Off Grid / Microenvironment

It’s no surprise that I occasionally pick a few days (or weeks) and deliberately ignore the media. I do this on purpose. Most (nearly all?) information that’s presented as important, unexpected, or urgent is irrelevant, predictable, and most definitely not even remotely urgent. The best way to recognize this is to unplug from the flow of horseshit. When you return to the flow you’ll find everyone has spent weeks obsessing over something that was either a done deal from the start (most budget debates) or irrelevant (Superbowl  commercials and any State of the Union Speech).

My term for this is “going off grid”. I sometimes call it “self imposed media blackout”. I’ve mentioned it before here and here.

Alas my definition lacks something. It seems to imply something of value as if the act of doing without is somehow a bad thing which one endures. This is not my intention. A sunset is not the unhappiness of lacking daylight.

Captain Capitalism wisely coined the term “microenvironment” and implores you to control it. You should venture forth and read what he has to say. Here’s a quote to whet your appetite:

“Thankfully, your micro-environment has an additional advantage over your macro-environment – it is nearly 100% under your control.

… if people were to step back, clear their eyes, and take a look at their lives, they’d soon realize that for all the dire news they hear in the media, practically none of it affects their daily lives.”

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Angry Clown II

Driving home it was dark, cold, and miserable. Winter was still in full force and the whole place oozed with bleakness. There was a prison across the street and a disreputable gas station along my route. These were the pretty views. The rest was worse.

I pulled in to get my $3.45 of precious gas. I wouldn’t make it home otherwise.

I hated the urban blight. Nothing is uglier than an unlit dirty snow covered city street.

Except a street with a conked out car blocking the lane.

I’d started rolling uphill toward the pumps when my car shuddered and died. Another 50′ and I’d have made it. I knew from the way the car had stopped that there wasn’t a chance in hell there was enough gas in the lines to restart and roll the last 50′. I was done.

I stepped out and pondered my options. It was an uphill slope and I had a battleship sized car. I couldn’t push it over a pencil, much less up a grade. I started rummaging through the back looking for a container. A soda bottle or something. Something just big enough to carry enough gas to restart my car. Hopefully I’d get moving again before a snowplow came along and nailed me. Luckily there wasn’t much traffic…

Wrong!

While I was searching for an old coke bottle, someone had roared up behind my dead beast of a car with his own equally beast like sedan. Whoever was in the sedan laid on the horn.

What’s the point of that? If you see a guy standing next to a dead car, the horn isn’t likely to solve his problems. As if to demonstrate the degree to which I wasn’t likely to ever move my car, I leaned into the door frame and tried to push. My car didn’t move an inch.

The guy in the sedan leaned out of his window and shouted. “Move that piece of shit!”

He was a clown. Red curly haired wig, face paint, the works. He was pissed.

I leaned into the car again and again it didn’t move. I hoped he’d get the point and drive around. Instead he swore.

“Goddammit!” He growled through his face paint. “Get in the freakin’ car, I’ll push you.”

Awesome! I hopped in my car, clicked it into neutral, and wham… The instant I was off the brake he walloped my bumper. Shoving one beefy old car with another beefy old car is not a delicate matter. With a crunch that would break a Subaru’s heart, he locked bumpers and roughly shoved me up the slope and all the way to the pump. I was delighted. (Don’t try that maneuver with a modern plastic safety box. An old station wagon is a tank compared to a Kia.)

He pulled up to the other side of the pump. I hopped out and started fueling.

“Gee thanks” I began.

“Bah!” Groused angry clown. He waved me away.

Even in the magic time of cheaper gas, $3.45 didn’t add up to much. I was done pumping in no time. I went into the store to pay. I was hungry but a candy bar was way out of my league. I was just happy I could restart my car. (It was cold!)

At the counter the teller rang up $3.45. I reached into my pocket for the sandwich bag with my money.

Gone!

Frantically I checked my pockets. Nothing. I checked them all again. Was it in my jacket pocket? Jeans pocket? Where the heck was it?

