Thursday, May 30, 2019

Life's Daily Chuckles

     My travels and my grandchildren often provide the amusement I seek now that I'm retired.  Here's a couple recent anecdotes inspired by both.

      I took my grandson Luke, 6, to the gas station recently so he could pick out some candy.  I wrote about a similar trip last July in a blog.  Back then, I drove to a gas station by his home for candy only to have Luke tell me, "This isn't the right one."
      We drove to a couple more gas stations before he spotted a "Dollar General" store.  "There it is.  It's the Dollar General gas station," Luke said.  Never mind that Dollar General didn't sell gas.  But seeing Dollar General he couldn't resist going there knowing they had a wide variety of treats.  So we went there anyway and he got his candy.

     Fast forward to present time.  This time before we headed out from his house, I knew exactly which gas station had the candy the boys like.  I had missed this one back in July.  So I reminded him how we ended up at the "Dollar General gas station" last time and said this time we would go to the right place first.

     And we did, pulling up to a Shell station just a few blocks from his house.  As we got out, I asked Luke pointedly, "So is this the right gas station this time?"  He answered, "Yes, the one with the gas."

     Another chuckle. . .

     Just last week, Wendy and I were down in New Orleans.  That's not necessarily a city that was high on my must-see travel list until I realized that there were only two states in the United States that my wife and I haven't visited.  And Louisiana was one of them.

     New Orleans is famous for its Mardi Gras festivities, much of which revolves around the rowdy Bourbon Street area.  Lots of bars, lots of drinking.  On our last night in New Orleans we visited one of them, sitting at the bar while a trio played old rock 'n roll on a makeshift stage behind and above the bar, next to a sign that advertised, "Try our shark attack."  It was one of this pub's signature cocktails.

     A rather burly dude slid into a barstool next to mine and the waitress approached to take his order.  "I'll have a Budweiser and a shot of Jack."  Jack being short for Jack Daniels.  I'm no bartender and hardly ever visit saloons anymore but I'm familiar with that combination that's usually ordered by guys who take their drinking seriously.'

    The bartender gave him a Budweiser then pulled out a plastic cup and began mixing a drink.  She poured Grenadine into the cocktail and pulled out a rubber shark to mix it altogether.  She thrashed the shark into the drink so that it looked like a bloody mess, red liquid sloshing over the sides of the cup onto the bar.  Then she rang a large bell over the bar before handing the drink over to the burly fellow who by now looked quite puzzled.

     "What is this?" he asked.

     "A shark attack," the bartender responded.

      "I said I wanted a 'shot of Jack.'"

       What's that famous line from the movie Cool Hand Luke?  "What we have here is failure to communicate."

        Fortunately, this gentleman despite his rather gruff appearance, was easy going about the miscommunication, taking the drink and paying for it, though he quickly and brusquely plucked the rubber shark from his cocktail and tossed it aside.  By now my wife and I were nearly in tears trying to stifle our giggles.

        It never hurts to find a couple chuckles a day as you go through life.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Move Over, Alexander

      I occasionally take a turn as volunteer guest reader for a local school’s kindergarten class.  Since I get the opportunity to select the book, this week I chose Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Maybe it was the title the piqued my interest. 


       Because I’ve had my share of bad days lately.  The worst one came this past Saturday when my Dell computer became stuck in “automatic repair” mode.  It wasn’t anything I did to cause this (though it could have been one of my grandchildren who came over and watched videos on it).  But when the “automatic repairs” ended, my Dell computer screen flashed that the repairs could not be done.  I could only push the button to re-start the computer which would begin the same repair sequence all over again.

       It was a very bad day.

      So I previewed Alexander’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day to become familiar with it before I had to read it to my kindergartners.

