Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ell Ayy

I love flying. I'll ride in airplanes all day long. There's nothing I don't love about it, except for the part when you're squished into a seat that's 12 sizes too small with no legroom, and the guy behind you is coughing so hard it's messing up your hair, and the lady in front insists on fully reclining while your oversize laptop is folding on your meaty fingers... But other than that, it's a wonderful way to spend a day. The best part for me is the takeoff: The massive engines roaring to full throttle and taking me with them, hurtling down a runway with a definite finish line, pressing my back into the seat and then flinging me into glossy smooth air. The clunk of landing gear folding neatly into the plane's belly. The sinking feeling when the pilot retracts the flaps, and watching houses become smaller by the second. Graceful banks and turns, the shadows playing across disinterested passengers. Breaking through clouds and into a spotless blue sky. I love it. It's fully 3/4 of the excitement of any trip for me. In fact, someday when I have more money than bills, I may take myself and maybe Boy on a flying vacation. Just a weekend going from city to city, sampling the various airport Cinnabons and souvenir shops. This trip was worthy of excitement. It was to be a weekend in Long Beach, a leadership conference for a training organization we're part of. This group of people is worth the trip to visit, because they are smart, diverse, visionary, and passionate about people. More on that at another time. Before we even got close though, there were adventures. Oh yes. I took Friday off, even though technically I could have worked in the morning. But then I wouldn't get to sleep in and have breakfast at home. And that would be silly. After the Kid Drop, we meandered to the airport way in the sticks east of Grand Rapids. It's supposedly an international airport, because I think sometimes planes get diverted from Canada. We got there ridiculously early, for I am compulsive about not missing flights, and I happen to like Cinnabon. Plenty of time to finish some incredibly tasty and obviously unhealthy snacks and a large coffee, which is important since the TSA thinks coffee can bring down an airliner and won't allow it past security. Finally, it was time to board the plane and settle in for the long trip to Detroit. Why would we go to Detroit, when it's the other direction from LA? Because it's Northwest's hub in this area, and according to them, all roads lead to Detroit. It's a 3-hour drive from my home, or a 20-minute flight with another 2 hours 40 minutes in taxiing, de-icing, security, and shuffling along concourses. Seems about a wash, but hey, it's another airplane ride. Plus, whatever Lady Jane Scarlett may say about Detroit's scenery, the airport is the very nicest part of the city. For the life of me I can't figure out why anyone lives there, but that's just me. Our flight from Grand Rapids was delayed so we sprinted the 1.4 miles from people-mover to people-mover to the departing gate. It's a long, straight airport. I nearly knocked over a family of Chinese tourists, bursting through them like a running back to a chorus of screeching foreign gibberish. It was awesome. We made it onto the shiny new 757 just in time, and settled in next to a very large, very tattooed woman. She was very pleasant but tired and had the aroma of one who had been traveling a very long time. This was a very full but enjoyable flight, loaded with business people, families, and small children. There were so many questions: "Is that normal? Is it supposed to be tipping like this? The pilots are smart, right? What was that noise?" After about 2 hours, I was able to reassure Mrs. Spiffy that everything would be OK. We arrived in good shape at LAX, and took the yellow shuttle to the rental car joint. This looked like a foam-padded bomb shelter from the 1940's, with fire-proofed ceilings and lamps hanging from cords all over. It was packed, and since we're not VIP members, there was a long wait in line. I set Mrs. Spiffy to waiting while I tried to look up our hotel on one of their convenient direction-finding-machines. It didn't show up on their list of hotels. Anywhere. Oh crap. Turns out the meeting place was half the distance to the hotel, and the stories I'd heard about The 405 had me worked into a clammy little fit. I returned to the line to find the heavily accented and earnestly smiling desk clerk trying to sell insurance to Mrs. Spiffy. "It's LA, you know. You'd be stupid not to buy it, after all, your deductible is hundreds, and this will only cost you $11 a day, that's like (pause to do the math) only $63 for peace of mind..." On and on he went. Would NOT take 'no' for an answer. Or even a hint. Then the gas - we could fill it up ourselves on the Mean Streets of LA, or pay them $6 per gallon after the fact - or pay him $60 up front. After that, it was an upgrade. He practically begged us to get a better car. We steadfastly refused, and he gave us an upgrade anyway. Apparently they were out of Ford Focuses (Foci?). We wound up with a zippy little Mazda that was far too responsive for my tastes. I prefer a car with roar, not zing. I'd twitch and the car would wind up in the next lane. It was exciting, but not what I'm used to at all. I eased us onto The 405, and gritted my teeth for what was certain to be a dreadful experience of gridlock and road rage. It turned out to be 6 lanes of smooth sailing. We got there early enough to duck into an office building's restrooms to change out of our travel clothes and into 'reception wear.' The weekend was a disappointing 65-70 degrees during the day; it turns out the ocean was a little cool for even hardy Michigan folks. The hardcore local surfers were prepared with dry suits. We saw dozens on Sunday morning, all struggling to ride weak little waves for even a half minute. The rest of the story to come, as Charter has chosen to not come through as hoped. They'll get their own story. I'm gonna find something warm and smooth to drink and get back to ya soon.

Change is Inevitable

I have stories brewing and bubbling, oh yes I do. They are seething, steaming, waiting to be foisted upon innocent and unsuspecting eyes. I'm struggling to keep the lid on so their flavor doesn't dissipate, and hope they keep for another day or two. You see, I had big plans to have 3 stories up by now. But, I've switched departments at work and that's contributed to a serious changing of (read: messing up) my routine. I am moving from Project Management to Design, which has its pluses and minuses. I'll be desk-based instead of traveling, which means yesterday I had to cough up my beloved testosterone-laced laptop for a diesel-powered behemoth PC. The upside is I have 2 massive flat panel monitors, so I can keep favorite pictures (no, not naughty ones) on one screen and work on the other... Meanwhile, at Spiffy Town Hall, I let my trusty (HAH!) dial-up service expire. No internet. At all. Until Thursday. The nice folks at Charter are laying a pipeline right to my front door. YESS! I shall catch up with a vengeance.

A Political Post

I rarely foray into this realm on Spiffytown, but due to recent events and the easily riled passions of some of my friends, I have to tell you about a universal bumper sticker that was announced in the last year. It's appropriate for both Democrats and Republicans. It simply says: RUN, HILLARY, RUN! Republicans mount it on their front bumper.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Lumps O' Meat

I returned from our Weekend In Long Beach this morning, after a ridiculous arrangement of flights and layovers, and decided it was my night to cook dinner. So, you'll get a mini-update (more fuller updateliness to follow) and a recipe to round out my Monday. I didn't sleep really last night; there was a series of 20 minute naps between LA and Detroit, a series of 40-minute naps on the airport floor, and a 40-minute nap after returning home. In this state, you may find me rambling unpredictablier than usual. Sorry. First, with the recipe-ing. Ok, maybe 2nd, because the Shrinking Piggies are making some progress and still need their beloved cheerleaders to help them fight the good fight. Go see and comment. OK, the recipe evolved thusly: In my freezer, I discovered several vacuum-sealed lumps of mystery meat. Upon defrosting, I found 2 nice pork medallions and one good beef steak (hard to tell exactly what the unlabeled, frost-encrusted meat was at first). I set 'em to float in warm water when we got home around 1PM. The Fam was due back from various school engagements around 5:30, so around 5:00 I started the cooking. It took about 25 minutes from start to table, and there were NO leftovers - which means either I didn't make enough or everyone liked it. Since we're all full, I'm going with (B). 3 Lumps O' Meat, about 3# total - pork or beef steak or chops, trim fat and bones 1 green pepper 1 red pepper 1 onion 1 tsp garlic (I use the kind that comes in a jar, pre-chopped) olive oil dry spices First I mixed up a bowl of dry spices. When all was done, there was a little under 1/4 cup of spice mixture, consisting of what I found in the cupboard: garlic salt, onion powder, curry, turmeric, ground black pepper, ground red (cayenne) pepper, and sage. I sauteed half the onion and 1 tsp garlic in olive oil. I spread some olive oil into the meat and rubbed in a sprinkling of spices all around. Then I sliced the meat into bite-size pieces, keeping it rolled in the spices. Toss in with the sauteed onions and garlic. While the meat is on, chop the peppers and remaining onion half; add to meat mixture when it's half done. Cover and simmer while cooking minute rice; serve the goodies over rice with soy sauce to taste, and you'll be the darling of the dinner. This trip was a whirlwind of activity, involving dear friends, the silliness that is modern travel, massive climate changes, dinner parties, and sleep deprivation. Unfortunately, the latter is making me kinda loopy and I'll have to officially begin the tale tomorrow, even though it's only 7:32 PM EST and I should have enough energy for another hour of tale-telling, at least. Again, sorry, but my pillow is calling my name and it just won't shut up.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Up, Up, and Away

