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Tedium

After we saw Chicken Little, Jamie and I undertook two exceptionally tedious tasks while Janet was gone.  One of them, as I mentioned yesterday, involved vacuuming out the cars.  Under ordinary circumstances, this is merely a moderately tedious task; but because we had recently driven to Connecticut with Lucy the Dog in the back seat, it became an exceptionally tedious task.  For, you see, when Lucy the Dog rides in the car, she gets so excited that she bursts her coat.  She’s a small, short-haired pound mutt who looks like a cross between a beagle, a whippet, a dachshund, a deer, and a mouse (we have no idea how many species were involved in her conception), but still, at the end of the five-hour, 300-mile trip, the back seat is covered with enough hair to make a whole nother dog.  We’ve tried putting blankets on the back seat to reduce the hair disperson.  This works well for about twenty miles.

And the real reason you want to contain the hair dispersion, if you’re the owner of Lucy the Dog, is that the VW Passat comes with these kinda cross-hatched cloth seats, and dog hair actually weaves its way into the very fabric of the cloth.  In other words, it’s not a question of cleaning the car by simply running the vacuum cleaner over the seats with this attachment or that; it’s a question of scrubbing the seats and then picking individual hairs out of the cloth one by one, until tedium or madness sets in.

There’s no way to get every last little hair, of course, and what would be the point?  But in the course of our vacuuming, I found that some hairs were enmeshed so completely in the cross-hatches that lightly tugging on them would not remove them.  Others came free after four or five pulls, but once I’d yanked them loose I realized that fully three-quarters of their length had been embedded in the surface of the cloth.  Fascinated (since I could not fathom how Lucy could have worked her hairs into the car seat so diligently), I began to pull on random hairs here and there to see how many were deeply embedded—and I swear I got a hold of a bunch that pulled back.  They clung fiercely to the cloth; they put up active resistance.  It was almost as if they were the car’s own hairs. . . .

At which point I realized that I had discovered powerful evidence of the phenomenon described by Flann O’Brien in The Third Policeman:

The gross and net result of it is that people who spend most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycles.

Except that in my case, it’s not about a bicycle.  Nonetheless, it’s clear that Lucy the Dog and Passat the Car have been exchanging atoms every time we make the trip to Connecticut, with the result that the Passat’s back seat is growing dog hair and Lucy the Dog needs to have her oil changed.  Strange but true, kids!

(By the bye, Janet tells me that her prime-time-television-watching friends tell her that The Third Policeman was recently mentioned on the show “Lost,” and that sales of the novel have gone through the roof.  Here’s to more de Selbyism in mass media!)

The second tedious task involved putting Jamie’s baseball cards into looseleaf binders.  Jamie has well over a thousand baseball cards (as well as a few hundred basketball, football, and hockey cards), and for years he’s kept them in shoeboxes stationed at key locations throughout the house.  He takes them out whenever he’s watching television; sometimes he sorts them by team, sometimes he puts them in random piles, and sometimes he just leaves them lying around.  But then, on our last trip to Connecticut, while the car was growing its dog fur, Jamie came across someone whose playing cards were all in binders, and ever since then he’s been all about the binders.  So on Saturday I drove him down to the card-collectors’ shop in nearby Bellefonte, PA and bought him a pair of binders and enough inserts for the first 900 cards.  By rights, of course, he should be putting his own dang cards in the binders, but he had some fine-motor trouble with the plastic sheaths, so I chipped in and sorted through packet after packet of old baseball cards, most of them from the late 1980s and early 1990s, all of which he’d bought for about $2 per hundred at the card shop over the years.

There were a few surprises in the stash—a skinny young Sammy Sosa, a skinny young Roger Clemens, a Paul Splittorff here and a Charlie Hough there.  But most of the cards were pretty nondescript: so a guy named Jimmy Jones once pitched for the Yankees, so what.  To break up the tedium, I showed one of the cards to Jamie, covered the player’s name, and asked him, “hey, do you know this guy?”

