Thanksgiving on the Internet

If we were having coffee today I’d be talking about Thanksgiving.  Here’s a little rerun for you, I’ve posted it a couple of times on another blog.  In fact, I used to post this every year.  It was a classic long before the Internet but it became one of the earliest most shared posts back in the early days.  I hope you enjoy it.
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In olden times, long before the wide wide world of webs became popular, the ancient computer tribes followed something called USENET Newsgroups.  I’m not kidding.  Really, they did.
Newsgroups WERE the internet for the lucky few who could spell internet and if you were on-line, you could email and you could follow newsgroups and that was pretty much it.  Look up USENET on wikipedia sometime … it was quite a ride and it worked amazingly well considering it was a mishmash of random computer systems world-wide.
Anyway, I mention that because I was a small part of it for a number of years, helping to moderate one of the newsgroups called rec.food.recipes.  Food and cooking had a pretty good sized niche in USENET.  A moderated newsgroup meant that posts had to be approved before being unleashed, which kept things on-topic. In a general purpose newsgroup, things could get pretty crazy.  The terms FLAMEWAR and GODWIN’S LAW are still in use and they were both associated with the craziness that was part of the general newsgroups.
The moderated recipes newsgroup was fairly sedate.  People posted recipes they liked and made requests for recipes they had lost or just wanted … as in “anybody have a recipe for key lime pie?”
While I was a moderator, every year about this time of year, people would start requesting a legendary turkey recipe known as Black Turkey.  This is one of those things that used to get mimeographed or photocopied and sent around in offices — we’re talking pre-computer days.  In fact, it was one of the first really cool things I ever found on the internet, way back in late 1980-something.  Our newsgroup used to post it every year because we knew someone would eventually request it if we didn’t.
The copy below is the same one I used to post years ago.  It is attributed to author Morton Thompson, by way of an unidentified author, referenced by another author, Robert Benchley.
It is a fun read and believe it or not, when I posted it, people said they actually tried it and it was good, but reviews were mixed and I always thought that perhaps it might not be so good as to be worth all the trouble.  It’s a fun read, though.
Ah, but this is 2015, probably a good 17-18 years since I last posted it.  I did something I never thought about before … I researched it and found more information … two links are listed after the recipe … one is yet another rendering, this one attributed to Canadian humorist Pierre Berton, and the other, a blog post from a Craig Smith reads like an academic treatise and includes several renderings along with quite a bit of insight.  Doesn’t mention Pierre though.
Who knew Black Turkey could be so controversial?
Anyway, here, for your amusement, is the famous Black Turkey Recipe with additions.
——————-Black Turkey, circa 1963————————–
For about a dozen years, at the approach of turkey-eating season, I have 
been trumpeting to all who would listen, and to a good many who would 
rather not, that there is only one way to cook a turkey. This turkey is 
not my turkey. It is the creation of the late Morton Thompson, who wrote 
“Not as a Stranger” and other books.
This recipe was first contained in the manuscript of a book called “The 
Countess” which was given to the late Robert Benchley, who had eaten 
the turkey and was so moved as to write an introduction to the book. 
Benchley then lost the manuscript. He kept hoping it would turn up– 
although not as much, perhaps, as Thompson did, but somehow it vanished, 
irretrievably. Thompson did not have the heart to write it over. He did, 
however, later put his turkey rule in another book. Not a cookbook, but a 
collection of very funny pieces called “Joe, the Wounded Tennis Player”.
THE ONLY WAY TO COOK A TURKEY!!!!!!!
This turkey is work… it requires more attention than an average 
six-month-old baby. There are no shortcuts, as you will see.
Get a HUGE turkey– I don’t mean just a big, big bird, but one that looks 
as though it gave the farmer a hard time when he did it in. It ought to 
weigh between 16 and 30 pounds. Have the poultryman, or butcher, cut its 
head off at the end of the neck, peel back the skin, and remove the neck 
close to the body, leaving the tube. You will want this for stuffing. 
Also , he should leave all the fat on the bird.
When you are ready to cook your bird, rub it inside and out with salt and 
pepper. Give it a friendly pat and set it aside. Chop the heart, gizzard, 
and liver and put them, with the neck, into a stewpan with a clove of
garlic, a large bay leaf, 1/2 tsp coriander, and some salt. I don’t know
how much salt– whatever you think. Cover this with about 5 cups of water 
and put on the stove to simmer. This will be the basting fluid a little 
