Posted by: elraymundo at 8:48 am on Wednesday, August 30, 2006
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Random, Euphoria

Sometimes driving around on a summer night with the windows down and the radio playing old favorite songs is all you need to get you right.

That’s it. End of story.

Fish Tales: How to Survive an Alaskan Winter

Posted by: elraymundo at 7:57 am on Tuesday, August 29, 2006
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Random, Travel

Sabrina, one of La Raymunda’s little friends, visited us last weekend. From the coziness of our screened-in deck the subject of Alaska came up and Sabrina asked what the people there were like.

A story, of course, best answers the question.

I arrived in Valdez in the summer of 1997 with $300, no job and no prospect for a job. I squatted in a campsite overrun with RVs – each marked with small cheerful signs identifying the hailing grounds of their owners.

“Bob and Sheila from Wanamingo, Minnesota!”

“Stu and Bessie – Grand Rapids, MI!”

“Al and Edith – There’s No Place Like Sioux Falls!”

I stayed in the campsite for a week before I found work at a cannery in town. None of my enquiries to fishing boat captains was panning out, so when the cannery said they had a spot I took it.

My first shift was 19 hours.

Cannery work is assembly line work, except it’s actually disassembling something – in this case a salmon – instead of putting something together. By the time a salmon got to my spot on the line it had no head, no tail and no guts. Essentially it was two filets joined at the spine, with the skin still intact. Stretched across the surface of a salmon filet is a very thin membrane which has to be removed before packaging. My job was to remove this membrane. 10,000 times. For 19 hours.

Most of the jobs along the processing-line were done with hands plunged in near-freezing water – about 35 - 40 degrees or so (that’s between 1 and 4 degrees for you Euros). Hands were kept “warm” by multiple layers of plastic hand liners and cotton gloves; water was kept from running down the sleeves of foul weather gear by tightly binding the sleeves at the wrists with rubber bands. To do my job, removing the filet’s membrane, I held the salmon near where its tail once was and, with the other hand making a motion much like the “stay” signal in blackjack – extending the hand flat and flicking it side-to-side from the wrist – gently peeled back the membrane. Flip salmon, repeat on other side.

As you can imagine there is a LOT of mental downtime during 19 hours of wrist-flicking and membrane peeling. At one point I asked myself, “What kind of person does this – year in and year out – for a living?” The answer stood across the slime line from me.

The guy on the other side of the slime line was a short, wiry, goateed fellow in his late twenties or early thirties – kind of “grew up on the wrong side of the tracks” looking - with a narrow pinched face and a wad of chew in his lip. He wore a flannel lumberjack shirt and his baseball cap was so covered in spattered and dried fish goo that its logo was obscured, if not outright obliterated.

“How long you been doing this?” I asked the guy.
“Six years,” he said.
“Why so long?”
“Money’s good,” he said as he tossed a salmon down the line. “People here leave ya alone.”
“What do you do in the winter?”
“I stay here.”
“Do you work?”
“Nope.” He threw another fish.
“Serious? You make enough to last you all winter? What’s there to do here in winter?”

Now, understand that Valdez is a town of 4000 people. The average winter sees 25 FEET (7.6 meters) of snow. Sometimes more. (In the winter of 1989/1990 Valdez was buried under 47 feet (14.3 meters) of snow.) If you’re not into skiing or snowboarding there’s not a whole lot to do. Not to mention it’s dark nearly all day long.

“I got a trailer outside town,” said the guy. “I buy six months of popcorn and beer, stay in the trailer, get drunk, watch movies and screw my girlfriend.”
“For six months.”

Ladies and gentlemen: the Alaskans.

Sumo Wrestlers and Racists

Posted by: elraymundo at 6:30 am on Monday, August 28, 2006
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Politics, History, Books & Literature, Stupid People

When I stepped onto the front porch at 4:49 this morning it was already moist and swampy out, like the warm damp spot under the belly flab of a sumo wrestler. Looks like I’m staying indoors today. El Raymundo likes hot humid weather as much as Elvis liked a low-carb diet.

El Raymundo Weatherometer prediction for Monday 8/28/2006: Gross


I just opened and washed a pint of blueberries that I’m going to eat for breakfast. A small snail crawled out and is now making its way across the lid of the container. I guess that’s why you look at what you’re eating before you put it in your mouth, eh?


