Understanding Alan Turing

I’m playing the role of Alan Turing in the upcoming StageQ Queer Shorts 8 production, Of Machines and Men, which starts June 7, 2013.

Alan Turing

Alan Turing

In case you aren’t familiar with Turing, he was a Brit who helped end World War II by cracking Germany’s Enigma code. He is considered the father of computing and artificial intelligence. He was also a gay man who was convicted of the crime of homosexuality, and given a choice between prison and taking estrogen therapy for one year. He chose the latter, so he could continue his important work. He ended up dying by cyanide poisoning; it was ruled suicide, but I don’t believe it’s so cut and dried. It could have been accidental, given the experiments he ran in his home.

While the play, by definition of being a “short”, is no longer than 10 minutes, the playwright has done an amazing job of weaving together the important aspects of Turing’s life and thinking. As I learn my lines, I see more and more of the intricacy of the script, and am pleasantly blown away.

I’ve been reflecting on experiences in my own life that help me understand a bit about Turing.

My First Database

I have always been fascinated by computers, data and programming. I remember one sunny morning when I was four years old. The sun was beaming in our front living room window. My sister Jane had already taught me how to read, and I had been going around the house with pencil and paper, writing down all the words I could find. This morning I was focusing on the clock we had in the living room, that looked a little like this one:

FlipClock

The seconds were kept by a continuously turning wheel showing five-second increments. The hour, 10-minutes and minutes were tracked by a wheel that flipped a card at each change.

At four years of age I sat down with paper and pencil and watched this clock. I wrote down the time as it changed (I think I probably would have done this in 10- or 15-second increments). After doing this for several minutes, I stopped and looked at what I had written down—my database, if you will. I wasn’t sure what I was attempting to accomplish, and indeed, could not find a value for it in the moment. I did it because I had the intuitive sense there is something valuable here. I couldn’t figure out the value at the time, so I stopped.

The First Computer

TI-99/4A

TI-99/4A

When I was in 7th or 8th grade, we got a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A Computer—I think it was a gift from my Uncle Charles, when he got his first IBM. And it came with the 128k extended memory cartridge, that slipped into the slot on the right side! I began to learn formal programming with this little machine, including making a video game of first one tractor then two attempting to run down hapless animals (forgive me, I was young). Although, the animal got the last laugh if the two tractors collided, standing on its hind legs and taunting the farmers.

The Next Computer

Apple ][e

Apple ][e

In 1981 I started high school. Also new to the school was its first Apple ][e, complete with two—count ’em TWO!—5.25″ floppy drives. I learned Apple Basic, devouring it eagerly. One of our math teachers took a summer class so he could teach the computer course. Because I was a freshman, I couldn’t take the class, so I taught myself. The school soon got more of these computers, and I stayed every night after school (when I didn’t do cross country or track) and wrote programs.

My First “Turing Moment”

In his day, Alan Turing had to face the disbelief and scorn that people had for his concept of “thinking machines.” I remember the first time I faced something similar. I was just learning Apple Basic, and create some sort of simple Hello World program to get the machine to do something. Getting machines to do things really got my imagination going. I was showing a couple fellow students this simple program, and a teacher came in the room, so I showed him. The first thing he pointed out was a misspelling in the output text. I could tell from his tone that he wrote off the computer, and my efforts, because of this error.

To this day I must always be ready for how others cannot see past the literal images they see to the power and potential of the program behind. Also not to take this kind of thing personally.

My First Big Project Failure

I loved those years during high school as I was learning to program. Eventually the students in the computer classes would ask me for help while we were in the lab after school. Not only did I help them figure out whatever problem or assignment they were working on, I went on to show them what else they could do. I learned that the computer teacher told his students not to ask me for help—apparently I was teaching them too much!

My senior year I think I decided to not go out for one of the sports so that I could spend more time programming. At that time the girls gymnastics coach came to me with my first Request for Proposal (albeit verbal)! Keeping track of scores at girls gymnastics invitations was apparently a painful endeavor, with scores from all of these girls having to be tracked and tabulated on a board. She asked if I could write a program to do it.

FINALLY! I could take this passion and DO something with it!

