Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Leave It to Beaver"

When I was attending the University of Wisconsin in the late 1970s, we used to watch late afternoon reruns of "Leave It to Beaver" in Curt Haensel's dorm room before heading over to the commons for dinner. We called it "our daily dose of morals." If you're familiar with the TV show, which originally ran from 1957 to 1963, you know that every episode presented a lesson to be learned from Theodore "the Beaver" Cleaver's misadventures, usually explained to him in knowing tones by father Ward, played by real-life pastor Hugh Beaumont, and mother June.

Blogging frequently reminds me of an episode in which the Beaver decided to keep a diary. His problem was that his life was so ordinary that he didn't have anything to write about. So he started doing crazy things to provide himself with subject matter. Of course, he got into trouble and had to confess to his parents what he was up to. The lesson was contained in Ward and June's reaction: "Oh, Theodore! You don't need to impress us. We love you just the way you are."

The connection between living life and writing about it is intriguing. If we were required to write about every aspect of our lives, we might live a little differently, maybe a little larger and more honestly. Being able to pick and choose the events we share allows us to present ourselves in a better light, to craft a persona of our own choosing. Does it go to the Beaver's extreme, where we do something just to write about it, or is it a more subtle influence, where we know in the back of our minds that there is a possible blog entry in everything we do?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Nan's good deed

A few weeks before Christmas, Nan noticed that a homeless man who hangs around at a busy intersection downtown had a dog. It was a medium-sized, rust-colored mutt, and it followed the man everywhere. Sometimes she would see the man riding an old bicycle with the dog balanced on a rack on the back. When she told me about them, she said she felt sorry for the dog. We both smiled about that because we have a saying that when you see a homeless guy with a dog, you always feel worse for the dog than you do for the guy. She said she was going to buy a bag of Kibbles & Bits and give it to them. I told her it was a thoughtful thing to do but that she should be careful.

So Nan went about her shopping and errands with a bag of dog food in the car for a few days until she spotted the man and his dog at a small park near the busy intersection. She pulled up at the curb, rolled down the window and called the man over. She handed him the dog food, saying only that she thought he could use some food for his dog. She said he was touched and genuinely thankful, and not threatening in any way. The next day we saw the man pushing his bike with the dog food strapped to the rack and the dog trailing behind. I could tell Nan was pleased to know that the dog was being well fed now.

But then we didn't see the man and his dog for several days. The next time Nan spotted the dog, it was walking with a different man. There had been a report on the news about the murder of a homeless man by another homeless man, and we both worried that maybe the victim was the dog's owner. When she saw the new man and the dog a second time, Nan stopped the car and asked about the other man. The new man was kind and said that the other man had taken a bad fall and was laid up for a while but that he was getting better and would be around again before too long.

Just before Christmas, Nan asked if she could share an idea with me. She said she had noticed that the man's bike was in rough shape and she wanted to get it repaired for him. I told her it was fine with me and that I would help in any way I could. She said she would try to figure out a way to coordinate it and let me know.

It wasn't until after Christmas that Nan saw the man and his dog together again, walking up the street with the bike and the other man. She went to the grocery store to get another bag of dog food and then went looking for them to discuss her idea. She found them in the park and walked over with the dog food to talk with them. She found out that the dog's name was Bear-Bear, the man's name was Jerry and that the other man was Scott, Jerry's friend. Jerry said the bike wasn't working so well, that the back brakes were shot and that it wouldn't shift gears, so if there was anything that could be done to fix it, he sure would appreciate it. Nan told him she would be back the next day to pick it up and take it to a bike shop to get it fixed.

Nan had me put the bike rack on the back of the car and drive over to the park with her. Jerry, Scott and Bear-Bear were waiting for us with the bike. Jerry walked it over and introduced himself to me. He looked to be in his mid-forties and rough from living outdoors, but there was no look of drug addiction or smell of alcohol about him. When I shook his gloved hand, it was gnarled and twisted. He said the fall he had taken had knocked him out and that he had frostbitten his fingers as a result. He would be going to the hospital for surgery in a few days to have the affected fingertips removed. Nan told me later that Jerry had been sleeping outside during this unusually cold winter because the local shelter would not allow animals and Jerry would not leave Bear-Bear outside alone. They were camping down by the Colorado River and he had slipped on an ice-covered stone.

Jerry and I looked his bike over for problems, and I started making a mental list. Jerry said the bike had sentimental value because it had gotten him from Florida to Grand Junction, so he was really hoping it could be fixed. I tried to imagine him riding this bike that far and then I tried to picture Bear-Bear riding on the rack. It boggled the mind.

Nan told Jerry and Scott that she would let them know what the bike shop had to say, and we drove over to Brown Cycles to see what they could do. We explained the situation to Chris, the owner, while he looked the bike over. He said that while the bike was a classic, a mid-80s Peugeot, it might be beyond help. He pointed at the seat post, which was jammed all the way into the frame and causing the seat tube to chip and break. He said he would try to fix this problem first to determine whether the rest of it was worth fixing. We told Chris about Bear-Bear balancing on the rack and he showed us some baskets that would make for a safer ride. And we looked at a new bell, one that said, "I 'heart' MY BIKE".

