Goodbye Vagabond Harley

Posted in Mixed Nuts on January 5th, 2011 by MadDog
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Sometimes I write more for myself than for my readers. This is one of those times. If you would like to traipse down memory lane with me for a few minutes, then read on. It’s not a story of great importance. It is, instead, a modest metaphor of the changes of seasons which affect all of our lives. Like most of life’s changes it is neither all bad nor all good. It is simply change. I’ll tell the little story in more or less chronological order beginning in April of 2008.

Eunie and I bought the Harley several years earlier because we got a good deal on it and it fulfilled a long standing fantasy. In our first years of marriage I made a very modest living as a motorcycle mechanic and later as a motorcycle repair shop manager. We both had motorcycles and rode nearly daily. Though I worked on a variety of makes, I had never owned a Harley. It was a desire which I kept quiet and locked away. When I expressed it to Eunie a few years ago, she, in her usual practical way said, “Why not. We can’t lose money on a Harley.”

As usual, Eunie’s wisdom turned out to be greater than even I imagined. More about that later. So, in 1998 we bought a nearly new Sportster 883, the largest model which I could pick up if it was on its side. And, it has been on its side a few times.

In 2008, we decided that, since Madang was to be our home for life, we needed to pack up everything which we valued and ship it all home by sea freight. Having these treasured personal items in her home turned out to be a blessing for Eunie for the short time which she had left. They are now somewhat less of a blessing for me, since, with the exception of the Harley, I now have to contend with several hundred kilograms of personal belongings which will someday have to remain in Madang. I have no home to send them to and they mean nothing to anyone but me. That’s the bitter sweet part of the story. The rest is happy by comparison. There’ll be no tears here.

Here I am in all my glory in an ancient silk shirt a few days before we left the house in Brownsburg, Indiana for the last time, headed for Springfield Illinois to pack the crates:

The trip to Springfield was the most miserable motorcycle ride of my life. You can read about it in the link in the previous sentence. I’ll simply say that I cannot remember being so cold in my life. Here I am arriving in Springfield looking as if I’d suddenly gained fifty kilos:

The packing was a tedious chore which would have been far more difficult without the help of Eunie’s Sister, Mary Sexton and her husband, Jim. Here are Eunie at the left and her sister Mary amidst the clutter:

And, here I am with Jim and the partially packed Harley:

This is my beloved wife beaming with satisfaction that all of the material things which she cherished were safely on their way home:

After a rather nervous wait of a few months, the crates arrived in Madang. Here is the crated Harley on it’s way from the harbour to our workshop:

On several occasions I expressed to Eunie that I thought that it might be wiser to sell the Harley in the USA. She was never of a mind to do that for a couple of reasons. First, she believed it was something which would make me happy to have in Madang. She was right, of course. She also told me that selling it in the USA would be a bother and it would probably be worth at least as much here in PNG, if we ever needed to sell it. To her it was like money in the bank, except that you could spend it and still have it. I was always happy to be married to a woman who was smarter than me.

So, we ended up owning the only Harley in Madang:

That is the locally famous Coastwatcher’s Monument.

In the two years or so after its arrival I seldom rode the Harley. The roads here are horrible and steadily getting worse. There are very few places which are safe to ride. Riding alone never interested me, but we have always been blessed by having adventuresome friends, many of whom took an interest in a ride on the rare machine. Here’s Ush Antia 108 kilometres up the North Coast Road at the Tapira Surf Club:

Sadly, it’s not even safe to travel up there any more. The criminal activity in that area makes it too risky for my blood.

Another memorable ride was with Jo Noble to the Balek Wildlife Reserve:

Though I have mixed emotions at present concerning parting with the Harley, I must admit that I have not ridden it once since Eunie’s passing. The lustre has departed from many things in my life.  I debated in my mind whether or not to sell it. While it is true that it was “money in the bank”, it wasn’t money which was in any way contributing to my quality of life. I couldn’t imagine a time while I remain in Madang during which I would get much enjoyment from it.

I dreaded advertising it. I did not want to deal with the minor trauma of parting with it any longer than absolutely necessary. As it turned out, it took only two days. I called an old friend, Ron McKenna, who owns a car dealership and repair garage here in Madang. He is well known for his interest in exotic vehicles. He has restored several 1960’s era vintage Ford Mustangs, a task made considerably more complex, because they must be converted from left hand drive to right hand drive. I called Ron with the offer yesterday. Today he came to the office and bought it on sight.

Here I sit for my last portrait on a machine which gave me great pleasure. Minutes after this image was taken I had my helmet on and was taking my last ride. I blasted down Modilon Road at a terrifying pace. As always, she delivered a thrill. What a sound! There’s nothing else like it:

I know perfectly well that Ron did me a great favour by purchasing the Harley. He certainly doesn’t need it. Ron has had far more than his share of grief in the last few years. He is a sympathetic friend, a commodity with which I am well supplied. Once again, a friend has come to my aid. I will use the money from the sale to help to pay off the last of my debts. It will get me very close to my goal of being debt-free. This means far more to me at this season of life than any occasional pleasure which the Harley could deliver.

