- Name: Lonnie Bruner
- Location: Washington, DC, United States
I live in DC, sail the Chesapeake Bay, have a lovely wife who's a web designer, a young son, an unruly hound dog, and am interested in most everything in the world. Oh yea, and I love the smell of burning trash in the Third World. That just gets me going.
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Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Thoughts On Lakes vs. the Sea
Empire's beach is like any idyllic beach on the Atlantic or Pacific coast of the US --- only with bigger dunes --- but when I was standing on the sand looking at the waves and water, I felt like there was something missing. After three years coming here each summer I figured out what's lacking: odor. Freshwater doesn't have much of a musky odor.
Odor stimulates my mind. The smell of salty Chesapeake crabs puts me at ease and brings me back to multi-family trips to Rehoboth in the 1980s. A simple smell of an ex-girlfriend's perfume can transport me to another age in an instant. Burning wood just makes me want to go camping. Smell does it like the other four senses can't. But the smell of the sea is one of the most mood-changing on Earth.
Saltwater has the odor of endlessness --- that the sea doesn't stop in your local vicinity. The ocean is not confined by the security and safety of land masses with their hospitals, governments, chlorine-filled swimming pools and manicured lawns --- motionless waves of protection and risklessness. There's the danger factor of the sea, the storms that have the ability to drop their crushing force on your head, destroying houses, boats and lives in an instant.
Maybe this is why I always love fishing villages in tropical Asia. It's that sense of life on a knife's edge that's so far removed from my First World reality.
Freshwater is so clean and reliable. You can leave a boat sitting on one of the Great Lakes for years with hardly any corrosion. Not so with the sea. My boat has been in the brackish waters of the Chesapeake for hardly 10 months with new copper bottom paint and it's already covered in a brown layer of sea carpet.
What kinds of species do you find in freshwater? I could list the names in this blog post without even losing readers. The list of the animals living in saltwater would require more than one biologist and none of you would read it.
I love lakes. I do. If I didn't go to northern Michigan each summer, my quality of life would be significantly lessened. It's just a different feeling from the ocean, worth pondering.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
The Hoity Toity Aspect of Fly Fishing
My grandfather rarely switched spots while fishing --- something that's foreign to most fishermen who do more moving than actual fishing, on an impatient quest to find the largest beast in the pond. As a kid, if I'd suggest we move to another spot where the fish might be biting better, he'd respond with, "Son, same water over there as right here." And there we'd sit all day whether they were biting or not.
Our method was always bottom fishing or with a bobber using worms or minnows as bait (no artificial lures) --- the type of angling that takes hours of patience because you just sit, watch and wait. If we wouldn't catch anything all damn day, there'd be no complaining or disappointment. As they say, it's called "fishing" not "catching."
But modern fly fishing, with its circus of over-priced high tech gear, Ralph-Lauren-esque clothing (something called "Orvis"), and $800-dollar rods, reels and poles, detracts from something that was ingrained in me about fishing since I was a child.
But last week I got vindication for what my grand dad had taught me in the decades before he died back in 1997.
Two of the best fishermen I know --- my father-in-law and brother-in-law (both named Bob, "the Bobs") --- are avid fly fishermen. They know a hundred times what I do about the craft and I love learning my way around a fly rod with them. I'm getting better with each outing with the Bobs.
But their associated gear is astounding: hundreds of $3 to $5 hand-tied flies; fake frogs and even mice; puffy expensive vests with endless pockets and jangly things hanging everywhere; stained wood-handled nets with special mesh that doesn't harm the fish when scooped out of the water; chest-high rubber boots; special oil that makes the fly stay afloat; hats with elongated brims to keep the sun off your neck; and endless colors of special line. I joked that the only thing needed would be lasers to help find fish but realized it's nearly true; Bob Senior found a laser pointer in a magazine that measures water temperature and was considering buying it!
I also haven't gotten used to the catch-and-release part of fly fishing, which seems to be the rule with most fly fishermen. When I fish, I eat what I catch 85% of the time. Isn't that the freakin' point?
