Friday, December 26, 2008
When my brother Dale borrowed a friend’s electric guitar, he warned me not to touch it when he left the house. Of course, the moment he was a block away, I had it out of the closet and was learning to pick some melodies.
In 5th grade, our vocal music teacher got married and moved to Troy, New York, right in the middle of the school year. Mrs. Adams took over. No offense to Mrs. Adams, but our ex-music teacher was much better looking and I had a crush on her (although I can’t for the life of me remember her name anymore).
My best friend, Larry, had been playing the trumpet in the 5th grade band and told me I should do that instead. So I went to the band’s open house day where Mr. Lowe displayed an assortment of musical instruments for us to choose. Losing count of the number of buttons and switches on the clarinet and flute, I decided to go with the trombone. Only one thing to do: Move the slide back and forth. How hard could that be?
As a budding Glenn Miller, I was relegated to the garage for practice. My bedroom was just too close for my parents’ comfort. Neither of them being musicians, they probably didn’t appreciate the soulful tones emanating from this brass contraption. I do remember that moving the slide didn’t much affect the sound coming out the other end. That’s not a good sign.
In spite of the rough start, I did learn to play the trombone well enough to become a music major in college for a couple of years, but my less than inspirational experience student teaching a junior high school band prompted me to change my major and eventually graduate with an accounting degree.
Music is still a big part of my life, however, as a group of us gets together from time to time to play blues tunes. My trombone stays at home, though, as I switched to electric bass many years ago. It’s a creative outlet that helps keep me sane during income tax and town budget season.
For quite a number of years playing in bands was more than just a hobby. It paid for college and, after the kids starting coming, it paid for a lot of other things. One of our variety bands, Southwest, put together a promo video back in the 90's. See it here (for those of you who have broadband Internet, click on "watch in high quality"):
We encouraged our kids to play instruments in school bands and several of them did. Sarah and Gayle played clarinet and Dan played the drums. Chris, Bryan and Jeff spent their extracurricular time playing sports.
In one of the cuter moments I can remember, Sarah and Dan decided to perform “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” a cappella:
In spite of Dan’s apparent inability to clap and sing simultaneously, he went on to become a drummer, mallet player and percussionist. He will receive his master’s degree in music education next May. He admits he still has trouble clapping and singing at the same time. Here is the drum set finale from his senior recital in undergrad school:
Gayle was a band chick in high school.
Although she spent a great deal of time learning her clarinet parts and practicing her marching steps, she had time to lead a rap group and write some original (and somewhat racy) material. Here it is:
Here, also, is Gayle performing with the high school marching band at a citywide contest:
Finally, Bryan, who I mentioned earlier did not pursue music as an avocation, did exercise his vocal prowess to the delight of many screaming girls at the high school senior talent contest.
So there you are. We may not be the Osmonds or Jacksons, but music was and is an important part of our family. I treasure the memories.
Copyright 2008 Randy Hunt
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Joe Biden made big headlines and starred in one of the most viewed YouTube videos of the presidential campaign when he commanded Chuck Graham, a wheelchair bound Missouri state senator, to stand up and be recognized.
“Stand up, Chuck. Let ‘em see ya. Oh! God love ya. What am I talkin’ about?”
When I saw this clip for the first time, I almost choked. Yes, it was Biden being Biden, but it also dripped of déjà vu.
I played in bands since I was in junior high. Rock bands. Country bands. Variety bands. Any format that would land us a job. In my first band, I played trombone. It was back when the bands Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, and Earth Wind & Fire were popular. All of them incorporated trombones as well as trumpets and saxophones. Unfortunately for us, our brass section was comprised of a single slush pump player.
What’s the difference between a frog driving a car and a trombone player driving a car? The frog is more likely heading to a gig.
What do you call a trombone player with a beeper? An optimist.
What kind of calendar does a trombone player use for his gigs? Year-At-A-Glance.
So when the bass player quit, I saw an opportunity and started my career as an electric bassist using a borrowed guitar and amp. (For an update on the exploits of my trombone, see Happy Holidays from the Bunyan Household.)
Fast forward from the late 60’s to the early 80’s. We were still hustling gigs, some of us to earn college tuition money, some of us to support kids, and the drummer to attract chicks. We worked with an agent, without whom we never would have landed a wedding reception at the Missile Inn on Dyer Street. This place was a dive—surrounded by strip malls, hock shops and fast food restaurants—that got its name from the fact that Ft. Bliss, Texas, was the Army’s training center for Hawk and Hercules missile systems. It was also a short drive to White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
In all of the years that we played parties around El Paso, we never stepped foot into the Missile Inn. The karma wasn’t good and, in spite of the fact that I grew up in the northeast side of the city, it was not the part of town that made for good gigging.
The ballroom was small and uninspiring. I’m guessing that the bride’s father got it for a song. Maybe just a lyric or two. Capacity was probably 100 or so, but there were at least 150 people jammed into this place. To say it was hot would be an understatement. A June wedding is traditional, although in the desert, it comes with 100+ degree days—more than the air conditioning could handle.
After the first set—a quiet, unobtrusive collection of jazz and pop tunes to accompany the obligatory chicken cordon bleu, rice pilaf and green beans—we were ready to crank it up and get the party started. Now, you have to picture us making the transition from a lounge act into a frat house band. Five out of the six of us had the eyesight of a mole; all except for the drummer, who sported the 20-20 vision necessary to zone in on babes across the room. Our agent hated for us to wear glasses and use music stands, so we put both away in preparation for our metamorphosis.
Bill, our front man, lead singer and rhythm guitar player, was finishing wiping down his guitar with a polishing cloth and tossed it back onto his amplifier. Everyone turned up the volume and we started rockin’. Half way through “Pretty Woman” the eagle-eyed drummer noticed that Bill’s polishing cloth was on fire. It was fortunate that one of us wasn’t cripplingly nearsighted. Somehow it had fallen into the back of the amp where the hot vacuum tubes ignited it. Bill put it out without missing a beat. That’s talent.