“Jesus! Pay will ya?” Angry clown was behind me; looking homicidal. Colorful baggy pants, the special enormous shoes, bright purple over shirt. He was tall and had a foghorn voice. He didn’t have a red nose. Who hires a clown at 5:00 am?

I shrugged. My sandwich bag was gone and I was all out of options. I humbly stepped aside to let him through. I’d figure something out but at the moment I wasn’t sure what that something would be.

“What the…” He eyed me like I was something he’d scraped off his huge red clown shoes. He glared at the register. “$3.45?” He looked at me with disgust. “Really?”

Still rummaging through my pockets I had no answer. “I…” I began.

The clown slapped down a $5 on the counter. “For the loser’s gas.” He barked.

The teller rang it up. Angry clown swiped up the change. Then he slapped down a $20 to pay for his fuel. He’d pumped exactly $20. He didn’t wait for the teller to ring it up. He was a clown in a hurry. He swiveled to face me.

“Oh my gosh that’s so nice.” I stammered. My gas conundrum was solved. I hadn’t been expecting anything of the sort.

Once again he waved off my gratitude. “Loser.” He mumbled as he pushed past me and headed for the door.

Then he and his clown shoes and his big car tore off into the dark.

The teller was speechless. So was I. We were alone. Finally he spoke, “Did a big mean clown just call you a loser?”

I nodded. “Yes.”

The teller looked confused. He expected me to be angry. “You were dissed by a clown.” He prompted.

I shrugged; “Out of gas, blocking the road, can’t come up with $3.45. He’s got a point.”

The teller would have nothing of it, “Dude, he’s a clown.”

“Nope.” I disagreed “A good Samaritan. An asshole too. I guess you can be both?”

When I got home I turned my apartment inside out. I never found that plastic bag full of dimes and quarters. I have always wondered what happened to it. I never saw the clown again. If I met him now, when I’m not broke, I’d buy him a steak dinner. He’d probably call me a loser again. I wouldn’t mind. I was very desperate and appreciated the help.

In the meantime I hope he hasn’t terrified too many children.

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Angry Clown I

This story, like everything on my blog (including those where my dog talks and trees taunt me), is entirely true. Also like everything on my blog, it doesn’t necessarily have a point.


In the days of old, your’s truly was working night shift, minimum wage, at a shit job. Nothing wrong with that. We’ve all got to start somewhere and I’ve never been (nor will I ever be) too proud for a shit job. However, minimum wage is not, as the lefties reflexively say, a “living wage”. I was struggling. I was “broke”.

I needed to fuel my car. This was essential. A man with a car may be broke but he has options. Lose the car and you might go from broke to poor. There’s a difference you know.

I did not want to be poor. Also, a car is not merely transportation, it is a storage unit and backup housing. Broke or not I was going to keep it fueled come hell or high water. One evening when the chips were lowest and the tank was on “E”, I scraped together every last molecule of money I could find. I really did sort through seat cushions and everything. (You think that’s a cliché? Well it isn’t!)

I scrabbled together something like $3.45. I can’t recall the exact amount, but I remember that it was the sum total of absolutely every penny I could muster and it wasn’t much. (Note: Younger readers may not understand the gravity of the situation. Back in the stone age you had to pay for stuff with money. The world where everyone and their dog has a credit card and will happily use what is essentially a bank loan to buy gas or groceries is a new idea. This was an older, and in my eyes more sane, world. When the money was gone, one simply had to walk. I have walked. It sucks. Everyone should have to walk once.)

I shoved my precious wad of change in a sandwich bag and stuffed it in my pocket. Then, with a car running on fumes, I headed for work. I completed my shift and left in more or less high spirits. As dumb as my job was, I always did my best and generally I had an OK time doing it.

I think now is the time to insert a Curmudgeonly Gem Of Insight:

“If you’ve got a shit job, do it well. I was excellent at my shit job because being excellent feels good. Being a slacker feels like crap. Regardless of the pay, don’t give in to sloth. Better times may come.”

