Archive for the ‘Marvin and Maynard’ Category

New Advances in Bird Amusement

Monday, May 15th, 2017

Simple Project Made from Common Household Items

My balancing robot is in Miami, but it’s not in my house. Fedex promised to deliver it on Wednesday. Today is Monday. The robot is relaxing at a Fedex facility instead of riding a non-balancing human-driven truck to my front porch. How crazy is that? I want my robot!

I’m not ready for it, though, and not just because I don’t know how to operate it. I’m not ready for it because I have another electronics thing I should do first: the Arduino-powered bird organ.

I have a cockatoo. His name is Maynard. He craves attention. Since I moved my office, he doesn’t see me as much as he used to, so he gets even by pulling his feathers out. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give him as much attention as he demands, but I suspect I can improve things by entertaining him.

A long time ago, it occurred to me that a bird as smart as Maynard might enjoy a musical instrument. I ordered a couple of toy organs, and my plan was to rig them up with strings so Maynard and my other bird, Marv, could pull the strings and make noise. The organ order was cancelled for some reason, so I forgot all about it.

There was also another problem with the idea. These days, everything turns itself off. The hippies have rigged life so you can’t turn things on and leave them that way. Little hippie chips inside them turn them off after they decide you’ve left them on long enough. The organs I bought would probably have shut down after ten or twenty minutes, unless the birds played them all day.

I got on the web and looked around for an Arduino organ, and I found out you can make one. I also found out you can make one without an Arduino. In a way this is a bummer, because I want to do Arduino stuff from time to time. On the other hand, a simple organ made from a cheap breadboard would be faster to build, and it would be less potentially aggravating. There would be less that could go wrong with it. And it would stay on forever. I could put a wall wart on it. I only have about 30,000 of those.

People who have built PCB organs have used momentary pushbutton switches. That won’t work for me. A bird can’t push a tiny button on a circuit board. I need levers or strings. I looked around and realized what I needed: microswitches with levers. I could slap them on a board and come up with a way for the birds to move the levers.

I checked Ebay, and I learned that you can get the switches for practically nothing if you order from China, but they’re like $3 each, which is highway robbery, if you order them from the US. I don’t want to wait a month for Chinese switches. What to do? Hmmm.

Of course, I already knew what to do. I already had a bag of microswitches. I bought them for my CNC lathe, and I never used them. I can order Chinese switches to replace them. While I wait for the Chinese ones, I can use the ones I already have.

I have breadboards. I have a billion resistors. I have a little PCB speaker. It’s kind of disturbing. How many normal people have all the parts for a bird organ sitting around waiting to be assembled?

What about the 555 timer I’ll need to make it work? Sorry to report: I have a bag full of those, too.

I don’t think Maynard needs all the notes of the scale. I suspect his music will be too avant-garde to require tonality. I figure I can give him four notes and let him express himself within that narrow regime.

This project should take about an hour and a half, not including building a cabinet (box) for the organ. If I decide to add LED’s that light up, call it four hours to be on the safe side.

If I wanted to go Arduino, I suppose I could build a four-button organ that plays four different MIDI songs. I think Maynard would be happier with the simpler organ, because it would respond to him in real time. Pull, get a sound. Stop pulling, no sound. It would encourage him to keep pulling. I want him to be busy so he forgets about pulling his feathers.

I only have five switches, so five tones would be the limit. Maybe I should go with three. I saw a movie involving a casino yesterday, and I heard the gambling machines playing MIDI tunes. They always use the notes C, E, and G to give a C major feel to their annoying music. It’s supposed to be cheery and uplifting (“Yay! Your IRA is gone!”), and Maynard needs all the cheer he can get. He’s a natural whiner.

I wonder how I’ll get those tones. Trimmer pots to adjust the pitches? I don’t know. But I have a pile of trimmer pots. Naturally. Maybe I should give him one tone with a thing he can pull to make the pitch go up and down.

Anyway, I should quit worrying about the robot.

Everyone Gets Special Treatment Here

Thursday, June 2nd, 2016

The More Special You Think You Are, the More Special it Gets

I’m always looking for something to watch while the birds are out of their cages. I found a channel that runs old episodes of Barney Miller in order; that was kind of fun, until I got tired of the Seventies a second time. I watch car shows, restaurant improvement shows…just about anything that isn’t the news and doesn’t feature naked people.

The other day I saw a short documentary about a documentary. A man named Klaus Lanzmann made a 10-hour documentary called Shoah, between about 1974 and 1985, and the newer documentary was about the difficulty of creating the longer one.

I had never seen Shoah, so I looked for a copy to buy. I tried to find a legitimate used copy, so the royalties would be paid, but the one I bought turned out to be Korean, which means its legitimacy is dubious. Oh, well. I did try.

The word “shoah” is Hebrew for “destruction.” Some Jewish people prefer it to “holocaust,” which describes an animal burned as a sacrifice. I suppose the notion of sacrifice seems to suggest that God sanctioned the millions of murders and other crimes.

Personally, I think “Holocaust” is the right word.

Not all sacrifices are holy. Pagans have always sacrificed animals. Satanists are known for it. If what happened to the Jewish people was a sacrifice, it doesn’t mean it was a good thing.

When I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and saw their tabletop model of the killing area at Auschwitz, I was surprised how much it reminded me of the temple in Jerusalem. The people who were gassed were treated a lot like sacrificial animals. They were stripped (Jewish priests had to be covered, so that their private parts were not exposed from below; also, Jewish law requires modesty), and everything useful they had was harvested from them. Then they were killed with the blood remaining in them (Jewish sacrifices have to be bled out), and they were burned (Jews are not permitted to cremate their dead). The whole enterprise was hidden, and the point of it was to remove all evidence that the murders and the Jews themselves had existed. One of the worst curses in Jewish culture is to be forgotten; Jews who hated Jesus have written, “May his name and memory be blotted out.”

