Thursday, May 31, 2012

When A Husband is in Trouble, saying "I'm Trying To Make It Rain" is a bad answer!

Sometimes my wife thinks I'm nuts. Sometimes me wife is right to think I'm nuts. Sometimes I like it that way.
   When the three Sometimes above collide in the same moment, I have a 50% chance of getting a you're-so-cute smooch, or a what-the-hell-were-you-thinking whap upside the head. Sometimes (there's that word again!) I get a sneak whap upside the head while I'm getting kissed. Kinky? Nah. Dizzying.

Bad Answer: "I'm Trying To Make It Rain"
We live in an old house, and the ceilings are higher than modern houses. I've joked in the past that the ceilings are high enough to have different weather at knee height than there is at ceiling height. I've joked that under the proper conditions, it could rain in any room.
   This old house of ours is in Michigan, a state in the upper Midwest where spring brings interesting weather. This morning when I got up, it was 64 degrees in the house, following a day when temperatures were in the eighties. So, I did what most people do when they wake up in a cold house. I turned the heat on. The house warmed up to a habitable 68 degrees while I sipped my coffee with my teeth chattering against the ceramic mug.
   I kissed her goodbye when she went off to work. The sun came up, and warmed my upstairs writing office. My writing office gets warm quickly when the sun streams in the windows, but not to worry! We have a portable air conditioner! So, completely forgetting that the heat was on, I cranked up the AC.
   Life was good. No, it wasn't an intentional attempt at rain-making in my writing office (though I like to think such a thing is possible). It was a case of me forgetting completely that the furnace was on.
   She and I were sitting here in my writing office watching television and ignoring storm clouds at the ceiling level as the cold air from the air conditioner mingled with the warm air from the furnace. For whatever reason, she couldn't see the gray misty haze above her head.
   At a commercial break, she said, "David..."
   I knew I was in trouble. She calls me Dave--which is what I prefer to be called--unless I'm in da poo. When I hear her call me David, I have three choices: 1) Run, 2) Query, 3) Smartass cute reply.
   At any rate...
   "David," she said in a sharp tone that to a wise man would have been a warning, "is the heat on?"
   I froze. My fingers were held above the keyboard. The characters in the chapter of the book I'm writing froze in place. I think one of them tried to run off the page and out of the chapter.
   "Did you hear me?" she asked. She knew damn well I heard her. My brow was furrowed as I tried to figure out not why I was in trouble, but which thing I was in trouble for doing or not doing. (Married men everywhere are nodding in silent understanding.)
   "Is the heat on?" I asked. Repeating the question often buys one time to toss a distracting object and flee the room. "Why do you ask?"
   "Because I'm freezing on top because the air conditioner is aimed at me, and my left side is hot!"
    I came up with a brilliant stalling tactic while my mind whirled. I said, "Uhhhhhhhh."
    "David, the heat is on!"
    "It's an experiment."
    "What kind of experiment?"
    "Weather? The air conditioner is on and the heat is on."
    "I'm trying to make it..." I ran down the stairs. "Rain!"

I couldn't get it to rain. But I did start a storm!

Never Thought "The Mall" Would Be The Answer

WARNING! This post will end with the word Duh. The duh is on my part. You will arrive at the answer long before I did, in no small part because the answer is in the title.

I'm a little guy. I'm small enough that I don't mind broadcasting my clothing size to whoever feels like reading this (and whoever feels like buying me clothes for Christmas!)

I have a 30" waist and a 30" inseam. Yea, verily, I tell you--I'm a square.

I need a new pair of dress slacks. I prefer wool as the fabric for my slacks, and I wear black dress slacks to work. I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to fabric, and I don't see Dockers as clothes to wear for dressy occasions. I don't look down my nose at those who do wear Dockers for dress pants, it's just not a choice I make. I wear twill pants as everyday pants.

It's not easy to find men's pants in a size 30x30. Yes--before the smartass in the third row can fire it off--I have shopped in the teen department. The problem is that the kids sizes have a kid-size zipper. I feel silly dropping trou when I step in front of a urinal, but none of the alternatives are pretty if I wear boy's pants. Zippers have teeth! They're called teeth for a reason. I screech like a little girl when my zipper's teeth take a hunk of anything off that I want left on. I like pants to fit in every way.

So... I've been trying to find pants--men's pants--in my size. I usually buy clothes at the VF store in the outlet mall. They have great deals at the outlet, and usually have my size in one store or another. However, the last time I was there on a quest for black pants, the only ones I found in my size were too pricey for me. They were top o' the line, and I don't need top o' the line or have money for top o' the line...and at my height, I can't reach the top of the line without a ladder! Ba-da-and-bump!

I used to work at a men's clothing store, and I wish that store was still open. There aren't many men's stores like that one left. It was a stand-alone store. There really aren't many of those, if any, in my immediate area.
For a while, I thought the solution would be for me to make my own pants. I'm capable of doing that, in case you didn't know. I already have a pattern, and I've made my own pants before. I was planning to go to JoAnn's tomorrow and buy some wool, a zipper, lining, pocketing fabric interfacing, etc. and spend a couple of days making myself some new pants.

Then I had this thought (and feel free to shout DUH from the back row. It's fine. I shouted it myself.)... The thought was:
If Only I Could Go To A Place With a Bunch Of Stores Together
but A Bigger Selection of Regular Merchandise...

It's called a Mall, Dave! A shopping mall. Bunch of stores, national stores, under one roof. A feller can park in one spot, browse several different stores, buy a burger, and look at pretty girls all under one roof, and without moving his car! I could even wander into Victoria's Secret and not bother pretending I'm looking for men's pants. Actually, it's best if I don't even think about my pants when I'm in Victoria's Secret, but I digress.

I haven't been in a mall for a long time, and I haven't shopped in a mall for clothes for a long time. I still know how they work, though, and I'm going to head to one on Friday morning.

Where does a little guy go to look for pants? The mall!


Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day -- A Day of Remembrance, and Celebration of Freedom

Several people I spoke with today wished me a happy Memorial Day. I appreciate their wishes that I have a good day. I'm sure they're thinking of many of the things we do on Memorial Day -- spend time with friends, enjoy warm weather, look forward to summer, and more.
   That's fine. That's good... But let's hold on a second!
Memorial Day is a holiday to honor those who died in war
   Members of the armed forces of the United States have died in order to protect the freedoms we believe in, the things that make us Americans. I think it's fitting that we spend Memorial Day doing the kinds of things servicemen and women have fought, and died, to allow us to do. Gather with friends and family, have a beer and a burger in the backyard, go to the things that kickoff the freedom of summer. It's a holiday!
   Celebrating has become a big part of Memorial Day, and I think that when we do that we're honoring our fallen. Who among the fallen wouldn't want to be with us on this day? Let them be with us in spirit.
   Remember. Remember and honor their sacrifice
   The tradition of Memorial Day started shortly after the Civil War. It didn't become a federal holiday until 1971, but it was observed by several states long before then. There are parades to honor all who serve and have served, in no small part because they could have become one of those we remember, instead of one of those we honor.
   Take some time on Monday, Memorial Day, to remember the fallen. I remember my great uncle Elmer Beck, even though I never knew him. I remember looking at the medals given my great grandmother for Uncle Elmer's service. He was lost over New Guinea in World War II and never found. Each war our nation has been involved in has people we need to remember. There are memorials in many towns to those who fell. I'm going to take a little quiet time tomorrow to go visit one or two in this town I've adopted as my place of residence. The names won't be known to me, but I'll be grateful for their sacrifice just the same.
   I think I'll finally take the time to put the American flag back on the porch. We had one there for quite a while until a hard wind made the flag pole bend the bracket. The flag was fine, but we never got around to replacing the bracket. I'll put the new bracket up tomorrow morning and fly the flag.
   It's the least I can do. Remember, put the flag back on the porch, and celebrate freedom.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Surgical Consultation...and I Cheered!

