December 31, 2009

Educational Thursday

Last night, I was watching the weather portion of the local news.  The substitute weather guy, having nothing else to report but the cold and snow flurries that plague this section of the midwest during this time of year, made a big deal of how today, December 31, was a blue moon.  One of the anchor persons asked him why it was called a blue moon, and of course, this idiot hadn't done his homework, so he harumphed helplessly for a few seconds before he said "I don't know", ending his segment with awkward dead air, as the anchor person thought that he might have a clue as to what a blue moon was since he had brought it up.  So they both sat there and stared at each other until the floor director threw something at them.

Besides the entertainment value, this started me thinking that I hadn't written any posts in a very long time that could be considered even semi-educational, so I did some research on the blue moon and wanted to present it to you today, in terms even the idiot substitute weather guy could understand.  Plus, you will receive an added value educational tidbit that you can whip out at your New Year's Eve party tonight to delight and amaze your friends and acquaintances.

In a nutshell, the solar and lunar calendars don't line up, because whatever geniuses who thought up calendars back in the 11th or 12th centuries couldn't get their shit together and make them the same.  As a result, one calendar or the other is lagging behind and although the moon is doing it's thing like it always has been, it seems like there's an extra full moon in any particular month every couple of years.  And 2009 is one of those years that it seems like we have 13 full moons instead of 12. The 13th moon is called a blue moon, no matter what month it occurs in.  And this year, it just happened to be in December.

Okay, if you're with me so far, then you're probably saying, "Alright smart ass, that's all well and good, but why is it called a blue moon?"  Well, if you'll give me a fucking second, I'll explain that too.  Astronomers during the same backward ass centuries were always caught with their pants down when the extra full moon showed up because they couldn't remember that it had happened before because it had been a couple of years since the last one and they must have had bad memories due to their not having enough zinc in their diet or some shit like that.  So, pissed off, they started calling it the "betrayal moon".  And through changes in language over the millenniums, "betrayal" turned into "blue".  This would be the same as that party game, where you get twenty or so people together, and one person whispers a phrase like "I feel a bout of explosive diarrhea coming on" into the next persons ear, and by the time it gets to the last person, it's turned into "You suck donkey balls".

The second, more popular explanation, is that after the volcano Krakatoa blew up in 1883, the earth was partially shrouded in dust particles for a couple of years that was thick enough to make it appear that the full moon was a blue color.  Fortunately, all of the dinosaurs had been killed off in the first big dust shroud several million years prior to that, so the worst that happened was people coughed a lot for a while.

Bonus Educational Item:

Did you know that every full moon has a nickname?  Not cool nicknames like "Gus" or "Boomer", but nicknames all the same.  Here they are by month:

January - Old Moon
February - Wolf Moon
March - Lenten Moon
April - Egg Moon
May - Milk Moon
June - Flower Moon
July - Hay Moon
August - Grain Moon
September - Corn Moon
October - Harvest Moon
November - Hunter's Moon
December - Oak Moon

Thus endeth the lesson.  I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year's Eve.  Jan and I will be celebrating here at home by watching "New Year's Rockin' Eve" and  being alternately horrified and fascinated by the still strokey Dick Clark.  Have fun and avoid random gunfire.

December 30, 2009

Holiday Crush

Wow.  Here it is, another night before another 4 day holiday.  It seems like I just had a 4 day holiday.  And do you know why that is?  Because I DID just have a 4 day holiday.  Just last week!  Now I know that this is just fine and dandy with a lot of people, but it really does me no good because I make my living as a contractor.  And when contractors go on a forced holiday, they don't get paid.  But I guess that's my fault for not having a regular job like everyone else, where you actually get paid holidays and paid vacations and dental and medical and all the office supplies you can steal ...  Fucking economy anyway.

Seriously though, there is something totally fucked up about this time of year.  There are too many holidays all crammed together in just over the space of one month. And after all of the joy and the good tidings, and the food, and the booze, and the perpetual hangover, you extrude out the other end of it staring Old Man Winter straight in the eye, with no respite in sight until the last damn day in May.

That is unless you get totally bullshit holidays like Casimir Pulaski Day, or Presidents Day, or Washington's Birthday, or St. Valentines Day off.  And maybe you get Good Friday off if you can dig up your Christian-in-Good-Standing membership card and show it to your boss.  I once worked for a place that would give you Good Friday off if you swore up and down on a stack of Bibles that you were actually going to church.  The guy who held my job before me did so swear, but he went golfing instead.  And when he showed up on Monday with a sunburn (the sun had been out Friday ... Rain Saturday and Sunday), they actually fired his ass!  True story.

Anyway, as I was saying, you get these great holidays all jammed together in a little over one month, and then you go back to work.  It's cold, it's snowing, you're depressed and suicidal.  It's just not a fun time.

Let's look at a year's worth of REAL holidays and see where they hit.  January, May, July, September, November and December.  That leaves SIX FUCKING MONTHS with no holiday time in them!  This has to be fixed and I have the solution.  And no one less than the President of the United States and Congress can make this happen.  They all get their heads together and make sure that there is at least one holiday per month that is important enough so that everyone gets it off.

Here's my proposal, month by month:

January - New Years Day.  There's no way of changing this around unless we want the earth to spin off it's axis and the universe to fly apart like the rotary engine in a 1972 Chevy Vega.

February - Presidents Day.  Why do we honor only two presidents?  There are 44 of them.  That ought to be worth a four day weekend.

March - Christmas.  Let's face it.  No one knows when Jesus was born.  Someone drew a slip of paper out of a hat 2,000 years ago and called it December.  It can just as easily be March.  Another four day weekend.

April - Easter.  The birth and the death of Christ ... back to back.  Neat and tidy, and good for four days.

May - Memorial Day.  Already there.  Cool beans.

June - Not much happened except D-Day in 1944.  But that was a pretty big deal at the time, and when you combine it with Memorial Day in May, and Independence Day in July, you've got a patriots trifecta!  Good for another four days.

July - Independence Day.  And we all know that there are just as many drunken parties and tragic fireworks related accidents on the 3rd as there are on the 4th, so let's have Independence Day Eve AND Independence Day!

August - Shit, this is a hard one.  Nothing historically earth shattering happened.  But it's the month that WOODSTOCK was held in upstate New York in 1968! That's got to be good for at least one holiday!

September - Labor Day.

October - Halloween, of course!  I can't believe this is not a national holiday already, so the sooner it becomes official, the better.

November - Thanksgiving.  "Nuff said.

December - Okay, we moved Christmas, but there are still other religious events to celebrate like Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.  Both of these put together ought to be good for at least a month of "feel good" days and at least 4 solid days off from work.

There.  That was so incredibly simple, I can't believe no one has thought of it before.  But there's no time to waste.  If we start writing letters to our congresspeople now and lighting up the switchboard at the White House, we can be sitting here next year at this time ... looking at a simply marvelous 2011 filled with great, well spaced holidays.

And please ... no thank you's are needed.  Your smiling faces are thanks enough!

December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

Although it occurs during my most unfavorite season of the year, this day and evening remains one of the best days for me.  When I was a boy, it was exruciating to sit through, and seemed to never end.  It was the one night that I didn't mind going to bed, because the sooner I did, the quicker my parents would put the presents under the tree and I could enjoy the next day reveling in all of the wonderful things I had received.

Times change and you get older.  That's when the anticipation that is Christmas Eve is better than Christmas itself.  And unless you have small children, Christmas is somewhat of a letdown.

Some people look back on the year that has passed on New Year's Eve, but I do it on this day, and try to put into perspective what has happened to me.

