Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Admittedly, I’ve been accused of being many things in the past. I’m positive that no one is more disturbed than I about the current grass roots movement amongst my readership to have me officially declared a “writer.”

For those of you who only know me through these ramblings, no, I do not have a background in journalism. Wait a second. Actually, the first writing I ever did outside of school (and was therefore pretty much the first writing assignment I had ever completed) was for a weekly newspaper in west-central Illinois. Twenty some years ago, Lowell “Bud” McKirgan, owner/editor of The Prairie Times, entrusted me to cover local public meetings throughout Stark County, including school board and city hall meetings in the towns of LaFayette, Toulon and Wyoming. I also recall having lost my way en route to a meeting in the village of Wady Petra- or was that someone else?

I learned a lot from Bud. Firstly, it wasn’t enough that I simply attend the meetings, but I also had to write down things that happened or were discussed. You see I only got paid for articles that I turned in. Bud also encouraged me to take one of his cameras with me in the event that something amazing transpired. Nothing ever did. Mostly city and county board members discussed wastewater treatment facilities, stray cat issues, and listened to complaints about particularly bad sections of sidewalks or roadways. I think the most exciting thing that ever “went down” during one of the meetings was when the President of the village of LaFayette (I think his name was Peavy) interrupted a heated discussion about noise complaints involving the town’s only bar, looked directly at me (the “press”) and said, “This isn’t to be reported.” Of course I responded by pretending to write down every word that was being uttered.

Whenever school board meetings got halfway interesting, the board would excuse themselves and go into “executive session.” One time I was convinced they had done so in order to watch Monday Night Football. When the meeting later reconvened it was announced that the price of a pint of chocolate milk would be raised to 15 cents, and regular milk would remain at 10 cents. Stop the presses!

After getting into archaeology several years later, I began acquiring the tools to become a technical writer in order to increase my marketability in an effort to compete for an elusive wintertime lab position. I could go on and on about what is involved in authoring an archaeological survey or excavation report, but a quick glance at some of the titles I was either responsible for, or contributed to, should give you plenty of insight as to how dry that was.

The funny thing is that I thought writing in an almost cookie-cutter manner was challenging- until I took my first stab at fiction a few years ago. It took me quite a while to train myself that I could write in any direction I pleased.

Another interesting thing about my writing is that once I started on my novel, I pretty much gave up reading altogether. I’m not sure if that was because I didn’t want the distraction, or if I was afraid that I might start stealing the words of other writers.

One thing for sure is that I am not a reader of blogs. Most blogs bore me to tears with their self-indulgent sermons and fragmented run-on paragraphs. Heck, I wouldn’t even read my own blog if not for the fact that someone needs to edit it.

That typed, I have become a regular visitor to one blog that was called to my attention by one of my readers. I would say that I am more interested in the concept behind The Comics Curmudgeon, than I am in the actual resulting product. I’ve been monitoring this blog pretty closely, searching for signs of brilliance. Strangely enough, his readers have contributed the best stuff I’ve encountered.

I’m very curious to find out how the author doesn’t get hammered for using the work of other people without paying for it (which I’m sure he doesn’t do). I mean, Bil Keane might be willing to let someone reprint his art, but probably not if they are only going to attempt to rip it to shreds. Anyhoo, it is an interesting concept.

For years I have toyed with the notion of trying my hand at a comic strip. Maybe I will get one or two completed and publish them here. Lord knows it is as good of use of my time as is trying to “win” the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest.

Monday, October 30, 2006

grout expectations

According to my knees, I’m finished with the grout portion of the program.

I applied Mapei brand “warm gr(e)y” Keracolor S grout, hoping that it wouldn’t argue with the 12-inch Glacier Bay “Arctic Blue” porcelain tiles I had set into Mapei Ultracontact full-contact mortar. The application went well, and the clean up really only required a solid block of time and lots of elbow grease.

