Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Existentialism Anyone?

Upon arriving at work yesterday, I learned that a co-worker had passed away over the weekend. Like me, she was in her fifties and suffers from diabetes. Kinda scary. But her health woes go rather far back.

My wife Wendy and I remembered working with her a quarter century ago. She came to Wendy's bridal shower. I found a picture of her in an old wedding album.

While browsing through that album, I came across a few other wedding attendees who have passed on: three of my grandparents, my wife's brother, her mother as well, a photographer, two other co-workers, a cousin . . .

Now we're at the stage in life where our contemporaries as well as their parents are battling heart disease, cancer and other life-threatening diseases that seemed so rare and distant to us not that long ago. It's like the grim reaper is a sniper who has just started picking people off in our neighborhood.

Anyway, I wondered to Wendy recently if any statistician had ever calculated the odds of us even coming to being. I thought of that after the baby robins who grew up in a nest inside our patio (Robin Motherhood) did beat the odds, surviving a neglectful mother to fly off on their own. (I never saw them fly off but I assume it happened)

Taking the scientific theory of an evolutionary tree for each one of us, if any one of thousands of living beings down our distant ancestral line did not live to maturity--a baby biped died at birth or a lemur-like creature was swallowed by a tyrannosaurus rex--then we wouldn't be here today. Right?

So the odds of any one of us existing in time at all must be like the equivalent of winning the Powerball lotto three times in a row. I don't know; I used to ponder such imponderables when I was ten or so. Now I don't bother with such existential mysteries anymore. My brain can't handle it.

Life is not a given. But death is. The best we can do is postpone it as long as we can.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Laser Tag Redux

[First, thanks for all the birthday greetings. My wife Wendy believes I make too much out of celebrating my birthday. I’ve even tried to push the envelope by declaring May to be my birthday month, asking for special treatment all 31 days. That idea hasn’t flown. But anyway, the blogging community made my birthday special this year.]

My ‘official’ birthday has come and gone. Since not all the family could gather yesterday, we’re going out tonight for my dinner, then cake afterwards. Since my son Greg is going away for the Memorial Day weekend, he gave me his present yesterday. Just for Men hair color. Supposed to work on just the grey, which is pretty much what I have up top now.

Sometimes I do a retro-birthday. Re-live some moment from the past. A few years ago, we enjoyed a round of laser tag at a local arena. For those unfamiliar with the game, laser tag participants suit up with a vest that’s wired to record a hit, should the wearer be hit by a strike from an opponent’s laser gun. Everyone has such a vest and their own gun.

Sometimes you’re a member of a team. Other times it’s every man for himself in the darkened maze-like arena. Once you’re hit, warning buzzers or lights go off on your vest, and you’re disabled from playing for several seconds. After you’re hit several times, you must go to a re-charging station in the arena to rejuvenate and gain another “life.” A computer keeps score. After the game, you get a print-out of who hit you, whom you hit, your score, and usually a comment on your performance.

My family’s first time on the arena came on vacation at the CN Tower in Toronto over a decade ago. It was the four of us against two experienced laser tag veterans. We were slaughtered. Our pre-teen son Scott, frustrated that we were losing badly, resorted to hand-to-hand combat, knocking an opponent’s laser gun away with his own gun. That’s a no-no, by the way.

Eventually, we got better. I learned that, though Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone get away with standing out in the open blasting away with their machine guns in the movies, that doesn’t work in real life. At least not in laser tag. My wife Wendy never caught on as well as us menfolk. Her computer print-out afterwards kept containing comments like, “You must have been an easy target” or “Try shooting back next time.”

So a few years ago, we tried laser tag again for my birthday. When we arrived, I thought the head arena employee gave us a look as if to say, “Bingo is across the parking lot.” I worried that my grey hair would light up in the blacklit arena. Well, it might scare the kids into turning tail if they spot something that looks like a ghost or zombie coming at ‘em.

There was a large church youth group there, so we joined them in their game. They paired off predictably, boys versus girls, and the girls were trounced. In a re-match, they decided to choose teams in hopes of making the game more fair. One team captain had a winning strategy. While her opposing captain picked his friends, she looked at her scorecard from last game and selected those players who had scored the most hits against her team.

