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Dead fish…

We’re having a bout of red tide here in Englewood. It’s not as bad as it was a few days ago, thankfully. But a week or so ago it was pretty horrid, and lots of fish (and the occasional dolphin, turtle, and manatee) died. That’s pretty tragic.

Red tide is a semi-regular occurrence here on Florida’s Gulf Coast. It’s effects from the life cycle of a microscopic organism that lives in the waters here. It poisons fish and puts something into the air that can affect people’s respiratory systems. For me personally, it gets into my throat and I start to cough. If I’m in it for a while, it gets into my sinuses, which obligingly clog up. It’s not a fun thing, and when it’s happening I need to stay away from the water. Which of course is no fun at all.

While it is a naturally-occurring organism, there are environmental factors which can supercharge it. Primary among those are discharges of nutrient-laden water. We’ve got a few sources of those, but the worst two I’ve noticed are when a sewage system overflows (as happened a couple of years ago up around Tampa after a really bad set of storms) or when we have mandated discharges from Lake Okeechobee out the Caloosahatchee river during our rainy season. (And out the St. Lucie River on the Atlantic side, but I don’t have to deal with it over there.)

And thereby hangs a tale.

Some decades back, the Army Corps of Engineers rejiggered the flow of water that used to just filter nicely south from Lake O into the Everglades. They dammed a lot of it up and sent it out the rivers to the east and west. This of course messed up the entire ecosystem of the Glades, and folks have been trying halfhearted remedies to keep things alive since then. This involves attempting to strike devils’ bargains with folks like the big sugar growers south of Lake O and a whole lot of money, none of which seems to be making the South Florida ecosystem any healthier. Not sure what links would be best to bring folks up to date on this, so I’ll leave it to y’all to google your own info.

Meanwhile, the tourism industry – which relies in no small part on beaches that people want to spend time on – has been suffering as a result of this, from Naples to Venice. I can think of at least two waterfront restaurants here in Englewood that closed for at least one and possibly more days because, red tide. All through no fault of their own.

Are there solutions? Possibly. But they’re not comfortable solutions for folks who make a living off the status quo. Cutting the use of fertilizers on farmland, or making sure that there are swales and catchments to keep fertilizer excess from getting into the waterways is one possible remedy. But that’s hard to do, because Florida has these vigorous downpours now and then, especially in the summertime, and once you get up over half an inch or so of rain in an hour, it’s hard to build a drainage/retention system that won’t overflow. At least without spending beaucoup bucks.

Restoring more of the natural laminar flow through the Everglades might help, but that would likely involve a lot of work to add more drainage/throughflow under I-75 and US-41 (Alligator Alley) across the Glades in south Florida. Which wouldn’t be cheap, in a state that doesn’t seem to spend a whole lot of money on updating infrastructure and that isn’t likely to increase taxes anytime soon. It would also make it harder for what we call “Big Sugar” to continue extracting their profits out of their lands south of Lake O.

And it would involve viewing our land and our Everglades as living organisms that require proper care to stay healthy. Which would go against large chunks of our current cultural paradigm, sad to say.

Meanwhile, fish and other critters are dying, and businesses are losing money. And it stinks.

Literally.

Preparedness and the Internet

I got thrown into “Facebook Jail” today for the first time.

Personally, I’ve seen far worse stuff on FB than I got gigged for. I objected to someone calling me names and misgendering me, and I didn’t swear at them to do it. I filed a complaint, which likely goes to the Seventh Circle of Hell or some similar place – FB really doesn’t care how badly they inconvenience people, so long as they make their ad revenue targets. But that thing needed doing.

Oddly, I don’t contest their right to do that, or whatever else they want. It’s a free service, and we all blithely signed away our rights to our own content and online lives when we decided to have an account with them. They have the absolute power to shut you away from the fraction of your life that you’ve entrusted to them. For as long as they want.

But just so you know, let me tell you what FB jail looks like from the inside.

You can’t post. Obviously. You can’t even get a post in via your linked Twitter account. I don’t know about Instagram or other linked services.

You can’t “like” anything. I’m guessing you can’t even share stuff, but I didn’t try it.

