Monday, June 25, 2012

Survival is Victory

It’s true sometimes. I’ve blogged lately about fire, how we Christians, we followers of Christ, we brave few, are called to at times to follow our Savior right through it. In the fire, ugly things get burned clean off us. The loving masculine hand of Christ guides us into these brave places where life and death walk naked and can be seen for what they are. Here, survival is victory.

The first time Jesus Christ leads a man through the furnace of His severe and fearsome love, it feels like the end of all things. The universe tilts, the earth wobbles on its axis. But like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, when we’re plunged into the flames we find it a kind of sanctuary, a baptism that cleanses us from those things that overshadow us: the past and its power to condemn, addictions, habits, ruts of behavior. We find in the fire, for the first time, that there is peace. The blaze of our Savior’s gaze—His undivided attention, so unbearable for those who have not yet bent the knee—is ultimate catharsis. It is the homecoming for which we all hunger, whether we know it or not.

We soon find in the fire that there is nothing to fear there. When we emerge on the other side, burnished clean and glowing, we find ourselves stronger, lighter, bolder. Less apt to waver. Not led about by whim and fancy. We know our purpose, we know who we are, we have beheld the magnificence of the only wise God, and we are forever changed. Fear slides off us now. What once might have bowed our backs, crippled our knees, and melted our hearts is now as nothing. Our perspective has changed; we know now what matters because we have looked death in the face and seen there is nothing there to fear.

And we sing a new song. One that cannot begin to express the measure of pain we have felt. It is pain that matters a great deal, because we bear the marks of Christ on our hearts now; we are bound to Him in fellowship, in brotherhood, in understanding—because we have walked the same paths, have we not? Our new song is one of love, but even this song won’t do enough to prove our love for Him. We firewalkers will not stop short of pouring out our lives for the One we have beheld in the quiet place of the crucible. We are not the same as we were before.

We will never be the same. The embrace of God is an irrevocable thing. For those who know, for those who have heard His call, there is nothing else that will ever satisfy. Nothing. For us, when we say I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, we know it’s true because we have lived it. Not because of us. But because of the One who reveals Himself in the fire, who strips everything away but Himself, His everything-presence, the One who has overshadowed All, the One who showed us that survival is victory. What remains is pure.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Writing Shed, Part One

Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! AAGGHHH!

Ever had that feeling that life is snowplowing right over you? The old to-do list is getting pretty long. It brings to mind a British phrase I’ve come to know and love: “Ambitious, but rubbish.” If things keep up like this, that’s precisely what it’ll be.

I’ve been trying to build an outdoor fireplace now for a little while. Like, two years. It’s not only not done, but also there have been other little projects added in the meantime… you know, while I procrastinated. Like the cabinet my wife procured that needs to be sanded, painted, and installed somewhere. A big picture frame from three years ago; same story. I’ve told my boys that I’m going to build them a loft bed in their room, so they can have more room to play (truthfully, the design behind this idea is to keep them from leaving Legos out to ambush me barefooted in the living room, but I know it won’t solve anything; I understand the Law of Unintended Consequences).

And now this: A massive pile of reclaimed lumber. It’s for another project altogether, of course. See, a while back I got this crazy idea that I could build a storage shed that’s mostly not a storage shed. Mostly, it would be my home office. There would be room to store stuff on one side, sure, but there would be a double wall dividing the two spaces. My office space would be insulated and air conditioned and heated. Sure, it’s crazy, but I can do crazy in my sleep. Trust me.

Where did it all come from, you may ask. It started with a random phone call from my brother, who started the conversation by asking me what I was doing. I told him, “Writing. At the coffee shop (which is where I normally work because I don’t have a writing shed yet).” He replied with, “You dog,” whereupon I gave as good as I got. But it turned out he needed some help with demolition at one of his jobs. There was a small forest of 2x4s, 2x8s, and headers, oh, my. The stuff was just going to go into a dumpster anyway, so I quickly volunteered to help him take it down, thinking to myself, self, this is probably going to cost you a bottle of Laphroaig’s finest. Happily.

