September 30, 2009

Addressing The Small Things

Several months ago, I ran across an article on famous people's last words.  I thought last words were reserved for tombstones, like "I Told Them I Was Sick", but I guess I was wrong.  As it turns out, more than a couple of books have been written containing people's last words.  I guess the authors went around and found people who happened to be near the famous dying person and asked them what they said before they checked out. Some of the quotes are quite grandiose, which makes me suspect that the real final utterances were tampered with for publication.  Others though, have that "real" quality, so you're pretty certain that they weren't altered. Take FDR, whose last words were "I have a terrific headache". And still others are in that middle ground, where you don't know whether or not to believe them. Supposedly, Humphrey Bogart said "I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis", but I don't know ... If he'd said "Gimme another cigarette", I'd have believed that, no problem.

Anyway, the further I got into these quotes, the less famous the people became.  Like who the hell is Richard Feynman, and why should I care if his last words were "I'd hate to die twice.  It's so boring"?  Maybe if I'm Dick's wife, I care.  Otherwise, not so much.  So then I began musing (I love to muse), what if my blog becomes famous after I die, kind of like Van Gogh's paintings? Maybe some author will come searching for Jan and start bugging her about what prolific words I spoke just before I started my dirt nap (hey, this could happen).  She'd better be ready with some snappy quote that will live through the ages.

As it turns out this is no easy task.  I want something that's clever, piquant, droll and solemn that rolls off the tongue easily.  The best thing I've come up with is something I coined just before my big op 18 years ago where a fiendish surgeon rearranged all of my indoor plumbing and when I recovered I found out that I couldn't burp anymore which still pisses me off to this very day.  But that's another story.  Just before they gassed me, I told Jan "See you on the flip side", which I made up on the fly and thought was pretty good.  So good, that I've used it as my standard on all procedures requiring me to lose consciousness ever since.

Good, but I don't think it meets the criteria I've outlined above.  I thought about "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country", but I think that's been taken and I don't want my rep as a world class blogger tarnished by plagiarism.

And it would be just my luck that I would come up with a killer tag line and then die accidentally, giving me no prep time to clear my throat and utter my soon-to-be-famous quote.  Instead, I'd probably say something like "Oh Shit" or "Fuck me", which aren't really suitable for general publication, but if you took a poll of dead people, you would probably find that more than 50 percent of them uttered one of those two phrases right before the lights went out.

So, to cover my bases, I'd better have a good final quote and a good tombstone quote.  I'm still working on the quote, but I think I've got the tombstone nailed.

Silent At Last

You have to admit it.  That's tombstone gold!

September 29, 2009

Edwinna Scissorhands

Actual conversation between me and my hair cut gal (HCG) this afternoon ...

HCG:  So, how do you want your hair cut?

Me:  The usual, except don't give me Spock sideburns this time.

HCG:  What?  I never give you Spock sideburns!

Me:  Whatever.  So, how're you doing?

HCG:  Oh, it's been terrible!  My dog stepped in a mole hole and broke its leg.

Me:  Mole hole?  What's a mole hole?

HCG:  You know how a mole makes tunnels?  Well, it has to make a hole to get to its tunnel.

Me:  Oh, yeah ... mole hole.

HCG:  Anyway, it broke it's leg and we had to take it to the vet, but it had shoulder damage too, so he had to operate on it and take some junk from somewhere else and graft it into its shoulder and leg.

Me:  Wow, is it going to be all right?

HCG:  Yeah.  The vet said it would probably limp the rest of its life, but its going to be okay otherwise.  My God, it cost us almost three thousand dollars!

Me:  Hold it.  You spent three thousand dollars?  And all you got back was a limping dog?

HCG:  Well, yeah.  What would you have done?

Me:  Put it down.

HCG:  What?!  You mean kill it?  I'll bet if it was your dog, you wouldn't kill it.

Me:  I don't have a dog and if I did and it cost three grand, yes I would.  Shit, you could have bought a robot dog for three thousand dollars ... or three robot cats.

HCG:  Robot dog?  That's stupid.  You're stupid.

Me:  I'm stupid?  I didn't shell out three grand to a vet and all I got back was a limping dog.

HCG:  How would you like me to run these scissors through your ear?

Me:  I wouldn't.

HCG:  (Silence)

Me:  You're going to fuck up my hair, aren't you?

HCG:  Probably.



Over the weekend I was watching a program on the Travel Channel named "Ghost Adventures".  It's an incredibly goofy show that's fun to watch, and I'll come back to it in some future post, but as often happens, it pushed my thoughts into an area that is somewhat related ... in a fashion.

Death, superstitions, afterlife, beliefs and fear all tend to jumble together in a section of my mind.  I never can seem to sort these items out one by one and come to a definite conclusion about each of them.  If I could, I suppose I could understand why totally unreasonable things scare me.

Being scared, or more accurately spooked, is something I can't get a handle on.  Why am I afraid of the dark sometimes, but not others?  Why do I avoid certain situations or refuse to do certain things, when I'll do exactly the opposite when practically the same situations or things are presented to me in different circumstances?

I'll give a few examples.  My father died in his bedroom in his own bed.  When we visited my mother this past summer, I refused her offer to use that bedroom.  In fact, I felt a sense of unease when I used the shower in the adjoining bathroom and refused to put my dressing clothes on the bed.  In fact, I wouldn't even touch it. And yet, I had no problem sitting in a chair that he used as his favorite for years.

I used to do feed mill inspections at plants that my company owned.  At one plant, in Bartonville, Illinois, a young man had fallen into a high speed mixer and was torn to pieces.  They found him after the circuit breakers had blown in equipment on down the line and shut everything down.  I visited the plant several months later and asked where the death had happened.  During  my inspection, when I came to that area, instead of taking 10 to 15 minutes to jot down notes on sanitation, I literally ran through it with the hair on the back of neck standing up and fabricated my notes later on.  But on a visit to another mill in New York, where an employee had committed suicide in an isolated work area, I took my time with the inspection and although I knew it had happened, thought little about it.

