Sunday, December 28, 2008

belated procrastination

traditionally, mrs. spaceneedl sends out holiday cards early, and i send them out late.

actually, i lovingly write personal notes, address them, and fire them out the week between christmas and new year's, which technically still qualifies as "the holidays."

owing to the previously mentioned weather-related inconveniences, the missus is officially way behind on the card front: she hasn't sent out one.

me, i'm precariously close to a holiday card faux pas, and i'm remiss on the holiday front in general. just today i got my parents' gifts boxed up and ready to ship. only three days after christmas.

if i pay a lot to fedex the package, it might get to their house by new year's day-after. they can recover from their modest one-glass-of-too-sweet-wine hangover by taking pictures with their new sony digital camera. it's got lots of megapixels. more megapixels than they'll know what to do with. but that's hardly the point.

what the point is, is, that the box is still sitting here on the spaceneedl kitchen table, and that won't change until tomorrow.

any way we can drag this out a little longer? let's check snow anywhere in sight. tsk, pity. this means i'll have to head back to work tomorrow.

happy to have a job, thankful for our good fortune, yes, and please don't let that change...but i'm not particularly fired up to go back to work just yet. surely another week off would fix this particular malaise.

perhaps a bit of malingering is in order here -- particularly since mrs. spaceneedl has this week off. i bet she and i could find plenty to do with a few days to go before 2009 and all kinds of tasks a-pending.

in addition to the many other things we share, we both currently have an aversion to work-related work. especially with so many holiday cards to write. not that we're not happy to have jobs, thankful for our good fortune, and so on.

how old to children have to be before they can hold down 40-hour-a-week employment?

let's take another look at rain -- every day for the next ten days. anyone hoping for a snow day better get used to disappointment.

or hope for a flood. no, no floods, please. thank you.

but how 'bout some other harmless act of god that keeps us home without hurting anyone, including our respective employers? is there such a thing?

no, probably not.

* * * * *

update: 15 holiday cards written, addressed and ready to go. may i be so productive at work.

* * * * *

h/t to jeff rogers for the seattle holiday image...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

everybody complains about the weather...

i hate to keep harping on this "weather" thing.

but when did we move to minnesota?

remember the movie "the day after tomorrow"? it was an apocalyptic flick about the effects of global warming, and the onset of a new ice age. the tagline for the film was, "this year, a sweater won't do."

i thought that was pretty damn funny, actually. especially since it applies to seattle right now.

it's 15 degrees here. the snow is crunchy underfoot, like walking on styrofoam. the roads are a mess, and oh, look!

there's more on the way.

hurricane-force winds. up to a foot of new snow (on top of the four inches out there now). ice. and "the possibility of widespread power outages."

that's nice. isn't that nice?

i'm going to harp just a bit more.

seattle public schools closed this week, on a day when no snow fell. not one lousy flake. they're now closing schools if there's a possibility of snow in the forecast. back in the day, in minnesota, we went to school when the snowbanks were up to the roofline. here, now, it bears repeating: they cancel school if snow is in the forecast.

one question: are you kidding me?

what happens to parents all over town who don't have the latitude to, say, work from home on short notice? answer: they're forced to take a vacation day, or a day off without pay.

thanks, seattle public schools.

did that sound bitter? it felt a little bitter, typing it. especially considering the spaceneedls have the latitude to work from home. must be that "liberal empathy" gene kicking in.

and, as happens so often, i've digressed.

we're heading out now, piling into the 4wd to scavenge for winter storm provisions. we're looking for electric lanterns, flashlights, maybe a generator big enough to light up tacoma.

whatever. we're going to buy something, by god, whether we need it or not.

it's 15 degrees in seattle, and a "very dangerous winter storm" is headed right for us.

a sweater won't do.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

snow time like the presents

q: "why is it always so cold when we're putting up christmas decorations?"

a: "because we put them up in the winter."

this is what passes as high humor at the spaceneedl household, c. 2008.

it's not 'the best of saturday night live' but snl ain't what it used to be, either.

i digress.

it's ten days 'til christmas, and we don't have a tree up yet. we're busy little heathens, you see, and there are only so many weekends in december. and because the roads are icy today, we may not get said tree this weekend, either.

we did, however, manage to get the outdoor decorations up yesterday. just ahead of the snow.

this morning there's a winter wonderland outside the spaceneedl kitchen window, complete with animated, illuminated deer, little snowmen, a white seal that was white before the snow came, and a penguin. never mind that these creatures would never be seen together in the wild. nothing says 'christmas' like an electric-powered menagerie.

there's snow on the roof of the house across the street, and a seagull walking across the peak of the roofline. it's an odd, non sequitur sight...seagulls and snow don't go together in our collective winter narrative, do they? what's this birdbrain up to?

we keep the christmas decorations in the rafters above the garage. the only way up and down is from the top of a step ladder. two adults are required to transport the matériel from up to down, along with some awkward clambering from the ladder to the rafters. it's not an exercise for the acrophobic, or anyone in holiday grinch mode. i whacked my knee on a joist on one trip, complicating matters. today i have an ice pack on the knee, along with a nice bruise and a respectable knot.

nothing says 'christmas' like a hematoma.

mrs. spaceneedl and her little dogs just returned from a walk to the village. the dogs are covered with clumps of snow, stuck to their fur from head to tail. they could not be less suited for winter weather. or any other kind of weather, near as i can tell.

it's still below freezing out there, but cars are going by. so maybe we'll get out and get a tree today after all. it might not make sense on the 'risk-reward' scale...but nothing says 'christmas' like sliding sideways on black ice, with a tree tied to the top of an suv.

you can bet the missus will want me to climb back up in the rafters for the tree decorations, shortly thereafter.

it's christmas at the spaceneedl household, c. 2008.

The wind may not blow
Might not even snow
But there's nothing like Christmas
Right here at home

It may not be white
Might be a rainy night
But there's nothing like sharing
The sounds and the sights of ...

Christmas in the Northwest
Is a gift that we can share
Christmas in the Northwest
Is a child's answered prayer

-- brenda white

Saturday, December 06, 2008

barack's on sunday

People in here from all over the world
Men, women, little boys and girls
Gather 'round by the seaside,
Beach party, tropic-style
Diamond Head and palm trees, surf riders on the sea
This is the place to be, oh, yeah, this is the place to be

On the beach at Waikiki, that's where you'll find me
Here on the south side, Beach Boys paradise

Duke's on Sunday
Duke's on Sunday

-- henry kapono

i'm obliged to frame this post in the past and future tense.

to wit: in the past, prior to the global economic meltdown, mrs. spaceneedl planned and purchased a nice family vacation. i'm reluctant to talk about it now, since vacations have become an extravagance. and at a time when many people are struggling, saying "look at us, we've got a future vacation on the books!" is just vulgar.

but then barack obama came along and totally copied our idea, so now i feel compelled to elaborate. a little.

President-elect Barack Obama, returning to his home state of Hawaii for the holidays, plans a beachside vacation at one of Oahu's most exclusive properties, according to one insider.

Arrangements are being finalized for the Obamas and the families of two or three friends to stay at a Kailua beachfront location...
you can see where this is heading: the spaceneedls are going to kailua as well. note: the obamas are traveling over the holidays, and we're scheduled for february. this is a very good thing, given that security will be tight and all of kailua will be on defcon 4 during the presidential visit.

coincidental timing would be bad. i like running on the beach at dawn, but not being tackled by secret service sprinting in from the dunes.

i like the little needls splashing in the surf, but not a pre-emptive ambuscade by navy seals in full battle gear.

i like swimming in the warm hawaiian waters, but not being eaten by a patrolling tiger shark. not that sharks are likely to be working with the presidential security team...i'm just sayin'.

so, while we welcome the premise and promise of an obama administration, it's good that the first family's itinerary doesn't overlap ours. because while barack might need a respite before taking over a ship with the aerodynamics of the hindenberg and the seaworthiness of the andrea doria -- we don't have time for a lot of fuss.

our vacation is really important.

