Adventures in Off-Brand LEGO: Olaf’s Biplane

Yesterday evening, after attending the Maryland Renaissance Festival, I found something I knew immediately I had to have — The Peanuts Movie: Olaf's Biplane construction set from Lite Brix.

Lite Brix is a LEGO-compatible building block made by Cra-Z-Art, a New Jersey company.  To tie in with The Peanuts Movie, they produced a number of products, including several LEGO-compatible construction sets.  I don't know what kind of distribution they had, as I never saw them in stores, an all too common state of affairs with off-brand LEGO.

I chanced across Olaf's Biplane (as well as Lemonade Stand) at a clearance store.  I liked The Peanuts Movie a lot, and I wanted to see what the sets were like.  Maybe I need to check out other clearance stores to see if I can get the whole line-up, especially since BanBao, another manufacturer of off-brand LEGO, is releasing their own Peanuts off-brand LEGO construction sets next year.

The box is eye-catching.  Olaf's Biplane is a 90-piece set — 77 bricks, 1 LED battery pack brick, 9 "special shaped parts," and a 3-piece Olaf minifigure.  The set requires 3 AAA batteries, hence the pack of batteries and the Philips-head screwdriver.

Continue reading “Adventures in Off-Brand LEGO: Olaf’s Biplane”

A Night with Roy Orbison

Earlier in the year WITF, during one of their pledge drives, showed Roy Orbison: A Black & White Night, a concert film shot, obviously, in black and white, that was filmed in September 1987. Orbison’s backing band that night consisted of Elvis’ backing band, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, and Bruce Springsteen, while his backing singers included Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, and k.d. lang. In short, it was an amazing line-up of talent supporting one of rock and roll’s most distinctive voices.

I wasn’t going to re-up my membership with WITF (which I had cancelled because they dropped A Prairie Home Companion) just to get the CD/DVD set. That seemed like an overpay for something I discovered quite quickly was available commercially in a remastered and expanded edition for the 30th-anniversary of the concert.

Week before last I ordered Roy Orbison: A Black & White Night 30, and it arrived on Friday. Frankly, after the week of deadlines and general lunacy that was work, its arrival came just in the nick of time, and last night I sat down and watched the film.

Orbison would’ve been 51 when this was filmed. He’d begun recording the tracks that would appear on Mystery Girl; he performs “The Comedians,” a song that Costello wrote for him for that album. The Traveling Wilburys were still several months in his future, and he would die of a heart attack the following year.

A Black & White Night is pure joy. From the atmosphere of the film to the sheer beauty of Orbison’s voice, it was tremendous.

I even liked Springsteen! (I’m not a member of the Cult of Bruce. I’ve never been a fan.) He has a look of pure happiness on his face, and he plays a dueling guitar solo on Oh, Pretty Woman that is amazing.

Definitely worth tracking down, and I’m glad I did.

Random Links: August 31

A couple of interesting links I’ve read the last two days.

Header image “The National Mall” by Shella Thomson, licensed Creative Commons CC BY 2.0.

A Baseball Mystery Solved

Thanks to a podcast, I found the answer to a random question I had wondered about — what baseball league do the Lake Wobegon Whippets belong to?

I didn’t know, and it occurred to me one day that the Lake Wobegon Whippets could — and perhaps should — play in the Green Grass League against Stumptown and Hillsdale. The Whippets, of course, are the creation of Garrison Keillor and featured occasionally in his “New from Lake Wobegon” monologues on A Prairie Home Companion, while Stumptown featured prominently in the legend of Joe Shlabotnik, Charlie Brown’s favorite baseball player from Peanuts. I even wrote an unconventional (and short) piece of fan fiction about Lake Wobegon and Stumptown, baseball rivals.

But they’re not.

Recently I subscribed to the News from Lake Wobegon podcast, a weekly download of archived “News from Lake Wobegon” segments. Curious if my goofy idea about the Whippets and Stumptown would work, I went through the archives and found a half-dozen podcasts where the Whippets were mentioned.