2009 was better than most.  I was able to start and complete projects that I had only thought about for years.  I started a new job that will allow me to use my talents to others benefit.  And I was fortunate enough to go on an extended adventure with my wife, where even after 35 years, we were able to learn more about each other and tighten our bond, as we visited places we had never seen, and may never see again.

I watched an old friend slowly drift away from me, but as often happens in life, I forged a new friendship  with another.  And I watched my son continue to develop into his own person and to find someone that he truly cares about.

So tonight, Jan and I will sit by the fire, safe from the cold outside.  We'll eat pizza and watch movies and banter back and forth like we always do. And I'll wring every last minute from this wonderful day and remember for a while what a lucky person I am to be right here ... right now.

Merry Christmas to all my visitors.  Have a wonderful evening.

December 19, 2009

Stuff You Buy That Makes You Look Uncool

So, I've been constipated the last couple of months.

I've been trying to ignore it, but I hate that stopped up feeling that you get ... like something isn't right.  And, indeed, something isn't right.  I was reading something, somewhere a couple of months ago that stated a normal person moves his/her bowels two to three times a day.  I thought that was kind of hard to believe, but this nugget of information stayed with me, and crept into my thoughts as my stopped uppedness continued unabated. Finally, a few days ago, I stopped at Walgreens and bought some fiber supplements.  I didn't know what to get, so I bought some of the capsules (psyllium husks) and a big bottle of that powder junk that you stir in your drinks, but it's not supposed to make it all gummy or taste funny (corn dextrin).  I wanted to make sure that if one wouldn't work, the other would step up to the plate and get the job done.

Remedies in hand, I stepped up to the checkout counter, where the cashier looked at my two huge bottles of fiber, and then grinned as she averted her eyes to the counter and put the bottles in a bag.

Me:  What?

Cashier:  Nothing.

Me:  I'm plugged up, okay?

Cashier:  Well, this ought to solve it.

Me:  I'll let you know next time I'm here.

Driving home, I thought that at least she had the honesty to come right out and say what other cashiers may only think when you buy things like that.  Some items are just embarrassing to purchase, even if they are right there on the shelves, ready to help you solve what every day dilemmas you may face.  So, I started thinking what other items I purchase that I'd just rather not if I didn't have the need for them.  I've listed them in no particular order of embarrassment ...

Toenail Clippers

Prophylactics

Okra

Barbie

Personal Lubricant

Zima

Jock Itch Spray

Ex-Lax

Nose Hair Clippers

Vagisil

Anti-diarrheal capsules

Cock Ring (not available at Walgreeens)

I'm sure there are some that I've missed, but that doesn't mean I haven't bought them.

By the way, the fiber is working beautifully, and I'm living la vita loca once again.

December 18, 2009

The Kotex Kid

When I was a boy of seven or eight, my mother discovered that I was good for something other than a target for taking out her frustrations with life on a daily basis.  It slowly dawned on her that I had developed basic cognitive skills and motor function and could, therefore, be sent to do errands that she either had no time to do or just plain didn't want to do.

So, I was sent off to the local grocery store, an IGA, which sat about a mile from our house on the other side of one of the busiest intersections in our small city.  Not only did I get  lessons in thrifty shopping and money handling, but real life experience on how to avoid death by automobile.

Most of the time, these trips were to gather basics such as eggs or milk.  Sometimes I was given a toughie thrown in the mix, like canning lids or Playtex gloves.  I usually never minded these shopping excursions.  I liked the atmosphere of the grocery store and always stopped to look at things in that one toy aisle that every grocery store has, or at the magazine rack to see if they had any new comic books.

However, there were trips that I did mind.  And those were the once monthly treks for the Big Box 'O Kotex.

I will admit that I was never really sure of this stuff's exact purpose.  I knew it was for women.  I knew it was used somewhere on the body of women.  And I knew that it probably didn't have anything to do with pee or poop. You would have thought that if I was going to have to buy this shit in the economy size carton, that she would have given me a little crash course on it's purpose of being on the grocery shelf.  But that wasn't her style.

It didn't really matter though, because it was for girls. And because of that, I didn't like buying it from the very start.  It just didn't look right for a guy to be plopping this stuff down on the belt all by it's lonesome, and this was usually bore out by the cashiers reaction. Sometimes, they'd try to act like a little boy buying a box of women's rags was nothing unusual at all.  But I saw right through that shit.  Other times they'd smile at me, or worse yet, tell me that I was such a nice young man ... picking up things for my mother when she didn't feel well.  What the fuck?  "Didn't feel well"?  She seemed okay to me ...  a little crabbier than usual, but not sick. But it didn't matter, regardless of what they did or didn't say.  My skin crawled no matter what.

After about a year of this, I'd had it up to my neck with the continued humiliation, real or imagined.  I told my mother that my days aiding and abetting her Kotex jones were over.  She'd just go have to buy them for herself. At first she tried to bribe me with extra money to buy comic books, but even the temptation of a Batman double quarterly special couldn't convince me to whore out anymore.

This was the first time that I had really stood up to my mother.  And to my great relief, she didn't beat me half to death.  She said nothing more about it ... and I was free of that particular humiliation.

Fast forward 15 years.

And there I am again.  In the grocery store.  Placing the single box of "Stayfree Mini-Pads with Wings!" (a.k.a. ... KOTEX) on the conveyor belt.  For my wife.

Just when I thought I was out of it.  They sucked me back in again.

December 13, 2009

1,000

December 11, a day that will live in infamy.  At least for me.  That was the day that I received my 1,000th hit on my blog.  Let's see, when did I start this thing?  Oh yes, April 25th of this year.  So that works out to approximately 2 hits per day or 6 hits per post.  Wow, that's kind of pitiful.  Good thing that I didn't opt for the advertising option from Blogger, otherwise I'd have not only a blog that hardly anyone reads, but a cluttered up blog that hardly anyone reads.

This morning, I have been thinking about what devices I could employ to make the second thousand hits easier to obtain than the first thousand.  I could try to write better posts, but that's too much work.  Maybe I could include more topical subjects in the content.  For example, in the last month, if I had just added a simple "Tiger Woods" to the title of each post, or had sprinkled his name liberally in the text, even if it had no bearing to what I was talking about, I'm sure I would have boosted my readership considerably.  Let's see how that looks.  "Yadda, yadda, yadda, TIGER WOODS.  Blah, blah, blah, TIGER WOODS".  But that's not my style.  I'd be more likely to sprinkle Natalee Holloway's name throughout the post (I'll give you a minute to go Google her name you forgetful, heartless bastards).

Perhaps if I held "contests" every once in a while ... then people would read to get free stuff, like five dollars off your next visit to Fred's Family Funland.  But that's pretty localized and probably wouldn't work for a global readership.  But a lot of people do this successfully, like this person.  Of course, it didn't hurt that this particular post was one of the five funniest that I have read this year.  There's always a catch.

For a few seconds, I felt sorry for myself, because I'm a man blogging in a woman's milieu.  But I have to face the facts that women usually are more insightful, have better stories that don't gross everyone out, and are normally better writers than men.  And they have more "cards" to play.  Take this one for example.  Sure, she has a career behind the scenes in local television, and yes, she does possess a very dry sense of humor and conveys that very well on virtual paper, but when she has a bad idea day, she has a new baby girl to fall back on.  And who can resist an infant?  Not me, and apparently, neither can the rest of the world.  Unfair, but I say to her ... "well played".

There are other women who have more readers than a medium size city.  At first I couldn't figure out how this person had pulled in so many people (and I say that in an envious way), but then I read this, which is a damned masterpiece, and I can fully understand why she has such a huge following, which includes me.

