Yesterday was my birthday, and I turned 10, in dog years! A big milestone, though I don’t feel a day over 5. If you’re wondering, that translates to forty-nine-plus, which is the age I magically became fixed at, oh, about “plus” number of years ago. It’s great! You never get old. But you can still get the senior discount.
We had a lovely cookout with my family and a few good friends. The weather was great, the margaritas were great, the company was great.
My daughter Lexi painted me a landscape, based on a photo by our cousin Mike Sherrick, of farm country in Wooster, Ohio. This is where my mother, Mildred Sherrick Carver, grew up, though the farm depicted in this painting is, I believe, down the road from the old Sherrick farm.
The other big gift was almost too heavy to lift. My loving wife Allysen, her mom, and her brother and his family, all pitched in to get me this gorgeous 6-inch Celestron telescope. (There’s a story behind why this particular telescope, but that’s for another day.)
Charles S. Carver left us yesterday, after a long and often painful struggle with cancer. The academic world and the University of Miami lost a world-class, distinguished researcher in social psychology. Countless people lost a dear friend. His beloved wife Youngmee lost her husband. And I lost my only brother.
The final battle came on suddenly and unexpectedly, and we initially thought he would pull through it and recover. But that didn’t happen. Chuck wound up in the ICU on life support, and after several days on life support, when hope for recovery was gone, he was allowed to slip away peacefully. Youngmee was at his side, along with my wife Allysen and me, and several members of Youngmee’s family.
His professional accomplishments are legion, and he was awarded the American Psychological Association’s highest award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions “for significant theoretical and empirical contributions to our understanding of goal-directed behavior and self-regulation.” His publications include ten books and hundreds of articles, and his work has been cited an astounding 120,000 times in scientific publications by other researchers.
To his friends and colleagues, he was a curmudgeon and mentor loved by all. He was quietly and extraordinarily generous, both professionally and personally. He would have responded with an acerbic denial if you said that to him. A former football player and wrestler (at Huron High School, Huron, Ohio), he loved watching sports. He was the only person in the world who could get me to sit down and enjoy a football game on TV. He was utterly devoted to his dogs Tntn and Jahng, who it must be said are totally charming little rascals. He helped me and my family in ways I cannot even begin to describe, and I will not try. He was perhaps the first person in the world to believe in my writing. He loved good science fiction. Among his favorite writers were William Gibson, Rosemary Kirstein, N.K. Jemison, Connie Willis, and Linda Nagata.
To describe Chuck as a brother is difficult. As kids, we fought all the time. My mother once wrote back to relatives from a family vacation, “I have been asking myself why we didn’t leave the boys at home, or in cages.” Yeah, I can see that. He was two years older and stronger than I was, and I could never win. I bought a set of weights so I could get stronger, but I never liked using them, and he did. So guess who got stronger.
In high school, he started taking an interest in being a big brother in a good way, and he strong-armed me into joining the wrestling team. I didn’t like it that much at first, but it grew on me, and in time I became dedicated to the sport and valued it for the remainder of my high school years. It was because of Chuck that I ventured way out of my comfort zone for colleges and attended Brown University, where he was a junior. At some point during this period he asked me, “When are you going to start writing again?” And he nudged me for copies of my stories to read.
In our adulthood (when the hell did we become “adults”?) he was relentlessly helpful, especially after I had a family.
He waited many years for a chance to read my forthcoming book, The Reefs of Time. He only got halfway through the first book before he was struck down, which is supremely unfair. But that was long enough for him to find a word-o that had escaped all of my readers and proofreaders, and me.
I’m going miss him like hell.
Here’s Chuck and Youngmee, taken on a trip to Fiji, back 2009.
This was in some ways the most difficult trip of our annual series, partly because problems we thought we’d fixed last time came back to bite us again. Just about everything that could go wrong, did. Water, electric, plumbing, appliances, even unexpected repairs to the roof. The cistern pump that we spent so much time getting to run? It burned out and seized when the incoming power line kacked, giving us an impromptu brownout. The nice remote-operated driveway gate? The same.
Eventually we got most everything fixed, though some of it had to wait until after we’d returned home. Some of it ran right up to the wire on the last day—when, of course, we had to go to the airport at one in the morning to catch our flights home. Tempers frayed. Somehow we got through it.
Here’s the power company truck on station, putting in a new line to the house. They told Allysen they were one of only two truck crews providing emergency services to the whole city of Ponce. They did a great job. Allysen and our neighbor Frances cheer them on.
