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"Give me a lever long enough, and a fulcrum strong enough, and single-handed I can move the world." - Archimedes Martin Jensen makes commentaries on real issues, or at least interesting essays. Banality filter is on.

11/28/2001

The snow fell in Tulsa today. My kids all had smiles on them. Despite the magical nature of the first fall, I found myself drawing inward. I have seen enough snow, I heard myself say in my head. What does that mean? Is it simply the de facto state of a northerner fled south twenty years? Or is it something deeper, perhaps more sinister? It is like the first resignation of being on the downward slope of life. You let go of the snow first; the joyful things that have the clearest downsides and consequences. I always thought of dying as something that happens suddenly, but this feels like a slipping that will, God willing, take years, decades.

The kids want a snow day. Max sees the snowplowman on the road and shouts evil at him. Olivia turns her pajamas inside out on the advice of a teacher. Cassidy lightens his step and calls an old friend. Something about being stranded urges us to reach out.

We collectively curl up and peace descends on the house. At last, I am the only one awake. The yard glows with memories. My shoes crunch on the back porch. A moment after I stand still, the sound of some creature's halting footsteps carry to where I am standing.

Dad turned eighty on Sunday. He said my aunt and uncle had already bagged their deer for the season. He described where they were standing in the woodlands of my youth. The landmarks have changed but the place of sense remains. I can see the stark outline of blue steel against unriven snow; catch the crisp rush of air in my nostrils.

I hear the creature approaching. I shift to see if I can catch a glimpse under the trees. But no, it is behind a fence: a mere dog in a yard; a restless neighbor remembering the hunt.

I push back into the heat and comfort of my home, turning the bolt resolutely behind me.

Soon I will climb the stairs. Soon I will slip into bed.

11/20/2001

The Guybrary, the Turntable and the Twenty-Inch Stud
So you all know I just moved into this big house (see Chapter 1 and Chapter 2). In fact, it was almost bigger than we knew what to do with. Had one especially big room upstairs, with a ceiling fan, two closets, and a fireplace. Son Max was lobbying for possession (we call him The Dealmaker), but cooler heads prevailed. Actually, we offered it to him, but he couldn't afford the rent. So I made my move. Allie got a studio downstairs, so I wanted the upstairs room for my books and stereo. Delusional from the effort of moving, I made a pronouncement: It would be the only room in the house where I would not have to consult my artist wife for decorating consensus.

We had to move a lot of books, up a lot of stairs. Friend Michael collapsed on the couch after one of these trips and said, "This room needs a name." We discussed several options before settling on "The Guybrary." He offered "Studly," but that was vetoed by my daughter Olivia. I thought later about calling it "The Jefferson Room," after George, not Thomas, but by then Guybrary had stuck. So up went the books, the stereo, all the photo albums, the hand-hewn cedar buckboard seat fashioned by my wife's grandfather and a Remington print of two men paddling their birchbark canoe fiercely upstorm while a woman and her baby huddled in the center for protection. I threatened to buy a stuffed moosehead.

One of my first decisions was to purchase an actual stereophonic turntable for my Guybrary. Twelve dollars at the Salvation Army. Amazingly, it worked! Not so amazingly, the new, 100-watt-per-channel Sony receiver didn't have a phono input. By plugging it into Aux and cranking the volume all the way up, it becomes recognizably audible. Now I have to find a pre-amp, or, Michael corrects, a well-matched ohmulator. Used to be able to get them anywhere for twenty bucks. Neither device lists an impedence, in spite of the obvious poetic symmetry of such a statistic. So for now I'm getting the same lousy sound I got when I heard the records the first time.

Two-and-a-half months later, I get to shelve my wall. The room is wide enough that the ceiling slopes down to a four-and-a-half foot wall that runs twenty feet on either side. One side is interrupted by the fireplace; the other gets the bookshelves. Michael convinces me that "the easiest way to do it" is to buy components for an all-assembly-required bracket-and-shelf system. Just find the studs and screw the supports in, but get brackets shorter than the actual shelf width. You drill a little hole into the underside of the board, see, and the nub of the bracket fits in there and stays hidden away instead of sticking out all ugly. Yeah, but what about twenty feet of unsupported books? Simple. Just drill three holes down through the ends of each shelf and slip in some dowels from top to bottom. Makes a nice visual, and the dowels support the books all the way to the end of the shelves. You don't go broke buying bookends.

I'm always looking to save some money.

Did you know you can spend $300 on cheap shelves if you try hard enough?

Well, I did my checkbook math, and you can. You can also make plenty of bad assumptions if it turns out your studs are 20" apart, instead of the sixteen inches everyone tells you. Even the little bag of screws in the shelf department say the studs are sixteen inches apart.

Jensen's First Rule of Home Ownership: "These things are all standard. Except this one you have here." (NOTE: Pause between first sentence and second includes the time it takes to drive home, unload supplies and tools, attempt impossible feat of engineering, return to hardware store, and display the object in question to the helpful associate so he can complete his thought.)


The Easiest Way to Do it did not take into account that I would buy shelves of different widths and stagger them between my 20-inch studly joists (to get that much-desired "floating effect"), nor that the dowels would not quite "slip down" into the holes because the holes were exactly the same size as the dowels and the slanting headbanging ceiling was in the way.

