Thursday, March 19, 2009

Snakes Have Made Me Post Again

Actually, I've been thinking for a while that I should attempt to restart and sustain this blog. I've finished and defended my dissertation, so I have time to research and write about things of relatively pure interest to me. However, I was watching a recorded episode of the Daily Show, and one of the stories has driven me to release a sporadic shout into the night. It's a particularly easy release, in that I really only have to copy it from the frantic email I rattled off to two of my friends.

So did you see the Jon Stewart clip about all the Burmese pythons ravaging Florida?

Over the last several years they have escaped from pet stores, and they are breeding like crazy. They are also spreading across the state and eating everything, at least all things deer-sized and under, as far as the snake-tracking officials know. They can grow up to eighteen feet long and travel across a mile and a half of land a day. One of the news clips said that they can easily reach DC--that is, here--given that it's in the huge chunk of the United States sporting the climate to support them.

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

So, after Obama won, I thought, Well, I don't have to move to Canada now. If I do move there, it will be because of its own merits only.

But now I am driven once again to Canada. More precisely, I am driven to the extremely cold parts that I formerly could not consider. The parts where the giant snakes definitely are unable to survive.

As Jon Stewart said, "On a side note, Florida, thanks for starting almost every *bleep* thing in the world ever." I'm thinking it was "every shitty thing." But "every fucked-up thing" works as well.

In hopes that this was all a Daily Show exaggeration, I did twenty seconds of Google research, and I found this story.

Science Daily, huh? Well, that sounds pretty official. The article dates from last May, and it offhandedly presents one of the more terrifying variables in the overall equation: "'As soon as you know they’re breeding, eradication gets to be out of the question,' ...said [Frank Mazzotti, University of Florida researcher and snake-chaser]. 'Females may store sperm, so they can produce fertile clutches for years. And a 100-something pound snake can easily be producing 60, 80 eggs a year.'"

Store sperm? Store sperm?

I'll just mention that I've been speaking out against this snake-as-pet thing for a long time now. However, in all of my phobia-inspired yet accurate imaginings, I never foretold that it would lead to the worst version of the apocalypse ever.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Anxiety Dream: Character Flaw or Evolutionary Advantage?

I’m starting my new job on Monday; my last day at my former company was this Tuesday past.

I would say that I will miss specific people from my old job, but I will be keeping in touch with those people. Rather, I will miss the hour-to-hour daily interaction with them. But I am also excited about getting to do new work.

Still, no matter how calm I feel, my anxieties always find some way of sneaking up and poking me. In some cases, these are not even anxieties about the future. I have the unenviable ability to get anxious about things that happened in my past. I’m learning to deal with this character trait as I grow older, but it’s still there.

Last night I dreamed that it was my last day at my old company. I had a long list of tasks to complete before I could leave—a condition in fair alignment with my actual last day. However, in my dream we were not in our regular office. Instead, we were working in an ancient house that was on the verge of being condemned. It was full of piles of refuse and bric-a-brac, objects from the thirties and forties. It reminded me of a day when I was six or seven, when my cousins and I explored the house of an uncle who had died years before we were born. In that house, we found an old black fountain pen and several unopened bottles of root beer from a defunct bottler. Everything was covered with a thick layer of pasty dust.

The dream-bound workplace, however, was bigger, with labyrinthine corridors and hidden closets. We were expected to complete our notably modern assignments without access to modern equipment of any sort. At one point I found myself naked, and I went off into the depths of the house, searching through the antique armoires for clothing that would fit me. How am I going to deal with this and get all my work done? I kept thinking.

Finally I woke. For a moment or two I lay in my bed, turning my anxiety from side to side, just looking at it. But I already had my last day, I thought. That chapter is oh-ver.

This time I was lucky. Reality was on my side. I only hope I have some evidence at hand come the next dream.

Monday, December 31, 2007

You’re a Mean One, Mister Murk

So Christmas is over, right? Did we decide to start early and finish late? I mean, if we’re going to start the Christmas season back when I’m still hiding in my house with the lights out while goblins and pirates yell “Trick or treat!” at my front door, then it can't last until the end of the year.

