Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Climate in Weathersfield

Just another week now past, here in the most suburban suburb I know, though I was on my backside longer than usual during the middle days, distracted by a condition better not to dwell on. Except to say that it wasn’t serious, just a damned nuisance. Which is pretty much the only way I’ve experienced illness so far, since I am fortunate in that way. Once I was well again, I had a lot of work to catch up on, which I did.

Last Monday, while I was still well, was a fully formed Spring day, and late in the afternoon I walked about a half mile to pick up Lilly at her friend’s house, where she’d gone (via the friend’s mother’s van) after school. Then Lilly and I walked back together. I expected her to complain about the lack of motorized transport, but she didn’t, and we had a fine daddy-daughter walk.

Our neighborhood (“Weathersfield”) was developed by an East Coast homebuilder called Campanelli in the mid-60s, and they mixed it up with five or six different front elevations, mainly featuring the then-popular split level. Most of the lots are about a fifth of an acre, I’d say, but some are irregularly large, since most of the streets curve. I suspect that Campanelli added such features to make it a cut above Levittown, or at least the reputation of Levittown, which was criticized in the 1950s for what...? Being ridiculously large houses on handkerchief-sized lots? No, wait, that’s current homebuilding.

Anyway, as in Levittown (I’ve read), the years have passed here in Weathersfield and the trees have matured and people have renovated, with the creation of two-car garages behind the houses an especially popular move. The 1960s was the last decade in which a new homebuilder would even dream of offering one-car garages, I suspect, and most of Weathersfield had them originally. But it’s a better style than some houses built 20 or 30 years later, which look like large garages with a house tucked back in the back somewhere.

The grass has been green a few weeks, the bushes are flush, and most of the trees are about half loaded with spring-green shoots. A lot of birds are around, and some bugs (ants, not mosquitoes). People are out walking, or working in their yards, or playing games. April’s been warmer than usual. Been a good month, minus a handful of days.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

GI Tract

My mother, a dietitian, would sometimes talk of the "GI tract," which always sounded like a Watchtower distributed to soldiers, but which meant the gastro-intestinal tract. Anyway, something's been wrong down there for a few days, making it hard to concentrate on a keyboard. It seems better for now, but it may be a few more days before regular posting again.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Code Areas

Busy, busy, busy. This is good, on the whole, since my creditors expect legal tender of one kind or another. And I want to take a couple of weeks off in the summer, like people do sometimes.

But there’s time for short notes even yet, and TV too. Since the advent of Netflix, I watch old TV when I can. Last week I mentioned Petticoat Junction as an example. I must not be the only one, as these things are on DVD (but I’d like to see even more obscure shows – one-season flops – on disk, too). Why so much old TV? Mere nostalgia?

Maybe. But I’m also fascinated by details that would not appear in more recent shows. One of the PJ episodes involves the visit of the president of the railroad that technically owns the Hooterville Cannonball, and at great effort he finds a telephone and places an operator assisted, long-distance call. Operator assistance isn’t the detail that’s so peculiar, since you can still do that (I think), though it’s rare and expensive. But while relaying the phone number to the operator, he said “code area,” followed by three numbers and then the phone-number digits.

In fact he said it at least three times, since getting through the Hooterville operator involved comic repetition. I know that area codes were a postwar development and took some time to be fully implemented, but they would have been established by 1963. I wonder, however, if the term was in flux, “area code” winning out later, or this was a nonce usage by the writers. No time to look it up, even if such information exists. But I like to wonder about it.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Previously Unpublished Item: St. Louis Eats

April 15, 2004

Had a pretty good time in St. Louis, this time around. I neglected to post much about my time in the city, since a lot of it was taken up with business – gets in the way of a good trip, it does – but I did have a few hours in the city by myself. One morning I got up early and wandered around downtown. Not a very lively place, even on a weekday morning. I had to remember that sparsely populated downtowns are in fact the norm in North America, with a place like Chicago or New York being the exception. Still, St. Louis has a stock of excellent older buildings, and a few of them are being converted into residences.