And you can’t initiate or respond to messages in Messenger. No matter how serious.

It’s online government by Conan the Barbarian: Arbitrary rules, and absolutely no mercy. If your best friend dies and you don’t have the mundane contact info for their Next of Kin and you have info that said kin absolutely must have, they’re out of luck. If you run your business exclusively through FB, you can’t respond to orders, questions about orders, etc. You can’t update the regular stuff people expect you to update.

Granted, there should be consequences to violating rules of conduct. But when I see people engaging in obvious hate speech and not losing access, and I get gigged for something far less dire, when the rules *change* every time you turn around…it’s like trying to appease an abusive spouse. The goalposts keep moving, and no matter what you do, it’s never enough.

Enough of that. I’ll have access again sometime tomorrow, and I’m actually enjoying my respite from the negativity-charged wrestling match that FB has become. I’ve been dealing with food poisoning for a few days; I’ve already gotten used to eating and drinking a lot less than usual. This is just one more opportunity to try living for a bit without some of my usual habits and escapes. It’s kind of fun, actually. Liberating.

What I want to talk about is this: If all of your life is on FB or any other online service, what do you do if that service is taken away from you? How do you “route around the breakage?”

If it’s your business, how do you keep from losing it, or losing valuable income and customers?

If it’s friends and family or loved ones, how do you stay connected? What if your house burns down while you’re in FB jail; how do you get hold of people to help you? What if it happens while there’s a tornado or hurricane bearing down on you? What if you’re having a personal crisis and can’t get hold of your counselor or therapist because you only connect with them through FB?

Don’t laugh. The people who get hurt the worst in disasters are the ones who don’t believe it can happen to them. So take some time to think this through and come up with some possibilities for yourself.

Some thoughts:

1) If someone is sufficiently important to you that being disconnected from them would negatively impact your life or theirs, especially if something unexpected happens, have at least two (if not three) different ways of getting in touch with them, and they with you. This can be a phone number, an email address (yes, some people still use email), Skype, whatever. Make a list of who those people are in your life. Go through your phone contacts and/or your FB friends list if necessary, and then make sure you’ve got other ways to get hold of them.

2) If you’re running your business primarily on Facebook, get a website. Hosting sites are really cheap, and a lot of them will build your website for you or give you tools to do it yourself. Because of my music business, I’ve got a website, a blog site, Twitter, Reverbnation, my own domain with email addresses, and one or two other ways of getting info out to people that Facebook can never touch. If FB went away tomorrow, I’d lose connections for a while, but I have ways of eventually getting most of them back. And tomorrow I will be posting all of my links to FB for people to hopefully connect with.

3) Consider setting up an alternate social media site and/or an alternate way of sending and receiving messages. I’m checking out MeWe right now. Instagram works for some folks. Twitter still works for some. I think you can still get free email on Gmail, if you don’t mind Google snooping in your stuff. There are others.

4) If you get into the same situation I’m in, make sure you’ve got a friend or two who can post a note to your page for you. Not *as* you, because that doesn’t work right now. But make sure that at least some trusted friends can post stuff to your FB page. For a 24-hour ban I’m not bothering, but if it were longer than that, I’d email or text someone to do that for me.

We have placed our own heads into the wolf’s mouth. We can hardly do much if the wolf decides to bite.

(With apologies to the noble Wolf for the comparison.)

Blood, Sweat, Tears…and Fireworks

A long time ago, in a lifetime that occasionally seems far away indeed…I lived in upstate NY. And I was able to attend a number of awesome concerts at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC). Back in the early 70s, lawn admission was only $2.50, to give you an idea of how long ago this was.

 

I went to a lot of concerts there in the time span from 1971-76. Among others, I saw James Taylor, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Eric Clapton, Santana, The Who, and many others.

 

Tonight, sitting out on my lanai, I heard a few fireworks being set off by (likely) kids who just got them at the stands that have now opened up the day after Christmas, getting everyone ready for New Year’s Eve. It’s a Florida thing, really – there are laws about who can set them off and where; they’re mostly ignored unless you’re being stupid about it. And I remembered a Fourth of July in 74, 75, or 76 – I don’t remember which – when I went to see Blood, Sweat, and Tears at SPAC.