Stumptown (and, by extension, the Green Grass League) belongs to the affiliated minors; poor Joe Shlabotnik was sent down to Stumptown after batting .004 in the majors.

Lake Wobegon plays in the Old Sod Shanty League against teams in Avon (the Bards) and Freeport (the Flyers) and Holdingford (the Bulls) and Uppsala (the Uftas). The Old Sod Shanty League, as best I can determine, is some sort of amateur adult rec league, “town teams” in the classic baseball sense, with rosters made up of residents of the town.

A team of amateurs in Lake Wobegon will never play the professionals in the low minors in Stumptown.

A dream, dashed! A mystery, solved!

Coldplay: Kaleidoscope

I’m underwhelmed by Coldplay’s new Kaleidoscope EP.

A companion, I suppose, to A Head Full of Dreams, Kaleidoscope comprises five songs that feel like odds and ends the band had around, rather than a proper album.

The opening track, “All I Can Think About Is You,” is pretty good, though it seems to have been built from taking “The Scientist” and “Clocks,” both from A Rush of Blood to the Head, putting them in a blender, and seeing what comes out. In some ways, it reminds me of an Elbow track, but sonically it’s very reminiscent of Third Eye Blind’s “Wounded” from the very underrated Blue.

The second track, “Miracles (Someone Special),” a collaboration with Big Sean (which is… who?), does absolutely nothing for me. I didn’t even realize that was a sound clip of Michael J. Fox from Back to the Future; it’s so distorted I thought it was Oprah.

I want to like “A L I E N S,” the song about the refugee crisis. But the approach of the song is all wrong. The song is too upbeat. Compare the song to Elbow’s “The Blanket of Night” from The Take-Off and Landing of Everything which is utterly devastating.

Next up, a live version of “Something Just Like This,” originally released as a collaboration with The Chainsmokers. I’m biased against putting a live track in the middle of studio cuts, so I’m already skeptical. There are things about the song I really like. The lyrics are generally clever, about a guy who doesn’t feel like he’s worthy of the woman he loves, a topic that Elbow handled quite well with “Starlings.” The performance works, even if it highlights how unfinished the song is. (There are two verses and a couple of reprises of the chorus… and that’s about it.) But I don’t like the overall EDM approach Coldplay took with the song. I’m not biased against Coldplay doing EDM; I happen to love “A Sky Full of Stars.” I’m just not sure it’s the right approach here because it feels, to me, like Coldplay layered the song with Hans Zimmer’s Inception BRAAAP! to cover up how much the song is more a fragment than a finished piece. I think I’d have preferred a studio version of the song, different than The Chainsmokers release, that toned down the EDM elements of the song.

Finally, “Hypnotised” is really good. “Hypnotised” is a kind of throwback to vintage Coldplay piano ballads, reminding me a great deal of Coldplay’s version of “Gravity.” Of course I’m going to like that.

So, that’s two tracks out of the five that I feel like are worth my time.

That would be fine if the tracks cohered into some sort of whole, that made the EP greater than the sum of its parts. But it doesn’t cohere. The live track, for instance, really hurts Kaleidoscope there, making the whole effort feel random. I don’t mind listening to Kaleidoscope, but it doesn’t make me feel anything. It’s trying, I can sense that. It wants me to feel something. But it’s not well enough constructed to do that.

I realize I’m an old Luddite. I listen to albums as albums, and Kaleidoscope might work better in pieces in listener generated playlists. In that case, it doesn’t have to cohere; it simply has to exist so fans can slot the songs in where they work for them.

That’s too much work for me, so Kaleidoscope will always remain a Coldplay misfire in my library.

A Distant Family Tragedy

People wrote differently a century ago than we do today.

I do not mean the mechanics of writing, though yesterday’s manual typewriters and and fountain pens worked differently than today’s word processors and predictive text and text-to-speech. We write faster than our ancestors did because our technology has improved.

What I mean is that the style differed. There’s a precision to the words used a century ago that isn’t as common today.