Auschwitz was a place of unclean sacrifice. It was a parody of the temple. It was Satan’s deliberate insult to God. “You like sacrifices? Here you go.”

The documentary (Shoah) tells a great deal about the extermination camps, using eyewitness testimony. Lanzmann even tricked Nazis into giving interviews. He and his assistant got a bad beating for doing that.

I will watch the remaining minutes of the documentary today. When it’s over, I will have finished it in three days. It’s hard to stop watching.

All the time that I have been watching it, God has been reinforcing a message he gave me a long time ago. The world belongs to Satan, and God is not as closely involved in it as we think. In fact, the world is a death camp. The majority of human beings who are born live as slaves to Satan, and then they die and go to hell. Not just people who aren’t nice; most people.

The world is a failure. It’s as if someone baked a beautiful cake, and before it could be served, a dog lifted his leg over it. It’s not basically okay with pockets of evil. It’s extremely evil with pockets of good. When God comes here, he doesn’t come as the hands-on supreme being who runs the operation. He comes the same way Red Cross volunteers go to POW camps, or the same way spies go into hostile countries during war. He is an insurgent leader, not a resident monarch.

We can’t get this through our heads. Human beings have the unfortunate ability to get used to anything; we laugh at funerals, and even people doing life in prison have days they enjoy. We are used to this horrible world, which is full of murder and anguish, so we think it’s not a bad place. The Holocaust serves to remind us that we don’t live in heaven’s waiting room; we live on hell’s roof, literally.

The Jews are precious to God, but he stood by while terrible things happened to them, just as he has stood by while terrible things have happened to Christians. He stood by because he had been rejected. He had one plan, and man had another, and when man chose his own plan, God folded his arms and waited. That’s how life works, for all of us.

I am tempted to say God is hard, but that’s not sufficient. God is infinitely hard. Stones are hard, but they can be scratched. God is perfectly just; his justice can’t be altered or defeated in the slightest way. There is no bad deed that will not be noted and dealt with justly. God’s commitment to justice is so strong, he came down and let himself be abused and killed by people who were like filthy apes compared to him. He had to have a release for his anger, so he released it on himself. If he will do that to Jesus, who was the only good person who ever lived, of course he will allow evil to land on the rest of us, who are extremely corrupt.

Americans are among the most spoiled people on earth. We feel entitled. We think everyone is entitled to good health, a wonderful spouse, a strong income, a nice home, and happy children who make us proud. We get extremely resentful when we don’t get these things. We have the audacity to go to God and say, “Why me?” We should be saying, “Why me?”, when things go well. Every one of us deserves to be dead, in a pit in hell, burning and waiting for the final judgment. The suffering of persecuted Jews and Christians should remind us that we are entitled to nothing, and that there is no limit to the anguish God will permit for those who rebel.

We are inundated with mercy and patience, and we think it’s approval. We think it’s a reward, when it’s just God, withholding punishment as long as he can. So we go on dancing on thin ice.

Meanwhile, hell continues filling up, and many of the people filling it are Christians.

If you want to do well in this life, you have to stop defending yourself and claiming you’ve been cheated. You have to stop complaining about your problems, as though they were unfair. All the bad things that happen here are more than fair. If it’s better than hell, it’s more than fair. Imagine how you would feel if you had a rotten, murderous child, and you helped him in ways he didn’t deserve, and all he did was complain and accuse you of unfairness. Would you keep helping him?

The world is Satan’s death camp. Before Satan, there was no death. He practically invented it. The world may be more pleasant than Treblinka and Birkenau, but it’s still a death camp. We should not be surprised if Satan allows things to go well enough to convince us life is good; the guards at Auschwitz told their victims they were going to be showered and given nice jobs. They lied right up to the point where the gas chamber doors were shut.

Between God’s mercy and Satan’s propaganda, it’s no wonder we expect too much from life. It’s no wonder we can’t see doom looking us in the face.

I have found that if I praise and thank God correctly, and if I take blame on myself instead of lying and saying I’m a victim, things go better. Problems I couldn’t beat disappear quickly. God works most strongly where he is welcome, and where he is not slandered. The more you defend yourself, the worse your life is likely to be.

When I think about these powerful lessons, I get very disgusted with the preachers I’ve known. I am exceedingly disgusted with the false “house prophet” at my last church. I am very unhappy to realize they poisoned me when they told me I was doing great, and that good things were right around the corner.

These people held me back! They made my life harder! They made me more of a failure! How can you claim to serve God if you reinforce the chains Satan puts on other people? When Jesus announced his status as Messiah, he said he had come to set the captives free, not to make them more the slaves of hell.

These churches taught people that “blessing” means something like money, power, advancement at work, children, or marriage. Totally wrong! Yesterday God reminded me: we are not rewarded for being good; being good is the reward.

Yes, if you improve, good things will come to you, and life will be better, but the real prize is the inner change wrought by the Holy Spirit. Under the law, men were required to behave well. Under the new covenant, we are expected to change so that bad behavior and evil thoughts don’t appeal to us any more. That’s “setting the captives free”; the evil inside us holds us captive. The disciples thought it meant routing the Roman occupiers. Before the Holy Spirit fell on them and changed them, they had the same materialistic mindset modern prosperity Christians have.

I realize why God has kept telling me to speak up. Many times, he has told me to be more outspoken, when people around me were telling me I was too loud. I could have helped more people if I had been louder. That may be held to my account eventually, as Ezekiel predicted.

