Friday, September 13, 2002


I’ve been joking for quite a long time that one of these days I was going to produce an opus for this page explaining why I actually do prefer meetings of the Saratoga/Carbon County Impact Joint Powers Board to those conducted by the Saratoga Planning Commission, or, in shorthand, why sewers are more fun than zoning (and it’s not just because the Sewer King is one of my best pals; after all, my Enabling Assistant is the Head Zoning Nazi, and that still doesn’t make fussing over things like setback requirements and accessory buildings at all interesting).

Since I can’t think of another bleeding thing to write about today, and since I just sat through something over two hours of water and sewer talk Wednesday night (hoping, I guess, to drive away the incipient migraine with a good dose of bullshit), maybe, just maybe, this is going to be it!

Aren’t you excited?

So anyway, what’s so great about water and sewer meetings.

Actually, it’s all about the sewer.

See, our Scenic Saratoga Poop Lagoon and Wood Duck Habitat (tm) was once upon a time quite the sexy, state-of-the-art facility for a community this size, I’m told (I have to rely mostly on hearsay on this subject because a) It was designed and constructed back in the days when my idea of important stuff was finding a place to hide with my preteen sweetie so we could get in a little... reading of Piers Anthony (no, that’s not a euphemism; many of my readers still don’t get what a card-carrying, 24-karat dweeb I am), and b) I’ve so far been too lazy to dive into the records rooms and investigate this claim for myself). It took all the rules and regs and standards the state and federal governments could throw down its mighty gullet, digested them lickety split into their component molecules, and reintroduced said molecules into the ecosystem so that nature could have its way with them again until eventually they were craftily assembled by the nature-defending bureaucracies into... more rules, regs and standards.

Which brings us to our current situation. Like a fish tank left neglected in a kindergarten classroom over a long Christmas break, our Scenic Saratoga Poop Lagoon and Wood Duck Habitat (tm) (I’ll start abbreviating this as SSPLWDH (tm) if you don’t mind; more laziness, yes, yes, but it’s labor-saving techniques like these that help keep the migraines at bay, o yes!) (furthermore, since I’m using a computer to compose these immortal lines, I’ll just copy that abbreviation and paste it in as needed. THAT'S how lazy your favorite chamber chick/elected official/debate coach/internet columnist is, and is also, for those of you who are dying to know, how I manage to do all that! By shirking as much as possible! Yes! And you can do it too; it’s not a show!) has a bit of an ammonia problem.

Not that the SSPLWDH (tm) really has that much in common with a neglected fish tank, mind you – that’s just an especially vivid and stinky image I had recorded some time ago in my vivid and stinky image notebook and have been just dying to use ever since it occurred to me back in my days of hydrocodone and mono. For one thing, the SSPLWDH (tm) is not (supposed to be) a fish habitat, and for another, its ammonia problem has nothing whatsoever to do with neglect! The SSPLWDH (tm) is still working exactly the way it is supposed to, and working very well at that!

Rather, the ammonia problem arises from the new rules, regs and standards recently excreted by the state and federal environmental quality bureaucracies. Suddenly the amount of ammonia oozing from the SSPLWDH (tm) is too much! Even though the amount is pretty much just the same as it’s always been! But I digress! As usual! Because this isn’t the fun stuff!

No, the fun stuff is what we’re going to do about it!

Enter Random Consultant Man, hired by our Board to dream up ways to control our ammonia problem while still maintaining the SSPLWDH(tm)’s functionality and other desirable qualities. He came to see us all last month with a suprisingly thin but no less steaming sheaf of documents and data about some of the things we can do.

Which is where my enthusiasm comes in, because it looks like we are going to get to play around with microbes!

Finally all that pesky biology I learned in the Maitre d’Marquee’s class at Saratoga High School is going to get put to use! He’s going to be so proud! I’m sure he is already! And he’s going to be even more so when all of this is said and done!