The problem is, reclaimed lumber is a little like fresh produce. It won’t keep forever, especially out in the weather. Further, my projects tend lately to outlast reality itself. I have really got to get cracking on this shed, then. Have you ever considered the irony of a man who needs somewhere to keep the materials for the shed he wants to build, and how a shed would be the perfect place to keep all that stuff but how there is no shed yet because it hasn't been built? Chicken or egg. A Frenchman would shrug, turn away, and light a cigarette, saying C'est la vie, and it would fit well.

That pile looks big, doesn’t it?

Yes, yes it does.

But I’ve counted up the studs and the joists—there’s not enough there to complete the shed I’ve designed. It’s not a complaint; just an observation. What it means is that I’ll have to go out and buy more materials. More studs. More sheathing, for sure. Shingles, paint, caulk, nails, hardware for the doors, and so on. I’ve got to go get a second-hand sliding glass door, too. And a heater. And an air conditioner. You see where this is going, right? I’ll need conduit, wiring, j-boxes, some railroad ties, and probably more than a few sixers of cold beer.

It’s dangerous, that’s what it is. Dangerous. Because I have more excuses than ever now. And if there’s one thing I don’t want to do, it’s procrastinate this lumber pack into an unusable pile. Though life threatens to plow me under, I shall stand atop victorious, hammer in one hand and empty beer in the other, roundly belching my defiance into the face of circumstance. I will shout from the gambrel roof of my writing shed that I Have Overcome. Soon. Ish. Like, maybe, I dunno, late August-early September. Meh, October…possibly.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

When Life Gives You Poo…

Duress reveals the innermost workings of a man. Lately, I’ve been waking up to a fresh pile of canine manure in a random spot of my yard. Everyday. Such an inherently hateful thing will set a thinking man’s wheels to grinding. I’ve thought things like, if I catch that crap factory traipsing over my lawn in the wee hours of the morning, why, I’m going to—! This is what Patrick F. McManus dubbed the “aborted curse,” or a variant thereof. I’ve also thought things like, maybe it’s time to pull the old paintball gun out of mothballs. But that would be cruel. Just, but cruel, and especially in this eggshell of a woman’s world we have inherited from the hippies.

No, I’m going to find the strongest mongrel repellant in the world and deploy it liberally around my property. What is it dogs hate most? I can think easily of what they love: trash, feces, rancid meat, grass (I have a lot of that), small children, bicycle tires, bits of rope… But what do they hate? And how can I rid myself of this fecal scourge?

It is an irritation. I’ve thought about whether or not the nightly deposit is being left by a stray or a legitimate dog. If it’s a legitimate dog, that means it has an owner. If there is an owner involved, one of two things is happening repeatedly:

  1. The legitimate dog escapes confinement every morning to drop poo bombs on my yard.
  2. The legitimate dog is out every morning with its owner, who allows it to drop poo bombs on my yard, thus providing his or her express endorsement of said canine mischief.

If case #2 is valid, I have options. I could stake out my own yard. When I catch the culprit and its scumbag master I then have even more options, two of which spring readily to mind. The first is that I could (I would already be wearing three pairs of rubber gloves, of course) sprint out to the steaming pile, pick it up, and chase the bastard down my street. But this would require me to outrun him or her, and even with the advantage of piss, vinegar, and adrenaline on my side, I’m still not that fast. The second option would be to stealthily follow the offender to his or her own domicile, whereupon I could volley poo after retributional poo upon his grass. But the human kind of poo is far more gross. Ten to one, really. If I think this through, it’s not a realistic option, but it’s fun to consider nevertheless. Awkward headlines notwithstanding (In other news, a Meridian man was arrested early this morning for taking a dump in someone’s yard…)

In the end though, I’ll probably just spend an outrageous amount of money buying dog repellent that doesn’t work in an effort to expunge someone else’s dog crap from my little corner of paradise. What was that about an ounce of prevention? Oh, well… I forget. Something about being worth it or something. I’m still angry about it, as I should be. I don’t own animals because I don’t enjoy picking up feces out of my yard. It’s pretty simple. And that some jackass is out there yucking it up thinking he has the best of both worlds—canine love and a clean yard—payback is going to be a bitch. A cast iron, Mongolian cluster of a BEE-OTCH. Because next time that walking crap factory sets foot in my yard, I’ll be there.