Monday, December 01, 2008

whatever you do, don't ask "what's next?"

because i'm telling you -- you don't want to know.

could be the neighbor (the guy who's been carrying on a clandestine affair for five years) who is laying off half his company and taking a pay cut. sure, maybe he deserves the bad karma, but his family and employees don't.

could be the missus, similarly laying off people at her office -- i don't believe there's any parallel affair to report.

could be the friends -- one a realtor, one a residential construction contractor -- who now are struggling to keep their family together. because homes aren't selling, and because his company went out of business. so he's gone back to a previous vocation -- working on a crab boat in alaska. he's 50 years old.

could be another neighbor -- a carpenter who has done much work around our house. he hasn't had a significant project in weeks, and isn't talking about any on the horizon.

could be the friends on queen anne. she's an elementary school teacher hearing rumors that her school might be on the "closing" list. this on the heels of a report that washington state is drastically cutting education funding due to major budget shortfalls.

washington mutual -- bankrupt and bought out by jp morgan -- is laying off 80% of its employees in seattle. that's 3,400 jobs.

the dow dropped 680 points today, the recession was declared "official," and george bush declared he was "sorry" for all the hubbub. [note to george: fuck you.]

i realize these little anecdotes are the tip of a much scarier iceberg. that the PNW will probably fare better than the rest of the country -- not to mention the rest of the world.

but we're not out of order to speculate where the bottom might be, and when we'll get there. and how long it might take for all of us to get back to where we were, 401(k)-wise.

we're not out of line to ask, "how did this happen?" reasonable people can be forgiven for inquiring, "what the fuck?"

but whatever you do, don't ask...that question above.

right now it just doesn't seem wise.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

heavy d

i'm at day 11 of my new vitamin d regimen.

i think it's helping.

coming out of a crazy, stupid-busy, pressurized last 4 months, i had every reason to be ecstatic. the bolus of work and conferences was behind us, to rave reviews. and the unlikely candidate i supported for president? he actually won.

you'd think that would warrant a few moments of giddy joy or at least some simple satisfaction, wouldn't you? instead, there was nothing.

no highs. no lows. just this droning hum of indifferent in-between.

somewhere in this timeframe, a colleague noted that while the fall glut of work had passed, the winter nimiety of work was already upon us. and that we had some pretty cool projects coming up.

it was true -- we have an embarrassment of job security and professionally gratifying work at spaceneedl sprockets. and i could not have cared less. it just looked like drudgery to me.

what the hell is that? it's no way to live, that's fo sho.

about that time, coincidently, i learned that a deficit of vitamin d has been corrolated to seasonal affective disorder and depression. and that people in northern climes often don't get enough vitamin d due to the dearth of sunshine.

huh. i've cut a lot of d-rich dairy out of my diet over the past few years. and i hardly ever get outside anymore. when i do, i'm usually covered head to toe in layers of fleece.

the takeaway appears to be: no sun, no fun.

but wait! there's another possibility. it's called dysthemia, a long-lasting, low-grade depression -- kind of an ongoing, functional funk.

yes, that sounds about right. i'd characterize it as a constant just-going-through-the-motions, unenthusiastic, "whatever" kind of existence.

who needs that? not i.

so i'm taking the vitamin d. i think i notice a difference beyond a placebo effect. i'm feeling better about things. of course the fact that i'm taking the next nine days off to stay home with my children may have something to do with that.

either way, i'll take it. because while i don't expect a steady state of bliss and chirpy bluebirds to accompany my every step...i think i deserve a little sunshine once in a while.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

close to home

ex-employee: you know, i'm just old enough to be flattered by the term, 'early retirement.'
employer: that's wonderful...what a lovely line. now, if there's anything i can do for you...
ex-employee: well, i certainly hope you'll die soon.

mrs. spaceneedl works for a global technology company.

they make all kinds of products, from well-known consumery stuff to completely obscure, opaque medical stuff.

the missus is the smart one in the family; she works on the medical stuff. and because she's the smart one in the family, she also brings home the big money.

i'm an evolved male, so i have no problem with that.

the problem, in this scenario, is that her company is laying people off.

they're killing projects and kicking people to the curb. the layoffs are arbitrary and unrelated to length of service or past performance. if you were one of the unfortunates to be working on a defunded project, you were also on the list for involuntary cessation.

here's the kicker: mrs. spaceneedl's project was one of the ones that was cancelled. miraculously she still has a job.

apparently she was on the list of future former employees, but her boss saved her. she almost literally had one foot in the unemployment line. now she faces the anguished task of telling 15 people they're out of a job.

on the one hand, we feel very fortunate. on the other, we feel very unstable. we're a two-income family, and are not set up to sustain a one-income scenario. particularly at a time when the phrase "the steepest economic decline in decades" has entered the vernacular, the stock market is crashing, and the jobless rate has hit 6.5%.

this time last year we went to the little needls' school auction and spent a bunch of money. we rationalized it because it was for a good cause. this year we're not going. still a good cause. just not a good time to spend money we're not sure we'll be able to replace.

big picture-wise, this is how a tenuous situation turns ugly. consumers stop spending, producers stop manufacturing, borrowers stop borrowing, banks stop lending. suddenly a recession turns depressing.

perhaps this level of angst is unnecessary. maybe we're overreacting, and maybe we'll look back and laugh whilst sipping expensive champagne.

that'd be nice.

for now, we're just thankful to have a fridge that one day might chill some celebratory bubbly.

in the meantime, we'll wait. and watch. and hope.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


i work with an african-american woman from chicago.

earlier today i told her i was worried. that i had no faith in americans to do the right thing.

she said she had faith. and that she began celebrating the day obama won the democratic nomination, because she never thought she'd see such a day.

she said no matter what happened today, tomorrow would be a day to celebrate.

she was right.

about everything.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

what really happens II

welcome to the hotel california. you can check out any time you like. but you can never leave.

they tell you "what happens in vegas stays in vegas."

what they don't tell you is that vegas is the land of the living dead. and the reason nothing leaves is that the city eats your brain.

i know. i saw it myself. i believe i escaped because i was doped up on nyquil the entire time i was there. the medication and my underlying illness lent me the pallor and demeanor and mental acuity of the undead. so i was free to wander, unnoticed.

back in the day i occasionally traveled to las vegas for "fun." to meet some buddies, play some golf, and donate some money to the local economy. also to ogle young women. for the record, as mentioned, this was back in the day. pre-mrs. spaceneedl.

even then, i sensed the undead around me. haggard, disheveled blank-eyed, they'd shamble aimlessly through the casinos, careening from table to table. on the golf course they'd run their carts into palm trees, and spray tee shots into the desert terrain.

(of course, by that standard, i was one of them.)

that was then. now, it's orders of magnitude worse. fabulous temples and monuments to the undead have proliferated across the landscape. expansive casinos, still filled with sinus-eating smoke, lure the living and not-so-lively alike. the dealers and pit bosses, possessed of an evil somnolence, greedily sweep the tables of living (if not livable) wages.

and the customers hand it over, without protest.

i don't gamble often. we can't afford the luxury, and the missus wouldn't sanction it even if we could. but trips to vegas are few and far between, so i don't feel too much remorse over a rare game of craps.

i enjoy the game. thus, even in my debilitated condition, i was ready to throw some money down and throw some dice around.

the undead chased me away.

every table i approached was surrounded by them. people with unhappy expressions, exhaling smoke, mindlessly throwing chips into the void. no one showed any sign of life, let alone any indication they were having fun. the young people looked old, the old people looked dessicated.

i stood there with my stack of chips, taking it all in, vainly looking for an oasis of life anywhere in the pit. at one point, i almost joined in anyway. can you believe it? i was thisclose to knowingly and willingly becoming one of them.

maybe the nyquil wore off at just the right time. maybe a better angel lit on my shoulder at that very moment. maybe there, on the brink, some deeply buried neocortical survival instinct kicked in.

i left the casino, and left town the next morning. i still had my money, still had my passport to the land of the living.

but it was entirely too close.

