Category Archives: Essay

Of Texting and Typos


We were anxiously waiting to hear from our well driller the results of the well flow test.  Important because the well driller had hinted that we might have a dry well.  Considering the cost of drilling our well was north of $32,000, the idea of having to drill another hole in the ground was a little hard to get our heads around.

So you can imagine our elation when he let us know that the flow test had been just fine, and test results were already off to our county’s health department. In his text to me, he typed “14 gpm” – as in fourteen gallons per minute.  The county minimum was 10.  And if the flow wasn’t at least 10, we’d have to install a reserve tank, spend more money, and so on.

You get the idea.

14 gpm meant I could build a smaller structure to house the pressure tanks and water treatment. I could also put it on cinder blocks instead of a concrete pad.   Less expensive, in other words, and easier to build. All good.

As a result of that simple text, I spent about 30 hours the past few weekends working on our well house shed.  My friend, Mr. Gordon Becker, helped out to the tune of 8 – 10 hours.  Time is precious, so I value any time anyone is willing to give to help me out in my projects.

At the moment,  the floor is in place, the walls are framed and up, and we are ready to install rafters, add exterior sheeting, and finish it up.

Yesterday morning, before I headed out the door to catch the ferry, I was thumbing through a copy of the well documents the country had mailed us. They’d arrived the day before.  I was scanning the well test results and noticed the entry for GPM — 4.6.


I looked more closely.  No doubt about it.  Over the course of the three hour test and multiple entries, a steady 4 plus gallons per minute.

I suppose, under the circumstances, when I had received that initial text from my well driller, I should have responded with something like: “you’re kidding”, or “I would have been happy with 2 gpm, but 14?  WTF?”

But I didn’t.

After all, it was good news.  It was winning a modest amount from the Lotto:  $1,000?  Really?  Woohoo.

Besides, I really needed some good news.  So why would I want to question 14 gallons per minute.

After I calmed down, I called my well driller.  Got his voice mail. I left a very professional message. No profanity. I also texted him and asked him to give me a call, mentioned the typo he made and asked for clarification. Was it 14 or 4?   I already knew what the answer would be, but I wanted to hear it from him.

Maybe I’m old school, but if it was me who’d goofed up like that, I would I have apologized immediately.  I make mistakes all the time. All of us do. And in this particular case, I’d just spent a bunch of time and money on a shed I didn’t need, not right at the moment, and tapped into the better impulses of a good friend.

In the end, the time spent on shed number one isn’t going to be a complete waste of time. I’ll drag it out of the way, and build the new, bigger shed on a concrete slab in the same location and finish it up later…sometime. And as Mr. Becker said, “you can never have enough sheds.”

I guess not.  Just like you can ever have enough Scotch.

But that’s not the point.

I’m planning to do all the ground work for the “new” shed on Saturday. Already got the forms, and picked up the rebar last night.  I’ve got a call out to Mr. Becker.

And I’m still waiting for that apology call from my well driller.



Touching the Divine

PortGamble“It’s a great art, is rowing. It’s the finest art there is. It’s a symphony of motion. And when you’re rowing well, why it’s nearing perfection. And when you near perfection, you’re touching the Divine. It touches the you of yous. Which is your soul.”

—George Yeoman Pocock

From time to time I have touched the divine. I know this beyond a shadow of a doubt, though in our skeptical, narcissistic, secular materialistic age, I would be hard pressed to convince anyone of that fact.

But they have happened. They are as true as anything I know.  And one of the reasons I believe them true is that they are so unexpected: a smile from my love; the laughter of my children; the forever view from from the top of Mt. Adams; playing second trombone in the Walla Walla Symphony during a performance of “The Planets”. . .

. . . and rowing — rowing last Sunday morning across Port Gamble Bay on water smooth as whale bone to the music of a thousand birds.