Not according to Starbucks, an unavoidable establishment with its own radio station, one still playing a selection of Christmas tunes. And not according to my neighbors, who have left their inflated, mechanized yard decorations up. When I say inflated, I mean what marketers generally call inflatable. However, “inflatable” implies that at some point the reindeer carousel inside the puffy snow globe will be deflated, and I have come to the pained realization that it never will. It must be Christmas magic. It does not—will not—ever diminish.

Not the same one, but you get the idea. This example
and an accompanying article can be found here.

Still, at least this repeated encounter with outdoor decoration points out another area for self-improvement. The signs are all there, the main one being that today I caught myself, as I fidgeted and prepared to pull my car away from the curb, suddenly saying aloud to the absent owners of the mechanized child's fantasy, “You better shut that fucker off and take it inside before I sharpen a broom handle and pop it for you.”

At least I didn’t actually say it to the owners. But in a way that makes it even sadder, because I’m the only one who has to suffer my invective. And I’m the only one who feels like the idiot glaring at the plastic penguin riding the plastic reindeer. According to Johnny Rotten, anger is an energy. Anger with no object but a fake penguin doomed to ride in a circle for eternity, though—that could be the first rant of a month-long tirade ending with the shuffle of feet clad in Kleenex boxes.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

December List-Making Mania

It’s the end-of-year assessment party, and I am invited.

Well, that’s pretty broad. Let’s make it the December assessment party. Besides, end-of-year assessments sometimes lead to those Next year better be [insert adjective indicating improvement]! statements that I have learned to avoid. I declared at the end of 2004, I proclaimed at the end of 2005, I intoned at the end of 2006. Now, nearing the end of 2007, I’m humble. Next year…well, we’ll just deal with it as it comes, okay?

In keeping with end-of-year impulses, I’m doing some much-needed room-straightening. While going through several boxes that I have had left to unpack since my last move (June 2007) and my previous move (October 2005) and so on, too far back for dignity, I was struck by both my habit of saving things that I don’t need (copies of grade reports that I submitted in 1999) and my penchant for making lists. It seems appropriate, then, in order to slip back into general posting mode, to sum up the last few weeks in the form of a list.

Here’s what I’ve done since my last post:

Got a new job. In one madcap week I got the call, did the interview, had the follow-up calls, got the offer letter, signed it, and faxed it back before anything could change. It still seems a bit unreal. I start the 14th of January. I had planned to take the position as long as they matched my current salary, and then they offered me a salary that, jaw-droppingly, could encompass my current salary and an extra starting salary, in addition to offering full medical, dental, and monthly commuter benefits. Plus, it’s two miles from my house. So, yeah, I took that new job, you betcha.

Took notes on seven books for my dissertation. Granted, I had read them already, but still—that’s a lot of notes.

Traveled to New Orleans for five days. I met with my dissertation chair and pitched my plan for finishing. Everything looks good. I had a moment’s scare when the department’s administrative assistant told me that my chair was on leave. But she is on leave in town, so it actually falls into place fairly handily. Now I just need to work frantically, fiercely, and steadily—emphasis on steadily.

Did not drink any alcohol. I have not done so since the 4th of July. I don’t get to until I finish the full draft of my dissertation. That’s my superstitious deal with myself. Since I have 250 finished pages done and about 100 pages of freewriting waiting for transformation, that should be within reach. However, I mean a real full draft. Something past the rough stage, formatted, that I think is ready for defense. At times, just to be sure, I consider waiting to break the alcohol fast until the defense is done. I often struggle against my essentially superstitious personality, but this may be one time to give in to the impulse.

Had three long, tedious dreams about funerals. Actually, one was about trying to get to a funeral that I could never find. It’s not surprising—I’ve been to a lot of funerals in the last few years.

Made a number of resolutions for 2008—somewhere between four and seven. I’m assuming that the figure will solidify by the crucial date.

Worked on a new Katrina-evacuation post called “The Legend of Bucks and Bears.” However, it was getting too long, so I decided to split it into two posts. One will keep the previous title, and the other will be called “We Took to the Trees and Timbers.”