Take the lede of an article in the Baltimore Sun from July 30, 1902: “Mrs. Susie A. Gardner, 62 years old, and living at 1630 South Charles street, died very suddenly of an attack of heart disease shortly after 6 o’clock last evening at the home of Mr. Coleon White, 1634 South Charles street, where she fled following an attack upon her by Mrs. Laura Meldrumm, a half-sister living with her, who is said to be demented.”

Look how precise that is. Sixty-three words, encompassing the who (Susie Gardner), the what (her death), the where (Baltimore’s Federal Hill), the when (early evening), the why (a heart attack), the how (an attack by her half-mad half-sister). A complete story is told in a single sentence. There are wasted words, but they are few and due almost entirely to conventions of style (such as titling each name); I’d have struck the “very” and the “upon her,” and the final clause feels stiff and awkward. The rest of the article — an additional four paragraphs — elaborates upon the story, but the first paragraph tells the reader everything crucial.

Susan Gardner — Susie — is my great-great-grandmother; I left flowers at her grave, shared with six others, last weekend when I was in Baltimore running errands. Her youngest son, Allyn, was my great-grandfather and the ancestor whose first name I bear.

I found the newspaper article on Tuesday on Ancestry.com. It had been there for years. I simply hadn’t looked at it. Headline: “Death follows blow.” Subhead: “Mrs. Gardner expires suddenly after half-sister strikes her.” I read the article. I read it three times. I formed a conclusion about it quickly. I didn’t know how I felt.

In short, my great-great-grandmother was killed by her sister.

The details are these.

In the early evening of Tuesday, July 29, 1902, Susan came downstairs for dinner in the home she shared with her daughter Isabelle and her second husband, William Krauch. She asked her half-sister Laura, who had been institutionalized at Bellevue in New York City in the “insane pavilion” and now lived with her in Baltimore, about her health. Laura then, angrily and without warning, attacked Susan, striking her in the chest. Isabelle came to her mother’s aid, separated the sisters, and told Susan to go to a neighbor’s house while she calmed the raging Laura. Susan went to the nearby home of Colin White, a pipefitter, and died there of a heart attack when Isabelle came to retrieve her not more than ten minutes later.

(The Sun newspaper article gives the neighbor’s name as “Coleon White.” R.L. Polk & Co.’s Baltimore City Directory, in both the 1901 and 1903 editions, gives his name as “Colin L. White.” The latter spelling makes more sense to me, which is the spelling I will use going forward, and it’s from those books that I gleaned his occupation as a pipefitter.)

The newspaper account, told mainly in the words of Susan’s daughter Isabelle, left me with the distinct impression that Susan, my great-great-grandmother, was killed by her sister. Laura almost certainly did not intend to kill her sister, yet had she not attacked her that evening Susan would not have suffered the fatal heart attack.

Then my writer mind began to fill in the gaps in the story with information I had gained from a decade of genealogical research.

What time did this happen? The article tells us that Susan was “[coming] downstairs to supper” and she died shortly past 6 o’clock. Laura’s attack on Susan must have come no earlier than 5:30.

Who else was in the house? Isabelle had several young children, including possibly a newborn. (Isabelle give birth to a daughter, Pearl, in 1902.) The only children that I can say definitively were likely to be there (in that I know they survived until at least 1910 per census records) were her son Irving (aged 12) and daughters Mary (aged 7) and Ida (aged 6), but there is the chance, including the possible newborn, that there were six children in the home. Isabelle’s husband, a brakeman for a railroad, doesn’t give a quote in the Sun — the story is largely told in Isabelle’s voice — so we can safely conclude that he was not in the house that evening.

The picture fills in. Isabelle has prepared supper. Her children are gathering for the imminent meal or running around the table and the house on Federal Hill as children are wont to do. Laura is already downstairs. She has not been feeling well. Susan comes down the stairs. A polite word from Susan inquiring after her health provokes Laura into a rage. Laura screams and charges at her sister. All attention turns to the sudden and unexpected excitement. Some of the children witness their great-aunt attack their grandmother and their own mother intercede. Deeply shaken and breathing heavily, Susan leaves the home while their mother calms their aunt down. The younger children are cowering in fear from what they just witnessed. The older children, like Irving, try to corral and comfort the younger ones. Little do they realize they have seen their grandmother alive for the last time, for when Isabelle leaves a few minutes later to fetch her mother from Colin White’s home Susan dies. Half an hour earlier, the family was getting ready for an ordinary evening meal. Now, the evening has turned to tragedy.