See, both of the projects proposed by RCM involve shooting the SSPLWDH (tm) full of a cocktail of three different bacilli, Nitrosomonas, Nitrobacter and some super secret (but, RCM’s buddies insist, still naturally occurring, i.e. not genetically engineered or otherwise invented in some lab somewhere and programmed at the molecular level to, e.g. all die off at once at an economically awkward moment, causing us to have to hold hysterical bake sales and other fundraisers to pay for a whole new inoculation of critters) “ammonia eating” bacillus.

[NOTE TO MY READERS WHO DON’T AGREE WITH ME ABOUT THE INHERENTLY FASCINATING WORLD OF MICROBIOLOGY: Nanny nanny boo boo! You’re going to have to endure some biopedantry anyway if you want to find out how I’m going to end this column! Hee hee hee!]

This is some wild stuff, people. I’ll start with Nitrosomonas, which oxidizes (or “burns,” i.e. combines with oxygen) ammonia to make nitrites (NO2), which are almost as bad as ammonia because they can oxidize hemoglobin (the molecule that carries oxygen through fish – and human – bloodstream to those hungry, hungry cells) into methemoglobin, which can’t carry shit (metaphorically speaking, of course). Enter Nitrobacter, which eats nitrites and poops out nitrates (NO3), which are still harmful to fish (and remember, the ultimate goal of the SSPLWDH (tm) is to make the water that’s come out of your toilets, drains, storm sewers, etc. clean enough to go back into the North Platte River, where we all go fly fishing) if they ever build up, which happens from time to time, alas, alas, but for the most part are pretty OK because they're good for plants (which also live in the North Platte River).

Meanwhile, there’s also this super secret bacillus that eats ammonia and poops out nitrates directly, which is generally considered good because nitrates are good for plants and stuff. One would think that this wonder bug, then, would be the solution to all of our problems since it does in one cell the job of those other two microbes all at once, but the mix being prescribed requires all three, so clearly this mystery bug isn’t all that wonderful. Probably it’s being included in the mix just to take up the inherent slack in the nitrogen cycle created by the inconvenient facts that 1) Nitrobacter really can’t handle the presence of a lot of ammonia, so it has to sort of wait around for the Nitrosomonas to do its job and make a lot of nitrites for the Nitrobacter to eat and 2) Both Nitrobacter and Nitrosomonas need a lot of oxygen to live.

Making things even more interesting is what all these critters also need is habitat, because none of these microbes like to just float free in the water very much. They’ll do it if they have to, but they’d much rather have lots and lots of surface area to which to cling while they spam the SSPLWDH (tm) environment with lots and lots of copies of themselves (which is a good thing, very good, because otherwise we have to keep dumping in fresh loads of them every month).

And this is where the two plans diverge. And yes, I already have an opinion on which of the two plans I like better, which I’ll share with you all as your reward for slogging through all that microbiology.

Plan 1, proposed by the two cranky engineer guys whose lives I made slightly miserable Wednesday night with pesky questions about whether these organisms they were proposing were naturally occurring or proprietary creations of their own mad scientists, etc., involves creating a bacterial Disneyland by festooning the third of three ponds at the SSPLWDH (tm) with “AquaMats” (which sounds to me like something a certain Superfriend would lay on the floor of his AquaCar or something), which bear a humorous resemblance to, e.g., those great big dangly synthetic jellyfish that sort of towel off your car as it passes through the end stages of an automated, brushless carwash. The tentacles are made of a densely woven, porous synthetic fabric that provides lots of nooks and crannies for the critters to nest in.

They also last about ten years before they have to be replaced. And we’d still have to inoculate Disneyland with new shots of bacteria a couple of times a year, mostly because the critters already in the pond would get sluggish and start dying off in the frigid water in the wintertime. Boo!

Plan 2, though, has the disadvantage of being more expensive by like an order of magnitude, because it involves the creation of a constructed submerged wetlands. What this basically means is we fill the big hole where the third pond now wallows with layers and layers of gravel of different finenesses so that it creates a nicely varied mass o’surface area for the bacteria while still allowing water to run through it and out into the river after the critters have done their jobs. It’s a submerged wetland because the top is covered with a layer of gravel, soil and some carefully selected plant life (the plants use a lot of those pesky nitrates, too, by the way) – meaning there’s no big stagnant surface water to breed mosquitos and other nuisances!

