Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Does Delta Have U-Haul?

Buying an airline ticket after June 15 will cost you more if you check a bag. So far, only American Airlines is jacking the ticket price by $15 for every bag checked through to a final destination, but you know that's a trend that's going to catch on. Fortunately, I'm traveling sooner.
Really, though, I'm not the problem. I've spent two weeks in Asia with just a carry- on bag, and I absolutely refuse to check a bag since the important things like my baseball glove and running shoes, might get lost. I can imagine some baggage handler or TSA person saying, "Hey, those are some really stylin' green and orange shoes," and lifting them from my bag. Of course, there's always the possibility, too, that I'll forget to put them back on after going through security in a rush to get my belt back on before my pants fall down again. Anyway, I felt the necessity of explaining such things to my wife recently when she began packing for a Florida beach wedding coming up next week.
"It's on the beach...take some flip flops and a sundress, and you'll be fine," I said hopefully as we shopped for a suitcase larger than one a magician or a ventriloquist uses.
"I'm taking four shirts, two pair of shorts, one pair of dress pants, some flip flops...and my baseball glove and running shoes. You don't need much more than that," was my quip as I handed over the Kohl's card and found two men and a truck to take the newly-acquired luggage to the car.
All of this was, apparently, to no avail as the extra bedroom was soon bulging with a veritable Ann Taylor Loft full of acoutrement. True, we'll be in Florida for six days, but how much is there to do besides lie around the pool and drink fruity things(drinks, that is) with umbrellas in them? I do not plan to change clothes every day even, and I can always jump into the pool for a good rinsing off.
The lineup reads: 3 polo shirts, two Tommy Bahama shirts for the wedding/dinner,one pair of slacks, four pair of underwear, some socks (maybe), my iPod w/Jimmy Buffett loaded, and a pair of sandals and pajamas (actually, my boxers from two days ago). My simple packing tips should make it all fit nicely.
1. Roll EVERYTHING. it takes less space and prevents wrinkles (I learned this from an exchange student once).
2. Underwear and socks inside shoes. Thus, the number of each of those items depends on how big my shoes are. I'll actually wear one pair of socks on the plane since the TSA people hate it when I go sockless and they have to check my feet for exploding toenails. I'll probably wear underwear,too, just in case I get in an accident.
3. Heavy things on the bottom and lighter things on top. That means the baseball glove goes in first and my 1-qt bag with non-explosive liquids (SPF 5 million, waterproof sunscreen included)goes in last.
4. Dress for Wisconsin. This means I will have on a T-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt and a fleece for the trip. A supporter AND underwear mean less in the bag as well. No packing...of course, all of that might be a bit much when I get to Florida, but I'm not packing it. Coming back, I'll probably need all of it when I hit green Bay.
Additionally, I'll have my Swiss Army backpack (really! Wenger now makes backpacks) into which I can stuff everything else I'll need: iPod, nifty shades, computer, books and fifty pieces of my wife's undwerwear which she will insist on bringing...oh yeah, snacks, because airline food is, well, non-existent these days, and a small car with circus guys in it.
All in all, if you have to pack for a summer trip, follow thse packing suggestions, and you can thumb your nose at the airlines insisting you pay another fee for a packed bag in addition to the fuel surcharge, the ticketing fee, the take-off and landing fee, and the extra nickel to get out of the boat (oh, right, that was in Thailand. I'm lucky to have made it back from that excursion).
My only real problem is that we'll still have to wait for the caravan bringing the rest of my wife's stuff. To make the trip more exciting, and June 1 marks the beginning of hurricane season. Bon voyage!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Joe's Still With Us

As I get older and become beset with life-altering problems like enlarged prostates and erectile dysfunction and high cholesterol (all of this according to TV ads, mind you), I have to be careful about deciding which things in my world are worthy of attention. I awaken every morning and breathe a sigh of relief that I'm not looking up at the lid of a wooden box. Thus, my life and its expectations are rather simple most of the time. While I find this season's political reality show educational, I can find good things about all of the candidates and feel that we'll ultimately be better off this time next year than we are now. That's when Michelle Malkin gets into the picture, and I forget about ED an all the side effects of Levitra. I have no personal problem with Ms.Malkin, but I think she needs to get more of a perspective on some things. Take Dunkin' Donuts' recent ad featuring Rachel Ray.
It seems that DD has decided to enter the iced coffee market light years after everyone else has joined the fray. OK, I can accept that they're a bit slow to the game. Using a well-known food person like Rachel Ray was a smart move designed to entice "regular" people to buy the new product (not me, of course since caffeine and enlarged prostates don't mix). All was well, and I don't think Starbucks or McDonald's were especially concerned: not when my wife literally guzzles Starbucks' Mocha Frappacino (only mocha, not dark chocolate or any of the sissy flavors like strawberry) and millions of senior citizens crowd Mickey D's place every day. Still...there are clouds on the horizon...who could it be? could it be...TERRORISTS? (taking liberties with Dana Carvey's "Church Lady"). It seems that Malkin has decided the scarf worn by Ms. Ray in the commercial spot is a BIT TOO MUCH LIKE THE ONES TERRORISTS WEAR! She has made enough of a stink about the possibilities that Dunkin' Donuts decided to pull the spot off the air to quiet the approaching storm. Seriously, Rachel Ray supporting terrorists? Falafel, maybe, but weapon-wielding zealots? Check out the photo. Is this offensive to you? In a non-scientific poll taken by the Chicago Tribune today, approximately 12,000 votes were cast concerning the potential threat hinted at by the scarf, and fewer than 1,000 people found it to be offensive in any way. Of course, it was an online poll, and Malkin could have voted any number of times herself.
Seriously, though, this is nuts! I missed the "communist-behind-every-bush" rampage of Senator Joe McCarthy back in the 50s, but this smacks of a witch hunt to me. Soon, we'll all be picketing The Gap for selling scarves that "appear" to be terrorist-styled. Everything will be in camouflage pattern instead, and there will be a Mr. Black's Worst-Dressed Terrorist list (think "Zoolander" fashion). If she weren't so serious about it, I would think she's pulling our legs, but I doubt if Malkin ever laughs at anything.
Maybe the political season has run its course and has little left to offer (though I'll bet Scott McClellan will provide months' worth of material).
Maybe Ms. Malkin needs a PR boost and did not want to appear in public without underwear.(though a sure-fire hit, it's been done to death)
Maybe she own Starbucks stock!
Maybe I'll buy a scarf like that for every woman I know.
In the meantime, I have more important things to worry what's happening to Brett Favre's locker?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Oh, My Aching Corns!

