Monday, October 31, 2011

Keeping the creative flame alive

While returning from my walk along the reservoir yesterday, I saw this worker with two flamethrowers. I maintained a respectful distance as I snapped his photograph. From my youth it has been my policy never to annoy a man holding flamethrowers.

As I approached, I looked more closely at the flamethrowers and judged them unimpressive. A faint wisp of yellow flame flickered at each of the nozzles. Two high-powered hair driers would have worked just as well.

After returning home and conducting a brief internet search, I found a technical explanation for the worker's actions. He was heating the white strip of thermoplastic that formed the traffic arrow at his feet, bonding it to the blacktop beneath.

I suppose there are maintenance advantages to using thermoplastic road markers rather than simply painting lines and arrows on the blacktop; but, all the same, I hope the practice doesn't catch on. Road painting may be a humble art, but the creation of a straight line or a well-proportioned turn arrow must surely give the worker more satisfaction that cooking a strip of plastic with wheezy flamethrowers.

My Sunday of Slavic Melancholy

My Sunday of Slavic melancholy began with a brief interlude of contentment at the Dazbog coffee house, where I enjoyed a latte and one of their breakfast pierogi, which are dumplings stuffed with potatoes, sausage, and cheese, cuisine dear to the heart of the Slavic people. (Dazbog is the name of a god in Slavic mythology, possibly a solar deity.) Afterwards I took a stroll to the nearby reservoir.

I was plunged into melancholy, a deep Slavic melancholy, upon seeing the grass and bushes surrounding the reservoir gone so dry and brown, decaying, the residue of the blasted hopes and withered dreams of summer, dead plants still clinging to the parched soil, dead and sad and pointless, like faded brown teeth in the jaw of a skull exhumed from an unmarked grave. I walked on, humming a Slavic song in a minor key. I pondered the miseries of life as only a Slav can ponder. Woe to the man, I thought, who, after a life spent scratching out a tiresome living with all its anxiety, arbitrary and unrealistic schedules, struggles with scoundrels and incompetents at all levels of the corporate organization, and disappointments in recognition and advancement, reaches the autumn of his career and finds the long struggle to have been largely in vain, with his every accomplishment forgotten or misattributed to others, having only a skimpy retirement annuity to show for decades of honest and capable service. Woe! Woe and despair!

Fortunately, I am only part Slav and could not retain this dark brooding for long. I returned home, had a bowl of Dreyer's fat-free frozen yogurt, and felt much better about life.

(Truth be told, today's descent into dark Slavic melancholy was a merely a reaction to reading too much 19th-century Russian literature. My actual Slavic relatives are very cheerful folks.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Key to Sound Slumber

My slumber has been fitful lately. I wake in the middle of night and have trouble getting back to sleep. Relaxation exercises have not helped; neither have the usual nostrums of warm milk or a baby aspirin before bedtime.

Fortunately, Russian literature has provided the key to diagnosing my sleep problem. This evening I was reading Nikolai Gogol's classic novel Dead Souls. Gogol describes his picaresque hero Chichikov taking his rest: "Having eaten the lightest of suppers, consisting only of a suckling pig, he immediately undressed and, climbing in under his blanket, fell into fast, sound slumber, fell into that marvelous slumber which is known only to those fortunate beings who are bothered neither by hemorrhoids, nor fleas, nor overdeveloped mental faculties."

I am free of hemorrhoids. My mental faculties are mediocre and growing dimmer by the year. Therefore, I fear that my bedclothes may be the habitation of fleas. It's time to do laundry.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jackhammer Quip

Today at my office building, workmen were removing a concrete slab in the shipping area. The racket of a jackhammer went on for hours. Somebody quipped, "It sounds like a russian-built woodpecker."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

An Autumn Walk

Today the weather was perfect for a long walk. I decided to take a twelve-mile hike to the used bookstores at the edge of downtown. Objective: to purchase a volume of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories. (To avoid keeping the reader in a state of tingling suspense, I will right now declare my good fortune in finding a compilation of fifty-one of the Father Brown stories, gathered from the volumes published from 1911 to 1936.)

All along my route I marveled at the autumn colors of the leaves, beginning with the maroon trees near my townhouse (see above). I saw leaf colors ranging from deep maroon, to red, to burnt-orange, to yellow, to yellow-green, to the original green. The beauty was a treat for the eyes.

I needed this beauty to offset a subsequent eyesore: a shirtless old man on a bicycle. He was suffering from a not uncommon condition in testosterone-depleted old men called gynecomastia (old man breasts). But no, I misspeak. The old man did not suffer. All of the suffering was experienced by us onlookers. The old man himself was merrily pedaling along, enjoying the warm sunshine on his budding appendages.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hypertension Breakthrough Retraction

Flush with success from Tuesday morning's seeming breakthrough in hypertension reduction (the hot pepper cure), I was subsequently disappointed to find that the effect was fleeting and could not be reproduced, even with an exact replay of the Monday night conditions.

On Tuesday and Wednesday night, ample leftovers of fajita filling and lettuce/tomato/cucumber salad allowed me to recreate my Monday night supper. Each night I took my customary evening stroll and went to bed at my customary time of 10:00 p.m. Then, when I awoke, I hurried downstairs to measure my blood pressure, full of hope. On Wednesday morning my blood pressure remained at its typical a-bit-too-high level. This morning the same disheartening level appeared again. The hot pepper cure has failed me. Tuesday morning's healthy reduction in blood pressure was a fluke, a false hope.

Now what will I do with the bag of medicinal jalapeƱos I bought Tuesday night?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hypertension Breakthrough

After slowly freeing myself from my ineffective blood pressure medicine without physician's supervision (to the dismay of my friend the emergency room nurse, who mordantly jokes about saving me a spot in the stroke treatment center), I have been faithfully, even obsessively, exercising and watching my diet. My blood pressure has eased to a moderate pre-hypertensive level, not optimal yet but well below the danger zone. I had expected to continue a gradual descent to the "normal" reading of 120/80 over the coming months. However, upon taking a blood pressure measurement this morning, I found that I had made a surprising descent all the way to "normal" overnight.

What caused such a significant reduction in blood pressure? The previous night had been typical of my routine, with one notable exception: my younger son and I had made chicken fajitas and added some very hot Hatch chiles.

I checked the internet to discover whether hot peppers or their active ingredient capsaicin are known to reduce blood pressure. I found this blurb on the Scientific American website: Rats with high blood pressure benefited from a long-term diet rich in capsaicin, which gives the heat to hot peppers and starts a chemical sequence that relaxes blood vessels.

Perhaps I am more ratlike than I had thought.

Musicians in the house

Last week musicians occupied my house. It began harmlessly. On Monday my younger son and I invited a guitarist to dinner. On Tuesday two other musicians came to dinner. On Wednesday I came home from work to find six musicians rehearsing rock music in my basement. Nipping this progression in the bud, I didn't feed them dinner. On Thursday their numbers shrank to two, and by Sunday the house was free of musicians.

My younger son maintains that the influx and subsequent outflux of musicians was according to plan. The band he had performed with in college was reuniting to perform at the reception following the lead guitarist's wedding. Rehearsals were scheduled in stages, he said. This may be so. All the same, I have found that prudence urges restraint in feeding either pigeons or musicians. They tend to flock around a food source.