Archive for Surlywood

Bungle in the urban jungle

I wrote back in 2005:

Nobody knows for sure how long the Survivor Tree will, well, survive. It’s been given the best of care, including treatments to repel the blight, and it’s an integral part of today’s National Memorial, insuring that it won’t be forgotten. But this mute witness to the terrible tragedy of the nineteenth of April has brothers and sisters and cousins all over the city, and I believe that the strength of one, by some genetic anomaly, by the grace of God, by something, somehow resides in them all.

Except for two of them on my block, which subsequently survived multiple ice storms and typically horrendous winds over the next decade, only to meet with the chainsaw today, the result of Stupid Fucking Contractor putting down sidewalks on the wrong side of the street. I had read the original scheme at the time, and I’d complained; a couple weeks later, a revised scheme was released, evidently to everyone except SFC, which doggedly proceeded with the old one despite the fact that it made no sense — why have the sidewalk on the south side of the street on one block and then move to the north side on the next?

Nothing can be done, of course. The wood has been hauled away; SFC will presumably get some sort of bonus for beating a deadline, and the city will disclaim any responsibility for hiring them.

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The small break gets slightly larger

From a couple of months ago:

[A]fter some third-grade arithmetic I determined that the escrow shortage would have been cleared with a mere $80 a month, but there’s no arguing with the bank on these matters. Perhaps, I figured, they will drop it next year after they’ve taken a few dives into the vault, à la Scrooge McDuck.

Comes the notification. Payment is dropping by $75 a month.

Further notification received. Payment is dropping by $12 more, and they sent me a check for $250.

I mean, I’m generally pretty happy with this bank, but there are times I wonder whether their fecal matter is properly aggregated.

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It’s magically malicious!

After a horripilating session of “Meet the Beetles!” I ordered up a grub treatment for the lawn, and there was spritzed upon the turf a product called, um, Malice. It fit my mood of the moment, and it’s claimed to be relatively non-nasty for an industrial-strength insecticide, but while the flowers and the trees can deal with it, the birds and the bees aren’t keen on the stuff at all.

In the case of bees specifically:

Experts believe that imidacloprid is one of many possible causes of bee decline and the recent bee malady termed colony collapse disorder (CCD). In 2011, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, no single factor alone is responsible for the malady, however honey bees are thought to possibly be affected by neonicotinoid chemicals existing as residues in the nectar and pollen which bees forage on. The scientists studying CCD have tested samples of pollen and have indicated findings of a broad range of substances, including insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides. They note that while the doses taken up by bees are not lethal, they are concerned about possible chronic problems caused by long-term exposure.

Apparently not doing this all the time, as I don’t — this is the first time I’ve had the stuff on site in several years, and I may well wait for several more before doing it again, because it’s kinda pricey — was the right thing to do, or not do, all along.


Squirrel update

Over the weekend, I discovered a dead bishop on the landing squirrel out by the curb. After contemplating the disquieting possibility of hoisting the poor deceased critter from his resting place and dropping him into the refuse bin, I decided that hey, I pay taxes for this, and Monday morning I left a note for the city’s Action Center.

Almost exactly 24 hours later, within the time frame expected, Animal Control failed to find the ex-furball, perhaps because it was in the shadow of said refuse bin. I know this because I sent a second note to the Action Center Tuesday afternoon, and that’s what they told me. Wednesday they were properly contrite, and promised to have it hauled off that day. Which they did.

I think this is only the second time I’ve dealt with the Action Center. Not bad for twelve and a half years, I guess.


We are all roadkill

The Hour of Indecision presents: “There’s a dead squirrel on the curb!”

For comic relief:

Hope it works.

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The smallest possible victory

In the Battle of the Century, it’s Man vs. Bathroom Fixture!

Spoiler: See below.

Read the rest of this entry »

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A splash of color

Trini, wielder of the mighty smartphone, snagged this photo (and a few others) from the west end of my flower box this weekend.

Flowers of mine as photographed by Trini

A couple of clusters of roses, a trace of yellow-orange from irises — I also have white ones, but not at this angle — and off to the upper right, the pointy leaves of a holly.

