Monday, April 25, 2011

Just thinking about Snowchief

I was just thinking about Snowchief the cat.  This is a picture of him in better times, 2 or 3 years ago.  He died last year, I think he was 18 years old.

This was a typical scene, especially in his later years.  He made an art form out of being comfortable, of finding he warmest spot in the house, especially on cold days. 

I miss having a cat or two about the place.  It's almost like having a wild animal in the house, and they keep mice and bugs honest.

Now we have Pickles, a very "interesting" dog, but we're hesitant to bring in another cat (or two) into the house.  Pickles is a tracker of small animals.  She is a real threat to the day-dreaming squirrel, the rabbit who decides to take five and kick back with one of Fidel's finest, the half feral cat so intent on stalking its prey it doesn't realize a goofy ticked-up mutt is literally sneaking up on it.  The only thing Pickles has ever actually caught was a dead rat, which she happily brought and laid at our doorstep.  Very cat-like.  I suppose she was saying thanks for the room and board.

Snowchief would have never given up the rat, seeing no need to thank us for the room and board.

I've never seen a rat or a mouse around the house, so who knows, maybe Pickles is better at this than we realize.

Snowchief the Cat could handle Pickles the Dog.  Pickles was not Snowchief's first experience with dogs - he lived a solid 10 years with a Black Lab, who he got along very well with.   Pickles was a puppy, and was very much an aggravation to the cat, but Snowchief almost always held his ground.   I'm pretty sure Pickles just wanted to play, but had no clue she couldn't play with a cat the same way she played with other dogs.  Maybe.  I really don't know what Pickles thinks.

Anyway, Snowchief was around for a lot of years.  He was a good cat, and I was just thinking about him.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Back from Kentucky

Just got back from a quick trip to Kentucky, where heavy rains swelled the usually miled mannered creeks in Knott County.  This picture was taken in the outer reaches of Hindman, the county seat.  Troublesome Creek barely crept over its banks in a couple of places, so there was no flooding in town.  But it was up pretty good and moving fast, and continued to rise long after the rain stopped.  You wouldn't want to fall in.

The heavy rains in Kentucky were nothing compared to the winds & tornadoes in North Carolina, but by the time I got back all that was over with.  We live in the western part of the state, and while I understand it was very stormy here, the severe damage happened much further east.  We've had a series of quite violent storms this month, so far Valdese has been lucky.

My father, brother & I (in Kentucky) were sitting around talking about an elderly and "eccentric" neighbor, when my brother said "That old woman would irritate a rock". 

Friday night we were entertained by a vacuum cleaner salesmen I inadvertently let into my father's house.  It would require more explanation than anybody would care to read, but for some reason I thought they knew each other.   From him I picked up a little tidbit that the vacuum cleaner has "no cost, but there is a price".   I decided I'd remember that.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blumfeld, Part II - or - Kafka's Balls.

As I suspected and feared,  the bouncing balls in "Blumfeld, An Elderly Bachelor" were never explained. 

When last I left the story, Blumfeld had trapped the balls in his wardrobe, and was trying to give them to the charwoman's son.  This had to be a convoluted transaction, because Blumfeld was afraid the balls would follow him if he got anywhere near them.  He needed to give the key to his wardrobe to the boy, then the boy would have to get the key to his room from the the charwoman (the boy's mother) then go get the balls, then give both keys back to his mother.  The boy was dense and could not understand what he needed to do or why, but there were two little girls there who grasped the instructions clearly, so Blumfeld reluctantly gave them the key to his wardrobe.  They raced downstairs to the charwoman to get the key to his room, and Blumfeld left for work.  And that is the last the two bouncing balls are mentioned.

Blumfeld holds a supervisory position in a linen factory.  He's in charge of accounts etc for women who do piece work.   He has two assistants (both incompetent in his eyes), and a servant who cleans up around the place.  He had to beg his boss (who doesn't understand the complexities of the work) for assistants, and finally he got some, but now he feels his boss took an extra long time in order to find the dullest, most incompetent people possible.  He had hoped to train them and they they'd take initiative on their own, but that hasn't happened.  Blumfeld is convinced that if he dies or leaves the company, everything will fall apart because no one but him knows the complexities involved. 

