that asked me to fix something in a story. "Change this," with what specifically was needed? Yeah, I could do that. "It's broke, fix it." Too general, it wasn't enough. I had a story-telling instinct, but not enough technical skill to deconstruct things.

That's why you study and learn about the craft, to be able to take stuff apart and see what's busted. You can't fix it if you can't even see the broken spring.

Here, I knew who the character was, knew her family, her ex-lover, and what job she'd been doing when this pivotal event happened. I knew what I needed the current situation to be. 

I had all the elements necessary, one linked to another, if I could but assemble them. 

Give the subconscious dog on the porch a bone upon which to gnaw, he'll worry at it, until he figures a way to crack it and get at the marrow. That dog, in my experience, is smarter than you about such things. Certainly smarter than I am.

Time on this particular project is tight, so I don't have the luxury of sitting back and allowing the pup to do all the work. In such a case, you have to force it, and while it can get messy, a sledge hammer will crack open the bone and do the trick. But this particular problem didn't have to be addressed right away, I had time to work on other stuff first, so it could wait. Chew, pooch, chew ...

How I knew it worked? I had my female character say, I've never told anybody all this before, but probably you should know why I left my homeworld ...

After that, I just followed along and typed in what she said/he said. All kinds of things I didn't know popped up, and at the end of the scene, the jailer arrives and the door opens, but it's all there.

So, workwise, it was a very good day. 

You live for such. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Tell Me This Ain't Gorgeous ...

Chuck's mastery is obvious. Since, in the third photo, you can see the knife in his hand, you get an idea of how small it is–blade a hair over three inches, handle a little more than five inches, and look at that Damascus pattern on the blade and the guard. 

He's working on the sheath now, using embedded rare earth magnets in the construction. Is this cool, or what?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Gut Check

Had a little stomach-thingee the last couple days, dunno for sure what it was. Could be a bug, could be stress, some combination of the two, hard to say. I felt as if I was mostly recovered from my trip back into the Heart of Darkness, but lack of sleep, different food, and that stress could certainly have contributed to it. When your resistance is down, you can fall prey to all manner of ills.

I won't regale you with TMI, if you have had stomach-y stuff, flu, food poisoning, like that, you know what it entails. I've found that the best treatment is to cut out all food and just drink a lot of water. For a day or two, you don't have to worry much about electrolyte imbalance, and nothing going in save H2O means nothing coming out, either ...

Plus rectus-rolls can help ease the soreness ...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Nu Dawg

My daughter has a dog, Eddie, who is half American Eskimo and half Dachsund, long, silky black hair, built like a weenie, a cute boy. Sitting on his hind legs here, his best trick.

My son-in-law got a new puppy. The new beastlet is Yama, she's a Puggle–half pug, half  beagle, about the size of a squirrel without the tail. We went by to say hello. My son-in-law picked up the puppy, who promptly fell asleep on his shoulder. 

Look at the man's smile–he didn't like that at all ...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Edge of Dark Water

Joe Lansdale's latest novel, Edge of Dark Water, is out, and if you are fan, you probably already know and have it. It ain't Hap and Leonard, but it is primo Lansdale, and nobody writes quite like he does. You should get it and read it. We are talking swamp-noir, and you will feel the heat and chiggers, smell the mold, and slosh along in the Sabine, looking over your shoulder for the boogeyman ...

The plot involves a dead girl dredged up from the water, wired to a sewing machine; three teenagers, who are white trash, po' black, and in-the-closet gay who were the dead girl's friends; loot from a stolen robbery; a cast of grubby characters who probably have relatives in jars at the local University. It gets into Huck Finn meets Deliverance territory, and who did what to whom gets unraveled, though that's only the smallest part of the tale. This isn't a whodunnit, it's all about atmosphere and character and what it might have been, out where the sun comes up twixt you and town ...

Joe spins a great story as he always does.

