Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bonding on Mt. Washington

Whether inspired by WordWhiz's upcoming trip to New Hampshire or Complimenting Commenter's compliment on my last travel blog, I felt I should tie up a loose end there.

Wanting to climb Mt. Washington to show I wasn't over the hill at 50, I took my two boys and my nephew Bill to the White Mountains two years ago. I thought it would be a good father-son-nephew bonding experience for all.

We hiked up the Tuckerman Ravine trail which attracts dedicated uphill hikers of all ages, shapes and sizes. You need to be in good physical condition, but no technical climbing experience is required. You don't need ropes, spikes or crampons.

It was a vertical climb of close to 5,000 feet, the equivalent of walking upwards of nearly a mile. We scrambled hand over hand on all fours in some spots, and hopped rock to rock in other spots. Four hours after we started, we summited.

Then my nephew and my younger son Scott balked at going down. They'd had enough. There was a highway to the top. Could they hitchhike down? No, verboten. Could they take the cog rail train? No. It ended up on the opposite side of the mountain from our parked car. What about the Mt. Washington Stagecoach? I'd heard stories that they would shuttle exhausted climbers back down, but I couldn't get any detailed information.

While Scott and Bill grumbled, Greg, my older boy, decided he wasn't waiting and started down on his own. Some time later, the other two relented and the rest of us began the trek downward. Only 50 feet down, my leg began cramping. I had to stop. But the boys weren't waiting and continued down. So much for father-son-nephew bonding.

I limped back up the hill, made some inquiries, and found that the Mt. Washington Stagecoach indeed does offer a one-way van ride down. It cost me full round-trip fare but I was more than willing to pay the price. As we rolled downward, a fellow climber, guilty that he too was unable to descend, felt better about his decision to ride when he saw dark clouds now skirting the summit.

"It's looking pretty bad up there," he said. Mount Washington is notorious for sudden, violent storms that mark it as one of the most dangerous places in the continental U.S. I didn't tell my fellow passenger that my two sons and their young cousin were left to their fates up there by this here dad. This van ride was turning out to be a very expensive guilt trip for me.

After being dropped off at our parking lot, I ascended the trail a short distance to a waterfall to wait. Before too long, Greg bounded around the corner. Remember, he was not aware that I had taken the hiker's shuttle. He saw me and stopped in his tracks. His jaw dropped a foot. He wasn't sure whether he was seeing a ghost,or superman. I explained that I didn't find a shortcut, but the hiker's shuttle.

Eventually, Scott and Bill arrived also. The weather had held out for them. Seeing me walk, Bill noted peevishly, "Your leg healed pretty quick, eh Dave." Well, maybe. But my pride was forever wounded.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Gravy And Peas

Travel time! Wendy and I are headed north. We’re going to take the Agawa Canyon Tour, a half-day train ride into the forests north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Hopefully, the fall foliage will be in bloom. We’ve been to Canada many times.

I’m a little worried about crossing the border. Last time, I almost didn’t make it. The boys and I were taking a shortcut through Canada to New Hampshire where we were going to climb Mt. Washington. But I wrongly thought our driver’s licenses would be sufficient identification to cross the border to Windsor from Detroit. We were roundly hassled and almost turned around by the thin, bespectacled woman border guard. All this for taking a shortcut to the White Mountains? My guess is if we were headed to a Windsor casino to spend our life savings, we would have had an easy pass. So my wife and I are making sure we bring our birth certificates with us. Watch, now they’ll insist on passports.

Ordinarily, Canadians seem a friendly lot. We recall the time we took the boys to Toronto during their high school spring break. There, we stopped at a restaurant where some elderly woman asked if we were "on a holiday." Not familiar with the term then (it means vacation in the British culture), we thought her suspicious as to why our boys were not in school. So we explained we were from Michigan, whereupon she told us about this Toronto shopping venue with great bargains in toilet paper, bread and other sundries. We listened politely, but we didn’t drive five hours to shop for groceries.

Anyway, later on we did stop at a Toronto area grocery store for a few snack items for the trip home. Whom do we run into there, but the same lady we met in the restaurant! As she recognized us, her eyes widened and she said, "Oh no, not here!" I believe it was at this same store, we told the check-out clerk we were from Ann Arbor, Michigan. She said she had relatives that lived around Detroit and asked if we knew them. We politely said, "No" and wondered whether she knew that there were easily a million people living in southeast Michigan.

Cultural adventures in Ontario are nothing compared to what can happen in French-speaking Quebec. On that trip to Mt. Washington, the boys and I stopped at a small town bistro about fifty miles north of the U.S. border. With his one year of high school French, Scott knew enough to ask our waitress if she spoke English. "Oh, boy," she said, the last time she put two English words together on her own. After that, it was "Drinks?", "Finished?" or "Okay?" One time she had to enlist the help of another guest to help phrase a question. Then she asked, "Do you require anything else?" Good thing we didn’t.

