Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ooops! Made Fun of Sports Without Knowing...Who Was There.

Near where I work in the restaurant, there is a small area with tables and two televisions. On weekends, the TVs are tuned to sports. I don't watch sports, so I never really know what's on and wouldn't care if it was the final inning of the last game of the World Series ever. I have nothing against sports, I just don't care and can't make myself care.
   I'm a rarity among men when it comes to that.
   I turned today, and found an impatient and beautiful woman standing next to a man staring at one of the TVs. He was tall, dark haired, and watching through a pair of sports sunglasses. She looked at me and shrugged, as if to say He'll come with me when he's ready. She looked like it wasn't the first, nor would it be the last time he stopped and stared slack-jawed at sports on TV.
   I laughed. I said, "There's something about sports on television that stops a man in his tracks. They'll stand there for a long time unless some outer force makes them move."
   She laughed. She looked at him as if checking to see if he heard us, but he didn't move a muscle. He stared at one of the televisions with a stillness that was almost eerie. He could've been a statue.
   "He's worse than most," she said.
   A few minutes later (there must've been a commercial), they walked by me and left.

   Ten or twenty minutes later, they came back in from outside and walked past me toward one of the dining rooms. The man wasn't wearing his sunglasses anymore. He looked familiar. Very familiar, but I knew I didn't know him personally.
   Then I realized where I had seen him before. On television. Almost every night on television, his is one of the last faces I see.
   His is one of the last faces I see, because I usually turn the news off when they start covering sports.
   The man staring stock still at the sports on TV was the sports director for the local TV station.

Express Line At The Service Counter? Horse Puckey!

I'm sure I'm not the only one that gets nailed by this. I'm not the only guy out there who reads the sign that says:
Express Line--5 Items or Less
 ...And doesn't see the sign behind the clerk that says:
 Service Counter

Express Line  is easy to understand. It means you can whip through, pay for your less than 5 items, and be on your merry way. Even if there are four more people in front of you, you should be able to get through faster than going through the regular line when someone is buying their groceries for the week. That's the intent. That's why grocery stores have express lines. They want you to get your items there and not at the convenience store where it might be more convenient. The intent was to bring convenience to the grocery store.
   Then some bright (and by bright in this instance, I mean dim) bulb decided to couple the Express Line with the Service Counter.

   I don't know where you do your grocery shopping, but at the grocery store in this town the service counter is where you go to: get refunds, buy tobacco products, drop off and pick up your dry cleaning, buy lottery tickets, cash checks, send telegrams, cash in your voucher from the coin machine, and probably some other stuff I can't imagine.
   I avoid the service counter/express line. I no longer believe in it. It's kicked my coupons too many times.
   But sometimes I'm stuck. Today I wanted one item. One 79-cent item that was available only from the service counter/Express line.
   I looked with relief at the line. There was one man in front of me. One guy with nothing but a newspaper in his hands.
   But wait! No... He pulled a narrow red folder from his back pocket. It was a lottery/lotto ticket folder. I stood behind him with smoke coming from my ears as he bought--slowly and deliberately--17 instant lottery tickets, four lotto tickets (and took his sweet time deciding which numbers to toss into the void), a pack of cigarettes, cash a check...and request dollar coins as change for the amount over the cost of his purchase that he wrote the check to cover.
   I swear... If I thought I could've gotten away with it, I would have tackled the old fart. Alas...evidently, there's rules against that sort of thing.
   The lady with the shopping cart full of goods and a coupon for each item wished me a good morning on her way out. She walked in with me...
   I almost asked Mr. Lottery/Lotto/Cigarettes/Dry Cleaning/Check Casher if he would like me to run home and get him a camp chair so he could sit down while he did his business, but I was a little afraid he would think I was being sarcastic...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Is She An Employee?" ...Should Be A Simple Question

   This time the laugh is on me, or it would be on me if the man wasn't serious.
   I work (as I've mentioned before) as a greeter at one of the largest restaurants in the United States. I welcome folks to the place, help them find a dining room, and answer questions. Sometimes people will ask me if I know where the bathrooms are, and I take pleasure in answering just what they asked.
   It looks like this, in dialog form:
   Guest: "Do you know where the bathrooms are?"
   Me: "Yes."
The Story
   The lobby was crowded this afternoon. I stood by the host station in the lobby, answering questions and directing people to areas where we had open seating. I enjoy the job quite a bit. I get to meet people, and be a small part of what I hope is a pleasant part of their day.
   A man came up the stairs from the shops. He had a scruffy beard, more salt than pepper, and was wearing a baseball cap screwed tightly on his head. His dark gray t-shirt had a silk screened design on it that had seen better days, and his blue-gray sweatpants had holes in them. He took a seat in a chair by the big front windows, and crossed his legs at the ankles.
   I didn't pay much attention to him. People wait for other people in the lobby often, and there was a lot of people around. I was busy.
    After about an hour, the man walked up to me. He said, "Can you page someone for me?"
   We can page people if they work in a non-public part of the building, but we don't have speakers in our dining rooms.
   "Are you looking for a guest?" I asked.
   He didn't answer my question. "I don't know where she is."
   "Is she an employee?" I asked.
   "Yes," he answered.
   "What department does she work in?" I was going to call that department, rather than use the overhead page. If we're busy, sometimes people don't hear overhead pages.
   "Same department as me," he said.
   I had never seen the man before in my life. "What department do you work in?"
   He got huffy. "We don't work here!" he shouted.

Oh. Uh...

   I directed him to the other big lobby in the restaurant. Sometimes one part of a group will wait there for the other part of their group, while the other part of their group waits in the lobby I was in. Happens a lot.
   He came back a few minutes later. "She wasn't there," he said. He sat down again and waited. After a while, he left. I didn't see where he went because I was busy, but he was gone.

   Shortly after that, our manager walked up to me. There was a woman downstairs, waiting for the man she was supposed to meet. She'd been sitting there for quite a while, and he never came. He was wearing a gray t-shirt, and sweat pants...
   I said, "I don't know where he went...but he's not an employee here..."

Valley Forge--Remembering My Ancestor, and The Long Cold Winter

In the illustration at left, we get the idea that it was cold at Valley Forge in the winter of 1777-1778. The guy on the log looks pretty miserable, and he probably is. That's where the accuracy stops.
   I doubt there were cannons there, or if there were, they were few in number. You can forget about that flag waving in the background, too...on a pole, next to a building.
   I had an ancestor by the name of Benjamin Griggs who was there. My grandfather told me about him when I was a kid, and I researched it. According to my grandfather, the ancestor was a captain. It would be a proud name with a proud title, Captain Benjamin Griggs.
   I wrote a report about him, and Valley Forge, when I was in eighth grade. I also wrote a letter to some department in Washington D.C., and for a couple of bucks, they sent me photocopies of records they had of my ancestor. Turns out he was a corporal rather than a captain, and he recieved a pension for the rest of his life after the United States became a country.
   Like a lot of people, I thought there was a battle at Valley Forge, and that in spite of the cold we've all heard about, we won the battle.
   Wrong! There were several battles at Valley Forge in that long cold winter, but none of them were the shooting kind, the combat kind of battle.

