Day 175: Go on strike.

The only thing I have to go on strike from at the moment is this blog, so — no post for you today, you oppressive capitalist pigs!

(Don’t worry, I’ll be back to work tomorrow. Please don’t replace me.)

Day 172: No sleep day.

I love sleep. It’s not my Most Favorite Thing, but it’s certainly in my top ten of Favorite Things.

There was a brief, glorious period of time, when Elanor was very small and still slept a lot, during which I would come home from working the opening shift at Starbucks and nap from 2:30 or so until 6:00, and then get up, have some dinner, spend some time with my wife, and go to bed around midnight (and then get up at four the next morning and do it all again). It seems glorious in retrospect, anyway.

I don’t get to sleep as much as I’d like to, but that comes with being a parent. And I’m not a morning person, but that doesn’t mean I’m not up earlier than I want to be most days. Frustratingly, at least for me, all those years working the early shift at Starbucks — getting up at 4:00 or 4:15, getting to work at 4:45 or 5:00 — trained me to think that I ought to have a fair amount done by 8:00, and by 11:00 the workday was close to being over. These days, I’m usually still on my first espresso at 8:00, and not really running at full capacity until 10:00 or so — which works out alright, but it also means I always feel like I’ve gotten far less done on a given day than I ought to have gotten done, and so I always feel behind schedule. I usually am behind schedule, in an objective sense, which doesn’t help with feeling behind schedule…

Where am I going with this? I’m not sure. Maybe I’m just trying to say that I’m no stranger to no sleep.

I have a fair amount of reading to do over the summer, and I haven’t done much of it thus far: it’s time for me to get serious, though, now that I’ve frittered away a month, and so today’s task is conveniently placed for me. I’m going to stay up — probably not all night, but later than is good for me — and get some reading done.

I will probably fall asleep on the couch at some point, wake up some time later, attempt to continue reading, give up, and go to bed: that is, at least, the pattern I established last semester. I’m not as young as I used to be, and my body often reminds me of that fact.

I’ll post a running commentary on twitter, though it probably won’t get rolling until after eleven, and it’ll be after midnight before I start posting ridiculous, delirium-induced nonsense, so it might make sense to just check it tomorrow morning. Until then, I leave you with this:

Day 171: Put a sticker on a piece of fruit.

In the spring of 1963, Mr Brian Smith went to work at Hyam’s Sunshine Farms Fruit Processing, Packing, and Distribution Plant in Topeka, Kansas.

Mr Smith was a man without a past. That sounds more mysterious than it actually is: he had a past, an ordinary and uneventful one, uneventful enough that it had withered, died, and blown away, leaving nothing behind. He lived alone, he had no friends, he had no family. He was a regular at a local grocery, a local diner, a local bar, but in each of these places he was more a piece of furniture than a person: he spoke as little as possible, was as forgettable as possible, was taken for granted.

Hyam’s Sunshine Farms Fruit Processing, Packing, and Distribution Plant — or just Hyam’s, as the locals called it, the full name being too cumbersome for everyday conversation — bought in bulk bananas, oranges, grapefruit, lemons, and other such fruits as do not grow in Kansas, repackaged them, and then sold them to grocers across Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri. In late 1961, Mr Hyam began negotiating with a chain of grocery stores in Oklahoma, but that deal was still “in progress” when Mr Smith went to work for Mr Hyam.

Mr Smith’s primary responsibility was placing the Hyam’s label on the fruit, after it was uncrated, before it was re-crated. Sometimes Mr Smith had to place the Hyam’s label over some other label: the label of the farm that grew the fruit, or the label of the distributor that sold it to Hyam’s, or sometimes, with fruit imported from South America, a label affixed as the fruit went through customs, coming into the United States.

Mr Smith worked quietly and diligently for Mr Hyam for ten years, clocking in and out at the same time every day, drinking one cup of black coffee on his morning break, eating a sandwich and a pickle for lunch, smoking two Lucky Strike cigarettes on his afternoon break. He did his job well, but not exceptionally: he was, as his supervisors remarked to one another, thoroughly and merely adequate.

In the summer of 1968, when Mr Smith was well assured that his work was not closely monitored — the regularity and adequacy of his labeling having been unvarying for five years — Mr Smith began affixing altered labels to the fruit moving through Hyam’s Sunshine Farms Fruit Processing, Packing, and Distribution Plant. The alterations were minor, at first, and accountable for as printing errors: “Toepeka” or “Ham’s” or a PLU with the central numbers transposed. Mr Smith went no further than this for another two years, watchful for any sign that his alterations had been noticed.

They were not.

Mr Smith’s altered labels became progressively transgressive, incorporating profanity, communist slogans, anti-war sentiments — and still, nobody took enough notice to contact the public relations department at Hyam’s.

There is no indication of why Mr Smith embarked on this venture, or whether he took the job at the fruit-packing plant only to put this odd plan into action. The early, misprinted stickers were procured by altering the plant’s standing order with the local printer, Donnelley and Sons. Mr Smith seems to have special-ordered the later stickers from a printer’s shop in Tulsa, under a false name, and paid cash: this is only guesswork, though probably as close to the truth as anyone is likely to come.