I get to spend the next 4 days in Sunny Long Beach, CA. I'm heartbroken at the prospect of missing my blog haunts. But, it's comforting to know I'll be walking on a sidewalk in the sunshine tomorrow - with short sleeves. Yay! My hotel will have wiffy, and if there's time I'll post from the road. Have a great weekend, and submit your souvenir requests via comments.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I concocted Tiff's Pot Roasty (oasty oasty) today for the Family Dinner. It was a big hit, and Girl only squirted a little ketchup on it (grrr...). Delicious! I'm a hero again. As the meal was winding down, Mrs. Spiffy asked me where I learned to cook. I thought following directions was a pretty easy way to make food turn out well, but I had to say my mom taught me the basics ("Don't light the house on fire and follow the directions."). Then she asked me for my favorite memory of my mom. I fell silent. I couldn't think of one. For several minutes, I sat blankly, sadly, empty. She spoke up. "I have lots!" she volunteered. There was the time at my in-laws' brand new, beautiful and very swanky log-cabin home that mom was found under an end table, playing with all the young kids. Then she would sing them songs and bounce them on her knees. Another time while helping paint our first house, my father-in-law came running to my mom, a registered nurse. "Phyllis, please help! My finger is stuck in the paint roller!" She tenderly, gingerly unscrewed the roller from his finger, taking care not to cause any pain. "That was fun!" he said, jamming it back on. She looked so concerned for his safety. The more I thought about it, the more memories came rolling back. Most involving neighbor kids (our house was the local gathering place, and the fridge was open to anyone), Campfire Girls (she was the council chairwoman and a group leader for some time), and food. She taught a lesson to a campfire group, hanging a paper sign on each girl's neck that read, "IALAC," which stands for I Am Lovable And Capable. Any time someone would hear a put-down or unkind word, they were to tear off a little chunk of their own sign and hand it to the offending party. In 30 minutes, rudeness and insults disappeared from a group of 15 girls. No matter who was over or what was going on, she was always trying to feed them. Never fancy, always friendly, she would make anyone feel welcome. She was very creative, intelligent, and had a goofy sense of humor (after the 7th chorus of "Three Short-Necked Buzzards," it was more goofy than humor). Most of my personal memories, unfortunately, involve me trying to leave. I resisted her authority regularly, either by argument, manipulation, or flat-out disobedience. As a youngster I would climb out my bedroom window onto the porch roof and down the tall pine tree to escape a grounding or early bedtime. When I gained my driver's license, I was home as little as possible. I tried moving out twice before finally (finally - at 20 years old) getting married and leaving for good. The reasons for all this escapism escape me. I'd like to think I was running toward something, because I sure can't figure out what I could have been running away from. Mom has MS. She's been in a nursing home about 2 hours from my home for several years, unable to get out of bed, walk, or even straighten her legs. She is in constant pain, especially if anyone touches the bed or her. She can't read my blog, write to friends, hold a phone, hold my kids, or even hold a conversation most days. I miss her.

Quick! Read This!

According to Kristi Lee this morning, it's National Compliment Day. I'll start by saying I'm thrilled to have you here and you sure do smell nice, and what a wonderful comment you left for me the other day. Oh, and nice scarf. I think this is a PERFECT occasion to get you to turn in your homework from last week, and tell us of an encounter of kindness you had with someone. It's not bragging, it's sharing, which according to experts, is different. Who knows, we might get some ideas from you. Oh, and the bunny? Do NOT say that to people. It's not kind. ========================= I'll be traveling for work again today, maybe there will be more posting from me at day's end. Maybe not. I never know with me. Have a wonderful day.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

It's In The Dictionary

"Gullible" has finally been removed from the English language. Go look it up (again, for some of you). I was reminded when browsing my vast archives of stuff-that-makes-me-grin, of a story involving a young lady I'll call Laura. One dark and foggy night after band practice, we were leaving the auditorium, and I noted how the darkness was flowing into the big tungsten lights in the parking lot. Laura tilted her head and said, "Huh?" I explained the Dark Sucker Theory to her, and she nodded thoughtfully. (It should be pointed out, Laura is a highly intelligent, very gifted and creative person, not given to dullness. She was, however, about 17 years old at the time.) Her eyes sucked extra dark as a question occurred to her. "What about headlights? How come in the fog, you see the beams of light way out ahead of the car?" I explained that those were directional dark suckers, like the corner nozzle you attach to a vacuum hose. That seemed to satisfy her. I don't know why, but the next time I saw her I got the stinkeye. For hours. I guess she was trying to explain her newfound knowledge to her family, and hilarity ensued. She was under the impression people were laughing AT her, not NEAR her. Well, I know the Dark Sucker Theory is true. I read it on the Internet. ==================================== For years, it has been believed that electric bulbs emit light, but recent information has proved otherwise. Electric bulbs don't emit light; they suck dark.Thus, we call these bulbs Dark Suckers. The Dark Sucker Theory and the existence of dark suckers prove that dark has mass and is heavier than light. First, the basis of the Dark Sucker Theory is that electric bulbs suck dark. For example, take the Dark Sucker in the room you are in. There is much less dark right next to it than there is elsewhere. The larger the Dark Sucker, the greater its capacity to suck dark. Dark Suckers in the parking lot have a much greater capacity to suck dark than the ones in this room. So with all things, Dark Suckers don't last forever. Once they are full of dark, they can no longer suck. This is proven by the dark spot on a full Dark Sucker. A candle is a primitive Dark Sucker. A new candle has a white wick. You can see that after the first use, the wick turns black, representing all the dark that has been sucked into it. If you put a pencil next to the wick of an operating candle, it will turn black. This is because it got in the way of the dark flowing into the candle. One of the disadvantages of these primitive Dark Suckers is their limited range. There are also portable Dark Suckers. In these, the bulbs can't handle all the dark by themselves and must be aided by a Dark Storage Unit. When the Dark Storage Unit is full, it must be either emptied or replaced before the portable Dark Sucker can operate again. Dark has mass. When dark goes into a Dark Sucker, friction from the mass generates heat. Thus, it is not wise to touch an operating Dark Sucker. Candles present a special problem as the mass must travel into a solid wick instead of through clear glass. This generates a great amount of heat and therefore it's not wise to touch an operating candle. Also, dark is heavier than light. If you were to swim just below the surface of the lake, you would see a lot of light. If you were to slowly swim deeper and deeper, you would notice it getting darker and darker. When you get really deep, you would be in total darkness. This is because the heavier dark sinks to the bottom of the lake and the lighter light floats at the top. This is why it is called light. Finally, we must prove that dark is faster than light. If you were to stand in a lit room in front of a closed, dark closet, and slowly opened the closet door, you would see the light slowly enter the closet. But since dark is so fast, you would not be able to see the dark leave the closet. Next time you see an electric bulb, remember that it is a Dark Sucker.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Prayer Alert

I received this email some time ago. It looks urgent; please pray and see what you can do for this poor child.


My name is Billy Evans. I AM A very sick little boy.

My mother is typing this for me, because I can't. She Is crying. The reason she is so sad is because I'm so Sick. I was Born without A body. It doesn't hurt, Except when I try to breathe.

The doctors gave me an artificial body. It is A burlap Bag filled with leaves. The doctors said that was the Best they could do ON account of us having No money OR Insurance.