But, the three people I've cited above have something unique about them.  And that is, they have their own style.  They write what they know and they don't try to mimic other successful writers.  I can't tell you how many blogs I have read that are blatant wanna-be rip-offs of this very successful blogger, which to me is just sad.

So, I guess I'll just keep plodding along with my blog. Sometimes I'll come up with a good post ... most times I won't.  But I'll continue to have fun with it, which was the whole purpose in the first place.  And maybe, just maybe, the second thousand reads won't be as hard to come by as the first thousand.

Now, let me tell you about this contest I have planned where you can win a 5 dollar Starbucks card and an evening with Tiger Woods ...

Alternative Universe Hitler

People often ask me "Rob, where do you get the ideas for your blog?"  Actually, no one asks me that, but it seemed like a good way to start this particular post.  It's another late night Saturday, and I was sitting up here in my roost, wondering whether to turn in or wait up until "Songs of Love" comes on WFMT at midnight.  While I was waiting, I decided to look for pictures of Adolf Hitler, for no particular reason.  This same "no particular reason" mentality caused my feverish hunt for pictures of Rachael Ray's boobs on a similar Saturday night several months ago.

Well, I found some that I hadn't seen before.  And that's saying something because I was a real Adolf Hitler aficionado in my youth, which just confirms how troubled I was at that age.  Anyway, I was looking at a couple of these pictures, and wondered what would have happened if Adolf had decided to go into advertising or children's book publishing.  Things would have been a whole lot different.

For example, what would have happened if AH had pitched the RCA people his version of what is probably the greatest advertising campaign of the 20th century?


His Master's Voice



Der Fuhrer's Voice

And the National Socialist Party was always fond of reporting about Hitler's love of children and his concerns for their future.  That must have been why he organized "Hitler Youth", Germany's answer to Cub Scouting.  But really, what if Hitler had developed an earlier version of a very popular book series ...



If you loved Where's Waldo
You would have loved ...



Where's Adolf?

Did you find him?  It was a little difficult.  Try to find him in this picture ...



There, that was a little easier.

Well, that would all have been great if it had actually happened, but as many of us are painfully aware, it did not ... and here we are.

Okay, it's midnight, and I have decided to turn in after all, but it's been fun and I hope I've got you all thinking about "Alternative Universes" and the wacky things that could occur in them.

And if you didn't, then maybe it's time for you to turn in too, or at least take a nap.

December 11, 2009

Green Light, Red Light

If there's one thing that I've come to learn about myself, and at the same time know that I'm never going to be able to change, it's my annoyance with all things money. Sure,  there are times where money makes me happy. But more times than not issues that concern money are disconcerting to me.  Most of my annoyance with money comes from my perception as to whether or not things are worth spending money on.

For instance.  I don't mind spending money on food, or electricity, or natural gas.  In return for spending money on those items, I receive something to eat, light to cut through the darkness and heat to stem the cold of winter. To some extent, I don't even mind paying taxes.  Just this week, my tax money paid for a man to take a large truck with a V-shaped blade on the front of it to clear the snow from the road in front of my house.  Conversely, that same tax money paid the same man with the same truck to push a gigantic fucking ridge of snow in front of my driveway that I had to shovel away.

Then there are things that I consider complete wastes of money, and these things vex me to no end.  Take my wife's minor accident in the Spring of 2007, resulting in a two hour visit to the emergency room at  a local hospital. Due to a hateful spat at the time with my insurance company, this particular hospital would not take our insurance and charged us in full for two hours of "emergency" care, resulting in a three thousand dollar bill.  The hospital subsequently went broke and was bought by another entity who had no quarrel at all with my insurance company and promptly became best buddies with them again.  But as for picking up my wife's bill during the brief period of conflict ... tough luck!  Pay up asshole.  So I am ... 200 fucking dollars at a time. Sure, I could pay them in full at any time, but I want to make sure that they have to manually send me that bill every month, and if there is a supreme being in this universe, I hope whoever stuffs that bill in the envelope suffers massive paper cuts that get infected.  So to all of you administrative people at Advocate Condell Hospital ... eat me.

Sorry, I've been wanting to say that for the longest time.

Anyway, tonight I was out doing some Christmas shopping and happened upon an intersection where they had installed one of those fancy array of gadgets designed primarily to waste peoples money and pad the pocketbooks of greedy municipalities everywhere.  The Red Light Camera.  I was turning left and just as I hit the white line, the arrow turned yellow.  Rather than jam on the brakes and risk a rear end hit from the car behind me, I finished the turn just as the light turned red.  Just then I saw a strobe flash through the back windscreen and knew I had been "tagged".

I imagine an envelope will arrive in the mail next week with a pretty picture of the rear of my car and a fine of 100 dollars, which I will have no choice but to pay.  And this will annoy me greatly, because I will see nothing of any value for that one hundred dollars flying out of my bank account.

So, I will go to the bank and get 100 of the newest, crispest dollar bills I can procure.  I'll stuff them in an envelope and hope whoever opens it on the other end gets so many paper cuts from the edges of those clean, crisp bills that they have to go to the emergency room at Advocate Condell Hospital, who will treat them and not take their insurance and send them a bill for three thousand dollars.

Karmic, poetic justice.

December 09, 2009

Good Will Towards ... Somebody

We had our first "significant" snow of the season last night and today.  I had bought a new snow blower several weeks ago, because our present one had seen better days, and insisted on stalling out when confronted with even a handful of snow in front of it.  Rather than ignore it's severe limitations and pretend that all was well, which would eventually result in me throwing it across the yard in a fit of rage, I shelled out a significant amount of money and bought a new one.  All day, while at work, I had looked forward to getting home and firing up the new one to put it through it's paces.

But, when I pulled onto the street this evening, the first thing I noticed was that our driveway was completely clear.  Not only was the driveway free of snow, but the front walk and steps had been shoveled clean and a nice scattering of salt had been spread to keep ice from forming.

I was at once disappointed and relieved.  My snow blower would remain in the garage in pristine condition, but I wanted to see if the damned thing worked the way I expected.  The first thing I wondered was who had done it, but everyones driveway was clear, so I couldn't nail it down to any one person.

Given the fact that everyone in the neighborhood is very "stoic" and not prone to bragging about helping other people without their knowledge, I guess I'll never know for sure.  Which means I'll have to be nice to everybody for a while, flashing my charming smile and waving crazily at all as they drive by.

This is hard for me as I am a sullen bastard by nature.  Just ask any kid in the neighborhood about the "very mean man".  But since this is the season of joy, I think I'll ask Jan to make up a batch of her locally famous "toothbreaker" Christmas cookies so I can leave a tin anonymously on each of our neighbors doorsteps.  This way I'll be sure to repay the person who helped me today.

And then I'll have to clear everyone's driveways after the next snow to make up for the cookies.

December 06, 2009

The Great Orator

I can't speak in public.  Period.  I suppose there are caveats to that statement.  If a terrorist group were holding members of my family or friends hostage, and it came down to either speaking to the regional chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution about the evils of Green Energy or them having their throats cut, I imagine I would feed compelled to speak.  But it would depend on who the family members or friends were and whether they owed me money.  And the resulting speech wouldn't be pretty.

I don't know exactly when my fear of public speaking developed, but I imagine it was in grade school.  Like most kids in that age group, we had to present book reports to the class on occasion.  This involved reading a book, writing a report on that book, and then standing in front of your 30 or so classmates ... all alone and reading that report.  I never could figure out why we had to read the report.  After all, I've written the damn report already, so why couldn't I just make mimeograph copies of it and distribute it to everyone, or better yet, just post it on my facebook page.  This was the disadvantage of growing up in the technologically challenged late '50's and early 60's.  The idea of standing in front of all of those little people and giving them my views on "Call  of the Wild" terrified me.  I mean really, I didn't like this book, why does anyone else want to hear about it?