Last week the Bobs had left at 7AM for a fishing hole down the road while I was sleeping. When I woke up, I grabbed a beat-up 1960s rod out of the shed with a mangled cork handle and an old-style spincast reel (right) that wouldn't let the line out more than 30 feet. A Snoopy rod would've been a higher quality piece of gear. My worms had died in the sun the previous day so I grabbed a single lure and headed out.
When I arrived at the hole, the Bobs were whipping their rods back and forth over the deep part of a spillway off a rural road here in northern Michigan. Fish of all sizes were visibly swimming lazily in the greenish-clear water.
"Catch anything?", I called, but received disappointed shakes of the head from both Bobs. They'd been casting over this water hole full of fish for an hour without a single decent catch.
So I started casting. I'd throw my line out until the half-broken reel forced the lure to lurch mid-air and fall to the water. Then I'd drag the lure across our spot, but the fish didn't seem interested. About 10 casts in, I got an idea to try an old method.
I asked the Bobs if they had a simple fishhook --- one without an artificial fly attached to it. Despite all their gear, neither of them had this simplest piece of equipment. So I proceeded to disassemble my lure and remove the treble hook. Once the bare hook was off, I waded out and went hunting for crawdads under the trees that had fallen into the creek about 30 yards away.
Catching crawdads takes a bit of skill and is not for the squeamish. They live under logs and rocks in creeks --- the same place where snakes reside. When you lift a fallen log, the mud clouds the water. Then, after the muddy water has cleared, the tiny lobsters appear. And those things are quick! The best technique is to slowly move your hand underwater toward them and snatch them up when your fingers are inches away. If you begin your grabbing thrust any further away, the crawdad will sense the push of water and scoot away and back under a log. Also, the little crustaceans pinch the shit out of your hand once you've got 'em.
I hooked the live crawdad through the underside of its tail and tossed his ass into the fishin' hole. The small fish weren't interested because the bait was too big for their mouths, but the big Bass lurking nearby took an immediate interest and attacked my bait. Two of the biggest fish were actually fighting over it! I was too anxious and jerked the hook, and the crawdad fell off.
After stirring around in the muddy undersides of a few more fallen logs, I snatched another flipping, pinching crawdad and hooked him on for another go-'round. It was like I was throwing popcorn to my hungry beagles. The fish were just ravenous, snapping at my crawdad. I was soon pulling in big fish after big fish while the Bobs watched in awe, all their expensive gear, actionless.
Don't get me wrong, I love to go fly fishing and the Bobs are two of my favorite people to fish with. They love the sport every bit as much as I do and are damn good at it. Hell, in some places, I KNOW they'd out-catch me every time. But this is my one time where hunting and gathering outperformed the most sophisticated technology.
Friday, July 25, 2008
Guest Post: The 1970 Red Chevy Nova
Today I saw a '70 Camaro, or a '69 --- I don't really know anymore but I used to --- and I calmly declared the model and what I thought was the year to my wife. She said "cool".
We were at a light and I crept up behind and to the right of this beautiful specimen of a beast. Not vintage, but rather a souped up monster rumbling quietly to itself at a standstill, its orange paint job and black racing stripes setting it apart for those observers unable to admire its shape or hear its uneven rumble. From the driver's side of my Honda Odyssey I pondered it while the light was red, my kids in their car seats watching Nemo quietly.
I vaguely remember driving my first car --- or jalopy, I should say --- and noticing glances from guys in minivans or station wagons admiring my ride. As a teenager, I thought they were all suckers for not having the cajones to go out and buy a muscle car at age 15 for 600 dollars and race it around like a real man should. It was a 1970 Chevy Nova we called "The Nova". Bright red and an absolute piece of shit. It was basically an engine with a paint job. And I loved her so.
