Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve: A Reminiscence

I know I've done this before on another blog, but for the record here's a catalog of how I've spent New Year's Eves, going back as far as I can remember.

95/96 - Champaign. Began the night in Murphy's Pub, ended in my crappy little one-room apartment.
96/97 - Tempe. Matt Scholz and I scoured secondhand stores for polyester '70s outfits. Partied on Mill Ave.
97/98 - Living in Seattle, but spent New Year's in Portland. Made out with a complete stranger on the street.
98/99 - Seattle. Standing near the Space Needle when the new year turned.
99/00 - Tucson. The details are too embarrassing (and hazy) to disclose publicly.
00/01 - Lexington. Hosted a party at my apartment for some Amazonians. Truly pathetic, even by Amazon manager standards.
01/02 - Living in Lexington, partied in Louisville. Louisville, if you're not aware, is a really cool town.
02/03 - Lexington. Hung out at a coworker's house. Was a jerk to my girlfriend.
03/04 - Edwardsville. Fell asleep at 10. Slept through the new year. Wheee.
04/05 - Laramie. Had returned from Lander after an unfortunate sledding accident in Sinks Canyon left me in remarkable pain. Watched ball drop in my dorm room.
05/06 - Denver. Jenn and Phil's. Good times!
06/07 - Denver. Jenn and Phil's. Good times! Again!
07/08 - Lander. Played Wii at Chad and Melissa's.
08/09 - Denver. Jenn and Phil's. Good times! Again again!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Day We Would Like to Forget By Tomorrow

Lander reached well into the negative 30's earlier this week, and on Tuesday (having missed Monday as my last mandated recovery-from-pneumonia day) I went outside to start my truck about 10 minutes before I left for school. That's the routine: when it's really cold I start the truck early -  not to warm the cab but to give the motor a fighting chance.

So I went out and it was frigid, the kind of cold that doesn't feel too bad for the first ten second or so, but which suddenly pierces you. Normally the truck doesn't like to start in this kind of weather, though it does start. Let me repeat that: the truck always starts. Without fail, my '99 Toyota Tacoma will turn over regardless of weather. Sure, it moans and sometimes requires multiple tries and a little sweet talk, but it always starts. The sun will rise tomorrow, the Lions will not win the Super Bowl, and my truck will start.

But on Tuesday the truck wouldn't start. Sputtered once or twice but didn't turn over.

Hmm, I thought to myself. That's odd. Hopefully the Subaru starts or we're truly hosed.

So, I trudged back inside, grabbed the Subaru key, and returned to Dante's 9th circle. I should note here that while the Tacoma's always been left to its own devices, we thought we'd treat the Outback well and keep it plugged into a block heater on subzero nights. We even bought a little timer so that we don't warm the thing all night; it's set to come on at 4:00am or so and run until 9:00am, which should give the heater plenty of time.

But the Outback wouldn't start. Wouldn't even turn over. I sat for a moment, my breath puffing out in enormous clouds of vapor and my hands well beyond numb. This was one of those moments in which one's world is clarified sharply: It's Very Freaking Cold, and we don't have an operational car.


I tried it a few more times, and then something even more curious happened. The key would not turn. It would insert just fine, but it would not turn at all.

Not good, I thought to myself.

Back inside, Kathryn informed me it was 20 below out. Okay, no problem, I've walked the mile to school in weather like this before, having set a personal record of 18 below two years ago. We formulated a plan: I'd walk to school and Kathryn would call her boss and let her know what's up. Meanwhile, we would just have to wait for the weather to warm up - say, to above zero - before trying the cars again.

The walk, however, proved colder than I'd remembered. Every inch of skin was covered except for a thin strip by my eyes, that that strip was stinging and remarkably painful within two blocks of the house. Luckily my neighbor, the school's band teacher, pulled up next to me and I jumped in.

"Dude," he said, "it's 27 below. What are you doing?"

Throughout the week, we waited for the weather to warm up. On days when the temperature peaked in the single digits - and single digits really did feel warmer than one might imagine - I tried the truck. Still nothing. Worse, it didn't sound like a battery problem, it sounded like an electronic or firing problem. Worse still, the hood was frozen shut so I couldn't even see if anything was obviously wrong.

Fast forward to today. At 11:00 this morning it was a balmy 9 degrees outside, so I went out to try again, armed with a jug of water and gloves with the right index finger missing, thanks to Rigby's mid-day snack on Thursday. I managed to get the hood up, and promptly called my brother over to see if a jumpstart would magically fix the problem. He arrived, we hooked up the wires, and. . .


Fast forward through two teacher friends trying to help us out: One of them gave Kathryn a ride to Napa for starter fluid while the other idled his truck next to mine, jumper cables hooked up just to ensure the battery was okay. Still nothing.