Finally, once again I am compelled to acknowledge the wisdom of my dear wife. She told me that we would never lose money on the Harley. In a way it was a gift that we gave to ourselves without cost. This made it somehow priceless. I’m sure that Ron will smile if he reads this. The price in Kina, converted to US Dollars, is nearly the same as we paid for the machine in 1998.

Eunie was right again.

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A Little Nature Walk at Nob Nob

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 30th, 2010 by MadDog
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Two steps forward, one back. Repeat. Life has somehow developed this annoying pattern. I think it started when I was born. By the way, exactly why was I born? Anybody? Anybody at all? What, no ideas? Well, me neither, but since I’m still here taking up space, I may as well keep on keeping on and see if anything interesting pops up.

Despite my depressed self esteem to the contrary, I still seem to be useful. That’s something of which I need to remind myself nearly daily. Hey, I go to work (nearly) every day, (occasionally) on time, and I (usually) stay until I feel like there’s nothing more I can start on or have a reasonable chance to finish. I get (most) things done (eventually). (Nearly) all of the computer gear works and (mostly) the operation is (a little) more reliable and controllable than it was two (or several) years ago. I (pretty much) do what I am told to do, (more or less) without grumbling, and I (try to) take on as much as I feel that I can without (completely) botching up the work. The feeling of still being (somewhat) useful is something I need very much. All in all, I’d give myself average marks for utility.

I’m more than a little surprised by how many things I have accomplished without having a clue as to what I was doing. The list is tedious, but full of tasks which had to be taken on. I have had a lot of help and good advice along the way. I seem to be checking items off faster than the list is growing, so that gives me some sense of progress. The stunning thing about this whole process is how I managed to get through so many things without creating yet more chaos by way of my abysmal ignorance. I can count a few minor miracles among the lot and more than a few near disasters. It’s a mixed bag.

I’ll give you an example of dumb thinking – I thought about it and I took the dumb choice. I recently sold Eunie’s 1973 Spitfire 1500 to my cousin. God bless her and her husband for relieving me of it. One crucial operation was to get the title to the car in her hands so that they can get licence plates for it. How the title to a car in Indiana ended up in Madang is another story.

Anyway, I prepared all of the necessary paperwork to facilitate the transaction, including some tricky stuff because we don’t have anything called a Notary Public (a term which I have never understood). Instead, we have what is called a Commissioner for Oaths. This person is charged with confirming your identity when you sign a document – just what I needed. But, guess what? The place where the Notary Public signs and stamps the document looks nothing like the place where a Commissioner for Oaths performs the same function.

So, this required a few hours of scanning things into the computer, fiddling with the format and fervently praying that the officials at the licence branch would cut me some slack. They can be notoriously picky or wonderfully compassionate, depending on the weather.

After doctoring the documents, I placed everything in a brown envelope and scratched my head. I could choose to send it by DHL at an exorbitant cost, about US$50. It doesn’t pay to use the fastest (one day) service, because it’s going to take a couple of weeks anyway. So, I had a choice. Blow fifty bucks on DHL or trust the PNG Postal Service to get it there by Registered Air Mail at one tenth the cost. What do you think I did? Right, my Frugal Plan kicked in and I hustled over to the post office holding my fingers crossed.

BIG MISTAKE! My cousin waited and waited and waited. I got more and more frantic, something which I have been practising and getting very good at. After a futile attempt to trace the package, my cousin told me that the only information available was that it was “awaiting dispatch” from Port Moresby. That wasn’t helpful at all. Inquiries by me at the post office on this end at first drew a blank also. I was told quite bluntly that I couldn’t even begin a trace until at least one month had passed.

Well, as it turns out, the item does not appear to be lost, but now is finally on its way to Indiana. What happened? A bomb! Well, not exactly a bomb, but the mention of a bomb. It appears that somebody somewhere got all excited about a real or imagined (not clear which) bomb which may or may not have been sent or not sent through the postal service either to some place in North America or Germany or possibly Australia. Really that’s more information than we normally expect to extract from the postal authorities. All of the mail to North America, and who knows where else, was held hostage at the Port Moresby post office and not released until the second day of December, just in time to be hopelessly retarded by the Christmas clogging. We counted this as good news, which gives you a general idea of our normal expectations of life in Paradise. I may possibly have learned a lesson. When frugality conflicts with wisdom, give wisdom a break or at least a nod.

Today the sale of the house in Brownsburg is supposed to close. That will be a significant milestone for me. Do you think I’m sitting on pins and needles? Yeah, you’re right.

And, so it goes.

I see that I’ve digressed severely from the nature walk. In fact, I haven’t even started. So, on with the show.

This is some kind of bug on a hibiscus blossom. Yeah, I know it’s not a true bug. I guess it is katydid; I don’t know which and I can’t say that it’s very important to me. I’m a fish guy. How do they manage, being so spindly?

I couldn’t tell if it was eating the naughty bits of the flower or if something else ravaged them.

This is an interesting plant which is native to the hot places in the Americas. Somebody dragged a few of them here and planted them. We call it diwai pen  in Tok Pisin.  The translation is the “paint plant”. Here is a blossom and some of the fruit:

For those who care, the taxonomic name it Bixa orellana.

