I'm in something of a meltdown.

Freudians would call it ego instability, I figure. I know exactly what I'm doing for some high-level knowledge-worker stuff I owe the world (or at least my boss), but I feel that I'm bluffing through it.

Some people really need their benzos, I figure. I was cutting down because I wasn't getting any extra anxiety from cutting down and I was getting extra mental clarity, but even with the lithium and the anticonvulsants that margin of Klonopin appears to be essential in keeping me stable. 

I wish I had a non-stigmatized illness right now so I could have a free pass for a few days – "I'm bipolar and spiralling out of control, and right now I'm feeling constantly like I'm about to burst into tears" is too much to swallow when the team is already on a scram to finish a project in time.

I did shed a tear when I saw the japanese PM on the telly. Crying mothers who lost their offspring is one thing – a serious man trying to calm his people while appearing on the brink of emotional collapse – that makes me lose my cool.



I had my first illegal beer at "Down the Hatch" in Atlantic Highlands. Rene Leno taught me the words to the song the band was playing. She couldn't believe I didn't know them. Truth was I'd decided to hate Bruce Springsteen from my first day in that school. I'd walked into sophomore homeroom and the words "Born to Run" were written on the blackboard in thick chalk script. Some time later I'd learned it was the name of an album released by a local guy. He was a native, and I wasn't. That was it.

And then I wound up with my buddy Joe in the basement of the Hatch, where the proprietor didn't need to worry any responsible adults would notice there were pitchers of the cheapest swill in front of every sixteen-year old in the place. He was making money and getting rid of the crap the regulars wouldn't touch.

I remember Rene's eyes glistening half a pitcher down, teaching me the words, and deciding to fall in love with her for fifteen minutes, and then thinking better of it. She kissed me and then went off to sit with Brian and Linda.

"She kissed you," Joe said.

"No, I don't think so," I said, because it wasn't a real kiss, though it would have happened when I was still counting. "One" was making out with Wendy at Patty's Christmas party. But I knew if I mentioned it the next day in chemistry she'd probably just deny having ever done it.

"That's your three," Joe said.

I said, " Doesn't count," then sang along, "...spirits in the night. Woah, night."

"I hate this shit," Joe said.

"Me, too," I said, falling in love with Bruce Springsteen and every other sensory impression for fifteen minutes, the way a guy does on his first half pitcher of cheap beer.





When we could get into bars legally we were a band, though the "we" of it was fluid. Kid musicians cycled through monthly. Every time we had a full forty-tune evening down someone would quit and we'd have to go out searching for someone who could play. It was always the bassist or the drummer. Most kids who picked up a guitar wanted to play Stratocaster leads. You had to be a nearly psychotic introvert to practice the bass in your bedroom and get good at it. A bassist who answered an ad in the weekly Musician rag was usually a guitarist who figured he'd just strum on the low four strings and no one would notice. They didn't know anything about the way a song is supposed to feel, and we were a bunch of kids from the New Jersey suburbs who played Motown numbers long before Phil Collins made it quaint for creepy white guys to play soul music.

And everyone we auditioned wanted to play Springsteen.

As an electronic keyboard player I approached E-Street music the way most people will themselves into the chair for a root canal. Candy's Room has an almost progressive staccato piano opening I could deal with. The opening strains of Thunder Road are kind of folksy.

The songs didn't end fast enough as far as I was concerned. But the high school kids danced to them. We played them to University kids at coffee houses. They were what we had to get through to play our undancable King Crimson or Genesis tunes.

We were progressive rockers. We practiced until we played tight and precise. Hundreds of notes per minute, thousands per hour. It was hard stuff to master and nobody we knew was playing it. We figured it was because they couldn't.

It didn't hit us till long after we broke up and got older that there was a reason nobody was dancing to Roundabout.





We played Born to Run exactly once in public at a bar in Red Bank. I couldn't handle the vocals, and neither could my brother, our lead guitarist and front man, replete with leather vest and cherry red Strat, white pickguard. He collected girls' phone numbers while he belted out all the rock tunes of our set of popular covers.

I remember when we were done that night, packing up our gear, he told us he'd never sing it again.

