The Hess Report


Friday, October 28, 2005

The Dogs of Morning 

Piper sleeps on a little doggie bed in our room. She has a favorite blanket. It's very cute. When we first got her, she would wake up when I got up for the day, which is usually pretty early. After about a week of that, though, she got used to it and began to blissfully ignore my morning routine.

Yesterday morning, I was awakened just before my alarm went off by a soft click-clicking, coming from the hallway. It took me a second, but I recognized it as Piper's claws tapping the hardwood as she trotted around the house. Unusual. Intruder alert? was my first thought, which it always is, but that was quickly dismissed. Piper would have been barking her head off. The second thought was: she has to pee. Crap. It's been dipping to the mid thirties overnight here, and while that will be welcome come the end of January, it's still a pretty chilly thought at the end of October.

I got up, grabbed her collar and leash, and threw on my coat. She was happy to see me out of bed, and zipped to the front door, wagging her tail. Once she was leashed, we went outside. Walked around a bit, and all she did was sniff the cold air. Walked across the cul-de-sac, which I hoped would induce some doggie-urination so we could get back inside. No luck. After a few minutes, I said, "Let's go girl."

As soon as we returned to our yard, I heard my neighbor's voice, calling to her dogs. They were out in her back yard, which is fenced. She has, um, a lot of dogs. Many of them large. They're all friendly to me, except Leisel. She doesn't like people all that much.

That's when I noticed that Leisel wasn't with the other dogs. She was in the front yard of the property that adjoins ours, and running straight for us. Fortunately, I had left the main door to our house open, which meant I only had to pull open the storm door to get us inside. "Piper run!" I said, and gave a yank on the leash. She had seen Leisel, though, and wasn't about to run, so I had to kind of drag her sideways. For some reason, little Miss Piper-Pants, who weighs all of seventeen pounds, thinks it's a spectacular idea to attack big dogs when she sees them. And she wanted a piece of Leisel.

Now, I'm not sure if Leisel was just eager to make friends with Piper, or to take a shot at me, or whatever. My real concern was that Piper would attack Leisel, and Leisel would grab onto Piper and turn her into Swiss cheese.

In the next instant, I got a good visualization of throwing a solid back kick and connecting. If you hit a human with a good one straight through their center of mass, you'll most likely crack some of their ribs. A dog would probably be different, because they're significantly more flexible, and a charging dog doesn't really present you with a rib target anyway. You would have to be dead on, or hit them with a crossing kick, which didn't occur to me at the time.

Of course, I didn't want to kick the neighbor's dog, because I like my neighbors as much as I don't like hurting animals, which is quite a bit in both cases. But the flash visualization was a good sign, because it's like the one you get when playing football or shooting or laying down a line in a sketch: when you see it in your head properly the instant before you do it, it usually happens just the way you pictured.

When Leisel was two yards out and charging, I gave a kind of barking shout at her. Her and Piper both yelped, and Leisel cowered and backed off for a second, giving me enough time to get inside. Whew.

Once we were deleashed and defrocked, Piper didn't seem to care or think twice about it, but my body had been ready to fight, so I was all jazzed and jittery. I freaking hate that.

So back to my original puzzlement over what woke Piper, seeing as she didn't have to pee or anything. I'm guessing that she heard Leisel running around outside and got up to investigate. Well, good for her. I've found that I sleep a little more soundly with the pooch in the house, as I'm now fairly confident that she makes a great burglar alarm. She's not big or loud enough to intimidate an intruder, but she has much better hearing than I ever will, and that would give us an extra minute or two in case of emergency. I can have the Saiga out, loaded and chambered in just under twenty seconds, so that works just fine for me.

Good doggy.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Broken Clock, etc. 

I gripe about them when they suck (which is always), so in fairness, I feel that I ought to give them kudos when deserved.

In my last ten years of driving the Pennsylvania Turnpike, this past weekend was the only time that I traveled the entire distance without encountering a single area of lane restrictions due to road construction. That's right. Congratulations to both PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission for not gratuitously hindering my trip for once. Not that the road is that great. It's not. But at least they had all the lanes open.

I think they deserve a raise.