For those who have been following this little journey of mine, from the testing of my arteries, to the discovery of blockages, to this post... I'll cut to the finish line before I tell you the story.
   I found out yesterday that I do not need surgery to clear the blockages in my carotid artery, and I do not need angioplasty. With any luck at all (and some help from God), I won't ever need those things. If I do, I'll cross that when the time comes.

   I was nervous about my visit to the surgeon. Some have asked if I was scared, and I'll admit I was a little scared. I've been more scared of other things. Nervous and anxious are better words to describe how I felt.

   My appointment was at 1:50 PM, and I arrived fifteen minutes early as instructed. They always hand me blank forms to fill out, but I never have to fill them out while I'm there. I fill them out before I walk in, and I'm surprised that they're surprised the paperwork is done.
   I had a paperback book with me, but I only skimmed the first couple of pages. I watched people coming in to see other doctors or have tests done. I looked around the room. It's a big lobby with several television monitors on, and comfortable modern chairs. There's a huge fish of some kind in a tank. He looks like he could eat my shoes and ask for more. The sun shined through skylights, and the view out the sliding glass doors to the river was bright and sunny.
   I sat there and wondered if I was about to meet a man who would tell me in no uncertain terms that someone would cut my throat in the near future.
   It's hard to keep your happy thought when you wonder if they're going to cut your throat. Just a little FYI there.
  A blond woman in a black top with bright speckles on it, and hot pink scrub pants came and claimed me. She took me through a door, past a receptionists desk, and then to (dah-da-DUM!) Door Number Two. The exam room.
   One thing that made me happy before I got there was the thought that I would finally walk into the place and be able to keep my pants over my ass the entire time. It's a consultation, I thought. You get to keep your pants on when they talk to you. The thought of keeping my trousers over my ass the entire time I was in the place (for the first time, I might add), made me happy. Giddy, almost, in light of the fact that I was pretty sure Dracula was warming up in the next room. Don't let the sun fool you. Dracula gets himself in a tizzy in a dark interior room... I could feel him.
   The blond lady stuck a device on my index finger to measure my oxygen level and pulse. My oxygen level as 99, and my pulse was 88. I had an explanation for the high pulse--scared. She understood, or said she did. She pointed to a couple of brochures on the table. She said I could keep them after the consultation, and that the surgeon would show me the pictures inside to describe what needed to be done.
   I was afraid to even glance at the brochures. I could wait until the surgeon made me look. Let's say I learned my lesson about over-anticipating when I opened the drawers in the cabinets in a urologist's office a few years back. Never, EVER do that! They have hooks, and prods, and stuff that looks like it's designed to hook a lost prod and give a tonsillectomy at the same time. It's always a bad idea to look in a urologist's drawers...
   I digress.
   She took my blood pressure and chatted merrily away about something. Then she told me to take my pants off and put on a gown.
   "Why?" I asked, staring at the gown she handed me. "This is a consultation."
   "He'll want to listen to your chest, and neck, and take a look at your legs."
   "He's got tests that show every inch of stuff under the skin," I said. It was a useless protest, but I had to make it.
   She shrugged. She smiled. She got out of the room.
   I put on the gown. The doctor came in. He's a nice guy, an older guy. They told me he doesn't do surgery anymore. He consults and makes recommendations. I watched his eyes as he talked to me. He wore glasses that made his eyes look huge, and he had that wide-eyed stare some older men get that make them look surprised even when they aren't. I looked at his name before I came in. He's from Italy originally, and I didn't--until that moment--realize that Lu is short for Luigi. That's the kind of random thought that shoots through my brain like a rocket with da red glare when I get scared. It explains why I laugh sometimes when I ought to scream.
   Hey, Luigi! Are ya gonna slash this little guy's throat, er what?
   This whole thing, this testing of my carotid artery, and discovery of blockages and hardening started during a routine exam in 2007, when my family doctor listened to my neck and heard a bruit. A bruit is a sound. In my case it was a whooshing sound. The sound of blood running through my carotid, and my doctor said he shouldn't have been able to hear it. He ordered an ultrasound. The ultrasound in 2007 showed some hardening, but not much. On April 11, 2012, we ran the test again. Blockages and hardening showed up. Unfortunately, the report didn't give numbers. It just said "significant" blockages. That meant I didn't know what Lu was about to recommend.
   He stuck his stethoscope all over my chest, back, and belly. He looked at my legs. Why? I don't know, and I didn't want to know. He listened to my neck. I said, "My doctor heard a bruit."
  He said, "I hear it too. It's loud."
  Thanks. Just what I needed. (sounds of the Star Spangled banner) And the rockets red glare!
   He sat down, crossed his legs and said, "You're skinny. Your blood moves fast through a small carotid. I always hear whooshing in the necks of skinny men. Always."
   That explains it! I thought. My doctor's office is in a small, rural town. It's a farming community, mostly. For whatever reason, there aren't a lot of skinny males in that town. I would wager--and I normally don't do that--I'm one of the few scrawny pencil necks my doctor has heard in the recent past. Not that I mind having everything checked out. Frankly, I've been through enough medical stuff that I don't want to take any chances when it comes to things cardio and vascular.

   The surgeon was looking at me as if waiting for something. I think he was waiting to see if I was about to start singing the Star Spangled Banner. Maybe not. Probably not.
   "No surgery," he said. "No angioplasty, either."
   I raised my hands in the air and shouted, SHOUTED, "YESSSSSS!"
   That seemed to startle him. If I hadn't been so tired, I would've hopped up on the table, gown and all, and danced.
   He did what most folks do when they're surprised by joy on the part of another: He tried to bring me back to earth. I have no idea why people do that, but it seems to be human nature.
   "You do have blockages," he said. "There is stenosis."
   I lowered my arms, but didn't wipe the smile off my face. How could I? Dracula was going to have to feast on someone else, at least for now.
   "You need to keep taking your statin (cholesterol reducer), and I want you to start taking one aspirin a day."
   "Regular aspirin?" I asked. Some folks take baby aspirin, and I wanted to be clear.
   "Yes. Regular aspirin. It really is the miracle drug. It does good things. One regular aspirin a day. If it upsets your stomach, let us know, and we can switch to baby aspirin. We'll test your artery again in a year."
   I started to get up, but he wasn't finished.
   "You will need to watch for signs of a stroke. If you lose your vision, like a black curtain being drawn, for ten or fifteen minutes, call us and we'll schedule you for surgery right away."
   I believe cartoon punctuation appeared over my head in a bubble. It contained several exclamation marks and question marks. I agreed, but what I was really thinking was, Like hell. If I go blind, I'm calling 9-1-1.
   Seriously. Maybe I'm being overly cautious, but since that appointment yesterday, I taught myself how to find 911 by feel on a keypad. Finding a phone when blind might not be easy, but if I do, I'll know how to push the buttons while I wait for my sight to come back or the good Lord to say hello.
   I left his office feeling good. Darn good. Happy-they're-not-going-to-cut-my-throat good.

    In an earlier post, I said I prefer to hear bad news first and that good news can wait. I meant that for myself, but I don't think my wife shares my philosophy. I make it a rule never to go into her classroom while she's teaching, but I broke that rule yesterday. I know she's been concerned. Concerned to the point she was having trouble sleeping. I went to her classroom during the last hour of the day, walked in as if I owned the room and said, "The doctor said to take an aspirin a day and get checked again in a year."
   I could see in her eyes that telling her then was the right thing to do. It was fun letting a few of her students see me, too. They thought I was a myth, but that's a different post for another day.