later.
About this time I generally have my first drink of the day, usually a 
RAMOS FIZZ. I concoct it by taking the whites of four eggs, an equal 
amount of cream, juice of half a lemon (less 1 tsp.), 1/2 tsp. 
confectioner’s sugar, an appropriate amount of gin, and blending with a 
few ice cubes. Pour about two tablespoons of club soda in a chimney glass, 
add the mix, with ice cubes if you prefer. Save your egg yolks, plus 
1 tsp. of lemon — you’ll need them later. Have a good sip! (Add 1 dash
of Orange Flower Water to the drink, not the egg yolks)
Get a huge bowl. Throw into it one diced apple, one diced orange, a 
large can of crushed pineapple, the grated rind of a lemon, and three 
tablespoons of chopped preserved ginger (If you like ginger, double 
this -REB). Add 2 cans of drained Chinese water chestnuts.
Mix this altogether, and have another sip of your drink. Get a second, 
somewhat smaller, bowl. Into this, measuring by teaspoons, put: 
2 hot dry mustard 
2 caraway seed 
2 celery seed 
2 poppy seed 
1 black pepper 
2 1/2 oregano 
1/2 mace 
1/2 turmeric 
1/2 marjoram 
1/2 savory 
3/4 sage 
3/4 thyme 1/4 basil 
1/2 chili powder
In the same bowl, add: 
1 Tbl. poultry seasoning 
4 Tbl parsley 
1Tbl salt 
4 headless crushed cloves 
1 well crushed bay leaf 
4 large chopped onions 
6 good dashes Tabasco 
5 crushed garlic cloves 
6 large chopped celery
Wipe your brow, refocus your eyes, get yet another drink–and a third 
bowl. Put in three packages of unseasoned bread crumbs (or two loaves of 
toast or bread crumbs), 3/4 lb. ground veal, 1/2 lb. ground fresh pork, 
1/4 lb. butter, and all the fat you have been able to pull out of the 
bird.
About now it seems advisable to switch drinks. Martinis or stingers are 
recommended (Do this at your own risk – we always did! -REB). Get a 
fourth bowl, an enormous one. Take a sip for a few minutes, wash your 
hands, and mix the contents of all the other bowls. Mix it well. Stuff 
the bird and skewer it. Put the leftover stuffing into the neck tube.
Turn your oven to 500 degrees F and get out a fifth small bowl. Make a 
paste consisting of those four egg yolks and lemon juice left from the 
Ramos Fizz. Add 1 tsp hot dry mustard, a crushed clove of garlic, 1 Tbl 
onion juice, and enough flour to make a stiff paste. When the oven is
red hot, put the bird in, down on the rack. Sip on your drink 
until the bird has begin to brown all over, then take it out and paint 
the bird all over with paste. Put it back in and turn the oven down to
350 degrees F. Let the paste set, then pull the bird out and paint again. 
Keep doing this until the paste is used up.
Add a quart of cider or white wine to the stuff that’s been simmering on 
the stove, This is your basting fluid. The turkey must be basted every 
15 minutes. Don’t argue. Set your timer and keep it up. (When confronted 
with the choice “do I baste from the juice under the bird or do I baste 
with the juice from the pot on the stove?” make certain that the juice 
under the bird neither dries out and burns, nor becomes so thin that 
gravy is weak. When you run out of baste, use cheap red wine. This 
critter makes incredible gravy! -REB) The bird should cook about 12 
minutes per pound, basting every 15 minutes. Enlist the aid of your 
friends and family.
As the bird cooks, it will first get a light brown, then a dark brown, 
then darker and darker. After about 2 hours you will think I’m crazy. The 
bird will be turning black. (Newcomers to black turkey will think you are 
demented and drunk on your butt, which, if you’ve followed instructions, 
you are -REB) In fact, by the time it is finished, it will look as though 
we have ruined it. Take a fork and poke at the black cindery crust.
Beneath, the bird will be a gorgeous mahogany, reminding one of those 
golden-browns found in a precious Rembrandt. Stick the fork too deep, and 
the juice will gush to the ceiling. When you take it out, ready to carve 
it, you will find that you do not need a knife. A loud sound will cause
the bird to fall apart like the walls of that famed biblical city. The 
moist flesh will drive you crazy, and the stuffing–well, there is 
nothing like it on this earth. You will make the gravy just like it as 
always done, adding the giblets and what is left of the basting fluid.
Sometime during the meal, use a moment to give thanks to Morton Thompson. 
There is seldom, if ever, leftover turkey when this recipe is used. If 
there is, you’ll find that the fowl retains its moisture for a few days. 
That’s all there is to it. It’s work, hard work— but it’s worth it.
(What follows is not part of the recipe, but is an ingredients list to 
aid in shopping for this monster, or for checking your spice cabinet -REB)
Ingredients List:
1 turkey 
salt 
garlic 
4 eggs 
1 apple 
1 orange 
1 large can crushed pineapple 
1 lemon 
4 large onions 
6 celery stalks 
buncha preserved ginger 
2 cans water chestnuts 
3 packages unseasoned bread crumbs 
3/4 pounds ground veal 
1/2 pounds ground pork 
1/4 pounds 
butter 
onion juice 
1 quart apple cider
Spice List:

basil 
bay leaf 
caraway seed 
celery seed 
chili powder 
cloves 
ground coriander 
mace 
marjoram 
dry mustard 
oregano 
parsley 
pepper, black 
poultry seasoning 
poppy seed 
sage 
savory 
Tabasco 
thyme

turmeric
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Now, as promised,  two more links, just to complete your holiday excursion … enjoy
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NaNoWriMo

coffeeshareIf we were having coffee today I’d be mumbling something about NaNoWriMo.  That’s National Novel Writing Month.  Yes, that’s a thing.  I would be mumbling because the only way I’ve found to successfully participate is by getting up earlier than I usually do. That will be alleviated somewhat by today’s Daylight Savings time transition.

NaNoWriMo is not just another celebratory month.  The celebration is by doing.  Participants actually try to write an entire novel in that month.  It’s a commitment, and it is a challenge to apply yourself to that singular goal.  No, you don’t have to be published in a month; far from it.  Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to write a fifty-thousand-word rough draft within that thirty-day time frame.

I can see you blinking your eyes, but seriously, it isn’t as hard as it sounds.  Here’s what you need in order to do it: An Idea, time to apply yourself to that idea, and perseverance.  Oh, and there is one other rule of thumb: never look back.  If you are going to do NaNoWriMo, you should just keep writing forward no matter what. As founder Chris Baty said in his book “No Plot? No Problem!” you need to send your internal editor on vacation for the month.  I know, it seems counter-intuitive, but seriously, you’ll never hit fifty-thousand-words by self-editing at this point.

In practical purposes, to achieve the goal you need to write at least 1667 words a day. That’s all.  Single-spaced, that is probably about two to three pages. For the idea? We all have ideas.  You see on TV “writers” who painstakingly graph out their entire novel in great detail. That’s fine and good for some writers.  You can do all of that ahead of time, that is if you want. For me, I take my idea and loosely outline enough events to fill out something that will take about that 1667 words a day, one event per day. For me, that sometimes has a notation like “something else happens”  or “a new character shows up.” Well, you do need to know one or two major characters too.

Here’s the deal.  What I’ve found out is that by giving yourself this self-imposed deadline, something does indeed happen. Creativity.  As you push, push, push, cranking out words to reach your daily goal you are bombarded by new ideas.  The story begins to take on a life of its own.  Yes, sometimes you end up straying from your outline, but that’s a good thing. It was just a guide. And you can usually get back to it.

Anyway, that’s my November and now I’m stuck with it. I’ve published two novels from NaNoWriMo projects.  I have several other rough drafts I’ll resume work on one day.  In this context, the base novel is the easy part.  It is editing and revision that take the most time but you know what? You can’t edit a blank page.  The main events are there, and the story arc is complete.  I call that stage crafting the novel.

Don’t even get me started on marketing the danged things.  That’s the real challenge and it is the hardest stage of all.  The rough draft is almost a vacation.

It’s only November 3.  Kick yourself up to 2000 words a day and you can catch up in no time.  That 1667 word goal is just the minimum.  Check it all out at http://www.nanowrimo.org

Get Writing!

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC. Two of his past NaNoWriMo projects are on display at http://thefensk.com … you can further motivate him by buying/reading them.
There is also an Amazon giveaway running for the companion cookbook at:  https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/71bf07b34bec7fd9

The Curse of 29

img_6284If we were having coffee today I’d be lamenting the curse of twenty-nine. 

“What is that?” you might ask.

I’d sigh and tell you about Amazon.

Twice in the past year or so my first novel has breached the number of twenty-nine reviews.  Thirty looks so cool hanging out there on a book listing.

Ah, but twice, for unknown reasons, a review has been deemed unworthy by Amazon and the counter resets to 29.  The interesting thing is, it isn’t necessarily the most recent review that gets swatted away.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have any reviews at all.  It is very humbling to get any kind of feedback on one’s work.  I’m even happy to have the ten reviews on my second novel and the two reviews on my cookbook.  ANY number is good.  I just don’t understand this seeming curse with the number twenty-nine.