The menu was entirely in French. And I’m thinking, "We’re fifty miles from America. Don’t you ever get visitors here?" Ironically, the whole time we were at this restaurant, American oldies played in the background. As far as the entrees went, I knew le poissons was fish, from the Disney movie The Little Mermaid, but what kind of fish I would be getting I couldn’t translate. Rather than taking a chance I might be ordering squid a la orange, I settled on spaghetti which is the same in French as it is in English. Scott helped my nephew order a chicken sandwich and his brother Greg to order a cheeseburger. When the burger and sandwich arrived, they both came swimming in gravy and peas.

The boys clamored to see Scott’s grade in high school French. To be fair, I don't think Scott knew enough French to be able to order the gravy and peas to be served on the side, even if he could translate gravy and peas. Yet, Greg and his cousin were hungry enough to finish their dinner. Afterwards, I asked Greg how he liked his burger. "It was good, except for the gravy and peas," he said.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Mouse Retorts

I heard that Big Dave was talking about me. Me, the mouse. He actually had the gall to call me a pet? I’ve felt as wanted here as a cockroach in a French restaurant. It was their number two son who bought me the first year he was at Michigan State. He wanted companionship. Yeah, right. Like I’m going to roll over, speak and snuggle on his lap. Once he found out I eat food that costs dough, I was dropped like a dirty sock.

So the other son had me for a while at Central Michigan University. He had an apartment with another pet, a lizard. Great big monster. Once they put me and the lizard in the same cage to see what would happen. Remember the scene in Jurassic Park where the little girl turns around to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex towering over her? That’s what it felt like to me. Yeah, this is a pet-loving family all right.

Finally, the other son tired of me and I came here. Notice that I didn’t call here home. That’s because I’m bustin’ out of the joint and finding my own place. I did bust out once in the middle of the night. Laid low underneath a sofa while I plotted my break from the big house. But they nabbed me. Big Dave did anyway. His wife stayed upstairs. After that, she put lots of twist ties on my cage door. And she complains that I’m living way past my life expectancy.

Hea, I’m no hamster. I’m going to be around a while. Check out the picture. I’m outliving the cage! Gotta love it. Duct tape and plastic fasteners aren’t going to hold me forever. In the meantime, I’m learning the ropes. I see the dog beg for treats. He sits, he lies, he flops on command. Now me, I just sit and stare at the missus with my beady, black eyes. Pretty soon I hear, "That mouse is looking at me. Give him something." That’s how I get my pay-off, a piece cheese or a peanut butter cracker.

So life is okay for now. But once I decide I’m blowing this popsickle joint, watch out. You might find me curled up in your sock drawer. Or just skittering across the hallway floor in the middle of the night. Mickey mouse I’m not.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Yo, Editor. Over Here!

Thanks for everyone's appreciative comments on my last blog. It is gratifying to know that my writing can be meaningful to people at times. To which my wife adds, "If you could get some money out of it, it would be even better," That is my goal. Other bloggers have made it. Deb and Monique are both familiar bloggers here who have publishers seeking their talents. Deb has written a story to be included in an upcoming Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul. Heck, why not me!

So Chicken Soup for the Dog's Lover's Soul is at the book binder's. I'm too late for that one. But our family also has a pet mouse. When Chicken Soup for the Mouse Lover's Soul advertises for material, I'm there. I will charm the editors recounting how our mouse escaped from its cage, triggering a desperate search of our family room. And nobody was more angst-ridden than my wife over the missing little fellow. Mousie Come Home--it's a winner.

Of course, I thought my Christmas story about a dad masquerading as Santa Claus to make true believers out of his kids was going to be a sure-fire hit too. I entered it in a Detroit Free Press holiday short story contest about twenty years back. So convinced was I that I had struck gold that I instructed a secretary to pull me out of a meeting if the phone ever rang for me. But no call ever came. When the winning stories were published, they ran a list of "honorable mentions." Then the editors added a few others they thought were good too. Not mine, none of them.

A couple years ago I set my sights a little lower. When an Ann Arbor monthly entertainment guide begat its annual literary contest, I figured myself to be a shoo-in. I had concocted a wonderful little ditty about a talking test tube blob that would make me the next Ray Bradbury. I even paid an entry fee of $5. Again however, no prize, no acknowledgement, not even a rejection letter.

