September 30, 2005

Photo Friday: Darkness.

Apologies that I've been absent most of the week. It was a very busy few days, in a good way. To make up for it, here are some photos for Photo Friday: Darkness. The first was taken in the upper floors of Morris Library before they were closed on August 1st for the expensive and lengthy renovations that probably mean I'll be Dr. John before I ever set foot on the upper floors again. I think that darkness in the library is appropriate this week because it is still Banned Books Week. (See the pencil version here.) When I think of a world that bans things in practice like Hemingway and Catcher in the Rye, and where myriad other works can be banned at will in principle by well-meaning people who think they know what is best for us all, all I can think of is a dark world. Sounds trite, yes. But true. I attended a reading of banned books on the library lawn Tuesday, where library staff members read from banned books of their choosing. Unfortunately, no one was up for any Hemingway, but they raffled off some banned books, wrapped in brown paper. My wife won Jon Stewart's book (I don't know who bans it, sorry). It felt almost subversive, since being in the Heartland, I was most likely sitting there not that far from possibly well-intentioned people who want certain things banned. I'm anticipating resistance if Brokeback Mountain is released in one of the Carbondale movie theaters, not necessarily from Carbondalies, but from local judgmental types who only want what's good for us (right?) and might be willing to come from surrounding areas and states to protect us (HA!) from the subject matter of the film. I'm experiementing with some counter-measures to protesting films and burning books. I call two of these measures "Protesting The Protesting Via The Wicked Spank" and "Flaming Dog Doo On A Stick." The former involves me riding back and forth through the homophobic protestors on my bike with no pants on and my hairy bum hanging out, asking the protestors who only want what's best for me to spank me with their picket signs, since I have such a filthy mouth. The latter is just that: stinky poop on a stick, lit on fire on the lawns of book burners. Now I just need my own personal army, Project Mayhem or police force to help me in these measures. But then again, I have faith in the people of Carbondale that they won't protest a movie just because it's about two cowboys that fall in love. Love is certainly nothing to protest.

September 26, 2005

Spiders in the house.

Well, outside, really. I spotted this frighteningly large fella outside of my apartment this afternoon. I ran away from it like a sissy though. I mean, no I didn't. That's a joke. I'm not scared of spiders. I splattered one the other day, all over the hallway wall. Splattered. Yeah, them's no scaring me. I've blogged about the scary spiders that live outside the front of my apartment before. See, two sets of photos. I ain't afraid I tell ya. Really, though, I leave them alone, and I love them, since they keep me just a tad more bug-bite free. Nice little creepy things.

September 23, 2005

Photo Friday: Burn.

Burnt Arm, ii.
For Photo Friday: Burn. I think I've been going over-board with waiting up Thursday night for the weekly challenge to come out and then finding a photo I already have to use and get posted ASAP to try and have the lowest number on the list of submissions. Kinda defeats the challenge part to not actually take the photo for the theme -- at least, for me. I have been neglecting my sexy new camera. So I used the A520 for the first time in a week, and I took a new photo for the challenge today. Which is easy because I'm stupid enough to burn myself with an alarming regularity. Yes, I burned my arm getting a pizza out of the oven earlier this week, and this is what it looks like today. Yes, I did that a few months ago, too. Yes, I'm just that clumsy. At least I didn't fill the kitchen with the smell of burning hair this time, and it didn't hurt as much. It looks much worse than it is. Long live Neosporin!