Of the three books I’m reading right now, one actually gave me a nightmare last night. Here are the three books:

Imperial Reckoning gave me nightmares; the last chapter I read before bed described the torture techniques used by conservative British colonists and settlers to extract information from native Kenyans. The British were fighting to keep their colony in Kenya and used genocide, mass murder, torture and concentration camps to do so. And all this in 1953, only EIGHT YEARS after Hitler’s concentration camps were exposed and the world shouted, “Never again.”

I recently finished the Pulitzer Prize winning history of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt’s life on the home front during WWII, No Ordinary Time, and was struck by how racist and intolerant America was at that time. I also noticed that every time there was an objection to integration of races, equal treatment of women, tolerance of Jews, fair wages/hours and opportunity for laborers or ethical treatment of American citizens of Japanese descent that it was the conservative element which objected.

With that in mind, I am unable to determine why conservatives maintain support unless it’s to serve as the political voice for bigots, racists, the intolerant, and Big Business. If you’re none of those things (a bigot, a racist, etc) then why would you ever vote for the people who are?

Take this person for example, the schoolbus driver in Coushatta, Louisiana who a few days back assigned seats in the front of the bus for the white kids while the “nine [black] children were assigned to two seats in the back of the bus, and the older ones had to hold the smaller ones in their laps.” Hello? Didn’t we move past this fifty years ago?

I don’t know if that bus driver voted in the last election, but I’ll lay you 20-1 odds if he/she did that they voted for the conservatives.

The Joy of Losing

Posted by: elraymundo at 7:18 am on Friday, August 25, 2006
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Euphoria

I last swung a softball bat in the spring of 2001. I had been working in IT for about two years at that point and had fatted-up from 195 to 246 pounds. (That’s 87 to 112 kilos for you Euros.)

I hit a double in that game and zipped around first to second. I say “zipped” euphemistically, meaning I hauled my own bloated carcass plus a refrigerator, three iron kegs, a used Volkswagen and a Steinway baby grand piano (including pianist!) to second base. I stood on second heaving like a steam locomotive with emphysema (if I may be allowed the mixed metaphor), wishing I would just puke and die. It was one of those moments of realization where the mind tells you, “This is not how it was when you were Athlete of the Year, 1985”.

Ah, glory days.

I haven’t weighed anything near 246 since, nor have I stepped onto a baseball diamond since. When the neighborhood guys asked a couple weeks ago if I would play in a night league I accepted, but wondered, since the last image I had of myself was that of a fat network engineer ready to keel over in the middle of the infield, if I could still play worth a lick. Well, it was time to find out.

Last night was our first game. As I walked out the door I said to La Raymunda, “Wish me luck!”
“Luck!” she called.
“Wish me not to suck!”
“Not to suck!”

And so I drove to the ballfield.

I wasn’t in the lineup for the first game of the twinbill (we had too many players for everyone to play in both games), so I stood behind the backstop watching. The other team had first ups and their lead-off man sent a soft lazy fly into right which our rightfielder muffed.

I smiled.

A few minutes later a wild throw soared (and my heart along with it) past the first baseman, allowing the batter to go all the way to third.

A routine hopper to short was booted, then picked up, then dropped. Safe at first and another run scored. El Raymundo was pleased.

More mayhem ensued. Dropped balls, missed cutoffs, grounders between the legs, whiffs, weak pop-ups, and baserunning blunders. We wound up on the short-end of a 15-2 game which the ump ended an inning early after invoking the mercy rule. I couldn’t have been happier.

“Debra, it’s me,” I said into my cell as I left the field after the second game. She knew I wanted to put up a decent effort and not embarrass myself. “It’s 10:20 and the games are over so I’ll be back in a bit. Guess what - this is going to be fun. We got killed in both games. We stink! We’re horrible! No pressure!

I love this team!”

Death by Tulip Truck

Posted by: elraymundo at 10:31 pm on Wednesday, August 23, 2006
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Travel, Friends

My cell phone rang and it was Howard calling to tell me he had an extra ticket to Washington’s season opener against the Minnesota Vikings. Howard and I go back a ways to 1995 when we worked together at REI in Bailey’s Crossroads – back when I had hair hanging to the middle of my back and earrings and seventeen cents and a dream of walking from Norway to South Africa.

(Having actually been to Africa I can now safely say that an unsupported stroll through a war-torn continent populated with man-eating animals is no longer in my plans, much to the relief of La Raymunda. A stroll from Norway to Istanbul, or to the Algarve, however, I would do in a heartbeat. Any takers?)