The rest of the set went well with the pyrotechnics under control, but we knew we were in for more fun before we got to “Save the Last Dance for Me.” At some point during the next set someone scrawled something on a napkin and asked a waitress to deliver it to Bill. This was nothing unusual as we received song requests all the time.
On closer inspection, Bill realized that this person had scribed a joke and punch line that he obviously thought would improve our heretofore unfunny performance. You need to understand that Bill is a very funny person—a quick wit ala Robin Williams—but I don’t think I’ve ever heard him tell a joke. That wasn’t his style. And the thought of someone sending up a joke was a bit of an insult.
The unspectacled Bill, in a darkened room, asked the crowd who had written this joke. Off in the corner, a guy yelled out that he was the author. Bill fired back: “Come on up here, funny guy, and tell the joke yourself.” This was met with a noticeable gasp coming from the general direction of the instigator.
Gary, another one of our Mr. Magoos, sensed that something was up and wandered back to his guitar amp to recover his glasses. After struggling for a second to focus, he turned to me and said “Oh crap! The guy’s in a wheelchair.” I, in turn, tripped back to my amp and mounted my Coke bottle lenses on my nose adding, incredulously, “And he’s trying to stand up!”
By the time all of us had donned our prescription eyewear, this guy had made it half way across the room, using the tables to support himself as he dragged his feet behind him. It was as if we had been transported to a miracle healing rally. Bill parked his guitar in its stand, rushed over and, along with another gentleman from the crowd, assisted the soon-to-be comedian to the stage.
I don’t remember the joke or if it was funny, but I do remember that the entire place erupted in applause after the punch line, much the same way that the crowd in Missouri gave Chuck Graham a standing ovation. It’s a way for the audience to dissipate the tension and, in our case, show their appreciation for the gumption displayed by this fellow in taking Bill up on his dare.
So don’t feel bad, Joe. It happens to the best of us. But even Bill knows that FDR’s fireside chats weren’t televised.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Gravity is an interesting thing. It keeps your car in the driveway overnight without the need for tethers. That’s the positive aspect. In combination with a snow-covered mountain, gravity has no redeeming qualities.
About a dozen years ago, we decided to make the 140-mile trek into snow country from the desert city of El Paso, Texas. A few El Pasoans ski, but certainly not in the numbers that New Englanders do. For our family, skiing was just too expensive—starting with the fact that we had six kids. When you’ve got six kids, everything is expensive. Eating out anyplace other than a soup kitchen can break the bank.
So rather than deal with the expense of renting skis, snowboards and the associated accessories, we decided to go inner tubing. It’s roughly equivalent to going to a public swimming pool versus taking a dip at the country club. No one at the inner tubing facility is making a fashion statement by sporting $200 goggles that color coordinate with their $600 jumpsuit and $1,800 skis. No, the inner tubing crowd is jean-clad and arrives in a variety of vintage vehicles which share a common component: jumper cables.
Making the trip, however, presented a logistical problem. Our Dodge Ram 250 conversion van had broken down and, instead of paying the mechanic’s $1,200 repair bill, we signed over the title to him. That left us with my Dodge Intrepid (the worst car ever—and one I wished had defied the laws of gravity and floated away some night) and Mary’s Chevrolet Geo. With none of the kids being old enough to drive, we split them between the two cars and we both drove.
We arrived at the mountain in about three hours and parked among our fellow inner tubers’ oil-dripping jalopies. It was a perfect day. Sunny. Not too cold. Plenty of snow. As I recall, the admission was $8 for kids and $12 for adults. As ridiculously cheap as this sounds, it was still $72 before snacks.
We were all assigned inner tubes, ranging from car-sized for little Jeff to tractor-sized for me. Then we stood in a queue waiting for the tow line. So far, so good. The drag up the hill was pleasant and nobody had broken an arm yet.
At the top of the mountain, we were offered three choices: the beginners’ slope, the intermediate slope, and the death defying 88° sheer dropoff identified with a skull and crossed bones sign. We all looked into each other’s eyes and, without saying a word, moved in unison towards the beginners’ slope. Except for Gayle, that is. She was nine at the time and wasn’t thought of by the family as a risk taker.
After surveying the gentle grade of the beginner’s slope, I took inventory of our gaggle and noticed that Gayle was missing. “Where’s Gayle?” I asked. Our 7-year-old, Jeff, nonchalantly explained that she went down the slope back there. And, sure enough, there was Gayle at the bottom of the mountain, completely intact and unaware that she had just conquered the black, triple diamond expert run. Apparently she hadn’t read the sign.
Well, we weren’t about to be intimidated by a 9-year-old girl into changing our plans, so we proceeded to tackle the beginner’s slope. So slight was the angle that you had to paddle with your hands several times to get all the way down the hill.
After several more runs and graduating to the intermediate slope, I was building my confidence and decided I was man enough to take on Gayle’s Hill. Standing at the top, I watched several other people speed down the slope without incident, laughing and screaming all the way.
Okay, time to shove off. I laid down, head first, on my tube and one of the kids gave me a push. Which one, I don’t remember, but what happened next is 100% their fault.
I quickly gained speed. And what I mean by quickly is that I reached terminal velocity in about six seconds. The problem was that I was not aimed straight down the hill. Instead, I was on a course that would take me off the left side of the groomed portion of the run. There’s no rudder on these things, by the way.
About two-thirds of the way down, I was generating a series of sonic booms as I left the inner tubing area. I flew into a depression which, when I reached the other side, launched me airborne. I was hugging the inner tube as I flew by several birds and squirrels’ nests. This is when it occurred to me that gravity would soon make its presence known.
Then… BWAAAPPP!!! I hit the ground with such force that everyone on all three slopes turned to see what the heck was going on. You see, an inner tube is like a rubber ball and the bounce I experienced was unbelievable. I was back in the air, only this time my inner tube went one direction and I went the other.
