On memory and reality

My little brother sent me some short videos this week.
It went like this: he transferred VHS tapes to a DVD. Then he played the videos from the DVD on his computer, and filmed the monitor with his iPhone. Then he sent me the iPhone videos via a social media site, and I forwarded them to my family.
The quality of the videos was of course poor; not only were the original tapes nearly 30 years old, each step transferring, copying and refilming degraded them further.
And yet: they were still superior to my own memories of the events — a visit we paid to my family in the United States when our oldest daughter was one year old.
Alpha and I are now older than my parents are in the videos.
The house in which we sing Happy Birthday has since burned in an arson fire, and then been torn down to make way for a mall parking lot.
Some details were only slightly surprising: Beta is a serious baby in the video. I remember that she was a serious baby, but she was even more serious than I recall.
Some details contradicted our memories entirely: for 30 years, we have told Beta she never crawled, just went straight from rolling to walking. But in the video she crawls just fine. She was a fast crawler, chasing my parents’ wiener dog all over the living room.
To be honest, the videos freaked me out a little.
The speed at which time passes, for one thing. How people just die, two people from the video, for example, but time just keeps going.
But we know that. What really freaked me out was how the evidence contradicted our memories. I know I forget things. We all forget things. I know I have forgotten most of my life, when it comes down to it. But to see blurry, grainy but genuine evidence that even the little bit I remember is false, that’s freaky.
It’s one thing to read somewhere that memory is nothing but stories we tell ourselves, and that any particular memory is altered to a greater or lesser extent with each re-telling, but to actually see the proof like that makes you wonder what else you’re wrong about.
What grudges you’d be better off dropping.
What pain you could let go.

Adulthood, part 239897490780981234

You may recall the Microsoft 3-D pipes screensaver. If you imagine that leaking uncontrollably from every joint, you have an approximate idea of what it looked like under my kitchen sink last week after I tried to fix a leak and then, as a test I guess? turned the dishwasher on.
I had two buckets under there catching the water, and still had to hold a dish to catch what they missed.
On the bright side our ant infestation is slightly better, maybe they had been taking a short cut under the sink.
I called a plumber and told the woman who answered the phone, I would try to fix it myself but my wife has forbidden that. She LOL’ed.
She said the earliest someone could come was the following day. I said, I’ll take it. Then I called a second plumber, and when he miraculously was able to come the SAME day, by NOON, I called the first plumber and cancelled (as I had warned them I might), AFTER the other plumber had finished and I was satisfied everything was okay.
“Two gaskets were in backwards,” said the plumber’s helper, when he presented me with the bill for signature. “That may have been me, but it may have been someone else,” I said, and signed.
When I checked under the sink, everything had new gaskets AND they had rearranged the pipes in a more rational order. I don’t recall who did the original plumbing, but it looked somewhat random, where the sink trap had been placed and the angles of the pipes. It looks better now.
My wife was impressed that I managed to get a plumber to come on short notice, and says I may deal with plumbers from now on.
I guess it was the desperation in my voice, combined with my generally jolly yet panicky nature.

Goofy’s Backyard Debacle

Disn3y scriptwriter 1: (Drains martini, lights a new cigarette from still-smoldering butt of last one, glances around lunchtime crowd at bar, returns script to scriptwriter 2) It’s not that I don’t like it. I love it. It’s hilarious.
Scriptwriter 2 (Snubs out his own cigarette in ashtray): But…
Scriptwriter 1: Go ahead and pitch it to Him if you want. But he’s not going to like it. Put a phony name on it and pitch it to Hanna-Barbera – I can totally see something like that happening to Tom, you know what I mean? You can pitch it to Him if you want, but if you do he’s gonna say…