Didn’t wander over to the Arch this time. It’s a fine thing, but I didn’t need to see it again. One evening I went over to Laclede’s Landing, a small former river landing on the Mississippi, now a restaurant/entertainment district. I’d visited there briefly, one cold, miserable day, but wanted a second look in better weather. With its narrow brick streets, it reminds me, oddly, of the North End of Boston, without the numerous Italian restaurants and delis that make that place their home.

On a Thursday night, however, Laclede’s Landing wasn’t precisely hopping, though it didn’t seem as empty as downtown. I made my way to a microbrewery, the Morgan Street Brewery, for dinner. I spied buffalo meatloaf on the menu, and asked the waitress, “Is that really buffalo? American bison?” She said that it was, ranch-raised in Kansas I think, and moreover, it was one of the most popular items on the menu. That was enough for me. I had the buffalo meatloaf. Wow, it was good. Nice tender meat, evenly and subtly spiced.

Best meal of the trip, in fact, though in a district somewhat west of downtown, closer to the massive Fair Park and Washington University, I found a decent Indian restaurant. Ordered the lamb vindaloo hot, and they delivered. Good naan too, and a mango lasi. It must be hard to make a bad mango lasi, because I’ve never had one.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Carboniferous Country

Last Saturday we visited friends in Grundy County, Ill., just beyond the pale of the human glop of metro Chicago. Recently they had a sizable house built for them on an even larger lot out there in the exurbs. Lovely setting, the kind of place that has a driveway that’s actually a short road, and we arrived just as surrounding trees and flowers were making themselves known.

It’s hilly country, unusual for Illinois, and the house is set on a rise overlooking a small lake. But there’s a reason for the contour. Our friends own a slice of land formerly strip-mined—as long ago as the 1930s, according to John, the husband. No environmental regs in the those days to either follow or at least pay lip service to, so the excavated places gradually became small lakes and the debris mounds became wooded hills. (I don’t take this as proof that strip mining should be unregulated, by the way.)

It was a fine warm day, so we hung out on the deck with John and Emi (the wife) and their tiny twin babies (four months old). Though not in a town, they have an address in Coal City, Illinois, a town few miles west of I-55, the Chicago-St. Louis connector, and not that far from the house. That alone was worth driving an hour or so to see, a place with such a name.

A one point we went down the slope of their back yard, to their as-yet undeveloped dock site, and sure enough among the pebbles and larger rocks were lumps of coal. John told me I’d find them pretty much everywhere in the area, and noted that they contain worrisome radon. Black as, well, coal, flat on two sides and slightly crumbly, they also made good skipping stones.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

That Ol' Flouride Goo

“Everything looks OK,” are the magic words you want to hear from your dentist. Going to the dentist is something like going to an auto mechanic, since both of them have a knack for finding expensive things to do. Today I dodged that bullet. Everything was OK. She scraped and buffed my choppers and grinders, and then applied a new sort of fluoride treatment—new to me, anyway, a full-mouth bite down on a horseshoe-shaped tray of fluoridy goo.

I’d never done anything like that since, I think, my orthodontist made a cast of my uppers and lowers many moons ago, and that was plaster of Paris. In today’s exercise, I kept my mouth closed on the goo for a few minutes, not the most pleasant way to spend your time. But no worst than scraping and buffing. I’ve never had a fear of dentists, but visiting one has never been top of the list on amazingly warm spring days like today.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Petticoat Short Line

Saw Petticoat Junction today for the first time in probably 35 years or more. It was never rerun on any station that I watched, unlike its cousin programs The Beverly Hillbillies or Green Acres. Not bad at all, though the reason I liked it as a child was the train. A huffing, smoking steam locomotive there on the TV, just like in some of the books I liked. Maybe that’s a boy’s reaction, but on the other hand Ann watched a bit of it too, and said, “Train! Look at the train!”

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Net Lease & I

Not long ago I was looking up “Net Lease Denver” with Google, because I was working on an article about such a deal in that metro area, and one of the results was:

CPNetLease net lease expert Dees Stribling spoke with Kevin Kaseff, ... Other NetLease News in Brief: Korpacz Survey: Niche Net Lease Deals Gain Popularity; ...

