Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Category: personal (page 6 of 16)

pictures

iPhoto is bundled with every new Mac, but I never really bonded with it. The way it maintains photos is grossly inefficient, and it doesn’t deal as gracefully with batch processes or metadata as I’d like. I always used Graphic Converter for that stuff, but I have to admit that it isn’t great for just organizing photos.

From time to time, I’d read that people using the current version of iPhoto found it much improved–indispensable, even. And with a 250-gig hard drive, I could tolerate some inefficiency. So I decided to give it a shot. Thanks to the Keyword assistant and Flickr export plugins, I can use iPhoto with a tolerably efficient workflow. I’ve managed to import, tag, organize, and upload a lot of old photos to my flickr account–check ’em out. More to come.

Ten years

Ten years ago yesterday, I broke my hip. For the first time.

Mi casa es su casa

Gwen and I bought a house yesterday. The circumstances surrounding the sale are a little unusual, but not in a bad way.

We had been looking for a long time–before my old house was even on the market, in fact. And the longer we looked, the more discouraged we got. There was this duplex that intrigued us, but left us with some reservations–it had been languishing on the market for over a year and was withdrawn from the market three days before we decided to make an offer on it. Long story. No point in kicking ourselves over that lost opportunity.

For quite some time, everything we looked at was too expensive, too awful, too remote, or some combination of the three. One day a friend of ours, Mychal, mentioned that the folks across the street from her were thinking of selling their house. She gave us their number and we all-but coerced them into letting us go for a walk-through. They didn’t have a realtor at that point (in fact, we found out after the closing, they weren’t entirely sure about selling at that point). We mentioned this new development to our realtor, who actually told us that we should get the sellers to handle the transaction as a FSBO (for sale by owner, pronounced “fizzbo”), and that she would step aside. And that’s how we did it.

When I bought my previous house with Jenny, we walked in the door and pretty much knew instantly “this is it.” That’s not a responsible approach to home-buying, but we got lucky in that instance. This time around, I think Gwen and I were both a little too savvy to fall in love with the place immediately, but we knew this could be it.

We were also looking at the house not just for what it is, but for what it could be. My last house we never even repainted rooms (with one exception) until we decided to fix it up to sell. This time, we’re going to have a fair amount of work done before we even move in. Not that there’s anything actually wrong with it, but it is a small place, and the disposition of space isn’t optimized for Gwen and me. So we’ll be moving some rooms around. I’ll probably start a renovation blog to document that process.

Handling the transaction without an agent was not that difficult. It did require a fair amount of attentiveness at times, making sure that the title company, insurer, lender, and we were all on the same page. And it required some delicacy with the sellers, since they’re nice folks (in fact, we established that we’ve been present at the same party at least once, and have several friends in common), and we didn’t want to alienate them, but we also wanted to look out for our own interests. If realtors had been involved, everything would have been completely arm’s-length and faintly antagonistic. In our case, they wanted to sell and we wanted to buy; they were happy that the house was going to be in good hands, and we were happy to be doing business with them. The whole process felt more cooperative. The tensest moment came when we were shooting the breeze about neighborhood restaurants, and mentioned both Vivo and El Chile. Either Gwen or I added “not that there’s any comparison,” and one of the sellers asked “which one do you like better?” A moment of ominous silence passed, as if this were a test to determine our fitness to buy their home, the reliability of our judgment, and our compatibility with the neighborhood zeitgeist. “El Chile,” we answered. A barely-perceptible wave of relief–we gave the right answer. Some people get hung up about doing business only with others of the same political leanings, but this was important.

Although apparently many closings are handled with the seller and buyer not even being at the same place at the same time, we did this at the subject property–an agent from the title company drove over and we took care of everything at the dining-room table. Afterwords, we drank excellent mojitos and shot the breeze.

Another one of the unusual aspects of this deal is that we have a lease-back agreement with the sellers–they’re moving out of the country in about a month, so rather than trying to find temporary lodgings, they’re renting their own house back from us for the time being (actually, we reduced the sale price by an agreed amount).

So the whole deal has an air of unreality about it. Between the lease-back and the renovation, we probably will not be actually occupying the house until some time in January. And yet it is ours.

