Going to the Mattresses Again

It’s raining; it’s pouring. The old man ain’t snoring. Darn it.

I sure could use it, too. I slept pretty well, I think, until 5:13 when I woke for no apparent reason. I did go back to sleep and was dreaming at 7:00 when SWMBO startled me right off the mattress by imitating a fire siren. I.Did.Not.Get.Back.To.Sleep after that. I simply played possum until the alarm.

I don’t think my mattress is the reason I don’t sleep as well as I did as a kid but a mattress could well be the reason we don’t sleep as comfortably as we did as kids.

Mattress thoughts have been popping up lately. One of my misc.writing buddies was musing about how to choose one “for a friend.” Liz Arden built one for herself from foam blocks a couple of years ago. And I realized this morning that I have bought exactly one mattress in my life. Part of that may be my pugnacious parsimony.

The Good Housekeeping Guide to Buying a Mattress reminds us right at the start that a “big part of what makes a good one is very personal: One person’s luxury is another person’s backache waiting to happen.”

Even online mattresses can cost thousands of dollars. I simply won’t pay that.

Mattress sellers say we won’t find bedding that can stand up to a decade of daily punishment for under a grand.

Horse puckey.

Part may be that I just haven’t found anything I like better.

SWMBO and I came this >┃┃< close to buying a Sunline TransPort toy hauler this weekend. It’s a pretty good alternative to the not-so-Perfect Travel Trailer and it would be parked here today if I hadn’t built a spreadsheet to run the numbers. Sunline built light but this one was just too heavy for the new truck.

Stack of MattressesIn going through my checklist, I sprawled out on the brand new, pillow top, queen-size mattress and took about a nanosecond to realize that was the only part of the trailer that sucked. It made my back hurt to lie down and it made my back hurt to get back up again.

That would have meant I’d have to buy two mattresses in my lifetime.


The last load of family furniture came north when Boppa moved to the Keys in 1984. That included the full size maple Sheraton four poster bed with tester frame that my folks slept in and now we do. (We had previously slept on a bed I built from 5/4-inch plywood, “decorator” cinder blocks, and a mattress that came from somewhere.) A couple nights on the horsehair mattress my folks had enjoyed was enough to send me to the Scott foam store.

My dad had worked for Scott Paper when they made a foray into the urethane foam business. They opened an outlet store at the Chester plant for foam blocks cut to size for chair cushions, boat cushions, mattresses, and the like. I bought the “green” high density mattress foam, stuffed it into a bedsack, and violas played.

About ten years ago, SWMBO and I decided we needed something different so we tried a couple of the inner spring mattresses on the guest room beds but didn’t like any of them. Next, I replaced the bedboard on top of the saggy, custom made box spring. Finally, I moved the horsehair mattress that came with this bed back on it and put the foam back on top of that.


Anyone counting on their fingers has just realized that we’ve used this block of foam for about 33 years. The horsehair under it is easily a century older than that. I lay down on the bed this morning (briefly … that has nothing to do with why this reminiscence is late going up) and realized it is still about the most comfortable mattress I’ve ever tried.

There’s a lesson in here.

Commercial mattresses probably work OK for maybe about half the population. The rest of us would do well to experiment the way Ms. Arden did with blocks of varying density foam. Or try the way I did with foam and horsehair. Or go with toppers on a conventional inner spring mattress. Something will work, but it will take some research.

That and the fact that I should probably go down to UVM for a sleep study.


Facing Down the T00b, I

I’m back in North Puffin, adapting to the changes I experience after living in the Conch Republic. In either place, I like to watch CBS’ Face the Nation with my Sunday morning brunch.

Brunch, whether here or there, usually takes the form of pamcakes or waffles with maple syrup and bacon or sausage. Some Sundays I have eggs and English muffins with bacon or sausage instead.

Sunday, I didn’t get much of any of that.

Regular readers may remember that I’m a news junkie.

FTN is, I think, the longest-running news-ish program on the air with analysis of the newsmaking (mostly) political issues of the day. John Dickerson who took over from Bob Schieffer asks reasonably tough questions of politicians and other newsmakers and then has a roundtable discussion of current events with a pretty well balanced panel of correspondents.

The program ran for 30 minutes when it first aired in 1954; it expanded to the current 60 minute format in 2012 which added the time needed for the roundtable discussion. Sadly, there is a purposeful break between the first and second halves of the program to allow the local affiliates to switch over to “paid programming” if they want. WCAX, the local affiliate in Vermont, so wants.