I suppose that each individual has their own set of levers, switches and buttons that have to be thrown, pulled and pushed in just the right order to induce fear.

Maybe, if I live long enough, I'll figure out my particular sequence.  But until then, I guess I'll just continue to be afraid of the dark.

September 27, 2009

The Poll Workers

The several years a person spends in adolescence are restless ones.  You're too old to play children's games and too young to develop a serious interest in sex and drugs. As a result, you find yourself in a state of perpetual boredom, particularly during the summer.  My parents tried to keep me busy by having me mow the lawn almost every day, or picking up rocks that never stopped extruding from the Missouri soil.

My mother found a way to completely get rid of me one day by volunteering my services to distribute campaign literature at a polling place.  I'm not sure if this was legal, as I was only 12 years old at the time, but maybe such things didn't matter during those days.  I was told to report to the school that would act as the voting site at 6 in the morning, and I would stay there until the polls closed at 7 pm.  For my time and effort, I would be paid 15 dollars.  As I look on it now, this worked out to about $1.15 per hour, but I had no clue about money at that age, so 15 dollars seemed like a lot to just stand around.

On the morning of the election, my mother dropped me at the school, which sat precisely in the middle of no where, and drove off, saying she would be back to get me that evening.  After a few minutes, another mom drove up and dropped her kid off, who was to be my fellow campaign worker for the day.  Just before the polls opened, a lady drove up and handed us several boxes filled with a two page brochure featuring the candidate whom we would represent.  She gave us no instruction other than "hand these out" and drove away.

We opened our boxes and got our first glimpse of "our guy".  I don't remember the man's name, his party or what office he was trying to capture.  I just recall it was some obscure state position.

The first voters started to show up, and having no real clue of what to do, we just stuck out our hands with the pamphlets and watched as the people ignored us.  After 15 minutes of this, we got our heads together and came up with a catchy phrase to go along with our outreached hands. We decided on "We'd appreciate your vote!" However, our mumbled slogan matched with our prize winning scowls earned us nothing but dirty looks, and we quickly went back to sullenly sticking our pamphlets in people's direction as they walked by.

After several hours of this, we mentioned to each other that we were getting hungry and thirsty.  It was then that it dawned on us that both of our mothers had dropped us off with no food or water.

Following an hour of problem solving, we decided to go into the polling place and ask for some food and water, and also a place to take a leak.  The old bitch running the tables took one look at us and said in no uncertain terms that we were campaign workers and were not allowed inside.  Then she threw us out into the yard.

Voter traffic had slowed to nothing, so we ventured into the fields surrounding the school searching for food and a place to take a piss.  Between us, we came up with a few ears of feed corn, some blackberries and a couple of unripe persimmons.

As the day wore on, it became hotter and we became hungrier and more thirsty.  Delirium set in.  We began doing dramatic readings for each other from the campaign pamphlet and decided that the picture of the candidate closely resembled Peter Potamus, a popular Hanna-Barbera cartoon character at the time.  This was so hilarious that we asked people to vote for Peter Potamus as we tried to distribute the now-despised pamphlets.

"The Candidate"

In the last few hours before the polls closed, we made camp under a tree and fashioned paper airplanes and miniature pirate hats from the hundreds of pamphlets that no one would take.  Finally, my mother arrived to take me home, and I was too exhausted, dirty and sunburned to yell at her for leaving me to die that morning.

As it turns out, I never saw a dime of my promised 15 dollars, but I did learn several valuable lessons from my one and only experience as a campaign worker.

Never trust a politician.  And ... unripe persimmons give you diarrhea.

September 25, 2009

Chicken Dinner

Recently, I was watching some foodie program on television.  The host solemnly intoned that it was important to know where our food came from.  They went into great detail about how vegetables are picked and processed, but kind of glossed over the animal prep, completely ignoring that all important slaughter step. Having spent over a quarter century in the commercial feed industry, I'm well aware of the process involved in getting that friendly little farm animal to the table, and I conveniently block the more disturbing images from my mind before I dig in.  But when I was a kid, that process was kind of hazy.  As far as I could figure out, one minute old Bossy was looking at you with those big brown eyes, and the next there was a hamburger in front of you.

My mother grew up on a farm, and about three times a month, we'd go out on a Sunday to visit for a few hours. Grandad had about 200 acres and raised cattle and guinea hens to pay the bills.  When we'd pull into the yard, there were always a couple of chickens running around, which I thought were there for the ambiance.

One Sunday, we finished our visit and loaded up to go home.  As we were saying our goodbyes, my mother carried a burlap sack from the back of the house and threw it into the trunk of the car.  I didn't give it much thought, as my grandma was always loading us up with tomatoes, cucumbers and corn during the summer.

When we got home, my mother took the sack out of the trunk and placed it in the garage.  I noticed as she did this, that the sack twitched a bit, but I had other important shit to attend to, so I promptly forgot about it and went on with my business.

I should mention that we had just completed building a house in what was at the time, a pretty nice new subdivision.  In fact, we had moved in only a month before.  We were just getting to know our neighbors, and they seemed to be an agreeable, prosperous lot.

About an hour after we were home, my sisters came running into my room, yelling at me to come look at what mom was doing in the back yard.  The three of us scrambled out the back door and onto the balcony.  Mom was down in the yard, holding the burlap sack at her side. She reached into it and pulled out a live chicken.  She put the chicken on the ground, where it stood stupidly looking around, no doubt thinking "what the fuck is this?" Now, a chicken looked perfectly normal in my grandma's barnyard, but eerily out of place in our back yard in suburbia.  For just a second, I thought she was just going to let the chicken wander around and that we were going to start a chicken ranch.  Could we do that?  What would the neighbors think?

But before I could even finish that thought, mom grabbed the chicken by the neck and began whirling it around like a soft ball pitcher winding up for the throw to the plate.  After several revolutions, the chicken arced halfway across the yard, minus it's head, which was still in my mom's hand.  The chicken landed in an explosion of feathers and gore and began darting aimlessly about the yard, blood spurting from it's neck.  My sisters screamed, I nearly lost control of my bladder and the headless chicken crashed into a tree, where it keeled over and became still.