 

People were being well-behaved inside the amphitheater, for the most part. Out on the lawn (what Harry Belafonte once called, in his impeccable island accent, “the shitty seats”), it was more of a war zone – I went up to check it out at intermission, and decided I was happier retreating inside the amphitheater itself. Which was tame until the very end of the show. BS&T was doing their signature song, “You Made Me So Very Happy.” And in the outro, there’s this break…they sing, “I’m so glad you came…” and there’s a pause.

And at this point, some idjit sets off a pack of firecrackers *inside* the amphitheater, for the first time all night.

 

Up on stage, David Clayton Thomas puts his hands on his hips and gives that part of the audience a dirty look. And says, “I hope you blow your balls off!” To which there was much applause.

 

When the applause died, he cued the band, and they continued: “Into my life…”

 

Never gonna forget that one.

 

Here’s the original song, so you can listen and find the spot where the thing happened. This was decades before cell phone videos and YouTube, or this would have been all over it.

A Moving Experience: An Infestation of Inspectors

M-day Minus 9:

My day is being somewhat disrupted by the buyers’ minions doing their diligence and checking out every square inch of the house, over the house, and under the house. Starting at 8:30 this morning, which is not an hour at which I’m used to having company.

Today it’s the home inspector and the termite inspector. The termite guy is done and gone; it’s now almost 10:30 and the home inspector guy is still doing his thing. OTOH, if they were working for me, I’d be very happy to have someone this thorough. But it’s screwing with my ability to get anything done.

Meanwhile, packing and loading continue. The POD is now half-full, and ready for me to tie that half of the load into place. I’ve been packing out tools, booze, my bike, and my studio gear, emptying cabinets, and figuring out what else I need and want to take.

As we tick down into single digits, the positives of knowing that move-day is getting close are balanced somewhat by the fear that I won’t have everything I need out of here by The Day. I’ve never had a move that’s gone off as planned. Granted, this time I’m not taking furniture, and there’s a bunch of stuff I really don’t need to take. But I’m still a little bit worried.

A Moving Experience: Breakthroughs

M-day Minus 13:

It’s starting to dawn on me that I’ve got less than two weeks to finish up all this packing and loading. I’m being very good about not panicking yet, but I will admit to an increased sense of urgency beginning to upwell in me.

That said, I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough on dealing with my tool shed. I’ve started clearing out those items which were blocking me from getting to other stuff, and which in some ways were blocking me from getting anything *done*. I mean, one of the items was an old bankers box from a previous move, folded down to save space. It’s stained with oil and such and is obviously unsuited to another move, yet I couldn’t bring myself to remove it from the stuff it was in the way of, because part of me was still holding onto it as something I could *use*. But getting rid of that seems to have broken the logjam.

One problem with the goodies I have there is that a lot of them don’t fit neatly into boxes. I’ve done some creative packing, but things like the table saw are just going to have to go as they are. I’ve also got some walking sticks in the house that fit into that “can’t neatly pack them” category, so I’ll just find places for them on top of and in between things.

Another problem with the shed is that it’s at the farthest point on my property from the POD, with my house in between. My choices on getting stuff from points A to B are either to open the side gate and take stuff the long way ’round, or (new idea) to move it in stages – first to the hot tub cover (which is way sturdy), then to my living room, then to the POD. By breaking a big, complicated problem down into manageable steps, I’m making progress again.

Meanwhile…did you know that those big “wardrobe” boxes they sell you at U-Haul come with a metal bar to hang your clothes, that they keep on a different shelf? I do now. Got the box (and some others) yesterday; spaced on even *thinking* that the bar was a separate item, silly me. I just talked to them, and I can pick one up from them this afternoon. Thankfully, I haven’t needed it yet.

The last observation for today: Even two hours’ worth of hard work really tires me out. I crashed by 10 last night and slept really well. I don’t know if anyone’s done studies on the effects of different types of job on how well we sleep, but if they haven’t, they should.

A Moving Experience: More Boxes!!!

