March 31, 2015

Tracey and I were talking about “soul songs” and what makes songs deep and meaningful to one person but not another. I’m not sure R.E.M.’s “Find The River” is a “soul song” for me, but it certainly resonates with an atmosphere of unrequited longing and a melancholy that seems to define the track. On the surface the lyrics might seem a little obtuse, but that sort of adds to the overall feeling:

Hey now, little speedy head
The meter on the speedmeter says
You have to go to task in the city
Where people drown and people serve
Don’t be shy. Your just dessert
Is only just light years to go

Me, my thoughts are flowers strewn
Ocean storm, bayberry moon
I have got to leave to find my way
Watch the road and memorize
This life that pass before my eyes
Nothing is going my way

The ocean is the river’s goal
A need to leave the water knows
We’re closer now than light years to go

I have got to find the river,
Bergamot and vetiver
Run through my head and fall away
Leave the road and memorize
This life that pass before my eyes
Nothing is going my way

There’s no one left to take the lead,
But I tell you and you can see
We’re closer now that light years to go
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
Fall into the ocean

The river to the ocean goes
A fortune for the undertow
None of this is going my way
There is nothing left to throw
Of ginger, lemon, indigo
Coriander stem and rose of hay
Strength and courage overrides
The privileged and weary eyes
Of river poet search naivete
Pick up here and chase the ride
The river empties to the tide
All of this is coming your way

The song has a particularly special meaning for me because whenever I hear it I’m reminded of the days surrounding our initial departure from Massachusetts to the great unknown of Louisville, Kentucky where I intended to pick up my pursuit of the priesthood. It was an emotional time for both of us; perhaps that’s why this particular tune resonated so much at the time.

Perhaps the river leads him to the ocean. Perhaps it leads nowhere and the river is left to find his own way until it dries up and turns to dust. And perhaps – and most likely – it doesn’t matter one way or the other.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:04 | Comments (0)
March 30, 2015

I’ll admit, Holy Week is tough for me. It’s the time of year I feel most the connection between God, my soul, and my Christian faith – even when that connection seems as tenuous as it feels this year. I’m more convinced now as ever before that I was meant to be a monastic. Not as a way to escape the world and to run away from the decisions I’ve made in my life, but because it’s part of (if not all of) the calling I feel in my soul, what God is or was or always has been calling me to do.

It ought to be said up front that I’m perfectly capable of being happy in my present situation. I’m happily married, have a job that I’m both good at and well compensated for, and have an enjoyable life here in the Valley of the Sun where you don’t have to shovel snow and on any given day of the year one can walk to the mailbox in lounge pants and bare feet. I never get tired of sunsets or late nights on the back patio with a glass of Pinot Grigio and contemplating life and my on-going to-do list amidst the quiet of “Pleasant Valley Sunday” subdivison life. And I’ve got a wonderful family and great friends who, while far away, are never far from my thoughts.

That being said, there’s “soul stuff” going on that Holy Week somehow brings to the fore each year. Twenty years ago I heard and felt God’s call to be a priest, and for the next ten years I pursued that calling from Massachusetts to Kentucky, and finally here to Arizona without any success. It was hard sledding at the time and for a time thereafter, but I came through it OK. Throught that time, between the Episcopal Church and a couple of semesters at a Presbyterian seminary I saw how the Church works internally. It’s a fascinating business, though not especially kind to those who sense they have a calling but are not able to articulate it in a way that speaks to ROI (return on investment) to the bishops and the powers-that-be who decide those who get in and those who don’t.

A religious calling is a funny thing, because at some point the rubber always hits the road and the Church has to make the tough decisions about the kind of people they allow into the process for the priesthood and those who don’t. I still remember a night back in Kentucky getting a call from a guy who had been turned down for the priesthood. I didn’t even know him that well, but he must have thought we were in some ways kindred spirits and I listened to him pour his heart out for the better part of two hours as his life-long dream had been dashed by way of a letter – the same letter I would receive a year later. On the surface, he seemed to have all the qualities the Diocese of Kentucky was looking for in priests. After I hung up the phone I knew that if he didn’t have “the right stuff” to be accepted I was in a world of hurt.

As the years have gone on I’ve had a chance to think about things and have come to realize that the bishops of Massachusetts and Kentucky were probably right in their deciding I wasn’t called to be a parish priest. Which is not to say I couldn’t have been a damned fine priest and better than 90% of the people that got in based on their connections, gender, and sexual orientation, because, in the end, the Church is a flawed business and that’s what (especially in the Episcopal Church) it all comes down to.