September 21, 2005


So I went for an hour and half bike-ride today and sweated my rear off. Despite tomorrow being the first day of autumn, it's hot in Southern Illinois. Big surprise. At least I haven't ventured to the "winter beard" yet. Did the math. For a 150 pound person, you burn 300 calories in a half hour biking. I weigh more than that and biked three times that long, so I'll assume that I burned 1000 calories and sweated out more water than my modest bike bottle holds. That's not bad. Despite being hot as hell, sweaty and tired by 2:30, it felt good. Felt good to do something. I've been feeling fat-assed, lazy and wasteful lately. It was good to do something about it. I honestly wanted to go for another ride before dinner, but the old legs were just not having it. That's Okay, though. Then I saw what appeared to be a ding on the door of our car. I shouldn't admit to spending an hour (actually more like eighty minutes) outside looking at it from different angles, stopping only because the sun went down. I shouldn't admit to going back out in the darkness to feel for it. I could see something, but I could feel nothing, and there's no reason for me to go back out and look to anyone who looks on as if I'm contemplating breaking into my own humble car. See, the Mrs. is pretty sure that there's something wrong with the paint that plays a trick on the eyes in that spot. I know that Ford's computers half-assed the paint on that car. For being seven months old, there are a lot of bubbles between the clear-coat and black paint, and it's not put on evenly at all, etc. Not to mention what happens when bug guts get baked on a black car in direct sunlight all day. I've become Okay with the paint stuff. It happens. To hell with it. But dents from jerks I am not ready for, not since what happened to the other Focus. But what's up with that? I'm not a car nut and never have been. I don't even change the oil myself. I know how, but I still don't. I seldom bother to wash it, and my interior-care gear has never been used. But I get so protective -- obsessive. I can't explain it. My wife thinks it's because I have not been working very much and that my mind looks for something to think about. Not sure if that's it exactly. I think it's probably some control issue or something. I have tons of stories about what a perfectionist I was as a child. But when I stopped caring about my grades in high school a long time ago and stopped being in shape and not a fat ass hairy guy with a bad haircut (think Dignan from Bottle Rocket), I really began to hesitate to identify myself as a perfectionist. What kind of perfectionist has two B's on their graduate school transcript? What kind of perfectionist has a beer gut that has nothing to do with beer? And all that. Are perfectionists only so about certain things, though? Maybe that would be me, then. I'm anal about the dumbest things, but I let important things slide. Backwards, yeah. Stupid, yeah. Pointless, yeah. The solution is not necessarily to lose myself in work. I did that during the first year that the Mrs. and I had the long-distance relationship thing in college. It kept me from thinking about how shitty things were, but it also kept me from dealing with it. Besides, doing nothing but philosophy and loathing when you're 19 is not good for your sanity (very good for getting the fundamentals of Western philosophy though). I realize that I'll have to act differently. You can't just change the way you experience the world and the way you act toward it through thinking about it. I'm not naive enough to believe that's possible, that I can reason my way out of this little rut. I don't have the life I want. Neither did Henry D. T. So he did something about it. I could take the tire-iron to the car and solve it's metallic perfection right then and there. I could vote to get rid of it. But I don't really think the car is the problem, just a manifestation of whatever the problem is. The problem. I suppose I should figure that out somehow. What it is, and all that.

September 19, 2005

Up close.

The world looks very different[ly] when you've driven through it at 60 mph, riden a bike through it at 10 mph and then walked through it much slower. There's a lot that you miss when you're walking and not crawling or standing or sitting. So there's even more that you miss when you're driving in a car with the stereo turned up loudly and the windows closed, since you're too lazy to wash the windshield that the Southern Illinois humidity always fogs up at night. You might see the two deer on the right of the road, stairing at your black car in fright or wonder or a combination of the two. But you might also miss the four other deer on the left, only a few yards behind the treeline, doing what deer do when no one's around with a loud car. You miss a lot of smells in the car. Leaves are either dry and annoying as they fly around after you drive over them, or they are wet and slippery. On a bike or on foot, you can appreciate the fragrance of wet leaves, dry leaves, burning leaves, green leaves, the absence of leaves. But you know, there's a lot to be said for the big-picture, too. Thoreau must have know this, with his prodigious surveying abilities. Not only was he familiar with his own corner of Walden Pond. He surveyed and mapped the entire pond. So he had the big-picture bird's eye view and the close up macro shot of a man in love with the earth. While the close-up, non-motorized view of the world is desirable for its...candor, the big-picture view is another way of looking at things that you miss on foot. Of course, there is the even bigger picture, such as from a plane or celestial camera. I used to love to find my apartment on the shores of Quincy Bay from the plane when leaving Boston to fly to Baltimore. And you can get a seriously big-picture view via Google these days, too. Maybe we'll call the car-view the fast picture. I can't favor one view over the other. The combination seems to me to grant one an interesting way of looking at things. You can tell what your home looks like up close and how it fits into the surrounding area, how the surrounding area fits the rest of the world. How you fit into the world. The universe. Everything. Without sounding like I'm going to wax mystical on a Monday morning, self-awareness can be gained this way, no?