What Would It Have Been Like At Valley Forge?
   Benjamin Griggs was one of 11,000 men who went to Valley Forge in the early winter days of 1777. It was a valley, nothing more and nothing less. There were no buildings there. There was no support for them from outside the valley. They were there as a loose group of men trying to be an army.
   They were fired by the idea of independence and knew damn well their chances of beating the greatest army in the world at the time were slim. Staring down at that snowy valley, I can only imagine how scared he must have been, how cold...and how determined to make the best of it he was. I'm glad I'm not him, but I can assure you his blood is in my veins and I think I would have done what he did, and what a lot of the 11,000 men there did. They stuck it out.
   No shots were fired in anger during those months. Their clothes were inadequate for the winter. One cabin was built, and the guys who built it had to share the one axe they had between them. They built a couple of other cabins and buildings, but not everyone was housed indoors. They foraged for food. Sometimes the only food they got was flour smuggled in by folks who lived in the area. They clumped the flour with water and fried it. Then they worked.
  They were hungry, cold, and miserable. Washington, George Washington--trained by the British, and a commanding presence--was there. He provided inspiration while quietly worrying that his army, such as it was, would head back home to their families. If they decided to do that, there wasn't much he could do to stop them. Congress wanted to send aid, but there wasn't much money to buy supplies, and no good way to get them there if they did.
  They found a German who called himself a Baron, but who probably wasn't. He might not have been a baron, but he knew how to train men to be soldiers.
   That's what my ancestor and a lot of other men did at Valley Forge. They fought to survive. They fought to learn how to become soldiers. They drilled. They marched. They learned discipline, and learned how to live without much in the way of food, clothing, or comfort. I'm sure many a night was spent in the bite-ass cold, wondering if it was going to be successful, wondering if it was going to be worth it. Folks like my ancestor Ben knew they could go home if they wanted, but most of them didn't. Most of them, including Corporal Griggs, huddled next to fires and ate their flour, and grew their fortitude.
   The British weren't far away. They could have, and would have if they hadn't been arrogant enough to dismiss those men as vagabonds with no training or fortitude, crushed them. They didn't. They probably figured Ben and the boys would get tired of being cold, and head home to warmer pastures and wives, and things would go back to the way they were before a fistful of malcontents started getting uppity.

   We know that didn't happen. In fact, the cold winter of 1777-1778, that started with a lot of snow, then turned warm, then back to snow, then snow and rain...misery from the sky and ground, became our collective backbone.

   Although no battle was fought at Valley Forge, it can be said that's where we won the revolution.

   After the war, my ancestor went home and tilled the land again. He passed away, probably quietly at home, some thirty years after that cold winter. He died as an American. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

I'm Glad Doctors Don't (usually) Shoot People

...Take this from the perspective of a man who, as a patient, freed himself from restraints in the hospital on more than one occasion. Yeah, I did that. I shouldn't be proud of it, and I can say my brain was out of order due to a severe vitamin deficiency, but I'll admit a certain dark comfort is mine because I know how to get out of bed even if they strap me in.
   That brings me to tonight's thoughts.
   I'm getting my blood drawn tomorrow. They're testing my cholesterol. The work order says:
   "Patient should fast for 12 hours before..."

   I like the word "should". Should makes it clear that whoever wrote the instruction wants me to fast. I'm a writer. I know darn well what should means. I also know what should does not mean. It doesn't mean I can't eat or drink before the test. Should doesn't mean do not.
   I'm going to get my blood drawn in the morning, and I want a cup of coffee before I go. I hopped online and asked the specific question about drinking black coffee before having my blood tested for cholesterol. I should have asked my doctor if it's okay if I have some black coffee, but I wasn't thinking about it then. Several medical sites say it's fine to have a cup of black coffee before the test. Not one said don't.
   I drink coffee all day. It seems to me that coffee in my system should be part of the baseline, not excluded form the baseline. So...unless that caffeine kicking around in my system makes it impossible to draw blood from a vein, there's no reason I can see why I should put the plebotomist (that friendly person with the handy-dandy needle) at risk of meeting Evil Coffee Headache Snarky Dave. No one likes Evil Coffee Headache Snarky Dave...not even me.
   They're testing my blood to see what kind of cholesterol is kicking around in it. It makes sense that I not spike the cholesterol level by eating before the test. Those websites I referenced earlier all said that 10-12 hours of fasting is necessary to let the cholesterol get down to its lowest levels for testing. That makes sense.

   I don't do rules, as a general rule. I do reasons. If someone gives me a rule, I want to know why it's a rule. If the individual can't tell me why something is a rule, then I'm probably not going to follow it. I'm not five years old. In the present case, I can see the reason eating a donut before having my cholesterol test is a bad idea. The test will see the donut, and I'll spend a lot of money on Lipitor I might not need to spend because a hunk of fried dough fooled the test.
   There's no cholesterol in my black coffee. The caffeine might shrink my veins a wee bit, but I'm sure they'll keep jabbing until the little vial is full of blood. I'll be able to handle the jabbing...because I will be Dave the Benign, not Evil Coffee Headache Snarky Dave.

   (thinking, thinking...DING!)
   Actuallllllllyyyyyy... Come to think of it--I broke the no coffee arbitrary rule the last time I had my blood tested. Therefore and ipso factoid, if I don't drink coffee before this blood draw, I might skew the results by NOT drinking coffee.
   I don't want to skew the results. I'd better have some coffee in the morning. Yeah. That's the ticket!