Aghast, the three of us looked at mom, our mouths working in silent protest.  She merely glanced at the chicken head clutched in her hand and said "there".

The three of us retreated to our safe places, and that evening we had chicken for dinner.  I refused to eat it, which my mom dismissed as "silly".  My sisters were too young for convictions, but they barely touched it either. Instead, we filled up on bread and green beans, which we kept well separated from the vile chicken that sat menacingly on our plates.

The next night, we had chicken casserole, but disguised or not, it was still the same chicken and I wouldn't eat it. The headless hen made it's last appearance the night after, camouflaged as chicken salad.  There were no takers.

That was our first and only experience with "fresh" chicken.  After that, all poultry would arrive at our house in a frozen state, via the IGA.

It is said that in the moment before you die, your life flashes before your eyes.  I'm all but certain that one of the images crossing with me will be that of a headless running chicken.

Thanks Ma ... 

September 23, 2009

The Cola Factor

I was going through the refrigerator this morning and saw that we were down to our last 6 cans of Diet Coke ... again.  Although there are only two of us in the house now, we go through a lot of soda in a week.  I've never stopped to consciously think about how much we buy, but it has to be over ten cases a month, easily.  So conservatively, we consume 8 cans of Diet Coke between us on any given day.  I suppose that's a lot and we probably aren't doing ourselves any good by downing that much, but I'm certain there are worse things that we could be doing to our bodies.

I asked Jan over the last weekend if she thought that we were trying to make up for something that we felt we may have been cheated out of during our childhood.  We both grew up in lower middle class families and each of us had two siblings.  That generally meant that luxuries were cut to a bare minimum.  In my household, soda was a luxury and bottled six packs were bought rarely and severely rationed.  I think I was in high school before I was allowed to have a bottle of soda all to myself.  My Mom used to get mad at my Dad if he would bring home a full case of Vess, but since this was the poor man's Coca-Cola, she didn't get real upset.

It wasn't only soda.  Things like cookies, candy and Little Debbie cakes were seldom bought and doled out like water on a life raft.

There are two tenets that we all carry as we journey from adolescence into adulthood.  One is that we want our children to have things better than we did.  The second ... is that we're damned well going to make up for all the good shit we didn't get when we were kids.

Sometimes there's a one to one correlation.  My parents always yelled at me for using too much toilet paper.  I can still imagine them sitting there listening to me rolling paper off the holder after I used the bathroom and gritting their teeth, knowing that I couldn't possibly need that much paper to wipe my butt.  Now I use as much paper as I want and unconsciously flip them off as I go through roll after roll.  Ha!  How do you like that Ma?

For the most part, there is probably little or no correlation between what we thought we lacked as kids and how we make up for it.  Did I buy that Camaro because I didn't get the slot car set that I wanted in 6th grade?  Only my psychiatrist knows for sure.

I never really try to over-analyze why I buy stuff.  I get things because I want them and I can afford to buy them ... for the most part.  If I'm buying or doing something because I'm pissed off that it never happened during my childhood, well I really don't want to think about that. I'm screwed up enough as it stands.

Almost totally off subject, and a topic that has been beat to death many times over, how many words are used to describe a carbonated beverage and why?  I grew up in southern Missouri, and a carbonated beverage was always called pop.  Here in northern Illinois, it's either pop or soda.  Some places in the south, it's called Coke, or dope. When we were in the southwest this last summer, I always asked for a Coke with my meal.  In a few places, the server asked me what kind?  Pepsi or RC?

I don't believe there are too many products that have such widely varied generic names.  And they all seem to be regional.  One of life's little mysteries.

September 22, 2009

Pick & Choose

September and October mark the beginning of the door to door selling season for area children.  On Saturdays and Sundays they trudge through the streets like reluctant zombies, half-heartedly hocking the products and services foisted on them by organizations that they were forced to join either by their parents or as a result of peer pressure.

The kids, unless they are incredibly stupid, don't want to do it and we, the potential customers, wish they would stay away and do things that normal children do on a weekend like watching cartoons, playing pick-up football and torching abandoned buildings.

Even if you don't want to buy popcorn, candy bars, or cookies; or sponsor someone to run, walk, jump rope or hold their hands over a lit match, it's extremely critical that you do open your wallet to some of the children.

And that reason is politics ... pure and simple.

Because to be a good neighbor is to play politics. Neighbors are primarily neighborly because they are either returning favors or hoping to negotiate future favors.  We're not unlike the Mafia in this respect. Someone bought your kid's candy bars?  Buy their kid's Christmas wreath.  Want your next door neighbor to pick up your mail for a couple of days while you're out of town?  Then buy little Jimmy's popcorn.

But you have to do your homework if you're going to pick the right kid to leverage yourself into an advantageous position.  If you're like me, you couldn't pick your neighbor's kid out of a police line up.  So, about a month before the little beggars actually begin their rounds, I try to familiarize myself with what my neighbor's kids actually look like.  And you have to do this every year because the little monsters have a habit of changing their looks over time.

Take the kid next door to us.  He's blonde and short of stature with a Luke Skywalker haircut ... and he looks just like about 5 other boys I've seen in the area.  In fact, last year I bought 10 dollars worth of raffle tickets from a someone I thought was him, but turned out to be one of the other little bastards.  I was pissed off when the real deal showed up and I had to buy tickets from him too.

There is one product that I absolutely refuse to buy, no matter who brings it to my door.  Boy Scout popcorn. This is the most vile substance ever created by the collaboration of man and nature.  The son of Jesus Christ could not sell me this shit.  Several years ago,  a young Scout showed up on the doorstep and I asked him if he had actually eaten the popcorn.  After staring at me vacantly for a few seconds, he replied that no, he hadn't. I told him to go home and try some, and after eating a few mouthfuls, he would immediately quit scouting rather than continue to sell the crap with a clear conscience.