   For now, aspirin and Zocor are my hope for good blood flow to the brain. We'll keep checking my cholesterol--every 90 days--and I'll keep having my arteries tested. I plan to keep kicking around on this beautiful world for some time to come before I go on to the next one.

Monday, May 21, 2012

On the Eve of a Surgical Consultation

I don't like not knowing things. I don't like surprises, even good ones. It doesn't matter where or how my wife tries to hide my Christmas presents--I find them. After nearly 20 years of practice, I'm very good at making her believe I didn't know what was under the tree. That's not's a survival mechanism.
   I wasn't going to write this post, but I've already written about the scary medical tests:  Attitude Helps Even With Scary Medical Tests
   And I've already written about getting the results of those scary medical tests: Scary Medical Tests Were No Problem -- Now I Have Scary(ish) Results

   Tomorrow I meet with a surgeon for a consultation. He's going to tell me what should be done about the hardening and blockages of my carotid artery.
   I'm not scared. Scared isn't the right word for what I'm feeling. Anxious is a better word for what I'm feeling. I'm anxious to know what I'll have to do to solve the problem and remove the inherent dangers of having a major blood vessel not fully open. I've been researching the options. The options are pretty clear, and tomorrow's meeting will only clarify which option is best for me based on the results of the test.
   My anxiety is mundane and practical. I'm not very afraid that this problem will kill me. I'm not (very) afraid I'll die on the table if they have to do surgery. For one thing, lots of people have angioplasty, lots of people have stents put in, and lots of people have more drastic surgery. Almost all of them survive these things, and almost all of them are better off after the procedure than they were before.
   My anxiety has to do with whether or not I'll have to disrupt my work or writing schedule to take care of the problem. I worry that I'll have to spend time in the hospital--I've had my fill of that, between childhood epilepsy (which I beat) and Wernicke Enecphalopathy (which I beat as well). My anxiety comes from the unknown. I think, no...I'm pretty sure...I'll feel better when I know what the next step is, regardless of what it is.
   I'm less worried than my wife is. That's a little scary... She's a lot smarter than I am. If she's worried, that means I should be worried too. I'm lucky when it comes to worry about myself. I can turn it off. What I can't do is turn her worry off. I'll finish writing this and move on to some other thoughts. She won't feel better until I can produce a clean bill of health...and that's going to be a while even after my consultation tomorrow. Tonight I won't complain when she tries to share my side of the bed with me, and clutches me in her sleep. She's been doing that since last week when I found out there was a problem with my carotid artery. The first couple of nights I waited until she started to snore, then squirmed free like a trapped cat. Now I try to imitate my arms and legs and fall asleep along with them.
   My appointment is at 1:50 PM tomorrow at the cardio-vascular institute in a nearby town. I'm going to treat myself to a nice lunch at a good restaurant (Bavarian Inn in Frankenmuth--you should go!), and probably eat a bacon cheeseburger with fries, and have dessert. Those things aren't exactly healthy eating, and at some point I'll probably have to decide whether eating them is a quality of life issue I'll be willing to give up. For now at least, no doctor has told me I can't have them.
   Soon it will be time for me to go to bed. I won't squirm like a cat to escape my wife's clutches. I won't lie sleepless with worry. I'll sleep, and sleep well. Tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow's news is another topic, one I'll probably write about on this blog.
   Tomorrow is also a promise. It will be a good day.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Scary Medical Tests were no problem... Now I have Scary(ish) Results

Shortly after I had an angiogram CT and a carotid Doppler, I posted the story:

Attitude Helps...Even With Scary Medical Tests I meant what I said: the tests were no problem.

Now I have the results. The results are a little scary. The report said I have "significant blockages" of the carotid artery. That's an important artery, and the risks of blockages are serious. I'm at serious risk of a stroke. That's scary.
   I have a consultation next week with a surgeon. He'll give me more detail about how much of the artery is blocked, and he'll make recommendations.
   A lot of people, some people I know, have left their doctor's office with far worse, and far more frightening news than I left mine with on Tuesday morning. I was a little scared by the news. As I've mentioned before, I have memory problems related to Korsakoffs Disease...and believe it or not, I forgot there was a potential problem with my carotid artery.
   This is a testament for routine medical check-ups.
   In 2007, my doctor was listening to my chest for bronchitis. He, like most doctors, also listened to my neck. He said he heard a bruit. I thought bruit was a cheap cologne girls asked me to stop wearing when I was in 7th grade and clouds of it surrounded the classroom. Turns out a bruit is a whooshing sound, a sound that shouldn't be there.
   Back then, he ordered a carotid doppler. That's a test that uses sound waves, like a doppler radar does, to draw a picture of the artery. There was some hardening, but the bigger deal at the time was revealed in a CT scan...and those were the blockages in the arteries in my legs. There was pain associated with those, sometimes.
   The good news is that Lipotor, that statin, that drug that takes away cholesterol through poop, worked. It reduced the blockages in my legs to the point where the last test didn't mention them at all. In fact, the test I had last week came back with the result of "No significant blockage" of any of the arteries in my legs. I did a little dance when I heard that. It would've been a bigger dance if I hadn't heard about the significance of the blockages in my neck, but a dance is a dance no matter what news follows it, isn't it?
   But let's get back to the scary stuff...that isn't really that scary.
   How Did I Feel When I Got The News?
   I've been asked that by friends, and my answer might surprise you.
   Intrigued. I wasn't scared. I was surprised. The carotid stuff was off my radar. It wasn't denial on my part. It just wasn't on the radar. When it came back on the radar with the swiftness of the speed of sound--which is what doppler is--I was intrigued. I wanted to know what the next steps were. I wanted to know what the risks are (stroke), and I wanted to know if the stiff neck I get once in a while was a symptom. The stiff neck is a symptom...of a pillow stuck in the wrong place when I sleep. I have a new pillow; that's an easy fix.
   I was scared for about an hour when I realized that the blockages could become chunks in my bloodstream and cause a potentially fatal stroke any minute or never. That fear passed quickly. It doesn't fit with my personal philosophy to be afraid of death. For one thing, I'm a Christian and death isn't the end. For another, I refuse to walk around being afraid of sudden death because the possibility of that happening can't be avoided. The fear passed.
Gratitude and Hope
   Gratitude and Hope are good feelings, and I have both. I'm grateful that I have this problem in this country at this time. Now we have angioplasty and stents. Now we have drugs that can reduce cholesterol, and in some cases take it out of the bloodstream. Now we have stuff that will go through the arteries through a small incision in the leg and open blocked passages and clean stuff out that shouldn't be there. I joked, callously, that they might have to cut my neck open and go in with a spoon, but I know that's not the case. If the blockage is really, really bad, surgery might be required...but there won't be a spoon in sight.
   I hope (there's that word again) I don't have to have surgery, but if I do I'll have it with confidence in the doctor who does it, and the staff who helps him.
   I think the worst part of this will be the waiting for next Tuesday to arrive, wondering what option the surgeon will recommend. I don't like not knowing things. I'm the kind of guy who insists on getting bad news first. If you say to me, "There's good news, and there's bad news", I'll always want the bad news first. Bad news requires action, as far as I'm concerned. Good news can wait.
   I'm a lucky guy, and always have been. Even when bad things happen (like Wernickes), I've had good things come from them (like sobriety, and a deeper appreciation of my life) that I might not have had before.