“Who’s Red 16?” she’d ask. And some hotshot would amble forward and join her squad. I guess she was playing out the laser tag version of the old saying, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” Needless to say, her team won.

Maybe next year I’ll do another retro-birthday. Is Chucky Cheese still around?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Bring Back Bill Knapps

Though I know that blogs in general are a bit self-indulgent, mine are going to be more so this week. It's my birthday week! I'm going to turn to page 53 of my life on Thursday.

So it's a whole week of honoring, gift-giving and revelry. Of course, I don't get gifts every day. Nor parties. But it is a week when, for instance, my wife Wendy asks me to let the dog in when he's scratching at the back door. If I'm lying on the couch watching TV, I can reply, "Can you let him in? It's my birthday week." And it might fly.

Oh, there'll be gifts eventually. My sister-in-law usually asks me for some suggestions at the beginning of the month. ("Shop early, shop often," I'll tell her) Making my list out early has a couple benefits. I get what I want, but by the time my birthday rolls around, I've forgotten what I've asked for. So it's still a surprise. As I get older, each year is more of a surprise than last.
Probably by the time I'm 60, I'll open a gift and ask, "Why did you get me this?"

"Because it was on your list."


Instead of writing her own birthday list, Wendy will make gift suggestions to me in the month or two leading up to her birthday. While we're working out in the yard, she might suggest some solar battery-powered garden footlights for her birthday. But by the time I begin my shopping for her, I'll remember that as battery-powered Japanese lanterns or something similar.
So her birthday gifts could turn out to be as much of a surprise as mine are.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail inviting me to a local restaurant for a free meal, their treat. Wendy got one too, because she's my spouse. Two free meals? Wow. This is not your ordinary eat 'n go type establishment either but an upscale wine 'n dine joint. We'll have to try it this weekend. Must be some catch there somewhere.

At one time, you could go to Bill Knapp's, a regional restaurant chain, and get the percentage equivalent of your age discounted off your meal price. Plus a free cake! Getting 80 per cent off your dinner on your 80th birthday made this place a favorite with the geriatric set.

When comedian Tim Allen was just a locally known prospect, we heard him joke about Bill Knapps during a stand-up gig in Ann Arbor. "Bill Knapps, where all the waitresses are certified in CPR."

Bill Knapps went out of business a year or so ago, probably because they gave away too many birthday discounts to us aging baby boomers.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Big Dave Calls The Shots!

Don't like to burden folks here with my personal issues. We all have our bears to cross in life and many of your's are angrier than mine, I'm sure. But I had a confrontation this week that I have to share.

A downside of being Big Dave is that I have adult onset diabetes. That's been the case for the last dozen years or so. So I go through the routines others in my situation do. I test my blood sugars, I exercise, I watch what I eat, and I take a handful of pills every day.

Though I've lost some weight, which puts me less at risk for the complications associated with diabetes, my glucose numbers aren't quite normal. This is not uncommon. Up to two-thirds of folks with my condition still don't have blood sugar levels perfectly normal. But mine are close.

Still, since I have 'maxed out' on the oral medications I can take, my doctor has been suggesting daily injections of insulin for a few years now. No thanks. I'm symptomless, whereas I see a lot of folks my age who take insulin are not.

I guess too that I don't trust doctors who seem too pushy with drugs, as my primary care doctor is. I know the major drug companies have been working to "lower the bar" on what is acceptable or normal so far as cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels go. I believe with the addition of a Medicare drug benefit for senior citizens, there will be even more of a push to add to the drug dependancies of seniors.

Anyway, that's all background for my doctor's visit this week. I knew my doc was in a mood right away since he didn't shake my hand as he usually does when he enters the examining room. He looked at my self-testing results and my fasting glucose, then walked out of the room without a word.

When he returned, he brought an 'insulin starter' kit with him. He began explaining what I was to do with it. I lost my cool. "I'm sick and tired of you trying to turn me into a human pin cushion every time I come in here," I said.

