Monday, August 29, 2005

Blogs, Dads And Hammers

My family knows I blog. That includes my in-laws and probably a few aunts, uncles and cousins. I think that's a good thing . . . most of the time. However, after I received comments from some fellow bloggers noting how nice I was on-line, my dad did threaten to post his own comment "to set the record straight." And after I posted a blog detailing my earliest childhood memory, my mother said it was "full of crap." Those comments notwithstanding, I believe they enjoy my on-line scribbles.

Anyway, after posting my last blog which featured my dad as Mr. Fix-it, I got a long distance phone call. To the best of my recollection, it went something like this:

"Yeah, this is your dad. Hea, do you ever proofread your blogs before you put them in?"

Oh, oh. No telling where this was going.

"I do. And Wendy always previews them. She said it looked good," I said referring to my wife's read.

"Well, I think you made a few mistakes," dad replied. He said he didn't understand the problem with my shower diverter, and something about my being semi-skilled didn't set right either. But what he thought was a major blooper was my describing workers erecting an outdoor play structure as using ball peen hammers.

"Do you know what a ball peen hammer is?" he asked.

"Ummm, yeah. It has a metal ball on the side where the claw usually is," I replied.

"They use that in manufacturing, to bang on metal, to shape it and stuff."

"I think there was some metalwork there in---"

"No, no, no. They wouldn't use a ball peen hammer. If they're driving nails, they'd use a claw hammer. You wouldn't use a ball peen hammer on something like that."

Now to be honest, the city pitched in to erect this play structure about 15 years ago. I don't remember the types of hammers they used. Ball peen hammer was the first type that came to mind. I'm not all that sure they used wood lathes either, which is something else I mentioned. My point was that amidst all these skilled workers using carpenters' tools, my lack of handyman knowledge relegated me to shoveling wood chips.

I always thought writers were granted a bit of literary license, to dramatize, fudge or otherwise embellish what might be hazy in their memory. But as far as ball peen hammers and my dad go, I've learned my lesson. And I edited and republished my last blog to replace ball peen with claw hammers.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Life's Taxes and Discounts

Life experience plays an important role in the fatherly advice I give my sons. You don’t want the next generation of sons and daughters to make the same mistakes you did. But they do anyway. Just lecturing them isn’t enough. If I had a nickel for every time I was told, "Don’t worry about it, dad," I could retire today. So I’ve had to make my lectures memorable by coining a phrase or two.

One such phrase is the "stupid tax." And I’m proud to say it’s one phrase that’s stuck with my boys. The upshot is that as you go through life, you pay extra in cash for the mistakes you make. If you have a heavy foot on the accelerator, you’re more likely to get traffic tickets. Count it as a stupid tax. Mess with your credit and you’re likely to pay more in interest for loans and such. Another stupid tax.

The opposite of the stupid tax is the "handyman’s discount." Bottom line there is that if you can fix it yourself, you’re going to save money Now before I go too far, I should say this. I am not a very handy man. My father is. If whatever is broken has replacement parts, he can fix it. Some years back a clip broke off my Nikon camera, so it wouldn’t close properly. The camera shop reported they would have to ship it to Nikon. Minimum charge: $100.

"For just this little catch?" I asked. The clerk said that Nikon technicians performed a full inspection and cleaning of every camera sent for repairs, regardless of the problem. So my father somehow constructed and attached a replacement piece to the camera. Handyman’s discount: $100. (Having a father who knows how to do that: priceless.)

My two brothers have more of my father’s fix-it genes. All four of us performed bathroom updates recently. My father installed a new shower as did my brother in Bay City. My brother in South Dakota bragged that his newly updated shower now had speakers for music as well. I replaced some backsplash tiles. Now the shower diverter doesn’t work, so we can only take showers as the water doesn't flow through the tub faucet now. Still, I was proud of what I did accomplish.

So I try to lecture my boys on the importance of becoming handy if not skilled. I recall my wife and I volunteered to help erect a large play structure in a city park. When I showed up, there were two lines of people: the skilled and the unskilled. When the woman in charge asked which I was, I didn't want to commit to either, so I said, "I’m semi-skilled, but also accident prone." It was a busy group. Even high schoolers pitched in on the wood lathes, the mitre saws and the claw hammers. Me? I shoveled wood chips.

