Just in case…

If you live long enough you’re sure to noice there are moments where you repeat habits and patterns of past generations. Resist as much as you want and there are some elements of your parent’s personality that are sure to come through lound and clear despite all protestations to the contrary. As much as the big story today should be that Fortress Jeff is now manufacturing hot air six percent more efficiently than I was when the day started that is, in fact, not the big story… even if the projected savings on electrical and propane changes alone would have rated a mention here.

I’m writing here tonight not to sing the glory of high efficiency HVAC systems, but because I caught myself squarely in the midst of following my father’s footsteps. You see, when I walked through to the kitchen to brew up another coffee, I noticed the demolished remains of the old furnace laying on the driveway. Next to the shredded metal carcass of the furnace was a stack of 3-inch PVC pipe, the former intake and exhaust, that had been cut into neat eight foot lengths ready for disposal. Being my father’s son, of course, I couldn’t let perfectly good PVC pipe get thrown away.

Despite the fact that I have never in almost 40 years had a situation where I though, damn I wish I had a 16 foot length of 3-inch PVC pipe handy, I went out to the driveway and toted the two lengths that were clean cut and without joints back into the garage and leaned them in the corner. I laid them up “just in case,” against a day that when I need just exactly 8 or 16 feet of pipe to take on some project here at the house.

These lengths of pipe join sections of trex and 1×2 that came off the access ramp that use to be in the garage, several coffee cans of mismatched screws, nails, bolts, and nuts, a few smallish squares of drywall, and some leftover tile that matches my kitchen floor. All of it is material in waiting – most likely for a project or requirement that will never come – but ready just in case.


IMG_0305.jpgWalk up to the average bulldog owner and tell them that you’re thinking about adding one to your pack. I’d be willing to bet that 4 out of every five of them will warn you off the breed. They’re sickly – prone to a list of illnesses as long as your leg. They’re rife with potential genetic abnormalities – their airways are too small, their joints are prone to problems, their skin, God help you, will demand seeming around the clock attention. The most common dog foods are apt to trigger a host of potential allergies for them. Bulldogs, despite their popularity, are a troubled breed and not for the faint of heart or thin of wallet.

Having a bulldog means spending a ridiculous amount of time tending to their needs – with medicated baths, lotions, ointments, sprays, and a cabinet full of medication in addition to their basic care and feeding needs. You will develop a closer relationship to your veterinarian and their staff than you ever imagined possible. If the dog itself is an outsized expense, your medical bills for his care are going to spiral quickly into the five figure range and easily keep climbing from there.

My bulldog turns ten today. He’s been my near constant companion for almost every day of those ten years and he’s been a burning hot mess for almost the entire time. I’d hate to calculate the dollar cost of our time together or the number of trips to the vet for everything from noshing an Atavair inhaler weeping skin sores that erupted overnight without warning to months long recuperation from leg surgery.

I know though, that Fortress Jeff wouldn’t be what it is without Winston’s inquisitive eyes, slobbering IMG_0304.jpgjowls, smiling under bite, and undiluted obstinacy. Reaching his tenth birthday today, I’m acutely aware that I’ve got far fewer days left with him than I’ve had with him already. It’s one of life’s great inequities that the time we get with these animals is so incredibly short.

Any conversation I have about bulldogs invariably starts with “I love Winston more than nearly any living creature on the planet, but there will never be another bulldog…” The truth is, I’d be hard pressed to think of what this house would be like without a bulldog in it. The thought itself feels unnatural. There may well be other bulldogs in the future, but Winston will always be my first and the yardstick against which any other would be measured.

Today, of course, isn’t a day to ponder the costs or the future. It’s a day to give him a few extra ear rubs and chin scratches and marvel at the fact I’ve had so long to enjoy the companionship of this incredible dog.

Sunday at Fortress Jeff…

As I sit down to start writing this, it’s just a few minutes past 8AM. There’s a roast roasting, fresh sheets are on the bed, the vacuum was run through, the creatures have been tended. Even the birds have received their ration of feed. The heavy lifting of the day is done. It’s one of the perks of waking up not far past 5AM (the other being that at such an hour the world outside is brilliantly quiet, though that’s less an issue when winter’s in the air).

Yesterday I uncovered a bottle of unremarkable champaign, sparkling wine from California if we’re to be technical, that I’d stashed in the basement at some point and promptly forgotten about. Usually, finding something in the basement wouldn’t pass for something worthy of mention, except for this morning it’s a good illustration of why I don’t mind so much the 5AM wake up call and it’s corresponding 9PM bed time.

Sunday’s aren’t always a day of rest here. I don’t know how any working person could manage to give away a whole day like that. From time to time, though, the too do list thins a bit, you find a bottle of champaign in the basement, and you get to spend Sunday morning in a comfortable corner with a good book and a mimosa while the sun streams in the window.

If it weren’t for this kind of Sunday at Fortress Jeff from time to time, I’m not at all sure how I’d tolerate Monday through Friday during an average week.

Skippy Blowemup…

I’ve always said that if I wanted to strike fear into the hearts of Americans, I’d find ten or fifteen fanatics, strap bombs to them, and send them off to ten or fifteen random coffee shops to blow themselves to pieces. It wouldn’t be in New York or DC. Those places are predictable targets. We’ve come to expect terrorist attacks there as just another feature of “life in the big city.”

I’d have pointed my boys (because let’s face it, the ones who are usually willing to get themselves killed in the process are almost always young men) at Kansas City, Boise, Tampa, Salt Lake City, or Cleveland. If I had more people and more supplies, they’d go to even smaller cities – maybe no more than 20,000-30,000 people. I mean do you really think the average person getting their caffeine fix in Henderson, Kentucky is looking some half-assed wannabe jihadist to come walking through the door with a pipe bomb strapped to his gut?