Remembering Grandma & Grandpa's Basement

That's me, in a tree, high up in a tree, at Grandma & Grandpa's house  
  I was lucky as kid to know my great grand parents on my father's side, two great grandmothers on my mother's side, and one set of grandparents very well before they went to Heaven.
   We used to go to my Grandma and Grandpa Griggs' for Sunday dinners. Now that I'm a grown-up (whatever that is) and have a place of my own, I can see why going to Grandma and Grandpa's every Sunday might have been a drag to my Mom and Dad, but it was never a drag to me.
   I remember the basement quite clearly. 
   Want to go for a little ride? Let me show you Grandma and Grandpa's basement, and why I thought it was cool...
   Come on. I'll open the door. The light switch is right here. Yes, the stairs are carpeted. This house was built in the forties or fifties, and the basement is big, and warm, and finished. This pale paneling on the walls is the real deal: wood. We'll go downstairs....
   On the right is a door. Inside there's an old-fashioned broom on the paneling on the basement side of the staircase. It's not a witch's broom. It's made of straw, even the handle, tied together very tightly. We don't use it. It's decoration. That green folding thing is a room divider, or a changing screen. You can't see through it, so it's okay to change your clothes behind there. There's a bed there, with a yellow quilted bedspread on it. It gets dark down here at night, but sometimes Grandma and Grandpa let me sleep down here instead of upstairs. I'm not afraid of the dark. I like it. When Grandma gets up to make breakfast in the kitchen, I can hear her upstairs and I know it's okay to be awake. Breakfast will be good, too.
   The basement bedroom isn't cut off from the rest of the basement. We'll walk past the door for now, and into the main room in the basement. They have a bar here, but I've never seen anybody drink at it. I like the bar stools. If you sit on 'em, you can pretend you're at a bar, but you're looking at the bed in the next room. I like to sit on the stools and color in my coloring book.
   There's a closet door in the wall at the far end of the bar. It's not a scary closet. There are some clothes baskets in there, but no clothes in them. The baskets are full of toys. Old toys, some of 'em. Some of them used to belong to my Mom and my aunt. Sometimes there's new toys in there, for me and my brother and my cousins.
   As I got older, I stopped caring about the clothes baskets (which were wicker, not plastic) and the toys in them.
   Now we'll cut to when I was in high school...
   The furniture in the basement is nice. There are two couches, one against each long wall. The cocktail table, they call it a cocktail table rather than a coffee table, used to be the top of a piano. A small piano. It's shiny and black. Very cool. At the far end of the basement is a wing chair. There's a light right above the wing chair. It's a perfect place to spend the afternoon reading, while I wait for dinner to cook and wile my brother plays outside and my folks have drinks with Grandma and Grandpa.
   There's a fireplace at the end of the room, between built-in bookcases full of old books. An old console TV sits in front of the bookcase on the right. I don't turn it on. I'm fascinated with the books. One of the books is full of political cartoons from the Chicago Tribune, but they're not just any political cartoons. Those political cartoons were drawn during WWII. They're scary when you think about what was going on, and more expressive of the horror and fear of WWII than most history books I was reading for grades.
   One of the books was written by L. Frank Baum (author of Wizard of Oz) and it's a sequel to the Wizard of Oz. The tin man becomes an emperor. It's a little hokey. I read that book, and many others while I sat in that wing chair waiting for dinner.
   I like to sit in the chair. When I'm taking a break from reading, I listen to bits and pieces of conversation that dribble down from the living room above. Sometimes I hear Grandpa laugh. It's a booming laugh. Sometimes I hear all of them laugh. It's a happy sound and it makes me feel good. Safe. Loved.

    College rolled around, and I spend more time in the less finished half of the basement. There are pantry shelves behind pine doors on that side of the basement. There's also a good pool table. We play pool while we wait for dinner. Grandpa comes down and plays with my brother and I sometimes. We can't beat him at eight ball unless he sinks it by accident. We don't mind. It's his table.

   We're back now. It's 2012, and Grandpa and Grandma are somewhere else now. We'll see them again, I'm sure, and boy what a day that will be! I miss them, of course. I don't miss them in an achy, sad way. I miss them the way one misses someone he or she will see again, but isn't sure when.

   The house belongs to someone else now, and that's okay. The memories belong to me. I can go back to that basement in my mind anytime I want to. It's one of my many, many happy places.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

That Small Car Repair Shop, The Kind They Used To Call "The Garage".

   There's a small garage in this little town in which I love to live. I'll toss their name out because I don't mind endorsing places that are good to me. It's called the Halfway Truckstop, and it's in Vassar, MI. It seems like every town has a place like it. Some towns have a bunch of places like it. I think they're a lot less common now than they used to be, and that's a shame.
   You might know the kind I'm talking about. They're often associated with--as in same owner, as in sharing the same building--as a gas station. Not a convenience store that sells gasoline, but a gas station. The kind of gas station where your wheels roll over a black hose and a thing inside the building goes "DING" and someone runs out to pump your gas.
This isn't the place, but the concept is the same.
   There aren't any more pumps at the Halfway Truck Stop, but they'll fix your car. They'll fix it well, and you won't have to worry about them charging you too much or talking you into something you don't need.

   The first time I visited the place was in 1989, and it seems like a lifetime ago. It had gas pumps then. It also has a little restaurant in the same building. The restaurant is still there, but it's called Karr's Kafe now instead of the Halfway Truckstop, but you can still get great food there for not a lot of money. Great service too, and if you smile when you make a smartass comment, they'll smile right back and give you one in return. I like that.
   When I first got gas at the old Halway Truckstop, I was working for the Boy Scouts. I had a company car and a company gas card. When I tried to pay for the gas with that BSA gas card, the owner ran it through the credit card machine. He must've hit cancel, because the bill never arrived. I didn't make it to this town very often, but on a couple of other occasions when I gassed up at the Halfway, the bill for the gas never made it to the credit card statement. The man was making a quiet donation. He didn't want credit for it (I asked), or even to talk about it.

   We moved to this town, my wife and I, almost seven years ago. I no longer drive a company car. I drive an old Mercury Grand Marquis. It's not worth a lot, and it's showing a bit of rust. But it's my car, and I need it. The exhaust pipe got a hole in it, and then, as they do, it rotted through and broke off. I almost got a ticket when a friendly police officer figured out (correctly and quickly) that cars really shouldn't be chased by showers of sparks unless the driver is wearing a Batman cowl and in pursuit of the Joker. 
   I took my car to the Halfway, and the guy working there who might not even know the guy who used to give gas to the Boy Scout Guy, said, "We can make you a new pipe." He smiled. "It won't be the same as a dealer would give you, but it'll work." He was right. He saved me some money, and that pipe worked great. There was no problem with the muffler, and he didn't waste any time trying to sell me one.
    I was having trouble with the battery light coming on. If I drove too far, the battery light would show me it was serious and shut down the car a piece at a time. First the climate control would rebel, and eventually the digital dashboard would start to have as much character as a classroom blackboard after it was washed.
  They put a new alternator in for me, in 2009.
   Things were good with my old Grand Marquis until about a year ago, maybe a little longer. That battery light would come on. I learned that if I hit a bump or two, the light would go off and I would be powered up enough to keep rolling. Every once in a while, I needed a jump. Then I'd drive around for a while, looking for potholes, and the battery light would go off for a while.
   Two weeks ago I popped the hood and saw corrosion on the battery posts. I went to Google and YouTube and learned that trick of dumping a Coke on the battery posts and letting that cola juice gnaw on the crud, and then I'd drive my sweet ride (pun!) down the road.
   Coke stopped working yesterday.  The car died on me as I went to where my wife works and parked two slots away from her car. Then I took her car, drove to work, and left her a voice mail. She only works a couple of blocks from the house, so walking wasn't a problem for her. Besides, she became a lot more interested in having my car fixed than she was when we thought a can of Coke would do the trick.
   This morning I dropped my car off at the Halfway so they could put a new battery in. They called me a few hours later and said I could pick up my car. The price was $85. I walked the mile and a half to the place to pick up my car. It was windy today, and I'm a little guy. I had to grab hold of some parked cars along the way until the wind subsided and my ankles were again perpendicular to the ground. It wasn't fun, but I was too busy laughing at the situation
   They said, "If you called us, we would've picked you up." They're that kind of place. I don't think a dealership would've done that.
   I paid the ninety bucks and went to start my car. The battery light came on. I popped the hood and saw a shiny new battery there. The car started and I drove up to the door. The mechanic was surprised to see me, but he jumped right on it. He got out a hammer--a claw hammer. He hooked a battery tester to the battery, and saw that it wasn't getting a charge. Then he freed the alternator from its cover, and banged it with the hammer.
   "Alternator's stuck," he said. "I tested it this morning, and it was fine." After a minute or two, he looked at the battery checker gizmo, and banged the alternator with the hammer again. "This thing should still be under warranty," he said. "I'll give 'em a call."
   He did just that. The alternator has a lifetime guarantee. He said his grandpa would give me a ride home, he would have another alternator later in the day, and he'd call me when it was done.
   I said, "How much will it cost me to have you put the new alternator in."
   "Nothing," he said. "I'll give you a call when it's ready. Should be a couple of hours."
   He did call a couple of hours later. The alternator the parts store sent was bad. He said he'll have another one delivered first thing in the morning, call me when it's done, and have his grandpa pick me up at home to take me to my car.
   Yep. I like the Halfway. It's a lot like the '76 Station I used to take my car to when I was in high school and the old Dodge broke down. It's not a pretty place. No BMW white lab coats (I used to pay an arm and a leg for guys like that to repair my old Beamer, but that's a different story). There's no lobby, and the only magazines are under ashtrays on the counter where they write receipts by hand. No sir, and no ma'am, it's not a pretty place. They don't even have cloth-covered chairs to put your tush on if you have to wait. You go into the cafe part and have a cup of coffee, or some lunch, or breakfast. Or you can have a ride home and wait there.
   They'll put you back on the road with a smile.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Why Does This Man Sew, Cook, Quilt, and Bake?