In the last weeks of 1972, Mr Smith took his altered labels a step further, a step too far: all the labels featured was a crude drawing of uncircumcised male genitalia, white on red. These, at last, attracted the attention of the management at Hyam’s, and Mr Smith was soon identified as the culprit. He was summarily fired on a Tuesday afternoon, March the sixth, 1973.

He was seen later that evening, driving westward out of town, and never heard from again.

Day 165: Develop your very own eccentricity!

In other words: become a hipster.

The problem is that this is a game that never ends. This dude wears crayons in his beard: for a while, he’s the only one — because it looks fucking stupid — and so he gets hipster cred for being the only one. But people see him, and people talk about him, and soon there are others: not people in his circle, but people who are strangers or, at best, very tenuously connected. For a while, each of them gets hipster points for the crayons-in-the-beard thing, though the above dude, as the “OCBG” (“original crayon-beard gangsta”), gets the most hipster points.

Then a terrible thing happens: a critical mass of crayon-bearded hipsters is reached, and suddenly it’s “mainstream.” There are a variety of factors that determine the critical mass: the size of the community, the geographical area in question, the rate of spread of the eccentricity, how quickly it is possible to “fake” the eccentricity (in this case, with handmade felt fake beards with old-school crayolas in them), the first appearance of the eccentricity on You Tube, &c, &c.

Once the critical mass is reached, however, there is no going back, and the originator(s) and early adopters will drop the eccentricity faster than Julia Roberts dropped Lyle Lovett. Some may go so far as to shave their beards completely. Then they have to do something new, like bring back the penny-farthing. Or, at this point, the velocipide.

The only way to win this game is to not play, to strip oneself of all affectations and eccentricities. Of course, this is its own form of hipsterism, if done in a deliberate and conscious manner, with the goal of not being a hipster, which is why I’d be doing it.

My only option is to come up with something that most hipsters wouldn’t want to adopt, so that I can avoid the suddenly-fucking-everyone-has-crayons-in-their-beard problem: that something is manual labor.

Not just “manual labor” generally, but something specific, like laundry or deck construction or post removal. Everybody does laundry; deck construction takes too long; post removal is more work than I want to do, especially when the posts are in concrete. So I’m going to go into artisanal tree-trimming: to make it hipster I’ll be wearing cutoff shorts, too-small t-shirts, a fedora, and I’ll be drinking PBR out of a can, and I’m going to haul my tools — all of which I’ll acquire at thrift stores, garage sales, or on the side of the highway — on my xtracycle. I’m also only going to trim trees in small batches, whatever that means, though I’m going to charge a lot for it, probably twice what it would cost to hire actual professionals to do four times as much trimming.

Let’s see you do that, hipsters. Check and mate.

Day 157: Human chess day.

This didn’t happen how I intended.

I was picturing a bunch of people in the park, looking like idiots, playing a very slow and complicated version of dodgeball. Instead, I matched wits with my house, and lost.

We have a faucet in the backyard, attached to the back of the garage. It’s not particularly accessible anymore, because the previous owners built a deck around it; attaching a hose to it involves ‘harsh language’ during and a stiff drink after.

It started leaking this spring. At first I wasn’t sure what was going on, because the kids use the hose to make mud pies, and don’t always get it turned off all the way; eventually, though, I realized that the faucet was leaking — slowly, but leaking — and would have to be replaced. It was probably as old as the house, which is getting damn old at this point; if I remember correctly — and my wife will correct me if I don’t — the house was built in the late 1940s. (Tangentially: when I was doing the kitchen remodel last summer, I found a Coca-Cola bottle under the house, circa the 1940s, with “Sherman TX” on the bottom.)

So I got up this morning, had a cup of coffee, whatever, went to Lowe’s with the kids to pick up a new faucet and nipple, came home, and went to work.

In order for this all to make sense, you need to be aware that there are five distinct pieces involved: the copper pipe, the elbow, the nipple, the faucet, and the hose. (That’s one of the best lists I’ve ever written.) The plan was to remove and replace the old nipple and faucet; however, the whole mess had gotten so corroded that my attempts to loosen the nipple from the elbow actually loosened the elbow from the pipe. No big deal, though: just go back to Lowe’s, get a new elbow, swing by my dad’s to pick up the soldering stuff, and we’re back in business.

That’s what happened, basically, although it took a few more moves than I intended. By noon-thirty, though, the whole thing was put back together, and I had a faucet that no longer leaked — take that, house!

I went about my afternoon, which involved being somewhere other than my house. When we came home, I checked on the back yard — I’m paranoid about plumbing fixes, these days — and found a small pond.

Fuck. That’s the third time this year we’ve had a broken pipe and a resultant lake. At least it’s not under the house, right?

I checked the new elbow: no leaks. I checked the knob, thinking it might not have been all the way off: not that either. I looked — carefully — under the deck at the pipe coming up out of the ground: it was totally dry, except the part that was under water.