RCM and I agree, too, that chances are very good that if we follow this plan, we might not have to re-inoculate the mess with critters at all, because they’ll be just fine down there in the gravel and water, even if it gets really cold. So maybe no replacement costs at all, no maintenance, and a projected life of 100+ years!

So even though Plan 2 is pantloads more expensive to initially construct, I think in the long run it will be the better solution, especially with inflation being the unassailable fact of modern life it is: a good chunk of change now (half of which will probably be paid through grants from the same agencies, more or less, who are forcing us to do this anyway) and little or no expenditure down the road, versus a smaller chunk of change now but bleeding a little more out of the district’s coffers every year, and every ten years squeezing out another medium sized chunk... I dunno, it seems pretty obvious to me.

NOW: Contrast this with zoning issues, a typical example of which comes when some guy shows up crying at a Planning Commission meeting because he was just told by Superman (our planning/zoning/streets guy/engineer for the Town of Saratoga) that he’s going to have to build a dwelling on his residential property, or else he’ll have to tear down that stupid steel storage shed. “I didn’t know that,” said citizen usually whines. “If I’da known that I’da sold out a long time ago or something.”

Followed by “Well, well, well, the guy across the street from me has a building up just like this one and you’re not making him build a house there.

To which the unsatisfying response is inevitably something along the lines of either “That building is in a light industrial zone and it’s perfectly fine,” or “That guy has been told the same thing and he’s being fined $X per day until he complies” or “He says he’s living in it.”


So anyway, I’m hoping I’ve made my point to everyone today. Either I’ve proved conclusively and for all time that sewers are more interesting than zoning, or, at the very least, I’ve proved that I’m probably way too much of a nerd to be participating in electoral politics.


Thursday, September 12, 2002


I’ve been tricked. Hornswaggled. Bamboozled. Had, I tell you, had!!!

My beloved Mayoral Crank, perhaps as his way of getting even with me for declining to attend a vitally important meeting of the Carbon County Council of Governments held in Dixon, WY (where the red star appears on that map) late last month, informed me that the vitally important meeting which I could not decline to attend, that being the organizational/what-the-hell-do-we-do-now meeting of the committee to persuade the good voters of Carbon County to renew the fifth penny sales tax (about which much more anon, I assure you), was going to be held today (he got that part right) in the County Commissioners Office in the courthouse in Rawlins (that’s right, too) at 4 p.m. (wrong, wrong, wrong, I wish there was a way to type the word “wrong” to convey the powerful, John McLaughlineseque way in which this information is WROOOOOOOONG, NEXT ISSUE!

That mayor of ours (who is off in Tuscany so he can’t hear me howling for his blood) sure has quite a sense of humor, doesn’t he! Woo-hoo, there are tears in my eyes from laughing so hard, yessireebobcattail!

But here’s the real stink of it, though: Since I do not currently have in my possession the actual, physical piece of paper in his handwriting which conveyed to me the date, location and time of this meeting, I can’t unequivocably say my being two, possibly three, hours early for this meeting is his fault. See, I stopped bothering with a datebook, PDA or other accessory item for keeping track of my appointments some time ago, because, well, there are two reasons really. One is that such a device invariably becomes truly terrifying to behold when filled with my schedule (no one ever wins a game of dueling datebooks with me, let me tell you. There are heads of state who have emptier Daytimers than mine was even when I was just a lowly lit major/student newspaper editor/EMT/shuttle van driver/lifeguard back in college) and generally makes me cry to contemplate. The other is that maintaining one is, well, more work than I generally like to do on something that doesn’t directly result in a paycheck, a dinner invitation, or a foot massage.

So it might just be that I remembered it wrong.

I am getting up there, you know. Isn’t that how the typical aging algorithm goes nowadays? 30, 31, 32, senility?

So I’m trembling precariously on the frightening brink of senility.

Anyway, as my dear readers can observe, at least I found something productive to do with my time. Actually, several things!

I got my car, beached and unlicensed lo these five, nearly six months at Kate’s Landing like a pithed walrus (and it’s pretty much the same color, under the treesap and birdshit), registered so that I will never again (or at least until the next time I slack off and let it go because what do I need a car for, anyway) have to use the glorified rollerskate that is the Town of Saratoga’s Chevy Malibu.

