Friday, July 31, 2009

Updates on This Fabulous Life

I had expected house hunting to be a headache, but more a metaphorical than an actual one. But I went to see my first house yesterday, and there was a good deal of visible mold in the basement. I had a sinus headache within fifteen minutes, and three sinus flushes have not been sufficient to dislodge it completely.

When I played little league (as opposed to Little League, because it was run by an entirely different outfit) baseball as a child, I almost always went for the first pitch. Two hours to purchase a car seems an intolerable amount of time to me. I've only ever turned down one job offer. And I came to regret it. So I was predisposed to like the first house I was going to see, especially given that I'd chosen it with some care. And I really did like it. It needed a lot of cosmetic work that I could do myself, the location was great, the price was very good (no wonder: mold!), and it was pretty big. On the downside, it needs a new roof and new appliances, the bedrooms are on the small side, the layout is a little weird, the lot is smaller than I'd like, and the former owners appear to have remodeled part of it in a bizarre way. But there were salvageable hard wood floors! And a deck! And a large, finished (moldy) basement! And oh my God is this what my mind is going to be like for the next three months? Or (please no) even longer?

Someday we'll look back and this will all seem funny.

Headache notwithstanding, I'm still thinking about putting an offer on the house. If I were an investor with a lot of money, it'd be an easy decision: once the mold and the roof and the cosmetic stuff is fixed, I think the house will be worth a lot more than its current asking price. But I don't know whether I can deal with the uncertainty or the long wait that might be associated with an FHA 203k loan. I told my extraordinarily competent and handsome yet unattractive-to-me (Everything about him screams breeder. And frat boy.) realtor that I'd make up my mind over the weekend.

And I'll be spending that weekend at a family reunion in Western Maryland and Southwestern Pennsylvania. The only silver lining associated with my father's formerly terminal illness was that he'd be too sick to make the trip to Pennsylvania for the reunion, so I wouldn't have any reason to attend. But when I called him last Friday, he casually mentioned that he and my mother were thinking of driving up to PA. Driving. Sixteen hours. With cancer and a wife that you can't be in the same room -- let alone car -- with for more than forty-five seconds minutes seconds before you begin arguing. I begged them to wait until Monday or Tuesday when I could fly EFU down so that she could drive them up, and Dad was all, well, maybe we'll do that, we'll see, but Mom was in the background telling him to get off the phone so they could finish packing, and on Monday morning (when EFU was still flying home from San Francisco), I got a call from the house in PA saying they'd arrived the night before. And I just knew it. I had spent the entire weekend sure that they'd already left because they weren't answering the phone in Florida. I'd sent my sister an email asking her to reason them, which resulted in the following phone conversation:

TED: Hello?
TED's sister: Hi, TED. It's your favorite sister.
T: Is this where I'm supposed to say that you're my only sister? Like the last seventy-three times you called me?
TS: Well somebody's grumpy today.
T: Urgh.
TS: I got your email. What's this "your parents" thing?
T: They're your parents when they act up. When they're good, they're my parents.
TS: Funny. I tried to call them to reason with them, but I didn't get an answer.

See, the thing is, my father was dying. And he's still dying, but now it's slightly less like death is waiting in the next room and slightly more like the way we're all dying. But he still has the cancer, even though it's spreading more slowly. And the reason he's doing better now is that he got some excellent palliative care, and the resulting reduction in stress on his system allowed the rest of his body to rally somewhat. And given that, a normal person would want to avoid things that would further stress him. Like sixteen-hour road trips with his spouse/arch-nemesis. He even did some of the driving.

And, sure enough, on Wednesday, my phone rang, and after my mother tried to make me feel guilty for not answering the phone the first time she called (Oh, please, is that all you got? I was in a meeting, and you didn't leave a message, and you were using someone else's phone, and I didn't recognize the number. And you expect me to feel guilty? My mother used to be a master at making me feel guilty, but either she's really lost it, or I've gotten a much thicker skin.) she told me that she needed me to call my ex-wife because my parents had been going to have dinner with some neighbors and then spend the night at my ex-wife's house before heading back to PA in the morning, but now my father was feeling too sick, and she was going to take him back to PA and put him to bed, and she didn't have my ex-wife's phone number with her.

A few hours later, Mom called to say that they'd gotten back. Apparently, Dad had forgotten to bring his pain medication with him when they set out for the area, and that's what had caused the problem. I tried to be sympathetic, but I just couldn't help thinking that maybe they had brought the problems on themselves with all that driving. I told her that I'd see her Friday night.

