A Few More Thoughts About Rick

Rick Markus was my father-in-law, and he died recently. He leaves behind a gaggle of grieving daughters, an autistic son, and a gun collection that will likely have to leave California. He also leaves behind a workshop filled with wondrous tools.

I love tools. I like to build things. But I am horribly, awfully slow at building things. In this metric, the old man far surpassed me. I was talking with The Boys about it this evening, and I said that before he could make a thing he had to make the thing that would allow him to configure the tool to make the thing.

But I left out a step. First, Rick had to make a thing to measure the precision of the tool he was going to use to make the thing that would enable him to make the thing. And once he had an empirical measure of the tool, the next step was to make a thing to compensate for the tool, to make the tool better, so when he made the thing he would use to make the thing, it would be right.

If you wanted to demonstrate the axiom “perfection is the enemy of progress” you need look no farther than the shed where he spent his time. His massive drill press would deflect under pressure; he addressed it. He rebuilt parts of his metal lathe (itself a fine specimen) to improve precision.

I am not the slowest person on the planet to get projects done. Or at least I wasn’t before Rick died. Maybe now I am.

He built, as far as I know, very little.

So now there’s this lathe, that he machined parts to improve, and I don’t know what to do about that. I don’t work metal; maybe someday I’d like to but that’s a different me in a different place. There’s that big ol’ drill press, also upgraded, waiting for someone who needs to drill a hole.

There are hundreds of tools in that shed, from the press and the lathe to boxes of taps and dyes. There is sheet metal tucked away, milled to absurd smoothness, that he picked up from the scrap heap when he was working with the x-ray lithography kids at IBM. He had no use for that stuff, but he just couldn’t let go of such an excellent piece of engineering. It’s hard to recognize that something that took so much effort to create is now simply scrap.

Is that a metaphor? If you want it to be, sure, knock yourself out. But keep it to yourself; if Rick heard your theory he would give you a sideways glance and say “ooooh-kay” and resume his story about solving the impossible problem of corruption in magnetic core memory, or the time he shortened the run time of a batch job at some data center by pointing out that the terminal had a bell.

It’s funny, contrasting the pragmatic and efficient solutions he found in his professional career against the optimizing-for-the-sake-of-optimization that marked the time I knew him. I think it comes down to this: when he was working for someone else, he optimized for what they wanted. Efficiency. Expediency. When he was working only for himself (or his family), only perfection was good enough.

10

See You Tomorrow, Rick

Those were the last words I said to my father-in-law. He was surrounded by concerned daughters hoping to find the optimum pillow configuration for his knees — so much attention — so I just kind of called it in from the hallway. His eyes moved to acknowledge me.

That was yesterday, and I did not see him today, and I won’t ever again.

I believed it when I said it. Mostly. He was going downhill fast, but I had created a moment in my head, just for us, tomorrow, without four daughters pestering us, when we could just sip beers for a bit. Not talking. I’m not a talker in times like that, I have learned.

I imagined a time of peace, for him, for me. Saturday night the sons-in-law had gathered around the bed and Rick just wanted a beer. I failed that night, though maybe Rick did too: He could have had all the beer he wanted if he only leaned on someone. That night I could have, should have, said, “it’s going to hurt like a motherfucker but I can prop you up and you can lean back against me and have your beer.” Rick didn’t want to be propped up. He didn’t want to lean on anyone. But I think right then I could have talked him into it, and I think he would have been glad I did.

A pretty little alternate history.

After that night a new bed was installed in the house, one that could allow him to sit up, and one of his final memories is being carried from his bed to another room, and I know he hated every moment of it. But no one wanted him on that magical bed more than I did. Lacking the cloud of daughters, I would have hoisted him up and carried him myself. I was a tiny incorrect minority, who thought his life might yet go on awhile and this action might make him more comfortable for the duration. People linger beyond expectations, sometimes, when they want to. Sometimes even when they don’t.

And I thought that maybe, in a quiet moment, one without words, I could snap open a cold Budweiser for Rick, ease it into his hands, then open one for myself, and say goodbye the way I know how. But that is not what happened, so I will simply say again,

See you tomorrow, Rick.

5

Skyscraper

Had dinner tonight with a whole lot of Seegers. Big family photo afterwards. I stood in the back.

Those who know how tall I am will find that funny.

3

Descending From the Mountain

Snowflakes, fat and fluffy, falling poco tiempo, dance out of the way of my car, sliding up the windscreen and out of view, as I glide along Barranca Road. It is quiet, modern car quiet, the rental’s motor almost inaudible. The flakes aren’t piling up yet, but the road is cold and it won’t be long.

I take a breath, inhale the silence.

