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A Day at the Dump

By MichaelCrawford in Culture
Tue Mar 25, 2008 at 01:15:27 PM EST
Tags: Mania, Mental Illness, Writing, Garbage, Santa Cruz, Sari Gennis, Billy Rainbow (all tags)

This is an e-mail that I wrote to my friend, Hollywood animator Sari Gennis. I wrote it while I was a graduate student in Physics at UC Santa Cruz, and was also working as a programmer.

I was manic when I wrote this - I meant to write just a brief note and ended up writing for twelve hours. During this manic episode I was experiencing peculiar irregularities and disclocations in time and space. My experience of the time I spent writing this was that perhaps an hour had passed. As I wrote, I made cup after cup of tea - it seemed to me that when I put the water on the stove that it would burst into a boil instantly. I was also eating bananas. By the end of my writing I had eaten the whole bunch and was suddenly surprised to see a large pile of banana peels appear next to me on the table.

I wrote this on a Sunday, while still in the pleasant part of mania. The following Friday I was in the mental hospital, hallucinating and paranoid. I was in for four days. I took a few days off after that and then went back to work at Working Software.

(yes, this is a repost.)

Dear Sari,

I had an interesting adventure today.

My neighbor John has been slowly, but persistently encroaching upon my yard by piling garbage in it. This would seem a rude and blatantly obvious offense, but John is quite a pleasant, polite and friendly fellow, and very clever and subtle in what seems to have been a three-year-long project to fill my yard with his refuse.

This started by John politely asking if he could put an extra trash can out with ours. My housemate and I recycle diligently and are quite modest in our consumption of packaged goods, so we put out only one can of trash, and even then only every other week. Residents of Santa Cruz are entitled to two cans per week of trash pickup, so John filled up the remaining half of our can and added another of his.

John and his wife work as party decorators - they inflate the balloons and provide the ribbons for large corporate parties and entertainment events.

This generates a tremendous amount of trash, I am sure, but this is not the trash that he gives me. Instead, John is always puttering around his house, tearing out the fence and rebuilding it, replacing window frames and so on. The outside of his house is a complete chaos of overgrowing blackberry and grapevines, potted plants, trees and big piles of just plain stuff.

Thus I was astonished when I once walked inside his house. It is quite clean, well-lit and pleasant and, (I swear I'm not kidding) decorated in a manner that puts Pee Wee's Playhouse to shame.

It is the home of a creative couple whose purpose in life is to create parties.

They adopted two little Russian girls from an orphanage in St. Petersburg last year. John and his wife - I fear I do not recall her name, though I know her well, are most devoted and doting parents. To go from an orphanage in post-communist Russia to a loving home inside of a tradeshow exhibit for toys must be quite an experience for their little ones.

It seems that most of the trash is the refuse from John's yard and household projects.

From time to time we would get charged an extra five dollars by the city for excess trash disposal - perhaps John would put a hefty bag out as well. The city would take it, and I would cough up five extra bucks. It took quite some time for me to even notice this as I just pay whatever happens to be on the bill without really examining it, and some more time to realize that it was John's trash and not mine.

I thought to protest, but I felt that it was not worth mentioning as John did me so many little favors. I felt it would be un-neighborly to quibble over such a thing.

For example, John replaced the fence between our house and his, without asking for any help from me, after it collapsed. The fence was quite elaborately but very poorly constructed, and was only supported by the strength of the grapevines that had long ago grown up through it. Finally the crushing weight of the flower bush was too much of a burden for the grapes to shoulder and they at last gave up, felling the fence in a heap against the side of my house so that I could no longer enter the backyard by going around the side.

(Of course, even if I did, I would have to climb over the gate, as it was long ago frozen shut by John's vines. I've meant for years to tear the gate out entirely and replace it. Perhaps I will do this soon.)

Now, John is the sort of easygoing good natured fellow who likes nothing more than an idle chat with his friends and neighbors. This sort of conversation is something that I usually enjoy. I am a country boy at heart and feel that such personal style is sorely lacking in our fast-paced society. My irritation with him stems from his timing - he usually wants to have his long, drawn out discussions with me just as I am leaving for work or school in the morning, and often stops me for a friendly, and lengthy, hello as I am standing by my open car door, heavy briefcase in hand.

What is worse is that he often gives me detailed and slow-moving lectures on subjects with which I am intimately familiar. I feel like a sprinter trying to run on a track paved with sticky soft tar.

I do like my neighbor, and if he would choose to come by in the evenings, when I am often here by myself, just reading or playing my piano, I would make him a pot of tea, change the subject to something of actual interest, and converse with him late into the night. As it is, I find myself sometimes choosing to delay my departure until he has left for work, or driving a couple of times around the block when I return home so that he can go from his car to his house, for fear that I will become engaged in conversation.

Again, it has taken me awhile to actually realize this is occurring. With most conversation one awaits a convenient and polite point to interrupt before saying "I must be on my way." People such as John are skilled in the art of speaking for hours without yielding one single fingerhold upon which I may lift myself from the conversation. I hate to be impolite, but I have found that he really does take no offense if I interrupt him in midsentence and just leave (though he does sometimes walk along my car as I try to flee from his friendly chatter).

The fence project resulted in a small pile of excess wood, on my side of the fence. John said that he would throw it away by putting a few pieces into my - my! - trash can each week until it was gone. The new fence is a marvelously contrived piece of architecture, surely supporting itself against all laws of physics, aesthetics and most especially common sense. The grapes are already sending their tender tendrils into the fence as the eternal cycle of creation and destruction begins anew.