There is one caveat, and it's not a bad thing, merely one you should know. When you pick up a novel, the default expectation is that the setting is contemporaneous with now. If it is an obvious science fiction or fantasy, you know it could be past or future. If it is labeled historical, same-same. This book doesn't offer any pointers in the early section. It's out in the swamps, and it could be today or eighty years past. I think I understand why he did this, but it is a bit of a frown-maker.

As it happens, the date is never mentioned that I noticed, but it becomes apparent from the technology or lack thereof, that we are talking about a while ago. Eventually, there are characters who tell a story about fleeing the Oklahoma dust bowl that narrows it down, so I make it we are talking somewhere in the late 1930's, to maybe as early as 1940 or so. Maybe beyond that, but that revelation is well into the story.

Maybe it shouldn't matter, but if you are looking for internet connections and references to Harry Potter and you don't see them, you start to wonder: How far out in the country can they possibly be? Because I don't think you can get that far from town in this country today. 

Speaking as somebody who just came back from a trip to Louisiana, and even there, the swamps of which allow cell phones and TV dishes to go with the gators.

Otherwise, as always, when you are in Lansdale's world, you are in the hands of a master. 


Came across a posting on FB. (You may or may not agree with the rules, and some of them are not only wrong, but downright silly–I'll speak to those–but I particularly like #11, which solves a trainload of problems if you follow it:)

"Vince Oller shared Omega Tactical's status update.

I got this from Gabe Suarez. He's been very controversial over the years, but like him or not, he has some solid stuff. I happen to like him, so here:

Rules For The Gunman, from Gabe Suarez:

1). Don't carry the gun to make you a man. Carry because you are in fact a man.

(Unless, of course, you are a woman, in which case #1 doesn't apply even more. This is probably well-intended, but it's flip, bumper-sticker philosophy. There are reasons to carry, but because you are a man isn't one. That's just posturing.)

2). Always carry your gun regardless of social pressures.

(No. There will be times when this isn't feasible, and you have to know that. Your sexy new girlfriend wants you to step into the shower and soap up her back and, um, other places? Leave the SIG in the nightstand, dude.)

3). If you can't physically carry a gun, always have a knife.

(See #2. "Always" is a pretty inclusive word.)

4). Whenever you carry a gun, also carry a knife...and some spare ammunition.

5). Carry the gun you can use best regardless of social fashion.

(Really? What if you are best with a shotgun? Want to bet that local law will be watching you like ducks on a June bug if you show up at the Safeway to do your shopping with your riot gun over your shoulder? Concealed carry is always a trade-off. You carry what your clothes dictate you can hide.)

6). Make sure you are good with that gun through continual and obsessive practice.

(If you can't shoot it well enough to hit what you aim at, you shouldn't carry it. 
Good, yes. I'm not sure "obsessive" is necessary.)

7). Don't bluff or threaten with the gun. If you pull it, be certain you are justified and willing to use it.

8). Using it means shooting the other man or men in the chest and/or the face. Yes, it means killing.

9). If you can avoid having to shoot, it is a good thing, but do not second guess yourself once it has begun.

11). To facilitate the former, do not go to stupid places with stupid people to do stupid things at stupid times.

(Italics mine, and Amen!)

12). If you are involved in such activities, take a team with you....and rifles.

13). The default should be to mind your own business.

14). The only time minding your own business is superceded by getting involved is if what you see shocks the conscience of humanity and needs to be stopped.

15). The amount of violence you can justify and the number of rules you can break is directly proportionate to the level of evil displayed by your adversary.

16). Never apologize for using violence. Not only is it indicative of weakness but also of a lack of moral standing."

(Too macho for me. If you have to use force, you have to use it, but there's no loss of face in being sorry you had to do it. Not a sign of weakness to say so. Sometimes real men do eat quiche.)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

September Morn

So, we decided to do a little camping. A run to the Gorge. Got a few miles out and bap! The outer right rear tire threw the tread, down to the steel belt. Limped back to a truck stop, but we were too small. Tried Wallyworld, but we were too big. America's Best Tires, just right. Needed more than one tire -- had tread, but the rubber was really old, the rig spends a lot of time parked. Spendy, but whaddya gonna do? Back on the road, only two and a half hours slower than we'd expected.