I don’t think I’ve ever pulled myself up on Google without trying. Feed in my name and you’ll get a good number of hits, some involving me, others my nephew, a few others my uncle Ethelbert Dees (long dead), some genealogical links about the families Dees and Stribling. As for being a “net lease expert,” a more complete description would be an expert at writing about net leases, which is a species of real estate transaction I won’t get into here.

If I were really an expert in such deals themselves, I would be doing them, and probably profiting handsomely from my efforts. Trouble is, to succeed in commercial real estate, you need to be a good salesman, which I am not. “Not interested in buying today, sir? Well, never mind, I won’t bother you any more.” Not the attitude of a salesman.

Unrelated note. Lilly has discovered Drake & Josh, an intensely juvenile sitcom produced for Nickelodeon. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s enough to know that an eight-year-old thinks it’s tremendously funny. Just the other day, a made-for-DVD movie using the same characters arrived in the mail, Drake & Josh Go Hollywood, which of course involves the two lead boys buzzing off to Los Angeles for various high jinks. But I thought a better story line, and possibly one appealing to a much larger audience, would be Drake & Josh Go Bollywood.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter Monday Press Releases

Easter has come and gone, unless you’re Orthodox, and the fine warmth of last week has gone too, but today wasn’t so bad—very nearly warm, even in the wake of last night’s thunderstorms, which weren’t so ferocious here.

I’m back at the word mill, cutting sentences apart and gluing them back together every which way for sale to interested parties. In the course of my morning, I usually troll for news on specialized web sites, some more valuable to me than others. One of the least valuable is the Business Wire, but I check it anyway sometimes, because I find occasional useful press releases there. This morning I found the same one in several European languages, including a Dutch one with the following headline:

Office Depot benoemt Yalmaz Siddiqui tot adviseur milieustrategie; positie bestemd om de mondiale prestaties van het bedrijf op milieugebied verder te verbeteren

Sounds much better in Dutch, I think. Swahili would have been even more interesting, but no go. Mostly I have to wade through the likes of this:

Boston Market Roasted Sirloin Earns Top MenuMasters Honor; USDA Choice Roasted Sirloin Wins Best Menu/Line Extension Award

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Once More Around the Sun

No new posts for a few days. I’ll pick up again after Easter.

I was going to wax long about the virtues and shortcomings of working for myself, since it’s been a year ago Friday that my former employer cast me into the labor market. But I must be short since, in fact, I work for myself and would like to take most of Easter weekend off.

Enough to say that it’s been a year and (remarkably) nothing really bad has happened because I lost my job. We’re not broke, we aren’t behind on paying for anything, we haven’t gone through a jarring relocation. It’s actually been a fairly normal year in a lot of ways – the seasons have come and gone, children have gotten older, we took a summer vacation, there's been Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Millard Fillmore’s Birthday, and now it’s near Easter again – all the normal parade of events.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Lucky Tunes

Tuesday was my idea of April. Warm and windy, some sun, with a hint of rain now and then as clouds wandered by. The sort of day on which we weren’t beholden to Nicor Gas for heat. Friendly old Sol heated the house, no extra charge.

OSX has come into use in our home, only a few years behind the Mac curve. But it means important new things for us. For example, we acquired a box of Lucky Charms the other day that promised a free song on iTunes. With OSX, we access to iTunes. Choose from over 2 million songs! (According to Lucky, the cartoon leprechaun.) Two million, that’s quite a few tunes. Wonder if they have “The Horst Wessel Song” or “Giovinezza.”

Just another thing to mark the passage of my life, this offer from Lucky Charms. A song from among 2 million as a cereal-box premium—who would have thought of such a thing? Back when I was a young consumer of Lucky Charms, not only did the leprechaun look different, and there were fewer charms, but a premium would have been an actually, physical thing—a shillelagh maybe.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Principal Speaks

Got “A Message From the Principal” from Lilly’s school the other day. It was a build-up to these concluding sentences about class assignments next year: “… I am confident that your child will have a quality experience regardless of the teacher that he or she is assigned. In creating class lists for the 2006-2007 school year, the staff and I will create classrooms that are academically and ethnically balanced. Therefore, it is necessary for me to inform the parent community that I will not be able to honor parent requests.”

