Thursday, June 30, 2016

I Try To Help

     I really do.  It’s just that sometimes you know in your heart that what you did is not enough.  And it’s not a happy moment.

     One such incident occurred in our front yard.  Maybe it’s because I’m retired that I pay attention more to the drama that occurs in the yard.  I shoo squirrels from our bird feeder.  I give a shout out to the robins building nests in my trees and in the crook of a downspout.   Then one morning there was a flurry of activity near a maple out front.  My wife peeked through a window and cried out that there was a robin’s nest that had fallen to the sidewalk below.

     I went out to inspect.  There were three fledgling robins on the sidewalk around the remains of their nest.  They were far too small to survive on their own.  One seemed to have died in the fall; the other two were barely breathing.  I left thinking maybe the parent robins would somehow try to intervene and save the youngsters.  But they did not.

     Later I checked again to find only one robin alive, but trying to stand upright on the sidewalk.  Its two siblings were dead.  This robin was slumped over and I expected him to expire soon.  But hours later, he was still standing at the same place on the sidewalk.  So Wendy and I took a broom and shovel, got him onto the shovel and put him under a bush.  He tweeted loudly when he looked up and saw me.  No, I said to him.  I’m not your mother.

     That evening I checked underneath the bush and the baby robin was gone.  Had a predator found him?  Perhaps a neighborhood cat?  Then I heard a loud “tweet, tweet, tweet” and here comes this baby robin bounding in my direction.  “No, no, no—I said I wasn’t your mother,” I told him. I quickly left the area, hoping the mother would swoop in to assume her role.  I never saw her, but I also never saw the baby again. I searched the yard for him or her, dead or alive.  Nothing.  It’s possible that maybe it survived.  But I honestly doubt it.

      A second incident occurred just today when Wendy and I drove to downtown Ann Arbor shopping for a gift.  We weren't successful so we were getting ready to head out.  We were parked on the third level of a multi-level structure and as we got to our car, we could see this other car trying to pull into a spot next to a concrete stanchion.

     We both waved to get her attention because she had zero clearance between the concrete pillar and the passenger side of her car.  She stopped moving so I thought she was okay (I didn't know it was a she at the time; I just assumed).  Then we heard a kerchunkety-KERCHUNK.  Oh, oh.  She must have hit it.  Then another kerchunkety-KERCHUNK.  She seemed bound and determined that the concrete roof support was going to move.  It didn't.

     She got out of her car, saw her predicament and became very  distraught.  Seemed about college age.  So we hurried over to see if we could help.  I was thinking we could guide her out of this mess but instead she handed her keys to me asking me to get it out.  Wonderful.

      So I tried going one way.  kerchunkety-KERCHUNK.  Not the right way.  And I could see the side view mirror on the passenger side going next if I went any further.  With Wendy's help we got her out of her spot without more damage, which was already substantial.  I didn't see it myself but I could tell by the look on Wendy's face when she checked it herself after the car was free.  Made me wonder if we should have intervened sooner.   In hindsight, yes.  The young girl thanked me anyway before driving away.


     You just wish your good deeds could turn out a little better.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Wily Grandsons

          I'm technically a year older than when I posted my last blog.  I celebrated birthday number sixty-three this week.  My grandson Grant helped me to open my gifts.  He’s the older one, pictured below with his younger brother Luke, hiding out with their flashlight in an improvised indoor fortress we built when they visited some time ago.


     So when Grant was opening one of my gifts, a midget tootsie roll fell out from the package.  I love midget tootsie rolls, so along with my gift, I got a handful of them thrown in the gift bag for good measure.  “Twistie roll,” Grant said to me excitedly.  I told him to go ahead and eat the one he’d found.  But the others I slipped into a bigger bag while he wasn’t watching.  So I thought anyway.