So a lively discussion ensued, during which he suggested more than once that I was welcome to find another doctor. And I may, though I prefer a doctor who is tougher on me than one who isn't. But, in the end, I want to be the one who calls the shots. (Hea . . . ummm, pun intended, I guess)

Anyway, I left with yet another promise to lose even more weight, which will brings my sugars closer to normal. But I am worried that if I lose too much weight, nobody will see me as Big Dave anymore. I brought that up with my blogging buddy Trucker Bob. He assured me that, however much weight I lost, I would always be Big Dave in his eyes.

That's good. I don't know how I could explain to my doctor that I wouldn't be able to lose weight because it might harm my online persona.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Robin Motherhood

Robins and wrens are God's chickens and hens--E. M Wright

Now I let this robin build this nest just outside our back door because I enjoy bird-watching. Besides, I'm one of those environmentalist types that believes in letting nature thrive. That's not him nor his nest in the picture here, but it bears a resemblance.

But this particular mother robin would be a good candidate for Oprah if she ever wanted to have an episode entitled, "Mothers who will not stay at home." I peek out the patio door. She's gone. I walk out into the garage; she leaves. We let the dog out and the robin flies the coop.

And, yes, she has babies. One morning I looked out towards the nest and I saw a tiny head stretching over the side of the nest, its elongated neck not much wider than a string of vermicelli. Mother? Gone.

If it weren't for Wendy and I, there might not be baby robins at all. Once I saw a tree sparrow standing over the nest when there were just three eggs there. The sparrow surveyed the empty nest, looking to one side, then the other as if thinking, "This will make a fine home but how do I get rid of these eggs?"

I came outside and shooed the sparrow away. Another time Wendy chased away a starling that was perched aboard the porch beam almost beak to beak with Mrs. Robin. The robin took flight also.

So these baby robins will be lucky to see adulthood. Now some of you, especially the women, might be thinking to yourselves, "But what of MISTER robin. Where is he?" Well, we haven't seen him at all. I say, no doubt he's working late, collecting extra worms for the family.

My wife would likely reply, "He probably has a blog."

Friday, May 12, 2006


Last weekend I went to Breakin’ Curfew, an exposition of musical talent from the youth of the Ann Arbor area. My nephew was a featured performer. Kinda reminds me of when I was that age. Well, no it doesn’t. During some of the more rowdy rock ‘n roll musical numbers, there was some ‘stage diving’ or ‘crowd diving.’ I can’t remember that from my teenage years.

I guess stage diving is where a member of the audience climbs up on the stage and dives backwards into the mass of humanity below. Crowd diving is where a performer runs off the stage and dives over the top of the same mass of humanity. I saw both, neither of which pleased the stage managers there at the usually reverential University of Michigan Powers Center. It’s unlikely there’ll be stage diving or crowd diving when the London Philharmonic comes to town later this year.

But that’s not what I wanted to blog about today. What impressed me was the response of the sold-out teen crowd to the kids who read poems in the breaks between musical numbers. They received as big a crowd roar as the rock ‘n roll musicians. Wow! I could never be a rock star, but I could be a rockin’ poet. All I need is a bit of hip hop cadence, the right poem, and a little attitude. Check it out.

I’m middle-age; I’m in a rage
Not ready to get off life’s stage
But I want to turn the page
So when are my kids going to make a living wage?
So I can retire, before I expire, before I’m ashes on some funeral pyre.
I need social security
To be there for me.
So I can pay for electricity
Cause they won’t make it free for me.
Our money’s going to Iraq
We need it back.
Who’s going to finance my heart attack?
With no Medicare
Or is it just another governmental scare.
I need the Feds, to pay for my Meds.
Some day I want to be like Hoss, cause he’s boss
Making his pile, with guile and style
All day blogging and, mmmmm, clogging,
With me working all the while.
Still, he makes me smile.
For a day, Then my rage goes away,
Then I think I can say, I'm OK.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Doogie And Me

[Note: I want to thank Bornfool for his Flash Fiction contest. The response to my little story encourages me to believe that I may eventually realize my dream, having some creative fiction published. Thanks to those who read my story and gave me that encouragement.]

Checking my sitemeter statistics, I've been finding something odd. A number of foreign visitors, particularly from Arabic speaking countries, have found my blog by Google searching the word, "Doog." Doog is short for Doogie, our half poodle, half Japanese Chin dog.