     And I didn’t think his day was that bad.  He got gum in his hair, he couldn’t find a toy in his cereal, he felt crowded in his car pool ride to school, his teacher didn’t like his artwork featuring an invisible castle or that he left out the number 16 when counting to 20, and at lunchtime he discovered that his mother had forgotten to put a dessert into his lunch when he sadly had to watch his friend eat two cupcakes.  Then after school he had to go to the dentist.

       Ya know, Alexander?  Cry me a river.

       When my Dell computer crashed, I lost everything I had put on it for the last three years.  Can you imagine, Alexander, what your teacher would say if you told her that ALL your semester’s homework had been eaten by the dog?  Last semester’s too?  And going back three years?  Not to mention how you would feel if you lost all your favorite photos, your creative writing, and programs that you had paid many, many dollars for.

      And let me tell you about those desserts, Alexander.  When you’re my age and are on a restricted diet per doctors’ orders to try to lose weight, those two cupcakes would be almost all you could have for the whole day--breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack.  How would you feel if your doctor told you that you could never EVER have BOTH ice cream and cake on the same plate, because that would be too many calories for one day?  But even on your most terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, you burn way more calories than I do and you don’t have to worry about sugar-free diets.

       And dentists, yes Alexander, they can be tough.  But I have my yearly physical coming up in about a week.  I don’t think that’s going to be a good day either.  Without revealing anything your father should discuss with you later, Alexander, let me just say that the doctor will be checking places on me that you could only imagine in your worst nightmares.  Ask your dad.  And it’s probably as bad or worse for your mom.

        So the teacher gave you a little reprimand for missing the number 16 when counting.  I forgot to check a box on the tax form I prepared this year.  I would have LOVED getting just a little reprimand.  Instead I had to spend hours on the internet and phone trying to find out why I was not getting my refund.  Then the Internal Revenue Service told me I had to re-do the whole form when the mistake was so obvious your teacher would have simply corrected it, perhaps without a reprimand at all.   And now I have to wait four months to get the refund of my taxes.

      What if your teacher, Alexander, had told you to count the numbers out loud to 20, all over again, first without the 16, then with the 16 number included.  And then she said you had to wait four months to find out if you passed the first grade.  That would mean sometime in August.

     Man, this book really has me fired up.  Alexander should really understand his problems in a proper perspective.  There’s going to be some lively discussion after reading time in kindergarten tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Doing The Math

     My wife and I rolled up in our mini-van to the drive-through window at Tim Horton’s to order our favorite coffees.  The tab came to something like $3.26 so I gave the cashier at the window four dollars and a penny.

     “Why did you give me a penny,” the cashier said in a surprisingly indignant tone.  Did he think my giving him a penny was part of a swindle?  I just thought I’d get three quarters back instead of a palm full of loose assorted change.  Before I could explain however, a voice from behind the cashier, a manager perhaps, explained it herself.  The cashier turned towards the cash register, satisfied apparently that I wasn’t a con artist or something.

     Within a couple weeks of this incident, my wife and I rolled up to another Tim Horton’s again to order coffee.  Yes, we go Tim Horton’s often.  Too often probably.  The tab again came to $3.26 so I handed over the same amount I’d given before, four dollars and a penny.  No quarrel from the cashier this time.  She returned to me three quarters . . . and a penny.   She lost a penny in that transaction.

     Now I don’t like to pick on the younger generation, but maybe the ‘new math’ I hear is not all it’s cracked up to be.  Let me share one other anecdote.  Recently I spotted an instant lottery ticket lying face down in the local high school parking lot.  Was it accidentally dropped perhaps before the numbers had been scratched off?

      I decided to pick it up—I could always just throw it in a nearby trash receptacle if it was just litter.  Turned it over and the numbers had been scratched off.  Darn.  But recalling how those young cashiers had been baffled by counting change properly, I thought maybe young students similarly would be baffled by the intricacies of an instant lotto ticket.

      Sure enough.  They scratched it off apparently without reading the fine print.  And I later turned in a discarded instant lottery ticket to collect $20.  Now I’m no math whiz.  Math was always my least favorite subject.  But maybe I’m just good enough. 

