Sunday, December 28, 2008

Wind, Ice and Fire

Winter can't make up its mind here in Michigan. Wild temperature swings . . . sudden snowstorms . . . even unusually high winds have visited this holiday season. Check out the trampoline we discovered in a neighborhood front yard. We think it may have been in the backyard last night before 50-mile-an-hour winds descended upon our area. I think "gusty" had about has much fun with that trampoline as any kid could.

As I get older, it's not so much the snow and the cold that bother me as it is the ice. Falling on icy pavement is like getting tackled on concrete. Been there, done that and it hurts. And I just read somebody's holiday newsletter where the writer said they attended a climate change seminar that predicted more ice in the years to come. Great.

On Christmas Eve, mild temperatures followed by a frigid blast resulted in our church parking lot becoming flash frozen when we arrived for midnight mass. After mass, we walked to our cars slowly, like the zombies in Night of the Living Dead. (Actually, I've been told that you need to waddle like a duck when walking on ice but I think zombies are more dignified). Some young lady did lose her footing, landing hard on the asphalt. I don't think what she said in response is something you would normally hear within earshot of a church. But I felt sorry for her.

The holidays also bring a raft of fire runs from overheated space heaters, Christmas trees afire and the like. We actually had a REAL fire alarm recently in the building where I work. And I'm one of the fire marshals, charged with clearing my section of the building. This was a first. We've had plenty of drills, but they're all planned well in advance to make sure the necessary people will be there to conduct the drill successfully. Can't do that with a real fire. So when the "fire" announcement came over our PA system to clear the building, I sprang into action.

One think I learned is that people move faster when they know it's a real fire. Evacuating the building was a snap. I checked the file room, kitchen, then moved onto the restrooms. Hmmmm, usually I am joined by my female fire marshal partner, but I learned quickly she was absent.

So what to do? I didn't want to just barge into the lady's room unannounced. Who knows what I might find in there. I was hoping to corral some lady passerby to help. Maybe if she went in there with me, it would be okay, kinda like a male doctor having a woman assistant in the examining toom when he has a female patient.

But all the women had cleared out of this area already. So I opened the door a crack and asked in a deep, authoritative voice, "Is anybody in here?" Immediately, I realized how stupid that was. Some lady sitting there would be freaked out hearing some guy calling in there like that. So I quickly followed it up with, "Fire drill." Then I let the door close, put a "checked and vacated" sign on the hook and hurried on. Only when I was outside did I realize I had said the wrong thing again. It wasn't a drill. It was the real thing.

Thankfully, there wasn't a real fire. Although a couple fire trucks did roll up, the problem was quickly determined to be a vending machine motor that shorted out and began smoking. Although our building second-in-command fire marshal hustled to the smoky room holding two types of fire extinguishers, one in each hand he said later, all that was necessary was to unplug the offending vending machine. Our building first-in-command fire marshall was off that day too. If both building fire marshalls are off, I think the next in command is me. Well, as long as I don't have to evacuate any women's restrooms, I think I'll be okay.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Christmas Hits And Misses

A couple holiday favorites (and a couple holiday clunkers):

OLD ORNAMENTS--The picture at top here is of part of our tree this year. I wanted to take the picture in natural light so the ornament is a little difficult to make out but it says: First Christmas Together, 1980. I love old Christmas ornaments and the memories they inspire. My sister-in-law Denise always gave our boys their own ornament each year and it usually corresponded with some activity they were into at the time: football, soccer, canoeing, their favorite pro football team at the time, etc. When Greg got his own place, he took all his old ornaments with him. And Scott's ornaments are kept off-season in a box of their own so he can take them eventually too. But we still get to keep the "baby's first Christmas" ornaments.

MALL SHOPPING--Of course, it's always easier to do your Christmas shopping at the mall. One-stop shopping. But has anyone else been getting hassled walking through the malls now? I think it's something new that's evolved in the past few years, at least in our Ann Arbor Briarwood Mall. They now have kiosks in the mall proper that sell an odd assortment of sundries that you wouldn't ordinarily think to buy--like some type of quilted neck and shoulder blanket. But the salespeople at these kiosks are aggressive and try to corral passersby to demonstrate their product. "Sir, may I ask you a question?" some saleslady asked me as I was passing by. I waved her off with a "No, thank you." She responded, "Okay, have a good one." What? Trying to throw a guilt trip on me, trying to imply I'm being rude or something? "No, YOU have a good one," I should have said. Why can't I shop without being hassled?

IT IS CHRISTMAS--When I went to the Post Office to mail a Christmas package out to my brother Tim in South Dakota, my wife asked me to pick up some Christmas stamps. She wanted some traditional Christmas stamp, not something modern or funky. Now I thought I would have a variety of first class Christmas stamps to choose from. Not really. There were five "holiday" stamps to choose from, of which only two were Christmas related. (Actually, probably just one) There one was Hanukkah, one Kwanzaa (that's a holiday of such recent origin that my spell-checker doesn't even recognize it), and one EID. EID? That's a new one on me. Then there was a nutcracker stamp and finally a painting of Madonna and child. The nutcracker looked kind of goofy. I went with the Madonna and child. It seems every year it's more holiday and less Chritstmas.

SECRET SANTA--This year at work we changed up so that you had to "sign up" for the secret Santa gift exchange. In the past, it was voluntary but there was no sign-up and pretty much everybody got a gift though not everybody gave themselves. My supervisor passed on it this year. I thought about passing myself but then I realized, I like getting gifts. So I put my name in. And am I glad I did! Check out the gift bag in the picture. And when you open it, it plays "Hail to the Victors!", the University of Michigan fight song. My supervisor across the aisle is a rival Michigan State fan himself. So I opened my bag a couple times at my desk just to hear the song play. Then I invited others to come over and try it themselves. That's when my boss got up and walked off. What a scrooge. Heh, heh.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Michigander's Rant

I try to avoid politics and ranting here but what went down in Washington this week really has me ticked as a Michigander. So pardon me for standing up for my state here but I just have to do it.

