March 29, 2005

page after page of ashtrays

Ants! Oh lord, the ants! They’re everywhere! They came for the cat food and stayed for the dishwasher, and now we’ve got thousands of the fellers running around this ol’ place, doing unmentionable ant things like walking in lines and finding food and eating food and… uhh… making and feeding and raising baby ants somewheres under the floorboards and stuff.

Last night we changed their diet, from food to poison, so everything should be wrapped up in a nice little package before too long. My landlady set out little cardboard squares with delicious puddles of poison, but those quickly ran out. I cut up an old box of Girl Scout cookies, carefully cutting out the girls’ faces so the ants will see them as they feed and be paralyzed with terror.

Besides that, not much new to report. Crystal Mountain has gotten four feet of snow in the last week, it’s been raining here since last Friday, Brian and Miriam are now on their way to the Olympic Peninsula, Storyhill is playing in Portland this Friday, and for the last couple weeks I’ve been subsisting on little more than sugar and caffeine.

I’ve also found an outlet for my rage and anger, and that outlet is sketching. Do you know how difficult it is to draw human characters in natural-looking poses? It’s difficult enough to make a man sketch an ashtray. Maybe the ashtray is overflowing by now, out of frustration with trying to draw characters. One might even say it’s a mighty fine ashtray, but at the end of the day it’s still an ashtray.

What of tomorrow? Certainly not more ashtrays? I mean, how many ashtrays could you possibly need? Well. Perhaps you need as many as it takes to master poses and character drawing.

Something is now tugging at the outside door to my room. This door opens up to the roof. I hope it is the wind or a jabberwocky.

March 27, 2005


If you drink three Red Bulls in the same day you will not sleep that night. At all. Your brain will reel and you will be haunted by uncomfortable visions and non-dreams, stitched together in a horrible and disjunct fashion.

The last few days have been wild. Friday afternoon I went to the local sporting goods store to rent a pair of snowshoes for our backcountry skiing expedition on Saturday, and by Friday evening I found myself driving to Government Camp, spinning a recently acquired Johnny Cash show, headed for the Mount Hood Brew Pub to meet a group for a full moon snowshoeing hike.

We hiked a few miles up around Bennett Pass, and afterwards a small group of us pulled up to Charlie’s in Government Pass for beers. We were treated to live music, a solo guitarist who played a fifteen minute rendition of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald with more flange than you can imagine.

It was late and I had an hour’s drive back to Hood River, but I was armed with Red Bull. So much Red Bull. And Johnny Cash. And Red Bull. I fell into bed around 1:00 in the morning, and proceeded to toss and turn for more than four hours. I was meeting Joe at a quarter to seven that morning to hike Hood and go snowboarding, and with my alarm set for 5:45 I really wanted to get some sleep.

But sleep I did not. Instead, my brain was haunted with awful disjointed images, juxtapositions that unsettled the mind. It resembled the slapdashed style of snowboard magazine ads, where underpaid and overtalented graphic artists are turned loose on an indifferent audience. Instead of mishmashed photographs of professional snowboarders, the source images were of my own life, past and recent experiences, slapped together with wickedly worn edges, distressed Photoshop techniques and high-tech interfaces.

It wore on for hours, until finally I decided it was late enough to get up and shower. It was 5:30 in the morning. I ran the water for more than five minutes but it never got warm. The furnace had finally choked and needed to be repressurized (or filled with bodies), and I didn’t know how to do this without blowing the house up. Plus, the furance is in the basement, and we can only access the basement by going outside, pulling aside a heavy (and sodden) plywood cover, and descending a step ladder into the foundation.

Plus, it was raining. Whatever. I ate toast, the cat yowled constantly, I drove to Joe’s, we picked up Phillip, and the three of us headed for the mountain. It was snowing big heavy flakes at base when we started slogging, and it was blowing and snowing like all fury at the top of the timberline where we stopped. The snow was great in the higher elevations and we made some sweet turns, but down low everything turned to crud. It was raining hard and the snow rode like Elmer’s, so we called it a day and drove back to Hood River to eat burgers and drink beer.

At the pub we got a table near the window, and watching traffic on State Street provided limitless entertainment. The city had been doing some road construction, and the rain had carved out a huge pothole in the oncoming lane. The pothole looked deceptively tame, so cars would approach it with way too much speed and find themselves kicked into the air and bucked all over the street. The whole thing was so hilarious that we shot video. If anyone can recommend a good way to compress AVIs shot from a digital camera, I’ll smaller them up and post them online for ya’ll.