Born to be wild

For some time now, Gwen has been planning to sell her car and replace it with a scooter (probably a Stella). But to even test-drive a scooter larger than 50 cc, you need to have a motorcycle-operator’s license. Since I’d want to be able to ride her scooter (even if, as she plans to, she puts pink flames on it), I’d need to be licensed as well. So this past weekend we took a motorcycle safety course.

That was interesting.

Gwen chose this place because they offer training on scooters, which she thought would be more relevant. In this case, perhaps not. It turns out the scooters they had were 50-cc automatics, and she’s planning on getting a 150-cc manual. So after the first couple of exercises, we asked to be switched to the bikes everyone else was riding (Kawasaki Eliminators–an intimidating name for a laid-back 125-cc bike–stripped of their turning signals and mirrors), and the instructors agreed. Gwen, the diminutive thing that she is, was put off by the size of even small motorcycles, but quickly decided that was the lesser of two evils, and once she was on it, she was comfortable enough with it–but she still plans on getting a scooter.

I think this was only the second time since college that I’ve had any type of formal instruction, and it was very different from the normal academic environment. The big difference is that we were all being treated like adults: we were being moved along quickly and we were expected to “get it”–to not need to be told every little thing. The instructors were telling us we needed to go faster a lot more frequently than they were telling us we needed to go slower. Although it’s not really possible to ingrain good habits in a weekend-long course, that’s really what they were trying to do–they wanted us to have the reflexes to do the right thing in real-world situations, rather than (or really, in addition to) showing that we intellectually understood a set of instructions. There’s a lot of stuff that’s equivalent to learning how to pat your head and rub your belly, and you really don’t nail that in two days.

It was interesting how my experience as a cyclist helped and hindered me on a motorcycle. For the most part, I think I had an advantage in terms of handling, but for low-speed maneuvers (especially the “U-turn box”) handling is sufficiently different that my instincts didn’t do me any good. Where cycling was really interfering was on the controls: On a bicycle, your left hand controls your front brake and front derailleur, your right the rear brake and rear derailleur. On a motorcycle, your left hand controls the clutch, your right hand the front brake, and hey, you’ve got to use your feet–left foot shifts, right foot works the rear brake. I’m accustomed to setting my right foot down at stops (my left foot is my good foot), but when you’re coming to a stop, you need your foot on the brake, so I was doing a little left-foot down, then left-foot up and right-foot down dance.

At the end of the course, we all underwent an evaluation that, if we passed, would allow us to dispense with taking the practical exam at DPS, get us lower insurance rates, and (perversely) allow us to disregard the helmet law. Now that we’re been conscientious enough to take a class to learn how to ride safely, we can be reckless. We all passed.

The Maelstrom

Moved the 14th. Closed on the sale of the house the 15th.

We effectively had nine days to pack: we had long since scheduled a trip to Chicago that conveniently fell during our contract period. Nine days is not a lot of time, but we managed to do a pretty good job weeding out junk, keeping things categorized, labeling boxes, etc. Where I didn’t do such a good job was in estimating the size of our load for the movers–I was low by about half on the box count, and missed a few pieces of furniture. Oops. Moving day was about as much fun as it ever can be, and very hot.

The place we’re in now, by a series of fortunate events, is the house in front of the garage apartment where Gwen was living when I met her. And right around the corner from the house I lived in during college. It’s smaller than the old place, and has much less storage space (and what there is is less usable), which poses some problems. Boxes and stuff everywhere. Last night was our first real attempt at getting the highest-priority stuff unpacked. After the constant pressure to keep the old house in showable condition, and the crunch of getting it packed, we’re not in a big hurry to deal with the disarray.

I’ve got a lot of money now (or I will, as soon as my realtor drops off the damn check, which I expect to be physically huge, like one of those Ed McMahon checks). Gwen and I met with a couple of financial advisors yesterday, and we discussed ways for us to avoid eating cat food in our later years. Looks like if we invest the money and have garden-variety luck in the market, we’ll accomplish that. The advisors were nice guys, but they seem to proceed from a different set of assumptions about what aging means than I do: they’re trying to create a plan so that we won’t need to work when we’re old. I said “look, I’m much more afraid of not being able to work than of needing to work.” One point where we were all in accord was in assuming that Social Security wouldn’t exist.

