To Risk Your Heart for a Dog to Tear


This was Merry, our chihuahua. And a couple weeks ago she died in my wife’s arms.

Merry was a rather gentle spirit (for a chihuahua). She never nipped anyone, her barking was not incessant, and she was friendly to everyone she met. Don’t get me wrong, she was still an enormous pain in the ass. She was a beggar for food on a level that would match even a labrador, her farts were constant and devastating, and she was a real snowflake regarding thunderstorms and even the soft patter of rain. But she’d march out into a furious blizzard to do her business and then race back to her mama’s arms for warmth and consolation.

She was always always always with Carjo. They bonded in fifteen minutes upon meeting and it was a love that will live forever. Oh, she liked me just fine. I was always good for a chest to sleep (and fart) on. But my Carjo was her greatest joy; the dog worshiped my wife like a god and my wife loved her like God loves her children.

She was known to have heart/lung issues. We did a fair amount of doctoring but nothing ever seemed to fix it. Some medications just aggravated her coughing/honking/wheezing. And it only got worse with age. The last week in June, one morning she started a hideous cough at five AM and it only got worse. The nearest vet is almost forty miles and we raced her there once they opened. All the while Merry laid in Carjo’s arms, struggling for breath and fixing her with a gaze of “why why why”. Ten minutes from the vet she died.

I am bereft and my wife is quite broken. She has now found a female chihuahua puppy in MT that is available for adoption and we’ll get her by the end of July. But it will not be a substitute and it will not lessen the grief. But it will be someone new to love and hopefully, it will be a long affair.

RIP my sweet Merry, 2008-2019.


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Working Towards a Full Revival

Last Monday I had bilateral hernia surgery. It was a three hour job and I was left swollen and hurting. I had been carrying around these twin abdominal failures for years and they have pained and restricted me a great deal. And of course the damn bus seats only aggravated the situation. So I was damn glad to get it fixed.

I was given a semi-serious pain killer but like I did with my broken ankle, I quit the oxy well before it was time to, subsisting on ibuprofen and Scandinavian stoicism. It worked. I still have some pain in my lower abdomen and swelling due to torsion, but it’s bearable and steadily improving. I am restricted to lifting less than fifteen pounds. Two of our cats top that with ease and they DEMAND Daddy picking them up. If doesn’t seem to hurt so I do it. Carjo is supposed to do the heavy lifting but she tends to flake out due to her own medical issues. The toughest thing for me to do is open and close the bedroom windows – that’s where my torso screams “STOP THAT SHIT NOW”! So I have to watch that.

One job I am definitely not able to do is mow the lawn. I found an eighth grade boy who rides one of my old bus routes. He shows up with a riding mower, bags it all, and hauls it away. And damn it looks good.

vivid lawn

The drought we’ve been under has finally broken with a surge of heavy rains. This was taken this morning. We had a three inch deluge on Tuesday and then it got mowed on Wednesday. Damned if it doesn’t look plush for the first time in almost a decade.

So I will continue to recover, taking care not to pop a seam or blow out the mesh barriers inside me. Carjo has a series of eye surgeries this month so we’ll be on the road a lot. And then we have a string of dentist appointments. It’s just one damn doctor visit after another when you reach our age but this should give us some breathing room for a while. And in another month or so I might be strong enough to mow this lawn.

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A Summer for Growth

Haralson in bloom

We’ve been more active in the growing and gardening department this year. A small garden has been planted, I put in beds of Four O’Clocks and Marigolds, and Carjo did several pots of flowers and tomato plants. And to top it all off, the apple trees hit the blossom stage one year early. Above is the Haralson and below is the Honeycrisp. This means, provided we keep pests at bay and water/fertilize like the dickens, we will have a substantial crop this year.

Nothing like homegrown healthy eating.