There’s not much you can do at this point except to wish that you had never gotten to this point. My next contact with the ground was the first of at least three crushing blows, one of which involved a face plant. I finally landed on my back in a snow drift, staring straight up at the blue heavens, waiting for the light to beckon me to the afterlife.
In fact, it was so quiet I thought I might have lost my hearing, but I soon realized that the silence was the result of everyone staring with bated breath, curious to see if I was going to move. I imagined one of the facility workers in the background lowering the flag to half staff.
I first focused my efforts on wiggling my toes. They wiggled. Perfect, I thought. My spinal cord is probably still in one piece. I then raised each arm, checking to see if they were pointing in any unusual directions. Same with my legs. I couldn’t believe it. No bones poking out of my jeans. Head still facing forward. I had survived!
I discovered later that I had wrenched my back, bruised some ribs, and couldn’t turn my neck at all, but this was all pretty minor considering how it might have turned out. Driving home was a challenge. I had to query my kids whether there were cars coming from the left or right. And the next day we went to the Sun Bowl game. All I remember is that I could only see the football players when they were between the 30 and 40 yard lines. Never saw a touchdown.
Now you can understand why I hang around town on winter weekends and leave the slopes to the heartier crowd. Gravity is not my friend.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
I love the first snow of the season. And the second. And third.
So get out your shovels, snow blowers and Aleve and keep an eye out for those first flakes of winter. Technically, it’s not winter until December 21st, but tell that to anyone who enjoyed the April Fools’ Day storm in 1997.
Of course, Cape Cod’s biggest snow storm in recent years blasted us on Sunday, January 23, 2005. We were to host a Patriots playoff party that afternoon, but ended up watching the game by ourselves in the cozy confines of our soon-to-be igloo.
The next morning, I struggled to peer out the windows to size up the previous night’s winter tidings, but every window was nearly opaque with snow and ice and steamed up instantly with my breath. I proceeded to the front door and very carefully opened it, just a crack, to survey the accumulation.
What I saw, instead, was a wall of snow that covered the entire doorway. That was a tad unsettling, knowing that the rest of our exit doors had attached screens that swung out. How, exactly, were we going to get out?
I pulled the snow shovel from the coat closet and slowly opened the door enough to start pushing the snow away at the top of the doorframe. In a few minutes I had cleared the doorway and our impatient black lab, Maggie, dashed out to relieve herself. Only she completely disappeared into the snowdrift and was unable to move.
I continued to shovel out to where she had vanished and uncovered a wagging tail attached to an embarrassed, 75-pound coal black dog statue. Turns out that I was the black Labrador retriever this morning, not her.
With three feet of snow and twelve-foot snowdrifts, it was a morning I’ll never forget. I dug a series of trenches for Maggie so she could do her business without fear of becoming a popsicle. I also dug a walkway out to the SUV, which we had cleverly parked in the driveway close to the street. After the plow driver came by, we only had about five feet of snow to shovel from behind the car to access the street.
By 10:00 a.m., we were able to make it out of the neighborhood and get to the office. Many other people, I acknowledge, were stuck for up to three days, due to the shortage of heavy plow trucks. The normal fleet of private snow plowers, operating their half-ton and three-quarter-ton pickup trucks, were useless in over 30 inches of snow.
The office temperature (inside) was 37 degrees Fahrenheit (see Taking The Temperature of Danny G. for an explanation of the competing temperature scales). Snow had covered the exhaust vent pipe and caused the heater to shut down. So, rather than balancing debits and credits with our frosty number two pencils, we went for a ride to see the storm’s aftermath and shot the pictures that follow.
Although, as an elected town official, I’m concerned about the stress such storms put on our budget, there’s a little voice in my head (among several, unfortunately) that says “I wonder what a 4-foot snow storm would be like…”
Saturday, November 29, 2008
I’m not afraid of spiders—generally speaking. Running across a black widow in the garden is a little unnerving, for sure; however, most of them are harmless and best left alone to do what they do which, to the best of my knowledge, is spinning their webs to trap insects and small mammals.
House spiders are completely harmless, though they do drive Mary crazy erecting their cobwebs in dark corners that only become visible when we have company over. “Would you look at that?” I say. “Why don’t we move into the kitchen while they polish off the neighborhood cat?”
It seems that, with the colder weather, more spiders take up residence inside. It’s their version of Florida. They pack their little spider luggage, transfer their spider phones, and move to warmer climes.
Like I said, I don’t hold any strong aversions to spiders. Live and let live, I say. Just stay out of my bed and don’t use my slippers as sleeping bags. I really don’t appreciate sharing my footwear, especially at four in the morning when I’m likely to pull a muscle leaping around the bedroom on one foot while attempting to remove the stinging night shoe from the other.
And one other thing. Stay out of the shower. There’s a certain level of vulnerability felt by people taking a shower. Just ask Marion Crane. When I'm done washing my face and open my eyes to a spider walking across the tile, my heart races and, darn it, I feel just a wee bit violated. I mean, most spiders have six or eight eyes, which allows them to survey you from head to toe all at the same time.
It’s really the surprise of it that gets me. The other day, I stepped into the shower and noticed a daddy-long-legs in the corner formed by the walls and ceiling. That didn’t bother me too much because I wasn’t taken by surprise. So I went about my business, keeping an eye on him just in case.
When I was finishing up my second shampoo and rinse—the instructions say “shampoo, rinse, repeat” and I’m not one to second guess the shampoo scientists’ years of laboratory testing which, no doubt, provides conclusive evidence that doing it twice is critical to obtaining the best results—he started walking across the wall towards the shower curtain.
He stepped onto the curtain rod, headed for my towel, and disappeared on the other side of the rod. Okay, that’s enough, I thought. I don’t want to grab my towel and have this guy hanging on, ready to pounce on me.