Go back far enough in time, and every family has its inexplicable tragedies. The baseball writer Craig Calcaterra recently published an ebook about a tragedy in his own ancestry: his great-great-grandmother murdered his great-great-grandfather with an axe. I read the book; it’s quite brief. I’m not sure how I feel about the events described. But neither does Calcaterra, as he writes in the book. And, as I said, I’m not sure how I feel about these events.

I began researching my family history in 2005 for what I admit is a silly reason — Where, I wondered, did my name come from? My great-grandfather, obviously, but why did he have that name? Where did it come from? How did his parents, whose names I did not know, pick that name? I had been told that his family was German, so why did they give their son a very English name with a very odd spelling? These are all good and interesting questions, but they are also questions that can never be answered. The people who had the answers died a very, very long time ago. And when I started my researches, I didn’t realize quite how long ago.

My grandfather was a late-in-life child; his parents were in their forties when he was born. But my great-grandfather Allyn was also a late-in-life child; his mother Susan was thirty-nine when he was born, while his father William was fifty-four. I would learn in time that Allyn had nieces, daughters of his half-sister Margaret, older than he was. The problem with being the product of two successive generations of late-in-life children is that I was incredibly remote from my ancestors; my great-grandfather was born ninety-four years before I was, my great-great-grandfather almost 150 years. Generational spans such as that, and the family lore is forgotten, the history lost.

The first thing I discovered was the census record for the Gardner family in 1880. It was full of information, names of people I had never heard of. Brothers, sisters, an aunt, possibly even a grandmother, all living in a single house in Washington, DC near the Navy Yards. There were almost certainly cousins out there that I had never met, never even realized were out there. For the first time I knew the names of my great-grandfather’s parents — William and Susan. None of these names sounded the least bit German to me. It was exciting, and I had no idea where to go next or how to find the next pieces of the puzzle.

One of the puzzle pieces from that 1880 Census record was William’s sister-in-law, Laura Fenhagen. I drew some quick conclusions — William’s mother-in-law Anne Atwell could not possibly be Allyn Gardner’s grandmother as she was born in 1800 while William’s sister-in-law Laura was born in 1860, so if Susan and Laura were sisters then Anne had to be the mother of William’s first wife. Allyn was only six months old at the time of the 1880 Census, so Laura must have come to Washington to help her sister with caring for the new infant. A picture was forming.

Eventually, I would be able to build on this Census record and increase my understanding of the family. There were additional children — a daughter for William, two sons for Susan from their previous marriages — that had left the fold by 1880. I would discover some of these people were buried in Washington’s Congressional Cemetery, and in 2012 I went there for the first time and looked for the graves of ancestors and relatives that, only five years earlier, I hadn’t even known existed.

Grave of Laura and William Meldrum, Congressional CemeteryOne of those relatives was Laura. In my researches I had learned that her life appeared to have been a sad one. She married a man named William Meldrum, and they had a son, Howard. She outlived her son. She was also institutionalized at St. Elizabeths (no apostrophe) in Washington, south of the Anacostia, for the last twelve years or more of her life. She lived into the 1930s, and her husband outlived her, into the 1940s. I wondered sometimes how he must have felt, his wife confined to a hospital while he lived alone in his twilight years. They are buried together at Congressional Cemetery, near John Philip Sousa. William’s grave is marked, Laura’s is not. I’m wry enough that it amused me to no end that a distant aunt was buried a hundred feet, give or take, from the writer of the Monty Python theme music.