"what happens in vegas stays in vegas."

yes. of course it does. but not in the way they want you to believe. and not in a way you'll like.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

all politics is local

i saw ron reagan at bartell's today.

i was picking up some balloons for the girl's birthday party. and some ice cream. and some snapple lemonade. i don't know what he was buying.

i walked up to the checkout as his items were being bagged. he looked up and gave me a little nod. i gave him the nod in return, thinking he looked familiar. i figured it out as he was heading out the door.

reagan hosts an afternoon program on air america radio. he broadcasts nationwide from a seattle studio. he's a liberal, so i like him. his delivery is not always great -- a little halting and uncertain at times -- but his views parallel mine very closely.

so it didn't seem out of place to see him at bartell's. even though it was.

reagan's dad has an aircraft carrier named after him. and an airport. the former president is an icon on the right, even though he was not a particularly good president. the people on the right take what they can get, you have to suppose. which of their presidents has done a good job, after all?

nixon? bush 41? bush 43? no, they have to hang their hat on reagan, or nobody.

ron jr. lives with the jarring contradictions every day. he manages to keep things together, in spite of it all.

the girl's birthday party was a big success. the build-a-bear workshop may have played a role.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


there's steam rising from our roof this morning.

the sun is heating the frost that set in overnight. it's cold and quiet outside, and looking out the window, from roof to roof to roof, the steam rises everywhere.

coming home from work and school the past few nights, the house has been cold. the furnace is still in unserviced summer mode, so we crank up the gas fireplace to take the chill off. we're fortunate to have that option. i wonder how many homes will stay cold through the coming winter.

the spaceneedl household will be down one adult much of the next few weeks. i leave tuesday on a nine-day business trip. i'm back three nights, then leave for four more.

suddenly it's november. that's when mrs. spaceneedl goes to new orleans, followed by germany. suddenly it's thanksgiving. then december.

the trips are preceeded by weeks of long, trying work days at spaceneedl sprockets. camraderie has been replaced by irritability. friendships have become polite, professional, distant. sometimes not so polite.

sometimes the combination of time and pressure produces a brilliant diamond. sometimes it just produces coal...cold and opaque.

it's turned into a rare gem of a day here. sunny, not a cloud anywhere. mrs. spaceneedl is outside, returning from her walk to the farmer's market. two little dogs roll around in the wet grass out front.

aside from the oft-mentioned sense that time is racing by...things are good for now.

it'd be nice if it stayed that way for awhile.

Friday, October 03, 2008

nihilism we can believe in

you've heard that a mccain administration would be just a third bush term.

don't believe it.

it'd be much worse.

a vote for mccain-palin is a vote for self-immolation. which is fine, if you like barbecue. not so great when you're on the menu.

mccain doesn't just want to continue bush's policies. he wants to supersize them.

like more deregulation in financial markets. like modeling the u.s. healthcare system after the financial markets. like privatizing the social security safety net making it dependent on...wait for it...the financial markets.

apropos nothing, as of earlier this week the dow was lower than when george bush took office. and the u.s. is $4 trillion deeper in debt. that's a 71.9 percent increase in red ink, while at the same time we're told we have no money for children's health care, education, veterans' benefits, collapsing infrastructure, or rebuilding new orleans, to name a few relatively small-budget items.

strangely, there's no shortage of money for an illicit war in iraq, no-bid contracts, giveaways for big oil, and a deregulated financial industry run amuck.

drill, baby, drill!

john mccain says he'll fix everything by cutting earmark spending. which totals $18 billion a year. at that rate we'll have things turned around...well, never.

good plan, senator.

a mccain administration would take the worst of bush and make it worse, by mere dint of staying its wretched, toxic course. and we haven't even mentioned sarah palin.

despite the fact that bush was elected twice, we're left to hope america has not, yet, sunk to skewering itself and climbing up onto the spit.

because there's no point in putting lipstick on a barbecued pig.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


CBS instapoll showing that undecided voters watching the debate thought Biden won by 46 percent, compared to 21 percent for Palin. (UPDATE: CNN poll on “Who Did the Best Job In the Debate?” Biden 51% Palin 36%)

i had dinner at the home of a good friend who is a dismayed republican. he wanted sarah palin to do well. but he was constantly calling her out.

"nuk-u-lar? it's pronounced nuc-lear."

"why do you keep saying 'he's a maverick, i'm a maverick, we're the mavericks'? geez!"

"did she just say 'o'biden'?"

at the end, he said, "she held her own. she was likeable."

i said, "this is your house, and i love you, but...was she vice presidential? was she presidential?"

he didn't pause long: "no."

that's why we're friends.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

unanticipating the unexpected

we're waiting.

we have many plans queued up over the next few months, plans we'd like to set in motion sooner rather than later. that's what people do, isn't it? make plans, then go about making them happen.

things don't always go as might make the case that the unexpected happens far more frequently. still, we have a responsibility to anticipate and act, or react, as best we can. to do otherwise is an abdication -- and it sets a bad example for the children and other primates.

but sometimes variables out of our control make us hesitate, if only to see what might happen next. did that saber-tooth see me? i think i'll stand really still. does that bus driver see me? i think i'll go back to the curb. is the economy about to tank? i think i'll hold off buying those groceries.

sometimes, you might reasonably conclude, doing nothing is a good plan.

so, we've been waiting.

and then something happens to make us question that premise.

an acquaintance of mine is a flight paramedic with the maryland state police. last night one of their medevac helecopters crashed, killing four people. i scanned through the article, dreading that i might see his name among the victims.

he wasn't on board.

i'm not sure how to react. on one hand, i'm hugely relieved -- but that seems inappropriate when four others are gone. and when it might just as easily have been my friend.

so i sit here, hovering over the keyboard, trying to sort out these contradictions, trying to tie the threads together in a more profound manner than "carpe diem before it's too late, y'all."

but the longer i sit here, the more it seems that no resolution is forthcoming. there's no epiphany, no moment of clarity. just a jumble of divergent paths and mutually exclusive options.

i'm waiting for it to make sense.

i might wait a long time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

price versus value

washington mutual has failed.

it's been seized by federal regulators.

it's the largest bank failure in u.s. history.

it's based here in seattle.

i bet a bunch of boats go up for sale soon, whatta ya think?

as noted previously, i've been plotting to acquire a boat. it's cheaper than a vacation home, it has great family memories potential, and it always has a water view.

win. win.

in the last few days, however, it's not seemed like such a great idea. the economy is collapsing around us, we're told, and who knows if we'll be able to pay our many bills this winter -- let alone pay for a vulgar extravagance.

an acquaintance of mine insists, however, that the current economic climate presents an excellent opportunity. while others are panicking, we will be resolute. while others flail, we will embody zen. while others are selling, we will buy.

sounds good in the abstract, don't it?

trouble is, the spaceneedls aren't among the haves and the have-mores. we are working-class fools. we are, of necessity, a two-income family. if things go sideways, we go south. figuratively, and maybe literally. grandpa don lives in phoenix, after all. maybe he'd take us in.

i'm overreacting, surely. as of today, the missus and i remain employed, in a field that should be less volatile than some. we try to spend less than we bring in. usually.

we try to value things that don't have a price tag attached to them.

there's not much need for boats in phoenix.

(besides, with credit tightening and banks going under...who'd float us a loan?)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

you say good-bye, i say hello...

bye-bye, life
bye-bye, happiness
hello, loneliness
i think i'm gonna die
i think i'm gonna die

bye-bye, love
bye-bye, sweet caress
hello, emptiness
i feel like i could die
bye-bye my life, goodbye
bye-bye my life, goodbye

"it's showtime, folks."
-- joe gideon, all that jazz

it occurred to me, as i lay there with a tube up my nose and IV ports in both arms and a pulse oximeter on my finger, that maybe i had miscalculated.

maybe, i thought, i'm not in such good shape after all.

and for a few moments, i was scared.

i didn't want mrs. spaceneedl to see it, however, so i did my best joe gideon impersonation.

"i wanted to stay at work, dear, but my heart just wasn't in it."


i spent some time in the emergency department this week. it seemed prudent, as i thought i might've been having a heart attack.

it wasn't an acute pain, more of a constant pressure in the middle of my chest. it felt like i was forgetting to breathe, but i'd take a deep breath, and the feeling stayed the same.

it wasn't anything i've ever felt before. which was a little worrisome. not worrisome enough to say or do anything, however. through the day, into the evening, into bed. the occasional shift in position, and a deep, sighing breath.

"what's the matter, dear, you seem restless," mrs. spaceneedl finally said.

"mmm, i don't know. i've had this pressure in my chest all day, and it won't go away."


she works for a company that makes defibrillators and other cardiac-care products. i'm sure she'd be deeply embarrassed if her husband succumbed to some sort of coronary event.