Far as I know, he hasn't.





Jungle Land seemed contrived. What kind of jungle was Freehold, Bruce's childhood home? Asbury Park? I used to go there to get discount tires. It had a beach and a boardwalk. It was a suburb. They had the Stone Pony, where everyone who was anyone played in Jersey.

It was a made up song that gave people the wrong impression. There couldn't be that much drama and despair between the Casino Arcade and the parking meters. We were there most summer Friday and Saturday nights.

You could get a Kohr's frozen custard and jump the ticket stand for free rides on the Wild Mouse. A few of the places would serve 17-year olds when the cops were away.

We'd ride the ferris wheel and the bumper cars and head down to the lake looking for crazy Janie because the song said there'd be action there if we found her.

If we had dates we'd stop in the parking lot at Scenic Drive to make out. And if we didn't we'd park there anyway, popping beers and making life miserable for the love makers. Usually, we didn't have dates, so it seemed unfair anyone else should.

One humid July evening I stopped the Buick under a streetlight. I'd driven us to the beach earlier that day to go scuba diving, and there was a blanket and beach chairs and scuba gear in the trunk.

We lay the blanket on the street, slid on our sunglasses, and settled into the chairs. Propped the scuba tanks on the curb. Sat there swatting at mosquitoes.

When the cops stopped by they just laughed. Four teenagers in sunglasses sitting on beach chairs at midnight.

"What are you guys doing?" an officer asked.

"We were just sitting. You know. The beach."

"It's a little late, isn't it?"

"It's better when it's late."

"Ok. Look. Just pack up and go home."

"But we are home," said John, and he poked his thumb backward toward his front door.

"Don't be a wiseass. Just pack up and go inside."

And we did.

Through the rickety screen door we could hear John's sister had Springsteen on. Growing Up The weathered gray aluminum squeaked and slammed but never latched. Kids hung out in the living room. Conversation drifted between music and relationships, world events, plans for the next big summer thing. There were always plans.

Because in those days something great was always about to happen.





The end of it was really abrupt. Like an elevator door opened and I was on a new floor. I didn't even realize I was moving.

It hit me it was over the day I was picking the kids up from school and Born to Run came on the radio.

"...baby this town rips the bones from my back, it's a death trap, a suicide rap, we gotta get out while we're still young..."

I sang along. The kids thought it was funny.

And that's what stopped me. That they had no concept of Springsteen or Down the Hatch or the ferris wheel at the Casino on the boardwalk. It would all be as far away and remote to them as the Second World War or dinosaurs. There was their mother in her sweater in the front seat of my parent's car while Jersey Girl played on the radio. All that was gone and over and not even written in a book. I'd lived what the song said. Got my girl, got out and moved to California.

No one would care. It would all be distant history to my kids and any friend I cared to tell about it, about as real as a Jimmy Stewart movie or top 40 hits on AM radio.





The other day I was on an airplane heading off to work, and I was listening to an NPR radio podcast. It was a science show about memory. The prevailing theory is that memory is not something actually stored in your brain. Rather, it is the re-experiencing of some long distant event. You remember things by reliving them, and as you relive them, you alter them in tiny ways. Memories are fungible. They can be altered, deleted, or inserted into the human mind.

So when I write about Rene Leno kissing me at Down the Hatch there's no saying that with the distance of nearly 35 years I haven't just made it all up.

Except that whenever I hear Spirits in the Night I feel it again. Over and over. Year after year.

If it wasn't real, I made it so.





One of my favorite sayings about life is that when we think of the "good old days" and we remember them fondly, we forget all the angst and grief. Because truly, things were as good or bad back then as they are now.

But what was good, back then, was that we were young.

Only we didn't know it.





Today I was working in the garage and my iPod randomizer queued up Spirits in the Night. As I worked I remember I hated the song. I remember I hated Springsteen and loved Emerson Lake and Palmer.

I remember pitchers of Genessee Cream Ale and Utica Club and pounding piano keys in dim bar light, surrounded by the reek of puke and sour dried beer.