Yes sir. I’m going to set out a huge bowl of doggie snacks as bait, and then camp out next to it. Right on top of Rover’s preferred latrine area IN MY YARD. And when I hear little munchies going on at about two AM, I’m going trigger my industrial strength aerosol air horn right in Rover’s face. Granted, I may have quite a lot of cleanup to do immediately after that, but it will be worth it. Because that will be the last time for a long time, let me tell you.

Dogs who poo in my yard need to BEWARE OF OWNER, let me tell you. And it’s a life lesson: When life gives you poo, camp out and grab your air horn. Like duh.

Monday, June 11, 2012


From what I can ascertain from the merry cobble of information out there in Webland, Stephen King never wrote a sequel to Firestarter. And right from the get-go, I have to say that’s “a bummer, man,” as Jeffrey Lebowski might say. While this book had its moments, it never really got going. It dragged along and teased me, and I realized about two-thirds of the way through it that it wasn’t going to deliver the knockout blow I was hoping for.


And it’s weird. It sure seems like a great setup for a great story. There are so many ways to move the plot forward, it’s surprising King doesn’t ever really give it full throttle.

I read it with a plan, though. I purposed to read something from King’s early days, because I wanted to see if he’s always been amazing or if he developed along the way. The answer was mostly that he developed along the way. Firestarter was a decent story, sure. But it’s no Duma Key; it’s not King’s best. I’ve read somewhere that he isn’t particularly proud of his early stuff anyway, and that’s why I sought it out. I wanted to see what kind of writer he used to be.

Firestarter was like the patient whose wife waits in the hospital lobby, the doctor walking gravely in with the ma’am-I’m-afraid-I-have-bad-news line. The bane of all rookie authors—passive voice—isn’t just a rash in this book. It’s not just an outbreak. It’s riddled with it. Sure, it’s fixable, but only by re-making the patient. And maybe I got an early edition; it’s copyrighted 1980 and there are no edition numbers on the copyright page. Perhaps some of that stuff got fixed later on. I don’t know. It’s stunning, though, that it went to press in such bad form. These are the professionals, or so we’ve been told.

What I do know is that I was encouraged by this book. One of my literary heroes, King had teething problems too, just like me. He turned out a halfway decent book that got made into a movie. And he launched into a career as an author that was very rewarding. Sure, the world’s a different place now. But it’s good to know that one of the master storytellers of our time had his own early issues.

Now…I’ve got things to write.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Age of the Average

The other day I watched a video, or part of it anyway, about a young couple who cycled about 4500 miles from one end of the country to the other. It got me to thinking.

Riding a bike across Oregon would be an enormous feat. Across the country? Huge. With your wife? Move over, Captain Peary. This is a big deal to me. But to our contemporary society, it’s nothing more than a footnote on the local news wires, if that. The video had about 120 views on You Tube. I wondered why.

Is it that we can no longer do great things as a society, as a civilization? Have we run out of Pearys to discover the North Pole? Magellans and Vespuccis and Armstrongs and Yeagers and Wrights? Admittedly, from a certain perspective it sure seems like we’ve mostly accomplished what God told Noah: fill the earth and subdue it, teem on it. But if we’ve run out of spectacular things to do, does it follow logically that real wholesome spectacle itself is dead too?

If greatness has indeed died, for what then shall we live? All of us aspire for some kind of notoriety, at least I think so, on some level, because part of human nature includes that “hey, look at me” gene. And while riding with no hands for mom is great when you’re seven or eight, it’s not very satisfying for grown men and women. So…there’s nothing great left for these generations to do…and therefore we shall sink into ignominy and become average…right?

No, I don’t think that’s quite true. I think we have become benumbed to greatness. We’re so paradoxically isolated in our urbane anonymity, faces glued to our electronica, that we wouldn’t know a great man if he walked up and slapped us in the face. The paradox extends, too, to the increasingly violent and extreme turn current events have taken since I was a kid. We didn’t have news stories about cannibalism in the streets, terrorist threats in skyscrapers, unexplainably out of control natural phenomena, and so on. That mild heart attack you should feel when you see crazy headlines begins to fade the more you read them. And that means it takes more sensationalism for you to sit up and notice extraordinary things.