Anyway, it'll be good to see my parents again, but the reunion is a lot to handle with a sinus headache. Most of my relatives are good, kind people, but they are very conservative, and the notion of spending the weekend with scores of people talking about how the President hates white people makes my soul weep. I figure it'll take about seven minutes before I hear the first complaint about government-run health care from one of my relatives who loves his Medicare. EFU hates it even more than I do. I just hope she doesn't slip up and say "fuck" too many times. The girl has a mouth like a sailor.

In other so-called news, b&c and I are getting along really well now that we've decided to separate. It's always good to have things settled, I guess. The peaceful cohabitation is a good thing because, what with everything, I'm guessing that I'll be lucky to be in my own place by Thanksgiving. He's going to cut way back on his consulting work next year, but he has several trips (including a month-long gig in Guyana, of all places) planned for the early fall, and he's glad that he won't be leaving the house uninhabited. I think the house is too big for him, and I told him that he should sell it and get a smaller place closer in and a modest home in the Tuscan countryside. He agreed that the idea had merit, but he wasn't so excited about my suggestion that he also acquire a houseboy. I even offered to help train the houseboy and to watch him when b&c is in Tuscany, but he still wasn't convinced. Some people are just prisoners of their own inertia.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tales of Personal Failure - Literary Edition

This weekend, shortly after I had made a new friend, I went to the car wash to clean and vacuum the car and to attempt (alas, unsuccessfully) to get some of this year's collection of pine sap off the car, and I was confronted with the Google Maps directions to my new friend's residence. I was about to throw the directions (along with countless items of garbage) into one of the large trash receptacles that live next to the vacuums, when it occurred to me that I would likely want those directions again in the not-too-distant future. I thought about directions to the homes of other new friends that I'd printed off two, three, or even four times, and I thought that I should probably keep them all in a notebook. But then I thought, "No. A map. Like Slothrop's."

And then I sighed a little. In Gravity's Rainbow, Tyrone Slothrop keeps a map of all of the women he sleeps with while he's stationed in London.
Both young ladies happen to be silver stars on Slothrop's map. He must've been feeling silvery both times--shiny, jingling. The stars he pastes up are colored only to go with how he feels that day, blue on up to golden. Never to rank a single one--how can he? Nobody sees the map but Tantivy, and Christ they're all beautiful ... in leaf or flower around his wintering city, in teashops, in the queues babushkaed and coatwrapped, sighing, sneezing, all lisle legs on the curbstones, hitchiking, typing or filing with pompadours sprouting yellow pencils, he finds them--dames, tomatoes, sweater girls--yes it is a little obsessive maybe but ... "I know there is wilde love and joy enough in the world," preached Thomas Hooker, "as there are wilde Thyme, and other herbes; but we would have garden love, and garden joy, of Gods owne planting." How Slothrop's garden grows. Teems with virgin's-bower, with forget-me-nots, with rue--and all over the place, purple and yellow as hickeys, a prevalence of love-in-idleness.

He likes to tell them about fireflies. English girls don't know about fireflies, which is about all Slothrop knows for sure about English girls.
As it happens, the points on his map coincide exactly with the points on a map of German rocket strikes in London. Tyrone gets lucky, and a day or a few days later, the bomb hits. You'd think he would just send flowers.

Anyway, I can't really tell you what happens to Slothrop towards the end of the book because on three different occasions I have started and failed to complete Gravity's Rainbow. This failure weighs on me in a way that others don't. For example, I've never gotten more than a few pages into Finnegan's Wake, but I blame Joyce for that one. Besides, I made it through Ulysses (ugh!) twice (ugh! ugh!), so I reckon I'm covered.

For the most part, I haven't felt guilty about giving up on reading things since I was a senior in college and the professor in my seminar on Ulysses (ugh!) told us a story about how he'd been twenty-eight years old and standing in the supermarket checkout line carrying a bunch of broccoli ("Like a bridesmaid," he said) and had asked himself, "What am I supposed to be thinking about now?" and it had dawned on him that there's something very wrong with feeling obliged to think about anything. It was a good lesson to learn, and it's certainly stuck with me better than has anything I learned about Ulysses (ugh!).