As much as I like to think I’m aware of my surroundings, no one knows more than I do how often and how easy it is to find yourself distracted. I suspect that even the best would say it’s difficult to impossible to stay “on” all the time… and even if you manage it, being suspicious of everyone walking through the door is a hard way to live. You’ll just have to assume that I’m right on that one based on my personal lack of trust in just about everyone.

Point is, we got lucky in New York today. We got lucky because Skippy Blowemup was a shit bomb builder. We won’t get lucky every time. I can’t imagine we’ll get lucky even most of the time. Terrorism with a small “t” has come to America. It got here a while ago, but it’s hard to believe we won’t see more if it. It’s just easier to get your hands on a pipe bomb or pressure cooker than it is to find a airliner and trained pilot sitting around. As a country we do a fair job of getting out hands around the big problems – I mean skyscrapers aren’t toppling on a regular basis. We’ve put security in place that helps prevent that from happening.

The real question, though, is how good are we going to be at catching the small timers with a death wish? Our daily life is built around the idea that we’re free to come and go when and where we please? How likely are any of us to put up with a pat down or full body scan every time we go to the local shopping center or get on a subway train?

I swear to God the longer I’m in it, the more I hate the 21st century.


The House of Representatives has on deck this week, a bill known as the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. This bill says, in part, that a concealed carry permit issued by a citizen’s state of residence must be honored by the rest of the several states. It imposes limitations on this reciprocity in the case of people who are not eligible to possess a firearm under federal law (felons), those who are dangerously mentally ill, domestic abusers, and those who have several other disqualifying factors.

Suddenly the Democrats find themselves standing up as the party of state’s rights and the Republicans are the party pushing for federal law to supersede the will of states like New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, so called “may issue” states, where concealed permits are virtually impossible to get for the average citizen. Given the way the law is written, as an American citizen residing in the State of Maryland, this bill, if passed, does precisely nothing to allow me to carry concealed either within Maryland or in any other state. It does mean that residents of Pennsylvania, Delaware, or the District could carry their firearm concealed into the state based on permits issued by those jurisdictions.

I don’t buy that this should be a state’s rights issue any more than I buy that argument when it’s used in opposition any other Constitutionally protected right – same sex marriage, for example. The Constitution should apply equally to all people regardless of the state in which they reside – and that’s why I have a hard time supporting the CCRA.

From my vantage point here in Maryland, it creates a condition under federal law where a resident three miles away in Delaware is allowed to exercise a Constitutional right that I, living in Maryland, cannot. The solution in this case isn’t to overlay the current patchwork of state permits with another layer of federal law. The solution is for federal law to recognize that all citizens, with limitations spelled out clearly for felons, the mentally ill, etc, have the same rights and standing under the Constitution. The solution is for the Congress to recognize the inherent right to self-defense found in the 2nd Amendment and clarified by the Supreme Court’s Heller decision and legislate accordingly.

My reading is the CCRA is a half measure that adds complexity rather than clarity.

The problem with Goodreads…

A few weeks ago I wrote about going “all in” with Goodreads.com as the means and method of keeping tabs on what I’ve read, what I want to read, and generally keeping me from buying the same thing twice. Yes, that happened more than once.

Now that I’ve been living with it for a few weeks, I’ve discovered what I’ve come to think of as its major problem… that would be the fact that every time I log in it forces me to face the ever growing list of books I’ve purchased, but not yet taken the time to read. It’s a problem I was vaguely aware of in the past, but now I’ve got this marvelous automated tool to remind me constantly that there are 31 books just sitting on various shelves and flat surfaces at home waiting for my attention. It wasn’t nearly so much of a problem when all they did was sit there quietly.

I’d like to be able to tell you that I’ll simply resolve this problem by delaying the purchase of any new reading material until I’ve cycled through what’s already here. I think we both know that’s not going to happen, though. What I’ll probably end up doing, in the interest of freeing up more shelf space for books I’ve actually read, is order yet another bookcase and set up all of my eventually-to-be-read collection in the spare bedroom. That’s how normal people do it, right?


One of the walls of the room wherein I’m trapped for eight hours a day features three large televisions. At any given time at least one of them shows a feed from the major cable news outlets shouting the current headlines at us. You don’t realize how little “new” news happens in a day until you spend months with rehashes and repeats washing over you every 30 minutes. It’s possible there’s a lot of news breaking out there somewhere, but it’s an awfully small portion that anyone is going to spend time talking about (and trying to monetize through advertising).

One of the better side effects of this 40-hour a week exposure is that my brain seems to have developed a basic self-preservation strategy of tuning almost all of it out. When someone asks “hey did you hear that?” I can usually respond honestly with, “no.” The other side effect I’ve noticed is that this constant stream of news has left me bereft of the desire to watch or seek out any news for the rest of the day.

With the exception of a few minutes of local weather and finding out the daily body count in Baltimore when I get home from work, the rest of the night is almost completely news free. I should show more of an interest, but I find this newfound disinterest to be a remarkably freeing experience. Sure, I still care what goes on in the world, but I’m becoming a hell of a lot more selective about what I want to burn an increasingly limited amount of mental bandwidth learning about or engaging on.

Some news is good for entertainment value (when bad things happen to stupid people), other bits are good to know because it impacts finances (business news and federal budget stuff), and finally there’s the space allocated to any news or information involving animals. Past that, maybe I should care, but I just don’t. Whatever intellectual energy I have left once I get home is far more effectively spent focused on the next spy novel or great thick books about war.

I intend this self-imposed (partial) news blackout to continue indefinitely.