...The short answer is: because I want to. I like to make things, and I want to make things I can either eat or use.
   I'm good at sewing, cooking, quilting, and baking. Damn good, actually.
   Many men who like to make things work their magic with tools. They build things out of wood, or stone, or metal. I think those things are cool: wood thing, stone things, and metal things. I've made chess sets from molten lead, but that's not the same as using power tools and things that make sparks in order to create things with metal.
   Believe me, I would if I could, use wood. Wood just isn't my medium. I've never made anything successfully with wood. I even managed to screw up my pinewood derby cars when I was a kid. Wood is unforgiving. If you cut off too much, you have to punt. Metal is worse. The tools guys who work with metal use can mess a feller up pretty good if he makes a mistake. I'm good with mistakes. I'm good at covering mistakes...but not if I can't find my fingers.
   Besides... My wife won't let me play with tools. I'm not complaining about that. I married a smart woman, and that's probably one of the reasons I've lived as long as I have. She'll let me play with tools, but only because she's good at first aid and knows how to laugh when I scream.

But this isn't about that. It's about what I'm good at doing.

I'm good at sewing, cooking, quilting, and baking. I have the touch. I make dresses for her sometimes, and other garments too. When I make something for her, it fits her like it was made for her. Know why? Because it was made for her. Needles don't care whether the person pushing them is right-handed or left-handed. Sure, I had to learn to make the stitches the opposite way the books said to make them, but any left-hander worth his salt can do that.
   I find cooking just about anything to be pretty easy. I think talent comes into play. Some folks just can't cook. I don't know what they do wrong, or what I do right, but I'll tell you this (without fear of bragging as those who eat my food can attest), when I cook something, it's going to be good. That could have something to do with the fact that cooking, sewing, baking, and quilting are about the only activities in which I participate where I follow directions until I know what I'm doing.
   Through the Boy Scouts, I learned to cook over open fires, campfire stoves, grills, and on one notable Zippo lighter. I didn't learn how to use a stove and an oven until a long time after I learned how to make a pizza in a dutch oven in the middle of a forest.
   I didn't learn how to use a sewing machine until after I sewed many, many patches on my uniform by hand. I learned how to crochet (and made a blanket or two) before I learned how to thread the bobbin on a sewing machine. I made my first shirt by hand, and didn't make one by machine until about ten years later.

   Baking came after I quit drinking, and I was looking for short-term projects. I suppose baking bread by hand counts as a short term project, compared to writing a novel, or making a quilt (by hand) of over 4,500 squares of fabric. I've only ever screwed up one baking project--which turned into a weird sort of soup in a pie crust that was supposed to be banana cream...but I've learned since then.

   I'm a believer in knowing what you're good at, what you want to be good at, and what you'll never be good at. A lot of it has to do with what you want to be good at, but not all of it. I can say with certainty I'll never be a good woodcarver. Part of it is that I'm unskilled with wood, but the bigger part of that is that I don't want to be skilled with wood. I admire woodwork, but I don't really want to create it.

   Know what I do want? I want a good cherry pie. One made from scratch. One I make from scratch. I want a fancy-pants lattice crust on top, to hold the cherries in. I want to taste that tart cherry pie, smack my lips, and think about how to make it better. That's what I'm going to do tomorrow. I've never made a cherry pie in my life, but I predict the one I make tomorrow will be worth bragging about.
  ...and if it isn't worth bragging about, I'll keep trying until I make one that is.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Male Pattern Blindness

Male Pattern Blindness sounds like a curse, but it's really a gift. Male Pattern Blindness gets us cursed at, but it's not a curse.
   Male Pattern Blindness is the masculine ability to not see what we really don't want to see. It's not a matter of pretending we don't see it. Male Pattern Blindness can actually make things disappear. Children of both genders exhibit Male Pattern Blindness at an early age, but it goes dormant in the female of the species and often stays that way. In adult females, what appears to be Male Pattern Blindness is actually quite formidable and dangerous. It's called "You'll Pay For This When I'm Damn Good And Ready To Make You Pay For This". I fear the YPFTWIDGARTMAYPF--which is, of course, short for "You'll Pay For This When I'm Damn Good And Ready To Make You Pay For This".

   I'm often in trouble for leaving my dirty socks next to the laundry chute. I say without lying, "What dirty socks?"
   Male Pattern Blindness.
   She takes me by the hand. Puts my hand on the laundry shoot door. "Can you feel it?" She asks. "This little door?"
   "Then why don't you put your socks down there?"
   "Can't see it."
   "But you just felt it."
   "Oh, I see the door."
   "Then what don't you see?"
   "Pile of dirty socks."
Then I duck. I have to. She tries to knock the sight into me.

