october 2001

I was going to write about Tom's visit this weekend, how we didn't end up seeing Modest Mouse, and the geocaches we did together on Saturday, but I got sidetracked with some housekeeping issues with the site (such as finally updating my CD collection pages to accurately reflect my purchases over the last year or so). I'll post some stuff about this weekend tomorrow, but in the meantime you can enjoy four new additions to the SirCam documents page.

Last Friday was my last official day at CO2. It didn't really affect me as much as I thought it would; I guess I was just kind of numb at that point. We were supposed to all meet and talk about how we're going to organize projects in the future (we're still going to try to work together on some projects—they gave me my workstation so that I could have a development machine just for CO2 work at home). I met with the accountant for about an hour to shore up all the details with the money I'd put aside for retirement, and then went into the office one last time. Max and Jeff were still busy packing stuff, trying to figure out what they wanted to save and what they were just going to toss, but Max left a few minutes after I arrived. Jeff and I went to lunch together one last time, and then I packed up the few remaining boxes of my stuff and headed home.

Luckily, I didn't have much time to brood this weekend. Tom came up from Richmond, ostensibly because Modest Mouse was playing in DC on Friday and Saturday nights, but also because he just hasn't been to visit in a while and he really needs to get out of the house every now and then.

A couple of weeks ago I had checked the web site for the Black Cat, the club where Modest Mouse was playing, and discovered that the only way to get tickets was to go to the club box office or to order them from Ticketmaster. Now, I don't have a Pearl Jam-level of hatred for Ticketmaster, but it's always kind of irritated me the way that you can't go anywhere without paying them at least $3 for the privilege. But I usually don't have that problem with small clubs like the Black Cat, which traditionally print up their own tickets and distribute them to local music and book stores. So I was kind of surprised to see that, unless you lived in northwest DC, the only way to buy tickets for this 600 person club was through Ticketmaster.

I was just on the verge of ordering my tickets online despite my irritation when I noticed that the service charge per $15 ticket for Modest Mouse was $3.75. I was just shocked. I mean, that's more than 25% of the ticket price going to Ticketmaster. Even when I buy baseball tickets, I only pay a $3.50 charge, even if the tickets cost $40. I just couldn't stomach paying nearly $20 for a ticket that I knew should only be $15. Plus, I remember when I saw Modest Mouse last year in Baltimore, they didn't even sell out a smaller venue (it probably held about 400-500 people). So I figured the odds were pretty good that we would be able to just buy the tickets at the door, especially because they were playing for two nights.

Tom got to our house around 7:00, and after a quick dinner, we headed down to DC at around 8:30. We got lucky and found parking right around the corner from the club, and got in line just after 9:30, when the doors opened. The line was pretty long, but we weren't really worried—we didn't see many people reaching in their pockets for their tickets, so we figured a lot of people were paying at the door. We began to get a little nervous, though, when we heard a couple of people working the crowd asking if anyone had any extra tickets. Those fears were confirmed when we got to the front of the line and saw a sign saying that that night's show was sold out.

I was a little dejected, but I still had hope that we could procure tickets for the following night since I had heard a couple of people say that they had gotten their tickets only 20 minutes earlier. I went to the Ticketmaster web site as soon as I got home, ready to submit to the corporate overlords and their "convenience" charges, but found that for some stupid reason they stop selling tickets at 10:00 p.m. (why the hell put the system on the internet if you can't use it 24 hours a day?). And the next morning when I logged on, it said that they still weren't selling tickets for that show (it didn't say they were sold out, it just said they were unavailable, which really didn't help me at all). Finally I called the club, hoping I could talk an employee into holding a couple of tickets for me, only to be greeted with an answering machine message saying that Saturday had already sold out, too.

Although I was a little bummed about not getting to see Modest Mouse, which regular readers know is my favorite band by a long shot, I did have a backup plan: while browsing for Modest Mouse tickets online, I noticed that David Byrne, whose most recent album I loved, was also playing in DC at the 9:30 Club on Saturday night. I cheerily went back to the Ticketmaster site, now eager to see David Byrne, only to find that that show, too, was sold out.


It was especially sucky for Tom, who had driven up all the way from Richmond to see a show, and who had never seen Modest Mouse live before. But we all collected ourselves, and found some other cool things to do instead. And even though I wish I had been able to see someone play this weekend, I wasn't nearly as upset about it as I thought I would be. Maybe all the stuff that has been going on recently has made me a little more immune to life's little ups and downs; I just dealt with the disappointment and moved on. Next time I'll know that there's just no beating Ticketmaster. Hence the name, I guess.

After being defeated at every turn in our attempt to see a show Saturday night, we decided to just go out and hit some geocaches. Tom has done this with a few times before—in fact, I think we've gone and done one every time we've seen him this year.

We started with one that was in a park not two miles from our house. It had mid-level difficulty ratings, but it was a lot easier than the ratings indicated. Julie found it without the GPS unit, and it looked like some of the kids who play in the park had stumbled on it and looted it once already. There were some lurking about when we found it, so we tried to look casual while we waited for them to leave so they wouldn't get too curious about the general location where the cache was hidden.

Next we went to one that was hidden underneath a really cool bridge in a nice park near Ellicott City. I actually wish it had taken a little longer to find—it was just such a beautiful day, I wanted to have more time to walk through the park. But once I find the cache (actually, Julie found it again), some other part of my brain takes over and I just want to get to the next one.

The third (and what turned out to be final) cache of the day was the one that I was looking forward to the most. It was called Ghost Hill, and from the descriptions that other people had left, it sounded like it was nestled among some ruins located in a state park. It took us a little while to figure out where to park, but we eventually found a little pull-off that had a barely defined trail leading towards our goal.

Another thing that other visitors to this cache had cautioned about was the giant red hill, and how you should just keep walking and find another way up to the cache. We thought we were pretty clever when we passed by the first such hill, which went up at close to a 60 degree angle, and climbed up a smaller, slightly less steep hill. Of course, we discovered a much easier trail on the way back down, so we didn't really end up avoided the big red hill after all.

The cache wasn't too hard to find, and although there was a lot of discarded junk (oil drums, sinks, bottles, jars, tires, and other assorted rusted out pieces of scrap metal), there weren't really any ruins. I found some cool looking berries that were green and purple but looked like they were supposed to be red, but I was much more concerned about what might have once been in all those old oil drums than I was creeped out by the surroundings. There were in fact some quite spectacular views from the top of the bluffs, where the brilliant red dirt of the hill was slowly consumed by the deep green of the surrounding forest.

We were going to try to do a fourth one that wasn't too far away from the third one, but it was getting pretty close to sundown and we were all getting a little tired. We decided to go eat at our local kebab restaurant for dinner, and then stopped on the way home to pick up a movie. We've been renting DVDs almost exclusively, but I got it in my head that I wanted to see Trekkies, the documentary about Star Trek fans, and they only had that on VHS.

It was pretty funny, and fairly well done, but in a strangely predictable way. Afterwards Julie went to bed and Tom and I stayed up to watch the season premiere of SNL, which was so uniformly awful that it really exposes how weak that show has become (as Tom said, it doesn't take much to knock them off track, and they've been hit pretty hard in the last few weeks). I've talked about this with CO2 Jeff before, and Tom brought it up again, but I swear that you could take any random episode of Kids in the Hall and put it up against the best half hour that SNL has come up with in the last 25 years, and Kids in the Hall would always win. Why the hell did those guys ever break up?