Seeing as I knew I was going to be a quivering mass of jello in front of the group, I varied my strategies for the inevitable.  Sometimes I would volunteer to go first.  The was meant to be a favor to the class in general.  I would stink up the place so bad that anyone who went after me would look like William Jennings Bryan in comparison. And other times, I would deftly maneuver in order to be dead last, in hope that the class we be so bored out of their minds from the deluge of previous speakers that they wouldn't pay attention to me, and I could stammer and fidget to my hearts content, and no one would even notice.

Even at that young age, I had the ability to tell myself that this was just a phase.  That I would get better at public speaking and would lose this irrational fear.  But I didn't.  In high school, I hated it just as much.  During my junior year, a young lady who I liked very much asked me to join the debate team with her.  Instead of joining and enjoying the very real probability of gaining a steady girlfriend, I declined her invitation.

What was really strange during this period, was that I played a musical instrument, and entered numerous local and state competitions, where I performed in front of judges and rooms full of people with no problem. But when asked to give my name and the title of my piece before hand, I would stammer and shake in my boots.

Once I left school, it didn't get any better.  Who would have thought that I would have to speak before groups of people when I entered the work force?  Well, being pretty fucking stupid, I didn't and soon faced the cold reality of having to speak in public once again.

The first company that I worked for out of college had all of its trainees take "The Dale Carnegie Public Speaking Course", which to me seemed like a weekly meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous.  A group of us would gather in a church basement, smoking cigarettes and listening to the moderator.  At some point during the meeting, each one of us would get up and mumble an extemporaneous speech, which was followed by unenthusiastic hand clapping from the other members of the group.  At the end of the course, I was given a certificate, which I half-heartedly pinned to my bulletin board at work until I realized that it made me look like a doofus and threw it away.

And so it went for 30 years.  I would do my best to avoid speaking in public, but would be sucked into it anyway for meetings and conferences.  And the results were always the same.  I would stammer and shake.  My knees would knock and I would melt into a fetid puddle of flop sweat. And afterwards, the sympathetic people in my audience would come up to me and tell me that they could tell I was nervous, but they learned a lot from my talk.

Liars.

The culmination of my speaking metier came with a course forced upon me offered by my "career company". This was a public speaking boot camp, populated with 15 other public speaking challenged co-workers and held at an undisclosed location where we would be out of touch with the outside world for one week.  We chose our subject, carefully crafted our 15 minute speeches and were drilled on the basics of speaking techniques.  On the final day, we delivered our speech to our fellow participants ... and a video camera.

I gave my speech, received my video tape and a handshake and returned home.  That night, after everyone had gone to bed, I slipped the tape in the VCR and settled back to watch with a stiff drink.  I was totally appalled.  I knew I was bad, but I had no idea I was that bad.  I finished my drink, removed the tape from the machine and threw it in the trash, where it would never harm society.

At that moment, I had an epiphany.  I stunk and would always stink as a public speaker.  So I embraced my stinkiness.  And as so often happens during these times of clarity.  Nothing changed but my mindset. Who the fuck cares if I can't speak in public?  Certainly not me.

Several years after that incident, I found myself in a grueling two day job interview with a company in Ohio. Toward the end of this marathon, I sat before the management group and was asked how I felt about speaking before groups, as the job would entail meeting with present customers and prospective clients.  I could have lied and said that my ability was a thing to behold and that I was the greatest thing since sliced bread.  But I didn't.  I told them that I would talk if I had to, but frankly, I was terrible at it.

I didn't get the job, and I don't know whether it was that comment that turned out to be the deal breaker.  But I think that my non-ability in that one area saved me and my family from a chilling fate.

Spending the rest of our days on earth in Dayton, Ohio.

December 01, 2009

Orphans Of A Photo Album

One of the wonders of living in the world today has to be digital photography. Face it, if you're old enough to remember back 30 years, did you imagine the day when you would be able to take a picture and look at it immediately to see if it was any good or not? And Polaroids don't count. Not only that, you can transfer the pictures out of your camera and on to your computer into a little file and share them with whoever you want, whenever you want.

I look at the pictures in my little gallery all the time, and I've come to realize that some things just don't change about picture storage. Whether you're storing hard copies in a shoe box on the top shelf of your closet, or in a digital file on your computer, you're always a little hesitant to get rid of the stinkers.

And I do have my share of stinkers inhabiting my album. Since these are ones I'd not normally share with friends and family, I thought that I'd put some of them up here for you to enjoy. If you see any that you like, please let me know through the comments section, and I'll be glad to share them with you.

Ready? Okay ...


Monstro Bug

This bastard was clinging to my window one Fall day a couple of years ago. He just clung there for a couple of hours and then he was gone. I don't know if he flew or leaped away. There's a nuclear reactor about 10 miles up the road, so I figured he might have got a dose or two of radiation.


A Friendly Game of Cards

I found this postcard in an antique (read "junk") shop years ago. The date on the back says 1904. People sure had a weird sense of humor back then.


Steam Roller In Garage

The guys who were re-doing my driveway last Spring parked their roller in my garage for a little while. I sent this to a friend and asked her if she liked my new car. I thought it was funny as hell, but I never heard back from her. Maybe she thought my sense of humor was from 1904.


Java Chicken

This gal was at the County Fair last summer. She was only $38 dollars and I was going to buy her for a house pet, but I figured I'd never get her toilet trained, so I just took her picture instead. If I would have bought her, she would have been named "Henrietta".


Old Geezer

At times, I've wondered what I would look like when I was 80 years old. The picture taken in Las Vegas comes as close to a true adaptation as I'll ever get. All I need is my pants pulled up under my armpits and a cane.


Third Wheel

For some reason, I felt the urge to take a picture of our car at least once a day while we were on vacation last summer. On this day, it was enjoying the sights of the Petrified Forest. It was hot that day, so it had it's door open to take advantage of whatever breeze was blowing.


What's That?

Have you ever taken a picture, and when you look at it later, you have no idea what it is or how it even got there? Yeah, this is one of those.


You Looked A Lot Closer In The Viewfinder

I think this is me. But it also could have been George Clooney. People mistake us for each other all the time.


This Is What Happens When Jan Uses The Camera

I think this is the passenger seat arm rest from our car. Either that or a crucial scene from the motion picture "Apollo 13".

And finally ...


Full Bladder?

What photo gallery is complete without a picture of a roadside restroom? I almost had this one blown up to portrait size to hang in our dining room.

I'll probably never delete any of these pictures, but it was nice to give them a public airing. Perhaps one day I'll stage my own one man show at the local art gallery.

But probably not.

November 28, 2009

X-Mas Time At The Office

Black Friday has come and gone, and we're full bore into the Christmas season. I realize that this causes a great deal of stress in many people, but if you're careful not to take it too seriously and remember that you don't have to be "in the spirit" constantly, you can breeze right through it. And why wouldn't you want to enjoy the month? After all, look what follows it. Three entire months of bitter cold, snow, days on end without sunshine and crushing abysmal cabin fever.

So, if you look at it that way, December seems like a great month. And it can be. There are parties to attend, family gatherings to go to, and best of all, at least two showings of ... Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer ... the Rankin/Bass production!

Yaaaaay!

Bumbles, Bumbles, Bumbles!

Good times, but not the subject of this discussion. Actually, there is a down side to the Christmas season, at least for me. And that is the office Christmas party. As I've mentioned, Christmas is for friends and family, and the people that you are caged in with for 8 or 9 hours a day, five days a week, are neither. I've never seen the purpose of having to spend your free time with people who you already see more than anyone else during your waking hours. These gatherings are invariable stilted and awkward for everyone involved. Fortunately, the shitty economy is doing it's part to eradicate these hellish events.