I’m not saying we should dumb down what defines greatness. Quite the contrary. I’m saying we’re chasing the wrong kinds of things, and it’s slowly killing us from the inside. We’re deadened. I think it’s mostly because we connote our vicarious experiences with reality: we watch an HD documentary on the Amazon rain forest and we then assume we’ve basically been there. But such an outlook is patently untrue.

The main problem is that we so seldom rub elbows in the flesh with true honor, courage, daring—real greatness—that we’ve lost the intensity of what that word means. We have very little appreciation for feats of daring because we so rarely have to dare to do anything anymore. Now, just cooking dinner for the family is awe-inspiring. And then we sit down in front of the flat screen and become blobified, dissolving into subhumanity. Average. Dead and boring. And dead bored. I only mention it because I have struggled with it.

But not so much anymore. Nope. I decided to wake up and engage a little while back. I’ve turned a corner in my life, and I know it. I’m waking up a little more each day. I’m in the ring again, contending. I hope to see you there too, in fact.

Don’t listen to what the dirty great river of pop culture tells you about greatness—it’s not to be found on Jersey Shore, or whatever that horrid TV show is. We can stop incentivizing blobified humdrum sameness by taking hold of real values in our own lives first. The individual, the hero, is just waiting for you to let him out of the cage. There are things to fight for, there are still feats of greatness waiting to be done. There is still an unknown to fear. It might be harder to find, sure—but scarcity drives up value. I’m more and more out there, where the heroes are—where honor, courage, and commitment still mean something.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Branches Fall From Trees

If you’re not a Christian, you’ll find this really depressing, but life here on earth is full of missed chances, failures, Pyrrhic victories, testing, challenges, decay, death, destruction, rot, theft, war, disease, and it’s over in the blink of an eye.

If you are a Christian, you’ll take solace in the following: that even though all of the above is true enough, God is big enough to fill bottomless holes, His life provides meaning and context to what appears to be insanity, and you’re not stuck here. You’re a sojourner. That means your citizenship isn’t here. It’s elsewhere. Somewhere safe, let’s say.

These things were running through my mind the other night on one of my walks. Normally my time spent with God is pretty lively. There’s a lot of idea exchange going on, lots of dialogue. But not this time. This time it was quiet, and I told Him, look, you don’t have to say anything, and I’m not asking for anything. I just want to be near you. So we just hung out as I did laps around the track.

I reflected on how so many of my friends are going through fire right now, be it marriages ending or the loss of a loved one—or helping an elderly person finish with honor at the end of a long and fruitful life. Whatever the case may be, people are going through the fire right now. The economic outlook is rubbish, jobs are hard to come by, and the American family has never been under more direct frontal assault. I reflected on all that, and it distilled into the first two paragraphs of this article. For those who are not in Christ, good luck: you’ll need it. You may want to consider making up your own mind about Him rather than swallowing all the usual lies whole. For those of us who know from experience, He changes random coincidence into orderly miracles. And it happens every day.

Yeah, branches fall from trees. People sometimes get hurt. More often we hurt each other, and that’s shitty. There’s really no other way to say it, because that word fits like no other right there. I’m here to tell you that there’s more. And that’s all. And I’d like you to be encouraged.

Because in Christ, all that pain and suffering is not pointless. What we do for Jesus Christ is not in vain. It doesn’t have to be as big as a Billy Graham Crusade. It can be Mother Teresa small. It could be as simple as standing firm for your young family and scraping for yet another dead end job, because if that’s what God has provided for you in this season, He’ll also help you understand how to find joy in it. Satisfaction. Contentment. It’s not something you settle for, it’s something for which warriors contend, and the most awesome of these is the single mother. She is a fearsome thing, let me tell you.

So stand strong, all you Christian Warriors. Life here can be pointless, sure. Certainly from our limited perspective it is. Branches fall from trees, there is no warning. But from the other side, coming from where we can’t see, there’s meaning and life and love and the deepest empathy. We caterpillars, toward the end of our first lives, are drawn into the chrysalis and changed. When we emerge, though… triumphant… everything will be different. Like nothing we’ve ever imagined.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Ride

It’s been threatening storms all day. Most of it is off to the east now, scrunched up against the Boise front, where the watercolors are shades of black, random ribbons of cloud hugging the foothills like a dark garter gathered up against their rising crests.

