Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Where Were You When I Needed You?

Today's mail brought the glossy, 60-page Graduate Report published periodically by my favorite law school and alma mater.  My classmates are pictured running for governor and guiding major international corporations.  I am delighted to report that I, too, made the cut.

For 20-odd years I have waited with patience and humility for UConn to take note of my many legal triumphs.  I mean, I once wrote a riveting brief arguing that the U.S. Constitution does not prohibit the state from monopolizing the garbage industry.  Few cared.  Another time I engaged in extended one-on-one colloquy with the Chief Justice of the State of Connecticut trying to persuade her that the word "environmental" includes matters historical.  Did anyone notice?  Hell, no.  It's not my fault she didn't buy the argument.  Although I did get a nice footnote in the decision.

I thought someone would flag my ground-breaking interlocutory (deal with it: I'm taking to lawyers here) appeal to the Supreme Court that took unblushing advantage of the fact that the sitting Chief Justice and his second in command were both disqualified from the case at hand.  Nope.  Damn.

Okay, I'm being unnecessarily modest here, because I did once have a judge stop me in a courthouse hallway to tell me that the job I did on a trial was, in his words, "somewhat adequate."  I asked him to put that in writing, but he just wandered off.  You'll have to take my word for it.

So, as you see, I spent my legal career in genteel obscurity, pleasing a few unusually discerning clients and generally avoiding malpractice suits and disbarment and the like.  Eventually, professional stardom having eluded me, I bailed out of Connecticut for sunnier climes, here to pursue important matters -  my bridge game, driving aimlessly around the lovely countryside, and searching Tampa Bay for a decent glass of beer.  That sort of thing.  I have accomplished much in these endeavors, I might add.  

But wait, there's more!  Just when I thought I would live out my remaining days in blissful irrelevance,  there I am on page 50 of the latest Graduate Report, with name spelled correctly and all.  Right there in the same pages where an earlier graduate gets the library named after him and another becomes the chief legal bottle-washer at Wesleyan University.  Heady company indeed.

Which of my numerous achievements, you may ask, so grabbed the imagination of the university that it thrust me onto this illustrious stage?  How does one become famous enough to make the grade?  It's not easy, my friends.  I did it the hard way.  I am honored to accept the University of Connecticut's recognition of this crowning achievement.

No, really, THIS crowning achievement.  This blog, Eye of Newt.  No doubt, the editors of the estimable Graduate Report have concluded that I am unlikely to do anything more significant than this, so it's best perhaps to recognize me now and be done with it.  Anyway, Eye of Newt will live on in perpetuity, rules against such notwithstanding.  (Another crummy lawyer joke - sorry.)

Lesser persons would celebrate by booking passage to Disneyland, but I instead scrambled to make sure my old articles had no egregious spelling or grammatical errors.  I thought of deleting the trailer park articles and that unfortunate bit about the palmetto bug.  But, no, I am who I am, and my erstwhile peers will just have to take me the way I am.

In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to ask all who noticed me in the Graduate Report to send me a dollar or two.  If everyone did that, I could probably spruce up this blog a little.  Social Security really isn't what it's cracked up to be. 


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

On Becoming Illiterate

It was 77 degrees Fahrenheit here today, and I planned to make my family and friends in Connecticut (where it's about 7F) aware of that fact.  But then the tornado watch hit the national news, and I thought that might spoil the effect.

Still being a bit of a newby here, I scouted out convenient storm shelters and found none.  I thought maybe a basement somewhere, but this is Florida, the Land of No Basements.  That's because the water table lies only three inches below the surface.  Golfers complain because divots fill with water faster than they can be repaired, and sand traps have to be elevated.

I went to the library to find a book to read in the shelter, should I find a shelter, and discovered with some consternation that I am becoming illiterate.  I, who grew up reading the Hardy Boys and Lucky Starr & the Moons of Jupiter (written pseudonymously by Isaac Asimov), was unable to find a book I could read.

Admittedly, I only looked in the "new books" section, but I get to the library often enough that new books ought to be sufficient.  Except it wasn't.  For the first time in recorded memory, I came away empty-handed.  Bookless.  Illiterate in fact if not in theory.