"i'm sure it's nothing," i said. "let's go to sleep."

i'm sure she found that comforting.

i might as well have said, "sleep well, sweets. i may be dead in the morning -- is the insurance paid up?"

i slept like a stone. not long before the alarm went off, she reached over and put her hand on my chest.

"i'm still alive, dear."

we laughed. and i felt fine. the symptoms had gone away overnight. so i got up, went through my routine, and went to work. no muss, no fuss. until about 8:15, when the pressure came back.

huh. this isn't right. maybe i'll call the missus and get a second opinion.

she asked an electrophysiologist colleague what he thought -- he thought i should go to the emergency room, immediately. and while i'm loath to go to the hospital for any reason, i found his sense of urgency persuasive. so i drove myself to the hospital.

this isn't fair, i thought en route. i take care of myself. i eat right most of the time, i exercise semi-frequently. i have no family history of heart disease, and i have next to no lifestyle-related risk factors.

shoot, maybe i'm dying of boredom.

shortly thereafter i was in a hospital bed, wired up like a christmas tree. they injected me with this and that, took blood, took a series of x-rays, ran me through a CT scanner. nurses and doctors came and went, and reported on my status. somewhere in between, the symptoms subsided.

a few hours later, the tests showed no sign of a heart attack. but to confirm, they scheduled further tests with a cardiologist.

the next morning i got up early and hung out with the staff of dr. somebody-or-other. first came an injection of contrast dye, followed by a resting echocardiogram. next was a treadmill session, designed to ramp up the heart rate and potentially recreate any symptoms. i ran through the end of the test, at an 18% incline, so they just called it off and injected more contrast for another echocardiogram.

the results weren't immediately available, but the nurse said if i did that well on the treadmill, chances of suffering a heart attack were low.

yesterday, the cardiologist called. my heart showed no sign of injury, she said. no ischemia, no arrhythmia. an ejection fraction of 57%, which is "very good."

so i had a bundle of symptoms, but no diagnosis. which is disconcerting. i also have the best confirmation of cardiac health that insurance can buy. which is reassuring.

i think i'm fine, therefore i am.*

and because i think i'm fine, later today i'm going to take my clean bill of health out for a spin. which is to say, i'm going to go for a run down to elliott bay marina. i'm going to soak up the warm, sunny day, and look at the boats.

because i should, while i still can.

* * * * *

* if this turns out to be my last post...well, you'll know i was wrong.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

100 things to ponder before you die

illus | gibran

`100 Things' co-author dies in LA

"This life is a short journey. How can you make sure you fill it with the most fun and that you visit all the coolest places on earth before you pack those bags for the very last time?"
-- author dave freeman

irony is a bitch sometimes.

the guy who had 100 things on his must-do list only did half of them. he had big travel plans in place, but didn't plan on departing this earthly plane so soon.

mr. freeman's early exit probably has family and friends wondering how something so senseless could happen to someone so young, with so much joie de vivre.

me, i wonder if there isn't more to life than filling it with the "most fun" and the "coolest places." those can be wondrous parts of a larger whole, don't get me wrong. it's impossible not to ponder your mortality while diving during a thunderstorm off grand cayman island. it's humbling to stand in the presence of greatness at the wright brothers memorial.

but you know there are billions of people who manage to lead meaningful lives without ever leaving their own little corner of the world.

take a hard look at our raison d'etre, and you might epiphanize that an all-out, ends-of-the-Earth (or end-of-the-block) search is warranted.

but...a search for what?

that's the beauty part. no right or wrong answers. it's your search. when you find it, you know.

some find this ambiguity frustrating. "i don't know what i'm looking for, let alone where to look for it."

"what if i don't recognize whatever it is when i see it?"

"even if i do recognize it, what do i do then?"

no one can presume to know the answers -- or even the list of questions. it's a meandering, lifelong google search, with billions of pages of results to sift through.

[note: a google search of "meaning of life" returned 25,300,000 results. ready? go!]

come to think of it, i have a few queries of my own.

in no particular order...

what really happened to the dinosaurs? and why hasn't the same thing happened to john mccain?

since time is constant, why does it accelerate as we get older? conversely, what's taking jan. 20, 2009 so long to get here?

i used to laugh a lot more than i do now. why?

if we all agree teachers, firefighters and police are so important, why do we pay them so little? similarly, why are professional athletes paid so much?

why do you kids have to act so childish all the time? why do you adults have to act so childish all the time?

from an evolutionary perspective, why are the foods that taste the best generally the worst for us?

would you prefer to be smarter, or better looking? which would most benefit your income?

why is that cat sleeping on my side of the bed?

this is not 100 things to ponder. this list may not even rise to your standard of "ponder-worthy." they may simply be ponderous.

that's part of the deal. you have your list. i have mine. the one thing absolutely have in commone is that we're gonna die.

it's the search that matters. time to get busy.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

kobayashi 'needl

Saavik: Permission to speak freely, sir?
Kirk: Granted.
Saavik: I do not believe this was a fair test of my command abilities.
Kirk: And why not?
Saavik: Because... there was no way to win.
Kirk: A no-win situation is a possibility every commander may face. Has that never occurred to you?
Saavik: No sir, it has not...
in one of the many star trek movies, there's a reference to a no-win scenario called "the kobayashi maru."

it's a character test for cadets, in which the trainee is faced with two bad tactical options, and has to choose between them.

this week, life imitated art at the spaceneedl household.

on one side, mrs. spaceneedl, taking the week off, with the children out of camp. on the other side, an excess of work at spaceneedl sprockets, with imminent deadlines tied to major trade shows.

mrs. spaceneedl: can't you just take friday off? summer's nearly over, you've taken no time off, and we want to spend some time with you.

spaceneedl's boss: the team needs to work longer hours to get everything done.

huh. these directives appear to be mutually exclusive, don't they? take the day off, deadlines slip, deliverables are imperiled. spaceneedl's boss questions priorities, commitment to work, and future of employment.

go to work, mrs. spaceneedl questions priorities, questions commitment to wife and children, questions future of relationship.

huh. call me crazy, but this appears to be a kobayashi maru scenario.
Saavik: Admiral, may I ask you a question?
Kirk: What's on your mind, Lieutenant?
Saavik: The Kobayashi Maru, sir.
Kirk: Are you asking me if we're playing out that scenario now?
Saavik: On the test, sir. Will you tell me what you did? I would really like to know.
McCoy: Lieutenant, you are looking at the only Starfleet cadet who ever beat the no-win scenario.
Saavik: How?
Kirk: I reprogrammed the simulation so it was possible to rescue the ship.
Saavik: What?
David Marcus: He cheated.
Kirk: I changed the conditions of the test. I got a commendation for original thinking. I don't like to lose.
Saavik: Then you never faced that situation. Faced death.
Kirk: I don't believe in the no-win scenario.
i don't believe in the no-win scenario, either. i do, however, believe in financial stability.

i went to work.

lots of work got done. boss was complimentary.

mrs. spaceneedl had a conniption.


labor day weekend is coming up. after that, the children go back to school, fall travel schedules kick into gear, children are one year closer to college.

how does one change the conditions of this test? maybe i can take this friday off.

then again, it's possible the borg are already inside the perimeter, and resistance is futile...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

sea what i mean...