He’s suited up. The clipless shoes make a grinding click sound against the concrete with each step as he walks to the bike. He does the usual checks: wheel bearing tightness, cranks, headset. Those are all good. Chain: clean and not too dry. Brakes: within tolerance. It’s good. Spoke tension and wheel trueness can be checked next time the bike’s in the stand. For now, it’s time to ride.

He loves colder weather for some reason. It makes him feel alive. It’s a great time to ride because most people won’t be out now. They’ll be huddled home by the fire, oddly enough for a June day that topped out at about 56 degrees. It’s actually blustery. Crazy cool.

He swings a leg over, clipping the right shoe into the pedal. Chock. He pulls the right side crank up to about ten o’clock with that foot and then pushes off. The left foot glides up to its pedal. Chock. He’s clipped in, and cycles, pushing down with the right and pulling up with the left, up and over, then pushing with the left and pulling with the right, making the rear tire dig, and he can hear the chain twang-grinding against the cogs; a sound he loves.

A stop sign. In Idaho, cyclists can treat them like yield signs if it’s clear, and it is, so he carries on. Now he’s at the main road and there’s light traffic. Two people, a man and his little girl, are walking along on the sidewalk across his path and he pauses on the pedals, smiling at them as they go by. He doesn’t want to unclip, so he creeps until there’s a break in the cars coming from the right.

Clear. He gets on it gently, scooting out across two lanes and onto the opposite shoulder, turning left onto the main road. He concentrates on his form, keeping the knees in, straight up and down, smoothness, not pushing it, just getting his body warm. He shifts up through the gears. Snick. Snick. He finds a good ratio for the road’s resistance, the wind, and the mild incline—all things people in cars never notice—and in about five blocks he feels good enough to push a little more.

He gives it a little more welly, as the Brits might say, and snicks up through one more ratio. Very little wind today, in spite of the stormy skies, but at this speed it’s noticeable, like a rubber wall that pushes and gives, then pushes again. This will be the cruising gear until he turns up ahead, and God knows what the wind will be doing then.

Another stop sign after a while, and a construction zone to boot. He stands up on the pedals, leading with his left, and lets the blood flow more freely to his legs as he coasts up to it. The stop sign is the Great Equalizer of traffic, and he finds he’s caught up to a few of the cars that passed him not long ago. Once he’s matched speed, he merges into the lane full-on; he’d rather not risk getting run over by someone who either didn’t see him or chose to be a bastard. He will have his own turn at the four way, by God.

Right turn, and now that he’s warm, he digs deep, sprinting in the saddle, letting his legs churn through the power pulses, push-left pull-right, push-right pull-left, and then do it again, feeling the chain worming around the chainring, pulling it forward powerfully from the cogset, listening to that glorious biomechanical synergy, a real modern symphony of sound, of well-oiled rollers meshing perfectly into and out of the teeth of the simple machine. The tires hum and grind against the asphalt, the spokes prang inaudibly over the imperfections and whistle through the wind soundlessly, but he thinks he can hear them as he gains speed—the wind is more at his back now as he snicks through the gears.

At length he finds himself out past the edge of the storm. The clouds are at his back, crashing like breakers against the mountains and he’s out in the flats, the fields of beans and corn starts and onions and wheat, still green and swaying in bursts of breeze out across the flat expanse. He thinks of his boyhood, of the vast Illinois floodplain where he spent so many years. But out in the distance he can see the Owyhees and their still-snowcapped peaks—their north sides naturally getting less sun—and that’s nothing like Illinois. He revels in the magnificence of the brilliant acrylic blue sky, high cannonshots of pure white cloud scattered randomly across it. Out here there are about one point five farmhouses per square mile, and he loves that too. He makes the pedals turn, wing wing wing the chain sings.

It’s all about cadence and heartbeats and consistency and form—keep the knees in—and standing up or giving his legs a little breathing space every now and then, letting the blood course freely.