The library's new books included hundreds of volumes, all involving vampires.  I found Blood Lies and The Vampire Rides at Midnight and Vampires Paint the Town Red.  I pulled a book promisingly titled The Betrayal, but it began, "She didn't recall when she began to hate werewolves."   (There may be some fine distinction between vampires and werewolves, but does it matter?)  A biography of Tom
Hanks begins with his death. 

I think the dearth of decent books is Ronald Reagan's fault.  When he told Mr. Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," he unwittingly destroyed an entire genre of Cold War thrillers.  (Some argue that he did a lot of things unwittingly.  Not to be confused with half-wittedly, which seems to describe recent presidential history.  Okay, enough of that.)

Anyway, as a result of some dubious unfettering of most of eastern Europe, thriller writers are lately consigned to writing the same book over and over.  To wit: Stuart Woods just wrote the 14th volume in the Stone Barrington series.  Fourteen!  Will & Ariel Durant's Story of Civilization required only eleven.  I like Woods, but I stopped reading somewhere around volume 6.  Tom Clancy wrote the classic Hunt for Red October and has since written nothing readable.  In fact, he now rents out his name to others who write drivel that would embarrass Danielle Steele.


So I may as well be illiterate for all the good it does to drive to the library.  If I find a storm shelter before the big blow levels Tampa, I will have nothing to read.  Pity.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Triumph of Uncle Bud

If you haven't been reading the past few posts, this will make little sense.  Serves you right.  Synopsis to date: in remodeling the lanai, I discovered a leak in the roof..  Preparing to install a patch, I learned that dear, departed Uncle Bud had slathered the area in question with bathtub caulk.  Uncle Bud slathered everything in B.C., probably including his breakfast toast.  A dear man, really.  So you shouldn't take my obscene outbursts too seriously.  I have done some genealogy in the past, so I know - in some intellectual sense - that Uncle Bud did indeed have a father.

I dynamited all the old caulk off and patched and applied a bit of  fresh caulking compound according to enlightened roofing protocol.  Blood flowed.

It rained yesterday,  The freaking roof still leaks, albeit not so aggressively.

So I climbed back up and slathered an entire tube of B.C. over the patch.  Screw it.

Bud, you were right.  Rest in vindicated peace.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blood on My Hands

The leaky roof is plugged.  I think.  I cleaned the surface until I got tired, cranky and bloody, then slapped on a coat of exterior primer paint.  "Dries in an hour."  Fat chance.

But that's over.  I peeled and stuck the Peel & Seal, but in much smaller pieces than I had planned.  That's because a nice flat sheet of very sticky roofing stuff does not fit very well into the joint where the roof goes ^ and the side of  the house goes |. Kind of like trying to wallpaper the inside of a basketball.  So I chopped the stuff into wedges and jammed them into the parts that go < and > and ~.

 Then, taking my cue from good ol' Uncle Bud, I squirted bathtub caulk all over the whole mess and went inside for a beer.

A couple of years ago I was shopping in some auto parts mega-store, and they were practically giving away hand cleaner.  (Stay with me; I'll link this up in a minute.)  So I bought a couple of buckets of GoJo Cherry goop with Pumice.  I knew that someday I would need to get a whole lot of bathtub caulk off my hands.  (See how neatly that links up?)   I want to focus on the word "Cherry."  The stuff is red - blood red - and smells like King Kong poop after a three-day cherry binge.  I rubbed it on my caulky hands anyway.

GoJo Cherry doesn't actually remove bathtub caulk from anything.  It just moves it around into a thin film of poopy goop - waterproof poopy goop that lasts forever.  Plus, my hands were now covered in pseudo-blood.  Very convincing pseudo-blood.  No matter how much you rinse, some goop and some pseudo-blood always remain.  Think Lady Macbeth.

None of this was much of a problem until I wiped my hands on one of my wife's clean towels.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Handyman Rides the Roof

Unlike unmown grass or  low tire pressure or even the curse of dandruff, a leaky roof cannot be ignored for long.  Especially when you're decorating the space under the leak.  Especially when family is visiting in three weeks.  Specifically, your wife's brother's family.  So onto the roof I did climb this afternoon.  I discovered that Uncle Bud had set the modern-day record for abusing industrial-grade bathtub caulk.