September 16, 2005

Photo Friday: Divine.

Photo Friday, Divine. So my relationship with the Catholic church and the faith that I usually ignore is now a long one, and a strange one. If you are a long-time reader, you know how I almost went into the seminary once when I went to a shindig with the Cardinal and that I went militant atheist for a while (like most philosophy majors) but then cooled down into a mild Transcendentalist who never goes outside. I mean, I don't read the Good Book for solice, but I can read St. Augustine and find some very useful things. Nice way to be. We went to see The Exorcism of Emily Rose last weekend. I think Tom Wilkinson is awesome ("I'm the money."). It even has Laura Linney, who played The One on "Frasier" before NBC yanked it -- a year too soon, if you ask me. Now, this is a movie that is definitely worth seeing, if you like thrillers or if you like movies that are decidedly Catholic (like Constantine or Dogma). So I will try not to give anything away. There is an element in the film where Linney's character is walking outside in the snow and finds a locket on a chain. The locket has her initials. She talks to the priest and tells him, and they agree that this cannot be a coincidence, or it can be. She can look at it either way. She takes it as a sign that she's on "the right path." Well, we leave the theatre, get some caffeine in the adjoining mall, etc. and head back to the car. What do I find on the ground in my way but a wooden cross on a string. I'm not in the habit of pocketing what I find on the ground, but I did this time. It was too...weird not to. I've been avoiding thinking about what this could mean, if anything. Calling me back to Catholicism, even though I really have issues with their more politically-oriented teachings (birth-control, gay marriage, priests marrying)? Telling me I'm Okay going the way I'm going? Warning me that the Mrs. will leave me and render me fit for the priesthood? I know it's the coward's way out, but I really don't want to think about it right now.

September 15, 2005

Maybe keeping the car.

Talk about see-sawing. We actually bought nice bikes yesterday and rode around Carbondale. Very fun. Riding by the apartment and seeing our little car made me sad, though. We thought about keeping it. Then it rained hard early today, and we had a whole car full of recycling to take to the center, and we were glad to have it. In the afternoon, it cleared up, and we took a long bike ride just for fun. Felt nice. Shrink the gut, get some air, see parts of Carbondale up close. Good to do. After dinner, however, we thought, what if we kept the car and the bikes? Not to ride bikes all the time and just pay $500 a month to have a car on Saturdays or to make it to the movies on time. We're sure as hell not rich enough to have a weekend car. But to have a car for transportation and bikes for fun and exercise. Sounded good. So we went to Target (far enough away that you would really not bike there just to get Method products that you can buy online) and a late-night trip for something for me to put my dozens and dozens of pencils in. Turns out that we just worry about the car and the nice black paint and wiggity biggity boo too much. Not a very good reason to get rid of it. When we bought our first Focus, we went nuts. Happy nuts. We were in Baltimore for five weeks after two years in Boston and before moving out west to Southern Illinois. We were driving 200-400 miles a week, since we just never stayed home. It had been three years since I had a car at the time, and I was enjoying it. I really love to drive, and Foci are fun to drive. Maybe it's my aversion to Baltimore's buses, but you can't have much fun in Baltimore without your own set of wheels. I lived there for a long time with them and a long time without them, and you're gonna want an auto in Mobtown. For sure. We went nuts because car ownership was freedom, and we could go wherever we wanted. When that Focus got killed, and we put that stupid car bra on the new black one, we were convinced that it was invincible. But it turns out that no car is (duh), and we went nuts over every single paint chip. Ones from idiots. From the landlord carelessly murdering an asphalt curb all over the side of our car with a weedwacker. From getting things in and out of the back hatch. But, you know, this shit happens. Cars get scratches. I dont' think I could handle a deep dent in the side from Betty Sue getting out of her big-asses SUV, but I should be able to handle getting a few scratches. I might as well say that I don't want to own a car anymore because Carbondale drivers make driving in Washington DC fun (yes, I mean that). Shit happens. Yes. But why is it so difficult to change the way I react to it? Those little things drove us nuts. We never drove anywhere, unless we had the whole lot to ourselves. Stupid, yes. Very stupid. We wound up paying almost more than we can afford for a car that was only driving us crazy most of the time. For me, that was the biggest reason I wanted to get rid of it. Paying all that bread for something that takes my sanity away didn't seem to make sense. But hanging out downtown and chilling and driving in the rain (which I love to do for some reason) and going shopping for a $3 plastic box until 10:30 on a Thursday night reminded me of why having a car can be fun. Why I shouldn't sit here in the apartment wondering if a tree branch is going to fall on the hood or if I'm right that the sun is ruining the paint. Damn. How anally, materialistically, and insanely of a waste of energy is that? Confronted with selling our car and having the fact that I've lost sleep worrying about its state not make any difference at all, I could see how foolish I've been acting and thinking. And, confronted with being, I suddenly appreciated what having a car means to us. So we're keeping the car, at least for now. We can always change our mind and sell it. But, if we sell it, we can't swing getting another once, since we'd stand to lose close to $7,000 instantly. We're thinking about re-financing it, since we have totally kick-ass credit these days, and if the paint gets worse, the whole damned car is still under a warranty. And now we have bikes, so maybe I can shrink the gut. My wife thinks that we wanted a change of life-style. And hell, I think I'm looking at the world differently tonight than I was at the start of the week. I feel like going out to get a beer, and I haven't felt like that in a long time.