Did I mention the guards? Because the old hotel just up the street is finally slated for renovation, they hired a security crew to keep kids and carousers out of the property. Imagine our surprise to encounter armed security guards right outside our gate. They were all ex-cops or current cops, and generally a very genial group. They had nothing to do but chat with us and our workers, and take care of the stray dog that adopted them. Startling at first sight, they gradually came to seem a friendly presence.
Our friend Crystal joined us from California for the last few days, and wielded a mighty paint brush. (Crystal was once my housemate, and it was she who introduced me to Allysen, more than a few years ago.) We promised her one day of fun, and were glad we had, because it forced us to take a day of fun for ourselves. We drove across the island and walked around Old San Juan for an afternoon. It was lovely.
Here’s a whimsical sculpture chair that was surprisingly comfortable to sit in. We called it the catbird seat.
And here’s a stray kitten we named Stet, who was getting a little bolder, day by day. I hope she makes out okay. Another week or two, and we would have brought her home, for sure.
Everything is a blur, including some of the stray cats who dash by, nearly invisible. The to-do list has grown like triffids. Here’s Allysen’s rundown, before things started cascading:
I need a plumber, electrician, tree remover, fence builder/repairer, pool plasterer, mason, construction handyman, and somebody to remove the “escombros” — the old refrigerator, sink, and junk that was supposed to have been removed months ago. Our best handyman’s now working for FEMA at twice the pay. It’s Christmas. In Puerto Rico, Christmas partying lasts from day after Thanksgiving through January 6th (3 Kings’ day/Epiphany) and then some. No one returns my calls.
We joyfully prep the first floor of the house for painting. For five days. Joy wanes.
Miracles of miracles, I found someone willing to do pool repair during the Christmas season!
The new electrician returned my call! He can’t come until February. I beg. He relents. The plumber promised to come but has not shown up. I text. I call. I pray. The fence guy said he’d measure and give me an estimate today. No show. Can’t find anyone for tree removal. Nor masons. We’re running out of time…
She forgot to mention that the new 1000-gallon cistern for backup water isn’t working because of a problem with the pump. William, the pool guy works on it… and works on it… The needed part, of course, is not readily available. Still, he persists.
Triumph! (No, not the pump.) The pool has been replastered and refilled! Just before the city water pressure goes belly up on us again. Water has been weak and intermittent for days now.
Jayce arrives to join us, and it’s her birthday. We get cake and ice cream. Upon opening the freezer drawer on the almost new refrigerator, we find the drawer won’t close. We are blasting cold air into the kitchen. The track is jammed—as it turns out, by a small loose screw lodged impossibly far into the mechanism. No way to fix it. The freezer opening is now closed off with plastic drop cloth and duct tape. Awaiting a repair visit from Sears. Yeah. The company that’s going under. Did I mention the fridge is new?
William finally gets the cistern pump working. Cheers and congratulations! An hour later, electrical power to the whole house goes bad, complete with sparks on the utility pole. We have enough power for lights, but not much more. No pumps, no micro, no washer… The electrician says it’s a bad ground (which he can fix) and a bad line coming in from the utility, which must await the power company. Have you ever waited for the power company in Puerto Rico?
Our major do-or-die project, after repairing the swimming pool, is repainting the master bedroom. Seemed straightforward enough, even though the walls and ceilings are pebbly cement and take forever to prep. But then we find the mildew behind the skimcoat on the outer wall, and hope goes out the window. A simple paint job has turned into mold remediation, external sealing, and replastering. Not for the first time I think, I hate painting. And… if I spent half as much time fixing the walls of my own house… (No, don’t think that way. Wrong thinking will be punished.)
As always, what success we have is thanks in no small measure to our neighbor Frances, who is Miles Vorkosigan’s mother Cordelia and Aunt Alys wrapped into one. (See Lois McMaster Bujold’s novels, if that doesn’t mean anything to you.)
Let’s end with something brighter. Here’s a little fellow who found his way into the living room and stayed just long enough for me to get a picture.
Happy Belated New Year, everyone! We started our new year in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where we’re beginning another round of upkeep, repair (yes, including Hurricane Maria repair, a year and a half later), and steady upgrading of Allysen’s mom’s house here (now available for vacation rental!)
Our first action—after a drugged sleep, after landing at the airport at 4 a.m. local time—was to pick up our reserved rental car from Enterprise. What we had reserved was a small SUV. What we got—the last vehicle on the lot—was a Ford F-150 pickup truck. Not the one of the older, reasonable-sized pickups, but a monster truck. This thing was up so high you could barely see the street, and it had the approximate turning radius of an aircraft carrier. (Oh, for my little Ranger, back home!) Fortunately we were able to swap it out for a Jeep “SUV”—a small crossover, really—after a week of lumbering around in the monster.