The floor has a few issues, but in general I’m pleased with the outcome. Tiling is definitely something that I wouldn’t want to do five (or more) days a week.

Monday, October 23, 2006

"my wallet's gone! my wallet's gone!"

Once upon a time, in a land so far away it pratically seemed nearby, lived a middle-aged lad who had in his possession a magic wallet. At first, second, or even third-glances it appeared to be a normal, average wallet- but that was only part of its magic.

Created from the tanned hide of a holy brown cow, this unique bi-fold wallet was used to store not only script, but also secret potions and mysterious plastic cards that could be flashed by the fella in order to hypnotize merchants and cause them to offer him goods and services seemingly without having to pay or barter for them. Some of the cards could even be inserted into machines that the man would tickle with his fingers until it began to laugh and cough out paper money. Many folks in the village discussed the phenomena in low tones, being very careful to never let the man hear them.

Also stored in the wallet were important data about the man, the location of his home, and even the type of blood that pulsed through his veins. Definitely not the kind of stuff he’d want to fall into the wrong hands!

The magic wallet was always kept near the man. Normally he would secure it in the left rear pocket of his trousers in order to be able to retrieve it in a moments notice. He would also regularly wear a long flannel cloak that served to both keep him warm and to help thwart attempts by pickpockets to lift the wallet. During the evenings, the wallet was always placed on a shrine next to the man’s pocket dagger and ointment that prevented his lips from becoming chapped by the harsh winds that regularly sandblasted the less vegetated regions of the kingdom. Okay, sometimes the man would be so weary from his day’s adventure that he would forget to remove the wallet from his pocket before climbing into bed, but in those cases his pants were normally on the floor at the foot of the bed.

This odd relationship between the man and the wallet continued uninterrupted literally for years- many years. Then one day out of the blue, evil spirits fell upon the man obscuring his ability to sleep comfortably and causing him to see visions of monstrous objects of all shapes, colors and sizes floating through the air. These shapes taunted the man with the fire of dragons while the evil spirits whipped up winds and rains and further distracted him by intermittently blocking out the sun and stars. It appeared to be either the end of times, or the beginning of something worse.

After nine days, the sky cleared and the shapes vanished as quickly as they had appeared. The man celebrated this fortunate turn of events by eating a spiced pork sandwich and slipping off into a deep sleep. When the man awoke, all seemed right in the land… until he reached for the magic wallet with his hand. Like the shapes and winds, it too had vanished! What luck!

In a panic, the man searched high and low, near and far, even to and fro- all in vain. The evil spirits had cast a cloaking spell over the wallet making it invisible to all who joined in the search. The man was devastated.

Rebounding as quickly as possible, he set about contacting the wizards who had issued the powerful cards and potions contained in the wallet to make sure they deactivated them before they could be used against him. One by one he had to admit his loss, and promise that he would do better if given another chance.

Following each successful conference, the man would again conduct a thorough search for the wallet sweeping his entire kingdom. He looked in drawers and cupboards, on the tops of books, under books, even inside books, under the bed, in his boots, under hats, in the stove, in boxes, and in spare pockets of other pants, jackets, and socks (yes, even in socks). Time after time, the searches proved fruitless. That isn’t to say that he didn’t discover some interesting things. He did… but no wallet.

Three complete sun cycles had passed since the man had dealt with the last of the card issuers when it struck him that he had forgotten one that he seldom used, and immediately set about dealing with the issue. In that meanwhile, he had struck a deal with the maker of the finest equipment used by the noble knights engaged in baseball, the grandest sport of all the land, for a replacement wallet. He figured that this magic would be more powerful than ever, given that the gods of baseball would be smiling on the Rawlings brand. Little did he know that the magic would begin working quickly, and in ways he never imagined.