    Male Pattern Blindness strikes at times that seem convenient to the male. This is a matter of evolution, not convenience. We should be respected, not mocked, for dealing with such a crippling gender handicap.
   I'm gifted with a lack of a sense of smell. That ability by itself isn't enough to get me out of cleaning the cats' littler box. Male Pattern Blindness to the rescue!
   That conversation sounds like this:
   Her: Why didn't you clean the litter box?
   Me: It didn't stink.
   Her: It's next to the toilet, and you pee standing up. No excuse!
   Me: It's next to the toilet?
   Turns out it is. I didn't see it. It's under the roll of toilet paper. I never looked down that far, or if I did, it was an attempt to see the toilet. As wives and mothers can attest, Male Pattern Blindness often manifests as an almost magical ability to miss the toilet.

Male Pattern Blindness also explains why we can't--we're incapable most of the time--lower the toilet seat. When we lift it, it's out of sight. It ceases to exist. I got in trouble once when she yelled at me for leaving the seat up.
   She said, "I almost fell in!"
   I replied, "If you watched where you were going..."

See Dave run? Run, Dave, run!

Guy Logic...And Why I Have To Paint Ceilings

   I won't bother to explain what guy logic is. Women already know what Guy Logic is. (it's often accompanied by Male Pattern Blindness, but that's a different post.) There is a feminine version of Guy Logic, called women's logic, but I won't venture into that dark territory. As a guy, I'm unqualified to speak about women's logic without fear of retribution. I won't do it, and you can't make me.

   Guy logic gets me in trouble, and it ought to. You might be aware I have Korsakoff's Disease, and some problems with short term memory. I carry a digital recorder to help me remember things. I don't use it as often as I used to, but it is an important device to me. It's a prosthetic memory device.
   It's not immune to Guy Logic. I just had the following conversation with my wife:
  Me: I found AAA batteries at the Dollar General. A four-pack was only a $1.27.
  Her: Why did we need batteries?
   Me: (Answering too quickly, and oblivious to the quicksand under my feet): I used the ones from my digital recorder in the new remote control I bought yesterday.
  Her: (arching an eyebrow--a warning shot) You took the batteries out of your use for television.
   Me: (internally hearing Danger! Will Robinson, Danger! WARNINGWARNINGWARNING!) I did. But I replaced the batteries today.
   Her: (Speaking very slowly in order to pierce the cloud of stupidity hovering around my head) You. Used. Batteries. From. Your. Memory. For. Television. Convenience.
   Me: I...uh... (I whipped out my "little boy" grin, the one I use for emergencies such as this)...I made you an apple pie tonight!

I think I pushed it when I tried to give her a smooch after that. Not sure, though. I'm a guy.

   Getting in trouble for Guy Logic isn't a unique Dave Steele thing. Guy Logic makes good sitcom fodder. Hell, if it weren't for Guy Logic, we wouldn't have most sitcoms. I should try to avoid being a sitcom. I won't, but I should.

   Every once in a while, like most guys, I suffer from a bad idea. I once offered to make her a cup of hot chocolate. She waited in bed for me to bring her a nice, foamy cup of cocoa with marshmallows. I was about to stir it with a whisk when my eye fell on the milkshake maker.
   We have 10' ceilings in our kitchen. Keep that in mind as I continue this little story...
   I looked at the milkshake mixer and the powder floating on top of the mug of hot water in my hands. Looked at the mug, looked at the milkshake maker. I know what to do! I'll use that thing to stir the shivin' lit out of this cocoa and give her the best, fluffiest cup of hot chocolate in the history of hot chocolate.
   In manly fashion, cocksure and hopeful, I dumped the contents of the mug into the stainless steel cup. I turned the milkshake maker on high (don't know why they bother making a milkshake machine with two speeds anyway), and stuck the steel cup up under the super-fast whirligig.
   I did well.
   I didn't scream when the scalding liquid shot up--straight up--in a blur of foamy glory. I'm glad I wear glasses, which protected my eyes from that flying chocolate concoction. Marshmallows stuck in my hair. The ceiling was still dripping when I took her the four inches of foam over one inch of cocoa and the single, stubborn marshmallow in the cup.
   I bowed my head when I served it to her. She'd already seen the fifteen marshmallows in my hair and the speckles on my glasses. "It's darn fluffy," I said. "Fluffiest you've ever had. I'll...uh...paint the ceiling this weekend."

   Then there was the time I decided to surprise her by setting up the Christmas tree while she was at school. We have a rule I think I might have explained before. It's this:
Left-handed Dave is NOT allowed to use his wife's power tools
   I dragged the Christmas tree into the dining room. I needed to cut a few inches off the trunk and searched in vain for the bow saw. I was sure we have a bow saw, but I couldn't find it in the two minutes I looked for it.
   Guy Logic to the rescue!
   I couldn't find the bow saw, but I did find her small circular saw. I put on safety glasses. I brought the circular saw up from her workshop in the basement. I got the cordless phone and dialed 911 as a pre-emptive strike and figured I could hit "talk" with my nose if I had a mishap with the saw.
   I was successful! The circular saw didn't want to cut all the way through the trunk (I refer you to the 10' ceilings previously mentioned. I didn't buy a puny tree.) I turned the tree with one hand, sloppily, while holding the saw with the other. God had my back. No injuries to myself. Didn't cut the trunk in a straight line, but that's what walls are for: to lean the tree against when you can't balance it in the damn stand.
   The sawdust in the dining room was prodigious. I vacuumed the room. I decorated the tree. I put the decorations away.
   I got busted for using the saw. For one, Guy Logic never told me to put the saw away! For another...apparently it doesn't take a genius--it takes a woman--to figure out that sawdust on the ceiling fan shouldn't happen.

Guy Logic.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

I Have Terrible Handwriting...and I'm Not Going To Take It Anymore!

   I'm working to change my handwriting. It's no easy task, but I've done harder things, I suppose.
  I used to have excuses for having illegible handwriting. Some of them were valid, and some of them weren't. Examples of both are:
  • I'm left-handed. (This excuse is hogwash. Lefties can have good handwriting).
  • I had hand tremors (Not hogwash, but it can be worked around.)
  • I'm set in my ways. (True, but I can change the "set).
  The big question, once I decided to work to improve my handwriting is in the how. How do I change my handwriting?
  I did what I do when I want to learn more about something. I started searching the internet for advice about how to improve handwriting. There's a lot of good advice out there. I was following some of it by instinct. Using a fountain pen is suggested because it's not as "slippery" (my word) as a ballpoint pen. Fountain pens are easier to control on the page. And, as I've pointed out often, they're cool. Old school cool.
   There are a lot of sites that offer worksheets to learn cursive, but not many to improve cursive in adults. After a while I figured out there really isn't much difference. The only difference is the difference between training and RE-training.
   Re-training is more challenging than training. Unlike third grade, when my hands had no idea how to shape cursive letters, my hands have been shaping cursive letters for decades now. That they've been getting progressively worse at the job doesn't bother my hands at all. In fact, my hands like--I mean really like--making sloppy k's, and b's, and m's that look like they might have twelve humps.
   No one thing made me decide to improve my penmanship. Lots of little things led to this decision of mine to re-train my left hand to make letters on paper that other people can read. Oh...who am I foolin'? I want to make letters I can read!
   I've been practicing. The letters I make on the page still look like my handwriting, but by slowing down, deliberately forming each letter of each sentence, and moving my hand as I write instead of pushing the pen farther and farther out with my fingers has made improvement come quickly. I'm not sure if my wife has been reading the stack of meaningless "free writing" that comes when I'm practicing making words on the page. It's kind of stream of consciousness-like, and thankfully benign. There's no "secret Dave" coming up with manifestos of world dominion dreams. I know! Whew! Right?
...Well, there was one rant against Meet the Press...but that's better than the alternative of me mooning the TV. We won't count that one.
   I'm glad I type 120 words a minute. Keyboards are my thing, and I never minded when I had to type papers instead of writing them longhand. The time has come, however, when I want to have handwriting people can read. I'm going to improve my handwriting. I'll know it's done when I can write without thinking about each letter as I make it and I'm still able to read it the next day.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Old School Is Cool