And I went shopping, or what passes for same in Rawlins, Wyoming, that retail Mecca of the western world, at Pamida. Yes, Pamida! It still exists! And it’s pretty much stocked with all of the same stuff it was the last time I went there which was, well… I’ll have to think about that for a moment. I believe I bought a Duran Duran cassette there – and this was back when Rio was a new release, so… Yeah.

(Note for my out-of-town, out-of-state readers who don’t know what the hell Pamida is: Think of a way, way, way downmarket version of what K-Mart was in the early 1980s or so. Minus the housekeeping staff. Yikes! I’m even scaring myself, and I was just there!)

I bought some gum.

Then I went out for Chinese food! Yay, Chinese food! And best of all, since it was only 4:30 p.m., I was the only person in the whole restaurant (well, except for, in some special spiritual sense, Henry Miller, whose novel Tropic of Capricorn I… had finished by 4:45 p.m.), and so I… got served really, really fast. And since I didn’t have anyone to talk to, I ate pretty fast, too, so… that didn’t kill very much time.

But the soup was very, very good, especially for Rawlins Chinese food ca. 2002 (Lu Jiao being a long-gone, fond memory around these parts – he dates back to that dim, prehistoric era when my parents were courting and Rawlins was actually, they insist, really insistently, they’re not crazy, really they aren’t, it was so different then, Kate, you’ll never understand, a really fun town).

And now here I am, ensconced in the Carbon County Public Library, who mercifully added internet terminals fairly recently (actually, this is a godsend in more ways than one, as now even Saratoga’s branch library has internet access, so they won’t keep sending every transient lowlife who wants to look at porn or read his e-mail down to my office!) so that I could emit these immortal words and post them to this page and share with you, my loyal readers, my happy, happy Rawlins experience!

Anyone who tries to tell you that being elected isn’t what it’s cracked up to be has a bad case of in vino veritas!

Wednesday, September 11, 2002


I have a dramatically unhealthy fascination with/fixation on the film “Pi,” that mathematical head trip that entertainingly ties in corporate paranoia with Mandlebrot sets and the Qabbala and the stock market that also features the most sickeningly perfect, painfully evocative, frighteningly accurate depictions of the experience of migraine headaches ever committed to film.

Not that there have been that many attempts, mind you. It’s only assholes like me and Darren Aronofsky who would even want to convey this thing, not so much out of a quasi-Nietzschean belief that “shared pain is lessened, shared joy increased” as out of a desire to torture others as we have been tortured. As I said, admittedly, assholes.

It starts with what feels like an ordinary headache, except it keeps moving around; one moment its behind the eyes, the next it’s under the occipital bun, the next it’s throbbing under the mandibles where once wisdom teeth ground into the skull, slowly and inexorably packing that skull into a tighter and tighter wad as though the teeth were seeking eventually to divert the entire blood supply of the head their way so they could feast on all of the rich nutrient broth and grow and pack and shove their way right out of that head so they could begin their evil, decade-old plan of eventual world conquest, the next it’s right beneath the scalp so it feels like every nerve ending in every hair follicle has been simultaneously pummelled with a jackhammer and bathed in sulfuric acid, the fumes making the eyes water and the breath catch, and then the whole head starts to melt...

Then the fireworks start, and every jet engine that fired up at Shively Field last week (last week having been the week for the annual gathering of the Conquistadors del Cielo, Spanish for Conquerors of Synapses and Sleep, oh, I mean Sky) sounds off directly into the ear so that all of those famously sensitive little hairs within feel just like the hairs on the head proper: trying with all possible might to rip themselves right out of the follicles to escape this terrible, terrible racket that Jesus Christ no one else hears it at all what the hell did I suddenly turn into a brown myotis bat with super hearing and perfect sensitivity and please somebody get me to a completely dark and soundproof room right away why are you all looking at me like that did I throw up already oh Jesus Christ...