So I decided to reach over and back hand the shower curtain, just below the curtain rod, where I thought he would be. I figured this would knock him off and he’d land somewhere around the toilet, taking cover where I wouldn’t see him again until the next day.
Boy, was I wrong about that strategy. I popped the top of the shower curtain with the back of my fingers and, by an amazing feat of physics, the edge of the curtain reached out, grabbed Mr. D. Long-Legs and hurled him directly at my left eye. He’s flailing all eight legs while making this kamikaze flight and I’m watching him close in on my eyeball at break-neck speed.
Before I could blink, turn my head, or even watch my life flash before my eyes—BAM!!! OH MY GOD!! THERE’S A SPIDER IN MY EYE!!
Now you can’t go leaping around in the shower. You must keep your wits about you or you’ll end up slipping and feeling pretty stupid when you have to explain what happened to the emergency room doctor. BUT THERE’S A SPIDER RIGHT IN MY FREAKIN’ EYE!!
I started swiping at my face and put my head into the shower spray. That blew him back into my hair and I smacked my head until I was sure that I was the only one who could have survived this battle to the death. All that was left to do was to shampoo, rinse and repeat, which I did twice more just to be safe.
Emerging from the bathroom, Mary asked why I took such a long shower. I told her I was playing Spiderman. Not even wanting to hear what the heck that could mean, she just shrugged her shoulders and went back to applying her eyeliner.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
I heard a radio ad the other day that started with this interrogatory line: “Men, do you wake up to urinate?”
Certainly it’s a better option than not waking up. My wife agrees with me on this point.
I’m 51 years old now and have just lived through the two milestones that happen during your 50th year: 1) the AARP pummels you with embarrassing weekly mailings reminding you and everyone else who sees your mail that you’ve hit the big half century mark, and 2) you start paying attention to prostate commercials.
First, let’s take a look at the origin of the word prostate. Turns out it’s Greek, from the word prostátēs meaning “one standing before” or “protector” or “guardian.” It gets its name from its position at the base of a man’s bladder, sort of protecting the bladder like a security guard would protect a gasoline storage tank.
So you might think, “Hey, the bigger the guard, the better the protection.” In this case, the bigger the guard, the less gasoline he allows to be pumped into each delivery truck. And that’s why I must be dreaming about driving tanker trucks every night.
Now, in all seriousness, symptoms associated with prostate problems could be related to cancer of the prostate, which is the leading cancer among men, but at the same time, the cancer with the highest survival rate. About 80% of prostate cancer cases are diagnosed in men over 65 and almost 80% of men who reach the age of 80 have or have been treated for prostate cancer.
For most men, however, a growing prostate is just a reminder that they are due for a mid-life crisis. There’s a TV ad with four middle-aged men out for a ride in a 60’s vintage rag top (a clear reference to the driver’s mid-life crisis) and one of the guys needs to pull over at every gas station to take a whiz. This is clearly an annoyance for the other three guys who have been taking Flomax and can hold it for three days at a time.
Another problem an enlarged prostate exasperates is what a trusted friend of mine refers to as “shy bladder.” This trusted friend of mine tells me that he’s always had shy bladder, even as a kid in the junior high school locker room. Now that my trusted friend’s protector/guardian is creating its own set of challenges in a totally private setting, imagine how difficult it is for my trusted friend to use a public bathroom lined with urinals sans privacy dividers. I can only imagine his frustration…
By the way, my trusted friend highly recommends the support website http://www.shybladder.org/. The medical term for this condition is Paruresis and is commonly referred to as stage fright and urophobia. The next time someone tells you he’s urophobic, you’ll know he’s not afraid of Europeans, per se; he’s just uncomfortable peeing among them.
Which brings me back to the radio ad. I don’t even remember what the “growing problem” remedy was that they were peddling, but a quick search of the Internet reveals dozens of medications and homeopathic treatments for BPH. At first, I thought BPH was a measurement, like bathroom (B)reaks (P)er (H)our, but I now know it stands for (B)ladder (P)rotector (H)umongous.
Okay. Just kidding. BPH is (B)enign (P)rostatic (H)yperplasia, which translates to non-cancerous, Andre-The-Giant-like enlarging of what is supposed to be a walnut-sized gland into a lemon-sized version of your third grade teacher who told you that you could hold it until the end of class. But you couldn’t. At least that’s how my trusted friend related the story to me.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
At Texas A&M University, there are twelve men on the Aggies’ offensive and defensive football squads. The “12th man” is the crowd of 83,000 in Kyle Field, cheering, roaring and, for all 60 minutes, up on their feet. In Seattle and Indianapolis, home field advantage is huge because of crowd noise that makes it nearly impossible for opposing offenses to call their plays and audibles. The fans at Fenway intimidate pitchers to the point where some of them, like John Lackey of the Angels, have lost their confidence when pitching in the Hub.
If screaming crowds are so effective in football and baseball, why is it that someone decided it’s not appropriate for golf, tennis and bowling? Or ping pong, billiards and chess?
Imagine a throng of Tiger maniacs surrounding the first tee at Augusta, doing the wave and yelling “Tiger, Tiger, he’s our man!! He can do it. Yes he can!!” Five shirtless frat boys, wielding five nearly empty Bud bottles, spell out “IGRET” on their chests. Drum rolls from the LSU band and cheerleaders being tossed fifteen feet into the air add to the frenetic atmosphere.
All the while, Tiger is surveying his drive and taking a couple of practice swings. He approaches the ball, ready to knock it 300+ yards down the fairway. The crowd noise swells in a deafening crescendo and Tiger pulls his driver back and unfurls his trademark swing. Perfectly timed, the cannon blast accentuates the ping of Tiger’s driver meeting the golf ball and the crowd rejoices in the long, straight drive landing twenty yards in front of rival Ernie Els’ shot.
Unlike golf, where the “quiet rule” is imposed even on rounds played among casual weekend players, bowling etiquette tends to be controlled by the blood alcohol content of its participants. Blitzed teammates offer advice to the next bowler like: “It’s the five pin! You know what the five pin is called, don’t you? It’s called the IDIOT pin because it’s right in the middle of the alley. Only an idiot could miss it!! If you miss this spare, you’re buying the next round!”
