June 4th, 2018
Dear Daddy –
The green bathroom is well underway. I have only the section of wall with the actual shower plumbing on it left to tile. I hope to accomplish most of that today. After that, I still have a list of things to do that are drywall and electrical. And I need to floor the dressing room and get the cabinets put in for the sinks.
Susan’s bathroom shouldn’t take long. I have to get the floor down, and, honestly, can probably have the plumbing finished before I tile the entire shower. I’ll finish that wall and then ask.
Fortunately, the inspector who came to look at the air conditioning turned in a positive progress report on the plumbing, despite his concerns when he was here. I suppose being assured that we were making progress by both the plumber and me was enough.
May 30th, 2018
Dear Daddy –
Happy Memorial Day!
Well… not really. I spent most of Memorial Day weekend at Balticon. Balticon is Maryland’s oldest science fiction convention. It is always as old as I am. The first one was held in 1967, months before my second birthday. So the number of the con is always my age when it’s held. This was, then, Balticon 52. I missed Balticon 51 because you had just died. I missed Balticon 50 because, well, it wasn’t well-planned. They only offered me an hour in which to speak. I’m used to having six to twelve hours of programming to participate in, and I wasn’t going to drive to downtown Baltimore and park for one hour of programming time.
May 23, 2018
Dear Daddy –
As I said above, well, well, well…
I’m talking about the actual well, the one you had dug in 1967. Recently, the faucets began spitting air. The toilets were making awful noises when they filled. I thought it happened once because I’d washed the bed of the truck for about an hour, flushing it out with the hose. (I said “recently,” and I now realize that that was before I turned the outside water off for the Winter—so probably October, 2017 at the latest.) I thought I had just run the well down. But then I remembered that the single toilet you had installed back in 1967 had begun making sounds like a helicopter taking off back while you were still with us. You denied it was happening.
Mother thought the sediment filters were just needed to be changed, but I told her that, if the filter was letting air into the lines, it had a lot more wrong with it than just needing new cartridges. Continue reading
Sunday I saw Superman: The Movie in the theater for the second time. The first time was the year it came out—1978. It was December. I was 13. I was there with my best friend, and we had both been reading about the production of the film for a couple of years in special update pages in the back of every issue of DC Comics. Some lucky kids about our age had won cameo appearances in the film, the result of a much-ballyhooed contest. At that point in my life, I had only seen about a dozen films in the theater. This one was a big deal.
I loved the complexity of Superman’s mythos—the exotic world of his birth, the bottle city of Kandor, a miniaturized piece of his home, the various colors of kryptonite and the various effects they had on him, the kick-ass supporting cast that surrounded him—Ma and Pa Kent, Lana Lang, Pete Ross, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, his cousin Supergirl, his pet Krypto, the Super-Dog. This film was only a small, two-hour slice of comic book life brought to the screen, but it was the biggest, boldest attempt ever to do so. And, unlike other live action super hero fare that had come before it, it did not insult the character by camping him up, and it did not make him more mundane in order to fit into “the real world.” (I’m looking at you, TV’s Incredible Hulk!)
At 13, Superman: The Movie stoked my imagination, which was already in thrall to comic books.
At 53, Superman: The Movie, made me, with tears in my eyes, come to terms with a very simple truth:
November 22, 2018
Dear Daddy —
Simply too drained, after these past few stressful, disappointing weeks to think of what to say to you. There are many opportunities on the table. There are certainly life changes coming. I need to process all of that. But, right now, I need to not work.
May 16, 2018
Dear Daddy –
I took this week off to work on the green bathroom, among other things. It’s Wednesday at 2:52 in the afternoon, and I wish I could say I had gotten more accomplished. I suppose I’m too demanding of my time. So far this week, I’ve met the inspector for the new air conditioning system—more about that in a minute—I’ve bought window facing, because we were out of it again. I furred out the rest of the studs under the window, so the tile would have a 3/8″ overlap where it met the Sheetrock. I’ve cut the last piece of Durock to go behind under the bathroom window. That one was the most difficult, because it had to fit around the air duct. I’m still jealous of your ability to cut wall panels that fit exactly around fixtures, and with no odd gaps because something was slightly out of level. I’m picking up some tips, though. I used a cardboard mask this time to make the cutouts for the duct.
I cut three pieces of Sheetrock to go above the Durock, and got all that hung. The walls are all covered now. And it’s time to begin tiling. I don’t want any mistakes, so I counted out tiles and did some test-fitting before beginning. I drew level lines at the top and bottom. I discovered that the tub was just slightly out of level—the bubble was still between the lines, but that left the bottom of the tile on the far left flush with the tub, while the bottom of the one on the far right was almost a half inch above the tub surface. That’s if I used a strictly level line. If I adjusted the tile’s level line to exactly match the slight pitch of the tub, all was well. I’ll have to cheat about 3/16 of an inch with those tiles on the right.
May 10, 2018
Dear Daddy –
A few years ago, I called you one evening and asked how, in all your years of working with people, you had managed to not lose your temper—and probably your job—when confronted with outright stupidity and obstinacy. I don’t remember what event sparked my question. I think I remember who had upset me—well, I remember that it was one of two people—and I won’t name names. Both of those people are gone from my professional working days, and good riddance.
But people still upset me. I have trouble working when I’m upset. Let me clarify that—I have trouble using my mind to work when I’m upset. Most of the work I’m paid for involves the use of my mind—writing, programming, problem-solving, project planning and managing people and resources. All of those involve using my intellect to solve problems, to lay plans, to see through the muck of obstacles, complaints and setbacks and decide what needs to be done next. I’m very good at doing that, by the way, except when I’m angry or hurt.
May 2, 2018
Dear Daddy —
Entropy. Let’s talk about entropy.