I met with her and learned what today I would call the “business rules.” What’s the maximum number of teams at a meet? 8. How many girls on a team? How do you calculate the scores? How do you round the scores? Etc. I developed a very efficient program that showed, I believe, the 8 teams across the top and events going down the side. To enter scores, the user would hit a letter corresponding to the column and row (much like a spreadsheet), and the computer would ask for the score, then do the calculation.

The Fatal Flaw is Revealed

I tested the program and showed it to the coach. She loved it. The day came to use this child of mine at an actual home invitational. I rolled the cart down to the gym, and someone helped me carry it up to the stage, where the judges or whatever sat. I got the roster for teams and began entering them into the program.

Then my heart sank.

There were NINE teams! Not eight—NINE! I had designed the entire program—all of the logic, all of the display—on there being EIGHT teams, as I was told! I went to the coach and told her the problem. “Well, can’t you just change it to allow for nine teams?”

Can I just change it? NO! I can’t just change it! I don’t think I yelled at her (I was way too polite for that), but I told her that I couldn’t after furiously trying for a short while. I’d insert a metaphor here of an artist making a huge change to her piece of work or an architect changing the design after the project is half done, and you get the point.

I walked out feeling very frustrated and angry, and defeated. It was that experience that taught me the power of…

Always, Ever and Never

Today one of the first things I have to teach clients is the absolute meaning of these three words. Programming is very different from engineering or other disciplines in that most disciplines allow for approximations and estimations: in music you can be in tune enough, in engineering you can use approximate values1, but with a computer you must respect ALWAYS, EVER and  NEVER.

When I was told there would be eight teams, I should have asked, “So it is NEVER, EVER possible to have more than eight teams at an invitational? EVER?” In answer to questions like this, people often respond with, “well, not usually, so I wouldn’t worry about it.” My job is to worry about things just like that.

Despite this first “failure,” to this day I continue to have a passion for helping people automate time-consuming or monotonous tasks, as well as helping individuals to connect through systems and data.

I am not Alan Turing

I am certainly not Alan Turing—I’m not the genius he was. However, my life history has given me some preparation for understanding what he faced, both in terms of working with computers and living in the world as a gay man. I’m continuing to do research into who Turing was, so that I can portray this hero of mine as best I can.

I want to do him justice.

imagesPlease Come See the Play!

Queer Shorts 8 is opening June 7. I hope those who live near Madison will
check it out! Reserve your tickets here.

1I eagerly await the rants from engineers because of this statement. ;o)

“My Husband”

I’ve been paying attention to the ways my relationship with Josh has changed, and the ways it hasn’t, since we married at the end of July. The quality of our relationship has deepened, I think due to the intensity of the process of preparing for the wedding, as well as experiencing together the utter magic of the day (it was astronomically more magical than I anticipated, but I digress). Apart from those things, the quality of our relating hasn’t changed significantly.

Our financial/legal lives have changed, since we now have a living trust in place, as well as our legal and medical powers of attorney. I realized the day we signed the papers it that it was the “second half” of marriage that we finally completed, what straight couples do the same day they marry, by way of signing the marriage license.

And then there was bringing Josh’s accounts into my Quicken file. Whew, that was significant! ; )

There is one other aspect of our lives that has changed significantly that I didn’t consider very much: what we call each other. “Husband.” While there are plenty of folks (gay and straight) who may recoil at my use of this word, I absolutely claim it. The entire time we were preparing for the wedding I was insistent on acting like any other couple where appropriate (and there are few situations where it isn’t appropriate in my mind).

And this is a significant change. We had all kinds of playful names of referring to each other before the wedding: “zombie boyfriend” when groggy after sleeping, “crabby boyfriend” (self-explanatory), “boo-boo boyfriend” (feel free to vomit in your mouth a little). All of those had to be converted from “boyfriend” to “fiancé” before the wedding, and now to “husband.”

Sometimes one of us slips and says “boyfriend,” and the other waits for the brain to catch up, and the correction made. This has been a gratifying conversion, due to the significance of the new moniker.