There is a theory among authors, that Amazon has a mythical number of reviews where they begin to spontaneously help authors with an added marketing push.  I’ve heard several supposed benchmarks for this point, anywhere from twenty-five to over a hundred.  Fifty seems to be the consensus.  What all this has to do with twenty-nine, I don’t know.

A fellow author, Marianne Reese, has noted a similar trend with her books — stuck at twenty-nine.  What are your experiences with disappearing reviews?

Anyway, I had a good two week run this time.  It felt so good.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.
Help him beat the curse: http://thefensk.com/fever.html  All reviews will be appreciated by me, even if they are rejected by Amazon.  Hey, it’s on KindleUnlimited … and it’s a good time of year to read it since all the action takes place between now and New Years.

WeekendCoffee Reflections

img_6284If we were having coffee today I’d admit I didn’t have much to talk about today until I read the lead-in WeekendCoffeeShare posting from EclecticAli.

Her 80’s Mystery Party reminded me of something.  I always think of my first published novel this time of year.  Virtually all of the action takes place from October through December, and it is set in 1980.  I liked writing in the 80s.  All this fancy technology we enjoy today was still in an infant state back then; things were simpler.  It is an easy era for me because, well, because I lived in it.  I just have to reflect on my own experiences as I allow my characters to do whatever it is they do.

A writer can’t help but add a little autobiographical info into anything they write, but writing in the recent past allows for a bit of mundane reflection. If I wrote in, say, the 1860s, I would have to do a tremendous amount of research.  Writing in the 80’s, I’ve already done that research.  When my character found themselves in an ice storm in the middle of nowhere with a non-functioning heater in the car, I can draw on my experience because, yes, that happened to me.  (I had one reader tell me she had to get up and put on a sweater while she was reading that section — high praise indeed). It’s what I call “writing with a slice of life.”

img_8900Anyway, it’s fall, and I am once again thinking about my novel, The Fever as the season progresses.  This weekend would easily match the late-October setting in the opening of the novel.  It’s an adventure and a time machine.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  You can catch up at http://thefensk.com

Note: my fall giveaway contest continues for another week at tometender-bookblog.

Voices

backlit beach clouds dark

If we were having coffee today I’d tell you that I found out this week that my darling bride Gretchen had not been very truthful to me recently.  After she told me the details I was not mad.  I understood her reasons.

When she first told me she had found a lump in her breast, we initiated a series of diagnostic actions that culminated in a cancer diagnosis and major surgery. She’s doing well now, thank you. She still has significant bouts of pain but she came out of the ordeal with no chemo, no radiation, and, so far at least, no cancer.

Ah, but this week she told me it wasn’t as simple as “she found a lump.”  In reality, she had hundreds of lumps and nodes.  This was the main reason she had a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy.  Every nodule and papilloma was a potential cancer bomb and she was looking at a lifetime of biopsies and surgeries.

So if she hadn’t found a lump, what was it?

She heard a voice.

It wasn’t a physical manifestation but it was just as real as if she had heard it with her ears.  Somewhere deep within her soul a voice emerged in early January and said, “You have cancer.”

It unnerved her. I could tell she was more than just concerned, she was visibly upset when she told me she had found a lump.  I later wondered to myself how she managed to find one cancerous lump amongst the hundreds of targets in her breasts. I attributed it to luck.  Obviously, it was much more.

We’re human. It’s easy to assume others won’t understand if you say you heard a voice.  Now, voices, the potential for a deeper problem exists there.  But I find the notion of a prophetic warning to be quite acceptable.  I cover such things in several of my novels, both published and unpublished.  I believe in ghost stories too and I don’t discount many other prophetic happenings.

Whose voice was it?  Does it matter?  If could have been the massive supercomputer we call the subconscious brain.  That’s a clinical answer.  Myself, I prefer a more spiritual explanation. The voice of God?  Perhaps.  Or maybe what people call a guardian angel.  Sure, that works for me too. It could have been the spirit of a loved one, like her mother or her grandmother. Heck, my mother passed away in the last year, it might have been her.

It doesn’t matter who said it.  Not really.  The real point is: she listened.

There are many things in this world that are far beyond our understanding.  I think it is best not to question the good things.  Miracles?  Who am I to say?

Here’s a fun thing: Gretchen has a notion that I really like.  When she finds a random penny on the ground, she considers it a reminder that her late mother is watching over her and she picks it up because she considers it to be a gift from her mother.  I do it too. Hey, it means someone is looking out for you.  Besides, this notion is much better than that “see a penny, pick it up and all the day you’ll have good luck” saying.