September 14, 2005

AutoMOTIVE confessions.

So we noticed yesterday that the paint and clear-coat on our nine-month-old car is getting melted from the sun. Talked to a few people who said it's a warranty issue and that the damned thing needs to get repainted. Repainted! On Ford's buck, but still: Repainted! That's insane. Which got the Mrs. and I to thinking and talking: Why the hell do we drive ourselves crazy with owning a car? We were afraid of being stranded in Carbondale when we moved out here. Okay. Makes sense. We didn't know about the university shuttle system that goes all over town and how bike-friendly Carbondale is. Or how terrible the parking at the university is. We actually wind up walking half-way to Faner Hall as it is, since we have to park so far away. During the last year of my undergraduate work and the two years we were in Boston, we didn't have a car. So moving away from Beantown and getting a car felt free for some reason -- going where we wanted to, etc. And we felt that way for a long time. After all, I really do love to drive. But looking back on the subway, walking, cabs, etc., it's sort of...romantic. With a newish car now, it's almost like we're just grown-ups who go to school and don't really have any money or kids. So we have had nothing but car drama since the first Focus was totalled in May 2004. Thought it would end when we sold the Mazda (at a bit of a loss) and bought the Focus this February. But no. Owning a new car, there are too damned many things to worry about. Paint scratches. Dents on the side from really really inconsiderate people. Tornados and sever thunderstorms with hail and falling tree branches. Moronically drunken neighbors. The fact that you're PhD students and don't need a new car! Since our oil change on July 5th, we've driven around 1,200 miles. In three months. We used to drive that much, and often more, each month. We get gas once every two and half to three weeks. We live down the street from the university, and there's a market within a 5-10 minute stroll. Everything we need is within walking distance of the university, and the shuttle goes everywhere else. It would seem that we don't need a car. We can rent one to drive to Maryland in, with the added bonus that it getting chips on the paint and windshield from rude drivers won't get me upset anymore. Hell, there are day trips from Carbondale we've always wanted to take but didn't because we didn't want to mess up our shiny new car that we can finally take now in a rental car. To boot, I've become a bit of a fat ass. My eating habits aren't that much different than they were when we lived in Boston and walked a lot -- and walked for fun -- but the fabled beer gut persists. And I don't even drink a lot of beer and haven't had one in nearly a month at all. That's just sad. I was sweating and huffing and puffing when Chris and I last went hiking in a way I've never done before. The Mrs. denies it, but I've really become quite round. The idea of burning 300 calories in a half-hour of biking and thereby almost effortlessly becoming less pudgy is a very attractive one. We could just get bikes and ride to school and loss weight. Yes. But paying $500 a month for owning our car (payments, insurance and gas) leaves no money for nice bikes. And then, what the hell would we have a car for, if we don't drive it to the one thing we do everyday, i.e., go to the university? If we have bikes to ride to our daily destination, why would we continue to pay $500 a month for the car that sits home except on weekends? Good questions. Is it worth all that money to be able to pop out to the office supply store because I'm jonesing for some new pencils after dinner? Is it worth having a car for the three or four times a year that we go home to Maryland, especially when we can rent a car or take the train? Is it worth all that money and trouble just because I can fight my way up Route 13 to get the cleaning supplies I like from Target? Getting to the mall easier? Going to Wal-Mart to save $1.50 on frozen pizza? It seems like the only things having bikes in place of a car would make difficult involve buying things. We have too much stuff as it is. I recently had a long talk with a friend of mine about simplifying, and I felt guilty. It's bad enough that I have enough pencils for two life-times and still keep trying new ones; that we have literally over 100 DVDs; that we lost count of our books; that we go through nearly two pounds of "gourmet" coffee a week and spent lots of money at Starbucks daily. But trading away $500 a month on something we don't need that only drives us crazy seems really stupid to me, now. Don't get me wrong. If this were Baltimore or if we didn't live exactly where we do, I might feel very differently. But owning a car costs more than the money. In Walden, Thoreau talks about cost a lot. At one point, he defines cost as the amount of life traded for something. That's why he doesn't want a big house -- not because he has anything against palaces. Just that the cost in living is too high. That's the way I feel about this car. It is no longer a source of freedom, but is instead a burden -- and an expensive one at that. Worrying about and taking care of this car have become far too expensive in life-cost. I know that the flaw is in me when all I can think about on a day where the weather dude is calling for severe weather is whether our car will be Okay. I know it's all in me. But why put myself through that for a car we don't need? It makes no sense. So we realize that we are going to lose money on the sale of this car. No matter what. The value is considerably less than what we owe on it. But we will also save even more by not having to pay for it. So we cannot allow money to dictate our decision, since getting rid of the car to save money would be foolish we we decide that we need to have a car. Essentially, we owe $18,000 and will owe whatever Ford gives us less than that. We have thought about this. A lot. And it feels like the right thing to do, even though I'm sure that my family and friends will tell us that we are completely nuts. Maybe we are. But we are going to the Ford dealer today to see how much they would value this car that came from there, after all, and only has 6,000 miles on it. I'm taking my CDs out of the changer and taking my maps and assorted gear out before we go. Because we are crossing our fingers that we might be free of a car by tonight. Please cross yours with us.