The man was working in his den during the dark of night as the carriage containing his new wallet drew closer and closer, minute by minute. He remembered that the king’s men would arrive at first light to collect the weekly tax of household trash. While he grabbed the small, round receptacle adjacent to his writing desk, the man’s subconscious teased him by informing him that it was the one place he had failed to include in his searches. Dumping the contents of the container onto the floor, he began rummaging through the rummage like a kitten playing with tissue paper.

Unable to determine whether the man’s red face was the result of his labor, or his embarrassment of somehow having discarded the wallet into the trashcan, this author can only relate the fact that the jester and wallet had been reunited. No thieves had made off with it in the night. Nothing was missing. The fact that none of the magic cards still in his possession retained any powers was nobody’s fault but his own. A lesson had been learned, but its meaning was immediately lost upon the man.

Once upon a time, there lived a man who was VERY happy with the wallet he carried as a result of a silly mistake he had made.


I finally finished setting all the floor tiles in the bathroom. After messing around trying to make my cuts using a coping saw with a diamond-coated blade, and then a borrowed tile hand saw, I ended up punting and heading back to the hardware store for a wet saw. About three hours after I returned home, I not only had all my tiles cut, but also had found extra time to water the remaining plants in the garden (strawberries, sunflowers, hollyhocks, grapes, marigolds, tomatoes and cantaloupes). I plan on returning the pair of tile nippers I bought but never used.

I began laying the special cut and border tiles right after watching the Tigers tie the Cardinals in World Series at one game each. I ended up with two full tiles and some change to spare. Now that I have that done and all the cat thin-set footprints wiped up off the hardwood floors, I’ll let it rest for a full day before I think about adding any grout.

I need to add another coat of paint to the window before I reinstall the trim. I also need to select and install the baseboard molding and repaint the bathtub exterior before I can start putting in the fixtures. I’m finally beginning to feel like I’m turning the corner on this remodeling project.

Friday, October 20, 2006


Taking a step back to consider my options for cutting tiles for the area surrounding the bathtub plumbing fixtures, I decided to take a closer look at that cold water supply line that I believed to be broken. Utilizing a pair of needle nose pliers and an ample amount of determination, I was finally able to extract a broken piece of pipe that measures about ½-inch in length from inside the connection.

Although several of you are becoming bored with how long it is taking me to tile the floor, I must say that my assistant seems perfectly content to pass the time by scooting the plastic tile spacers around the floor as if they were hockey pucks.

Speaking of hockey, Saturday is the open house at the brand new Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho. This is where our hockey team, the New Mexico Scorpions, will begin playing home games next Friday. I will be operating the four DAKtronics matrix signs during games, and will also be called upon to direct some of the video productions. That will entail calling for shots from the three cameras, editing and playing instant replays, and running sponsor commercials and appropriate video clips from movies such as Slap Shot and Strange Brew. I don’t think these games will be available for viewing online, but then I may be wrong.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

tiling for dollars

Okay, I got the full field tiles set, now will let the thin-set cure while I run to a bar and watch game 5 of the National League Championship Series and ponder the cuts I need to make for the remainder of the room.

Monday, October 09, 2006

unexpected progress

Monday’s events at the balloon fiesta were rained out, so I took advantage of the down time and installed the cabinet in the bathroom wall. Granted, it isn’t a giant leap forward, but it does represent one less task to complete.

I also began messing around with various possible tile layouts to see what looks best. Unfortunately, I don’t think the easiest method (just leaving them all stacked in the corner of the room) is going to fly.

99 red balloons (plus 700 other colors)

After living in the Duke City for more than five years, I finally can say that I’ve attended the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Well, I guess I could have claimed that before, but now the statement would be true.

Although only two of the scheduled nine days of the event have passed, I already have a few observations to make. First, if you are planning on attending the event in the future, I highly recommend that you figure out a way to be paid for your time spent there. Otherwise, I’m not convinced that it is worth the effort and cost.