Have you had similar experiences or do you know someone who has?
If it happens to you, my advice is to LISTEN.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  There are prophetic and otherworldly glimmerings in both of his published novels too:  http://thefensk.com

WeekendCoffeeShare Update

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com
http://www.public-domain-image.com (public domain image)

If we were having coffee today I’ll tell you that so much has been happening since our last meeting, I can’t tell it all.  I’m actually going to leave a bunch of stuff for later, maybe next week, but probably the week after.

What I thought I’d talk about today though, is how much I enjoy these little chats over coffee.  Weekend Coffee Share is such a great idea, I am totally shocked more people don’t do it.

In simple terms, it is a blog share.  The only requirement is that one add a qualifier to the text … giving a personal introduction to your good blog friends, both new and old, as if we were sitting down and talking over coffee. Oh, and you need to add the hashtag #weekendcoffeeshare too it.

Some bloggers take this them quite literally, using this time to update us all on their lives and the happenings of that week.  This is fine and informative.  We all get to know each other.   I join a few other bloggers in using the forum to blog about whatever strikes my fancy, but I still follow the protocol.  It works for me because if you know me, I’ll tend to talk about *whatever* anyway, over coffee or calzone or cupcakes, coffee, tea, chocolate shakes … you name it.

It gets me blogging when I might otherwise just let it slide.  Like today.  I’m busting at the seams to tell you a whole lot of stuff, but there are reasons I want to let things percolate just a little longer.  But I haven’t updated my blog in a while and here it is Saturday, and I’m drinking coffee and I figured, what the hell?

So, if you created that blog two weeks ago, or two years ago, or … whenever, and you haven’t updated it in a while and you feel all guilty about never updating it, here’s your chance.   Just grab a cup, and sit down and start sharing.  We are more interested than you think.

You need to know one more thing about it. The share is hosted by “eclecticali” at WordPress, who posts an intro and reminder every week along with the share link.  It isn’t totally required to click that and add your blog, just the hashtag will generally suffice, but it definitely adds to the sense of community and fun.  if you follow the blog you can also subscribe to email updates … this helps remind me to fire up my guilt-trip generator.  Here is this week’s intro, blog, and linkup:

https://eclecticali.wordpress.com/2018/07/20/weekendcoffeeshare-time-to-reflect-and-a-busy-day/

Join in the fun!

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC.  You can find info on his works at http://thefensk.com

Flashback

uhuc
Reprinted without permission from the University of Houston Magazine Spring 2018 issue. Permission requested numerous times without response.

If we were having coffee today I’d again be waxing all nostalgic on you.  I saw this picture in the Spring 2018 University of Houston Magazine.  Wow, what a flash from the past.  I see from the banner that this dates from the campaign days of 1976.  I could so easily be in this picture as during those years I went up and down those stairs countless times.  I was even grabbed by a Secret Service agent on the bottom of the stair case on the left when I attempted the go up the stairs while President Ford’s son was getting ready to speak on the upper landing during the 1976 campaign.

I got nostalgic seeing this picture because I have very deep roots to this building and most of my experiences there went way beyond just being a student.  For over two years I was employed there with two different jobs.  At that time the building comprised of two sections, the three story primary structure (well, basement and two upper levels) and an adjacent one story underground structure.  Just behind and below those stairs is where the entrance tunnel to the underground section was.  My first job was in an office down there and I was heading to class from work when the Secret Service grabbed me.

I worked for what was then called the “Campus Activities Department” and they provided support and advisors for all on-campus organizations like clubs, honor societies, student government, campus programming, fraternities, and sororities.  This service center took up the major portion of the underground portion of the building. One of the services was called the Organization’s Bank, and it allowed qualified groups from all aspects of campus life to have an “account” for their treasuries, all managed through a central Campus Activites bank account.  I first encountered this when I volunteered in the campus programming board, then called Program Council.  The woman who ran this bank was very friendly and pleasant so I’d drop by and visit from time to time just to say “Hi.”

In early 1975 she needed a new assistant and offered me the part-time office job. It was convenient working on-campus and it helped draw me into the mainstream of virtually all of campus life.  This was long before mass computerization so all the transactions were handled manually via an even-then ancient Burroughs automatic posting machine with individual ledger cards for each account. Young people are always amazed that we were able to use tools such as this in those pre-computer days but the machines and the procedures worked quite well. I worked there for over a year and quite enjoyed my time there.  The office was down a back hallway and I was working once when a fire occurred in one of the maintenance closets on the far edge of the building.  They evacuated both buildings as a precaution and that office was so out of the way, I was found happily working away by someone making a last pass through the building.  It was news to me.  Of course, they had suppressed the alarms.  So much for fire drills, right?