As time passes, your children grow up and leave home.   You don't mind if the mail piles up for a few days because it's mostly bills anyway.  So you don't really need any favors and  you tend to avoid answering the doorbell because you know who it is and what they want.  And you don't care because kids will usually just ring the bell once and then go away.

Except at Halloween, when the kids are out for themselves, not for some faceless organization which they will eventually forget until later in life ... when they start a blog and need some fodder for a post ... like me ... sometimes.

September 17, 2009

Silly Schoolgirl Crush

I've been down in the basement today, painting trim to finish a project I'm working on.  Painting is a fairly mindless task.  Your brain splits into two operations.  In the basic mode, you're painting ... making sure that everything is covered,  looking for slops and muttering "shit" or "damn" when you make a mistake.  In the other mode, your mind is adrift, sifting through aimless thoughts, sometimes current, sometimes of things long past.

I dug out an old boom box and have it on an oldies station.  Through the morning, they've played more than one Beatles song.  I like the Beatles ... always have and always will.  At first, I was too embarrassed to admit I liked them, but I was about 10 or 11 years old when they made their big break, and at that age, if you're a boy, you're usually hesitant to admit out loud that you like anything of an arty nature.  I remember watching their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show and being really impressed, at least until my Dad came in the room and turned it over to Bonanza or some shit like that.  It wasn't that my Dad didn't like the Beatles.  He just had a hard-on for Ed Sullivan for some reason I never determined.

Anyway, the Beatles arrival in the U.S. made a big splash with all the girls at my grade school.  All of the commotion caused us boys to become more than a little irritated and nonplussed.  At that age, a young man's sexuality is just starting to sputter to life, resulting in a lot of confused feelings.  We weren't sure if we liked girls or not, except for that one guy who is in every group who has a girlfriend in the 5th or 6th grade, and the rest of the guys give him a wide berth because you don't know if he's just way ahead of the learning curve or a homosexual.

But I think because all of the girls were going ape shit over the Beatles, that we were jealous.  We boys all reacted differently to this feeling.  Some taunted the girls for their perceived stupidity, but most of us kept silent and struggled to understand what the fuck was happening to them.

Every girl had their favorite Beatle.  The one she wanted to sire her child.  Most girls picked Paul and John.  A lesser number picked George.  I think my wife chose him, which a makes me wonder about her choice of me, but that's a story for another time.  Hardly anyone picked Ringo.  I questioned the reasoning of these few.  Did they choose Ringo for his looks?  His rapier wit?  Or, with everyone else picking Paul, John and George, were they just trying to be different?  I can tell you that the Paul/John lovers would tolerate the George lovers, but would absolutely shun the Ringo followers.

Of course, none of the boys liked any of them.  At least we said that.  As I look back on it, I was rather partial to Paul, but would never have admitted to myself or anybody else at that time.  Sputtering boy sexuality is confusing enough without having thoughts of dreamy Paul entering your conscious train of thought.

Totally almost off topic, I have a theory about the Beatles and their last minute choice of Ringo over Pete Best as drummer.  I firmly believe that this was a conspiracy hatched by Paul and John because they were afraid Pete Best was better looking than both of them and would not only hog the spotlight, but get all of the "good" women, relegating the rest to sloppy seconds.

I've yet to talk to a woman around my age who will either agree or disagree with this theory.

More often than not, they just move aside with a group of their girlfriends and start giggling.

Stupid girls. 

September 16, 2009

Everyday Annoyances

After looking at two different kinds of baseboard in our front room for several weeks, Jan decided it was time for me to go out and buy the rest of the lumber we needed to finish the job we started in the entry way.

I didn't feel real home-improvy this morning, but thought I'd better run over to the place we bought the entry way baseboard and get what we needed before they ran out of it.  We bought this particular baseboard at Home Depot, which is usually my second pick when I go to get home improvement stuff.  I generally go to Menard's for everything, and will only go to Lowe's when I'm desperate, because they never have jack shit.

Luckily, Home Depot still had what I needed.  Since it only came in 16 foot lengths, I needed to cut it in half so that it would fit in the back of the truck without scattering all over the highway on the way home.

First, I went looking for a lumber cart, but it appeared that the employees had thought that these made good temporary storage stations and display cases.  So I settled for a regular cart, which was awkward.  Then I went looking for someone to cut the wood for me.  After 5 minutes, I managed to corner an employee and asked him if he could help me.  Sorry, the power saw was for plywood only, but I could go saw it myself on some table they had set up in the trim aisle.  Gee thanks asshole.

When I got back to the trim aisle, it seemed like everyone in the store had the same need that I did, so we all jockeyed around each other with our GIANT pieces of wood and stared down each other for the privilege of using the hand saw.  After a half hour of this (which would have taken the asshole thirty seconds to do on the power saw), I was finished and headed to the one register that was open up front.

In front of me was a woman with two carts crammed with at least one of everything that was available in the store. She turned to me and we had this exchange ...

Woman:  This is going to take me a while.  (Insert attitude) You might want to go to another register.

Me:  Do you see another register open?

Woman:  (Looks around) No.

Me:  Well, then thanks for the heads up Captain Obvious. I'll wait.

She glowered at me.  I glowered back, but she broke off eye contact first.

Whoo-Hoo!  I win!

Jesus, sometimes I just hate people.

September 15, 2009

Wipe Out

Network search engines are great, but sometimes they can lead you into places you never had any intention of going.  This morning I was trying to look up some information on a submission that I was putting together and I inadvertently ran across ...

The Freedom Wand

That's right.  For all of you people who grimace at the thought of using your bare hand to wipe your butt after your morning constitutional, the Freedom Wand is available to keep your fingers well away from the action. With its curved 9 inch handle and Doctor Octopus-like tentacle/grippers at the tip, this is one menacing piece of hardware.  Let's see how it works, shall we?

Wow!  Better practice loading it a few times before going in for the kill.  Too little paper and those grippers could hurt.  And too much paper ... well, you're going to have a fun time trying to get rid of that filthy wad in a sanitary manner.