I expanded the idea, especially after I was free of the responsibility to write papers from an informed perspective, to include the notion that I should not feel obliged to read anything. And I've pretty much stuck to that position, with a few exceptions. For instance, a very cute young man, upon hearing that I was a big fan of Dickens, once told me that I really should read Villette (ughs aren't nearly sufficient) as a companion piece to Bleak House, and for nearly six months I picked it up every once in a while and slogged through a few more pages until I was done. Jane Eyre it ain't.

Gravity's Rainbow is a different matter altogether, mostly because I want to read it. I just find it very elusive. And when I say "elusive," I don't mean that the text is difficult to follow (though it occasionally is): I mean that it's a fairly lengthy book, and on two of the three occasions when I've tried and failed to complete it, I've gotten about halfway in and then mislaid the physical book. It would just vanish, and I'd say, "Well, it'll turn up, and then I'll just pick up where I left off," but it wouldn't turn up for months, and I would have lost track of one or more of the horrendously complicated plot lines, and the idea of re-reading three hundred pages would just be more than I could bear. No matter how funny I find the descriptions of banana breakfasts and English sweets. Or how much I enjoy reading all that smut. And trust me, there's a lot of stuff in that book that your mother doesn't want you to read.

But, hey, someday, right? RIGHT? Anyway, that's what I was thinking of when I was broiling in my dark t-shirt while clearing the trash out of the car last weekend. It made the nearly $300 that I subsequently dropped at LubeWorld or SuperLube or InstaLube or QuikLube on an oil change and a fuel filter replacement and a power steering flush and a cabin air filter seem even bitterer.

But at least it wasn't all for naught. The next day, when I went to SuperTire or Mr. Tire or BoyDoWeKnowTires or wherever it was to have the puncture that the lube people pointed out to me fixed and to get new wiper blades, I made sure to take my copy of Don Quixote with me and to read a good chunk of it. I was already within shouting distance of the end, and when the tire was fixed (free! I have road hazard insurance on the tires, apparently), I still wasn't done, so I took the book with me to Starbucks, where I ordered a venti mocha frappuccino and sat at the bar, getting ever closer to the end. The barrista asked what I was reading, and when I told her, she smiled and said, "You're almost done!" and then slid a plate with a complimentary piece of banana bread in front of me. I probably would have finished without the bribe, but I guess she didn't want to take any chances. I sat there until the very last word ("Vale), which gave me a reasonable sense of accomplishment, even though I was making it through DQ on my first attempt. And even though it's not particularly tough to get through.

I went home, thinking that perhaps it was time to tackle Gravity's Rainbow again, but, of course, I couldn't find it. I reckon it's as elusive as its author. On the other hand, I believe that a few years ago, someone actually managed to get a picture of T. Pynchon, so maybe completing GR is something achievable, and not merely tilting at windmills. We can but hope.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Bangs and Whimpers Are Not the Only Options

Some significant number (eight? nine? more?) of years ago, I was visiting a friend, and I told him that I had finally admitted to myself that I'm gay. And after the following exchange
He: Wow. That means you'll never have to deal with women again.
Me: You're jealous, aren't you?
He: Yeah!
(which still amuses me), he said something along the lines of "Isn't that incompatible with being married?" And I agreed that the situation was inherently unstable, but I also said that I had no idea how the inevitable dissolution of the marriage would play itself out.

I didn't have to wait very long to find out, as it happened. A couple of months later, my then-wife said the words that all men dread: "We have to talk." And thus began the worst period of my life. I still don't like to think about it, but it was so bad that I completely lost my singing voice and had to pass on the opportunity to sing two of my favorite vocal pieces, the soprano-bass duets from Bach's Wachet Auf cantata. In fact, I spent over two years during which I couldn't even listen to Bach without either crying or cursing. This is not an experience I recommend. It makes a lot more sense to find a way to link your major life trauma to somebody like Schoenberg. Really, you can entirely skip twelve-tone music for any number of years without missing it.

Anyway, a few months ago, I began to feel once again that I was in an inherently unstable situation, and I wondered how it would play out. I was pretty sure that it would play out with a great deal less drama, noise, and pain, simply because there was so much less at stake this time around, and I was in so much better a position. And I'd done a better job of laying the groundwork. I had entirely eliminated my debt, and I'd saved a reasonable amount of money. My job was secure. I'd mentioned to a couple of friends that I might soon be in the market for a house.