Chris called a few days later to say that George, his bike mechanic, had worked on the seat post problem and determined that it could not be fixed. The bike was used up. It was time to look at a new one or maybe a new used one. I stopped by the shop to pick up the bike and talk with George about it. He showed me exactly what the problem was, and I asked how much we owed for his work on it. He said there was no charge, that he and Chris appreciated what we were trying to do. Then he showed me some used bikes they had in the back. They were not too expensive but they were still less than the estimate Chris had given us on the repair. I said we would need to talk with Jerry about it and let them know. George said we should try to get Jerry to come in so we could be sure we were getting a bike that would fit him. I said I would have Nan talk to him about that.

Nan and I discussed it that evening and decided that the best thing we could do would be to buy Jerry a new used bike, with a basket for Bear-Bear, and also buy Scott one as a thank-you for looking after Jerry and Bear-Bear. Nan also suggested that she would help Jerry coordinate a new hospital appointment, since he missed his first one, to make sure he gets treatment for his frostbitten fingers, but that might be a little more complicated.

Yesterday, Nan took Jerry's bike back to him. She apologized that it could not be fixed and told him about our idea to get him and Scott new used bikes. Jerry was sad about his old bike but happy about getting a new one. Nan and I will go take a closer look at what Chris and George have available next week and then work out the details with Jerry and Scott. I'll let you know what happens.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Blogger posts using email

Charlie as a puppy in our front yard in Aspen

I received an email message today from Chris and KT of SV Billabong, currently hanging out in Finike, Turkey. They are promoting a product they have put together that they call Blurb Bits. It allows far-flung cruisers to stay in touch with family and friends through their blogs by posting text, images and current location maps using just email through an SSB radio connection and SailMail or a similar service.

I have been thinking about this idea myself and have experimented in the past with using Blogger’s built-in Mail-to-Blogger feature, but I have never tried it with images or links. So this post is an experiment, sent from my regular email account, that contains an old photo of Charlie as a puppy along with a Google Maps link to the exact location where he was sitting when the photo was taken: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=39.248880,-106.895943&ie=UTF8&z=12&om=1. Let’s see if it works…

Follow-up: The text and photo came through just fine, although the paragraphs are widely spaced and the photo is its original size instead of a scaled-down version. In the future, I would probably use line breaks instead of paragraph breaks and format photos to fill the available center-column space. The link is not really a link but rather a Web address that would need to be copied and pasted into a browser, so I guess Blogger doesn't automatically interpret Web addresses the way Outlook and Word do. It might be worth trying the HTML "a href=" version to see how it gets interpreted. Even with the minor issues, it's pretty cool to think that it's possible to publish full-blown blog posts from anywhere in the world you can get some kind of email access.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Moby-Dick revisited

Paul Caouette rowing his dinghy over to pick up a dinner guestPaul and Honey Caouette enjoy hosting dinner parties. While I was with them in Miami aboard their Valiant 40, Wild Iris, they invited people over for dinner almost every evening. This was no easy feat since the boat was moored about a hundred yards from shore. They would have their dinner guests call from their cell phones when they arrived at the dock, and Paul would row the dinghy over to pick them up while Honey worked her vegetarian magic in the galley and I did little else but set the table and pour the wine.

Our guests at the second dinner party were Randy Boiko, a local marine surveyor who had done the survey on Wild Iris, and Matt Hennings, a marine mechanic who had done work on Wild Iris's diesel engine. Once the wine started flowing, Matt launched into stories about his experiences with delivering boats and working on fishing boats, where he learned his current trade out of sheer necessity. For a guy in his mid-twenties, he had already had some serious adventures.

One story Matt told reminded me of a key scene from Moby-Dick, the one where Pip the cabin boy falls overboard and almost drowns. Matt was working on a large fishing boat bottom trawling off Georges Bank near Nova Scotia. They were working around the clock and hauling in the nets every three hours. He was on deck at night when the boat's crane brought over a full net. A young man who was new onboard was trying to release the net's contents into the hold, but he was short and needed to jump to reach the catch. He slipped and fell overboard into 35-degree water. Matt said he didn't even think about what he was doing and went right in after him. He was able to grab the young man and swim him back to the boat before they were both overtaken by hypothermia, but they were both badly shaken by the event. Matt said it took him almost eight hours to stop shivering, whether from the extreme cold or from the adrenaline. He said the young man basically shut down, that after he recovered he would not return to work and wanted only to get off the boat and never return.

Moby-Dick's Pip reacted similarly to his near-death experience. It put the insignificance of his life into horrifying perspective and drew him into himself, to the extent that his shipmates thought him insane.

Matt is far enough removed from the experience now that he can chuckle about it and strong enough in his constitution that he can be humble about saving a life and yet exuberant that he is alive to tell the story.