I'm a little confused about the other functions.  Are the loofah, shaving and ointment apps also for the ass region?  Or are they universal?  And, if I'm going to use the loofah app, I want to see if I can get a Freedom Wand autoclave to treat the handle before bathing.

People obviously love the Freedom Wand.  Check out this testimonial from Shelly Loose, Ms Wheelchair Michigan 2007 ...

"As I type this, I'm proud to say I have hairless legs!!  Thanks!!!"

And yes, there is an actual Shelly Loose, and there is actually a Ms Wheelchair Michigan pageant.  If you don't believe me, here's the logo ...

I have my suspicions that the Freedom Wand people altered Shelly's statement substituting the word "legs" for "ass", but that's neither here nor there.  Also, the fact that there is an actual Ms Wheelchair Michigan pageant and a Ms Wheelchair America pageant opens the door for many tasteless jokes, but I'm too classy of a guy to go there.

You can't help but be proud to be an American, when a former Ms Wheelchair Michigan can negotiate lucrative endorsements for very personal hygiene aids, and at the same time distract me for hours from submitting another magazine article that will be rejected and leave me an emotional wreck.

God Bless the USA!

Window Shopping

The days are getting shorter, the sun is setting earlier, and it's time for me to start thinking about resuming my after dinner walks.  My favorite time to walk is that small slice of the day called nautical twilight.  Why?  Because it's dark enough that I can look in peoples front windows, but they can't see me walking down the street looking in their front windows.

There's no perversion involved in it, and if you try to convince yourself that you've never done it, then you're just lying.

Because people have usually turned their inside lights on, it's the perfect time to see their living room decor and how they have the room set up.  I've come up with more than one good idea for my own house just by seeing what others have done with theirs.  Furniture, pictures, drapery ... you name it.  There have been several times when I've seen pieces of furniture or art so striking, that its been all I could do to keep from asking the people where they bought it.  But ringing a door bell and telling the person who answers "hey, I was just looking in your window, where did you get that sofa?" can lead to all sorts of awkwardness and getting punched in the eye.

Then there's the other side of the coin.  You can instantly feel better about yourself just by looking at the godawful taste some people have when they decorate their homes. There's nothing like spotting a floral chintz couch or a particularly ghastly piece of motel art to boost your spirits.

Admittedly, I've seen several strange things while gazing into peoples houses over the years.  One evening I saw a man and a woman having a nasty argument through their front window.  Normally, this wouldn't be too unusual, except in this case the couple were standing there screaming and gesturing at each other, completely naked.  And this was at 7:00 in the evening.

Another time, I passed a couple in their garage, obviously in some kind of skirmish.  The woman was attempting to back her car out of the garage, and the man was pushing against the trunk of the car with all his might, trying to prevent her from leaving.  There was no yelling, just a silent battle between the two.  I just stood there, transfixed, wondering when the woman was going to floor the car and squash the man flat, but a policeman pulled up and ruined everything.

So, in addition to fashion ideas, you can also see some real human drama on these little excursions.

We recently redid our living room, moving and adding a few things to suit our needs a little better.  One of the first things I did after the sun went down was to go outside and see how it looked from the street.

Secretly, I don't think we mind it when people look through our windows.

September 13, 2009

Alzheimer's Check

I never used to think about my memory until a couple of years ago.  At about that time, I started to become mildly concerned about some of my daily routines; the things you do without really thinking about them.

Just as examples, moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer, and then realizing an hour later that you didn't turn the dryer on.  Or placing something in the pantry that should have gone in the refrigerator.  Or opening a closet door and having no clue what you were looking for.

Jan does crossword puzzles and the Jumble with the conscious goal of keeping her memory sharp.  I used to do the crossword when I rode the train to and from work, but I fell out of the habit.  When I started doing the Jumble, I discovered something about myself.  I can stare at one of the mixed up words for about 5 seconds, and automatically figure out the correct word.  I don't know how I do it, I just can.  As with so many oddities that emerge from my brain, I can't figure out how to turn this anomaly into a source of cash.

When I'm feeling apprehensive about my ability to remember things, which is every couple of months or so, I always go to my "gut check" memory tool.

Reciting the names of my teachers from kindergarten through 6th grade.  Here we go:

Kindergarten:  Mrs. Abernathy.

1st Grade:  Mrs. Curnutt. (Bonus memory points for remembering that I was in Mrs. McKnight's class for 3 hours until they realized I was in the wrong place)

2nd Grade:  (Uh, oh)

3rd Grade: Mrs. Barrow.

4th Grade:  Mrs. Snyder.

5th Grade:  Mrs. Snyder again (Yuck).  

6th Grade:  Mrs. Douglas.

This brings up one of the benefits of having a blog. Instead of enjoying the afternoon watching the first regular season football games of the year, you can pour through old pictures and grade cards trying to figure out who the fuck your teacher was in 2nd grade.

Postscript:  Hey, this is my 100th post.  Who would have thought I could transfer this much shit out of my brain onto paper.

September 11, 2009

The Replacements

One of the things that we all have in common is an identity.  Without an identity, you're invisible to the world.  Most of us have our real identity.  Some of us have an assumed identity.  Others have their identity stolen and more than a few of us encounter an identity crisis.  Our identity is with us from the moment we are conceived and lasts long after we leave this earth.  Just look on any grave marker.  There's someones name, their identity.  Even if the marker says "Unknown", they still have an identity, you just don't know who they are.  Our identities are cast in steel during our school and work years, and we hope they are good, and just and right.

But sometimes, our identities are put in the shadow of someone else's.  And it takes time and effort to stand out.

My wife took a new teaching job in her district this year in a different building.  The person who had previously had the class suffered a severe stroke during the summer and was unable to return to start the year.  What Jan wasn't told about the position, was that everyone in the administration was working under the assumption that this teacher would be returning ... eventually.  The family of the previous teacher is being extremely close to the vest about her condition, leading one to believe that Mrs. "X" had a stroke of the "Dick Clark" variety.  But no one can make a move, and as a consequence, Jan is being treated as a substitute teacher.  Mrs. X's name is on Jan's classroom door, on Jan's mailbox and the other teachers, as well as her own students refer to her as Mrs. X's substitute. 