I pitied Laura. I made the assumption, and not an unreasonable one, that whatever caused her to be institutionalized happened late in her life, in her fifties. When I visited Susan’s grave at Loudon Park for the first time in May, though there was no one there that would have recognized who I was or understood me if they did, I put my hand on the ground, not even sure how the eight people buried there are configured in the plot, and said something to the air like, “I visited your sister in Washington. She had a sad life, and she’s at peace now. I thought you should know.”

I didn’t know that Laura had killed Susan, that Susan knew all too well that her sister had had a sad life. The realization that Laura was responsible, quite directly, for my great-great-grandmother’s death frankly staggered me.

The things I know about the people in this drama of the events of July 29, 1902 are dry facts. Most all of them have passed beyond living memory. (My mother has dim memories of Ida; she was a friend of her father’s, and she remembers having tea in Ida’s kitchen with Ida and my grandmother.) Dry facts — marriages, births, deaths, street addresses — say little about a person. They lack the color of life.

The things about Susan that I knew that added the color to the dry facts were few. Three things. Three.

First, Susan spoke fluent German, because her children spoke fluent German. Susan was born in Baltimore, but her family came from Hamburg in 1817, and the family name von Hagen was anglicized into Fenhagen. (Her father preferred Feenhagen, but that spelling did not stick.) The Fenhagens of St. Mary’s are relatives.

Second, Susan’s favorite child was her son Henry from her first marriage to a man named Henry Hardy.

Third, after the Gardners moved from Washington to Baltimore circa 1886 (for reasons I do not know but for which I have formulated a theory), my great-grandfather Allyn walked across the frozen Baltimore harbor and bought her flowers with the money he earned from his job. This would have happened in 1895, when my great-grandfather was fifteen. From the first volume of Baltimore: Its History and Its People, edited by Clayton Colman Hall: “The ‘February Freeze’ of 1895 recalled the severity of the blizzard of 1888, and nearly equaled that of 1893. On February 7 a furious snowstorm, with extremely low temperature, fell upon the city, and till the 21st navigation was hardly practicable. The harbor of Baltimore was frozen from shore to shore. All the rivers of Maryland were frozen over.” Normally he gave her half the money that he earned at his job. (William, a tinner, died of a brain tumor two years earlier.) He also bought her flowers.

To these I can now add a fourth thing that adds color to my great-great-grandmother’s life. She cared enough about her mentally ill sister to look after her, and that care ultimately took her life. In the words of Susan’s daughter Isabelle, “when my mother came downstairs to supper and addressed a query as to [Laura’s] health, Mrs. Meldrumn made some angry reply and struck her in the breast.” (The Sun newspaper article uses two different spellings for Laura’s married name, neither of which, as far as I know, based on the headstone at Congressional Cemetery, are correct.) A few minutes later, at Colin White’s house, Susan died.

Susan Gardner died 115 years ago. I doubt there are any more stories of the life of my great-great-grandmother to be found, making this story, the story of her death, the last story of Susan as a person I will ever learn.

The aftermath intrigues me, but that’s lost, too, in the mists of time.

I don’t know if Laura was ever charged with a crime in Susan’s death. I only learned Tuesday of the circumstances of Susan’s death and I’ve not had the opportunity to delve further. Considering the mitigating circumstances of Susan’s “delicate health” and Laura’s “fits of insanity,” I doubt a manslaughter charge would have been brought, especially in light of this line from the Sun article’s final paragraph: “The blow dealt Mrs. Gardner is said to have been insignificant in its effect, the death having been caused by excitement due to the attack and the feeble condition of her heart.” Still, I wonder how aware Laura was of what she had done to Susan and how she felt about that. Did she feel remorse? Did she carry guilt with her until the end of her days? And her husband, William Meldrum? How did he feel about Susan’s death and Laura’s role in it?

The witnesses, Isabelle and her children? Did Isabelle feel any guilt for opening her home to Laura, a woman who had recently been in the psychiatric ward of Bellevue? Did she feel any responsibility for focusing on dinner and her children that evening? What memories did the children carry of witnessing their great-aunt assault their grandmother, followed by their grandmother’s death?