I could have worked in that office for another year until graduation, but through contacts in the building I became aware of a job in the maintenance department of the same building, as a student assistant to the building mechanics.  Office work was okay, but this job provided the opportunity for more hours and an even more flexible schedule. My hours were quite limited in the office job but in this role, I could work evenings and even weekends and pretty much set my own schedule.  There was *always* something to do.   Some weeks I could almost work full-time if the evening mechanic was sick.  On a student economy, more hours was always a plus.

This job was great, and because of it I eventually came to know almost every inch of the building complex.  I’m talking every office, every mechanical room, every deep dark cranny, even disgusting places you don’t want to know exist. Those steps in the picture? I painted those once, with a non-skid coating.  I regularly had to go onto the roof of the building too. One of the main duties was to go on rounds and make sure there were no problems like squeaky belts or grinding motor bearings (remember that fire I mentioned).  Once, while working over the holidays, I found a large amount of water pooling in the corridor between the main building and the underground offices and checked outside on  the ground above that corridor. It was obviously a major water main leak.   University repair crews had to be called in for an emergency repair even though it was Christmas Day.

The building was extensively renovated a few years ago and I’m sure when they were doing that, they found my scrawl on any of the older breaker boxes that had survived 35+ years in the building.  Once, some electricians were working in the ceiling above a dining room of what was called the old Cougar Den on the bottom level.  The workers found they needed to flip an unmarked breaker and this unfortunately cut power to the cash registers in the main dining area one floor above.  This happened in the middle of the lunch rush.  Nobody realized that during some past construction work  power had been tapped below the floor to a circuit in the Cougar Den to facilitate installation of new outlets for a cash register station that had no other access to power.  It took a frustratingly long time to locate the problem because no one thought to relate the work on the lower floor to this problem.  After that, another student worker and I spent a weekend mapping all the breakers in the building.

That particular work came in handy too because not long afterwards, we had been called in to help the short-staffed custodial group to do a rather large banquet reset in the third level ballroom late one Saturday night.  When we were almost done I was in the hallway outside the ballroom and detected a faint whiff of burned tar, which I knew was most likely the tell-tale odor of a fluorescent light ballast shorting out.

Sure enough, a quick survey discovered a nearby display case just beginning to fill with smoke.  We immediately ran to shut off power at one of the recently audited breaker-boxes down the hall.  My boss found a key to the case, which was thankfully almost empty and I removed the bulbs which rendered that fixture totally inoperative.  I replaced the ballast the next Monday morning and found it had suffered primary short that had already burned a hole in the ballast case (sometimes they just get hot and stop working) — this would have  definitely continued into a bad fire and would have caused a lot of damage.  It was just pure luck we were there (hey, it was a chance to grab a couple of extra hours pay, right?) and we knew the smell and immediately went hunting for the source. A hot ballast can not be ignored.
Ah the anonymous life of the Unsung Heroes.

I checked every maintenance closet and machine room every day I worked, mostly for just that sort of thing.  Problems were always cropping up on equipment that ran 24/7 (I return again to the fire, even though that pre-dated my maintenance work).  I had other regular duties too, for instance I changed all the air filters in the building every month or so.  I also changed uncounted numbers of light bulbs in every section of that building.  To this day I still find myself instinctively scanning ceilings in big buildings and secretly noting the lights that are burned out. I worked on plumbing repairs, helped with repair work on the food service equipment, and was involved in really unusual stuff too.

Once, one of the sewage sump pumps (one of those disgusting areas I mentioned earlier) jammed and bent the long drive shaft. It needed to be machined but most machine shops around the area could not handle a shaft that long; it was at least ten feet.  Somehow my boss heard about a super machine shop in the Physics Department, which even back in 1977 was an amazing facility.  We both carried this disgusting, mumblemumble-encrusted hunk of metal by hand far across campus to that shop in one of the science buildings  and they machined it.  It barely fit in the service elevator, which opened directly into the machine shop floor.

The curious thing about working in that building was that, as it turned out, both jobs were unplanned extensions to my education.  The office and bookkeeping skills I learned in the Organization’s Bank were a huge help in every job I held later.  Note: computer business processes were all built on the models of the tried and true manual process.  In he next job, by doing the varied maintenance work I gained invaluable on the job experience in electrical, plumbing, and carpentry repair. These are things I still use to this day.

The other great part about the maintenance job was that it was a blast most of the time.  The two senior mechanics were WWII veterans, one was a marine in the pacific and the other one had been with the Flying Tigers and was later a B29 mechanic in India, working on the bombers that flew over the Himalayas, so the stories I heard were personal and insightful.  Truly they were part of the greatest generation.  Once that B29 mechanic and I had to make a long excursion across campus in the underground tunnels that snake under most campuses.  (Maybe I’ll share that story another time.)