My friend Brian from Wooch! is in town. He was supposed to be framing houses down in Tucson, but road construction had foiled his grand scheme of living in the woods and commuting to subdivisions, so he headed for the coast. He met up with a French-Canadian gal and they’ve been working their way up the Pacific coast, occasionally stopping at organic farms to lend a hand and make a couple bucks. He called me Saturday afternoon when they were in Tillamook, and they arrived in Hood River that evening.

We hung out and waxed poetic late into the evening, and I learned that even though Quebéçois mainly speak French they also speak Canadian, and Canadians always say “eh” no matter the language. I was also told that most of the Frech I speak “doesn’t mean anything.” Seeing as how the French I remember involves such phrases as “Do not tease the pig,” and “The gas station attendant is in my trunk,” I wasn’t surprised.

Oh. Also on Saturday, thousands of ants invaded the house and carried off the cat. And this morning, the neighbor’s dog was curled up with the chickens inside their coop.

March 23, 2005

The Devil’s Workday

Today one of the chickens started barking, and it hasn’t stopped for the entire evening. I have no idea what this means. The two of ’em have also taken to flipping over their food dish every afternoon and pitchin’ a fit ’bout it. They’re starting to become a pain in the neck, and when I say a pain in the neck, I actually mean delicious.

In the last week I’ve probably flip-flopped ten million times about what I plan to do for the future, which is typically an indication that I’m trying to plan too far ahead. I’ve been thinking six months ahead, which experience has shown is a completely useless exercise. It’s an indication that I should probably be planning only a month ahead, and instead trying to figure out how I’m going to pack up this circus and roll it back to Minnesota for the summer.

Minnesota. It seems my stomping grounds only make the news when people are shooting at each other. That’s not how I remember it at all, but maybe in 22 years of living there I missed something.

The distant future (distant being anything more than three months out) looks rather interesting. I have no shortage of exciting opportunities, some of which allow me to live and work anywhere I please. However, these require that I figure out a way to work without being in constant pain. Despite intuition otherwise, chronic pain associated with work is usually detrimental to productivity. I do plan on living for at least another 75 years, and I assume a functional pointer finger will come in handy wherever I choose to go. It’s not as interdisciplinary as the middle finger, of course, but I need to find a way to protect it nevertheless.

Hopefully, three months of paddling canoes will give my body enough time to knit back together its damaged goods, while destroying parts that are currently intact. My body will break in places it never knew it had, but that will take the mind off existing ailments long enough for them to disappear. This process is cyclic, and cycles are the way of life. If you can look back while looking forward, nothing will take you by surprise.

Unless you like surprises, that is.

March 21, 2005

Rockstars do it Standing Up

The furnace is moaning and that means it’s starving. Fortunately, I’ve still got some chickens and a cat running around here, and my housemate currently has the plague. He keeps buying cold medicine, all sorts of tasty stuff with more pseudoephedrine than you can imagine.

They know his name down at the drug store. He thinks it’s really funny to buy cold medicine along with bleach and Drano and other household ingredients, and I think it’s funny too, but cops don’t really have a sense of humor. I mean geez, lighten up. Haven’t you heard? Meth is funny! Right up there with feeding tubes and UN peacekeeping efforts!

My friend Joe is proposing that we hike Mount Adams and do some skiiing and snowboarding this weekend. Joe has also proposed that we drive to Mount Shasta and hit up some terrain down there. Lately I’ve been an absolute failure when it comes to planning anything, so I think I’m going to give up.

As far as work goes, I’m involved in some pretty exciting projects these days, and my consulting world gets more interesting by the day. Yesterday I tried to convince myself that my RSI was all in my head, and was rewarded when my arm went completely numb in the middle of a project. I knew it was time to stop when I started shoving the mouse around with the back of my hand.

I think I have found my ideal ergonomic solution, however, and it looks like this. That’s what you would call a “cubicle” at Pixar. Note the vibrant colors, the mood lighting, the paper lamps, the pimpin’ couch. Also note that the workstation is specially tailored for working standing up. Beyond the pimp couch, there is no chair in that office.