So my Saturday project turned into my Saturday, Sunday and Monday night project. With help from my two sons (Livi helped earlier, when there were power tools involved), we got the dowel rods into the shelves while we held them in mid-air (that floating effect is definitely an illusion) and all the shelves in place onto their sturdy, studly brackets.

I had played the phonograph once or twice earlier (starting with Coltrane's "Living Space," my move-in tradition), but this was the first time I was able to log time in the Guybrary with enough initiative to bypass the CD remote and play a full set with those antiquated twenty-minute obsidian wafers. I started with Side 1 of Elvis Costello's second album, then both sides of Peter Gabriel's first. After ten years in hot storage, there wasn't a ripple. Prayer works. By the time I dropped the stylus on Jorma Kaukonen, I was unboxing the last of Mark Twain, Chaos, and Ovid's Erotics.

God, I love being a man.

11/19/2001

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.” - Bertrand Russell
Wanderlust
I'm not sure what clicked to make me understand this. Perhaps it was the commentator saying that if the tragedy at LaGuardia had turned out to be caused by a terrorist act, it would have meant "the end of the airline industry" as we know it. Perhaps it was the comparison of back-end airline security as "swiss cheese" and yet, the assertion that traveling by air was still safer by far than by car. Maybe it was simply the sonorous memories of trips made, alone or with my family, that continue to resonate. Suddenly I knew that I wanted to go.

Or, more precisely, I want to be able to go. I don't really have the budget to travel now, having just purchased a house. But I'm not going to let some bloody terrorist dissuade me from my God-given American right to pack bags and have stressful visits with distant relatives, enjoying the sites as I grit my teeth.

Wanderlust is a well-journaled aspect of the American character, but the freedom of movement that makes it possible is often overlooked. We are a nation of movers, travellers, migrants. Our history is full of motion, most of it voluntary and optimisitic, with some notable exceptions: The crime of slavery; the forced relocation of Native American populations. Part of the upwelling of support for the Civil Rights movement came from the growing outrage that there were public places that certain citizens were simply prohibited from entering. While that certainly still is the case, in fact if not in law, we do, as Americans, presume that this is our country and we are free to move about.

So hear I sit, at the convergence of The Mother Road and the Trail of Tears [Real Audio], thinking, "Who are these guys to take my peripatetic heritage away?" But of course, any travelogue confers the understanding that our forebears took greater risks than we assume by submitting to low-wage scanjockeys working under contract. Lewis and Clark were protected by a teenage Shoshone girl and her baby, not a Federal Air Marshal.

And I think we all will figure this out, in time. Maybe we will see fewer "leisure miles" logged on airlines, but the American "urge to traverse" will not be daunted. So, Florida needs to deal with a billion dollar budget shortfall. But maybe people will look closer to home to satisfy their traveling jones. I can see the economic impact -- the development of hundreds of little "Rustic Belts" around the population centers. Places that the interstates bypassed, that the coastalites refer to as "flyover communities" -- or used to. Suddenly they're destinations. Micromarkets on the atomic scale.

Merriam-Webster's Thesaurus Entry Word: vagabond
Function: noun
Text: a person who wanders at will or as a habit <a park full of vagabonds sleeping on benches>
Synonyms arab, ||bindle stiff, bum, canter, clochard, derelict, drifter, floater, ||gangrel, hobo, piker, roadster, runagate, ||shack, street arab, ||sundowner, ||swagger, ||swagman, tramp, tramper, ||traveler, vag, vagrant, Weary Willie
Related Word roamer, rover, wanderer; boomer, migrant, runabout, straggler, stray, transient; bohemian, gypsy, picaro, picaroon; ||casual; stiff; beggar, rogue
Idioms knight of the road

11/14/2001

Blogging a Stairmaster to Heaven
Find a city / Find myself a city to live in  So now I'm dreaming in blogspace, writing in HTML, riding the crest of the wave breaking just short of Las Vegas. Gotta tell you, I was skeptical about the concept of the growth of microcommunities within the walls of corporatia; that voice would find a home there. Doc or Tom or somebody smart was talking about the difference between identity (which Microsoft owns) and self (which is multifaceted, and can present in different ways that you choose). Well, I got it wrong, it was David Weinberger in JOHO, excerpted by Doc who linked to Tom who blogged in the house that Jack built. See what's happening here? The whole thing's going fractal on me. And you, too. Point is, are you willing to let your self out on the job, even if given permission?

The power of voice is so strong, and the nature of weblogging (not exclusive of other technologies, but unique among them) is so ennabling, that I don't think the community will wait for the corporate world will get on the train. We already saw this happen on the web when web pages were a lot harder to build; now it's going to ramp up and out.

Here's the deal, though. We are in an economic transition (that's how we talk about things now, with that clintonian optimism that has bouyed us through the bubble and beyond).