I'm not sure why the interest in the habits of our 13-year-old snaggletoothed mutt, but I thought--okay, why not. Haven't done a blog on our dog in a while and dog antics are a hit lately with the success of the me-and-my-dog best seller Marlee and Me.

It is funny how after a decade, our dog has become accustomed to our habits. When my wife and I were packed to go on our weekend trip to the Smokies a couple weeks ago, Doogie was one sad pup. He knew he wasn't going this trip. Didn't even have to ask by looking at us with those "can't I come?" puppy dog eyes. If we weren't packing a doggie bag with treats, a chew toy, his leash and dog food, that meant no dogs allowed. He'd have to stay behind with one of his brothers.

Sometimes Doogie's a little too smart for his own good. If Wendy and I spend more than twenty consecutive minutes picking up the house, Doogie goes to his perch at the front window to see who's coming. Smart aleck.

Yet other times, he's not that smart. If he sees a dog walking out front of our house, he goes nutzoid until we let him out back into our fenced-in backyard. Doogie's never figured out that if a dog is walking out front, chances are that Doog's not going to see him out back too. Laws of physics are difficult for canines to grasp.

I did let Doogie run out the front door once, to scare off some pesky squirrels that were raiding the birdfeeder outside my kitchen window. The chase was on.

Later, I thought to myself that sending Doogie racing after some squirrels at his age was probably like sending my 80-year-old grandmother out to chop a cord of wood for our fireplace.

And the squirrels loved it. The next day, they were at the feeder again, chattering as they sat at the feeder looking at me through the kitchen window.

"Send him out. He's it! He's it!" they seemed to say. Poor Doog. No respect from the local animal population.

P.S. I added a picture of Doogie per your requests. It's the same picture I published of him in a blog way back in 2005, but I don't have anything more recent in digital.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Cleave To Me, Dandelion

Some years back the sweet, little five-year-old girl from next door approached after I had parked my car in our driveway.

"When are you going to cut your grass?" she asked shyly.

Now, I know she really didn't care if my grass was a bit long, which it was. It's not something that concerns five-year-olds. But little girls are notorious for picking up conversational tidbits from between mother and father, then repeating them publicly in candid fashion. And this little girl had spoken frankly like this before.

Although my yard isn't the bane of home sellers in our subdivision, I've never spent a great deal of time planting flowers, patching bare spots or killing dandelions either. In fact, weeds probably regard my corner lot as a sanctuary from the ChemLawn folks.

And I hear from ChemLawn a lot. I probably get a mailer a week from them, not all of them addressed to me either. Maybe my neighbors drop their flyers in my box too. Who knows?

I told Wendy that I don't consider ours' a lawn anyway. I consider it an ecoscape, filled with all varieties of the plant kingdom. Hea, this is Ann Arbor, right? Diversity is king, right?

Now on the side of my house, I do have a wildflower garden, which is an excuse to just "let it grow" whatever it is. Something took root there which kept growing and growing and is now a woody shrub two stories tall. My sister-in-law calls it a giant weed. I call it a Mediterranean Poplar. Not because that's what it is, but because it sounds classy.

Now I could make excuses for myself. For instance, I have terrible allergies. Wendy says I look ten years older in the spring with the circles under my puffy, burning eyes. But I won't use that as my defense. Not now.

If a neighbor sometime asks me, "When are you going to do something about your yard?" my reply will be simple.

"I don't do yardwork. I have a blog."

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What's Wrong Here?

Due to popular demand (okay one or two of you anyway), I'm posting a picture from our extended sojourn to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee a week ago.

See anything awry in this picture? How about the one-speed Huffy Geezer Rideabout racked on the back of our Saturn Vue. In the "what was I thinking" department, who would expect that a bike used to coasting the flatlands of Michigan would be able to conquer the steep grades of the Appalachians.

Even Tour De France champion Lance Armstrong would probably look at my bike and these hills and go, "No way."

But the cabin was pretty as you can see. Just the idyllic romantic retreat for the three of us . . . Wendy, me and some critter who was doing the jitterbug on our ceiling one night. I thought he was on the roof you see here, but I went outside and he wasn't. So he found a way in to our attic space. Great.

So I had to take a broom handle and rap on the ceiling. After that, he was quiet anyway. Doing that kind of reminded me of our days of apartment living after we got married.