Days precious days
Roll in and out like waves
I got boards to bend I got planks to nail
I got charts to make I got seas to sail

I'm gonna build me a boat
With these two hands
She'll be a fair curve
From a noble plan
Let the chips fall where they will
'Cause I've got boats to build

Sails are just like wings
The wind can make 'em sing
Songs of life songs of hope
Songs to keep your dreams afloat

I'm gonna build me a boat
With these two hands
She'll be a fair curve
From a noble plan
Let the chips fall where they will
'Cause I've got boats to build

-- jimmy buffett

cynics will tell you that the best two days of owning a boat are the day you buy it and the day you sell it.

so sad.

you never hear jimmy buffett complain about his boats, do you? sure, he probably pays lots of people to handle the maintenance and the catering and the bartending, but other than that, he's just like other boat owners.

okay, bad example. still, (and i'm projecting here) the many joys of boating must outweigh the upkeep. and the sea sickness. and the threat of the kraken.
else, why would people keep heading out to sea?

mrs. spaceneedl and i have been thinking about a boat. okay, i've been thinking about it, she's mostly rolling her eyes. think of the children, i tell her. think of the many wonderful childhood memories we'll be providing them.

think of the college education we'll be depriving them of, she counters.

think of the diving and the fishing and the crabbing, i tell her. think of the trips to the san juan islands and the sunshine coast. think of frolicking with orcas in their native habitat.

think of having your head examined, she advises.

yes, but that's the point. getting out on the water can be very therapeutic. it can calm the nerves and soothe the soul. it temporarily disconnects you from whatever troubles you on land.

like, your inability to acquire a boat.

full disclosure: we can't afford a boat. not the boat i want, anyway. because i see us cruising the seas in a floating four seasons hotel. with a gourmet galley and berths for four and a full bath and a crow's nest from which to scan the horizon for uncharted tropical islands.

also, in case you hadn't noticed, the price of fuel has gone off the charts.

what we can afford, comfortably, is the tandem sea kayak currently languishing in our garage.

less comfortably, we might be able to swing a lease on a boat, allowing us 12 days a year on the open water. there's also a 21-day option, which statistically is the number of days most owners use their boats in any given year. 21 days! that doesn't seem like so many. less than one weekend a month. and, what, the boat sits in the marina the other 344 days a year? are you kidding?

this leasing thing is starting to look pretty good.

for an extra stack of hundred-dollar bills you get 32 hours of instruction on seamanship. which is kinda important for people who have never even steered a motorized open-water craft. "how to avoid collisions with other craft, sand bars, and kraken" would be a good place to start.

Songs of life songs of hope
Songs to keep your dreams afloat

i have a dream. it's not a big dream. it's more of a wistful wandering. a momentary failure to concentrate on the concrete.

in this case, my little dream takes the form of a floating oasis, heading out to sea.

i'd appreciate it if no one sinks my float.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

the prodigal son returneth

the boy came home today.

he's been at camp colman, near olympia, for the past week.

yesterday we received a letter from him that must've been written his first day away. it includes a couple of illustrations of a sad boy, and a mournful plea to rescue him from his asylum.

the letter, quite pointedly, was addressed to mrs. spaceneedl. that hurt, a little. i mean, i wasn't the one who signed him up for camp purgatory.


at the risk of revealing the boy's heart of hearts, here's the gist of his letter...

"hi mom, i'm homesick already and almost cried. i wish you were here. p.s. please come pick me up, i'm not sure i'm ready for this yet.

"oh yeah, thanks for the chess game, book and cards :-)

"mail me back and say if you will pick me up.

"love (heart heart) preston."

the boy is a sensitive soul, easily wounded. he hides his vulnerability behind veneers ranging from bravado to indifference. for example, boarding the bus at the beginning of the week, he neither protested nor looked back. he gave no indication that he was facing anything out of the ordinary or even interesting.

it's hard to discern how he fared during the week. he hasn't offered up anything substantive (to me, anyway). does he want to go to camp orkila next year? no. did he have fun? i guess. what was the best part? i don't know.

it's like having a 10-year old teenager in the house.

he must've done something entertaining. the entire place is a fun factory. water sports, ropes courses, climbing walls, sports courts, an archery range. you can't swing on a giant swing without hitting something fun.

he's probably way over-tired. he probably couldn't find much to eat at camp. he probably would like nothing better than to go hang out with a friend and regale him for hours with camp tales.

dad, meanwhile, will have to settle for unresponsive responses and unsupported assumptions.

maybe someday mrs. spaceneedl will fill me in on the details from our son's first week away from home.

or, maybe i'll just go jump in a lake.

at camp colman.

that sounds like fun.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

a pinch of this, a bite of that

The sun is hot and that old clock is movin' slow,
And so am I.
Work day passes like molasses in wintertime,
But it's July.
I'm gettin' paid by the hour, an' older by the minute.
My boss just pushed me over the limit.
I'd like to call him somethin',
I think I'll just call it a day.

Pour me somethin' tall an' strong,
Make it a "Hurricane" before I go insane.
It's only half-past twelve but I don't care.
It's five o'clock somewhere.

I could pay off my tab, pour myself in a cab,
And be back to work before two.
At a moment like this, I can't help but wonder,
What would Jimmy Buffet do?
-- alan jackson

welcome to the spaceneedl crabhouse, where we're more, and less, crabby than usual.

the crabs in question are in the fridge, on ice. and we're happy about it.

the crabs, we imagine, are not so sanguine about the arrangement.

that's life on the food chain.

there's plenty of dungeness crab to be had in this town. a quick trip to pike place market or fisherman's terminal will yield any size haul you can transport. same for your local qfc.

but where's the sport in that?

these crabs never saw the inside of a grocery store. they came right up out of the depths and onto the neighbor's boat. the "water witch" is a 21-foot outboard with a little trolling motor. it's not a big boat, but it will hold four crab pots on its deck.

and what a haul it seemed to be. four pots, full of crabs. well, hang on...most of them were females. back into the water they went. most of the males...too small. back in the drink. final tally...4 crabs.

but you know what? it didn't matter. what mattered was being out on the water on a beautiful day. what mattered was closing your eyes and feeling the sun on your face. what mattered was conjuring up every line from every movie having anything to do with the water.

"ye've got a debt to pay, jack. ye won't be able to talk your way out of this one."

"shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. that's about it."

"we're gonna need a bigger boat."

back at the elliott bay marina it was too soon to lose the feeling, so we conducted a little tour of the boats. lots of boats. big boats. fancy boats. you know what... we need one of these boats.

this bertram, for example. or this albin. or, especially, this blackfin. yes, especially the blackfin, i think.

mm-hmm. that's exactly what we need. we can do some crabbing of our own. and some fishing, and some diving, and some fancy schmancy sunset cruising, with cocktails with little umbrellas.

after all...what would jimmy buffett do?

this lunch break is gonna take all afternoon,
and half the night
tomorrow mornin', I know there'll be hell to pay,
hey, but that's all right.
I ain't had a day off now in over a year.
our jamaican vacation's gonna start right here.
if the phones for me,
you can tell 'em I just sailed away...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

what time is it?

I bought a cheap watch from the crazy man
Floating down Canal
It doesn't use numbers or moving hands
It always just says 'now'

Now you may be thinking that I was had
But this watch is never wrong
And if I have trouble, the warranty said,
Breathe in, breathe out, move on

According to my watch the time is now
Past is dead and gone
Don't try to shake it, just nod your head
Breathe in, breathe out, move on

-- jimmy buffett

the neighbors have a deck with unobstructed views of the olympic mountains. we've spent some evenings with them this summer, talking about transitory things, sipping wine, watching the sun settle behind the peaks.

the moment it does, the husband quietly marks the time, noting the sunset is a little earlier, and a little further south, than our last visit. and we all let out a little sigh, knowing that another summer is flowing past like a tide that goes out but doesn't come back in.

we have a similar view from our kitchen window. last night, amidst cooking and cleaning and scurrying around, i stopped and watched as the sun winked out. i silently marked the time, trying to capture the fleeting magic of a warm summer night. and i realized that no matter how hard i try, i can't seem to live in the 'now.'

how is one supposed to live in the now when it's over before you can even acknowledge it? the past is a long river of memories; the future is a waterfall just up ahead. you can't see beyond the edge until it's too late, and it wouldn't matter if you could, because you're going over. the 'now' is a futile attempt to grab onto a rock or an overhanging branch as you're swept along. you might catch something for the briefest instant, but the current immediately breaks your grasp.

for the past three weeks or so it's been sunny and near-warm and kind of timeless in seattle. each day has been like the last, in that the morning light comes early, the evening light stays late, and we've very purposefully tried to soak it up, charging our solar batteries for what's ahead.

this morning the clouds were back, and a very fall-like fog was moving through from the west. sound doesn't travel well through the mist, and the neighborhood was near-silent. very briefly, i was in the 'now,' and it felt like something moving past, and something slipping away.

i got in the car and drove toward the waterfall.

breathe in. breathe out. move on.