Now, I know I’m assuming a lot by thinking anyone reading this post has ever watched the Professional Bowlers Association tour on a Saturday afternoon, but I have and they’ve adopted the same gag rule used by the PGA and USTA. Loosen up folks. It’s bowling. It’s the favorite game of Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble.
Asking a bowling crowd to be quiet is like asking a demolition derby crowd settle down so they can better hear the sounds of crumpling metal. Besides, when a bowler releases the bowling ball, before it even hits the lane, some drunk guy in the stands yells “STRIKE!!!” Thinking about that, I’ve also noticed that the same guy, within three thousandths of a second after a golfer hits his drive, screams “GET IN THE HOLE!!!” Hey, idiot, it’s a par five.
My point is: Why not let fans be fans? It would break the athlete’s concentration, you say? Give me a break, I say. Should the Fenway crowd come to complete silence before Beckett hurls every pitch? Doesn’t he have to concentrate? I think so. Should Celtics fans hush when Kobi goes to the free throw line? I think not.
How much more fun would it be for Sergio Garcia supporters to scream derogatory slogans at Tiger Woods on the 18th green while he’s lining up his birdie putt to win the tournament? How do you say “Boooo!!!!” in Spanish?
We could learn a lot from the rabid European soccer fans. Have you ever seen highlights of the Germany versus England soccer final that didn’t include a melee in the stands, including a couple of bloodied blokes falling onto the playing field and a tier of bleachers collapsing?
That is sports at its best.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Here we are in the middle of November and it’s 62.1 Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit degrees. Good thing it’s not 62.7 degrees, the temperature at which I break out into one of those classic November sweats.
Two things about this mild November temperature are worth noting: 1) D.G. Fahrenheit assumed room temperature exactly 271 years and 60 days ago (that's 133 years and 16 days ago Celsius) and 2) it is absolute, irrefutable proof that Global Warming©, sorry, Global Climate Change© and The Global Climate Crisis© are upon us and ready to receive your tax deductible contributions via a worldwide network of recently formed 501(c)(3) organizations.
It’s my journalistic duty to bust the myth that’s been foisted upon us by some of world’s most reputed weather scientists—climatologists, if you will; quacks, if you won’t—namely, that the Fahrenheit scale is somehow unfit for use by the elite scientific community. Only we schleps who form the lowbrow bourgeois would continue to use such an antiquated measurement—so they say in their uppity, peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Well, let me be perfectly clear about my reaction to this class versus classless attack. Phooey!!
Since when do newspapers have contests for their readers to guess the date of the first 37.8 degree (Celsius) day each year? Hey, we all know that when it’s 100, it’s hot. And when it drops below zero, well, look out because the wind chill will freeze your exposed body parts on contact.
Continuing to glare down their long skinny noses, the clever research grant backed scientists have told us that the Fahrenheit scale was set to 100 on the hottest summer day one 18th century year in Germany and to zero on the coldest winter day that same year. That’s not scientific, they say. That’s a random occurrence, an arbitrary way to set a scale.
In my own thorough, non-grant funded research, I’ve discovered that this explanation of how the Fahrenheit scale was set is just an old wives’ tale. In fact, zero on the scale is the point where an equal mixture of ice and salt freezes. Okay, you may say, the ice, by definition, is already frozen and how in the world can you tell if a grain of salt is frozen or not? Good points, but that shouldn’t take away from D.G.’s scientific method.
He also set 90 degrees to be equal to normal body temperature. Unfortunately, D.G. didn’t realize that 90 degrees is the temperature of a dead body some six hours after the poor soul’s last breath. A few minor adjustments to his brilliant invention later, D.G. used it to measure the boiling point of water: 212 degrees. Perfect! A palindromic number. Science at its best.
Compare D.G.’s work to the clearly unimaginative Celsius scale where zero is the freezing point of water and 100 is the boiling point. A third-grade kid could’ve come up with something that simple. What good is a third grader’s temperature scale for a sophisticated scientist, noting that the words “simple” and “sophisticated” are listed as antonyms in Webster’s dictionary?
So there it is. I have, in a concisely worded short essay, beaten back the affront brought upon us by this egocentric group of “worldview” scientists. That the United States is virtually the only country left in the world employing the Fahrenheit scale should not discourage us from honoring tradition and the good science of Danny G. Besides, everyone knows that 72 is room temperature. Case closed.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
HI!!! BILLY MAYS HERE FOR (fill in the blank with) AWESOME AUGER / BIG CITY SLIDER STATION / C.L.R. / DING KING / GATOR GRIP / HANDY SWITCH / HERCULES HOOK / KABOOM / MIGHTY PUTTY / OXICLEAN / STICK & CLICK / STEAM BUDDY / SWIFFER (just to name a few of the products that have been screamed into your life).
When you are yelled at for 60 seconds, do you feel motivated to pick up the phone to order a bucket of Kaboom in the next six minutes and twenty-two seconds, or forever forfeit the opportunity to get a second bucket free along with a German-made chamois cloth for half price? (THEY LAST FOR 10 YEARS—GUARANTEED!!!!!!)
Apparently, many people do, in fact, react positively to this in-your-face style of advertising, which made me start thinking…
Perhaps the poor sap who has racked up a lousy record in the dating game because he’s too nerdy, too shy, or simply a loser should learn from BILLY MAYS by imitating his successful style. First, grow a beard that Paul Bunyan would be proud of. Then, try the following dialog at dinner in a fine French restaurant:
HI!!! JOHN SMITH HERE AS YOUR DREAM DATE!! AND IF YOU ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR AFFECTION FOR ME IN THE NEXT FIVE MINUTES, I’LL NOT ONLY COME OVER TO YOUR PLACE, BUT I’LL BRING MY FRIEND, STEVE!! AND THAT’S NOT ALL!!!! IF YOU AGREE RIGHT NOW FOR A SECOND DATE, I’LL THROW IN A CASE OF ORANGE GLO ABSOLUTELY FREE!!!