Tom left the next day around three, needing to get back and get some sleep before returing to his landscaping job on Monday. Me, I just spent another sleepless night wondering when my uselessness will end.

A couple of nights ago I finally saw the "We Are the World"-style remake of Marvin Gaye's classic "What's Going On" that was recorded by a bunch of stars to support the NYC cleanup efforts. I don't even know where to begin with how awful this is. This is one of my favorite songs of all time, and it's just painful to watch it being mutilated, even if it's for a good cause. It's worse than when Sting appeared live at the MTV VMA's a few years ago to sing the loop that Puffy had stolen from "Every Breath You Take". I mean, I guess that it's good that these stars are doing something with their talents (such as they are) to raise money for this relief effort, but the whole concept is just so empty and misguided that I can't believe that artists who have spent time crafting legitimate careers (like Michael Stipe and Bono) would show up for something as tawdry and pathetic as this (although I guess if either U2 or R.E.M. has a camera hog, we all know who they are).

Let me start with the actual music. First of all, the other relief efforts (Band Aid and USA for Africa) actually bothered to write original music for their money-raising efforts instead of letting Puffy (I almost enjoy calling him that now that I know he'd prefer to be called something else) throw a new (but not particularly original) beat underneath a classic song and sign his name to it even though he didn't really do anything. I would be willing to bet that someone could write a computer program that would do a more respectful job of butchering old songs than Puffy seems capable of. Second, there are the voices of the contributing singers. In the other two money-raising efforts I mentioned, you could actually tell the difference between the stars. Even though I thought that pop music like Wham! and Duran Duran were just as horrible back then as I think Britney et al. are today, I could at least tell the difference between George Michael's and Simon LeBon's voices. I defy anyone who hasn't seen the video of this song to tell me who is singing what parts. Sure, you can pick out the more distinctive voices (like the aforementioned Bono and Stipe), but most of the rest of the singers, especially the female divas-in-training like Christina, sound exactly alike. And instead of respecting the strength of the original song, which gets a lot of its power from the subdued treatment that Marvin Gaye gives the verses (and which therefore makes the more emotional choruses that much more resonant), each of these singers tries her hardest to take her one like and warble and trill like there's no tomorrow, in the moronic style of Mariah and Whitney that seems much more concerned with technical difficulty than emotional appropriateness. And don't even get me started on the numerous rap breaks.

Then there's the attitude of the participants. I remember one of the famous quotes regarding the "We Are the World" sessions was that the stars were to check their egos at the door. And, surprisingly, it seems like they actually did; even though each star brought their own distinctive touch to their lines, none of them seemed intent on making their line THE standout line of the song, which is exactly what it seems like most of the singers on this remake are doing. Just like a grocery store shelf line with cleaning products that are all essentially the same and therefore try to standout by having the flashiest and brightest-colored box, each of these singers (who actually are more like brands of detergent than artists) seems to feel compelled to make their line as technically complicated as possible. But when you have everyone singing their guts out on every line, it ends up making the song very flat and empty. Which I guess is in keeping with the ham-handed formulaic approach that Puffy has made a career out of. But it still sucks.

I don't know. Maybe it would help if more than two of these morons actually knew how to play an instrument and compose a song. God forbid.

Sweet, sweet cable modem...

There are a bunch of people in my circle of friends (Regan, Tom, SF Jeff, and now me, to name a few) who are all in the range between 25-30 who are currently unemployed or underemployed, just sitting around doing temp jobs or freelance work while we figure out what we're going to do with ourselves. I don't know; it's like we were explorers all geared up to cross the Atlantic and take on the New World, but somewhere along the way we got engulfed in the Sargasso Sea, and now we're just kind of waiting and hoping that a strong wind will come and free us from our inactivity and helplessness. I personally am still very optimistic about finding a job in the near future, and I certainly haven't lost the desire to the kind of work I've been doing for the past five years. But it's very strange that I've gotten blown off course so quickly. I couldn't imagine being in the position I'm in now six months ago.

I don't know. CO2 Jeff tells me that something similar happened to him when he was about 30, and he seems to have come out of it okay (despite CO2's recent woes). That gives me some hope. Maybe this is the kind of thing that happens to everyone at some point, but five years down the line, when I'm working another job somewhere, these few weeks will just seem like the eye of the storm, a brief period of calm in between the stresses of my past and future jobs. And maybe it's not so bad to enjoy the tranquility while it lasts.

I had all these notes about what I was going to write about this weekend, from Barry Bonds and his fantastic season (which is far more impressive than just the home run record), a review of the Simpsons First Season DVD set, and a comparison of the parallels between Korn/Limp Bizkit and Backstreet Boys/N'Sync. But of course I never got around to any of those, so you'll have to wait until later in the week. In the meantime...

Saturday. What did I do Saturday? I honestly can't remember. The days are just starting to blur together now. I think the highlights were going to Sam's Club to stock up on bulk items (including 50 more CD-Rs) and seeking a geocache near the bridge mural in Frederick (which we didn't end up really looking for—there was a lot of foot traffic in the area due to the In The Street festival taking place a few blocks away).

I was very tired on Sunday (my normal time to bed is between 3 and 4, but I keep getting up between 9 and 10, so I'm progressively getting lower and lower on REM sleep), but I do remember what we did, since I'm writing this before I go to bed. First was church, which I hadn't been to in two or three weeks. I almost lost it during communion—when we were kneeling down praying, I closed my eyes and drifted off for a second. I woke up with a start when my head nodded forward, and my mind immediately flashed to the Simpsons episode where Homer doses off during Reverend Lovejoy's sermon on constancy, falls completely forward, hits his head on the pew in front of him, and jerks up straight in his seat yelling "Damn it!". I started silently laughing to myself as this clip played over and over in my mind, Homer slamming his head into the wood and yelling "Damn it!", breaking the dead silence of the church. I had to think of some very sad things to regain my composure, but the whole rest of the service was a real effort to get through.

Later that afternoon we decided to go down to the Apple Store at Tyson's Corner to pick up the free OS X 10.1 upgrade kit so that I could play around with it some this week and decide if it's strong enough to become our primary OS. Since we don't get down that way too often, we looked up an easy geocache that was only 3 miles from the mall to make the trip a little more worthwhile.

I had been to the Apple Store once before on the day it opened, but I never actually got inside, since the wait was two hours by the time we got there. This time it was fairly crowded, but of course no line and no security guards allowing people in five at a time. It was a pretty cool store—as a diehard Mac user, it is really fun to just go in and play around with all the new machines. The current lineup of desktops and portables are beautiful, and the 22 inch flat panel cinema display is just flat-out amazing. All the employees had that hipper-than-thou feeling (like the employees at the Jeffery's sketch on SNL), but I'm sure that's all part of Steve's master plan.

After we picked up the free upgrade kit, we drove to a nearby park to do the cache. The GPS unit said that it was about 3/4 of a mile from the parking lot, but since the terrain had been rated a one, we figured it would just be a nice long stroll through the woods. Which it pretty much was, until we got within 500 feet of the cache and Julie realized that she had left the stuff we were going to put in the cache back in the car. So we walked all the way back to the parking lot, and then all the way back to the cache. It was a nice walk, and the terrain was really easy, so it wasn't all that taxing, so it was a forgivable mistake. The cache itself was pretty easy to find, but even though there were some cool things in it, the person who had found it before us had placed it back in its hiding spot at an angle so that water was able to get in and soak most of the items. We took a couple of toys made out of plastic that seemed to be relatively unharmed, and left behind some plastic Halloween toys that should be pretty immue to moisture. I also made sure that the cache was as level as possible when I put it back, so hopefully it won't get any worse.