I feel good. If it weren't for that bruit, that sound my doctor heard through a stethoscope five years ago, I don't think my neck would've been checked at all. But it was checked. It was checked again. It will, I'm sure, be checked on a regular basis for a long time to come. I'm glad it will be. I'm glad it was.

   I'm not going to kid you--I'm still a little scared. I'm scared enough to listen to medical advice, and that's a good thing. I'm going to continue to live and enjoy my life, and I do so with faith in God and trust in medicine. 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Peru Journal from 1987 (second post)

In the summer of 1987, I went to Peru to work on an archeology dig for 9 weeks. I kept a journal. It's sketchy, and I plan to publish it as a book later this year.

For now, enjoy this as I wrote it when I was twenty years old. I'll post a bit each day.
This is the second installment.
25 June -- Thursday
   Rained all morning. We couldn't go to work. 
   In the afternoon Wade, Karen and I (all Americans) walked to the train station. We had to cross a wooden suspension footbridge over the raging green and white waters of the Urabamba River. On the other side we saw about a hundred feet of Inca steps carved into the rock. They were rounded at the tops from centuries of rain and were really steep. We crawled up them for the hell of it.
   At the top there was a funny little man in a Volvo hat. He sold us beer and Cokes. The dark beer, by the way, is awful. It's sweet. But the white beer is like Miller beer minus the chemicals we so know and love. It's not bad.
   The little man, needless to say, was soon to become a very familiar face. From him and his son I learned a lot of Spanish. I could say: beer, cigarettes, matches, ashtray, another beer, more cigarettes, more matches, and I broke the ashtray. Everything I needed to know.
26 June -- Friday
   Actually got to go to work! Our site is called the Tableland, and it's the highest one. Damn long walk, all uphill. The Tableland was an hour walk up the mountains from our base camp. It was about 3,000 feet in elevation higher than where we started at breakfast, and the rise was about a mile of walking. in other words--it was a steep hike! We were handed buckets and trowels and got good and dirty scraping through the mud.
   We were all tired by the time we returned to camp. I read all afternoon. My hands had been bitten by something in the night and were swollen like hamburger patties. Couldn't write because I couldn't hold the pen.

27 June -- Saturday
   Worked until about 1:00 PM. I was helping Robert with a resitivity test. Electric current is pumped into the ground to test the resistance below the soil. We map out areas in a grid. Higher resistance means there's stone underneath and we were able to map any patterns we came across.
   Then all the Earthwatch crowd tried to catch the train to Aquas Callientes. It was incredibly crowded so Boy and I had to ride by grabbing hold of a door and hanging onto the outside of the train for 45 minutes. When the train stopped, someone came along and charged us  a fare. It seems that in Peru a first class ticket means you're in the train...and a second class ticket means you're on the train. Bob's and my tickets were second class. Thank God they didn't have third class.
   In Aquas Callientes, we got hot showers (clean again!), went to the hot pools built by the Incas, and soaked for an hour. Then we ate pizza and drank beer at a sidewalk cafe.
   Al still wasn't any brighter. In the hotel, Boy, Wade, and I asked him to take a shower. I told him he stank and really needed one. He refused to change his underwear until we left him alone in the room. He drank one beer at dinner and was so drunk we had to carry/drag him back to the hotel. Of course the beer comes in one-liter bottles and the kid had never had the stuff before, but is that an excuse for drunkenness? Probably.

28 June -- Sunday
   Took the bus up the twisting road to Machu Piccu. I think I was jaded from the ruins near camp because the ruins at Machu Piccu didn't particularly impress me. I thought the place was a bit of a tourist trap...although I did find a nice Italian girl who was so good looking I found myself following her around hoping to meet her. Didn't happen. Holy lookers, Batman!
   Wade, Al, and I walked up to Huanna Piccu (the sharp, peaked mountain they show in most photos of the ruins.) It only took me 30-45 minutes because a Peruvian about my age challenged me to a race. Al and Wade took an hour and a half to climb up. By the way, I beat the Peruvian by about a minute and a half.
   While I waited at the bottom for Wade and Al, a group of Americans wandered past. I was very tan, wearing a Peruvian poncho and hat, and sporting a goatee. The Americans thought I was a Spaniard or a Peruvian and started speaking to me in bad Spanish.
   They asked me to take pictures with them, and I did. After the pictures were taken I said, "By the way, I'm from Michigan. Would you please speak English?"
   God, were they pissed. Hee-hee-hee!

My Peru Journal from 1987 (first post)

In the summer of 1987, I went to Peru to work on an archeology dig for 9 weeks. I kept a journal. It's sketchy, and I plan to publish it as a book later this year.

For now, enjoy this as I wrote it when I was twenty years old. I'll post a bit each day.

20 June 1987 -- Saturday
  The director of the Reagan Scholarship (the scholarship that paid for the trip), his family, and I went from their home in Virginia to Washington DC. Stayed at the Holiday Inn in Balston. Phil is heading to New York tomorrow to meet with another Reagan scholar, and I'm leaving for Peru from Washington National Airport.
   I caught the subway to American University and walked the campus in search of my bosom buddies, Mark and Phil S. Both were shocked to see me because they had already lit a candle in a Catholic Church for me the day before. They assumed I was already in Peru.
   To be honest, I was beginning to get nervous about this Peruvian experience. What if I couldn't find beer anywhere? What if there weren't any cigarettes? These important matters weighed heavily.
   And if I had known what was to come, I wouldn't have been a bit nervous. I would've been scared shitless. And that, folks, is the God's truth.

21 June -- Sunday
   Got up with one hell of a hangover at 5:00 AM. Took a really long shower and said goodbye to Phil. Caught a cab to Washington National and flew to Miami.
   On the plane I sat next to a sixty-five year old woman who looked like she was trying to act like her granddaughter. She looked like a wrinkled Brook Shields. She merely grunted to my good morning and ordered a bloody Mary. After three drinks, she was the friendliest lady in the world. in fact, she told me not only her life story, but also her husband's and three kids'. Good practice for a writer...but boring as hell.
  In Miami at the AreoPeru line, I met a nice American woman. She was born in Peru but had married and became a U.S. citizen. She was shocked that I was going down there for so long and didn't speak a word of Spanish. Before we caught the plane, she offered me a ride to the hotel once we landed in Lima. Met some of the Earthwatch people (the volunteers for Earthwatch I would work with in Peru) before boarding the plane.
   In Lima, the woman I mentioned before did indeed give me a ride to the hotel, but that turned out to be an exciting experience, and a hell of an intro to Peru.
   She didn't mention the number of people who would turn out to meet her at the airport. She had two large suitcases and I had my rather large backpack. There was five people. We piled into a rusty, broken old VW bug. It was like a circus act.
   At the gate out of the parking lot, Jorge, our driver, lost the parking ticket. We all had to pile out of the little car and look for it. By the time we found it, there was about fifty cars and taxis behind us, honking their horns. I smiled big and gave them a little wave.
   The adventure was beginning.
   Once we got through the gate I made the mistake of twisting my neck enough to look out the window. There were twin machine gun nests near the ate and sandbags were piled high. Swell.
   Jorge said the traffic lights were ill and zipped through them whether they were red or green, without braking. At one point we heard gunshots fired behind us, and Jorge pulled to a screeching stop--nearly planting his wife on the gearshift nob--and whoever had fired the shots approached the car.
   I repeated my mistake of looking out the window and found myself staring down the business end of a machine gun. Jorge had me pretend I was drunk and told the cop he was fleecing a gringo. A bribe was offered, accepted, and we moved on.
   Got to the hotel only to find out that I had to pay $100 for the room. It's a seven star hotel. I would have left and tried to find a different place, but it was only fifteen minutes to curfew and the cops like to play "let's shoot the people on the street" immediately after curfew.