I would like to have A body transplant, but we need More money. Mommy doesn't work because she said nobody Hires crying people. I said, " Don't cry, Mommy and " and She hugged my burlap bag. Mommy always gives me hugs, Even though she's allergic to burlap and it makes her Sneeze and chafes her real bad.

I hope you will help me. You can help me if you Forward this email to everyone you know. Forward it to People you don't know, the too. Dr. Johansen said that for Every person you forward this email to, Bill Gates Will team up with AOL and send A nickel to NASA. With That funding, NASA will collect prayers from school Children all over America and have the astronauts take Them up into space so that the angels can hear them Better.

Then they will come back to earth and go to the Pope, And he will take up A collection IN church and send All the money to the doctors. The doctors could help Me get better then. Maybe one day I will be able to Play baseball. Right now I can only be third base.

Every time you forward this letter, the astronauts can Take more prayers to the angels and my dream will be Closer to coming true. Please help me. Mommy is so Sad and and I want A body. I don't want my leaves to rot Before I turn 10

If you don't forward this email, that's okay. Mommy Says you're A mean and heartless bastard who doesn't Care about A poor little boy with only A head. She Says that if you don't stew IN the raw pit of your own Guilt-ridden stomach, she hopes you die A long slow, Horrible death and then burn forever IN hell.

What kind of cruel person are you that you can't take Five freakin' minutes to forward this to all your Friends so that they can feel guilt and shame about Ignoring A poor, bodiless nine-year-old boy? Please Help me.

I try to be happy, but it's hard. I wish I had A Kitty. I wish I could hold A kitty. I wish I could Hold A kitty that wouldn't chew ON me and try to bury Its turds IN the leaves of my burlap body. I wish that Very much.

Thank You,

Billy " Smiles " Evans

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Forgiveness Is For Suckers

I read this somewhere recently. It was written by a dear friend, and while a little funny (and something I may have said at one point), it broke my heart. Without forgiveness, there's no hope for me. I know I will let you down, disappoint you, say something unkind, show up late, or roll my eyes at you if you know me long enough. We're all adults, right? It's OK to acknowledge that sometimes we're selfish bastards, and looking out for our own interests. Once in a while, we drop the ball. It makes it hard to remain friends if we keep every disappointment on a list for quick reference later, like Weight Watchers points. "You did this to me on August 3, so I get to do THAT to you today." It's not a trade-off; it's more like arsenic. It builds in your system, never going away, until it reaches a lethal level. If you make a mistake with me and acknowledge it, we're good as new. If you do it on purpose, and we get to talk about it and resolve it, there is no problem. The best definition I've ever found for forgiveness is this: Refusing to make you pay. It acknowledges that a) there is something that happened to put you in debt to me, b) I have a right to collect, and c) I am choosing not to collect. Period. It doesn't say anything about your contrition, remorse, or even asking for it. It doesn't say that I trust you, or let it happen again. It simply means that I am letting it go. The books are balanced; that transaction is canceled out. So what if things keep going wrong? What if it builds up to intolerable levels? There is a saying that, "People find a tolerable level of despair and call it happiness." I've lived in total despair for years before doing what it took to set things right. In one case for me, what it took was forgiveness. In another, it took forgiveness - and ending the relationship. Since I'm saying sayings, here's another: "Resentment is the poison you take, hoping the other person will die." Unforgiveness chews me up on the inside, destroying any peace I have toward that person. The object of my resentment may be completely unaffected, but I become a wreck. Go ahead, call me a sucker. I forgive you.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

On Cruelty and Kindness

The young, beautiful blonde walked up to an awkward, gangly kid in the school hallway. She had short bobbed hair, deep brown eyes, and a gorgeous figure. She stood very close to him, touching him on the hand and looking into his eyes. She said, "I want you to know that I care about you, and I hope you have a wonderful day." His eyes widened, his heart raced, his entire mood transformed from shyness to exuberance. She jotted something in her notebook. She took a step back, and asked if he was okay. He stammered that he felt wonderful, and that was a very nice thing to say. "This is just part of my psychology class, it's an experiment to see how you would react," she said, walking away. Devastated, deceived, and let down, the young man shuffled to his next class. One of the players in this true story is related to me. I thought of it this morning while realizing how much influence people have on each other. I know that a kind word, whether in person or email, has the power to make my day. Consistent kindness builds friendship. The opposite is true, as mean people also make a difference in mood and activities; I tend to avoid those who are toxic with negativity and unkind things to say about others. Unless they're really funny, and have some sort of soft chewy center under all the crunchy cynicism. It's been said, anyone who is nice to you but mean to the waitress is NOT a nice person. I thought it was highly unnecessary, even cruel, for her to include the disclaimer that the interchange was only for a grade, not the person. It took a potentially lovely moment and transformed it into manipulation, using another person's good will for selfish reasons. For this post, I'd like to make a request of you, dear reader. Two requests, actually: First, tell a story of someone who made your day with just a word. Second, an assignment: go into your world, and find someone to give an encouraging word, a nice thought, a blessing. Tell us about it in the comments when you're done, won't you? (Oh, and don't tell your target of kindness that 'this is only an assignment.' It'll be our little secret.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Woochie Chugger

Wordnerd gets inspiration credit for this story. Send her your $10 today, c/o Spiffytown, USA. Several years ago, when Boy was a youngster, we somehow found an intriguing pet through a science supply catalog. We placed our order, and received a very small box in the mail a few days later. Inside was a tiny, pale green claw frog. You may ask, what the henry is a claw frog? You may, because I did. It turns out, this little guy (I think it was a guy) was fascinating. He came with a little shaker of frog food, and a half-page of instructions (which is more than you get with a new baby). We kept fish for a little while, but they kept dying. It might have been from the thorough scrubbing they got with a toothbrush, but they were good and dead at any rate. A 15-gallon tank remained, so we outfitted it with some nice rocks, gravel, branches, and a lily pad. Boy, who had limited experience with naming things, decided he would be called Woochie Chugger, and poured him into his new home. Claw frogs like to stay mostly underwater. They can hold their breath a long time, and WC would normally float mid-depth, his enormous hind legs dangling behind, his bulging little beady eyes barely breaking the surface. He was a great swimmer, not so great at hopping. He would flop more than hop. He was about the size of a nickel when we installed him in the aquarium. The instructions said they would grow to their environment, so we (ok, some of us) were excited at the prospect of steaming, tender frog legs someday. Eventually the frogfood ran out. I had it on my grocery list, when I heard an excited hoot from Boy's room. "Dad! Come check this out!" I raced down the hallway and found Boy and Girl hovering over the aquarium. A bug had fallen into the tank, and was scrambling for its pathetic buggy life against the approaching doom. Woochie clomped its wide mouth over the bug, chewed once, and it was gone. Sweet. We all began looking for more bugs. Soon, a Japanese beetle was found and tossed to the water. WC watched it struggle disinterestedly, and finally ate it out of irritation at having his peaceful water disturbed. Sure enough, the frog grew. It was never without an appetite, as I'm sure 24 hours a day in a small glass tank was incredibly boring. But, to a little frogbrain, the moments of bug-filled excitement must have made up for the boring bits. At least, that's what I tell myself so I can sleep at night. There was no bug too big, too strong, or too wiley for Woochie Chugger. He devoured flies, junebugs, spiders, and even a cicaida without batting a lidless eye. One time we dropped a big, hairy wolf spider into the drink (the fast kind, that you have to throw shoes at before they slip into the woodwork to terrorize you later. Eew). Woochie was pretty excited; he stalked it like an alligator, the spider skating on the water's surface, unable to get any traction (duh, it's water). The frog clomped. Or, attempted to clomp. The spider was not interested in a tour of a frog's innards, and sprawled across his face, legs grippng eyes, nose, and throat. WC had to figure something out here, and used his ridiculously stunted arms to turn the spider around, trying to get a good chomp on it without the legs interfering. Around and around they went, nobody sure who would win. It was grand entertainment, all four of us plus two neighbor kids enthralled. Finally, frog had spider in its tiny hands, and looked at me for approval. I gave the thumbs down, and the spider disappeared in one satisfied bite. We fed it whole goldfish (sometimes WC would save half for later), crickets, and any legged or winged critter we could find. Bugs became cheap fun instead of creepy nuisances, and Woochie had reached the size of a baseball. One day, I found a long, winding caterpillar. I carried it back to WC's lair, expecting a short game of Centipede (but without needing to spend my quarters). The tank was empty; Woochie was missing. I held the bug while I searched the floor, the closet, under the bed, in the laundry - nothing. Woochie Chugger had flown the coop. It remains a mystery to this day, but Misty Meowzers, the cat, had a suspiciously satisfied look on her face. What was your coolest/ weirdest/ most horribly named pet?