I may serve up a few more of these in the coming days.

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A small break

Last year, the bank declared that I somehow had way too little in escrow, and duly commanded me to fork over an extra $130 a month to bridge the gap — or send them a check for a rather large sum I didn’t happen to have at the time. I did some calculations, because that’s what I do, and after some third-grade arithmetic I determined that the escrow shortage would have been cleared with a mere $80 a month, but there’s no arguing with the bank on these matters. Perhaps, I figured, they will drop it next year after they’ve taken a few dives into the vault, à la Scrooge McDuck.

Comes the notification. Payment is dropping by $75 a month. In response, I spent rather a long time in Told You So mode, though it didn’t seem useful at the moment to tell them so.


When things get complicated

Middle of the morning, I got a note from a neighbor via Nextdoor: “I am going to close your garage door.” This, of course, leads to the obvious question: why in the fark is it open? I contemplated several possibilities, the most unnerving of which was the chance that someone might have figured out the Double Super Secret Code that runs the remote. This particular garage-door opener dates back to — well, not the Pleistocene, exactly, but it’s old enough to have its code set by a row of jumpers, the sort of thing we haven’t seen since we got rid of master and slave drives in PCs. I put in a call to William of Ockham, who noted that I happened to be carrying two remotes, one in the car, one on my person, and if I started the process with the former and inadvertently engaged the latter while turning away from the house, I could easily have created this situation myself. I argued that I didn’t think the secondary remote had that kind of range, but to no avail. I arrived back home about 11:30, and everything seemed to be in order.

And it is an election day, so I figured I’d take care of that detail on the way back to work. Turnout was expected to be light, given the single race on the ballot: finishing the unexpired term of Oklahoma County Court Clerk Tim Rhodes, who resigned last year to take a job at the Corp Comm. I did not, however, imagine it to be this light: at a quarter to twelve, four hours and forty-five minutes into the session, I was preceded by a mere 23 voters. There are more than 1500 registered voters in this precinct.

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Continuous reassessment

Leonard Sullivan, the County Assessor, is expected to come up with a new value for every single parcel of land in the 700-odd square miles that make up this rectangular-looking county, every single year. It’s a tag-team deal: Sullivan issues his assessments in the spring, and County Treasurer Butch Freeman figures the tax bills in the fall.

In the twelve years I’ve been here, the value has been on a bit of a roller coaster: it rose markedly once I got here, for which I claim no credit whatsoever, and then it plunged during the Great Recession. Things have leveled out a bit since then. This year, Sullivan says that the palatial estate at Surlywood is worth 1.7 percent more than it was last year, which should not result in a whopping tax increase unless Freeman goes berserk or the Feds decide to foreclose on the County Jail, and the latter has apparently been ruled out until 2018 at the earliest.

Last year’s tax bill was a hair over $900; I will be surprised should it rise to $1000. (It’s been there before, though.)


First rose of 2016

This bud opened up over the weekend, despite being bracketed by two frosty mornings in succession. It’s at the very edge of the rosebush.

First rose of 2016

From the looks of things, this rose has a visitor.

(Embiggened version at Flickr.)

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The disappearing woodpile

Shortly after the official ice-storm debris had been hauled away by the city, I got the bright idea of having the backyard wood, which consisted of two and a half full (albeit dead) trees plus a stack of limbs slightly shorter than I am, rendered into almost-handy-sized remnants and parked on the curb just in time for the second debris pass. Unfortunately, I got this idea about 24 hours after the second pass was completed, although I didn’t actually read the schedule until two days later. (So much for semper paratus.)

Not to worry, said everyone. The city will pick it up as part of Big Junk, the monthly collection of non-hazardous materials that won’t fit in the official blue bins. Four cubic yards goes free; after that, it’s about $10 per cubic yard. Not a bad deal, all things considered. And then I looked at the expanse of dead-tree stuff, three or four feet high and seemingly 30 feet long, and wondered just how much of this crap they’d be willing to take, and how much it would cost me if they did.

Short version: They took all they could load into the truck, though inevitably some of it dropped out of the giant claw. And the pertinent bill was $20.42, the regular monthly charge for once-a-week trash service; apparently it all fit into four cubic yards.