God owes you nothing. You cause your own problems. Because you cause your problems, you have the power to fix them. The correct way to fix them is to become Spirit-led, ask God what you’re doing wrong, and ask him for grace to change. That’s how life works. You may be looking at painful lessons which are intended to be beneficial and regarding them as unjust attacks from the devil. If you don’t know help when you see it, you will never benefit from it. Help doesn’t always look like a box of frosted doughnuts. Sometimes it’s a disease or a problem with your marriage. The way you react determines whether it’s a curse or a blessing. The outcome of a thing, not the beginning, determines its nature; the outcome determines whether it goes in the plus column or the minus column.

I’ve complained about things I should have thanked God for. No wonder they didn’t work out well. What else should an ingrate expect?

I am closing comments on this post because I don’t want people to be distracted by misguided remarks from folks I am offending. Sorry about that. I hope you understand. I want people to be helped by what I write, so I don’t want the message to be lost in tangential noise.

Put this stuff to work in your life. Don’t wait till the floor caves in under you.


Monday, May 23rd, 2016

I Wish I had a Deformed Cat

Yesterday I got curious and looked around the web to see how hard writing is for other people. When I worked for my law school paper, I saw people lock up when they were asked to write a couple of hundred words, and when I was blogging and dealing with bloggers who wanted to write books, I knew people who couldn’t get more than a few pages done. Clearly, my situation is not like that.

On the web I saw people talking about the goal of writing a few hundred or a thousand words per day. It was like they were talking about learning to run ten miles per day; they seemed to consider it difficult enough to make achieving the goal unlikely.

This Saturday, I cranked out something like 3000 words just to relax. If I had to write 4000 per day as a 40-hour job, I would think nothing of it. I once wrote a 48-page legal brief in a day. I believe it was 48. Anyway, it was over 40. It made the judge mad. It was too long.

I wonder what the purpose of this facility is. The fact that you have an ability doesn’t mean you know what to do with it.

Whenever I’m with my dad, and we hear Rush Limbaugh on the radio, my dad says the same thing: he can’t believe a person can talk for three hours a day without running dry. Someone who used to have a radio show once complained to me about this. Apparently, this person dreaded having to come up with material.

It wouldn’t be a problem for me. There is always something to say or write. Life is a constant flow of experiences, insights, and ideas. You can’t say you lack stimulation.

You can’t choose your talents. If I had been given a choice, I would have held onto writing, but I would have traded cooking for something else. I have really enjoyed cooking extraordinary food, but it’s not an important gift. It’s trivial. And you can’t use it all the time. I get up every day and eat the same boring stuff: homemade vegetable soup. I almost never cook anything good for lunch. I grab a protein bar or a sandwich. If I really cooked, I would weigh 400 pounds, and it would slice two hours out of every day.

I am fairly good at a number of things, but the older I get, the more it looks like writing and cooking are the only areas where I really shine. It’s like being good at theoretical physics and tiddly winks. One gift that can have an impact on the world, and another which is more or less a novelty.

I envy people who have gifts that guarantee them a livelihood. Songwriters, in particular. If you write one hit song, you can retire. Even if you go into a coma right after you publish it, the money will continue coming in, and your heirs will also be able to benefit from the copyright.

Doctors are also fortunate. Their incomes may wax and wane, but no one will ever tell a doctor his job has been rendered obsolete. And doctors are welcome everywhere. Back when Haiti was in an uproar over the earthquake, people I knew were going there as volunteers, but I stayed here. I figured the Haitians could do anything I could do, just as well, except for practicing law. What was I supposed to do over there with my legal skills? Sue people? If I had been a doctor, I would have flown over and made myself useful. There would have been a purpose in it.

I can write, but cashing in on it is not that easy. I got some silly books published, but they did not make me rich. I have worked as a copywriter, but that kind of work comes and goes. I used to write for a newspaper magazine, but even if I had done that full-time, I would have pocketed a maximum of $800 a month.

To sell books, you have to write books people want. There has to be a waiting market. That’s not hard if you write novels; people will always want something to kill time on airplanes. But other types of books are harder to sell. And of course, editors are buried in complete garbage. People who absolutely cannot write refuse to stop sending their horrible manuscripts, so it’s hard to rise above the noise.

It’s not easy to cash in on cooking, either. Restaurants are a nightmare to run. There is a ton of regulation. There are piles of paperwork. You have to deal with cooks and waiters, who are right up there with musicians when it comes to honesty and responsibility. You have to deal with things that are totally unrelated to good cooking. Then when you get the business running, you gross $3 million per year and take home $30,000, working 15-hour days, six days a week. And even if your food is great, the public may simply get tired of it.

Lots of people get rich in the restaurant business, but you have to be a fool to risk your capital on it. Even with hard work and talent, it’s a lottery ticket.

I always hope God will arrange it so I will never have to practice law again. The responsibility is just too much, unless you’re the kind of person who doesn’t care. If I represent you one time, I am responsible to you for the rest of my life. And I can be sued for malpractice, at 90, for something I did when I was 40. The statute of limitations is short, but there are ways around it. In continuing legal education, I was taught that you should pay for malpractice insurance for as long as you live! How would you like to do that? You could easily pay out a third of what you earned in your career. Or you can trust your former clients to be nice to you. Yeah. That’s a sure thing.

The other day a friend asked me for legal advice, and I told him what I tell everyone: no way. I don’t care if they get mad. I’m not going to put myself in a position where I have to look over my shoulder for the next thirty years. Friends don’t sue friends, but then friends don’t stay friends, either. Former friends sue lawyers for malpractice every day.