About 81% of the affiliates do air the second half-hour contiguously with the first although WFOR, the CBS Miami station, bounces it back and forth with their “side channel,” My 33, for no apparent rhyme nor reason. A few broadcasters air the second half on a tape delay after primetime following their late local newscasts. WCAX currently chooses Person of Interest reruns for that later time slot.

The power went bloop at 10:43 a.m. here and stayed off almost until noon. That’s unusual, particularly in good weather. Swanton Village, our local utility, has the best “up-time” record in the state and maybe in New England.

We haven’t been out to shop yet so there are no eggs in the house.

Uh oh. No pamcakes. No waffles. Not even a fried egg and a muffin even if I could have cooked. And no news. I ended up with frozen sausages and toast and jam and a book at about 12:30.

Anyway, FTN airs from 10:30 until 11:00 or 11:30 in the East. The power went bloop halfway into the first half and stayed off almost until noon. Thank goodness for online transcripts. I was able to read all about it to write the next piece, Facing Down the T00b II, later in the day.


A Little Ray of Sunshine

I’m on the road again, traveling with even more electrical load for the truck and even fewer places to plug in. I may have to rethink this.

Back in an earlier Road Trip episode I mentioned adding a freezer to the truck inventory.

“It’s nice to be able to carry food on long trips and I’ve gotten tired of the ice makers in motels. I will run the freezer on the truck system when I have to and on plug in to a handy outdoor outlet where I can.”

It’s a 12VDC or 110VAC unit that needs a little extra cooling so I also added a fan and a nice, 600W inverter to run that.

For this trip, I bought a 110VAC compact refrigerator and tested it on the inverter. It worked fine until I got to the mainland. By then, the inverter was running neither the frig nor the fan.


The frig draws less than a lightbulb running but it apparently has a starting surge the size of Niagara Falls.

I bought a bigger inverter. That one didn’t work at all. Took it back. Found a kilowatt inverter guaranteed to run the frig and the fan and one section of Yankee Stadium (really — that’s what the salesman said).

It made it out of the parking lot before I heard the sizzle and smelled the smoke.

So I went back to the old standby: ice. The 110VAC compact refrigerator keeps pretty nice and cold with a couple of canisters of ice innit.

That’ll work, I figured.

Except the first couple of motels had no outdoor plug for my truck. I really need to run the fan and both coolers — and particularly to recharge the “house” batteries — overnight every night.

I used the 315 HP generator GMC graciously supplied with the (new)(white) truck, idling away its time like a bus or emergency vehicle but at idle, even with the air and lights and other truck services turned off, it doesn’t quite keep up with the load. By the time I got to the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, I was feeling some desperation.

The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec is an exhibit of the artist’s radical, bold, and often outrageous posters and illustrations, particularly for the Moulin-Rouge and the angry Aristide Bruant.

It’s a wonderful museum built originally around the collection Walter P. Chrysler Jr. had assembled over his lifetime. Mr. Chrysler was one of the country’s leading art collectors and benefactors; his father, Walter Sr., founded the Chrysler Corporation.

I went for Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa but knew I would spend more time on something there. I left the truck idling in the parking lot.

The welcoming young lady at the ticket desk agreed that my question was one she had never heard before, “Do you have somewhere I can plug in my truck.”

She called the Maintenance Chief who arrived with an extension cord even longer than mine and we walked out to the lot.

“Oh, good,” he said when he saw I had backed up to the generator room. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t know it was the generator room. I just thought it was about the only shady spot in the lot. A couple of minutes later, the back of the truck was humming nicely as the frig and freezer ran and the big charger purred. The front of the truck was blissfully silent.

I saw too much to catalog that afternoon. Play Me, I’m Yours entranced me. The public piano art project put pianos out in public and invited people to play. The Japanese prints companion exhibit to Toulouse-Lautrec looked at the woodblock prints that inspired him and so many other French artists and reminded me of the prints Uncle Joe Clark brought back from Japan. The paintings of Thomas Hart Benton and the Navy captured an heroic period in American history. And I spent quite a while with Glen McClure’s magnificent enlargements of the Shipyard Workers of Hampton Roads. The Norfolk photographer shot 9,000 frames of 400 of the men and women who keep our coastal economy literally afloat.

The Chrysler also hosted the 2017 Glass Art Society conference. We watched Clare Belfrage prepare for her demonstration from the first gather.

I learned stuff and saw beauty.

When the Chrysler’s Glass Studio kicked us out after the main museum had closed, I hustled back to the parking lot but the cold stuff was still just humming along happily.

