The first chore of Spring is rebuilding the gazebo, replacing the string of Christmas lights from the previous year with the survivors of the last winter. About half die. One goes out, the rest stay lit! Greater lies have rarely been told. The fabric top has to be cinched on the corners of the roof, and since it’s made of ground-up bones of old men, it shrinks every year, and eventually rips. And it has. One of the ceiling beams, being made of a pliable metal that bends if you yell at it, now looks like a crooked arm, and I’ll have to brace it. I went through this with the gazebo’s predecessor, too.

At least I know this one will not suffer the fate of Gazebo #1, and rot, or Gazebo #2, which simply blew away during a storm. Gazebo #3 collapsed entirely in the snow. I suggested to my wife that we should build a permanent one. With electricity and a fireplace, so we could be indoors outdoors in the winter. She thinks I’m mad. She’s never restrung the lights to replace the dead strand.

I took time out to shoot the flowers that come up every year in the spring, the annual reincarnation. A red megaphone announcing the riot to come:

The second chore of Spring is the relighting of the low-voltage landscape lighting. I plug in the transformer and see which ones survived the winter. This year’s failure rate: 82%. Marvelous. The lights are $3.27 each, and I needed 12. They’re halogen, and cannot be put into the tiny metal tubes unless you use your fingers. The oil on your fingers causes the bulbs to heat unevenly, and burn out.

But! It might be a connection that needs readjusting, so you have to reseat all the little fangs that bite into the pliant cord. But! It might be cord itself, so you have to bring another light along and test the line as you go. I found one length was dead as a steamroller-flattened snake, so I bought another 50 feet. When I got it home I realized that it was four feet too short. That’s why I bought the 75 feet, originally. Sigh. Cut a length, strip it, braid the copper, tape it over. When it was done, though, everything was illuminated, and the back and front had that cool “resort” look I was aiming for when I first set it all up, so many years ago.

I want to rip it all up and redo it.

Probably will. For example, there’s a light at the bottom of the stairs that died a while ago; I replaced the bulb, but something else seems amiss. It won’t glow. It’s part of the buried low-voltage system the previous owners installed, connected to a buried infrastructure that’s a mystery to me. I could trench a line down to the bottom of the steps if we’re going to resod the hill, which seems necessary because last year’s endless seed / dump dirt / fertilizer / water cycle resulted in nothing. The ground is sour!

Although before the sod goes down, they have to repair the sprinkler system.

There was a summer - 2004, 2005 - when everything worked. The sprinkler, the lights, the gazebo, the Oak Island Water Feature. O happy perfect era! Except I had anxieties I’ve forgotten, grudges and worries along with chipper-whistling days, and of course the horrid breach in the brick on the sun porch, which was a cosmetic nightmare and suggested the house would, if given a hard kick, dump its two-story porch in a tumble of bricks and plaster.

Cold hot dogs. You forget the cold hot dogs.

On the way in to Home Depot for lights I realized I hadn’t had lunch. There was a cart selling hot dogs, just because. I bought one. “Ambassador” brand, said the sign. Hard-pressed to think of a situation in which would offer a pliable tube of minced animal as a representative of one’s nation-state, or serve them at a state benefit, but lowly things have a certain dignity when given absurdly high-flown titles.

I had it with onions. They’d been kept chilled, which made the already tepid dog seem like it was living out some dream of being a popsicle. Sat on the edge of a concrete pillar outside of the door, eating a hot dog on a cool May afternoon, doing nothing whatsoever except being disappointed with a hot dog. Life is like that sometimes. Most of the time, really. We remember the good hot dogs. That’s what makes us buy a hot dog again some day.

If you read Friday’s newspaper column, you know I have a strong opinion about plastic bags. It has nothing to do with the fact that they require petroleum products, and while I wish they did not form large aquatic archipelagos and choke sea-life, I believe this could be avoided. I do not support a ban or a tax - a bill before Congress right now would mandate a nickel-a-bag tax, with companies expressly required to pass it along, and, I believe, itemize on the bill. This would raise the price of a newspaper subscription $18.00 per year, among other things.

I just hate them, that’s all. At least for groceries. They break. Nothing stays in place. For small purchases, they’re fine, but when you put groceries in plastic bags and put the bags in the trunk, everything falls out and rolls around. That is the extent of my social consciousness on the issue: they annoy me.

Well, Target ran out of paper bags for a month. On Saturday errands I rolled through the parking lot, looking for people with paper bags, because if I didn’t see any I was going elsewhere. I saw paper bags. Hallelujah.

At the check-out there was a manager getting a stack of paper bags for the clerk, and I said “I’m glad you got them back.”

She gave me a blank look, and shrugged.

“They’re just paper bags,” she said, with no small amount of sour disdain for the thing, or for me.

“They’re much easier to use,” I said. “Things don’t fall out in the car, and they’re easier to get into the house all at once.”

She gave me another look as flat as the previous one, and said, after a pause, “I suppose.”

Either she wasn’t in any mood to chit and/or chat or she’d read the article and I could go to hell thank you.

It was rather surprising to find a nasty manager at Target. The check-out people vary in temperament depending on their personality and the duration of the shift. The stockers are harried because they’re trying to put things on the shelf while people are taking things off the shelf and asking them for the location of something on another shelf. But generally it doesn’t have that serrated mood you find in some grocery stores. (The mood at the local upscale grocery store is always cheerful because everything is so nice. The mood at, say, Rainbow is low, because everything is tired and dowdy, and possibly because once I heard the clerks in the bakery department discuss in loud gaudy tones the quantity of explosive bowel-material in the break-room lavatory.)