Friday, July 04, 2008

early july, 2008

"Oh beautiful, for heroes proved,
In liberating strife,
Who more than self, their country loved,
And mercy more than life,
America, America, may God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness
And ev'ry gain devine."

ray charles didn't write "america the beautiful," but he sang it like he owned it.

you can hear the insistent pride, and the certainty that whatever course this country set upon, it would be the right one, and it would be achieved.

these days, however, that certainty has been replaced by something else. something furtive and worrisome and pervasive.

even if you don't yet feel it in your bones, you get a sense of it in polls from across the country. americans say we're on the wrong track or our government is screwed up, or that the founding fathers would be royally PO'd at what we've done to their creation.

if you read the declaration of independence (have you read it? recently?), you may be surprised to find its noble passages comprise a laundry list of complaints. history has elevated those boys to near-mythological status, but the reality (no less impressive) is that they were just tired of being pushed around by the brits.

what might the franklins and jeffersons and washingtons have to say about a different government, say that of today's united states?

how would they view the activities of this country's 43rd president? would they say, "heck of a job, 43! just the way we drew it up!" or would they ask, "what the fuck is going on here, and why are you people just standing around doing nothing?"

there's an army reserve base not too far from our house. every so often i drive by the military cemetery there, with its quiet, uniform rows of white headstones. i wonder what those who fought and died in previous american wars would think of the current conflict in iraq. would they think, "yes, this is a just cause, for which we would lay down our lives."

or would they say, "hang on a minute, this isn't right. america doesn't fight pre-emptive wars. we don't sacrifice blood for oil. we don't torture. and we sure as hell don't take our eye off the ball while the real bad guys get away."

America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.

The line must be drawn here. This far, no further.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government..."

Saturday, June 28, 2008

farm fresh fancy

summer came early this year.

here it is just june 29, and we've already had consecutive warm days.



you have to understand, we don't count on summer weather until july 5. if we get sunny and hot anytime before that, people don't know how to act.

they complain about it being too warm, or too bright, or too dry.

it's none of those things, by any reasonable standard, but weather in the PNW is not comparable to the rest of the country.

just to the east, however, on the other side of the cascades, people depend on hot, sunny weather -- and not just for conversation.

they grow and transport and sell the stuff we in the urban areas like to call "food." fruits and vegetables and organic chicken and holistic cheese and steroid-free floral arrangements. yes, those are edible, too. (aren't they?)

we live within walking distance of the magnolia farmer's market. it's an enthusiastic conclave of noise and color and people and pets and politics that seems to send everyone home happy.

the strawberries and rainier cherries are amazing. huge and sweet and priced like gas is $4.55 a gallon or something. which is to say, startlingly expensive.

some of the customers grumble that it's all cheaper at qfc or albertson's. which may be true, but is wildly irrelevant, isn't it? at a time when food of indeterminate origin is packing a salmonella punch and maybe an e. coli gift-with-purchase, locally sourced comestibles are less a luxury than self-preservation.

if you can afford the luxury, that is.

we wonder, idly, what'll happen when gas hits $5.50 or $6 bucks a gallon.
it ain't cheap to drive a loaded-up truck over the cascades every weekend -- and somebody's gotta absorb that cost. whom do you suppose will be the first to blink: the growers, the customers, or the saudis?

it's a rhetorical question. for now.

so far the relationship is still mutually beneficial -- the vendors keep coming back, and the locals keep showing up, cash in hand.

but summer in the PNW is just beginning, and crops are coming in, and migrant workers are working full-time, and growers have a limited window to make what they can, and oh-by-the-way, oil hit $140 a barrel on friday.

if anyone can say they know where the tipping point is, you can bet lots of folks will be eager to hear about it.

our trip to the market yesterday was the stuff that summertimes should be made of. we put on shorts and t-shirts and sunscreen and walked around our neighborhood. children ran and played, adults sat back and watched, time slowed. it was warm and sunny and memorable and simultaneously indistinct...just another day, the way summer days are supposed to be.

we were able to set aside, for a few hours, what we think we know about prices and economics and markets and variables beyond our control.

summer has come early to seattle. we hope it settles in and stays awhile.

* * * * *

addendum: not many people in this neighborhood have air conditioning. around here, we just don't need it all that often. as a result, most people currently have their windows open.

if someone sneezes two doors down, we say "gesundheit."

and if the nubile next-door neighbor has a sleep-over, we hear that too.

we live in a great neighborhood.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

my trip around the sun

i had a birthday this week.

never mind how many. a lot. okay?

among the handful of well-wishes, one friend asked, "so, how was your trip around the sun?"

it's a great question, i said. because, you know, i hadn't really thought about it like that.

what's happened with the spaceneedl family since last june?

first, the fundamentals. we're healthy. the mrs. and i have decent jobs. we have enough to eat, and we have a roof over our heads. these things put us in the ridiculously fortunate 99.99th percentile.

and that's enough. but it's not all.

we were disproportionately fortunate to do a bit of traveling in the last year. to hawaii (twice). skiing in canada. arizona. and a ferry ride to orcas island for thanksgiving. an embarrassment of frequent flyer miles (there's no such thing as frequent ferry miles, as far as i know).

we also traveled for business. to san francisco and vancouver and orlando and miami and san diego and baltimore and boston and denver and chicago and washington, d.c. for all we saw of these fabulous destinations, however, we might just've well been in wichita. (note: i'm sure wichita is a lovely town. really.) most often you go from the airport to a hotel to a convention center to a hotel to the airport and back home again. in between there's a lot of standing in a trade show booth.

it ain't glamorous...but it is a break in the routine, and this can be a good thing, in moderation.

extended cross-country travel also can lead to dvt, which is bad, even in moderation. (note: no one here has developed dvt. yet.)

my company moved further away from the spaceneedl estate, adding hours and dollars to my monthly commute. (note: gas prices are bad for us, but much worse for others who can afford it less. how nice it must be to have to choose between gas for the car to get to work and, say, food. or child care. or health care.)

mrs. spaceneedl took a new job, requiring a major logistical shift from her previous home-based position.

the effects of these changes are still being tallied. they're in our favor in the "paying our bills" column. they're a significant drain in the "having a life" category.

i can see these things clearly, as my eyes are now surgically enhanced. lasik is a fabulous thing. i can see the trees on the mountain ridge to the west. i can certainly envision the exceptional grapes growing in the vinyards at the bainbridge island winery. i can see some bottles of that grape juice on our wine rack.

i recommend the madeleine angevine.

a lot has happened here in the past twelve months. much has been done, leaving exponentially more undone. looking ahead to the next ride through the solar system, there are things i would like to change. i would, for example, like to spend some time at san juan county park.

i would like to be able to hear myself think, on occasion.

i want to spend less time commuting, more time communing.

i wish to be more patient with my son.

another ride is in the books. a new one winks and beckons. "c'mon," it whispers. "it'll be fun. i promise."

hang on, everyone. for as long as you can.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

an avery day occurrence

suddenly the world seems such a perfect place
suddenly it moves with such a perfect grace
suddenly my life doesn't seem such a waste
it all revolves around you
and there's no mountain too high
no river too wide
sing out this song and i'll be there by your side
storm clouds may gather
and stars may collide
but i'll love you until the end of time

come what may
come what may
i will love you
until my dying day

-- come what may, moulin rouge

* * * * *

i used to sing that song to my daughter on the way to day care.

i couldn't hit the high notes, but she didn't seem to notice. it was a heartfelt serenade, and sometimes i'd get a little choked up on the "until the end of time" and "until my dying day" lines.

she didn't seem to notice that, either.

last night was the annual dance recital for roseanne's dance academy. our third performance, hard as it is to believe. it feels like i've seen the four year olds perform "hopping bunnies" a thousand times -- a thought i shared with mrs. spaceneedl. "be nice," she warned me with a smile. she couldn't fool me. she'll have the infernal "hopping bunnies" chorus ringing in her ears for at least the rest of the weekend.

earlier in the day, the girl's drama club put on a performance of "the great kapok tree." it's the story of a hapless logger who runs afoul of an angry hoarde of animals in the amazon rainforest.

not to spoil the ending or anything, but the animals win.

and it occurred to me about halfway through the show that my daughter was up on stage, delivering lines in front of a crowd of people.

this is the same girl (albeit a later version) who came into the world refusing to breathe. it had something to do with the respiratory depressive effects of the stadol mrs. spaceneedl was given.