In some ways it was perfect for a teen: temperamental, hotblooded, stupidly dangerous, all show and noise, worthless to own and expensive to feed. Worthless financially, anyway; the first time you see your house in the rear view mirror, driving away by yourself is something a teenager will never forget. But driving away from a broken home like mine with tires screeching, motor screaming louder than you can, the smoke of burning rubber stinging your eyes and the smell of unburnt fuel in your nose is something that can shape you. I learned a lot from that Nova, and not just about cars.
It was actually a beautiful car at night when the street lights were on it, but like I said, a piece of crap. It looked fast. Bright red and jacked up with a hole in the hood for the air intake. I walked away from that car more times than I care to remember not knowing how I was going to get her rolling again. Sometimes I would return to where I left her and she'd start right up; sometimes she would need a tow and a major organ transplant.
Her engine was simple and powerful. An aftermarket 350 cubic inch small block with an obscenely over-sized carburetor. I think I got about 8 mpg. There was so much fuel dripping out of this 750 CFM Holley double-pumper that it would swamp the engine and stall if it was cold. The car actually ran better after I downsized that.
I paid to have the catalytic converters welded on for inspection, then subsequently hacksawed the pipes going into them and installed cutouts. I could roll up to a light and rev the relatively quiet engine and the driver next to me may see the stock 250 cubic inch plate by the front quarter panel. Then when the light would turn I would pull these things that looked like hood releases under my seat and it turned into a roaring beast as the suddenly open headers bypassed the mufflers and cats.
If I didn't lose traction off the start, I would usually win. From 0-40 MPH it was extremely fast, but above that, I was praying for traffic or another light to stop the race. I managed to pin the speedo at 120 for about 3 or 4 minutes going south on Georgia Avenue racing a GTO. Every light was green. That was probably the stupidest thing I have done in that car. It honestly felt like it was floating and it weighed 2 pounds. The already loose steering was so light it was like I was piloting a large clumsy plane. There was probably so much air under the car the front tires were more like wind rudders. We blew through about 5 green lights and if they hadn't been green, I simply could not have stopped. The lights came and went so fast that I knew even if one turned yellow, I'd be under it by the time it turned red if I just stayed on the gas. I think back to that scene and actually get nervous for myself.
Sometimes when I got pulled over I tapped the huge speedometer and it would fall down into the dashboard, disappearing. The police would then give me an equipment repair order instead of a ticket since I told him I couldn't determine how fast I was going. I later would wedge it back into place from underneath with a piece wood --- a 2x2 that came with the car.
I pretty much learned everything the hard way. The mag wheels I got for Christmas on my 16th birthday were put on with the lug nuts backwards. It developed an awkward lurching crunching motion while in 40mph traffic one day which moments later became a more serious problem. I backed that car right out of the ditch with three wheels and found the missing tire about 50 feet into the woods on the opposite side of the road. That incident alone has provided me with one of the best stories to tell while drunk and usually trumps everybody else's stories, except for Chris D., who also had an old Nova which he painted with house paint.
The interior wasn't an "interior" at all. It was really the inside of the exterior. No headliner, panels missing from the door, areas of the metal floorboards exposed --- oh, and the heater only worked in the summer. The radio had no knobs and the speaker cones were all punctured. It was a bench seat that had to be pushed back to make room for the aftermarket racing shifter that some previous owner installed in the middle of the floor. You could see the empty spot on the steering column where the "three-on-the-tree" handle used to be. With the seat forced all the way back you were basically driving it with arms and legs outstretched. It was like a massive chopper with a roof and a door. This unfortunately translated to absolutely no room in the backseat, a grave hindrance at the time.
I worked on that car quite a bit as a teen so the smell of grease and fuel are nostalgic to me now. I changed the oil in my '02 Subaru a while ago just to know I can still play around with a ratchet under a car. It was sublime to lie on cool concrete with 1000 pounds of dirty metal inches above my nose, watching the slick curve of oil glide silently through the air into the pan. A time to relax from the twisted effort and non-ergonomic straining involved in working with oil filters and frozen oil pan nuts. Pure nostalgia. I closed my eyes and imagined what it was like to be young again and build up a car that was part of your identity, your image.