Oh, by the way. You might be thinking that management would reward me for my hard work. Of course you’re only thinking that if you’re 19, an idiot, or both. If so; get that foolish nonsense out of your mind right now. Management generally doesn’t give a crap if you live or die. Don’t look there for personal validation.

Another reason to pursue excellence. It tends to lead to better jobs (no guarantees!). I sincerely believe this and think the mindset (if nothing else) is why the state of “broke”, for me at least, didn’t last forever. So if you’re flipping burgers or mopping floors right now, heed my words. Flip the ever loving shit out of those burgers and mop the floor like a powerhouse.

Tomorrow I’ll wrap up my little trip down memory lane.

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Dog Logic And Firewood Levers: Part III

My dog convinced me that I should go ‘all in’ and cut wood from logs buried under the snow. Those logs were going to be my ‘Next Winter’ supply but it was time to use every option at my disposal. It was -16 in March and already I’d burned everything I’d intended for ‘This Winter’. If ‘This Winter’ had a car. I’d slash its tires.

Somewhere under all that snow was wood. None of it was visible. Also it was uncut, unsplit chunks. Floundering around out there with a chainsaw sounded like bad news on a cracker.

I tried to remember the precise arrangement of the jumble of buried chunks and logs. Normally this would be hopeless but my memory is unusual.

Most things normal people remember are gone from my head within minutes. I don’t remember my zip code. I rarely remember my birthday. When I remember my Anniversary it’s a victory. Names are the biggest black hole. If I met you and we shook hands and you introduced yourself I’ve already forgotten you. I’m sure you’re a fine person. You can tell me your name a second time but I’ll forget it again. If you do something memorable, like setting my pantleg on fire, I still won’t remember your name. I’ll just remember you as “the guy with matches”. This annoys some folks. I consider it simply the way the world works. The truth be told, the way the world works annoys some folks too.

On the other hand, I have an eerily accurate recall of geography. The location of Canadian fishing holes, notable greasy spoons in the Midwest, handy off road shortcuts in Utah, a scruffy restaurant that serves great steaks in Kansas, the back door to a neat tavern in Milwaukee, etc… If you want me to remember something, move it to an obscure location and leave it there. I’ll never forget.

I surveyed the drifted snow and tried to remember what it looked like last summer. I thought hard. As I slipped into revere the air shimmered.

“Isn’t this a clichéd approach to a flashback?” My dog asked.

“Complain again and I’ll adopt another cat.”

“What a brilliant method for presenting the idea of a flashback!” My dog enthused.

. . .

It was warm August evening. I had a jug of cold lemonade on the tractor’s seat. The woodsplitter and I had been tearing into wood like a tornado in a trailer park for hours. The sun slowly drifted toward the horizon…

“Beautiful flashback like that and I’m nowhere to be found?” The dog inquired.

“My dog was sniffing for squirrels amid some jackstrawed oak limbs…”

“That’s better.” The dog nodded.

I tried to remember more clearly. Yes, that’s it. I’d worked steadily all day. I rolled big cookies of wood from the Pony Trailer to the splitter. I tossed split pieces to the ATV trailer. Then I’d zip away to stack the wood. A brilliant system! Every move of weight was lateral rather than vertical. My limited machinery all fulfilling it’s best possible use. The pleasant efficiency of a job well done. I’d already stacked more than enough for winter. Now I was just racking up the score.

“Ha!” Barked the dog.

“Hey, I thought I had enough. It was a reasonable assumption.” I groused.

“Uh huh. Good luck with that Mr. Denial. Also everything worked perfectly? All day?” The dog knows when untruth is about. Dogs never lie. People lie even in their own memory.

The dog had a point. I dug deeper into my memory. A more realistic view came to mind. It was hotter than hell. The wood was heavy. My arms were sore and burning. The lemonade was actually just water and it was luke warm. I was in a hurry. I was running out of time…

. . .

I snapped back to the present. The scent of sawdust and grass was replaced by the clear relentless cold. Snow drifted over everything, including my memories.

“What?” The dog wanted to know.

“I didn’t get it all moved!” I stammered.

“So?”