The other day, a friend of mine referred to some of my ways as "old school." He's a great guy, and I accepted what he said (and he said it with a good-natured laugh) as a compliment.
   I am, indeed, old school when it comes to favoring some old devices. My favorite old school device is my fountain pen. I've covered the fountain pen in a couple of other posts on this blog, but I'll give you a few bullet points of why it's my favorite writing instrument:
  • It looks cool. Different from most pens in use today.
  • It uses a liquid ink that doesn't smear when my hand passes over it as I write.
  • The first ones came into use a long time before we started using A.D. after the year.
I love the taste and texture of homemade bread. In 1999, I got a bread machine for Christmas and thought it was cool. It was! All I had to do was dump the ingredients in the square metal pan and the machine did the work. It made a decent loaf of bread, but I wasn't that thrilled with the bread because the paddle that kneaded the dough was still in the bread when I pulled it out of the device. I had to dig the paddle out, and was left with a hole in the bottom of the oddly-shaped loaf. I didn't like that. So...I started letting the machine make the dough, then I would pull it out and stick it in an old fashioned--old school--bread pan for the final rise. Then I baked it.
   That bread machine died eventually and I was going to buy a new one. On a lark, I looked at how to make bread old school. What I found (to my joy) was that the bread machine took longer to make one loaf than it would take me to make two loafs  by hand! I ran out and spent $3 on wooden spoons. I already had a rolling pin, for reasons (KARMA!) I didn't understand Started making bread Old School. Now I give away the spare loaf of bread and still have one to eat. Someone gets a nice little gift, and I get my sandwich.
 I make almost all the bread my wife and I eat. I also make rolls of different shapes. My cloverleaf rolls are, if I do say so myself, outstanding! Hard rolls are one of my specialties too, but I don't make them very often. The key to those is letting the dough sit at least overnight, and I don't usually like to wait that long.

I like to shine my shoes, and have always preferred to have my dress shoes look, well, dressy. I used to use the kind of shoe polish that comes in a bottle with a built-in sponge on top. I would squeeze the bottle and smear that liquid stuff all over my shoes. It was glossy, it was easy...and eventually the build-up of it would make the leather crack.
   I got old school with that one and picked up a tin of Kiwi shoe polish. It takes longer to shine my shoes. I have to smear the black gunk on each shoe, let it dry, wipe the excess off, and buff each shoe with a soft cloth until I see a glow I can appreciate. It doesn't crack the leather. It helps keep it supple in addition to shining it. Yeah. I like my old school shoe polish.

   I used to be an electric razor kind o' guy. It was easy. It was electric! I plugged it in and felt the power while I ran it over my face in any direction that suited my fancy. It did an okay job, but I wondered if I couldn't get a better shave some other way. When I was in college, my grandfather gave me an old shaving brush. I had a shaving mug, and would make my own lather. It felt good to put it on my face, and I was able to get a great shave. After I graduated from college and started working as an executive, I went back to the electric razor. I used it every day, and had several of them over the years.
   A couple of years ago, I dug out the old shaving brush. Maybe my electric razors were just getting old (I have three of them kicking around the house somewhere), or maybe my beard was getting tougher. I'm not sure I care what the reason is, but I started shaving with the brush and a cake of shaving soap. The difference is amazing! The brush, the lather (as opposed to the easy stuff that shoots into my hand from a can) makes for a smooth, extra-close shave. I won't go back to the electric razors, and I think I'll save my stock of shaving cream for water fights I want to win. Hint: if you want to use shaving cream in a water fight, just pop the top off a can of shaving cream and replace it with a spray nozzle from an aerosol can. You can turn shaving cream into spray paint that way...but you didn't hear that from me!
   I get a great shave with that old brush. Know what the best part is? The shaving soap I get from Rite Aid for 25 cents, lasts about six months of daily shaving.

I like pizza. I like thick crust, and thin crust, deep dish...and even frozen pizza sometimes. No pizza is bad to this man's taste, unless they do something criminal with it like putting pineapple or dead fish on it, and even then I'll roll with it and eat the pizza.
   Then I took a look at the old school way I make bread dough, and wondered if I could make a killer pizza crust The difference is for a good pizza dough--one that's firm enough to hold any topping--you need to let the dough sit for at least four hours before you add toppings and bake. Even then, using a metal pizza pan or cookie sheet, I couldn't get the crust to be crisp on the bottom (to hold the stuff) and soft on the top.
   Voila! The answer presented itself old school style. I spent ten bucks on a pizza stone. I make the dough, let it sit four hours or so, heat the stone on the bottom of my oven, and build the pizza on the hot stone. Stick it back on the floor of the oven for 10 minutes, and I get one helluva good pizza.
   It looks like this:

That's old school. I like it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Attitude Helps...Even With Scary Medical Tests

There's no point in being afraid of medical tests. They're only going to find what's there or not find what's not there.
   Today I was scheduled for, and had, an arterial Doppler on my carotid artery ("jugular" to us non-medical types) and an angiogram C/T (CAT scan) on my lower body.
   An attractive young blond woman came to get me in the lobby. It was 8:28 AM, and my test was scheduled to begin at 8:30. I hadn't had any coffee, but I also didn't have a caffeine withdrawal headache yet, so I felt pleasantly half-awake. When we got to the exam room there was: an exam table, a machine with a monitor, a desk with a computer on it, another monitor and computer on a counter, and an attractive young brunette at the desk.
   I'm in my mid-forties, but anytime I'm in a room with an attractive blond woman and an attractive brunette woman, and medical Jello...well...I'm all grins. Whatever happens, I know they're not going to take pictures of anything external...and the pictures I have cooking inside my skull at that hour, in my equally important states of being both happily married and caffeine deprived...will most likely involve an Egg McMuffin and large coffee instead of anything kinky.
   Still... If I must suffer having Jello smeared on parts of my body, I'd rather it be done by an attractive young woman than by some gender indeterminate individual by the name of Jo.
   So, when the brunette asked if she could unbutton my shirt, I said: "Yes! Yes! Yes!"