On closer examination, you can see that his mouse and keyboard are located just above waist level. His mouse is on an independent surface, and his keyboard sits on a platform tilted away from the body at a forty-five degree angle. The monitors (three of them, including the laptop) are all right at eye-level. Can’t see it? Take a much closer look.

This, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. Throw some motorcycle handlebars on the whole thing, just for the sake of cool, and I might just overcome my aversion to working at the computer. Ya’ll? Ya’ll can sit on your ass. Me, I’m gonna stand up, just so I’m that much closer to kicking it.

March 20, 2005

kitty at mah foot

There’s no other way I can explain it. The cat sounds like it’s popping. In any other case this would be cause for celebration, but this week my landlady threw down all my rent money and bought herself a ticket on a cruise ship, and I’m in charge of watching the cat. And the chickens. And the furnace. One of these takes absolute priority even if all the others should fail.

I actually kinda sorta like this cat, which for me is saying a lot. Cats and I don’t get along. Well, I shouldn’t say that. We actually get along just fine. I despise them, they hate me, and we live our lives in a symbiosis of mutual derision.

However, I would dare say that this cat is different. I feed it. It likes that. It rubs against my legs after I feed it, or before I feed it, or while I’m feeding it. It claws at my chair when I’m sitting at the dining room table. When I scratch at its belly I can make it collapse in a fat heap of cat. It’s never hissed at me, it’s never tried to bite me, and beyond the dining room chairs it’s never clawed at me. And this thing has claws, believe me. I’m totally jealous of them.

This cat and I, we have conversations. When I’m eating (and after I’ve shooed it down from the chair) it’ll go to the door and meow. And meow a lot. Like, totally insistent “if you don’t get up right now I’m going to explode and make a mess of everything” meowing. See this, this is a game we play.


“You don’t need to go outside.”


“You are so bothering me.”


“And you so don’t care.”


“Watch. I’m going to get up and walk towards the door, and you’re just going to walk away.”


“But not until I finish my toast.”

Usually the cat doesn’t want to go outside, and just wants to be a pain in the ass and make noise for no reason. In this way the cat has figured out the nature of human relationships. Sometimes (rarely, but it’s been known to happen) the cat really does want to go outside. Sometimes, I’m not eating and I’m in a bit better humor. This results in an altogether different conversation.

“Do you want to go outside?”


Wanna go outside and eat birds?”


Okay. Go outside eat birds!”

I’m almost embarrassed by how much I talk to this cat, but the nice thing is it doesn’t talk back. Much.

March 19, 2005

Big Balls in Cow Town

I’ve tried to mask it. I’ve told people that I have a soft spot for rockabilly, that I have a lot of respect for Johnny Cash, that when I’m in a particular mood I’ll dial up Boot Liquor Radio. When karaoke night rolls around I do Garth Brooks covers. I’m familiar with terms like shitkicker and I’ve been known to use phrases like “somethin’, somethin’.” Sometimes I speak with a Texas drawl, whose inspiration and origin is impossible to pinpoint.

Nay, there’s no point in denying it any longer. I have finally bled my last drop of sophistication, and I totally dig country music. Tonight I checked out The James Sasser Band at River City Saloon and had a boot-stompin’ good time.

I’m a fair-weather pseudo-member of the local band Topsoil, and James Sasser opened for us when we played a gig a number of weeks ago at River City. My friend Brian, who often sits in with Topsoil and can play the shit of the harmonica, is the drummer for James Sasser. Brian’s originally from Iowa, and I was happy to see that he was sportin’ a Leinenkugel’s shirt for the evening.

There was also a fellow in the audience wearing an awesome “I <3 Beer” shirt, not to mention the guy in a Vise Grip hat, whose horn-rimmed glasses were two inches thick. I talked (shouted) to him for a bit, and learned that he and his friends had driven all the way from Boise that day to visit their friend in Hood River.

I don’t know what it is about country music, but it really seems to be doin’ it for me lately. I am so totally down with the whole folk thing. Over winter break I caught up with an old friend who talked excitedly about all the members of the English aristocracy that she had schmoozed with during her time in England. Maybe I should have been impressed, but honestly that sort of thing doesn’t do it for me. I have more respect for the guy who runs his own shop repairing snowmobile engines than I do for the entire English aristocracy.

One of the most poignant anecdotes I’ve ever heard involves a man from the city who ventures out West. He runs across a cowboy out tending his fence, and asks to speak to his master. The cowboy looks at him funny and asks what he means. The man clears his throats and clarifies.