22 June -- Monday
   Flew to Cuzco. The elevation didn't bother me and I was pretty disappointed when my Camel cigarettes didn't give me any more satisfaction up there than at sea level. However, the elevation did give me a giddy, gee-isn't-this-wonderful-feeling that lasted all nine weeks.
   There was a festival in Cuzco and the streets by the hotel were closed, so we had to carry our packs the last few blocks up a crowded street.
   Checked into the Hotel Imperio. My roommate is Al, and he's quite the mashuganer. Took him fifteen minutes to take his money belt off. Met several of the people (British--the dig was sponsored by Oxford University) from the project.
   After lunch, the people at the hotel gave us coca tea. It's a tea made of the leaves from the coca bush and tastes like someone's front lawn. (That's the leaf they make cocaine from. Coca tea is common in Peru). I drank another cup before bed and didn't even blink all night, let alone sleep.

23 June -- Tuesday
   We (the 12 Earthwatch volunteers) went to breakfast with Dawn and Debbie. There were a lot of soldiers with machine guns in the main square, called the Plasa De Armas. We watched them parade.  Thank God for an actor's concentration, 'cause those boys made me want to giggle. Half of them began on the wrong foot when they marched and a few put their machine guns on the wrong shoulders when they were at attention. If we ever get into a war with Peru, let's send in a couple of patrols of Boy Scouts. Make the odds a bit more even.
   One of the officers got out of a truck near me. He had his medals, his weapons, his grimace, his bodyguards. This guy looked sharp...except his pants were undone and his (how do you put it politely?)...pecker...was flapping in the Peruvian breeze. I don't know how, but I kept a straight face.
   Then Deanna and I went to the market. She'd been carrying her passport, cash, traveler's checks, and airline tickets in her knee pocket. It was slashed open and she lost everything. We walked back to the hotel and she left with one of the Brits to see what she could do to stop the checks, etc.
   I decided that since I had lots of time until we caught the 12:00 train, I would wander around a bit and change some money. I took my money belt off (another friend had his jacket and shirt cut open and his money belt slashed and picked without feeling a thing.) I was going to be smart and wear my leather jacket. I shoved about three hundred dollars and the few receipts I managed to get in the inside pockets and outside zippered pockets of the jacket.
   Got on the train at noon, happy to be in Peru.

24 June -- Wednesday
   Took a walking tour of the sites. Archeology looks like crappy job after crappy job, but it seems to toughen you up. Ann, the director of the project, cracks me up. She talks like a BBC announcer. She's so aloof I think her only friends live on Mars. As we walked to the sites, she would not only explain the site, but also any turds on the ground on the way up. I guess the woman thought I was something of a smartass (accurately). At one point she passed a dried pile and bent down to look at it.
   "I think it's human," she said.
   I tried to act interested. "How can you tell?" Ever the perfect student, I am! Ahem.
   "After twenty years here," she explained, "you learn to identify biological waste."
   I considered. "You really know your shit, don't you?"
   Not even a smile. She didn't appreciate the humor. She really is British.

More tomorrow...

Friday, May 11, 2012

If You're Not Sure About your You're and your Ur, please read this!

I'm not a grammar cop, but I do like to help people. I enjoy Facebook, and I read a lot of posts from intelligent people who seem to have trouble with a few words. They're not the only ones who make little mistakes with words, and I'd like to take a shot at making things easier to understand than grammar books do.

Your -- means ownership of some sort. Your Momma was a typical, grammatically correct insult when I was a kid.

You're -- means You are. I get a chuckle when I see someone on Facebook post, Your a moron. That phrasing, that misused word makes the insult ricochet.

Ur-- Ur is often used as shorthand for you're. I suppose it's okay to use that if you're (you are) texting while driving in heavy traffic, while sitting next to a moron...but it's better to take the time. As it happens, Ur was a city-state in ancient times. If you're referring to your history lessons and want to speak about Ur, then you're fine to use Ur in a sentence. It's highly unlikely that's what you're doing with your Ur, but it is possible.

Now let's take a look at places versus ownership.

There -- Is a place that isn't here.
Their -- ownership.
They're -- They are

They're headed for their car over there.

Have a great day, wherever you are...but not wherever you're. (that's an entirely different can of worms, isn't it?)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Sexton Chronicles--Books 1-4

The series, Sexton Chronicles is a series of five books, fantasy, about three Americans in a world of swords and sorcery. Here's what each one is about:

Sexton (The first book in the series):
Three guys camping in the woods their senior year of high school dream of their futures after graduation. They find something unusual...a hole, a tear in the reality they know. One dives through and the other two follow him. The move changes the course of their lives. Displaced, separated from each other, they take different paths. Two become criminals, and the first is trained in law enforcement. Only one Protector of Sexton can find and execute the offworld criminals.
   ...But will he?

Sexton Spice (Book 2)

When Tom, John, and Andy learn that simple herbs and spices are illegal in Sexton, they decide the people deserve food that tastes good. They "invent" fried chicken, and start smuggling herbs. They're already under a death sentence, so why not?
   Their actions bring Sexton and Crescens one step closer to war.

Storm Clouds Over Sexton (Book 3)

Two assassination attempts, one successful. The three Americans and their smuggler friends are caught in events that could lead to war...a war provoked by powers beyond their comprehension.

Sexton Sand (Book 4)

The war with Crescens is not going well. Andy is a prisoner in Crescens, and the power of the druids grows stronger by the day.

Book 5, Sexton Retribution is on the way...

Sunday, May 6, 2012

This Line Always Gets Me In Trouble: "Zowie, Batman. Can't we take the elevator?"

In that 1960's show Batman--and I only saw it in repeats, thank you very much!--Batman and Robin almost always scaled the outside of a tall building. Not once did Robin say, "Zowie, Batman. Can't we take the elevator?"
   He didn't...but I have said it. Every time I've said it, I've found myself in trouble.

Kids, don't try this at home!
(Yes, these are true stories)

Manhattan, New York, New York
Abandoned Subway Tunnel by the East River
   Four of us were on a New York/Washington DC mentorship. We were bright young college kids, Reagan Scholars from Eureka College. We spent three weeks in New York, and two weeks in DC meeting with folks like the President of the World Bank, CEO of Chase-Manhattan Bank, and other folks like that to learn about leadership. We had a great time. We also had free time. This story could mean we had too much free time.
   You decide.
   My friend who, for purposes of this story we'll call "Tony" and I were walking along the East River. There was a stone wall on our left as we walked, and we found a grate, a big man-size grate, that had been pried open. It was old and rusty, but there was a tunnel on the other side. We decided to explore the tunnel.
   I know. It's not a terribly bright idea, but we were as cocky as we were the opposite of smart at the time. We wriggled our way in and started walking. The place was dusty, and musty. There was light coming from above us at various places in the tunnel, and lots of light from where we came in. At one point, we saw the symbol for anarchy (that star within a circle inside a capital A) painted on the tunnel wall. We were pretty sure it was an old subway tunnel, but we might have been wrong.
   We were brave, or at least that's what we told ourselves. ...But when we saw firelight up ahead and heard voices...we ran the hell out of there like we were five years old.
   We went back out the way we came in. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins. I looked at the granite blocks that made up the wall around the tunnel and decided to climb it. I'm a little guy, and I have strong fingers and legs. I started to scramble up the wall, moving in a zig-zag to get the best grips on the stone. Tony tried to climb the wall, but he couldn't quite make it. He went up in a straight line, but at about foot 20 of 40-50, he went back down and started to walk up the stairs (which, after all, weren't far away.)
   He was just coming up the top of the stairs when I was nearing the top of the wall. He saw a man and a woman sitting on a park bench on the sidewalk. They had their backs to the wall.
   The way Tony tells it (and Tony is an honest man), he wanted to warn me about the couple. He wanted to tell me I was about to pop up behind them and surprise the hell out of them. He didn't warn me. There was no way to do it without spooking them. So...he just smiled at them in a vague sort of way.
   I clapped my hands on the top of the wall. I'm not afraid of heights until I get to the top of whatever I'm climbing. I heard someone on the other side of the top of the wall from where I was hanging, and I thought it was Tony.
   I said in a loud voice, "Zowie, Batman! Can't we take the elevator!" Then I think I added the words Ta-da! And flipped over the top of the wall.
   The couple on the bench, the one two feet from where I landed when I jumped from the top of the wall to the sidewalk...screamed.
   I'm still willing to climb walls, but now I'm careful about who might be at the top. I don't like to scare people. My CPR card has expired.