Woe be unto you if you get the Muppet Show theme song stuck in your head at two in the morning.

Click here to find out what robot you really are

I guess this is right. I'm anxious, a little cautious, not well-suited for adventuring, and not really all that cool. Plus, my first job was programming binary load lifters.

When we returned to our car from the Apple Store the other day, this car was parked next to us:

Now, being a total Modest Mouse freak, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that this must be another similarly obsessed fan (and as Julie pointed out, if they were using M MOWSE then that means that someone has already taken M MOUSE). I know my brain is hardwired to see Modest Mouse in everything, but I still couldn't think of any alternative interpretations. I've never heard of a last name like "Mowse" (a quick search of several white pages sites reveal no one with that last name who has a listed number), and if it's not a last name, then I don't know what else it could be.

I thought about leaving a simple note with my email address on it so that they could write me and tell me if their license plate referred to Modest Mouse, but it was getting kind of late in the day and we still had a geocache that we wanted to do. So I guess now I'll never know for sure. But this is one of the few bands out there today that can inspire this kind of adoration in their fans. That has to be it. Right?

I love it when the content from one day garners enough feedback so that it actually turns into content for two days, especially because I haven't bothered to sit down and write all the stuff I have notes on.

Anyway. Tom apparently took the robot quiz. Now, I'm not sure about all the robots they have as possible outcomes, but I would have guessed that Tom would have come out like me as C-3PO or some other genial, non-threatening robot. Instead, he turned out to be Roy Batty, the psychotic, egomaniacal killer robot from Blade Runner. Granted, manipulating the test over and over so that he eventually came out with a creepy result like that is just the kind of thing I can see Tom doing...but isn't that a little disturbing in and of itself?

Update: Tom swears that he answered the questions honestly and that this is the result that came up for him, and I believe him. But it's almost more scary that Roy Batty apparently is the robot that Tom is hiding in his brain. Good thing I'm not his creator. If I just stay out of his way, I should be fine...

And as for the M MOWSE license plate that I wrote about yesterday...well, here's the first line of the email Doug sent me in response:

Dude, the first thing I thought of was Mickey Mowse...

He's right, of course. Any sane person would have thought of this interpretation long before Modest Mouse. I guess I kind of forgot about Mickey, whose Q rating is undoubtedly quite a bit higher than Modest Mouse's, and who is, I must admit, much more likely to have an obsessed fan use his name on a license plate in a show of affection. I don't know how I missed this—it doesn't exactly take a genius (although Doug probably is one). I guess I really am blind when it comes to Modest Mouse.

I watched my second episode of Judd Apatow's new show Undeclared on Fox last night. I'm a huge fan of his—he is the man responsible for both The Critic and Freaks and Geeks, both of which were canceled long before their time, and both of which I watch over and over again in endless reruns on cable. There's no one I would like more to have a hit show than him, but...I guess I wish a different show would be his big hit.

It's not a bad show, and I guess that it could still find a nice rhythm eventually, but there was nothing wrong with the early episodes of either of his two previous shows. They both felt so right from the very beginning that there was little need to tinker with the cast and scripts. Part of the problem with Undeclared is that it really wants to be Freaks and Geeks Go to College, but it doesn't have the luxury of slowly unfolding the characters over several hour-long episodes. Instead, Apatow has to reveal quick flashes of their personalities interspersed with a nonstop barrage of more or less typical jokes and gags, so that even though I want the characters to be a lot more interesting than they seem to be now, I'm not sure they ever will be, because the main purpose of this show is to produce laughs (in that department, guest star Will Ferrell scored big points as the creepy older guy who takes lots of speed and wants to pretend that he never left college). That was okay on The Critic, because the characters there were cartoons, after all. But here, it just feels too forced. It's like they centrifuged Freaks and Geeks and skimmed off all the stuff that made that show really cool and unique.

I'll give it a couple of more chances, but I don't see it becoming my new favorite show of the season.

So I guess it's been one month since the attacks. Strange. Feels like forever.

To finally finish up the M MOWSE and robot quiz topics, I heard back from SF Jeff (soon to be CS (Colorado Springs) Jeff). He also thought immediately of Mickey, and he turned out to be a lot saner than Tom and even more boring than me: his secret inner robot, as it turns out, is former Vice President Al Gore.

One of the advantages of my current employment status has been that I have been able to watch both of the Braves first two postseason games, which Fox decided for some strange reason to broadcast at 1:00 p.m. EST on the Fox Family Channel. They won both games, which was surprising given that this is one of the weakest teams on paper that the Braves have fielded during the past ten years, and also given that they have the worst regular season record of any team in the playoffs this year. They won the first game by three runs which came mostly from a Chipper Jones home run in the eighth; the second was a 1-0 shutout of the Astros that had Glavine pitching eight innings and Smoltz coming in to close it out in the ninth. And it didn't hurt that the Astros were making all kinds of errors in both games, which the Braves were usually able to capitalize on.

There was a period in the mid-90's when the pitching staff of the Braves was so dominating that they were always favored to win in the playoffs, no matter how they had been playing recently or who their opposition was. If they won, it was no big deal because they were supposed to, and if they lost, it was a disappointment (this is how the press felt about them; as a fan, I never expected them to win no matter how dominant they had been during the regular season; there was always some flaw that the team had that was magnified during the intense focus of the playoffs, whether it was an anemic offense or an unreliable bullpen). Year after year, the pundits would make the Braves their preseason pick to win it all, only to watch their brilliant regular seasons crumble in the postseason. After the first couple of years, the Braves seemed grimly determined to make it to the postseason, but also mopily resigned to losing once they got there.

But this year's postseason games feel much more like the games they played back in 1991 and 1992, when they were just beginning their current winning streak and were still viewed as flukey underdogs who would make a run for a couple of years and then fade back into their accustomed mediocrity. Instead, they went on an 11 year run that had them winning 10 division titles in a row, unprecedented in any professional sports league (there were no official division winners during the strike-shortened 1994 season). By comparision, the Yankees, who many would regard as the dynasty team of recent years, spent the first half of the Braves' run as the laughingstock of the AL, paying too much for mediocre players and ending up near the bottom of the standings for years (of course, that all changed in 1996, when they began their equally remarkable run—four World Series titles in five years, and they're in the playoffs again this year). I think the role of underdog suits the Braves well, and it's a role they've not had to play for almost ten years; it's like the low expectations challenge them to play well in the same way that the burden of being expected to win the World Series every year seemed to really take a toll on them.

This Braves squad is not a great team compared to the teams of the mid-90's, including the team that won the World Series in 1995, but it just might be good enough to make it to the Series again this year. They got off to a very slow start, falling several games behind the Phillies by May, when they lost their 2000 Rookie of the Year shortstop Rafael Furcal for the season and figured out that John Smoltz, who is past Cy Young winner and has the record for most postseason victories ever and who they had counted on being available to start regularly by midseason, wasn't quite recovered enough from his elbow surgery to pitch as expected. Add to that the revolving door of aging veterans at first, the loss of second baseman Quilvio Veras and All Star catcher Javy Lopez, and the creaky corner outfielders who weren't hitting nearly well enough to justify their below-average defense, and this looked like the year when the Braves would finally have to settle for second place (or worse) in the NL East.