Well, I'll bet they think they deserve a raise. In my world, you don't get a reward for just sucking less than usual.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Black is White and White is Black 

I've been having a really bad week at work. Not the usual kind of bad where everyone else sucks and management is clueless and no one wants to take responsibility for anything. Nope. It's a very different and new kind of bad for me.

This week, I suck.

I've made the same stupid mistake several times and missed a number of other things that I normally catch. Fortunately, the goodwill I've built up amongst my coworkers with my sparking conversational charisma has let them care enough to catch my gaffes before they turn into disasters. Thank goodness. But I can't figure out why it's happening. I'm not unusually tired or distracted. It seems that I just plain suck.

And it may be spreading.

At first it was confined to a certain aspect of the accounts I usually work with. But this morning, it metastasized to the procurement of coffee. Our plant has a coffee machine. You feed it $0.25 (or $0.35 if you want the BIG CUP), push a couple of buttons, and it gives you something that is sort of like coffee. It claims it can make cappuccino as well, but I tried it once, and I think they just put 3-in-1 oil in that part of the machine. So I popped in my $0.35, pushed the "extra strong" button, pushed the "12 oz." button, then pushed the "Make coffee" button. The machine kicked out a dime and started to pour the coffee.

What? Oh crap. I said I pushed the "12 oz." button, but apparently I hadn't. The display on the machine (it's genius!) shows two digits and some other little symbols to indicate what kind of coffee you're going to get. 12 oz. regular extra strong is indicated by two specific numerals and a "+". My brain saw the ".35" for how much money I had put in and told my hands: "Hey hands! There're two numerals on the display! You must have hit twelve ounce already! Back off, dude. You're done!" If you don't hit the "12 oz." button, the machine defaults to "8 oz.".

After you've hit "Make Coffee", there's no way to undo it, and I didn't even have another fifteen cents for another small cup. I had a penny, but we all know that pennies suck, unless you're three years old. So I was stuck with my measly 8 oz. cup of crap coffee. Time to add creamer. Yeah, it's the powdered stuff. But if I want to drink the cheap coffee, I have to use it to cut the acidity, or it'll burn a whole straight through my abdominal wall just like the nasty saliva in Alien.

I pour a little and mix it. It doesn't change the coffee's color.

Hmm. Pour some more in. Stir. Still no change. WTF?

I dump in a whole pile, just as I notice that the substance I'm putting my coffee is crystalline, not powdery. Sugar. I'm not a big fan of coffee drinks that taste like lollipops, so I was less than thrilled with this development. Sullen, I put the sugar carton back down and picked up the creamer. I double-checked to make sure I wasn't about to pour crystal Drano into my cup. The label said "Creamer" pretty clearly, so I poured and stirred, and it worked. I walked back through shop, looking forward to drinking the syrupy, puny fruit of my suckitude.

Yeah, it's spreading. What will I do next? Drive on the wrong side of the road going into one of the many local tunnels? Accidentally walk into a mosque and slander both Allah and Mohammed? Yikes. If you see me coming, walk on the other side of the street. I won't be offended. Seriously, it's for your own good.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Underestimation 

I should know better by now, but I consistently underestimate Lucy. It's probably because of her size (small), age (5) and extreme cuteness of both face and voice.

Tonight, I was using a bit of bleach to try to kill some mold that was growing in her Jack-o-Lantern. Lucy came into the room, took a big whiff and said:

"Mmmmmmm. What's that smell?"

"Bleach," said I.

"Oh," she said. "I thought it was Chlorine."

Right.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Philadelphia Wedding: Dark 

Okay, this isn't anything bad about the wedding and the marriage itself. This is nothing more than a gripe-fest about Philadelphia. So, if you love Philadelphia with all of your heart, this might be the time to stop reading. Also, if you don't like to my incessant bitching, this might be the time to stop reading. Otherwise...

Philly is a pit. It is a stinking pit.

I could stop there, because that sums it up pretty well, but I won't.

While I was in Philly several weeks ago, I thought of a great way to rank cities: percentage of streets that smell like urine and human feces. In Pittsburgh, it's around 1%. Even in the skankier areas. But Philadelphia clocks in (by my own unscientific sample) at 25%. And that was in the nicer areas downtown. That's right - when you walk around historic Philadelphia, you can enjoy the sweet smell of human waste for fifteen minutes out of every hour you spend there! I can only imagine what the depths of West and North Philly must smell like. It was also fun to see bags of poop laying around on the sidewalk. I've been informed that Washington D.C. approaches 40% pee-smell, but I've not been there in years, so I can't say if this is true or not.

