...and crafting a purposeful recovery

Month: July 2016

The Russians are coming. The Russians are coming!

Yikes.  My site is under attack!  Yesterday during my lunch break I sat down and opened the email account on my iphone to find I had 164 new comments and/or registrations on my blog.  Up to that point,  I might have received one a day.  I briefly thought, “At last, someone is following me!” but, no, the comments were nonsensical and totally unrelated to my content.  Since yesterday I have had over 1,000 such assaults.  Most of my new user registrations, I found, end in “.ru”, meaning the users are operating out of the Russian domain (not sure if that includes only Russia, former U.S.S.R. countries, Eastern Europe, etc.).  They are probably bots and the .ru URL is notorious for harboring spammers and scammers.  The other comments numbering in the hundreds all concerned ” Garcinia Cambogia”, a weight loss supplement.  Go figure.

I have just gone into my WordPress (my host) settings and changed the configurations so that spurious registrants and comments are reduced, if not eliminated.  Sorry for the inconvenience if you, my legitimate follower, had to wade through this dreck.

Weather-stripping ad nauseum

Just a quick check-in here to remind you that I have not lost sight of the “Reclamation” part of my blog.  After my screed earlier this week about AA and my own recovery journey, you might have been wondering if anything has actually been occurring inside Sparta.  This answer is yes, but it just hasn’t been very exciting stuff.  I mentioned two weeks ago the nearly 150 feet of weather-stripping I had ordered.  It has arrived.  Here it is.

Sparta strip

Half the length of a football field

Applying this stuff isn’t the challenge (it’s simply cut and paste).  The hard work is in preparing the surface around each and every operable window to make sure the stuff stays stuck.  There is old adhesive, grime and dirt that has to be removed and this is painstaking and time-consuming.  Also, it tends to wear-out the small, iron-shaped head of my oscillating tool.  The sanding sheets attach to the Velcro pad on the tip which tends to deteriorate due to my over zealous use of the equipment, necessitating the purchase of new heads (surprisingly expensive.  I have purchased three and have now exceeded the price of the power-tool to which they attach.  I think I have stumbled across another Gillette model.  Cha-Ching).  Eight windows down…thirteen to go.

P.S. – I have found it is easier to remove old adhesive from around the windows with gasoline on a rag.  I suppose Goof-off or some other petroleum-based product would work, but good old petrol works fine and it’s easier on the equipment and on me.

Fun Facts:  Between World War II and 1961 when they shut down,  Spartan Aircraft Corporation made just over 40,000 trailer homes (their preferred nomenclature).  By contrast,  during the same period, Ford Motor Company made over 17,500,000 automobiles.  And the renown 1909 – S VDB Lincoln head penny numbered 484,000 in original circulation and is now worth over $2,000 in mint condition.  It’s no wonder these trailers are hard to find.

The 1948 Spartan Manor cost about $3,000.  That was the annual salary of the average American at the time.

Six months and (not) counting

This past week I casually observed that I had gone six months without a drink…nothing, nada, zilch.  That I went that long without getting drunk is not remarkable – I have had many such sober periods, some over two years.  What makes this worth writing about is that this mini-milestone sneaked up on me without the breathless, white-knuckle anticipation of the past.  For this, I must give Sparta partial credit.

Since first getting sober in the Fall of 2000, I have tried almost everything under the sun to stay alcohol-free.  Getting clean was usually easy for me, as my relapses tended to be ugly and they brought me to dark, sometimes horrific, places that I was all to happy to escape – usually by throwing myself, depressed and bewildered, into bed to regroup.  After a few days I would suck up my pride, get back to an AA meeting and, reluctantly, raise my hand as a “newcomer”.  This process was so frequent and predictable that my life began to feel like Groundhog Day, where I would start my day not to the strains of “I got you, babe”, but to the incessant chant of the Serenity Prayer murmured by a roomful of recovering alcoholics.  And these constant restarts meant, once again, that I had failed, that I had to start over and that I was no closer to Andie MacDowell than the day before.  To say I would end up demoralized is a huge understatement.