By the time I reach Santa Fe the sun is shining; my sunglasses are in my bag in the trunk. I lower the visor, squint, and roll on south, joining the Interstate traffic and setting the cruise control for a speed just a little over the posted limit. Going with the flow. Time for the radio. The station I listened to as a kid is still playing the same list it was thirty years ago. Some things never change.

I’m tired, my nerves raw from rambunctious nephews, back stiff from a night on a too-short sofa, nose and eyes still irritated by the christmas tree. Not the kid’s fault he had a toothache last night. I’ll miss those guys. Who knows how old they’ll be when I see them again? The younger nephew probably won’t even remember me.

Man it was a hoot hanging with those guys. Non-stop entertainment. By the time I reach La Bajada hill I’m missing everyone already. I turn up the radio. Twofer Tuesday. Nirvana – not on the list when I was a kid, but I’ll take it, at the intended volume.

The Seeger Bros., 2012

The Seeger Brothers

The Seeger Brothers

The Seeger Brothers

The Seeger Brothers

The Seeger Brothers

The Seeger Brothers

5

Festivities Under Way

For the next couple of days we will be holding the official ceremonies to commemorate my sweetie’s embarking on her fifth decade of life. Heady times! Yesterday I got to meet a sister-of-sweetie, one I had not had the pleasure of meeting before, and tonight we will be gathering at the parent’s house for The Casserole.

I’m not sure what The Casserole is, but when the light of my life mentions it I can hear the capital letters.

A Random Memory

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was sitting on a floating dock on a particularly cold lake in Arkansas, early in the morning, with Dad. We were fishing. Funny the details I remember. I had a white fishing rod with a black Zebco reel, and I was using a lure called Rebel something-or-other, which was made to go fairly deep, with an enticing wiggly action. The trout were rising at that time of the morning, looking for the morning bugs, which made the choice of lure suspect. Thirty-plus years of retrospect and that’s the only real lesson learned here.

A Boy and his Trout

A Boy and his Trout

I was getting better at casting, which isn’t to say good. I’d send the something-or-other out there, and patiently haul it back in, knowing that if I pulled it in too fast it would dive too deep and snag. Still, it was a good morning, me and dad out there. We had some good times, Dad and me, but not so many simple hanging-out times like that. The good ol’ boys were out in their bass boats, and more than once Dad cautioned me that my voice would carry a long way over the water.

I’d fallen into (my memory says was) silence (ha) and just thrown out a good cast when the fish struck — before my lure had time to dive below the dining line. Splish-splash, tension on the line. I spazzed. I lost the fish.

Here’s where memory gets a bit vague. As I remember, Dad cast to the point of the hubbub, hit it bang-on, and reeled in the fish. Only vaguely do I recall that the fish hadn’t even bit his hook, but he’d hit the fish on the head. I could be confusing memories there. I was young. It wasn’t a spectacular fish, eleven inches as I recall, measured on the ruler embossed on the lid of my plastic tackle box.

In any case, Dad brought home the breakfast. We agreed, there on the dock, that I would take credit. And I did. With gusto, to the point that I really believed that I’d done most of the work catching the fish — Dad had merely scooped up the opportunity I’d created.

I don’t expect many people remember that fish, but I do. It’s time to set the record straight. Dad caught that fish, plain and simple. That notwithstanding, it was a great morning sitting with Dad on that quiet lake. I’d remember it even without the fish.

z-dawg’s 13th Monthiversary

Z-Dawg gets his paws on the cake

Z-Dawg gets his paws on the cake

Bar 301 on the tour turns out to be one in the riverside village of Mlčechvosty, in a building fuego and Marianna happen to own. The occasion was Lumír’s (rhymes with z-dawg’s) first birthday, but the party was a bit late for logistical reasons. The photos over at the gallery are a combination of looking around fuego’s place and photos that can be trotted out when the kid brings home a date and requires public humiliation.

Happy 13th, dude!

My Brother’s Hair

I conceded the beard title some time ago; my brother can grow a hell of a lot of hair out of his face. It only stands to reason that the same follicular overdrive should also rule his scalp. I had a head start of maybe a year, but now fuego’s hair challanges mine, with, I must admit, impressive volume.

I can still compete on style; my hair has a wave his doesn’t. But if you’ve read previous episodes you know I don’t put much stock in style points. That Girl will probably vote for me, but, well, she’s biased (and also the only vote that really matters).

Please pause with me to appreciate the phrase ‘follicular overdrive’. It’s the best thing to come from this comparison.