I wasn't originally going to use hand tools for this nasty job, but after I humped the electric drill and wire brushes onto the roof, I learned that the electrons that were entering the extension cord down by the carport were not making it out the business end of the cord.  I looked for a bulge in the cord where they might be piling up, but gave up and attacked the job with box cutters and an old wood chisel.  The extension cord that I bought in 1974 had failed me.  I knew it wouldn't last.

It wasn't enough for Uncle Bud to caulk the bejesus out of the joint where the lanai joins the house, but he went and laid styrofoam over the caulk, then caulked over the whole mess. Like a petrified stack of plastic pancakes.  I know it's not nice to speak ill of the dead, but no host of angels would convict me: I just went off on poor Bud and hoped No One was listening.

Removing the old, dried and twisted ropes of caulk resulted in only one scrape on my hands.  Well, actually six, but only one of them is bleeding badly enough to require direct pressure.  Damn Coumadin.

Tomorrow I learn whether a roofing product called Peal & Seal actually works as advertised.  This is so going to bugger my Wednesday bridge game.


Monday, January 17, 2011

The Handyman

I have never earned my living with my hands.  We would have starved.  Now I am remodeling the lanai (northerners: that's Florida-speak for "porch").  I have always been able to wield a hammer equally well with either hand - badly, that is - slamming thumbs often but only occasionally striking nails even a glancing blow. I swear a lot.

If you haven't been following this blog with religious ferocity, you may not know that I bought a mobile home that once was owned by Judy's Uncle Bud.  Bud was a true believer in bathtub caulk - a regular vinyl acolyte.  Install enough bathtub caulk and you get 77 virgins when you move on.

Bud laid down thick ropes of vinyl everywhere. Every crack and joint in the place is securely plugged with once-pliable plastic goop.  So I was not terribly surprised when I went to strip the vent covers off the soffits on the lanai to see that each one was carefully sealed into place with caulking compound - so they wouldn't leak.  Uncle Bud, wherever you are now, these are VENTS: they are supposed to leak.  Old caulking is really, really difficult to scrape off.

I roughed out the wiring in preparation for installing a false wall to hold paneling and banged up a bunch of furring strips to hold up the panels.  I planned to lay in a stereo wire to a headphone jack so I could sit out there and listen to music while I napped.  But the Internet advised me that you can't just wire the output from your stereo to a headphone jack.  You need an attenuation circuit or else John Prine or Justin Townes Earle will produce enough raw current to blow your eardrums to hell.

In theory, an attenuation circuit is just a couple of resistors and switches that send excess electrons off to their ethereal reward.  Luckily, I hold an Advanced Class Amateur Radio License, which I earned back in the 1970s by sending Morse Code at 20 words per minute and knowing what resistors do.  I still cling fondly to the illusion that I know what I am doing.   But after 35 years, memory fades, technology moves on, and the guy at Radio Shack never heard of a resistor ("but we have a great sale on 4G cell phones").  Screw it - I'll run headphones from the jack on the amplifier and just string it around the door jamb.  Problem solved.

Today it rained.  Hard.  The freaking lanai roof leaks!  It didn't do that last time it rained.  The leak lines up perfectly with the electrical wiring I am installing behind the paneling.  Crap.  Visions of electrocution swirl through my conscience.

More later.  But this looks kind of grim.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Half-Formed Thoughts, Randomly Presented

Mostly, I want to post something new here so anyone who visits will not have to decide whether Looking at my Groin was such a good idea.  But my other ideas are a little scattered, so don't expect much.

I am concerned that Starbucks has dropped both its name and its product from its logo.  All we have now is a stylized green mermaid on a paper cup made of 72% recycled something.  Watch for the sign of a green mermaid and stop into the shop formerly known as Starbucks for a beverage formerly known as coffee.

Speaking of Seattle, I see that Seattle now has a roving superhero who foils car thieves and wears a plastic suit with breastplate and codpiece.  The superhero is also nameless:  the superhero formerly known as Angelo Wilson, CPA. Tampa needs someone like this, so I am shopping for a codpiece.