But alas, as Robert Frost writes:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

It didn’t last.  But on my drive back home, I realized that those moments of near perfection shared one thing in common.  Beauty.  That seems to be the trigger.  For me, beauty in all its many forms and guises can rip the veil between this world and the next, just for a moment.

“And how does God speak to you?”
“In the language of everything that is beautiful.”
― Mark HelprinA Soldier of the Great War


It’s a gusher…maybe…we hope…


Ever seen images of oil gushing out of the ground like Old Faithful?

I was thinking about that as I was chatting with Chad, the drilling contractor we’d hired to drill the well on the acreage we bought last year about a mile from downtown Kingston.  It’s a sweet piece of property.  A shy five treed acres covered in a mix of 25-year-old alder, fir and cedars in an area where there are still large treed parcels that run for miles.  Chad had just told me they were having trouble finding enough flow. He said 1 in every 25 or 30 wells were “…like that.”

“Like what?” I replied. “Dry?”

He grabbed my arm and said I shouldn’t think that way.

But I’m the son of a full blooded Swede, and that means I tend to look on the dark side of the moon for answers.  In other words, I don’t like things candy coated.

“So what should we hope for?” I asked.

“I’m thinking two…maybe two and a half gallons per minute would be good.  We have a well on Bainbridge Island that gets about that much per minute and there’s 14 homes on that system.”

“Must have a big storage tank.”

“You could say that,” he laughed.

“So that’s what we’d do?”

“Yeah. I’d recommend an 1,800 gallon tank. You’ll need to protect from UV and the weather.  We’ll use a smaller pump in the well, and then an above ground pump to pull from the storage tank to the pressure tank. . . ”

“Ka-ching….ka-ching…ka-ching,” Never a problem that more money can’t fix, I thought.

So Chad finished up drilling our well a few days later. They went down 500 feet, but backed up to where they initially found water at just shy of 400 feet. And then we had to wait for the well test.  It would tell us if we had a dry hole, a valid well with help, or a gusher.

I told Chat to let us know as soon as he knew anything.  But if truth be told, I was chicken to hear from him. Ambivalence can be better than bad news, right?  You know you should find out something, even if that something might be terrible, gut wrenching news, but limbo can sometimes be a better state of being than knowing.

So the well test finally happened on a Monday, a week or so after they finished drilling the well.  And then it was Tuesday and still no word, and then Wednesday.

By then, I was convinced it was down to two options. Option 1?  Yeah, bad news.  And because Chad probably had the ambivalence bug like the rest of us, he didn’t want to let me know.  Option 2 was good news.  And he was on to other problems. Because he didn’t realize Sandy and I had been eating nothing and drinking heavily as everything hung in suspense, he didn’t think to give us a call.

I finally sent him a cryptic text.  “Any news. What’s the flow?”

What I was actually thinking as I pecked out those letter was something decidedly more profane, but I’m a mature adult, and I didn’t succumb to my darker nature.   As it turns out, he replied almost right away, though I ended up getting distracted by work, leaving my phone at my desk, and not getting back to it until 4 hours later.  You know, that ambivalence thing at work.

His response?  “All good. 14 gpm. Log and test samples delivered to county.”

As far as me and ambivalence?  Can’t say lesson learned. We’ll see what happens next time.




Truck Repair Karma


I have marked this down as a karma thing.

Here’s what happened.

My truck was randomly “not” starting. I attributed it initially to bad batteries.

Nope. Bad starter.

So I checked out my car repair manual.  It looked like an easy repair.  So I ordered a new starter from NAPA and decided to go ahead last Saturday and replace it myself even though I had the flu and a fever.

And yes, I’m an idiot.

Three hours later, I finally tossed aside my 10mm box end wrench and muttered f*&k it.

As it turned out, replacing the starter wasn’t as easy as my repair manual had led me to believe.  There was one bolt in particular that refused to loosen.  It was located on the top of the starter; I was having trouble getting a tool on it, and enough leverage to break it free.  I’d tried every option I could think, and then some, but no luck.

