Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Sting Maybe?

On the American Movie Classics (AMC) channel, the movie The Sting has been showing over and over these past couple weeks. Paul Newman and Robert Redford play the likable con-men who cheat people out of money. In the movie, bad people are the victims of the sting. If it were only so in real life.

During one of the breaks for the movie, the AMC host mentioned that there are millions of cons of one sort or another operating each year. In Michigan here, a woman lost her life savings, $295,000 to a network of con artists who used three separate scams to coax her to mail 12 pounds of money to Europe and thousands of dollars of wire transfers to Canada. Police say they'll likely never catch the crooks, nor retrieve the money.

Although I’ve received numerous e-mail scams over the years, I’ve never met a con-man in person. But after an incident last weekend when my wife and I were on vacation, I wonder. See what you think.

Wendy and I were outside the main visitors’ center at the Smoky Mountain National Park standing in the parking lot. It was late in the day and the parking lot had cleared out for the most part. But there was a group of men on motorcycles at one end of the lot where we had parked.

As we approached our car, a middle-aged man got off his motorcycle and walked over. He asked if we were "from around here." In one hand, he held a large vinyl zippered bank bag with the name of a North Carolina bank on it.

We said, "Sorry, we’re not from around here" and continued to get into our car. The man smiled, voicing some forgotten pleasantry, but it seemed to me like he wanted to talk to us about something. We never gave him the chance.

Now, I just could be extremely cynical. Okay, I AM extremely cynical. Ask my wife. But as soon as I spied the bank bag, the first thought that came into my mind was "pigeon drop." There are many variations of that found money scam. In the movie The Flim Flam man, George C. Scott (another likeable con artist) gets the pigeon to put up his own money in order to collect a share of some found money in a wallet because there is an uncashed check that Scott says he can cash at a local bank.

Other variations involve the pigeon putting up his own dough as earnest money or for attorney’s fees. My thought was that this guy was going to say he was from out of state and couldn’t carry a bank bag that large riding a motorcycle (I wondered about that too). So he would give us the bank bag which probably contained some worthless cashier’s check of a large denomination, if we would put up some of our own money to share. So he ends up with some of our spending cash, we end up with a few small bills and a bum check.

Okay, so am I being too paranoid? My wife thought he might be just another time share salesman. We have run into those before too. Or maybe he just wanted directions to the nearest town.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Back From Aunt Bug's

It hardly seems like we were gone. But this extended weekend trip to Tennessee certainly made Big Dave bigger, courtesy of the southern fried pork chops, the corn chowder, the chicken and dumplings and three trips to the serving tables at the Great American Steak and Buffet restaurant in Pigeon Forge.

Aunt Bug's cabin was a winner. I did find it odd to find Gospel music playing on a portable radio as we arrived. And they had the jacuzzi all filled and ready to go. Hearing Rock of Ages doesn't necessarily make me want to strip down and jump into the hot tub with daquiri in hand.

Wendy said the kitchen was stocked with every kind of cooking and bakeware accessory imaginable. That makes it this an ideal vacation destination for you women, right? They had a pool table, wet bar and gas grill for us menfolk.

And there were three TVs in separate living areas, all hooked up to direct digital satellite. Never mind the nearby Smoky Mountains when you've got the Hallmark Channel, according to the missus. We could have an oceanfront room in Hawaii and she'd still be watching Matlock.

Of course, the one time we did a longer hike, we were not halfway to some waterfalls and she slipped and fell, getting a softball-sized bruise in the process. I was the consummate gentleman, making sure she could limp back to the parking lot before I continued on alone (she insisted, honest). I forgot there are bears in these parts.

It was a bit scary at night, with the woods and the quiet and the strange surroundings. I must have conjured up every lonely cabin horror movie I had seen while trying to fall asleep. For example, Friday the Thirteenth. Or Evil Dead, which I think was filmed at a cabin in Tennessee. Even thought of movies I hadn't seen, like The Hills Have Eyes.

I'll try to post a picture when I get them developed, but I'm not sure I'll have any. During one outing, I asked Wendy how many pictures I had left in my camera (forgot my reading glasses). She said the counter was on "S." That stands for "start", I thought. My film wasn't advancing. So I popped open the camera to check. But the film had advanced. Instead of reading the picture counter, Wendy had read the aperture setting (which was set on "S" to match the shutter speed).