What sort of relationship, if any, did Laura have with her Gardner relations after her sister’s death?

Every family has its tragedies. I have orphans and accident victims among my ancestors. I have veterans of the American Revolution and North Carolina slave owners, too. The death of Susan Fenhagen Hardy Gardner is one of my family’s tragedies. I don’t know how to feel about it. I don’t know what to feel. She is remote enough in time as to be a complete stranger, and yet without her I would not be here writing this.

Each of us is shaped by our parents, and our parents by their parents, and their parents by their parents, and so on and so on. I never knew Susan, never could know Susan, but she shaped my great-grandfather, and he shaped my grandfather, and he shaped my mother, and my mother shaped me, and so in some small way, even though I don’t know who Susan was as a person beyond those few small facts, I carry something of her within me every day.

More directly, though, I carry a monument of her — the name, Allyn. For whatever unknown reason, Susan and William bestowed my great-grandfather with the name Allyn, and now I have that name. It meant something to two people in 1879, and while there are no artifacts of Susan and she has been largely forgotten, something that she decided one nearly hundred and forty years ago lives on.

That will have to suffice.

Drinking with Papa

I would not have been able to hang with Ernest Hemingway when it comes to drinking.

A few years ago I picked up a recipe book of Ernest Hemingway-inspired cocktails, To Have and Have Another. Some of the recipes are things that Hemingway is known to have enjoyed, other drinks are based on his work. The book is as much a biography of Hemingway’s love of alcohol as it is a recipe book; each recipe features a three or four page profile of Hemingway, his life, or his friends that relates to the recipe.

I made a drink out the book shortly after I bought the book, and nothing since. I honestly don’t even remember which drink it was that I made. Yet I’d still take the book off the shelf from time to time, flipping through it, reading a chapter here or there about Hemingway and his life.

Yesterday afternoon I went for a walk through Dallastown, five miles give or take. It was a nice day, bright but not hot, and when I returned to my apartment I sat outside in my Adirondack chair and set about enjoying the afternoon.

An idea occurred to me. “Perhaps,” I thought, “Ernest Hemingway would have had a drink on an afternoon such a this.”

I went to my kitchen, pulled To Have and Have Another off the shelf. I was limited, of course, to the alcohol I had on had — rum, scotch, beer, and cider. I quickly found a recipe that I could work with, one that Philip Greene, the author of To Have and Have Another, called the Josie Russell, named for a rum smuggling friend of Hemingway’s from the 1930s. Hemingway had the drink while at sea, and this seemed like exactly the kind of drink made for a sunny summer afternoon.

Rum? Check. Admiral Nelson‘s Spiced Rum.

Cider? Check. Graft Cider‘s Cloud City Amarillo District, which is also fermented with pineapple and lemon zest.

Lime? Check.

Sugar? Check.

I got out a pitcher, mixed my ingredients, poured some of the cocktail into a beer goblet, and went outside to enjoy it in the sunshine.

“This is quite good!” I thought. It was sour with a kick of sweetness. It went down easily. You couldn’t even taste the alcohol in the drink.

I liked it. And I still had more in the pitcher.

I refilled my glass, went back outside, and enjoyed the drink in the summer afternoon.

My glass drained, I went back inside and poured out the last of the pitcher into my glass.

I resumed my seat outside and enjoyed the drink.

I finished the drink, took a deep breath, and decided the drink worked.

And then, five minutes later, the alcohol in the drink hit me all at once.

Of course it did. The cocktail “serves two or three.” And I’d had all three servings in half an hour, give or take.

Papa Hemingway, he could have taken that hit. Me? Not even a little. It knocked me on my bum, and I sat down on the couch inside and passed out for an afternoon nap.

The Josie Russell was a nice drink. I should have limited myself to just one drink, not all three.

And, on a tangential note, BBC Radio 3’s Sunday Feature just broadcast a program on Hemingway’s “The Killers” and the two film adaptations, one of them starring none other than Ronald Reagan in his last acting role. Worth listening to for Papa fans.