Right now, at 13:28 on 9-11 I have the beginnings, maybe, of such a headache. There are ways to prevent these from developing all the way (and no, no known pharmaceutical or other cocktail has had any effect), like ice cold showers in complete darkness and silence, but since those are hard to come by on a typical workday I settled for snagging all of the ice cubes out of my iced tea at lunch, packing them into a napkin, and packing it up against my head, frantically following the “source” of the pain and probably looking entirely ridiculous into the bargain (probably, hell – my own dear personal mother, seated at my table for the whole spectacle, could scarce restrain herself from laughing, but assured me that she was certain everyone else in the packed restaurant would probably just chalk it up to “Kate being Kate”).

For extra fun, at coffee this morning I thought I had developed a whole new symptom, as for the first time ever the intermittent flashes of blinding light were sometimes red, like the blood dripping blackly from the Hasid’s hand during the hallucenatory migraine sequences in Pi (shot in black and white for greater intensity and effect; it’s especially shocking to realize, after several seconds, that that ambiguous mass quivering in the poor protagonist’s bathroom sink is actually a brain, his, one suspects as the dentist drill whines grind on in the background), as though someone were shining a laser pointer into my eyes just for fun, the bastard...

But no, no bastards there this morning, Fat Cat Republican or otherwise.

What there was, however, was the Sewer King, today inexplicably armed with an enormous, shiny radio hanging off his belt like a giant tick or something. The radio was turned on, and came equipped with at least one tiny little blinking red LED (aha!) and furthermore, had at least one surface so very shiny and reflective that every time the SK moved, blinked, laughed or breathed, it caught ambient light from the room and flashed it in my direction.

Of course, it took me a good half hour to figure this out, during which time all I could really do was sit there, focused on nothing (I had on my little-used-in-Wyoming “bus face,” that slack expression adopted by users of public transportation and standers in queues to avoid too much psychic input from the teeming masses of other humanity packed into a tiny space) and offering up any sacrifice, anything, up to and including any theoretical children I might someday theoretically have if I haven’t someday just sliced off my own head in an attempt to dig out the pain amplifier put in there some years ago by like some particularly evil cheerleader or something, if whatever malevolent or bored god-things out there in the universe would just please spare me just this once or at least let me get through this day, please?

So far, I’m holding steady. I gulped down some placebo that claims not to be placebo but might as well be placebo for all the good it does (they haven’t entrusted me with, e.g. one of those air-powered mega-hypodermics that the protagonist in Pi shoots directly into his brain pan when the hypersonic shrieks of a thousand bats start resounding in his ears) and grabbed more ice to mash into the side of my head from time to time.

There are moments of relief when I scoot back up to my computer and bash out another sentence or two, which is probably making the problem worse but then again it oddly relieves some stress because at least when random idiots come barging into my office to ask me stupid questions at least I’m looking productive and typing rather than cowering over behind the photocopier in a fetal position, which probably looks a bit slackeresque to the untrained observer.

On the other hand, if there were gods or any other kind of justice in this universe, I would be able to project my current experiences directly into the skull of the complete assface whose diesel engine has been running nonstop for the last 45 years right outside my office door – or into that of the admittedly quite pleasant but still rather thoughtless business owner just down the street who chose today, a day of inversion layers and unfortunate anniversaries and grinding skull pain, to apply several coats of highly volatile and aromatic stain to every bit of wood on the new addition to the saddleshop.

As it is, it is probably wise that I have not yet taken the step of routinely packing any kind of firearm or other weaponry during the work week.

O’well. At least my Wolfburger is staying down.

Oh, wait...

Monday, September 09, 2002


Today is my own dear personal dad’s 64th birthday. A year ago today, my mother and I took him out for dinner at the Hotel Wolf after several week’s fussing over whether he really meant it when he suddenly informed us that he no longer wanted a skilsaw for a present. We all had prime rib, split a piece of hideously rich chocolate cake-like stuff, and perhaps chugged down a little more alcohol than our family physician (seated with her newish husband at the next table) would maybe encourage. It was a nice evening, conclusion to a nice (and football-laden) Sunday.