Okay, there was the time I set my sights even lower. A weekly newspaper ran a Valentine's Day contest asking for something cute and mushy in 25 words or less. They had about 20 entries. And I FINALLY prevailed! I won one of the five prizes--a free haircut by a professional barber. That gave me hope

Could be I'm just a late bloomer with my literary career. Folk artist Grandma Moses didn't sell her first painting until she was nearly 80. So I figure I'm still on track for my Pulitzer. I'm not sure my wife agrees anymore. But I'll show her. One day they'll say about us, "Behind every successful man is a surprised woman."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Stranger On A Train

Anyone who rides AMTRAK knows it has the mechanical dependability of a very old car. Electrical malfunctions, engine breakdowns and track problems are commonplace. While we were riding back from Chicago last year, the air conditioning failed in nearly all the cars, though not in the dining car where we sat as part of an overflow of ticketed passengers. Before long, a woman about our age asked to join us at our table, wanting a respite from her warm, stuffy accommodations.

She was talkative in a motherly manner. At first she seemed a bit self-conscious at intruding but eventually she opened up. After describing her work with executives in the auto industry and the challenges of traveling alone, she began talking about her life and her family. Her husband had died some years ago, stricken by cancer in the prime of life. That left her to shepherd their two young daughters through the often tumultuous years leading to adulthood.

While she spoke, she pulled out a picture of her daughters. They were both long-haired, slender, conservatively dressed and with a scholarly demeanor. In fact, both girls were bright, though the older daughter held more of a passion for success. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a business degree. Then, she was among a few fortunate graduates to secure a position in the lucrative field of investment banking.

Eventually, she landed in New York, with a salary approaching six figures, her mother said. Pretty good for a young twenty-something. Four years ago this past Sunday, she was at her post high up in the World Trade Center towers. Then the planes hit. Her mother anticipated a phone call, knowing her daughter would want to let her know right away that she was okay. So she waited. An hour passed. Then two.

When after several hours, there was no phone call, the mother said she was overcome by a feeling of tranquillity. Whether it was mother's intuition, a spiritual sense, or something else, she knew her daughter had perished that morning. Her words brought my wife to tears. They both hugged and cried together for a moment. Then the mother went on to talk about her surviving daughter--her career as an oceanographer and her life on Cape Cod.

After we got off the train, my wife and I made sure the woman's car was still there where she left it. She thought it might have been towed after several days. The car was there and we parted ways. That was the last we saw of her. This past week I thought about that woman, whose name I don't remember. As I watched news footage of the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the memorials marking the anniversary of 9-11, I thought of how we opened our hearts as a nation to those affected. And it doesn't always take a generous donation to offer comfort. Sometimes it just takes sympathy, a few tears, and a hug.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Scrapbooking For Men

My son recently was showing his girlfriend a scrapbook that contained pictures, programs, newspaper articles, and various personal souvenirs belonging to him and his brother. It was colorfully embellished in modern scrapbook style with stickers and customized cut-outs. Greg told her it was all put together by me.

“Your dad did this?!!” she asked with skeptical surprise.

Yeah. Me. Why not? I’ve put together a half dozen scrapbooks including the one pictured. It’s a hobby I started almost 30 years ago. The chronicle of my own life fills nearly two scrapbooks, both of which includes extra pages I’ve added. If ever I become famous, they will look nice in a museum.

But I never considered scrapbooking a feminine hobby until the current scrapbooking craze escalated. When I started browsing the aisles of die-cuts, adhesives, stickers, embossing supplies, colored cardstock, stencils and rubber stamps, I realized I was a distinct minority. Surrounding me were hordes of women, young and old. Coincidence? No! I clicked on “scrapbooking” on a blogger’s profile and came up with 40 other bloggers who listed “scrapbooking” as a hobby. All females.

Nevertheless, I enjoy the hobby. It does make me wonder if I have other feminine characteristics I’m not aware of. Not too long ago I e-mailed my old high school buddy Bob that I was giving up on my economy sized bottle of Grecian Formula. I was going to try a rinse with my grey hair instead. His reply: “Rinse? Hmmm that sounds like a woman's term. Gotta come up with something a bit more manly. Something mechanical, airbrush with an airgun maybe.”

I guess I need someone like Bob who will advise me when I’m becoming a bit too prissy. Maybe someone like Trucker Bob who seems the type to gauge masculinity by the number of foes a guy can vanquish in a bar fight. Not too long ago Trucker Bob on blog 203 asked this question of the day: “Have you ever wished you were a member of the opposite sex?” I didn’t touch that one. You first, Trucker Bob.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


My old college buddy sent me this picture. What surprised him was not so much the skunk eating the catfood he placed outdoors, but his cat’s blasé reaction to the theft. Maybe the cat’s thinking, "That’s okay. There’s plenty more where that came from." If pets only knew the high price of their grub nowadays, My dog’s treats cost more than mine. Wonder if I could get Doogie to share my pretzels instead of begging for a Beggin Strip.