Honeycrisp in bloom

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Farewell to a My Digital Nemesis


Apple has announced that they are finally putting a bullet to the head of the bloated iTunes program, splitting it into three components. Now there is a grave I would happily pee on. I spent too much time this weekend battling iTunes so if they really do introduce NEW software (rather than just stripping out functions from the old piece of shit) it will be welcome. I say Tim Cook should just nuke it from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

On a PC, iTunes is prone to locking up without cause or warning, horrible at retrieving album art work (a few years ago I saw it draw a blank on Exile on Main St – that is just mind-boggling), and shifting the location of its music folder for…reasons. I will admit that I am a fussy old man with an extensive CD/vinyl library and an immense digital library of ROIOs and ripped CDs (lossless). I suffer from audiophile tendencies. iTunes and I are natural enemies.

I was going to add some music to the iPhone for upcoming travel. My wife wanted a sort of greatest hits playlist to just hit shuffle and crank in the car. And the war began. First, iTunes decided that my iTunes library was not in the external drive where it has always been, but in the D drive. And despite my resetting it every fucking day, it kept defaulting back to that drive. I checked this morning. Yup, back in D. And every time I restored the library it would fuck up the artwork – and on different albums every time. It also froze in place a few times. I’m just ripping CDs to MP3s (a format I hate but it’s the only way to carry a library of 5000 songs on the phone), which should be the basic function of a media player. And it fails. I’ve never introduced a flac file or a bootleg concert to the piece of shit – it’d probably clutch its proverbial pearls and hit the digital fainting couch.

On our PCs/laptop, the Johnson family has tried several media players and ended back up on WMP. It has its own bugs (I killed the function to update albums on a regular basis) but hell, half the time it will even supply the correct artwork on a ROIO/bootleg and if it doesn’t, I just copy and paste. iTunes makes you save the image and then laboriously upload it with album info. I can play hi-res files, FLACs, you name it. I’ve done an A/B against the vaunted JRiver where they pretty much hit a tie on hi-res files. Oh, and iTunes needed to be fiddled with to play nice with my Schitt DAC. JRiver and WMP just shrugged and went about their business.

So why do I even bother, why not just stream it off Apple Music or Amazon Music? Or why not back it all up to the cloud using iTunes Match? Oh hell no!

I have heard my wife have arguments with Alexa when she plays the wrong version of a song. I’ve played with “the cloud” and the programming to replace your library is frustrating and limited. In addition, I live in West Bumfuck, North Dakota and streaming services just aren’t reliable driving cross-country. So we don’t rely on streaming. I am just paranoid enough to back up everything in a few external hard drives and plan on putting one in a safety deposit box this year.

I have a very good friend who worked for Apple and drank deep of the St Jobs Koolaid. He admitted to me that I am not the type of music listener iTunes was intended for. The funny thing about it, neither is he. And neither was St Jobs, who was a vinyl freak even before it became cool again. So I will keep my physical media. And I will never mourn the demise of iTunes.

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The Closure I Need (with SPOILERS!)

Avengers - Steve, Tony, Thor

We watched the season finale of Game of Thrones the previous weekend. Many were anticipating but I was dreading it. David Benioff and D. B. Weiss (and their writing team) had been struggling ever since they ran past George RR Martin’s source material. Yes, they had GRRM’s sketchy outline of how the series would end and a couple of WTF moments (the reason for Hodor’s name, etc). Their job was to get the series there, in what they decided would be two abbreviated seasons. In other words, combine what would be done in two one-thousand page books in twelve episodes. And stick the landing.

If you have been paying attention to the reviews and commentary roaring through media sites and social media, many fans thought they didn’t even clear the vault.

I am one of those fans. The amount of plot holes, inconsistencies, bad military strategy (when they had any strategy at all), ridiculous character developments, continuity issues, gratuitous fan service, and just lousy dialog made me feel like I was watching The Walking Dead again.

The previous season had a fair amount of fan service. There were a lot of characters who deserved either a gruesome death or a glorious moment. D&D shoveled those out right and left. It didn’t always work because it was often done in a clumsy manner but it still felt right because hey, Bolton got eaten by his own dogs and that’s a perfect justice. I am certain his fate in the books is going to be even better but I could live with it, just like Hodor holding the door. Almost enough to ignore that everyone was crossing the length of half a continent in a matter of days by either horseback or dragonback.