This frustrates Jan, but she knows she will have to be patient, and let the passage of time allow her to solidify her own identity in the new setting.

A similar thing happened to me when I took a new job as a QA supervisor at a manufacturing plant.  Pete, my predecessor decided he didn't want to be in QA anymore and moved into production at the same facility.  He trained me for a few weeks and then I struck out on my own.

Except I wasn't doing things the same way Pete did.  And I meant for this to be, because frankly, I thought the way Pete did things were fucked up and wrong.  More manufacturing than QA oriented, which at the time, was not a good thing.  No one, especially Pete, liked the way I was operating, because it made it more difficult for them to ship shit product out the door ... and they tried more ways than one.  And Pete never missed an opportunity to tell me and everyone else that what I was doing was very wrong ... very un-Pete.

One day, the plant manager came to me and said he was going to build me a new office, away from the production people, so I could have more room for my testing instruments and paper storage.  This was good news to me, for about 10 minutes, when it dawned on me that they were just moving me away from the action.  A classic maneuver to weaken my identity.  But as it turned out, I didn't like my new office very much, and ended up hanging out in the manufacturing offices most of the time, where I could keep my ear to the ground.

Less than a year later, I was promoted to the head of the QA department of the division and moved far away. Much to everyone's relief.  However, I did get to pick my successor, and was able to leave a little bit of myself behind.

And it didn't hurt that Pete died soon after I left.

September 09, 2009

Hand Signals

This morning I was out running a couple of errands. Today is one of those kinds of days where I didn't feel like going out for anything, but I have a friend whose birthday is drawing very near, so if I didn't get a card, and mail it today, it wouldn't get there on time.  To me, sending a birthday card and having it arrive late is worse than sending no card at all.  And I never send belated birthday cards.  If I forget, then I'll just let it slide until the next year.  I feel the same way about receiving birthday cards after my birthday, or receiving belated birthday cards.  It's like the person cared enough to remember when my birthday was, but didn't care quite enough to make sure it got there when it counted.  When this happens to me, I usually wish the sender had just bought themselves a coffee and doughnut instead of pretending they actually cared about me.  Do you  hear that Mom?

Anyway, while I was driving, I came upon a small car in front of me that was weaving side to side as it traveled down the road.  At 9:30 in the morning, you really don't think of encountering someone who's driving while drunk, but I guess there's never a bad time to get loaded if you're in the mood.  As I drew up behind the car at a stop light, I saw that the two occupants were having a lively conversation by signing to each other.

I don't have any experience signing, but I would imagine that you need to be looking at someone to do it.  So that explained the weaving.  They were so busy talking that the driver didn't have time to watch the road.  The light changed and the two continued on down the road, signing away.  I noticed that both occupants were smoking and wondered if they got mixed up when they paused to flick their ashes out the window.  I also wondered if they could be pulled over and given a ticket for "signing while driving".  Sort of like talking on a cell phone or texting while driving.  The two seem like they would be similar distractions.

After a minute, the two turned into a McDonald's, and I glanced over as they pulled up to a drive thru window.

I wonder how that works?

September 07, 2009

Exit Interview

This spring will mark ten years since I left the job that occupied most of my adult life.  Leaving wasn't my idea, but when a company is sold to another company in the same business, mass layoffs on both sides is the usual result.  The sale was no surprise to anyone, as we had been told we were up for sale before the holidays of the previous year.  Some of our group left on their own accord, but others with many years of service, like me, stayed until the takeover so we could collect what was a very generous severance package and could remain eligible for our pensions.

As the takeover date drew near, those of us who had been told that our services were not needed by the new overlords faced the looming specter of unemployment in different ways.  Some of us, like me, developed a macabre sense of humor.  Others, like the woman in the cube next to me, became manic-depressive, laughing for no reason one minute, and crying the next.

During the last week of our employment, we were asked to participate individually in an exit interview with our supervisors.  I've never really grasped the concept of an exit interview.  I don't believe that it's a federal requirement.  From the articles that I've read, I gather that it's a method for the company to improve its operations by having a frank discussion with the soon-to-be-gone employee on ways that it can improve its something, something ...  The explanation eludes me because it's always given in that business-speak bullshit that I hate to such a degree that my brain shuts down whenever I encounter it.

But we all agreed to do it, mainly because the company was still waving the severance package over our heads, and at that point we were all hopping around like monkeys on crack so we wouldn't lose it.  My exit interview was given to me by my new supervisor, SCJ. SCJ had been chosen to be my supervisor several weeks previously even though he'd never supervised before and didn't want the job.  During the last months before the sale, my supervisors changed constantly.  I began to understand what a lower level German staff officer must have felt toward the end of World War II, when all of his superiors were being removed involuntarily by Allied gunfire or treason firing squads.  On the day of my exit interview, I skipped into SCJ's office, and we got down to business.

SCJ:  This is awkward.

Me:  Tell me about it.

SCJ:  They gave me this script.  I'll just read the questions, you answer them, and we'll be out of here.

Me:  Okay, shoot.

SCJ:  Why did you decide to leave the company?

Me:  Because you fired me.

SCJ:  They didn't fire you.  They laid you off.

Me:  Are they going to un-lay me off?

SCJ:  I doubt it.

Me:  Same thing then.  Look, just write down that the company was sold.  Okay?

SCJ:  Okay.  Next question.  What do you think the company can do to improve itself?

Me:  Huh?  The company is going to be extinct in the next couple of days.  How do you improve something that doesn't exist?

SCJ:  C'mon, I didn't write these questions ...

And on it went for a half-hour, until SCJ had read all of the questions and was covered in flop sweat.  Since he was in the same boat as I was, I felt sorry for him and was glad that I hadn't been put in his shit position.

In the past ten years, I've had one more exit interview, from a job that I left entirely for my own reasons.  I never gave that supervisor a reason for leaving, other than I was just moving on.  I know this grated on him because it reflected poorly on his performance.

