Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gondi and the Chicken Suit - A Tale of Evil and Retribution

Once Upon a Time, shortly after the end of the reign of the Wicked Felina, Gondi came into our lives. He was just a kitten, and Little Fatso took him under her wing and nurtured him, teaching him everything he needed to know, on a need-to-know basis.

But, soon, Gondi became a vain and arrogant bully, and he turned on Little Fatso, terrorizing her every chance he got. He would steal the spots she had warmed up for himself, he would jump on her when she was napping, and he wouldn't let her at the food dish until he had finished eating.

He grew into a fat and useless little tyrant, and led a life of hedonistic self-indulgence.

Fatso grew old and withered away. Then, along came Syd, who found that he was expected to do all the cat work in the entire household. He had to move all the rubber bands, lick all the cardboard boxes, and hide things from the desk all by himself, with no help from Gondi.

Then, one day, there was a Halloween Sale at Target. Joyce found a cute little chicken hat. How humiliating for a cat to have to wear a chicken hat. Syd did not care for it. "What shall we do? Syd will not wear the chicken hat!" Then it occurred to us -- why not try it on that useless cat that just lies around all day, anyway? What a great idea! And so, Gondi got to wear the chicken hat for the holiday picture.That night, a terrible thing happened to the paper roll in the bathroom.

Who has fashioned our lovely white tissue roll into a useless shredded piano roll? The cats were both certain that they had not seen who committed this heinous act.

Now, where is that shipping tape?

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pt.14 Passage to Avignon

Pt.14 - Passage to Avignon - this adventures starts here.

At this point in the narrative, a train is hurtling from Paris to Avignon with Our Heroes (Gary & Joyce) barely aboard.

Through the Metal Door, There Lies...
At the front of the car, was an aluminum door which slid to one side, to admit people between cars. Combined with the silence of the passengers, being separated from Joyce, the hot, stifling air, the foul odor of decaying bodies, and the general sullenness of the backpackers, the opening of that door seemed sinister. Usually it was other passengers, coming through the door, but now and then an official in a uniform would come through. Somehow, it made me feel guilty, as if I would be discovered and detained. It was movie-like. The passengers would come through the door, stink their way down to the end of the car, where I sat, walk into the baggage area, discover that this was the last car, then they would walk back down the narrow aisle and exit back to the car before ours. I think they were looking for the bathroom. It gave me some satisfaction to see the jaded know-it-alls not finding their damn bathroom, because they had been ‘way too “cool” to ask a conductor for directions.

I got up and walked back to the stairway area. Now that there was time to look around, I saw that each car has a luggage compartment, which consisted of large shelves, where the passengers could store their suitcases. I stored one of ours, there was no room for the other, so I left it in the hallway— there were others there, including the damn green backpack sprawled over half of the usable area. Returning to my seat, I retreated into my book, Kinky Friedman’s “Elvis, Jesus, & Coca-Cola.” The author’s way of making you feel paranoia, sadness, and humor at the same time was very appropriate for my present surroundings.

Lunch Time for the Gray Suit
About a half-hour into the trip, the businessman next to me got up, I let him into the aisle. He went into the baggage compartment, folded down a seat next to the door, opened his briefcase, pulled out a sandwich and an apple, and ate lunch. This was an experienced traveler. I decided to make my way up to Joyce’s seat, to see how she was doing. I hoped that the authorities wouldn’t question what I was doing. She was enjoying herself, almost communicating with her seat-mates. At her end of the car, the seats faced the opposite direction. She had been trying to signal to me, but I hadn’t been looking for any signals of hope. I returned to my seat. She walked up to my end of the car about half an hour later. I showed her to my “livingroom” in the doorway/luggage room. She was wondering about lunch, and wasn’t I hungry. No, even dehydrated I didn’t feel safe about eating when I didn’t know where my next bathroom would be.