So no telling if I got any pictures or not. Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Gone To Aunt Bug's

Time for a little R&R. Wendy and I are taking a long weekend, driving down to the Smoky Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Staying at Aunt Bug's.

I found Aunt Bug's cabins on the internet. They were not included in the numerous lodging brochures we received in the mail. But I found the name intriguing. It's like advertising yourself as Swampbog Billy's Trailer Park. Or Skeeter Creek Campground.

It's reverse psychology at work. They must be reputable, profitable lodging or else they would have gone out of business long ago. We'll see. I'll report back. But I'll be out of internet contact for a bit first.

This is mine and Wendy's third trip to the Smoky Mountains, the first without kids. When we made our first trip, Greg was seven, Scott four. At Dollywood, they argued over who would occupy the front seat of this one ride.

A costumed young lass employee saw the ruckus, came over and asked them both sweetly, "Are you kin?" They froze with this puzzled look that said, "We're not in Michigan anymore." That was all it took, though. The boys settled down and rode peacefully together.

The last time we vacationed in Tennessee, the boys were both teenagers, but still showed their sibling rivalry. The four of us toured Mysterious Mansion in Gatlinburg during a late night thunderstorm.

Greg led most of the way and arrived at this second floor balcony. The balcony was rigged to tip, giving those standing there the feeling that they were going to topple to the floor below. Greg braced himself awkwardly.

Then, realizing the prank, Greg grabbed his brother and tried to physically drag him to the balcony so Scott too could experience the fear of falling Greg did. Scott fought him off, however.

No fighting this time. Unless Wendy and I fight over which radio station to listen to.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Oh the guilt, the guilt

Fate was smiling on me last week. I don’t care how others see it.

My wife Wendy and I went for an afternoon walk, taking a popular route used by many people daily. My palms had been itching lately, which some interpret to mean an unexpected cash windfall is near. As a habitual change-spotter, I'm always picking up dimes, nickels, even the occasional quarter. I was due for a big score.

I caught a glimpse of green paper off to the side and snatched a fifty spot that was lying in the grass. Whoa! Wendy could not believe it. Fifty dollar bill. Now I've run the circuit. I've found a bill of every denomination in major circulation--$100, $50, $20, etc.

So I passed along the good news to my dad via e-mail. His response?

"Yesterday I took a walk on the rail trail, and there was a bike that some one stole laying in the shrubs, it was brand new. I felt bad for the kid who lost it. I also feel bad when I find money that people lose, you know like fifty dollars (guilt trip, guilt trip)"

I passed along the news to my sister-in-law. Her response?

"Some poor soul (literally) is now out of fifty bucks. How do you sleep at night."

I sleep OK, I guess. What am I supposed to do? Approach each passerby and ask, "Did you lose this?" Give the money to a worthy charity? Post a "found" ad in the personals of the local newspaper?

After pondering the ethics, I went to the local video store and picked up three movies, including "Dawn of the Dead" (the remake) and "The Chronicles of Riddick." After hearing my movie choices, both my wife and my eldest son thought I might have been better off just letting the fifty lie.

Oh, no. It was all fate. If I hadn't found the $50, I wouldn't have gone movie shopping. If that video store didn't have Dawn of the Dead (only one copy was left), I probably wouldn't have bought any movies at all. See, you had to buy three to get the special deal, but Dawn of the Dead was the only movie I REALLY wanted.

So I guess it was a combination of fate, necessity and impulse buying. How often do those cosmic forces come together at once? There are forces beyond even my control. You just can’t feel guilty under those circumstances.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Hola Italia

Ever since Hoss directed me to a spot where I could download my very own sitemeter, I’ve been keeping track of folk’s comings and goings here. It’s all very fascinating in a way, as I had no idea who came to my site and why. And this week, early Wednesday, I celebrated a milestone of sorts as I recorded my 1,000th visitor. Somebody from the University of Michigan. Very appropriate since I’m a big-time fan of the Wolverine.

I have international visitors to my blog from around the globe, mostly from Australia, courtesy of Peter and friends there, I imagine. But Google directs others to my blog for the wrong reasons. Check out what search words brought my blog into these countries across the globe.