Those are the basics. I’ve also done many other scattered things: hoped that the Check Engine light on my car is, as in times past, nothing to worry about, or nothing that will be a concern before the next paycheck; played with my cat and dogs; had a two-minute conversation with a woman on whom I have a crush (…anndd…clear! I’m out, and no damage done!); and obsessively checked the website for every possible transit option between my house and my new job.

All in all, not too bad. That end-of-year assessment impulse isn’t making me as uncomfortable as it has the last few years. I’ll still avoid any demands for 2008. Let’s just see how it goes.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Life in the Post-Collapse Zone

Early in Pietro di Donato’s Christ in Concrete, we see construction foreman Geremio di Alba warning his boss about shoddy safety standards and building materials. Sure enough, the building collapses, and Geremio and his crew of workmen are trapped in gruesome deaths. Geremio’s is particularly so: his genitals convulse due to “the cold steel rod on which they were impaled,”1 and he attempts to gnaw his way to air through wood and hardening concrete until “his teeth snap[…] off to the gums in the uneven conflict.”2

Ah, nothing like a little literature to let you know how bad things could be. “You call that a collapse? The place was abandoned, for Chrissakes! Now, I’ll tell you about a collapse….”

I am, however, truly thankful that the collapse of the house next door was merely alarming, as opposed to tragic, and that we don’t have a little Paul di Alba running around the neighborhood telling people of his bereft and poverty-stricken family's plight: “Look…the newspaper here…see…papa’s job—la jobe-a collapsed; the building—fell…ca—caduta…!”3

The yellow tape is gone. It didn’t bother me all that much; on a certain level, I had a glimmering memory of those pseudo-halcyon evenings when my friends and I would escape from our high-school dormitories and seek out abandoned buildings as sanctuaries in which we could do…uh...our homework…um, never mind.

Anyway, all that’s left now are some bricks, an empty space where the wall next to our patio used to be, a broken and sloppily reassembled gate, and dust, lots of dust.

I would really like to have an intact fence again. I was developing into something of a fussy gardener. I need privacy for that. Plus, the workers told my roommate that they were putting rat poison out to handle any vermin fleeing the destruction. Hearing something like that just makes you want to put up walls.

(1) Pietro di Donato, Christ in Concrete. New York, Penguin: 1993. Originally published 1937. Page 16.
(2) Page 17.
(3) Page 24.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Bricks, Get Your Freshly Fallen Bricks Right Here

I was drafting another post about music and memory and somesuch, but I will have to save it for another night. Why? Oh, no big deal. The wall of the abandoned house next door fell down, filling the space between it and my house with bricks that burst open the front gates and spilled out into the street.

My dogs are barking at the firemen in front of our house. We have yellow tape. Now we know that we’ve really moved in.

Let me set the scene. I was just finishing dinner. The dogs and the cat were wandering about, taking turns asking for food. I was about to take my dishes to the sink when, with no warning (you would expect a rumble of thunder or at least a stiff breeze), the entire house shook, accompanied by a sound that fell somewhere between breaking teeth and a thousand blenders filled with rocks.

Did I just hear the firemen calling all hands to my street? Is that good or bad?

I thought my house might be falling down, so I did the sensible thing—I ran upstairs and downstairs, looking for signs of broken house or toppled shelves. Then I went outside, stepping into a foot of rubble—nothing compared to the two or three feet of rubble in my yard. The neighbor from across the street came over, and we engaged in the following bit of dialog:

MURK: Huh.
NEIGHBOR: Holy…Jesus Christ!
MURK: Yeah. Hrrm?
NEIGHBOR: I mean…Jesus Christ!
MURK: That’s…really…impressive?

And so on. My roommate and her boyfriend drove up in the middle of it all. They got to experience my manic telling of the story, which ended with something along the lines of “That there is fucked up, is what that is.”

A fireman just knocked on the door and gave me some basic information. They didn’t find anyone in the building, thankfully. Also, we’re in what they consider the “collapse zone.” If we leave our house, we should make sure to exit to the right. Well, all righty, then.

