A Working Man’s Cure For Insomnia

From time to time I experience insomnia.  After a while, you get used to it.  You wake up at 1:30 a.m., fully alert, and after trying unsuccessfully to fall back asleep you yield to the inevitable, get up, and do something until you feel like you can fall back asleep again.  I think insomnia occurs when something important is happening, and my subconscious brain just won’t stop fretting about it even while my conscious brain is asleep.

img_9638But, for me, at least, there is a cure for insomnia:  physical labor, preferably outside.

The last few days I’ve been fighting the dandelion wars out in the yard.  This involves bending over and, frequently, getting down on hands and knees to find the roots of the dastardly dandelions, then using a gardening tool as a lever to try to pop them out.  Often that’s a struggle, as you dig around in the hard ground trying to find the root — because if you don’t find the root those dandelions are just going to crop up once more and you’ll have to do the whole exercise over again.  Fill a bucket with the dandelion roots, flowers, leaves and other remains, walk down to deposit them in our compost pile, and then start over again in another part of the yard.  Do that for a few hours on a bright, sunny day and you’ll discover muscles in your back and legs and hands that you’ve forgotten you had.  Do that for a few days and hands that haven’t known callouses for decades might actually begin to develop a few, and hamstrings will be crying out for relief.

And at night, when darkness falls, you’ll find that you’re so exhausted that sleep comes easily and the nocturnal bouts with insomnia simply don’t happen.  It’s as if the physical fatigue overwhelms any effort by the subconscious mind to force you awake, so you sleep well — other than a leg cramp or two.

It’s just one of the many benefits of physical work — and obviously weeding doesn’t even hold a candle to the degree of effort needed to work on a construction crew or a farm.  People who do that for a living must sleep like rocks.

A Day For Those Who Served

Power Day:  59th Ordnance Brigade recognizes achievement

Memorial Day comes very early this year, but for a grateful nation it is never too early to appreciate those who have served on behalf of their country.  On this day, we take time to remember the selfless men and women who have fallen, and to recognize those who are serving yet today.  We say thank you to the soldiers and sailors, to the Marines, the Air Force pilots, and the Coast Guard captains, and — because it is the 21st century, after all — to the members of the newest branch of the U.S. military, to the members of the U.S. Space Force.

Thank you for all you have done and are doing to keep our nation safe and strong!

Dandelion Wars

The battle is on, already.  It’s an eternal, never-ending battle, like good versus evil or modern Americans versus encroaching obesity.  Except this battle is for the highest stakes of all:  a nice, grassy yard come summertime.

The enemy is the dandelion.  Sure, there are other weeds in the yard — lots of them, to be honest — but the dandelion is the undisputed leader of the weed brigade.  It sits there in the yard, flaunting its bright yellow flower, putting on an act of innocence.  As a child, you might have have gathered a fistful of dandelion flowers and brought them home to Mom.  You certainly picked and blew with delight on a dandelion puffball — blissfully unaware that, in so doing, you were scattering nefarious dandelion seeds to every corner of your yard and unconsciously aiding the ultimate lawn care enemy. 

But with adulthood came the realization that dandelions had to be defeated — in fact, they had to be wiped from the face of the yard at all costs.  You understood that dandelions, with their wicked sawtooth leaves and spreading roots, were killing off the grass and opening the way for other, prickly weeds to quickly turn your nice, soft, barefoot-friendly lawn into a ugly, painful, weed-infested disaster. 

There were times, after a long weed-hunting day out in the yard, when contemplated your aching hamstrings and briefly wondered whether the constant battle against dandelions was worth it, because you seemed to be fighting a desperate rear-guard action against an implacable, inexorable inhuman foe.  You wondered: Would it really be so bad to let the weeds win?  But you quickly dismissed that thought as ridiculous and self-defeating.  You grasped that it was your duty, as a good neighbor concerned about property values and the wrath of other homeowners on the block, to fight the good fight. 

Well, it’s Memorial Day, dandelion fighters!  That means it’s time to get out those tools and gloves, scan for the familiar dandelion signs, and get down on your knees and get back into the fray.  Once more into the breach, dear friends!  