So at that light, watching the Camaro drive away, really took me back. The smell of his exhaust was the biggest thing. He was burning pretty rich and it smelled beautiful. I felt like that line in Apocalypse Now when Robert Duvall said, "I love the smell of napalm in the morning. Smells like . . . Victory." And the sound, too. The moment he touched the gas pedal there was a split second stall as the engine went from an uneven loping idle to a smoother accelerating rhythm. I don't know what was in that Camaro but it was pretty big, the rear tires were huge and I could feel the engine vibrating its surroundings from inside my car as loud as I could hear it. I silently prayed he would open her up but he didn't.
Watching his car move, smelling it, and hearing it was just too much. A hundred memories of the Nova flooded into my head and I suddenly wished I hadn't sold her for a year abroad in college. I wished I was gripping the wheel of my Nova after having just replaced some part I never had even heard of before, nervously wondering if it will work while I drove it. I wished I was on my way to a friend's house to show him what I did, to take him for a ride. I wished I had the ability to drop a huge blast of horsepower and noise on society at a moments notice. It was like walking around with a loaded shotgun. I wished I was sitting at a light and toying with the idea of mashing the pedal into the floorboard when it turned green and scaring the crap out of other motorists with unbridled rude adrenaline seething tire screaming engine roaring HORSEPOWER.
I am now one of those guys who stares longingly at powerful cars from the window of a minivan. The driver may think I'm a sucker. Maybe I am, maybe I'm not. Maybe I'll eventually get another one maybe I won't. I figure there is a time for people to pursue hobbies like that, and maybe I'll get back into it.
My wife, staring at the car, said something that probably was a little prophetic.
"It would be fun if you made that your hobby again." Sure would. Maybe I will, maybe I won't, but at least I know I had the cajones to go out and buy a muscle car at age 15 for 600 dollars and drive it like a bat out of hell.
At least I have that.
Friday, July 18, 2008
In Northern Michigan Until August 4th
I love Michiganers' desire to get outside and DO something that doesn't involve sitting behind a glowing screen. It makes me feel better about the current dismal state of Americans' enthusiasm for the outdoors. The Economist reports that "... the number of visitors to national parks and historic sites peaked in 1987". If it weren't for foreigners taking advantage of our weak dollar, our national parks would be nearly devoid of people.
Ok, so like any real American, I'm supposed to blame someone or something for this. Hmm, who should I go after for this unfortunate reality ...
My one friend lays blame for most of the world's problems at the doorstep of the Federal Reserve and Dick Cheney, so how about them? Here goes: The Fed's insistence on keeping low interest rates is causing more foreigners to visit our parks. Therefore, the parks are now full of camera-snappers with weird accents which turns off Americans because they want something more rustic and down-home. And Dick Cheney, gosh dammit!! Out there shooting up big city lawyers trying to enjoy the wilderness. All the city-dwellers are afraid of out-of-control hunters.
There. Figured it out.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
I suppose I'm tough enough to raise orchids as a hobby.
The high number of eccentric old codgers I met in Australia who raise them as a hobby inspired me. I thought I was going to wait until I turned age 65, but I went ahead and got a head start on my old man hobby.
But I'm afraid it's going to die so I obsessively spray it with water twice a day. I think I'm supposed to do that ...
For work I had to visit the USDA's library today where they have an exhibit of British botanists' drawings of plant specimens from the 18th and 19th centuries. These detailed, full color drawings of various exotic species of plants were incredible.
The drawings got me thinking: if you were a biologist over 100 years ago, you had to know your biology as well as be a talented artist; there were no cameras to document what the hell you were writing about! I love that kind of doubling up of skills. How many biologists today do you think could draw more than a stick figure.