Talking with Howard usually reminds me of our mutual friend Scott McAhren, who also worked with us at REI. And thinking of Scott reminds me of a bit of mountain biking silliness where Scott, whilst barreling down a hill, misjudged the height of a tree limb overhanging the trail, didn’t duck his head far enough and knocked himself out. Whenever I see Scott I ask him to tell the story again, like a kid at Thanksgiving asking his grandfather for just one more war story. “Tell me again grandpa how you stormed the machine gun nest on D-Day and killed all the Nazis and stole their women and ate all their schnitzengruben!” Except with Scott it’s more like, “Tell me again Scott about how you ran into a tree branch so hard you split your helmet in two and knocked yourself unconscious!”

Ah, good times.

But I digress.

Scott’s story usually reminds me of what will inevitably be the Last Great Practical Joke in my life: that when my time comes to shuffle off to God’s Great Waiting Room in the Sky that my last moments will be spent with some terribly lame song running through my head. Like that doo doo doo doo doo doo doo-doo song by Suzanne Vega or anything by Loverboy.

How do I know?

It’s like this: sometime back in the mid-nineties I was riding a bicycle across Holland to Paris, France. I owned a really cool one-wheeled trailer that hooked into the bike’s rear-wheel axle. I overloaded the trailer which made it a little unstable – it had a tendency to sway a bit - but on the flatlands of the Netherlands it didn’t seem to cause any problems…

…until I rode under the Rhine River in Rotterdam.

The bike path in Rotterdam runs alongside a major highway that passes underneath the Rhine. Jersey barriers separate the bike rider from the speeding deathmobiles rocketing past a mere three of four feet away. The concrete walls of the tunnel arch low overhead and the curve of the wall, as I recall, bent in not far above my shoulder. So, to draw the image: concrete barriers and heavy traffic to the left and a concrete wall on the right.

I rode into the mouth of the tunnel doing about 20mph, nice and easy, and then suddenly felt the downward pitch of the path drop precipitously. The bike, made heavier by the seventy pounds in the trailer behind it, quickly picked up speed. The trailer began to sway. The speedometer shot past 40mph and the swaying became a violent shake which caused the bike to pitch wildly. I wrapped my hands around the handlebars in a kung-fu deathgrip and, glancing at the jersey barriers, then at the traffic, then at the concrete wall, saw my own shattered limbs and flying viscera and other bloody nastiness. I made a mistake and tapped the brakes, which caused the bike to jerk to one side. I decided holding on and riding it out was the best option. The path had to rise on the other side, I thought, and as long as I didn’t munch and go hurtling over the handlebars or out into the highway I might be all right.

And that’s exactly what happened. The path eventually bottomed out below the river, then it rose again. The rising path and the miracle that is gravity slowed me down and I made it out the other side. That descent from hell, though, took at least five eternities and was the closest I ever came to seriously damaging or killing myself.

And what was going through my mind during those moments of sheer unremitting terror? Why, the song “Hold on Loosely” by .38 Special, of course! A horrible song by an even worse band, it rolled along on endless repeat like a sick ending-credits-theme-song which my brain perversely intended to be the last thing going through my mind as I crashed the bike and flew over the barriers and landed under the wheels of a semi-truck hauling tulips to Amsterdam.

My brain is a sick, sick organ.

Anyway, that’s how I know that when my time comes that my last moments will be spent with some terribly lame song running through my head. I can hardly wait.

Vikings Trade for Randy Moss

Posted by: elraymundo at 7:31 am on Friday, August 18, 2006
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: NFL

I frequent an online forum for fans of the Minnesota Vikings and recently a new topic for discussion began that revolved around the Vikings trying to reacquire Randy Moss from Oakland. Here is my proposal (with a link to the actual post):

“I say we trade our entire batch of cheerleaders, a used Whizzinator and a pair of alligator shoes to Denver for Ashlie Lelie. Once we get Lelie we surgically fuse him to the bodies of Hulk Hogan and Jesse Ventura. Then we call Al Davis and tell him, “Hey you ol’ coot, have we got a freakshow for you - a triple-headed WR with 4.3 speed, a feather boa and a handlebar mustache. Shoot, we’ll even throw in a Siberian tiger and tickets to the next Siegfried and Roy show. And all we want for him is Randy Moss.”

Al will go for it, especially if we have Lelie hand-delivered in a black stretch Hummer driven by Jim Otto - cuz that’s how the Raiders roll, baby (although it’ll have to be an entirely hand controlled Hummer, since Jim’s got no knees).