France at 80 MPH - That's 128 Kilometers, Monseur
We opened my carry-on, and got out one of my beignets that I still hadn’t eaten from this morning, seemed like a year ago. She had a beignet, and some water, and a peach. We watched the countryside go by for awhile. The land was getting more hilly, and occasionally, the train took tunnels through hills. The cruising speed of the train was in excess of 80 miles per hour. The track at times ran parallel to freeways, and we were passing cars by exceeding their speed by at least 30 mph. This train, too was located next to a track which carried trains in the opposite direction. When the trains passed, now the combined speed was almost 200 mph, and it seemed like the vacuum between the trains would suck them together. The weather was getting more sunny.

We passed through small towns without stopping. The buildings were usually two-or three story brick structures, at least near the railroad. We saw occasional subdivisions with more modern subdivision-looking houses.

The French Countryside - Are We in Illinois Yet?
One distinctive feature of many of the buildings was that they had awnings drawn over well over 90% of the windows. We would find this to be quite common in France — they have windows, but they cover them. Perhaps it was just because of the hot weather, that an un-airconditioned building stayed cooler if the awnings were closed.

Rural areas had some very inferior-looking cows, usually white, and they looked kind of anemic. They would never be furnishing any satisfactory milk or meat, at least by American standards. The area we were traveling through now was definitely very mountainous, tunnels became more frequent. Then, suddenly the mountains stopped. The land assumed a flat farmland-type of contour typical of Wisconsin and Illinois. We returned to our assigned seats for the rest of the trip.

Don't Throw Me Off the Train, Monseur - It is Traveling So Fast!
The conductor came by to punch our tickets. I don’t know how Joyce got by without a ticket; I never asked her. I knew there would be trouble. He looked at my ticket, then he said something to me in French. I gave him everything else, showing him the ticket for the train we had missed, pointing from one to the other, hoping he would get the idea.

“You didn’t get these tickets z;xckvj” I made him repeat what he wanted, knowing full well I wouldn’t understand him the second time either. Then, miraculously, he went on to the next passenger. I don’t know the magnitude of the grace I had just been extended. Maybe he saw something in my tickets that he was looking for.

Shortly after that, about two and a half hours into the trip, the train began to slow down. It traveled at a reduced speed for at least twenty minutes. Joyce and I huddled in the baggage compartment, ready to disembark, and get our suitcases off the train, just in case they tried to pull a “metro” on us and drive off with a train full of our baggage. For almost ten minutes, we traveled through what looked like train platforms. It looked like we were there long before we actually were. The train slowed even further. Other passengers were getting ready to jump off as soon as the train landed. There were doors on either side of the train, and we didn’t know whether the station would be on the port or starboard side of the train. If the station was to the left, Joyce’s suitcase would be blocking the exit, in which case, we’d be ready to hop hers off, and then to get mine off the rack and off the train instantly, so as not to impede others from getting off. I wanted so much not to be an Ugly American, but they always seemed to do their best to make us feel that we were.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Pt.13 Getting on the Train to Avignon

Pt.13 - Getting on the Train is Half the Trip

Pardon Moi Monseur, Zees is Not Ze Chattanooga Choo Choo
Trains have assigned departure tracks — like the Metro, if you get on the right track, in the right direction, you’ll get where your ticket says. I returned to Joyce, with 10 minutes to get to our track. There were at least 20 tracks at Gare de Lyon, so it was going to be a search. I honestly don’t remember how we got to the track — we must have automatically followed escalators, conveyors, and stairways to get to the right track. Once out on the platform, our train was already boarding. The cars were numbered. The number series of the cars, as we ran past them didn’t seem to match.

Right Track, Yes, But....
Finally, we found our car, #8, and got on. I showed the ticket to a conductor, and asked him where we take our baggage. Less than four minutes to departure. He said, in English “you are on the wrong train.” “But this is track #8" “Yes, but the other train— ” He pointed way back down the track to where we had first entered the platform. It looked very far away. With two minutes to departure, I wondered, how could this be possible? Then I saw it. When the trains park at the track, they park end-to-end, without any space between them. The next train looked exactly like the one we had just been kicked off of, and it looked like a continuation of it.