At times this can be uncomfortable and/or amusing. Because, you see, I use the same word out in the world that I use in my home: Josh is my husband. Even after being out more than 20 years it can still take a breath and a moment of resolve to come out, yet again. Take this afternoon, for instance. Josh called a paving company to have a look at our driveway (it’s in rough shape). While I was mowing this afternoon, a car drove up and parked across the street. I said hello–I had forgotten about the driveway and assumed Josh was getting rid of something else on Craig’s List. Jim stated he was here to look at the driveway, “Are you Josh?” After an instant of thought and a small breath, I said, “He’s my husband. My name’s Jay,” and I shook his hand.

I must say that I experience a non-malicious moment of enjoyment as I watch the *tilt* look on peoples’ faces–in a moment I have forced them out of their normal everyday interactions where things fall into well-worn, well-known categories. Much like being given a gift and finding that it doesn’t immediately belong in one’s home. “What do I do with this?” is the look I often see on peoples’ faces.

As I write this I can’t think of an instance where someone didn’t handle this situation well (I don’t consider the awkward pause a sign of handling it poorly). Today with Jim we went right on and talked about the driveway. He shared his professional opinions with me, I thanked him, and he left to go prepare some quotes for us.

While I don’t enjoy the discomfort I caused (my being the cause is debatable, and you know what I mean), I DO enjoy the opportunity the person has to broaden their experience, as well as the small dent I’ve just made in the world of status quo, old-style-normalcy, and lack of acceptance. The best way to defeat lack of acceptance is to be who I am unapologetically and graciously, and connect with people. Who knows what Jim thought as he drove away: was he uncomfortable? Amused? Happy? Troubled? Who knows. Maybe he told an associate, “yeah, I met this guy who said his husband called me for a quote. I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about at first, but he seemed like an ok guy…” Or maybe none of this occurred to him and he just remembered he forgot to put the trash out this morning–I shouldn’t be presumptuous. But I would place a bet.

I don’t know for sure what his thoughts were; I do know, though, that I heard myself say “my husband” one more time, thereby making it more real and more normal in my world and THE world. I believe strongly that it’s imperative we make these small statements as often as we can, wherever we can. It’s an important way that “marriage is two loving people” will become more normal in the world.

Baby Technology

It’s interesting to me to discover the technology surrounding babies. For instance, the bottle. it has 5 parts: the body of the bottle, the cover, the nipple–obvious enough. The bottom is not solid, and there is an inner (latex?) diaphragm that is domed up a bit–this doesn’t let anything leak out the bottom, and I imagine with the negative pressure of sucking, allows enough air in so that the milk can come out, yet without coming out too quickly. Nice. Elegant.

Then comes the technology for cleaning the bottle. I intuited the bottle brush immediately–don’t remember eve seeing one and knowing what it is, yet when the glass scrubber didn’t fit inside it was obvious pretty quickly. Does it really need the swivel handle? Perhaps with having to clean bottles for every-three-hour feedings this would save the wrist over time. Hmmm. What’s with the little nubby spongie thingie at the end? Oh–would that be the right shape and size to clean the bottle nipple? Sho’ ’nuff.

Then the making of the formula. Two level, unpacked scoops. Hm. Can’t find the scoop–found it with a fork. Hm. What an odd shape–so long and thin–why is it shaped that way? I’m sure there’s a good reason; I just can’t imagine why. [Making the formula] oh. That’s why–if it weren’t this narrow, most of the formula wouldn’t make it into the bottle. Boy, these folks have had a number of years to figure this stuff out, eh?

TE-I (Loving Messages) Follow-Up

Last week I wrote this thought experiment on Loving Messages. It didn’t take long before I had the opportunity to put the thought experiment into action. In most cases I will probably not name the cast of characters involved, for pretty obvious reasons; and I still want to share my results.