(Cut to new scene, in W4lt Disn3y’s office)
W4lt: …it’s not realistic enough!
Scriptwriter 2: With all due respect, Mr. Disn3y…
W4lt (to blonde boy sitting on his desk): Give us some fire, Timmy. (Timmy light’s W4lt’s cigar with teapot-shaped lighter) Tell me, Timmy, do you like Collie dogs? (Turns back to Scriptwriter 2) Okay maybe I missed something. Walk me through it again. You have a minute (looks at watch).
Scriptwriter 2: It’s a Goofy cartoon, Mr. Disn3y! Realism is not in the nature of a talking dog!
W4lt (looks at watch): Fifty seconds.
Scriptwriter 2 (Holds hands up as if framing a shot): Goofy’s Backyard Debacle. Goofy is barbecuing. I dunno, like his wife has invited people over. Important people, of course, to raise the stakes.
Timmy: Ah! High-stake barbecue, I like it. Get it? Barbecued stakes? (The others ignore him)
Scriptwriter 2: Goofy’s nervous. His old grill didn’t get hot enough and so he got a new, bigger one that he’s still figuring out, reading instructions et cetera. Oh and BTW Goofy has long white hair and a bushy white beard.
W4lt: Why.
Scriptwriter 2: It’s necessary to the… dramaturgy. Maybe he’s a wizard or something. Anyway. He tries the new grill and it doesn’t get hot at first either because it’s using this new system with hot and cooler zones right, and for the life of him he can’t get it to go over 500F/260C, if that and his steaks just don’t cook right and he’s getting frantic so the big day comes…
W4lt: Wizard. Okay. I like it.
Timmy: I like it too!
Scriptwriter 2: …the big day comes and he goes for broke and like just fills the grill up with charcoal and lights it and it gets hot as hell. Like, he puts on the lid and the thermometer needle goes all the way around, past 600F/315C, all the way back to zero. So it’s hot. And Goofy is like, uhoh. And he cooks in this order: vegetables, sausages, ribs, steaks last. And it takes, like, a minute per vegetable. He just throws them on and basically they immediately turn black and he takes them back off. Same with the sausages. Black. And he’s desperately trying to find a cooler corner of the grill to move them to but the heat of the coals singes the hair off his arm whenever he tries to move them and he’s like getting frantic like Goofy does, right?
W4lt: I dunno… it’s not realistic.
Scriptwriter 2: And then he throws in some wood chips for fragrant smoke and puts in the ribs and closes the lid. And the smoke comes roiling out. He reads the directions on the rib packaging, they say 30 minutes on the grill and he’s like, no way. He wants to turn the ribs after a minute, or at least check them for blackness, but when he lifts the lid from the barbecue a huge cloud of smoke and steam roils out and envelopes his face and he pulls back and is like, Holy Shit and he smells a smell he hasn’t smelled since he played with fireworks as a kid: singed hair. And Goofy is like, oh shit.
W4lt (just shakes head): mmm.
Scriptwriter 2: He takes the blackened ribs back off the heat. He checks his eyebrows which just crumble. He goes into the bathroom and looks at himself in the mirror and his formerly white beard is brown and crumbles away when he touches it, from a long white beard to a short white beard. See, this is why we need Goofy to have long beard and long hair. Some of the long hair gets singed off too.
W4lt: Yeah, no. It’s not realistic.
Timmy: (sits silently, shaking head)
Scriptwriter 2: What’s not realistic about it? Why does everyone suddenly care about realism in connection with a fuck1ng Goofy cartoon? Goofy is a fuck1ng talking dog fuck1ng married to a human woman!
Timmy: What about Clarabelle the cow?
W4lt: That was old Goofy. Modern Goofy was updated.
Timmy: Why?
Scriptwriter 2: Who the h3LL cares, Timmy? It’s a hilarious script. Goofy. Social panic. Barbecue. Fire. Panic. Series of catastrophes. Hilarious.
W4lt (presses button under desk. Security drag away Scriptwriter 2. W4lt Disn3y shouts at him through the open door): It’s unrealistic! It’s impossible! It could never happen in reality! If that ever happens to someone in real life, cut off my head and freeze it under the Pirates of the Caribbean ride!
(Turns to Timmy). Scriptwriters. (Shakes head)
Timmy: Scriptwriters. (shakes head) Sure, I like Collies, Mr. Disn3y.

Genealogy and ballistics

My wife has developed a keen interest in family history. She has been telling me things about my family, parts of which she has so far traced back to the early 17th century, that I had not known previously.
For example, the reason that I am here today is not because my ancestors were big heroes during the Revolutionary War, but because they were good at running away.
There was a father and two sons. The father was arrested by British military, escaped and built a new house somewhere else because after he ran away they burned down his old house.
The older of the two sons, he was in his twenties, also ran away when he and his 17 year old brother were arrested. He later built a house on the site of the one that had been burned down.
His younger brother does not seem to have escaped, and his branch of the family tree appears to end there.
So basically, I am here because of running.
My uncle, a direct descendant of those guys, was athletic all his life. When we played softball in the field between our houses, he was pretty good. As was his sister. My sister too.
My uncle had a good throwing arm.
For example: Once he was up on a ladder picking pears in the field, and I was down on the ground pestering him. I was a little kid. I don’t remember what I was doing, probably throwing pears up at him, because when he got tired of it he gave me a head start and I dashed across the field to my house.
It was about ten miles, IIRC. Incredibly far, at any rate, for a little kid. Maybe fifty meters. Maybe less. I ran and ran and ran. I started to laugh when I reached the edge of the field, figuring I was safe so far from my uncle up on his ladder.
But in the instant before I ducked under the electric fence to run through the trees into my house, a big rotten pear hit me in the small of the back. It was a perfect shot. It got me right where my pants met my t-shirt. The pear had the right consistency – rotten yet firm enough to survive such a long throw at a velocity so great that half went down my buttcrack, and the other half went up my back all the way to my shoulder blades.
I ran crying to my mother, out of shock more than pain.
My uncle showed up seconds later, explaining and laughing at the same time.
My mother laughed too.
Everybody laughed but me.