The name “paint plant” derives from the reddish-orange goop that is found inside the fruit. I was going to get a picture of it, but these did not seem to have any:

The substance is used to decorate bodies for celebrations. These things are very difficult to photograph. Digital cameras seem to have problems capturing detail in “all the same colour” areas. I had to fiddle with this image quite a bit to make it usable. It is red, red, red.

Shooting a praying mantis is an easy task. They don’t generally move very fast. It’s common to find them in the shrubbery, but this one has perched itself on an iron post. That made me happy enough, because it simplified my job. Just in case you’re feeling geeky I’ll mention that I used a very small aperture for this shot so that I could get the maximum depth of field. I wanted the structure of the roof on the other side of the post to be discernible:

It is a magnificent beast.

This shot is better:

That’s creepy enough for me.

This is a non-amusing shot of a staghorn fern. They get quite large. This one was about as big around as a fair sized coffee table. It appears as if someone lopped off a leaf at some point. I don’t know what all that stuff is which looks like lettuce; I’ve not seen that before on a staghorn:

As I said, it is not a very interesting picture.

So, what to do when a picture flops? Turn it into art!

That’s much better. I’ll call it Alien Vegetation.

I’m holding my breath for the closing of the house tomorrow. I may soon be free at last!

I just got an email from my friend Steve telling me that the house will be burned to the ground on the 8th of January by the volunteer fire department. I’m trying to decide how I feel about that. At least it won’t be my  house that’s burning.

This will be my last post for 2010. I will not be sorry to see this year dissolve into history. If hard pressed, I can remember positives, but they are nearly submerged in a sea of grief and loneliness. What 2011 will be like is largely up to me. Many things are beyond my control; I’m not immune to the vagaries of life. However, I can adjust my attitude.

That is one thing which I can  fix. The rest is a box of chocolates.

UPDATE: Reader Jeff Allen passed along the taxonomic name of the fern. It is a bit curious – Platycerium superbum.  Be careful how you pronounce it.

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Living Frugally for Fun and Profit

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 23rd, 2010 by MadDog
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Today is my birthday. Happy birthday to me. I’ve spent a lot of this morning answering messages sent to me from friends, many of whom I have never met, wishing me all the best and congratulating me on my longevity. The former sentiment is welcome and comforting. The latter, well, it seems something that happened to me gradually and is only now becoming troublesome. I have enough faith and understanding of human nature to know that I’m wintering now. That is the season that is upon me. Spring will come, sooner or later, and someday I’ll start a new life that is beyond my imagination. I’ve learned patience, especially in the last half of my life. Living in Papua New Guinea is an experience that fosters patience in the wise. My spring will come.

Since this is the saddest birthday I have ever had, I’ll now do what is best for me. I’ll amuse myself with feeble attempts at humour while annoying you. This will be fun. Along the way, I’ll puzzle you with some images that are utterly unrelated to the subject matter.

Upon my return from Australia, I was immediately deluged with not-so-subtle clues that my life had changed dramatically. I found myself deep in debt. The circumstances leading up to this, some obvious, some not so, were many and complex. They are boring, so I’ll not put us all to sleep with the details. Of course, the financial situation was only one of many changes. I’ve learned to cope with most of these. Some can be fixed. Some can’t. Loneliness is the worst, but that can’t be helped. It’s difficult to explain to why one can feel lonely to the bones while surrounded by laughing friends. It seems unlikely. It is, however, profoundly real.

I must learn many new skills to enjoy this new life. I must accomplish many things to assure happiness. One thing which I can  do something about is money.

I made some mistakes at first. I talked too much. I’m a compulsive talker. I give too much away. I trust more than I ought and I take it for granted that others will be as interested and inquisitive about me as I am about them. I want to get under the skin, and sometimes that is unwelcome. I erred in giving the impression that I was broke and in dire financial stress. This is not the case. I’m better off than most of the people on this planet – much better off.

I’m not broke. I am just being careful. Throughout our lives, Eunie and I followed the “best financial advice”. Oh, what a mistake that was. It seems that most of those who formulate this advice are those who have already gotten theirs  and are looking to get their hand’s on some of yours.

The worst mistake, among many, which we made was to buy into consumerism and borrowing. It’s easy to talk about these twin evils today, since many of you have also been stung by these wasps. Thirty years ago, nobody would listen. We certainly weren’t.

I won’t go into the property fiasco in detail. It’s too boring. Let’s just say that nobody today is suggesting that it’s a good idea to buy old houses and rent them out, expecting them to provide a retirement income. You can imagine how that turned out. However, thirty-five years ago that was the “best financial advice”, at least from the person in whom we had placed trust.

What I will go into is the matter of debt. I often wonder what my world would be like today if I had resisted to ever buy anything for which I could not pay cash. Certainly there are many, many things which I would never have had. However, today I have none of those things. They’ve turned to dust or whatever happens to all those things I “needed” then and no longer even exist in my memories.

Okay, time for a picutre:

That’s my good buddy Monty Armstrong (whoops, I nearly typed Python) with his trusty Canon G11 camera. The water was nice and clear that day.

So, how does one avoid buying everything which catches the eye and immediately insinuates itself in your brain as a need? For me, it wasn’t easy. I spent most of my life learning to subdue the urge. The problem is that plastic makes to far too easy. We lived for many years without credit cards. We resisted the temptation for quite a while. However, I can remember going for a decade with monthly payments to Household Finance. I don’t care about all the money I spent on the stuff,  but I’d sure like to have the interest back!