South Africa—Coke Smuggling Grandmother

Gracious sakes alive! Yes, I did a post on my grandmother once. But it had nothing to do with smuggling. And the only Coke I’ve ever spoken of here is Coca Cola. You'd think a Google search engine would know that. That’s all I need is for Drug Enforcement Agency police to show up on my doorstep. Or, worse yet, show up on my 94-year-old grandma’s doorstep!

Brunei--Naughty Girls

Oh, great. I can’t believe that with all the obscene, pornographic and x-rated sites in the world, somehow I fit in there. I’ve strived to keep mine a G-rated site. What “naughty girls” have I written about? Maybe Michigan State alum Bonnie has misbehaved with her comments here at times, but I’m sure she's not what triggered this. Pretty sure, anyway.

Rome, Italy—Polish Eagle Tattoos

What I find strange about this visitor is that he searched the words Polish Eagle Tattoos with Google.It, so the search engine should have returned sites only in Italian. Is there a Big Dave’s Blog translated to Italian? I did find Big Dave’s Blog translated into Spanish once. My whole blog, in Spanish. “Grande Dave’s Blog,” it was called.

I'm imagining that if Google were a talking searching engine, it would have been saying to this Roman.

"No search in Italy for Polish tattoos. Go to the Big Dave's Blog. He know all about the tattoos."

But I don't. Sorry. Here are a few other Google searches which brought visitors to my site.

Abbott And Costello Meet Siskel And Ebert
Witty Comments for a 60th Birthday Card

Burger King Whopper Price Australia
What Powder Do Gymnasts Put On There Hands

Being included in the following search results was more understandable:

Big Daves Tattoos (again with the tattoos?!)
Big Daves Stories
Dave's Passwords
Big Dave
Playboy Dave's Blog

Now if my wife Wendy wonders why I would appear with the search Playboy Dave's Blog, then it makes sense that you also find my blog with this search that somebody did:

Wendy’s Doghouse

Monday, April 10, 2006

Faith--Why Have It?

Bumper sticker spied in a parking lot at a local Best Buy: "Militant Agnostic . . . I don't know and you don't know either."

Your faith can be shaken daily, it's true. Just this past week there was the revelation of a recently discovered manuscript created in the biblical era that claimed Jesus asked Judas to betray him. Then there was the recently published medical study on recovering heart patients that found no recuperative benefits to prayer.

It's probably good that as we enter the most holy week of the Christian calendar we ask ourselves again what it means to have faith. And what it means to be a Christian.

I was raised a Catholic and raised my family as Catholics. But we're probably what the pundits will call liberal or Democrat style Catholics. We don't attend mass every Sunday.

Oh, we try to attend church often. I do like our new priest, a young always smiling gentleman with a deep baritone voice. His sermons bring to life the people of the Bible as if he knew them personally.

Yet I sometimes see what is done in the name of God and I want no part of that. The Ann Arbor News this past weekend carried a news article about a father who confronted and jostled an anti-abortion protestor--a candidate for the priesthood--who held a large sign of a mangled, aborted fetus towards him and his children.

I have seen the signs myself. They're ugly and offensive, and meant to be both. Protesters display them to motorists driving through the heart of nearby downtown Ypsilanti, the location of an abortion clinic. I'm not a fan of abortion, but I don't think it should be made illegal either. That stance probably puts me at odds with my church.

Then I see violence in the Middle East. Suicide bombers killing tens and hundreds in the name of their religious sect, seeking to become martyrs to their faith. They hope to reap some rich reward from God in the hereafter.

Why is it that religion and the church's teachings so often have us at odds with eachother. Anyone remember the song lyrics to the song "Brotherhood Week" composed by humorist Tom Lehrer decades ago?

The Protestants Hate The Catholics
The Catholics Hate The Protestants
The Moslems Hate The Hindus
And Everybody Hates the Jews

Maybe what might make things better is for people to put less faith in what God can do for them here and in the hereafter, and put more faith in what they themselves can do for their fellow man and woman now. I think that's what God would want.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

I'm Going That-A-Way

[Note: I first want to wish my brother and frequent anonymous commenter Gary a happy 51st birthday today (April 7). He's a grandfather, as well as a GM employee and competitive basketball player, though he's thinking of retiring (from both.) Wishing him a happy birthday here is less expensive than sending him a card and since he's cheap like me, he'll appreciate my frugality.