“So I…” I remembered it now! “I didn’t have anyone to drive the ATV. It was getting dark. I had to chose; split wood or stack it but I couldn’t do both.”

“So?” The dog asked again.

“The point is that I was in a hurry so I stacked the wood right there!”

“That sucks.” My dog commiserated.

“Not it doesn’t. It means I’ve got a stack of split dried wood just waiting for me!”

The dog lost interest and wandered away.

“I’m getting that shit right now!” I shouted to nobody in particular.

I grabbed a shovel and eyed the snowfield. Perhaps 30 feet away was a dimly remembered woodpile. Today’s version of buried treasure. I attacked a shoulder high iced up snow pile; detritus from several months of snowplowing. I carved a stairway; step after step up and over the heap. More steps down the other side. On the other side I gingerly inched off my stairs; and sunk to my waist in snow. Dammit!

I was cold, stuck in the snow, and on a fools errand. I was in a Jack London story. You know what ties together all those guys who died in Jack London’s books? None were holding a long handled round pointed shovel. Losers!

I went all samurai with the shovel and chopped out big cubes of packed snow. Steady progress. My dog couldn’t follow me over my ‘stairway’ and was barking like Timmy just fell down a well.

Dead reckoning from memory I chopped more blocks. Where the hell was that pile? I probed the snow with the shovel’s handle. Soon I found it. Eureka! I’d nailed the location! I’ll take that kind of memory over a skull full of Internet passwords and phone numbers any day!

Time for a Curmudgeonly Gem of Insight:

“Memory is for a purpose! If I meet you and immediately forget your name, it’s because I’m using that skull space for something more important. Possibly the location of firewood. Just accept it and we’ll both be happier.”

I levered over more snow blocks and uncovered the pile. The whole thing was an iced glob. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea? In frustration I whacked the pile with my shovel. The ice was surprisingly brittle. What looked like an impossible monolithic iced block shattered with one blow. I had a treasure trove of usable stove bolts!

Time for another Curmudgeonly Gem of Insight:

“Some problems require forethought and finesse. Others need to be walloped with a shovel. If you can’t handle ‘shovel problems’ you probably suck at ‘finesse problems’. If you’re in denial about this, you may very well be a ‘shovel problem’ yourself.”

I grabbed a stovebolt and hurled it over the ‘stairway’. It clattered on the frozen driveway. The dog stopped barking. She was either happy I wasn’t dead or decided barking at a wood chucking lunatic was unwise.

Grab, aim, toss. Lather rinse repeat. It took a while.

By sunset the living room was fully stocked with wood. The best part of engaging that last lever is the fact that you had one available.

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Dog Logic And Firewood Levers: Part II

I’d just used the last of my prepared firewood.

“Dog” says I, “we’re fucked.”

Dogs always listen and never lie. This is why dogs are superior to people… and cats. Cats (and most people) will tell me that I’m handsome and beautiful and spring will come tomorrow. A cat would say this while taking a dump in my shoe (and I’m not ruling out that behavior in a subset of humans either).

“Yep. Totally hosed.” The dog agreed, surveying the mostly empty woodshed.

“I’m out of options.” I whined.

“No more wood.” The dog seemed contented.

“Can’t get more either.”

“The squirrels must be cold.” The dog sniffed the ATV’s tire.

“What was that?” I asked.

“The place where squirrels live. Must be gone. You said so.” My dog likes chasing the critters attracted to my ‘firewood processing area’.

“No. There’s wood there but it’s under snow. I won’t retrieve that stuff unless I’m desperate.” I explained.

“So you’re not desperate but it’s cold and we’re going to freeze. Want to play fetch?”

“Well I guess I’m technically desperate. But there’s also my ‘lever theory’.” I mumbled.

“Leave something in reserve… for when you really need it.” The dog said it like a koan.

“Hey, you’ve been reading my blog?” I really have to stop talking to creatures.

“Of course, on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog.”