But despite all the injuries and despite several veterans playing far below expectations for most of the season, this team always seemed to have a quiet confidence; they just knew they were going to win in the end. And that confidence seems to have carried over into these first two playoff games, along with some stellar defense, their usual great pitching, and a revitalized offense (thank god). They just seem determined to win now despite the odds against them, whereas in years past they have seemed resigned to losing in the postseason even when they were heavily favored to win. There are a lot of problems on this team, a lot of holes that will have to be filled before next year if they want to have a chance to beat division rivals like Phillies, Marlins, and Mets, all of which teams are on the upswing who are just going to get better as their young talent matures and gains experience in a major league environment. But before they start worrying about next year, they just might bring us one more amazing October.

Well, if you people keep on sending me the results of your robot quiz, I'm going to keep posting about them. Julie and Tori are the latest—both of them emailed me yesterday with their results. Julie was Rachel, the replicant who didn't know she was a replicant in Blade Runner, but she was one answer away from being Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation (she went back and changed one answer she had been waffling on just to see if it would change the result).

Tori, it turns out, is Number Five from that cheesy 80s movie Short Circuit with Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy, who as I recall were both big stars at the time (Guttenberg from the Police Academy movies and Sheedy from St. Elmo's Fire and the Breakfast Club). What's really funny about this is that Tori has never seen this movie (she would have been about 3 years old when it was first released), so she doesn't know just how goofy that robot affiliation is.

It's funny how strangely accurate that quiz is. I can really see why each person ended up with the inner robot that they did. And that makes me even more nervous about Tom's Roy Batty result.

I just found out that the man who died from anthrax in Florida last week had actually been to my brother Dodd's house in Durham the week before he died. My brother goes to Duke, and this man's daughter is currently dating one of Dodd's housemates. That's just fucking scary.

Here is a selection of quotes from my brother's info screen on AOL Instant Messenger:

I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the
morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day.
-Frank Sinatra

Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach
you to keep your mouth shut.
-Ernest Hemingway

You're not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on.
-Dean Martin

A woman drove me to drink and I didn't even have the decency to
thank her.
-W.C. Fields

When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.
-Henny Youngman

And here is one of his most recent I'm Away messages:

I am currently unavailable, because I am involved in a war against my liver—so far, I'm winning.

Do you think maybe we're right to be concerned about him having an alcohol problem?

Shop Smart. Shop S-Mart.

I didn't really write anything for the log this weekend because I didn't really do all that much in general. I read some more of the Odyssey, worked some more on the job situation, and got materials ready for another interview tomorrow morning. I also spent a lot of time working on some new content for Plug. I swear, I'm going to do better this time keeping that site updated. I promise: one new review a week for the rest of the year and then at least two a month after that.

Anyway, the new review is of Whiskeytown's Pneumonia, which I think is just an incredible record. So go and check it out. And then go buy it.

My god, why can't someone just beat the damn Yankees?

Episode I DVD out today, along with a new Le Tigre album. Now if only I had a job so I could buy them...

I talked to my brother last night about the Anthrax scare they had. He said that even though the CDC people told them that it couldn't be transmitted person to person unless they touched an open wound or something like that, he and his housemates got really freaked out every time someone felt like they were coming down with something during the 10 day incubation period. They also had to talk to the FBI several times. Thankfully, they are all okay now, if a little shaken up still.

Teeohareaye ayeess ay dubulyueeayearedeeoh.

Well, what do you know? Today is the first anniversary of this log. Weird. It really doesn't feel like I've been doing it for a year. That's probably because I didn't post all that regularly for the first few months—the posts seemed to come in spurts, and I usually missed at least one week per month completely. I've only really been posting on a more or less daily basis (during the week, anyway) since about May or so.

It's interesting, looking back at those early entries. The first one was about Modest Mouse, who I am still obsessed with, and the second, posted the same day, was about my friend Sam, who had recently gone to spend some time in Africa with his girlfriend who was in the Peace Corps. Oddly enough, Sam and Miranda are arriving back in the country today, and I'm probably going to see them this weekend. What a weird coincidence.

I've really enjoyed this experience so far. I started doing it just to force myself to write more, to write something every day if I could, and that alone has made the effort well worth it—I am probably writing, or thinking about writing, as much as I ever did when I was an English major dreaming of becoming a scholar. But there have been many side benefits. The biggest of these is probably feeling more closely connected to my friends and family who read the log but who I don't get to see that much: they know pretty much everything that is going on with me just by reading the log, and they often write to me about things that they see here, which forms little pools of side dialogues related to the log that take place in AIM and email. Plus, it's just cool to have a fairly complete fossil record of my day-to-day existence.

So now that it's a year old, I have to start thinking about just how long it's going to last, really. I'm amazed that I actually stuck to it this long, and it's become so ingrained in my daily routine that I really can't see wanting to stop writing here any time soon. But if I ever do decide that I don't want to do this anymore, I'll still feel like I achieved my basic goals with this site. But it would be cool if this were just the beginning.

I didn't really write anything for today, so I'll post the most recent SirCam documents I have received. I got these three a while back, and I haven't really received any new ones since then, so maybe this worm is finally dying off. Too bad. It didn't affect me at all, and I really enjoyed getting these random documents.

There's nothing better than driving around with a full tank of gas, a great road CD, and nowhere in particular to go.

Tori is we todd did.
Tori is sofa king we todd did.

As promised, I have a new review up on Plug. This week, it's the Shins' debut record, "Oh, Inverted World". Go read it. Now.

The Braves have broken my heart again, losing the NLCS to the Arizona Diamondbacks 4 games to 1. They have broken my heart every year since 1991, with the notable exception of 1995, win they finally won the World Series. They have won their division (and therefore been in the postseason) every year that there was a postseason since 1991, and been in the world series about half those times, and yet they only have one world championship to show for it. By comparison, the Yankees, who only started to get good again in 1996, have been to the world series the last five years, and have won it four times. And they have a really good chance to do it again this year.

I suppose I should be grateful that the Braves are good enough to have a shot every year, but in some ways it would be easier if they were out of contention in August. That way I could just sit back and enjoy the games without the dread that creeps into the back of my mind that tells me that no matter how far they get in the playoffs, they will almost certainly find a way to blow it in the end.

If you were asking me as a neutral baseball fan, I would have put Arizona and Seattle in the series this year, as they were clearly the most talented and interesting teams from their respective leagues during the regular season. But I really hoped that the Braves could fight their way into the World Series despite the fact that, on paper, this is one of the worst teams they have fielded in the last ten years (they almost didn't make it into the playoffs at all; if not for a strong September and several stumbles on the part of the Phillies, this could very easily have been the first year they sat out the postseason since 1991). But Arizona beat them soundly, thanks in large part to the nearly unstoppable combo of Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson (not to mention infielder Craig Counsell, who generally is a mediocre player but who is always phenomenal against the Braves).

I really hope the Mariners can find a way to win the next three games and beat the Yankees. I am just so sick of the Yankees.

I am now officially rechristening SF Jeff to CS Jeff, in light of his upcoming move to Colorado Springs.

Last Friday was an odd little day, in a very good way. I spent it with Sam, who has been in Africa for the last year, and CS Jeff, who I haven't seen in several months. We all used to work together at Sycamore (Sam also worked with me for a while at CO2), and now we're all unemployed (although Sam and I are actively looking for jobs and Jeff is supposed to start a new position next month). It was really strange how it all worked out; I didn't even realize that the three of us getting together would be possible. I knew that Jeff was coming for a quick visit to see all of his friends around here before heading off to Colorado, but I'd forgotten that Sam was getting back from Africa on Wednesday. And it just so happened that none of us had any plans for Friday.