AA always worked for awhile and Step One was usually easy for me – Yes, I was powerless over alcohol and my life had become unmanageable.  And I always took up the AA doctrine with zeal. I would get a sponsor (I’ve had 13), work the steps (I have written 5 moral inventories) and put myself smack dab in the middle of the fellowship by being of service (staffing the Alano Club snack bar, managing SLE’s, etc.).  In the end, however, AA was not enough and I would inevitably slip into a state of dissatisfaction and restlessness while badgering myself with the question, “Is this all there is?”.

Don’t misunderstand me.  As I stressed earlier in my blog, I have the highest respect for AA and its many A-derivatives.  I have witnessed many miraculous recoveries in such programs.  But I have witnessed 10 times as many failures in the form of people who just weren’t ready, lacked conviction or were unable to buy into the dogma and single-mindedness of AA.  In the end, that singularity of purpose and method is where AA and I parted ways.

Alcoholics Anonymous was established in the late 1930’s and in 80 years it has changed little.  Other than the forwards, the text to The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (the first 164 pages) has remained virtually unchanged and the message continues to be: work the steps, be of service, find a higher power and have a spiritual experience (not necessarily in that order).  Oh, and the obvious one, “Don’t drink between meetings”.  AA was on the right track and many of its tenets are useful.  But many hardliners in AA, including some of my sponsors, have rejected medical or other spiritual practices to augment recovery.  If alcoholism is, indeed, a disease as the AMA concluded in the 1950’s, shouldn’t its treatment be subject to ever-evolving alternative cures as developed by science?  There are a half dozen prescription drugs (besides antidepressants) which address or even specifically target alcohol consumption.  But the party line within AA fundamentalists is that these are crutches and represent an “easier, softer way” (and implicitly, ineffective) to recovery.  The mere mention of some of these treatment options can excite derision in AA meetings (despite the prohibition on cross-talk).  I have witnessed it.  The take away was that recovery achieved through other means was somehow inferior to a pure, by-the-book AA-based experience.

Sticking with the disease concept for a moment, the AA model was first launched in 1935 and, as I said before, it has changed little.  What if the medical treatment for diabetes and infections had not changed since 1935?  Hope for diabetes was dramatically altered in 1936 by the widespread use of Insulin (saving untold millions) and infections were finally addressed with the use of penicillin in 1942 (more millions).  Had these treatment modalities been rejected by the mainstream when they were introduced, the toll of human suffering would have been enormous.  To my mind, AA’s overt rejection of newer treatment methods for alcoholism is tantamount to scoffing at antibiotics while steadfastly applying leeches to the sick.

Beyond its narrow-minded methods, I was equally troubled by AA’s singular purpose, “just don’t drink”.  Of course that is essential, as far as it goes, but I found that mantra as well as the fixation on sober dates tiresome – particularly when a relapse meant going all the way back to square one as a newcomer, with all the attendant shame and remorse.  I remember a popular noon meeting in Napa, California that I attended regularly.   There, was a gentleman of nearly 75 years who had over 30 years of sobriety. He attended that meeting every day and was held in awe by many newcomers, simply for the years of his sobriety.  Outside of his sobriety, however, I saw little to his life that I wanted and it seemed that he existed solely to stay sober.  On other occasions, I witnessed  men with double digit-sobriety who  relapsed and were so consumed with guilt, shame and embarrassment that they never came back. Some simply drank  themselves to death rather than face their old friends in AA and start over at day one.

So,  I try not to get too attached to my sober date.   I do note that in the past four years I have been sober 95% of my days, and that percentage keeps growing.  I take medications which assist my recovery and I practice many of the useful tools prescribed by AA.  Things like prayer, meditation and fellowship with other alcoholics is essential to me.  Moreover, I try not to make sobriety the end-all, be-all of my life.  There is so much more to living and if I simply make sobriety an important part of my life without focusing on it obsessively,  I have a lot more fun.  Part of that fun is the purpose I have found in restoring Sparta.

Is Sparta keeping me sober? Not exactly. However the purpose and motivation that restoring her provides me has definitely taken the monotony and drudgery out of my sobriety.  Reclamation and recovery works for me.