And the timing was auspicious: I make too much money to qualify for all of the first-time homebuyer credit that expires at the end of November, but I can manage my adjusted gross income well enough to qualify for at least half of the credit. And if you're going to get your own place, anyway, you may as well do it when there's an additional four or five grand on the table, right?

And I was reasonably sure that b&c wouldn't be all that surprised: he had said a couple of times, in moments of anger, that we should go our separate ways. But, of course, b&c has a very Mediterranean disposition, and over the years of our relationship, he's told me that I should move out over extremely minor disagreements, and I've learned not to pay much attention when he explodes. Paying attention only encourages him to explode again.

Still, I was having a hard time bringing the subject up, even though time was beginning to become an issue. But then, this past weekend, he got back from Haiti, and we were amiably discussing politics or something over a glass of wine after dinner, and:
B&c: We should really discuss your moving out.
TED: [Sips wine.]
B&c: I just can't live like this any more. I'm tired of picking up after everyone. I just like order.
TED: You know, I can't just move out tomorrow.
B&c: I didn't mean right away. You can take your time.
[TED clears the table and takes the dishes to the sink to rinse them.]
B&c: [Slightly agitated.] We just don't have the same interests any more.
TED: I'm not disagreeing with you.

And that was that. Which proves, yet again, that gay relationships are far superior to straight ones: ours dissolve with so much less anger and venom. (There may be exceptions.)

I reckon I should be more upset about this, but I'm fine with it. And b&c seems fine with it. And I know the kids won't be upset. The only people who might be upset are my parents, and they'll only be upset because now that I have to buy a house here, I can't buy their vacation house in Pennsylvania. I figure that b&c and I will probably get along better as friends than as partners, and maybe we'll still be able to travel together. On the other hand, I'll have significantly less disposable income, so my future travel plans may be somewhat attenuated.

Anyway, my immediate concerns are largely practical. On the down side, I have to deal with real estate brokers and banks. And I know very little about the practical issues of getting a mortgage and buying a home. I'm a bit worried that my credit rating seems recently to have declined significantly, apparently because I paid off all my debt. This makes no sense to me, but working hard to pay off my car loan in under three years instead of five years only reduced my number of active accounts. And then a couple of credit card companies dumped me because I had paid off their balances and was no longer charging things. On the other hand, having no debt appears to mean that I could meet the qualifications for a loan about half again as big as I should need. I reckon I'll know more after I've talked to the mortgage broker and after I've seen a few properties.

And then, of course, there's moving. I weep at the thought.

On the plus side, the place I buy will probably need a fair amount of work, so I'll get to paint and maybe do some modest renovations. I'll let the girls figure out how they want their rooms decorated, but otherwise, I won't have to answer to anyone. I can finally have a home that's as boisterous or minimalist as I please. I'm thinking a sort of boisterous minimalism, but I reckon we'll have to wait and see on that.

I suppose that the flaw (or feature, depending on your point of view) in my character that is keeping me from being upset about any of this is the same one that makes me not fear being single. Maybe I'll be singing a different tune in a few months, but I'm relishing the notion of being uncoupled. Experience has taught me that it's unwise to say never, but I can't imagine myself dating again in the foreseeable future. At least not until YFU goes off to college: that gives me six years to think of a good reason not to date for another decade or so. I have all sorts of respect for people who manage to make relationships work, but I just don't think that's who I am. Apparently, accepting who I am is a work in process, but I'm getting a lot better at it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

And the Whirlwind Is in the Thorn Tree

Tempted though I was to spend the recent Independence Day holiday at home, contemplating the various meanings of liberty in the company of hot dogs, EFU had expressed a desire to travel to Florida to see my father. I had expected my ex-wife to pick YFU (who had been with me a month earlier to Florida) up from camp and then take her directly to New Jersey for the weekend, but she said that I should take both girls. I was wary of making the trip at all because my sister would be there with her husband and her three excessively energetic sons, and while they (the sons that is) are bearable in small doses, I worried that the increase in my father's morale brought about by the presence of so many uncontrolled grandchildren would not be enough to make up for the inevitable exhaustion. But my mother said we should all come down, so I booked some flights on Southwest.