We had a stinker of our own this past weekend. I hate rebates. It just seems like companies make you somersault through hoops sideways to get a couple bucks back. "Include the model number, the UPC code, your original sales receipt (then what if it's defective?), the completed rebate form and the eye of a newt. You should receive your rebate within six months."

So in the mail comes what looks like a credit card addressed to my son. He already has two, one of which he swears he didn’t order. Why financial institutions are so eager to hand out credit cards to college students with heavy debt and little income is beyond me. Perhaps to get kids used to paying high interest rates when they start charging more than they can afford. It’s America after all.

But no way are we going to allow another credit card into our household. That got chopped up faster than an onion in a Japanese steakhouse. Only later did my wife read the accompanying flyer: "Enclosed is your rebate card for $50. It can be redeemed for products and services at any business that accepts VISA."

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Naa naa, boo boo, MSU doo

Ever notice how sports rivalries bring out the bad kid in us? Well, with me anyway. Dye me maize 'n blue for my University of Michigan Wolverines. And when my very favorite blogger (now anyway) Horsetail Snake yesterday splashed a picture of himself with a Michigan sweatshirt on his blog, and threw a jab at cross-state rival Michigan State . . . well, I was in Hoss heaven.

Now some of us Wolverine boosters were extreme sports fans before there were extreme sports, if you catch my drift. And the Michigan State University Spartans support their school colors as seriously as a flag-waving patriot. Their incendiary post-game victory celebrations are legend, as my son found out. He's a junior there now. After MSU downed long-time nemesis Duke in a pivotal NCAA basketball tourney match-up this past March, my son told his older brother immediately after, "I've got the gasoline if you've got the couch." He didn't touch off any fires that night, though he did have his first taste of tear gas at the post-game street party. His Sparty baptism, I call it.

Although college football officially kicks off today, feelings already have been running strong between the sister schools. I sustain a regular e-mail correspondence with a fellow high school graduate, he an MSU grad now an English professor while I attended the U of M. Fur flies between us during sports seasons. Witness this "scholarly" exchange between us after I reported that a young man pummeled three U of M students after they reportedly poked fun at his MSU attire.

BOB: So one MSU student hospitalized three UM students?
Hmmm, sounds about right!

DAVE: Yeah, one MSU student took out two pre-med students and their
instructor. That does sound right. A lot of neanderthals at MSU. We're higher up the evolutionary chain here.

BOB: Geek status does not put you higher on the evolutionary
charts--most geeks can't survive in the wild, as the MSU guy showed. Go Spartans!

It brings out the bad little kid in both of us.

Today, my boys and I are attending a rivalry of a different sort. USA faces off against Mexico in a contest to determine which team will be the first to qualify for the next World Cup soccer championship. Soccer contests and brawling go together, particularly in intense rivalries such as this one, to take place in Columbus, Ohio. I told my boys that there could be trouble, something that didn't phase Scott, the MSU student. "Bring bail money," he advised.

Spoken like a true Spartan.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

The (is it?) Art Fair

The two most popular events in Ann Arbor every year are known locally for their brutality. Yet, over a hundred thousand people attend each. One is the University of Michigan football game, legal assault on artificial turf.

The other is the summer art fair. The art fair takes place on the most sweltering week in July, picked just for that reason, locals feel. Then people cram together so tightly that, for women anyway, it's a form of legal assault. Parking is made deliberately scarce. And everything you want to buy in the vicinity is overpriced. Brutally overpriced.

Originally the art fair attracted the most accomplished, talented artists from around the country. Then the local artists felt left out, so they got an art fair of their own. Then the local businesses felt left out, so they got art fairs of their own. Now there are, I think, four or five art fairs running simultaneously downtown Ann Arbor. So everyone can be an artist.

Anyway, that's a long way to go to make my point, but here it is. This is supposed to be an ART fair! So why do we have all this photography masquerading as art? Heck, I can snap a picture of my desk at work and charge a hundred dollars for it. That doesn't make me an artist.

Gypsybobocowgirl takes and publishes gorgeous pictures on her blog, at least as good as those at the A2 Art Fair. So do many other bloggers. But I don't think they expect their names to soon follow the masters Michaelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo and Splinter. Art is art. Pictures is pictures.

I'm not even sure the fella pictured with this blog is art. Okay, it's metal sculpture and it will set you back thousands of dollars (it had such a price tag). So it may qualify. Actually, it would probably look pretty cool next to the coat of arms in somebody's great room. Or as an expensive clothes rack if your bedroom is big enough to accommodate it.

My wife and I did break down one year and purchase an Audrey Ratterman watercolor featuring flowers, trees and a restless pond. But any pictures on my wall will be of family.