Having managed to cross our property line, John went on to encroach five feet further by "giving" me a new drainpipe for my roof. Our lots drain poorly and usually flood each winter. Several people on our block have pumps - my backyard has gotten as much as six inches of water, and I believe that I could float a canoe in my garage during a heavy rain. (I had thought to buy the house from the landlady someday, but I realize now the importance of a firm and dry foundation, and especially the importance of a dry underlying structure. We have reduced the fungus by running a dehumidifier during the winter.)

(John purchased a very nice and clearly expensive pump, and lent it to us last winter so we could pump out our yard. He gave it to us still in its original box, unused. We were perplexed at the volume of water that we pumped from our yard - clearly there was far more than would fit on our own lot. I realized that we were pumping out John's yard as well, and our other neighbors' lots. John could just as well have drained our yard by using the pump himself, but to have done so would have meant to lose this opportunity to do us a favor.)

He actually gave me two drainpipes, made of PVC pipe. He put a new one on his own house as well, and ran all three pipes all the way out to the sidewalk. At first the pipes ran garishly along the fence, but he hired a day laborer to dig a trench and lay the pipe properly. They did a decent job in the end, and got the plumbing laid in time for the big rainstorm this year. I think it did help a little -- but left on my side yard was a pile of PVC and sheet-metal pipe easily ten times the quantity that actually got put in the ground.

Last summer he hired a crew to cut down a tall, dead tree from his backyard. As his yard is completely packed with stuff, he asked me to allow him to throw the wood into my backyard where we (keyword: "we") could haul it out into the front to load it into my truck, where he would graciously pay the dump fees to dispose of it. For weeks after I would occasionally see a log launched into the air over my fence, making a pile fully six feet high. (He managed not to clobber my cat.) The pile yet remains.

Now, all of this is happening quite slowly, gradually, always with good humor and presented in the light of him doing some kind of a favor to me. I have been quite wrapped up in work and school and hardly even noticed.

Further, my own yard is not at all tidy. In fact, my front yard is a verdant meadow, now quite blooming with sourgrass, dandelions and clover. The interior of my house is overflowing with clutter - complete computer science, physics and electrical engineering libraries, all on bookcases Efren and I made ourselves, the walls completely covered with art, racks of compact disks and cassette tapes, with several crates of records skidding about the floor on wheels. I have enough tools in my garage to make or repair very nearly anything - from pottery, to cast metal (up to sixteen pounds of aluminum in volume), to auto repair, plumbing, electronics, precision optics, gardening and carpentry.

I have sufficient computing power in my own little home, and sufficient skill and experience to produce commercial software products on Macintosh, DOS, Windows and Unix. The Macintosh products I can and do create on the little Powerbook that rests comfortably in my lap as I write this letter to you... for a brief time, I created these products with your little Yin-Yang trackball.

(I do not yet have a lathe or milling machine, but I actually decided to go out and get a job back when I first started work as a programmer because it occurred to me then that if I worked as a programmer, I would have the money to actually buy the milling machine I had coveted for so many years. I had endured several years of crushing poverty with the notion that there really was no point to even attempting to better myself, but when it occurred to me that I really could find work as a programmer, and this work would allow me to afford a mill of my own, I went right out and got the first job that led to my present success. Funny though - I still don't have the mill.)

Perhaps John recognized in me a kindred spirit. While I think his garbage and his vines are in part a method of expanding the boundaries of his home, I think they also are meant as a gift: John wants to be my friend, and having been frustrated in his attempt to win my friendship with his scintillating conversation, he has set himself to the task of winning it by giving me the most precious gift of all: his garbage.

Good taste forbids me from discussing the staggeringly Freudian implications of this in any detail, but I believe it to be so.

A few weeks ago I found that the rugged plastic trash can that I purchased new when Efren and I moved into this house had become ripped to shreds. I believe this came from having an entire fence broken into little bits and crammed into it each week for months.

I think that John has missed the mark, but his mistake is understandable. I am not "tidy", it is certain, but I am "clean". I usually shower twice a day, perhaps three times a day. I cannot make it through the day if I do not wash my hair - if I skip my shower on the rare occasion that I feel so rushed as to skip this most enjoyable experience, I always wash myself in the sink at the office restroom. John was correct in thinking that I like to collect what others regard as trash, but he gave me the wrong kind of trash: he gave me what I consider refuse (the pile of pipes came close, but I would not be satisfied by letting them lie in the yard. I would want to cut them up and assemble a geodesic dome in my front yard. This would be be blatant enough that he would consciously feel that I had stolen his property, even though he had meant, subconsciously, to give it to me.)

I collect vast amounts of stuff, but everything I own has its own little unique feature of great interest. I realized years ago that I had no more room to put this stuff, so I have disciplined myself and stopped collecting things, and I even have thrown away several pickup truck loads of old books, magazines, junk mail, telephone books and several hundred pounds of mechanical and electrical surplus components to the used book shops, the recycler and the dump.

I swear that I used to circle all the prime numbers on the reader service cards in the trade publications of several different industries, that I tore from magazines at the University library. I received my early education in business and manufacturing by studying the mail I recieved (stoically delivered each day by my sturdy letter carrier - when I realized the weight of her burden I set out a large box on the ground so that she could just drop it rather than cram it into my mailbox... I received this mail at two different addresses, my own and my business partner's, then merged it at the home that we shared later on) and by the conversations I had with bemused technical sales engineers who would call me on the phone to sell their wares to Holotechnics, to Bright Ideas, or to Oddball Enterprises, to find me replying to their query, "No, Lou N. Gerat (loungerat!) is out right now but I can speak with you."