Which, we all know, is an airline that does everything in its power to offer low fares. The typical one-way ticket from BWI (roughly forty minutes from home) to Tampa International (roughly an hour from my folks' house) runs anywhere from $129 to $189 (or more if you fly business class, which, I believe, just means you're sure of getting an A boarding pass), plus fees. But even with only a week's notice, if you're willing to fly a more, shall we say, circuitous route, you can fly for $59, plus fees, each way. So our three round-trip flights, including all fees, cost me only $450. And, really, who needs to get to Tampa in two hours and twenty minutes when you can do it in four hours and fifteen?

Anyway, for the trip out, I managed -- by camping out on the website -- to get boarding passes B04 through B06, and after waiting for YFU to be deposited back (late) from camp, having her hurriedly pack a small carry-on and a personal item with (dirty) clothes, rushing to the airport, and parking, we reached the gate half an hour before it was time to board. And then our flight (which had come in from Buffalo, and probably some place before that) somehow ended up with one more person than there were available seats, and we waited twenty minutes for the situation to be sorted out. And then we were aloft!

It was a beautiful day for flying.

But it seemed we had barely taken off when we were setting down in Norfolk, Virginia.

I felt a bit nostalgic, since I had spent much time in the Norfolk area as a child. I have many relatives in the area, but I have not been back there since my grandmothers died ten years ago. I suppose that I could have gotten phone numbers from my mother and called some of them from the plane to say, "Hey, I'm waving. Do you see me?" but I didn't. We were on the ground in Norfolk (where we'd arrived late, due to the earlier seating SNAFU) longer than expected because when all of the people for whom Norfolk was the final destination (presumably just for that day, but one never knows, right?) had departed the plane, the number of people remaining did not agree to the expected number, and this had to be sorted out. It never really did get sorted out, and, for that matter, neither did the earlier misunderstanding, which might have lead one to worry that the extra person on board was someone intent on doing us harm, but, really, I can't imagine that the terrorists have that much patience. It reminded me of the time that I was at a work function, and the husband of one of the partners started to tell me how he was extremely worried about cyber terrorism, and I replied, "Hmmm. At some point, one of the terrorists is going to have to call Verizon customer support, and that will surely stop them in their tracks."

Anyway, the plane was, eventually, loaded with an acceptable number of passengers. The next leg was to Jacksonville, Florida, and it was somewhat longer, so there was plenty of time for the fauxhawked individual in front of me to recline his chair aggressively.

I have, I'm afraid, no patience for anyone with a fauxhawk (I am, however, a big fan of the mohawk). Anyway, it was still a beautiful day to fly.

I may, once or twice, have thought that such a nice day would be better spent somewhere other than inside a plane, but I kept the thought to myself. YFU slept for almost the entire flight, and EFU and I alternately read and played cards, so the time passed pleasantly enough, and before long, we had landed in Jacksonville. At this point, EFU noted that the pilot's landings were about as smooth as Southwest's passenger counting practices. I was forced to agree.

The plane again emptied out, and this time there was no numerical discrepancy.

There was a brief shower. It did not delay us, but the raindrops on the window caused the autofocus on my camera to capture them instead of the very attractive member of the ground crew that I was hoping to photograph. Such is life.

We were soon back in the air, for the final leg of that day's flight. The plane had mostly emptied, but we had no particular desire to separate, so we stayed put, and we soon approached Tampa.

Where the terminal floor has some attractive mosaics.

We had not checked any luggage, so we were able to proceed directly to the rental car counter, where, alas, we came in about halfway through an argument between a rental clerk with the patience of Job, and a Fred Flintstone look-alike who continued to insist that under no circumstances would he accept a Grand Marquis, even though such was the only car available in the class he had rented. We weary travelers in the line listened to them go back and forth for several minutes, but when Fred said, "Do not try to fight with me, because I WILL WIN," my patience was exhausted, and I could not help saying, "OH SHUT UP!" Fred ignored me, but my compatriots in the line nodded wearily at me. Anyway, Job eventually refused to rent any car to Fred, and a manger was summoned. Fred was still waiting for the matter to be settled when I had completed my transaction with a counter person who was not Job (but who, nonetheless, was very pleasant, and who was, in fact, named Florence, just like one of my grandmothers) and had left the rental area to proceed to the fourth floor of the parking garage to retrieve my PT Cruiser.

A PT Cruiser would not have been my first choice, but I mostly view cars as delivery vectors, and I would certainly never abuse a car rental clerk because I was displeased with my vehicle.