The issue of long-term planning raises a host of knotty questions, most relevant (to me) being medical care. It gets more and more expensive every year, and it gets more expensive as you get older (two trends that seem to run in lock-step with each other, too). With my previous insurance carrier, I plotted the rate of increase in my premiums to them against my projected income, and found that, if I stayed with them, my insurance would eat up 100% of my income by the time I turned 60. That’s obviously an untenable situation, and it makes me wonder if the USA will do anything as a nation to resolve it. Can we make assumptions about what the healthcare landscape will look like in 25 years with any degree of confidence? Hell, there are people talking about eliminating death in our lifetimes.

And the question of long-term investments makes me wonder about the health of the U.S. economy over the long haul.

There’s a lot happening all at once, a lot to think about, a lot to do, and a lot of boxes.

Now my head explodes

My house has been on the market for about 7 months. That’s a long time. Gwen and I had reduced our asking price shortly before Flipside, and we were getting a lot more interest. I had a feeling that we might get an offer while I was at Flipside (and out of cellphone range).

Sure enough, when I got back early Monday afternoon, I learned we had an offer. Within six hours, we had a pending contract. With a 15-day closing period. And a 6-day trip to Chicago scheduled in the middle. Meaning we have 9 days to pack up my house, assuming the deal goes through (which it probably will, but might not). We’ve already lined up a good deal on a temporary rental.

An event like Flipside gives your brain a lot to chew on (see my previous post), and puts you into a different reality, from which you return to the humdrum world only reluctantly. Being forced to shift so quickly back into everyday life has completely stripped my mental gearbox.

Everything is happening at once.

So Gwen and I spent a few hours Tuesday night boxing up books. Normally, Tuesday night would be fire practice. Normally, the Tuesday following Flipside, nobody would go. But because we had heard that Andy (a phenomenal firespinner visiting from Germany) was going to be there, a pretty good number of people turned out. Gwen and I set aside the boxes and went down as well. A little Flipside dessert.

Burning Flipside 2005

shirries feet

Went to Burning Flipside this past weekend. Unfortunately, Gwen wasn’t able to be with me. We found out (after we had our tickets) that a friend was having a weekend-long wedding bash at the same time, and because this was the same friend who had officiated at our weddding, we didn’t feel like we could miss that. But because The Powers That Be at Flipside had gone out of their way to make it possible for us to be there, we didn’t feel like we could say no to that. So we split the difference: one of us went to Flipside, one went to Davey’s weddingpalooza.

For those who don’t know, Flipside is a “regional burn,” a companion event to Burning Man, which started it all. Flipside is the oldest and largest of these regional burns. What these burn events are is a little harder to explain. When I don’t want to go into details, I call it a camp-out, but that’s like calling the Grand Canyon a ditch. It’s also an intentional community, an art festival, an experiment in “radical self-expression and radical self-reliance” (meaning: anything goes, and you better be able to take care of all your needs except for sanitary facilities). At the popular-perception end of the scale, it’s also an opportunity to do a lot of drugs and see a lot of boobies, but again, that’s completely missing the point.

The Intentional Community

Larry Niven wrote a science-fiction story called “The Anarchy Cloak,” which I read as a teenager. It was a gedankenexperiment about a future society with “anarchy parks” where anything goes, as long as it’s not violent–and there are little hovering robots to zap you if you get out of line. His story explores “what happens when the little robots get knocked out”–basically, warlordism in miniature. Niven’s view of human nature is cynical, albeit with ample justification.

Flipside is like an anarchy park, but without the same social-control mechanism. People are generally decent to each other because they want it to work. There are rangers to deal with problems, and problems do exist, but for the most part the rangers seem to get people to back off from confrontations and deal with people who have OD’d on some drug or another. I was discussing the whole experience with a ranger, Keeper, on the way out, and she observed that people show up not only wanting to make the event work, but to do something to make it better.