     Well, most of the time.

      After waiting six weeks since I had mailed our federal tax returns, we still had not received a refund.  Last week, we finally got our money.  But it was a couple thousand less than I expected.  What ??!!  Could I have made an error using my trusted Victor medalist adding machine?  
      As it turned out, no.  When I called the IRS, they said that they agreed with my various additions and subtractions.  My calculations were spot on.  But I’d absent-mindedly checked “Married Filing Separately” instead of the correct “Married Filed Jointly”.  And the IRS, true to form, made sure I paid the maximum penalty for my negligence.  Now I have to wait another four months for the rest of my money.

       *sigh*  Better go looking for some more discarded instant lottery tickets in the meantime.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Cost Of Fun

    We just returned from a vacation out west, the highlight of which was seeing a Cirque Du Soleil production titled “Love”, inspired by the music of the Beatles.   That was in Las Vegas.  Vegas has a way of making it feel like fun to be spending your last dollar.  I was careful not to do that.

     As much as we were tempted on the Valentine’s Day menu at the Heritage Steakhouse there at the Mirage Resort where we stayed two nights, we passed.   And Heritage Steak belongs to Tom Colecchio, who created one of my wife’s favorite food shows, Top Chef.  You can see the prices for their Valentine’s Day meal on the sign here.
     When we gambled in the casino, I was very careful to spend a specific dollar amount, $40 actually.  If I won money, that went into a separate pocket so to speak.  And we actually came out ahead.  Spent $40, but won about $46.

      A guy next to us put $200 into his machine, pulling the lever and maxing his bet over and over very quickly.  He dropped that $200 in less time than it took us to spend ten quarters, that is play ten games of video poker.

      Maybe some of these folks can just afford a lot more fun than we can.  I wondered about this family who arrived in the parking structure to our hotel the same time we were returning ourselves after an outing.  They seemed confused as to where to go so my wife decided to try to help.  This family of four adults and three children appeared to be here from a foreign country since they spoke English with a heavy accent.  They were looking for the white tigers and dolphins, which are housed in a special garden at the Mirage.

     First, my wife told them to board the elevator with us, since the walkway directly from our level of the parking lot to the Mirage hotel was exposed to the rain (it rained heavily that day, the most on the particular day in recent history according to the Las Vegas weather report on TV).

     They had trouble maneuvering a twin stroller into the confines of the elevator, but they ultimately managed and we went down one floor.  The man with the twin stroller was first out and he said, “It’s the parking lot again.”  Wrong floor.  We needed to go down one more.  So we all boarded the elevator once more and this time exited on the correct floor where we could take a covered walkway to the hotel.

     A gentleman from that group asked me where the “white tigers” were and I told him I thought they were near the pool.  This fellow confirmed the location of the secret garden containing the dolphins and white tigers with the hotel doorman who quickly told him, “It’s raining.”  That didn’t seem to phase the man leading the group.

      As the secret garden was in the same direction we were going, returning to our room, I saw them following behind for a while.  Then they were gone.  It can very confusing in the cavernous public areas of the Mirage.  They may still be wandering here and there through the casino.

      Something else I hope they knew.  The cost per adult to see these dolphins and rare tigers is $22.  Children pay $17.  So this trip might end up costing them $100, not including parking.  And this attraction is outdoors.  And it was raining that day, all day.   Later I ran into a Mirage employee whose specific duty was to forewarn folks that, though they could certainly pay to see the tigers and dolphins, they would be standing in the rain to do so.

      I’m not sure there’s much that’s fun in Las Vegas for kids.  And the cost for that fun might be prohibitive for some.  Certainly would be for me.  I can see my own Detroit Tigers for less money.  And if it’s raining, I get a voucher to come back.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Pen Pals, Honesty and Age

      I received my latest pen pal letter from Tyler, a second-grader at a nearby elementary school.  We’ve been trading pen pal letters since the beginning of the school year.  When I signed up as a volunteer, I was told to ask questions in my letters to keep the correspondence flowing.  I assume Tyler was told to do the same, although in one letter his only question was, “What’s your favorite color?”  There’s only so much you can say to that.