As for the effort, I’m talking about the traffic and wading through the seemingly endless sea of humanity. Imagine fighting through heavy traffic to get to a shopping mall on Krismas Eve, then having to choose from relatively tacky “fair-quality” goods for those on your shopping list. That isn’t to say that some of the merchandise isn’t downright expensive.

As for the expense, admission to the balloon park is $6.00 per day or event, and parking is $10.00 per car. As an alternative, fiesta goers have the option of taking advantage of the city’s park and ride program. However, at $10.50 per person, that route really only pays off if you are a family of two or less. Plus, given the lines of people I’ve seen waiting to get a ride back to their cars, you might as well just find a soothing station on your car stereo and settle in for the slow ride into the park in your own vehicle.

I arrive at around 4:00 am each morning to set up my camera and discuss with the other camera operators how we are going to shoot the event, or wait through the rain to see whether or not the morning’s launch is going to be cancelled (as was the case Sunday). I have a good hour after set-up before anything is going to happen, which leaves me free to wander about in search of food. The choices are as varied as one would expect to find at the state fair… pancakes on a stick, breakfast burritos, deep fried Twinkies, pizza, jumbo baked potatoes, turkey drumsticks, cinnamon rolls, corn dogs, bloomin’ onions, roasted ears of corn, funnel cakes, pretzels, gyros, nachos, tacos, caramel apple chips, dippin’ dots, and of course, “Wisconsin fried cheese curds.”

Sunday morning I ended up wandering into the media tent where I gathered my breakfast of a cup of hot chocolate, a breakfast burrito, a donut and a Crown and Sierra Mist. Unfortunately, I must report that the only Coke product that I’ve seen in the entire park is the clock on the wall inside the Freelance West Video trailer.

Food isn’t the only thing for sale at the balloon fiesta. I suspect (and hope) that they have assembled what must be the single largest marketplace for balloon related merchandise on this side of the sun. If you want balloon-themed hats, pins, posters, videos, sunglasses, wind chimes, sun catchers, wood roses, books, photos, calendars, post cards, ceramics, scrapbook kits, candles, Russian nesting dolls, or even quilts, come on down to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta! Heck, they even have strolling disposable Kodak camera vendors that also carry extra smart media cards and batteries for the digital crowd.

Color me cautious, but balloons and pins seems a most curious combo!

I’m not sure if I am going to be able to get any decent photographs of balloons launching or setting up for the evening glows since I am scheduled to shoot video during pretty much every event. Besides, there are TONS of those types of photos available online- just a Google away.

I find it interesting when I return to the balloon park in the late afternoon for an evening event and discover that the balloon field has been taken over by a throng of amateur kite enthusiasts. They don’t seem to mind the wind that threatens each and every hot air and gas balloon event.

I directed my first video production Saturday night. It was a two-hour concert by “Get Back,” a Beetles tribute band that included the original cast of “Beatlemania.” I basically sat inside a large video/audio truck and called for various shots from the camera operators, then punched them up on the giant video screen- every so often mixing in a kool special effect. It was very fun. I will also be directing during the Marty Stuart concert Thursday afternoon, and a few of the balloon events.

Friday, October 06, 2006


The working title for this post was "Lessons Learned," but I decided that this one was, well... sexier.

Having already cut my cementboard and laid it out in the room to make sure it would fit properly, I set out last night to install the 1/4-inch-thick panels one at a time. First I mixed up a supply of thin-set, re-explained the ground rules to both cats, popped a beer, cranked some Supertramp, and began applying the mortar to the floor. After carefully setting the first panel, I climbed on top to begin driving my Superiorbilt 1-1/4" backerboard screws. I initially set a screw by tapping the tip into the cementboard with a hammer, then driving it home with my 18-volt Black & Decker Firestorm drill/driver. Just as the flat screw head approached the surface of the cementboard... SNAP!... busted the tip off my driver bit. Not good!