Post header photo, Ernest Hemingway in Floridita, by Franck Vervial, licensed Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0

Returning to a Cemetery

Thursday I got the Beetle back.

It had been in the shop for a week and a half, after I had broken the key off in the ignition. It should not have taken that long, but the newly cut key Volkswagen sent wasn’t cut properly — keys for the Beetle are laser-etched, for security purposes — and when the dealership received the second key, this one properly cut, late on Wednesday it still needed to be programmed, otherwise it would have been little more than a valet key and I’d have been able to drive maybe ten minutes before the engine shut off.

Anti-theft measures. Gotta love ’em.

Suffice it to say, being without a car for a week and a half meant that I had a backlog of errands I needed to do. Things like grocery shopping and buying new shoes. (I’m terrible on my shoes, specifically the soles, specifically the soles at the balls of my feet, and I needed both shoes for work and sneakers for everything else.) And while I could have done these things around the York area, I decided that, no, I could hit the highway instead and just as easily do them around Baltimore.

I’m not sure when the idea of a return to Loudon Park Cemetery came to me, but the idea had an attraction to it. My great-grandfather and his family are buried there, as are three of his siblings and his mother, not to mention a number of nieces and nephews. I visited there in late May and intended to go back when I learned where his brother is buried. Though I’ve not learned that — at some point I’ll call the office and ask if they can tell me which section he’s buried in — I decided I could make a quick stop. There’s a Giant a half mile away, I could buy some inexpensive flowers, and leave them for people that died long before I was born.

Continue reading “Returning to a Cemetery”

Greeted by the Moon

My alarm clock is set for 6:15. It’s a good time to get up.

Sometimes for my bladder, 6:15 is simply too late. Twenty or thirty minutes before the alarm clock goes off, my bladder will be insistent that now is the time to get up. “Now!” it screams. “Now!

This was one of those mornings. The rest of my body dragged itself out of bed wearily, because the bladder couldn’t wait.

Upon returning from the bathroom, I was greeted by a sight through the bedroom window — the nearly full moon through the trees behind the complex.

The cosmic dance of the solar system’s movement through the stars goes on.

The Best Week Ever

I broke my key off in the Beetle’s ignition lock last night when I left the office.

The Beetle has always had, shall we say, a “sticky” ignition. Sometimes it takes a little fiddling in the lock to turn. I’d actually found that the easiest way to turn it was to turn it from the passenger side; I got more torque on it that way. But week before last, when it got really hot, it became quite finicky. How finicky? Well, I spent half an hour trying to turn it one night when I left the office. VW Beetle message boards suggested some graphite, and that made things better. Sunday, on the trip to Bethesda and back, I had no trouble at all. Nor yesterday morning. But last night…

I fiddled with the key for a good twenty minutes. I could feel the lock almost go. And then the turn would stop. I kept turning, turning, turning…

…and the switchblade key came apart.

At this point I had no idea what to do. It was now 7:30 at night. Obviously, it was going to need to go to the dealership to get a new ignition switch and key, and that I couldn’t do until morning. But I also had no way of getting home — the unfortunate reality of living 35 miles from the office; anyone I could have gotten a ride with back to Pennsyltucky had long since left for the day — so I went to the dump of a hotel across the street to crash for the night. (And then to the Target across the street for a cheap polo shirt to wear at work today.)

I was going to need a dealership to replace the ignition lock; VW Beetles have funky laser-etched keys.  I thought it would easy — “There’s a Volkswagen dealership just three blocks down York Road!” Only… it’s not anymore. It’s a Subaru dealership, and their service department was sympathetic but couldn’t help. So I’m having the Beetle towed to the closest VW service department, and that’s in Parkville. I had literally no idea where Parkville even was when the Subaru dealership said that’s where I’d have to go. Turns out it’s twelve miles from the office, which means that I’ll have to figure out a way of getting there, too, to pick up the Beetle when it’s done.

Fortunately, the tow is covered by Geico, and I have that arranged. The truck should be here in about an hour and a half. And then we’ll see what the damage is.

Best! Week! Ever!