But there's always some goody two shoes in any office who feels like everyone has to do something to share the holiday spirit. And thus, we are seeing the rise of a particularly odious office Christmas social event ... the Secret Santa. You all know this one. Everyone drops their names in a hat and you get to pick, totally at random, some other poor soul you work with, and have to get them a present. If you're lucky, you'll draw the name of someone you are at least familiar with, and may have a chance of getting that person something they would actually like to receive. But I've never been that fortunate. I always draw someone I either have never talked to, or in the worst case scenario, don't even recognize their name.

The most terrible of these Secret Santa events for me was the one year I "gifted" a co-worker with an Amaretto gift set, and the guy turned out to be a devout Muslim. Ooops! And I'm sure there are a lot of stories that are even more awkward than that. The point is, that no one really likes what they get at a Secret Santa exchange, and I was thinking this morning that if we're going to be forced to continue these things, we ought to make the gifts so bad that they're almost masterpieces of bad taste. So, I did some looking and came up with the following. Most of these gifts are in a reasonable price range and guaranteed to be unwanted.

Shut The Hell Up Gum - $2.99
Give this to your cube mate and maybe he/she will cram his mouth so full that they'll stop talking about their kidney stones long enough that you can get some work done.

Dog Shit Calendar - $13.99
A lot of people have pets. Most people eat too much during the holidays. Hang it on the refrigerator to curb your appetite. Two levels of perfect.

Fetus Cookie Cutter - $9.99
For that special pregnant cookie lover. Make a batch of oatmeal raisin to enhance the gift.

Gay Accent Breath Spray - $5.99
There has to be at least one gay person in the office. A thoughtful gift in so many ways.

I can almost guarantee that you'll be the "talk of the office" when you're on the giving end of any of these fine products. But just be prepared to have that career track you were on altered just a smidgen.

Happy gift giving!

November 26, 2009

Shattered Beliefs

Remember when you were a kid and it was Christmas time? And you were bored one day so you decided to pull down the ladder to the attic and see what was up there? And when you turned on the bare light bulb and illuminated the area and you saw a bunch of toys? And in the blinding flash of one solitary second ... you realized that there was no Santa Claus!?

You don't? Well I do. And let me tell you, it wasn't a pleasant experience. One I hoped would never repeat itself. And in the 50-some years that have followed I have been lucky in this regard, until about a month ago.

During my recovery from a long illness several years ago, I discovered The Food Network. The channel became my companion, and the "stars" of it's many cooking shows, my friends. I especially enjoyed "Iron Chef America". I loved the frenzy, the fierce competition and the nail-biting finish to see whose bevy of exotic dishes, centering around the secret ingredient, would win the day. And surveying the mayhem in Kitchen Stadium was "The Chairman" a stoic individual, who I believed was the master of the culinary arts, and who had more talent in his little finger than the rest of the Iron Chefs put together, including that ginormous douchebag, Bobby Flay.

Several months ago, I happened to catch several minutes of "Dancing With The Stars", which by the way, Jan loves and I give up all hope of watching anything else when this over-bloated clown fest is being broadcast. Anyway, I was glancing at the screen when my eyes locked in on "The Chairman"! My mind reeled. What in all that is holy was The Chairman doing on Dancing with the Stars? And then it struck me like a thunder bolt ... The Chairman was a fake, a charlatan, a third rate celebrity. He was ... Mark Decascos!

The Chairman - My Idol

Mark Dacascos - Twinkle Toes Douchebag

I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. And then I got mad. If the Food Network had perpetrated this scam on me, what other kinds of bullshit had they pulled? So I started doing some serious detective work, which encompassed all of ten minutes, and came up with several stunning revelations.

For instance, Alton Brown, The Food Network's resident smart ass was the director of photography for an REM music video, and operated the steadicam for Spike Lee's cinematic masterpiece "School Daze". And this qualifies him for a cooking show how? Oh sure, he later graduated from the New England Culinary Institute, but so what?

Once A Steadicam Operator
Always a Steadicam Operator

And what about Robert Irvine? The Food Network made big huffing and puffing noises when they found out that he had fudged his culinary resume and kicked him off of "Dinner Impossible", but after replacement tuna steak Michael Symon turned out to be a bust, look who's back on the show?

"I Got No Personality"

I'm Back Babeee!
Dig My Guns!

And in what is the final straw for me, The Food Network was featured in a series of strips of "Cathy" ... probably the worst newspaper comic strip in the history of the civilized world. When Cathy Guisewite spots a trend, it has normally been dead for a decade or more.

AAACKKK!

Food Network, you have betrayed my trust, and are now featured in terrible new venues ... and I must move on to other things. Yes, I'm now pledging my foodie loyalty to The Travel Channel, which has much better cooking shows anyway, including this guy.

But I'll probably sneak back occasionally to watch Guy Fieri. He may be gross and sloppy, but at least he knows he can't cook.

November 24, 2009

Tasteless Guy Humor

Last night I was wandering through the intertubes, looking for some information on Pancho Barnes. Pancho was a woman aviator in the 1920's and 30's who was almost as famous as Amelia Earhart, but usually took a back seat to her accomplishments, because Earhart and her husband were better hucksters. Pancho held the world air speed record for a period of time, and in later years gained notoriety for her Happy Bottom Riding Club, just outside of Edwards Air Force Base in the high desert of California. You might remember that she was a character in the movie "The Right Stuff". Unlike Earhart, Pancho did a lot of stunt flying in the movies made during her earlier years, including the one featured in the picture I've predominantly displayed above.

Pancho ... Looking awesome!

Being immature, the first thing I did when I saw this was snigger. "Cock Of The Air" ... Heh, heh ... heh, heh. This made me think of George Carlin's "The Seven Words You Can't Say On Television, and my favorite line from his act "You can prick your finger, but don't finger your prick". This, of course, made me snigger some more. Wouldn't it have been hilarious if Howard Hughes had managed to ram through the title "Prick Of The Air"?

This picture was made before the Hays Act was recognized and the motion picture industry was forced to knuckle under to "family" standards. In fact, a lot of movies made right after the advent of talkies and into the early 30's could be quite racy. And Hughes was in the forefront of constantly challenging the MPAA's forerunner on the content of his movies, until he was beat down by the association over his movie "The Outlaw", starring Jane Russell. After that, he pretty much gave up the motion picture producer game and went on to realize his lifelong dream of becoming a world class weirdo.

And speaking of Howard Hughes, if you've somehow missed the cinematic treatment of his life "The Aviator", I highly recommend that you put it on your viewing list for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday/weekend.

As long as I'm prattling along, I might as well take the opportunity to answer a question that was sent to my highly occasional feature "Mr. Answer Guy". Today's question comes from JD, who hails from the perpetually soggy but beautiful town of Tacoma, Washington. JD writes:

Dear Mr. Answer Guy, I was at a baby shower recently, and we were playing one of those incredibly stupid games that they insist on doing at those things. I was thrown the question "What is a baby eel called?" Well, of course, I didn't have a clue, and everyone started laughing, and I got so nervous that I started sweating and the sweat stain spread from my armpits across my chest and my back, creating a phenomenon called "saddlebags". But the joke was on them, because no one knew the answer. What is a baby eel called? And how do I get the sweat stain out of my blouse?

Well, J ... this is a pretty simple one and I'm surprised that you didn't know the answer. A baby eel is called an "elver" or in local parlance, a "glass eel". I would file this one away in the old noggin, because it comes up often in daily conversations. Oh, and use Shout with Oxyclean to get that stubborn stain out.