Well, I digress. Let me get back on point. What is the difference between being a miser and living frugally?

Let’s have a look at the definition of a miser from the Princeton Word Search:

(n) miser (a stingy hoarder of money and possessions (often living miserably))

Hmmm. . . that doesn’t sound very pleasant. It doesn’t sound like a person you’d want to have as a friend, either. Who would buy you a beer? Would this person share a cab fare without counting every penny? I don’t think so. I knew a guy like that once. He owned a barber shop in a small town where we lived for a couple of years. We made the mistake of going on a holiday with him and his wife. He drove us crazy with his accounting. Oh, there was no problem if I said, “I’ll get that.” However, if I didn’t make the offer, then out came the notebook and pencil. Scratch, scratch, scratch – here’s your share. I had a pocket full of change clinking as I walked. I hate small change.

Well, that’s clearly not me. In the first place, I’m not stingy, never have been.  And I’m not miserable, at least as far as money goes. Those miseries I do have will subside. Money problems require a strategy. I have a strategy.

Okay, now let’s look at the definition of frugality:

Frugality is the practice of acquiring goods and services in a restrained manner, and resourcefully using already owned economic goods and services, to achieve a longer term goal.

That doesn’t sound nearly as bad.

Here’s monty again. He’s shooting a Prickly Sea Cucumber which you can see if you click to enlarge:

The part of the definition I want to bore you with is “to achieve a longer term goal”. Consumerism is definitely not about long term goals. Most of the junk we buy is designed  to be useless or undesirable within a matter of months or, at most, a few years. I don’t need more stuff.  I have a house full of it now which I am actively trying to unload. Things are not what I need. What I do need is a plan for life. One of the many goals within that plan is to be measurably better off in each year of my remaining life, at least for as long as possible. Since my income is declining and will continue to do so, baring some miracle, then the only way I can achieve this is by “acquiring goods and services in a restrained manner, and resourcefully using already owned economic goods and services”. Well, hey, that sounds reasonable to me!

Oh, I bet you haven’t seen one of these for a while:

It’s a marine snail. The brown thing blocking the entrance to the shell is doing just what’s it’s supposed to do – block the entrance. It is a common feature of most marine snails and many of the terrestrial species.

It seems astonishing to me that consumerism has been so successful at converting desire into need. Happiness today seems mostly to be packaged in that hateful clear plastic which defies all but the sharpest most dangerous object which comes to hand. I still break into a cold sweat when I enter an electronics or camera store. Oh, wow, I need  that! And that  and that too!  Out comes the plastic. At least I did until now. No more! I have a plan.

My plan is simple. I will never again purchase anything on impulse. I vow to give myself at least twenty-four hours as a cool-down period before making a purchase. I don’t care if it’s a great price on a camera that I’ve been craving or a cheap memory stick. If I can think about it for a day and I’ve asked myself if the purchase will really improve my quality of life sufficiently to justify the cost, then I might reach for the plastic. However, I will never do so if I know that I can’t pay off the amount before the next monthly billing cycle.

Snail wasn’t enough for you, eh? How about a Giant Clam (Tridacna maxima):The last thing I want to do now is to accumulate yet more stuff. I’m trying to get rid of about 90% of what I have. It’s excess baggage and I’d rather deal with it a bit at a time than have to sing the blues someday when I have to leave Madang and deal with a house full of items which have no place to gather dust any more.

But stuff isn’t the only concern. For example, there is the matter of diet. Here on MPBM I once mentioned eating steamed cabbage, pumpkin and beans. That should not be taken as an advertisement that I’ve become a miser. It happens that those are foods which I like. Having lost my sense of smell, I now find that simple fare appeals more strongly to my taste than rich foods. The fact that it’s cheaper to eat that way is, to my way of thinking, a bonus. I used to eat a lot of meat and cheese, foods which are expensive here. I’ve found that I now have little taste for cheese. My cholesterol level thanks me for that change. The meat which we get here never has appealed much to me. Frankly, I always found it a little smelly – not as fresh as I’d like it to be. So, why should I buy it now?

Here’s an Elephant Ear Sponge (Lanthella basta):
They also come in green and bright yellow.

I lost over five kilos while I was in Australia. I was looking just a little hollow. Since coming back I’ve gained it all back and then some. I now weigh more than I have in the last fifteen years. I’m getting plenty to eat. In fact, I’m going to have to cut back or get more exercise, probably both.

So, thinking now about my plan, just what is it? First, I’ll turn down no opportunity to increase my income. If it continues to decline in my present situation, I will eventually have to consider if another situation might be better suited to me. I’ll purchase nothing that is not necessary for my physical well being unless I am convinced that it will significantly contribute to my quality of life for a meaningful period of time. I will not go into debt again for anything. If I can’t pay for it in thirty days, I can’t afford it.

It’s that simple.

Here is the last shot of the day, a Blackblotch Lizardfish (Synodus jaculum):

Cute little fella, eh?