Moral? Unless you want to go through life shoveling wood chips, become a handy man or woman.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Bet Lance Never Saw This

During our annual camping trip to Lake Michigan this summer, I biked part of the Hart to Montague rail trail, a 20-mile stretch of old railway that has been paved for pedestrian and non-motorized cycle traffic. While riding through forests, small towns and farmland I came across a series of exercise stations like the one pictured. That’s a chin-up bar here. I think I did chin-ups back in junior high school. Well, tried to. Most of the other exercise stations were similar with parallel bars, incline sit-up apparatus and a half-dozen other set-ups along a short stretch of trail.

While on this trail, I passed a few folks mostly about my age. Some older. Now we all have a respite from peddling the long miles in the hot sun. I can envision some grandmotherly type pulling her bike off to the side of the trail to do some chin-ups, followed by a few flysprings over the high bar. And I can see some kid taking a break from his video games, riding over so he can perform a handstand on the parallel bars before a double flip, half twist dismount. Actually, none of the exercise stations were being used when I passed. But I think this could catch on.

Imagine these types of exercise parks at rest stops along the interstate. . . truckers taking breaks from the long road to do body toning and cartwheels . . . strangers spotting eachother as they take turns on the uneven parallel bars . . . rambunctious kids pirouetting gracefully across the balance beam. It’d put places like Vic Tanny and Curves out of business. But it’d be a boon to the corporations that produce that talcum powder gymnasts put on their hands. That could be sold in vending machines along with the Twinkies and Snickers.

Just remember when you start seeing these monkey bars springing up at rest areas from coast to coast, you heard it here first.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Sunday Potpourri

True Love (Ouch)

My older son drove 100 miles round-trip in a particularly magnanimous gesture this past week. Greg's girlfriend is taking a class to become a nurse's aide in Lansing and a class project required her to enlist a volunteer for practice blood draws. So my son Greg made a long distance trip to become a class guinea pig for the day. Students drew five samples--three from his left arm, one from his right arm, and one from his left hand. It wasn't that bad, he said, though one student was so nervous her hand quivered needle and all the whole time.

And I still remember the time I had to hold Greg down so the nurse could give him a shot. Ah, the power of love.

Dubious Milestone

This week, courtesy of Red Roof Inns, I received my first senior discount. Anybody over 50 gets one. Saving money ordinarily makes me happy, but this produced mixed feelings. Kinda like when they stop routinely asking for your ID when you buy beer. Milestones like this I remember. It was last year when I was first asked by a restaurant employee if I qualified for a senior discount (at a Golden Corral).

One that really bit was long ago when our family spent an extended weekend at Wheels Inn in Ontario. I was 40 then. We were headed back from the pool when this little tyke knee high waddled past me in the hall. The little guy looked up at me, then his eyes widened a bit as he thought he saw someone he recognized. "Bumpa?" he asked. For the record, it's 12 years later and I've never been a 'bumpa.'

Mama's Country Home Cookin' Restaurant (and Coney Island)

Around Ann Arbor, there are a number of Coney Island style restaurants, most of them owned by Greek ex-patriots or folk from thereabouts. In a small town outside Ann Arbor, there was a place called The Aegean, its walls hand-painted with creatures and characters from Greek mythology. Of course, its menu included gyros and other Greek favorites, along with standard American road food.

Only problem was that this restaurant didn't pack them in like so many others in the area. What to do? The owners changed the theme and the restaurant's name. Now it's called The Country Roadhouse. The walls were re-painted and the menu re-done, though I'm sure you still can substitute feta cheese for American on your John Wayne burger if you like. Now the restaurant seems to attract a substantial clientele like its competitor, the Country Creek Restaurant a few miles down the road. It also is owned by southern European ex-patriots.

Maybe the only difference is that when you order flaming fried cheese at these eateries, the waiter cries out "Gi Haaa!" instead of "Opa!"

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Was It Me Or The Spam?

Writers can be an insecure lot. That includes me. The other day I was browsing the blogosphere as I often do, giving some occasional feedback. I don't use bookmarks nor a log of any sort to record which blogs I've visited. Unless the blogger e-mails me back or comments on my own blog, it's unlikely by chance I'll visit that site again.

However, I ran across Wiser Woman, a blog about a woman starting a new life out west. Picking up stakes and starting a new life elsewhere is a very favorite subject of mine. The heart yearns, the mind wanders, but the body stays the course. That's true for most of us.