This has all the elements of a first rate infomercial:
- Every word is shouted at the top of John’s lungs in order to maintain the attention of John’s potential lifelong mate for 60 seconds.
- John has unequivocally declared that he is the ultimate companion (DREAM DATE!!!)
- Time is of the essence, for if you do not act right now, there will never ever be another chance to change your life for the better—at this price. (This tactic also prevents her from taking the time to research John Smith in Consumer Reports magazine.)
- You get not only one, but TWO BONUSES (or is the correct Latin boni?)
I considered what it would be like if politicians adopted the Billy Mays approach, but thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that this is exactly what they’ve already done. Imagine John Kerry and Maria Teresa Thierstein Simões-Ferreira Heinz leisurely strolling along, hand in hand, in Boston Commons on a beautiful spring day with John describing the daffodils and chrysanthemums and the innocence of young children playing in the grass—IN HIS PODIUM VOICE!!!! Do you think he’s able to turn it off?
So we all have come to accept this boisterous approach to selling Lint-B-Gones, Samurai Shark knife sharpeners, and United States Senators, but would you buy insurance from a snake oil salesman? No. Of course not. For that, we rely on an Australian-accented gecko. What could be more reassuring than a sophisticated, properly mannered lizard recommending insurance products to us? At least he doesn’t shout at us.
BUT HOLD YOUR HORSES, PILGRIM!!!!! The one and only Billy Mays is now shouting his sage advice at potential customers of health insurance from iCan Benefit Group. Yes. Health insurance and remote light switches at the tip of your fingers by calling 1-800… Am I living in some sort of parallel universe? (See him shout at http://www.icanbenefit.com/.)
With the gadgets barrier broken, just what else might fall into the world of Marine drill sergeant style advertising? Do you remember the E.F. Hutton commercials? At a crowded, swanky social gathering, one martini-sipping high brow says to another: “My broker is E.F. Hutton, and he says…” The entire room instantly falls silent, everyone in the room craning to hear what this all-knowing E.F. Hutton broker has told his client.
In the current version of this ad, Billy Mays would burst into the cocktail party during the moment of silence, dressed like a plumber*, and start pointing to elaborately decorated flip charts showing endless upward trends leading to self-actualization.
HI!!! BILLY MAYS HERE FOR CITIGROUP SMITH BARNEY AND WE MAKE MONEY THE OLD FASHIONED WAY, WE EARN IT!!! SPEAKING OF THE OLD FASHIONED WAY, IF YOU HAVEN’T DUMPED YOUR OLD FASHIONED MOP FOR THIS NEW SUPER SWIFFER, I’M GOING TO GIVE YOU ONE ABSOLULTELY FREE WHEN YOU OPEN A BROKERAGE ACCOUNT WITH A MINIMUM OF $50,000!!! AND, NOT ONLY THAT, IF YOU SIGN UP IN THE NEXT TEN MINUTES, YOU’LL GET NOT ONE, NOT TWO, BUT THREE REPLACEMENT SUPER SWIFFER PADS AND A FIXIT CAR SCRATCH REMOVER!!!!
*No offense meant towards the highly respected profession of plumbing.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I’m not bitter. I’m not bitter. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. I’m… not… bitter… (My therapist taught me that.)
The day before the 1992 election, I told my friends that I’d have to sell my watch in order to pay for the surely-to-be-increased taxes that would be coming if Bill Clinton won the White House. Making (sort of) good on my pledge, I went watchless for six months. Looking back on that, I’m not exactly sure what that proved, except that I was apparently bitter about the outcome of the election.
I’m not bitter. I’m not bitter. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. I’m… not… bitter…
This time, I made no such promises.
Okay, that’s a lie.
I did tell Mary that I would leave my life-sized Sarah Palin poster up for the next four years to remind me how good it made me feel that McCain (who was never my favorite candidate) had gone rogue and picked a moose hunting hockey mom with those adorable glasses and the As Seen On TV hair widget.
That fact is that no one really knows how this whole thing is going to play out. The economy isn’t going to turn on a dime. Some, if not most, of the costly promises will have to wait. And the media’s infatuation with Mr. Obama will quickly disappear.
For those of us just trying to knock out a living, times are going to be tough for awhile and we need to adjust our lifestyles to match our resources. Theoretically, that’s not really a bad thing under any economic conditions but, if we get used to living within our means, it will make the recovery take much longer.
Look at the Japanese. They’re savers by nature. The economic slowdown there is being exasperated by the fact that they refuse to spend their way out of it. They keep poking more money into their savings accounts and those mattresses they keep on the floor, whatever they’re called.
Anyway, nothing I’ve said in the last two paragraphs would be any different regardless of who won last night. The president does not control the economy. The economy simply gets blamed on the president when it’s bad (or, in this case, on the former president—watch and see) and the president takes credit for the economy when it’s good—pretty much the same way that Red Sox fans take credit for winning the World Series.
So here’s to a less contentious, united United States of America where we put away our partisan bickering and start doing the right things to rebuild a strong country. With leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, how could we go wrong?
I’m not bitter. I’m not bitter. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. I’m… not… bitter…
Sunday, November 2, 2008
We saw at least 40 marked and unmarked state trooper vehicles on Interstate 81 in Virginia. The troopers were out, on a Saturday no less, wielding radar guns and handing out tickets. I don't accept the argument that they are doing anything at all to make I-81 safer. The massive effort is being undertaken for one reason only: Add $'s to the state's coffers. We may well see such overt fund raising campaigns spring up in other states which are seeing their tax revenues and federal subsidies waning.