Sometimes I would even tell the sales engineers what my scam was, and find they were still as interested to speak to me, if not more so as they understood that really I wanted to hear what they had to say even if they knew I meant to purchase nothing from them.

I learned a great deal about hydraulics from a fellow that I had actually made a serious inquiry to, with the intention of purchasing miniature pumps and torque converters for the purpose of making balloon-tired electrically powered roller skates for touring on the beach. This was not my invention - that honor goes to Billy Rainbow - but I meant to develop them commercially and pay royalties to Billy.

(Once the Pitney-Bowes rep was quite perplexed to pay me a sales call at the run-down old pseudovictorian duplex that I shared with five other college students, their five boyfriends and girlfriends, and whoever else happened to come by to crash on our couch. I heard later that my housemate Glen explained that Michael Crawford, Vice President of Holotechnics, did indeed do business there, but he was at his job as a technical support engineer in a nearby town, and also that Glen suggested that I would not be needing a postal meter. The sales rep still telephoned me later to make sure she had the right place, perhaps wanting to make sure she had not totally lost her grip on reality.)

While I quit sending in the reader service cards after sales reps started persistently telephoning me during the day as I tried to sleep after my graveyard shift job, I did keep all of the junk mail for years, carefully organized and frequently retrieved and studied, and I still have the very best, the laser optics and laser dye and electronics catalogs, carefully stored away in the four-drawer heavy duty file cabinet in my living room.

I also have taken care, when I do purchase anything meant to last more than a few days, to save up my money and buy only the highest quality product obtainable. I don't buy things merely because they are expensive, and in particular I shun brand names and fancy labels. Quality of consumer goods lies, for me, within the underlying structure, and not on the surface appearance. Thus I wear extremely comfortable, long-lasting leather shoes, and durable 100% cotton or wool clothing. I'm just beginning to wear silk - I used to react to the touch of it the way many people do to scratching fingernails on chalkboards.

(I am starting to acquire some sense of visual aesthetics so that others are starting to regard me as well-dressed, but I have always been extremely picky about my clothes: they have to feel nice. The texture of my clothing is of paramount importance, as is the warmth of it. My clothing is usually wrinkled, and completely without any sense of color or pattern (except that I prefer either solid colors, or fine pinstripes, but the choice of color or pattern bears no relation to anything else I might wear), my shirts usually not tucked in and my shoes often untied even at important business meetings, but it is always freshly laundered and quite comfortable to me. It annoys Dave no end that I wear hats indoors, but I do this because they feel nice on my head.)

Lately it has occurred to me to collect small things: my Macintosh Powerbook, compact disks, tiny but interesting toys (look for the "Jet Ball" at the gift shops next time you are in the L.A. airport. They are clear plastic balls, filled with a clear liquid, with weighted spheres painted like eyeballs inside. They look bizarre, and have peculiar physical properties: high mass, but very low moment of inertia so they appear to slide around on things like ice cubes when they are actually rolling. The weights keep the eyes looking upwards, but oscillating, as they roll. I use these to demonstrate lab-frame vs. center of momentum particle physics to the amazement and horror of my non-physicist friends.)

Efren's latest find is a tiny telephone directory, free from GTE. The text is just big enough to read, and it can be held comfortably in one hand. I asked him to pick up another that I now keep in my car. I used to keep a milk crate of telephone books in the back of my first car, a Toyota Corona wagon. I had phone books for every SF Bay Area city, as well as the Los Angeles residential and business-to-business directory, the Northern California business buyer's guide, and Sacramento, and would drive around all these cities browsing around for interesting stuff to buy in the small shops in industrial parks, chatting with the engineers there.

I was often asked by these engineers, quite mystified as to why someone might come in off the street to purchase, say, a two-foot square sheet of teflon with cash (for use as a work surface for building structures from epoxy... one can drip the glue right on the teflon and pop it off when it is set):

"Are you an artist?"

After I while I learned to say:


Thus I have a reputation as an utter slob, when I feel, in my own mind that I am fastidiously neat. I have always felt that this reputation is undeserved, much as I have always felt it unfair that others regard me as lazy, when in fact I work very, very hard, but always with a relaxed and casual demeanor. The perceptions that others have of me often seem quite incongruous with my own experience of myself. I am sure that my friends would regard this all as an elaborate rationalization for not washing my dishes.

I have come to realize that I choose to be neat in stricly limited ways, ways that others might not notice, but that hold central importance to me. For example, my computer program code is probably the most neatly organized that one is ever likely to see:

When I am hired as a consultant to fix someone else's buggy code, my first strategy is to just neaten it up. I see and fix the bugs as I go along. While others hunt for bugs with a magnifying glass and pick them out with tweezers, I back my truck up to the computer and toss out the bugs with a shovel. It works very well for me - but I think that my recent dispute with my adviser stemmed from his unwillingness to even give me permission to do this, as he felt it was a waste of time. The resolution came when I realized I did not need his permission, and decided that I would do it anyway, after I have taken a break from the clutches of Dr. Heusch.

When I make things, I now try to put a nice finish on them, to spend time making something of both external and inherent quality, rather than just making lots of stuff. Most of my bookcases are coarsely constructed of unfinished pine shelving, but my last bookcase is made of birch-veneer plywood with oak trim, and a nice clear lacquer finish. It really is quite lovely. I intend to slowly replace each of my old bookcases with these nice new ones. This last bookcase I keep in my bedroom, by my desk, made from a birch door, again with a lacquer finish, set on milk crates. I bought a eucalyptus-framed futon, a beechwood stool and a tatami mat for my floor. I want to replace the other bookcase in my room with one of these new ones, and get a birch chest of drawers (this is too complex for me to make myself) to complete my room. After that my hardwood will encroach gradually out to the rest of the house.

