Back in Missoula

A. called me last night to let me know that she has reached Missoula and taken possession of our new residence.

Bird Camp Update: Next Stop, Missoula

Bird Camp is over. Everything is packed up and stowed, some of it in the new shed that A. built. Everyone is gone. The tents are down. Nothing left but trees and wind. And birds. A. didn’t get away until late Wednesday, and then only to Flagstaff. On Thursday, she and one coworker who is also headed back to Missoula departed Flagstaff in a Suburban. They expect to arrive in Missoula today.

Family First

Sal mops the floors where I work.

He vacuums the carpets and wipes the baseboards down. He empties the trash.

He cleaned up all the blood next door, in the hallway of the apartment building my boss owns. No one knows how it got there one night, three months ago, although this neighborhood becomes pretty lonely at night, a good place for junkies and prostitutes and anyone else whose preferred pastimes are best enjoyed with a low profile.

“Needles,” Sal told me. “Marijuana joints, too.” At first I couldn’t understand this last bit through his thick Filipino accent. “Roach!” he said, pinching his thumb and forefinger in front of his pursed mouth. “I see them on the front steps. In hall.”

His brother is a colonel in the U.S. Army; their father was a captain.

“Me,” he says, “I was a Major Problem.”

The office manager calls him “Mr. Sal.” She just calls me “Sutton.” I’ve wondered what the difference means. I sit at a desk and type on a computer all day. Sal cleans toilets and cuts the grass. Is calling him “Mr.” supposed to compensate for something, or is it just a way of holding him at arm’s length? [FN 1]

Sal doesn’t speak English very well; he’s also shy, although maybe that’s because he doesn’t speak English very well. I get embarrassed for him when he tries to talk to me, because I have to keep asking him to repeat himself, and the more he repeats himself, the more he mumbles, the more jumbled his pronunciations grow. But I figure the only way out for both of us is for me to make sure I understand what he’s trying to say. Down at the copier one day, in the course of one of these awkward exchanges, I finally understood him to be asking about Montana, where he knows I’m moving. He had looked it up on a map. He listed some of the states around it.

“What pretty place is there?” he asked, or that’s what I thought he asked. Eventually I understood that he was asking about parks and attractions, as in, what famous place would one visit there? I told him that Yellowstone was near Missoula, and that seemed to satisfy him. “Beautiful,” he said. “You are lucky.”

“Lots of mountains,” I added. He had told me that he was from the mountains in the Philippines. He asked if there were pine trees, and I took him up to my office to show him some pictures. “Beautiful,” he kept saying. “You must be looking forward.”

“Yes,” I said. “I don’t know if I would ever have decided to move out there on my own -” I was going to finish with something like “but now that we’re doing it, I’m really looking forward to it.”

But Sal interrupted before I could finish.

“To be with your wife!” he said. “Family first!”

I nodded.

“Like me,” he said. “I had a good job in the Philippines, but my wife wanted to come here, so I came here. I was in agriculture.” After a lot of misunderstandings and repetitions, I finally grasped that he had not been a farmer – he had been an official in the Filipino government agency that regulates veterinarians.

“That must be a hard switch,” I said.

He shrugged.

“Family first,” he said, before heading down the hall, a rag dangling from his fingers.


FN 1: I don’t think this is related, but, around Baltimore town, they teach the children to address familiar adults – friends of the family, a tutor, etc. – this way. “Mr.” or “Ms.” and the first name. For some reason I hate the sound of it. Just like the office manager’s usage, it feels like a performance of respect, rather than the real thing. And in the case of the children who are made to do it, it feels like the respect is only required to flow in one direction: from younger to older. Watching a Baltimore mother whack her two-year-old as hard as she can on the rear in the supermarket, or listening to the foul-mouthed children in my neighborhood scream at each other, “respect” is not a word that comes to mind.

Noted with interest

Some advice a lot of us would do well to remember.

Peter Post, great-grandson of Emily and author of several etiquette books, argued that laptops should be banned from the main meal, but are fine during coffee hour, when guests linger at the table conversing. “If you’re using the laptop to look something up in the context of a conversation, it’s really no different than going to a dictionary, and we certainly wouldn’t tell people not to do that,” he said. “The mistake would be checking your e-mail. The minute it becomes something personal, it’s the same as answering your cellphone.” A caveat: “Showing friends what I saw most recently on YouTube isn’t the first place I’d go in conversation. It seems to me that that’s starting to cross the line.”

Bird Camp Update

Sorry my bird-camp posts grew so sparse. I’ll do better next year, when I’m not preparing a rental property/to move.

But just a brief update, for those of who you interest yourselves in A.’s whereabouts. The season has finished out satisfactorily – “not perfect, but okay,” she says, which probably means that any normal human being would look at the same evidence and say it turned out great – and A. leaves camp tomorrow. I can’t believe it’s over already. Seems like only yesterday when I was writing about her leaving Montana for Arizona, and now she’ll soon be on her way back. She hopes to reach Missoula by Friday evening, when she will take possession of our new residence. (Hope she likes it.)

That’s all I’ve got right now.

If you’d like, you can check out past Bird Camp posts here.


…when the Republicans wanted to use the “nuclear option” of ending the practice of filibustering in Congress? Now they’re on track to become the world-record holding, all-time champions of the filibuster.

“Nearly 1 in 6 roll-call votes in the Senate this year have been cloture votes. If this pace of blocking legislation continues, this 110th Congress will be on track to roughly triple the previous record number of cloture votes – 58 each in the two Congresses from 1999-2002, according to the Senate Historical Office.”

