Author Archives: Pat

About Pat

No one of consequence.

Critter

In August of 1978, the Rice family moved from Dyer, Indiana to Buffalo Grove, Illinois. More accurately, three of the Rices moved to Buffalo Grove: my mother, my brother & me. The fourth – a fella named Al – stayed in Indiana.

Al was my father, for eleven years; then he wasn’t. And that’s all I have to say about that.

The last time I spoke with Al was…1984? 1985? He’s remarried & living in a small town in southern Indiana, halfway between Bloomington and Louisville. He turned seventy-one last year, so I imagine he’s retired now.

I have his address. Perhaps this year I’ll send him a birthday card.

I digress.

The formerly-of-Indiana Rices made their new home in an apartment complex just behind the Plaza Verde shopping center, just down the street from Buffalo Grove High School: building #4, apartment #301.

I filched the mailbox tag, the day we moved out (and still have it, thirty-five years later); it reads

B. Rice
301

…because that’s what women did in 1978, so as not to advertise their woman living alone status. (It didn’t work, because men in 1978 used their full names.)

The east entrance to the apartment complex, facing Arlington Heights Road, passed between a pair of retention basins / flood-control ponds / excuses to add a lake-view surcharge to rents on that side of the building. Ducks swam there. Canada geese used to stop there. And, in the fall of 1978, a small animal of some kind – a muskrat? – dug a burrow into the bank of the north pond, and moved in.

In those days, I walked to school – we lived much too close to school to get bus service – and my preferred route took me past the north pond. I often saw the mystery creature, head just barely above water, swimming busily around.

I didn’t give it a name. Perhaps I should have.

The winter of 1978–79 stands as one of the worst on record, with eighty-nine inches of snow falling between November and March. I didn’t mind it much at the time – I walked everywhere, and didn’t have to shovel any snow myself – but, thinking back on it now I feel bad for my mother: she had to drive in it, to Northbrook and back, five days a week.

A few months in, there was so much snow on the ground that pushing it to the edge of the parking lots wasn’t working any more; somebody had the bright idea of dumping it in the retention basins.

Poor critter, it had nowhere left to swim. I assumed, through the rest of the winter, that it was hibernating, or digging tunnels through the snowpack, but – alas – it was not. When spring finally came and the glaciers receded, I found it, lying dead on the ground, flattened by the snow.

Creepy Randos

Wandering clicky-clicky about the internet, I encountered an article: How To Talk To Girls On Twitter Without Coming Off Like A Creepy Rando.

My first thought – aside from a wince at the word Girls in the headline – was: Can’t be done.

Anyone predisposed toward labeling people as creepy randos won’t be dissuaded by anything the randos might say or do. Really, it goes the other way: any attempt to demonstrate non-creepiness or non-rando-ness (if that’s a word) just digs the hole a little deeper.

The article lists a half-dozen examples of creepy-rando behavior, that aspiring nice guys absolutely must avoid. They’re all (inversions of) fairly obvious courtesies one should extend – not just to women on the internet; but also to men on the internet, and everybody out in the real world.

Things like:

  • Know your audience.
  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Mind your own business.

Too little attention is given on the internet to basic good manners – the rules we’re all supposed to learn, starting shortly after we finish toilet-training. That’s because framing the discussion as icky stuff men do that women have to put up with will get more page-views than something less confrontational or more inclusive, and the notion that women on the internet might lack courtesy, or might misbehave, is anathema.

(Myself, I am well beyond the target demographic for that article, much closer to harmless geezer than creepy rando, and not at all interested in using the internet as a free dating service. So the advice in that article isn’t terribly relevant or useful to me.)

Beatlemania

The other day, I dropped $3 on a Kindle Single, The Story of the Beatles’ Last Song, billed as the tale of I Want You (She’s So Heavy), track six on Abbey Road.

Apparently, that’s the last song the Beatles – all four of them – recorded together.

The book – which seems oddly long for a Kindle Single – seems to be more a narrative of how & why the Beatles broke up, than of a particularl song.

That makes it something of a disappointment, since Why The Beatles Broke Up is one of those questions – like Who Shot JFK – so thoroughly investigated & argued, by so many people over so many decades, that nobody has anything new to say about it.

And, really, anyone still holding a grudge against Yoko Ono forty-five years later needs to let it go.

Embedded

Over on Flickr, I have a photo. It has a share-this url that looks like this:

https://flic.kr/p/qmzMht

I’m trying to embed this image in a WordPress post, here in the daybook. It’s not working.

The WordPress documentation says:

…simply paste that link on its own line in a post or page in your WordPress.com blog and your image will appear, linked to your Flickr image….

Alas, it doesn’t work. If I paste the url into the post – on a line by itself – I get…the url, not the image. If I use the WordPress embed tag, I get…the url, not the image.