The Feast of Stephen

I’ve been even more reclusive that usual lately, and I’ve decided to give myself a challrnge that may prove substantially more diffucult than writing a novel in thirty days — instead the challenge is to get out and see friends twelve consecutive days. Just being in Little Café Near Home working while people are around doesn’t count; I actually have to interact. In fact, I should probably make a rule that LCNH doesn’t count, or I can only count it once, or something like that. I’m making this up as I go along. The goal is to break my bad habit of finding reasons not to go out when friends invite me, and maybe even come up with my own plan from time to time.

Today’s kickoff was easy; I was invited to a family dinner. Historical trivia: “Good King Winceslas” is not a Christmas carol, but a boxing day song. The 26th of December is St. Stephen’s day. While there were no Vaclav’s (rhymes with Winceslas, who was Bohemian) at the dinner, it was still a festive (and belly-busting) affair. Mmmm… duck and knedliky (potato dumplings). Homemade cookies. No carp. One bit of bad planning: I wore my “nice” blue jeans. They’re nice because I don’t wear them much. I don’t wear them much because they’re a bit on the snug side. Not the right outfit for gluttony. Whatever the reason, I was a little concerned when I declined more duck that I might hurt my host’s feelings. I was stuffed.

It was a relaxed and pleasant dinner, some conversation in English and some in Czech, and then it was home to take a nap. (One topic of discussion as dinner wound down: the amount of time different animal species spend sleeping. It’s good to be a lion.)

So day one of Twelve Days of Social is a success! I really don’t know how I’m going to pull all of them off. New Year’s Eve I’ll be going down to the center of town, which I’m told is completely crazy. You know all those warnings on fireworks? They will be disregarded. “Wear eye protection” is a common piece of advice. Not really my kind of thing, but worth seeing once. (At this point it’s such pyrotechnic madness in my imagination that I’m probably heading for disappointment.) Anyway, anyone who reads this is welcome to join me. We can meet at the statue of Winceslas. (Did you see how I brought that back around to where I started? Not bad, huh?)

Family!

So the big ol’ Seeger family reunion has wrapped up; it was good to see old friends and hang out with that bunch. Now some of That Girl’s family is in town, and we have been spending the evenings at her folks’ place. There are some interesting stories among them, and since I’m a newcomer I am also represent the perfect opportunity to drag out old stories that everyone else has heard a few times. It’s a fun group; tonight is the designated Drinkin’ and Playin’ Poker night. That should be interesting…

The Good Life

It is sunset, or getting on that way; the sky is still light, but starting to show pink over toward the ocean. The koi are splashing happily in their pond (or at least they seem happy from here) and the sound of the waterfall is soothing.

That paragraph took about ten minutes to write; I thought I was out of the traffic lanes but several family members stopped by to say hello. I am at a family reunion, a gathering of friendly folk who have quite a bit if DNA in common — and the people who went and got married to them. There are a lot of Seegers here, and a lot of Jerrys, but I am the only Jerry Seeger.

The kids and the koi have developed a working relationship — the kids bring bread and the glorified carp eat it. It’s a relationship that brings satisfaction to both parties.

Only, as I typed the above, the elder of the younger set informed me, “we’re going to try to annoy the fish.” Which makes me wonder: Is the ability to be annoyed a measure of intelligence? Angry’s pretty easy, but it seems like annoyance might require a little more imagination. He’s going to do it again, I just know it. Oh! There! He did it again! I knew it! Damn that pisses me off!

The youngest of the young ones just showed me her stick. “Nice and sharp!” she informed me. Oh, to be young again.

What was I going to write about again?

A Night With the Womenfolk

Those who don’t want to read me droning on about my day may wish to skip to the #—> symbol below. That’s where the story actually begins.

It was a productive day – I spent the morning recording audio as a test to see if I was qualified for a new “job” — reading texts out loud to help a professor somewhere with his research. The pay is insignificant, but I like the idea that I’m helping out. Of course, the first recording session is always the most complicated, and it wound up taking most of my morning. Next time (if I pass this test) will be much easier. I was reading about the history of mathematics, and the subject is actually quite interesting, so that’s all right.

Next came some tweaks to the upcoming release of Jer’s Novel Writer, which promises to be a small but tangible step forward in utility. One or two fewer things to think about when working, and support for the newfangled gestures that the latest macs support. (None of my equipment does, which makes debugging a crapshoot.)

Next it was out on the town with fuego; we both had computer hardware to buy. I needed an external drive that I could use to boot my laptop into the latest version of the mac operating system while leaving the old-school install intact. It would be cheaper to wait until I get to the US to buy it, but I need to make sure I can maintain the software before I leave.