Luckily, I had more bits that came with my RYBOI drill. Unfortunately, they didn't fare a heck of a lot better. I ended up breaking each of the eight driver bits I had, yet had failed to drive all the screws I needed to secure even the first panel. Of course by that time it was too late to make a run to Lowe's (but only because they still haven't issued me my own key). Unable to continue with that particular task, I took the remaining mortar outside and applied it to the surface of the adobe blocks that form one of my raised garden beds. Not exactly what it was made for, but at least it wasn't a complete waste, as it will help deter erosion.

Made a quick hardware run today and picked up the following: a six-pack of DeWalt double headed #2 bits, a six-pack of 1-inch Bosch titanium #2 screwdriving bits and a three-pack of 2-inch Bosch titanium #2 screwdriving bits that fit into the keyless chuck portion of my driver. I figured that if I couldn’t get the job done with all these, that I would finish up using a sledgehammer (even though that would require yet another trip to Lowe’s). As it turned out, I was able to drive all remaining screws (150+) using a single Bosch titanium bit. Afterwards, that bit looked nearly as good as the other two that are still in the package.

Lesson learned: Don't attempt projects similar to mine with crappy tools or materials. It will only lead to frustration and extra trips to the hardware store.

Another example of the same lesson was this plastic three-sided taping knife I bought (featuring a 4-inch, 6-inch, and 10-inch blades) for the dry walling portion of the project. This hunk of junk wasn't worth the time I wasted patting myself on the back for the money I had saved by not purchasing the recommended metal taping knives. I picked those up the day after I broke the cheap plastic one, and they made the job much easier.

At any rate, I have now have the entire floor covered with backerboard, and the seams have been taped and mortared (although I hadn't gotten that done when I took these photos). I don't anticipate actually beginning to set the tile until after the balloon festival wraps up on the 15th. I also recently picked up a pair of hard shell kneepads to ensure that I don't aggravate an old Nerf football injury.

I utilized a Vaughan double-edged (medium rip cut / extra fine cross cut) Bear Saw to remove a half-inch from the bottom of the doorframe and door to accommodate the cementboard, tile and layers of thin-set.

In other news, I have ordered the new tub hardware and have begun looking into options for the threshold transition and baseboard molding. I will definitely not be installing vinyl floor/wall liner similar to the crap that I ripped out. Instead, I am leaning towards a Victorian-style wood trim along the floor, although straight and simple may win out in the spirit of making it as easy as possible to keep clean.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Just when I think I can’t put off tackling the floor much longer, new challenges and opportunities present themselves. Before I could layout the Hardibacker cement boards so I could make the cuts I would need for complete coverage, I thought I should remove the remaining bathtub plumbing fixtures (water supply lines and drain connection) to make measuring as simple and accurate as possible. Unable to get the drain to pop up through the floor resulted in another excursion into the crawlspace so I could unhook the drain where it connected with the pvc line.

A reader recently asked me if I have any help on this project. Well, I guess it all depends on your definition of help. If you consider the following photo as evidence of “help,” then yes, I have more than I need.

Actually, I am getting a bunch of help via emails and calls from readers who have tips or general encouragement to keep the work moving along.

Another potential issue is the copper pipe that serves as the cold water supply to the tub. After loosening the uppermost nut with my handy pipe wrench and removing the supply line, I noticed that the pipe appears to be busted. I mean, it isn’t an even edge at all, and I can’t imagine that that is how it is “supposed” to look. The hot water supply line on the other hand is quite smooth. (You can’t tell in the photo because I have it taped off to prevent debris from falling into the opening.) Man, I really don’t want to call in a plumber at this point, but I may end up having to do so.

At least I can now make my cuts in the cement board and get that installed. Oh, now I remember what else I wanted to mention. To lay tile near the door jamb, I assume the proper way to do it is to saw about a half-inch off the bottom of the jamb in order to lay the cement board and tile and thinset under it- rather than say, cutting tiles to fit around the bottom of the jamb. If I did that, I would be screwed in the future if I ever needed to remove the door. RIGHT?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

old is new once again

It is difficult to wrap my head around the notion that summer is gone and that the regular baseball season has ended. But I see the trees turning yellow and dropping their leaves, indicating it is time for us to bundle up and prepare for the singing of the plump lady.