I remember learning Spirits in the Night in the bar basement in Atlantic Highlands, and everyone was shocked someone from Middletown could actually not be a Springsteen fan and even worse, not know one of his more popular sing along songs - and then singing along with 20 other drunken kids, out for a night we didn't want our parents to know about.

Then my throat got tight and my eyes got blurry so I couldn't see the measurement I was making. And I had to swallow to keep from outright crying because it would be idiotic to be crying alone in my garage just because a rotten Springsteen song came on.

I tried not to, but my mind was reliving it. Waiting in line for the bumper cars. Back to Born to Run and Jungle Land. Back to shoulder length hair and ridiculous corduroy jeans. Back to warm summer nights on the beach drinking crappy beer we got from 7-eleven with fake ID.

And it seems entirely feasible that the reality I remember is all a fiction. As real as Star Warz or When Harry met Sally.

But what is true, what I know, is that it was good to be young.





My father used to tell me that when he shaved he couldn't believe there was an old guy looking back out from the mirror at him. Inside he was still himself. Still eighteen.

Now I look at the guy staring back at me from the mirror and I can tell it's that same eighteen year old who played Born to Run because it was the only way to get the band hired. He's just looking a little road weary. Lots of things have happened since they closed down the boardwalk. Lots of people have been born. Lots have died. I'm still here.

And I slide into bed at night and the blonde haired girl asks me what's up.

"I had a tremendous bout of nostalgia," I say. "I was listening to Springsteen songs and I got to thinking about when I was young back in New Jersey. You know, I couldn't stand Springsteen music back then. Now I can't listen to it without getting teary eyed."

"I get the same thing when I think of chickens."

"Chickens..."

"We had a farm when I was young. Cows, too."

"Aren't you glad you don't have to shovel chicken poop anymore?"

"Aren't you glad you don't have to figure out how to get a date for Friday night?"

And then I look at the woman next to me, and realize that all that cruising and raving I remember, well, that was good stuff but it belongs back a couple elevator floors down, and there's no reason to go back. No reason to resurrect the bad stuff that went with the good old days.

And these days, living together in our perfect Owl House, my icegirl and me, well they're pretty damned good days right now, too.




We're short of work these days on the alarm side so I spent today demolishing some sprinkler pipe as the sprinkler side of the business is going gangbusters at the moment. I learned just how filthy sprinkler work can be.

While PVC pipe is beginning to be accepted in fire protection business, as a general rule sprinkler pipe is made of metal, mostly black iron pipe of either a schedule 40 or schedule 80 composition black iron. There are three ways the stuff can be put together. First you may weld it, which is expensive, time-consuming and nigh impossible to remove but enjoys the very great virtue of that once you've got it right it won't leak until the pipe rusts out. Welding isn't that common today except when you need to branch a smaller pipe out from a main. Flanges are welded on. The second method is to use grooved pipe with couplings. This is really only useful for pipe 1 1/2" (say 45mm) or larger. They make a little machine that presses the grooves into the pipe. Conduits are then butted against each other and a wide, thick rubber gasket must be slid over to it covers the gap. Cover the whole thing with a two piece compression fitting, and bolt it down tight. Viola, no leaks.

Bu the third and most common way to assemble sprinkler pipe is cut and thread. A sprinkler fitter takes a threader, which may or many not include an automatic oiler, and a set of dies. Select the correct NPT die for the size of pipe you're using, or simply reset the cutting head for pipe size, line up the pipe, cut measure and make your own. This is probably the most common method of installing a sprinkler system, particularly for the smaller branch pipes.

But the thing to remember there is . . . oil. Threading dies are precise and expensive, and will readily break unless cooled by oil. The simple fact is threading pipe necessarily implies getting a lot of oil and and in the pipe. Sure you try to dump it out, but it is impractical to clean it all off. Which means that sprinkler pipes, once full, are filled with a mix of brackish water and oil held there under pressure until the system is tested or a sprinkler head pops. No circulation at all. As the correct way to install a drop ( what they call the pipe that leads to the spraying head in your office ceiling) it to run a pipe straight up, add short horizontal section (as needed) then turn the pipe back downward to the specified height. Say ceiling height. Which means there is always some water left in the pipes, even after you've drained the system.