I got some stories to tell about my adopted hometown of Tulsa OK. In the early 80's, the oil market went bust. Small wells lost money every day and had to be capped. Companies that made equipment, laid piplines, refined crude, sold gasoline -- all laid off and many pulled up stakes and left. Left some opportunities. One group of engineers bounced out of a rig manufacturer took their expertise, looked at the market, and invented the Stairmaster. Another had laid thousands of miles of pipe but then had nothing to push through it. They laid fiberoptic through the tubes instead, taking advantage of all the sunk costs and dearly-acquired rights-of-way. Sure, you say, but Stairmaster just tanked, and telecomm is fading into dark fibre. How long did you want the good times to last? Besides, the best part is that the town finally turned away from the dance partner what brung us, and now has a more diversified economy that rides out the vagaries of the oil market without all the slash and burn.

So now we've got this alignment of forces -- the questionable economy, layoffs, fear, war, pool reporting, terrorism, patriotism, aerophobia and blogspace. How does it all converge? The revolution will traverse the blogspace. Did you hear that rumble? We've already seen the impact of the "rightsizing" of the eighties. The Company broke the contract, and when they wanted a new deal, we got better terms. What we're seeing now is the perspectivizing of the oh-oh's. How would you spend your time today if you thought your life mattered?

So now I've got a bunch of friends now looking for work. What do I tell them? Use your voice! There's nobody in the world like you and there's no time like now to tell it. Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose. Speak. Link. Vent. Commune.

Word.
I said previously that a blog is not a conversation. I sit corrected. A blog is like a conversation taking place at a large corner booth in a busy diner. Lots of noise -- you can only hear about a quarter of what's going on -- but the company is good and the chrome is shiny. Every once in a while, somebody drops a glass and the whole room cheers, except the shlemeil who spilled it and the schlomazel he spilled it on. (Sorry, my Yiddish spellchecker has gone kaput.) You want fries with that?

I think there is some element in us that is looking for the slashdot effect, only perhaps distributed across all of blogspace. "This says here that there were 5,000,000 blogreaders last week, and I got twelve of 'em!" Maybe I'll put up a hit counter....

More important than this ego gratification (such as it is) is the sense of community. But it's more fun than that, because it's a community in a new modality. It's not the feed store, it's not the coffee shop. Hell, it's not even what we traditionally think of as "the net with a capital n." It's more disjoint than that, more idiosyncratic. I write what I don't even know if anyone will read, so it's fundamentally an act of faith. As Neil Young might say, "there's more air in there."

PS Send this to everyone you know.

Tom Matrullo put some interesting thoughts out there about blogging, bloggism, bloglodites, whatever. He posited some interesting concepts in his numbered list about making blogreading more efficient (that wasn't the word he used, but it will serve). After all, with any idiot capable of blogging up a storm, it's going to be increasingly difficult to get through the fluff, don't you agree?
This brings up some scintillating possibilities:
Chris Locke quotes himself, saying, It’s a Zen sort of thing you could say. I could say; who’s to stop me? Finger indicating moon-illuminated finger. The thickness of life as life is lived between the inexorable poles of birth and death. "Man is an animal suspended," says Geertz, "in webs of significance he himself has spun."

This is towards a theory of blogspace? We're talking mental recursion on a megalomaniacal scale, here. Webs of significance in webs of significance in webs of significance.... Zen and the Art of Bloggery. Word.

11/12/2001

Funes, the Memorious Without effort, he had learned English, French, Portuguese, Latin. I suspect, nevertheless, that he was not very capable of thought. To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract. In the overly replete world of Funes there were nothing but details, almost contiguous details. - Ibid.
Funes, the Memorious He had not written it down, for what he once meditated would not be erased. The first stimulus to his work, I believe, had been his discontent with the fact that "thirty-three Uruguayans" required two symbols and three words, rather than a single word and a single symbol. Later he applied his extravagant principle to the other numbers. In place of seven thousand thirteen, he would say (for example) Máximo Perez; in place of seven thousand fourteen, The Train; other numbers were Luis Melián Lafinur, Olimar, Brimstone, Clubs, The Whale, Gas, The Cauldron, Napoleon, Agustín de Vedia. In lieu of five hundred, he would say nine. Each word had a particular sign, a species of mark; the last were very complicated. . . . I attempted to explain that this rhapsody of unconnected terms was precisely the contrary of a system of enumeration. I said that to say three hundred and sixty-five was to say three hundreds, six tens, five units: an analysis which does not exist in such numbers as The Negro Timoteo or The Flesh Blanket. Funes did not understand me, or did not wish to understand me. Jorge Luis Borges
Generalist Rant

My name is Martin Jensen… and I’m a (sob) generalist. I know that the first step is admitting that I am powerless over my generalism.

That’s the scenario. The term “generalist” is almost a disparagement these days. It’s explicit sometimes: “Just a _________.” “A mere _________.” More often, it’s implicit. Unless you are a specialist in the field of x, your opinion does not matter. Unless you can rightfully append a series of letters after your name, you don’t get a place at the table.

You see it in the discussion groups online, where participants pump themselves up with with their many accomplishments, in listservs where the emailers denegrate the outclasses. The very language that is used is laced with jargon designed to exclude.