Zowie, Part Two
C.O.P.E Instructor Training, 1991
Boy Scout Camp in Indiana
   We were training to be trainers for climbing/rappelling/confidence-building courses at Scout Camps. There was about twenty-five of us in the course. We were all BSA professionals: college educated, young, leaders of leaders, and loopy. The reason we were loopy was we were test rabbits for a novel (bad) idea. They took a syllabus for a week-long course and crammed it into a four-day weekend.
   The task at hand was to get the group over a 20-foot tall wall. There was eight men in my group, the group facing the wall. The wall was smooth, unlike the granite wall I climbed in New York. On the back of it at the top was a platform big enough for two or three men to stand. The goal was to get every man in our group over the top of the wall. We had no ropes, no ladders, no nothing. It was just us at the bottom of the wall, trying to get the group up and over it.
   The first couple of guys were pretty easy to get to the top. We made a human pyramid and they climbed up. The next part of the group was easy. We handed each other up to men at the top who could lift them. It was the last two that were tough to get over the wall.
This is a newer wall. Shorter and safer. 
   I was the second from the last. I'm five feet, six inches tall. I can't make it very high up a 20' wall, but I'm willing to toss myself around like a rag doll when necessary. The guys at the top held the wrists of a man and let him dangle down the wall. I jumped up and grabbed his ankles. The idea was that the last guy would grab me and climb up my back, then up the back of the guy I was holding onto, then help the two on the wall pull us up.
  That last guy jumped on my back. He grabbed my shoulders and pulled, and pulled, and pulled. I was losing my grip on the ankles of the guy being held at the top of the wall.
   Got the picture? Two guys hanging from a wall, and a third guy trying desperately to climb up the backs of the guys on the wall.
   I can tell you from personal experience...treated lumber doesn't taste good. Trust me on that one. Don't experiment. The last guy had his feet precariously and painfully perched on my narrow hips and was shoving down with his feet as he tried to grab the shoulders of the man who's ankles I was holding.
   Air gushed from my lung as I said, "Zowie, Batman! Can't we take the elevator?"
   Everyone laughed.
   ...Laughter loosens grips.
      ....BANG! WHOOF! @#$!
   We cussed like sailors as we crashed in a pile on the ground. The guy who was on my back--that last guy--took it the worst. He landed first and three of us landed on top of him. I only had two guys land on me.
   Yeah. You guessed it. I never heard the end of that one, and I was forever branded: "Robin."

How Do You Write A Book -- Steele's Way Is...

One chapter at a time, ladies and gents. I write one chapter at a time. One leads to another, and eventually the plot comes into being. I've talked about this before.
   I'll admit, Sexton Retribution, the fifth book in the series, which will be the final book in this series (another, different series is next) is coming slowly.
   Here's a glimpse of what I have so far of Chapter Fifteen.
   John and Andy know Tom is planning to go back to Crescens to kill the Archdruid. They're sure it's a bad idea, and seek Benecala. They want the old wizard to stop Tom before Tom gets himself killed.

Chapter Fifteen
   The air felt thick, and seemed to get thicker the closer they got to the door. Andy wasn't sure what kind of magic Benecala was working on the other side, but he knew he didn't like the way it felt. There was an almost amber hue to the air, amber like the sky before a severe storm. "Do you feel that?" he asked John.
   "Feel what?"
   Andy thought it was odd that John was three feet behind him. The corridor was ten feet wide--plenty wide enough for the two of them to walk side-by-side. "Why are you so far behind me?"
   "It's because you're scared!"
   "Of what?" he sounded a little hurt. "A closed door?"
   "Nope. ...Of the wizard behind the closed door." He stopped and turned to look at John. "Knock."
   "Like hell. You knock."
   "Don't wanna. You knock, ya big baby."
   "There you go again."
   "There I go again, what?"
   "There you go again, sir." John grinned.
   "Open the door and come in!" Benecala's voice boomed through the wood.
   John leaned forward and whispered in Andy's ear, "You first."
   "Oh no, no, no!" Andy returned in the same whisper. "after you."
   "I insist."
   "I insist too."
   The door flew open. Both Andy and John jumped. Andy saw magic floating like a fog above the floor. It was yellow, dim, ugly, and thick.
   "Come in here now," Benecala's growl drifted over the fog. "Simultaneously."
  Like two boys afraid of the Principal's office, but more afraid of what would happen if they didn't go in, John and Andy stepped through the door. John felt his knuckles accidentally brush against Andy's hand. They both flinched. Andy slugged him on the arm.
   The room was dim; lit by a couple of candles flickering on sconces on the back wall. Benecala was hunched over a table, staring into a bowl of water. It reminded Andy too much of the bad witch in the Wizard of Oz. He decided he would run like hell if the old fart cackled, drew a breath to cackle, or even coughed.
   Benecala looked up. he smiled, and the smile turned up a notch when he saw it made the two Americans uncomfortable. "Now that you have interrupted me, perhaps you will do me the service of telling me why you interrupted me."
   "The door was open," John said in a deadpan tone that made Andy want to giggle.
   "I am not amused."
   "Oh, but we are!" Andy grinned. He felt it melt off his face when Benecala only looked at him.
   The candles flared and hissed. The two Americans jumped. Andy looked at his feet to see if he made a puddle. Damn, that man is scary when he wants to be.

...I'll finish the chapter tomorrow.

Sexton Chronicles. Start the series. Buy the first book by clicking the Sexton book linked to this page.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Golf Tales From a Left-handed Hack

I'm a terrible golfer, but folks like to play golf with me. Unlike a lot of golfers, I never, ever get mad on the golf course. It's just not worth it. I laugh a lot on the golf course, and so do the people lucky enough to play with me.

It started with a company team golf outing
There were fourteen of us on the staff and the boss wanted to have a nice staff team building day on the golf course. I'd never played the game before, but I like green things, and lawns other people mow, so I looked forward to the outing. I went out and bought Golf for Dummies, and read it cover to cover.
   I rented a set of left-handed clubs, and one of those two-wheeled pull carts. Running through the mental list of notes from Golf for Dummies (my copy was in the car), I took my very first swing. I connected with the ball--which was, in and of itself, a miracle--and it soared. Soared! High in the air! Made a beautiful arc and went a lot farther than I ever thought my 120-lb frame could hurl anything.
   Where the hell that ball landed, no one ever knew. I'm pretty sure some neighbor found it with the lawnmower.
   I was hooked.