       But I have to admit that I kinda took offense at a question he asked with his latest page of handwritten scribbles.  Here’s what he said:  “I stayed up till twelve on New Year’s.  Did you?”

       Now I probably took his question the wrong way . . . as an affront to my energy level, stamina and ability to celebrate on one of the premier party nights of the year.  So here’s how I wanted to respond . . .

       “Yes, Tyler.  My wife and I attended a large party on New Year’s Eve where we won a jazz dance competition for couples.  We were the last ones to leave the party at 3 a.m. and then stopped for extra greasy burgers and French fries at Denny’s.  Afterwards, we realized that the local gym opens at 5 a.m. so we swung by there to do our daily workout before going home to bed.”

      But they encourage honesty in our writing so I had to tell the truth.  I DID stay up till twelve, but only after I had taken a little nap earlier that evening around nine o’clock.  And my wife went to sleep at our usual bed-time, which is ten.  So she missed the ringing in of the new year.

     Oh well, such is life when you’re north of 65.  My curiosity these days doesn’t lead me to learn about the latest dance craze so much as I am wondering about these healing vortices I hear they have in Arizona.  We’ll be traveling through there soon in our yearly escape, brief though it may be, from the treacherous Michigan winter here.

      I’m not kidding about treacherous either.  This morning the missus took a fall while we were shoveling snow, aggravating her already arthritic knee.  I hope you don’t have to climb a mountain for that healing vortex.  Maybe it’s at a highway rest area or a McDonalds.  Better yet, maybe it’s at a hotel hot tub!

      Worse off was my wife’s pub buddy who lives in the same town we do (my wife goes to the pub once a month with a sister and a few of their friends).  She slipped on the ice today and broke her ankle.   Now she’s hospitalized with a physical therapy appointment to see if she can recuperate at home. That’s not something you want in your sixties.

       Anyhoo, where was I?  Oh, my pen pal.   I did ask Tyler about a Christmas gift he received, that “Alexa” talking machine.  Just curious what “Alexa” tells him.  I can’t remember what else I wrote to Tyler because I dropped off his letter at the local senior center on Friday and I don’t keep a copy.  So I don’t remember (I worry about repeating myself in my letters sometimes).

        Hmmmm, wonder if those healing vortices can help with my short-term memory. 

Monday, December 31, 2018

Will You Take A Check?

      As technology becomes more advanced, I’m feeling like the proverbial dinosaur, totally out of place.  Around Christmas, I feel this more intensely while shopping.  It’s like the traditional ways of paying for things when I was a kid—check and cash—are slowly becoming outdated.  So many young folks pay for things somehow with their smartphones or just by using their debit card.

      I have neither.

      When my wife and I tried to use a check recently at our favorite local grocery store, a confab of about three employees took place.  It appeared that two of the workers were new, so the more senior worker was taking this opportunity to teach them how to handle a person who wants to pay by check.  I felt as if we were paying in drachmas or something. 

      Never mind that they ran the check through their register, then handed it back to us.  Is that then our canceled check?  So how is that check information stored?  Can the Chinese or Russians hack your electronic database and write their own check against our account?  Scary financial times we live in.

     Then we encountered another first when we tried the express check-out line at Target.  After using self-service to ring up our order, we discovered there was no way to pay cash.  We had to flag down a clerk somewhere to help.  Is this the wave of the future?  “Sorry.  Your cash is no good here.”

     “Will you take a check?”

      “A what???”

      At our local theatre in town, they no longer employ ticket-takers nor ticket-sellers at the shows we attend.  What most people do is purchase their tickets, including their assigned seats, on-line at home or on one of those smartphones.  Then when they go to the theatre, they’re instructed to go directly to their seats.  I guess this theatre is depending on our honesty, right?