I suspect that what has really happened is that the industry has changed, new technologies of sorts have been introduced and the world has passed Blumfeld by & he doesn't realize it.  But you have to infer that, everything in the story is from Blumfeld's point of view.

Now, back to the balls.  If a character in a story I was writing came home one day and found balls bouncing in his room,  bouncing in sync and following him around, with energy levels more or less reflecting his own, with no means of locomotion, I would probably feel compelled to explain how that could be.  But, I'm not Kafka.  Kafka feels no need for an explanation.

I've not read the Cliff Notes on this, so I don't really have a clue.

It is interesting that there are lots of  "pairs" in the story.  The balls, the assistants, the charwoman and her son (both dullards in Blumfeld's eyes), the two little girls (smart but untrustworthy, per Blumfeld).  I don't believe in literary co-incidences, but then what do I know.  Even the fact that Kafka chose the share the information that Blumfeld is a bachelor in the title instead of drawing it out is the story may have significance.  But I can't draw any lines to explain anything.  I can't connect the dots.  I don't even know where the dots are.  I don't know what it all means.   I understood the words, I followed the story, but I'm missing something.

I just know that Blumfeld is a very typical main character for a Kafka story.   And anytime I get through a Kafka story, it's a victory.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Blumfeld, An Elderly Bachelor

I've been reading a fair amount of books lately.  I read "Battle Ready" by Tom Clancy which details the career of Marine General Tony Zinni.  It jogged my memory a bit about being in the Army, and drove home the fact that I really did not have the personality for it. If I were in combat and an enemy who was trying to kill me suddenly withdrew, I personally would not be inclined to chase him down.  My personal reaction would be something on the order of relief at having survived a fire fight, and I'd be happy to let him go.  When someone has the motivation & means to kill you, it's down right dangerous to go chasing after them.  It's just as easy to get yourself killed by troops who are retreating as it is by troops who are charging.  However, that is not really the right attitude to take.  When an enemy is on the ropes you finish him off, otherwise he'll keep coming back, and one day he'll get you.  General Zinni seemed to love every challenge the military threw at him, in fact he sought it out.

I also read "Flashback" by Gary Braver which seem to me to be a pretty standard run of the mill made for TV movie book about corporate greed in the pharmaceutical industry.  It was better than anything I could write, but it was pretty predictable.

And I read "Aftershocks" by Richard S. Wheeler, about the immediate aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.  That was a historical novel of sorts, and it followed the lives of 5 or 6 people, who for the most part, did not interact with each other so you had several stories going.  I never knew that much about the 1906 earthquake, so this filled in a few holes.   It was pretty good. There's so much I don't know.  Lots of times when I read things it makes me want to learn more. 

These books came from a thrift store, and I find myself temporarily without unread books about. 

So, with a heavy heart, having nothing else to read,  I picked up my copy of the complete stories of Franz Kafka, and chose a story more or less at random.   "Blumfeld, An Elderly Bachelor" is 23 pages long, and as always, before I start a Kafka story I make my peace with the world.  I ask myself if I want to suffer through 23 pages of something that will surely be odd, and maybe never make any sense.  I don't really want to, but the curiosity is overwhelming.  I know at some point I'm probably going to get lost, but each story loses me in a different way.

So Blumfeld, who lives alone, is trudging up the stairs to his apartment, thinking of all the reasons he doesn't want to own a dog. Most of these reasons have to do with cleanliness - shedding hair and such.  When he gets to his apartment, he hears a noise, opens the door to find two balls bouncing in sync.  One reaches it's height as the other hits the floor.  I remember thinking - here it is, the point in the story (a couple of pages in) of Kafkian oddness.  I had no idea that this story involved random bouncing balls.   Balls bouncing for no apparent reason, and with no means of causation.  Perpetual motion bouncing balls.  The balls followed him around, keeping a certain distance away, and seem to have some sort of feelings.  I left the story half way in, I expect to finish it up this evening.   Blumfeld had managed by trickery to trap the balls in his wardrobe, and was trying to give them to the Charwoman's son, who seemed very dense and didn't quite understand.   Now I wonder how the story will end, and what other twists will be coming in it, and if the bouncing balls will be explained.  I seriously doubt it. 