I patted the dog while pondering my ‘lever theory’. Retrieving wood from the unprocessed, unplowed, log pile really would be deploying my very last lever. It was simply impossible to get into the forest to fell an actual tree. Buying firewood was inconceivable. Wasn’t it better to leave it in reserve? What if it got colder? What if winter lasted extra long? Shouldn’t I leave the log pile for something serious?

“It is -16 degrees.” The dog coaxed.

I sighed.

“It is March.” My dog can not only read a blog but understand calendars.

I sighed again.

“It is -16 in March and you’re standing next to a shoulder high pile of snow. From my point of view this is the firewood equivalent of the zombie apocalypse.”

I sighed a third time.

“If you do not retrieve the wood now, what further bad news would convince you to do it?”

My dog is smarter than me. I decided to deploy my ‘last lever’ firewood.

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Dog Logic And Firewood Levers: Part I

Winter is trying to kill me. It might be trying to kill you too? That’s none of my business. This blog is all about me and narcissistic or not, I have no doubt that winter is definitely, unquestionably, and specifically kicking my ass.

I’m not surprised. I live in the north and plan accordingly. Three pieces of machinery to move snow. Three bottles of Ibuprofen for when the machinery croaks. Two is one and one is none… so I have three. My snowblower died around Christmas. Man down! It knew the risks. The remaining equipment soldiers on. So do I.

This year the snow has been deep but it’s the cold that landed the most punches. Holy leaping wombats has it been friggin cold! Relentless too. I can live with -30 degrees in week long bouts but months at a time is a game changer.

I have three redundant sources of heat. I use them in whatever proportion seems best. (Adaptive folk like options!) When it’s bitter cold, firewood is king. It’s cheap and nobody ever settled down to sip whiskey and read a book by the inviting glow of a furnace vent. When spring comes the equation changes. When it’s nippy but not arctic the furnace is superior to inconvenient wood heat. When I switch to the furnace and ignore my woodstove, robins aren’t far behind.

The relentless cold has done in my firewood supply. My goal is to keep the fire going until “the light at the end of the tunnel”. Normally I’d have already (or nearly) crossed the finish line. This year? Not so much.

I started winter with plenty of firewood for a normal winter. If you see “normal winter” tell him I miss him and wish his asshole cousin “second standard deviation winter” would bugger off. By mid-January it was clear that my woodpile was losing a war of attrition against “snowmageddon” / “polar vortex” / “winter storm ‘Putin’” or whatever buzzword the talking heads were repeating. There was no avoiding it. The woodpile was going to run out.

Doom!

I was pondering the grim situation while tossing chunks of wood into my ATV wagon. My dog was sniffing around the ragged edges of my once mighty and now depleted supply. After this week’s “wood run” my woodshed would be as empty as a politician’s promise.

Let me interrupt a minute and explain that firewood is a game of logistics. A household will burn tons of wood (literally… many… tons). There are a several steps between a standing tree and heat in the living room. Folks who warm their house with money might not understand the complexity involved. When you make your own heat, the entire industrial supply chain, which delivers strawberries on Christmas and will move an iDevice from China to your mailbox, must be replicated by you and you alone. It’s all on your shoulders Bubba!

It’s not all brawn. If I relied solely on studliness to fell, buck, cut, split, stack, haul, and move everything I’d have arms like Popeye right up until they buried my exhausted body in a plastic coffin because I’d burned the wood one. I’m just one man with limited time and equipment. Of necessity I treat processing wood like a chess game.

The opening gambit starts with trees in the forest. If you fell the trees without killing yourself the game pieces are now in play. I’d say that anybody can get this far but YouTube has videos of trees falling on trucks, porches, houses, and BBQ grills that prove me wrong.

The middle game is my “firewood processing area”. (Mrs Curmudgeon would look at it and call it “the mess my husband makes out of the backyard”.) It’s a delightful maze of logs, sizable tree limbs, big chunks of unsplit wood, stored chains in buckets, and a garbage can full of empty beer bottles. It’s arranged in a way that makes perfect sense to me and looks like chaos to everyone else.