Or maybe not, said a resident who’s been here longer than I have: “Sometimes,” she said, “they don’t even bother to record these things because it’s more trouble than it’s worth.”

Then again, this is the first month with the New and Improved Water Bill, so I’ll watch for one more month before I declare this matter closed.

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Shed shed

From late in the fall, and fall is the operative word here:

Gale-force winds for much of Wednesday came awfully close to blowing my old metal shed off its concrete block. There wasn’t much of anything out there worth saving — a bottom-of-the-line broadcast spreader was about it — but the structure itself looks like about two and a half seconds before the end of a round of Jenga.

You may safely assume that it didn’t gain any additional stability in the last hundred days or so, and yesterday I had it torn down. No great loss.

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Some things you are not meant to know

This is, I hope, the last chapter in the water-heater debacle. Cue Ed McMahon: “How … hot … IS IT?”

Well, it’s like this: today, it’s apparently considered bad form to put any kind of actual numbers on the control knob. There’s a dot, and there’s the word “VACATION” about 180 degrees away from it. Nowhere will you find 180 actual Fahrenheit-approved degrees, which is too hot anyway. In the US, everybody says 120. The Canadians beg to differ:

To reduce the risk of burns from hot tap water, the temperature setting on the water heater can be turned down. But if the temperature is set too low, bacteria may begin to grow in the tank. Even at 60°C — the setting on most electric water heaters — an estimated 25% of all water heaters are contaminated by legionella bacteria.

Legionella bacteria tend to grow in the lower temperatures at the bottom of water heater; such bacteria can cause a form of pneumonia. The organism is generally transmitted when people inhale contaminated water droplets from whirlpool baths, showers or building air conditioning systems. In Québec, about 100 people a year are hospitalized for pneumonia caused by contaminated residential water heaters.

In light of the statistics, it is not advisable to lower the water heater temperature to, say, 49°C. This would not only reduce the hot water supply by some 20%, it would also put your household at risk of contracting pneumonia.

Forty-nine degrees Celsius is — guess what? — 120°F.

So I feel much better with my estimated 140°F (60°C) setting. Admittedly, this would be considered a seat-of-the-pants estimate if pants were involved, which they are not. My criterion, using my current single-knob shower, is this: “With the knob turned all the way up, does it seem like it’s almost too hot?” If so, the setting is correct. It reminds me somehow of P. J. O’Rourke’s advice on steak in an iron skillet: “As soon as you think the steak should cook just a little longer, stop cooking it.” This, of course, assumes the steak is as thick as the heel of a Bass Weejun.

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Warm-water update

When last we looked in on the Great Water Heater Caper of 2016, I was vowing vengeance on the uncooperative elements, which in circumstances like these tend to be all of them.

For maximum spitefulness, I called in at 6:30 am Wednesday, thereby cementing my reputation as a Nasty Person for all time. The tech arrived a couple of hours later with about twice as many tools and, eventually, a sheepish admission: “I think I may have cracked the thermocouple.”

Off to the parts depot to obtain an uncracked thermocouple. He had to eat the cost of it, so it’s probably a good thing he identified the problem component fairly quickly. No further issues, and smiles all around when he left.

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Wet but not hot

When I feel like pretending I’m a Mad Scientist, I tell people I have a closet totally devoted to the distribution of hot, maybe even scalding dihydrogen monoxide. Of course, if they pop open the door and see this perfectly ordinary water heater, they’re going to be disappointed, but such is life.

I got my own disappointment over the weekend, when “hot” was displaced by “tepid, if you’re lucky.” I am not lucky, at least in this regard. There are several cheap parts that go into one of these devices, and all of them were intact. However, the gas valve itself, which costs about half as much as the entire tank array, was kaput, and was replaced in a surprisingly brief session this afternoon, accompanied by the sound of money disappearing in the distance.