I suspect that Flickr changed their url scheme, and the WordPress whitelist hasn’t caught up. Or maybe Flickr support in WordPress is broken, has been broken for years, and nobody cares because nobody’s using Flickr any more. Or maybe nobody’s using WordPress any more?

Either way, no image embeds today.

Snow

We in Champaign caught the edge of a passing blizzard, last night & this morning: about four inches of snow fell, between midnight and noon.

Tuscola got seven inches; Springfield, just shy of twelve; so it could have been worse.

Our plans for the day had included lunch in Goodfield with Grandma & a few of the great-aunts, followed by an archery tournament in Peoria; all was canceled, due to the weather.

The tournament itself wasn’t canceled – Peoria didn’t get any snow, this time – but Unit 4 canceled the team bus, so most of the archers had no way to get there.

Once the snow stopped (around 11:00am), Jennifer & Sam bundled up and went out to shovel the driveway and sidewalks. I was out with them, trying to help but mostly just getting in the way. (That’s what I do.)

In the front yard, more or less on the property line, there’s a small green plastic dome: some sort of utility junction box. I’ve wondered for fifteen years what it’s for; now I know.

I was clearing the sidewalk on that side of the house, and noticed – just after chucking a shovelful of snow at it – that the mystery dome had come off. (When did that happen? I wondered.) This revealed some fairly thick wires, coming up out of the ground, their ends clamped into a metal plate.

When I reached down to brush off the snow I had just (inadvertently) dumped on the wires, I discovered they were live. Oh, yes, very live indeed, and in an ugly mood. I got a front-row seat for the sort of pyrotechnics that usually herald a dead squirrel and an afternoon’s power outage.

Jennifer – over by the front walk – was sure I had just electrocuted myself, but I was unharmed. A bit startled, perhaps, but unharmed.

Lights in the house flickered, but none of the computers lost power. (Uptime on the two Raspberry Pi machines is sixty-one days, and counting.)

I called the power company, and had a nice chat with a customer-service person; in theory, a crew will be dispatched presently to re-secure the mystery dome. Until then, neighborhood dogs – male ones, anyway – are at risk of a most painful demise.

Taking sides

This sort of thing just keeps happening:

Two people – let’s call them A. and S. – have a brief, tempestuous and profoundly dysfunctional relationship. Sometimes, it’s a personal relationship; other times, business. It starts well enough, but ends badly. Very badly.

One of the principals – let’s say it’s A. – posts a lengthy explanation of how it all went wrong, and why S. is to blame; and the internet erupts in outrage.

Some people believe A., and start hating on S. Others side with S., and start hating on A. Sometimes, a third party – let’s call this one W. – gets dragged into it, mostly to embarrass S., but also because there’s so much hate sloshing around the internet that it’s hard for everyone involved to stay focused.

After a while, S. posts a lengthy narrative of injuries suffered, not so much to refute anything in A.’s post as to protest the myriad dirty tricks perpetrated (on S.) by the anonymous horde of internet outrage junkies. This does nothing to calm the outrage; if anything, it fires off a new round of meta-outrage about the outrage.

Of which, I suppose, this post is an example, because my reaction to all of the above was: For [expletive]’s sake, people, grow up.

Here’s some advice – free, and worth every penny – to all the former teenagers working so hard to turn the internet into high-school drama writ large:


Don’t air your dirty laundry in public.

If your ex does it, don’t respond.

If a friend goes through a messy breakup, be caring and supportive – in person, not on the internet.

If a stranger goes through a messy breakup, stay out of it. Mind your own business.

Don’t violate anyone’s privacy.

Don’t post threats.

If a few thousand strangers on the internet are ignoring all of the above, and behaving abominably, don’t join them.


I’m not going to take sides in any of these internet-augmented breakups. I’ve reached the age where having opinions isn’t as much fun as it used to be, and persuading strangers that my opinions are better than theirs just isn’t worth the effort.

Elm Street

Tuesday’s walk – 11,847 steps, just over five and a half miles – included a few blocks of Elm Street, over in Urbana.

That’s a residential neighborhood: apartment buildings, and houses subdivided into apartments; mostly for students, but with an admixture of former students & general layabouts.

Somewhere on Elm Street – I have, perhaps to my benefit, forgotten exactly where – is the house where D. lived. She was the friend of a friend, which is how we met, in the spring of 1989.

There were a few parties we both attended, a few afternoons we spent together. We went out to dinner. She borrowed my car, once. There was one party that we left early, together. (And whatever you think I’m implying with that, you’re probably wrong.)

I liked D. I enjoyed spending time with her.

One day I visited D. at her new apartment, in the house on Elm. She’d just moved in, and was still unpacking, cleaning, doing minor repairs, etc., etc. After some small talk – something about a loose floorboard, an injured knee, and dubiously-acquired self-administered antibiotics – the conversation turned unexpectedly serious.