Finally, to all of my loyal readers ... followers and lurkers alike, a very pleasant Thanksgiving to you and yours.

November 21, 2009

Blaze

I've mentioned in several posts that my Granddad owned a farm outside of town during the time when I was growing up. On any given weekend, we would more than likely end up going out there on a Sunday afternoon. I never really did know why, as my Mom never really seemed to like her old man. And she certainly never cared for her step mother, but I guess she had her reasons for visiting.

I went along because I had to, being too young to stay home by myself. You would think there would be a lot on a farm to occupy me, but there really wasn't. The yard around the house was huge, so I'd go out there and wander around if the weather was nice. I tried climbing some trees once, until I encountered a bull snake in one of the branches, then I never did that again. There was a barn, but the barnyard was fenced in and guarded by a bull who was perpetually pissed off because there were no other cows around. I guess he had a case of blue balls all of the time. And there was a smoke house and an equipment garage and a hen house. All pretty boring shit.

But they did have a horse. His name was Blaze (for a white mark on his muzzle), and he wasn't good for much besides just being there. He was broke and all, but I don't think either Granddad or Loma rode him much, except for just exercise once in a while. Every time we went out to the farm, I had hopes that they would get him out and let me ride him. But they never did.

However, one Sunday in the early summer, old Troy must have been feeling magnanimous towards his black sheep grandson and asked me if I wanted to ride him. He got him out of the barn and saddled him up and told me to climb up. Well, I had never been real close to Blaze before, and it turned out that he was at least two stories tall. But with a little help, I managed to get my foot in a stirrup and hauled my fat ass into the saddle. After a half minute of reign instruction, the horse headed out on the dirt road that ran in front of the house.

We trotted down the road. And trotted ... and trotted ... and trotted. Because Blaze wouldn't do anything else. Blaze wouldn't turn left, he wouldn't turn right. He wouldn't speed up, he wouldn't slow down, and he wouldn't stop. No matter how much I yanked the reigns, or dug my heels into his flanks, or yelled at him, he just kept on keepin' on. Right down the road.

Then at a tree beside the road, which must have been a predetermined marker for the horse, he abruptly turned around and started back, with no help from me. And again, no matter how much I yanked, kicked and screamed, he serenely trotted back to the farm house yard, turned in and stopped. And that was the end of the ride.

Fucking horse.

On the way home that evening, I was bitching about the horse not doing what I wanted it to, and my Mom told me I was lucky that I hadn't been hurt, because she thought Blaze was a mean animal. And this turned out to be true. About 5 years later, Loma was out riding Blaze in a pasture when it threw her. She broke her leg and pelvis, and since my Granddad was in Bolivar that afternoon, shooting the shit with his cronies, she had to crawl the mile back to the house and summon help from there. If nothing else, she was a tough old bird.

Being up there in years, it took Loma a long while to recover, but she eventually started walking around again, albeit not as well as she did before being thrown. One day, when Troy went over to Bolivar for another one of his good old boy gatherings, Loma took the Army 45 that he had brought home from the Great War, hobbled out to the barn and shot Blaze straight between the eyes.

I wish there had been a more pleasant end to this story, but sometimes farm life is not all chickies and duckies and sunflowers swaying gently in the summer breeze.

Sometimes there's a good dose of frontier style revenge.

Scenes From Suburban Hell (An Irregular Feature)

This morning I was busy cleaning the house. I'd gathered up several bags of trash and took them out through the garage and through the side door, where our big garbage can is stored. When I opened the door and stepped through, I looked at the side of our neighbors house and saw this:

WTF?

I stared at it for a couple of seconds and thought to myself "No, that must be one of those trophy wall mounts that this guy decided he didn't want anymore, so he put it out by the trash".

But there wasn't any wood plaque on the back, and the eyes looked sort of funny, and there were flies buzzing around it. So I got a little closer ... and :

AAAAAAAH! A Severed Deer Head!

This is so typical of this guy. He, his wife and his two kids are all nice enough people, but he has a penchant for collecting junk. I've come home to find his yard full of bicycles that he bought at an auction. Another time his driveway was filled with old lawnmowers, and then wheelbarrows ... I'm sure if he was certain he wouldn't get fined, he'd have a rusty old car jacked up on cinder blocks in the front yard with a "For Sale" sign in front of it.

And, as you might have guessed, he is a hunter. A bow hunter to be exact, the purists of the hunting world. When he is not out bow hunting, or collecting junk, he likes to use me for target practice in his back yard.

From past experience, I know that the severed deer head is going no where. It will sit there all winter and into the spring, letting the forces of nature wear away the hide, sinew, muscle and flesh down to the bare skull. And then he will put it in his special "garden" in one corner of his front yard, where it will join the other deer skulls, a dead sapling in a rusty coffee can and a half inflated Canadian goose decoy to delight all the visitors to our humble cul-de-sac.

And I know exactly what's going through your minds. You're thinking "Rob, you must take pictures chronicling the decay process and update us on it's progress from time to time". And gentle readers, you can be assured that I will be there for you.

To do this right, I'll need to personalize this partial former resident of the forest. I need to give him a name. In honor of all of the flies that were busily feasting on him today, I'm going to call him ...

Buzzy.

November 20, 2009

What Color Is Your Badge?

I just finished my first month at my new workplace, and I must say that I'm happy as all get out to be there. What with unemployment in this state currently running over 10 percent, I'm a pretty lucky guy.

I'm not exactly an employee of the place where I plop my ass down every morning. I actually work for someone else. Which makes me what's known in the trade as a contractor. My employer, wielding great clout, finds me work at another organization. That organization pays my employer an agreed upon sum, and my employer, in turn, throws some money my way. I receive no benefits, vacation or holiday pay. If I show up for work, I get paid. You could say I'm a modern day indentured servant, only I don't get flogged if I fuck up.

The site I work at is huge and at any given point in time, there are thousands of people occupying the grounds. There are reasonable security measures in place to keep the blaggards at bay, one of which is a security badge, which everyone wears someplace on their person. Some people wear them on their belts, others wear them around their necks and a few free spirits clip them to their ear lobes or wear them in their hair as part of a decorative bow.

The badges all have embedded microchips so you can get through traffic gates and enter the various buildings on campus. Your badge has your picture on it, taken by that same guy who came to your grade school every fall and made sure that all conditions were just wrong before he snapped your picture and charged your parents $12.95 for the "skool daze" package. My picture makes me appear as if I am suffering a particularly advanced stage of jaundice.

So, just a badge ... plastic and ink. But there is one odd thing. The badges that the organization employees wear are all white. The badges that the contractors wear are white also ... but with a yellow stripe at the bottom.

It's a small thing, but it struck me as odd that one group had to be differentiated from another.

Why?

I haven't figured it out yet. Is there some plausible, reasonable explanation for it that only certain people know? Or is it some unwritten caste system, that will help organization members sort out their true brethren from the outsiders, so that they don't get too close to them?

Absolutely no one that I've encountered so far has treated me any differently than anyone else, and we all talk and joke freely. But I do notice when I walk down the halls, that people will flick their eyes from my face to my badge, and then back to my face when we greet each other. Are they just mesmerized by my jaundiced visage on the piece of plastic, or do they want to classify me?

I've often suspected that I'm neurotic by nature and perhaps this is the definitive proof, but just this morning, I was talking to a woman and she happened to ask me how long I had worked for the organization, but then her eyes went to my badge and she said "Oh, you're a contractor!", and gave me a sad smile, sort of like someone would do if they said "Oh, you poor dear."