This is Murk, live from the collapse zone.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Evacuation Kits and Going to the Dogs

To prepare a good evacuation kit, you must consider your destination. In all cases, of course, you want the essentials, the basic supplies of food, water, toiletries, and changes of clothing, but different sanctuaries have different specific additional needs. In the case of my step-uncle’s pool house, my roommate and I considered the following factors:

• A probable loss of electricity for an uncertain amount of time, meaning:

—Limited refrigeration.

—Limited air-conditioning.

• A lack of alcohol outside the categories of Captain Morgan and Coors.

Therefore, when we went to our corner grocery for supplies, we bought, in addition to the staples of batteries and filtered water, several bottles of wine, a bottle of bourbon, and a bottle of vodka.

In considering the needs of the pool house, however, we had not taken into account the facts that:

• The electrical outage would be incredibly widespread and prolonged.
• The lack of electricity meant a lack of water, since the well’s pump was electrically powered.
• The only road out would be blocked by, I shit you not, half a mile of toppled trees.

When you are battered by heat, have limited water, and are uncertain when you will feel relief, the experience of time’s passing becomes disjointed. At points it seems as if you have never lived any other way, as if existence has always been characterized by a weak struggle to endure, broken only by complaints and muddled attempts at problem-solving.

Here’s how our time went.

It’s hot. Okay, this has to be as hot as it can get. I can manage this.

Let’s eat the cheese and the other stuff in the refrigerator first. With those trees, who knows how long it will take to get the power back on, and everything else will last.

Okay, now it’s hotter. But it’s still within the manageable realm, as long as I don’t move around or breathe too hard.

These are the unopened bottles of filtered water. Let’s put them over here. Okay, that’s for drinking. Here are the empties of the water bottles and the wine bottles. We’ll fill them with the water in the tub and put them over on this side. Okay, that’s for washing our face and hands. Is there a bucket? Okay, here’s one from under the sink. We’ll fill it with water from the pool and use it to flush the toilet. All right. That’s all set. Let’s make sure to remember: drinking, washing, flushing.

Oh my God, it’s so hot, I might cry.

It was a taste of living in the eighteenth century, but without the eighteenth-century skills. Truthfully, in those moments, a five-year-old from the eighteenth century would have been our hero. “You can get food and water from the land itself? Are you magic? Will you be our leader?”

We sat in the car with the engine running a couple of times, trying to cool off in the air conditioning, but we wanted to save gas in the event that we could actually drive out of the place.

There was, of course, the pool. However, we had not brought swimming suits. Also, the water in the pool was, to put it delicately, rather unappealing. There was a dubious brown scum around the edges that was probably residue from rotten leaves, but who wants to take the chance? In all frankness, flushing the toilet seemed the pool water's most appropriate use. To come into actual contact with it—well, there would have to be a compelling reason. (I’ll discuss my compelling reason in another post.)

Since we didn’t have a pre-industrial whiz kid to show us the way, I began, like many problem solvers of the past, to look to the animals for solutions.

It was dusk, and I was trying to hypnotize myself: There is no heat, breathe in, breath out, there is no heat, breathe in, breathe out. Then I noticed the dogs. They were lying on their sides against the tile floor, as dogs often do when there is a tile floor. Hey, the dogs are lying on the tile floor…that’s brilliant! I’m taking a page from the book of the dogs.

So I did. I stretched out in my evil-smelling T-shirt and filthy shorts on the floor, getting as much skin as possible into contact with the cool tile.

Don’t you judge me. I would do it again. Because, you know what? It works. As long as I was in contact with the floor, I was cool. I was actually able to sleep for a little while that night. Truth be told, I’m a little ashamed that the dogs had the idea before I did.

My advice is, pack your evacuation kits as full as you can. But understand that you can never pack them well enough, and don’t be proud. You can sit in your sweat and fantasize about ways to MacGyver the air conditioning all you want—without tools and a reliable power source, you’ll still be begging the unseen gods for a good, steady breeze at the end of the day. Or, you can look to the nearest animal, the expert at enduring without frills, and—within reason—do what works.