A cloture vote is called to end debate so that the overall matter before the Senate can be voted on. You need a supermajority (three fifths of the Senate) to win a cloture vote. You call a cloture vote when your opponent is filibustering (i.e., has the floor and won’t shut up). For some reason, most media outlets seem to be avoiding the word “filibuster” when reporting on Congress these days. For example, the recent overnight Senate debate was described in terms of Democratics “failing to force a vote” on Iraq withdrawals. Another way of reporting this would have been “Republicans filibuster Iraq war vote.” Because that’s what they did. (As is their right, but only because they didn’t eliminate that right back when they were in charge.)


…to be an American, after reading this quote from Harry Potter author J.K. Rowlands on her treatment at the hands of this country’s Christianist extremists.

“I had one letter from a vicar in England — this is the difference — saying would I please not put Christmas trees at Hogwarts as it was clearly a pagan society. Meanwhile, I’m having death threats when I’m on tour in America.”

(The Brits are probably wondering, “have these people mastered fire yet?”)

Report on the last week or so

The various routines I used to document here are in smoking ruins, but at least the house looks great. To reorient you, there were essentially two classes of things I needed to do/have done to the house before the move. One was “stuff that a full price rental needs to have taken care of” and the other was “stuff needed to pass the lead inspection.” The former category included the plumbing work necessary to bring hot water to the upstairs bathroom sink and replacing the grim, ugly old tub surround; the latter category was all painting: to pass a lead inspection, you need to have (1) no lead dust anywhere where the inspector happens to swab and (2) no paint in obvious disrepair.

The plumbers came last Saturday and did less damage than I’d expected. The project was to repipe the entire bathroom, all the way from the bathroom cutoff valves in the basement. I’d thought that this would involve making a rather large hole in the dining-room wall, directly under the bathroom, but, as it happened, the plumbers left only a 2.5 by 1.5 foot hole, up near the ceiling. And the hot-water side of the project was a success, so overall this was a good day.

As the plumbers were leaving, I was beginning to tear down the tub surround. My brother arrived home from work around 6 p.m.

“Sweet jesus,” he said, on seeing the state the bathroom was in. I reassured him that we’d be done within a day.

Last Sunday, Kevin – who has just redone his kitchen walls and ceiling, and so has the tools and experience to do good drywall work – came over to patch the hole that the plumbers made. He ended up visiting three times, allowing him to follow the proper practice of applying mud with three successively larger drywall knives.

As Kevin started the drywall job, my brother and I turned to the tub-surround job in earnest. The tearout was complete, including the crumbling, non-water-resistant drywall that had been behind the surround, and now we needed to install the concrete board that would provide the proper backing for the new surround. Some of the wall behind the surround area was still the original plaster; we ended up leaving this in place for no particularly good reason other than the difficulty of creating a clean edge if we tore it all out. Ultimately, as long as the surround is properly caulked, I suppose it doesn’t really matter what’s behind it.

I won’t go through this job blow by blow, but suffice to say we weren’t showering indoors again until the following Saturday afternoon (two days ago). I was glad to have my brother’s help. Among other things, he came up with a creative application of shims along the studs at the head of the tub in order to deal with the non-square nature of things and the need for the concrete board that would go on next to be flush with the edge of the tub and then lean slightly back toward the wall in order to line up properly with with the rest of the wall higher up.

At one point I visited three Home Depots in a row, finally ending up out in Rosedale, near Dundalk, to find a slightly larger tub surround kit than the one I’d originally purchased, which was exactly the same size as the one that I was replacing. Because of how the original one had been attached, I needed a slightly larger one to cover up the rough edges created by the tearout. This took some doing, and the climax of the search was waiting in the tub aisle in the Rosedale Home Depot for about ten minutes while one employee went looking for another one and one of those forklift elevator things they use to fetch things off of the high shelves.

There were low points, including – as alluded to in an earlier post – my overall clumsiness applying caulk combined with my ignorance of how quickly you need to remove any tape you are using to edge the caulk. I spent about an hour and a half prepping, taping, and then being as careful as can be with the caulk, only to end up yanking about half of each bead away as I removed the tape. It all held up pretty well, as far as the seal goes, and I only had to repair some small patches, but the moment when I first realized my mistake was a dark one, especially since I had been trying to get this part of the job done after work on Thursday and at first thought I had essentially wasted these valuable minutes. My brother was witness to an immature reaction.

But it seems to have all worked out.

I spent the rest of Thursday evening doing the final painting around the house: all windowsills and any chipped areas.

Friday evening was spent putting the house back together and cleaning up all of the dust created by the drywall work in the dining room and the wall demolition in the bathroom, not to mention the sanding that had preceded Thursday’s painting. I resisted my friends’ urging to come to Dizzy’s after work and thank goodness: as it was, even with my brother’s help, I worked straight through until midnight.

The lead inspection seemed to go well, although I won’t know the results until sometime today (Tuesday). The inspector was African, a smiling, jovial fellow. He commented several times on how clean the place was, which seemed a good sign. I said he must see some pretty awful properties sometimes, and he agreed. He was done in about twenty minutes (for which he’ll end up charging me something like $200, but oh, well). He said that, even if the house fails, he’ll only need to recheck the spot that failed, so I think we’ll be just fine.

The lead inspection was done by 11 a.m., and the weekend was mine. It was the first weekend in a month or so that actually felt like a weekend. While there will, from here on out, always be packing to do, there was no discrete task or tasks that I needed to work: no freelance projects, no inspection to prepare for, no contractors coming. Around 4 on Saturday, some friends came over and we had a few beers before cabbing/riding with my brother (who was on his way to a wedding reception) to Artscape. The main goal was to see the Old 97s, though we managed to fit in some additional beer drinking, not to mention some eating, because we are all children of the late 20th century and so excellent multi-taskers.

Sunday was lazy as can be, except for a quick groceries trip with my brother.

Now I can start packing again.