Seriously, I think there is nothing like royalty income. You don’t have to manage property and be abused by tenants. You don’t have to buy and sell securities, risking a beating every time you trade. You don’t have to go to work. You can’t get fired. And copyright royalties are the best, because they never expire. Among copyright royalties, songwriting royalties are probably the best, because you don’t have to perform or promote, once a song gets noticed. You sit back and take money from other people. They do the performing. Their promoters do the promoting. You sit around at home, eating Cheetos.

Oh, well. I can write and I can cook. That’s how it is.

I could go ahead and write a book every three months and see what happens, but there’s a problem. I’m a Christian. You can’t just spew words out for money when God isn’t behind it. You have to wait for him. On top of that, what if I wrote a popular Christian book? Could I take money for that? If God gives you something for nothing, should you charge for it, especially when it’s possible to put it on the Internet and give it to billions of people free of charge?

You can say the laborer is worthy of his hire, but is that really apt, when you have almost no expenses? If you have to give up your job in order to serve God, you should be paid, but what if you don’t?

I think about that when I read Christian books. The writers have a conflict of interest: God versus Mammon.

Some books cost a lot of money to write, but most don’t. If I wrote a Christian book, it would cost me nothing, except for ISP fees. I wouldn’t have to travel or take photographs or pay for a cover design. Even before the Internet age, Paul wrote books, and all he did was dictate while someone scribbled. Worked out pretty well.

I should teach Marv to do something entertaining. Have you seen Grumpy Cat? I saw a news story that says he pulls in $50 million per year for his owners. God help those people if a dog gets him. I would keep him in a safe.

I won’t complain about what God gave me. It’s nice to be able to write, even if I have no idea what the value of it is. The cooking, I’ve pretty much given up on, but I will always want to communicate. And it’s going great guns. Like 50 people read this blog now.

I guess I’ve written enough; I’m procrastinating because I don’t want to study accounting. I better get in on it.

I’ll be back. You can count on that.

Marv Will be in the Tour Bus

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

Have the Groupies Clean his Perch

What a day. I got my Telecaster working yesterday, and I fired up the Super Champ XD and the Fat Sandwich pedal and started working on “I Know a Little.” It turned out that the Telecaster, with its long scale and super-tall frets, was actually easier to play than my amazing Epiphone Riviera P93. Slides are somewhat unpleasant, because my fingers smash into the frets from the side, but still, it worked great. It felt like it was harder to play, but I was undeniably playing better.

Today I decided to make a recording to see just how bad I sounded. I figured it would be horrible, because the timing on my last recordings was really jerky and awful. Also, recording makes my timing even worse, because it seems like my joints quit working. I worry about what the mike is picking up, and there goes any hope of playing loose.

Incredibly, it sounds like music. WAY better than I hoped. There are three passages which are still technically not under control, but basically, it’s sound. In a week, I should be able to play it for real. I don’t know that I’ll be able to play full speed, though. Today I cranked it up to 78%.

I don’t know that I like it at 100%. You lose many of the guitar subtleties, and there isn’t as much opportunity to play with the vocals.

I recorded this on a Sansa clip, which is a tiny, cheap MP3 player. And Marv was “helping” in the background. I’m posting it anyway. Whatever the problems are, it proves this is going to work!

I Know a Little, With Marv as Background Vocalist

I have a new wonder pick. My teacher recommended a Dunlop jazz pick, which is a very hard, small nylon job. They’re very fast, but they make a somewhat dull sound, and the tiny size is hard on your hands. Last week I took a Dunlop triangle pick, which is huge, and modified it so it would still be easy to hold, but it would not interfere with my movements or rotate out of position. The result is the greatest pick of all time. I can’t put it down. I’m wondering if I should make my own version and sell it.

Anyway, this is fantastic. When I get it cleaned up, I’ll post a better version. Probably without Marv.

If I can do this, it proves I’ll be able to play decent Christian music.

Splint, the Miracle Parrot

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Sparrow, Parrot…Same Basic Idea

Here’s a wild story.

In 2009, Dave Rodenborn’s parrot Splint flew off. Dave let Splint’s feathers get a little bit too long, and Splint shot out the front door and got away. Parrots have no desire to obey, and you can’t rely on them to do the things you’ve trained them to do, so you can’t just call them back. If they feel like coming back, they come back. If not, tough. And once they’re a few dozen yards from your house, they have no idea how to get back. The general rule is that they stay lost, and they die. They don’t know how to cope in the wild, the North American climate can kill them, and hawks love them.

At the time, I was highly distressed. I know how it feels to lose a parrot due to my own mistake. And I thought about Splint, out there in the wilderness, lonely and starving.

I put in some prayer time for Splint, and when I did, I felt a powerful flow of faith, telling me he was coming back.

After months had passed, I figured my faith had been wrong. Non-spiritual teachers are always telling us not to trust what we feel, which is a little bit crazy, considering how obvious the Holy Spirit’s power and presence can be. The fact is, most teachers don’t get good results from prayer, and they assume anyone who claims to have a better experience is a kook or a liar. They don’t want to set people up for disappointment, so they actually tell people NOT to trust God! How crazy is that?

These days, when I pray, I can literally, physically, mentally feel faith pouring through me. I don’t have to feel it in order to believe, but experience has taught me that when I do feel it, it’s real. I believe it comes from praying in tongues. When you pray in tongues, you deposit power in your supernatural bank account, and it’s there when you need to make a withdrawal.

Last night, I got an unexpected response to a Youtube comment in a thread in which Dave was participating. In the thread, Dave said Splint had returned! Someone yanked him out of a tree near Dave’s house, and it took them a year to find Dave! How do you like THAT?

So here is the position I’m in: I had faith, and God rewarded it, even after I decided my faith was wrong. Is that possible? Apparently so. It has happened to me before. I think your best bet is to hold onto what faith tells you, no matter what, but God may come through regardless of your foolishness.