September 12, 2005

Summer's Gone (Almost).

I can smell summer's death today. I woke up this morning to cloudy, dewy windows that masked the fog from me. I opened my windows, and the sills smell like sweat. People sweat. I put on my big red robe and went out on the balcony only to smell death in the air. Summer's death smells like old burnt wood. Dead bugs. Rusted metal. Too many people mourn the death of summer. They have to come back from exotic or merely restful vacations or to school or university. Gone are cook-outs, iced-tea, swimming on weekday afternoons, getting away with another shirt button undone and sweet delicious corn on the cob. Late August means melancholy over having to get back to work. Early September means getting up to actually do it. Party's over. So is nap time, lunch time and tea time. Get thee back to work. However, the official start of autumn remains weeks away, while actual fall weather may be even further off in some regions. What remains now are all the bad parts of summer. The heat and humidity. Bug bites. Inconsiderate neighbors using their weekwackers at 7:30 on a Sunday morning. Sweat and the smell of it. Couple all this with catching up on all the responsibilities we've slouched off for so long, and you get the misery of very late summer. I thoroughly enjoy watching summer die, however. I put on my bug spray and sit outside with a pencil and a Moleskine and bask in the hot season's last throws before my favorite season starts. While I can appreciate that a lot of people are sad to see summer go, I really cannot understand it. Summer remains, to me, the meteorological nadir of the entire year. And I love to watch it sink further and further until it gets eaten by autumn, who digests the green leaves and excretes them in myriad hues that can make even the most fervent lover of summer forget all about barbecuing and short skirts.

September 11, 2005

Bowman's hurt.

My future cousin-in-law and good buddy Bowman has been injured. And it looks bad. He needs surgery. Please visit his blog to send him well wishes!

September 09, 2005

Photo Friday: Massive.