M-day Minus 14:

Would you believe I was almost out of boxes again? It’s true. So I made a lunchtime run over to U-Haul and got a bunch more. I may be close to the final number I need, or I may need to get more in about a week. It all depends on how much stuff I’ve got that I ain’t re-discovered yet.

Things being packed yesterday and today: Some of my music gear, my camping gear (what I can find of it), board games, maps, VHS tapes (yes, I’ve still got some), some DVDs, and a box of booze that I won’t be digging into before I move. I’ve also committed some alcohol abuse with things that I’ll never drink or get around to serving others.

Things not being packed yet: my tools. Every time I go out there, I get a bit overwhelmed by the clutter in that particular room. I usually pull a few things out of there, to keep or to trash, so it’s not wasted time. But it’s not terribly productive either.

The clever thing I’m doing is finishing several half-full bottles of different types of rum. It means I don’t have to move them to Florida, and it likewise means I don’t have to buy another handle of St. Elmo’s (the BevMo house brand) for the last two weeks. It’s a pretty good no-name rum, but when I was in FL in June, I rediscovered Ronrico, which my folks loved and which we can’t get out here in CA. It’s only about two bucks per handle more than St. Elmo’s and tastes better. So no St. Elmo’s going to Florida.

Meanwhile, I’m also planning parts of my trip across country, which I’ll probably blog as “2014: A Moving Odyssey.” I’ve been researching New Orleans, which I’ve never been to. I found a pretty good rate for a hotel room in the Quarter for a couple of nights, and I’ll probably do some sightseeing and some resting-up for the last leg of the trip.

A Moving Experience: SOLD!!

M-day Minus 15:

Well, wonder of wonders, one set of buyers who’ve been back and forth with counter- and counter-counter offer have accepted terms I can afford and can live with. Escrow opens this morning, and given they’re bringing their own money, we might actually close on or about M-day. So that drops another piece of the process into place.

I suppose I *could* be a little perturbed that this didn’t happen until *after* I bought plants and a small patio table for the front porch, to spice it up a bit for the open house we’d planned on having this weekend. But at least now I can drop “trim the shrubbery” off my to-do list.

What’s left now is what Spider Robinson calls “days of unending relentless monkey labor,” as I continue to gather up the various accessories to my existence and load them into the Big White Box at the end of the driveway. I keep making progress – areas become emptier, and I have to look further to find stuff needing packing or clearing. But I’m still a long way from done, and I’ve only got two weeks left.

A Moving Experience: Not Sold Yet; Repeat Actions

M-day minus 18:

We’ve now done three open houses, and had people come by a few times to look at the place outside of those hours. We got two offers in our first round, neither of which was attractive. One was worth countering. The buyers on that one are going elsewhere. So it goes. The market is still moving upward and the house will be getting emptier every day from now on. I expect we’ll do an open house this weekend.

I’ve gotten about 60 boxes and one bookcase into the POD so far, and I’ve got about 20 more boxes ready to go down. Taking things downhill to the POD isn’t all that tiring; dragging the hand truck back *up* the hill is a bit tiring. So I’m taking it in small stages so far. I hit a milestone today; all of my CD backstock inventory is now in the POD.

Yesterday I had my friend Jaime over. She loves to garden, and I gave her all the big bags of soil amendments I’d accumulated over the years, plus a few other goodies I’m sure she’ll be very happy with. We also had some delightful conversations. She’s one of the people I’m going to miss.

Today I’ve started a new round of packing and throwing crap out. I’ve made a list of several more areas in the house and sheds where I can pack and clear without getting too far into stuff I may still need over the next two point something weeks.

A Moving Experience: Go, Go PODzilla!

M-day Minus 21:

My POD just arrived earlier today. It’s about 8x8x16 feet, and I’m thankful to say it looks like it will hold everything I want to move to Florida. Heck, there might even be space left over.

It arrived on a truck with this interesting mobile frame called – yes, you guessed it – PODZilla. PODZilla’s job was to lift the POD off the truck and roll it into place, which it did with an expert touch. Here’s some of what it looked like:

IMG_3735 IMG_3737 IMG_3738

Tonight, now that it’s cooled down a bit outside, I’ve started loading boxes (and one bookshelf) into it. I’ve discovered that I’m not as good at this physical labor as I used to be. But I can take a break, drink ice water, and use the time to tell y’all about it. So far, I’ve got a dozen or so boxes and one bookshelf loaded. I figure I can load another ten boxes or so before I feel like calling it a night.