On Kissing

It is a dark and chill morning. The Smackdown is raging across the silent miles. I am determined to beat my demons and shed pounds like they’re clumps of steaming manure clinging to my rock-hard physique. I run around the neighborhood, enjoying the quiet and dark. I’m walking less and running more. I like it. Grace, the shedding white mutt (SWM) is jogging next to me. The cold stings but I grasp for breath hungrily. I tell myself this is way better than running in the heat, which, I’m told, can be like breathing a milkshake (which is cold, but really really thick).

I return to my driveway, slowing to a walk. Grace is happy to be home; She’s happy everywhere. I tell her to wipe her paws on the scrap of carpet, and we enter. I trot downstairs to continue my workout with the ultra douchey but surprisingly fun Exerball. I roll it under my feet to do pushups, completing 45 with ease. I noticed that it took much effort to do this last month. I roll over and begin combo-crunches, where I lift my legs and arms together, touching the ball to my knees and raising my shoulders as high as I can off the floor. A shadow falls across my face, then the light touch of Mrs. Spiffy’s long auburn hair. I receive a light kiss, with a little tongue. From the side. Jealous dog had included herself in the brief romantic interlude, completely altering the mood.

Anyway, it got me to thinking about kissing. Bad kissing, in particular. Which is something I try studiously to avoid.

I got married young at 20 years old. We both moved from our parents’ homes into our own. We had both our kids (one of whom is now pretending to be a dolphin) by 23. Between the ages of 16 and 19, there was much dating that went on for me. Not so much as some people, but still, enough to know that some girls could really kiss, and others were born to breed cattle. Or something, anything not remotely romantic.

When I take an inventory, it seems I have a penchant for girls with names starting with the letter ‘K’. Kathy (a girl of many ‘firsts’), Kelly (broke my heart), Kim (my crush from across the street with the killer perfume), Kristin (saving herself for her true love, but amusing herself with me), and Kerry (so much potential). There were also girls such as Cheryl, my first real girlfriend, and Sherri, one of my grade-school sweethearts who turned me down as her homecoming date. I never asked a girl out again after that (at least, not directly). There was Becky, the perky redheaded stalker (we smooched a few times and I was soon hearing from her friends that we were to be married after high school). But my sweet, affectionate doggy reminded me of a particular young lady I’ll call Agnes.

Agnes was a preacher’s daughter. We were the same age, and shared interests in music and movies. Plus, we happened to live in the same city. We began spending time together, watching videos and talking on the phone. After several weeks of friendly hanging out and conversation, we found ourselves alone in her parents’ basement watching a video. We were sitting dangerously close. She looked at me with her big brown eyes and smiled nervously. I nervously smiled back. There were several minutes of this nervous nonsense while the movie droned on (you may have noticed by now, I am an idiot, and immune to subtlety). She said, “You wanna make out?” Finally. I thought she’d never ask.

I leaned in, aiming for her lips. She leaned back, making it hard to reach. I steadied myself on the arm of the couch across from her and stretched my lips. Agnes nearly closed her eyes. Squinted, really. At last our lips met. I kissed. She did her best to mimic a landed trout (but without the thrashing). I tried again. This time it was like mashing my lips against a head of wet cabbage. I persisted, assuring myself it won’t be that bad once we warm up to each other. However, I was steadily losing any appetite and fearing the loss of my lunch. It became clear that she was not skilled in working the muscles on her face, and I mumbled something about having to change the air in my tires. I bounded up the stairs, out into the harsh sunlight, and roared out of the driveway in my soon-to-be-sexy muscle car. I frantically searched the glove box for some sandpaper to get the crawling sensation off my lips.

Her mother began calling me that night. “What did you DO to my daughter?” she demanded. Twice, sometimes thrice a day she called for about two weeks. Poor Agnes didn’t know why I stopped calling or visiting, and was apparently upset. I felt horrible, but the Soviet army couldn’t have gotten me into that basement ever again.

What about you? Any worst-kiss-ever stories?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What Do You Smell Like?

Go ahead, sniff. I'll wait. They say that the sense of smell is the most powerful memory trigger (whoever they are). I'm sure they're right, because it's true for me. Unlike most people, I've always noticed smells. Some people can walk through a dairy barn, pizza shop, or massage parlor without twitching an olfactory muscle. Not so much for me. The aroma of a place or person will affect my mood quicker than a burnt out light, cold draft, or wonky bits (because I'm not afraid of the dark, own sweaters, and kinda like wonky bits). I took an inventory of memorable smells recently, and I have a weird collection, I hafta tell you. For example, there was the elusive musty smell of the RV we rented for a trip to New York when I was young. When the Winnebago arrived in our driveway, we explored it eagerly as though it were the tomb of the Pharaohs. By the end of a whole week of togetherness with my two younger sisters, mom, and dad, each stop would have us piling out as though a diaper pail were on fire inside. Every once in a while (usually in an old cabin or some such) I'll catch a whiff of old paneling and cheap upholstery that will bring me back to that vacation. I can't catch the scent of a cigar without cringing for the Old Spice that always went with it (this was because a stogie-loving coworker thought cheap cologne would mask the smoke, and applied it liberally). Pickles remind me of spiders. Not so much with relish, but every jar of Kosher Dills I open makes me cringe a little (we used to catch large, black and yellow garden spiders in pickle jars and try to watch them fight. Mostly they just played house.). My grandmother used Jean Nate products exclusively - soap, schpritz, powder, and whatnot. That sweet, dusty aroma is enough to conjure warm enveloping hugs, oatmeal cookies, and soft smushy kisses. I can't wear Polo cologne, because in high school our heavyweight champion wrestler was always doused in it. To this day, it reminds me of very large, very sweaty men. My first real crush, The Girl Next Door (and across 4 lanes of traffic) had this perfume that absolutely captivated me. It had a light, girly scent that matched her cute brown eyes and long dark hair. I stole her scarf one winter, and kept it for weeks. I had to give it back so she could recharge the aroma. In my first job as a maintenance worker in an office building, I found one office just filled with the sweet perfume. Every time I went through, it would make me think of TGND. Until one day, I met the lady who belonged to the office. She was ancient, obnoxious, domineering, and most unpleasant. I think it cured me of my attraction to that particular aroma. I love the smell of pipe smoke. Cherry or whiskey tobacco are the best. It reminds me of my dad, standing in his basement workshop, puttering with a broken doodad or a model airplane. Normally, he'd smoke Winstons all day long (thankfully, he quit many years ago). But in the workshop, every once in a while, he'd get out his pipe and fill the whole downstairs with a rich, homey aroma. A few weeks ago I ran out of my favorite flavor of Axe. I'm rather obsessive about not stinking, and also about not mixing scents. I'll get the matching body wash, deodorant, and spray so I don't walk around smelling like some weird chemical spill (I did that once. My shampoo and soap combined to make a delicious bouquet of Raid Hornet Spray). They were out of the matching body wash, so I tried a new version. It smelled okay in the store, and the next day I was pleased with the overall effect. However, for several days, I kept looking over my shoulder wondering who was standing next to me. I didn't smell like me, and it was weird. My question: What smells trigger YOUR memory circuits? C'mon, there's no limit on commenting.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Shrinking Piggies

There's a new blog in town. Shrinking Piggies has made its debut, and will be the motivational, heartbreaking, inspirational, and/ or embarrassing chronicle of The Smackdown. Go, visit, laugh derisively, and comment extensively. Advice, wisdom, and rhyming cheers are welcome. It's not too late if you want to join (but you'll have some catching up to do).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Driving Sleds