Now the weekend is coming

Life has been terribly interesting. I made potato salad and barbecued hamburgers for Gamma’s birthday, my wife’s parents came over for the event.
The cat has been distant.
I went to the barber and had my beard trimmed; I decided to do that after drinking a Sodazitron (soda water with lemon juice) and getting only soda because my moustache filtered out all the Zitron. Now that everything is trimmed it’s easier to eat in general, and the barber gave me Jameson while I waited. (I generally try to get to the barber early for this reason).
I went to an electronics supply shop for the first time and bought some transistors and stuff.
How to buy electronics supplies:

  • Go to the information desk
  • Give the guy your diagram and say, does this mean anything to you? Because I have no idea. I’m building a device to make irritating sounds. Do you have all this stuff?
  • He will then check and have all but one thing and that costs 23 cents at some place online. He will box up everything else and give it to you.
  • “Do you have circuit boards too?” you ask.
  • He will point to the next aisle and say, Over there under the sign that says ‘Circuit Boards’
  • You wonder how you will be able to figure out what is a transistor and what is something else, when you look at all the little parts.

That’s it. That’s how easy it is.
The electronics shop also had the batteries for an old camera that are said to be hard to find? Dunno. Anyway they had them.

It’s raining out.
I saw a guy crash a motorcycle this morning. He passed me in the rain in the Vienna Woods, then nicked an oncoming car less than a minute later and laid it down. I stopped my car and turned on the blinkers and helped move the motorcycle out of the street, and the broken off motorcycle pieces. The guy seemed okay, he could stand and walk. Shook up, of course. Someone else was taking pictures, someone was calling the cops, or an ambulance. I wasn’t an actual witness to the actual accident so I left after that.

Now the weekend is coming.

90 is the new 70 or something

So we were invited to Tante Hermi’s 90th birthday party and I joked, Oh this is gonna be LIT but the joke was on me because it was.
At least relatively lit. Lit-er than I expected.
Plenty lit for me.
It was held in a Serb restaurant in Vienna, for one thing, so before the evening was too far along even the vegetarians were eating meat, the red wine was very heavy and good and eventually there was a lot of schnapps. Tante Hermi apparently invited only charming, fun relatives and when the band (guitar, bass, accordion, violin) showed up she was one of the first to start dancing and one of the last to stop.
I was a designated driver so I stayed rather sober.
And I couldn’t understand much because tinnitus etc.
But I still enjoyed myself and watching Tante Hermi get down *really* gave me a more positive view of getting old.

Joke analysis

A grave robber and a cat napper walk into a bar.
The bartender, drying a shot glass with a small white dishtowel, looks over towards them.
“Hi mom, hi dad,” she says.
“What’ll it be?”

(Speaker shakes gadget (not a euphemism) and it finally starts working, projecting a PowerPoint slide, showing the text of the joke in Comic Sans onto the large screen on one side of the stage, while making a disconcerting buzzing sound and a small wisp of smoke rises from its insides, so small you are not sure whether you really saw it or not.)

Speaker: “Why is this joke funny?”
Speaker: “Because it is really funny if you know us. By ‘us’ I mean my wife and me.”
Audience member: “You mean ‘my wife and I’.”
Speaker: (Fires bolt from small crossbow at audience member, bolt glances off audience member’s backpack, tangles in beard of second audience member sitting behind them.)
Speaker: “No.” (And to person with crossbow bolt tangled in their beard.) “Sorry about that.”
Speaker: “See, we’re going to a ball later this month so we were taking a refresher course because I forgot how to dance. And one evening my wife was early so she window-shopped and noticed how expensive jewelry made of stags’ teeth is, which gave her the idea to exhume her grandmother, whose funeral she had organized and whom she had had interred with earrings intact because relatives had been arguing about who should take possession of them.”
Speaker: “Which idea matched the legal definition of grave robbery, according to our legally-trained daughter.”
Speaker: “And a week or so ago our tuxedo cat disappeared, pitching us into sort of a Schrödingerish state where we try to imagine she adopted one of our neighborhood’s 4 (at a minimum) cat ladies (the way she adopted us as a kitten), and is sleeping on a pillow and drinking cream, and try not to visualize her dead in a ditch. Lucky for us, the former is a very realistic scenario, because our other cats have for years come in from nights out, warm, fur brushed and smelling of woodsmoke.”
Speaker: “And so I tried not to think about her too much and thought I was adjusting well to her absence and being a grown-up about it until one night my wife and I were driving home from the train station or whatever and roughly in front of the doctor’s office in our village I said, ‘Stop! Stop the car!’ And she did, and I got out and crossed the street because I had seen a little black and white cat in the shadows. And it marched right up to me. I petted it, and it lay down and I picked it up and it meowed in a friendly way and I carried it over to the car and got in.”
Speaker: “‘Look who I found!’ I said. I was so happy, sitting there holding our cat. The relief I felt made me conscious of how I’d missed her. My wife pulled back out onto the street, but also took a closer look at the cat. ‘That’s not our cat, honeybunny,’ she said. ‘Oh,’ I said. ‘Are you sure?’ She pulled back over to the side of the road. ‘You have to let it go.’ So I let it go and it went about its business and we drove home hoping there had been no witnesses and that video evidence of my attempted crime wouldn’t be posted to social media.”
Speaker: “So that’s why the joke is funny.”
Speaker: “Thank you for attending my TED talk.”