This season felt ridiculously compressed. The Battle of Winterfell was truly epic. It was also confusing as hell, most of the main characters were wearing impenetrable plot armor, and the strategy was obviously created by one of the writer’s children. And we never did find out where the hell Bran went even though it was apparently VERY IMPORTANT that he did so. They never bothered to explain that. Hell, they never bothered to explain dozens of things. If you don’t believe me check the Web. There’s lists everywhere.

Moving on, the show ignored all the prophecies the books/series have been building for years, had characters doing things that were either comically stupid or so out of character it made one weep, changed the weather and the topography just to convenience the plot, give disservice to just about every female character, and plainly just wanted to get the whole thing over with so D&D could move on to their posh new Star Wars gig. Well, there’s three movies I won’t have to see. Color me pissed off until the end of time. Especially because I know damn well GRRM is never going to deliver books seven (and I fear, book six).

On Sunday I went to the community-owned movie theater in Tioga ND. It’s small (probably less than 300 seats) and the mix on the sound system is lousy. Nonetheless I walked away with great satisfaction and CLOSURE. I saw The Avengers: Endgame.

This was a lesson on how to stick a landing (in a series spanning 20+ movies). A lesson on how to incorporate fan service without fans feeling like they’ve been pandered to. A lesson on how to give an ending to beloved characters and letting the audience have all the feels.

The movie is not flawless. The time travel plotlines (as are all time travel plotlines) best not examined under too much scrutiny. We never found out what happened to Loki. I would have rather Black Widow had a better end. I could see where some might have an issue with fat-shaming. These are quibbles in an experience that defined fulfilling the story’s potential and putting a fitting ending on just about every plotline. This was not the Game of Thrones experience.

I cannot count the number of times I was laughing my ass off, had palpitations because I truly did not know who was going to live through this, and got downright verklempt at a couple of characters finales. This was all about how to stick a landing and how to end a series.

So bravo to the Russo brothers, Christopher Markus, and Stephen McFeely. You and dozens of great actors did the impossible. You brought a finale to a series and you certainly wiped away the cloud of despair and fury that GoT generated. Thank you.


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I’m Set Free

Sometimes losing is a good thing. This week was proof of that. See, I lost my part time job.

Many of the kids on my bus are hellions. Not all of them but we’ve got plenty with less than privileged circumstances and the seams do show when you apply stress. Throw them together on a school bus on a Friday afternoon, add a couple guests whose only intent is to misbehave, and stir. Chaos. All caught on tape and reviewed by my manager.

So on Monday, about a half hour before afternoon route, I was told that I was being “let go”. There was an altercation between two little kids and one was left with an ugly bruise. The principal asked to see the recording and that recording didn’t go down well with my boss.

Now he told me I was spotted by the Highway Patrol truck inspection and there were students standing (duh, they’re always trying to do that – it’s a constant battle). The inspection officer told the bus manager rather than giving me a ticket. See, any ticketed violation, we get fired. So we’re careful or at least as careful as we can be. Regardless of speed I am always on alert for Highway Patrol or Williams County Deputies. I’ve been told before that the fine for the driver if passengers are standing was $250. Our manager, who has been known to exaggerate for effect, said now it was $1800. Um, OK. I couldn’t find that online but who knows, maybe it’s not in the North Dakota Century Code. But anyway, he had to let me go. Or so he said…

I’ve worked my ass off this year. I only took two days off (for which I got a substitute), ran way too many broken buses back and forth between the school and the diesel garage in a neighboring town, started my bus in minus temperatures every morning for a month, put up with kids and parents, etc. I’ve been dependable. I also let the manager know that I was not coming back next year. I’d had enough. This puts him in a serious bind because finding drivers is next to impossible, not to mention ones that will not only do their route but drive a bus with no electrical to a diesel garage when it’s twenty below. I was an asset that was hard to replace. I suspect there was some resentment to where I was leaving things. I can’t prove it but it sure smells like it.