At the campground we were one of two rigs there, nice. And presently after we set up, a pair of young women arrived at the bathroom. Part of a group of small boat sailors we saw on the river, I figured. They went into the shower wearing tiny bikinis. Came out a few minutes later, one of them wrapped on a beach towel. She looked around, didn't see anybody, and since she was covered on three sides by the bathroom and trees, either didn't think anybody could see her -- or didn't care. Dropped the towel, grabbed her clothes, and got dressed.

Dead tire, September Morn.

Never know how the day will go ...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Ghost of Jack Johnson

So, it's all Titanic hoopla this week, a commercial memorial to the sinking of the liner in 1912, and if you don't know the story by now, you don't have much of a connection to history. Big boat, full of rich and poor, hit an iceberg and went right on down. Cold water, not enough lifeboats, lot of folks died. 

There have been movies, books, songs, TV shows, myriad versions, some as true as they could be made, some fictionalized, and people have gone to the bottom in deepwater vessels to have a look. They've even hauled up some of what's down there. A while back, they were selling lumps of coal recovered from the ship as conversation pieces. 

It was a terrible tragedy, people died, more poor than rich, and because man's hubris about being in control of the world was, once again, found to be in error, it has lived on in popular culture. 

Every time a tornado rips through a city, that whole "We control the world" biz goes right up into the clouds with the twister. 

We don't really control much of anything when it comes to the weather.

There are all kinds of stories swirling around the sinking, some of which are probably so, some of of which are completely fabricated. Did the band play "Nearer My God to Thee" as the ship sank? Experts say so. Were people extraordinarily brave? Undoubtedly.

Was Jack Johnson, the black American boxer who was the world heavyweight champion at the time, refused passage because of his color?

No evidence says so.

This one comes from a Huddie Ledbetter, aka "Leadbelly," song that he allegedly sang on the streets with Blind Lemon Somebody and got around to recording in the late 1940's. And in the Jamie Brockett smoked-up, manic version of it in the sixties, which is completely full of errors, by the by, he gets the year wrong, the Wright Brothers, but hey, it was a dope song.
I first heard it on KAAY in Little Rock as I recall. It was midnight on the sea, the band was playing 'Nearer My God to Thee,' fare thee well Titanic, fare thee well ...

Brockett's version allows as how the Captain was stoned and he hit the iceberg on purpose.

Um. Anyway, the story was that Jack Johnson, being black, and traveling with a white woman, was refused passage, and that when the ship sank, ole Jack did an exuberant dance, the Eagle Rock. They wouldn't let Jack Johnson onboard, they said this ship don't haul no coal ...

And here's to you, white folks!

And of course the ship hauled coal–that's what powered all steamships. Duh.

It's a great story. Jack Johnson was in Europe in 1911. However, by the time the Titanic sailed, he was already back in America, and unless he was as good a swimmer as he was a boxer, got there the same way he had gotten to London–on a steamship. And not in steerage, either.

Plus there is the matter of Joseph Laroche and his family:

Laroche, a Haitian, was traveling on the Titanic in Second Class with his family. He perished, though his wife and daughters survived. A black man traveling with a white woman, and mixed-race children. Given that precedence, why would they stop Jack Johnson?

Being black was a bad gig in those days. Being rich and famous and black was slightly less bad, but still no picnic in the park. 

The British were certainly as classist and racist as anybody, and a Negro with a white woman would have offended all kinds of sensibilities, although they did let the Laroches onboard. 

(Eventually, the feds in the U.S. used the Mann Act to go after Johnson, he was the first person prosecuted under it and it didn't really apply to his situation. He had a fondness for white prostitutes and they found one willing to testify against him. He wound up, as I understand it, being convicted ex post facto, that is, for an event that took place before the act was passed. Which you aren't supposed to be able to do in this country, make something illegal after it happens and then arrest people for it. Got a year and a day. He skipped bail, stayed gone for seven years, and eventually turned himself in and did his time at Leavenworth, 1920-1921. Invented a wrench while he was in stir, and later got a patent on it. Died in a car accident in 1946, driving angry because he was refused service at a restaurant, so the story goes.)