I have to say that the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut is the most intense part of the driving experience between Cape Cod and the Hudson River. I like it because it's very scenic and allows no truck traffic. However, you must drive between 65 and 70 in order not to be a nuisance (and risk being rear ended). At night, the 37-mile roadway is even more fun and hair raising. We completed the race course without contacting any of the other competitors' cars, so I consider it a victory.
Now that I have easier access to my online accounts, I have posted a number of additional photos below that you might find interesting. The first set is of El Paso, Texas. You'll notice the level of pollution present, a problem that is at its worst in October and November due to persistent air inversions that prevent the smoke from dispersing. In all of the scenes taken from Scenic Drive, the areas closest to the horizon are in Mexico.
Hoghunters: Dan (our son), Randy and Alan (my brother)
Henry (my niece Angie's husband) cooking fajitas
My sister-in-law Mary's proof of her readiness to take the test to acquire a license to carry
Various faces from the ranch
Even when I was a kid, there were rumors about the "weird guy who lives on the corner" who puts razor blades in apples, or gives out cigarettes. I never saw anything like this happen, but it shows that we were concerned about of inherent dangers of accepting gifts from strangers.
Living in the border city of El Paso, Texas, I recall the opportunity Halloween provided for kids from Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico. Thousands of kids would come across the border in cars and trucks fanning out in El Paso's well-to-do areas in search of candy and other handouts. Just like American kids, they would dress up in a wide variety of costumes, mostly homemade, ringing door bells and shouting "Trick or Treat!"
Some of you may wonder how they could cross the border to participate in this uniquely American tradition. Their parents held border crossing cards, which were issued to Mexicans by the U.S. Immigration Service who could provide proof of employment in Mexico. This system allowed people to freely cross into the United States to shop, go to restaurants, and even set up bank accounts. Many Mexicans I worked with had U.S. dollar savings accounts at El Paso banks in order to create a hedge against peso devaluation and inflation which, at the time, was consistently in double digits.
Here are a few Halloween pictures for you to enjoy:
My daughter, Sarah, her husband, Mark, and the puppy, Timothy
Puppy with friend at Ernst & Young Halloween office party
Puppy getting ready to dig through the trash, a typical problem with dogs
Trinity, the fairy princess
Troy, the zebra
Christopher, the scary dude, with the fairy princess
My daughter Gayle's dog Nikki as Tinkerbell
Friday, October 31, 2008
We took off from Alan and Mary's ranch at about noon today, starting our trek home. Tonight, we bunked up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, home of the one and only Bret Favre who, by the way, does not pronounce his own name correctly. I can't imagine anyone describing a cadre of military leaders as a "card of corporals who train recruits." What's so hard about saying Favre? It also bugged me for years that people in New Bedford made reference to Tarklin Hill Road. If you bother to read the sign, you'll see that it's Tarkiln Hill Road. Get it? It's a tar kiln. But I digress.
Gas was $2.099 just east of Houston. And the good feeling this price evoked lasted for a long, long time because it was dispensed by the slowest gas pump I have ever used. I timed it. No less than 45 seconds per gallon, making my 16-gallon fill up take 12 minutes. The only plus was that you can lock the pump nozzles in Texas. Well, make that anywhere in the entire United States south of Massachusetts. Who legislated that gas stations have to disable this ingenious devise in Massachusetts? Were people blowing themselves up on a regular basis because of the convenient locking mechanisms? I've heard the whole static electricity argument, but why is it that this physics phenomenon stops at the Massachusetts border? I digress again.
We hope to be somewhere in the vicinity of the nation's capitol tomorrow night. Wish us luck.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Still, for the past four days I've watched the first light of dawn and seen the night sky swallow the last remnant of twilight. How cool is that?
We walked for hours searching for just one of the four million feral hogs roaming Texas. If we were in Rhode Island, it'd be a lot easier. Frankly, it's quite amazing that you can wander around for three hours without seeing another human being.
By the way, while Alan and I are out chasing pork, Mary and Mary are running down to the big sale at Owl's and visiting some of the chic malls in Gonzales County. Alan and I are the only ones coming home day after day with nothing to show.
The highlight of the day was dinner. Feral hog chili. My sister-in-law makes a great chili, which is even better with ground feral hog. Their freezer is stocked with pork chops and ground meat, but it is not advisable to make sausage or jerky from feral hogs as they often carry brucellosis and parasites. You have to cook the meat thoroughly for it to be safe. Domestic hogs raised on farm factories are fed tetracycline and other antibiotics in order to kill these maladies before slaughter.
Another highlight, perhaps lowlight: One of dogs, Rosie, decided to partake in my tumbler of Bailey's while I took a quick shower. She cleaned the glass and was so proud of herself. Of course, twenty minutes later, she was swaying from side to side and we all saw what was coming from the dining room table. I've seen this look before. It's the "I've had way too much to drink and I'm going to throw up" look. Though I can't say I've ever seen it on a dog, it's the same look.
Mary and Alan jumped up to let Rosie out the front door. Too late.
Well, tomorrow is our last shot at taking a feral hog. If we don't accomplish that, I've still got plenty of footage to produce a show about the menaces ranchers face; from the runaway population growth of feral hogs to other long standing threats, such as coyotes and mountain lions.
However, I did see a feral hog this afternoon. Judy, the Feral Hog, is a pet pig weighing in around 700 pounds. Her owner, Dale, raised her from a piglet and taught her a number of interesting tricks and behaviors. She rings a bell to get a treat, turns around in a circle, sits like a dog, and opens wide when Dale offers her a drink of Dr. Pepper. I captured all of this on video and, if we don't hunt down a wild feral hog, Judy may be the only hog you're going to see on this TV show.
We scouted a neighbor's ranch in preparation for our morning hunt. That didn't leave us enough time before dark to do any hunting, but that's only because we're counting on the sun to light the video. Alan has a night vision scope on his .308 that allows him to see in virtual blackness. A blank screen for half an hour on TV not being the most thrilling quality time, we've opted for hunting two to three hours after the break of dawn and before the end of dusk. The other option was a $4,000 night vision attachment for the video camera but, of course, that was not really ever an option.
