Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The same thing happens every year.

Awaken, to the sound of water softly lapping against the hull, or perhaps a far-off fishing boat speeding toward a favorite spot. Momentarily wonder what time it is, realize that it doesn't matter. Dave's already long gone, up on a ridge, taking pictures. Check the wind to see if the coffee pot's already percolated; if it is, then she's already up on the top deck, and you can take her a refill. Grab your book and a cup, maybe a piece of chocolate, and head up there to read for a while, maybe even take a nap - it's decaf.
Later on, after breakfast, read some more or put your headphones in and listen. It's time to let go of the junk that clouds your soul for a little while. Talk about stuff - it doesn't matter what the subject is, it's called enjoying each other's company, in their company. Being with them without something to have to do, so rare, anymore. Jump in the lake - usually good for a cool jolt before lunchtime. Dry off, grab a snack. Read some more. Doze off. Look for burro droppings nearby, maybe we'll get some visitors as the sun recedes. We stare, they stare, they drink, we drink, they leave.
Afternoons are for floating, napping (naturally), and getting dinner ready. The music heats up, more junk food is consumed, and the energy level reaches a peak of activity that, while not lathargic, is better described as unhurried. The sun goes down, we pause and admire the serenity of it all, the uncomplicated desert landscape, and get back to the big dinner. Dinner takes a while, like it should when good friends are together. At last, we clean up most of the mess and head up to the deck and the stars.
Even with the 'light pollution' of Las Vegas to the West, the sky is magnificent to us city folk. The "Milky Way" is, really. We can see (even with our aging eyes) shooting stars, planes, satellites, some claim to have seen a UFO, one year. Years ago, we would sit and talk and gaze up for what seemed to be hours on end. Nowadays, it usually doesn't take long before the sound of snoring begins. Too bad, but it's who we are. One by one, we either say our goodnights to the remaining sentinels and head down to bed, or make our bed upstairs, if the weather's right. By then, the lake is like glass, and the stars shimmer back up at you as you take a last look before you tuck in.
The time seems to pass more quickly, each year. Idle time, but by no means wasted. Time to breathe. Time to listen, to see. To gaze. To share both memories and expectations. It's hard to believe that we've done this 19 times. I can't wait to go, tomorrow.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Workin' on the Night Moves. . .

My life has been turned upside-down, these last two weeks. Not figuratively, literally. I've been working what's known as the "graveyard" shift, 2300 - 0730, while a co-worker is on vacation. I've been rather skillful in avoiding this sort of thing over the last 20+ years, and never have had to do more than one shift at a time. There was no escape.
I'm a real circadian-rythm kind of guy. I'm regular in just about every sense of the word, my waistline notwithstanding (more on that in an upcoming post). I am a light switch. For me, it means that my eyelids usually slam shut at about 9 p.m., nearly always opening at about 5:24 a.m. - 6 minutes before the alarm goes off. Emma sees to it that this rythm is unbroken on weekends. The prospect, then, of regularly leaving for work an hour or so after my bedtime was somewhat frightening. How does one prepare? The answer is that you really can't, you just have to do it. So, I did it. Took a thermos of freshly brewed coffee, and set off into the night.
There is a rythm to this shift. The first requirement is that you're available to respond to whatever might come up at our nearly million-square-foot facility. Second, you have to take the 'vital signs' of the building - chiller readings, compressed air, vacuum, medical air, boilers, water softeners, verify that the emergency generators' switches are in the 'auto' position, fueled, batteries charging, and warmers warming (in the event of power loss, these big diesel engines have to come to life and take the load within 10 seconds), make sure that the water heaters are working, that the fire pumps have pressure, check the Liquid Oxygen and Nitrous Oxide tanks (no sampling). You have to travel to each 'negative pressure' room, close the door, and emit a small puff of chalk at the bottom of the door to verify that it is indeed providing negative pressure - keeping the nastiness that could be inside, inside. There are operating suites and intensive care sections that have to be tested for temperature and humidity, all of this logged meticulously in notebooks and clipboards. In between, there can be calls for everything from plumbing concerns (it's a 50 year old, 12 story building) to the nurse call system and everything in-between. A good night, of course is when nothing untoward happens. I've been pretty lucky, it's been quiet.
It's pretty solitary; there are only two of us on. The other position is in my beloved BOC, where one basically tries to keep occupied and answer the calls that come in for engineering, housekeeping, and security. Making the rounds takes one outside the building; it's odd to be out in dark places at the outer edges of this property. Gazing across the canyon to the apartment buildings hugging the opposing hillside, windows glow from televisions. We're 'uptown'; there seem to be a lot of people awake at 2 in the morning, or asleep in front of those TV's. I am reminded, each night that I do this, of the two nights I stepped out of this building after both Sam and Emma were born - both entered the world shortly after midnight. The first night, gazing at the stars, feeling the center of my universe shift. The second night, looking to the stars from a world completely changed. Going into the OR where I watched Emma enter the atmosphere, pulled out by one leg; the smell made by the cauterizing scalpel. I've worked here long enough to accumulate a lot of memories; they're closer to me now in the quiet, empty halls.
Eating something at 0300, alone on the 12th floor. Looking out over the empty bay and the lights of the city. Marking time. It takes time, a long time when you're just waiting to leave, this is universal no matter what you're waiting on.
Finally, it's time to go home. The rythm has to change, because it's better to get some sleep in the morning, before the kids get home from school, so it's straight to bed at 0830. Earplugs help. I've been moderately successful at getting about 4-6 hours of sleep; yesterday I got a full 7 plus, not waking up until 4 p.m. Stumbling out of bed into what is the middle of everyone else's day has been very disconcerting. The upheaval of the inversion (most people get up, then go to work, then do the rest of their lives before sleeping again) has made it hard for me to focus or concentrate on much else, so my major accomplishments have been taking out the trash, cleaning up after dinner, and trying not to sigh every 3 minutes between 8 and 10 p.m., when it's time to do it again.
Traffic is great. Elevators arrive within seconds. You're not bothered by the nonsensical chatter of those who really don't have anything to say in the first place. Management is non-existent.
Other than the reminder (and an appreciation) that there's a whole world of people doing this, all of the time, some of them here by choice, I really haven't learned much. One more shift to go, and my existence will return to what passes for normal, again. I'm very much looking forward to it.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