Some women are pretty when they blush. Turns out both of these ladies were.

   The blond led me down the hall to my next test: the angiogram CT. That tests involves having some sort of isotope injected into my bloodstream, and then getting shoved in and out of a circle surrounded by whirling cameras and laser beams that take pictures of my innards and look for stuff that isn't supposed to be there, or stuff that is supposed to be there and isn't.
   There was a pert young brunette waiting for me. I was pretty sure she was going to make me take my pants off, and I was, frankly, looking forward to that. I'll look forward to that when I'm eighty...if only to see if they'll run and scream or stand there and giggle.
   I commented that it was chilly in the room. She said, "It'll warm up once I start the machine."
   The last time I had that test was 2007, and I forgot the way that machine warms up the room.
   She had me lie on the table and covered my lower half with a sheet while I lowered my pants. Kidding aside, I wouldn't have been happy if she took my pants off for me. She injected me with the stuff. The Stuff is whatever they use to make your blood show up better than your bones on the X-rays emitted by the C/T scanner.
   The machine fired up. There's--and this makes me laugh every time--a little sign that tells you not to look at the lasers while the machine is in operation. What's funny about that? You can't read the sign without seeing the laser! On the other hand, you're already looking at the laser because you're passing under it, so if they put the warning anywhere but the laser point, you probably wouldn't see it at all.
   The machine told me to hold my breath. The young woman had already warned me about that. She said if I couldn't hold my breath the entire time, I could breathe if I had to when my legs were in the machine but my chest was out. I started to wonder if I would be able to hold my breath that long.
   Know how long I had to hold my breath? 15 seconds. Fifteen! I asked her why some folks couldn't hold their breath that long and she gave the answer I thought she would. She said: "I have no idea."
   They're scaredy-cats. That's what I say! Heck, I could've held my breath for twenty seconds!
   Then she said, "For this next portion, you'll feel some heat and you might feel like you're going to the bathroom...but you're not."
   I thought I remembered from 2007 what that felt like. I knew it meant she was going to up the ante on the X-rays so they would pick up on the dye suffusing my bloodstream.
   The machine went into high gear. The table slid forward.
   I was vibrating like a toy from one of those parties women go to and never post the pictures on Facebook. I'm pretty sure my innards were jumping around. My balls tingled and my bladder was going a happy dance, hand-jiving with my lungs. I think my nose hairs got into the game in ways I struggle not to imagine.
    I held my breath when the machine instructed me to hold my breath.
   After a few seconds, it was over. My body didn't feel the heat anymore. By the time the table stopped moving, I was laughing pretty hard.
   "What's the matter?" she asked. I'm pretty sure she was pretty sure I'd lost it.
   "Ya cooked me!" I shouted. "Do it again!"

   She wasted no time letting me pull up my pants. I was still giggling when she showed me the way out to the lobby.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Ain't Afraid Of The Neti Pot!

It seemed like either a bad joke, or a really bad idea--the neti pot. I must confess that when my wife told me a couple of years ago that I should use that little teapot thing to dump water in one nostril, have it swirl around my brain behind my eyeballs and dribble snot out my other freakin' nostril I thought she had finally finished going around the bend to join me on the far side of nutso.
  As is my wont, I jumped online and looked into that infernal gadget called the Neti Pot. Turns out it's an ancient thing, invented in India a really long time ago. I know some folks from India, and had never seen them drain anything out either nostril...but, you know, that's the kind of thing one does NOT do at a bus stop or diner. As far as I know, it's some kind of sport or drinking game confined to the home.
   The trouble is, I'm allergic to antihistamines. If I take even half a tablet of any antihistamine, I'll find myself (if I'm lucky) on a heart monitor in a hospital. I took a couple of Comtrex tablets while in college and ended up on a heart monitor for three hours with a pulse rate over over 300 beats a minute.

   Last year I had a head cold. I couldn't take anything for it. I couldn't take it. I needed to breathe. After receiving e-Beatings by several Facebook friends, and some gentle nudging (involving a long-handled fork) from my wife, I relented.
   I asked for her help with the Evil Neti Pot From Hell. She put salt in the water. She had me tilt my head. She poured--POURED--water through that tea pot thingie into my right nostril. I felt random gunk go down my throat and voiced gargled protestations. She warned me to shut the hell up. I felt (believe it or not) that saltwater make a loop-de-loop above my nose, through my skull...
   ...and suddenly I was a-drippin' gunk down the sink through my left nostril.
   That made me laugh.
   Word to the wise: DON'T LAUGH when you're dribbling snot out the wrong nostril. It's not pretty. Tastes bad, too.
   Then we did the other nostril. Not only could I hear the ocean through my ears, I could taste it too.

But I'll tell you... IT WORKS!

For the first time in days I could breathe. Freely. Easily. I slept like a baby. A salty baby, but a peacefully at rest baby. It was awesome.

Now I: use that teapot from hell when I'm stuffed up. Use it all by myself, too. For fun, sometimes I add a little bit of green or blue food coloring (yeah, I'm kidding...for now.)

One Tough Pen!

I love my fountain pens.