     The next day I was organizing my gifts and I found just one midget tootsie roll.  My wife Wendy told me that she believed Grant had taken the others home.  What?!  How did he find them?  And when??   I was robbed by my own grandson and didn’t even know it.  Though he didn’t ask me if he could take the tootsie rolls, funny that he DID ask if he could borrow one of my monster movie DVDs.  That wily kid.

     Brother Luke is no slouch when it comes to figuring things his way.  We watch him one day a week and I took him to the children’s section of the library about a week ago.  He doesn’t care much for the books there, but they have toys, games, displays, puppets and plenty other things to entertain.  And he almost had the children’s area to himself.  There was just one young girl there who actually looked close to Luke’s age.

      These  pre-school girls often take a shine to Luke.  Not sure why but they often come over to play near where Luke’s hanging out whether it’s the makeshift puppet theatre or the puzzle table.   But Luke shows no interest in them and, in fact, will often pick up and leave when they get too close.  That’s what happened this day.  That cute little girl came over and began working on puzzles at the same long table where Luke was trying his luck.

     Then Luke up and left.  I felt bad for the little girl, just looking for a little friend to play with, so I decided to try a little psychology and stayed at the table myself while she worked her puzzle.  I made a few comments as if praising her effort.  Her own mother’s attention was divided among the girl, another infant, and the mom's smart phone, with the phone appearing to be getting the lion’s share of focus.

      I was hoping that Luke would become a little jealous of the attention I was showing the little girl and I was right.  He returned and began working the puzzles again.  Score one for grandpa.  Now to get them to play together.  Suddenly the little girl fell off the end of her bench seat, the puzzle pieces flying in every direction.

     “Oh,” I called out loud, genuinely startled.  She was down on the floor, unhurt, but I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for Luke to break the ice by coming over and gallantly inquiring if she was okay.
 
     Luke barely looked over.  “She’s fine,” he deadpanned, then turned back to his own puzzle.  I guess, score one for Luke.  It’ll probably take another decade or so before a damsel in distress can garner his attention. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Blog About The Blob

     On our cable television video recorder, we maintain a supply of movies and shows for our grandkids' entertainment.  There are Disney movies, Disney cartoons, animated features like Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 but the movie that has been watched the most is the 1958 Steve McQueen feature The Blob.

    We originally recorded the movie in October 2014 in the spirit of Halloween but both grandboys, ages five and three now, still ask to see it nearly every visit.  And I oblige, being the type of grandpa that enjoys spoiling them with scary movies before sending them back home to sleep in their own beds.  Our youngest grandson Luke now breaks into a dance every time he hears the movie's opening tune (written by then unknown Burt Bacharach who didn't even receive a screen credit).

    "Grandpa, wanna dance to the Blob?" he asks me excitedly.  I respond "no, but maybe grandma will."

    Older grandson Grant even likes to see the production still photos, a special feature of the DVD of The Blob that we occasionally check out from the library just for him.  But for some reason, the photo of a deflated weather balloon that doubled as the blob in the movie spooks him.  "When you get to the picture of the blob as the weather balloon, skip it," he says to me.  Funny how scenes of the Blob eating various townspeople alive in living color doesn't faze him, but a black-and-white photo of a deflated weather balloon prop does.

    Having seen The Blob so many times, my wife Wendy and I decided we might as well take it to another level.  So we decided on our most recent trip out east to visit some of the shooting locations for The Blob, outside Philadephia.   Though the movie was filmed over 50 years ago and new construction, fire and demolitions have made most settings today unrecognizable from the original film, you can still find traces.

    For example, there is the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania.  This is the same theatre where in the movie, the blob runs (or rolls) amok, sending scores of moviegoers screaming into the streets.  The theatre has a "Blobfest" each summer where this scene is re-created, with today's fans screaming and running just as the extras did in the original flick.



    We also ate breakfast at the nearby Downington Diner where the blob trapped McQueen and others in the final climactic scene.  The original diner is long gone, but the menu of the diner on the same spot now maintains that it's the "home of the blob."  Well, maybe a different blob perhaps as on the menu it's green and just a splotch whereas the original was dark red and more of a mass.