      My son sometimes orders coffee and sandwiches from Panera on-line from home.  He pays for it on-line (somehow), then when he goes to the Panera’s, the order is bagged and ready, waiting on a rack.  Again, he didn’t have to check with any staff.  He just took the order and walked out.  I guess Panera too is depending on our honesty.

      So I can be standing in a long line at Panera’s, waiting for a clerk to take my money and order, only to be passed over while the kitchen staff prepares an order they received over the internet.    Even my twenty-something nephew complained over this new world ordering system.

       He stood in a long line at Starbucks (shorter lines are one reason my wife and I prefer Tim Horton’s) waiting to just order his latte.  People would come into Starbucks, pass by my nephew right to the pick-up counter, tell them their name and they would be served their own latte before my nephew could even see the clerk past the people ahead of him in line.

      Apparently, Starbucks has an ap (app?) that allows you to order your coffee drink on-line, just the way you like it, pay for it, then let Starbucks know what time you will be in to pick it up.  Thus, avoiding long lines of dinosaurs.  Like myself.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

A Budding Bonnie & Clyde

     Bonnie and Clyde visited with us over the Thanksgiving holiday.  They connived, they pilfered, they conspired, they betrayed.  Nothing in our house was safe.  Nothing within their reach anyway.  For the miscreants were only two years old.

      We weren’t expecting too much misbehavior out of our grandkids Owen and Gwen.  I figured they would be cavorting with their siblings or playing with the toys we made available to them.  For instance, see the white board and crayons in the picture?  Wendy and I had to do our duties as host and hostess to our guests, which included other children as well as adults.

      When Gwen came into town, we figured out pretty quickly that she had sticky fingers.  She tried to swipe my pill case, found a pen which she used to draw on a page of my daily diary, and grabbed a handful of coins out of my bank which she tossed across the room (she even put a penny into her mouth).

      We started putting things up (way up) that we didn’t want her getting into, and just to make sure they were out of reach, we pulled out a wooden chest that she’d been climbing upon.  That we put it outside in the patio.  That still wasn’t enough.  She could climb the stairs and raid our second story bedrooms where no eyes might be watching.

      So I set up a Muppet-sized large puppet on one of the steps.  Gwen wasn’t fond of this puppet and I knew she wouldn’t try to climb the stairs with it watching down from above.  Gwen and Owen had already had a little race down the stairs but that was with me there supervising close by.  I didn’t want them to have a re-match while I was away.  And Wendy and I had to go to the store.

      When we returned, Gwen and Owen were upstairs.  The puppet had been thrown behind a couch in another room.  What happened?  I was told that Gwen recruited Owen, pointing the puppet out to her cousin.  Owen dutifully retrieved the puppet and chucked him out of sight.  Now if that isn’t a true act of Bonnie and Clyde types, I don’t know what it. 

     Later Gwen’s baby brother Davis started crying in my arms.  Gwen came over to check and I asked her if she could get her baby brother’s pacifier.  Immediately she toddled over to a table, plucked the ‘binky’ from the table, stuck it in her own mouth, and walked past me and her still wailing brother into another room.  My jaw dropped as I saw her walk off, highjacking Davis’s binky.

      Later, she was upstairs again with Clyde, er, Owen.  This time Gwen’s mom went upstairs to check on them.  She caught Owen in the act of putting a travel-sized bottle of moisturizer into an alarm clock cassette deck.  When Owen saw his aunt Kristin, he said, “She did it,” accusing his accomplice.  Gwen is a little younger and doesn’t talk as well as her older cousin so the ruse might have worked if Owen hadn’t been caught in the act.

     But Bonnie and Clyde had to eventually break up when Gwen and family returned to St. Louis after Thanksgiving.  So we can breathe easy again, at least until Christmas.  That’s when they’re due to meet up again.