There are some (too) small images of the prints on display here. But the site doesn't really do them justice.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Good luck in the Pacific Cup, Edward
I love Edward's reason that he's doing it:
"Making landfall is an incredible feeling. One that could possibly only be topped by leaving port. All three landfalls we made on the Trans-Atlantic were at the end of a really bad storm and the view of the inviting harbor was really really special and welcome. On top of that, one of the few out-of-body experiences I've ever had was leaving the Azores.
In CS Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet" trilogy, the second book is devoted to the idea of trying to recapture the taste of the perfect fruit. The book is actually about the idea that once the Original Sin happened, it couldn't be undone, but on the surface the message is that you can't recapture that taste, you just have to experience a new fruit and enjoy it for what it is. I can't recreate those incredible moments, I just have to prepare myself for the possibility of more, different ones.
That's getting really close to why I'm doing this trip. But I think the real reason is the Kids. I'm doing it for the Kids. All kidding aside, last year Camille's class asked for guest speakers to talk about travel. I went in and spoke about my transatlantic sail, brought in pictures and foul weather gear and the kids just ate it up. I want Camille and Noah to grow up thinking that adventure is good. That travel isn't a business class seat to London and a 4-star hotel. Travel is getting to know cultures, to take a risk and climb a mountain, to do something different than your day to day life.
And, of course, I really like to sail."
Friday, July 11, 2008
I like R. Kelly: I'm either a huge doosh, a young black teenager deep inside, or music is just no longer part of my identity.
Before this, I thought R. Kelly was some crappy R & B singer but he's actually this semi-literate thug who can belt 'em out like a songbird and has a rhythm somewhere between Biggie Smalls and Marvin Gaye.
I won't slow down the blog by embedding videos but these are his best songs available on youtube (all are absolutely NSFW):
#1 - Real Talk. This is Kelly's side of a calm-and-collected (not really) telephone argument with his girlfriend of five years. You may think it's a joke --- like the Tracy Jordan character on 30 Rock --- unless you pay attention to the subtleties, like when he refers to some guy named "Milton" who his lady (possibly) threatens to sick on R. Kelly if he don't behave. This stuff can't be faked. Here are some sweet lyrics from his song: "I've been with you five years and you listenin' to your motherfuckin' girlfriends? I don't know why you fuck with them jealous no-man-havin'-ass-hoes anyway." No-man-havin'-ass-hoes! Ha! I gotta remember that one.
#2 - Ignition (Remix). This is the perfect Friday afternoon song. Man, that chorus just makes me get up outta this chair. Best line: "Sippin' on coke and rum, I'm like so what I'm drunk. It's the freakin' weekend, baby, I'm about to have me some fun." Also: "Runnin' her hands through my 'fro, bouncin' on twenty fo's ... " For you uber-whities out there, "twenty fo's" are 24-inch rims (wheels on an automobile).
#3 - I'm a Flirt. R. Kelly, I believe that you are. I don't even want you to meet my wife after hearing this track. Jeez. At least he gives us guys fair warning: "Please believe it, unless your game is tight, and you trust her, then don't bring her around me cuz I'm a flirt." Ok, I have no clue what my "game" even is, but I trust my girl, so I guess I'll let her meet R. Kelly one day.
I'm just listening to these songs over and over. I don't know if I'll ever go back to indie rock. Man.
Thursday, July 10, 2008
We probably are a "nation a whiners"
"We have sort of become a nation of whiners. You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline ... We've never been more dominant; we've never had more natural advantages than we have today ... Misery sells newspapers. Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day."He continued:
"Look, the economy is bad. It is far below what we Americans have a right to expect, but we are not in a recession. We may or may not have one in the future, but based on the data we are not in a recession. But that does not mean all this talk does not have a psychological impact."This follows what I've said for a long time about how Americans should STFU about gas prices. It pinches, but doesn't really hurt --- not like the tens of countries I would qualify as truly experiencing economic problems. Many for quite some time.