Last week John asked me to haul the stuff to the dump with him. He said that he had hired a lovely young french woman to help him around the house, and wanted me to meet her, as he thought we would strike an interest in each other. He said that he would pay for the dump run, and he, I and the french woman would load the truck with all the stuff in the front, and as much of the cut-up tree from the back as would fit until the truck was full. He also asked to borrow my "lawnmower from hell". I said that I did not remember the garage door lock combination, so we would have to bring the lawnmower out the back, and lift it over the gate and squeeze it past the pile of pipes.

He also "noticed" that my trash can was broken, and offerred to give me one of his own. A beat-up metal one of his has already taken up residence, much as a cat might leave one owner and go to another caretaker in the same neighborhood, if it feels it is being neglected.

He said that he was not sure that the dump would be open on the weekend, but he would call to find out, and to find out how much it actually cost. I just said that I knew it was open seven days, and that it cost five bucks a truckload. He seemed anxious at this, and insisted he should still call.

This struck me as very odd. Here is a man with a greater interest in and awareness of garbage than I had ever seen, and he does not know when the dump is open, or how much it costs. I started to ponder what was really at work here.

We had an appointment to do this yesterday, but Dave called to ask me to drop by the office, and honestly I did not want to spend the hour or two this work would require listening to John's viscous ramblings. Meeting an attractive woman was a pleasant prospect, but I also felt uncomfortable at his being such a busybody about my personal affairs (this is not the first time he's offerred to fix me up). I just hung out at the office yesterday with Dave and our friend Betty Jones, while I pretended to be working while I was typing a letter to Anne Hull, the other manager at Working Software. I had a nice time discussing my thoughts about how she and I develop intricate methods of working around Dave's peculiar notions of running a business.

When I returned there was a crudely scrawled note securely taped to my front door reminding me of our date for the dump. I saw John later - he was quite pleasant and understanding about my (actually contrived) excuse of working. We agreed to go to the dump today "if it was open". Though I knew it would be, he again insisted he should call first. Perhaps he would have felt more comforted if we drove out there to check before loading the truck!

This morning I abruptly remembered the garage door combination (after trying the actual combinations of other locks I have owned in the distant past), opened my garage, then knocked on his door and found no one home. I felt irritated, and went back inside, but decided that I really wanted what had become, without my notice, a mountain of trash to be gone from my yard.

As I loaded it into my truck I realized that a few bits of scrap wood had grown to a large pile, and had been fortified with several old window frames (complete with splintered glass), a box of rusty old spray paint cans, several hefty bags of wet trash, a three-foot square chunk of a stucco wall (probably from cutting out a hole for a new window in his house), two solid-core doors (the heavy kind as used on the outside of a house), and a small electric hot water heater, of the sort that one can install under a kitchen sink to provide instant hot water for tea or coffee.

I loaded it all in my truck, neatly tarped and tied it (one is charged double for driving untarped loads to the dump, and there is a heavy fine for dropping a load on the highway), and drove it to the dump.

Now, John had planned to load the front pile into my truck, and add wood from the cut-up tree in the back. I was astonished at his, and honestly, my own perception of how much crap there actually was piled in my yard - it completely filled my truck to the top of my cab, with the tailgate open as well! I could not have made it to the dump without tarping it - it all would have fallen off the moment I turned a corner.

As I loaded it, I reflected on the fact that, over the years, John and I had spent far more time discussing his garbage together than it was taking me to load it on my truck and dispose of it myself -- or than it would have taken him to haul it himself, as he has two enormous station wagons. The cargo bay of each car is actually quite a bit larger than the bed of my little Toyota pickup.

Further, John has offerred me money (in the vieled form of presenting his offer to pay for the disposal of his own trash as a favor to me), he has offerred me the social currency of innumerable small favors (that I generally did not ask for and usually did not even want), and he has even offerred to procure me sex (by offerring to introduce me to his french maid... perhaps this is an underlying reason he hired her!) if I would just accept his gift of garbage.

There is a rather odd reason why the dump is actually an interesting place to be. Tremendous numbers of birds gather there to pick through the piles of refuse for tasty morsels. It may well be the most productive place one could hope to go to observe certain kinds of birds (particularly seagulls) and to observe the social interaction of these birds.

There is an incongruous aesthetic to the dump -- it has one of the loveliest views to be found in Santa Cruz, as it is in a small valley in the hills overlooking the coastal artichoke fields and the ocean beyond. The mountains above Monterey were visible above the low-lying mist over the bay. One can find great beauty and serenity there if one can look beyond the chaos and ever-present danger of the dump itself.

As I unloaded Mt. John from my truck, I noticed that the gulls were swarming over a particularly rich vein of precious ore: a dumpster from a restaurant had been emptied nearby. The occasional gust of wind enveloped me in the fragrant aroma of old rotten but fast food.

I noticed that, though the pile of trash was abundant with appetizing bits of seagull chow, surely plenty to feed every one of the hundreds of diners present, the gulls still fought over every piece. If one gull managed to pick a scrap of an old hot-dog bun from the pile, another just as soon snatched it from his beak. Vigorous squawking ensued as the gourmands fought over the bit of food, completely ignoring the tasty repast they trampled beneath their feet.