I was coming down with a cold on Sunday. Yes, it is highly likely I picked it up off one of the disease carriers on the bus. The little ones will even eat food off the floor so wiping their nose before poking at the bus driver is not out of the realm of their thinking. Monday afternoon I was dreading having to drive because I didn’t feel good. Thus, I didn’t feel angry when the manager drove away. I felt relieved. The last three days have been hell as I haven’t been able to sleep, my nose runs like a sprinter, and my headaches are colossal. Getting up at 5:25 am would have killed me. So yeah, no working this week has been a blessing. I’m set free.

As I stated before, this year has burnt me out and now I got my reprieve. So this week, I’m in recovery mode. Trying to rest, trying to get well, and starting to do small things around the house. I got a haircut. I moved essential summer items from the Family Truckster to the Mercury Land Yacht. The stronger I get, the more I’ll do. I might even try to mow lawn tomorrow. And I’ll do it all without worrying about my schedule or dreading to deal with another five-year-old meltdown or a sixth grader who just fakes being sick just for the sake of attention. I’m done with that shit. I’m set free.

We’ll get by now. Got some cash saved up and there’s content development/market research projects coming in. My wife is just relieved it’s over; she’s watched me deteriorate all year. I second that. I’m set free.

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Burning Out and Re-Igniting the Flame

stay calm kids

Not that anyone notices any more, but my posting frequency has gone into the toilet. Part of it is that blog traffic is dying and won’t be coming back, no matter how many times I mention Tricia Helfer’s round bottom. It’s disheartening to be shouting into a vacuum. Blogging has become a place to vent or just record observations. There’s just not a lot of readers anymore.

The chief reason though is that I am just fried to a crisp this school year. Physically I have issues with my hips and legs from sitting in a godforsaken seat for four to five hours a day. My tendinitis is flaming from the repetitive stress of gripping the plastic steering wheel and opening that big door forty times a day. Mentally I am just missing too much sleep. I can nap during the lull but you never really catch up. Man was not made to run on six hours or less a night. Most weeks I don’t feel right until Saturday afternoon and Sunday. Even then I am crabby and resentful that my off time has to be spent on getting done everything I didn’t have the cognizance to do during the week. My energy level is ridiculously low, no matter how much I eat right or exercise. Right now there’s a dozen things I should be getting done but instead I am sitting on the bed with my laptop (hips too stiff to sit at my desk), angry at how much house stuff I should be doing right now when I just want a quiet Sunday.

So next year I won’t be driving bus. Money will be a problem but there’s a chance that I can start accessing some retirement funds to keep us above the water line. We should be getting more farm income this year as well. But no matter how the finances turn out, it will be a change for the better because this path has become untenable.

I will miss about half of my kids. I have about a half dozen kindergarten kids on the bus and that’s about five too many. A couple of them have behavior issues and dammit, I’m not qualified to deal with this shit on a day-to-day basis. Then there’s my autistic kid, about five youngsters that have ADHD and are constantly in motion, and some teens with teen issues that I don’t even have time to address. I didn’t really have any of those issues on my previous routes. So yeah, I’m not going to miss many of this bunch.

Most of my kids get dropped off in a small village that is too tiny to support a school and then a dump of a “manufactured homes” development just outside of it. All of the real brats are from this area. Once they’re all off the bus I’m left with a small group of farm kids that are generally well-behaved. They have been together long enough that they act like siblings or cousins, playing and bickering. On Fridays I reward them for surviving the week with a few cans of caffeine-free soda.

There have been a couple times I have brought my wife’s chocolate chip cookies on the bus. Cookies are HUGE to little kids. Their importance cannot be under-estimated and my wife’s addictive cookies are like cocaine to these little fiends. I get requests for cookies. STRIDENT requests. So last Friday I gave the farm kids a surprise batch of chocolate chip cookies – two each. I got them to group up at the front of the bus and took their picture, forwarding it in a text to their mothers. And while they were pushing and squabbling to line up for the photo I let the video on the phone run.

When this all over I’ll play that video and listen to these kids’ voices and watch them jockey for position. I’ll miss this bunch a bit. They’re the best part of my day and they will be what I take with me when I’m done. And hopefully they will lift the spirit of the next person to get this route.

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