His italics. I’m sure he’s tired of being pestered about class placement by parents who think it matters. Probably what he really wanted to write was, “Leave me alone already! All of our teachers are pretty good, so your kids will probably learn something next year, provided they have any brains at all. Speaking of which, it’s not done any more to put all the smart kids in one class, so we aren’t going to do that. The kids will sort themselves out in that way eventually anyway. Each class is going to have as much of a mixture of skin hues as possible, though truth be told, most of the kids tend toward the pale end of the spectrum in this suburb.”

Of course “ethnically balanced” probably doesn’t just refer to skin color, though I have to wonder just what kind of formula they’re using to achieve such balance. Use pushpins to represent each child, stick them into a world map at his or her place(s) of ancestry, and try to form a class from pushpins that are far as possible from each other? Or maybe calculate the vowel-consonant ratios in each last name and feed the data into a program (Ethnic Balance 2.1.3) that creates a class list with the widest possible variety of ratios? Alas, I’m afraid that some groups will be sorely lacking in Lilly’s class, no matter how hard the administration strives for balance: Zulus, for instance, or Lapps or Mosquito Indians, just to name a few from very different places.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Onsen Eggs

My lower back decided to remind me on Saturday night that I'm fully middle aged, with an ache that made walking a little difficult, though oddly enough bending over wasn't. After some relief on Sunday morning, it picked up where it left off and lasted through most of the day. Also, I had an article that needed finishing, which gobbled up a lot of Sunday. Not one of my better weekends, but at least it wasn't especially warm.

What I needed to do was visit an onsen, a Japanese hot springs, as I did in early April 1992: "It was a fine thing to soak my expansive self in the hot waters [I wrote], eat a funky Japanese dinner and breakfast at the nearby inn, and play Othello and Uno with my companions, only partly sharing a common language.

"Then there were the onsen eggs, looking like standard, factory-farm chicken eggs, except they are sold in fives and tens in fish-net bags at every store of every description near the onsen. You take these eggs to a place in town where low stone walls square a pool of hot water. Not a well, exactly, but you can taste the water there and boil your eggs by tying them to the crisscross of bamboo poles over the stone square and letting them dangle deep in the water for 12 minutes (large clocks are posted nearby for timing). Peel and eat. Everybody seemed to be doing this, but so far I don't know why that is the custom at this particular onsen town. The eggs come out a little sulfurous, like the water."


Saturday, April 08, 2006

Wah-Wah-Wah-Wah-What a Gal

No excuse this week for not posting on Friday. Except I was enjoying Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness here in the vast New World. Actually, I was working a lot, as I must again today, which is only indirectly related to Happiness and much more connected to “Property,” which was originally the in the “Pop” position along with the “Snap” and “Crackle” of Life and Liberty in Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration, but edited out later.

The atmosphere might be cooking up tornados and other bad winds south of here, but in northern Illinois, Winter has let it be known that wants a few more turns around the track. It was much like February on Friday, like a dry, windy day in that sour month, especially out in a suburban parking lot where I found myself yesterday, with seemingly nothing between me and Saskatchewan.

Further discussion revealed that Yuriko watched The Wacky Races as a small child in Japan, which featured a couple of the same characters as Dastardly and Muttley. The latter cartoon might have also been shown too, though she doesn’t remember. The Japanese name for The Wacky Races cartoon was Chika-chika Mashin-mo Raisu. “Chika-chika” being something like chitty-chitty or bang-bang, “mo” an intensifier of “mashin” (machine, car), and “raisu” a two-syllable version of “race.” So my idiosyncratic translation would be the “Bang-Bang Supped-up Speedster Race,” which seems fitting.

I can’t say enough good about the Red Hot Jazz Archive, which I mentioned last week but actually discovered two or three years ago. When I have time, I troll for songs I’ve never heard before by groups with great names like Red McKenzie & His Mound City Blue Blowers, who happened to record a version of “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down & Write Myself a Letter” that I like just as much as Fats Waller’s.