But in situations like that, I like to evoke that old saying ... If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.

September 06, 2009

Murder Corner

I'm not one for sitting still very long.  I don't think I used to have this urge to always be doing something, but it's the way I am now.  So, after I was through with mowing the grass this morning, I decided I needed to go pick up a few grocery items for dinner.  On the way out, I passed a pile of books on the table and decided that since I wasn't going to read them, I'd take them back to the library while I was out.  I generally like to read, but not so much during the summer.  This doesn't stop me from checking out a pile of books, but they generally just gather dust until they come due, and then I cart them back to the library, unread.

After dropping off the books, I headed over to Murder Corner to buy the groceries.  Murder Corner has a regional chain grocery store that also has a bank inside, and an empty space where there used to be a coffee shop, but I guess no one liked the coffee, so it was closed and they board up the space with decorative displays of soda cases and Triscuits.  But you can still see the counter and tables inside.  Apparently, no one wanted to cart the furniture away.  Also on Murder Corner is a shuttered-up Burger King.  It has one of those glass encased two-story "playlands" inside, like those at McDonald's.  I don't know why the people at Burger King spend their lives trying to emulate McDonald's.  You would think they would try to differentiate themselves, but they never do.  I guess they're fine with being Number Two in the burger world.

I don't think anyone else calls this little two acre parcel Murder Corner, but me.  I have names for almost every place in this area.  It simplifies it when Jan asks me where I'm going.  I gave Murder Corner its name because there were two murders there.  Well, technically, only one murder.  The other was "death by swat team". 

Earlier in this decade, a young man was being chased by the police for some serious crime that I've forgotten. During the car chase, the young man thought it would be a good idea to stop at the grocery store.  So he hopped out of his car with his shotgun and ran to the back of the store and hid in the meat department.  Human nature as it is, several shoppers flagged down the police and pointed them in the right direction.  Hours were spent in negotiation, but the young man had apparently been watching "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and thought he could shoot his way out.  He was wrong, and was removed in several pieces.

Later in this decade, a middle aged manager, who happened to be a woman, was opening up her Burger King early in the morning to get ready for the breakfast trade.  A former employee followed her in and strangled her with her own necktie, part of her Burger King uniform.  The former employee was arrested about a week later and still sits in jail awaiting trial for murder. Ironically, the woman had just been transferred at her own request from another Burger King because she had been robbed at gunpoint at that location, and wanted a safer work environment.

I like to think that I don't get spooked easily, but I suppose I'm just fooling myself.  After the incident at the grocery store, I wouldn't shop there for 6 months or so, and after I did resume shopping there, I wouldn't buy anything from the meat department.  I know they cleaned up all the blood and body parts, but there's just something about buying raw meat in a place where someone has been blown apart that doesn't set well with me.

The Burger King had only been open a short while when the murder occurred.  They tried to make the best of it for a while, offering free food and coupons, but it didn't work and people stayed away.  There's something about a murder that crushes the happy atmosphere of a burger place.  The business was closed and it remains empty today, with a forlorn lease sign in front.  The husband of the murdered woman shows up on the anniversaries of her death to camp out over night.  The local police used to hassle him, but they leave him alone now.

To me, it's odd how one business stays open, and another closes after incidents of these sorts.  I suppose it's all in how different kinds of deaths are perceived.

September 04, 2009

The Dark Side

It's been a long time since I've been in a structured learning environment (a.k.a. school), but that doesn't mean that I don't remember anything I learned.  That is, unless you are counting my business classes, of which I remember little or nothing.  This is unfortunate because it happened to be my major in college.  But this doesn't really bother me because exactly one day into my first job after graduation I realized that I would have been better off receiving a daily enema than enduring months and years of classroom blather about marketing strategies, supply & demand and the Peter Principle (hee, hee ... "Peter").

No, the disciplines I enjoyed and remembered are from those "filler" classes for dimwit business majors like English composition, political science, history and psychology.

Especially psychology.  I couldn't get enough and particularly devoured those classes featuring psychology in its more heinous forms; abnormal, deviant and criminal.  I loved covertly analyzing others and often wondered how others classified me.  I learned early on that this was called a "neurosis",  but at least I had a name for it.  And once you have a name for something, it's not supposed to bother you so much, right?  Boy, I hope I am, otherwise I have some problems ...

I bring this up because for the last week or so, I've been bringing my rudimentary knowledge of psychology into my everyday life.  And it boils right down to the Big Three:  Id, Ego and Super-ego.  Here's the way I interpret these three guys;  The Id is the Tasmanian Devil, a slobbering beast only interested in self-satisfaction.  The Ego is like an NBA basketball referee, trying to keep the Id satisfied, but without getting everybody into trouble while managing the point spread. And the Super-ego is God, who makes the Id and Ego feel lower than whale shit for every rotten fucking thing they've ever done in their miserable lives.  Here's how these three bastards are messing with my shit this past week ...

Case One.  Yesterday I was supposed to get something out of the freezer to thaw for dinner.  Id says fuck it, I'm busy.  If I forget to defrost something, I'll just go get a pizza.  Ego says well, that's a thought, but you ought to get something out.  You can always put it back in the freezer later if you change your mind.  Go ahead and do your thing and wait a bit to get it out.  Super-ego says get that goddamned thing out of the freezer now!  Pizza costs too much and it's not good for you, you lazy ass punk!

Late in the day, Id and Ego told Super-ego to go take a flying fuck at the moon and picked up a tasty pizza.  Plus they felt no guilt.

Case Two.  I keep thinking about buying a new flat screen TV.  Id says go buy it, plain and simple.  Ego says, well your present TV is only 5 years old and there's nothing wrong with it.  Maybe if it starts going bad, you can think about getting a new one.  You know, maybe it will fall off of it's stand or there will be a power surge or something and you can get another one then.  Super-ego says, are you fucking crazy!  Do you know how much those things cost?  You shouldn't be wasting your time watching TV anyway.  Go to the library and borrow a book to read, you lazy ass punk!

Super-ego seems to be winning this one for now.