Hmm. What else sucks about Philadelphia? Well, the traffic and roads, for one. I'm the first to admit (and gripe) that Pittsburgh is not the easiest city to navigate. Due to its bridge-laden nature, it's a "one wrong turn and you're over the river, through a tunnel and heading to the airport accidentally" kind of place. But at least the city has attempted to mark things appropriately. If you can read a map and know the standard road signs, you'll do okay. But not in Philly. In that fine city, you get occasional teensy little signs indicating the way to major routes. You get a sign saying that a certain route is straight ahead, immediately followed by This-Lane-Turns-Right sign that leaves you wondering "Do I go straight through or obey the lane convention?" Diagramatic intersection signs about which you are better off closing your eyes and guessing than trying to decipher.

Of course the traffic level itself is untenably heavy, from early morning through midnight. It's non-stop, which is a tribute to the level of commerce in and around the city, but which turns people like me, who would prefer not sit in traffic for forty-five minutes just to get to a particular restaurant or go to work, way off. The insane cab drivers don't make things any better. At least the city has managed to keep it's downtown streets in good shape. Oh, wait. They didn't. Philadelphia's city streets would make a good test for next years DARPA Grand Challenge.

I'm only going to mention the crime rate in passing. It's high. It sucks. Illustrative of the kind of mental gymnastics one has to do to live in a city like this: A couple of years ago we were visiting friends in a nicer area of Philly. I asked: "Is it safe around here?" Response: "Oh yeah. It's really safe." Realizing I should have asked a more quantitative question, I followed up with: "Do people get mugged around here?" The response: "Yeah. But it's safe." In my book, if people get mugged around where you live, it is not safe. End of story. There's no getting around it. It's kind of like asking someone if that thing in the water over there is a fish or a duck, and they say it's a fish, but when you ask them if it has feathers and quacks they say it does, but that it's still a fish. Kind o' crazy. I guess if you beat a kid enough times they end up thinking that getting beaten is a-okay.

More, random stuff that doesn't really warrant its own discussion: People are rude. Blah blah. No one uses their turn signals. Random people scream "effe this effing effe!" into their cell phones as they walk down the street. Basically, it seems to me that Philadelphia is everything that people think of when they think of city problems. Close your eyes and think of generic city problems, straight from central casting... there... got a good picture in your head? Well, that's Philly, except the reality is what you were thinking times five.

How bad do I think it is? Well, if you were to give me one million dollars in cash money a year to move my family to downtown Phildelphia, I wouldn't do it. No using the money to take trips all the time. You actually have to spend 95% of the year in the city itself. That would not be worth it to me. For ten million, and one year only, maybe. We'd have to approach it like some kind of family endurance/torture thing. It would be a tough call.

Oh, but there are great restaurants! And the arts! And there's this cool thing to do and that cool thing to do! And guess what? How about a nice hot cup of STFU! You can get all of those things in other places without all of the aforementioned horrific crap that you have to put up with in Philadelphia.

Now, I have to disclaim all of this by stating that Philadelphia is just not my kind of place. Obviously. Some people like that level of bustle and enjoy the human throng that brings it. But it's really a cost/benefit thing. They obtain great personal benefit, I guess, from having a wild abundance of retail choice and a similar abundance of business opportunity. To them, the costs of grinding traffic, obvious and striking evidence of human decay and depravity, a high crime rate, and ludicrously corrupt city officials are offset by the mentioned gains. So either I value the benefits less than they do, or I count those counts significantly more, or, more likely, some combination of the two.

It seems, however, that more people agree with me now than did fifteen years ago. Since 1990, the population of Philadelphia has dropped by almost six percent. Granted, there's a general trend of population loss in the Northeast and great growth in the South and West. But that means that almost a hundred thousand people said "See ya!" to the City of Brotherly Homicide and Bags of Poop, and it probably wasn't because they couldn't find good Chinese takeout. People are starting to realize that you can have your arts, your fine food, and your high society without all the vile crap that seems to be concentrating in cities like Philadelphia. And leaving. For places that don't suck.