I can offer no clever heading for weather-stripping

I started out yesterday puttering around the house listening to “Hamilton”, a most enjoyable soundtrack, the roots of which I explored briefly in Monday’s blog.  But now we must move from the sublime to the ridiculous by delving into my efforts to weatherproof Sparta.  OK, that’s not really ridiculous…maybe pedestrian is a better word.  Yes, the subject of weatherstripping is bound to be dull but here we go.

I have been wrestling with various options to replace the rotted and useless weatherstripping framing all of Sparta’s operational windows.  As I mentioned, there are over 25 windows and all but four open with a crank.  That leaves, not counting the doors, 142 feet of weatherstripping, nearly half the length of a football field (or 1/2 of the minimum Futbol pitch for my son, Colin) for me to apply.  There are countless varieties, shapes and compositions of weatherstripping to choose from and the costs vary as well.  Pictured below are three that I purchased and have been experimenting with:

sparta weatherstrip

Which of these

                   For these ?

sparta windows

Initially, I framed a window with the 1/8 thickness pictured top left.  Stupid me, I grossly underestimated the gap left between the windows and frames and bought 100′ (two rolls) of this stuff on Amazon (perhaps I will use it later to sound proof all of my cabinets for quiet operation).  Needless to say, the thin stuff provided no insulation so I stepped it up to the 3/8″ thick neoprene (another 25′ roll).  It worked better and the 1/2″ width was perfect.  It cost me $.83 per foot on Amazon.  Ultimately, though, I settled on door #3, the D-shaped stripping pictured on the bottom.  Purchased for $.63 per foot at http://www.vintagetrailersupply.com (Medium D-seal, VTS-704), it is less expensive and for some inexplicable reason I like the air baffle.  So the total cost of materials for the weatherstripping operation is about 90 bucks.  Hey, it all adds up, so if you’re paying attention I just saved you the time and expense of heading down a couple of dead ends.

Before cutting and applying the self-adhering strip I undertook the laborious, multi-step process to prep the window frames.  I used an oscillating sanding tool pictured below with both coarse and fine grains followed by steel wool of both coarse and medium thickness.  The process removed all the oxidation, grime and old adhesive so I am confident this new stripping will stick around.

sparta chicago

$20 on sale at Harbor Freight

By the way.  When my brother came up to help me out last week, we  jettisoned the two large appliances that have been in my way for weeks.  We had to remove a large window to perform the extraction.  Good riddance.

sparta appliances to go

Bound for the scrap yard


Happy Independence Day!  I wish anyone reading this (and I assume you are all in the the U.S. , but who knows) a safe and sane holiday.  It is too easy to criticize our country these days.  What with two presidential candidates found seriously wanting for one reason or another, an age-old gun debate still raging while the body count continues its rise and grave questions still looming about how our actions or inaction may be threatening our planet.  It is easy to forget that we are living in such a wonderful place with more opportunities to make a difference than anywhere else on earth.  I still believe that.

I spent a couple of days last week with my older brother who lives on the penninsula south of San Francisco.  While there I enjoyed listening to the soundtrack from “Hamilton”, the blockbuster musical from which my brother played me excerpts.  The music was great and while hearing it I perused an interesting companion guide to the production which details how it came to be – starting with a brief description of Alexander Hamilton’s beginnings.  I am embarrassed to admit how little I knew about Hamilton, a Founding Father.   He was born a bastard son in the West Indies and raised austerely.  He was orphaned by his early teens.  I won’t go into the details here but I encourage you to just read the first two or three paragraphs on Alexander Hamilton in Wikipedia.  He accomplished an amazing array of things before he died at the age of 49, interestingly enough, of gun violence.

That the production, “Hamilton” ever came to pass is, itself, a great story.  Conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda, an Hispanic, “Hamilton” features a cast of actors of various darker hues in powdered wigs playing white people while singing, much of the time, a hip-hop score.  On paper it shouldn’t work but it does, perhaps because it captures so well the essence of our melting-pot culture.  The very same culture that allowed a young man of questionable Caribbean lineage to become one of our greatest citizens has now produced what may well be one of the most popular Broadway shows ever.  A great show honoring an awesome American.  Something to be proud of.

As a final note I will add that nowhere but in America would you find a ridiculously large,  indestructibly built and handsomely appointed trailer named, ludicrously, Imperial Mansion.  Gotta love this country.


Actually, this is a Vagabond