I’m not so insensitive to suggest that my plan is for others. It’s custom tailored to my situation. Realistically, most people in economically switched-on areas of the planet need credit to live what they perceive as a decent life. The nature of modern economic practice demands it. Who can pay cash for a house or a car, for that matter?

However, it’s interesting to dream up a little thought experiment to imagine how one might avoid the worst ills of spending money which one does not have. It seems to me that frugality, as a life-long plan, might work out pretty well. One might think of it as the middle road.

So, I’m not going to play the big spender when I’m out with friends, but I’m not going to be a miser, either. It’s the middle road for me.

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How Bad Can It Kill Me?

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on December 19th, 2010 by MadDog
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I’ve been holed up in the house for about three days. Today I opened the bedroom curtains for the first time. It was sunny outside. I think that I know what sent me into this latest deep depression. I’ll tell a little about it later. I’ve been having some face-to-face with a friend who has dealt with this kind of uncontrollable emotional paralysis in her own life. It’s comforting to have someone to talk to that understands from first hand experience.

However, I’m not here to blab on about distress. I’m in the mood for a bit of humour. Let’s see if I can pull it off. It’s time to laugh a bit.

A week or so I was talking to someone about something difficult I had to accomplish and I was trying to make it sound light-hearted. I had intended to say, “How bad can it hurt me?” It came out, somewhat more ominously, “How bad can it kill me?” I took a mental note of that and proceeded to bore my friend with the details of my plan to conquer this horrible thing which was an everyday problem for many people, but made me feel as if I were a passenger on the maiden voyage of the Titanic. When his eyes glassed over I relented. Later, I began to think about my Freudian slip.

I certainly don’t recommend fooling around with fate and getting yourself in such a pickle as the one in which I’m presently fermenting. Nobody is stupid enough to bring such things upon himself. Nevertheless, I must admit that there is an upside. Regardless if it is true or not, there is a certain freedom in feeling  that I have nothing to lose. Of course, I know that it is not true, but knowing is not feeling,  knowing is not accepting.  I have many things going for me. I’m healthy, if putting on a little too much weight. I’m reasonably sane and able to take care of myself day by day, though my bed only occasionally gets made. I have a job which I can still perform well enough for the time being and I’ll improve as I get better. I have a nice house to live in, though I do rattle around in it like a cracked marble. I have friends to annoy. All in all, I’m likely better off than maybe eighty percent of the population of the planet.

I admit that I can’t do a post without images. I’m sure that this stems from the fear that what I’m writing is so abominably rotten that nobody could possibly read it without becoming nauseous. If I throw in a few pictures, it might possibly be seen as a redeeming value. Here is the rather unusual sight of three Solitary Corals (Fungia fugites)  cuddled up together:

Let me get back to what is passing for a train of thought tonight. As I was saying, perceiving a current state of life as being unsustainable over the long run and being not so nihilistic as to believe that there is no hope that it might get better is the starting point. So, it’s pretty bad, but it could get better. Now add that what has happened is the worst thing possible that could have happened. Yes, it could have happened in a worse way, but there is nothing on the list that could possibly top it. And the list is exhaustive. Okay, throw into the equation that even if more bad things pop up, they can’t make me much worse than I am now. My money all disappears – hey, money is not security. What good is it doing me now? I lose my job – well, that would be tough, but it would just force me into a change. The list goes on.

Nothing that I can think of really threatens me. This seems to create some kind of weird super-power. Call me Sticks-and-Stones-Can-Break-My-Bones-But-Nothing-Can-Really-Hurt-Me-Man. No, that’s too long a name for a super-hero.

Ah, now I remember what set off my hiding-under-the-covers period – the second coffin-building incident in less than two weeks. I won’t go into the details. It suffices to say that it was another time of grieving:

It does strike me that I look terribly angry in that shot. I was going for “resigned”. It came out much differently. By the time I came into the office to discover that it needed to be built, a friend had already been recruited, so at least neither of us had to face the job alone. I am getting rather good at knocking together a coffin. I don’t plan to take it up professionally, but one never knows.

Feeling this freedom of relative invulnerability, however, it not a safe thing. It can make one reckless. I find myself thinking outrageous thoughts about what I might conceivably do. I fantasise. I make astonishingly stupid plans. I catch myself dreaming of selling everything and scuttling off to Bali or Rio and living off my photography and writing. Then I’m brought up short by the realisation that I’ve found no way to live off it yet and the fact that I might starve trying to is not  an improvement on the present situation. Not a bit.

No, I’m better off now staying here and doing what I was sent here to do. That’s where my security lies now. In some ways that’s a hard pill to swallow, but that is only because I’m not exactly ecstatic about life at the moment.

This horrible thing, looking for all the world like “The Small Intestine from Outer Space” is a Prickly Sea Cucumber:

It’s not a great picture of one. Possibly you can see the hideous frilly arms that wave around engulfing whatever seems edible. I’ll have to try feeding a banana to one.

Yes, fantasies sustain me these days. I’ve always been an exceptionally good daydreamer. Walter Mitty has nothing on me. I’ve dreamed up several schemes lately, none of which have proved, upon the most cursory consideration, to be remotely feasible. Most of the difficulty lies in where,  I might go. Except for Papua New Guinea and the USA, any place I might choose to go would present considerable difficulty. You must have permanent residency to work in almost any country worth living in. That is a high hurdle.