I really love this tough pen! It's tough, and I mean this baby is (literally!) road tested. Parking lot tested, actually. I mean, this bad boy has almost a mile on it the hard way...
My Parker Urban has dings and scratches. Badges of honor.
   I bought the fountain pen in the photo with my first royalties check, and I got attached to it quickly, in no small part because it was my little gift to myself for accomplishing my life-long dream of getting paid for my writing. It's not Parker's most expensive fountain pen, but it's a good pen. It's hefty, and well-balanced. The black finish covers a brass metal cap and barrel.
How Did The Pen Get Mileage?
     I carried it in my pants pocket with my car keys for about a year and a half, and the finish on the pen (the paint over the brass) was showing some signs of wear--namely, small flakes of brass shinning through. Some of the gold plating had worn off on the clip and end of the cap.
   Then one night, one cold January night, I was in a hurry to get in my car. I pulled out my keys and heard something hit the ground. In my haste to get the hell out of there, I didn't look for whatever fell out.
   Sure enough, when I got home I didn't have my trusty fountain pen. I tried to deny that was what fell out of my parking lot that late January night, but I was pretty sure that's what happened. I looked for it, but to no avail.
   The pen is heavy, and I like that about it. I really like that about it now that I know what it went through.
   There's a shuttle that takes us from the employee parking lot to the restaurant where I work. I told the driver I lost my pen in the parking lot, and he said he would keep an eye peeled for it. Although I believed he would do just that, I didn't harbor much hope of ever seeing my poor pen again.
   There was a thaw, and I looked for my pen. Nope. I thought it probably went down a storm drain, or had been picked up by someone. I hoped that if someone found it, they would enjoy that good pen. February came, and I purchased another fountain pen. It was of Chinese manufacture, and it's a fairly decent, but cheap pen. The one I lost was metal--brass--and constructed like a tank. The cap stayed on. The nib was screwed on tightly and didn't come loose unless I wanted it to.
   February turned into March. Snow turned into rain, and back to snow, to more rain, and finally sunshine.
   Remember the shuttle driver who said he would look for it? I saw him on Easter and he asked me to describe my pen. He interrupted me when I started to talk about it...and gave a better description than I had given him!
   My friend the shuttle driver found my pen--at the far end of that huge parking lot--on Good Friday. From the end of January to the end of the first week in April, my pen kicked around, was kicked around the parking lot in all kinds of weather. Between, or under, the wheels of cars. A snow plow probably took that pen all over the lot until my friend the shuttle driver--who said he would, and did, look for it--spotted it and picked it up.
   When he handed me my pen today, I pulled off the cap to see if the nib was undamaged. I wrote my name on piece of paper, delighted to find that it not only wrote, but after all this time in all that weather, it still had ink! The paint is a little more scratched, and there's more brass visible under the black, but the important part is still there. The pen still writes like it just came out of the box.
   For a while I wondered how I would go about painting it black again, but my wife thinks I should let the scars of the paint job be scars of war. A survivor's scars. A bit of a badge of honor for the writer's instrument that came home to Poppa!
   I think I'll do what she suggests--nothing. I'll let my Parker Urban be my beat up, functional, sentimental writer's pen. A writer's pen should have some scars, don't you think?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Magic? Not Quite. Almost! ...But Not Quite

Magic Scarf?
Through no fault of my own, I still have the plaid scarf my grandfather gave me. He bought it in Scotland, a long time ago...and the pattern is the tartan of the Cameron clan. I'm a descendant of theirs.
  I think I was in college when he gave me that scarf, and I graduated in 1988. I've had that scarf ever since. I've lost it a few times and thought it was gone forever. In the days when I used to drink, I left it in a bar more than once. Someone returned it to me every time. Once I thought I lost it--and didn't see it until the following fall when I put on a jacket I hadn't worn all summer and found the scarf in the sleeve.
   It's old now--threadbare in the middle. There's a six inch long tear in the middle, actually more wear than tear, but I stitched it closed.
  I know it's not magic. From an intellectual standpoint, it can't be magic. There's no such thing as magic, right? Well... It's magic to me. That scarf holds memories of my Grandpa, and I aim to keep it. I'll probably misplace it again, but I won't worry. That scarf will find its way home.

Magic Parker Fountain Pen?

    I lost a fountain pen about two months ago. It was a Parker fountain pen. Not a top of the line pen, but a good one. I paid $45 for the pen. Treated it with care and love. You see, it's the first purchase I made with money from selling my books. I bought it with my first royalties check. For that reason alone, the pen held special meaning to me.
   I lost it in the parking lot at work. I looked for it a few days later when warm weather melted the snow. I couldn't find it. I remember hearing something fall out of my pocket no that cold snowy night, but didn't realize until I got home that the "clink" I heard must have been the sound of my pen falling out of my pocket when my shivering hands reached for my car keys.
   There's a shuttle that takes us from the building to our cars. I mentioned the loss of my pen to one of the shuttle drivers, and he said he would look for it. I gave finding the pen a 0% chance.  I hoped it didn't get washed down the drain. If I lost it, I wanted it to be found--preferably by someone with an appreciation of good pens--and used.
   Tonight at work, the driver of the shuttle (he's one of several, but he's the one who promised he would look for it) came up to me and described my pen to me. He described it in more detail than I described it to me!
   When I got on the shuttle tonight, I asked him if he found my pen. He grinned. "Said I'd look for it, didn't I?" he asked.
   He sure did. He promised, but I wasn't going to hold him to it. In the past two months we've had all kinds of weather: snowstorms, and eighty degree days, and rain, and more snow, and ice! I thought that pen had washed down a storm drain at worst, and been found and carted off at best.
   Know when he found my pen? Last Friday. It was in the parking lot, scratched but functional. It's coming home as soon as he brings it from his house (where he took it for safe-keeping) and brings it to work to give back to me.

No such thing as magic? ...Probably not. ...But maybe.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Roundup --- It Thinks Grass is a Weed

Sure, I know the difference between "grass" and "weed", even though I don't smoke either one.
  Roundup weed killer doesn't.
   This is a true story, but I'll protect the innocent and the subject of the story by not telling you who it is.
   When I was in Wisconsin, my boss asked me to drive him by his house after we finished eating lunch. He was having his windows replaced and wanted to see how the workers were coming along with the project.
   I had never been to his house before, and I liked the way it looked when we pulled up on the driveway. It was a nice house, a big colonial with white siding and a black roof. The lawn was immaculate. There was a truck on the driveway, and men were working on the windows. He went inside, and I stayed outside to smoke a cigarette while I waited for him.
   I wandered by the garage as I waited, and thought I'd take a peek at the backyard.
   The grass stopped. I mean it stopped in a razor-sharp line that extended from the side of the back of the garage to the neighbor's property on the left, to the fence at the end of his backyard, and all the way across to the shrubs of the neighbor's property on his right.
   There was nothing growing in the backyard except for three or four scraggly weeds...and they looked pretty sick. When I say "nothing growing"... I mean it.
   Nada. Zip. No grass, no flowers. Just a few scraggly weeds from hell, and they looked like they wanted to go home.

   After a while, my boss came out. He looked for me and found me staring at the backyard with the cigarette filter in my hand. I was gaping at the barren soil that was his backyard.

  He cleared his throat and said, "That's my fault."
   "What the hell did you do?"
   "Well..." He looked a little embarrassed. I decided to let him tell the tale his own way, even though I was dying to know. The line between sod and soil was as sharp as human hands could make it, and a lot sharper than just about any natural occurrence I could imagine.
   He lit a cigarette of his own and continued. "As you know... I'm thrifty."
   Thrifty! Hell yes, he was thrifty. He and his brother invented copper wire when they wrestled over a penny they found on the street.
   "Anyway," he added, "I encourage my wife to buy in bulk. So when I saw the big thing of Roundup in the garage...and the weeds in my lawn, I decided to use it."
   I couldn't help but interrupt. "You used Roundup...on your lawn. Isn't that the stuff you're supposed to spray on the cracks in the driveway so nothing grows."
   "Yeah. It kills weeds..."
   I was trying not to laugh and not doing a very good job. "You considers grass to be a weed."
  He gestured toward the barren planet that was his backyard. "Sure," he said with the sheepish grin of an embarrassed man, "now you tell me!"
   He was still muttering when we walked to my car.
   "That was three years ago..." he said.

I couldn't help it. I think the spittle from my mouth flew on the windshield when I let out the laughter I'd been holding.