Since the playoffs start today, I need to announce my post-season predictions. Bad news for Tigers and Padres fans… I’m picking your teams for the World Series- with Detroit winning in seven games.

I recently picked up a pack of the 2006 Topps “Allen & Ginter” baseball cards. I’m not sure what I was expecting when I opened it, other than I thought it was a neat idea to attempt to recreate some of the magic of the first real baseball cards that were available with tobacco products way back in 1887 (before many of you were born). These cards totally blew my mind!

Although there were only 10 baseball cards included in the 1887 set that also included six other sports, Topps has issued a set of 350 cards (318 ballplayers including reprints of the original 10 cards, 7 non-sport superstars and 25 historical figures including the likes of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne). In addition to the normal “base set,” Topps has also produced a variety of parallel sets including mini cards that mimic of the original cards that measured only 2.75 by 1.5 inches (pictured below).

Not only is the artwork inspiring, but the white backgrounds and non-glossy finishes are ideal for autograph collectors. These gorgeous cards are perfect for baseball fans that have an appreciation for history. Topps hit this one completely out of the park! Although I’ve only opened the single pack, I can already tell that this set is going to compete with my all-time favorite… the 1975 Topps set. I think it would have been an interesting experiment if Topps had slipped a single cigarette into every pack similar to when they used to include “bubble gum.” Of course, maybe that’s one reason I don’t work for Topps.

Oh, so speaking of baseball and history, I was recently honored by being named an associate producer of research for a documentary about the history of baseball in Albuquerque. The production is scheduled for airing on PBS in the summer of 2007-ideally the week of the minor league all-star game that is being held at Isotopes Park. Needless to say, I’m stoked to get to the library and history museum to make the dust fly while working on my contribution. I’m sure to be writing more about that as it happens.

Similarly, I just received confirmation that a number of my still photographs of Isotopes utility infielder Tony Schrager will appear in an independent documentary about minor league baseball. According to Tony Okun, the film’s producer/director, the target date for completion of that project is September 2008. I urge you to bookmark oh! show productions’ website and monitor it for news about the movie.

I won’t include any of those photos here, so you’ll have to watch the movie to see them. However, I can’t help including this photo I snapped of Tony signing autographs for little leaguers prior to an Isotopes game back in August. You can’t make out much of Schrager, but the expression on this kid’s face is fantastic!

Monday, October 02, 2006

renovation blues

After the primer dried, I applied two coats of “bistro white” American Tradition Signature paint to the ceiling. At the very least, the ceiling will be a millimeter closer to the floor in the event that I ever have to paint it again.

After the ceiling was good and dry, I taped off the margins and started on the walls. The color for the walls is “coventry blue.” Again, I went with the eggshell finish as it is supposed to help hide mistakes. I would say that the paint was very forgiving, and the screw-ups that it couldn’t cover can probably be hidden via some creative picture hanging.

For those of you concerned that both our living room and my office are also shades of blue, fear not- the plan is that they won’t remain anything close to blue (at some point in the future).

I also installed a new sconce on the wall above the invisible sink and vanity and hung a new chandelier. The trick to hanging a chandelier if you haven’t had the pleasure, is to dangle it nearby using a wire hanger while you connect the wires, disconnect them, reconnect them, then disconnect them and run the wires correctly and reconnect them… well, you get the idea. Using the hanger makes a two-person job into a single person task that allows one to curse as much as they please.

Comparing the new walls to the crappy weathered window resulted in the determination that I also needed to scrape, sand and repaint it as well. I’m definitely not interested in getting into the stripping of the window and this point, so it will remain one of the few painted windows in the original part of the house. I've got a good start on that. At least it will look nice when I'm done.