Back in the glory days of fast cars, unspent youth, and limited responsibility, we had some fun. Not so much with the brains, but that's OK when you're invincible. There were all kinds of things to do with a car, a BB gun, a sled, and a rope. Only two of those things played into my night in jail. But, that's a story for another time. One dark winter's night, my friends and I had watched all the TV and eaten all the pizza we could stand. Star Trek and Mission Impossible were done, only the infomercials remained. The Mountain Dew was gurgling and working its fizzy magic on us, keeping us alert into the wee hours. What sort of adventure could we have on a night like this? Too young, ignorant, and innocent to find a late-night party, we had to make our own fun. My house was in a closely-packed neighborhood, with quiet lighted streets, straight sidewalks, and large trees. We snuck out the side door from my basement lair, gathered some supplies from the garage, fired up the Monte Carlo, and eased out of the driveway. After driving around a while and not agreeing on what to do, I hit upon an idea. I pulled over, grabbed a length of rope and a red plastic sled from the trunk, and tied it to the bumper. "Okay, who wants to be first?" I said, rubbing my hands together enthusiastically. My friend Greg and I had a long history of sledding exploits. Our Jr. High (middle school?) was atop a large, wide hill. Every winter recess would find kids by the gross flinging themselves down the slope, building ramps and jumps, and trying all kinds of daredevilry. He and I would position ourselves in the middle of the hill and hijack sleds. The goal was to get the rider off the sled and continue their ride to the bottom, but jumping on top of an occupied sled like a stack of flapjacks was OK too. Most of our victims thought it was great fun and we rarely got a complaint or a bloody nose. After school, we'd go to Greg's house, which was nestled against a hilly forest. There was a long, fork-filled narrow trail that emptied out at a creek near the highway. The trick was to get all the way down attached to the sled, avoid the trees, and bail out before the creek. He would ride on his knees every time, bouncing around like a springy jack-in-the-box, sometimes flying to impressive heights. I, being the fat kid, would usually ride only on padded surfaces, of which I had plenty. And try to remain facing downhill. I wasn't surprised when Greg volunteered to be the first contestant in our carsledding experiment. He jumped (!) onto his knees into the sled, grabbed the reins, and said he was ready. I climbed back into the warm car, adjusted the sideview mirrors down, and pulled away from the curb. He swung back and forth like a water skier, jumping the ruts in the road. I rolled down my window a crack and heard him whisper/shout "Faster!!" There was no traffic; all the houses were dark. I gave it some gas and turned a corner, fishtailing a bit. He swung around, skidding up against the curb, and banked back into a smooth ride. I could hear him having a great time. The kid next to me wanted to try, and I hit the brakes. The car slid to a stop; Greg slid into the bumper. He hopped in the passenger seat, rubbing his forehead, while the other kid took his place on the sled. Greg said it was a riot, but I should have gone faster. This car could certainly go faster, so I stomped on it, shooting a rooster tail of snow past the kid. Until the car swerved, which placed the flying snow on a path with his face. We roared with laughter while the poor victim got a high-speed whitewash, which must have made it hard to see where he was headed. By sheer luck or determination of some poor angel, he dipped under a pickup truck, in and out between the front and rear wheels, dodging a MFN headache. We raced, turned, stopped and started through the city blocks, reaching ridiculous speeds. Like I said, it was a good thing we were invincible. It was my turn, and I wasn't sure who should drive my car. Greg, who was unlicensed; or the Other Kid, who may be harboring some bitterness about the ride I provided. I went with Greg. He took off slowly, getting a feel for the car. The silence of the night was broken by the crunchy squeaking of tires and the whish of sled on snow. He began to gain some confidence, speeding up on the straightaways, and allowing a little swoop in his turns. I careered into a curb, nearly capsizing near a telephone pole. I righted my sled and willed it toward the center of the car. He rounded a corner, playing crack the whip with me. I saw the Buick logo on a parked car approaching my face. I cringed. I ducked. I opened my eyes to find that it had missed me. We went over a speed bump (so called for the high speeds at which teenage drivers take them) and I was launched from my little patch of plastic. I had enough height to land on the trunk, but Greg gunned it and I bounced on the slick pavement, my empty sled snaking out in front of me. I slowly rose to my feet while Greg slid around another corner, oblivious to his missing rider. I started walking home, expecting him to come back around eventually. As I neared home, I saw my car in the driveway, still idling. Greg gripped the steering wheel, pale as a ghost, staring straight ahead. I wondered what happened, until I saw the sled. It was wedged solidly under the rear wheel of a truck. The rope had ripped free of the sled, bits of red plastic strewn along the road. I approached the car and knocked on the window. He screamed like a girl, with feeling and vigor. He took a breath and screamed some more. He stopped when I started laughing. I explained what happened, and he took some comfort in that - but he was jumpy until he finally fell asleep. It didn't hit me until the next day what could have happened. That still didn't stop us from going carsledding the next weekend.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

I Want One Like That

This past Sunday, I was invited to play with the band at Russ' memorial service. The deceased was an all-around good guy by all accounts. We had been at a Halloween party together (he and his wife had matching pumpkin costumes) and had seen each other around a few times. I had never seen him without a smile. He had cancer, and knew the end may be near. At his request, the event was casual - the dress code was jeans and T-shirts. Over 500 people gathered to remember and celebrate his life. A 5-piece band played a few of his favorite tunes, and finished with an a capella version of How Great Thou Art. The pastor summed up his life in about 15 minutes, describing his childhood, courtship, marriage, early career (a traveling bohemian comb salesman, selling by day and partying with his new bride at night), and eventual settling down to family and success. He was described as an exceptional father; he always had time for his three children. It was a lively, entertaining, and engaging story. When the pastor finished, he invited those who knew him to say a few words. His youngest son came up and shared some of his favorite jokes. "You know, this Thanksgiving turkey tastes a lot like a dead bird." Sense of humor was the constant - he was always interested in making people smile. Several people had stories to tell, and all were touched by his sincerity, faith, and care for people. When the music was finished and the band left the stage, I found a seat next to Boy in the back. He was wearing his winter coat, zipped up to the neck. For an hour he sat, fully zipped up. All through the reception with sandwiches and killer chocolate cake, he was bundled against some imaginary chill. We returned home and he finally tossed his coat into the closet. I discovered he was wearing his T-shirt from this season's marching band theme. I think Russ would have found it funny. I sure did.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Comparing Scars, Chapter Two