“Just roll the cord up when you leave,” the Maintenance Chief had said. “I’ll ask the security folks to put it away.”

I did.

A great museum turned into a life-saver for this traveler. Thank you Chrysler.


The Big Brother Inspection Kerfuffle

My parents helped me buy my first car but that was entirely self-preservation on my mom’s part. See, I had had a Triumph motorcycle. She was driving behind me as we returned from the shop when an oncoming car cut a little into my lane as I drifted a little toward the centerline and just tapped my foot peg a little.


It didn’t break my foot. I didn’t drop the bike. It did bend the footrest. And, of course, it proved I was invincible. And immortal. To everyone but my mom.

The long and the short of this story is that not much time passed before I was in a Triumph with four wheels instead of on a Triumph with two.

How Our Car Looks Before InspectionThat first car was a sad, 8-year old Triumph TR-3A with side curtains and a cast iron 1991 cc four-cylinder tractor engine that allegedly produced 100 horsepower, and standard disc brakes. Although it had just 50,000 miles, it was a tired, little car. My dad and I built new side curtains for it using Chuck Weiler’s miracle Hypalon™ fabric. The Standard-Triumph Motor Company sold only 74,800 TR3s in all its flavors. Only some 9,500 of the original 58,000 3As built survive today so I really wish I still had that little car.

But it probably wouldn’t pass inspection in Vermont today.

Speaking of passing, SWMBO got out of state last fall before her “sticker” came due, saving us that $40. It was well and truly expired when she got back, though.

Vermont’s new “Automated Vehicle Inspection Program” (AVIP) has “integrated electronic data collection and management into” the state’s inspection process. Inspection regulations have not changed but drivers may notice fewer inspection garages. And higher prices.

Ya think?

Vermont inspections typically cost between $35 and $50 last year, up from $20-25 a few years ago when the state last forced mechanics to buy new gear, first one OBD-II reader, then another.

Gerald, the neighboring mechanic, gave up the business this year.

“It was too expensive and too intrusive,” he said.

AOL Commissioner Robert Ide expected some of the smaller stations like Gerald’s would throw in the towel.

How Our Car Looks After Inspection“Some” mechanics will need to offset the $1,500-2,000 cost of new equipment, including a tablet computer with a camera to photograph your license plate, VIN plate, underbelly, and any repair that needs to be made, that uploads all that vehicle data to the state. The system will also make the inspection take longer to perform. Mechanics have to charge by the hour.

“I wonder if the data collected includes the onboard GPS readout,” my friend Dean “Dino” Russell mused. Dino is a roofer here in the middle Keys. Dancing about on roofs all his life has made him the most physically fit man in the Home Depot; it also gives him an overview of the conspiracies of everyday life.

“No, it doesn’t,” Mr. Ide said.

Motorists will be able to access their own vehicle’s inspection history and the history of other vehicles, identified by the Vehicle Identification Number. Only vehicle information relative to safety and emissions inspections will be made available.

“Uh oh,” said Dino.

Vermont contracted Parsons Corp., a huge engineering services firm out in Pasadena, to provide the equipment, networking, maintenance and support, and a technical support hotline for Vermont mechanics. Parsons is the sole suppler for ruggedized tablets and auxiliary stuff like printers. The inspection stations are required to pay $1,624 for each tablet, additional for other hardware, plus a small fixed fee for each inspection. How much the entire contract costs the state was not immediately available.

“Yeah, sure. Competitive bids with a governmental RFQ, so they know they will pay too much,” Dino said. “And there is a ‘street price’ so the bids will all be close enough to choose the ‘right’ vendor.”

The average age of the cars and trucks we drive has risen once again, now to now 11.6 years, as we keep them longer and longer. My (topless)(white) car is 17-years old. SWMBO’s “new” car celebrated its tenth birthday last fall. Registrations for light vehicles in operation in the U.S. hit a record 264 million.

“I wonder if the state is just flush and wants to share with a favorite business, kind of like the Exchange debacle, or if there’s a bigger motive,” Dino wondered.

I raised an eyebrow.

“Like a back door ‘clunker’ program.”

G. Stone Motors does say the new Inspection program “will eliminate older vehicles.”

The cars and trucks we drive are better made than my Triumph was. Back then, that 8-year old car with was 50,000 miles was down to its last owner before getting recycled into washing machines. Last year, I sold my now-17-year old white truck to a neighbor when it had almost three times that mileage. Some rust. Runs good. He drives it to Daytona every other weekend. Pulling a trailer.