I have worked in the sphere of technology for nearly twenty years, and I have thus far managed to avoid the narrowing labels, the restrictive job titles, the paths to certification that just didn't appeal to me. I’m not suggesting that this is what everyone should do – I know the value of the specialists, and I laud them for their skillsets. But give me my due. I know what I’m talking about. More importantly, I know what you’re talking about. And I can explain it to someone who doesn't.

I know enough about network design, enough about computer hardware, enough about databases and webservers and interfaces and software deployment to be in a position to help make sure all the pieces fit together.

I also know a little about non-technical stuff. I know something about advertising, presentations, poetry. I know something about nonprofit management and government and environmental issues. I know something about parenting. I know something about blendered families and mental health and living with diabetes. I know something about history, war and peace, new wave, jazz and string theory.

You probably know a lot more about at least one of these things than I do. If so, I want to talk to you. I want to learn more.

Or you may be saying, “Big deal! That list doesn’t contain anything special. I got more than that in my bag.” Great! Get in touch with your inner generalist.

But don’t tell me I have nothing worthwhile to say because I don’t know as much about your favorite topic as you do. I’ve got a lot to say, and I have a point of view you may find useful. And that’s why I’m venturing an opinion. Because when it comes to the design of your new technological innovation, or the principles of your new management approach, or the way you want to change the world, you are in a far better position to make things happen than I am. I can offer only what my range of experiences and my unique point of view provide in the way of insight.

I’m the wall that bounces your ball back at odd angles, sometimes with more force than you have thrown it. That’s my value proposition, man.

11/11/2001

For everyone who's been asking, and apparently, for those who haven't: Meme Central - Memes, Memetics, and Mind Virus Resource "Memes are the basic building blocks of our minds and culture, in the same way that genes are the basic building blocks of biological life." - Richard Brodie
Fifty Veteran’s Days Later, I Say Thank You

    by Martin Jensen
    November 11, 1995

Today I took my son,
    needing style and warmth,
To the resale shop for
    a military overcoat.
The fine wool, I knew,
    would cut the wind,
Protect him from the elements
    like a father’s steady hand.

How could I know,
    a CO like me
Would turn so easily back
    to your example?
A young man in love, you
    willingly deferred your exemptions
Put college and future on hold
Endured the questioning of
    your German heritage
And travelled West to East to serve.

You lived a history you never volunteered
    to tell
But was filtered down to me, its
    result and beneficiary,
In tidbit tales
Passed on, second hand,
And hung in my heart like ribboned medals;

Today and fifty years ago today
I ride with you through the wasted city
The beautiful eyes you passed to me
Survey the blackened rubble
    of a people and their dreams
The light-and-darkness of the bombflash
    flows straight from our eyes
    to our hearts
Which harden-and-soften
    in secret places
For our sons
For hanging ribboned medals after us.
How God Makes God This description of Peter Small's CD-ROM is the only thing that has ever made me wish I have a Macintosh. Alas, it's not quite enough.

11/10/2001

Okay, so I can hear all you "real" bloggies getting pretty po'ed, if you didn't already quit reading. Blogs are supposed to be pithy and short, and definitely composed in real time -- it says so in the blogger bible. Not to mention I changed the default so that my days' entries read top-to-bottom chronologically, not upside down (most recent first) like the rest of the bloggies do it. Problem is, I tend to think of things from beginning to end, and that's how I want it to end up on the page. So I've posted essays instead of blurbs, sequence instead of instance. What's next? Am I going to exclude the prerequisite expletives? Expletive no!
The Psycho Realtor From Hell, Chapter II
The Closing - October 6, 2001

Well, despite ALL THE TIME I've had to think about it, I really don't know how to tell this story in a funny way. If the lessons of the past few weeks have taken hold, then maybe I should just keep typing, and assume it will all work out in the end. Unfortunately, it is so late in the evening my realtor, my closer, and my lender are all probably asleep by now (or at least celebrating at a safe distance from their cell phones), so I can't call them for advice, as I have so many times in the past. So I guess it's just me and you, dear reader.

It would be hard to tell the story of how many times we were prepared to close, scheduled to close, arranged for kid pickups and work excuses and routes back and forth across the city during rush hours. Hard because there were so many times, and hard because I forget easily, even now, hours after I quit banging my head against the wall of the new house.

Suffice to say the latest false alarm came last Friday, when the seller suddenly discovered (so many discoveries, perhaps a descendent of Columbus?) that the money set aside to pay the lender was not properly reflected in the payoff amount, and couldn't be transferred to the title company to pay off the difference because the funds were designated in thus-and-such a way. Oh, and they were a little short on the remainder, as it turns out.

At some point I talked to my realtor, who said he had finally turned the contracts over to his father, who happens to be a retired attorney. The father makes a couple calls and finds out what we could have surmised -- the bankruptcy (that one that the Psycho Realtor From Hell said was "over, six months ago -- no problem" before we made an offer on the house, "just a formality" as the first closing date approached, "preventable" when she miscalculated the estimated cost to close and postponed the closing with 36 hours notice, "who told you there was a bankruptcy?" when she threw her fit in our insurance agent's office on the day we were supposed to move) was actually a full foreclosure, with collection costs, attorneys' fees, a trust account to pay off creditors and back taxes, all in line ahead of us in our real estate transaction.