A promise is a promise, so here goes with Part Be of Friday's story. Cue the 4 minute filler of flashbacks to last week's episode, narrated by The Movie Trailer Guy and featuring scary music and DAH dit Duuuuuuuuh! orchestra hits when the cliffhanger is shown again... So, I needed to find a surgeon. I went back to my friend and asked about the next step. He again scribbled a name on paper and sent me on my way. I found the office downtown, and took the elevator up to the 4th floor. After a reasonable wait, I was ushered into a cookie-cutter exam room. The nurse gave no instructions, just pulled the door shut behind her. My cell was furnished extravagantly, with an adjustable paper-covered exam table (with the optional pull-out step stool and heated stirrups - ask me how I know), a hand sink, the fun little swivel stool, and a hard, magazine encrusted park bench. After tiring of making balloon animals with the exam gloves, I tried to make myself comfortable with Better Homes Than Yours on the bench. Hours turned into days, and eventually a nondescript clerk-looking man burst into the room. He read my name off a chart, and I offered a friendly handshake. He looked at me as though I were presenting a freshly pressed turd, and gripped the chart defensively. Well, this is a fine way to begin a meaningful relationship, I thought. He nodded toward the exam table, and I obediently hopped up. Silently, he grabbed my hand and again I got the flipper-wiggling, finger-twisting inspection. He had me squeeze a squeeze-o-meter, and do a little range of motion exercise. He scribbled something in his chart, nodded in my general direction, and left. Just like that, in under 3 minutes and 10 words, he disappeared. I sat there momentarily, wondering if there was more to this circus, and if there was, when do I get to see the monkeys? After a few minutes, I poked my head out the door and took a brave step into the hall. I found the reception station, and asked the nearest person what I should do next. She looked as though she was between auditions for Jabba the Hutt's body double. "Who's your doctor?" she gurgled brusquely. "Dr. Moppett," I replied. She rolled her eyes and pushed her heroic chair back from the desk. Grumbling and staggering on impossibly short legs, she waddled over to a pocket file on the wall. "Damn Moppett can't drop a chart on my desk to save his life, the blanketyblank motherfather bastard, blank." She found my paperwork and added up my total. Cha-CHING! $40 for me, and $160 for my insurance for this "consultation." I avoided doing the math, because I knew it would not help my teeth-grinding. I was pretty sure, however, that was a metric assload of dollars per minute. She flipped open a calendar, and told me I would be having surgery in two weeks, first thing in the morning, and don't eat anything after midnight the night before. I took my papers and shuffled out, instilled with confident joy that my problem had a solution. The big day finally arrived, and I walked into the hospital ready to be fixed. No, wait, not fixed. Repaired is the word I'm looking for. I was fitted with a professionally tailored hospital gown, with three sets of drawstrings. I complained that the color was all wrong, but the nurse secretly flipped me the bird and told me to deal with it. I came out of the green room ready for the big event, and was shown to one of a row of beds. The anesthesiologist came in and introduced himself. He was a large, friendly man with great bushy eyebrows and a strong handshake. He said he'd do his best to keep me asleep and not kill me. I appreciated that. He left the room, and Mrs. Spiffy and I sat talking idly. A guy shuffled in, looking around aimlessly while nurses chatted by their desk. I noticed he was standing about 10 paces away, staring at us. I asked, "Can I help you?" "Make sure you mark which arm you want me to work on," he said abruptly. The recognition circuits started firing in my head. This was the man who was going to perform some healing magic on me. "Oh, hi Dr. Moppett! I didn't recognize you without the lab coat. This is Mrs. Spiffy," I said, trying to be friendly. He snapped his head to the right, scanned her face, her butt, and her chest, then walked out of the room. We looked at each other and shrugged. I hoped that all his missing people skills were focused into his sawing and sewing hands. I enthusiastically wrote 'This One!!' surrounded by arrows on the correct arm, and 'Do Not Enter' on the other. In great big block letters. Dr. Eyebrows returned, collected a nurse, and shooed Mrs. Spiffy to the waiting room. He chatted with me as fluorescent lights passed overhead, telling me about his fishing exploits and golf game. We arrived in a frigid meat locker, with all kinds of equipment, beeping monitors, whirring machines, hoses and wires dangling everywhere. I was centered under the big surgical lamps, and Dr. E started an IV. He went on talking happily about this and that, and said, "By the way, you may taste metal. I'll see you when you wake up." I giggled groggily, smacking my lips at the flavor of tin, and melted into silence. The only sensation I can recall is the utter chill in my well marked arm. I awoke seconds later in the recovery room. I was comfy, pain free, and ready to go home. I began to sit up, and only then did I notice the family of swine sitting on my chest. The room darkened, I heard squealing behind my ears, and occasionally a little pink piglet would do a breaststroke around my field of vision. I made a mental note to find out what kind of drugs these were, and see if they could be found on my local streetcorner. Eventually the loopy visions faded, to be replaced by dull, throbbing pain. The checkout nurse plopped a packet of instructions and prescriptions on my belly and told me to get dressed because they had someone waiting for my bed. We were finally in our littlebitty Geo, buzzing up the highway. It was summer, and I was laying my head back trying to drink in the last of the really good hallucinations. My right arm was propped on the open windowsill, and I was enjoying the summer breeze. Girl, in the back seat, realized her door wasn't latched properly. She waited until we stopped at a red light, opened her door, and slammed it. Neither she nor I noticed that my fingers had slipped between the door and the jamb when she opened it. Suddenly, my left arm didn't hurt so much. I let out a moan like a birthing cow, knowing that I would soon be sporting multi-colored fingers. Girl felt terrible, and apologized profusely. I told her it was ok, and not her fault - but she may have to feed me my gruel since neither hand would be working for a while. A couple weeks later, I went for my follow up appointment with Dr. Personality. He removed my stitches, and asked me what kind of insurance I had. "Why do you ask?" I asked. "Oh, no reason. Just need to get you set up for physical therapy," he mumbled. "Funny you should mention that... See, I was just downsized the day after the surgery. I don't have insurance anymore." Suddenly, the appointment was over. He said I should go across the hall for scar-care instructions. I came in while the therapist was finishing up with another patient. She helped him apply some cream and a special pad to his incision site, wrapped it, and explained how to take care of it until she saw him again next week. He left smiling, and I was invited to sit. As we were introducing ourselves, Dr. Moppett leaned in the doorway and shouted, "No insurance!" and raced down the hall. We looked at each other awkwardly. She cut a little square out of a silicone pad and handed it to me with an Ace bandage. "Here. Keep this on if you don't want your scar to be ugly. Good luck." And with that, our business was finished. My souvenir of the experience is a great conversation starter. Usually, people will come up to me and ask where I got my arm and who sewed it on. I just smile, knowing that at least I can roll down my windows if I want to.

No, You Did Not Just Say That

Before we get back into the Regularly Scheduled Post (remind me not to do continuations, because starting again feels like pulling on a cold, wet swimsuit), I have to tell a little story. Boy had invited a group of friends to go for pizza and bowling, a last little party before school starts again. He had 4 young ladies show up, and we went to the local bowl-a-rama. A good time was had by all, and we returned home to bake up the pizzas. During the meal, one of the girls commented on the very very short dress she contemplated wearing to the party. The girl next to her said, "Boy, I'm glad you didn't wear that. It was windy today." To which Mrs. Spiffy blurted, "Why? Because it would whistle?" Things just weren't quite the same after that. I couldn't breathe, the poor girl next to me nearly choked on a pizza bone, and the other two girls just looked at each other, not sure they heard what they thought they heard. Mrs. Spiffy was becoming vaguely aware that she said something funny, while Boy, turning several shades of pink, sat slowly shaking his head. Has that ever happened to you? Do tell!

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Blog Meme

This was addressed to 'Resident' by Old Lady of the Hills. 1-Do you like the look and the contents of your blog? Yep. It's plain on purpose, so you can be sneaky and browse at work. Content is growing bit by bit; eventually there will be enough for any stalker to find and ravage me at will. 2-Does your family know about your blog? Mostly, yes. I've been advised that my kids will read it, so I'd better clean up the language. Which is a partial motivation for doing this; I always appreciated little tidbits of insight into my Dad's life and times, and I'd like my kiddos to be able to see what it was like to be me. And count their damn blessings. 3-Can you tell your friends about your blog? Yes. Not so much with coworkers. Someday I may want to write copiously about them, for they give me much potential material. 4-Do you just read the blogs of those who comment on your blog? I have a regular circuit of blogs I read, divided into 'A-List' and 'B-List'. The A's get a visit every day, and I couldn't imagine a day without reading them. I see the B's at least weekly, and that's mostly because the slackers don't post every day. That list is growing rapidly, I'm finding more and more sites worth repeat visits. And I do visit commenters, because this venue is infinitely more fun and worthwhile when people comment. 5-Did your blog positively affect your mind? Absolutely. Not only am I smiling more, but I'm paying more attention to my life (partly because there's blogworthy material everywhere). Keeping in touch and making friends this way has been so cool. 6-What does the number of visitors to your blog mean? It's humbling to see the counter move. I like to write, but I love it when people enjoy it enough to read. Very unexpected to see this many visits, especially as a beginner. 7-Do you imagine what other bloggers look like? Sure, just like I imagine what radio hosts look like (and I expect to be wrong). Unless they post a photo, I assume their avatar is a professional artist's rendering. No avatar? Then you look like the Where's Waldo dude to me. 8-Do you think blogging has any real benefit? Yes. Just like newspapers or books or friendship have a real benefit. Participation = value. 9-Do you think that the blogosphere is a stand alone community separated from the real world? Nobody interesting spends their time exclusively in blogland (that I know of). The engaging bits of blogs come from well-shared personal stories and observations. 10-Do some political blogs scare you? Do you avoid them? I ain't skeered. I haven't run across many political blogs; it's not so much avoid as focus on what I like: People. I do have political beliefs and passions, and there are plenty of sources for info and opinion. Blogs aren't my preferred source. 11-Do you think that criticizing your blog is useful? Feedback is valuable, I regard it as a useful tool for improvement. And, no matter what is offered, I have the power to take it or leave it. 12-Have you ever thought about what would happen to your blog in case you died? Yep. 13-Which blogger had the greatest impression on you? Far and away, without question, Tiff. My mentor (there has GOT to be a better word than 'blogmomma') and inspiration, someday I'd like to be that good. She makes me smile an awful lot, and makes me wish I'd got a better education. And, I'm imagining 'blogger' as plural, because this is my damn site and there are more noteworthy influences. Jeff Kay: content-rich, dependable (mostly) and hilariously funny. He introduced me to this world through his minions of commenters. Wordnerd, who is kind, direct, friendly, and brilliant; a woman chock-full of influence. Tracy Lynn, genius and evil (and nicer than she'd like you to know). Kingfisher, who is teaching me to critically notice my writing. JC, who needs more words like 'wow' to describe her, and makes me want to write more seriously. Kenju, generous with words and rich with friends. Renn, who can sidle up to the comment bar and make you spit out your water while she smirks at you. Beck, who makes me hug my kids more. All with hearts o' gold and a sack full of good humor (or humour, if you prefer). 14-Which blogger do you think is the most similar to you? Gosh this place would be boring if we were all like me. I'm busy trying to copy my idols without getting caught, so if you're like me, you're mimicking an impressionist. Which is dumb, since you are probably fascinating on your own. 15-Name a song you want to listen to? Talk about a left turn - this question doesn't seem to fit. But, I didn't write it, so, um, I want to listen to thousands of hours' worth of stuff I've missed over the years. Heck, I just discovered Oingo Boingo and they're from MY era. I guess this type of thing isn't complete unless there's some sort of tagging ritual. If you've been named above, I'd love to see your answers. If you're not named and doing it, let me know so I can visit! Body parts will not drop off and satellites will not fall from the sky if you don't play along. But, you won't get that $50 gift certificate from Applebee's, either. Better safe than sorry, so get started.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Comparing Scars