Yeah, well, we were, and still are, more tribal and racist than a lot of folks want to believe, our President notwithstanding. 

But in the matter of the ill-fated steamship and the heavyweight boxer? Other than folk songs, no reason to believe it happened. 

Not that one should let the truth stand in the way of a good story, as long as one knows the difference ...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Eat Your Veggies

The problem with meat substitutes for me has always been about the texture. Garden burgers made from chopped-up beans or soy don't chew right; they tend to be a little crispy on the outside but mushy inside, and while they don't taste bad, they don't give the experience of beef or chicken or pork. That's a big part of the problem for meat-eaters.

However ...

Today, we stopped at a new place in Beaverton, the Veggie Grill, and I had their Santa Fe "Chickin" sandwich. The restaurant is a SoCal-based chain that has just expanded up this way, and a couple more stores are in the offing for Portland and Seattle.

The fried chicken patty surprised me. It tasted like chicken; it chewed like chicken; it even looked like chicken. It was delicious.

I poked around and came up with–I think–the company that made the patty, I believe it is Gardien. I'll pick up some of their product and check, and if it's not them, there are only a couple others it could be, and I'll check those out. They also make faux beef. 

I'm not a vegetarian, much less a vegan, but this is the kind of thing that is apt to get people who might be on the fence to consider switching. If it looks like meat, chews like meat, and tastes like meat, and is healthier? That's a big step toward the science fictional concept that's been out there forever. 

Monday, April 09, 2012


Friend of my wife has gotten into felting. She made these for us. They are about three inches long.  We are encouraging her to consider doing it professionally.

On the Family Front

Those of you following the adventures of Steve Down South, a quick update: I am home, still catching up on my sleep, but thrilled to be here. 

Alive, and not in jail for patricide ...

Longest nine days of my life. Never so relieved to leave a place. I would have sat on the jet's wing without a jacket to get home. 

I shan't bore you with TMI details, save to save it was what you might expect with a demented and incontinent patient. If you have gone down this road, you already know; if you haven't, words aren't enough to give you the feel. It's a 24/7 on-call nightmare, in this case. I have the training, I knew what to do, I did it, but ...

If I loved the old man and respected him, it would have so much been easier. I would do this for my wife until the end and consider it a labor of love,  but my old man? 

Sons and fathers, fathers and sons.

Some of you know that story.

I have let go of a lot of my issues with the old man, but there is one really big, hot button I discovered buried way deep: You will never lay a hand on me or my mother and siblings again. Don't even think about trying.

So the worst times were when he became combative and wanted to take a swing at me. His face full of rage, his fist drawn back, and, Oh, how I wanted him to take that swing! He didn't, because while he was always quick to hit, he was also a bully, and not going to attack somebody who could fight back. 

I even said it at one point: "Go ahead! Throw that punch and see what happens!"

I honestly don't know what I would have done had he swung. All I needed was one finger and a poke to the chest to sit him down, he's physically very weak. And I have worked for a long time learning to curb my temper, which is every bit as quick and violent as my father's. 

But that demon was hard on my shoulder and smiling, and I wouldn't have bet a nickel my better angel would win that one. Fortunately, I didn't have to go there.

During one semi-coherent conversation after he got into a yelling match with my mother, there was this:

"Where's Mama? I want to talk to her."

"She doesn't want to talk to you right now. She's upset."

"Upset? She should be scared to death of me!"

Yeah. That's a big part of the problem. That's what you want.

I know intellectually that the rants arise from a blown circuit; that he doesn't know what he is saying from moment-to-moment, and won't remember it two minutes later. But emotionally, he behaves as he did fifty years ago. He's not a sweet old man, he's reverted to his basic nature. It is hard to feel sympathetic. It feels like karma come round.