Flipside is a place where you can watch good karma in action. At Circle of Fire, the theme camp for firespinners, we had the dual problems of an inadequate sound system and inadequate power supply for it (despite Scott’s ingenious efforts), along with the fact that we were near two DJ’d camps, and would be competing with their sound output. Scott and I had strategized ways to deal with this without really coming up with a solution. At one point, I was filling the tiki torches surrounding CoF, and someone came over asking to bum some fuel for his tiki torches. I offered him all he wanted (there was still plenty left over when we were packing up to go home), and he asked if I wanted anything in return. I said no. He then told me he was from one of the adjacent camps, Winner’s Circle (whose DJ had been spinning vinyl I really enjoyed spinning fire to), so I said “you know, there is something you can do for me: point one of your speakers at the fire circle.” He was happy to do that, and our music problem was solved.

The Extravagant Gesture

Flipside, like other burner events, involves an astounding amount of work for a very large number of people who are derided as hippies and slackers in everyday life. An ordinary person showing up at Flipside would observe the amount of work going into creating a temporary community and ephemeral art, and shake his head in incredulity. Even the simple act of showing up at an event like this involves bringing a hell of a lot of shit for most folks. I showed up with my little wagon packed to the gills, and one of my campmates said, without sarcasm, “you travel light!”

The psychological cornerstone of every burner event is an effigy that is burned on the last night. At Flipside this year, the effigy was a rocket (resonating with this year’s theme: “Innergalactic Circus”). Major sub-assemblies for the rocket had been completed offsite in advance, and were assembled on the spot The result was (I am guessing) about 40 feet tall, and built like a brick shithouse. Seriously: houses that people live their whole lives in probably are not as solid. As I understand it, Dave Umlaus was in charge of the rocket’s construction. I doubt he slept for a week, and construction was still underway just a couple of hours before the burn.

What’s the point of building something, only to burn it down as soon as you finish? There are a lot of ways to answer that. To acknowledge the temporary nature of all things. To put on an exciting show. To create a ritual in which people can cast off the past and purify themselves. To have fun burning shit. Ephemeral art is common in Japan (cf: ikebana) and in other cultures. Perhaps this kind of thing wouldn’t seem so strange (at least for that reason) elsewhere.

Part of the reason behind this is the “wanting to make it better.” I think there’s also an element of auto-one-upsmanship, that is, people think “well, we did this pretty well last year, but we can do better this year.”

This is the most obvious example of the extravagant gesture, but only one of many. I was talking with my friend !Bob about the LED ring, which describes a very large circle around the effigy (this area is referred to as the L2C). Bob had written the code (in Assembly, no less) to control the lighting patterns of the ring, and explained to me just how homemade the damn thing is. I had seen it before, but never knew that it started life as epoxy mix, lumber, bare LEDs, custom-printed circuit boards, and some cheap off-the-rack chips. !Bob had dedicated a ridiculous amout of time to writing patterns for the ring, only to have his efforts stymied by various hardware malfunctions–overextending the limits of the serial communications protocol between the panels, two power supplies that failed because of the rain, poorly soldered joints on the boards, etc.

At many theme camps, people had schlepped out domes or other massive shade structures, DJ rigs and speaker setups, enough rugs to carpet the entire interior, etc. Perhaps the most extreme example was Chupacabra Policia, which set up a three-story scaffolding stockade, surrounded by a locked barbed-wire gate, blaring Extremely Strange Music, fake news reports, and intimidating directives over their PA at all times. Its members adopted names like Bootcutter, and wore uniforms with custom badges and emblems. They even had their own squad car. As Bootcutter put it, it’s not easy being that obnoxious, and that makes it a higher form of art. Just to piss off any feelgood PETAphile hippies, they made themselves notorious for slaughtering and cooking chickens at their camp.

Food

Andy, a firespinner from Germany, seemed to be marking his Flipside experience by the meals he ate. At every theme camp, someone was pushing some kind of meal on him. We had been chatting for a couple of minutes when he excused himself because a camp up the hill was about to be serving chili.