We found the new car #8. As we got into the boarding stairway, I asked the conductor where the baggage goes. He said something to the effect of “as long as it’s inside the train...” The train began to move. We found Joyce’s seat. Then I found mine — on the other end of the car, and just crashed down into it.

French Air Conditioning - Can't Say Enough About It
It was about 90 degrees outside, and just slightly hotter inside, with that famous French air conditioning. I had been traveling at nearly a dead run with one to two hundred pounds of baggage, had tumbled it up the stairway into the aisle of the little stairway room at the end of the car. I was once again drenched in sweat. My suitcoat was soaking through in places. My shirt was clinging to me— I could have wrung it out. My tongue was sticking to the roof of my mouth. I was out of breath. I was separated from Joyce — Lord knows what she was going through. Well, at least she was in the right seat.

I sat there in a soggy heap, just appreciating being able to breathe without carrying all of that luggage. My carry-on bag had a bottle of water that I had brought from the hotel. Although it was no longer cold, I unscrewed the cap, and drank some. I did this more than once in the next fifteen minutes, just a little at a time, so my body could absorb it.

Rollin Out of Town - What Smells like France in Here?
The train was moving very slowly through an industrial section of Paris. Everything looked foreign. Next to me, there sat a small gray-haired man in a charcoal business suit. He was busy with his newspaper, and since I knew such an embarrasingly little amount of French, I let well enough alone. There was nobody I wanted to talk to. Looking at the rest of the car, it was the scraggly backpacker multiplied to infinity. One of them kept walking past me, jabbing his carry-on backpack into everyone’s face. He would head for the end of the car, and fool with his “luggage”, a bigger green backpack, that took up half of the hallway. Then he’d slink back to his seat. He was a fetid walking armpit. Surely, in all of Europe, there was a basin of water for this poor little Eurotrash wannabe.

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Life of the World-Famous Painter

I needed to use my workbench this morning for wrapping an ebay package. Over the past few weeks, I had been accumulating the empty paint cans from the various projects. The city requires that the empty cans be dried out before they can be collected. There were nine cans emptied. I knew that i'd been doing a lot of painting lately, but didn't realilze exactly how much. Not boring, though - just look at the variety! There was primer, interior and exterior, oil paint that "matured" while i wasn't looking, exterior stain for the back railings, red enamel for the back stairs, deck paint for the basement of the rental, exterior "poop brown" for "enhancing" the grafitti on the brown building.
Now, USPS will be able to find us again. "Bring packages to the back of the building, top of red stairs". Yay! they're RED again!

the gray wall behind the lamp is one coat of Zinsser primer and two coats of S-W ProMar 200 semi-gloss. The new commercial tenant put up a wall around the stairway, and didn't need the iron railing, so suddenly I have 150 lbs of iron railing to store. Mrs. didn't have any suggestions, so I propped the sucker up and put it right in the front of her stage. I believe it enhances the performance space. I believe this very strongly. Because I don't have another place to keep it.

And there are still the raccoons. Hope I can get a good photo of them before I make their lives miserable by locking them out of my (their?) basement. I am in the process of methodically clearing out an undeveloped space full of soggy scrap lumber and other smelly stuff. Trying to stay under the city's "special pickup" radar on this project, so I just do a little each week. It's a dank and dark space, and somewhere within there are at least two raccoons living and stinking. Soon, the last of the lumber will be removed, and there will be nothing down there but raccoons. I've seen them entering through the hole in the stairway wall. They're bigger than Syd the cat, and I've heard they can be quite vicious if they perceive themselves to be cornered. I saw them up close the other day. They were just coming in from forage. Porky little things with fluffy-looking sleek coats and fluffy striped tails. Completely typical raccoon-looking with the dark band over their eyes. I can't stop up the vent hole until i'm sure there's nobody inside - it's the only way in.

And that's the news from the Janitor's Log for this week!