The pipes are screwed together with pipe dope and tightened until they do not leak. Today's job involved removing a now-banned pipe dope made by a company called Permatex. Permatex pipe dope seals very, very well, but it dries up in the threads, meaning you can't unscrew them once they have dried out. Which is why it's no longer code legal. Normally a 14" pipe wrench is used to install 1" pipe. With permatex dope, a 36" pipe wrench is required to unscrew them. It's big, heavy cast steel wrench with forged and machined teeth. Unthreading 2" pipe? In your dreams! Use a sawzall, band saw or pipe cutter to get it apart. Bring plenty of spare blades I know this because I tried to unscrew several Despite my substantial personal growth, I didn't budge them a bit.

And when you do get it lose you get sprinkler water, black and smelling like sour eggs. If you get this stuff on your clothing, it is ruined. Sprinkler fitters for years have struggled with washing this stuff out and have only failed. Get it on your hands and you'll need a pumace cleaner to get it off. It is foul and nasty, and after coating myself with the stuff today, all I can say is I really hope our alarm work picks up quick.

Why the arm-over? Say you need to replace a sprinkler head for some reason. With the arm-over all you have to do is shut the nearest supply valve, and you can take out the head and only have to catch the water from the individual arm over. If you don't do the "up and over" you have to drain the entire system before working on any part of it.

Warren M. Christopher has died at 85. A steady fixer perhaps. In his own words: My task had been to serve as a steward, not proprietor, of an extraordinary public trust. And therein lies all the imagined bits and bobs such a bland phrase invokes. Information concealed not revealed and dressed as diplomacy.

I saw him in a bar on Martha's Vineyard once, long ago now. J's father was still alive and that same day we had visited the grave of Lillian Hellman, a woman with double ells in both her Christian and Surname, whereas WC was that supposedly untrustworthy thing, a man with two first names, even if his last was also venerated by the Orthodox. Truth is we drank whiskey next to each other in a little side bar attached to a much grander place. Me in a hurry without knowing it and he in an old fisherman's sweater and deck shoes. Those were Clinton's days for both of us although we experienced them differently. Apparently a boozer, he sat quietly, not so much nursing his glass as quietly commanding it. We didn't speak.

Depending on the year (95 or 96) he was either working on the Dayton Agreement or the Khobar Towers bombing, probably the former, and Clinton, famously, was playing hell with the property prices of the Vineyard by summering there with his wife and a thousand friends from the Secret Service. I remember wondering what my father would say to Warren if he'd had been sat there in my sandals, but just then, like some character from Mailer's rather good novel of love and the CIA (Harlot's Ghost), he melted away into the night.

He was born in Scranton, North Dakota, October 27, 1925, the same year as Idi Amin, Laura Ashley and Tony Benn (to quote the beginning of the alphabet). Strange company. His middle name was Minor, but he won't stay too long in my memory (nor I his). Unlike one of my all time favorite people because-of-their-names. I have long collected people who, when they are spoken aloud, make a sentence, and a few months before Warren came into this world, due to live in it but not make it through to see if Manchester United can get three points against Bolton Wanderers this weekend (things continue), another kind of politician was born in the Northwest Territories of Canada, not far from the East Channel of the Mackenzie Delta (a place that experiences an average of 56 days of continuous sunlight every summer and 30 days of polar night Mister Owl every winter). His name was Tom Butters and as of this writing he's still alive amongst his beautiful sentence. Pastoral and culinary all at once. Like carrots.

Everything in italics is a recent addition beginning in April 2014, three years after my cross-country trip west from Virginia.


It's the last day that's always the most difficult. From the packing out of a convention, to moving across the city, to packing up and out of an old life and into a new one, it's never easy. After you've lived a part of your life with the same people, the same scenery, the same places and things, it's a shock to the system. No matter how happy you are, you're still tearing off a piece of yourself and leaving it behind.

When I woke up Monday morning, I was in an empty room.