The father also looks at the contract and says, "but look here -- the modifications to the Early Occupancy Agreement say they can't throw your client out for the seller's inability to close, and they have to let them live there rent free. (Other than these emails, they were the most significant thing I've written lately.) "Tell your people to sit back and wait for them to get their act together." Only, I don't think he said "act."

So meanwhile, the extension on our loan approval is about to expire. The new date for the closing is scheduled is the very date of that expiration. October 5, 2001 (Note to numerologists: 10052001 looks the same right-side-up as upside-down. I'm sure I don't have to explain the significance of this fact to you, of all people.) That's Friday afternoon, at 4:00. (Note to readers of arcane books of gnostic prophecy: If you know the significance of this day and time, please don't explain it to me. I don't care.)

So by now, I am not only on a first-name basis with my realtor, my closer, and my lender, but we have nicknames for each other. My realtor is "Beamer" -- not because he drives one, but because his name is Scott, and I keep hoping he will transport me off of this unfriendly planet; my closer is "Patience," for her willingness to go through each of the closing statements with me, line-by-line, over several phone calls and many protestations; my lender is "Greenspan" -- she never actually lowered her rate, but she did help me bridge the gap between what I could afford and what I ended up having to pay. For me, they ascribed a common nickname. I was "You Again."

They also had things to say about PRFH. Greenspan said PRFH would not take her word that our loan was approved -- she insisted on having everything in writing. She also asked for a copy of our appraisal. Greenspan said that the appraisal belonged to us, that she could not and would not provide it. PRFH then asked if our rent-free status constituted an "unreasonable inducement to purchase" that would prevent the lender from being able to give the sale their blessing. Wasn't there a law passed to that effect a few years ago? Greenspan told her no, they were fully prepared to lend us the money, and she had never even heard of such a law. PRFH said "you had better check with your legal department on this one."

Of course, I was gratified to hear the news that the seller's agent was looking out for our best interest in this way. Why, if we weren't able to clear this mortgage hurdle, the contract would fall through, and she might have to sell the house to someone else at a higher price!

Beamer, of course, was the chief engineer of the operation. "She's a battle-axe fa'shoor! The photon torpedoes air seemin' ta have nae effect a tall, an tha shields air daen ta three. One mair d'rect hit, an' we may be doon foor!" He then proceeded to spew forth a stream of Hibernian vulgarities potent enough to penetrate even the hardiest of corporate email cursefilters.

Of PRFH, Patience observed sweetly, "My, she sure does call here a lot!"

No news being good news, we received the best of news all week.

On Friday morning, I tried Patience. "Yes," she said, "they're supposed to be wiring the funds. I have a message in to their closer." Tick-tock. "You Again? Yes, the funds were supposed to have been wired. I have left a voicemail and an email for confirmation." Tick-tock. "You Again? Well, it takes some time for the wire to get routed properly." Tic. "Look You, you might as well just come on in. The wire is supposed to be on its way."

I left work early and headed to the bank. I had them write a check in my name for more money than I had ever held in my hands before, but at this point I was too befogged to appreciate it, much less to consider the myriad of alternative uses for it. The closest I got to a realization of anything was when I asked the teller for a paperclip, so I could prevent the draft from flying out of the folder I clutched in my quivering fingers as I traversed the windy parking lot.

I suspend my hatred for all drivers who use cell phones for those specific moments when I need to make a call. I rung up Allie. "You have Livi? Good. I wanted to warn you against taking Harvard. The construction is still a mess. I'm a few blocks away, but you'd be better off taking Riverside or Peoria. See you in a few. Bye."

I arrived at the lobby of the title company. The harried receptionist informed me that Patience was in another room, working on another closing. I mentioned that I had talked to another woman when Patience had been on another line, or in another closing, out to lunch, nursing her old football injury, etc., and could she check with that person to see whether the wire had come in? The receptionist picked up the phone, struck a few keys, and announced my request. "Umhm? Umhm. Yes. Yes. Him Again." She looked me straight in the face and said, "The wire is supposed to be on its way."

There was a cluster of chairs. Magazines spread out across a couple of low tables. I sat down.

I got up. I had left the contracts in my briefcase, and I felt a linusian need to hold them close to my body. "I left something in the car," I explained to the receptionist, as if she might be disappointed if the long-awaited wire came in and I were not there to share the moment with her. In a moment, I returned with the fragmented envelope and the sacred texts it contained. She regarded me archly and returned to her phone bank. "I'm sorry, every room is full. No, he is in a closing. She is also in a closing. Can I send you to her voicemail?"

I waited a full ninety seconds. "While I was away, did you happen to receive word about that wire?"

My cell phone chimed at my hip and I grappled with it, finally subduing it and bringing it to my ear. "Honey! Are you all right? Is everything okay? What's that? QuikTrip? Diet Pepsi? Yes, Diet Pepsi is fine. I'd suggest you pick up a Dr. Pepper for Max. Well, he'll want one when we pick him up. It's a small investment with a large return. See you in a minute. Okay. Bye."

I check the contract. I linger over the Early Occupancy Agreement, especially those inserted clauses. I check for the rental amounts and do some calculating on the back of the envelope. We are probably getting charged for a day or two of rent we do not owe, but it amounts to less than three digits, which, by now, is completely acceptable.