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pt.12 Masters of LaMetro, Joyless Jetset, Missing the Train

This is a story of our only trip to France. If you'd like to follow the exciting adventure from the beginning follow this link to PART ONE

Pt.12 - Masters of LaMetro, Joyless Jetset, Missing the Train

Day 4 — Saturday, August 22

Leaving our Beloved Concierge
We woke, I ordered hot water again, snuck the attendant another tip — 5 francs. Today we were leaving Paris. We looked at the over breakfast from the 27th floor. It was humid and hazy today. But, for some reason, I didn’t feel the need to eat anything. That dam fruit juice. It was so good, though. Probably did me good in the long run. By the end of today, we would be on the other side of France, boarding the Rhone river cruise boat.

We finished our packing with the suitcases we had not stored. This time, we had one overnight bag, Joyce’s suitcase, and mine, both with wheels. I put the extra bag on top of my suitcase, and wheeled the stack. We left with an hour to get to the train station. The train station Gare de Lyon is connected to the Gare de Lyon Metro station. We headed out, checked our key cards in at the desk, and wheeled our suitcases out into the street. We headed down the now-familiar route to the Charles Michel metro stop, and went down the stairs. We had a routine for whenever we encountered stairs instead of escalators: Joyce took the carry-on bag, and I grabbed the wheel units by their handles, and carried them up or down the stairs, and then, setting them upright, and re-engaging the push handles, we resumed our way.
Epiphany in La Metro
We bought tickets, told the clerk where we had to go. I asked the ticket clerk to confirm my planned route, because I was not sure, and with the train departure time less than an hour away, we could not afford any mis-steps. The clerk began to write something on a blue pad. Joyce, getting frantic, and thinking that he was selling us more tickets, said that we already had tickets, and we didn’t need any more. He looked at her, but kept on writing. She shook her head, saying, no, we already have tickets — finally heading for the turnstyles, urging me to do the same. Still, I hesitated. This guy was trying to help me. He saw what was going on, and began writing even more furiously on his blue pad. Just as I was about to bound out — the other choice being to figure out where Joyce had headed once she got through the turnstyles by herself.

The clerk handed me a form — a list. This little blue piece of paper turned out to be the most important paper of my whole vacation — the Metro Rosetta Stone. In five languages, there were instructions of which trains to take, with blanks left for the clerk to write in the trains and destinations. As if the clouds suddenly opened up, and the sun shone through — I came to the sudden realization that I had mastered the Metro. All the missing pieces of information fell into place. “De La Station” — from the station — here “Charles Michels” is filled in with a rubber stamp. That’s where we’re starting. Next step — the train. No choice here — there’s only one train at Charles Michels. But which way? There were two set of tracks. The next step on the Rosetta Stone — “Prenez la direction” Voila! The direction! Train directions are named after the last stop on the route. So, now when faced with the yellow 10— Boulogne or the yellow 10 — Austerlitz, I look at the blue page, and “prenez la direction” has the handwritten “Austerlitz”. We boarded, with confidence a yellow 10 train labelled “Austerlitz”. Because Gare Austerlitz is the last stop on the route. So, we’re going to Gare de Lyon— where do we transfer? The next line on the blue paper — “Changez a” — transfer at — he wrote “La Motte Picquet”. We checked the sign over the train door — we were headed in the right direction! At La Motte Picquet, we got out and transferred to “prenez la direction” “Creteil”. So, knowing that this list could be trusted, we did not board the purple “8" train that said “Balarde” because that was the wrong direction. We took “Creteil”, to “Concorde”, and followed the signs to the yellow number One train “Chateau de Vincennes”. I was not believing how well we were doing.