The log pile sits around housing squirrels and gathering weeds most days. In summer I periodically dive in to cut and split as much as I can manage during the time I have available. The squirrels disapprove. When it snows, the whole area gets buried and forgotten.

The end game starts the second after the splitter (usually parked near the log pile) does its magic. It’s not enough to make a mighty pile of stove bolts, one must place them strategically or all is lost. I use the Pony trailer and my tractor (when it runs) to drive the fruits of my labor closer to the house. I build several piles (and fill a small shed). The piles look haphazard but they’re cunningly situated to be easily reachable after snowplows surround my house with packed ice. The end game is where you win or lose.

Thus, my home is the sun to a solar system of slowly orbiting Stonehenge-like arrangements that last from one to many years. You know you’re from the North when you think like that.

Checkmate is the cusp of spring. All winter long I make weekly “wood runs” to the handiest Stonehenge. If my Stonehenges outlast Al Gore’s winter, I win.

All of my Stonehenges, I reflected… were gone. Game over. I suck.

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Finally a Cat Update

Mrs. Curmudgeon here. For those of you who have not been following the saga of The Cats at Curmudgeon Compound – catch the hell up! Cat Mafia, I Have Defeated the Cat Mafia, Chipmunk Wars 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Chipmunk Wars: Useless Cat Update, Best Sales Pitch Ever, and Cat Update.

The two cute kittens from the Cat Mafia article are no longer around. Why? well, the first one, after leaving several accidents around the house, one of which I stepped in with my bare feet, decided she was ready to be evicted. She stared me straight in the eye while scratching in a freshly cleaned litterbox, hung her ass over the side, still staring me defiantly in the eye, and pissed directly on the floor. Hell No! Welcome to life as an outdoor cat. P.S. the current outdoor cats are going to see you as an interloper and beat your ass! You deserve it. Epitaph – disappeared two weeks after eviction. Packed up and left after outdoor cats explained territorial boundaries or eaten by coyotes – you decide.

Kitten number two was the useless indoor cat from the Chipmunk Wars. She stayed on until the vicious killer cat from hell came to Curmudgeon Compound as a result of the best sales pitch ever. Killer cat lived up to her reputation by trying to kill everything under 4 feet tall. We found mouse parts, bagel parts, a half-starved demoted auxiliary back-up cat, pieces of MRE, and a lot of garlic powder. She was a complete destructive force that also sat on your lap and purred, however, she was not content with a domestic domain. She ran out of things to kill too quickly, she got bored and started wreaking havoc – stealing food, breaking dishes, killing furniture, having outrageous beer parties with biker gangs whenever we weren’t at home. Something had to be done!

Meanwhile we had recently lost an outdoor cat, Short Ears (ears lost to frostbite) aka Pirate Cat (eye lost to coyote attack) aka Zombie Cat (eye creepily regenerated, but that’s another story) to ahh…natural causes. I am absolutely sure it had a heart attack and fell right in those tire tracks. The weather was getting warmer and Curmudgeon’s temper was getting shorter. Killer cat became an outdoor cat because of her bad girl attitude and the useless auxiliary back-up cat soon followed and immediately disappeared under suspicious circumstances. Killer cat showed great prowess for running the farm. Three steps out the door she took on our large grey tom that is built like a prize fighter, thumped him good, chased him up a tree and then took a nap under said tree trapping him there for a good long while. She had a penchant for chasing the chickens, but if she ever killed any she did not leave any evidence. One night when the kid was feeding the chickens he could not get killer cat to leave the coop. He decided to lock her in with the chickens for the night. I believe this offended the cat because in the morning she sauntered out of the chicken coop, gave a disdainful hate-filled stare to one and all, and left the premises never to be seen again. Apparently we were not worthy.

As winter started to approach this year and the mice started moving in from the fields we decided to get a new lap sitting cat. We found a kitten in the early fall that has worked out quite well. She defecates in the correct place, she sits on your lap and purrs when she feels like it, and she actually catches mice. In fact she must have sensed her job performance was under review because while I was writing this post she has brought me no less than eight mice, five dead and three mortally wounded. Good Kitty!

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