If I could speak to the birds, to point out to them their errant ways, I am sure they would reply that, though I would be right in claiming it is more efficient not to fight but to each take the food that is readily available, it is the seagull who is quick to snatch the fish from the beak of another who lives to lay another egg. Even had she the opportunity to dine at leisure, such a seagull who becomes complacent would lose an essential skill, in fact such a central part of the seagull nature that it could no longer live upon the open sea, and so could no longer proudly claim the name of "gull".

Thus I no longer felt angry with John. I simply wished to be done with his garbage and to spruce up the disheveled appearance of our yard. I am sure that the begonias and dahlias that Efren and I planted in the front a couple of weeks ago would have attained scant notice beside the enormous pile of trash that John had bequeathed upon me. I am sure that John will continue to give me such gifts, but perhaps I can encourage him to give me small and precious gifts, rather than the enormous abundance I have already partaken of, gifts that are small enough to fit easily into my trash can for immediate disposal.

I'm sure my landlady would agree. Her own faint attempt at improving the appearance of what was her first home after her marriage was to give us a lawnmower, and stipulate in the lease that we mow the lawn regularly. She promised to have the house repainted promptly when we moved in three years ago - I have asked her for a new front door as well, which she assented to, and she reimburses me for any repairs or improvements I make, but I believe that she prefers just not to think about the house at all.

When I returned home, I penned this note on some nice stationery:


I made the dump run. It was just $5 - much cheaper, considering the volume, than getting charged for extra pickup by the city.

I did not take the paint as it is illegal to dispose of toxic waste in a landfill.

While I don't mind making an occasional dump run for you, I ask that you not put trash in my yard.



I put the note in a matching envelope, wrote John's name on the front, then left it on his front porch next to the box of rusty paint cans, under a bottle of motor oil that I found there.

I enclosed the receipt from the dump, for $5, stamped with the Great Seal of the City of Santa Cruz, with a detailed accounting of the various fees and taxes that serendipitously totaled to a perfect five-spot, as evidence of my crime, and, I hoped, a tool to shock him into the reality of actually believing that the dump exists, and is accessible even to people such as he.

As I started to write this note to you, John approached my front door. I saw a look of anger or distress on his face through the window, and honestly feared that I had greatly offended him. It is important to me to have good relations with my neighbors, and I did not want to hurt him. I imagine he felt angry that I had written such a blunt note after he had done so many (unwanted) favors for me, and I am sure he felt disappointed that I had taken from him the opportunity for us all to share in the experience of hauling the trash together.

Thus I felt uneasy when I answered the door, but when I answered he was smiling broadly and spoke to me in an effusively friendly manner:

"I see you took the trash already. Suzanne and I wanted to help you."

"Oh...," I said, "I knocked, and no one answered."

"We were working in the back."

"Well, that's OK."

"I wanted you to meet Suzanne."

"Well, bring her by."

"I will sometime, but right now she's up to her elbows in dirt."


"Here's the money for the dump fee," he said, abruptly shoving a ten dollar bill into my hand.

I pulled out my wallet and started to give him change, but he insisted I keep it - perhaps for my trouble, or for the money I had already been charged for his contribution to my weekly trash pickup. Or peraps he didn't wan't my dirty money.

He went on to say that he would remove the pile of pipes from my side yard.

I thanked him for this, and pointed out that my landlady was giving me a hard time about the appearance of the house. (secret code for "Thank you for the gift, my friend, but mom won't let me keep it.") I said that I would till the yard again soon, and replant the lawn. He insisted that I just mow it, so that the broadleaf weeds would be subdued and the hardy grasses would reestablish themselves.

I imagine that this is indeed a reason to mow a lawn, that the aesthetic of a neatly trimmed lawn has an underlying logical structure - that the natural broadleaf flora of our land can be trained to yield to the comforting grasslands of our ancestry by regular mowing. In such mowing, the suburban housekeeper not only creates an attractive home, but maintains a vital connection with the earth, and with all life - but not with the life we find naturally around us, but with the life we knew when we came down from the trees.

He went on to point out that the plum tree at the far corner of the yard, furthest from his house and next to the extremely neatly trimmed yard of the woman next door to me, was a tree that he had planted many years ago.

I half expected him to then go and pee on it. He did not though - we have strayed too far from our roots.

As I resumed my writing, I looked out the window and watched with satisfaction as he removed the pipes from my yard. Curiously, though PVC pipes are quite lightweight and could easily be moved in armload bundles, he carried them out one at a time, on his shoulder as if they were quite burdensome loads.

After he was done, I stepped outside to view my newly exposed side yard, now free of both trash and pipe, noticing that his excavation to lay the drainpipe had also tilled the earth so that it would actually be easy for me to plant a new lawn there... all the way to the fence. Also, John's reconstruction of the fence has pulled out the flower bushes that used to overhang my lot by three feet, so that there is a clear path to the backyard. There is a bit of lumber still to haul out, but suddenly it seemed clear and easy to me to tear out the gate and replace it.

Perhaps I will continue to tear out the vines that John sends surreptitiously penetrating my back porch, their roots sending shoots up to crumble the concrete of my back porch - cracks so wide that, after breeding in the heavy rains and flooding, frogs make their home in them during the dry summer. I have thought of leaving the concrete there but building a wooden deck over it, so I would still have a way into spend time in the backyard during the monsoon season, the frogs would keep their home, and I would not have to repair or repour the back deck.