“You know, your master,” he says. “The man who owns this land. The man you work for, who provides you with food and shelter. The man who tells you what to do. Your master. Who is your master?”

“My master?” The cowboy spits on the ground. “The sumbitch ain’t been born yet.”

Anyway, I spent the entire evening throwing back tallboys of Rainier, stomping my feet to some killer country music, wishing I owned a pair of cowboy boots. I also wish I could play the slide guitar, but it’s probably just as well I can’t. If I could play the slide guitar, and if I owned a slide guitar, I’d probably never leave the house again and spend all my days playing and listening to it.

What an amazing sound. It’s like the soul of every cowboy who lived and died has been absorbed in that instrument, and they can only be freed one note at a time.

March 18, 2005

Song of the Sea

For all intents and purposes, I planned on it being a productive evening, wrought with taxes and consulting and cooking etc.

Then I checked the date, and got drunk and moshed to some Irish punk imported all the way from exotic Corvallis. I left when I felt that my heart was thoroughly broken.

March 16, 2005

this, this is words

Cold, spitting rain. Forty degrees. Wind that knocks fist-sized pinecones on me as I drive up the hill. It reminded me that I haven’t seen rain since my first days in Baja.

Despite the weather, today was the best I’ve felt in a good two weeks. I went to the doctor a few days ago and learned that I have an upper-respiratory infection, so now I’m on a delicious cocktail of antibiotics to shoo that puppy aside. I seem to be seeing a lot of doctors, lately… leg wounds, head wounds, repetitive stress wounds, chest wounds… I wish my body would just chill out for five seconds.

I always know when I’m starting to feel better, because I start muttering to myself more often. I make up word games and giggle at jokes only I understand. I repeatedly say words like sashay. I dance up the stairs. I grab my belt and hold spontaneous ho-downs. I make fun of the avacadoes at the grocer.

Really, nothing else significant to report. And I’m okay with that, for once. We’ve pushed our summit attempt for Hood out to next weekend, so hopefully the weather will clear up by then. I have my new camera and it’s lovely.

Jennifer is going to start writing more for the rest of us. I am excited. We should make a drinking game out of it. It will go like this:

1. Every time she cries, you take a shot.

2. Every time she hyperventilates, you finish your drink.

Remember Peter? Of course ya’ll remember Peter. Well, Peter is getting married in May. His fianceé is fluent in l33t, and that is enough to sell me on the deal. Even though they are both hardcore libertarians, they still argue all the time. This is for the best. I couldn’t imagine Peter without battleships.

Have a lovely, er, Thursday.

March 14, 2005

Ancestral Musings

I live for good stories. I enjoy telling them, I get a kick out of hearing them, but above all I love living them. So long as it makes a good story, I regret nothing. Sometimes I feel it’s a cruel limitation of biology that the stories of our ancestors don’t get passed down through blood.

I’d love to know what my grandfather did when he was 24 years old, what inspired him to become a man of the woods. I’d love to hear more stories about Old Uncle Vermond, the family wanderer. I’d like to see my great-grandparents board the ship to America, to feel their excitement and apprehension about starting a new life in a new land. I’d like to see their parents, and their parents parents, earning a living in the rolling hills of Denmark.

I’d like to reach even further back. Am I descended from any line of Danish royalty? …well, given the size of Denmark, it turns out that just about anyone Danish is probably descended from royalty. More importantly, what kind of royalty were they? Did we have gilded thrones? Did we fling wine glasses at servants? Did we gamble and lose it all in a single night at the local tavern?

What about Vikings? Did anyone in my lineage do any pillaging or plundering? Did a Petersen ancestor sack England, or explore Greenland with Erik the Red? I mean, this is looking so far back that there’s no guarantee my ancestors were even Danish at the time. Or maybe they were. Could I be descended from Gorm den Gamle or Harald Bluetooth? Hah. Bluetooth. I wonder if he knew that his name would be used for a short-range wireless connectivity protocol?

And even before that, what drove the Petersens to Scandanavia in the first place? I’m fascinated by stories and I would love to hear the tales of my ancestors, the wild experiences and journeys that coalesced into the family we have today. In looking back, what more could we learn about ourselves today?