A lot of people (me included) pack way too much food so that they’ll have something to offer to others. At Spin Camp (where I sited my tent), we had a de-facto cook, Crispy. She had brought along hard-boiled eggs from her own chickens. She made cowboy coffee over a campfire every morning. On Friday morning, she made bacon/skirt-steak skewers for breakfast. On Sunday, she filled two massive cast-iron kettles with breakfast-taco fixing (again, using eggs from her chickens) and cooked them over the campfire. At other camps I saw Greek food, fajitas, burgers, chili, etc. One camp (Better Brains Bureau) made a name for itself by handing out chocolate cake and bacon for breakfast. Right after I heard about this, I ran into Striggy on the trail down to the field, and mentioned this to her. She enthused that that was exactly what she wanted.

The counterpart to all this food, of course, is booze. I packed a case-worth of good beer, which I barely made a dent in (beer is not as effective for hydration as water, and hydration is important). Also fixings for damn good margaritas, which, again, mostly went unused despite my persistence in offering them around. There were several theme camps that ran open bars as their centerpieces.

Music

There’s a lot of it, and it’s loud. If you read the theme camp descriptions, you’ll find a lot with vague, trippy descriptions that don’t tell you what will be going on at that camp. These can mostly be translated as “we will have DJs and lasers.” Different camps had different musical styles, of course, and there’s enough variety that anyone can find something that they’ll like. There was at least one camp spinning 130-bpm trance music more or less non-stop, and it all sounded the same. Wonderlounge, next to Spin Camp, had an interesting musical selection that I mostly enjoyed, but kept some of my camp-mates awake later than they wanted. Some of my camp-mates were using both earplugs and earmuff-style protectors to block out the sound.

The real problem with all this highly amplified music is that when you’re down on the main field (which some people wistfully refer to as “the playa”) and between music-oriented camps, you can hear at least two–and probably three–different tracks at any given time. This was a problem at CoF, because we were pretty much relying on the sound from a nearby camp for our music, and when you’re twirling fire, it really helps to have a beat (just one) that you can groove on.

Events

There are a lot of different events during the long weekend, which are all more or less open for anyone to participate in (that’s the whole idea). Both CoF and Spin Camp were holding poi lessons, in addition to hosting fire circles. Spreader Bar & Grill was tying Japanese-style bondage knots on anyone who asked, and you could see a lot of people wandering around with elaborate trusses around their torsos. There was a “Cthulhu Devival Hour.” A “Miss Flipside” competition, which was most entertaining–the first round of judging was an obstacle course in which contestants had to light someone’s cigarette in a creative fashion, hammer rebar with a sledgehammer, and wipe something–anything (and they did) with a wet-wipe–all while carrying a tray full of drinks. The second round consisted of the talent and interview portion. I have no idea who won, but my favorite contestant was Miss Firepants, who had enough attitude to power a small village.

There was a wedding held there. I didn’t know any of the parties involved, but a fire-friend did, and he asked me to be one of several people spinning fire as part of the ceremony. I was happy to oblige. As I heard it, civilians were also being trucked in to take part in the service, and I can only wonder what they thought of the freak procession (which was over a hundred people).

Rain

It has rained at every Flipside, as far as I know. This year it rained a lot–some folks were calling the event Burning Mudslide.

We had a relatively brief but heavy storm on Friday night. This fried two power supplies used in the LED ring, and made a hash of many campsites.

Saturday night, we had a rainstorm strike earlier. It was obvious that storm clouds were rolling in, so we had time to batten down the hatches, and I made it into my tent about a minute before the first drops hit. Some folks stayed out and made merry anyhow, but it was a massive storm that dumped sheets of water on us for hours. I am pleased to report that my tent basically stayed dry (upon striking it, I discovered that there was a small divot under my tent, and a pool of water had collected between the groundcloth and tent floor, soaking through the floor, but my air mattress was between me and the water). I took a nap. When I woke and found the rain had stopped (around 4:00 AM, I guess), I pulled on my shoes and walked down to the field. Except for one camp, it was dark and quiet. That was worth experiencing.

Fire

The big draw for me is the firedancing. Although my tent was at Spin Camp, I put in more work at Circle of Fire (both of which are oriented towards firespinning).