Faith is a crazy thing. Sometimes you will pray for a thing and be sure you’re going to get it, yet you’ll still be amazed when you see it come to pass.

The Zorro of Bird Poop

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010


Marv’s message for today: “Eat your bird. Big fat.”

Why did I buy this thing?

Marv has gotten so good at tactical pooping, I no longer get mad at him about it. Instead, I feel awe and respect.

The other day we were on the couch, and Marv managed a stealth poop in a location where I later put my face. I had to give him his props for that. It transcended ordinary poop. It was an Improvised Poop Device.

Last night he got off a poop that hit my hand and then the floor without me even knowing it. He did it while I was putting him in the cage. By the time I knew I had been shelled, I had tracked all over the house. I had to get out the mop and the Clorox.

I don’t know how he does it. He’s an artist.

They Fit in Stockings, Too

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

“We are Here to Poop on the Gifts”

Check out the great holiday greeting I received from Peg and Mr. Mollo: CLICK.

That photo will help you understand why people love parrots.

“This Guy is Worse Than Costanza!”

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Time for a Nap Behind the Sacks of Sweet Feed

The other day Maynard and I shared one of those moments you only experience when you have pets that are insane.

We were having a frozen Hershey bar with almonds, and I said this: “I can’t give you too much because it’ll make you hallucinate. Not that it matters when you’re a bird.”

I’m glad no one records our talks.

Mike just called. His pal George Steinbrenner is dead. Mike and Steinbrenner go way back. Mike managed his race horses for a while. He only got fired twice.

Mike says he could write a book about the private Steinbrenner no one knows about. He told me a few horrifying things before I indicated that I was not a big fan of gossip. Also, I wanted to keep breakfast down.

He said Steinbrenner took him to lunch with Red Grange. Seriously. And Steinbrenner and Red Grange started picking on Mike to toughen him up and make a man out of him. I said he should have taken a swing at Red Grange and said, “Yeah, you were a great football player, but now you’re old, so don’t get smart.” But I didn’t really mean it. Besides, Grange probably would have clotheslined him right at the table.

Life is fairly odd.

Good Deeds for Your Friday

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Finish the Day on a Positive Note

Two things.

1. Peg Kaplan lost her pet budgie, Sunny, to an accident the other day. Sunny was perched on top of a door, and Peg closed it. You can imagine how she feels. If you would like to offer a prayer and comment on her blog, she could use the help.

2. Shepherd’s Gate, a California charity which shelters abused women and their kids, found a donor who will give them $5.00 for every Facebook user who becomes a fan of their page. Here is the page.

Happy Birthday to a Bird Who Requires Squeezing

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Teens Coming to an End

I just realized today is Maynard’s birthday. He is 19 years old.

Here he is, in front of a closet door he ate.


Props to Sonny’s Barbecue in Florida City. Mike and I had dinner there, and the manager let me take two ribs home so Marv and Maynard could celebrate.

Marv is Betting Against Me

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Loafer’s Loaf

I decided I had to do something stupid. What a novel experience for me.

I’ve been making pizza without kneading the dough. Today I decided to see what happens when I turn the dough into bread. I took a portion of Golden Tiger flour mixed with salt and pepper, blended yeast and water into it, rolled it into a wad, and plopped it on a sheet of nonstick foil.

If it rises, I plan to bake it. If not, bird toy.

Comforter, Teacher, Housekeeper

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

My House Needs Fiber

I had a moment of clarity last night, unfortunately. It can be very relaxing to be wrong and not know it, so it’s always upsetting when I get an epiphany.

I had the TV on because one of the birds was out of the cage, and I happened to see a show called “Hoarders.” It’s about people who fill their houses with junk, until the rats take over and the kids have to sleep on piles of boxes.

The show bugged me. I’m not a true hoarder, but I’m related to one, and I have lots of hobbies, and I’m absent-minded. Put it all together, and you end up with a person with lots of junk, who puts stuff down in the wrong places and forgets it’s there for weeks or months. Hoarding Lite.

I got up and started relocating things. I had a pile of books and gun parts by my bed. I made room in a closet and stored it. I took tool-related items off the dining room table and put them in the garage. I threw out a number of stupid and worthless items.

Of course, I will need all of those items very badly today. That’s how decluttering works. As soon as the garbage truck drives away, you need whatever is in it.

I hate clutter. It’s like living in a little dirty crevice. It probably raises your blood pressure. But I have a clutter-prone personality. It’s like Felix and Oscar are in my head, duking it out like Rock’em Sock’em Robots.

I have a feeling that the Holy Spirit reduces clutter. Hear me out. When you’re not living for God, you do stupid things with your time and money. You will wander down fruitless paths, involving yourself in futile pursuits. That’s because only God can guide you in the direction you’re supposed to take. Result? You end up with stuff you weren’t supposed to have. Not just stuff, but time obligations. For example, you may give up church because your talented kid has sports practice every day, or simply because you want to squander time watching football on TV. You might end up devoting three hours a night to drinking beer. You may find yourself at a strip bar three times a week, blowing your money.

When God takes over, your priorities and desires change with time. Suddenly, you don’t need an entire closet for your porn collection. Or, like me, you may want to get rid of your delicious Cuban cigars. You find yourself selling things and giving things away. Life becomes more streamlined. You start discarding the things Paul referred to as “dung” so you can make room for the pearl of great price.

I still have a rolling toolbox full of gun stuff by the dining table, and a lot of my canning supplies are sitting on it. I have to move that to the garage. I have to throw out or give away some of the garage objects I will never need. I think it’s safe to throw out my old PC cabinet, and I need to Craigslist my brewing kegs.