It was really cool to hang out with them again; it was like we had just seen each other last weekend. We went out to lunch at one of our favorite sandwich shops, and then I took them out geocaching. That was a little disappointing, because they had heard me talk about it but had never done it themselves. I tried to pick a cache that wouldn't be fiendishly difficult, but that would at least be challenging. It turned out to be very, very easy: a 10 minute walk on a pretty level path, a short walk off the trail, and a very obvious and easy hiding place for the cache. I wish it had been one that we had to search around for a little bit.

After that we went by a bookstore and just hung out for a while, and then dropped off Sam back at his dad's house. We spent a few minutes there looking at his dad's collection of antique signs, which were really cool. The most interesting ones were the big neon signs that still had the original neon in them from 50 years ago. Sam's dad had just moved in, so a lot of stuff was still in boxes or not really set up for display, but it was cool to poke around everything. It must have been a little strange for Sam, coming back home after a year in Africa to a house that he had never seen before.

It was a good afternoon, if a little surreal at times. I don't make friends easily, and seeing Sam and Jeff again reminded me of what good friends they have become. It's too bad that that was probably the last time the three of us are going to see each other for a while.

After dropping Sam off at his dad's house on Friday afternoon, Jeff and I went down to Shady Grove to catch the metro in to DC, meeting Ryan and Mike at the station. We were all heading down to the MCI Center to see the Washington Capitals, the local big league hockey team.

I had never been to a professional hockey game before, but I was once scheduled to go see the Caps play. It was while Jeff and I were still working for Sycamore; to celebrate the launch of the now-defunct web-hosting service, Buttonwood iNet, Chris and Adam, the two managers of the iNet service, decided to take everyone who had been involved in building it to a hockey game. Now, Chris was our primary manager (he was also in charge of Buttonwood Media, which was the division of Sycamore that Jeff and I primarily worked for), and his wife ran a daycare. So in the winter, he was always sick, but he never, ever stayed home—he just dragged himself into work and hung around long enough to infect everyone else.

Chris had been sick with one of these daycare-derived illnesses earlier in the week, so sick that he almost didn't come in to work for once. We were actually hoping that maybe he wouldn't want to come to the hockey game, since he wasn't really part of the group (I think he was a manager of iNet in name only since they needed so many of his division's resources to build it), and he always made things a little more tense. But he showed up bright and early that morning, feeling completely better. I was still really looking forward to the game, though. We were going to leave the office around three that afternoon, ride the metro down to the MCI Center, and have dinner at a Chinese restaurant before the game.

Around 10 in the morning, I started to get a headache, which I didn't think was any big deal. But then I started to feel congested, and then feverish. And then I realized what was happening: Chris had gotten better just in time to go to the game himself, but by coming in to the office all week he had managed to infect me just in time for me to miss the hockey trip that had been planned for weeks. Instead of going to the game with everyone else, I went home and basically didn't move for four days; that was one of the worst illnesses I have ever had, and missing the hockey event just made it that much worse.

So when Jeff mentioned that he might want to go to a hockey game while he was in town last weekend, I was very enthusiastic. I've never been able to watch hockey on television, but I know that seeing something like that in person is completely different than watching it on tv; just going to experience the ambience usually makes the trip worthwhile, even if you don't end up liking the event itself. I called around to some of our mutual friends and put together a group of four of us, because they had a special four-pack ticket promotion that included not only the ticket, but a meal and a free hat. Ryan was on board immediately, and Dave thought he was going to be able to come, but he had to cancel at the last minute. So we asked Mike instead (who plays cards with us now, but has never met Jeff, because he only joined our card nights to take Jeff's place after he left), and he took Dave's place.

It was really cool. We were in the upper level, but it didn't matter at all; in fact, I think it might have been better than watching the game from rinkside. From our perspective, you could see the whole rink at once, and you could really get a sense of the ebb and flow of the game. On television, they are always cutting from one angle to another, and I find it difficult to really keep up with exactly where the puck is, whose goal it's moving towards, etc. Even when they do maintain a continous shot, the camera still has to swing from one side of the rink to the other, and the puck is constantly moving out of frame for a second or two. But watching the game from a stable vantage point, I really began to understand the subtle, intricate strategies involved in just being able to set up an opportunity to take a shot; it really gave me a much greater appreciation for the game and the people who play it.

And then there were the fans. I loved them. They were like fans of a minor league baseball team 60 years ago, when most of the players were actually local boys, and people felt very attached to their team. It seemed like half the people there were wearing jerseys with their favorite player's name on them, and they all seemed acutely aware of the intricacies of the game (there were many times when everyone else would simultaneously boo or cheer, and I would have to ask Jeff why; I couldn't tell that anything unusual had taken place).

I was actually so swept up by the experience that I tried watching the Caps on tv for their next couple of games, but I ran into the same trouble that I had when I had tried to watch hockey in the past: the way that they show the games on television, you just can't get a real feel for the flow of the game. I'd like to take Julie to another game this season, and if she likes it, I'll probably consider getting a partial season ticket plan next year.

Another thing I liked about going to see the Caps was that we were able to use the metro to get down to the game. When we go to see the Orioles, we always have to get there very early, find a parking lot several blocks away, and then sit in traffic for a while when the game is over, since there are only a couple of ways out of the maze of Baltimore's downtown streets. But the Caps' stadium sits atop the intersection of the red, green, and yellow metro lines, so getting in and out is super easy (although it's a little weird walking through the faux-Chinatown that they've built up around that area; apparently, they get to call it Chinatown because, next to the standard Ruby Tuesday's, McDonald's, and Kinko's logos, they have the names of those companies written in Chinese). The trip actually takes longer overall, but it's so much less irritating than fighting traffic in Baltimore.

After the game, we rode back on the metro, watching our metro car slowly empty as we approached our stop at the end of the line. Jeff and Mike rode back to Frederick in Ryan's car, and I took my time driving home alone, listening to the Strokes and thinking about how quiet the night seemed outside.

So unless you've been blissfully immersed in a sensory deprivation chamber for the last month, you've probably heard the new Jay-Z song "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)" about a thousand times, whether you are a Jay-Z fan or not. And you've probably wondered, just like all the rest of us pathetically unhip, non-TRL watching normal people, just what the hell "H.O.V.A." stands for.

Well, CS Jeff and I were also pondering this question last night around 1 a.m. on AIM, trying to figure out any kind of plausible interpretation of this acronym and coming up with nothing. So of course we turned to Google, the reigning patron saint of obscure internet research.

The first link on the Google results page (after searching on "H.O.V.A. Jay-Z") looked promising: a site that lists the titles and lyrics of every Jay-Z song ever. And while the lyrics to "Izzo" itself didn't yield any new insights, I noticed that a couple of early songs referred to the non-acronymed version, Hova. "Hova the God", the lyrics repeated over and over. Ah, good, that was easy: Hova is short for Jehovah, God, the supreme being, etc. Armed with this new knowledge, I returned to the lyrics to "Izzo" to see if they made any more sense.