Because of the nature of burner events (hell, even the name), firedancers seem to have enjoyed a little bit of priviliged status at these events. But firedancing has become common enough within the freak community that the priviliged status seems to have worn off–it doesn’t draw as much of an audience, or as many would-be spinners eager to learn, and a lot of firespinners have decided that they have better things to do at flipside than burn.

If this sounds like I’m bitter, I’m not. There were a number of fire performers at Flipside who I knew by reputation, or who I saw goofing around during the daytime, and I would have enjoyed watching them more and doing fire-stuff with them more than I did–but it was a pleasure to watch them and play around with them as much as I did. If you’re out there–Skunk, Nico, Rachel, and Dan–I had a ball. Andy, the firespinner from Germany, never lit up that I saw, but he always had his poi in his hands, and would distractedly toss off crazy moves while chatting with you. I also noticed that he seemed to have his keys clipped to his wicks, for some reason.

Stress

Some time before Flipside, Tym asked me to coordinate the fire performance before the big burn of the effigy on Sunday, and I accepted. This turned out to be the overriding aspect of my Flipside experience.

I developed a general plan for how to organize the fire performance. Nothing very complicated–I knew that any plan would need to allow for a lot of flexibility. And I wanted to strike a balance between two conflicting schools of thought on how the performance should be organized: those who thought that it should emphasize talent and showmanship, and those who thought it should maximize participation and inclusion. In case this is of any value to anyone in the future, my original plan was this:

  • Divide the circle into eight wedges.
  • Have performers segregate themselves by ability. Beginners would serve the same role as backup singers, and would station themselves along the back edges of each wedge, laying down a simple pattern with transitions every four measures. More proficient performers would be front and center, going crazy.
  • With 15 minutes of performance time, we could divide the performers into two or three shifts, so that as one performer went out, another would file in.
  • No fire-breathing. I was concerned that the circle would be too crowded and dynamic, and that the crowd would be too close to have safe fire-breathing. This probably pissed off a couple of people.

I had put out a request on a couple of Internet forums asking people who wanted to take part to contact me in advance. A few people did, but there were clearly far fewer respondents than there would be participants.

So at Flipside, I started tracking people down who I knew personally, knew by reputation, by referral, or who I just saw playing with firedancing equpment. I explained to everyone where and when to assemble, what to do, and what my plan was. And it was interesting that I got pushback from a few people who said the plan was elitist or hierarchical, but I knew that any plan would be unsatisfactory to some people, so I shrugged it off. I asked everyone to pass word on to other fire performers they knew. I found the “drum gods” camp and asked them to send a contingent of eight drummers to lay down a steady beat–my original idea was one drummer per slice. They explained they all had to be in one spot to stay on the same beat, but that the sound would carry across the ring. They were especially concerned about hot fuel being cast off by a wick, hitting a drum head, and destroying it.

On Sunday morning, someone asked me how many people I expected would be taking part. I answered “between 10 and 100.” In fact, I thought the number would be about 60.

At about 6:00 on Sunday, I just happened to be present at a war council in the circle around the rocket (having just marked wedges with orange spray paint), discussing the latest weather forecast: there was a thunderstorm watch, flood watch, tornado watch, and chance of hail for the entire county. Oh, shit. Everyone stands around with very serious faces, wondering “now what?” Dave Umlaus, who looked like he had been run through a cheese grater and hastily reassembled into his original form, absorbed the news with a dead expression. The original plan was for rocket ignition at about 10:00 PM, and it was decided that we would try to stick to that plan, but might move the launch up by one hour, to avoid the worst of the weather–apparently, high winds were the main concern, as they could carry embers into the trees.

This meant that I had to track down everyone I had previously told to assemble at 9:15, and update them that they should be there at 8:15. Maybe. Tym apologized to me unnecessarily, and I said “if I wanted to take it easy, I would have stayed home.” I started making a couple passes throughout RecPlan, and seemed to manage to find almost everyone who needed to be found. I also found a few people who had never gotten the invitation in the first place, so I was able to get them on-board. I stopped by the drum gods again–they had heard something was up, but wanted to get my story. After the previous night’s rainstorm, they decided to place their biggest drums on one of the “gator” utility carts that constantly crisscross the site, so they could drive it under the nearby roofed pavillion at the first sign of rain.