This is one of those days where I got nothin'. However, I've not yet earned the right to get writer's block... So, in the spirit of coming up with something, and I'm sure you've noticed already but are too polite to ask, here's the story behind that stylish scar on my left elbow. It was a dark and stormy night. Lightning crackled and last week's newspapers were swirling in the streets, a portent of doom and destruction. Then suddenly, nothing happened. The next day, I was visiting a jobsite in the company truck. It was summery and pleasant, and I wanted some fresh air. I reached down to the little power window levers, and nothing happened again. I looked. My fingers were touching the button. I was moving my arm back and forth in the appropriate window-activating manner. However, my pinky and ring finger were as useless as a dead dog's tongue. They just lolled over the button as if filled with marshmallow fluff. Naturally, this caused me to raise an eyebrow and grunt. I reached over and lowered the window with my still-working right hand, while shaking and examining my left as though it were a stopped watch (don't worry, I can steer with my knees). Since the malfunction was new, and so far hadn't interfered with typing or playing bass, I made a mental note and promptly forgot about it. Months later at a routine physical, I asked my doctor about it. He grabbed my hand, turned it over a few times, wiggled my fingers, and pronounced it "Fine." Oh, okay then. I guess this happens sometimes to people then? Digits quit responding? What if this happens at a very inconvenient time, such as rock climbing, or nose picking? What then, Dr. Smarty Pants? Not quite satisfied, but not smart enough to question a Doctor, I joined the herd in the bill-paying line. I decided to do nothing about it, because, after all, he's a Doctor. (Incidentally, do you know what they call people who graduate at the bottom of their class in medical school? Yep. Doctor.) Later that week, I saw a friend of mine while out and about. He happens to be a physician, but that never bothered me. He's around my age, has a long, black ponytail, and an easy laugh. We were casually chatting and he must have noticed me twitching my limp fingers, because he asked me about it. I said, "Oh, it's nothing. My Doctor said so." He snorted a knowing snort and asked to look at it. He did the hand turning, finger wiggling thing, then muttered something about a hammer. I jerked my hand back, shielding it from the sudden menace. "Whaddaya mean, a hammer?" I said suspiciously. "No, no - a reflex hammer. I didn't bring it with me." I wondered how often he carried it around just looking for someone to thwang. "Ah, this will do," he said, brandishing a TV remote control. He proceeded to thump my arm in various places, looking for some kind of reaction (besides a wince). After a particularly vigorous whack, the batteries bouncing across the room, he said he knew what the problem was. "You have nerve damage. Here, go see this specialist for testing." Grateful to have some explanation, I made an appointment. I arrived at a little office next door to a popcorn store. The smell was intoxicating, better than a theater and stronger than a carnival - but without the vomit. I was greeted by a nervous looking man with a faint accent. He showed me into the exam room, which was simply the back half of the main office. It turns out he was the only one there, and would be conducting the test. He strapped me into a chair and suggested I relax while rubbing my entire arm down with an oversized alcohol wipe. He placed an electrode on the back of my hand, and grabbed a large needle. With a wire attached to it. My eyes widened. Significantly. "Uh, what's that for?" I asked conversationally. "Oh, this? This is really cool. We'll get to listen to your nerve activity. If everything is working right, it should sound like static on the radio. If not, you'll be able to tell the difference by the sound." I decided to take his word for it, since I was strapped into a chair. Besides, my friend sent me here - how bad could it be? (This may seem like a tangent, and that's because it probably is): Once when I was young, I was walking in the woods with a friend. I brushed against a cow fence, and let out a little yelp. It was enough of a jolt to get my attention, but not really painful. I told my friend about it, and he'd never seen one before. He touched it, and yelped as well. I wondered aloud what would happen if you peed on it. Suddenly, I heard a zipping sound. I backed far away, because even though I didn't know what may happen, I did not want to get wet. His warbling, pathetic scream echoed through the pines and haunts me to this day. I was reminded of that moment when Needleman began his vile experiments on me. At first it was just uncomfortable: A gentle prodding with the pointy electrode, and a tingling electrical current coursed through my arm. Soon he escalated the prodding to real pokes, and he encouraged me to look the other way if I didn't like the sight of blood. The sticking and zapping soon went far beyond discomfort; It was like holding onto that cow fence with a wet hand, while being attacked by one very persistent and angry hornet. Sure enough, he found several nerves that sounded like a dial-up internet connection, all hissing and clicks and honks, the sound of muscle instructions and pain. He moved the needle to another site, and there was silence, broken by an occasional crackle. He was like a scientist at SETI, intently searching for communication from the inky depths of space. He jumped up with a very mad-scientistlike "Ah HA!", leaving the needle dangling in my arm, my hand twitching like the severed frog's leg in a science class experiment. He grabbed a Sharpie and marked a big 'X' at the needle site, and proceeded to make tracks down the length of my arm, tracing the bad nerve. Eventually, he mopped up the blood, made some notes on a chart, and said I should take them back to my surgeon. Surgeon?!? Crap! I'd just watched a TV marathon about When Surgeons Attack: The Gory Years. They leave Rollexes, pointy things, and sponges in people's innards, show up drunk, leave in the middle of a procedure to go golfing, lop off the wrong parts - and I couldn't have that. Since I'm out of time, someday I'll tell... The Rest Of The Story. Good Day.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Odds & Ends II

