Tuesday, June 8 2021

throat tickles, power outages, and the birdman of alcatraz

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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone. Happy Tuesday. It's barely June, but the thick of summer has already landed in Madison. I have a feeling we fired up our outdoor bug zapper just in time for the yearly swarm. But if you ignore the drawbacks of summer like bugs and humidity, life gets a lot more convenient. A few extra hours of daylight means we can eat outside as a family on the deck. If all goes well, we'll have fresh basil and cherry tomatoes to eat. Not to mention, it's so easy to make bread in warm, humid air like this. The dough practically makes itself.

Sip. How are you feeling today? How's your health? A throat tickle is making its way around the neighborhood. We may all be vaccinated for the big C, but there's not much you can do about all the other little viruses and twenty-four hour bugs we've been conveniently quarantined from during the last year. We had better get used to soar throats and colds, because it's probably going to happen whenever we do something fun.

From the moment Rodney woke up with a hurt kneck yesterday, he got the first class sick day treatment - an exclusive living room couch reservation, table side ice cold juice, an all day Ryan's World marathon, and brief snuggles with Minnie.


Thankfully, it wasn't a serious soar throat. We found it amusing whenever Rodney would suddenly forget he was sick. He ran upstairs to put on his Spider-Man suit. He asked for snacks like gummy worms and jelly beans. He still felt the need to get up and do boyish, rambunctious things light picking fist fights with his dad and dancing around his brother. It's probably one of those on-off kinds of soar throats where it only hits you when you're sitting still. This morning, Rodney clicked his light on, but fell back asleep in bed without taking out any toys - evidence of a struggle against his own will power to entertain himself.

The workday was going great at first. I got a jump on my ticket duty responsibilities this week, and just before I was going to dive into some projects, the power went out. First the severs spun down. Then the lights went dim. The air conditioning clicked off. The silence that washes over our house in a summer power outage is stuffy and deafening. Rodney leapt off the couch and ran upstairs.

"Hey dada, Ryan's World stopped working." Rodney turned the hallway corner and tried to turn our bedroom light on. The switch did nothing. "Hey dada - how come the lights aren't working?"

"The power's out," I sighed, rubbing my eyes.

Rodney, noticing our bedside fan stopped blowing air, crossed the room to investigate. "Dada, the fan is out too!"

Without the power outage concept taking hold in his brain, Rodney went on to test every plugged-in thing in the house that he had access too. Lamps. Fans. Computer monitors.

Moments later, two MG&E bucket trucks barrelled down our side street. A group of men wearing hard hats and orange vests stood around a single wood power line pole draped in leaves. The notification on their website estimated our street would be back at 4:45 PM.

"Happy surprise half-day," laughed Marissa.

While waiting for things to turn back on, I read some articles about why power outages happen in the summer. Air conditioning draws more power in the summer, and it heats up the power lines. Power lines sag when they get hot, and sometimes they can short on a tree or building edge. I could imagine why all the old, beautiful trees that crowd our street could cause problems in the summer.

Marissa nervously tended to her fish tank. Without electricity, she couldn't keep the water heated, and saltwater tanks allow little room for error.

"We have that AC adapter in our car. If it's still not on by 5, we can just run an extension cord out the window and run the car for a while," I suggested.

Luckily it never came to that. The house whirred back to life just in time to restore order to the fish tank and start on dinner. There was a silver lining to the power outage. Our router, servers, and wireless access points passed their first unmanned reboot test of power outage summer. A small, nerdish victory that made me feel warm inside.

After we put the kids to bed, Marissa and I got sucked into the movie The Birdman of Alcatraz. At first, it played like a stale choice. The two and a half hour movie is dialog heavy, filmed in black and white, and wholly takes place in the cramped Leavenworth jail cell of Robert Stroud. But the development of this lifetime-sentenced psychopathic murder turned ornithologist sucked us in. Robert Stroud raised three hundred canaries in his jail cell. The warden happily supplied him with bird seed, cages, and equipment, and he even let visitors tour his jail cell so they could witness how "progressive" his penitentiary was. Robert Stroud wrote two books on canaries - one of them was smuggled out of the jail so it could be published. By the time he died in prison, he had attracted an academic following. Many ornithologists clamored for his release simply for all the valuable contributions he made to their field.

The movie made us think about our own animal situation. "I like having animals around the house," said Marissa.

"Me too," I nodded. "They make daily life so much more interesting."

We chatted about the dangerous precedent we've set. "Rodney can pretty much raise any animal he wants. A snake? A lizard? A parrot? It just can't be a cat," remarked Marissa.

Speaking of tiny animals, I graduated another class of Zophobas moria yesterday. I picked off the five fattest worms, moving them into plastic cups. They'll remain in a dark cardboard box for fifteen days - and I won't allow any peaking this time.


Since the move, I've noticed some smaller worms have joined the nightly surface romp, and that's good to see. I could imagine that when a group of worms get fat enough, they form their own intimidating clique, and perhaps they scare the others into staying in their burrows. The warden doesn't like it when the fat worms scare the littler ones - I hear that will get you fifteen days in the hole. No visitation or time in the rec yard.

Thanks for stopping by today. Have a great Tuesday, friends.