I really need to get rid of the Super Genie Lift I inherited from one of my dad’s tenants. A guy at my church said they’ll take it, but it may be ten years before they get around to coming for it.

One of the reasons I don’t like Miami is that there is no space here. I’d like to have a home with an outbuilding for my hobbies. Here, that would run maybe three million dollars. A hundred miles north, maybe two hundred and fifty thousand. Cities are for limited people. If your only hobbies are TV and clubbing, Miami is perfect for you. Add three hobbies, and you’re out of luck. You need to move and get more room.

Last night I thought about my grandfather’s house in Kentucky. It had five bedrooms, including a little spare bedroom that held some of his guns and my grandmother’s sewing stuff. It had a big kitchen, a full dining room, a full living room, a big den, a second den in the basement, a second kitchen in the basement, tons of extra basement square footage, a big foyer, and three baths. It also had a tool shed and a barn, plus a carport and a concrete patio.

Mind you, this was not a mansion. It was just a nice red brick home. It brought $120,000 when the heirs sold it.

THAT is living. Bring your tools. Bring your cooking equipment. Buy three smokers. Get four gun safes. Get a bass boat and an RV and five motorcycles. No problem!

My idea of an ideal home is a three-bedroom CBS house with a big commercial-style kitchen, terrazzo floors, and no curtains, with nothing on the walls except maybe NRA calendars. Put a 1500-square-foot building out back with lots of room for musical instruments, tools, and storage. Give me two acres or more to grow food. I’m done. Let me live there until I die. You would have to hold me at gunpoint to get me to leave that house to go to paradise.

Forget antiques. Forget rugs; they hold dirt and stains and smells. Forget hardwood. It rots, termites eat it, and it makes noise. Put a drain in the kitchen floor so I can spill things. Tile the kitchen walls all the way to the ceiling. Get me white dishes and cups from a restaurant supply house, and put in a deck oven for pizza. Kill every plant that isn’t grass or something that produces food. Give me an entire room for Maynard and Marvin. That’s luxury!

The “stronghold” concept is well known among Christians. Satan has spiritual strongholds we have to conquer. The Canaanite cities Joshua destroyed are symbolic of these strongholds. Addictions and bad habits are strongholds. Bad attitudes are strongholds. A physical illness or poverty may be a stronghold. We’re supposed to break these things down by spiritual warfare.

It has occurred to me that God has strongholds, too. Every human believer is described as a house or a temple or an embassy. We belong to the nation of heaven, even though we live on earth. Within us–within our “walls”–God’s ways prevail. And we have to strive to keep Satan out, and we pray in the Spirit to build ourselves up, so there is something stronger than Satan within us, to repel attackers.

Similarly, a Christian’s home can be a stronghold. It can be an embassy of God. That’s what I want. I know life isn’t supposed to be a breeze, but we’re supposed to live in victory, and it seems to me that within our homes, Satan should be relatively powerless. A stronghold home should be a place where a Christian can retreat and recharge. We have to fight the enemy everywhere else. At home, we should have more peace.

A home should be like a military garrison. You defend it and keep it free from invaders, and from time to time, you make excursions into enemy territory and do damage. Then you retreat back to the garrison and prepare for your next assault.

This is what I want. I don’t want fancy furniture or snooty neighbors or a location shallow people would crave. I want a fortress where I can find a little relief.

Before the clutter show, I say a show called American Pickers, about two guys who go around talking old people into selling them valuable antiques below the market price. They went to visit a man who had twelve buildings full of junk. They had a hard time persuading him to sell them anything. He had to be 75 years old, and this stuff was falling apart, but time after time, they would show him a rusty object and ask the price, and he would tell them it wasn’t for sale. It seemed to me that this guy was in the same boat as the hoarders. He’s going to die, and all that neglected, decaying stuff will be loaded up in dumptrucks and destroyed so the new owners will be able to use the buildings. Crazy.

I also caught a few minutes of a show called Intervention. You can probably guess what that’s about. I plan to record it from now own. It’s helpful to see how tough professional addiction counselors are. It reminded me of an important truth: if you don’t fix a loved one who has an addiction–if you withdraw and wait for them to change, and it doesn’t happen–it doesn’t mean you didn’t try to help. It means the addict didn’t try. Every bad thing that happens to an addict as the result of not trying is the addict’s fault. If someone asks you why you’re not helping, say, “Shouldn’t you be asking why the addict isn’t trying?” Don’t fall for blame-shifting. If you accept even the smallest particle of blame, you might as well be handing the addict a bottle of pills.

It’s funny how I happened to tune in to three very instructive shows, on a night when I was just trying to find entertainment while I communed with my pets. Dang these “coincidences.” They are swarming on me.

Beyond This Place, There be Dragons and a Very Angry Rabbit

Friday, February 19th, 2010

“Shut Up. And Go and Change Your Armor.”

Last night I got what may be the worst downer comment in the history of blogging:

Steve, I have been following your blog for years. I feel like I know you and I like you. You are talented and interesting writer. Over the last year or so, I have become more and more alarmed as I have watched you ricochet from one project to the next, committing more and more of your psyche and your money. I have an awful feeling I am watching a potential train wreck of self-destructive behavior.
I am a retired physician (anesthesiologist), old enough to be your father. Steve, I tell you if you were my son, I would have you in the office of the best psychiatrist around as soon as possible. Please don’t be offended, I just felt I needed to say something in the hope of preventing a potentially bad outcome.
The comment by Carl Williams has encouraged me to write this note which I should have done sooner. Please listen!

I’m sure this guy means well, but that seems a tiny bit over the top to me.

I’m eccentric. No doubt about that. But I’m not crazy. Crazy people see flaming bats flying at their heads, and they do other things, like wetting their pants and claiming to be Jesus. I only have one of those three symptoms.