But disturbingly enough, the H.O.V.A. in "Izzo" seemed to be referring to a violent drug seller with an enormously overinflated sense of self-worth who derives some pleasure from abusing women and taking advantage of people (it also seemed to be the first person narrator's way of referring to himself in third person). Hmm, I thought, that doesn't exactly fit into the Jehovah concept. So I returned to Google, searching for an interpretation of the lyrics that would clear up these discrepancies and answer the H.O.V.A. question once and for all. And I found the answer a little farther down the page.

This article is one of the funniest things I have seen in a long time. The last time I laughed out loud this much at a web site was probably the first time I read the Filthy Critic or the late, much-lamented Dysfunctional Family Circus. And it actually does explain the H.O.V.A. thing pretty well. Now I can die in peace.

I'd rather live in a dump than in a world run by snooty garbagemen.

Last Saturday, the plan was for Julie and me to meet Jeff, Ryan, and Dave somewhere in Baltimore or DC and go to a museum or something like that. We were pretty much leaving it up to Jeff, since the rest of us live in the area, and this would probably be the last time he was here for a while.

I suggested the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, which had just opened a new exhibit, and Jeff seemed interested. I think he had read my raves on the last exhibit and wanted to see it for himself. So we met up in Baltimore around 1:00, had lunch at the inner harbor, and then walked over to the Visionary Museum.

The new exhibit was titled "The Art of War and Peace", and it presented works of art (mostly paintings, but some sculptures, dioramas, and tapestries) that dealt with the horrors of war. The peace part of the exhibit was housed in the last of the three galleries, but contrary to its stated objective, it didn't really help you find anything redemptive or positive in the two galleries that preceded it.

The subject matter, and the often graphic way in which it was depicted, was a little overwhelming, especially in light of the recent terrorist attacks. Both the works of art and the text that had been written to accompany them dealt with the paradoxes of war and the art that is inspired by it: is it worth it to go to war to preserve the hope of a future peace? Does the creation of art inspired by the horrors of war somehow balance out the lives and psyches that were lost during military conflicts?

One of the first concepts that the exhibit introduced was the universal nature of the state of war, so that instead of thinking about specific conflicts in specific places, the viewer was able to understand in a very real way that the horrifying experience of war is pretty much the same no matter what side you fight on, how just your cause, or whether you are a combatant or a bystander. Some of the conflicts that inspired particular pieces of art were obvious from the title of the work or by the images in the work itself, but in a weird way, that actually helped you to understand the general nature of war: by being able to see that the art inspired by a war with which you were familiar dealt with the same themes as art inspired by other conflicts in other places with other rationales governing their continuance, you really began to see how war has been the same for time immemorial: soldiers fight, civilians suffer, people die, and no one is happy.

What I liked about the prior exhibit at the Visionary Museum was the emphasis placed on each artist's uniqueness; it seemed as though each artist in the last exhibit had found their own individual way of making art, either by obsessing about a particular theme or by using unorthodox materials and methods to create their art. That's what I loved about the museum the last time I went: the exhibit they had up then, titled "Treasures of the Soul", showcased human creativity in a way that made me excited about art, and made the viewer realize that he didn't have to be a slave to the conventions of the art world to appreciate these often unconventional works as art, or even to make art himself (forgive my non-PC use of the masculine pronouns here). It confirmed my deep belief that art can be made anywhere by anyone using any type of material: it is the creative impulse itself that is the soul of all art, and great art is art where that impulse shines through unburdened by the dictates of politics and fashion. The biographies of the artists that were posted next to their work were almost as interesting as looking at the artwork itself; each one told a fascinating story of how the artist, whether he was a prisoner, a mental patient, a homeless person, or someone with mental disabilities, had achieved some kind of growth, redemption, hope, and freedom through their artistic impulses.

But in the War and Peace exhibit, there were pretty much two variations on the biographical information: the artist was either a former soldier who had become so mentally unbalanced by his war experiences that he turned to art as an outlet for the demons inside, or an innocent bystander caught up in somebody else's conflict who used art as a way to remember the people and way of life that was lost as a result of war. After a while, it became almost numbing, seeing painting after painting of dead bodies, explosions, and human suffering, and reading about how the artist was basically creating these images from memory. I kept looking (without success) for some purpose that could justify the pain that had helped to create these pieces of art.

The peace gallery at the end of the exhibit (with walls painted a soothing sky blue, as opposed to the bloody crimson of the first two galleries) was supposed to show how some artists had used their talents not to detail the horrors of war, but rather to use their negative war experiences to appeal for peace. The viewers were apparently supposed to find some comfort or hope in this, but for me, at least, it just served to underscore the utter brutality and pointlessness illustrated in the first two galleries. There were some interesting pieces in this section, most notably a big circular structure built out of corrugated aluminum panels on which were hanging a few dozen small pieces by Howard Finster, the famous folk artist whose work has appeared on album covers by the Talking Heads and R.E.M. But overall, the peace gallery just wasn't as powerful and immediate as the two war sections; after walking through the sections that dealt with war, even the imagery in the peaceful section seemed menacing and empty. Any human figure reminded you of the hundreds of dead or dying bodies you had just seen depicted in the war sections, and the appeals for peace that invoked famous religious leaders (mainly Christ) reminded you immediately of the apocalyptic visions of hell that were a common metaphor for war.

Another common theme throughout the war sections was how intertwined industrialization and large corporate entities were with the machinery of war. There was one artist in particular, whose name I can't recall (one of the few annoying things about the museum is that they don't have a book for each exhibition, they don't let you take pictures, and they don't even have a basic show listing that you can use to keep track of the artists and their work), had several paintings in different parts of the exhibition that portrayed various aspects of a warlike culture: a battleship with the barrels pointed directly at the viewer, a city scene of industrialists making money off of war and drugs, a tickertape parade for soldiers returned from war, and marching soldiers on their way to war being cheered on by civilians. With the exception of the commanding figures (such as the generals, admirals, and CEOs), everyone was portrayed as a slouching, frightening, almost lifeless golem slinking around the tiny enclosed spaces that had been built to contain them, from the lower decks of a battleship to the cramped confines of modern apartment buildings. The soldiers themselves were portrayed with aggressively pointed chests, but with the exception of the highest leaders, they had the same empty looks on their faces as the general populace. I guess what appealed to me about this artist's work above all the others (besides the sheer style of the world that the artist created) was its recognition that war is something that we do to ourselves, and that there will always be soulless corporate and militaristic entities who thrive during times of great suffering and sadness. And that's something that I think is completely true. Whatever the majority of the individuals who work for the drug companies who manufacture antidotes or vaccines for biological weapons or the government and its defense contractors, these entities themselves are pleased with the recent turn of events: more drugs will be sold, more bureaucrats will be given greater power, and more weapons will be made.

This was a challenging exhibit, and certainly not what I was expecting. The events of the past month or so have made the themes of this show a little harder to deal with objectively because, like it or not, we are at war now, and this particular conflict could last many, many years, and have casualties far beyond the military ones. And I'm not just referring to the civilian, human casualties, either—we can already see our rights to privacy, anonymity, and free speech being eroded drastically, rights that make up the core of what we call freedom in America.

<semi-related rant>
It seems crazy to me that we're supposedly fighting this war to preserve our freedom, and yet the critical components of that freedom are the first things we're sacrificing just to make it easier to fight this war. I mean, I don't really have a good solution to this; obviously I want the people responsible for these acts and their associates who may commit future acts of terrorism to be deprived of the resources and freedom that allowed them to plan and carry out these crimes, and I realize that this is going to require that law enforcement agencies be given expanded powers that allow them to act quickly in critical situations. But I guarantee you, those rights that we think we are temporarily giving up in order to contain this threat won't just magically reappear when this conflict has ended—once the government gets used to controlling certain aspects of our lives, it's not very easy to get them to relinquish that power.
</semi-related rant>

Forgive me. Back to the museum stuff.