The first definition is right up your alley. In physics, entropy is “a thermodynamic quantity representing the unavailability of a system’s thermal energy for conversion into mechanical work, often interpreted as the degree of disorder or randomness in the system.”
In colloquial speech, it’s “a lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder.”
When I decided, last week, to talk to you about entropy, it was with a more hopeful frame of mind that’s lost to me now. Now I just feel beaten down.
According to the second law of thermodynamics, the total entropy of an isolated system never decreases over time.
Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a political curmudgeon. I’m usually outspoken supporting underdog candidates—like Gary Johnson in the 2016 Presidential election. My underdog streak goes way back. I was a John Anderson supporter in 1980, three years before I could vote. That might give some of you the idea that I only support lost causes. Not this time.
This Thursday, I voted in the mid-term election. (If you live where I do, you have three days of early voting opportunities left. Do it. It’s convenient.) I voted for, in alphabetical order, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians and Republicans. I voted for incumbents who have done a solid job, for mavericks who probably won’t win, but who deserve a showing for their valiant efforts, and for newcomers who stand a good chance, and who I think will accomplish great things in office.
I voted for people, not politics.
I’d like to ask you to do the same.
April 25, 2018
I cleaned the basement for about two hours last night—not that you’d really notice. It takes a long time to make a visible dent in rooms where so much storage has occurred. I worked on the room with the train tables. Remember the train tables?
It’s difficult to define rooms in the basement. There are nominally five. The cinderblock walls define four—two end rooms, about 24′ x 29′, and two long, middle rooms, each about 15′ x 44′. You added a darkroom early on. It’s not in the plans, but it’s about a 15′ x 6′ space with a laundry tub and the ability to double as a laundry room.
The train tables are in one end of the long front room, under the dining room. Back around 1979 or 1980, Charles and I planned to start building an HO model railroad layout. We were each going to construct one 4′ x 8′ section of it. The book we had on scenery recommended an open-framed style platform on which to construct the plaster landscape. We had our design sketches ready, and I believe I came to you and asked if there was a stash of 2′ x 4’s not spoken for. (Trust me, as many mildewed 2′ x 4’s as I threw away last year, I’m sure there were, even in 1980.)
You asked what we were up to, and then immediately grabbed a yellow legal pad and started designing 4′ x 8′ tables with storage shelves underneath them. I explained patiently—as patiently as my 14 or 15-year-old self could, which was probably not patiently at all—that that was not what the book said to do.
Your relationship to books was the same as your relationship to the Internet. Your relationship to the Internet was the same as damn near every other person born before 1960’s relationship to the Internet—that is, you didn’t believe a word that appeared on it. I recall you saying more than once that you knew more about the subject at hand than the author of the book I was referencing. And yes, you said it once about a veterinary manual—by a veterinarian!. And no, you never attended a veterinary school, nor did you have any practical experience in the field beyond once contemplating removing a tumor off of Old Susie’s foot with a pocket knife and a match. Susie, here, refers to your mother’s hound dog, not my sister. I would never refer to my sister as “Old Susie.” I’m less sure that you would not have contemplated removing a tumor from my sister’s foot using a pocketknife.
You dismissed Bill McLanahan’s knowledge of framing for model railroads, and further declared, “I’m not just thinking about model trains. I’m designing something sturdy that can be of use after the train fad is over.” I guess you didn’t realize that model trains are usually a lifelong hobby, even though you’d just bought a model train for your father for his 80th birthday. We still have that train. And it will be going on one of those tables.
So you built the amazingly sturdy tables, and Charles and I took over that section of the basement for the next three years. I built a couple of buildings for my layout—one by hand out of found materials. I smashed it in anger after Charles got mad at me about something else one day and left me a note saying that, by the way, the building “stinks.” We filled the floor behind the tables with discarded Fudgsicle wrappers until Mother threatened to stop buying Fudgsicles. I believe, when tossing them back there, I would often sing the idiotic space hippie song from Star Trek about eating all the fruit and throwing away the rind. We built airplane models. I was working on a B29, like you flew in the War.
And, eventually, I got over my anxiety of starting a project—because once you’ve started it, you have to work on it, and you might make a mistake. While you’re planning, it’s perfect—and began constructing a hillside out of plaster. I had that well underway when I was struck with graduation, complications of which led to my being institutionalized at the University of Maryland.
As soon as I moved into my dorm room, you took over my bedroom to be your new corporate offices, and you took over the train room to be your conference room. Our hobby supplies were removed from the Very Sturdy Tables, including my plaster hillside, which you carried to the second floor and leaned up in a corner of my general purpose room. I think I finally threw it away.
Your prophecy was self-fulfilling. The “train fad” ended because you ended it. I think that was your plan all along. The conference room lasted until the late 1980s. Your chalkboard is still on the wall, with diagrams for fighter planes and radar images—the last project you worked on for the Pentagon was how to fool the seeker heads on air to air missiles.
After that, the conference room filled up with junk, like everything else. The space in the “L” formed by the two tables was impassable. The cubicle you had set up for interns to use wasn’t visible behind the towers of equipment. The equipment was moved out last Summer and Fall, leaving that end of the room largely clear. I think there’s still a big laser on the floor behind one of the tables. Christian cleared the tables of junk and began bringing over his collection of game consoles. The room was coming back to life as a hobby space again.
And then we emptied Mother’s office so it could become her bedroom, and, well, all her boxes of files had to go somewhere. In a “Greater love hath no man,” move, Christian stacked them on his tables. So I spent two hours last night beginning to transfer the files into one of the eleven file cabinets you left behind, eight of which are now also in that front room of the basement. It will take many more hours, and I really need to focus on bathrooms until they’re finished and inspected.
But we’re getting there. And, as God is my witness, there will be trains on those tables again.