Then we began the inventory of everything to be done…
Oh, my head. That will come in the next installment. For now, here’s a picture of Allysen in a charming little place called 19 Barios, with excellent pizza and equally excellent locally brewed IPA.
And here’s the hillside at night, from our neighbor’s balcony. The brightly lit building in the center is the Castillo Serralles, and to the right is La Cruceta, both big tourist attractions in Ponce.
For real. Allysen’s DNA was tested by 23andMe, and the results are in, and my universe is shaking! My wife is 3% Neanderthal! She has 298 Neanderthal variants, which is more than 83% of 23andMe customers. I’m not sure what that means, but I’m sure it must be impressive.
What does this mean for me? Have all my efforts to civilize my children been in vain? They must be part Neanderthal, too. Or maybe this: Is the world actually being run by Neanderthals? There’s a sobering thought. Just think about Washington, and you know it could be true.
On the other hand, my knowledgeable Neanderthalian wife informs me that the Neanderthals were on the whole a kinder, gentler species than homo sap. So maybe the Washington argument is wrong, after all.
Whatever the case, now I know that it was not for nothing that years ago Allysen acquired the nickname Thagga. (Although I acquired the nickname of Thag, so what does that suggest about me? I haven’t been tested, but maybe I have some Cro-Magnon in me. That could explain a lot.)
(One of these pix is my wife. The other is a pic from the Museo Arqueologico Nacional in Madrid. See the family resemblance?)
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… A vacation to Switzerland to ski!
On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… Two Toyota Priuses…
And a vacation to Switzerland to ski!
… tum de-tum de-tum…
On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… Twelve Ivy League acceptance letters…
Eleven carbon offsets…
Ten Canada Goose jackets…
Nine yachts with paneling…
Eight NPR memberships…
Seven Revels tickets…
Six Goorin Brothers hats…
FIVE ROTH IRAs!…
Four laundry services…
Three Whole Foods gift bags…
Two Toyota Priuses…
And a vacation to Switzerland to ski!
(Courtesy of my daughter Lexi and her husband Connor, who devised it one morning while trying to get out of bed.)
I’ve been pretty quiet the last couple of weeks. That’s because I’ve been in Miami helping out my brother Chuck and his wife, following his recent surgery for cancer. It’s been a rocky recovery; he was in the hospital for a week longer than expected. Now he’s home, recuperating, with the additional help of Tntn (pictured) and Tntn’s brother Jahnghan. I hope he’ll be well enough for me to go home in a few days.
I‘ve been getting a lot of work done, anyway—working on the final editing of Reefs, with feedback from my editor. (More on that in a forthcoming post.)
Here’s a picture of Chuck, a month ago, receiving the American Psychological Association’s Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award.
We saw the B52s, Culture Club, and the Thompson Twins live in concert at the Wang Center in Boston last Friday night. (It was an early birthday gift from Lexi and Connor, who went with us.) It was great! Especially if you didn’t need to make out any of the song lyrics, or use your ears for anything for the rest of the night! Here, reproduced with surprising fidelity by my LG phone, is a brief (fair-use for review purposes only!) clip of the B52s climaxing their set with the song I introduced Lexi to, back when she was little…
Crank that up way past 11 on the biggest speakers you’ve got, and you’ll have a pretty accurate reproduction of the sound.
Between sets, I caught a candid of a couple of hardly-aging boomers checking out the action.
The final set was by headliner Boy George and Culture Club, and they were good, too—except their set featured laser-bright spotlights at the back of the stage, aimed straight into the retinas of the audience. So it was best if you weren’t planning to use your night vision for the rest of the weekend. Culture Club withheld the song we most wanted to hear until the third and final encore. Here, then, is a brief clip of Karma Chameleon, in High Fidelity…
I’m a little surprised to hear that the sound is actually clearer in these videos than it was going into my ears in the theater, past the foam earplugs that Lexi ran out and got us all. I think my ears just went into total overload from the jetwash blast of sound. Seriously, I wonder why the sound engineers think we’ll enjoy the music more if it’s too loud to hear. I think there’s a market out there for noise-reduction headgear that lets the sound through undistorted, but at a lower volume. My Bose ANR earbuds (which I didn’t think to bring) probably would have melted.
All that said, we had a great time reliving our youth with some actual youths!