This was stressful.

I changed into my eveningwear, and someone from my camp (also named Adam) blasted some glitter onto my brightly sunburned torso. I grabbed a granola bar for dinner, and carried extra fuel down to Circle of Fire, the place where everyone was going to congregate. I arranged the fuel depot to make it clearer what was going on.

At this point, the decision on when to launch the rocket was still up in the air, and in fact was not going to be decided until the last minute. That decision was up to the fire marshal.

Tym was leading a parade throughout the site, gathering up people from every camp as he went. His original plan (also a shambles now) was that the parade would arrive on the field just in time for the firedancers to start their show, then we’d do our thing, and then the rocket would be lit. Instead, he had to arrive on the field early and lead the parade through multiple laps around it. On one lap he gave me his bullhorn so that I could rally my troops. It turned out that there were a little over 30, with about a dozen safety people. I had them count off by eights to determine their position on the circle, had them start soaking and spinning out their wicks. At this point, I had too few firespinners to justify taking shifts, but 15 minutes of time to fill, so I told everyone to resoak and come back out immediately.

On another lap around, Tym came over and said “as of now, all your people need to be ready to go on at a moment’s notice” and I relayed this. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Tym came by again and said “get them out there now and light them up.” So they did. I patrolled the perimeter while they burned. One of the safety people took me aside and explained that someone in her wedge (whom I had not met) was insisting on fire-breathing–the safety had explained my position, but he was adamant. As it turned out, this wasn’t a big deal, since there was a pretty wide band between the fire performers and everyone else, being patrolled by rangers, and the circle itself wasn’t that crowded.

After about five minutes of burn time, someone came to me and told me “we have to clear the circle now.” So much for the re-soak and re-light plan. I ran over to the fuel depot and told everyone to stop re-dipping, though a few people got past. I went back out to the circle and hollered at everyone to clear the circle. A couple of showboats delayed leaving for a couple minutes, but apparently that wasn’t a deal-breaker.

Once the field was cleared, we waited. There were drummers everywhere, people hooting and hollering. The predicted storm was gathering–massive thunderheads, with frequent lightning. It made a perfect backdrop, and I half-expected a lightningbolt to strike the rocket. After some period of time, thrusters at the bottom of the rocket fired and everyone went nuts. Although there was a spinning fire-fountain on the top of the rocket, and it had been test-fired the previous night, it did not fire at this time. I suspect there were a hundred things that went wrong (the LED ring was completely shut off), but there was so much going on that you’d never miss it if you hadn’t known it was there. It took a while for the rocket to really start burning in earnest, but once it did there was a massive wave of heat that pushed everyone back about ten paces. It took a long time to burn and collapse (there was a lot of wood in there, and it was solidly built). It was sending embers perhaps 100 feet into the air, with the smoke creating a weak vortex. Firefighters were spraying their hoses to wet down the field downwind. As soon as the edifice had collapsed and the heat died down a bit, a lot of people moved inside the LED ring, and started walking in a circle around it. I was relieved and happy things had gone off as well as they did, and I hugged, congratulated, and thanked people as I went by or they did. As the fire died down a little more, people moved in to get as close as they could tolerate. Firespinners stepped into the band between the embers and the rest of the crowd (that is to say, the zone where the heat was intolerable). I grabbed my chains and joined them. After four light-ups in the hot zone, my sunburn was twice as bad–practically purple.

The storm mostly passed us by–we got a light sprinkling, but that was it. I wound up turning in relatively early. It was difficult to find a comfortable position to lie in with my sunburn, but I managed to get a pretty good night’s sleep.