Anyway, I thought Wiser Woman to be especially eloquent, so I bookmarked her site and left a comment. I wished her well, but also noted that she had attracted a fair number of spam comments. Not cool, right? I've been seeing more and more of these spam comments which contain a generic comment about the blogger's blog, then an invitation to visit a site about "King Sized Comforters" or something like that.

Next time I check this site, all the comments have been deleted. And Wiser Woman no longer allows comments from anyone. Now there weren't many comments on her site to begin with, as she's a fairly new blogger. (As an aside, I've noticed that high traffic blogs do not seem to get as many spam comments as newer blogs). There were just my comments, and the spam. Now we're both gone, with no explanation. The fact that I was cut by someone called "wiser woman" kinda stung too.

As an insecure type, I try not want to offend by my words. Not in this venue, anyway. I even have my wife preview each blog I plan to upload in case I missed some slight to an offshoot religious sect. But comments are all my own, uncut and uncensored. And I know they could get me into trouble.

So I have to ask myself, was it me? Or was it the spam?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Sometimes Winning Hurts

For my son's 20th birthday we took in the Boston Red Sox/Detroit Tigers night game yesterday. Our first game at Comerica Park, only our second Tiger game as a family ever, hopefully it would be a memorable experience. I've always enjoyed family bonding. Except that older son Greg had to arrive solo, having to leave early for a new job he just started. He brought our second car and I gave him some money to park. He spent the money instead on a big beer at the ball park, reporting proudly that he had spent nothing to park (we paid $10). Our car was left in an unguarded vacant lot somewhere downtown this night. Hmmmmm.

Our less than .500 Tigers struggled against the World Champion Sox. Then, in the sixth inning, something memorable occurred. No, not a Tiger comeback. Two streakers. I understand TV cameras must pan away, supposedly so not to encourage such rowdiness. But I think also to avoid showing the lack of security at these large-crowd-with-alcohol affairs. Although one streaker made a beeline for the opposite field, the other trotted about in centerfield for quite some time. Heck, he could have roasted hot dogs out there without being bothered. Finally, whether bored or tired, he strolled over to the foul line. As he was being cuffed in the buff, he shimmied a little impromptu hula dance. No apologies.

After he was led off, I realized that my camera remained on my lap the whole time. It would have made a nice photo for my blog. Or not. Not to be graphic, but you didn't miss much. "It was just a little streak," teased a vendor. A newspaper wondered whether the two ended up in "small claims court."

Birthday boy Scott got his treat in the bottom of the eighth when veteran MVP Curt Schilling, the pitcher he wanted most to see, took the mound for the Sox, quickly extinguishing a Tigers rally. "Ready to go?" he asked after Schilling got the final batter out. Didn't he still want to see Curt Schilling in the ninth?

The way Schilling was pitching, Scott said, he would probably mow down the Tigers 1-2-3.

"But he has an Earned Run Average of over 6.00," I added.

"He had some troubles early in the year, but he hasn't let up more than a run in the last 20 games," Scott replied.

There was something wrong with his math, I knew, since my job is numbers. But we left. Riding home, we listened to the radio as the Tigers came back against Schilling in the bottom of the ninth, scoring three times to win, the winning hit dropping right in front of our old seats. It was a memorable finish.

"That hurt," I said aloud in the car. Scott claimed, rightly so, that he didn't force us to leave. "I didn't put you in a headlock and pull you out the gate," he said.

True, but at least then there would have been some family bonding.

Monday, August 15, 2005

My Mysteriously Bad Day

I don't like to complain about work. Here especially. For one, I've heard that bloggers who complain about their jobs can run into trouble if their employers find out. Also, so many people complain about their job in so many ways, it's pretty much all been said. But not this . . .

My job consists mainly of reconciling a rather large Excel spreadsheet to what is commonly called the "general ledger." As I balance each line, I make a notation on my computerized document. Each month I make hundreds, perhaps a thousand or more notations. And I save my work often in case the network crashes.

The other day started like so many others when I noticed something terribly odd on my computer screen. My notations from this month were gone. Disappeared. Kaput. My formatting was all there, including lines I highlighted indicating those I'd done. But the most important part, my notes, had just vanished.

My god, how could this happen? Now I've been known to make computer blunders. There was the time I accidentally saved my working document as my supervisor's working document, effectively replacing his document with mine. That was my bad. And my boss was as forgiving with me as Godzilla was with Tokyo (Not true. My boss is a great guy.)