Before he knows it, he’s back home. The ride is done. Some stretching, some calisthenics, a snack and shower. And then, a chair, a book, a cup of tea, and a short time to bask in the afterglow.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Stephen King is one of the greats, for sure. I was completely transported by 11/22/63, a novel based around this one question: what if somebody had been able to stop the assassination of JFK?

King explains a little about it here.

I love that when I read one of his books, I’m completely unaware of the shoptalk side of novel writing. I’m just taken in and along for the ride. I think that’s a mark of excellence, if there is one. I had to force myself to notice that it’s written in the first person, that he juggles tenses, that he uses fragments, that he has lots of subplots going on in the background. I loved it all.

I was telling a friend that King must have done scads of research, because he completely nailed it. It wasn’t just the socio-political climate of the late fifties and early sixties, which was much closer than we are to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, World War II, the Cold War, segregation in the South and Jim Crow, and the kind of relations between the sexes that one can see in an episode of Mad Men. Not to mention the boozing and the smoking. Plus, it was before all those major watershed moments that have defined our contemporary world: the civil rights movement, Vietnam, the eighties obsession with materialism, 9/11, Y2K, the internet age, and digital this and that.

There were good parts to the fifties and sixties as well, and King nails those, too. Not that I was there. But I felt like I was. There was real root beer in real glasses. Ice cream made from real cream and sugar. Bicycles and paper boys. Telephones on kitchen walls, their numbers with the exchange letters as a prefix. Cars without any plastic in them or on them. Libraries with card catalogs. Banks without security cameras. And a whole bunch more that was implied or left to the reader’s imagination; another mark of excellence.

It was a world more innocent. It was delicious to linger there. It reminded me of my childhood a little, of low sunset light streaming in through single pane windows in a farmhouse kitchen that always had a certain aroma to it. It was like sinking into the perfect easy chair.

There was also, though, the lingering aftertaste of…well…dissatisfaction. If I could wish for anything, it would be a more tightly wrapped ending. There were a lot of questions left dangling out in the breeze because of one little detail at the end of the book. It didn’t cancel out the magnificence of the work, though. I’m more and more inclined to think lately that the great novels are like the master works on canvas: there’s no disputing the touch of a master’s hand, but one has to account for tastes and preferences in the reader too. After all, a story is an expression of the storyteller, and if the beholder doesn’t connect, he doesn’t connect. Authors spin a good yarn, but we're not magicians. I can amend that by saying some of us appear to be wizards. That would be King.

I connected with the vast majority of this book. King is still a little too broad-brush chummy with leftist Democrats and their assessments for my taste, but then again, he’s always been that way and I've liked him anyway. He managed to pull off a story centered on politics with reasonable poise and balance. He did it better than I probably could. But another thing I didn’t like: the love scene sections that were full-bore erotica. It was an endearing character study on humanity, sure. But it’s not my cuppa. And I thank God we don’t have a meddlesome federal government trying to protect us from books yet. The last thing I want is for my books to carry labels for content; I’m not complaining. “Just an observation,” as James May might point out.

What he wrote, and the skillful way he wrote it, is food for thought for me for the next little while. He managed a large cast of characters really well. Much better than another book I tried to read recently, which introduced ten characters on the first two pages; yikes. Nope. King is really good. This book was masterfully paced, clearly thought out, and a heck of a lot of fun to read. Good fiction is so hard to find these days. But not when it has these four letters on the spine.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Murphy’s Law and the Sunday Horror

Every man has a nightmare scenario, a pet horror. We stoke the boiler rooms of those things without even trying. Just yesterday I thought, gee, it sure would be nice to sit out under the umbrella and smoke a Macanudo cigar and sip whisky and read a book. The problem was the umbrella was broken. And life is about consequences. Remember…I only wanted to enjoy a cigar…

It’s a good thing I live close to a Home Depot. And a Lowe’s. But even that is a mixed blessing. It’s like I was telling the lady at the register as I was checking out with my second armload of home improvement crap of the day: It’s like owning a pickup. When people call asking what you’re doing this weekend, you know they’re not considering inviting you on a bar crawl or an adventure-packed daytrip. No, they’re calling to see if they can mooch off you. They’re like, “Heyyyyy! Can I buy you a case of beer?!” One always responds to such questions with, shall we say, reservation. Same with “being handy.” It’s a blessing, sure, that I don’t have to call a plumber because I can do it myself. But it’s also a curse because hello, I can do it myself. The problem is, I’m always doing it myself, and I have to make three flipping trips to get it done. At least.