We heard an accordion getting closer in one of the long, endless tunnels leading to the yellow number one. The accordioniste was standing up against a wall, and was playing Strauss waltzes, and La Vie en Rose, his case open for tips. Joyce turned on her tape recorder, and wrapped it up in her throw. To quote the tape, “He wouldn’t even know I’m recording him.” I followed behind, with my suitcase, and stopped briefly to listen. From now on, only good things would happen to us. I threw a tip into his case — a 10-franc piece — Joyce would never know, until she asked me. There’s always music. The music coming at this point in the trip — the first music I had heard in all of Paris — it almost seemed staged. It was the second-best thing that had happened to date, next to the blue rosetta stone, which I kept in my sweaty suitcoat pocket.
How to Miss The Train
I always wore my suitcoat when we were moving camp, because of all the pockets. My billfold in one inside pocket, and, in the other — all the tickets, plane, train, and boat. My sunglasses in the lower pocket, because of the changing climate. It was hot, but it kept me organized.
We continued to the “Chateau de Vincennes” yellow one train at the Concorde station. Our next stop would be “sortez a” Gare de Lyon — exit at Gare de Lyon. Voila! You’re there. Well, voila we were there, all right, but we had about two minutes until the train was scheduled to depart for Lyon.

We went through a hallway which pointed to “the trains” — it was a long way — there were tunnels, conveyor sidewalks, and escalators — we emerged in what looked — and smelled — like a Greyhound station: the Eurail depot. It was past departure time. There were instructions for taking the train printed on the inside cover of the ticket book. “Arrive ½ hour before departure time” Well, I guess we didn’t do that one very well. “Find your train number and departure on the electronic board, to find out which gate your train will be departing from” We saw it briefly on the board — the train had already departed. The next time we looked at the board, the train was not even listed. The board had gone on to other things.

Homeless in Hell

So, I broke the news to Joyce. She always went into a trance-like state of shock when we were traveling the trains— if she just did as she was told, she would eventually arrive, she didn’t want to interfere, or get blamed for wrong choices. We wandered around aimlessly for awhile, deciding we’d have to do something that wasn’t on the schedule to get out of this giant, hot, sweating Greyhound station. There was no information booth in sight. With time at a premium — just maybe this one train was delayed, and we could get on . . . the closest thing I could find was the ticket booth.

A Smelly and Joyless Waste of Humanity
There were three booths, fed by a single line, the one in front of the line going to the next available window. Everyone in the line seemed sullen and humorless. This was going to be a revolting experience. Music, or rather, an insistent electronic drum beat, a slow repetitive cadence at about two beats per second, was coming from a huge olive-green backpack lying on the floor next to an olive-green-clad student-age boy with a scraggly red goatee. I hated him most of all. He was sullen, smelly, and indifferent.

Travellers with backpacks always seem to radiate an aura of indifferent superiority. The jaded attitude of a traveler, who, while he has not seen it all, has, at least seen more than you could ever possibly see, and has gotten no joy from it. Some jet-setter brat rebelling against his family. Someone who has scratched fleas off of his body at a youth hostel. Someone who has contracted a social disease from another jaded jet-setter “just backpacking across Europe”. Instead of being contented and carefree, they are jaded and indifferent. They pursue pleasure with a plodding sullenness, and devour it without any appreciation. What a waste.

Shoulda Learned French Words from the "Missing La Train" Chapter!
If that wasn’t enough to drive me ever deeper into hopeless despair, it was now about 10 minutes past the departure of our train, and one of the window signs, a digital red display over each window, which had read “billets” now read “ferme”. From “tickets” to “closed”. So now the line would move even slower. Finally, after endless announcements from the hollow overhead speaker, that, even if I could understand French I would not have been able to hear clearly. When your train has taken off, you imagine that all the announcements are about the departure of your train.

Now, I was at the front of the line, almost twenty minutes after my train’s departure. I had no idea how to convey my plight to the clerk, who spoke no English at all. I just pushed the ticket under the bulletproof glass of his cage, pointing to the departure time and shrugging my shoulders. He studied the ticket and asked me if I could make the 12:05. It was 11:55. I said I could, and he went to work fixing another ticket to replace the old one, at no charge.

With 10 minutes to go, how can we possibly find the right train, and get on it before departure? Or are we still there 10 years later? We'll find out next time..... HAHA it's a serial!

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52