What it's like, continued. . .

A good article.

Topical Thunder

I am a fierce proponent of the privacy of the ballot. I have rarely shared my selections with anyone, for a myriad of reasons, but the primary one has been that it's extremely personal. Combined with the fact that I've never voted along any party's lines; I suspect that it's a guilty pleasure that I relish voting differently than people think I have, sometimes.I'm going to break with that tradition, today, and I'm going to try and explain why. I think I've come to a logical conclusion, for some very personal reasons, and only God knows why I'm prompted to reveal it.
One of the songs that formed my social consciousness is "Reader's Digest", by Larry Norman. The pertinent lyric for this post:
"It's 1973, I wonder who we're gonna see
Who's in power now? Think I'll turn on my TV,
The man on the news said China's gonna beat us,
We shot all our dreamers, and there's no one left to lead us . . ."
I was young, but I remember reading about the transformation of Robert Kennedy from priveleged poster boy to social catalyst, only to be cut down on the verge of making this country very different than the one we're living in now. He was not allowed to fully create a legacy the way that Martin Luther King did; he now has the benefit of the memory of lost potential over actual history, of course, but I think that he would have made a tremendous difference had he been elected. The net effect of these two assassinations on our society is still being felt, 40 years later. You should be able to agree with me on that.
It is personally sickening to me to watch the conservative and christian (yes, small 'c') media embrace Sarah Palin and her daughter's situation, proving themselves hypocrites because they've done 180 degree spins on what they've said publicly for years about other people in public life for years in the same circumstances. Their moral stands, then, were dogmatic and taken primarily for shock value and self-promotion over compassion and caring. What they don't seem to realize is that their past pontifications are more accessible for review and regurgitation now than ever before. Their morality appears to be for sale, or at least for rent, in exchange for the promise of policies that would please their canonical maniacalism. Their slobbering endorsements and apparent willingness to turn their blind eyes to all of the other issues facing this nation, I suppose, confirm her selection to the ticket. I don't think she's the most talented, qualified person for the job. I am disappointed that the party needs these people to win. It has become a character issue for me.
I wish John McCain had been the party's choice 8 years ago. I think that things would be different - if not uantitatively, then qualitatively. That's all I'll say about that.
I have a cynical head, and an optimist's heart. I've been thinking of Barack Obama in the context of Jimmy Carter's administration, a bit. I don't think that the President of the United States can make radical change - to me it's like steering an oil tanker or trying to stop a train - it takes a lot of energy, time, and distance. Those who have, have had the courage to rally both the American people and the Congress solidly behind them. This is as it should be. Gerald Ford and Whip Inflation Now. Jimmy Carter in a sweater appealing to America to turn down their thermostats come to mind - unable to capture the 'hearts and minds' of the citezenry.
There is a dreamer running for President, this year. So far, he's saying the right things, focusing on those things that are important as I see them. If he's able to follow through, I think he has more potential to be what George W. claimed to be - "A uniter, not a divider." I think bold moves are needed.
This election season, for a lot of reasons, has put me (and I suspect many others) farther out of my 'comfort zone' than any Presidential election in recent memory. I think the last election was a chilling reminder that each of our votes count. I very nearly did not vote then; I was completely non-plussed with the choices.
I think, this time, I'm going to try to dream, a little. I'll let you know if I change my mind.

Friday, September 05, 2008