I hate to admit failure, but sometimes its time to quit bashing yourself in the face with a hammer.  So, I tightened up the bolts I had managed to loosen, put away my tools, and backed the truck out of the driveway.   That’s when I noticed the wet patch on the pavement. My first thought was water, but upon closer inspection, I realized it was diesel.  Good grief.  Not only had I failed to replace my starter, I’d knocked something loose.  I locked up the truck, closed the garage door, and went to bed.

On Monday, though still feeling like crap from the flu, I called the local car repair place and they agreed to do the fix, using the starter I’d purchased, and also fix my broken fuel line.  I dropped the truck off the next day (courtesy a tow from my friend Tony).  A few days later, they called up and said it was ready.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Before I got a chance to object to price of the repair, the mechanic says, “Oh, yeah, we couldn’t use your starter.”

“Why not?”

“It was the wrong one.”

“I got it from NAPA,” I said. “5.9 Cummins turbo diesel….”

The mechanic shook his head. “Nope. They gave you a starter for a VW van.”

A starter for a VW van instead of a starter for a 2004 Dodge 2500 pickup truck with a 5.9 liter 24 valve turbo diesel?  Wow.  That wasn’t just wrong, but “way” wrong. Thanks to a reluctant bolt, however, I had only wasted 3 hours on the job.  I mean, what if I’d managed to get my old starter off?  And what if they bolts for the VW starter had actually fit my truck, and I’d ended up installing that?  I could have easily spent a day or more futzing around on this before giving up.

So, unlike most things in life. This all actually sorta kinda worked out.

I’ll go with that.





Don’t forget the Kleenix

It was Tuesday morning and I was checking out of the hospital after hip replacement surgery.  During the four hours I’d been knocked out the previous afternoon, they’d sawed off the end of my left femur, hammered a titanium spike with a new ball on the end into the exposed bone, and then sanded smooth and relined my hip socket with titanium covered in a hard plastic.  Once, they glued together the 8 inch incision, Humpty Mikey was put back together again.

Piece of cake.

So, I’m struggling to pull on my sweats with help from the CNA assigned to my room, a nice middle-aged woman named Danielle.  She said she was originally from Russia. That explained the accent.  In between helping me, she was bustling around my room, a free hand constantly shooing wisps of dark hair out of her eyes.

“Want these?” She held up the yellow post surgery socks I’d been wearing. They had the neat patches of rubber on the soles so I wouldn’t slip.  Not that I was racing around the room or anything.

“Sure,” I said.  Yellow happens to be my favorite color.

She stuffed them in a plastic bag.

“How about these?”

It was the hospital tooth brush and toothpaste.  To tell the truth, I didn’t really care one or the other. I was feeling really beat up from the surgery, and just wanted to get home.  I shrugged.

She glanced over her shoulder like she expected the Secret Police might be listening. “You no take,” she whispered, “they just throw away and charge you anyways.” She made a sound with her mouth.  “Poof.”  The way she said it she implied that if I was foolish enough to let something like that go to waste, then it was no skin off her nose.  I imagine she’d seen a lot of that.  The hospital I was at was located about 15 minutes north of the Microsoft campus, and about the same distance from one of the wealthiest towns in the country.  I suppose she didn’t know I lived on the cheap side of Puget Sound, and that when I was a kid my Grandma Ruby used to pick the meat from the fried chicken she saved for herself, making sure we all had enough to eat.

“Okay, fine!” I said.

That’s how it went the next few minutes.  Danielle moved around my bed. She’d hold something up,  I’d nod, and then she’d toss it in the bag:  unused pee container,  unused spirometer, a garment bag, and so on. Last but not least was the box of kleenix.

She tapped the box with her knuckles, and raised an eyebrow.

“Absolutely,” I said.

She smiled and tossed it in with everything else.