As I mentioned earlier, it's a minor thing and I suppose everyone has the need to sort and drop people into certain slots in order to keep everything straight in their own minds. I do it myself. I suppose the organization is just trying to help with visual aids.

It's just human nature.

November 15, 2009

Crabby Samaritan

I don't know what it is with me and people this weekend, but I'm not even going to step outside the house again until tomorrow morning. This morning I was at the bad grocery store with good vegetables because I either like grocery shopping more than I thought, or I never make up lists and depend upon my steel trap mind, which nowadays is more like a cardboard trap and I invariably forget 10 things that I can't live without.

I picked up my stuff and moved into the checkout line. There was some guy in front of me who obviously hadn't seen the "Express - 10 Items or Less" sign flashing like a beacon and had his weekly allotment of groceries spread out for 10 feet on the belt.

But I didn't really care, because I wasn't in a particular hurry. After about a half minute, I became aware of someone standing extremely close to my back. In fact, they were brushing me. So I turned around to make sure it wasn't a pick-pocket, and there stood an elderly lady clutching a loaf of french bread. I turned around and inched forward as far as I could to put some space between us, but she just crept up close to me again.

And then she tapped me on the arm and said "Excuse me, I only have one item and my son is waiting for me in the car out front". Well, shit. I only had 4 items, but if she was so antsy to pay for her crusty loaf and get to the car before her son started beating her, well, why not? So I told her to go ahead.

The cashier rang up her purchase ... and then she pulled the checkbook out of her purse.

Motherfucker. But I still didn't say anything. I didn't even change my expression. The cashier took the check, and then asked for a drivers license or some other form of ID, as is standard. And, of course, the old lady didn't have a drivers license, or "other".

Stalemate. The natives behind me were starting to get restless, and so was I, so I asked the cashier how much the bread cost. It was $2.75, so I whipped out my wallet, threw 3 dollars on the belt, and said that I would pay for it. The old lady looked at me and said "you don't have to do that", to which I replied "it's not a problem". Which was actually pretty good for me, because any other time I probably would have added "because I'd like to get home some time today". So, to all of the people out there who know me, this will prove that I do have some capacity for empathy.

After this grand show of graciousness on my part, I waited for my thank you, but the old bat skittered off with her bread ... without a word. I looked after her, turned back to the cashier and mouthed soundlessly ...

Motherfucker.

November 14, 2009

The Piano Has Been Drinking

It's Saturday night, The Midnight Special is on the radio, and I was just listening to this song. Performed by my old friend ... Tom Waits.

The piano has been drinking
My necktie's asleep
The combo went back to New York, and left me all alone
The jukebox has to take a leak
Have you noticed that the carpet needs a haircut?
And the spotlight looks just like a prison break
And the telephone's out of cigarettes
As usual the balcony's on the make
And the piano has been drinking, heavily
The piano has been drinking
And he's on the hard stuff tonight

The piano has been drinking
And you can't find your waitress
Even with the Geiger counter
And I guarantee you that she will hate you
From the bottom of her glass
And all of your friends remind you
That you just can't get served without her
The piano has been drinking

The piano has been drinking
And the lightman's blind in one eye
And he can't see out of the other
And the piano-tuner's got a hearing aid
And he showed up with his mother
And the piano has been drinking
Without fear of contradiction I say
The piano has been drinking

Our Father who art in ?
Hallowed by thy glass
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done
On Earth as it is in the lounges
Give us this day our daily splash
Forgive us our hangovers
As we forgive all those who continue to hangover against us
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver from evil and someone you must all ride home

Because the piano has been drinking
And he's your friend not mine
Because the piano has been drinking
And he's not my responsibility

The bouncer is this Sumo wrestler
Kinda cream puff casper milk toast
And the owner is just a mental midget
With the I.Q. of a fencepost
I'm going down, hang onto me, I'm going down
Watch me skate across an acre of linoleum
I know I can do it, I'm in total control
And the piano has been drinking
And he's embarrassing me
The piano has been drinking, he raided his mini bar

The piano has been drinking
And the bar stools are all on fire
And all the newspapers were just fooling
And the ash-trays have retired
And I've got a feeling that the piano has been drinking
It's just a hunch
The piano has been drinking and he's going to lose his lunch
And the piano has been drinking
Not me, not me, The piano has been drinking not me

I need to get on Amazon right away to find this CD. And Jan says that it's difficult to find Christmas presents for me.

Realtor-ese

Sometime at the beginning of this year, Jan and I started to explore the "what if" options of what we would do once we decided to retire. One of the big decisions we have to make is whether we will stay in this area, or whether we will move somewhere else entirely.

We've kicked around the idea of moving back to our home state, more specifically, the southwest section of Missouri, where I grew up and where Jan and I attended college.

To help us get a better handle on what housing is available in that area, I enlisted the help of a local realtor in that region. Susan knows in general terms what we are looking for, and every week, she faithfully sends pictures and details of current listings that she believes may interest us.

Some of the listings that she sends are so right on-spot, that I wish we were retiring tomorrow so we could make an immediate offer. Others are so off-the-mark dreadful, that I wonder if she was ever listening to us at all.

Perfect or dreadful, she always talks each property up in language that only a realtor could believe, or at least state with a straight face.

This morning she sent me a listing for a "show home" that needed just a touch of attention (her words) because it had been unoccupied for several months. As usual, she sent a set of 12 photos, highlighting the houses strong points, both inside and outside.

This is a picture of the kitchen:


What? That cabinet on the left? Why a few nails and some duct tape and no one will ever notice that it broke off and fell on the counter.

And then there is the room cobbled into the attic, that she described as a "man cave":


I had to look at the picture for several minutes before I could figure out what that protuberance was hanging from the ceiling. But then I realized that the builder had been clever enough to provide an upside down replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza. No man cave would be complete without one.

And try as I might, I was unable to determine with any certainty what hallucinogens the owner might have consumed just before he or she picked out the carpet.

In a way, I'm relieved that we do have a couple of years before we have to start taking this shit seriously.

I'm going to need at least that long to build up an adequate supply of my own hallucinogens to tackle this thing head on.

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride ... Deuxième Partie

This is a continuation of a previous post. If you'd like read that one first, feel free. Or if you don't, that's okay too.

The plane was really started to rock from side to side. Much more violently than I'd ever experienced in a commercial jet or turboprop. And for the first time, I started to seriously consider the possibility that we might crash tits up in a fucking corn field. Wouldn't that be a hoot? I wondered if it would be too late to make the evening news. Do we have enough in our checking account to bury me? Oh crap, I never did tell Jan if I wanted to be buried or cremated. Well, if the plane catches on fire, then I'll be halfway there to cremated. No open casket for Cap'n Crispo!

I don't know how long this train of thought went on, but I snapped myself back to reality and took some comfort that the runway was now visible in front of us. Wayne was still sweating like a bitch, but we were really slowing down. In the last seconds, the plane seemed to just hang in mid-air a few feet above the concrete, any forward progress negated by the force of the wind blowing into us.

And then we just ... settled. The plane thudded down a little hard on it's tripod gear and there we sat, in the middle of the fucking runway. I thought Wayne was going to taxi over to the little terminal building, but he cut the engine and told us to get out. We stood there for a little bit, and when the plane started rocking again, Mel and I draped ourselves across each wing strut and Wayne held the nose down until a pick-up came out and hooked onto the plane and slowly pulled it toward the terminal building, all of us still holding on to it so it wouldn't flip over.

We helped Wayne tie the plane down and then walked into the terminal building. Wayne walked over to the pilots lounge, no doubt to brag to the others how he landed in a 50 knot wind, no sweat. Mel and I looked at each other and giggled like little girls until we told each other to stop.