Here’s a lyric from 1930, sung by Ben Pollack & His Orchestra, that I haven’t been able to decode. It might have slang meaning that evaporated long ago, like “kicking the gong around” supposedly refers to opium smoking in “Minnie the Moocher.” Anyway, I like it. It’s sung with great verve:

“There’s a wah-wah gal in Agua Caliente
What a wah-wah-wah-wah-what a gal
She’s got that thing I think you’ll like her plenty
What wah-wah-wah-wah-what a gal
You can have each hula hot bamboola baby
You can have each jolly hot tamale Sal
But the wah-wah gal in Agua Caliente
What a wah-wah-wah-wah-what a gal…”

Well, maybe it doesn’t need decoding.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Not Made in Japan

Not long ago Dastardly and Muttley and Their Flying Machines arrived from Netflix, which I suspect I haven’t seen in more than 30 years, but which has new life, such as it is, through the medium of DVDs. Yuriko astonished me (hard to do after 12+ years married) by saying she’d liked it as a small child. It was shown in Japan?

You never know about those things. I’d say, however, that in the case of this cartoon and probably some other mid-century US products, the Japanese are currently getting revenge on us for such cultural imperialism by sending us manga-inspired cartoons, or even the manga itself, including such incomprehensible items as Tokyo Pop, which appeared not long ago in the Tribune’s Sunday comics. Sorry, kids aren’t going to start reading your damn newspaper, no matter how much you try to pander to them or dumb it down.

Yuriko was surprised that D&M&TFM was not, in fact, a Japanese cartoon. No, it was produced by the cartoon factory that Hanna-Barbera had become by 1969, the same year that it inflicted Scooby-Doo Where Are You? on the world. Talking dogs must have been all the rage at H-B that year. Actually, D&M&TFM isn’t that bad, just simple-minded; Scooby-Doo is actively bad. (Even when I was 8, I didn’t much like it much, though I did watch it.)

In case you’ve forgotten, D&M&TFM is about four vaguely Central Power-flyers who obsessively try to thwart a carrier pigeon (“Yankee Doodle Pigeon”) in vaguely WWI-vintage aeroplanes. You’d think they’d have better things for three airmen and an airdog to do, such as dropping gas canisters on Allied trenches or maybe strafing Belgian civilians.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Life is Skittles, Life is Beer

Assorted harbingers of Spring, at least those I can see from where I live:

A touch of green in the grass following recent rains. A fine sight for sure, the essence of renewal, except that it means lawn maintenance can’t be long in coming. Sometimes maintaining a bourgeois household is a pain in the butt.

Nice yellow flowers pushing through near the sidewalk to the driveway. That’s the best describing I can do, since I’m not very good with plant names.

Robins bob-bob-bobbing along. They were doing just that the other day, so much so that Ann pointed it out to me—about four birds hopping around in the back yard.

The mailman was wearing shorts this morning. It still was only about 50 degrees F outside, but he was thinking ahead to the afternoon, when it would be about 60. He had a remarkable selection of tattoos on his legs.

Someone was practicing baseball yesterday afternoon out in the field we can see from our deck.

Black ant colonies nearby are once again sending scouting parties into the house. This is dangerous work for the ants, since I’m inclined to smash ’em if I see ’em, though Yuriko and Lilly are a little more squeamish about that than I am. Ann still likes to chase them around and maybe do them harm. “Bug! Bug!” she said this evening. Then she lost sight of it. “Where are you, bug? Bug? Bug! Where are you?” Wisely, the ant stayed out of her sight.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Slightly sad news from Nashville, by postcard from Nashvillian Stephanie, whom I’ve known for 20 years now: “Vandyland will be closing in June, the buildings torn down, so we went & had breakfast while we still could. The have good gravy. Good home fries. Good coffee, too.”

Vandyland was once Candyland, located in a strip center on West End Ave. not far from campus, a successor of an original Candyland soda shop dating from the 1920s in downtown Nashville, I read. Sometime in the 1980s, the strip-center Candyland became Vandyland for some reason, but it was the fine same hole-in-the-wall soda shop I visited occasionally. I don’t remember the home fries or gravy (or coffee, since I don’t drink coffee), but I do remember the simple sandwiches and chocolate drinks.