Upside, such as it is: while the standard “These things don’t last as long as they used to” disclaimer was issued, no indication was given that this particular thing was on its last legs. And frankly, next time around, I’m considering buying smaller, on the basis that a device of this sort ought to fit into its space, and this one, installed some time last decade, was put in sideways, with the control gizmos facing the side wall. Had I screaming kids lined up to bathe, of course, I might see things differently. Downside, apart from the expense: the unwritten law says that you set the thermostat to 120°F for Safety Reasons. I strongly suspect that no two thermostats agree on where exactly 120°F should be.

Update, next morning: The fix didn’t take, or something. I am currently in the mode best described as “You will fix this, and you will fix this now, or I will kill you and tell God you died.” Okay, maybe not quite that harsh.

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Soffit assault

Eventually, after the ice storm was over and the temperature had climbed up to a tropical 35° and I had regained a measure of composure, I sat down and muttered something to the effect that at least it didn’t blow through my insurance deductible.

And then I went out back and saw this:

Hole in the wood trim

The connector for the cable TV and Internet was mounted on a board that used to be where that hole is; a couple of limbs of the back-door holly, loaded up with too close to an inch of ice each, pulled it, and the board, a good four feet back of the house. I stuffed the hole with my last few pieces of bubble wrap in an effort to keep the moisture out, and started hunting down hungry contractors.

Found one on Wednesday; he gave me a bid, scheduled the job tentatively for Friday — it wound up being Saturday, but no big deal — and to give the guy credit, that section looks better now than it did several years ago.

And amazingly, I still haven’t blown through my insurance deductible, though I can think of lots of things I’d rather have spent money on in preference to recovering from one of Mother Nature’s bitchy fits.


Cube heaven

You might recall this from late summer:

I filled up the ice mold from a coffee cup; two hours later it had produced the expected number of cubes, but the mold was empty. This tells me that the mechanism still works, but the water valve is toast. A parts operation offered to sell the valve separately, for about 60 percent of the price of an entire icemaker. (Lowe’s has a bolt-in replacement for about $100.)

Thursday I actually got around to summoning a repairman, and I recounted this story to him. He nodded. “Yep, that’s probably what it is.” He removed the valve, and found it unsuitable for any use other than industrial-art paperweight. Price of the new valve: $41.18. (Service call: $86.) The list of Things Needing Fixing grows ever so slightly shorter.


November in a nutshell

This sequence of events is a perfect metaphor for the way this month has gone.

The house in which I live was built in 1948, and some of its fixtures are either original or so old they might as well be. There are two towel bars in the bathroom, each suspended by a pair of ceramic holders; the smaller one has a spring-loaded ceramic bar, the larger one a similar-looking bar, but plastic. I found this out when I went scooting across the floor on a not-yet-wet bath mat, grabbed the bar with my left hand, and watched as it broke almost exactly in half.

I rigged up a temporary fix, involving good old strapping tape, and on an impulse, I checked to see if Amazon had a replacement bar. They had three of them, as it happens; but two of them were restricted to Prime members only. Disinclined to put up $99 for the privilege of spending ten bucks on a plastic rod, I passed them by, and several pages down found the third, from a merchant in Arizona. Five bucks for the bar itself, seven for shipping. Well, thought I, it’s not gonna fit in an envelope, y’know?

It somehow arrived about two days ahead of schedule, despite the punishing weather. (The postman actually clambered through the space I’d cleared in the Fallen Branch Zone and left it on the porch.) Grateful for anything that worked at this point, I hurriedly opened the box, verified that the sizes were correct, and took it into the bathroom.

The old one wouldn’t come out. It was solid, inflexible, and incompressible. Almost like it was, um, ceramic.

If all my temporary fixes worked this well … but never mind, it’s not going to happen.

And with the house in utter darkness for another night, and me stuck on a 15-year-old laptop that can no longer keep up, this may be the last update for a while: the strange-query feature and the Thunder game recap tomorrow will likely be delayed.

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A waste of water

This should be ice in my drinks, not ice all over the foliage:

The stubbornest rose of all

We were visited last night by the Ice Fairy, or some such nuisance like that: it will take a guy with a chainsaw (due tomorrow) to clear away enough of the mulberry to open up the driveway, which was utterly impassable this morning. I’ve seen worse, but this is bad enough.