And while I’m on the subject of Home Depot, WTF is up with these spaces labeled PRO CUSTOMER PARKING? And just what exactly is a professional customer supposed to be? Someone who shops for a living? Just how does that work, precisely? Home Depot, we are laughing at you. Not with you.

I suppose I should throw some light on the source of my angst, seeing as how it is considerable.

It all started ignominiously enough. We have a big yard umbrella; one of those that stick up out of a portable base. Some stupid bolt that was way past its prime on the base (Which is cast iron and freaking HEAVY) finally gave up the ghost and rotted off. That left the umbrella tottering on a wobbly base that had to be propped up just right in order to work at all. Redneck engineering. You know what that is, Randy (I’ll leave the last name to be filled in by those who know).

Anyway, it was either fix the goldang thing or prepare to be irritated at least a little bit every time I went to use the durn whozemawhatzee. So I steeled myself for a walk down the hardware aisle at the big Orange Menace. I have to say at this point that Lowe’s is FAR worse than Home Depot in the hardware department; extremely disorganized. Most hardware sections are like a Vegas casino anyway: once you’re in, good luck getting out. You’ll need to track your waypoints on a GPS. But Lowe’s—really? I’m not a conspiracy theorist. At least I wasn’t until I went to Lowe’s.

Anyway, turned out my first batch o’ bolts was too short. And there was much rejoicing. On the second trip to Lowe’s I was really in a bad way, because I had foolishly decided on a lark to pitch the family tent in the side yard today—you know, just really quickly set it up and see what’s broke and what’s missing. It’s funny. I didn’t think a guy could forget so much about tents in so short an amount of time, but a guy can, and a guy did. It probably didn’t help that I did it all wrong, it’s an eight man tent and enormous, I was trying to do it all by myself, the neighbor lady picked that exact moment to pop over to the fence and ask me, “Puttin’ up the tent?” I mean, I had heard about the legendary most-unnecessary-rhetorical-question-ever, but I had never witnessed it in the round. It was staggering.

And boys, if you’ve ever wondered what fiddlefarting is, I was full on. I was dead center in the fiddlefartage. Murphy and his cansarned Law were both doing their worst, too. Why is it tent stakes get bent out of shape so easily? It probably didn’t help that I was using the sledgehammer, but still…I wonder.

I finally wrassled the tent up with my wife’s help, and it’s still up. It can stay up for a few days, as far as I’m concerned. I only mention it to help explain how foul my mood was as I perused the conspiratorially disorganized nuts and bolts at Lowe’s (trip #2).

Trip #3 was to Home Depot. But that was only after I had dragged the Dremel, the Roto Zip with the angle grinder attachment, and the fifty foot drop cord out of my cellar. Did I mention it’s a genuine pain in the ass to do anything around my house because all my crap is buried in stacks in my tiny little cellar? I didn’t mention that? Oh. Well. I should have. It adds at least 50% more effort to every handyman task I have to do around my house, because half the time I spend going up and down the cellar stairs chasing bits of crapola I need that I forgot just where it is in the first place—though most of the time it’s under something that’s been stacked on top of it. Whatever’s on top is almost always either heavy or just awkward for the sake of being awkward.

It’s like bolts that are so rusted they have to be cut off. It makes one wonder why the one that rusted its own way out, thus necessitating the repair in the first place, couldn’t have provided a better example for its two other mates. But no. It also makes one wonder why the factory that built the freaking umbrella base in the first place couldn’t just weld the two pieces together to begin with, thus saving the need to have fasteners of any kind at all! But that would be unreasonable. Or maybe it would be too reasonable; maybe that’s it. As with most conspiracies, we’ll never know the truth. Not until somebody important dies and the secret tapes are released.

Here it is: when I got back from trip #3 I was ready for a trip to the firing range. Let me tell you. But I prevailed over rusty yard implements and won my shade. The umbrella is up. And it’s rock steady. The only problem is, now I’m too tired and irritated to smoke my cigar under it.