So after the trade it will look like this:

WR #1 - Randy Moss
WR #2 - Troy Williamson
WR #3 - Travis Taylor
Cheerleaders - The Parkettes

WR #1 - Ashlie Lelie
WR #2 - Hulk Hogan
WR #3 - Jesse Ventura
Cheerleaders - Naked viper-pit wrestling in the Black Hole between the Raiderettes and whatever we called our, um, ladies.
A pair of Siegfried and Roy tickets
One Siberian tiger

We could even let Al keep the Hummer.”


Posted by: elraymundo at 6:05 am on Tuesday, August 15, 2006
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Stupid People

Heavy traffic on the road to work this morning; I saw three cars – all at once.

Have I mentioned that I enjoy the drive to work in the early mornings?


Now this seems fishy to me:

I scheduled a tech call for our satellite service. There is a seventy dollar charge for said tech service. Remember that.

Before the scheduled service date, I swapped the receiver’s card and then, for six straight days, the satellite worked perfectly. No problems. Zip. So I canceled the tech call. But the satellite guy showed up anyway.

“Michael,” said La Raymunda, “the DirecTV guy is here and wandering around the backyard. Didn’t you cancel the call?”

“I did,” I said, and went to talk to the guy. As I passed the TV, which was on, I saw the screen was black – no signal. And it had been working fine just three or four minutes earlier.

I met the guy outside and explained I had canceled the call, then said I was glad he was here because the signal had just dropped. We went inside to the TV and while I explained the problem’s history, he explained that if I had canceled the service call then he did not have a legitimate work order and there was nothing he could do to help me. I asked him if the work order on the piece of paper in his hand was valid and he said no, not if I had called to cancel earlier.

Then things got a little shady. Remember the seventy dollar charge for the service call? The tech said to me, “You give me fifty dollars and I will fix the problem. Then you save twenty.” I said ok, but I was suspicious.

The tech went to his truck. I ran upstairs and outside to where the coax cables come down from the satellite dish and into the house. I checked the connections myself and there was a loose barrel connector! I tightened the barrel connector, ran back downstairs, and the receiver was picking up a signal again!

I ran back outside and told the guy, who was just starting to work, that everything was fine, not to touch anything. I signed-off on the work order stating that I had canceled the call and he left. Our satellite service has been perfect since.

So, was he scamming us? Did he arrive knowing full-well that the call had been canceled and that he was out a bit of cash for the day and then gone and loosened the barrel connector before ringing the doorbell (which is when La Raymunda saw him out back)? Did he then scheme to make fifty bucks off me for hand-tightening a barrel connector?

I am, as they say, dubious.

Photo of the Day - 08.10.2006

Posted by: elraymundo at 12:43 am on Thursday, August 10, 2006
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Photo of the Day, Nature

Waxing gibbous moon phase

Waxing Gibbous - Great Falls, Virginia
Exif: ISO/50; f/4.0; 1/125 sec; 200mm
08.04.2006 ©Michael Raymond 2006

The Perils of Auto-Dialing

Posted by: elraymundo at 12:20 am on Thursday, August 10, 2006
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Lotus Blossom

Every once in a while La Raymunda’s Blackberry just “calls” me on my cell phone. She has no idea this has occurred when it happens.

Sometimes I have a one way conversation with her while I try to figure out where she is (in the elevator, in her office, in the car, etc). And sometimes we end up in situations like the one below, when I sent her IM messages to tell her that her phone had called me again:

El Raymundo: You’ve called me again.


El Raymundo: I’m on the phone with you right now.

indecipherable background chatter

El Raymundo: la la la la la
El Raymundo: I wish you would say something interesting.

hearing a noise

El Raymundo: It sounds like you are unwrapping something.


El Raymundo: I guess I should be flattered that your phone dials me so easily - like I’m on auto-dial or something.

situation suddenly becoming alarmingly clear


El Raymundo: You’re peeing!!!
El Raymundo: LOL

wait for it…wait for it…and…

El Raymundo: Don’t worry, I didn’t hear anything.
El Raymundo: Just the flush.

random rustlings and sounds of movement

El Raymundo: Ok, nothing much going on right now.
El Raymundo: Pretty quiet.

a minute later

La Raymunda: am i still on the phone with you?
El Raymundo: Si. You might want to check out your Blackberry. Have a nice pee?

Photo of the Day - 08.09.2006

Posted by: elraymundo at 8:43 pm on Wednesday, August 9, 2006
From: Great Falls, Virginia
Filed under: Photo of the Day, Nature

Monarch butterfly

Monarch with a Headrush - Great Falls, Virginia
Exif: ISO/50; f/2.8; 1/125 sec; 200mm
08.09.2006 ©Michael Raymond 2006

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