EFU had been worried that she would not be able to play her iPod on the car's stereo, so she had decided to make some mix CDs. I had requested that she bear in mind that we would just have spent many hours flying after not enough hours sleeping so that the music should be something that would not further disrupt bare nerves. I think she did a pretty good job:
When the Man Comes Around - Johnny Cash
Beast of Burden - Rolling Stones
Happy Together - The Turtles
Runaround - Blues Traveler
Piece of My Heart - Janis Joplin
The Distance - Cake
Let's Fall in Love - Ella Fitzgerald
Dream a Little Dream of Me - Cass Elliot
Talking Shit about a Pretty Sunset - Modest Mouse
Hey Joe - Jimi Hendrix
Sons and Daughters - The Decemberists
A Spoonful of Sugar - Julie Andrews
Jump in the Line - Harry Belafonte
Heroes - David Bowie
What a Beautiful World - Louis Armstrong
Bike - Pink Floyd
Inside Out - Eve 6
Reach Out I'll Be There - Four Tops
All Fired Up - Interpol

It turns out that no nerve is so frayed that it cannot be mended by a little Johnny Cash. I would not have chosen the Julie Andrews number (mostly because my two-year stint as a stay-at-home dad suggested me to repeated viewings of most of the Disney oeuvre), but I'm sure that EFU just wanted to give me a jolt to keep me from falling asleep at the wheel and driving us off a bridge and into the Gulf. I had, after all, refused the additional insurance, despite Florence's repeated warnings.

When we arrived at my parents' house, I saw that there had been some construction. Apparently, my father had decided that he wanted a flagpole. I am not overly familiar with the psyche of the soon-to-be-no-longer-quite-so-terminally-ill (I just today learned that my father has flunked out of hospice. I imagine that knowing he has longer to live helps him to deal with the shame.), but it seemed an odd request, especially given that I had never once heard him express any sort of flagpole-related desire during the many years that I lived with him. In any case, my sister and brother-in-law had dug a big hole and filled it with concrete and the flagpole holder. One assumes it has a more technical and/or colorful name.

My sister and her family had acquired, along with yearnings towards concrete, a new animal.

It was still a kitten, but it had no problems being picked up and carted around by their youngest son, who strikes terror into the hearts of many, including me.

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived, and my sister's brood had spent the entire day at the beach. They were somewhat improved by exhaustion. We had a quiet evening. The next day a flag was raised.

The discussion around the breakfast table turned to something called the Red Barn, and when I mentioned that I had never visited this establishment, my patriotism was called into question, so we hastily arranged a trip.

Words really do no justice to the Red Barn, but I can but try. We parked behind the outdoor food stands. My mother wanted green beans and a watermelon.

The indoor (sort of) section has a wide variety of quality merchandise.

And many establishments.

You can buy used books there, but I found the choices somewhat uninspired.

I mostly haunt used book establishments for cookbooks. That one had an ample supply of American classics (Betty Crocker, etc.), but I already own at least one of each of them. I might have been tempted to acquire a third copy of Joy of Cooking, but they didn't have any of those.

I was sorely tempted by the vast array of $9.95 watches at another establishment.

Especially this one.

But I ultimately decided that it was too plain and left it behind with only mild regrets. I did buy YFU a purse. She was impressed that I got a lower price ("Whoa. Dad's a haggler."), but I probably could have gotten it for less. I bought a large Diet Coke for myself. Later, I bought a half-pound of wasabi peas. Evidently, I have poor impulse control.

We returned to my parents' place, where we roused EFU, who had slept well into the afternoon, as is her wont. We decided to take a late afternoon trip to the beach. We passed some typical Florida signage on the way.

Bradenton Beach is very pretty.

The sand is very fine, and the water is warm. It's not especially clear though, and as I was out swimming in it, I found that my trip to the Virgin Islands has made all other beaches seem second rate. These days, I literally roll my eyes when people speak favorably of Rehoboth. Anyway, back in Bradenton, many straight people were sitting under rainbow umbrellas. I was a bit put out. But I got over it.

I saw a heron.

I took way too many pictures of it.


too many

pictures. Though some of them may have gotten snapped partly due to other elements.

On the way back from the beach, we stopped at a drive-through Starbucks. I went to take a picture, and EFU said that she thought taking the picture was a little creepy. Oh well.

We were all too tired to get organized to go see fireworks, so I made dinner.

The priciest acquisition from the Red Barn had been my mother's purchase of a puppy.