     I wonder whether there were trademark repercussions to trying to market on the original Blob.  Despite our efforts, we could not find "Blob" t-shirts or any other paraphernalia associated with the original film.  So I decided to create my own, buying a jar of black slime and putting it into a mason jar I labeled "Blob, Danger."

    Next time the grandboys visited, I showed them "The Blob."  Luke said, "Ooooh, that's scary."  Did he want to touch it though.  "Mmmmmmmmm, no," he said definitively.  Older brother Grant was skittish about it at first, but eventually he and the blob were inseparable.  His dad Greg reported that Grant even took it to t-ball practice though it stayed in the car.  Eventually, after playing with the black slime so much his fingers were turning dark, Greg had to take it away from Grant and put it up.

    "It's a nice addition to the hutch in the kitchen," he added to me in an e-mail.

    Very true.  How many people can boast of having a jar of The Blob on a shelf in their kitchen.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

You Want My Opinion?

     I don’t mind giving my opinion.  Usually that just means heaving unkind words at the news guy on TV.  But occasionally I’ll do one of those telephone surveys.  Or even an on-line survey.  Somehow I even subscribed to e-rewards which I get if I complete on-line questionnaires on various topics. 

    So I’ve taken a number of those surveys on various topics from brands of whiskey I might drink to what I think of various political advertisements.  For all of that, I’ve accumulated $46 in e- rewards, enough for a free subscription to Time magazine.  I still haven’t cashed in any of my e-rewards.

     Sometimes these surveys appear to be veiled pitches for products of some kind.  For example, I received an e-survey on automobile brands.  When I said I wasn’t going to be purchasing a new car in the next 24 months, suddenly I didn’t qualify for the survey.  Hmmm, do you think if I had taken the survey and expressed an interest in buying a particular car brand that I might have been subject to multiple internet ads featuring that vehicle brand?

    Doesn’t it seem at times that anything that originates on the internet is a scam of some sort?   I wish some survey would propose that particular question to me some day.

    Though I haven’t received any e-rewards, I did get paid a hundred bucks recently for rendering judgment in a taste test involving a fast food product.  Since I signed a confidentiality agreement, I don’t want to be more specific.

    I was recruited by phone and since I had the time (retired), I thought, “Why not?”  So I went at my appointed time and found myself among a group of serious-looking folks all there for the same purpose.  The guy next to me wondered how so many of us could fit into one conference room but one of the organizers soon announced that they had deliberately overbooked.  Those whose names were not called would still get the hundred bucks.

    My name was called fifth.  Darn.  But I still had an out.  Another supervisor announced that anyone not comfortable working on a computer would be excused also (with pay), since we had to make our responses on a laptop.  I almost chimed in, “What’s a computer?”

    Anyway, I felt as if I were taking a college exam or something.  Everything went by so fast and there were so many questions to answer.  I’d be answering one set of questions and a supervisor would be discussing the next set.  I assumed they wanted honest answers, so I told them how my wife factors into my choices of what fast foods we consume in our household.  That took some explaining.

    Since I figured those reading the comments might get bored from time to time as well, I tried to be creative with my answers as well, one time quoting a line from a Wallace and Grommit movie.  Don’t know why but it was the first thing that popped into my mind.  If they’d given me more time, I could have been more original.

     Well, I hope they realize that my answers couldn’t be perfect.  But then neither was the outfit that was in charge of all this.  They misspelled my name on the check.   Well, anyway, even if it bounces at my bank, I got free pizza out of the deal.


     Oops.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Deep In Texas

    The restaurant hawkers along the riverwalk in San Antonio were trying to lure pedestrians into their place of business for dinner.  One old guy dressed in garb similar to that worn by the Tennessee volunteers who fought at the nearby Alamo cried in a grizzled voice to a lady walking her dog, “Hey lady, they let dogs in here!”