My sister came back and we had a long talk. She's not quite ready to pack him up and off, and that's her choice. I told her I supported her in whatever she chose to do, but that she would be have to make that decision eventually. He might have some remissions, and he would probably behave better for her than me–he knows her face and has a name to go with it; he never knew who I was the whole time I was there. But if I had to bet, sooner or later, his innate rage will boil up and he will lash out at somebody. 

And other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play ... ?

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Knife Progress - Getting Closer to Completion

A few more images, staring with the epoxy and finish to the guard–epoxy used to set stuff for sanding, then progressing to final sanding on the handle, which is, Chuck says, 99% done. (The blade is kept taped to prevent scratches, but here's a preview because the tape got removed from some splash on the guard that needed to be cleaned up.)

I'm biased, of course, but I think this knife is drop-dead gorgeous, and you will see somebody wielding it in a forthcoming novel. (I tend to do that for my knifemaker buddies who supply me with such outstanding steel.)

Friday, April 06, 2012

New Cable Channel

I'm thinking I could start a cable TV channel, the AC–for Alzheimer's sufferers. It would be really easy to do the programming, because you'd only need just the one ...

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Talkin Bout

There is a line from The Who's hit song Talkin' Bout My Generation: "Hope I die before I get old." I'm not sure what Roger meant when he wrote it, but I take it to mean "old" in the infirm, disfunctional sense. Decrepit. Querulous.

The last few days tending to my father, who is living in a heavy and thick Alzheimer's fog with emphysema come to call after sixty-five years worth of cigarettes, certainly make me agree with that.

Maybe it's not so bad for the patient, past a point. Memory goes, words don't have meaning, no history, good or bad, is attached to the faces you see. Short returns to awareness don't stick; no past, no future, and the present is mostly blurry. The night terrors fade with daylight, unrecalled.

"Where is Mama? Tell her to come here!"

"She's in the wheelchair. She had a stroke, she can't walk over here." 

"A stroke? Nobody told me."

"Yes, we did. You just can't remember."

When your mind is gone, what do you miss it with?

The people around you notice. The disease robs them, too. When your father looks at you and asks Who you are? When he gets up at 3 a.m. to go pee and stands in front of the toilet asking, "What do I do now?" Or, sitting on the bed, wonders where he is suposed to sleep? Or, outraged at some phantom inside his head, slaps at you in fear and anger? That's hard. When the most frequent word he speaks is "What?" Followed by "I don't know what I'm supposed to do." Or, banging on the wall and yelling in the middle of the night, "I need help!" and when you ask what the problem is, he doesn't know. Or he says "It doesn't matter, I'll be dead before morning!" Dressing, showering, shaving, teeth-brushing, all like climbing Everest without oxygen.

Or the other things that are too much information ...

You know what the good thing is about emphysema so bad you can barely breathe? When you yell for people in the middle of the night, the breathless rasp is not as loud as it would be otherwise. There is a silver-lining for you, hey?

And is it any better that you disliked the man most of your life? Grew up in fear of his quick temper and equally-quick willingness to use his hands when he lost it?

Bad days and not-so-bad ones, but none that are really good and knowing that the progression is only going to get worse. Like watching a dropped ball bounce, lower with each rebound, going to stop in the not-too-distant future.

It's a terrible war, fighting Alzheimer's and worse because not only are you going to lose, you can't even slow it down once it takes hold. If the body outlives your brain, the care goes to 24/7, and doing it at home without somebody who is always there, all the time, becomes untenable.

And that rough beast is slouching round my parent's house. My sister doesn't want to know that, but it's just outside the door and about to knock.

The Who was just a rock band, but they had something in that lyric.

Excuse me. I need to go do some push-ups and work a crossworld puzzle and wash down some vitamins with a spinach smoothie ...

Monday, April 02, 2012

Zap and Boom

Had a little thundershower move through the area a few minutes ago. Lightning, thunder, rain in buckets, dark as night and now the rain is fading and the sun is trying to peek out. Thirty minutes from herald wind to drizzle. I had forgotten how powerful these semi-tropical storms are compared the anemic ones in the Pacific Northwest.