I had other duties too. I served as projectionist for  campus-run movies and there were times I ran the sound and lights in the ballroom for dances and other events held there. As I previously said, there were also times we helped out the custodial staff for banquet setups.

Neither one of these jobs were college “work-study” positions, they were considered regular employment; part-time jobs that added to my seniority when I later held a position at another state institution.  But just like any work-study job, it was a great convenience to work on campus.

Heck, I even had a master key to the building, something I needed to use while doing my general rounds.  Even custodial staff with many years employment there didn’t have a master key.  If I had to work on Saturday/Sunday mornings, I had to be on-time because I was the guy with the key!

Who knew what a flood of memories would come from that simple picture.
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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina.  He’d like to say he was a product of the famed writing program at the University of Houston but sadly, that program came into existence the year after he graduated.  Missed it by *that* much.

http://thefensk.com

Dobie

dobieIf we were having coffee today I’d admit I’m worried about Dobie’s health.  One of our many cats, Dobie has had the hardest time of it.  MasterCat First-Class Bailey had a serious knee injury and surgery about 10 years ago but he recovered nicely.  A few others have been to the vet for minor problems over the years.  Ah, but Dobie has had chronic issues since a very young age.  He is prone to urinary tract issues.  This happens with neutered male cats sometimes.  I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting the symptoms.

The real problem is the fact that we have many cats and a dog. It is almost impossible to keep him on the straight and narrow, food-wise.  His biggest problem is also his greatest love … dry food.  He just can’t eat it without eventually going over the edge. To the other cats’ dismay, their dry food intake is limited as well.  I don’t know why, but cats really seem to like dry food.  I think it is the crunch.

Anyway, I look for the symptoms. If I see him licking “himself” a lot, notice him straining in the cat box, or even worse, straining just about anywhere, I know he’s heading down the road to bad things. It doesn’t take too long before you can see he is just not feeling well at all and sometimes he will begin to vocalize his pain.  Usually, it is a combination.

The worst case is a total blockage. It is a serious medical situation and can result in renal failure and death.  It’s not an immediate problem, but once blocked the clock is ticking and it doesn’t take more than a couple of days.  Of course even if it isn’t an emergency, if he is so uncomfortable he’s making painful noises, it is high time to get him some relief.

The day to day routine is wet food only, plus a regular dose with a type of cat-treat with various compounds including cranberry to acidify his urine to prevent the formation of the crystals that tend to form in his bladder.  I’ve tried to keep him on premium cat food but it gets expensive and he doesn’t like most premium cat foods.  The few brands he craves are available at only a few stores around here and they are not particularly convenient.  Cost should be no object since sometimes the vet bills can be enormous.

Still, with so many animals, poor Dobie gets tired of his own routine and that is a hard thing to police.  I’ve even seen him crunching down on dry dog food if I let my guard down. Often, he just balks at his special “treats” and the other cats go on alert when they see him getting individualized treatment.  Of course, they all love those treats and will gobble then down whole.  I usually have to break them down into smaller chunks to get him to eat them.

I had a hunch he was developing a problem last Thursday and was watching him closely. Yesterday the  “licking” began and last night I noticed him take “the position” and yep, that was on the bed and I wasn’t fast enough.  Luckily his mood was still good and he still had a good appetite.  He also got quite a bit out. Not great for the linens, but great that he wasn’t totally blocked.  I got his treats down him at the full dose level and gave him some anxiety medication that helps ease the stress that makes it worse (if he can’t go he gets frantic and tries harder and harder).  So he’s at the vet today, and will hopefully provide a urine sample before they close.  There are prescription foods that actually break down the crystals (which he hates but he will at least eat the dry food). The urine sample would also indicate not only crystals but also infection. About half the time there’s been an infection, so we’ll see if he needs antibiotics.

So, slurp down your coffee, I need to be ready for when the vet calls.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in NC … http://thefensk.com

Avoiding shelter …

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

If we were having coffee today I’d tell you about the lost dog.  It belongs to my son’s family, slipped out a week ago when a gate was apparently left ajar.

Sadly, Bert is a bit long in the tooth, an older dog with a variety of mild illnesses.  Partially blind, not too worldly.  Poof.  Gone.

We’ve joined the search, but I’ve been here before and it is harder than trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.  We’ve all done all the usual things.  It is just amazing how completely they can disappear in such a short period of time. I half-expect them to show up on the island of odd socks or the valley of the missing coat-hangers.  They disappear that completely.