    Then he reconsidered his comment and apologized:  “Excuse me.  I mean you can bring your dog in here.”

    We journeyed south to Texas recently, trading the 20 degree temperatures in Michigan for the seventies of Texas.  Never been to Texas before but I figured with gas being as cheap as it is, no time like the present to push a little farther into America’s heartland.

    Could have even gone to Mexico, one fellow guest told us at a hotel where we were staying.  Just park your car and walk across the border.  Sounded fun.  Did we need our passports, since we hadn’t brought those with us?

    “Yeah, you do.  Well, you don’t to get across into Mexico.  But then you’d have to swim back.”

     No, thanks.  The water temperature is still pretty cold there in February.  Mexico was tempting since one shopping goal of mine was to buy one of those “day of the dead” masks like those worn in the recent James Bond movie Spectre.  In my mind, it’s never too early to plan for next Halloween.

     And I had absolutely no luck finding a mask like that.  I even browsed most of the 83 shops in the historic San Antonio marketplace that featured unique gifts.  After a while, it seemed like every shop was displaying the same unique gifts.  They had Mexican professional wrestling masks, but nothing that looked like an ornate day of the dead mask.  Just lots of day of the dead knick-knacks, if that’s the right word (see photo).
                              
     This marketplace was one stop on a hop-on/hop off tour bus where you’re also educated on San Antonio’s history and culture.  But as we sat atop the double-decker bus, one gentleman behind us did his own running commentary to himself and his family.  It was somewhat annoying though not too distracting to the sights around us.

     However, when the bus paused at the stop where you can board one of the riverboats to take the river tour, I felt a little relief when the annoying gentleman asked aloud, “Is this the stop for the river tour?”  Two bus riders had risen to get off here and one of them bent over and told him, “Next stop.”

     So he stayed on the bus.  Apparently the couple leaving wanted more peace and tranquility on their own boat ride, figuring they could do without the man’s own running commentary there. 

     Anyway, I wondered why I could find no ‘day of the dead’ mask.  Perhaps Latinos have too much respect for the dead to commercialize it so.  That was my thought after I posed with a grisly life-sized skeleton dressed in pirate garb at a touristy restaurant so my wife could take a picture.

     A middle-aged Mexican-American man approached and said, “You get your picture taken with him now, he hunt you down later.”

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Deep In Taxes

Notes on preparing our tax returns after one year of full retirement . . .
  • ·         When we were working, we reported income from two W2 forms, one for each of us.  This year we have to report incomes from six 1099 forms, all from the same annuity.  Why I don't know.  So we have to add six separate incomes, six separate federal income tax totals, six state income tax totals (with dollars rounded off for them)—all of which totaled a fraction of our original salaries.  So much for the simple life of a retiree.
  • ·         It appeared initially that because of my age I might qualify for a $15,000 break on my state taxes.  Was I 62 and receiving Social Security exempt retirement benefits?   Yes, I was!  Er, maybe not.  I was 62 and receiving benefits that were exempt from social security taxes.  But upon reading more deeply, it appears they meant to ask was my original working income exempt from social security taxes.  It wasn’t.  I’d forgotten that some people have jobs where they don’t have to pay social security taxes.  They now get this break also.  Not me.  Lucky sots.
  • ·         Here are the IRS torture-mongers at their finest.  One of the forms I had to complete because I have an Individual Retirement Account required me to take the amount from line 5 ($2,950) and divide it by line 9 ($14,968).  Fun stuff if you don’t have a calculator handy.  Then take the decimal result and round it to three places.  Then multiply line 9 by that decimal result.  Again, fun stuff . . .  The answer is $2,948.  So why not just skip this whole division/fraction-rounding/multiplication exercise and let us use the original number from line 5, which is easier and actually more accurate?  They’re out to get you; that’s why.
  • ·         A couple weeks ago someone left a message on our answering machine stating that agents from the U.S. treasury were taking action against us, implying that we had done something wrong on our taxes.  We needed to urgently call them back at a number they gave us.  I recognized the scam from my latest AARP magazine.  So I ignored the call.  If the worst happens and I’m hauled off to federal prison, I figure I’ll have plenty of time to finish my taxes.  So it’s still good.
         When it’s all done, we’re planning to take a vacation.  I’ll need a break.  So we’re going to Taxes.  Arggghhh.  I meant Texas.