I was thinking about Danielle a few weeks later when the bills started rolling in. The retail cost of my surgery was over $75,000.  I paid much less thanks to the discounts they gave for my medical insurance, and what insurance chipped in, but still, the numbers were a shock.  From $25,000 for the hospital charges and $18,000 for my new hip. . . to $500 for the 15 minutes the hospital physical therapist spent with me.  I wish I made $2,000 per hour.

Last time I checked, our country spends 19% of our GDP on healthcare.  Way higher than other first world countries.  I don’t expect that to change. Here’s why. There’s no incentive.  Why would the big healthcare-related corporations want to reduce their profits? They’re banking on 19% of GDP. If that were cut to 15%, it would cost them millions – maybe billions – in profits.  They’re not going to stand for it, so their political minions complimented by their advertising/propaganda operations will keep us all confused, and make sure healthcare remains essentially unchanged in this country.

But I have my box of Kleenix.  I do wonder how much the hospital charged me for that? And when I need my other hip done, or one of my knees, I may go offshore.  I hear Thailand is nice.


DIY as an act of rebellion


I’m sorry to say that dependency is becoming the American way.

Why spend time and effort fixing something yourself when you can  A) Pay an “expert” to do it for you, or B) Trash whatever isn’t working and buy something fresh and new? After all, it’ll leave you more time to do really important stuff. You know, the kind of things you see all those gorgeous people doing on TV and the Web: sky diving, traipsing to exotic vacation locations, working out with their pals, gambling at the casino, and on and on.

After all, they’re worth it.

And so are you.

I get it.  I really do.  Hard to ignore the 24/7 advertising onslaught.  And some people just don’t like to get their hands dirty. Or may shy away from DIY because the repair involves doing something that is perceived as “dangerous.” Better to leave any risk to a well insured “professional.”  Or maybe it is a lack of self-confidence.  Plenty of advice on Youtube to counteract that, but still, some people fear failure and have been indoctrinated into leaving most things to “experts.”

There could also be more subtle impulses at play.  The one I hear most often can be boiled down to the belief that one’s time is so darn valuable why would they want to spend it fixing a dishwasher, or a leaky toilet, or something equally mundane and blue collar when one can hire some lackey to do it for them.

But getting it doesn’t mean I like it. In fact, in society’s mad rush to become more dependent, I’m marching the other way, along with a few other vagabonds.  From what I can see, we’re an odd quilt of men and women. We come from a variety of backgrounds and incomes even.  We may not get our news from the same networks, but we share a common interest in working with our hands and our minds.

Some of us are DIY by necessity. If I don’t fix it or build it, it won’t happen. We can’t afford to buy a playhouse for their kids; so we build it.  Others do it because they have an independent streak.  They could pay for someone else to do it, but what’s the fun in that?  And if you have kids, why model that kind of behavior?

This particular movement isn’t controlled by any organizations or political party. Anyone can join. . . anytime.  No need to start with something big like rebuilding a car engine, or fixing a short in your electrical panel.  Start with something else. Instead of ordering out, make dinner from scratch.  Next time you have a leaky faucet, fix it yourself.   Need to repaint a room.  Yeah, you can do that.  And if you don’t know what you’re doing, ask around, or spend some time snooping on Youtube.

So, if you’re ready, raise your right hand, and repeat after me:

I <ENTER YOUR NAME> do henceforth commit to a life of increasing independence from our political and corporate overlords and agree to follow the holy precepts of Do-It-Youselfism as handed down by our forefathers and mothers. I commit myself to a future of looking for opportunities for radical fun and learning new skills however innane by doing more things by myself with advice from family, friends and my community of brother and sister do-it-yourselfers.  So help me God (or whatever else you might consider holy).