I had a passing fancy for Costa Rica until I began to look at the residency problem. I’m not sure I’ll live long enough to jump through all of the hoops. The same goes for Canada, which I would like to be able to think of as my final “home” when I’m so broken down that I need to crawl into a hole and wait for the end. I’d probably have to do it as an illegal immigrant. Wouldn’t that be an interesting way to end up? I’d have to start a new journal and make it anonymous.

I met a friend at the Madang Lodge and Restaurant last Friday evening for some light conversation. I noticed that the big storyboard on the back wall had been decorated for the Christmas season:

I got this storyboard along with four others about the same size while on a trip to the Sepik River quite a few years ago. They were among the largest I have seen. I don’t know how much they would be worth now – probably quite a bit, as they are very hard to come by now. I have two of them about the same size hanging in my house.

Much of the future is too fuzzy for me to think about with any clarity. I wish I had something like this:

Yeah, a big brain – that’s the ticket. I need a huge Platygyra lamellina.

Then again, I probably spend far too much time pondering the future. When I consider that, I feel silly, but I’ve always been that way. Yeah, a thinker about the future and silly. I admit to both. It’s painfully obvious that the future is the thing over which I have the least control. How delusional it was to believe otherwise. It was all planned out . . .

Look what all that planning got me. Best simply to plan to brush one’s teeth in the morning. If that works out, then begin to plan what to have for lunch. Anything beyond that is getting risky.

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Becoming Hirsute and Bad Pictures of Tennis

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on December 15th, 2010 by MadDog
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Well, the last few days have been a weird circus of nearly surreal events. I’ll tell you a little about it as I go along.

First, I’ll tell you a story about a family dealing with an all too familiar tragedy, a child with a serious health problem. This came to my attention when my son sent me an email about the Brand family. Hans tells the story better than I could:

Thought you might get a kick out of the attached. Some friends of mine at church, the Brand family, have a son, Caleb, who has leukemia. On sort of a spur of the moment thing, I announced to my co-workers that for $50 a month donated to MacKids (the MacMaster Children’s Hospital Foundation) on his behalf (it’s where he is receiving treatment) I would allow my hair to grow uncut until the money stopped coming, and for another $50 a month I’d do the same for the beard. Apparently my co-workers want to work with a guy who looks like a crazy homeless person, because $400 in donations later I now find myself committed to at least six months of no hair cuts and two months of beard growth, and I expect that more money will be ponied up when the expiry date for the beard arrives.

I decided to try to take a photo of myself every morning as long as the money is flowing, so that I could have a record of it. The attached is the result so far.

And here is the animated image: (I could not figure out how to prevent its constant repetition, so don’t stare at it too long.)

Hans Messersmith becoming hirsuit

Those of you who do not know my son will not appreciate the humour. Hans is as stable and dependable as the Rock of Gibraltar. There has been nary a hint of bother from him since he was born. He does, however, break occasionally into the mode of spontaneous goofiness, usually in a good cause. While being exceedingly proper, he exhibits a profound suspicion of up-tight propriety. This foray into the wacky world of on-the-edge symbiosis of in your face humour and sober consideration of  social responsibility is just what I have always expected of him. I like to think that he got just the right mix of genes from his parents.

If you would like to read more try The Brand Family blog.

My depression has worsened, something which I expect is probably temporary. The whole seemingly endless mood is clearly reaction depression and I’m sure that it will remain variable. I know this, because the worse things get, the worse I feel. To lighten things up a bit I went to the Madang Country Club last evening to watch the tennis semi-finals. I know nearly all of the people on the teams. Some of them have been close friends for decades. I had intentions of taking some great action shots. I failed miserably. So, I’ll take great pleasure in showing you some really bad images of rather good tennis players and tell you where I went wrong. Here is Trevor Hattersley serving (no comment):

If you look carefully you can see the yellow tennis ball blasting its way off the racket. You’ll find it by following the trunk of the coconut tree.

I’ve pledged myself to avoid anti-depressants if I possibly can. I will get though this, given time. When I work my way up to full, healthy functionality I don’t want to find myself dependent on pills to keep me level. That would mean that I have simply replaced one problem with another.

While there are several reasons for my current setback, some of them I cannot discuss, because it would be an infringement on the privacy of others. I’ll leave that alone and simply say that we’ve had yet another fresh onslaught in the area of health. If you need to know, you already do. If you are the praying kind, our little mob of survivors could certainly use some non-specific petitions for our welfare.

My photographic problem was twofold. Neither had a solution. First, there was not enough light. Then there was the problem of a relatively inexpensive camera. If you care to spend enough, light is not a problem. You will undoubtedly note that the pictures are motion blurred:

That is a motion-blurred Pancal Michon dodging a sizzling return.

If you have enough bread for a full-frame sensor camera (a few thousand bucks), you’ll get a huge area to catch the photons. ISO numbers can run up into the thousands. The most I can squeeze out of my Canon G11 is about 800. With the light level which I had, that worked out to a shutter speed of about 1/40 of a second. That’s way too slow to stop tennis action.

Have a look at the extreme motion blur in this shot of Trevor. The image is useful only for illustrating how not to do it:

In that image we have the double curse of motion of the subject and motion of the camera itself, which shows up most clearly in the streaked surface of the court.