Massive Abe.
For this week's Photo Friday challenge, Massive. A huge head of Abe Lincoln at Morris Library, in a fuzzy hip-shot. I shot this when my friend Chris and I spent an evening taking photos in the upper six floors of Morris, before they were closed on August 1st. This hunka hunka hugo head is in the lobby, however, so I should have taken a better (read, more focused) shot, and with my new camera. But that's just not in the cards at this time of night.

September 07, 2005

Little sharpy.

While I am very sad to retire my Powershot A60, I am very happy with the A520. But there's so much pressure to make the first A520 photo a good one. Of something important or at least significant. Nothing comes to mind. I'm an unimportant little dude who sees unimportant little things all day long and who thinks unimportant thoughts like about the meaning of human existence and what we can know. You know, that old chestnut. But behold, something very important. I have this little sharpy in my pocket more or less whenever I am away from my cozy (read: air conditioned) little apartment. It comes in handy. And I can't find this particular model for sale online anywhere, and have only found them in Baltimore. I always but a handful when I can, and I usually give them all away, so this one is special. I just used it to sharpen some nice and expensive German pencils. Yeah. I am just that interesting.

September 06, 2005

You so crazaay!

So, I can read your mind again. Because I can. It's a nice talent, believe me. You're thinking: "Didn't this dude get a new digital camera for his birthday last week? Where are the new photos?" Yeah, see, I had to return my camera twice. To Dell, who I love. Seems that they decided that throwing the camera box into a box large enough to hold three such camera boxes would keep it safe during the trip to my apartment. This arrangement didn't work. Each camera arrived with dirt under the screen. And I went to my local OfficeMax to see if theirs had it, too, before I sent the second one back. It didn't. None of them did. So we bought one there. Don't get me wrong. I still love Dell. They did overnight the replacement to me to make it right, and they wanted to pay for that one's return shipping, too. I won't hold this against Dell. But I sure as hell will not buy a camera over the internet to save $50 on it again. Never, even if it's a gift. I pretty much ruined my Christmas shopping this past year by ordering too many things online. My wife's gifts were late because some idiot in the shipping department where I ordered her gifts from sent them to Illinois, while I was in Maryland, even though the invoice said to ship them to Maryland, and they knew I was right and that they made a mistake and hunted the box down at my door in Illinois and got it to me in Maryland in 18 hours, but it was too late, etc. Being able to get cool things you can't find because you live in Southern Illinois is great. But internet shopping gets to really be a pain in the ass. Hell, the mini-tripod to go with my camera arrived looking like it was run over by a truck -- literally, the metal was ground. So I had to send that back, too. Damn it. I know, poor me. I have a nice new camera with a super-fast and pretty large memory card. I should be thankful, not bitching. I am. Getting there. So where are the photos with the new camera? I'll get around to it, promise. I've just been too afraid to touch my pristine camera lately. I'll get over it. And no more photos of my nasty toes, honest. And none of my butt, either.

September 05, 2005

The Constant Gardener.

Well, I know what you're thinking: "Johnny rarely blogs on weekends, and it's a holiday in the US. That lazy Johnny is surely not doing anything on Labor Day!" So, yeah, you'd be correct. I'm going to the market, and then I'm going to read and lounge all day. And night. So you'd get a cookie. At this point, Johnny gets defensive and says, "What the hell are you doing reading blogs on Labor Day?" You get angry with Johnny for his gumption. But you have no answer, other than that you are bored. "Cookouts get old, and I don't want to drink today, since I have to go back to my boring job tomorrow. I'm bored, so I'm reading blogs, especially the most kick-ass of blogs. I just finished reading that one about pencils," you say to Johnny. Johnny says that he feels for you. Take away work, and most of us don't know what do to with ourselves. Well, I should say yourselves, since Johnny is a master of relaxing. So you're bored. Since you're bored, go see The Constant Gardener, not that you have to be bored to enjoy it or that you will be bored watching it. I didn't read the book (never heard of it). I didn't know anything about the movie, other than that it is set in Africa and stars a very sad Ralph Fiennes. That's more than you need to know. I'm not going to tell you what it's about or hint at the ending. That would ruin it. But trust your lovable blogging philosopher, and go check out the film. And tell me what you think of it.

September 02, 2005

Photo Friday: Order.

Line of Rocks. For Photo Friday: Order. Some rocks that my friend Carrie lined up when she and Brian came to visit in March. These are from Giant City State Park.