What must have happened is this: there’s got to be another elbow in the line, and my removal of the faucet was too much for the 70-year-old solder, and that elbow started leaking. Fixing it will be easy enough, I guess, but getting to it is going to be a bitch. There’s a deck built around it, for one thing: I’m going to have to remove a section of it in order to even verify that my hunch is correct (which is going to require borrowing a chainsaw and a reciprocating saw from my father). It’s also surrounded by mud, and mud is less-than-conducive to soldering copper pipe. It also another fucking plumbing disaster.

Today, the house wins. I’m going to kick its ass tomorrow, though, because I want to be able to turn my water back on.

If you don’t see what any of this has to do with chess, well, I’m not sure what to say to you.


Day 154: Hard work day.

The Book doesn’t specify what sort of hard work I’m supposed to be doing, but the “action item list” layout of the page suggests some sort of office or sales work.

I don’t do that kind of work. I have, in the past — I had a desk job in an academic library for a year — and it’s not the sort of work I consider hard. I suppose one could work hard and get done in one day what one would normally get done in two or three days, but that doesn’t seem like quite the same thing. Are hard work and working hard the same thing?

I don’t think they are. Working hard is a phrase that describes the manner in which one is working: one could, conceivably, work hard at something that was quite easy. Hard work, on the other hand, is work which is hard in itself, completely independent of the effort of the worker: digging a ditch is hard work, whether it’s your first ditch or your thousandth.

The Book failed to make this distinction, and so left me room to choose between working hard and doing hard work. Since I’m the sort of person who attempts to spread a day’s work over a week, I opted for the hard work.

I mowed my lawn.

Alright, alright, mowing a lawn isn’t particularly hard. I know that. I also broke out the gas trimmer, if that makes a difference. It’s still physical labor, and it was still hot enough at eight in the evening that I was sweating like a nervous pig before I was done with the front and back yards — sweat ought to count for something.

I like a bit of manual labor now and then. I’m fortunate enough to have a job — if you can call being a graduate student a job — where most of the hard work I do is mental; mowing the yard or trimming trees or working on my bicycles is a way of staying balanced. And I much prefer having the mental hard work outweigh the physical hard work: I wouldn’t want to dig ditches all day and then read War and Peace in the evenings to unwind, mostly because I wouldn’t want to dig ditches all day. Have you ever dug a ditch? It’s not fun.

You should try it sometime anyway.

Day 153: Talk to a plant for at least one hour.

I can’t talk for an hour under any circumstances without notes and a fair amount of preparation, and then I can only talk for about twenty-five before the “space madness” kicks in. Talking off-the-cuff to a fucking plant for a fucking hour was out of the question.

I did talk to a plant today, though; several plants, actually: nine tomato plants, four basil plants, a pepper plant of some sort, and a half-dozen squash plants — my garden, which is small, and so far not particularly fruitful, although we came home from our trip to Baltimore to find lots of little green tomatoes and little yellow squashlets, so we might be eating things from it soon.

I don’t have a green thumb. It’s not that I kill any plant life I interact with — although I do kill some of it, usually on purpose, and with a chainsaw when possible — I’m just supremely indifferent to most of it.

I’ve never really been clear on the distinction between good grass and bad grass, or between bad grass and weeds, and why it matters. I have no idea what the grass in my yard is, or whether its “grass” or “weeds” – it’s all green, and it all looks about the same when I mow it (which is not as often as my neighbors would like, probably). I certainly don’t ever water my yard: I’m not going to coddle groundcover that can’t handle heat and drought when there are groundcovers that can, and that will do the job without my having to do anything about it. It all does the same thing — covers the ground — and I want the job done with as little help from me as possible.

The problem is that I take the same approach to my garden; I shouldn’t, because I actually want something from these plants (I don’t want to hurt them, I just want to eat them), but I mostly ignore them anyway. Sure, I’ll water them, probably not as often as I should, and pull up the weeds occasionally, but I don’t love them, and so I get fairly meager fruit from them.

Several of the squash plants in my garden are transplants from my friend Caleb’s garden — he plants from seed, like a real man, and so had more plants than he needed, and brought some to me — and his plants, the ones in his garden, produced large-enough-to-be-edible squash a week ago, while the plants I adopted from him are only now starting to think about making squash.

He talks to his plants, though.

That’s not all he does, of course: he’s a better and more knowledgeable gardener in general, but one of the things that makes him better is that he talks to his plants. When I was planting the squash he brought me, he told them to be good and not embarrass him. It was the last thing anyone said to them.

Until today, that is. I spent twenty or thirty minutes this morning weeding the garden, checking the plants, adjusting how they were growing in the cages, watering — and I talked to the plants the whole time. I told them a little about our trip, but mostly we talked about the weather, because weather is important to plants. I asked how they’d been, but didn’t get an answer, or at least not one I could understand as an answer. I’m going to talk to them on a regular basis, I think — twice a day would probably be good, but once a day is probably more likely to be the case. I might also actually remember to water them regularly, if I’m talking to them — although it’s not like I’ll notice if they tell me they’re thirsty, because I don’t speak plant.

They’re probably all going to die on me anyway. Damned plants.