Next: Trader Joe’s, for the routine items. Wind in the parking lot nearly took me off my feet. I had my own reusable bag, and told the clerk if we couldn’t get it all in one, paper would be great - especially since Target had been out for weeks, and I used those bags for recycling, and was completely out.

“Target was out of paper bags for weeks?” the clerk said, surprised.

“Yes. Nothing but plastic. Not those big thick red ones they have at Christmas, those are okay. But the thin ones. I hate those.”

“Excuse me,” said the lady behind me in line, “Are you the columnist?”

I said that I was, and if she’d waited, she could have seen me pass off lines from the column like they’d just occurred to me.

I mention that because any writer who has an experience like that and isn’t utterly delighted is either dead inside or not a nice person. It always makes me think of Bugs Bunny in a cartoon where he’s a movie star, and he says and says “Ahh, me public.”

Anyway. On Sunday I had to go back to Target exchange some gift cards. My wife asked me to get some for an event at work; I grabbed the only ones that weren’t birthday related, only to get home and find that the picture of an elephant contained another smaller elephant, wrapped in the larger elephant’s trunk. This indicated it was a gift for a new parent. Not a job-well-done situation for employees. Sigh. So, back.

The lady behind the returns counter couldn’t have been nicer. The transaction wasn’t ordinary, and amusingly conceptual: I would like to exchange these four cards I bought with a different card for four different cards, any of which can be exchanged for food or music. She figured it out with the help of another clerk who knew every code in the system, and then she went allll the way over to the check-out line to get me some envelopes. Gave them to me like it was the highlight of the hour.

Happy people make all the difference in the world.

Went home, sat down in front of the computer, and thought “the site is 16 GB of inconsistent interfaces. It should be redone from top to bottom with a clear navigation style and pages cleared of cruft and janky code. I want to rip it up and redo it.”

I probably will.

Created a new folder called 2014 and started at the top. Figure I’ll release it all at once. It’s something to do. So is eating a cold hot dog, I suppose.

By the way, I went out to check the lighting tonight, and noticed that the dead lamp at the bottom of the stairs has come to life and burns again. I’ve no idea why. If my wife asks what I did, I’ll shrug: I fixed it.

Inasmuch as I opened it up and fiddled around and closed it back up, I suppose I did. Which is probably a pretty good description of rewriting the website from the bottom up, but it won’t bother me so much.






This is an unaired television show from the middle of the sixties, when America was certain of two things:

- We would be able to project our vessels deep into space within 30 years, and

- The earth would be in trouble because of excessive copulation in other countries, and because we are a decent species that does not react to overpopulation by murdering the troublesome billion, we will send six people into space to see if that distant planet around that distant star might be a nice place to settle.

The economics of moving excess populations that far are never addressed, of course. If you asked “why not terraform Mars?” the TV writers might have looked at you cross-eyed.

It is 1997, 30 years in the future. Things may be grim on earth, but the budget for the pilot is quite impressive. Just look at this:




The camera pans up to the balcony, where a TV camera is filming the room for the global news: we take that sort of detail for granted this days, but at the time this was an interesting detail. Oh, sci-fi pulp writers would have added Future Media as a matter of course, a minor detail in their world-building, but for a network pilot? Not bad.



The action cuts to the anchorman who is making a global broadcast. Note the way the shot's framed so we see him on the balcony, his image on the big screen, and the tiny figures below at the consoles.



The camera tracks down a long row of desks, each of which has the obligatory Blinking Console: these are not reused items from the main floor we saw in earlier shots. The technicians are cool, calm, collected, intent on their duties. The loudspeaker notes that the Bermuda station is having difficulties and the countdown has been suspended.



The problems in Bermuda are overcome, and the spacecraft is launched into the great beyond.



Unfortunately, the occupants end up dealing with things like this:



And also laundry.



Yes, it's the unaired pilot for "Lost in Space."



At the end of the pilot, it's Maury from the deli around the corner as a Talosian.



They took another run at it, redid the pilot, and added two things. One:



And this guy.



The new credit sequence had a theme song that did a much better job than the pilot theme, which used Bernard Herrmann's "Day the Earth Stood Still" theme as placeholder music. Alas, the animation suggested that being Lost in Space could be rather relaxing:



The reality, as shown in the revised pilot, was anything but. The Hero went on an EVA. Look at this shot:



The scene that follows, like much that came before, is tense and technical and personality-driven. The original pilot had its merits - the big cyclops, the discovery of alien runes, an AWESOME amphibious minivan. Space Family Robinson. But the revised version not only had a robot, it had a devious saboteur, the malefactor Col. Dr. Smith whose role in the ship’s difficulties was known to the audience but not the crew. The second pilot presented the robot as an automaton without personality, but hinted at a rapport with the small boy. Also, there was a hot blonde added to the crew.

In short: any network executive of the day who turned down “Lost in Space” in favor of “Star Trek” would have been an utter idiot. It was a slam-dunk: this is the one with legs, in the literal and figurative sense; it had contemporary relevance, relatable characters, high tech . . and years before "Best of Both Worlds," a cliffhanger!




An Old West Font.

There's every reason why Star Trek ended up better. Why "Lost in Space" got dumb and funny and campy. Trek had guys like Roddenberry who thought about the details; Lost had guys like Irwin Allen, who had broad concepts and didn't really think the details mattered.

It had three themes, by the way - the original Herrmann, and two different themes by John Williams, each of which was better than the show itself. I loved it as a kid; I still have a plastic model of the Robot on my shelves in my office. But I have no interest in watching any of the old episodes.

Rather watch Star Trek for the 394th time.



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