Perhaps you will be tickled to know that I contemplated keeping the small hot water heater. I examined it carefully and decided that it would be easier to buy a new one than fix his old one if I ever actually wanted to possess such a thing. Finally I rooted around in my garage, found a pipe wrench, and removed the brass pipe fittings from it, then put the pipe fittings in a box of metal stuff next to my casting sand and metalworking tools, before loading the water heater into my truck.

I set it aside as I unloaded my truck at the dump, then put it back and carted it to the scrap metal pile where, like our new fence, it can begin anew the endless cycle of creation and destruction. What will become of our water heater, now rusting the lonely night away on the edge of the scrap pile?

Is it getting to know its new found friends, the automobile tire hubs, the angle iron and microwave ovens, and especially its older brothers, the full-size hot water heaters, or is it sitting, sadly by itself where I placed it this afternoon, a few feet from the edge the pile, pining for the security of the trash pile where it lay until I abruptly moved it this afternoon?

What will become of our little friend? I suppose that the scrap pile will grow with time, that others will come along to keep him company, until at last he is buried within it, and the pile grows large enough that a truck is brought to haul them away, off to the smelters of the midwest, or perhaps one of the minimills in the City of Commerce, where he will be melted into his component atoms, to be mixed and merged with his brothers, only to be extruded into a piece of railroad track, a manhole cover, or perhaps even a little bit of a new hot water heater, that someday will be installed in someone's home somewhere, to do its patient duty of providing hot showers, perhaps even for an as-yet unborn physics student, for several decades, only to rust once again and be returned to the scrap pile for another round.

Does he remember that the iron atoms within him had their birth at the core of a supernova explosion? Iron, in a sense, is not a naturally occuring element. It is the most stable element, but it only arises as the very end product of the process of nucleosynthesis in stars. It was not present in any significant quantity at the beginning of the universe; only hydrogen and helium were. Such atoms fuse into heavier products during the lifetime of a star - carbon and oxygen, but still fairly light elements. Only at the very end of a star's lifetime do the heavy elements fuse, and then they fuse at tremendously high rates, at very high temperature and pressure.

Iron is the most stable of elements.

All lighter elements yield up energy by fusing until they reach iron.

All heavier elements yield up energy by fissioning until they reach iron.

The heavier elements cannot be formed in significant quantity in the core of normal stars for they will be broken up again by the constant bombardment of high-energy particles.

We know that the metal of the earth was formed in a supernova because elements heavier than iron are relatively abundant. In fact, from the relative abundance of different isotopes of some heavy metals we can calculate the size of the supernova that formed them, the temperature and pressures involved, and we know from this that our Uranium, our Lead were formed in just a few minutes in the heinous explosion of the supernova. Minutes. Minutes out of the billions of years that our predecessor had steadily shined.

I think, next week, I shall invite John and his family over for tea in the evening. I think I would enjoy their company. I shall clean up the house first, as it is a godawful mess.

For this evening I will return to my project that I had assigned myself for my spring break, of recording my piano playing. I must say that I am not a very skilled pianist, and my songs are pretty rudimentary, but I only play music that I have composed myself as I have never been able to read sheet music. I can play things that others take the time to show me, but I grew frustrated with this and just sat down to hammer at the keys until I made songs that sounded good to me. I have never had the patience to write the sheet music, but my songs are simple enough that a good pianist could listen to the tapes and play them.

I think my music is the clearest expression of my aesthetic experience. I must say that most people find it odd, boring or even downright obnoxious, but my music holds great beauty for me, and listening to the tapes I have already made fills me with peace and tranquility.

I must also say that my concept of good music does not require that my piano be even remotely in tune - it was last tuned by my father in 1955 - but it sounds great to me. I'm not tone deaf. I just like the bent notes. I improvise on some of my songs - if I play a tuned piano, or a piano with a different feel to the keys, I play quite different improvisations for what I regard as the same songs. It is the piano itself that I play, and each piano is unique.

I'll send you my tape when I have it ready.



Copyright 1994 Michael David Crawford. All Rights Reserved.


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Mad as...
o ... a Hatter 33%
o ... a Box of Frogs 33%
o ... a Cut Snake 33%

Votes: 9
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o just sat down to hammer at the keys until I made songs that sounded good to me
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o Also by MichaelCrawford

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A Day at the Dump | 57 comments (32 topical, 25 editorial, 2 hidden)
I have done a fair (3.00 / 2) (#2)
by JugularVain on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 12:39:40 AM EST

amount of dumpster diving. Usually it is when the wife is impatient and takes out the garbage to the dumpster with her keys in her hand and dumps the garbage and keys into the dumpster.

There's some nasty stuff in a dumpster when it is above 90 degrees F after a couple of days.

by Jobst of Moravia on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 01:03:05 AM EST


   .,-;-;-,. /'_\ ---Did this Negro say "Street Moor"?
 _/_/_/_|_\_\) /
  ""     ""    ""

hypergraphia (none / 0) (#6)
by circletimessquare on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 01:48:30 AM EST

mc tweak your meds

interesting stuff, but quantity is always inferior to quality

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Yes, definitely hypergraphia, but long ago (3.00 / 2) (#7)
by MichaelCrawford on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 02:08:24 AM EST

This piece is from 1994, a few days before I was hospitalized. It's actually one of the more lucid pieces I wrote back then.

At the time I hadn't been on any medication for six years; I made the decision in the hospital that I would go back on medication and stay on them.

Looking for some free songs?