I guess that I'd have to say that this was good show, if a slightly flawed one; they just shouldn't have tried to tack the peace gallery on the end. Granted, they plan these things months and months in advance, and it's just a sick coincidence that this show opened just weeks after the 9.11 attacks. Maybe in peacetime, the peace segment would have made more sense, and would have provided a more satisfying conclusion to the whole exhibit. But the rest of the show is so immediate, so terrifying, that the peace gallery just rings hollow by comparison, like the last few chapters of the book of Ecclesiastes: the first few chapters of that book are such a brutally honest look at the human condition (I consider these writings to be the first true existential texts, predating Sartre, Camus, and Hemingway by a few thousand years) that the final chapters, where the author attempts to force a purpose onto the emptiness that he has discovered in the world, just seem like the author has gone into denial because the truth is too difficult to bear any longer.

"The Art of War and Peace" is an interesting experience, to be sure; it certainly gave me some new things to think about (obviously—I wasn't planning for this entry to be this long, but I still feel like it's incomplete, like I haven't properly articulated my reactions to this exhibit). It also gave me some new perspectives on my attempts to formulate an opinion about the terrorist attacks and the ongoing US response. But if you go, you should prepare yourself for this experience, in much the same way that you would prepare yourself to go to the Holocaust museum in DC. I may try to go back again in a few months, when I might be able to deal with it in a less visceral way. But I don't know. Once might have been enough.

We have updated the CO2 site again. And, as promised, I have a new review up on Plug. This week: The Strokes' "Is This It".

Along with the actual pieces of art and the artist biographies on display at the "Art of War and Peace" exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum, there were also several essays that had been written by the curators (which are actually quite good; you can read the text of these essays here). Most of the essays were accompanied by 20th century quotes or song lyrics that dealt with the same themes that were being grappled with in the show. There were two of these quotes in particular that pretty much sum up the difficulty I've had personally in trying to deal with the terrorist attacks and their aftermath:

Every war already carries within it the war which will answer it. Every war is answered by a new war, until everything, everything is smashed.
-Kathe Kollwitz

I am not only a pacifist, but a militant pacifist. I am willing to fight for peace.... Is it not better for a man to die for a cause in which he believes, such as peace, than to suffer for a cause in which he does not believe, such as war?
-Albert Einstein

As someone who tries to be a pacifist as much as possible (despite my tendency to rant at length about usually-trivial matters), as someone who tries to take a live-and-let-live attitude towards others, no matter how disagreeable their behaviors or beliefs might be to me, I have had a great deal of trouble trying to understand what our response as a nation should be to these attacks. The first reaction, of course, is the desire to go over there and bomb the hell out of them, to get retribution for what most Americans see as unwarranted and unjustified attacks on innocent civilians (I guess that is our government's first reaction, too, since that's what we're doing right now).

The more I have reflected on them, the less sense the terrorist attacks make. What did the terrorists hope to acheive by the attacks? Certainly they didn't expect that they would plunge our nation into a state of fear and chaos—I mean, we've never been attacked by a foreign country on our own soil before, but the US has always been willing to go abroad to defend its interests and allies. War doesn't scare us as a nation, however we might feel about it as individuals. (Although I wouldn't call us a warlike nation, either—we have never really used our immense power and our victories in global conflicts to perform land grabs, which are historically primary reason that nations have gone to war. In the past, war was waged only for conquest; only in this century has America changed the rules, so that we most often go to war in order to maintain stability and to protect our interets abroad. Considering that we are probably the most powerful economic, cultural, and military power in history, we are remarkably benign in the exertion of our influence on the global stage.)

And what did the terrorists expect our response to be to these attacks? Again, they couldn't have expected that there would not have been some sort of retribution, whether in the form of direct military conflict or more indirect measures such as economic sanctions and helping the enemies of the Taliban to grow more powerful. Why would they want to wake a sleeping giant, especially one that has never been reluctant to strike back when struck first?

These questions just lead to more questions, especially when faced with the undeniable truth of both the the statements quoted above: they are both absolutely correct, and yet they are completely at odds with each other. And I agree with them both. Every war, even a justifiable war that disposes of an evil regime, even a war that we don't start but merely continue because we must defend ourselves, leads to other conflicts; the Old Testament eye-for-an-eye concept just doesn't work when you are talking about disputes that involve billions of people and dozens of nations. At the same time, the United States can't just sit back and allow itself to be attacked, or allow its friends to be attacked. Einstein's concept of the militant pacifist would apply, I believe, to a vast majority of Americans: we do not wish to go to war, and we do not enjoy going to war, and we don't even enjoy winning wars, but that does not affect our resolve to defend ourselves and preserve our peace and freedom in the long term by waging war in the short term.

I don't know where this post is going. I just go round and round with these two quotes. There is no solution, there is no black and white way to look at this issue. I don't want us to be at war, and I am very concerned about the long term ramifications of our ongoing retaliatory strikes. At the same time, we cannot just sit back and let innocent civillians be attacked on our soil; we must do what we can to prevent the people and governments who helped the terrorists plan and carry out these attacks from ever helping another terrorist act against us and our interests. When will this all end? How can it?

Man. What is up with these long posts recently?

On the Fourth of July this year, we had planned to grill out steaks and vegetables for dinner. But as I was taking the cover that we have on the grill to provide some kind of protection from the elements, several wasps flew out from beneath it. I quickly threw the cover to the ground and backed away, but one of them stung me on the arm anyway. A few minutes later, we went back out to see where they had come from, and discovered that there was a decent sized nest attached to the back of the grill. I knocked it off with a stick, but I knew that they would continue to hover around that area for several hours afterwards, so we cooked the steaks under the broiler instead of outside on the grill.

I really didn't think it was any big deal. We had had nests on the house a couple of times before, and just knocking them down seemed to do the trick. But when my parents came to visit at the end of August, they noticed that there were two more nests attached to our stairs. Upon closer inspection, we also discovered that the wasps had built a nest in the umbrella for our outside table, had rebuilt the same nest on the outside of the grill, and also built a smaller nest on the inside of the grill, using one of the small vent holes for access. And disturbingly enough, we noticed them going in and out of a small hole in the siding on the corner of the house.

Soon after, we started to see them inside the house itself.

That's when decided to eliminate them once and for all, and went to Wal-Mart to find some sort of nasty chemical that would take them out. We used up pretty much the whole can, and knocked out all of the outside nests, but we were beginning to get concerned about the hole in the corner of the house. We tried to spray the chemicals up there as best we could, but we couldn't really tell exactly where the nest was at that point, and there were so many flying in and out that we couldn't really stand around the entrance for that long, even though we were suited up so that we were covered from head to toe.

Our concerns were validated when we noticed over the course of the next week that instead of knocking out the nest, the chemicals just seemed to have made the wasps more interested in coming inside. We decided to find out if we could determine exactly how they were getting in, and then block that entrance, seal up the outside entrance, and just wait for them to die (Julie had a friend with a similar problem, and that solution worked for them). We suited up in full gear again and went down to the utility room (which was on the corner where they were flying in, and where we noticed them most often in the house—although every day there would be two or three that would make their way upstairs to the kitchen and living room, which is where we spend most of our time). We eventually figured out that they had access to the house via a small hole the previous owner had drilled in the back of the house in order to run a gas line from a propane tank to a heater. We couldn't reach back far enough to actually caulk up this entrance, so instead we just stuffed a bunch of old towels and sheets up toward the cavity that led to the hole. We had also noticed that they were most active when the fluorescent light was on in that room, so we decided it would be best if we just left that light turned off for a few days while we waited for them to die. The next morning, we soaked a rag in wasp-killing chemicals and stuffed it up in the outside entrance.