My groin feels much better, by the way.  I am now addicted to narcotic pain killers and Lunesta, but if I drink enough beer, I do not mind these things too much.

Sad to see all those birds in Arkansas and Louisiana who died in mid-flight.  The conspiracy theorists are having a field day.  Only I know the truth:  the poor bastards just learned the recent election results and died of embarrassment.

I formally retired on December 31 and got my final paycheck a few days later. (More on this another time; I'm still trying to catch my breath.)  Anyway, the folks in Hartford shut down my email link except for the application that reports spam.

I had coffee with my 90-year-old father-in-law today.  He was embarrassed because when he ironed his pants he put in a double crease.  I didn't know what to say to this news, but I sort of wished I had shaved this morning.

Today would have been my sweet dad's 88th birthday if only medical science had gotten its act together 37 years earlier.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Looking at My Groin

Still reading?  Probably poor judgment, but here goes.  (Oh, wait!  If you're my daughter, go read something else.)

After last Monday's heart procedure, I came home for some quiet recuperation.  The discharge instructions said I could resume "normal" activities after 48 hours.  That "normal" came with a wink and a nudge. In the next sentence, I was also permitted to fly jets and to play concert-level piano.  Wink-nudge.

Sometimes, even the Mayo Clinic takes a divot not called for in the manual.  So I discovered Wednesday night when my left thigh suddenly swelled up like a purple watermelon.  You know how a ripe watermelon sounds when you thump it on the side?  I took that as a bad sign and signed myself into the Largo Medical Center. Thus began the grand tour of Newt's groin.

The watermelon problem was quickly isolated to a leaky artery that was dumping blood into my thigh at an unacceptable rate.  Any rate above zero, as you might suspect, is unacceptable.  SPOILER ALERT:  I'm still alive and only mildly disgruntled as I write this.  More on that later.

First thing you do at LMC, like any other emergency room, is shed both your clothes and your dignity, donning instead an opens-too-wide-in-the-back johnny.  Of course, the site of my leaky artery was not in the back; it was in the front, tucked into that darkly private little crease betwixt thigh and belly.  In principle, I suppose, I'm not too sensitive about that rarely seen crease, but more so about some other junk that I keep nearby.  "Let's take a look at what you've got," is the way the first nurse put it.  I decided not to challenge her phrasing.

What followed was a whole lot more peeking, prodding, ultrasounding and general Brownian motion that left any previously unshed dignity in a heap on the floor.  "Are you experiencing any discomfort, honey?"

In the next hour, I entertained a parade of doctors, nurses, ultrasound technicians, cleaning ladies, and even a couple of drunks getting a jump on New Year's Eve. Everybody wanted a "quick peek."  Several actually phrased it that way.

Now, there is a whole subculture that thinks nothing could be more titillating that being free to waggle their willie in front of an appreciative audience of (mostly) young, (mostly) attractive women.  Richard Gere and Kevin Bacon leap to mind.  Right.  Not in their class, not at all.  In fact, in a little-acknowledged function of male anatomy, the willie in question had retreated to the general vicinity of my pancreas, leaving its two brethren to fend for themselves.  I wanted to say, "But wait! There's more."  Billy Mays would have.

An itinerant "interventional radiologist," who remains to this day nameless, managed to plug the critical hole using some bovine-byproduct clotting stuff, and that put an end to the actual medical emergency.  But the casual tourists kept coming.  The marquee outside the LMC had my name in lights and was promising to show the movie trailer (somewhere most of this exists on digital video, so watch for me on YouTube).

What's deeply disturbing about this whole sordid incident is how quickly the utter absence of personal privacy becomes normal.  At one late stage of the proceedings, an anonymous but youngest-of-all ultrasound girl was repeating the by-now routine groin probing.  As she pressed the cell-phone-sized U/S probe into my once-private crease, she casually and - alas - innocently rested the edge of her working hand on my, uh, junk.  The soul-seering pain came not from the casual groping but from the innocence behind the gesture.  Ah, the pain of being judged - in the final analysis - irrelevant.