Fumes, guns and conference calls

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I am sitting in a canoe chair (those little legless collapsible seats also known by the brand name “Crazy Creek”) in the master bedroom of our new house as I type this, having arrived here about an hour ago to make use of the land line phone to record an interview that now appears to have fallen through.

The interview was to have been a conference call between me, two employees of the company that is my client and the president of a technology firm , but after about fifteen minutes in the “conference room,” waiting for the robotic voice to announce that the interviewee had joined the call, one of the client representatives decided we’d been officially stood up and pulled the plug.

Other than the few items I brought with me today, the house is still empty. From the door, the bedroom looks like it is set up for a stakeout or a phone scam: expensive computer and phone equipment, a tangle of wires on the floor, and not much else. The sort of sight that would be most unwelcome after you’d finally tracked down the “offices” of those people who said you’d won an expenses-paid cruise and they would just need your social-security number and birth date for a U.S. Customs form to complete the reservation.

Next to my camp chair is a stack of two milk crates, elevating my phone (and, thus, the speaker-phone mic) to about head level for best sound quality. At my right hand, ranged on the cream-colored carpet for ease of reference, is a group of pages torn from a technical manual, showing diagrams of various components of the high-end server that was to be the subject of the call. A yellow pad and pen, as analog backup for note taking should my computer fail. A water bottle.

And the window open to the sounds of a wet Missoula day, the shouts of children at recess in the playground drifting in from across the street.

I wonder what the rooms looked like that my fellow conference callers were sitting in, though I can guess. Despite the rather heady fumes from the recently – and gorgeously – refinished wood floor in the living room, I’m betting I have the better end of the deal, which is why I’m not complaining that the call got cancelled.

Since last I wrote, I passed a hectic weekend, trying to get as much work out of the way as possible before this week, our last before the big move this weekend. So a lot of typing and thinking and staring bleary-eyed at web pages on BizTalk servers, Virginia mountain-music bands and indicators of young-child health and well-being, just to give you a sense of the incongruous assortment of clients I have right now.

But all work and no play makes Sutton a dull boy, so, on Sunday afternoon, I joined a friend for a leisurely drive out onto Forest Service land just south of town, where we parked his truck, dragged a tall cardboard box out to the base of a snow-covered hill, and – over the next couple of hours – shot it to pieces, along with some cans brought along for the purpose, with a .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol and two revolvers (.22 and .44). [1] (We were going to shoot some clay pigeons with a shotgun as well, but apparently there is a shortage of “clay load” shells in the state.) This was relaxing indeed, and I was able to attack my work with renewed vigor on Sunday evening, although I eventually called it quits in favor of watching a little more of Thunder Road, the 1958 Robert Mitchum movie identified on the DVD box as “the definitive moonshine movie.” I picked it up the other day at the local Hollywood Video, along with the Gregory Peck film On the Beach (1959) after making one of my recurring pledges not to watch any more movies made more recently than 50 49 years ago. (Most recent cause: a bad week in which I viewed two vomitous recent releases, 3:10 to Yuma and The Kingdom. I don’t know why I keep thinking that big-budget blockbusters will ever do anything other than make me want to roll the television off the balcony, but somehow I just keep screwing up. Take my video-store card away before I rent again!

Amy gets back from Venezuela tonight.

1 Yes, one really can behave this way and it’s entirely legal. On Forest Service land, the default setting is in favor of the carrying and discharging of firearms, providing you are not doing it in a way that endangers anyone else. And since there is approximately a mile of space for every current resident of Montana, finding a safe spot is not exactly hard.

Past Tension

Funny how it can all come crashing down. At 10:30, fresh from a conference call with a new client about the next step of a challenging and interesting project, I was feeling great – upbeat, proud of how much I’ve learned (from scratch) about a complicated technical subject in the last couple of days, brimming with confidence.

Then the floor guy, who was scheduled to start work today, called to tell me the new house has no power. Then I realized that I’d misdirected an important Amazon package (so urgent that I’d paid extra to have it overnighted, for the love of Pete!) to an old Baltimore address, where it had indeed arrived in record time. Just 2,400 miles away from where it will do me any good.