Within two hours of writing that post I passed something on, which I considered to be rather considerate. In return I got something akin to a lecture about the concerns of sharing what I did. There was no thank-you for the action, just what could be perceived as criticism.
As the communication started, I had full awareness that this was the perfect opportunity! I was aware that an initial reaction of frustration was welling up. I took a deep breath, and listened for the loving message. The concerns were valid, and the love was found in the very fact of the concerns being expressed–if there weren’t caring, there would be no need for the expression of concern. Where in the past I might have gotten very frustrated by the conversation, I listened for the love, and ended up fairly neutral. This was a success.
The next opportunity came that evening. I was driving Josh and myself home after dark. I was about to turn left onto our street, and there was a car waiting at the stop sign there; I was going to be turning in front of them. As I started the turn, they starting into the intersection! I quickly steered away from them, toward the curb, to give them as much room as possible to stop. I was sure that there would be impact, and there wasn’t. I sat for a moment and took a breath, then continued on down the road.
It’s a bit harder to find the loving message in this “communication.” The easy way out would be to look at the fact that they didn’t hit me, and that’s too easy–I would want to be able to find the loving message even if they had. My tactic, then, is to simply let go of the judgment about what happened: instead of thinking they are a dumb $@#$% for not looking where they’re going, I just let that thought go. I have no idea what was going on in the person’s head: maybe they were rushing somewhere in an emergency, or to someone they love. Or, perhaps they simply weren’t paying attention. It doesn’t matter to me. I chose to simply take a breath and let it go. As a result, I had a peaceful time getting ready for bed (while the adrenaline dump subsided), and falling right to sleep.
As if to test my resolve, the near-identical thing happened the next day: I was turning left in front of someone at a stop sign, and they nearly drove into me again! It wasn’t quite as close a call as the previous night, and I wondered what I was doing that was attracting this. I’m still working on that one.
The results, so far, from my thought experiment are very good. I continue to incorporate the process into my life. I’ll give more updates as I believe they are pertinent/interesting.

It’s All About the Heart

Literally.

Last night I took my third annual CPR refresher. The protocol has gotten even simpler to remember, and the teaching style has been greatly improved to be much more hands-on than the previous more-informational style.
If you haven’t yet gotten your CPR training, I highly encourage you to do so. Keeping someone’s blood moving through their body is absolutely crucial in case of a heart attack. Our blood has enough oxygen for 10 minutes, yet it won’t do any good if it’s not moving. When CPR is rendered, it’s quite possible that there will be no neurological damage due to hypoxia.
We also learned (again) how to help someone who’s choking, whether they be an adult or a 2-month-old.
In the Taking It Lightly weekend I do a lot of “heart work.” I’m very happy that I know how to do this kind of “heart work” as well.
For information on CPR training, visit www.redcross.org.

Thought Experiment I: Loving Messages

This post is the start of a new intermittent series on Intermittent Inspirations where I will consider “what ifs” that pop into my head. Paul Wesselmann inspired this idea when he, Josh and I had dinner the other night, although he doesn’t know it yet. I hope you enjoy.

Last week when I was driving to Milwaukee to teach Taking It Lightly at the Center for Creative Learning, I listened to podcasts. I so rarely take the time to listen in my daily life, so driving trips are a treat for me in this way. I heard an episode of the Get-It-Done Guy’s Quick and Dirty Tips to Work Less and Do More. Stever Robbins (yes, Stever) does a fantastic job of sharing truly valuable tips for being more productive, especially with work and technology.
In this episode he focused on saying “no” to difficult requests, say from a boss or a teenager. I was blown away that he interviewed Byron Katie! She’s the author of Loving What Is, which is a fantastic book about questioning our beliefs, accepting reality, and letting go of a lot of the painful and troublesome thoughts that we live with on a daily basis. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Here’s a brief excerpt of one of the role plays that Stever and Katie did:

Finally, a teenager who wants the car.

S: I’m a teenager and you’re a mother.
S: Hey Mom! Can I use your car to go to the movies?
K: No, actually, no.
S: All the other kids’ parents let them use the car.
K: Oh, my goodness, it’s true, isn’t it? You know, we really have different lives.
S: If you loved me, you’d let me use the car.
K: You know, it’s so interesting you would say that. You know, I love you with all my heart, and I’m not letting you use the car.
S: Mom, I hate you! I hate you! Everything in my life that’s wrong is wrong because of you.
K: Oh, honey. I’m so sorry you feel that way. I adore you.