#—> (don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything)

Hardware purchased, we stopped off at a café to get some writing done – me on my novel package for the writing workshop, fuego on some advertising copy he’s been hired to write. “You’re invited to dinner,” he told me. Thinking of the barren wasteland that is my refrigerator at home, I gladly accepted. fuego exchanged messages with the missus and I was committed. It was a while later that fuego told me “Oh, by the way, MaK’s mom and a friend of hers will be there.”

Hm. I like my brother’s mother-in-law, she’s a cool lady, but this night was starting to sound like more than I was prepared to handle. “I expect they’ll just cluster around the kid and we can escape unnoticed,” fuego said, or something to that effect. We stopped by the store on the way for beer and cheese, then headed up to their apartment. Already there was a mother and daughter, neither of whom fuego or I had been warned about.

Fast forward. I’m sitting at the kitchen table in a very small apartment, watching the women gathered around MaK as she cleans the baby’s butt. The conversation is about baby poop, in czech. I am not in my element.

Skip forward a little farther. MaK produces a table that lists the time of every feeding the baby has ever had. The older women are impressed. “They’re not like us,” fuego says, but not in exactly those words, although one of the womenfolk, whom I’d met once before, is quite a charismatic lady. We hadn’t counted on her when we figured how many beers to bring.

Join me in another hop forward in time as I witness jealousy among the women toward the one who is currently holding the baby. When I’m holding a child, I’m am thinking nothing except “please oh please don’t let me break this thing.” Apparently something on the missing leg of the Y-chromosome is capable of convincing one that holding a tiny helpless thing that you could kill by sneezing is relaxing. Therapeutic, even.

Not long after that, the baby was asleep (despite periodic checks by enthusiastic fans) and I sat and listened to the flow of conversation. I understood more than I expected, but even if I had been able to form sentences in a timely manner I would have remained quiet. It was not my conversation, and the language it was conducted in was not the largest obstacle. Soon after I was expressing my regret that I had to go. Yes, sadly, I had no choice. Things to do and whatnot. You understand. They certainly did.

What I Did Last Friday

I haven’t been very regular about posting lately; sorry about that. It’s not that nothing has been happening — quite the contrary in fact. One thing I’ve been working on is a small documentary with fuego. It’s not entirely my story to tell; but it all begins one night in the distant past when the Little Café Near Home didn’t close at the usual time. In fact, it stayed open for a long time, and there were beers, and Becherovka, and other beverages involved. Exactly what happened next is the subject of great speculation, so fuego assembled a crack forensics team (himself) and a camera crew (me) to trace the route he possibly took on the way home that fateful night.

Somewhere out there is a bush fuego fought. (Judging from appearances later, the bush won. This may or may not be when he dented his laptop.) Somewhere out there is a hotel foyer with vending machines, between which fuego decided to take a little nap. The hotel might or might not be near a gas station. The rest is shrouded in mystery.

We knew it was going to be a major undertaking, so we got an early start with breakfast at Café Fuzzy. fuego was carrying the backpack he had worn that night, a pair of headphones similar to the ones he lost that night, and various other props. Once I had a bit of tea in my bloodstream we repaired to Little Café Near Home to begin the quest — after a wee bit of Becherovka for inspiration, of course.

The trek took us from my quiet little neighborhood, past a sprawling cemetery or two, and then into a busier part of town that I don’t frequent very often. We stopped at key intersections along the way, trying to figure out just why fuego ended up walking the direction he did. We tried a few experimental shots as well, and the traditional view-from-the-passing-tram shot and whatnot.

Finally we reached the neighborhood of Karlin, where most evidence indicates the hotel should be. (The bush may have been the victim of construction.) We walked the streets of Karlin as the sunny morning gave way to clouds and eventually rain. Still we persevered, searching for clues that would lead us to the fabled hotel, stopping only at a little bar called Bistro 4×4 to transfer data from cameras to computer — and have a wee nip of Becherovka — and another break for a late lunch and all that. Then it was right back out on the streets. The rain eventually moved on.

We didn’t find the hotel. There are only so many streets to search, and we did them all. No hotel. After something like ten miles of wandering, we realized that a new plan was called for. The new plan: go to a bar we passed on the way and watch hockey. This new plan turned out to be much simpler; and after a short tram ride we were settled comfortably in an old rail car turned into a bar called Orient Express.

It turned out to be a day of questions rather than answers. We still have more filming to do, and more research as well. Will we ever find the hotel? Does it really exist at all, or is it some sort of ghost inn, that only appears when the moon is full, a Shangri-La for weary, disoriented travelers?

pivo!

Pivo on the Orient Express

Programming Note

Here it is Sunday already and I haven’t mentioned that my sister, Carol Anne Byrnes, is on the cover over at Piker Press this week. Check it out!