The purchase struck me as irresponsible, but the puppy was pretty cute. As far as I know, though, my parents are straight; accordingly, their acquisition of a Shi Tzu left me a bit put out. But I got over it.

There was a lively debate over what to name the puppy. I insisted that a male Shi Tzu needed the most masculine possible name to compensate, but both Thor and Gunther were immediately shot down. One of the nephews proposed Mittens. A cat name! YFU came to my assistance and proposed that the puppy be called Spike, with the understanding that his real name be William. Nobody except YFU, EFU, and I got the reference, but we called him Spike consistently enough that we may have exhausted the people trying to call him Boots or Walter or Oscar. No, really. But who knows what happened after we left. Poor Spike.

After dinner, we spent much time playing card games. My father likes to play something called Up and Down the River, a game that is notable mostly for its length. My brother-in-law didn't join us for the first game because he was watching a recap show featuring the 100 greatest fights from some mixed martial arts organization. Every time one of the featured fights included someone called George St. Pierre, my sister, who was at the table with us, would say that Mr. St. Pierre was very pretty. "Pretty" is a very subjective term, but I agree that he is not unpleasant to look at. Especially when he's not covered with blood. But you can judge for yourself.

My brother-in-law spent a great deal of time flipping between the Food Network and Spike. Television for men.

The next day, I managed to get EFU out of bed in time for breakfast by making a large bowl of cheesy grits. I used to get annoyed at northerners who turn their noses up at grits without having sampled them or after having only sampled an uninspired version. Nowadays, though, I just pity them. My mother thought that I was making too large a quantity of grits, but I laughed at her. EFU is the great devourer of grits. They didn't even see it coming.

Later in the day, I needed to acquire something, so I made the required trip to the store that represents all that is wrong with America.

Fortunately, in the parking lot, there was a couple in a pick-up truck arguing loudly, so I at least got some entertainment to go along with my support of oppressive labor practices.

I had brought along YFU but no one else. EFU had opted for a nap, and I had needed to escape the constant noise of the three boy children. Later, my sister told me that I had hurt the middle child's feelings by not taking him along. I made an excuse.

The kitten didn't believe me.

When we got back to my parents' place, the boy children wanted to go either to the beach or to a movie. I asked my sister whether her four-year-old had had his nap, and when she said he hadn't, I said that I worried about his ability to withstand either activity without adequate rest, but she didn't seem too concerned. The girls weren't very interested in the beach, and the boys had been there a lot already, so it seemed a movie was in order. There was nothing playing that I wanted to see and that was appropriate for children, but the $1.50 movie theater was showing Land of the Lost. My brother-in-law thought that it wouldn't be any good, but when his thirteen-year-old son (who spent most of his time texting his friends in Texas) said that his buddy had found it "freaking awesome," so off we went.

We arrived at the theater long before the movie was due to start, so I took EFU to look at the pet store next door. There were many birds, without cages.

There were many other sorts of animals, as well. Including prairie dogs.

I may have agreed to a future purchase of a rabbit for EFU, provided that she takes it with her when she returns to college at the end of August. Oops.

"Freaking awesome" turns out to have been something of an overstatement, but at $1.50, it's hard to be too annoyed at a weak movie. Or perhaps it was a very good movie with some weak parts, and the weak parts were the only ones I didn't sleep through. Who can say?

We returned home where my worst fears about my four-year-old nephew's failure to have a nap were realized. He whined about not being able to watch what he wanted on television, so my brother-in-law took him to a local electronics store and bought him a portable DVD player. Which he then proceded to lose and/or hide where neither he nor anyone else could find it. It had not been recovered by the time we left the next day. I gave thanks, and not for the first time, to the universe for seeing fit to give me girl children.

We had an early flight the next morning, so we left my parent's house shortly after 7. Everything went smoothly with rental car return, and we had A boarding passes, so we had no trouble getting a row to ourself for the return flight.

It was another gorgeous day in the air.

Most of the passengers slept on the first leg of the flight, but I read and looked out the window. I may also have eaten some wasabi peas.

The return flight stopped at Raleigh Durham.

Behold: North Carolina.

The plane was not entirely full, and there were no problems with counting the number of passengers. The landings were still rough, but one can't have everything. We were soon aloft again.

And then back at the always lovely BWI.

Where it was still a beautiful day for driving on the highways of home.

I gave thanks to the universe, and not for the first time, that I live in Maryland. And, more to the point, that I don't live in Florida.

I would enjoy the citrus, though.