“Rick,” he replied.  Yep, Rick Aguilera it was.  Intrigued, I tried a second card.  “Matt,” he said when he saw Matt Williams’ card.  Now I was really curious.  And sure enough, over the next few minutes, as I showed Jamie one card after another of guys running, throwing, batting, lounging around the dugout, spitting, and so forth, he named every single one.  He knew first names only, OK, and he didn’t always know how to pronounce them, but there was no question he’d memorized the names on the cards.  I assure you, dear readers, that this is much harder than it sounds.  I have before me Greg Maddux’s 1990 Donruss card (Cubs, the first time around) and Jose Guzman’s 1991 Fleer card (Rangers), and despite the vastly different trajectories of these men’s careers, their pictures are nearly indistinguishable: two righties pitching in mid-stride, each with the ball just above and behind his right knee.  And indeed, the seemingly endless lineup of batters, runners, throwers, loungers, and spitters on the rest of the 400 cards we filed that day includes any number of lookalikes, quite apart from the fact that Jamie happens to own three Tony Bernazard 1988 Fleer cards and four Willie Wilsons.  (In one shoebox alone.)

Jamie had great fun astonishing me with his preternatural mental filing of his cards.  “But how do you remember all these cards?” I asked.  “I mean, my goodness—there are so many of them.”

Jamie shrugged.  “I just do,” he said chirpily.  “More?” And I ran another dozen or so by him.  By the end of our little exercise, we’d gone through about fifty cards.  He’d misidentified two—and immediately corrected himself both times.

I couldn’t wait to show Janet when she got back.  But she wasn’t all that surprised.  “It’s his gift,” she said.  And so it is.

Too bad it doesn’t show up on any of the standardized tests he’s taken.  But listen, if there are any marine biologists out there who need a lab assistant with a literally photographic memory and great cataloging skills, keep Jamie in mind, would you?  Many thanks.

Posted by on 11/08 at 11:54 AM
  1. Michael, Michael, Michael. Next time, spring for the leather seats. Counterintuitively, it’s harder for animals to engage in genetic translocation with leather seats than with cloth. Also, the Passat’s leather seats are generally heated seats, which are so very cozy. Warm buns plus reduced oil-change costs at the vet? It’s win-win.

    Posted by Orange  on  11/08  at  01:18 PM
  2. Of all the things you write on, your stories of Jamie are my favorite. As a result Jamie is one of my favorite people. He is certainly my favorite baseball card collecting, Beatle fan, marine biologist.

    Posted by  on  11/08  at  02:25 PM
  3. Our Jonah surpriesed me too when I realized he could read, and Sam’s got every dino that ever died down pat.

    I put a link up to the ICRC on torture in the Algerian war today at Wampmu.

    Probably my last post. I’ve enjoyed your writing.

    Posted by Eric  on  11/08  at  02:37 PM
  4. "But most of the cards were pretty nondescript: so a guy named Jimmy Jones once pitched for the Yankees, so what.”

    This is hilarious...ROTFL.

    Posted by A. G. Rud  on  11/08  at  03:12 PM
  5. What an excellent story!  And what a gift!  Jamie is so awesome.  More Jamie stories!

    And holy time-warp, Batman, I haven’t thought of Paul Splittorf since...well, since he was still pitching and I was about Jamie’s age and living in KC.

    And I have to say I covet your Passat, even with the dog hair.  Do you have one of those cool new ones with the umbrella hole in the door?  *That’s* the Passat I want.  Yes, that’s right, I wish I had the money to spend on a semi-fancy car *just* for its umbrella storage device.  Seriously, how come it took car engines so damn long to come up with that idea after all these years of dragging wet umbrellas across our laps?

    Posted by Dr. Virago of Quod She  on  11/08  at  03:36 PM
  6. Er, make that car *engineers*.

    Posted by Dr. Virago of Quod She  on  11/08  at  03:37 PM
  7. this is very OFF topic, but in case you did not know that the first PA HR 177 “liberal bias” witch-hun---i mean, *hearing* will happen on my campus here in PGH tomorrow at 1PM, you would not be the only one. there has been almost zero coverage of this...i am scrambling to get the word out to faculty here.

    “State hearings on liberal bias set for Nov. 9 & 10

    The first public hearing to investigate whether liberal bias exists among professors at Pennsylvania’s State System and state-related universities is set for Nov. 9 and 10 in the William Pitt Union ballroom.

    The state House select committee on student academic freedom will accept public testimony on both days of the hearing.

    The Nov. 9 agenda also features presentations by Steve Balch, president of the National Association of Scholars, and Joan Wallach Scott of American Association of University Professors. Both are to participate in question-and-answer sessions with the committee. The Nov. 9 session begins at 1 p.m.

    Pitt Senior Vice Chancellor and Provost James V. Maher will address the committee and answer their questions at 9 a.m. Nov. 10.

    House education committee research analyst Dustin Gingrich said three additional hearings are to be scheduled in two-month intervals in the Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Lehigh Valley areas.