Meanwhile, the “selling the house” part of the move is going a bit less swimmingly than I’d hoped. There’s one offer we’re trying to counter on, and we’re also trying to schedule an open house for this weekend, to try to scare up a slightly better offer just because. However, my realtor is having tire troubles. So I don’t quite know how that’s going to work out yet. But at least we’re getting some activity.

Now that I’m in the same month in which I’m moving, it’s becoming more “real” again, and I can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. And it ain’t an oncoming freight.

A Moving Experience: Cult of No Personality

M-day Minus 24:

(Alternate subtitle: Ghost in the Single-Family Residence)

I’ve decided that it’s a lot more fun to look at homes that other people have cleaned out and cleaned up than to actually clean one up for other people to look at. Duh.

My agent is of the opinion that people don’t want to see *your* stuff in the house; they want to imagine *their* stuff in the house. I’m guessing this is why the furniture and such that professional stagers bring in is so trendy and bland; any whiff of an actual personality might turn someone off.

Perhaps we could call this the Groucho Marx theory of home sales: People don’t want to live in a house that someone else might have wanted to live in.

So every morning as I get ready for work now, I carefully erase the tracks of my progress from the home, in case someone wants to come take a look but doesn’t want to see a house that people have (yuck!) *lived* in. I’ve become a ghost haunting my own home. And I don’t even get to knock the books off the shelves or make stuff fly around the room. Where’s the fun in that?

As a consumer focus group of one, I’d like to challenge this theory of staging. Granted, I’m a statistical outlier in almost every group you want to name, so the ability to extrapolate from my tastes and behaviors to the rest of the world is tenuous at best. But as I only recently was on the other end of the many pages of contracts, here’s how it worked for me:

  • First and most important: The “vibe,” or energetic signature of the house. Does it feel peaceful, joyful, full of ease? The house I live in now and the house I’m moving to both have that feeling about them. Most of the houses I looked at felt neutral to pleasant, and a few felt downright funky. One of them had such a miasma of negativity about it (not to mention a stale smoky taint that suggested that someone had built daily bonfires of cigarettes in each room of the house for a period of years, and then left the butts to “season” for a while) that even my agent wanted a shower afterward. And she’s nowhere near as sensitive as I am to that sort of thing. I realize that some people are so muggle-headblind that they’d miss Jack the Ripper’s hideout or the birthplace of a God. But for me, it’s important.
  • How has the house been treated? Are there any obvious holes in the walls, doors, etc.? Does it look like people had pride of ownership, or like a motorcycle gang had weekly drunken orgies there?
  • Did the house have the right number of rooms, arranged in a way that flow well? I turned down a few houses where there was a big disconnect between the living room, kitchen, and family room, because I want the option of being able to do things that more than ten people can show up for and not feel crowded.
  • Optionally, is there furniture that I might prefer to moving my own, and do I like it?
  • Is there a yard with space for me to garden?

That was the top of my personal list. Nowhere on that list was, “did the owner leave his/her comb out this morning” or “is there a half-full water glass on the counter?” Do people do that sort of thing? People do.

Meanwhile, I haven’t filled any more boxes the past few days, as I’ve been somewhat focused on this open house/showing thing. I’m hoping to get a couple of things boxed up tonight, just to get some momentum going again. And hopefully we’ll get offers in by Thursday’s deadline, and I’ll be able to focus more on packing this weekend.

As I’m going through my cabinets to see what still needs packing, I’m surprised by how much stuff I would have packed before that isn’t going with me this time: Food, pots and pans, cleaning supplies. The food won’t survive the move, for the most part; I’ve already got a fairly good stash of the rest of that already in FL. I’ll invite the neighbors in, the last day or two, to pick out what they can use, and let whomever my agent hires to clean the place out do the rest.

So maybe I’m closer to the packing finish line than I thought.