There. End of my hating Philly rant. May it rest in peace.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Philadelphia Wedding: Light 

Congratulations to Jim and Ann Louise Markham! They were married Saturday in a historic church in downtown Philadelphia, quite near to where they live. Ann Louise was beautiful, and Jim looked happier than I've ever seen him. Kind of giddy, actually, which was funny.

Since this was a happy occasion, I'll reserve any bitching to a separate post. Highlights of the weekend:

Dinner at Marrakesh

Most of my friends had been there during our Philadelphia incarceration in college. Being extremely poor, I had not. Marrakesh is a Moroccan restaurant located in an alley just off South Street. The thirteen of us were seated upstairs in our own room, which consisted of just enough space for everyone to squash onto low couches around free-spinning circular brass trays that served as tables. The dining experience at Marrakesh consists of seven "courses" - one of which is having a bit of water poured on your fingers and another is the bringing of mint tea in little glasses. To be honest, let's just call it five true courses so we can skip the scare quotes. Five courses of authentic Moroccan faire: fresh vegetable salads, chicken/almond/egg puff pastry, chicken with lemon and olive, lamb with almonds and honey, followed by couscous and fresh fruit. Everything was very good, but the chicken and lamb stood out for both myself and Joy. With the exception of the couscous course, there were no utensils. A bit of Middle Eastern music played in the background, but it wasn't loud enough to be annoying. Conversation was good. There was one person there whom I had never met, and I've found that there's no better way to make a good first impression on than by being really offensive.

Philadelphia Drivers and Traffic Flow

Oh wait. I'm not bitching in this post. That'll have to wait.

The Ceremony

Beautiful Catholic church. Neat sculptures. It was Full Mass, I think, so it made me grateful once again for Martin Luther. The congregation got to sing Beethoven's 9th, and that's always fun. As stated above, Ann Louise looked beautiful and Jim was almost floating up to the ceiling. I like to hear the vows, but the AC kicked in at a crucial moment, and we couldn't really catch them too well. Jim's voice, being deep, carried enough to pick up the gist of it, and I'm just going to assume that Ann Louise was saying the same right back, and not going wildly off script.

At the receiving line, they both were almost goofy-happy, which made us happy too.

Reception

Probably the most lavish reception I've been to, and excellent fun. Everyone seemed to have a blast, and no one got embarrassingly drunk, as far as I could see. Well, one older guy was dancing far beyond his abilities, boogying down with the bride. Everyone backed off to watch his mad skillz, and he really cranked it up. By the time the song ended, he had ripped off both his jacket and tie. Thinking about it now, I'm realizing that the live band may have cut the piece short to forestall any more drunken stripping on his part, and for that we should retroactively thank them. I saw him in line for the bathrooms later, and he was pretty sloshed. Saw the valets loading him into the drivers seat of his car later on. Okay.

The food was great, especially the deserts, and I ended the evening eating chocolate truffles and sipping an espresso, which I like to refer to as "liquid crack". The band was as good as the deserts, although my usual complaint holds in that it was too loud to let you have a normally voiced conversation with your neighbors, let alone the people across the table from you.

Unforunately, the weather sucked. It poured the entire evening, which was disappointing (and I'm sure much more so to Jim and Ann Louise than to us) in that the reception area could potentially be opened up to give an inside/outside feeling to things if the weather permitted. They had planned a big send off for the happy couple, involving the swarm of guests making a gauntlet of sparklers through which they could exit into their waiting transportation. Miraculously, the rain which had dumped for almost three days straight, came to an abrupt and complete halt at the end of the evening. We piled outside into the cool moist air, made our lines and lit our sparklers. I made the point that drunk people plus fire equals bad, but no one screamed or squealed, so I'm assuming no one had their eyes put out. Ann Louise and Jim, still sporting his mile-wide grin, made their way through the sizzling corridor we had made and were whisked off into the night.

The End

We had an easy drive home the next day, followed several hours later by Joy's parents who brought us the girls and Piper (the new pooch). They were all safe, healthy and happy to see us. The house hadn't burned down in our absence. Perry the parakeet was still alive. And one more of my friends now has a shot at being almost as happy as I am every day.

Coming soon... Philadelphia Wedding: Dark