The next morning, I hastily struck my own campsite (which was still kind of wet and muddy) and got it ready to load. I grabbed some garbage bags and went down to CoF to pick up the cigarette butts, tinsel, bottlecaps, etc. Finished up with that and went back up. Went to get my car, and found it blocked in by a gator–apparently someone at the adjacent camp had OD’d, and there were rangers and medics dealing with the situation. A few minutes later, though, I was able to get my car out. I loaded it up quickly and said goodbye to my camp-mates. On my way out, I saw Jori, a camp-mate and ranger, and said goodbye to her. Another ranger came over and asked “can you give someone a ride to the airport?” I said sure, and they loaded up Keeper and her one duffel bag (talk about travelling light!). The ranger gave me a piece of “flipside currency”–I have no idea what I would do with it, and I’m not inclined to part with it anyhow.

flipside coin

More

I’ll write more as I think of it.

Hill Country Ride for AIDS

I’ve signed up to do the Hill Country Ride for AIDS as part of Team Soup Peddler (for those of you who missed it, the Soup Peddler himself was the officiant at Gwen & my wedding). I’ll be very grateful to anyone out there in TV land who is interested in sponsoring me (yes, it’s one of those fundraiser things).

All watched over by Elvii of loving grace

The Elvii look down benevolently

A friend who couldn’t make it to our wedding, Jen, sent Gwen and I the Elvis on the right. She had no way of knowing that I already had a remarkably similar Elvis that Jenny had picked up for me on a trip through the King’s hometown. Now I have two Elvii gazing down benevolently from atop my bookcase. The one from Jen is extra-special though:

Elvis statuette reverse

The motif on the collar is taken from our wedding invitation. Jen tells me that when she was painting this in her ceramics class, her classmates skeptically asked “are they really going to like that?” in a tone of voice that said “you’re crazy.” Jen enthusiastically reassured them “they’ll love it” and they just shook their heads as if to say “then they’re crazy too.”

Feh. We love it.

As an aside, the title of this post popped into my head after I put the second Elvis up. I knew the phrase “all watched over by machines of loving grace” from somewhere, but had no idea where it came from. A moment’s googling showed me it’s a poem by Richard Brautigan. What’s odd is that I’d never read the poem before, and still somehow knew the phrase.

Squeaker

my cat, Squeaker

In 1997, Squeaker was a neighborhood cat that our predecessors at this address had looked after. When Jenny and I moved in, she was wary of us, but eventually started hanging around on the front porch pretty regularly. When we had our first freeze at this address, late in that year, we took Squeaker indoors. She never went outside again. One marriage ended and another begun, and she’s been with me for about seven years now.

A while back, I noticed something like a wart on top of Squeaker’s left hind foot. I asked the vet about it, and he said that as long as it wasn’t causing any trouble, we might as well leave it alone. Six months or so ago, the wart apparently got torn off, leaving an open sore. The vet said that surgery to close it was an option, but it would be difficult because there’s little room and no loose skin there, and we should try to keep it clean.

The sore got worse and worse, though, and something had to be done. So shortly before Christmas, we scheduled an appointment for Squeaker to go under the knife. In the end, the vet had to amputate two toes that had been overtaken by a tumor; when we got the biopsy back, it turned out the tumor was a carcinoma. The vet told me that either this was the primary site–in which case he probably got all of it–or it was a secondary site metastasized from somewhere else, and if so, that “somewhere else” was most likely the lungs. Squeaker was due to go back to the vet’s for a bandage change in a few days, and at the vet’s suggestion, I decided to have an X-ray taken then to see how her lungs looked.

In the meantime, I stewed in my own juices. Chemo and radiation therapy are not viable options for cats; if she did have lung cancer, the only treatment would be to remove a lobe of the lungs. This sounded like an awful lot to put an old cat through (not to mention a budget-buster). The other option would be palliative care.

I’ve been around a lot of pets in my life–through much of my childhood, my family had at least ten cats and two dogs at any given time. But I’ve never been in a position of making serious health decisions for another creature. It’s a hell of a thing. We take these animals into our lives, and part of the bargain is that we’ll take care of them. We’re responsible for them. But it’s hard to know what the right thing to do is, especially when they can’t tell you what’s wrong, they don’t understand what is happening to them, and none of the options sound very good. I can only imagine what parents go through with their kids.

As it turns out, Squeaker’s X-ray came out clear, so she dodged that bullet. I feel like I’ve dodged one too.

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