Masked Driving

We took a long drive this week.  It was our first extended road trip in a while, but it also was interesting in other ways as well.  In fact, I would say it was one of the more memorable drives I’ve ever taken.

b3effd_ltptolls020411It’s as if the country is reawakening from a long sleep.  Some people are up and wide awake, some are groggy from the long slumber, and some are still snoring.  As a result, the roads weren’t nearly as busy as you would normally expect on the Thursday before the Memorial Day weekend.  In the early morning hours in Ohio, we saw lots of trucks on the road — a good sign, incidentally, for a resurgence in the nation’s economy — but virtually no cars.  By mid-morning, as we rolled through northern Pennsylvania on I-80, the trucks still dominated the road and cars remained few and far between.  The traffic picked up as we skirted New York City and Boston, but we didn’t hit any stoppages, even with lots of road construction.  As a result, we made excellent time.

The lack of traffic is one reason why the Cannonball Run record — the wholly illegal effort to make the fastest drive from the Red Ball garage in New York City to the Portofini Inn in Redondo Beach, California — has been broken repeatedly during this national shutdown period.  The new record now stands at less than 26 hours, which is mind-boggling and makes you wonder about the top speed reached as the cars zipped through the wide-open western states.

But the lack of traffic wasn’t the only reminder of the coronavirus.  As has now become the norm, for me at least, once you are out of your personal space you become acutely conscious of every common surface you touch.  Refueling means touching buttons on the gas pump and holding the nozzle.  You don your mask as you enter gas stations — some stations have signs saying that masks are mandatory — and think about the safest way to open the bathroom door, flip up the toilet seat, and flush the commode if you need to use the facilities.  (Your prim and proper grandmother was never more worried about the cleanliness of rest stops than you are right now.)  At one stop, as I stood masked and trying to do my 20 seconds of vigorous, soapy hand-washing, a trucker stood next to me and brushed his teeth, which was a bit unnerving.

You put your mask on, again, as you pay at toll booths, which is probably the best argument ever for getting EZ Pass and just rolling on through.  Every toll booth worker was wearing masks and gloves, and at the I-84 toll booth in New York City the attendant applied some kind of disinfectant to the dollar that I handed her.  It makes me wonder if COVID-19 will drive another nail in the coffin of cash and spur faster adoption of contactless payment card technology.  For that matter, it makes me wonder if toll booths where you can actually use the nation’s currency also aren’t going to be around for long.

In all, a very memorable trip.  The coronavirus continues to affect just about everything.

The Crowd Factor

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How many industries will be put out of business by the coronavirus pandemic?  Many people are predicting that movies will be one of the victims.  I’m hoping that isn’t so.

There is something magical about experiencing things in crowds.  I”m not a fan of Hollywood culture and its enormous phoniness, but no one who’s seen a good movie in a packed theatre can deny that there’s an energy, and a shared communal experience, that simply can’t be replicated by watching something in your living room.  Sporting events are one of those things that really has to be experienced in crowds.  So are movies.

Who here saw Jaws when it was first released in theatres?  And who remembers the hushed stillness and expectation in the crowd when the Richard Dreyfus character went down into the deep to explore the wreck and heard the collective gasp of literally everyone in attendance when the corpse popped out to startle the heck out of everyone?  Or hid their eyes when Quint fought desperately, and unsuccessfully, to stay out of the shark’s huge, unforgiving maw?  Who remembers the thrill that ran through them when the shark’s theme music thrummed through the auditorium, and they knew that another character was about to be launched into the infinite?  For many of us, the theatre experience is part of their collective experience, to be shared and discussed with our friends.

Think of every other movie that had that raw, communal effect on an audience.  Whether your tastes run to slasher films, or science fiction awesomeness, or weepy chick flicks, there is something indefinable, yet very real, about experiencing a movie in a crowded theatre full of people ready to be entertained.  Can we really give up the richness of that experience because of a simple virus?  Doesn’t doing so take some of the richness out of our lives?

I obviously don’t know whether the film industry will survive the current pandemic.  I just hope that it does, because I don’t think watching Netflix in your living room holds a candle to the crowd-watching experience.  When the new James Bond movie hits the theatres, I’m going to try to watch it in a theatre with other thrill-seekers.

Clear As A Bell

It’s a beautiful sunny morning in Stonington, Maine, as we prepare to celebrate the Memorial Day weekend. It’s cooler here than in Columbus, but the sunshine is much appreciated after days of rain in Columbus.

The sun officially rose at 5 a.m. today, but at 4:30 it was bright enough to wake me up. The lobster captains like that, because they like to get an early start. When I arose at 4:30, I could hear the throaty thrum of marine engines starting up in the harbor as they headed out to sea for their daily tour of their traps.