A few thoughts post hip replacement surgery


I’m eight days from a left hip replacement, and thought I’d share a few takeaways:

  • I waited too long.  My surgeon said, “No one ever says they had the surgery too soon.”  I’ll add my voice to that chorus.  I waited too long.  Easy to understand now that I’m on the other side of the surgery. Some days I felt almost, well, good. And up until the last month or so before my surgery, I could walk 4 or 5 miles, and row my wherry even further.  Of course, I was wrecked for the day afterwards, each step a painful event.  But I could convince myself when the pain was just a background whisper that maybe I was just being a pussy.  I wasn’t.
  • You’re getting maimed, but it is for a good cause. Really.   This is a grotesque surgery.  You’re willingly choosing to have your body maimed.  Of course it is for a good cause. The hope is less pain and increased mobility.  But don’t overlook the trauma to your body for this surgery.  It all hit me a couple of nights after surgery.  I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t get comfortable. My body just hurt….everywhere.  And I was almost overwhelmed with a need to, well, just cry.  The best way I can describe it is that my body was weeping: Weeping in response to the violations that had happened to it a few days earlier?  Weeping in response to the lost portion of my femur? Or maybe I was just suffering from the side-effects under anesthesia for so long?  I don’t know.  But as strange as it sounds, my body was weeping.  So I decided to join in.
  • Exploring pain.   Pain is personal.  Duh, right?  But I suspect most people think that people get their pain, so when they say they hurt and they hurt really bad, everyone else automatically knows how they feel. But it isn’t so.  My bad may not be anywhere near your bad.  And I may empathize with what you may be feeling or going through, but I can’t feel what you’re going through.  If the worst pain you have ever experienced is a paper cut, then your physical pain perspective is incredibly limited.  A paper cut can hurt, but for someone hacking sugar cane with a machete, cuts and scrapes are an hourly occurrence and probably don’t even get noticed.   It might take losing a finger to get their attention, and come close to what the other person felt with a paper cut. Over time, I’d gotten used to my chronic hip pain. It was never at a static level, climbing and falling without reason on some occasions, and then spiking after some activity.  I resented the limitations of my hip, and up until the end, I was willing to put up with cost after I’d gone mountain biking, rowing, or walking with my wife. But by the end, even that cost was becoming more than I had the energy or will to deal with.  Most of the time, however, the pain was a background wind that I’d become accustomed to, and leaned into without even thinking.  But after the surgery, one of the things I first noticed was that the chronic noise of my arthritis was gone. Even after the pain killer in my joint wore off, it remained quiet.  Of course, it was replaced by the trauma of the surgery, but even that was less than the pain I had felt at times from my worn out hip. For the first time in years, my hip was quiet.
  • Pain killers. Pain killers have a cost.  Pick your poison. Tylenol is hard on your kidney; ibuprofen is tough on your liver. Or is it the other way around?  Opiods are in a class by themselves.  The sooner you can get off the, the better. I managed to avoid the Oxy, except for the pill I took Wednesday night when my body was grieving.  But be careful with even the OTC stuff.  Make ice your friend, if you can.
  • Find a really good surgeon who does plenty of hip replacements.  The joke goes like this:  What do you call the person who graduates first in his or her medical school class?  Doctor.  What do you call the person who graduates last. . . yeah, they get called doctor, too.  So find a good one.
  • Sleep is good. I had given up on ever feeling rested. I had completely lost hope. Pathetic, huh?  But that’s the way it was. I would wake five, six or more times a night. There would always be a time early morning when the ache in my hip, knee and lower leg would have me wrestling with myself and eventual drive me out of bed.  I tried different rooms, the Jesus Prayer, even copious amounts of Vodka. Nothing helped. I didn’t want to get hooked on pills.  I was stuck.  Pain is a pernicous teacher, and a real bastard. I can see what sleep deprivation can be such an effective tool of torture. I would be a coward. But now I am sleeping through the night.  And sleeping more deeply.  My spouse doesn’t disturb my sleep, and my dreams have changed from fragments into nighttime stories.  The ache behind my eyes is gone.  And inside, I’m just feeling, well, an “ahhhh” of relief.