It’s been twenty-five years, but I remember D. looking at me, and asking, “What are you after?”

Um.

“After”?

I was stunned. All this time – I thought something was happening between us – Is that all you think of me? I didn’t say that; I didn’t say any of what I was thinking, didn’t raise any protests or offer any defenses. Would there have been any point?

There’s no response to an accusation like that.

I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember that it didn’t change D.’s mind about me. I didn’t see much of her after that. (Before drifting completely out of my life, D. introduced me to her friend, T. What a disaster that was.)


I wrote most of the above on Tuesday, revised it a bit on Wednesday, then…couldn’t bring myself to post it. Something about it bothered me.

If you stare at a wall long enough, you’ll see the bricks; today I realized: I hadn’t been very fair to D.

It can be hard to tell caution from suspicion, when you’re on the receiving end of it. If D. had learned – or it was simply in her nature – to be wary of men she hadn’t known very long, who am I to say she was wrong?

It’s harder still to think clearly when your feelings have been hurt.

Perhaps the truth of it – a quarter-century too late to do anyone any good – is that D. had her own feelings about what was happening, they were different from mine, and…that’s ok. Worrying over who was right, who was wrong & whose feelings were hurt worse accomplishes exactly nothing.

Stalking

Long ago and far away, I worked with a woman named…let’s just call her A., for reasons that may become clear.

In 1990, she & I were members of a small enclave of twentysomethings working in the mumble mumble department at [redacted] Insurance Company, Evanston, Illinois.

It may be the warped perceptions of youth – or perhaps the culture shock of leaving a Champaign tech startup for an eighty-year-old Evanston insurance company – but most people in the department seemed really old. Geezers. Aliens. Incomprehensibly different.

The few of us who weren’t superannuated tended to stick together, even though we seldom had any work projects in common. We ate lunch together, took coffee breaks together, were friends in the arm’s-length sort of way that comes of spending forty hours a week in the same room.

In 1991 I quit [redacted] and moved back to Champaign. I haven’t seen or spoken with A. since.

Yesterday evening, quite out of the blue, I found myself thinking of A. She has a son, M., born sometime in 1991; he’d be an adult now. What’s he up to? I wondered.

There is no privacy these days. Everything’s online. Alas for A., what’s online for M. is…a police report, court records, Sentenced to 160 hours of community service, etc., etc. I even found M.’s mug shot.

Handsome fellow. Looks like his mother.

Privacy advocates always come at the issue from one side: You have the right to keep secrets. Well, yes, that’s true enough. But it’s also true that knowing others’ secrets can be troubling & burdensome. I was happier not knowing about M.’s legal problems.

I need to remember that, the next time I’m tempted to rummage around in other people’s lives.

Games

Many of my friends at Buffalo Grove High School – class of 1980 – were into games: all the big 1970s role-playing & combat games, with dice and hexagons and tiny cardboard chits.

(A friend of a friend – a fella named Pete S. – was famous for once playing War in Europe as the Axis…and winning.)

I tried to be a gamer, like my friends. I bought a stack of Dungeons & Dragons books, and was a regular reader of The Dragon. I bought a half-dozen games (some of which were quite expensive). I attended meetings of the local war-game club. I even played a few games.

But I never was very good at them. (I have no skill at strategy games, and no patience for fourteen-hour military simulations.) As soon as the high-school gamer crowd broke up – we graduated, started college and/or military service – I drifted away.

A corollary hobby – painting tiny lead figures – persisted a few years longer, but in the end I gave that up as well.

Most of the relics from that time are long gone: the books, the magazines, the paints & brushes. I sold some, gave some away, threw out nearly all the rest. I do have a few lead figures, packed away in a closet somewhere; and, in a grocery sack under my desk at work, I have two SPI games: Sinai and World War III.

The one is a simulation of the Six-Day War, the other a (hypothetical!) global conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (this was the 1970s, after all). I’ve never played either of them. They’re so ferociously complex that I likely never will.

I really should just throw them away.

Books

I was looking at the living-room bookshelves just now, and realized: Most of these authors are dead.

Specifically, these authors:

Douglas Adams
Isaac Asimov
Ray Bradbury
John Brunner
Arthur C. Clarke
Philip K. Dick
Robert Graves
Robert A. Heinlein
Frank Herbert
Ayn Rand
J.R.R. Tolkien

They were all still alive – most of them were still writing – when I started reading them. Now they’re all gone.

I don’t have favorite authors any more: people whose writing careers I follow with interest, whose forthcoming books I anticipate eagerly. Mostly, I haunt the cheap lists on Amazon and drop the occasional $2 when something catches my eye.

I can’t seem to get into the current crop of science-fiction authors. I read their books, but none of them yet has sparked the Must read all from this person obsession that directed my library-building efforts back in the 1970s & 1980s.

Why is that?