Golf Lessons
  I needed professional help. From a golf pro. Oh, what the hell. I needed professional help, but turned to a golf pro instead...
   My friend and I signed up for golf lessons from the same pro at the same time at an indoor driving range. It was winter and we were in Michigan, so an indoor range was one of our brightest ideas of all time. By then I had a starter set of clubs. They were from K-Mart. They were cheap, but the heads were titanium, and I thought that sounded pretty sexy. Tough and sexy. Titanium. Tougher than steel. That's what I thought, anyway.
Coming up on my toes was easy. Stopping...not so much
   "Follow through when you swing," the pro said. "Come up on your toes when you finish."
   He demonstrated what he meant. He had me practice it without a ball for several swings. When he thought I was ready, he put a ball on top of the white rubber stopper on top of the fake grass.
    I was all the way over on the right-hand side of the golf dome, the indoor driving range. It was a big, white, plastic dome built atop a network of girders. Golfers could whack to their heart's content. I pulled the club back, I took a swing. I followed through.
    ...I came up on my toes when I made contact with the ball. Came up on my toes...and...
...kept right on going.
    The head of a golf club moves at warp factor 4 (scientific fact I just conjured) when it whacks the ball. It's still moving at a damn good clip when it finishes its journey. If you watch slow-motion video of a good golf swing, you'll see the shaft of the club curve with velocity.
   The KLANG sound was the sound of the titanium head of my driver colliding with a steel girder. I came up on my toes, alright.
   The fillings in my teeth all jumped together when the club head stopped, forcefully and immediately, with the steel of the girder. If my bladder hadn't vibrated itself into the previous day, I might've tinkled. The vibrations went through my dental work, down my neck, said howdy to my balls--golf and other--and untied my shoes. It was bad. It was ugly. It was painful.
   The pro fell to the floor, howling with laughter that would've made Rasputin blush. His wife was working in the outer office. She ran into the dome to find out what had happened to her husband. All I heard her say, from the puddle I became when I fell to the floor next to Laughing Boy the Golf Pro was, "Honey! Are you okay? You never laugh this hard!"
   Dented my driver, but not my ego. When I'm anywhere near a golf club, my ego is in the car.

No Time To Shout "FORE" When You Hit Yourself
  The friend I took lessons with has something I don't have--talent. He's not a great golfer, but he's achieved that which we dreamed of when we paid for our lessons. He's an average golfer. I'm not an average golfer. I'd love to be an average golfer, but I have a feeling that threshold is above my grade. Waaaaay above my grade.
  It was a later lesson. I was over hitting my driver on the girder. I'd learned to come up on my toes and not fall on my ass. My confidence was growing.
   My friend was in the stall to my left as I stood on the artificial grass with my ball teed up. There were waist-high wire mesh barriers between each stall. He's right-handed. When we teed up, we faced each other. I watched him make a beautiful swing and knock his ball cleanly into the plastic of the far wall of the dome. he was watching me as I took a mighty swing.
   When a lefty swings and hits the ball with the toe of his club, the ball squirts off to the left. I toed the ball. It flew straight at my friend. It didn't hit my friend because it collided at the speed of sound with the metal mesh barrier between us. Bored with the barrier between him and me, it flew by me and bounced off the barrier on my other side, bounced off that, and...
...Smacked me in the right thigh
   I did what any man would do when he's hit with a tiny white cannonball in the thigh. I screamed like a little girl and collapsed in a yammering puddle in the middle of the golf stall.
   My friend and the golf pro, were too stunned to do anything but stand and stare for almost a full minute. Then they both fell to the floor in howling fits of laughter. That time, the pro's wife didn't bother to enter the dome. She saw me come in.

Eventually, we played on a real course
   My friend and I played a lot of golf together. We made a good team actually, when we played two man best ball. He can drive a ball straight and true and a long way. I can chip, pitch, and putt very well. That took us a season to figure out. At first it was just him and his skill, and me with my sense of humor and tenacity.
   The hole was a dog-leg to the left. That boded well for me. As a lefty, I have a tendency to hit the ball to the left. I had hopes that my ball would go through the woods (for indeed it went for trees like they were magnetic), and land close to the green.
   The markers on the tee box were made of 4"x4"'s, cut at an angle on the ends. I pulled my club back and took a mighty swing.
   The ball left the club face and flew at high speed directly into one of the tee box markers! I saw it hit that angled piece of wood. I dove out of the way! That ball bounced off the wood, flew over where I had been standing seconds before...and landed thirty yards behind where we started! Damn wood.
   I stood up, brushed myself off, nodded to my friend...walked thirty yards behind where we started and said, "I'm still up. Steeeerike two!"
   I was on the green in 12.

Water in front of the green? No problem!
   We played a lot, my friend and I. I bought a set of irons for $500. A set of Tommy Armor Silver Scots. I love those clubs. Can't hit 'em worth a damn, but I love 'em. I have a good set of drivers, too. TI Bubble Burner, etc. Nike shoes. Endless supply of golf balls.
  We played a course we hadn't played before. There was an impressively wide water hazard in front of the green. The first thing I did was pull a ball from my bag and toss it into the water. I figured I should sacrifice one to the water gods on purpose, for surely it was going to happen with or without my consent.
  The sacrificial ball worked.
   My friend has long since ceased to be amazed at what happens when he golfs with me, by the way.
   I hit the ball badly. It headed straight for the water...skipped like a stone once, twice, three times, four, five, and...six. It rolled up the embankment of the green, and stopped at the outer edge. I looked at my friend and grinned.
   "Don't rub it in," was all he said.

We were in league...with jerks
   The only reason I let him talk me into joining a league was that we would be paired. The league was made up of two-man teams. Each player on the team hit his ball, and they played form whichever position they liked better. My friend and I were winning. We were winning because he could get us within 50 yards of the green in one or two shots, and I could put the ball in the hole in one or two shots from there. Kidding aside, I'm great with my lob wedge, and darn good with my putter.
   There was a team of two jerks on the league. We hated playing with them because one or the other of them was sure to throw a club at least once, sometimes twice, and once three times, during the round. They cussed. They bickered. They got mad at us if we played well.
   My friend and I both teed off on a short par three. My friend's ball landed in the water in front of the green. My ball landed near the green and rolled back into the water.
   The jerks were overjoyed. "Hit one from the tee and take the penalty," one advised.
   "The hell we will," I said. "We'll play my ball."
   "From the water?"
   "Damn right." I walked up like I knew what I was doing. My friend showed nothing but complete confidence.
   I took my shoes off, and took my socks off. I rolled up my pants legs. Handed my glasses to my friend, and pulled my lob wedge out of the bag. I looked at the golf ball with about three inches of water covering the top. It was resting on top of the mud under the water.
   In all seriousness, I did not for one second believe I would get that ball out of there. What I really, really, really wanted to do was splash water all over the jerks we were playing against. I wanted to douse 'em and douse 'em good.
   I screwed up. I blasted the ball right out of the landed on the green, rolled merrily over it...and went in the hole.
   I'll confess--I laughed pretty hard at the dripping wet, jaws dropped jerks.


Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What I Should Have Asked Was: How Big Is The Truck?