[ Parent ]

what i'm most impressed by (none / 0) (#11)
by circletimessquare on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 07:55:58 AM EST

is having a file from 1994

how many disk drive migrations and file format updates were involved there? ;-)

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

Many. But what's worse: (none / 1) (#15)
by MichaelCrawford on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 08:59:45 AM EST

I still have all - or rather, almost all - my email going back to at least 1993.

Back in the day I bought a two gig hard drive for $1200. Now I have it backed up on a much larger hard drive that I bought for much less money - but still online.

Looking for some free songs?

[ Parent ]

i've been pretty lucky with hard drives myself (none / 1) (#16)
by circletimessquare on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 09:01:57 AM EST

except for this one, just last year, 500 gigs of pr0n gone


The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

[ Parent ]

Archive to CD or something. (none / 0) (#46)
by claes on Thu Mar 27, 2008 at 09:00:35 AM EST

I knocked a USB drive off the shelf a few months back and lost tens of gigabytes of -- um -- er -- stuff. Plus there's always fumble-fingered rm -rf in the wrong place.

[ Parent ]
rm -rf / some/file (none / 1) (#48)
by rhiannon on Thu Mar 27, 2008 at 11:14:42 PM EST

I did that once, note the extraneous space in there, that was the beginning of when I got serious about backups and paying attention to my typing when sudo-ing.

I continued to rebuff the advances... so many advances... of so many attractive women. -MC
[ Parent ]
mkfs /dev/hda1 ... No! Not hdA! hdB! (none / 1) (#49)
by Corwin06 on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 11:09:35 AM EST

Lost weeks of work.
"and you sir, in an argument in a thread with a troll in a story no one is reading in a backwater website, you're a fucking genius
[ Parent ]
-1 i'm not reading this shit (2.80 / 5) (#13)
by chlorus on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 08:34:19 AM EST

"I always enter a thread butt naked." -

Hooray! (none / 0) (#17)
by rpresser on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 09:36:17 AM EST

Now post us something you wrote the following weekend while in hospital.
"In terms of both hyperbolic overreaching and eventual wrongness, the Permanent [Republican] Majority has set a new, and truly difficult to beat, standard." --rusty
I was working on a paper on Internet security (none / 0) (#18)
by MichaelCrawford on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 10:00:51 AM EST

You probably won't believe me when I tell you that I had been corresponding with a fellow at the NSA. He was the editor of an unclassified journal called EDPACS: the Electronic Data Processing Audit, Control and Security journal.

He had read some of my posts regarding security on the Usenet News, and invited me to contribute. I was most happy to.

Unfortunately, he stopped replying to my mails after I was hospitalized. I don't remember what all I wrote to him around that time, but some of it was probably not very lucid. I'm pretty sure I still have all those emails, but I hope you can forgive me for not wanting to read them again.

I also did a graphic art piece called The Code of the Creator. It's a play on the Mac OS Creator Code, a four-byte value that is part of the HFS filesystem metadata that associates documents with the applications that edit them. I'm pretty sure I still have it; I'll see if I can dig it up.

If you want to do some data mining, search Google Groups for crawford@scipp.ucsc.edu. I was in grad school from September 1993 through April 1994. SCIPP is the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics.

Looking for some free songs?

[ Parent ]

online journing wants 270$ a year (none / 0) (#21)
by Lady 3Jane on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 11:21:11 AM EST


8====================================================================D ~~
8 Please enjoy a male chorus, All of us will become human rifles and bombs!
8 This is offensive. Fix your site Rusty you have to -- The Honorable Edwin Lister
8 Please enjoy a male chorus, All of us will become human rifles and bombs!
8====================================================================D ~~

[ Parent ]
It's a pretty serious journal (none / 0) (#22)
by MichaelCrawford on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 11:25:57 AM EST

We'd all be a lot better off if more of its targeted audience were to actually read it, and heed its lessons.

Unfortunately, I don't think it's widely known - I can't say I've ever heard of it outside of that editor emailing me about it.

Looking for some free songs?

[ Parent ]

well, i haven't read a copy (none / 1) (#23)
by Lady 3Jane on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 11:46:58 AM EST

but as someone who works directly in the business, it seems to be a lot of circle jerk stuff you can read elsewhere for free.

8====================================================================D ~~
8 Please enjoy a male chorus, All of us will become human rifles and bombs!
8 This is offensive. Fix your site Rusty you have to -- The Honorable Edwin Lister
8 Please enjoy a male chorus, All of us will become human rifles and bombs!
8====================================================================D ~~

[ Parent ]
You might get it for free where you work (none / 0) (#25)
by MichaelCrawford on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 02:06:23 PM EST

I know that a lot of Universities have licensing deals where they get lots on online journals that campus people can access for free. Possibly EDPACS is available to your organization that way.

Looking for some free songs?

[ Parent ]

Sadly... (none / 0) (#37)
by jd on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 07:09:42 PM EST

Agencies like the NSA have to consider those who aren't 100% lucid as potential security risks. When working at NASA, I got a wry sense of amusement at the Alchoholics Anonymous chapter being next to the security building. I'd love to know how many employees made use if it and how many went further out.

Nonetheless, complete lucidity all of the time is an impossibility. The best anyone can hope for is to turn invisible about those times.

[ Parent ]

There was a JPL employee in the nuthouse with me (none / 0) (#38)
by MichaelCrawford on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 07:39:20 PM EST

back in '85. He told me that in a session with a staff counselor at JPL, he told her that he was embarrassed to be taking Thorazine. Her reply? "Don't worry: lots of people at JPL take Thorazine".