Beamer pops out through an office door. I find his presence reassuring, there being no maritime directive, prime or otherwise, that the chief engineer must go down with the ship. He sits and chats until Allie and Olivia arrive. Allie hands me my drink, then looks at her own and says, "Gee, Scott. I should have thought to bring you a Dr. Pepper." When you work with someone long enough, you know what they drink.

One of his partners swooshes through, and he is off, presumably for a last-minute calibration of the dilithium crystals.

The door to the street swings open and an icy blast pierces the lobby like a dagger. The woman enters in a tweed suit, platinum hair, spine straightened as if on a forge. She marches to the receptionist's desk and presents herself.

"Hellew. Lowanda Dirtedowne, PRFH. I'm here for the Jensen Closing. Yes. Thenk yew."

It's her. In the flesh, or whatever. The Psycho Realtor From Hell.

She hovers by the counter momentarily, as if she might have a question. As if she might see the half-dozen empty chairs on the other side of the lobby. As if...

"HELL-leww! You must be the Jensens! I'm Lowanda Dirtedowne! Sew glad to meet yew." She sits, less than spitting distance from all three of us. I did a little assessment to be sure.

"Looks like I'll be getting that Dr. Pepper now!" said Allie, and promptly rose and left the building. I've had some time to think about this, and I must say, I don't really blame her. It was not technically spousal abandonment, and it wasn't entirely that she thought she might haul off and smack the woman if she had to be near her. She just had the best first excuse and she used it. She's good that way.

Sensing weakness, the Shealtor turned to me.

"Sew," she began, "Lewks like you got a verry gewd deal," -- there was the briefest of pauses here, which filled immediately with all the words I might have used at that moment to describe the deal, none of which was 'good' -- "on the rent."

I had been consciously avoiding eye contact, but now I looked at her coolly. "We would rather have owned the house."

"Well, we can't always have what we want, can we? There are rules to follow, there are laws, professional standards." I looked for any glimmer of irony. She went on. "Why, you were lucky! That attorney wanted to throw the whole thing out -- cancel the whole deal and kick you right out of that house. I explained that he wouldn't get paid, we wouldn't get paid, they wouldn't get paid. He understood this of course, but he was furious. Why, in my life I never had a man curse at me like that!" Of all the fabrications, falsehoods and mendacities that this woman had perpetrated, this was, perhaps, the least plausible. Still, not wanting to compete with the aforementioned lawyer's superlative accomplishment, I said nothing in reply.

Presently, Allie returned from the car. Apparently Olivia had chosen a Code Red rather than a Dr. Pepper for Max, but this was not addressed. A good excuse, after all, needs no explanation.

Lowanda continued her attempts at chummy conversation (note to linguists: the word "chummy" is best understood here in its piscatorial rather than its collegial sense). "And this must be your daughter?"

"Yes." I said.

Olivia, with her unwavering sense of self and unerring faculties of character evaluation, did exactly what I hoped. She continued reading her book without looking up at The Bad Lady.

Finally she turned to Allie. "Lowanda Dirtedowne. I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name?" Allie, who until this moment had not even acknowledged the woman's existence, much less offered anything of hers for the woman to catch, spoke what was, to me, the most powerful word in the English language; my sword and my staff; the thing that had brought me thus far and would carry me through: In sotto voce, she said her name.

PRFH, by this point, was lurching forward, thrusting her hand toward my wife, who, holding her purse, portfolio and Code Red, possessed once again the ready excuse to wordlessly refuse it. "I'm sorry? Hallie? Ellie? Allison? Is it Allison? Allison then?" It was as if she thought my wife was unsure of her own name, or had somehow lost it, and needed one assigned to her immediately, for the sake of the closing. Ever helpful, Lowanda filled the need only she had the vision to perceive.

"Allie."

I really can't claim any insight into the power of women, much less the power that flows between them in moments such as this. All I know is that Lowanda, as if struck by a phaser set mercifully to "stun," fell back into her chair, silent. No more chit-chat. Her chum bucket had been overturned, and her nets came up empty.

Beamer sprinted into the room through an office door. "The wire! The wire came through!"

For reasons my masculinity prevents me from revealing, most of the papers needed to be signed only by Allie, not by me. She sat directly across from Lowanda; Beamer and I at a safe, consultory distance. Her artful signature graced page after page, until the tax form granting us the mortgage exemption came to the top of the stack. "Well, there's a problem," she said, "Allie is not my real name. On my tax forms it's 'Alice.'"

There was a flurry of discussion about how this might have happened, who could have made the mistake? Would it be okay? I pointed out that "Allie" was on our checks, and the government seemed to have no problem accepting such payments. Soon, someone produced a form that said "Name" at the top, and had a space below for "Also Known As."