Not sure when I first visited Candyland, but do know I was there on May 5, 1982: “Lunch, the last before I got on the bus, was at Candyland, with Rich and Steve,” I wrote. “Enjoyed the ham & cheese and chocolate frost, and the babble of the lunch crowd, to which we added our babblings.” I was leaving that day for a month on the road—about 7000 miles all by bus eventually, in a continental loop from Nashville to Washington, DC, to Boston to Logan, Utah, to Los Angeles to El Paso to San Antonio to Atlanta and back to Nashville. Whew. Guess I had more energy when I was 20, but who doesn’t?

Exactly a year later, to the day and to the hour, the three of us went back to Candyland for lunch. I don’t think we planned it that way, but we did realize it as we were waiting for our food (probably I brought it up, since my memory tends to be chronologically organized). I made note of this fact in my diary of the time, but not, unfortunately, what I ate that visit, though I bet it involved Vandyland’s amazing chocolate moonshine. I wasn’t going anywhere that day, but we were in the golden moment between finishing school and the actual graduation ceremony, which would be a week and a day later.

Had a lot of leisurely lunches that week at the likes of Vandyland: Mack’s Country Kitchen (at Popular Prices!), the Elliston Place Soda Shop, the Pancake Pantry, Rotier’s and further away Sylvan Park and the Loveless Motel & Cafe. Good town for cheap eats, Nashville, or at least it used to be.

Monday, April 03, 2006

A Little Wind

Late last week Lilly tied some long green ribbons to a stick and planted the whole array in one of the barren flower boxes lining the fence between the back yard and the driveway-garage complex. On Friday it flapped in the vigorous wind, which blew pretty much all day.

It reminded me that I want to buy a windsock or an anemometer for the back yard someday. A little looking around at the endlessly interesting American Science & Surplus web site reveals anemometers for sale, but not windsocks. I don’t think I’d bother with taking wind-speed measurements, which I’ll leave to professions. I just want to see the thing spin around.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Boop Style

The other day I played “Crazy Words, Crazy Tune,” for Ann on RealPlayer via the extraordinary Red Hot Jazz Archive. Recorded in 1927, the song is Irving Aaronson & His Commanders having fun with a throwaway tune. At one point, two vocalists have this exchange:

“Washington at Valley Forge/Bitter cold/And up spoke George…”

“Vo do dee-o vo do do dee-o do!”

“Napoleon matched his men/To Waterloo/What did he say to them?”

“Vo do dee-o vo do do dee-o do!”

“And in the Senate/The other day/What did our President Coolidge say?”

“Vo do dee-o vo do do dee-o do!”

As soon as this tune started up, Ann said, “Boop!” We have a collection of public domain Betty Boop cartoons, all black and white, some of which I’d never seen before getting the disk—Betty, I’m afraid, was considered too much of a has-been even for children’s programming when I was growing up. I was surprised to learn just how musical most of them are. Not just background or punctuation music, but full-blown singing and dancing in popular jazz style. Not a bad thing for a three-year-old to recognize.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Friday Jinx

Two weeks in a row now that something has happened on a Friday to keep me from posting. Last week, I was sick. Yesterday, we had a Pepsi Syndrome incident with the keyboard. At least it happened after I filed the material I needed to file that day, but it’s still irritating to have to go shopping for another keyboard.

The old one, a loyal companion of my iMac since day one many days ago, may still revive after it dries out. Or not. I can’t afford to be without full computer capacity beginning on Monday, so I went off to Golf Road this morning. Golf Road is the major retail thoroughfare in Schaumburg, Retail Capital of the Free World, and I vaguely remembered a large computer retailer in a big box somewhere along the way, though since I hate driving on that road under most circumstances, I couldn’t remember where it was or what kind. ("Big box" is the term in commercial real estate that refers to a really big retailer, a term that makes me smile still.)

My guess was right, and before long I had a “Keyboard in a Box” – that was the brand. It was indeed a keyboard, and in came in a box, which promised to be a friend to my Mac and all Macs. Better than that, it promised to be plug-and-play. When it comes to computers, that’s the ticket. Sure enough, when I got home, I plugged it in, and it started working right away. Call me simple, but I always suspect there will be some missing step in using computer technology that will frustrate me for hours, no matter how ostensibly easy the task. A missing step that isn’t in comprehensible language anywhere in the instructions.