And since 50, my fingers have been more fumble than fleet. Combine that with my wandering attention and stuff happens. I might be smiling over Old Horsetail Snake's latest blog, then look up to my computer monitor and wonder aloud, "Where'd that come from?" or "How did that get over there?" or simply "What the (insert your favorite expletive)?" But this wasn't just some brain fart unless it was the mother of all brain farts. It would have taken a series of keystrokes I normally would not have done.

Was it sabotage? Or maybe some computer virus? I actually Google searched the news to see if there were a new Excel-attacking virus out there, though my colleague said it would have to be an extremely maniacal virus just to erase a small but very important part of my very large document.

The computer guru staff is now retrieving a copy of my working document. I want more, however. Dust for fingerprints! Call the Geek Squad! Pull the hard drive! Get homeland security on this. Somebody's messin' with me and I want to know who it is. Just hope it doesn't go like that old Pogo comic strip line, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Saturday, August 13, 2005

If A Dog Were A Jock

My in-laws have a pekinese-poodle mix that, if you assigned people-type personalities to dogs, he'd be a jock. Tough as a bear and a terrible tease. Loves to harrass the German Shepherd mix next door with a furious fusillade of barks, while the other dog stares dully at Peanut like, "What's your problem?"

Then when he's finished he plows through our patio screen door as nonchalantly as I might walk through curtains. "No need to open the door. I just let myself in," I can imagine him saying.

Peanut shines on the backyard soccer field. We play with an inflatable kid's ball which he can push with his nose while running full gallop. He might get lucky and push the ball between the plastic pylons of our makeshift goal. But the ball's just as likely to end up buried in the hosta plants by the fence.

When you're dribbling the ball upfield, best keep one eye on the ball. Because if Peanut has his eye on the ball too, as in the picture above, it only takes one sideward glance by the human, and dog and ball go flying together across the back yard.

Unfortunately, Peanut has been suffering from a degenerative joint disease which probably will only get worse. He has trouble walking, sometimes even trouble sitting. And he takes regular pain medication. Yet, when we go out for some backyard soccer, he wouldn't miss it. And when he plays, it's just like the old Peanut, full of speed, full of adrenaline.

The sign of a true athlete is one who can play through the pain. And if a dog could be a true athlete, that would be Peanut.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Doctor Doom And A Poem

Doctor Doom is standing atop my computer work station as I upload this blog. Fortunately, he is only four inches tall, made of plastic and came out of a Burger King Fun Meal. Still, it was deju vu seeing him at my computer and I wondered which one of my twenty-something boys would have acquired it. Turns out that my older son's girlfriend's mother gave it to him. She bought the fun meal, trying to stay slim, which I understand she very much is--a diet tip for you health conscious out there.

Eventually, I believe Doctor Doom will end up here in a Tupperware container labeled "Action Figures" in a bureau down the basement. As I browse here, I see Ninja Turtles, Superman, Ghostbusters, Snoopy, Big Bird, Transformers, GI's, and many more I can't identify. Why the collection? Good question. It's not that I expect a run on E-Bay or anything like that. Or that in a few years grandchildren will be clamoring for them. Maybe it has more to do with a poem I wrote after cleaning the garage a few years back (something I don't do often enough). Since I haven't shared a poem in a while, here 'tis:


Rusty training wheels, the dusty Pooh bear,
One boy's football helmet, all abandoned there.

A toy soldier, some linking blocks--there's many more,
just ahead of my broom, in the garage, on the floor.

I hesitate, wander back and it seems to me
that it wasn't so long, there were under a tree

Now a dad who was warned they grow up too fast
tries hard to remember when old toys were played with last.

When that helmet was worn by the toddler in the yard;
when that soldier over the treehouse stood guard.

When Pooh lay with many stuffed friends gathered for bed.
Now they're all gone or gathering dust instead.

How I wish they were fresh and in small hands again
when we were young, before boys became men.

So I look down and ponder to say
that it's time to throw these old toys away.

But I wonder if the memories too will die
if there's not an old toy for me to happen by.

So I find them a corner, where they all can stay
As I tell myself, "No, can't be today."

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Space To Call My Own

I’ve occasionally wondered where great writers write. Do they have a desk in front of a window that overlooks the ocean? Or are they huddled in some dark corner of the attic typing by candlelight? Or possibly in an upstairs office suite downtown where the noises of the street stream in like the light? Or possibly a Hemmingway type might just handwrite some prose on a table at his favorite bar, his paper blotted somewhat by beer spilled from the frosted mug nearby.