An extremely annoying beast having to do with the sale of my house back in Indiana  popped up its gnarly head today. Do to a miss-addressed email presenting me with an important document which I had to sign and return as an original, I had to do some serious juggling. It seems that the rest of the world has these magical things called, Over-Night and Two Day delivery options. Well, that is just not going to happen from Papua New Guinea. If you are flying your own body by commercial air from Madang to Indianapolis it takes the better part of three days. That’s with good connections.

So, at the last minute, as I was getting ready to go to DHL and spend a small fortune in the hope that the document would arrive before the closing date, I remembered that a friend was flying to the USA today and I had already given her one document to mail for me when she arrives so that it would get there on time. I don’t know what corner my brain was hiding it, but there wasn’t much light there. I do have some hope now that the closing will go off as planned and I will start out 2011 with one less piece of excess baggage.

What do you do with a totally useless image?  Turn it into art:

Massaging it with the Photoshop Poster Edges filter makes it slightly less nauseous.

I know that my responses to unfavourable developments seem to be over-reactions. I get comments, sometimes a little hurtful. I know that I’ve always been a drama queen. It’s in my blood. There is absolutely nothing I can do about that and I’ve learned to live with it. But I have  had a grand piano dropped on my head from a great height. I expect to be ultra-sensitive and more than a little paranoid. I think that I have some reason to be so. The sequence of events over the last few months is simply too outrageous to allow me to be calm and collected.

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The Material Disconnect

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 12th, 2010 by MadDog
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It has been a strange week. Our bruised and battered little group of survivors suffered fresh wounds. I have been hammered by wild mood swings. I found myself unable to cook, sleep or write for several days. I’m not sure why I chose this week to take on a very hard job. In reality, I suppose that it was because the support which I needed to take it on was available.

Since I returned alone to Madang from Australia, carrying Eunie’s remains in my backpack, I have laid on the bed each night and tried not to think about her clothing, shoes and the heavy blue box of ashes behind the closet door a little over a metre from my head. I want to think of Eunie; oh, how I want it. But, I don’t want the memories to be provoked by things.  I find it very disturbing when I’m suddenly confronted by fear, loss and profound loneliness when I look at objects which initiate those emotions. Unfortunately there is hardly a place in Madang where my eyes can rest comfortably. The memories I desire are those which come spontaneously from inside when I sit staring at the sea or the sky, when my mental space is not crammed full of images of objects. She can break through the remaining clutter and touch me.

So, one evening last week Trevor and Karen came over to help me “survey” the situation and devise a plan. As it happened, I had come home from work early that afternoon, because I could not keep my eyes open. I lay down to sleep for an hour or so. Upon waking, I felt strong enough to begin. I decided to take on one drawer. It was the top drawer in the tiny chest which we shared. I talked to Eunie as I worked. I whispered my new theme song over and over, Oh, baby. Oh, baby.  When I had finished the top drawer without collapsing, subduing intrusions of negative emotions as best I could, I decided that I might as well continue. Within an hour or so, I was surprised to find that all of the contents of the three drawers were sorted and piled neatly on the dining room table.

By the time Trevor and Karen arrived I had nearly worked my way through the one metre of closet space allotted to Eunie’s hang-up items of clothing. As we sat at the table partially covered with Eunie’s things and ate the pizza which my friends had brought with them, I could not escape the feeling that I was putting on a brave face for them. I know that they are very worried about me. They helped me to decide which things should go to the Country Women’s Association to benefit the charitable projects which Eunie had supported for decades and which should be held aside as special gifts for her friends. Once again I felt a profound appreciation for the kind of emotional support which is given to me so freely and unconditionally.

In the morning I took some of Eunie’s nice cotton pull-over tops over to my next door neighbour’s house for her to give to her daughters and nieces. One of Sisilia’s daughters, Esmerelda, came over to help me to carry Eunie’s clothing to the back seat of my truck. After she left, as I stood there surveying the sad little scene, I did what came naturally. I took a picture:

As you can see, all of Eunie’s clothing, everything that she owned, could fit on the seat. I found that startling. It seemed to me to be such a small collection. Eunie was always beautifully dressed, but spent very little on clothing. She had a knack for choosing wisely but modestly. She looked great and smelled great. Nice perfumes were her only luxury.

Quiet elegance. Subtle sensuality. Beauty which gets under your skin:

My baby.

Okay, we need a transition here. I may as well make it abrupt. I have to get up and get ready to go up to Blueblood on Rich Jones’ boat. I have to do something to try to lift my spirit. I did get some decent images yesterday. This is a young Freckled Hawkfish (Paracirrhites fosteri):

As they grow older they get more freckles and grow darker. You can find other images of them here by searching for “freckled”.

I like this shot of a tubeworm growing out of a large coral head with Rich Jones hovering in the background:

Nice depth.

Rich spotted this tiny nudibranch. I don’t know the name of it:

I couldn’t get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the little bits at the front which were vibrating frantically in the current.

This is a kind of sea squirt which I have shown here before:

It strikes me as very elegant, indeed.