Did you catch that? No matter what message she received that would normally be considered disrespectful, hurtful or hateful, she responded with love. It was almost as if she didn’t hear anything but love. And this leads to my thought experiment:
Thought Experiment: What if we only attended to the Love in all incoming messages?
This doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t hear the words of messages if they weren’t loving; it means that listening to each word we would only hear Love (or perhaps a request for it). When Stever in the role play said “Mom, I hate you!” she didn’t respond by hurting back, punishing or judging, she simply expressed sadness, then said she adored the teenager.
It’s easiest for me to do this experiment when thinking about a small child who is upset: wouldn’t it be easier to understand the child doesn’t believe it when she says she hates you? She’s lashing out because of some kind of pain. I imagine having compassion for the child, holding her and telling her I’m sorry she’s upset, and that I love her anyway.
Well, now apply that to anyone. Let’s say I bump into someone in a store and they say something that would normally be thought of as unkind. If I knew that five minutes earlier they had learned someone very close to them had died, wouldn’t I be able to have compassion for them, and let the less-than-kind words go right by? Would I instead be able to simply recognize they are hurting, and understand it wasn’t about me, so that I didn’t need to take it personally?
If compassion is possible in that situation, why not in every situation? Why should I ever take unkind messages personally? How could they ever truly be about me? Even if it’s someone I know, even if it’s someone who’s very close to me, isn’t everything they say still about them? What is the benefit of taking anything personally that anyone says? Is there one? What is the benefit of NOT taking things personally? I can’t even count them.
I had an experience in this vein while teaching a few years ago: I was leading an activity that had a goal of helping people learn to ask for help. The students were given a task to do individually that was not very possible to do alone, without help. From the previous day, I had identified one of the students as being hyper-independent. She (gender determined by coin toss) immediately reacted when I gave the instructions for the activity. She was angry, and an observer may have perceived that she attacked me. Happily, I was unsurprised by the response. I knew that it wasn’t about me, but about her fear of not having the answer, not being able to control the outcome by herself. I responded, “Whoever told you that you had to have all the answers?” She immediately broke down in tears and told a story of just that–having to be in charge, not getting any support, and having to do it all herself. She did the activity and got a huge gift of being able to let go of some of the charge connected to those thoughts.
If I had taken what she said personally, I wouldn’t have had the resources to respond the way I did. What do you suppose would have happened if I had responded defensively? It wouldn’t have been pretty, and she probably wouldn’t have gotten the gift of releasing some of her pain.
When I’m instructing it’s a lot easier to respond in that way, because I’m in “instructor mode.” I’m not that clear-thinking every moment of every day.
What would happen if we simply didn’t respond to anything but the loving content of messages, or responded only with love or positive regard to all communications? Think about your interactions at work or school. With friends. With family. This last one is probably the toughest, since familial relationships are so primary, and thus so tied into our basic emotions and reactions. Imagine the following interactions:
child: if I don’t get the car tonight, I’ll hate you forever!
parent: I’m sorry you feel that way. I’m afraid you can’t have the car tonight, and I love you.
spouse: Why are you embarrassing me by wearing that again?
spouse: I’m sorry you’re embarrassed. I love you and I’m wearing this again because I like it.
boss: This report isn’t very good–this semi-colon should be a dash, there’s an extra space here, and […]
employee: Thank you for the feedback; I appreciate it.
Do these examples sound ridiculous? Do you get tense just reading them, perhaps thinking another response is appropriate?
Simply imagine what it would feel like to not take anything personally. To see everyone consistently with unconditional positive regard. To not need to get tense or afraid or angry about what someone thinks about us or says about us or anything else. How would things be different in your primary relationships? In your family? At work?
I’m committing to working on this thought experiment in daily life as best as I can. I’ll write about my experiences.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this first thought experiment.

Dealing with Bacon Part II

In a previous post I discussed bacon–emails that I’ve signed up for, yet aren’t a high priority. I’ve been fine-tuning my bacon-wrangling, and thought I’d share my progress in case others would find it useful.