So much for the good mood, especially since both of these mishaps are inarguably my fault.

Before she left for Venezuela, Amy jotted a few new-house-related to-dos on a pad in the kitchen. One of them read “Electric – changed to our name.” In the rush before Amy left, we hadn’t discussed any of these items, and – when my eye fell on the pad a few days later – the grammarian in me saw “changed” and assumed that it had been taken care of. If I’d thought about it, of course, I might have found it strange for Amy to make out a to-do list of things she had already done. But I didn’t think one more second about it until the floor man’s Scottish brogue came through my phone at about 10:45.

Fortunately, he’s an understanding guy and can simply put off starting until tomorrow. (He looks like a beer drinker, so maybe he’s on his way to the pub as we speak; he did say he’d leave his machine in the house, so I guess he’s taking the rest of the day off).

As for Amazon, the problem there was that, when I was completing my order for an iMic(the preamp device I’ll need in order to make audible recordings of phone interviews using my MacBook’s Garage Band program), my eye fell not on the delivery address but the billing address, and so I blithely clicked through and inadvertently sent my package off to my old work place, which is where I always used to have things delivered so as not to tempt the junkies with packages left on the front steps of our house.

Unfortunately, I need this device so badly, so quickly, that I guess I’m just going to have to reorder it, overnighting it once again, and then just deal with obtaining/returning the other one later. (Anyone in Baltimore need an iMike? Let me know – we’ll work something out.)

I discovered I needed the iMic when I was at the new house yesterday, testing my recording setup on the new landline there. [1] Just plugging my trusty Radio Shack phone tapper straight into the line in on my MacBook, I was able to pick up faint sounds, but not high quality enough to send to my new client’s transcription service (yes, they treat their writers well!). The problem is that the line in isn’t powered, so – unless you’re using a source that boosts its signal to line level on its own, like the kind of microphone that needs a battery or some other gadget along those lines – you just won’t get much volume.

And, of course, the power was working just fine when I left.

Yesterday also included the first official trip to Home Depot as a Missoula home owner. I know some people love that sort of thing, but there is probably nothing I like less than going into a hardware store. I was only there to get keys copied and to buy a downspout extender (to direct that leaking hose faucet further away from the house until I can fix it), but I could feel a sort of gravitational pull on my wallet as I walked the aisles, like the money was trying to drain out on its own.

I heard from Amy later in the day, as I was curled up reading a white paper about a Microsoft server, which is just how I like to spend my time these days. She and the crew were in town from their jungle camp for a few hours. She says things are going well: no problem locating nests (she was worried it might be difficult for her to adjust, since apparently you use very different methods in dense jungle, compared to the relatively more open high-elevation forests in Arizona) and no problem quickly learning the new species down there. I think she has a real knack for this stuff, although of course, being Amy, she denies this.

She says she has heard monkeys in the jungle but hasn’t seen any yet. I have asked her to bring me one if possible. I’m looking for a replacement for Zuzu the cat, and I figure only a highly intelligent primate could rival her for her ability to annoy the living crap out of me as I try to work at home. Lately, one of her favorite spots is on my desk, where she basks under my green-shaded faux Tiffany desk light like it’s her own personal heat lamp, which is fine, but of course when she wakes up it’s time to play chase the pen or paw the edges of folders until I have to forcibly eject her from my office. It’s finally dawned on me that her most active, fidgety behavior probably indicates hunger (i.e., she is finally regretting ignoring her food for three days straight and wants some fresh processed offal ASAP). To try to buy some peace just now, I went up and opened three different cans of cat food so that hopefully she can find SOMETHING she likes, fill up her annoying little belly and go sleep it off somewhere.

I know a monkey wouldn’t be much better, but at least it would be, well, a monkey.

On the pop culture front: last night, before going to bed, I wasted a few brain cells watching the latest excrescence from Fox, Nothing but the Truth, this new game show wherein contestants are hooked up to a “lie detector” of some sort and then asked increasingly more personal questions as they work their way up a pyramid of cash prizes, from $25,000 to $100,000 and beyond. Family members sit with the contestant on stage, allowing the camera to zoom in on the quavering upper lip of, say, the contestant’s wife, while she waits for her husband’s answers to questions like “have you ever slept with any of your wife’s sisters?” or “is your wife the most attractive woman you’ve ever dated?” It doesn’t matter what the answer is, of course, it only matters whether the lie detector’s sultry female voice announces “that answer is… true.” [2] If yes, he keeps his money and can move up the prize pyramid.