Anyway, I’m publishing the photo of my writing space for what it’s worth. It’s in the southeast corner of my basement, which isn’t noteworthy except that I’m safe in case of a tornado. The doodle art on the wall I colored over a quarter century ago. The desk clock is surprisingly accurate, running on a battery at least a dozen years old. My dinosaur of a computer is at least that old too. It can’t connect to the internet and can’t run CDs. I have a newer computer upstairs that can go on-line and has gobs more memory. But there are too many distractions nearby for me to write there.

So here I’ve written stories, blogs, Xmas letters, eulogies, poems, a few short sports articles for the local newspaper, journals, my unfinished movie scripts, e-mails to friends and relatives, my resume, and whatever else I’ve had mind to write over the past ten plus years. I’ve also played about a thousand games of FreeCell.

Oh, about the beads. Those are new this year. I just didn’t have any place else to put them in the house. Most of those my wife and I collected at a Mardi Gras parade in Fairhope, Alabama where the local Knights hurled prizes from their floats to the hordes eagerly gathered there. Mardi Gras actually was celebrated in Alabama first before it became popular in New Orleans. Besides the beads, we managed to snag a plush lobster, a toy football, a Frisbee, and ten or so moon pies. We got pretty good at outleaping the kids. However, after my wife snagged a nifty ring of a half-dozen beads, some lady about our age walked up and grabbed them with one hand, while she took hold of my fuzzy lobster with the other hand. Wendy had to let go of her bead prize, though I wrested loose my little red lobster. Honestly, the greed of some people.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Eat My Shorts, Scalpers!

It's been said, "They're all good seats." I think PT Barnum said it first. Then after he sold the ticket for a seat behind the elephants, he coined the phrase, "There's a sucker born every minute."

As an average guy, I'm lucky to get better than average seats to concerts or sporting events. Blocks of tickets are reserved for corporate sponsors, premier club members, wealthy benefactors, scalpers--pretty much everyone else but me. By the time I'm on Ticketmaster's website, the best available is row RR in the upper level.

I took the family to an international soccer game at Soldier Field in Chicago last summer. We sat high in the third deck, so far from the field that some eagles roosting nearby couldn't figure out what we were looking at. Sure, we had a nice view of the boats out in Lake Michigan and could wave at passing planes, but so far as figuring out what was going on down on the field, forget it. Rumor after the game was that Manchester United tied Bayern Munich.

I hoped for better fortune when I pre-ordered tickets to a Smothers Brothers gig a couple years ago. Our seats were listed in row "HC" which I couldn't find in the seating chart. Maybe a special box seat? No, it turns out they were tickets for handicapped folks, though we're not. You'd think as a generous gesture they would sit disabled folk front and center to give them a better view in case people stood up. Nope. We were given portable folding chairs near the exit in back of the theatre--better for us in case there was a fire, we were told. But certainly not the better view. It could have been Laurel and Hardy singing way down front and we wouldn't have known the difference.

So I'm hoping my luck is changing. I hopped aboard the internet and Ticketmaster earlier this year trying to score tickets to Paul McCartney. I wasn't going to 'settle' this time. Although I accessed the ticket site just as the public sale commenced, I was disheartened. Nothing in the lower deck and many ticket offerings in the upper deck carried "behind the stage" warnings. I tried again. And again. About to give up, I spied a notice that a second concert had been added the following night. Clicked on that and I was able to snatch up two tickets. It was Row R and behind the floor seating, but ON THE LOWER LEVEL! No nosebleeds this time, no sirree Bob.

Then my older son asked me to try to get tickets to a World Cup soccer qualifying match in Columbus, Ohio on Labor Day weekend.. I even had a special mailer with a pre-sale password. But I missed the pre-sale by a day and had to wait for the sale to the general public. This time, I took the first three seats offered as "best available" from Ticketmaster, rather than trying different price ranges. Good thing. The tickets sold out in 20 minutes. Later today, I saw scalpers' sites offering tickets to the same event at prices over three times what I paid. Oooooohyeahhhh.

Of course, we haven't been to either the McCartney concert nor the Soccer World Cup qualifier. Our seats may still be terrible. But for today anyway, I feel like I'm one up on the ticket scalpers.