We thought at first that this was going to work. For the first day or so, there didn't seem to be any more in the house, and they were certainly having a lot of trouble going in and out of the entrance that we had sealed up outside. But then everything went to hell the next day; a dozen or so showed up inside the house, and when we examined the outside of the house, we noticed that they had found new ways in and out via other tiny holes between the siding and the concrete foundation. At that point, we decided to unseal the outside entrance and just call the professionals to get rid of them.

I made an appointment the next day with a local franchise of a nationally known extermination company. Their salesguy came out, examined the situation, and told us that it would be a simple job. It would probably only need one application, most of the wasps would be dead immediately, and the rest should be dead within a few days. And just in case there were a few survivors, they would come back any time in the next 30 days and reapply the chemicals at no charge. Total cost: $150. At that point, we were at our wit's end with this problem: I had been stung twice inside the house, and we were basically unable to use the utility room (except for doing a load of laundry when we absolutely had to) because of the everpresent wasp population. So $150 seemed more than reasonable to us.

The actual extermination technician came out later that week. He was supposed to be there around 9:00 a.m., in order to get the wasps while they were still relatively inactive. He didn't get there until around 10:00, however, and I was less than thrilled with his preparations for this assignment. He didn't have any kind of protective clothing—just a sweatshirt and jeans—and he kept on muttering about needing a bee pole. His whole attitude was pretty negative; he said that he would spray the chemicals up in the hole, but he wasn't sure what good it was going to do, and that he'd probably have to come back in a couple of weeks.

Now, this wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear. Before I signed the contract, the salesman had assured me that they could take care of this problem easily, that they had specialized tools and chemicals that would eliminate the majority of the wasps within a day and kill the remaining few within a week. But the technician that they sent didn't really think that he would be able to knock out the infestation no matter how many treatments he gave it.

I was further dismayed when the tech went to his truck and came back with nothing more than two small aerosol cans: one that was like the treatment we had already purchased from Wal-Mart which was designed to kill the wasps instantly, and one of a substance nicknamed "bee dust" that kills them in about an hour, but which sticks around for 90 days or so afterward to kill any that might try to return and rebuild the nest. The technique he used to apply these chemicals was laughable: he would run up to the entrance, spray the instant kill for a few seconds, and then run away while several of them dropped dead while trying to enter or leave the nest. Then he would run back up and spray the bee dust into the hole for a few seconds before retreating again. He repeated this sequence three or four times, and then told me to let him know if they were still around after a couple of weeks.

I knew they would be, of course. I had tried to tell him that I thought it was a pretty big nest, tried to tell him where we thought it was located, etc., etc. But he just wanted to spray around the main entrance, convinced that this would do the trick if anything would. We waited one week before calling the company back, but we should have called the next day. The wasps indoors were getting even worse, and although they avoided the main entrance that the tech had sprayed, the wasps quickly found multiple other ways in and out.

When we called back the next week the central office said they would get a message to the tech and that he would call us that afternoon to set up another appointment. That was on Monday, and by the end of the day, we hadn't heard back from him yet. Tuesday: another call by me to the home office, and no return call from him. This went on all week. I was starting to get the feeling that we had been had.

The Monday after that, I got sick of waiting for the tech to call me back, so I called the central office and just asked if I could just make an appointment there instead of waiting for him to call me back. They said yes, so I scheduled the appointment for the next morning. They said he would be there between 9 and 11 in the morning, and I reminded them that he would need a bee pole this time and that he should also get there as early as possible or else plan to wear some protective clothing.

Of course, he didn't show. At noon, I called the central office again, trying to remain calm about this whole situation so that they wouldn't just hang up on me. I eventually got to talk to a coordinator (their version of middle management, I guess), and had a fairly lengthy conversation with her about our problem and the way we felt it was being handled. She promised she would find out what was going on and make sure that the tech came out well-prepared to deal with our problem.

He did finally call us back later that day, but he had the same attitude he did before: if he could get a bee pole, he would come out again the next afternoon, but the salesguy probably should have told us not to waste our money, because he didn't really see how he was going to be able to get up in the hole and get enough chemicals on the nest to destroy it. This really pissed me off, because the person that I had just spoken to at the office had reassured me that they had the specialized equipment to deal with this problem, and that she was sure the problem could be taken care of if the tech came well-prepared.

Immediately after getting off the phone with the tech, I called the central office back. This time I spoke to the sales manager, who told me that he would arrange to send a different tech, and then to the same lady I had spoken to before, who scheduled this new tech for Saturday morning. She assured me that this new tech had a lot of experience with wasps, and that he would be well-prepared and on time.

Surprisingly enough, he was. Julie and I were like kids on Christmas morning—we had been dealing with these pests for so long that we almost couldn't remember what life had been like before them. We both got up early (for a Saturday, anyway), and practically ran out to help the guy unload his truck when he showed up right at 8 a.m.

This guy just seemed more professional from the start. First off, he was actually wearing a uniform, not just an old sweatshirt and jeans. Second, he took the time to carefully inspect inside and outside of the house, and actually listened to us when we told him where we thought the nest was,, how big we thought it was, how we thought they were gaining access to the house, etc. After that, he loaded up the bee pole with a ton of bee dust, and started pumping it into the main entrance. I would be willing to bet that he put more dust into the nest with each pump than the other tech had sprayed in altogether with his aerosol can. After dusting the main entrance, the new tech waited to see where else they might come out as they fled from the dust, and then every time he saw one coming out of a new exit, he would pump a bunch of dust in there, too. Before he left, he also applied a lot more to the main entrance for good measure.

I think it finally worked. It is more than a week later, and I haven't seen a live wasp indoors for a couple of days now. I stopped seeing them outside by the day after the second tech came, and although there were still a few that were making their way into the house, there were fewer and fewer each day, and they seemed to be in worse and worse shape. A week after the second application, the only ones that we could find alive were a couple of gigantic ones who were just sitting on the wall, unable to fly or even crawl.

I can hardly believe that they are really gone. I sometimes go down to the utility room and just stand there with the light on, amazed that I'm not surrounded by a small swarm after a few minutes. It's so nice not to hear their dreaded buzzing, or see them creeping around the windowpanes during the day. We finally have our house back again.

We finally got around to carving our pumpkins last night. We almost couldn't find any—our grocery store, which had tons of them a few days ago for $2.99, was pretty much sold out, as were Wal-Mart and another nearby grocery store. We got lucky though—on the way home, we noticed that one of the local garden centers was open late, and we got two great pumpkins there.

Our neighborhood is saturated with kids, and I think that there are a few church groups that ship in some extras just for good measure. Last year we had about 130; it will be interesting to see if the recent terrorist stuff reduces the number this year.

For those of you who are currently employed, remember to say an extra "thank you" to the almighty being of your choice for your job today. As for me, I have to spend the afternoon at a "Job Service Orientation", which I'm sure is just code for "Let's make sure this idiot knows how to spell his own name and isn't showing up for job interviews drunk". Fun.
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