(Embiggened version on Flickr. You know that one holdout rose from a couple weeks ago? It’s still there.)

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Where it all goes (’15)

The county was a little late getting the property-tax bills out, though of course they’re not going to be cutting taxpayers any slack in getting those bills paid. The actual amount I get to pay is a smidgen higher than last year, due to a small increase in the assessed value and a fraction of a mill added to the actual tax rate. Here’s where all those dollars go, and in brackets, where they went last year:

  • City of Oklahoma City: $124.57 [$120.39]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools: $476.19 [$462.53]
  • Metro Tech Center: $123.21 [$120.39]
  • Oklahoma County general: $94.03 [$90.78]
  • Countywide school levy: $33.02 [$32.26]
  • City/County Health Department: $20.66 [$20.18]
  • Metropolitan Library System: $41.47 [$40.52]
  • Total: $913.14 [$887.04]

This year’s millage is 114.50, up from last year’s 113.84. (Record millage: 117.58, 2011.) The bank presumably will cut them a check on Monday.


Let’s do it again

While my attention was focused on the back yard and my presumably soon-to-disintegrate shed, the roses up front were assembling a final forward thrust for fall, and this was the first one out:

One rose, photographed on 14 November 2015

At center-bottom you can see one of the reinforcements coming in: there are a dozen buds at the moment, and temperatures look to remain above freezing for at least the next week.

As usual, there’s a bigger version at Flickr.


“Shed” is also a verb

Gale-force winds for much of Wednesday came awfully close to blowing my old metal shed off its concrete block. There wasn’t much of anything out there worth saving — a bottom-of-the-line broadcast spreader was about it — but the structure itself looks like about two and a half seconds before the end of a round of Jenga. Replacing it would cost somewhere around half my insurance deductible, so I’m waiting to see what the weekend brings before I contemplate this matter further.


Goblin report

A slow start, and inevitably a slow finish, but in between was a pretty steady flow of trick-or-treaters: fifty-three in all, second highest on record, beating out the 49 count in 2012. (I don’t ever expect to see the 2010 record of 102 broken.)

At some point during grocery shopping this afternoon, I decided “Maybe I need just one more bag.” Turns out, I needed at least a third of that bag. Otherwise, the event was, um, largely uneventful; one girl tried to exit through the rosebush — she won’t try that again — and one very sleepy boy in a stroller wasn’t quite sure what was going on.

And yes, I unloaded all the Twizzlers: the first 45 customers got one along with a Mild Amusement Size candy bar.

Update, 8:45 pm: I am informed — and provided with photographic evidence — that Number One grandson, the guy who did his best James Bond earlier this month, went full-on girl mode for this event.

Update, 8:55 pm: Number One granddaughter — she’s twelve — made a pretty convincing-looking Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers.

Update, 9:15 pm: While cleaning up the inevitable disorder, I found one stray Twizzler. Damn.

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Undead trees

You may remember this from early 2010:

The plumber stared in disbelief. “Roots, all right. But this is a plastic line.”

Which, as we used to say, can mean only one of one thing: the suckers had grown into the junction between the metal pipe inside the house and the plastic stuff that leads to the city sewer. It’s a good ten feet from any actual trees, but trees don’t much care about distance.

At the time, the following options were offered: rip out those pipes and replace that junction, at a cost that would make one’s nose bleed, or have the line scoured out every five years to get rid of the offending roots.

Welcome to 2015. I have three fewer live trees now, but roots apparently are the zombies of the plant world. (Which would complicate Plants vs. Zombies, wouldn’t it?)

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Still unchewed after all these years

I acquired the palatial estate at Surlywood in 2003, and one of the details that had to be addressed before closing was termite certification; a local firm was called in to look the place over and destroy any trace of the little so-and-sos. As it turns out, none were found.

However, I retained the same firm to come back in twelve months and recheck, and they’ve been by every year since then. So far, so good.

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Decreasingly dear

Last year’s homeowner’s-insurance lament:

Obviously this downward trend could not be allowed to continue, so this year it’s going to nearly $3000. This, mind you, on a house insured for a mere $130,000. I can only conclude that they expect a visit from Godzilla, or that they’re wanting to get their hands on some of those sweet, sweet government bucks the way the health-insurance guys have.