Not entirely empty. Five bags of clothing, guns, and other travel goods were strewn about. The mattress and boxspring I was sleeping on was covered in a haphazard pile of bedding. A few toiletries remained in the bathroom, ready for a shower. But the white walls were empty, dusty and scraped. The frames of the old bed were leaning against the wall like brown-painted, rickety skeletons, and the carpet was vacuumed and shampooed clean of everything but a few stray hairs and dust clumps. To all intents and purposes, I was already gone.

On Sunday, the day before, everything but these last few artifacts were stripped out by wombat-socho and myself. The remnants of this previous life are in cardboard boxes, now some two hundred miles away from where I woke up this morning. Books, stuffed animals, trinkets, tools, all are hidden away. Some of them will be sold off, never to be seen again. Others will be shipped to Washington to wait for my arrival in Kennewick.


Half of these things never made it to Kennewick. Many of my things, I sold off or gave away, or simply delayed until my move to Southeast Portland in 2013. A year or two after I moved out, my uncle found a house south of Leesburg, married his girlfriend, and moved onto a good half acre or so. The shitty white walled apartment in Ashburn has proven to be the home I've lived in longest in the last ten years.


I will not be arriving in Kennewick for another three to four weeks. I'm on errantry, of a sort, you could say. I've a list of ten places to be before then, of many more people to see before then, of many more people to see before then. My truck is packed to the gills with clothes, with hardware, with blankets and pillows. Yesterday, after loading up my last five bags, I took two last errands.

The first was to Clyde's of Ashburn for a raucous celebration of my escape from our datacenter cluster. Just about everyone was there: the manager who, alongside my current one, took a chance on me some many years ago. The technician who taught me cable-running and hustle. The genius whose understanding of break-fix was beyond parallel. The hotshit networking guy who didn't know where the console port was when he started. The angry sysadmin with a fondness for robots. The two rack install guys, wisecracking at the end of the table. The new guys, already jaded and drinking on the clock alongside the equally jaded new cluster manager.


Time flies, and most of these people have dropped off the face of the planet for me. It's strange - they meant a lot to me at a very stressful and difficult time in my life. That life keeps to itself. Now that I'm no longer a NOC monkey, I'm no longer part of the machine.

The hotshit networking guy and the sysadmin moved west. One became a hotshit network engineer, the other went on to invest in bigger and better robots. All of us got out of there, one way or another.

I never got to know any of the new guys. But then again, I never expected I would.


It was the best team I've had the pleasure of working with, and the most dysfunctional. These men work miracles, and I'm honored to say I've worked with them, beside them, and pulled off the same miracles. From this crazy, broken work environment, I'm not sure I'll ever do anything this impressive or insane again. But who knows?

The second errand was to retrieve the last two bags from the apartment (laptop bag, gun bag), and to sign myself off of the lease with my uncle. It took thirty minutes, a quick coda to four years in a white room filled with cables and hardware.

It was hard. It was very hard. My uncle is a very linear man, a challenging one whose ethos is excellent for network architecture, but sometimes difficult to live with. But he got me out of Minnesota, brought me to Virginia, gave me a place to stay, and made me into the woman I am today. Insomuch as I've succeeded in my job as a sysadmin, in my role as a functional adult, I've him to blame. He's been a friend, an advisor, even a paternal figure over the past few years, and I'm going to miss the hell out of him.

We signed the papers, I turned over the key. And then I hugged my uncle, and I drove away.

...after he came yelling after me with the bag of tea and the box of books I'd forgotten.


I miss my uncle a lot, and in many ways he made me who I am today. I don't miss the shouting, though. For as fractious as our roommate situation was, we still talk fairly regularly.

On leaving, I drove west, taking the now familiar route of Virginia 7 to US 15, and then west. I'd been dreaming of this trip for months. My plan was to push through to Louisville, but between the realization of my move and the stress of departure, I was exhausted. Combine that with leaving mid-afternoon, and I was already worn and tired. Unfortunately, reality intervened.

Blue skies gave way to rain as I made my way through the mountains. The bumper stickers went from NRA advertisements to warnings of The President beginning what was termed an "American Holocaust". The exit ramps became steeper. The truck drivers became surly and prone to tailgating. My plans of making it to Louisville were cancelled in favor of a Comfort Inn, a tepid shower, and uneasy sleep.

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