But of course the show’s producers aren’t interested in giving their money away, so – with each step up in possible prize amounts – the emotional stakes of each question increase. It is easy to imagine an appearance on this show having severe consequences in the lives of the contestants and their families, a fact that is actually pointed out in between rounds by host Mark Walberg (not Wahlberg), a helmet-haired fellow who manages to mix at least a little genuine concern in with his overall smarminess.

My question is, what’s next? Not to get all “slippery slope” on you, but it seems to me that the same market that supports a show like this is probably also ready to watch shows in which people compete as to who can break up with their current spouse in the most hurtful way possible, or maybe who is willing to lose his or her virginity in the most degrading circumstances.

I probably shouldn’t give them any ideas.

1 We never got around to installing a landline in the current house; in fact, the only reason we’re doing so in the new house is specifically so I can have a more stable connection for recording phone interviews for this new client, who requires it. I’ll be glad to have a landline again, though – there all kinds of emergencies I can imagine in which it could make a life-or-death difference to have a phone that (1) doesn’t depend on electrical power and (2) can’t be lost somewhere in the house when you need it. Serial killers come to mind, although I guess they usually cut the line on their way in. Oh, well.

2 According to Wikipedia – which is NEVER WRONG – the Colombian version of the show was pulled off the air when a woman answered “yes” (apparently truthfully) to the question, “did you pay a hit man to murder your husband?” Under the terms of the show, she got to keep the money.

For more Sutton, check out his Missoula Notebook.

I’m Back


I’ve let this space languish in favor of my new gig over at New West, called Missoula Notebook (and if you haven’t read and commented on my latest over there, you must be the only one on the planet), but I’m in the mood to jot a few notes here again and start putting up some more pictures. I’m enjoying the column format at New West, but I’d also like to share some of the day-to-day details of our ongoing adventures here in Missoula/Montana/the West, etc.

The big news, for those who don’t know, is that we settled on our new house last Monday. We are putting off the move until Amy gets back from Venezuela, where her department runs a project similar to the one in Arizona that she manages (she left on Tuesday, the day after our settlement). Everyone wants to know if I’m having to do all the packing, but she got a big head start on it before she left. (She’s trying to make up for last summer, not that I think she has to.)

While she’s been gone, I’ve been trying to remember to bathe and go outside, not so easy when you freelance from home and there is no around to keep you on any sort of schedule. (Even the cat is relatively indifferent whether she gets dinner or not.) I’ve been over to the house a few times and intend a return trip today. We are having the floors redone and I have to get a copy of the house keys for the floor guy, plus I want to stop by and jury rig something so that a continually dripping (running, really) external faucet doesn’t continue soaking the ground right next to the house. (If there’s a cutoff valve, it is far underneath the house in an unfinished and virtually inaccessible crawl space, but at least the movement of the water keeps the pipe from freezing.) I also want to get some photos of the place while it’s still empty and the floors are all beat up, so we can showcase our accomplishments.

Yes, the place needs some work. The roof is a little rough, but is estimated to be good for another two years. A lot of houses around here have these interesting-looking metal roofs and metal siding, a vaguely retro-future industrial look I’m keen on. Amy (no more “A.,” since her anonymity is gone in my Missoula Notebook pieces) worries that it will make the house look like a spaceship, to which I say, “yes, and?” The garage paint job is looking rough, too. I wonder if we can just slap new siding over the old wooden siding? Not sure I’m keen on sanding down a building that probably has lead paint on it.

But the yard is big, the massive tree shades the house nicely, and the former resident left the necklace of elk skulls hanging around the tree’s trunk (not to mention a rig in the garage that looks like it’s for hanging game from the ceiling — if I win a big stuffed animal at the next county fair, maybe I’ll impale it on one of the hooks). And best of all, there is a little park across the street with a playground and a “splash park.”

I can’t wait to spend a few Saturdays there.