Witness the traffic --- including many SUVs --- over the 4th of July weekend. The number of cars on the road was only down 3.3%. Spit in a bucket, man. The problems for most Americans is that they won't be able to go to the movies as often, get lasik surgery, go on pleasure trips, or buy $4.00 coffees at Starbucks. Man, life is hard.
I suppose when you make the crybaby eat with his hands instead of a silver spoon, there'll be screams of torture.
I will give one month's gas money to anyone who can prove to me that there is currently widespread suffering in the the USA 1/2 as bad as most of the world has lived through over the past 30 years.
You can start by doing statistics on various countries at the economist.com. Not satisfied? Then I refer you to the international section of any major newspaper for the past three decades.
As long as Gramm's latest flub gets my man Obama elected, us pussies can bitch all we want. I only fault Gramm's arrogance for saying this as current Vice Chairman of UBS Bank.
Wednesday, July 09, 2008
When can I watch E.T. with my kid?
When is it appropriate to watch this movie with a kid? I'm so clueless about age-appropriate issues that I have no idea. I remember my mother took me to see E.T. in 1982. This was the first movie I'd ever seen in an actual movie theater.
The first encounters between E.T. and Elliot were scary, so maybe there are some age issues. Age 5 ok? Watching it last night brought back the memories clearly.
And I love the small subtleties of the movie, like when Elliot calls his brother "penis breath" and the mom tries to stifle laughing while scolding her son at the same time. What a simple, cute, movie. Timeless. God bless Spielberg.
Wednesday, July 02, 2008
Hitchens Submits Himself to Waterboarding
I remember going to one of his book readings in 1999 (the anti-Clinton book) and during the Q & A session, he casually pulled a pint of Jim Beam out of his pocket and took a swig before answering someone's annoying question. He's an old style journalist and I respect him regardless of his whims.
And now he's the first journalist to actually have himself waterboarded to find out what all the hub-bub is about. Here's his description of the experience:
You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning—or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The “board” is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered. This was very rapidly brought home to me when, on top of the hood, which still admitted a few flashes of random and worrying strobe light to my vision, three layers of enveloping towel were added. In this pregnant darkness, head downward, I waited for a while until I abruptly felt a slow cascade of water going up my nose. Determined to resist if only for the honor of my navy ancestors who had so often been in peril on the sea, I held my breath for a while and then had to exhale and—as you might expect—inhale in turn. The inhalation brought the damp cloths tight against my nostrils, as if a huge, wet paw had been suddenly and annihilatingly clamped over my face. Unable to determine whether I was breathing in or out, and flooded more with sheer panic than with mere water, I triggered the pre-arranged signal and felt the unbelievable relief of being pulled upright and having the soaking and stifling layers pulled off me. I find I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted.Here's the youtube video and here's the article. Thank god for journalists like Christopher Hitchens. I think I'm gonna try it myself. Anyone wanna tie me down and pour water over my towel-covered face?
Tuesday, July 01, 2008
Oh man, I've been doing this blog for 4 years as of today.
#1 - Nerds have hang-ups about being nerds --- and many bloggers are bona fide nerdy nerds, who never tire of writing about their own nerdiness. (Also, many nerds are jealous of the nerds who write nerdery blogs). Not being a nerd myself, it never bothered me when people commonly said blogging was nerdy back around 2004-2005. Now blogging is as commonplace as the news so all you nerds who called this non-nerd a nerd can suck it.
#2 - One main thing that keeps a blog going is having real experiences worth blogging about. Otherwise, you're just examining the Internet flotsam that drifts into your figurative navel.
#3 - I have no intention of quitting, despite the fact that the blog has gotten me in trouble a few times in my personal life. This blog is for my friends, a few loyal readers whom I've never met face-to-face over the years, sailors, and people who google the words "shit talking quotes" --- guess that's everyone. I love you guys. You folks who keep reading that I don't actually know should come to my home bar for an exotic cocktail. On second thought, I'm going to have an Obama fundraiser later in the summer and I will extend an invite to all my readers to join me. I truly hope you will.