I’m not nuts. I’m just a pentecostal Christian who has a lot of hobbies. That may be a mental illness, but it’s not a severe one.

I’ve been to shrinks a couple of times in my life. Even given the general ineffectiveness of psychiatrists, had I been truly insane, they might conceivably have noticed.

The first time I went to college, I got very depressed because my family was driving me up the wall, and I went to a doctor who gave me pills which didn’t do anything. Even then, I wasn’t out of my mind. I was just bummed out.

I also tried shrinks for ADD treatment, which didn’t work either. It works in short spurts, but you can’t be ADD-free all day. At least I couldn’t. I got to the point where my base Ritalin dose (the amount I was ALLOWED to take, which doesn’t include cheating before physics tests) was 60 milligrams per day. This is roughly what a team of Clydesdales would require, if they had ADD. I still couldn’t get all-day relief, so I quit.

After that, I relied on coffee. You need Ritalin to study physics. For law, coffee is more than adequate. Law is just not that hard.

Lawyers hate it when I say that. Which is why I say it. Okay, maybe I need to grow up a little. Who can resist needling lawyers? What other professionals have B brains and A+ egos?

I guess I gave people the impression I was interested in advice about whether to open a pizzeria, but I’m not. I’ll either do it or I won’t. It’s nice to get advice on the little details, but the overall issue is well within my decision-making capabilities.

I’m not as excited about it as people think I am. I’m very gung-ho about helping my church sell pizza, but I’m ambivalent about opening my own place. It would be a business, not an amusement park. Running a pizza shop is not quite the same as visiting one on your kid’s birthday. Businesses take up time, and they often fail. And sometimes the proprietors get tired of them, after the businesses succeed. Then they’re stuck.

The thing is, I have this feeling that God wants me to do this, either for the church, or for myself, or both. Doors keep opening. And people are trying to discourage me, which is often a sign that the enemy is disturbed or scared by something a person is trying to do. This can be a powerful indication that God is with you. A voice that rises up inside you and tells you to stop may be from God, but random strangers making irrational, unfounded predictions of disaster are not sent by God. The predictions have to come from somewhere, however.

Remember the twelve spies. They went into Israel and looked around, and ten came back and said the Philistines were going to mash the Hebrews like bugs. Two pointed out that God is a pretty big asset to a conquering army, but by that time, God was highly annoyed, so the Israelites wandered in the desert for a generation. Without pizza, I might add.

If you had to guess, who do you think put the pessimism in the minds of the spies? My guess: the worst loser in the history of creation. The universe’s first loser.

Then, of course, there is the story of David and Goliath. “Okay, who do we have to fight the nine-foot-tall giant?” “Well, we have a skinny guy who can’t wear armor because it falls off.” “Right. And what’s his weapon? A bow? A big spear?” “Hang on, I’ll check.” Pause. “He says he’s going to use a pebble.” “You mean like an exploding pebble? A nuclear pebble? A pebble that breaks up into laser-guided cluster bombs? Are angry angels going to pop out of the pebble and smite these creeps for us?” “No, he says he found it in the creek.” “Fantastic. Is it too late to start worshiping Dagon?”

And what about the guy who buried his talent of silver in the sand instead of investing it? As I recall, his master did not give him a prize.

Last night I was thinking about this, and it came time for me to take Maynard out for his daily bird abuse recreation. I’m not a big fan of Jentezen Franklin, but for some reason I sent a contribution to his ministry last year, and he sent me some CDs I was not really interested in hearing. Night before last, I stuck one in the DVD player, but I didn’t get around to turning it on. Last night I decided to play it while Maynard was out.

One of the first things Franklin said was, “Who has been dumping on your dream?” Man, that woke me up. He started talking about the people who discouraged Bill Gates and Martin Luther King, Jr. and other successful people. He said Dr. Seuss was rejected 43 times by publishers, only to go on and sell 210 million books. The people at Digital (remember Digital?) told Gates there was no reason for anyone to have a computer in their home.

I listened to the entire CD.

When I was a kid, my family dumped on my dreams constantly. In fact, they even dumped on my belief that I was able to accomplish ordinary things which could hardly be called dreams.

They made me feel like my gift for writing was nearly worthless; a novelty talent on a par with the ability to do card tricks. They convinced me I could not succeed in life. They told me what was wrong with me, but they never helped me improve. I even had relatives who tormented me when I talked to girls, to the point where it discouraged me from making an effort. Can you imagine that? That’s pure Eastern Kentucky. Keep your loved ones small, like stunted tomato plants, so you can control them and keep them from taking up your valuable time. Then when they end up bitter and unsuccessful, you can criticize them for that, too. This attitude is one reason Kentucky is the great success that it is today, leading the nation in toothlessness and illiteracy.

Because of the way I was raised, I was very sensitive to the importance of refraining from beating down loved ones. It seemed like every time I wanted to do anything, a voice rose up and filled me with fear and weariness, and I quit, and by my twenties, I understood how harmful misguided families could be. If you ever want to learn how to fail in spite of overwhelming ability and opportunity, move to Eastern Kentucky. We’re the best. We’ll have you failing in no time, and you’ll make your kids fail, too.

When I heard Jentezen Franklin talking about this, it all came back to me. Some of the things I’m hearing and reading now, from people I know and in comments, are no different from the garbage that was poured in my ear while I was growing up.

Funny thing; my dad thinks a pizzeria is a great idea. He has often talked about the high failure rate of restaurants, in idle conversation, so he’s not unaware of the risks. But here he is, talking about how great my pizza is and how opening a shop would be a smart move. He is literally more optimistic about it than I am.