Then we rented a car, and drove the remaining ten miles to the site in a raging dust storm, and got down to business. We were done with our evaluation in a couple of hours. Mel called Wayne at the airport, and was told that there was no fucking way we were going back until the wind died down to nothing, which by the looks of the forecast, wouldn't be until after sunset.

So Mel and I drove to the nearest town, which had exactly one cafe, and spent the rest of the afternoon, drinking coffee, eating pie, smoking cigarettes and bullshitting about nothing. At sunset, we drove back to the airport. The air was calm, so we got on the itty-bitty Cessna and flew back to LaSalle. I took the front seat this time and occupied myself looking out on the lights of the towns we passed over. I spoke to Wayne a couple of times, but he'd had a hard day, so I generally left him alone. I was just looking forward to getting back to LaSalle and driving home from there.

It was after 10:00 when we reached the airport, which meant that everyone had gone home and turned the lights off behind them, including the runway lights. Wayne said this wasn't a problem, because he could turn the lights on remotely from a transmitter in the cockpit.

Except that it didn't work. No matter how many times Wayne hit that little button, the runway stayed dark. We circled several times and then Wayne made an executive decision. The airport manager lived on a small farm outside of town and we headed for it. And I am not making this up ... we actually buzzed the house twice to get the manager's attention. He came on the radio, Wayne told him what was wrong, and he drove to the airport and turned the runway lights on for us.

We landed. Mel counted out 12 crisp 100 dollar bills into Wayne's outstretched hand for his trouble and I headed for the Day's Inn in LaSalle at midnight. I called Jan to tell her I wouldn't be home until the next day and went to sleep.

I don't know if this little incident was what soured me on air travel.

But it sure pushed me in that direction.

Scene From A Gas Station

This morning I was running my normal Saturday errands and stopped at a Mobil station to fill up the truck for the week ahead. I like to have a full tank prior to the week starting, because I dislike stopping before or after work unless it's absolutely necessary. This must be linked in some way to my latent OCD, but I'm too lazy to give it much thought.

As I was pulling up to a pump, a gentleman exited the mini-mart and pulled up short, thinking I might run over him. I waved him by and he raised his hand in acknowledgement and walked on to his well used Chevy Suburban sitting just opposite of me. I followed him with my eyes and saw that the Suburban was occupied by an unattractive heavy set woman and an equally unattractive heavy set 20-something man. I took these two to be related, as they were both of the same general body type.

As I was preparing to put gas in the truck, I wondered how a reasonably pleasant looking fellow had hooked up with a really unpleasant looking woman like that. Had theirs been a marriage of convenience? Did he have a really crummy personality and she was the best he could do? Or was he being kidnapped by these two beasts?

These are the kinds of things that go through my mind in a split second, and I've long since given up on trying to figure out why I think this way. It's just me.

So, as I was spinning my story in my head, I happened to glance down from the woman's face to her arm sticking out the side window and saw that she had a lit cigarette in her hand. As I looked at the back seat, I saw that Junior also had his hand sticking out his side window, also with a lit cigarette.

I drew my hand away from the start button on the pump and stared at the woman. Then we had the following exchange, which went a little bit like this ...

Fat Woman: What?

Me: Oh nothing. I'm just waiting for you to leave before I start pumping gas so I don't blow us all up!

Fat Woman: Sputter.

Me: Morons.

Fat Woman: Fuck you!

Me: No, fuck you.

The husband/kidnapee put the vehicle in gear and left the station lot, but the fat woman managed to flip me the bird before they disappeared into traffic. I turned my pump on and began filling the tank.

Sigh ...

Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

One of the good things about the end of my business "career" was that I didn't have to fly anymore. I believe that when I first started out, I enjoyed it. But as the years went by, I began to dread the thought of all the hassle that is air travel. Getting to the airport on time, checking in, waiting, being trapped in a metal tube 40,000 feet above the surface of the earth, and then more waiting. And then you had to come back and do it all over again.

Most of the time I flew in large jets, and sometimes I was relegated to small puddle jumpers. But one time, I flew in a 4 seat private plane.

One of our plant managers in downstate Illinois called me one day and asked if I would come with him on a visit to a guy who was starting up a small business, manufacturing some kind of "wonder" cattle feed supplement. During the late 80's and early 90's, it seemed like everybody and their mother was coming up with some new additive to get livestock to market sooner ... without the use of steroids. And every feed manufacturer was looking for an edge to improve their market share. It was an incredibly stupid period in the the history of the industry and logical minds have since took the reigns again and put it on the right path.

Anyway, the facility involved was somewhere in the wilds of Western Iowa and "Mel", the plant manager, had a great idea. Instead of taking a commercial flight to Des Moines and driving to the site, he'd hire an airplane and pilot so we could fly right from his place directly to the site, saving us a lot of time. I had my reservations, because it seemed to me like small planes usually crashed a lot more than big planes, but I didn't want to appear to be a mega-sized pussy, so I agreed to go with him.

Several days later, I drove down to LaSalle, Illinois to the airport where we would start our flight. Mel met me there and introduced me to the pilot, who had an uncanny resemblance to Wayne Knight, if Wayne Knight wore a suit.

Speaking of Wayne Knight, whatever happened to him? He was in "Seinfeld" for all those years, then he had a big part in "Jurassic Park", and then he was in "Third Rock From The Sun", but then I heard he lost a lot of weight, because he didn't want to be fat and unhealthy anymore, only once he lost the weight, no one would hire him again. Talk about a bitch ...

So, Pilot Wayne piled us into the itty-bitty Cessna, and we took off. At first, it wasn't too bad, except that I was in the back seat because I had forgot to yell "shotgun" before we took off and it was kind of cramped back there. I also noticed how shoddy the plane was inside. The seats had rips in them, the arm rests were broken and there was garbage all over the floor. Not impressive at all.

As we got higher, it started to get cold. In fact, there was a cabin thermometer on the instrument panel and when I peeked between the front seats to read it, I was a little alarmed to see that it read 36 degrees. I was going to tap Wayne on the shoulder, but he had head phones on and seemed a little busy, so I asked Mel to turn on the goddamned heat. However, it turned out that the heater was broken, but this wasn't any big deal, because it was Spring and it was warm outside. Except that it was warm outside on the ground, not at 12,000 feet.

As we started out slow descent, it started to get warm again, and I could see details on the ground. And I was seeing a lot of brown poofy stuff racing along the surface. Wayne took time out from listening to his Walkman, to explain that a windstorm had rolled in from Nebraska and the brown poofy stuff I was seeing was dirt from the newly plowed fields being blown this way and that. Only the brown poofy stuff didn't look like it was merely meandering this way and that. It looked like it was going someplace with a purpose, and quickly.

I asked Wayne how fast he thought the wind was blowing. He said he had checked about a minute previously, and the wind on the ground was blowing at about 45 to 50 knots. As if to drive this point home, it was right at this moment that the wind grabbed the plane and started tossing it around. Wayne stopped talking and started a cage match with the steering yolk.

I sat back in my ripped seat and grasped the broken arm rest, and thought, "well, 40 to 50 knots isn't too bad". But then I remembered that knots isn't the same thing as MPH, and when I did the conversions, I sure as shit didn't feel any better. I looked at the back of Wayne's head, and there was sweat running freely in rivulets down the fat folds in his neck and into the collar of his white dress shirt, turning the material translucent. I glanced over at the thermometer on the dash ... 50 degrees ... not good. Then I looked at Mel in the front seat. He looked very pale.

Definitely not good.

I've read that it's not good form for a blog post to go on too long. So I'm going to attempt something I've never tried before and do a two parter. Join me later and find out if I live or not.

Or don't ... it's entirely up to you.