Nobody’s talking about how to inspect that TR-3A but I did learn that “the manufacturer or distributor of each device or lens designed to control lights on motor vehicles shall apply to the commissioner for his approval of the use of such device or lens in” Vermont. I doubt anyone has done that for a now-70-year-old British sports car.

SWMBO’s now-10-year-old American sedan passed.


For the record, Florida has no vehicle inspection. A fellow I know in Big Pine drives a 1910 Oakland Model 25 every day. There must be a lesson in there somewhere.


Doctoring the New Millennium

“Hi, Laura, what are my choices?” I asked.

This is my personal health care story. Sadly, there is scant pathos, little conflict, and no resolution.

Although I moved to South Puffin more than a decade ago, I have maintained my medical ties to North Puffin and even to Canada because it takes a lot of effort to break in a new doctor.

I’m an engineer, so I usually know a lot more (and can hash out even more) than a doc figures on. I’m also very much a minimalist, meaning I will opt in for a procedure only if it fits my own idea of “value added,” not if it is merely “doctor’s orders.”

All that does not make me the best patient.

Anyway, we met “Dr. Bob” when we first moved to North Puffin. We were a young family then and he was about our age. We’ve all kind of grown up together. His kids and ours knew each other in school. SWMBO married his daughter. Mrs. Dr. Bob and I have done some artsy stuff. Dr. Bob acts in the hospital’s bi-annual Cardiac Capers. And, with the exception of the time I cleaved my finger with the chainsaw and the other time SWMBO broke her leg, Dr. Bob has treated pretty much everything that ailed us. He understand what it takes to treat me. He gets it.

Primary care is an onging conversation, not a brisk look at a chart and tap on the knee.

The connection is even deeper. Just before we bought our house, we were driving around, seriously lost, in North Puffin. We stopped to ask directions of an older gent walking along the road and told him we were house hunting. Mr. Smith told us where we were. He told us a bit about the area. He told us he had lived there all his life so far. He was 96. He didn’t tell us that his lovely, brick, farmhouse with barn was for sale.

First, check the insurance.
Then, do no harm.

A couple of months later, we bought a different lovely, brick, farmhouse with barn on the lake and a fellow I worked with bought Mr. Smith’s home. Then he sold the Smith house to Dr. Bob and Mrs. Dr. Bob.

Getting back to health care, Dr. Bob is a couple of years older than I and he has retired. Ah hah! I thought. I can transfer my primary care (what we used to call the G.P.) down here.

Side story. Dr. Bob told me my increasing snifflinesss [<==technical medical term] is an allergy and I should find a specialist. I talked to a nurse at a sprawling medical practice in Vermont about an hour from North Puffin. I’m looking for someone to do allergy testing and they have three. The nurse told me two of the docs there are Peds only. The third allergist there as well as the one doc in Puffin Center don’t have the greatest reps. In fact, Dr. Bob won’t send patients to the one allergist in Puffin Center.
I asked a friend if she knows anything about an allergist in South Puffin or even the one in Key West who also has offices in Palmetto Bay and South Miami. Turns out the Marathon guy is the doc who admitted he sexually battered a patient in Illinois and then got sued by an employee he groped and pointed a handgun at. He also does weight-loss workshops. That’s worse than the Puffin Center guy.


Laura told me (remember Laura?) that their new medical director is an ER Specialist at our critical care hospital in Puffin Center but he’s the only doc listed on staff at the Federally Qualified (rural) Health Center Dr. Bob built. They have a nurse practitioner, two physican assistants, and a wellness counselor.

Doctor's OfficeMeanwhile, down here we find the 57-year old who diagnosed that I had either flu or pneumonia a few years ago. He treated for both. Either his treatment or tincture of time worked but it didn’t leave me feeling particularly confident. There are four other family medicine docs, two men and two women. Three are over 60 and the one with the most recommendations from neighbors is 69. That’s a year older than Dr. Bob. The youngest is a 54-year old. She’s not taking new patients.

So my choices seem to come down to one of a bunch of physician’s assistants or a doc who will likely retire tomorrow.

I don’t care if I have the pro from Dover for day-to-day stuff but I do care that I get the same person. Primary care is an onging conversation, not a brisk look at a chart and tap on the knee.

Is it too much to ask to see an actual doctor, let alone one young enough that I might not have to do this again for a couple of decades? I don’t mind training a newbie too much if they seem to be in it for the long haul.

Our dentist lives and works in Quebec. He was about 12, I think, when he bought the practice there, so I figure I can keep him at least as long as I can keep what’s left of my teeth.