i stood there stupidly as our daughter was whisked away, and the nurse anxiously said, "breathe, baby!" time stopped, and we cried, and then the baby cried, and we had a little come-apart as it dawned on us the magnitude of the disaster that had just passed us by.

flash forward several years to last night, and the girl was the best jazz dancer on the stage. she was one of the very few who looked like she was having fun up there. she moved with grace and confidence and no, i'm not just saying that because she's my kid.

full disclosure: i may have been suffering from some kind of paternal myopia. as far as i could tell, she was the only one on the stage.

after, she sat with us holding a very nice bouquet of flowers, raptly watching the older girls performing longer, more intricate routines. it occurred to me that she'd prolly outdance them, too. not that i'm biased.

then "come what may" began drifting out of the speakers, and i became a bit of a mess. time and place and emotions got all cross-circuited, and i was obliged to keep myself together. thankfully, it was dark in the auditorium.

this morning, it's father's day, and i woke up to see a handmade card on my nightstand. "happy fathers day i love you" it said. "love, avery."

i have, over the years, occasionally asked my wife to explain why it was so necessary for us to have children. the question usually coincides with high-pitched shrieking, or egregious room-trashing, or dumping of hot chocolate in the back of the car. or other random childish behavior.

today is not one of those days.*

(* note: the day isn't over yet.)

Saturday, May 31, 2008

may day, may day...

time flies, whether you're having fun or not.

how did it get to be the end of may?

how is half of 2008 already over?

how did my son get to be ten years old?

i mean this a couple ways:

one, it was only a couple years ago, i'd swear, that he was falling asleep in his crib, tenaciously holding onto the hand proffered through the rails by me or mrs. spaceneedl. he'd rub his fingertips over ours, as if he were memorizing every line, and if you tried to pull your hand away too soon, he'd wake up and have to start all over again.

it was annoying and achingly endearing at the same time.

eventually he'd fall asleep, and wake up smiling the next morning. the following evening, repeat, as needed.

i remember the routine very well, but i don't remember when it ended. i don't remember the last time i held his hand as he drifted off. more recently, he'd ask his mom or me to lay down with him and "sleep for two" (minutes), which is to say, fall asleep with him regardless of the actual minute count. but, there again, it's been awhile since that happened. he's getting too old for such things, it must be supposed.

how did my son get to be ten years old?

ah, yes, the other implicit meaning: how has the boy made it this far with the working IQ of a howler monkey? it defies explanation.

skinny as a rail, we get reports from school that he throws away most of his lunch, every day. this despite the efforts on our part to engage him in the lunch selection process, to preconfirm that, yes, he likes brand x protein bars and peanut butter sandwiches and chips and lemonade juice boxes, and a host of other items.

dumped, apparently, unceremoniously and untouched.

increasingly nearsighted, we get reports from his teacher that he won't wear his glasses in class. he'll squint painfully, briefly, in a half-hearted effort to read the board, then go back to drawing little battle vignettes on his notebook.

they're cool glasses, too, from the nike sports line, with the matching clip-on sunglass option.

unused, at the bottom of the backpack.

repeatedly reticent in his homework, we get e-mails saying he hasn't turned in assignments. the CDs containing Word files inexplicably go missing, allegedly stolen. we read the riot act, take away privileges, and threaten military school, without discernable effect.

beatings, i say. we must try beatings. mrs. spaceneedl is not amenable to the suggestion.

yesterday my son turned ten years old. how will he get to be 20? how old and decrepit will his parents be by then? it's too daunting to contemplate.

time flies. whether you're having fun or not...

Friday, May 09, 2008

the oh-no virus...

mrs. spaceneedl is headed to san francisco for a conference.

just before leaving, she received the following cautionary e-mail...

Dear Heart Rhythm 2008 Attendees and Exhibitors,

The Heart Rhythm Society has learned from the San Francisco Department of Public Health that there have been reported cases of what is suspected to be norovirus in the San Francisco area. A number of those affected were attending an earlier event at the Moscone Convention Center.

As you know, Heart Rhythm 2008 is scheduled to take place at the Moscone Center, May 14-17. The Convention Center and city health officials have put measures in place to disinfect the facility and are continuing with the current schedule of events. Therefore, Heart Rhythm 2008 is scheduled to continue as planned.

bla bla bla, We look forward to seeing you in San Francisco.

The Heart Rhythm Society
well. that's nice, isn't it?

and call me a cynic, but if the norovirus is "in the san francisco area," disinfecting moscone center is a big waste of time. anyone carrying said virus and entering said center will simply recontaminate everything.

similarly, anyone with the virus who works at the nearby hotels and restaurants and bars and on and on will contact many people who then enter moscone center, contaminating the shiny disinfected surfaces.

seriously, "disinfecting moscone center" is akin to bailing out the titanic with a butterfly net. you might just as easily hook a great white shark and go water skiing.

but wait, there's more! there's whooping cough in the east bay!

note: people in the east bay regularly make their way into san francisco, and the moscone center. will city health officials also disinfect for whooping cough? if not, why not?

while we're on the subject, why not inoculate attendees for avian flu? screen them for mad cow disease? survey them on their safe-sex practices? check their cholesterol?

so many disease vectors, so few cures.

build a bigger wall, adaptable viruses build a bigger ladder. or they dig a tunnel. or they go airborn.

and at the end of the day, it'll be something else entirely that gets you.

bon voyage, sweetie. when you get back, i'm off to orlando.

where hurricane season is just about to begin.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

a model of restraint

somehow i got on the ipsos-voice nw survey list.

they want my opinions on all kinds of things, some of which i actually know a little about. and the things i know nothing about? i offer up opinions on those, too.

my own little 'operation chaos.'

today they were asking about the spaceneedls' travel plans for the next 12 months. tsk, that's easy...we have no travel plans.

because we're remodeling a bathroom.

instead of a luxurious stay in beautiful downtown wenatchee...we're remodeling a bathroom. instead of first-class, round-trip tickets to tacoma...we're remodeling a bathroom. instead of walking along the rain-drenched beaches of west got it. remodeling a bathroom.

for reference, see the fabulous photo above. our new space will be very similar, in 1 /20th of the space. and 1/100th of the budget. also, no huge jetted tub. and if you could imagine, just one smallish window. tile, not plush carpeting. subtract out the fireplace. and the odd, non sequitur tree.

aside from those items, very similar.

mrs. spaceneedl, poring over an ikea catalogue, laments the dimensions of the room: "nothing's going to fit in here." she recounts a conversation with the contractor, who said "you just need a bigger house."

sure. from remodeling a bathroom to contemplating a new house in three weeks or less. we can afford a huge house, i tell her. we could buy a veritable omaha. somewhere upwind from the stockyards, preferably.

so, okay, the house has some limitations. it was built in 1941, not anticipating mrs. spaceneedl's ambitious expectations. despite this--despite the non-negotiable budget and available space--we're still dumping our travel money (for the next several years) into a bathroom.

and why, one might reasonably ask? survey says...? the spaceneedls aren't very smart!

ding ding ding ding! that's right!


in conclusion, and in answer to inquiries from friends and pollsters alike...where are the spaceneedls going on vacation this year?

we're going to the bathroom.

thanks for asking.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

hazy shades of winter

i'd like to lodge a complaint with the management.

last saturday in seattle it was 79F and sunny. summer was here, man, and it was glorious.

today, a week later, we're on our third straight day of snow.

friday i drove home from work in near white-out conditions. it was like driving west on I-70, past the eisenhower tunnel, on the way to breckenridge. in january. fresh powder everywhere, and woo-hoo, the skiing is gonna be great.

yesterday, running errands around town, more of the same. big damn flakes, and people looking like the apocalypse was upon us. or like they were experiencing an earthquake in illinois.

things like this aren't supposed to happen. or, they happen so rarely that folks say, "what the hell is this?"

today, looking out the kitchen window. more snow. what the hell is this? i want my summer back.

most years in seattle, however, summer doesn't arrive until july 5. up to and through the fireworks on july 4, you can pretty much count on cold. and rain. and cold rain. it's tradition. some places they have fireworks and bbq. we have fireworks and umbrellas. and patio heaters.

but we expect this, and we gear up for it. we alternate layers of fleece and gore-tex. we alternate alcohol and caffeine. and we count on a brilliant, warm july 5.

it's what we signed up for when we moved back to the PNW. can't pretend we didn't know what we were getting ourselves into, ex post facto-like.

but...snow. three days in a row. and more forecast for tomorrow. in april.

i wanna speak to the manager.