Here's to tomorrow's hunt. It should be around 35 degrees when we get out there. Heckuva vacation, wouldn't you say?
We saw no hogs. We did see a couple of deer, but Alan doesn't hunt deer. Deer are no threat to his livestock and ranching operations. Hogs, on the other hand, tear up hay fields, rendering them too dangerous to drive a tractor over, and they will on occasion kill sheep. Coyotes are also a threat to cattle and are unwelcomed guests on any active ranch. Newborn calves are easy prey for coyotes and they don't hesitate to take advantage.
We met my cousins Cathy and Suzanne and Uncle Wilmouth for lunch in Cuero. Half the crew ordered chicken fried steak and other half Mexican plates. If you have never had chicken fried steak, change that.
The evening hunt was again uneventful. Back to it in the morning.
In the afternoon, we drove to Gonzales to pick up a pair of Wrangler camouflage "quiet" pants. I also bought a couple of cases of clay pigeons to entertain the kids back at the ranch. Our daughter and son, Sarah and Dan, came down from Dallas with grandson, Timothy. My nephew and niece, Pat and Angie, and their spouses also joined us. We knocked a few clays out of the sky with my 12-gauge trap gun and put a few holes in a silhouette target with a variety of revolvers and pistols. Good, safe fun without the aid of a video game console.
The evening hunt, though not nearly as noisy, was equally uneventful. The pigs are safe until tomorrow.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Our first potential encounter with feral hogs will be tomorrow morning. My brother, Alan, has his .308 readied with a night vision scope and I've got the Canon XL-1S loaded with Sony DV tape. If we're lucky, we'll capture the thrill of the hunt along with a back story as to why these wild pigs need to be controlled.
With the dial-up connection here at the ranch, I'm feeling a lot like Frank Pannorfi, technology-wise, so I'll have to wait to post photos until we're on our way home. I did take several more El Paso scenic shots before we left, which give you an idea of how large and polluted this city has become. It makes L.A. look healthy.
See you tomorrow...
Saturday, October 25, 2008
She lives in a facility that specializes in the care of Alzheimer's patients. They had to move her to the "lock down" area about a year ago after she started wandering and was found out in the parking lot. Wandering is a milestone on the timeline of this disease; obviously not a good one.
My brother (Dale), my sister-in-law (Sallie) and my niece (Laura) live in El Paso and give a great deal of their time caring for Mom. It is a tough job and extremely frustrating because of Alzheimer's progressive nature. There is simply no way to thank Dale, Sallie and Laura enough.
There are ups and downs, of course. Periods of lucence. Periods of nonrecognition. Today, I was kidding with her and she laughed--like I remember her laughing. That was worth the trip. A minute later she was in a blank stare and then fell asleep. And so it goes...
We also spent some time with the grandkids. They sported their Halloween costumes for us.
Finally, here are a few shots of the mountains and desert city of El Paso, Texas.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
The trip bore some interesting tidbits:
- Passing through Trent, Texas, we noticed a nicely appointed football stadium (not unusual in Texas by any means) and did a double take at the mascot, a gorilla. That is pretty unusual, in my book, as I don't recall ever hearing of another team nicknamed the Gorillas. My first thought was this is a team that must have shed a politically incorrect name, like the Indians, Redskins, Chiefs, etc., in favor of something less offensive, but my research indicates that this has been a longstanding moniker. It's a town of 318 people with a school population of just under 200. (A lot of the kids come from the neighboring farms in the county.) They play 6-man football, fielded from a squad of 12.
- In the same area along Interstate 20 is the town of Sweetwater, which has become the center of Texas' renewable energy industry. Mary and I measured nearly 40 miles of windmills on both sides of the freeway. Forty miles! There were literally thousands of units, a large part of the 4,300 megawatts of wind energy currently installed in Texas. An additional 17,000 megawatts worth of projects have been identified and will be developed as transmission lines become available in the wind rich areas. Of course, this is Texas, and in the foreground against all of those windmills are pumping units extracting oil from the Permian Basin. All energy, all the time. Check out this 20-second video that I shot a couple of years ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vcmcD2Pa_w
- Another interesting aspect of this cross-Texas trip is the 80 mph speed limit west of Midland. The 300 miles from Midland to El Paso go pretty fast at 85. (Hey, it's less than 10% above the limit.) By the way, the car is still doing fine. The poll today sits at 10 votes in favor of the car making the trip without a breakdown, and none who have predicted a failure.
Pictured above: Chris and Celina; Nana Mary and Troy; Trinity and Chris; Gayle and her wonder dog, Nikki.
I added a few pictures to yesterday's post, as promised, showing a few of Ft. Worth Stockyards highlights and one of Mary and Bryan.
Check back tomorrow...
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
He chauffeured our tour of downtown Ft. Worth and TCU (Texas Christian University), pointed the way to the Colonial Country Club (home of the PGA Colonial Golf Tournament), and showed us the unbelievable amount of development and redevelopment going on in the city. It turns out that Ft. Worth sits right on top of the Barnett Shale natural gas deposit, the largest formation in Texas and possibly the entire country. The influx of money from taxes and royalties is driving this economic boom and revitalizing the once quiet and laid back Cowtown.
We spent a few hours at the Ft. Worth Stockyards, visiting the Cowboy Hall of Fame and many shops, and then watched some cowboys herding a dozen or so long horned steer down the street. Lunch was barbecued brisket sandwiches and dinner was a real treat; the best open flame grilled tenderloin steaks you'll ever sink your teeth into. http://www.h3ranch.com/
Mary is now speaking Texan 24 hours a day. The "y'alls" are back and I'm being called "honey" and "sweetie" more than I can remember. All good, I declare.
Tomorrow, we're off to El Paso, a short 600 miles west of here. There we have three more grandkids, my middle brother, and my mom. Time to pack it in.