  There have been many times in my life when I didn't ask enough questions. There have been many times in my life when I asked no questions at all. It's not because I'm a know-it-all. It's more a matter of rolling with things when they come my know, sometimes.
   So one Friday evening a few years back when my wife said, "I'm expecting a delivery from Home Depot tomorrow morning, can you be here? I forgot I won't be home."
   I said, "No problem."
   If I had been paying attention, I would have taken note that she provided a couple of important details. I wasn't paying attention when she said:
  • "Have them put the pallets on my side of the driveway."
  • "Don't ask how much the stuff cost."
  • "Don't worry. I'll move it to the backyard myself. I bought a wheelbarrow."
   I'm a dude. If there's work involved, work involving pallets and trucks and wheelbarrows, and I don't have to do the work, I have stopped listening. I might look like I'm paying attention, but I'm really watching a rerun of a Tom & Jerry cartoon in my head.
   Saturday morning around 7 AM, while I was lying in bed relishing having the bed to myself and somewhere between dreamland and wakefulness, the phone rang. I remembered something about a delivery of stuff for the garden my wife was going to build in the backyard, but that's about it. I answered the phone.
   "This is Home Depot. Is this Mr. Steele?"
   "The truck just left. Should be there in half an hour or so. Will you be ready?"
   "Ready?" I shrugged, but he couldn't see it. I looked at my pen on the dresser. I was ready to sign for the delivery and watch him unload the truck on the driveway. No sweat, bro. "Yeah. I'm ready."
   I made some coffee, poured a cup, and took a seat on our front porch to wait for the truck with the stuff for her garden.
   At this point, I call your attention to the photo in this post. The photo, as you can see, is of a truck. A truck with a flatbed trailer and a forklift on the back. That's not the truck that delivered the stuff to our house that Saturday morning...but it's close!
   I spilled my coffee when the Home Depot truck pulled up in front of the house. It was stacked with pallets. A lot of pallets. There was a forklift on the back of the truck. The driver parked parallel to the front of the house, got out of the truck, and walked up to me with a clipboard in his hand.
   "Are you Mr. Steele?" he asked.
   "Yep. You came to the right place." I eyed the truck. "Which one of those pallets is ours?"
   "Which one?" He looked at me like I was nuts. "She didn't tell you?"
   "Tell me what?" I was too dumb to be worried.
    "This is your delivery."
   "Uh-huh. Which pallet is ours?"
   His eyebrows went up, but he didn't tell me his thoughts. "All thirteen of 'em are yours."
   I said nothing. I was too occupied with the feeling of scalding coffee--from the cup that fell from my numb hand--on my feet. I looked at his face to see if he was serious. I looked at the truck to see if it was a mirage. He was serious, and it wasn't a mirage.
   I never asked her what kind of garden she was building in the backyard. I never asked her how much she spent (about three grand, I later found out--and that was, by the way, fine with me), and I never asked if she was going to need a hand building the garden (she didn't.)
   "Put 'em on that half of the driveway," I said. "Take your time. I'm going to get some coffee. Want some?"
   He didn't want any coffee. He probably would have spilled it on the seat of the forklift because he was laughing pretty hard. I did just what I said I would do. I got some more coffee and took a seat on the porch as I watched him fill my wife's half of the driveway with pallets.
   Thirteen pallets, to be exact. There were pallets of bags of sand. There were pallets of flat stones. Plumbing parts. Plants. Round stones. Top soil. Other soil. Thirteen pallets of stuff. Half an hour later, I signed for the delivery and went back in the house to pretend none of it happened.
   I wish I had a photo of the Japanese water garden she built in the backyard. I'm sorry to say I don't. It was her summer project, and she did a great job. She was happy as a clam hauling the stuff to the backyard one pallet at a time. The thing she built was a thing of beauty. It was divided into thirds. There was a hunk, about waist high and five feet around that held plants, and had a waterfall to the second hunk, a pond with goldfish in it. The third hunk had sand, and rocks, and a little rake for making those designs in the sand that make sense only to the person with the rake. I plopped a golf ball in there once, but she didn't see the humor.
  I make it a rule to let her projects be her projects. I offered once to help her haul stuff to the backyard from the driveway, but she refused the offer. I did a happy dance when she refused the offer, but I got credit for making the offer.
   But I'll tell you this: when my wife asks me to be home for a delivery, I have questions. I have lots of questions!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Good Old Barber Shops: A Tribute

There's an old joke that goes like this:

"There are two barber shops in a small town hundreds of miles from anywhere. One barber has a terrific haircut, and the other barber has a terrible haircut.
   Which barber do you let cut your hair?
The one with the bad hair cut.
Because he's cutting the other guy's hair!"

I grew up in Kalamazoo, went to college in Eureka, IL, lived in Saginaw, MI; Midland, MI; Elgin, IL; Racine, WI; Cleveland, OH; and now a small town in the thumb of Michigan. With the exception of the Chicago suburb, I've found a terrific old-fashioned barbershop in each location.

There's nothing fancy about the barber shops I like. I'm not picky. I want a haircut to be done like they've been doing them for a long time. I want a barber (male or female) to cut my hair. I don't need or want them to wash my hair, or ask me what kind of "look" I want. Just let me wait--if I have to wait at all--in a rickety old chair that's seen better days as I thumb through a National Geographic or car parts catalog.
   I want the hair on the back of my neck to be shaved with a straight razor. I want to sit in an old barber chair that tilts back a little bit and has wrought iron for a footrest. I'll pay about ten bucks for a haircut. I don't want to walk through a mall to get to my barber. I want to be able to look out the window at the street, and see that old barber pole out there.
   When I was a kid, I went to Beck's Barber and Beauty to get my hair cut. I wouldn't go anyplace else while Beck's was still open. Didn't have much choice, and I didn't care. My Great Grandfather was Willard Beck, the barber part of Beck's Barber and beauty. Maybe that's why I want an old-fashioned barber shop. I want to remember Grandpa Beck when I walk in. It's not hard to do.
   In Midland, I went to Dave's Barber shop. Dave is retired now, or maybe he's passed on. The shop is still there, and pretty much unchanged. When we lived in Chicago, I usually got my haircut at one of those mall barber shops. I dreaded that. It just didn't seem right. In Wisconsin and Cleveland, I was able to find a barber shop like my great grandfathers. Always felt good walking in, and looked and felt better when I walked out.
   Here in this small town, we have an old-fashioned barber shop. I like the place, and I like the barber. The fact that the barber's last name is--really!--Barber, only makes it that much better. He does a great job cutting my hair, and still uses a straight razor to shave the back of my neck.
   The first few times I went to Paul's Barber shop in town here I had to wait. I don't like having to wait for the barber. I don't like waiting for anything, but he doesn't take appointments. It's first come, first served. That's okay... I try to time it so I'm the only one in the place.
   Paul makes that pretty easy for me. He's usually there at 6 AM. You won't find hours of operation posted on his door. If he's there, he's open. If he's not there, he's closed. He's usually there. I like to go in at 6:00 or 6:15. I make sure the bell on the back of the door rings. He doesn't live in the shop, but there's an apartment upstairs where he watches TV until someone comes in. Sometimes I shout, "Hey PAUL!" He comes down and greets me with a smile.
    Paul doesn't use scissors much. He has a trimmer, and several different combs. You tell him how long you want your hair to be, and he's got an attachment for the job. I gave him one of my great grandfather's old trimmers. He was delighted to have it, and I was delighted to see it put into use again after all these years. Paul was delighted to get it because it's the same make and model as the old one he has! They don't make that trimmer anymore, so he's really glad to have two of them. Still charges me ten bucks, and that's okay.
   He's always got a good joke or a story to tell while he cuts my hair. I like that. I like listening to the other men in the barber shop, if I happen to be there when others are there. I don't talk much. I just listen. There are few off color jokes (though there are some). They talk about stuff going on in town, or the crops and how they're doing, or about cars, or sometimes sports.
   I'm looking forward to that haircut tomorrow. So is my wife. She keeps threatening to pluck those long eyebrow hairs of mine that have decided to go rogue. I hate it when she does that. It would be one thing if I was awake when she grabs 'em and yanks, but noooo! She waits until I'm asleep. Then...schtoink!