It was also, of course, our last activity as a family before a certain set of buildings were destroyed on the east coast – which is perhaps why my memories of this quiet little birthday celebration are more vivid than they might otherwise be; the contrast between that nice Sunday and the horrific Tuesday that followed (Ramcharger’s birthday...!) (and the wedding anniversary of the Emperor and Empress of Hardware) close behind being so very, very great.

And of course that contrast is still with us. Leading in the larger world right up to this week right alongside my father’s and my friend’s awareness of an impending next tick of the clock has been an overwhelming (and yes, drearily predictable) torrent of reminders and retrospectives of what one network called the “New Day of Infamy” and another called “Attack on America,” etc., etc. The Sunday edition of the Casper Star-Tribune, normally a deep repository of Wyoming news along with a sprinkling of Hollywood and a dash of New York (only in the financial section, mind you, unless the UN is up to something), spoke of little else (well, except for the Cowboys’ embarrassing loss to Central Michigan in football, bringing the team’s record to “Uh-oh and two”) – yes, even out here in outrĂ©, isolated Wyoming, the second largest third world nation in North America (though as Mexico’s economy improves steadily, we may become the first, the only), our news media is completely fixated on making sure that we “never forget.”

As if we could.

A lot of the people in my life, at least, are really, really disgusted by this media focus, and I can definitely see their point. We’ve all spent the last year dealing with what happened in our own ways – checking up on the Koran to see if it really does contain encouragement to commit heinous acts against infidels, making pilgrimages to Ground Zero, donating blood, turning overnight into military history junkies, whatever – and I’m going to go out on a limb and say that even the most overwrought tragedy voyeurs among us have come to at least enough of an understanding or acceptance (while, hey, sorry to say this, but many others of my acquaintance absorbed it right away, found a way to deal with it that worked for them, and got on with life without having to visit a single counselor, pharmacist, clergyman or elected public official) to move on. To such as these, in particular, the media-generated melodrama of, e.g., the hauling out of the last girder of the WTC buildings in July was more sickening than saddening – I heard everything from expressions of disgust at the way these events were “still being milked” to expressions of relief that now “maybe everybody will shuddap about it” (fat chance) – has been annoying, to say the least, and ridiculous, to say the worst.

And yes - I’m fully aware of how callous that sounds, but realize, folks, that this is the way a lot of people really feel. There are hundreds of reasons to be sick of hearing about this, including another common perspective I encounter that it’s wildly hypocritical to be fixated on this but not to be worried about the typhoon that just hit Korea or the massacres in Rwanda or the continuing horrors experienced by “citizen-refugees” in out-of-the-way parts of the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. Talk to them about callous.

Stipulating that a lot of people – including me – are not wild about this continuous commemoration and coverage, though, there’s still a good reason for it, i.e. the human need for ritual, for closure, for a chance to stop and consider and question and try to learn something from what has happened (not that I think a full day of MTV’s idea of “inspirational” music videos and commentary by the loathsome Carson Daly is really going to encourage contemplation).

Culturally, we don’t have a lot of built-in rituals to begin with; we’re too damned diverse, for a start. Whose religious ceremony should we follow, for instance? Whose traditions for burial and mourning? Whose doctrine on revenge is really all-inclusive of America? Certainly nothing in our patchwork of scriptures, ethnic traditions, folk beliefs; nothing really from the past (maybe Pearl Harbor. MAYBE. But PH was followed by years and years of real combat, real threats, with obvious targets and objectives and enemies that I, at least, am not seeing now).

What do we have in common now? Well, pop culture and the news media. The purveyors of which have payrolls to make, shareholders to please, taxes to pay, etc. Plus a huge, diverse, demographically incomprehensible audience upon whose continued attention it all depends, which means said purveyors pretty much must, by definition, avoid criticism and controversy at all costs; which boils it all down, for them, to the question of whether to annoy the people who’ve already accepted and moved on or whether to pooh-pooh and offend those who are still freaked out and crying.

So, uh, duh, our current 911-o-rama, about which there is nothing we can do. It’s a collective phenomenon and more sensitive heads have prevailed on how it’s all going to go.

All the rest of us can do is turn off the TV Wednesday and go fishing.