* * * * *

update: it's now late afternoon, and the sun is out. suddenly the temperature is nearly 50. what the hell is this?

* * * * *

update II: the storm clouds are rolling in from the west. i'm getting whiplash.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

five things

in his excellent book better, atul gawande suggests that there are five things one might do to make a positive difference in the world.

his advice was directed at medical students, but it translates nicely to those of us who are not future physicians.

for example, any of us can...

1. ask an unscripted question.

in the course of an examination, doctors routinely ask patients a rote list of questions. where does it hurt? how long has it felt this way? why did you stick your finger in there? and such.

how much more interesting, and potentially valuable, could it be to do the unexpected?

his conclusion was, "quite valuable." and not just in the exam room.

asked an apparently unrelated question, a patient might subsequently volunteer a detail important to his or her care. a colleague, given the same opportunity, might offer up a nugget that leads to a better treatment for that patient. or maybe it just leads to a mutual interest and a better relationship.

win. win.

2. don't complain.

gawande's observation: it's boring, it doesn't solve anything, and it gets you down.

all true. but it feels good sometimes, right? sure it does. but not as good as getting up and doing something about the problem. so, i conclude in my own little slice of the world, complain, but don't stop there. act. solve. feel even better.

(caveat: if you insist on sticking your finger in there, you give up the right to complain about it.)

3. count something.

gawande equates "counting" with observational science. the gathering and analysis of data. the science of observation can take many forms, however. me, i count the number of days i didn't exercise this week, and calculate how old and out of shape i became as a result.

at my current rate, assigning a negative life expectancy value to days missed, extrapolated over time, i figure i've got about a week to live. but who's counting?

4. write something.

"writing," the good doctor says, "lets you step back and think through a problem. even the angriest rant forces the writer to achieve a degree of thoughtfulness."

i can confirm this. in the nearly four years (four years!) i've been blogging, i've put up some angry rants. but in the process, i think i've become a passable writer.

even more importantly, i've gotten my head around a variety of subjects that, come to find out, are important to me. who knew?

another writer i know blames blogging for her lack of progress on other fronts, including a long-deferred novel. but for me, this writing has quite literally changed my life--for the better. i've organized my little brain in a way it never was before (and probably, none too soon).

5. change.

respond to new ideas. become an early adopter. find something new to try. don't be afraid to fail. because failure is an opportunity to improve.

in the course of their ski lessons, my children brag to each other how few times they fell. but as someone told me long ago, if you don't fall down, you're not trying hard enough.

change, as proposed by gawande, is an open invitation to fall down, over and over again. but that's not so bad, is it? as long as we get up one more time than we fall, we're ahead of the game.

(caveat: when expecting to fall, make sure you're not holding something sharp.)

in better, gawande describes scenarios that are, literally, a matter of life and death. from a polio outbreak in india to infants in the maternity ward to a young girl's cystic fibrosis, his illustrations are riveting. and often disturbing.

somehow, though, daunting as the situation might be, he never gives up hope. he simply gets up one more time than he falls down.

this may be about as well as anyone can hope to do.

Monday, March 31, 2008


Brave enough to be crazy
Strong enough to be weak
I see all these heroes with feet of clay
Whose mighty ships have sprung a leak
And I want you to tell me darlin'
Just what do you believe in now?

--don henley
heroes still exist.

i knew this all along, but the knowledge was buried beneath years of disappointment and disillusion.

when i was a kid, athletes were my idols. pete rose, for example. man, i wanted to be like him. to play the game like he did, all hard-nosed and relentless and steely-eyed. then pete gambled on the game, lied about it, and exhibited years of unheroic denial and cowardice.

all the good stuff was washed away by the bad.

there were others, as there are with any kid, but eventually all of them proved to be less than heroic. and i'll never forget how empty it felt to stop believing.

maybe that's the price of growing up. you can't be a rational adult and insist people live up to your impossible ideals and idolization. still, it left a void where once there was...what? inspiration? a jarring disconnect between, "i want to be like that" and "i don't want to have anything to do with that."

this week i discovered i can have it both ways.

for four days at a conference for emergency medical service (ems) professionals, i got to see, up close, who these people are and what they do. i got to see their idiosyncracies and reconcile them with the heroic work they do every day.

like prying small, broken bodies out of a wrecked minivan. or looking into the mess that was a face before someone put a bullet into it. or charging into a skyscraper that's about to collapse. we take it for granted, don't we, that "someone's got to do it"?

these are the people who actually do.

as heroes go, some of them aren't my cup of tea. some of them are a little surly. some of them can get a little loud and obnoxious at the pub. some of them look down their nose at "civilians."

that's all fine; while i wouldn't necessarily want to hang out with those particular guys, i'd love to buy them a round of beers. any time, anywhere.

because they're heroes.

then there's the other side of the coin. the majority of ems folks are just the nicest, most intelligent, most endearing people you'll ever meet. they're the kind who would do anything for you, thank you for the opportunity, then try to pick up the tab at dinner.

but you can't let them. because they're heroes. (plus, as noted elsewhere, they don't get paid near enough to be buying dinner.)

every year at this conference there's a skills competition between teams from around the world. it's promoted as "an extraordinary display of techniques, technology, and teamwork by some of the best EMS professionals. Each year’s winner demonstrates unsurpassed assessment skills, clinical knowledge and the ability to work under pressure."

i can confirm that. all of it. five teams competed in the finals, responding to a simulated mass casualty incident the way they might to the real thing. the teams came from iowa and nevada and west virginia and north carolina and new york. and you could see the exercise was serious as a heart attack to all of them.

in the event of an actual emergency, these are the people you want showing up and taking care of you.

the winner was announced the next morning--the team from fdny. these guys are new york to the core; burly, in your face, no fear. and yet when they were presented with their medals (along with a state-of-the-art video laryngoscope), they were like kids who just won their first little league trophy. they didn't know whether to laugh or cry or go to disneyland.

i got to meet them afterward...they spent half an hour in our booth. all i'll say is, that half hour went by way too fast, and i wanted to hug every one of them (but i didn't).

before it was over, though, i realized i can still have my heroes. i can have them without the unreasonable expectations, without the baggage i used to hang on them. i can have them without being disappointed that they're not perfect.

after years of being without them, i've got my heroes back again.

it feels great.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


today i spent four hours in a cadaver lab for ems professionals.

tonight i'm drunk.

these things are not unrelated.

i was pretty composed throughout the event. in a room full of ems veterans and emergency physicians and shock-trauma paramedics, there wasn't much choice. i watched and participated and acted like it was just another day at the office.

there were seven dead people in the room. they were all elderly, and had donated their bodies to medical research. today, that meant educating first-responders on emergency airway control. getting an endotracheal tube through the vocal chords and into the airway.

there are a lot of ways to achieve this end. my company makes one such way, and it's a pretty elegant solution to a difficult problem. other methods are less elegant, and more traumatic for the patient.

but most patients, given a choice, would say, "get that tube in there, and we'll discuss the details at a more opportune time. thanks."

today's patients, needless to say, were past such consideration. their vital signs were as stable as they'll ever be.

at the end of the day we cleaned off our equipment with some serious disinfectant, packed everything into heavy plastic bags, and walked out into a beautiful day in downtown baltimore.

we walked back to a hotel near a convention center where our company, among many others, is exhibiting the latest life-saving devices and products.

the people who do this kind of thing for a living are energized and enthusiastic to be here, learning new things that will help them help us, when we need them most. they wear patches and insignia that say "broward county ems" and "new orleans critical care rescue team" and "fdny."

i stare as they go by, utterly failing to grasp how they do what they do--amazing things under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. these people should be showered with money and eternal gratitude.

instead, most of the time, they toil in obscurity, at barely sustainable wages.

i was happy as hell today to contribute, insignificantly, to their efforts.

and tonight i quietly tried to wash the taste of death out of my mouth.

i can't say that it worked out very well.