In that past post I discussed the special Bacon folder I created, and how I created rules in Outlook to look for specific senders and move those emails directly into that folder.
Now I have a much simpler method that doesn’t require my adding email addresses to my Outlook rule every time a new sender shows up in my inbox.
Because I use Gmail, there’s a little trick I can use when signing up for things. With Gmail, it’s possible to create on-the-fly email addresses. Let’s say my email address is fantasticness@gmail.com (which it isn’t). You can create an unlimited number of email addresses by adding + after the username and anything you want, and they will all be delivered to you!
So let’s say I sign up for something, and want the emails they send me to go into my bacon folder. Starting with my fictitious email above, I’d sign up with the email fantasticness+bacon@gmail.com. Then, with the rule I have in Outlook that puts all emails sent to that address in my bacon folder, I’m all set! (Other email providers may have similar services–YMMV.)
I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to have only important emails in my inbox!
I also use a number of Outlook rules to intelligently put emails into folders based on project or group. I can see them all using the Unread Mail folder, and when I’m done reading them, they are already filed!
This combination of systems has helped me to automate a great deal of my inbox cleanup, meaning I have time for other things. I can’t recommend these types of automation highly enough.

Breathe

Last week was a bit  hectic. When I discussed it with my friend, Karen, she sent me this, which I think is very cool. Using it really helped me be more relaxed!

Breathe

Breathing in I know I am breathing in

Breathing out I know I am breathing out

Breathing in I see myself as a flower

Breathing out I feel fresh



Breathing in I see myself as still water

Breathing out I reflect things as they are


Breathing in I see myself as a mountain

Breathing out I feel solid



Breathing in I see myself as space

Breathing out I feel free


Thich Nhat Hanh

McNaughton 10 II

Last April I told you about running the McNaughton 10 while my friend, Ryan Dexter, ran the 150-mile race. Once again this year, I went down to Pekin, Illinois, and ran 10 miles with Ryan.

I left at 6 AM and once again listen to for hours of podcasts from my iPod. However, this year I drove south with the aid of Bruce, the Garmen GPS that Josh and I bought ourselves for Christmas. last year I got a little lost and needed to call Josh to get assistance through Google maps so that I could find my way.

Bruce has been one of the best purchases I’ve ever been involved with. It made the drive very stress-free and really enjoyable. I rarely get or make the time to listen to podcasts, so four hours of Grammar Girl, the Get It Done Guy, and Modern Manners Guy was like a four-hour slice of heaven.A week before the race I was a bit concerned that the weather was going to be as bad as it was last year. I wasn’t looking forward to another day of running and standing around in cold, rain, and generally miserable conditions. I was quite happy that the forecast changed: when I arrived it was sunny and in the 50s. While there had been some serious rain at the beginning of the 150-mile race, the sun had dried up most of the mud, so that, for the most part, the run was on solid ground.

Last year I also made a promise to Ryan and that I would run with him anytime he ran 120 miles first. I made even better on that promise, as I ran with him after he ran only 110 miles. I ran the first half of the eleventh 10-mile lap. The terrain was just as I remembered it, complete with the creek and river crossings. At the halfway point, someone took my place and I took the truck back to the starting point.

Ryan’s wife, Christina, their boys, and Christina’s mother came during the afternoon, bringing hot chocolate with them. This was a big boost for Ryan&mdsash;he really enjoyed seeing them.

Later in the afternoon I ran the last half of the 14th lap. Randy ran in front, and I ran behind Ryan, being the voice and is ear. After the first couple of laps, Ryan always had someone running with him, to help motivate and keep him focused. We got back to the starting point not a moment too soon, as it was getting pretty dark by that time.

Dema ran the last lap with Ryan and, understandably, it was the slowest lap of the race for him. Even with this, however, Ryan set a record of having no lap of the race being more than 2 hours 45 minutes.

Christina arrived a while before the race ended, and Ryan finished his race in great style: through the dark we could see five bobbing lights heading toward the finish line—four of the guys finish the race with him. Andy, the organizer, announced Ryan’s finish and there was much applause and encouragement.