    The committee was formed following the House of Representatives 108-90 passage in July of House Resolution 177.”

    more on University Times (PGH):
    http://www.umc.pitt.edu:
    591/u/FMPro?-db=ustory&-lay=a&-format=d.html&storyid=3854&-Find

    Posted by Librarian  on  11/08  at  04:13 PM
  8. I used to sort my cards by team, then position.  I then sorted my duplicates the same way so I could find them easily to trade with friends.

    One face I can probably still recognise to this day is Thad Bosley.  “Who’s he?”, you might ask.  He holds no records, is not a hall of famer and I don’t think he ever played for a champion.

    He is the guy I had 12 copies of in 1978.  Nobody would trade me anything for him.  He did eventually make himself useful, as a utility player in real life, and geting stuffed in sneakers that wore through as a baseball card.

    Here’s to you Thad!

    Posted by  on  11/08  at  04:27 PM
  9. Oh, I forgot - for the doghair, try using that wax that women use to rip the hair out by the roots.  Or as a preventive measure, use it on the dog before the trip.

    Posted by  on  11/08  at  04:32 PM
  10. I have an old Steve Howe card but it’s sort of encrusted with white powder on one side.

    The Will Clark card from that once nearly great Giants team has faded and the letters vaguely look like R. A. T.; the Mattie Williams in his knickers still looks purdy fine.

    The Dennis Eckersly card disappeared.

    Also I gotta David Wells card but that was Dave 50 pounds ago.

    Posted by Mister Toad  on  11/08  at  04:50 PM
  11. Librarian—Don’t worry, I’m on the case.  I have sent my familiar to the hearing in the shape of a tabby cat.  The cat answers to the name “David Horowitz,” so if you need to get in touch with me, just whisper, “here, David Horowitz, here, boy,” and hold out some Tender Vittles.  It’ll be our little secret.

    Posted by Michael  on  11/08  at  05:01 PM
  12. Clear plastic seat covers. Cheesy and uncomfortable but I don’t think dog hair merges with polyvinyl chloride.

    Posted by  on  11/08  at  09:00 PM
  13. I’ve had very good success with these roughened-surface sponge thingies that are specifically designed for de-hairing clothes. They seem to work on cars, too, wet or dry.

    But I do like the idea of pre-emptive waxing for the dog. Not sure how impressed the ASPCA would be, mind.

    Posted by  on  11/08  at  11:15 PM
  14. How’s Jamie on prime numbers? He sounds too well adjusted to be a mathematician, but you never know. Human brains are so weird and mysterious.

    Posted by  on  11/08  at  11:16 PM
  15. i love the jamie stories, too. 

    our dogs aren’t allowed in the passat because of the fur issue.  they are allowed in the 1989 jetta, which has vacuumable cloth seating, and is ancient anyway.  that’s their favorite car.

    Posted by  on  11/08  at  11:23 PM
  16. Get a Dyson, with the animal hair attachment.

    Posted by  on  11/09  at  03:40 AM
  17. My uncle could do that with American-built cars.  His entire room was filled with models of these cars, on rows and rows of shelving, all the way back to the Model T, though he favored the big land barges of the 50s, 60s and 70s. 

    Comparatively speaking, baseball cards filed in binders (or even in shoeboxes) are an amazingly well-contained collection.

    Can you file the dog in a plastic binder?

    Posted by bitchphd  on  11/09  at  04:17 AM
  18. Here is your answer to the hair problem--me, two red couches (with that same type of fabric) and equally explosive cats:

    http://www.evercare.com/largesurf.html

    You may laugh now mister...*sheesh* I can’t believe that this is my first post on your blog.

    Posted by  on  11/09  at  08:24 AM
  19. If I may suggest, make a loop of duct tape around your fingers with the sticky side out, and just pat away at those hairs. You may not get them all, but it’s going to get you a lot. I leave the refinements of technique up to you. The hairy tape loops can be reversed and used as sweaters for a snake if desired.

    Posted by  on  11/09  at  10:34 AM
  20. Sounds like fun. A lint roller might work well for picking up the dog hair.

    Posted by Jeremy Osner  on  11/09  at  11:25 AM
  21. Two words sir:

    DOG SHIRT.

    :D

    such silliness has some point.

    Posted by  on  11/10  at  09:57 PM
  22. Thanks for the Jamie story, it was great.

    Posted by  on  11/15  at  01:56 AM

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