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Birthdays, Books, Bananas, Coffins

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 8th, 2010 by MadDog
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A friend of thirty years appeared to me yesterday morning at the office to be more than usually tired and glum. He’s carrying a load that would break my back. I heard him mention that he needed to get to the workshop to build a coffin. It was his second coffin making experience in the last few days. It suddenly occurred to me, as the murky haze shrouding me in self-pity cleared for a moment, that coffin building, let alone serial coffin building, is not something one should have to do alone. I coaxed him to let me drive down the the workshop with him to lend a hand.

It was a thought provoking experience. As we measured, sawed and hammered the coffin a boy who had suffered measles as a young child now lay dead from a type of meningitis which occurs eight to ten years after a measles infection. Sometimes it’s good to have something to do with your hands as dangerous thoughts run demon-like through your brain.

Death. We tread lightly around the subject. We seldom discuss it unless the prospect sticks its ugly head up out of the pit and says, “Boo!” A father considers the possibility when a child is ill with measles. It’s a killer and a maimer here. The son defies the odds and survives, seemingly healthy and strong. Years later the son sickens and dies as the time-delay fuse on the landmine burns through. A husband and wife quietly and with careful logic, keeping it at arm’s length, discuss the ever so remote possibility as if it were the most unlikely thing in the world. Suddenly the subject becomes less academic. The psychic earthquake topples all of the complex edifices. They show themselves finally as facades. How we trust life!

In the meantime, someone somewhere is nailing a coffin together.

Outside the workshop a banana tree was busting its guts to make bananas:

It’s got to be one of the stranger flowers on the planet. This orb holds a great number of very strange things – pathways leading to indeterminate destinations, doorways to alternate universes.

Here are the usual suspects present at Blueblood last Sunday where we celebrated several birthdays and one anniversary. Any excuse for a party:

We were desperately short of eating utensils. I ate with my fingers. Someone, who shall not be named, but is sitting at the far left of the picture, forgot to bring the cutlery.

Hmm . . . I seem to be rambling this evening. I’m between major dirges. This will be a tiptoe through the garden of fitful discontent.

Though I am sleeping much better now, I may as well get used to the idea that I’m never, barring a serious concussion, going to have a long, uninterrupted snooze again. Early life sleep patterns go awry in maturity. Onset of sleep becomes more haphazard and difficult to achieve. Interruptions are more frequent and the return to sleep is delayed, sometimes impossible. I’m trying to minimise as much as possible my intake of sleep aids, because they have some very undesirable side effects.

One thing which I’ve relied upon for years is a not-so-good book. I always keep my glasses where I can reach them without moving too much. The book is just under them. If I read through slitted eyes and try very hard not to go to sleep, I’ll usually doze off. Then the light interferes with slumber and my glasses are all cattywampus and hurting my ears. So, I wake up again. What do I see? Those who suffer insomnia will probably recognise this sight:

Yes, that’s your hand somehow still clutching the book loosely while the pages flap lazily in time with your breathing. It’s decision making time, eh? Rouse enough to remove the spectacles and turn the light off or find your place again (if it really matters) and try again. Sometimes it seems a very difficult decision.

We trip lightly through a world where most everything seems to stay in its proper place and things usually appear to work more or less as they should. We’re not seriously threatened by regular tragedies and life can go on for decades with little bother or fuss. There are usually no huge injustices or overly troubling developments to rattle our cages enough to enrage or frighten us. It strikes me that this orderliness makes us very innocent and vulnerable. We’re ill prepared for adversity:

The world can grow suddenly very dark and scary. Everything takes on a dual aspect of terrible familiarity while simultaneously being strange, out of kilter. This is the alternate universe idea of which I spoke. It is as if one accidentally takes a wrong turn, stepping through some odd black door and finds oneself in a world in which everything known is instantly transformed into a twisted version of itself. Up is down. Right is left. Right is wrong.  Look around for the back side of that odd little door. You can’t find it. It has disappeared – vanished in a puff of pixy dust. As it is so succinctly stated in The Eagles’ Hotel California,  “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.”

Here’s me the Birthday Boy, perilously close to sixty-seven years young. That’s some kind of weird flower. It clashes with my very nice twenty-five year old silk shirt:

It’s a self-portrait. I call that a smile these days.

I had a very nice semi-surprise party at Monty and Meri Armstrong’s home. Meri had very sweetly asked me what I wanted to do about my birthday. Frankly, I’d been dreading it, along with Christmas. I not-so-subtly told her that I really didn’t want to be bothering with it, but if someone decided to do something about it I wouldn’t object. How clever is that? It’s about as nuanced as a ball-peen hammer wrapped in velvet. Meri was very gracious and within a day or two I had a mysterious invitation to “dinner” on Saturday night. I was not disappointed.

Meri’s cheesecake was the star of the evening:

Since it was an intimate gathering of friends there was plenty of this magnificent bit of culinary prestidigitation for all. The blackish stuff is some kind of delicious berry, the name of which I can’t recall.

So, for the upteenth time I’ve gotten through a rough patch by the simple device of allowing my friends to drag me along. They suffer the thorn pricks and stone bruises along with me. They pick me up when I stumble, patch me up when I’m bleeding and leaking salty tears.

I’m a very wealthy man. You can’t count my fortune. Numbers don’t go that high.

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