As I’ve grown older, it’s the monastic life I realize I’ve always been called to. The calling that everything you are is focused solely on Jesus Christ and the Cross, and the work of God to whatever purpose you were put on this earth for. And Holy Week is a reminder that the monastic calling is something that will have to wait until the next life. As hard as it might seem, to become a monastic is not the easiest thing in the world to do, nor, I guess, should it. For one thing, coming late to the game as I seem to have always been, no monastic order is going to take someone over 50 unless they come without any baggage and with plenty of do-re-mi to cover the inevitable health expenses that come with the territory. There’s the “God side” of being a monastic and there’s a practical side which is something you can’t avoid in this day and age.

Sure, I could “play monastic” by living my life around the monastic life at places like Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York, but let’s be real: either you’re part of “the in” or you’re not. I could, I suppose, go through all kinds of calisthenics to work a spiritual life around my work life, but it’s not practical. So I choose to live my life as I do, seeing the spiritual amidst the material, living my life in the material world while recognizing that little calling inside that always seems to surface whenever Holy Week comes around.

This Holy Week I think I’ll try and read a little Thomas Merton, someone who has always been close to my soul-person. Merton was as much of a reality mystic as anyone, someone who always struggled with his monastic calling and ultimately found it too confining for his perceived calling. And maybe, had I chosen the monastic route earlier in life, I would have found the same sense of being boxed in, confined to some orthodoxy and rules of Order. But it’s something come every Holy Week I wish could have been different from the road I have traveled, and something I know I should have been given an opportunity to pursue in one fashion or another.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:46 | Comments (2)
March 28, 2015

“Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey”.

It’s dark in the bedroom. I mean dark as in still dark but I’m hearing the sound of shoveling – shoveling! – outside the guest bedroom window. I’m groggy, check my phone. 5:40 AM. I put some clothes on and stagger out the front door to see a pickup truck, headlights blazing, illuminating a solitary figure scraping out dirt in the driveway.

“They said you’d be here early, but I didn’t think this early!”, I said with a sleepy smile.

“Hope your neighbors don’t mind. I’m trying to be as quiet as possible.”

“Hard to keep the sound of shoveling dirt quiet. But don’t worry about it, I’ll cover for you. Believe me, the HOA knows my address by heart!”

“The crew will be here in fifteen minutes.”

He was wrong. The crew showed up less than ten minutes later. Two more guys. And then, shortly before 6 AM, the sound of a big truck. Like, cement mixer truck big:

It’s not quite 6 AM in the morning and I’ve got a crew already hard at work, shoveling dirt, smoothing it out, readying for the cement.

I put a pot of coffee on and offer a cup up to the guys. One, the youngest of the bunch named Juanito, accepts. The rest of the crew (including the cement mixer guy, with a beard worthy of a ZZ Top guitarist) laugh at him and politely decline. They know the game, know each other. They’ve done this so many times before, they came prepared. Juanito takes the cup I offer him with a big smile.

The dome of dawn has pushed the darkest of the night away. The cement mixer guy washes his apparatus down and with a happy wave is off to his next gig. Now the guys are hard at work, smoothing the cement out, tossing handfuls of the stuff in wherever needed to make it level.

“This is where you have to be careful”, says the guy playing supervisor. Once it’s poured you gotta get it smooth quickly. The longer it sits, the harder it is to get it back to where it needs to be. I’ll be here for the next three hours. Can’t have people putting their hands in it or driving their cars over it unintentionally.” Almost as if on cue, a car appears around the corner and one of the guys notices they’re tossing newspapers out onto everyone’s driveway. The car draws closer, and the guys are waving their hands frantically. The driver could care less – a newspaper comes flying out the passenger window, landing not a foot away from the freshly-poured cement.

“Asshole!”, the supervisor yells as the car goes round the cul-de-sac and zips away from us, tossing newspapers as if the rest of the world didn’t exist.

“Like I said.”

Twenty minutes later, they’re gone. Even the sup who said he’d be here for hours. Given our location on a cul-de-sac without families and kids there’s not a whole lot to worry about. But the work they did was awesone. Why, why it looks almost like… like driveway!

By the light of day it looks even better, but now I’ve got the latest in a series of piles of dirt on the lawn. For a moment I feel sad. I’m sick of piles of dirt. But the driveway is looking more awesome by the minute. And help is on the way.

It’s near 8 AM and I hear the sound of a truck pulling up front. The landscaping guys are here to put the front yard back in order. They’ve got a lot of work to do: digging a new trench around the perimeter of the yard to install the new watering system and cover all the non-lawn dirt areas with rock. The day is warming up big time, and there are even more piles of clay (I’ve been calling it dirt but our ground is really clay) all over the lawn. The laborers are doing the digging with a pick axe and shovel; Daniel the supervisor is doing all the brick and mortar.