Fast forward though another sharp moment in which I struggle to realize that I'm not a Sudanese refugee or Bangladeshi street urchin sniffing glue instead of eating; I am a middle class white dude whose cars are broken.

Fast forward through a phone call to a towing service that agreed that I was screwed.

Suddenly, the doorbell. My coworker with his '93 Mercury Sable that usually sits unused in front of his house - ours until we're squared away. Incredible.

Fast forward through a trip to Riverton punctuated by a stop at the gas station (more frozen things - this time, the borrowed car's gas hatch) and McDonald's.

Fast forward to Walmart, which immediately gives me flashbacks to my college days in the Champaign store's toy department. After the first hour I begin singing, to the tune of The Wheels on the Bus, "This Walmart trip will never end, never end, never end. / This Walmart trip will never end - please shoot me now." Kathryn is a remarkably good sport, although we're both getting mopey.

Fast forward to home. We try to replace bathroom fixtures in the basement and have major problems. We both begin to lose it.

Fast forward to five minutes ago, when Kathryn yelled out the door at the neighbor's dog. Barley is a Yellow Lab and incredibly stupid, even for a Lab. His favorite trick is omnidirectional woofing with no pause.

We're both ready to start over.


We're not sure what we're going to do about the vehicles. Right now the plan is to get the Subaru towed, somehow, to our mechanic's place outside of town and get the Toyota towed, somehow, to the Toyota dealership because they do good work too. I don't even want to know what the damage is for either vehicle, although I will say this: Subarus are a dream to drive on snow, but maintenance costs are unreal. This is probably the last Subaru we'll own. The Tacoma? Well, it's been practically hassle-free for ten years now. If the motor's shot, I'll have a hard decision to make.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Recurring Sick Dream

After another eat-and-laugh-until-you-cry Thanksgiving Weekend spent in Denver, we returned home to a grateful cat and very grateful dog on Sunday evening. Monday morning arrived and with it, a cold.

Now, I suspected it might happen. Our adorable 6 month old niece spent the better part of Thanksgiving being a wheezing, slurping goo machine. But even with gallons of babysnot pouring out of her face, she was still adorable so we all took turns holding her. Can I really pin this illness on the kiddo? No, but children are usually to blame for my colds anyway, so it might as well be a 6 month old instead of a 16 year old. And as I always say: "When possible, blame a kid."*

By 7th period yesterday I was in particularly bad shape. I managed to get across some instructions to my AP students, they humored me, and then we all basically took the second half of class off. 8th period was difficult, to put it mildly. Finally, I got home and crawled into bed in my clothes – didn't even bother to take off my stocking cap.

I can always tell when I'm really sick (as opposed to "mansick," which we'll cover in a different post**) because I'll have The Recurring Sick Dream. And yesterday, bundled up in fleece and buried under strata of blankets, The Recurring Sick Dream came a-calling.

A touchstone of early childhood, The Recurring Sick Dream only happens when I'm in that diseased limbo between consciousness and la-la land. Set against a backdrop of bright space, it involves large piles of something indefinable shifting slowly. The piles move, in no particular direction, and the rate at which they move is somewhere between glacial and dead stop. They make a mushy sound. Interspersed in the space are tiny needles of light – my first impression is that there are many, but I'm only ever able to see one at a time. These needles emit a sound that is sterile and piercing; the sound is shapeless but deafening.

The piles and needles move through space hinting at an eternity of no relief.

It took me until I was eight or nine to realize that the piles' mushy sound is my head shifting on my pillow, that soft brushing sound you hear when the room is very, very quiet. The needles are my brain's way of dealing with the constant – though usually minor – ringing in my ears, which is undoubtedly magnified by illness.

So piles and needles haunted me from 4:00 to 5:30 or so, when I vaguely remember Kathryn trying to deal with our phone and Internet situation. She left shortly thereafter to use the library's Internet and I stumbled to the basement in search of some sort of relief – any relief at all – and definitely did not find it in Monday Night Football or old WWII footage (someone ask me sometime about my contradictory Military Channel addiction).

This morning was an adventure in figuring out how to call in sick. I've never called in from home before; usually, I make it to school long enough to realize I definitely should not be at school. With no Internet, I was somewhat at a loss. But I figured it out, they found a sub, and I'm hoping the day in the classroom went well; I spent it asleep on the upstairs couch. Managed to finish an old Tom Clancy novel I hadn't read in 20 years, so that was cool.

I've requested a sub for tomorrow, too. Sitting here on the sofa, upright for the first time in hours, the aches are returning quickly. Not cool, niece. Not cool.

* I don't really say or believe this. But it sure sounds funny.
** I wish I could claim coining this term, but alas, credit goes to Mary Ann.