They live three towns west of us, and the shelter for that county/town is on the eastern side of town; it is actually closer to us than it is to them.  So, we’ve been going to the shelter.  There are no happy dogs or cats at the shelter.  Excited, yes. Running the gauntlet in the hall of the German Shepherds is evidence of that.  There was no Bert, either.

When we first arrived, there was a woman there with a quiet dog sitting patiently by her side.  I thought she was perhaps in the midst of adopting.  Quite the opposite.

As we returned we witnessed her handing over the leash and walking out the door.  The dog moved to follow her, was stopped by the leash, looked back and then forward at the closing door, a look of total confusion on her face. Then we could see a distinct look of realization and resignation flash over her face.  Welcome to the shelter, right?

We just lost a dog last July, by natural causes.  We have ten cats.  We are overrun.  But we were sorely tempted by this dog, Daisy.

We followed up on Daisy’s status.  She was almost immediately adopted.  We’re both happy for her, but we’re also just a little sad.  We got totally involved and invested in that few seconds.  But we’re both hopeful that she found her forever home.

Bert’s still missing.  We’re checking the shelter online now.  They update their webpage hourly, which we know for sure now.

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You can find out more about Thomas Fenske at http://thefensk.com … the Kindle version of his novel THE FEVER is on sale for $1.99 for the rest of February.

#Weekendcoffeeshare Return

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

If we were having coffee today I’d apologize and lament my several month’s absence.  I’m not quite sure what happened.  The WeekendCoffeeShare is sometimes a bit like a meandering river, changing course with little to no notice.  Plus, I was fairly diverted through the second half of 2017.  The major events were my dog dying in July and my mom passing away in October.  At some point I expected I would do a post about the latter (I think I did in fact post about the former), but I never felt quite ready.  I still don’t.

Then after a deep sip, I’d go into more recent events.

I had a nasty case of this awful flu that is going around.  My lovely bride got it much much worse than me.  I hardly ever get sick.  I had the flu once in the early eighties.  I remember that mostly because of my cat.  At some point I had dragged my sorry carcass out of bed to let her in and she came in  limping on three legs and bleeding.  I remember taking her to the vet and the doctor asking which one was the patient.  I must have looked awful.  That’s the last time I remember catching the flu.

Oh, there have been other things. I had pertussis in 1999.  That’s right.  Whooping Cough.  I’ll take a bad case of the flu over that.  I have no idea where I got it.  Luckily, somehow, nobody else in the house got it.  It was not confirmed.  I went to the doctor with a bad cough.  No tests.  Got a prescription.  But at some point I read up on the symptoms and more than that, heard audio of the resulting coughing spells.  THAT is what I had, I have no doubt.  Drop to the floor, piss all over yourself, almost suffocate, making that gawd-awful whooping sound as you gag for air … yep.

Had a bout of pneumonia in 2013 too.  No cough, no fever, I just couldn’t breath.  I work in a 24/7 industry and was working with a team on a worldwide conference call. It was as scheduled software installation project at 2 AM one Sunday.  We were behind schedule because a developer was uploading a last minute revised program for me to install on a series of servers.  I had felt a little off that day, but with no real symptoms.  I felt about the same when I joined the call.  Then, while waiting, I simply could not catch my breath.  I didn’t have chest pains but that was the first thing I thought of.  I went downstairs from my home office and took a full-strength aspirin.  I struggled to get back up the stairs and sent the project manager a quick note: “I have to leave.”

“What?”

I quickly explained the situation.  Protocol usually means I need to find my own replacement or call my supervisor.  She would have none of that and said, “we’ll cancel and reschedule …. go wake up your wife right this minute and go to the hospital.”

When we got to the ER, they put me on a heart monitor but the ER doctor pretty quickly decided on a chest X-Ray.  They were going to give me an aspirin too.  I told them I already took one.  “A baby aspirin isn’t going to do it, you need a full aspirin.”

“I took a full aspirin!”

The doctor was impressed.  I remember thinking, “what, they think they’re playing with kids?”

The X-Ray showed a pretty significant chest blockage, confirming pneumonia.  I responded pretty well to whatever antibiotics they gave me and went home the next day.  After waiting all day to take a treadmill test (they just wouldn’t let up on the heart thing).  That was the first time I had stayed overnight in the hospital since … well, I remember the premier of Bewitched was on TV the last time. Seriously.

Anyway, we are both on the mend … and I’m happy to be back.

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Thomas Fenske is a writer living in North Carolina. http://thefensk.com

The Kindle version of his debut novel, THE FEVER, is on sale this week … 25% off.  This would be a great time for you to Catch The Fever.