We took a few pictures, then I said my goodbyes and took off after 11 PM. Luckily, I had taken a short nap during the last half of the last lap, so I was awake enough for the ride home. And, while Bruce did an equally fantastic job on the ride down, I was a little tired and a bit absorbed with the New York Times fiction stories on my iPod, so that I missed the turn to 39 N. and instead headed toward Chicago. While I was frustrated with my mistake, I was very happy to have Bruce guiding my way. While he took me somewhere where I’ve never been before, and attempted to get me to do a U-turn where there was a median, he eventually got me back on the right road, adding only 15 minutes my trip. I was impressed.

I got home at about quarter after 3 AM on Sunday morning. My bed felt wonderful, and in the morning I discovered that even after not enough sleep my body felt okay, especially my left knee, which had hurt the most after running. I’ve been quite happy that I wasn’t in as rough shape as I was last year. I hadn’t been planning on running the Madison have marathon this year, but if my knee gets back to normal quickly I just may reconsider.

Ryan won the 150-mile race by more than six hours. Not only that, if he had stopped at 100 miles, he would have won that race by two hours. Big congratulations to Ryan!

The Strangest Thing I’ve Done (Naked) In Quite Some Time

[Oh, do you think you know where this is going? I’ll bet you don’t.]

It’s not my fault. It’s the cats’ fault. [How about now?] This story requires some background:
Josh moved in at the beginning of August, and brought his (cat) girls, Maggie and Feliz, with him. We followed the proper protocol: lock them in a room for a month, and never let them or Raja (my boy) see each other. They can smell one another under the door, etc. At the same time, we locked Raja in our bedroom to minimize his anxiety with all of the noise going on during renovations.
Starting in September we would let everyone out for an hour or so, then back in the room. We gradually increased the time until finally after about two months, I think, the doors were opened for good.
Obviously if a cat is locked in a room a litter box is required, so Maggie & Feliz had theirs, and Raja had his in the master bedroom. I didn’t really enjoy this–litter in the bed is a result, both carried by his paws as well as our feet from the litter that was perpetually on the bedroom floor (hardwoods–bamboo–I installed it myself). I find litter in the bed quite annoying.
Even after the doors were open, we often shut the doors during construction to keep the cats contained, which reduces their stress. Once the house was on the market at the beginning of the year, we moved Raja’s litter box downstairs to the office. That’s when the trouble began.
Maggie and Feliz would chase Raja through the house. We didn’t realize the dynamic we had set up: Raja is a very timid cat, and Josh’s girls are both much more social and assertive. Raja was spending all of his time on our bed, even after the doors were open, so as to avoid the girls. Thus, they reached a detente that they didn’t publish anywhere: Raja may be in the bedroom (actually, on the bed), and Maggie and Feliz may be everywhere else. When he had his space in the office they deigned to let him have that space as well. So, he can be in the bedroom on the main floor, where we fed him, or in the office where his litter box and water were. Do you see a logistical problem here?
Every time he wanted to go to the bathroom he had to run the gauntlet, as well as when returning to the bedroom. the would literally chase him back to his room (sometimes he wasn’t allowed to go downstairs) and onto the bed, even jumping on the bed to intimidate him, if I may anthropomorphize a bit.
Josh, ever thoughtful as he is, began getting concerned last week that Raja wasn’t getting enough water. So we decided to put a bowl of water in the bedroom.
[Are you wondering what the heck this has to do with my being naked? I’ll get there shortly.]
Josh was right: Raja wasn’t getting enough water. He was drinking lots of water, so it was good we had the water up there. Lots and lots of water. Water, water, water. It occurred to me to possibly be nervous, but Raja has always been so faithful with his litter box that I considered the risk to be quite low.
Until last Thursday.
Last week Monday through Wednesday Josh took Raja down to his office when he (Josh, not Raja) was working. Raja would use the litter box and hang out for a while, sometimes running the gauntlet to get back to home base.
Thursday Josh didn’t go down to his office. I know you see it coming.
As we were getting ready for bed, I walked into the bedroom and saw a LARGE wet stain on the comforter. “Oh, he didn’t pee,” I thought, “he just threw up.” No he didn’t–he peed.
On my bed.
On my down comforter.