“Don’t worry”, says Daniel, sensing my latest distress. “Everything always looks the darkest before the dawn.” Great. So now everyone’s a mystic. I’ll bet St. John of the Cross never had to deal with having his front lawn dug up what seems like a gazillion times. To simplify things, we’re cutting off a 8′ X 3′ section of lawn that bulged out towards the pistachio tree and returning that to rock cover.

Around 10 AM the supervisor and truck disappear, leaving the workers to shovel all the extra clay into a low area that will be covered with rock. The bigger clumps of clay – and there are a lot of them – get tossed into wheelbarrows and dumped on the street for safe-keeping. An hour later, Daniel and truck are back, this time with 4 1/2 tons of rock. It sounds like a lot, but the 4 1/2 tons only produces a fairly good-sized pile:

The watering system is laid and the latest piles of dirt disappear into the earth for a final time. It’s shortly past noon, and the cement that was poured just six hours earlier is already starting to look like it belongs where it is. I bring out a few ice-cold Diet Sprites and offer them around. “Break time!”, says Daniel, and we all congregate in the shade for a welcome break in the action. We chat for a while and then, rejuvenated, the guys get back to loading wheelbarrows of rock and cover all the dirt that’s not part of the lawn.

It takes only 90 minutes for three guys to move 4 1/2 tons of rock, and just like Daniel promised several weeks ago, with the exception of a wide dirt stripe running across the lawn, you’d never know anything had happened:

Another $3,200 on the credit card, but it’s only money, right?

——————

The day after, me and Carmelo are walking the lawn. It takes all of one minute. :-) Carmelo measures the big dirt stripe and rubs his chin. “I’m gonna have my guys remove all the clumps on top of the dirt. On Tuesdays there’s a guy at Home Depot I can talk to about getting some loam for you. He grabs my measuring tape and then his calculator, then runs the numbers in his head.

The world stands still for a moment as you can almost hear the gears turning in his head.

“I can do this. Give me two weeks and I’ll have it all laid out for you. Once the Bermuda seed is down you won’t even know anything ever happened here.”

And that’s the way it all ended. No fanfare, no parting of clouds and angelic choir. Just an extra-heavy Citi Card in the present and weeks of anxiety in the past. I truly believe come two months from now you’ll never even know anything big happened here. Oh, there might be a section of the driveway just a shade darker then the rest, and (as Carmelo pointed out) the landscapers could have done a better job matching up the new rock with the old rock that was previously there, but that’s pretty small potatoes in the grand scheme of things.

Our long national nightmare is over. Now it’s time to do whatever it takes to eliminate the new pile of debt we’ve accumulated in such a short period of time. God willing and the creek don’t rise we could still be debt free come Halloween. If that were to happen there could be one hell of a post-60th birthday celebration!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:29 | Comments (2)
March 27, 2015

This is the second time I’ve seen this lizard on the same chair during the late afternoon this week. I think he likes sunning himself there, and I think he (or she) somehow knows that the chair cushion camoflages him (or her) perfectly. As it is you’ve got to look close to make him/her out!

Fortunately I was able to snap a quick pic before he made a rush up and down the chair, then down the leg to the patio floor before scooting into the Tiki bar thatch. Seems like a cut little thing. Guess I need to start checking the chairs for occupants before I sit down and enjoy the late afternoon sun.

The front yard is finally done and our driveway is whole again. All is nearly right again in the jungle. Lots of pics coming in the next post.

Our first heat wave coming this weekend, should be in the low to mid-90s tomorrow through Sunday. When you hit 90 around here you know the real heat isn’t far behind. I still plan on hitting balls – Saturday and Sunday.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:24 | Comments (0)
March 26, 2015

So there I was, mindlessly typing away an e-mail when I hear the sound of a truck out front. Not that unusual, really, but when I started hearing the sound of wood being sawed that got my ear – after all, there’s usually no one around us during the days who would be doing that kind of work. I look out the front window and there’s a guy sawing the two pieces of pressure-treated wood I’ve been using as ramps over the dirt area of my driveway to keep from tracking any more dirt all over the place than there already is. And lo and behold, the truck belongs to a concrete company!

I introduce myself as he’s slaving away on digging away at the dirt, creating another pile on my front lawn, where the concrete forms were going to be placed.

“Gonna be a lot of activity around here come 6 AM tomorrow”, says he. You got a cement mixer coming. I’m here to do the forms, and by Friday you ought to have a real driveway again.”