God heals families. God heals lives. My family used to be the biggest problem I had. Now God is working on us. We’re all changing, and my dad is my best friend and a source of strength to me. As the Bible says, God can throw salt into a poisoned well and make the water sweet.

I don’t know where the pizza path will lead. I’m not worried about it. God is going to put me in the right place, now that I’ve quit insisting on running things.

And if I’m crazy, does it really matter? Remember what Dilbert’s friend Wally said when the doctors said he was nuts: “Apparently, I’m insane. But I’m one of the happy kinds!”

Fewer, Better Toys

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

And When I Die With Them, I Keep Them

Last night I watched Jazz with Marv and Maynard, and I enjoyed some Knob Creek and a Coke chaser. Then I went to bed, and while I was getting ready to sleep, I started thanking God for all the little pleasures in my life.

It was quite a list. It seems like the more mature I get, the better I am able to enjoy things. I eat less than I used to. I drink less. I quit smoking cigars. I try to curb my baser appetites, and I try to be more responsible. And I believe God works in me, making these things happen. As excess disappears from my life, the things I enjoy stand out more, perhaps because they’re not lost in the background noise of constant overindulgence.

Let’s see. I enjoy squeezing my pets and conversing with them. I enjoy the food I cook. I enjoy working on my musical skills. I love listening to good jazz and classical music. I love shooting and reloading. I look forward to having breakfast with my dad once a week. I love using my tools. I smile every time I see the ridiculous diesel pickup I bought. Every time I walk into my church, I feel like a kid running through the gate at Disneyland; I always know something good is going to happen.

The time I set apart for prayer and study is wonderful. Every session is a miniature Sabbath. It’s a sanctuary no one can intrude on, and more often than not, I sense God’s presence, and I feel like I’ve gotten a breakthrough.

You can have too much stuff in your life. You can have so much going on, you can’t appreciate any of it or do any one thing well. That’s very natural for me, as anyone who reads my blog knows, so I’m very glad God is adjusting me. Who knows? One day I might actually sell one of my motorcycles or even my flamenco guitar.

I’m keeping the milling machine and the Powermatic 66, however.

Covetousness. That was my problem. It’s not so much that I wanted what other people had; it’s that I wanted things that wouldn’t really bring me satisfaction. I used to buy stuff and then fail to enjoy it, because I thought too much about the things and not enough about the effort and time involved in deriving pleasure from them, so they sat and rotted. I still like to get toys, but now I get good use out of them, and I think that is because God is changing me and guiding me. It’s pretty unusual for me to regret spending money or time these days. I generally get a good return.

Somewhere in the Bible, it says something about how sad it is when a man has something he can’t enjoy. That’s what life without God is all about. You get rich, but you end up in rehab. You become famous, only to find that the thing you want most is privacy. Things like that happen. We don’t know which way we should go or what we should do, so we turn up blind alleys and end up with things that don’t bring us happiness. On the other hand, God promises us that if we’ll listen, he’ll guide us. He says, “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.”

We don’t know what we need or what we want. We can’t know. The world is too complicated, and we’re not smart enough to see all the angles. Only God can know. So he gave us a system in which we obey him and listen to him, and he gives us what we should have. He gives us things that are truly satisfying, and which have lasting value. And at the end of our time, we don’t stand before God poor and blind and naked, which is what happens to people who amass the wrong kind of wealth. The stuff we take wrongly, we lose. We only keep that which we were intended to have.

I wish I could go back in time to about 1971 and slap myself. But like the relatives of the rich man in the parable about hell, I would not have listened.

Long ago, when I thought I was about to have a comic strip syndicated, I cut photos of sportfishing yachts out of magazines, and I taped them to walls and so on, to give me motivation to work. That seems funny now. What if I had succeeded? I’d be a big, fat, conceited (more than I am now) lout who thought he made it without God’s help. I’d have shallow friends who drank all the time and never set foot in a church. I’d have no relationship with God, because I’d think I didn’t need one. The yachting crowd is coarse and venal; I know them. I would have gotten sick of them in two seasons. I’m much better off with the folks who attend church on Saturday night.

I thought I knew what I needed, but I wasn’t even close.

I don’t know where I’m going, and I admit, I wish God would hurry up, but I know that things are better than they used to be, and the trend is positive, and it’s a trend I can trust. I’m not building on sand.

I don’t know if buying a cornet was a good idea, but it will be fun for at least two months, and it will cost very little. I actually prayed about it, and I really felt like I should try it. Weird.

I feel like a piece of rough lumber somebody is jointing and planing and sanding into shape. Life gets more enjoyable all the time. I even appreciate the problems and setbacks. Now they seem to have meaning, and every one ends up blessing me. It’s hard to harm someone who walks with God, because God takes everything you throw at him and makes it a help to him.

All that stuff Jesus said; it looks like it’s actually TRUE. That’s wild. I never thought he was lying, but it’s still impressive when I see his words confirmed.

Get me a Cold Drink

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Thanks, Mr. Gore

It’s 47 degrees out! What a relief! Shorts weather at last!

I’m almost serious. After two days of 44 and below, 47 with the prospect of 51 later seems like Hawaii.

Yesterday I had a problem with the space heater I keep near the birds. I flicked the switch that toggles the heater between 1300 and 1500 degrees. It stuck in the 1300 position. That disturbed me, so I got in the truck and went to four stores, looking for a new heater. A Home Depot employee told me nobody in the area has them. They haven’t had them for three weeks.

Whatever happened to capitalism? Isn’t it supposed to fill needs like this?

Maybe it’s time for a run to Harbor Freight and Northern Tool. If anyone can help, they can. Space heaters are extremely unreliable, and if I lose the one the birds are using, I’ll have to start burning furniture.