I’m quite happy to state that I almost never get frustrated with cats, and never when a ‘misbehavior’ is caused by their stress. I was nowhere near angry with him; indeed, I felt sorry that I had put him in this position. Knowing how faithful he has always been with his littler box, I was quite sure he held it as long as he could, stressed out, and then lost the battle.
I feel like a bit of a bad cat-daddy as a result, but 1) I’ll get over it; and 2) that’s not pertinent to the story.
I soaked up everything I could with paper towels, then we stripped off the duvet and put the comforter in a large trash bag, in the garage where it would stay cool (we left the following morning for the farm–no time to wash it). I washed the duvet in enzymes, which solved that problem completely. However, an industrial washer and dryer are required to wash a down comforter.
[We’re almost there; do you have any guesses yet?]
I intended to leave work by 4 today to get time after work and before a call at 7 tonight to wash and dry it. I checked the instructions of the enzymes and realized I didn’t have enough time: the comforter needs to soak for an hour in the enzymes, then finish the cycle, then wash again, then dry. No small project.
[Here it comes; are you ready?]
There’s no way to start a Laundromat washer, cycle until wet, then turn it off for an hour. First of all, there’s no way to shut one off (that I know of); second, others would need it more than likely, so I couldn’t waste the time. So I made an alternate plan.
I mixed the enzymes, waited a few minutes for them to activate, then put warm water in the tub (between 75 and 110°). I’d soak the comforter there for an hour, squeeze it then go to the laundromat.
Have you ever tried to soak a down comforter in a bathtub? I’ll bet not. Because the better question is: have you ever tried to submerge a down comforter in water? Or a related question: have you ever tried to hold a beach ball under water? It ain’t easy.
If you’re a scout and have received your swimming merit badge, or whatever the analog is for girl scouts, or ever taken a water survival course, you learn that blue jeans (without holes) make nice floatation devices: take them off, tie the ends of the legs together, put them over your head with the knot behind your neck, then holding the waistline below the water, “splash” air under water until it fills with air. The water causes the threads of the fabric to expand, as well as adding water tension to the surface. As long as the pants are kept wet, they hold air pretty well.
Now imagine that same phenomenon with a queen-sized down comforter. (No jokes, please. Oh what the heck: jokes, please.) It’s actually more challenging than a beach ball, because you push down here and it pops up there.
Being a thinking man, I went to the kitchen and got several cooking screens and racks. I thought I could use them to push down on the comforter. It didn’t work–the air kept moving away from where I pushed down.
[ok, you see it coming now, don’t you?]
I decided the only way to soak the entire comforter all the way through was the man-handle the thing. I took off my clothes and got in the tub. Even that didn’t work at first: I’d kneel here and push there with my hands, and the bubbles would simply move. So I hearkened back to my four months in Asia living with a Thermarest and sleeping bag with stuffsack: I started at one end, squeezed all the air out, then rolled it. Kneel on it. Roll, kneel, roll, kneel, until I got all the way through. It got even more challenging at the end, and I finally did it. I then spread out the comforter and agitated it. I looked a bit like Lucille Ball stomping grapes, except that I’m a man, not a woman; I’m stomping on a comforter not grapes, and I’m naked. Other than that, I’m sure we looked a lot alike. I could make more comparisons, but this is a family show.
Then it’s time to get out of the tub. I turn on the water and use the hand-shower to shower off my legs and arms. Then dry and get out.
I mentioned the enzymes: the product is called Odor-Mute, and it works AMAZINGLY well on cat urine: it gets rid of the odor completely and passes the black light test (urine–including human urine–phosphoresces under black light). Curiously, it’s the exact same enzyme that’s in Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer. So not only have I been removing the urine smell from the comforter, I’ve been tenderizing myself. I must be very tender by now. Throw me on the grill.
Well, I have my clothes back on by now, and it’s been almost an hour since I set it to soaking. It’s time to go squeeze the water out, and go to the Laudromat. Hm. I’ll probably have to get naked again.
Wonder whether it will come out all right? Wonder whether I’ll make my phone call at 7? Wonder whether I’ll die of boredom at the Laundromat? or get mugged? or meet an angel or something?
Check back later to find out. This is my cliff-hanger.