Case Three.  I'm presently unemployed.  Id says, you've got a roof over your head and plenty to eat.  Enjoy yourself, you've earned it after busting your ass all of these years.  Ego says, I don't know, you need to keep spending a portion of your day looking for work and going on interviews.  After all, you're not ready to retire yet. Super-ego says, you had damn well better spend the majority of your day looking for work, and when you're not looking for work, you'd better goddamned well be feeling guilty about not having a job.  Everyone else does you lazy ass punk!

Ego and Super-ego definitely have the upper hand in this one, and I'm glad they do.  The only thing about this is that when I do go back to work, I'll feel bad that I didn't enjoy my time off because I was so worried about getting another job.  Super-ego wins twice on this one.

In proofing this, I wonder if I need to go see a therapist. Nah ... Super-ego would make me feel guilty about it.

I hate that guy.

September 03, 2009

Hammer Time

The other night, I was going through the visitor numbers on my blog site and ran across a new visitor.  New visitors always get me excited, because I like to hit the "referral" button and see how the newbie ran across my blog. Sometimes the paths are predictable, but once in a while, you come across one that makes you scratch your head and wonder how they found you when they were looking for something so completely different.

This one new visitor was a case in point.  He or she had been looking for tips on how to repair water damaged floors.  It took me a while, but then I remembered I had posted a couple of stories about re-doing my entry way, and I must have mentioned the water damage I had encountered.

Wow.  I wonder if I helped the person, or if he was just annoyed he had wasted his time.  I'd like to think I did help him, because ... well, goddamnit I'm getting pretty good at fixing shit around here.

I know Jan gets nervous when I start something, because she thinks I'm going to fuck it up and then we'll have to call someone in to make it right, but we haven't had to so far.  And besides my success with the entry way, I've done a few other projects over the summer that I'm sort of proud of.  In fact, I took pictures when I was through, and I'd like to share them in the hope that I can give someone the confidence to start saving money and fixing up their homes for fun and self satisfaction.

The Mailbox Project.  During the winter, some yahoo snow plow driver hit my mailbox and snapped it clean off. Well, since we had drifts that lasted into March, I just stuck what was left of it in the snow by the road and got by until the thaw.  Then the mailman stopped delivering because he didn't want to get out of his jeep and put the mail in the box that was now lying on the ground.  I was getting tired of running to the post office to pick up my mail, so I thought about a solution, and just taking things from around the house, put in a very respectable mailbox ...

Best Looking Mailbox On The Street

The Toilet Project.  When a house gets to be about 20 years old, there are probably a few things that need to be updated.  I'd never replaced a toilet before, but then there's always a first time for everything.  So I went to my local home improvement store and got a terrific deal on toilets.  Two for the price of one.  The only problem with the second one was that it had a part missing, but as you can see, no problem.  The first toilet was intact, but I had to do a little carpentry work to fit it into the space.  Again, no problem ...

Who Needs A Water Tank When There Are Other Alternatives?

I Should Have Bought That One With The Front Flush Lever

The Drain Project.  After I put the toilets in, I found that they were draining a little slow.  So I checked out the basement and figured out a new plumbing configuration to help with the drain time.  Sure, it got a little complicated, but I figured it out ...

A Work Of Modern Art

The Roof Project.  One day after a mighty blow, I was walking around the house to see if we had lost any shingles.  The shingles were still there, but I discovered a disturbing bow in the roof.  When I went in the attic to check it out, I found that one of the rafters had broken. Boy, talk about shoddy craftsmanship by my builder. Well, I either had to have part of the roof taken off to fix it, or I could tackle it myself ...

That Roof Won't Bow Any More Than It Is Now

After thinking about all of my success with home repair this summer, I believe it might be time for me to hire myself out to help others with their predicaments.

If you're interested, just give me a call at 555-687-2474. That's 555-OVR-CHRG.

P.S.  Here are pictures of my finished entry way.

September 01, 2009

Tis The Season

September 1st.  For all of you weather heads out there, this is the first day of meteorological fall.  That's right ... summer is gone, kaput, finished, a day old memory.  Yes, I know that Labor Day hasn't even occurred yet, but due to some catastrophic failure in the Gregorian calendar, it won't happen until almost the middle of the month, so we should just ignore it this year and go to work on Monday.  It missed it's chance.  Fall is here.

Normally, I would miss the passing of summer, but this year I don't give a shit.  If I hadn't spent two weeks in the southwest in July, I would never have believed that the cold, damp, dreary days that made up the last three months here in the upper midwest were actually supposed to be summer.  When you have air conditioning, and your highest monthly electric bill is 15 cents, you know something is wrong.

So, bring on fall.  It has all the cool holidays anyway. September is National Chicken Month, October is National Pizza Month and November is National Epilepsy Month (Yay epilepsy!).  And of course you have Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Very cool.

Even my mailbox knows that summer is over.  Today, when I grabbed my mail, I was delighted to see my first Christmas catalog!  Actually, I was pretty happy to see it, because I have two particular items that I want to buy this season.

The first is a new snow blower.  My poor little Toro was overwhelmed last winter and couldn't tackle even the smallest drift without emitting a feeble cough and dying. Actually, I didn't use the descriptives "poor" and "little" when it did this.  I'm trying to recall exactly what I said, but I think it had "motherfucker" as one of the words. This year I'm going to buy something so humongous that it will blow snow into driveways three houses away from me.  Ah, that'll piss people off. 

The second thing on my list is a brand new all natural fake Christmas tree.  Our present all natural fake Christmas tree is as old as my son, which is pretty old. It's been hauled out and put back so many times that I'm sure it would look right at home in one of those stick man cartoons.  And besides, Jan's been after me for 87 years to get a new tree and I figure she's way overdue to get her way.  What a guy I am!

Sorry to be a buzz kill, but it's time for the seasons to move forward.  I know I'll regret saying this when I'm walking through some parking lot with the temperature at zero and wind cutting me in half, but I'll be the first one rooting for spring next year.

So Merry Christmas and ho, ho fucking ho!