I’m beside myself with joy. Not at the 6 AM activity – my neighbors will really get a charge out of that – but simply the fact that our five-week sewer pipe replacement nightmare is about to end. Just think: no more pressure-treated board walkways. No more tarps. No more dirt being tracking into the driveway, out into the street, and inside the house. Back to being just another subdivision-dwelling shmoe like everyone else on my street. Anonymity is going to feel so good!

Earlier in the day I had called the landscaping company to ask when we could schedule putting my front yard back whole again. “No one called you?”, says Sherry, the woman who now knows me by my voice and someone whom I’ve had more interaction with over the past month than just about anyone. She’s very nice, but she’s like the dentist – the less interaction the better. She says, “The crew is coming tomorrow, they’ll be there around 8 AM. I hope that’s OK.”

“OK? Why, that’s fantastic! Glad I called.”

So tomorrow I’ve got a cement truck, four tons of rock and 4-5 laborers coming. Serious blue-collar stuff. There’s cement to pour and lay out, dirt to shovel, one watering system to lay down (for the lawn) and another to fix (for the front bushes), brick to lay down and mortar (repairing the front lawn border), and rock to scatter. It promises to be a lot of work, and a busy and noisy (not to mention expensive, but that, of course goes without saying!) day here at the Richard hacienda.

I’m just glad it’s almost over.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:56 | Comments (0)
March 25, 2015

Living here in the Desert Southwest you’re always cognizant about water and its availability, not just for the short-term but for the long-term as well. And the science of accessing water from non-traditional sources is something I’ve grown increasingly interested in. Therefore it was refreshing to discover this really cool article (Hat tip: Instapundit).

And it wasn’t just the article, it was the comments that I found so interesting. Obviously this is something that others have given a great deal of thought to as well! And why not? With the exception of the environmental lobby (which would prefer we all go back to grass huts and stone tools), the prospect of providing the American West with water seems like the kind of technological challenge that America has always embraced and met head on, bringing out the best of us. Think about it: you’re not building bombs that kill people, or spending useless dollars on light rail and “fast train” solutions targeted to only segments of a state or region. You’re solving a fundamental problem that poses a serious threat to the livelihood of the America of people’s dreams. Horace Greely’s “Go west, young man”. California, Las Vegas, the San Fernando Valley.

Desalination plants drawing water from the Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Gulf of California. Pipelines drawing water from the Great Lakes and/or America’s great rivers. And these are just existing technologies: just imagine if President Obama (or his successor) were to issue a challenge to America’s colleges and universities and think tanks to “waterize” the West through the most advanced (and environmentally friendly) technological means available to us. Think of the kind of enthusiasm, creativity, and synergy it would create. Engineers dreaming big dreams, infrastructure projects creating jobs. Science and technology back on the front burner like it was when JFK issued his “moon challenge” back in the Sixties.

And think of the economic benefits, not just to the West but to America and the world as well when water is made more plentiful. Dry valleys, lakes and reservoirs, and long-unused farmland brought back to life and verdant with growth, activity, and opportunity. Lower food costs through greater abundance. More job creation and economic opportunities for everyone from corporations to small businesses, benefitting everyone from all walks of life: families, engineers, construction workers, farmers, farm workers.

And it doesn’t necessarily have to be only “the West” that benefits. Perhaps along the way water can be re-routed to other sections of the country in need during unusual weather cycles – for example, helping the Great Plains avoid another “Dust Bowl” and being able to refresh the Ogallala Aquifer when the need arises.

Who knows? this kind of thing might even be the kind of common goal that could help start bringing this country back together as a nation. Hey, I can dream, can’t I?

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:48 | Comments (0)
March 24, 2015

Catching up on a bunch of stuff with all the light-blogging over the past week:

I don’t know where Deerwood Country Club is (actually it would appear to be in Jacksonville, Florida) but this pic would be enough to make me re-think my membership. (Hat tip: brother Dave)

Just finished Marky Ramone’s book Punk Rock Blitzkrieg. A real enjoyable read and a page-turner. Reminded me of why the Ramones will always be in my top 5 of all-time favorite groups. They were one of a kind.

…on the other hand, David Halberstam’s classic The Best and the Brightest was a truly sad and maddening read. It showed just how much of a political coward John F. Kennedy was, and how the eastern elitists he surrounded himself with and passed along to Lyndon Johnson (a class A asshole if there ever was one) led us down the road to Vietnam. The McNamaras, Rusks, Bundys, et al all thought they knew better than anyone else and literally fabricated their way to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people for purely political means. You can criticize George W. Bush for Iraq all you want, but at least the Iraqis longed for freedom from the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein; the Vietnamese people who lived in the South (I won’t refer to them as “South Vietnamese” because there was never such a thing) could have cared less about us being there. All we were doing was propping up a weak and corrupt regime for appearances sake. It was truly an American tragedy, and I’ll never think of JFK and LBJ the same ever again. May the whole bunch rot in hell.