Most of you visiting this site already know Jeff Kay and his antics. If'n you don't, go read The West Virginia Surf Report. The man is a comic genius, a hero of mine, and the very reason I've appeared on this strange little stage. In case you're wondering how I stay so well informed, it's because his site has replaced the newspaper, TV news, and Fark as my main source of content. He always has interesting tales to tell, brilliant descriptions, and plenty to make you retract your jaw and say, "WTF?" And, don't forget to read and play in the comments - sometimes the best laughs are there. And occasionally, a weight loss smackdown (see comments). I have until July 4, 2007 (important detail, the year) to drop 35 pounds, or else. ================= Speaking of which, I'm well on my way to a healthyish me. Got my oatmeal and carrots, a bit of soup for lunch, and have cleansed my office of all chocolate. I've always been good at taking on water; better than the Titanic, because I still float. An Aquafina bottle is always with me, and I drain from 2 to 4 liters every day. They say that's supposed to help, but for the last two years the needle has still been hovering in the King Size range of the old shipping scale. So, maybe it's lifestyle. Loafing in front of the teevee, reading a book, and napping are fairly low-impact forms of exercise. So far it hasn't been working. I've taken up a light routine of pushups, stretches, and once in a great while, with much weeping and gnashing of teeth, crunches. I've tried the exercise ball, but it's been murder on my self esteem. I lock the office doors, put on the DVD, and try to mimic the svelte lady in a color-coordinated stretchy body suit. She says sit on the ball, I drape on it. She says form a tabletop with my legs and touch the ball to my knees, and I form a massage-o-matic shaking bed complete with jiggling magic fingers. Sometimes I'm able to hold the ball under my heft for the whole workout. Sometimes it escapes. Time to find a new plan. Jogging? Hate it. Walking? Takes too long. Long rides in the car? I could do that, but somehow I think it would depurp the fetus. Ah, yes! The Amazing Herbal Supplements! I haven't tried those in years, but while mildly effective at $60 a bottle, I felt like my slimy brain was simmering in a crock pot most days. I think I'm going to have to hire me a personal trainer if there's a prayer at winning this thing. Maybe she'll teach me to swim like a frog, run like an aardvark, and dance like a Muppet. I can see the skinny new me now, showing off poolside. One thing's for certain, the competition is hogging all the cheerleaders and I'm gonna need some help.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007


"Our" president came home last night. I happened to be eastbound on the highway to a contractor's office, when traffic began slowing and moving to the shoulder. A helicopter wheeled overhead, and a mob of police cars from every agency whizzed by on the westbound side. One after another, lights silently flashing, state and local cops, county deputies, federal police, secret service. I realized it was President Ford's final motorcade, and joined the cars on the shoulder. He had just arrived at the airport that bears his name, and was on his way for the last day of viewing before the funeral. He will be buried in a beautiful garden beside his museum downtown. Gerald Ford is known as 'Jerry' around here, a pretend familiarity perpetuated by all the locals who would like to have been his friends. He was a local and U of M football star, represented Grand Rapids for some 25 years in congress, and had finished his time in the White House before I reached voting age. He lived in California after the Presidency, where he could golf year 'round. Whenever he returned to West Michigan, it was a rare and major event. Universal adoration is one of my goals. World domination? Not so much. Great fame? Could do without it. I know it's a tad ridiculous to hope for, because I am certain that someday, somewhere, I may ruffle somebody's feathers. I might even piss you right off. Jerry came as close to that goal as anyone I've ever seen, regardless of politics. I have not heard a single retrospective that fails to mention his good character, likability, and genuine care for people. The contractor I met groused about how liberal he had become, thought California had affected his thinking. Compared to West Michigan's conservative sensibilities, everybody is a flaming liberal. I just hope that I can demonstrate the kind of care that makes people want to be my friend, like Jerry did.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Can You Spot The Horse's Ass?

"Nothing's as good for the inside of a man, as the outside of a horse." -Ronald Reagan It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood. For December, it was unbelievable. Sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and high 40's made for a perfect horse-riding day. That is, if you're a horse-rider. As I've said before, I was born to loaf. But, I'm up for most any adventure, and the crisp spring-like air was enticing. There were about 15 horses and riders making the trip, coming from three local barns. The plan: Meet at our friends' place to saddle up a batch of beasts, with another couple of horses and riders being trailered in. Then, take a leisurely 3-mile walk to another ranch and meet the rest of the group. From there, trails and scenic beauty were said to be found in abundance. I knew it was going to be trouble when Mrs. Spiffy and her sister asked me, "Do you mind riding a gaited horse?" while stifling evil laughter. Since I have no idea what that means (but a vague idea it would get me laughed at) I said I'd try it. I met my mount, we exchanged pleasantries, and I installed a saddle. I guess that's supposed to be called "tacking up," but this ain't the frickin' Old West. While other riders fiddled and adjusted and readied their rides, I took my chestnut colored model out in the front yard for a test drive. This particular horse really likes trees. With great, spreading, low branches. Just the right height to scrape an annoying parasite off a horse's back. Well, he didn't completely succeed, but my hat wound up on the ground just before I could whoa the raging animal from the volleyball net. He would have tried to jump it, I'm certain. I climbed down, retrieved my hat, and tried to re-mount. At this point, I discovered two things: My enormous feet didn't quite fit into the stirrups, and apparently horses have this trick of sucking in wind when you install the saddle. When they exhale, the saddle gets loose. More comfortable for one of us, I'm sure. When I applied some weight, it spun clean around the horse, and I was trying to sit sideways for about 3 nanoseconds. After some belt-tightening and dirty looks (for both of us), we were on our way. All the way up the long driveway, the horses were as excited as puppies - they wanted to run and frolic, and all these riders and reins were raining on their parade. Much head-throwing, whinnying, and stomping finally gave way to a relaxed walk on the tree-lined road. For most of us. My horse decided it simply did not like me. It walked diagonally, then backwards, then fastslowfastslow, with a little buck and snort thrown in for good measure. I dismounted and gave him a lecture, the other riders far ahead. He stood as solidly as he could, raised his head, looked down his long nose at me, and neighed his own disgust with the situation. When one of the pack leaders finally looked around, they saw me walking my horse like a kid with a flat bicycle tire. They decided some rearranging was in order, and had me trade with my niece's boyfriend. His horse, Blue, was supposedly more good-natured. Plus, the saddle would fit better, and I could fit my toes in the stirrups. We continued on, and it seemed to be a good decision. Except for the time my former horse wanted to take a tour of the ditch outside the cemetery. We towed them out, and all was well. Passing cars slowed and waved, everyone was smiling and enjoying the day. I was beginning to find muscles that were previously undetectable, but the fun factor outweighed the discomfort for now. When we rounded a bend, the horses again became very excited. They knew this place, and there were other horses and fun trails and experienced riders here. Even the expert riders had a hard time keeping things under control. Blue, I'd heard in the last few minutes, needs to know who's boss. At this moment, she decided she was, and bolted. We flew down the long, winding drive, with me flopping against the saddle wildly. Blue finally and reluctantly agreed not to kill me, and we slipped into a bouncing trot. For those not accustomed to having manparts, this is very hard on the ol' twiggenberries. A half mile of that was enough to make me put my foot down. I would release the beast into a vacant fenced yard and babysit while the rest of the group went on their ride. Blue was downright pissed off at this turn of events. She wanted to kill me in the worst way on that trail, and I foiled her horsey little plan. She pawed and stomped, paced and bucked, whinnying and growling as the group filed off on their adventure. I told her sagely that if she had behaved better, we'd both be on that ride. I got comfortable on a trailer, cranked up my MP3 player, and tried to nap. Every so often, Blue would sneak up behind me and release a thundering Neigh, trying to wake me. I pretended not to notice, making her even more upset. I smiled and pulled my hat down further. I awoke to find two of our party returning. "Did you kill off the others?" I was about to ask, but thought better of it when I saw my dear friend's tears. She had been dropped from her nasty, mean horse, and was feeling some pain. Her version of the story is Here. Don't believe the parts you may see about me. Lies, all of it. Her horse was much worse than mine, so she saddled Blue up and went out to try again. Eventually, the posse returned and shared stories. A busload of small children and their families arrived to take escorted horsie rides. Marisol limped over to a picnic table and we sat while they posed for pictures and walked up and down the drive. Our conversation was interrupted by a blood-curdling scream. A petite young girl was hurtling down the driveway, partly on the back of a sprinting horse. She slid to the right, body parallel to the ground for a heart-stopping four strides. She lost her grip just as the horse crossed from pavement to grass, and she tumbled to a stop as the horse barreled through the crowd right toward my perch. Someone got hold of its reins, and the little girl was checked out. She was dusty and shaken, but unhurt. She climbed up on a fresh, presumably tame horse and took another walk around the plantation, to the applause of all gathered. I don't think I'll be trying this adventure again soon. I prefer my rides not to have the option, "To whoa, or not to whoa."