       P.S.   I had JUST posted this blog when Wendy handed me a bank statement we just got in the mail.  It was for a small amount of interest on her savings account.  Now I have to re-do it all.  ARGGGHHHHH!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Witches, Luke And Keys

     Maybe it’s that we’re retired (hmmm, I almost typed ‘tired’ by mistake) but the holidays this year are unraveling and passing in slow motion.  No last minute shopping or rushing around.  No playing an adult game of dodge ‘em to find a parking spot at the mall.

     I even had the time to read The Witches:  Salem, 1692.  That’s a 400-page tome that chronicles in great detail the events surrounding the witchhunt hysteria that gripped small Massachusetts communities in and around Salem at the end of the late seventeenth century leading to the executions of 20 citizens.

     During this insanity, husbands accused wives, children accused parents and even grandparents and grandchildren were not averse to making accusations that the other was dealing with the devil.  All that does seem insane to us today in the 21st century. But I did find it kinda weird when the last time our three-year-old grandson Luke was over I teased him, “You’re a witch, Luke.”

     He whirled around and said, “No, you’re the witch!”  He looked serious too.  How does he even know what a witch is?  “No, Luke, you’re the witch,” I deadpanned matter-of-factly.  “No, YOU’RE the witch, grandpa” he said, his eyes intense in his accusation.  This was getting familiar, sounding too much like the events I had been reading about so I dropped it then.

      Besides, if he were a witch, he might drop a hex on me. In fact, I did feel hexed, or worse—afflicted with senile dementia—within the past week.  A simple task turned into a memory-ravaging ordeal.  We had to make a trip to the store so I went to snatch the keys from a hook in the kitchen where I usually put them.

      They weren’t there.  That’s not that unusual as I sometimes forget to put them back.  Probably left them in a coat pocket.  So I checked my coats, all of them.  Shirt and pants pockets too.  Not there either.  I continued on, looking on tabletops, shelves, desktops—any elevated flat surface where I might have absent-mindedly put them.  I even looked under my La-Z-Boy reclining chair as change and whatnot sometimes come loose from my pockets and end up there.  But again, nothing.

     Now I was starting to wonder.  I had checked not only the places where the keys should have been but also the logical places where they could have been.  That scary condition popped into my mind . . . Alzheimer’s.  If those keys were in the refrigerator freezer or the mailbox, finding them might reveal too much about my present state of mind.

     (I should note that I have been suffering from a debilitating cold and discovered that my ability to do simple mental puzzles, Sudoku for example, seems to have suffered.  Then again, maybe it had nothing to do with my cold).

     So now my wife and I began to check for the keys in places that would seem illogical.  I looked in my desk in the basement, in the car itself though it was locked, on the workbench in the garage, underneath furniture, the mailbox (I felt I had to), Wendy’s purse when she wasn’t looking (you never know--she's a little up there in years too), even in the Christmas manger scene set up in our living room.  Nothing.

    Wendy told me to check my La-Z-Boy chair again.  I had already looked under it as well as probing with my hands into the crevices near the seat where change, keys, even a TV remote sometimes become lodged.  So I overturned the chair completely.  And there, trapped and held fast in the recliner’s metal frame, were my keys. 

     What a relief.   I had been recalling a time when a relative, while cutting my grandparents’ grass, came across a set of keys belonging to them.  Turns out my grandpa had thrown the keys out into the yard to see if his metal detector could find them.  Then he forgot about the task at hand as his mind moved on to his next adventure.  Now I’m wondering how old he was when all that happened.