Well, the escalator clause each year has two effects: it increases the total amount of coverage, and it jacks up the deductible for wind and hail, which is a percentage of the total amount of coverage. I’m thinking these two numbers don’t combine neatly, which may or may not explain the $170 decrease in the premium.


Reddish alert

The day after the Giant Moon Blockout Party, or whatever, what I thought was a leftover stem from this year’s white irises, presumably in hibernation until spring, suddenly straightened up, and over the next couple of days produced, well, this:

Mysterious red-orange flower

I tossed a version of this picture up on Twitter to see what the hive mind had to say; first response (via @s_r_s) was red spider lily (Lycoris radiata), about which much has been said:

When the flowers of lycoris bloom, their leaves would have fallen; when their leaves grow, the flowers would have wilted. This habit gave rise to various legends. A famous one is the legend of two elves: Mañju, who guarded the flower, and Saka, who guarded the leaves. Out of curiosity, they defied their fate of guarding the herb alone, and managed to meet each other. At first sight, they fell in love with each other. God, exasperated by their waywardness, separated the miserable couple, and laid a curse on them as a punishment: the flowers of Mañju shall never meet the leaves of Saka again.

It was said that when the couple met after death in Diyu (hell), they vowed to meet each other after reincarnation. However, neither of them could keep their word.

So evidently it belongs here, in the land of frustrated longings.

(A full three-point-whatever megapixel shot is on Flickr.)

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Prepared for the worst

When I got home today, I found a standard #10 envelope by the front door, hand-inscribed “Dear Neighbor.” I figured it had to deal with one of two things that someone must have seen: my faceplant by the curb this morning, which didn’t seem too worrisome — someone offering to help in the future, maybe? — or my brief(less) stargazing experience from last night, which probably wasn’t so good.

(There is a nonzero probability that someone may have murmured “Thank God, we thought we were the only ones!” Still, nonzero does not mean a long way from zero.)

Of course, it turns out to be neither, but a flyer, a much-photocopied cover letter from one “Jennifer R.”, and a pair of tickets to this:

International Youth Fellowship (IYF) USA and Gracias Choir will be back on the road to present the 2015 Gracias Christmas Cantata US Tour across 25 cities from September 19th to October 16th. Christmas Cantata features 3 dynamic stages filled with cherished carols, gorgeous sets, and an eternal message of hope wrapped in one huge, breathtaking show.

Admission to Christmas Cantata is FREE but each performance is first-come, first-served and seating is limited. So find a Christmas Cantata tour stop near you, and request your tickets now. You can also make a donation to our US Tour and reserve your seats without waiting in line!

Come celebrate the true meaning of Christmas with Gracias Choir and IYF: the birth of love, hope, and happiness in each and every one of hearts. #BringTheJoy

Everybody has a hashtag these days. [sniff]

The local showing is Saturday night (10/10) at 7 pm at the Civic.


All plop, no fizz

As usual this morning, I walked down the driveway toward the curb to fetch the newspaper. (I am one of those people who actually would prefer an afternoon paper, but the ten or twelve of us who still exist don’t count for much.) As usual, it was positioned on the section of concrete with the sharpest slant.

They say “Use your knees, not your back” to pick up stuff. If they had knees like mine, they never would have said such a thing. The Monday paper being generally smallish, I had a long way to go, and calculating the geometry of the matter, I spread my feet apart a few inches to buy some vertical. And then, having seized the paper, I unaccountably pitched forward, two, three steps, and wound up washing my face in the morning dew.

The fact that I was able to get up from this was heartening, or at least not leading to despondency. I dusted myself off and headed for the shop, figuring I can use the time at that traffic snarl around Penn Square to report that I wasn’t going to be in by 6:30.

No phone.

Evidently when I pulled myself off the ground, the little so-and-so stayed behind. I made a modestly mad dash in the opposite direction, retrieved the device, and started over. Okay, it was closer to 6:45. I can live with that. And they’re going to have to, you know?

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