Also wanted to give an update to my "Bracket Mania" post. Despite foolishly picking cross-state rival Michigan State to go all the way to the NCAA basketball finals (they lost in the first round), wife Wendy beat all seven of us T. menfolk handily in our own little hoops bracket challenge group. She correctly picked both UCLA and Florida to make the Final Four. So congrats to her as well.]

Maybe it's just my paranoia acting up again, but it seems lately that police everywhere have been on a ticket-writing spree. I got my first speeding ticket ever last fall. Fellow blogger WordWhiz wrote about getting a ticket recently. My son was ticketed in Canada for not wearing a seatbelt in the backseat, which is not illegal in Michigan. I hear horror stories about those traveling in Mexico getting stopped in Mexico where rental cars are often targeted by the local policia for the most innocuous of violations.

Anyhoo, my wife and I were at a local nightspot in Ypsilanti which was hosting a barbecue and beer-tasting. There are a number of micro-breweries along the I-94 corridor here, including the well known Bell's Brewery. We didn't sample any Bells, but tried several others, Jolly Pumpkin Artesian Ale being my favorite. When we walked out, I felt plenty sober enough to drive, but since I've heard of police cars waiting near bars for customers to drive off, I kept my eyes open. It would be my luck to be taking a sobriety test as a co-worker happened to drive by.

When we arrived at the parking lot, there were only a few cars sitting there in the glare of a nearby streetlight. Two of them were police cars, the occupants of which were out chatting with eachother. My car was directly across from them.

"Be careful," my wife warned as I started our car. Absolutely! I certainly wasn't going to do anything to attract any attention. I let the car warm up a second, put it into gear, and slowly rolled towards the policemen and their vehicles. Then I put my directional signal on so that everybody knew exactly which way I was turning once I left my parking space.

"That was too careful," Wendy said. It was. Besides the police, there was not another soul nor car in sight. Somebody putting on his blinker while leaving a parking spot would certainly look odd. Luckily for me, the officers just kept merrily chatting on.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Artificial Intelligence?

This past weekend we joined the rest of the country in springing ahead an hour to Daylight Savings Time. I found it a bit unnerving that apparently at some point in the wee hours of Sunday morning, both our VCRs fixed the time themselves. Does that mean our VCRs have some kind of artificial intelligence?

What about our Saturn Vue? It apparently has some kind of alarm system. Didn't know that for nearly a year. Heck, the car was jostled, bumped--I think we could have tap-danced on the hood without a peep out of him, er, it. So what happened? We left our son in the backseat once while going into a business. He got bored, unlocked the door, let himself out and . . .

"Honk, honk, honk." The car panicked, as if it were warning, "Do not leave the car. Do not leave the car. Danger Will Robinson." But our kid is 20-years-old now and perfectly capable of traversing planet Earth on his own.

More recently, since I lost my key with the remote unlocking device, our Saturn has been out of sorts. I replaced the key, but not yet the $50 remote control. That really bothers our Vue. Sometimes when I get in, there's an internal warning device that sounds, followed by Honk, Honk, Honk--the car going bonkers again.

So I have to put my key into the ignition quickly, turn it, then say soothingly, "It's only me. It's okay. No stranger's going to hurt you." Then all is well.

So is this what the guy had in mind when he coined the term "Artificial Intelligence?" Recently, I noticed that our computer, which had been reporting the wrong time down on the bottom right corner for some time, had corrected itself somehow.

"Maybe he went out on the internet and found the right time," my wife thought.

He? I'm not sure I want our computer personified like that. I don't want another 'man' in the house, even if it's the computer. And just what else is he doing? Creating his own blog? Is he one of my anonymous commenters?

Many years back, I found evidence in our computer's cookie file that someone was accessing naughty sites on the net. For example, searching for females in various states of undress. When confronted, one of our boys suggested that the computer on his, er, its own was surfing the web for its own nefarious purposes.

I just brushed aside the suggestion at the time. Now I have to give it some consideration.