Think kind thoughts.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Some more thoughts

Managed to get the north 40 mowed, despite lightening & thunder in the distance, and what looked like rain headed our way.  I saw it as a challenge.

I don't know how many more thrift stores Valdese Main Street can support. 

Once again the phone rings.  Once again I don't answer it.  Ah, but Patti's curiosity cannot be contained.

It would be neat if someone would sing "Bohemian Rhapsody" at my funeral.  It doesnt have anything to do with my life, I just like the song.  A recording would be fine, but a chorus backing up someone channeling Freddie Mercury would be better.

Pickles the dog is experiencing her afternoon crazies.   Something she has a lot of fun with is an empty plastic bottle.  Dogs are so easy to please.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I reckon

Saturday, while I found myself doing some manual labor, I said something to Patti, and she replied "I reckon".  I forgot what it was I said, but I knew exactly what she meant.

I've lived lots of places in this country - from Leominster, Massachusetts to Monterey, California, from Brooklyn Park, Minnesota to Killeen (and San Angelo), Texas.  I spent many years in Maryland (Baltimore area), and now North Carolina.  And several years in Europe.

There is no "normal" way of speaking American English.  People who were born and raised in Baltimore have an especially unique way of saying things.  And people from surrounding counties speak just differently enough that you know they're from central Maryland, but not quite from Baltimore. 

I spent my early years in southeastern Kentucky and was surrounded by people who'd use "I reckon" with impunity.  So when I was let loose into the wider world, I didn't think a thing about it, but I soon learned otherwise.  Once you cross north of that great divide that is the Ohio River, common usage of  "I reckon" diminishes exponentially.   It's not something they hear everyday, and to their ears it seems archaic and quaint, and old way of speaking.   If I let an "I reckon" slip in Minneapolis it was noticed.

I'm sure "reckon" used the way it's used in the southern USA is an older way of getting an idea across, but there is nothing quaint about it.  It is deceptively complex, in fact.  If you havent heard it or used it all your life when you do hear the words they'll really stick out, but you'll miss a lot the subtleties of meaning. One of the biggies is, is it used at the beginning or the end of a sentence? It's all context and tone of voice.  It can mean a lot of things, and apparently I'm bilingual this respect because I understand it very well.  Pretty sure.

It is also one of my 3 favorite common phrases used south of the Ohio River: 

I reckon as in "I reckon"
Fixinta as in "I'm fixinta eat me a hamburger"
Likedta as in "It likedta killed me"

It's been awhile since I expounded on any aspect of spoken English as I know it.  I was just thinking & that's all this was about.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Our eBay Month - March 2011

There's so many ways of looking at things.  I have no idea which the best way is.  Maybe I should have eschewed graduate studies in history and got that MBA after all, but I have no idea what insights a person with an MBA would bring to bear on our little eBay business.   Well I can think of one, perhaps.

Suffice it to say, we made a bit more money in March, than in February, but a little less than January.  So far January has been the year's high point.  Also, the only reason we made more money in March than in February is because March has more days in it.  The average per day of sales in March was actually a little less than previous month.   And this is scary - over 1/3 of the total income for the month came on ony 3 days of sales.  Without those 3 very good days, or if those 3 days had just been normal sales days, the month would have been a disaster, sales wise.

I keep track of a lot of things, but I can't always make sense of them.  For example, our busiest sales day in January was Monday, in February it was Tuesday, and in March it was Saturday.  I have no idea what to read into that.  It was the same way last year.  I'd hope over a long period of time I'd begin to see a pattern, then see if I could use it to increase sales somewhat.  So far, nothing absolute. 

I know that on average the number of items we sell daily has remained virtually the same during the 3 months of the year.  March & Feb were exactly the same (but again, March had more days than Feb) and both were just a touch higher than January. 

The thing that has made the difference so far this year, the thing that made January the best month so far was the sale of antique photos.   We ask more for them on average than we do the postcards, and for some reason we sold a lot more in January than we did in Feb or March.  Our postcard sales are still steady, actually increasing modestly, but the photo sales are more erratic.

Maybe the photos are the key. 

At any rate our little business churns along, producing money we otherwise would not have.