Anyways. I talked Ryan today, and he was trying to figure out what he wanted to do in life. Ryan’s a good friend from college, and the two of us did some incredibly stupid stuff together. He graduated the same year I did, and has been doing some heavy-duty computer stuff over the last two years that has proved lucrative.

And yet, he misses the hijinx. I don’t blame him. The two of us were really good at hijinx, so good in fact that we started an official club at UMD to give us more room to play. At first we were going to name it The Dane and Ryan Fan Club, but we couldn’t find anyone else willing to fill the officer positions. We had a president and vice-president (obviously), but we still needed a secretary and treasurer. When we suggested naming the club The Coolest Club Ever we had no shortage of applicants for officers.

Ryan and I were so good at hijinx, there’s no doubt in my mind that we could pursue it professionally. We’ve blown stuff up with dry ice, raced shopping carts, caught air in sleds, discovered stuffed animal burial grounds, and explored tunnels and caves beneath Minneapolis. One time Ryan helped drop a tree on my head in the Porcupine Mountains, giving me a concussion and a trip to the emergency room.

If Ryan can’t figure out what he wants to do, and I can’t figure out what I want to do, I’d say we need to get our own TV show. Above anything else, I believe that would make my ancestors proud.

March 12, 2005

Frazzled Nerves

Well, we postponed our trip up Mount Hood. I’ve been hacking and weezing all weekend, fighting off the Hood River Plague, which has since reached legendary status. I’m still waiting for them to send in the CDC and quarantine the town, close down I-84, and pitch a couple napalm missions just for good measure.

We’ve always been told that the Air Force tests bombing runs against the Hood River Toll-Bridge because it’s been outfitted with sensors and makes a great practice target. Now we know that they run these missions just in case an outbreak like this happens, and they need to seal off the town in a smoking crater.

I say if they’re gonna do it, they’d better hurry up. Do it before I file my taxes. Hell if I’m gonna take the time to give the government money if I’m gonna be vaporized in the next week.

The doctor said I have a broken funny bone. Seriously. After two years of building websites, and four years of college, and umpteen years of playing video games, I’ve toasted my ulnar nerve. The nerve runs close to the surface at your elbow, fits in a little groove right there, so when you bump it you get a particularly exhilarating feeling in your arm.

Well, even if you try to do everything right, and you take frequent breaks and you stretch your joints and flex your muscles and don’t rest your wrists on the desk and avoid carpel tunnel, you can still suffer from an irritated ulnar nerve. It’s your typical repetitive stress injury, which turns the means of production for the 21st century into your personal gambit of pain. Such joy.

That being said, we still pretend to be surprised when we hear that the human body wasn’t built to hold the same position for eight or nine or twelve hours a day. And if you’re the poor guy who works at Sprint, which sometimes enacts mandatory twelve-hour work days, your body goes to hell in a hurry.

And sometimes, even though the company makes a suspiciously huge effort to improve the ergonomics of your workspace and allow you to work twelve-hour days, your body still can’t handle it. You are still in pain and visit the doctor again and again. Meanwhile, the company keeps fixing your workspace, as though they have something great and horrible to prove, until all alternatives are exhausted. Finally, the company agrees to cut back your work hours, and you never need to visit the doctor again.

To be sure, that’s not me. I am willing and able to cut back my hours, and I’ve already felt an improvement in my condition after doing so. And really, that’s about all I can do. Surgery is rarely considered for ulnar nerve complications. You can’t immobilize a nerve with a wristguard, and you can’t stretch it with exercise. What’s more, anything I do to my ulnar nerve will do nothing to improve the tendonitis I’m developing in my double-clicking finger. You see, this thing just keeps getting better and better.

When it comes down to it, the only solutions are moderation and lifestyle change. Fortunately for us, these are the two solutions that I am most willing to embrace. I would be overjoyed if I could find a profession that minimizes my time in front of the computer. I prefer tactile work. I prefer contact with people over contact with microchips. I’d rather read a book than read a website. I’d rather climb a mountain than play Warcraft.

Irregardless, my lifestyle will be kicked off its heals in two months. I’m trying to figure out what I’ll be doing in six, but it’s difficult to plan anything with such a huge gap of experience between now and then. Perhaps after a summer in the woods I’ll be more than happy to curl up with Grand Theft Auto after a long day of staring at screens and writing code.

Maybe the geek inside needs the meathead, just as much as the meathead needs the geek. Maybe. I wouldn’t bet on it. But maybe.