Beside "Name," she wrote "Allie," a.k.a. "Alice C.," and the house was ours.
The Psycho Realtor From Hell, Chapter I
In which I reply at length to my wife's optimistic change of address message, then send it to everyone I think might read it - September 5, 2001

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Allie Jensen [SMTP:alliej@att.net]
> Sent: Monday, August 27, 2001 12:20
> To: Allie Jensen
> Subject: New numbers
>
> Friday August 31st is moving day!
> Our new address is xxxxx South Hudson Place, Tulsa, OK yyyyy
> New phone 918-nnn-mmmm (which may or may not be hooked up on Friday)
> but we'll have our cells on ...
> Allie-918-ido-ntth
> Marty-918-ink-sooo
>
> You local types will be getting a schedule of the actual event as
> details solidify. Know that we welcome extra hands, and even
> curious on-lookers, especially from Saturday on. We are likely not closing
> until mid afternoon on Friday. Our computer will probably be in use
> through Wednesday, maybe Thursday morning, and then not again until
> the dust settles.
>
> So, Stay in TOUCH!
>
> Light,
> Allie

After Allie sent this message, a man from the phone company came and blamed us for the terrible static we had been receiving at the old house. He unplugged it and left.

I was all ready to forward this message from work on Wednesday morning when it occurred to me to call my realtor and make sure everything was "go" for the move. He said, "let me get back to you on that."

The closing was postponed. We tried to negotiate an early occupancy agreement, since it was the seller's -um- oversight that caused the closing delay. Friday afternoon, we were loading the truck at our old house with no idea where we would be going. The seller's agent, after a series of exchanges with our realtors, our closer, and our insurance agent which left everyone wondering about not only her integrity but her very sanity, did not like the wording of the insurance rider (which she insisted we buy, though we have no insurable interest in the seller's property), and would not give up the key. I literally hid in the back yard of the new house from the movers, who said they needed to unload the truck somewhere because it had to be returned by five o'clock.

We were in. The phone was on. The water was on. The pilot light was lit under the water heater.

But the water did not get hot. I crawled under the heater again. No dice. Tried to find a master valve to the gas. Nothing. It was dark. We went to sleep.

Next day, ONG guy came out. We wanted him just to turn on the gas and leave. First he asked to see the water heater (heart beats very fast -- heater not up to code!). I moved away the mattresses we had strategically placed in front of the door. "Pilot out, gas off. Good." (Glad I did that 15 minutes ago!). "You got a problem here. This is supposed to be eighteen inches off the floor." I glance up at the silver ductwork overhead, all of which will need to be relocated if he makes me retrofit. Is that a vapor hanging in the air? No, just dollar signs floating away.... "Yep. Eighteen Inch Rule. I can't light the pilot if it's not eighteen inches off the ground. You'll have to light this one yourself." The utility gods have shown their mercy.

He goes out to his truck. It takes him twenty minutes to fill out his forms, check his radio, smoke his cigarette. Finally, the gas man is gone and I can breathe again.

For the third time, I crawl on my belly in the garage and light the pilot. My nephew Dave has flown in from Syracuse to help. By this time, he has read the manual. There's stuff in there about scalding children and leaking tanks. "Some condensation is normal. If water flow is excessive, seek a professional." We both agree that this is good advice.

We move boxes, unwrap items, arrange furniture. Eat, drink, collapse. Allie has gone to back to old house for something (oh, other closing got postponed, too, for different reasons. This only makes a difference to the extent that having cash is useful in such situations.)

She comes back yelling, shaking me on my new sofa. "Wake up! There's water running out of the garage!"

Bleary-eyed, I assess the situation. Water is coming out from under the water heater. Water heater bad. Stop water heater before it makes me move boxes out of garage.

Dave is in the background saying helpful things like, "Earlier there was a toilet running upstairs, so I jiggled the handle." He carries ten times his weight in boxes, so we do not expect him to be bright.

I turn off the gas, then turn off the pilot. Amazingly, this has no effect on the flow of water. There is a valve on top of the heater. Either it is too stiff or I am, so I push a screwdriver through the holes in the handle and use my superior intellect to leverage the valve closed. Momentarily, the water stops flowing out from under the heater. The last surge of it seems to be carrying some dry leaves, but I realize, it is only dollar signs floating out into the driveway. Next week, I will seek a professional. Until then, I will have to rely on cold showers.

Next day, we start with bagels and decide to devote ourselves to making the house otherwise liveable. I am starting to become comfortable, though it has been several days since I have bathed. I take a moment to enjoy the new facilities, then return downstairs to join family and friends in our united efforts. I am going to get something out of the garage when, whoof!

The water is back, and with a vengeance. Now it has something else floating in it, and it's not dollar signs.

"Honey?" I call. "Remember what I said about fixing the water heater? Well, I've got some good news and I've got some other news."

She calls Roto Rooter. How much is a holiday/weekend emergency service visit? Oh. Do you take Visa?

She leaves Max and me to handle the situation and goes off with everyone with any sense to scrub thirteen years of accumulated grime from the walls and floor of the other house. I turn to Max. "I don't know how to say this son, but it could be awhile until he gets here and you may have to, um, mark your territory."

"That's okay, Dad. I already did."

Roto Rooter guy: "Waal, you gotta cleanout up their on the second story, and I'm gonna hafta radio for an upstairs man."

Not much question here. I definitely need help from the upstairs man. I consult my financial advisor, "Honey, remember what they said about holiday weekend emergency service rate? Well, now we need a two-man crew. It will only cost $260 unless it takes them more than an hour."