The U.S. Senate this week through some silly procedural rule that I as a democratic majority rule kind of a guy don't understand killed off a plan to rescue the U.S. automakers. As I understand it, though a majority of senators favored the rescue loans, enough if-I-can't--have-my-way-I-won't-play lawmakers created a roadblock in their sandbox that could not be overcome.

What is the problem here? Did the U.S. automakers create the global recession that has auto sales plummeting worldwide? Did the Big Three create the housing mess that sapped all the available credit from our financial institutions? Did the UAW push for free trade laws that allowed our wealth and capital to be siphoned off to other countries?

I don't think so. So why punish Detroit? Especially after the government just bailed out big banks and Wall Street for over ten times what automakers asked for. Sure, Detroit isn't as tres chic as NYC with its trendy gourmet restaurants and latte coffeehouses. But we deserve to work, make money and eat too, even if it's just McDonalds.

Southern Republicans who are mainly responsible for now putting this country on the fast lane to financial ruin want the unions to shoulder the blame, saying it's their salaries that are to blame. How many millionaire union workers do you know? Now how many millionaire investment bankers, Wall Street moguls and fat cat CEOs do you think there are? Or senators? I think southern lawmakers are just piqued that they can't bring back slavery, so they're trying to do the next best thing and bring back slave wages for the average joe.

From what I hear, this anti-U.S. crusade is being led by some bumpkin senator from Alabama. Never cared much for that state anyway. The only Michigander I know who ever moved to Alabama was that traitorous former Michigan State football coach Nick Saban, who is now trying to rescue the once great football program at the University of Alabama (since I'm ranting, might as well get in a knock against my rival Michigan State).

Until a few weeks ago, I owned three cars representing the Big Three: a Chrysler mini-van, a Saturn Vue, and a 1983 Ford Thunderbird. Nope, won't buy Japanese or foreign. If the Big Three go under, I'll buy a horse before I buy a foreign car. So-called auto experts have been promoting the myth of Japanese superiority for some time. Let's see, my Chrysler mini-van that I bought used for $6,000 about seven years ago now has 195,000 miles on it. We drive it to work every day. I sold my 83 T-Bird in a day by putting an ad in the classic car classified section of my local paper. How many classic Hondas do you find at your local antique car show?

And my Saturn Vue is the luxury mainstay of my personal fleet. It gets better gas mileage than advertised, has power to spare, and drives like a charm in mid-winter Michigan. We bought this one as a replacement for our old Saturn which had over 150,000 miles on it, a milestone that a local Honda salesman claimed was impossible for a Saturn. Yes, I test drove a Honda CRV, shame on me, but we bought the Saturn Vue because it was cheaper and we liked it better anyway. So I don't buy into that myth of Japanese superiority which I think was just concocted to ease the guilty consciences of those responsible for putting Americans out of work by buying foreign cars.

Yes, my grandfather worked and retired from GM, as did my uncle and more recently my brother. And, yes, we do kid them about their health benefits and pensions. 'Generous Motors' as we sometimes refer to GM. But I worked one summer at a GM plant and the day I quit to go back to school was one of the happiest days of my life. The work was hot, tedious, and sometimes dangerous. I hated it. So I don't begrudge any auto worker their salary or benefits.

And if the automakers get their rescue loans, you won't see union workers celebrating with spa massages at a luxurious resort as happened when the fat cats at AIG got their multi-billion dollar windfall. No, the automakers will just be back on the line the next day, working hard, just happy to be able to support their family and contribute to the economy. That's the way we roll here in Michigan.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Holiday Music Musing

I was looking to hear a little Christmas music this week on the radio. Not a lot. I didn't want one of those radio stations that play Christmas music 24/7 and HAS BEEN since the beginning of November. I can only take so much of a particular variety of tunes.

My old college roomie sent me a website, , where you can type the musical artist or genre that you want to hear. So I typed in Christmas and put on my headphones to listen. "Grandma Got Run Over by A Reindeer" started playing. Not a Christmas carol I particularly like, but I was in the right neighborhood.

Then the Little Drummer Boy duet with Bing Crosby and David Bowie came on next. Okay, I like that one better. Now I'm starting to get into the Christmas spirit. But then the next song was Son Peshrev by the Whirling Dervishes. Say what? This could have been music to watch belly-dancers by. Sounded like a band of snake charmers with a drummer accompanying them. How was this Christmas related?

But then the internet station picked up with more familiar Christmas music once more. Grandma Got Run Over by A Reindeer again. Hmmmmm. Also the Crosby-Bowie Drummer Boy duet once more. Then something called Angel Fingers from an album titled The Very Best of Roy Wood.

Now I never heard of Roy Wood, but let me tell you the very best of Roy Wood isn't very good. And other than the title Angel Fingers, there wasn't anything spiritual or yule-inspired in the lyrics at all. I was starting to lose faith in this station's Christmas music. When the Whirling Dervishes started playing for the second time in less than a half hour, that was it for me.

I guess I'm going to have to create my own Christmas CD. Checking the internet, I found a list of top Christmas songs of all time. But that list included Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. Are they serious? When I checked a list of worst Christmas tunes, Grandma was on that list too. But Angel Fingers and Son Peshrev were not. They need to be added.

It's so frustrating trying to find the music you like anymore. Sometimes my boys get into a car I'm driving and wonder why I don't have the radio turned on. It's like that's a major sin, riding in the car without the radio on. Silence is truly golden at times. Especially when you've heard Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer for the umpteenth time.