(For the uninitiated: JPL is the Jet Propulsion Lab, responsible for most of NASA's interplanetary probes, and Thorazine is an antipsychotic, usually prescribed for schizophrenia, that controls paranoia and hallucinations.)

Looking for some free songs?

[ Parent ]

I was also very concerned about the North Koreans (none / 0) (#19)
by MichaelCrawford on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 10:08:49 AM EST

They were rattling the nuclear sabre back then. For quite some time I have known that it's not really all that hard to make a nuclear weapon: most of the really hard physics was declassified decades ago.

The only hard work these days is really a problem in brute force, in that refining the uranium requires a lot of electricity and a large industrial plant, and so is well-within the capacity of many countries.

It happens that my decision to go to grad school arose from reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes. I said to myself, "Hey, I could do that".

I finally was able to publish the warning I wanted just a couple years ago, but this time about Iran:

Looking for some free songs?

[ Parent ]

kock out (none / 0) (#51)
by IainHere on Tue Apr 08, 2008 at 04:29:20 PM EST

Michael, some years ago I pointed out a couple of errors in your free song pages. You amended them, and they were better. I took the time to do it because I see the care you take in writing them, and I respect that.

In your sorry ass-kissing page, the following passage lurks, "first strike would thus have to kock out several square miles of industrial facilties". Obviously, the hilarious mistake you've overlooked is that you have spelled facilities incorrectly.

Incidentally, I've done a fair amount of nuclear physics in my time (English undergraduate and graduate physics, without major/minor, and learning almost nothing but physics), and I had a very similar discussion with two physicist PhD friends about out capacity for making a nuclear bomb. I was certain that the only hard part would be getting the raw materials, but the other two both thought it would be much harder. One of them went on to design missile guidance systems (I'm not kidding). I'm still not sure, but it has kept me awake at night.

[ Parent ]

Hey, Thanks for your help! (none / 0) (#52)
by MichaelCrawford on Thu Apr 10, 2008 at 11:24:43 AM EST

It's fixed.

You're right - I really do appreciate corrections, even years after publication. When I submitted it to K5, I finally found a typo in A Day at the Dump that I knew was in there somewhere, but which had eluded me for fourteen years!

Looking for some free songs?

[ Parent ]

My scroll wheel finger hurts. % (3.00 / 7) (#20)
by Joe Sixpack on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 10:32:29 AM EST


If I pick a random paragraph (none / 1) (#40)
by ensignyu on Mon Mar 24, 2008 at 11:28:42 PM EST

by itself, it's quite interesting. I like your writing. Taken as a whole, though, it's just way too much text. I had to skim it.

I could imagine this as a literary work -- the kind I never read because they're way too long. "One Day in the Life of Michael Crawford", except it's more like half an afternoon.

OK. (3.00 / 2) (#44)
by creature on Wed Mar 26, 2008 at 01:10:26 PM EST

Why are you telling us this?

Might be (none / 0) (#50)
by Corwin06 on Mon Mar 31, 2008 at 11:13:03 AM EST

because it's a look into the mind of someone who's crazy? Madness has many faces. I, for one, find it interesting. You may not. Each to his own.
"and you sir, in an argument in a thread with a troll in a story no one is reading in a backwater website, you're a fucking genius
[ Parent ]
HOLY FUCKING COW (1.00 / 4) (#45)
by HackerCracker on Wed Mar 26, 2008 at 09:37:14 PM EST

Y'know, Mike, have you ever considered the possibility that you have a brain tumor or something like it that's causing you to be batshit fucking insane when you're not on meds? Srsly. If you haven't had a brain scan done you should seriously consider it. SOON.

Oliver Sacks would have a field day with you. Yes, I just finished Musicophilia. Brilliant stuff.

Also tl;rs, damn. If that's your most lucid prose I'd hate to see incoherent. While it was kind of interesting to read about your conflict with your neighbor, the narrative kept getting derailed with non-sequiturs. I think I got about 1/3 through it before scrolling down to see how long it was; once I saw how long it was I was done. Sorry man, but this one doesn't cut it.

Actually I had both a CAT scan and eeg (none / 0) (#47)
by MichaelCrawford on Thu Mar 27, 2008 at 08:58:42 PM EST

because they were seriously considering it could be a tumour. Both turned up negative.

Now, I wasn't on any medication when I wrote this. I started taking it soon after and have stayed on it.

Looking for some free songs?

[ Parent ]

my trip to the dump (none / 1) (#55)
by Abominable Abitur on Sun May 18, 2008 at 10:35:15 PM EST

  1. get truck keys
  2. dump garbage pails into back end of truck.
  3. load recyclables
  4. drive to dump.
  5. pay
  6. unload recyclables
  7. unload garbage
  8. drive home
  9. put keys back on key rack
  10. drink beer.

total time: 25 minutes. shorter than reading this!

"Terrorism is only a viable "political activist" method for marginalized nutjobs, bottom line. The backlash that it causes makes it intractable for any reasonable ideology. Which is why you don't generally see wild athiest suicide bombers in america's streets." - lonelyhobo
try it when you're manic sometime. $ (none / 0) (#56)
by MichaelCrawford on Wed May 21, 2008 at 10:10:54 PM EST

Looking for some free songs?

[ Parent ]

your writing is fantastic (none / 0) (#57)
by GhostOfTiber on Wed Jun 11, 2008 at 11:31:58 AM EST

your focus, not so much.

[Nimey's] wife's ass is my cocksheath. - undermyne

A Day at the Dump | 57 comments (32 topical, 25 editorial, 2 hidden)
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