The good news: They did it in an hour.

The other news: They didn't find a root. They think my pipe may have collapsed, or been made out of orangeburg, or shimmed out of line with the city dipthong or something like that. Whatever it is, it will cost $2500, if that's what it is. Just see if it happens again. Nice house, by the way.

By Monday, we have hot water and flushing toilets. The dishwasher, questionable during the inspection, is working, as is the upper oven, which had been written off during the EMP. We set up beds. We move things around in the library (which Allie has dubbed "The Guybrary" since it is the one room I have requested be mine to decorate without her artistic input. My male friends, visiting later, anoint it "The Studly." Cassidy unwittingly plugs the computer into the phone line without realizing it doesn't work. It works. Things are going well.

On Tuesday, I return to work and 78 unread emails. Two scheduled conference calls and one unscheduled. The closing on my old house is to happen sometime Wednesday. That is, it was. I get a call at lunchtime asking if I can close at 5:00 today. Sure! Allie goes first and signs; I show up later and sign. My realtor will meet me there, wait for the new owners, and bring me a check.

We're in the title company office, laughing with Jennifer, another victim of the Psychotic Realtor from Hell. My realtor's cel phone rings and he stops laughing and leaves the room. Jennifer leaves too.


"It's just a minor delay. Wells Fargo. California. First thing tomorrow morning. I'll call you."

Today at lunchtime I call Allie. Heard anything? No. You?

I am trying to think of a way to close out this story. The phone rings. Allie says, "Jennifer says she has a check. She just needs
you to sign a termite certificate. She says you should stop by. Yeah. First thing in the morning."
Already the Banality I Promised Not To Post

So now I’m fritterrin’ my time away with all these bloggers and listers. See, once you join in these online communities, you gotta invest the most precious thing you have – TIME. And time is precious, especially when you’re paid by the hour and you have this character defect that only lets you bill for the hours that you actually work. That’s the kind of chump I am.

Only, when I look into my heart of hearts, I know it is time well-spent, even if I have to buy it myself. I’m meeting people from Germany and Sillycon Valley and God Knows Where. They got the same kinds of issues I’ve got, only different perspectives. I know that I may or may not find some glory hole someday that leads to my overcoming this sense of “just around the corner”-ness that whispers into my every waking hour. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about the moment. Today. This life, this message, this word, this work.

So now it’s midnight-thirty and I don’t really know what to say, but I’m compelled to write. That’s gotta be a good thing.

Doesn’t it?

11/08/2001

This is an essay I composed after having one of those, "Aha! I could win this one!" moments while listing to an episode of "The Savvy Traveler" on NPR last year. The contest was to answer, in 250 words or less, who you would choose to be stranded on a desert island with, and why? Here is my losing entry:

A Day in the People’s Republic of Paradise

©2000 Martin Jensen

At dawn, I rose to polish the chrome. Something on the beach caught my eye.

“Fidel! A message!”

Fidel yawned and scratched. I handed him the bottle, which he smashed against the fender.

He squinted. “South Pacific Bell. They no install DSL. 2700 miles to substation.”

Fidel spit. “Subjugation of masses by imperial oppressors.”

“Fidel, the only Imperial here is this ’57 Chrysler. And quit calling me ‘the masses.’ You know how I feel about my weight.”

“Very well. Is time for calisthenics.”

Fidel lit a cigar while I did jumping jacks. When he tired, he beckoned me. “Clockwise!” he commanded.

I chauffeured him around to the far side of the isle. At the mouth of the lagoon, I stopped to cheer. For three hours he held forth on our noble struggle. I got back behind the wheel.

“Nothing like spontaneous demonstration. Brings out – how you say? Eloquence.”

I drove. He leaned out the window, waving.

That evening, he called from his hut. “Piña colada, por favor!”

I brought the drink. Fidel told of our victories against the enemies of the Revolution.

“Uno más! And roll me another cigar!”

“Your ration is one per day. Any idea how much hibiscus nectar goes into a fifth of rum? And chill the stogies -- this hut stinks!”

He held out his arms. “Amigo!”

Three coladas later, he leaned forward and whispered, “Martín. Why you choose me as illustrious leader?”

“Stranded indefinitely on an island paradise? I went with experience.”

Agree? Let me know where you would send me.

11/07/2001

This site is about doing your/my best, whatever that is. See, we each get a lever, and we each get to choose where we put it. A friend of mine, who has worked with nonprofits for many years, bemoaned the fact that some of the greatest case workers he ever met had jobs as executive secretaries, while some of the greatest -- well, he didn't know if they were really good at anything, but they ended up as case workers for nonprofits. Of course, a lot of great case workers actually do work as case workers, a fact which we all should be thankful for, and hence give generously to some local charity.

But really, it was Chris Locke who got me off my butt (I have friends who would object to words such as "ass", so I won't use them in this blogger) and start publishing the things that I write. See, that's my lever. And actually, I don't really have friends who object to the word "ass" or even "Wankel rotary engine," for that matter. So I guess the gloves are off. Okay, enough farting around. I'm going to see how this bloggie thing works.

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