I guess we all get old. But let it be said that when she was younger Candace Bergen was a class A fox. And she was great opposite Sean Connery in The Wind and The Lion.

I’m pretty intrigued by the Red Sox this spring. Mookie Betts looks to be a keeper in center, and I’m guessing before too long Shane Victorino will be shipped out to make way for Rusney Castillo. Are they a little light in starting pitching? Perhaps. But if they’re anywhere close come the July trading deadline they’ve got oodles of prospects to trade for a front-line pitcher.

Back to the Ramones: who could get away with releasing a song like this today?

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:44 | Comments (0)
March 23, 2015

Here in the Valley of the Sun we’ve had Spring for a while now, and while Mother Nature rarely – if ever – pays attention to such mundane things as the turn of a day on the calendar, it’s nice to know that, weather or not, it is finally Spring everywhere:

“Hark, I hear a robin calling!
List, the wind is from the south!
And the orchard-bloom is falling
Sweet as kisses on the mouth.

In the dreamy vale of beeches
Fair and faint is woven mist,
And the river’s orient reaches
Are the palest amethyst.

Every limpid brook is singing
Of the lure of April days;
Every piney glen is ringing
With the maddest roundelays.

Come and let us seek together
Springtime lore of daffodils,
Giving to the golden weather
Greeting on the sun-warm hills.”
— Lucy Maud Montgomery, Spring Song

Hat tip: egreenway.com

That’s a pretty cute bunny in the picture, isn’t it?

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 18:52 | Comments (0)
March 21, 2015

Apologies for dropping out of sight the past few days, between trips to the vet, yard work and such it seems like the week just got away from me. Everyone’s OK, nothing much to write about. Had some great workouts at the gym this week – I’m really starting to see the kind of tone in my upper body and legs I sought when I committed to it last November. The mourning doves have been checking out our lime true in the hope of starting a nest there. The rain we got on Wed and Thurs really got the dirt in our front yard settling (a little too much where our driveway is concerned), and between discussions with the landscaping and pool guys it suddenly looks like April is going to be quite the busy month around here.

And that doesn’t even include taxes which I absolutely, positively have to finish the necessary prep work for this weekend.

Have a great weekend, everyone – Happy Spring!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:16 | Comments (0)
March 18, 2015

Another week, another round of dirt and rock displacement – this time in the backyard to replace our ancient watering system with better material and a more logical configuration. And while the cost was about what you would expect for the kind of work that was done – just a hair above $1,700 – the whole effort went amazingly fast.

The first step was to make damned sure the guys understood what I was looking for – something that was real basic and straight-forward: two main lines, one for the queen and date palms, one for all the other flora and fauna. The lines placed in a way that they’d be easily identified (i.e., running along the cement walls as much as possible) to make future troubleshooting (hopefully, the next occupant!) easier, with spaghetti lines running out to each and every tree and bush. No more main lines spread all over the place. No more trees sharing multiple valve stations. And, most importantly, no more water wasted in areas that didn’t need it.

Considering the task at hand I was pretty surprised at how quickly it all went: two guys, one with a pickaxe, one with a shovel, working their way from the main valves out, starting from the left and gradually working their way around to the right and around the back to the side yard. And the foreman/supervisor following up, pulling the old stuff up. In the better part of two hours they had unearthed the entire system, covered the old areas with the original dirt and rock, and had started a new trench running at the base of the wall all around.

They found the leak quickly enough, by the bend in the swimming pool patio deck. Nothing serious, just age and (once again) the settling of ground pulling an underground (and heretofore unknown) spaghetti line away from one of the main lines.

Within another hour they had laid the new main lines down and connected them to the main valves. A quick test to make sure the main lines were intact and not leaking, and the next step was to connect the smaller “spaghetti” lines to each bush and tree to its respective line. Another check of station five (the palms) and station six (everything else) to make sure the emitters were working without leaks, and while one guy covered up the trench the other was washing down everything.

And that was that. Backyard watering system issues a thing of the past, a credit card a little more bloated, and everyone happy.

After settling the bill I talked with the head honcho about next steps. We walked the front yard and peeked under the tarp covering the area of the driveway needing cement. He could already see the difference my watering had done on the dirt racing stripe running across our front lawn and thought another two weeks of watering would be sufficient to get everything ready for the final visit. The goal is to have everything done by April 15. Which reminds me, time to get scooting on our taxes prep!

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:12 | Comments (0)

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