There seems to be a general unrest over the higher cost of, well, everything these days. Other than gas prices and occasional articles about the increasing cost of flour, I really hadn't noticed. Starvation around the world seemed distant. Yesterday, though, the impact hit me (or more correctly didn't hit me) right in the mouth. I'm talking about the inflation in the cookie aisle.
Normally, I try to eat products with no high fructose corn syrup in them, but it has gotten harder and harder...even Roman Meal bread, a staple for years, contains high fructose corn syrup! However, yesterday, I was looking for snack-like stuff to take to school since my summer class met over the noon hour, and the old standard PBJ just didn't seem appropriate.
First, I checked out the fruit bars (generic fig newtons). I like figs, but the ones with fruit are good, too. Stunned, I continued to stare at the shelf and the $3.99 price tag. No way! I passed them by (being cheap) and decided to find something less healthy (cheaper). The usual $.99 Little Debbies were up to $1.39, an increase of roughly 40%! Oreos were priced at a ridiculous $3.49, and "back in the day, I could get two packages for $5.00. This was getting ridiculous, and I was getting more and more hungry. Disoriented, I wandered aimlessly through the aisles looking for the item that would satisfy my two basic needs: fill my stomach and be cheap. Needless to say, the only cheap thing in the store was me, and I left without making a purchase except for the garlic, carrots and watermelon (up a dollar since last week!)for which I'd come.
Did I consider all the starving people around the world? Sadly, no. Did I consider that missing a meal every day would not exactly cause my body to deteriorate? no. I was determined to fulfill this whim, and when I could not do so, it was dispiriting, to say the least.
So, what did I have for lunch at school today? Peanut butter and jelly with a few carrots.
Either I need to stop shopping for food, or I have to modify my ideas about eating. For the time being, I'm blaming everything on the price of gas since farmers are growing too much damn corn for ethanol and not enough wheat (also resulting in food shortages around the world). It will be an ongoing struggle to avoid high fructose corn syrup, though, just as it will be difficult to avoid the ethanol in the gas I buy. Corn is king.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Back To School Without Rodney

At this time last year, I was anticipating, somewhat eagerly I'll admit, the end of another school year, one that would be my last as an official public school teacher. New vistas would open, and I'd find out for sure if all that retirement talk about "six Saturdays and a Sunday" was real or just a cruel hoax perpetrated by unhappy retirees looking for someone to share their misery. Exactly one year later, I find myself sitting in a classroom for three hours today, remembering why I disliked summer school so much all those years.
Oh,I love learning, and the idea of going to school in the summer is hardly a new one for me or any other teacher. We do it all the time, in spite of all the wags who decry our "three-month vacation." Today, though, was just a bit much for a variety of reasons.
Of course, we got a break about two hours into the class, but the teacher then decided to stand right under the clock for the next hour. I'm not normally a clock-watcher, but it was awfully hard to ignore the thing RIGHT ABOVER HER HEAD!
The inevitable personal introductions were featured, and I'm not generally much of a self-discloser at such times since I don't know these people, and there is little chance we'll ever be close friends. However, I was the last one to introduce myself, and after hearing everyone discuss his or her upcoming student teaching assignments, I could not resist saying, "Hi, I'm Darrell, and I finished my student teaching in the spring of 1972." Needless to say, that raised a few eyebrows, though it could have been worse. I could have said that I was just there to learn something and not to get credit for it. I am, in fact, auditing a class on teaching reading in the content area in preparation for my continuing work with student-athletes. There was one moment, though, that left even me feeling a lot older than I usually do.
The instructor had placed the following on an overhead: "There is a bear in a plain brown wrapper doing flip flops on 78 with a camera handing out green stamps." When the instructor asked us to decode (a word they all seem to use) the message, I was the only one to raise a hand since I'd already read the text and had seen the example. When no "real" student volunteered a guess, the instructor said, "I'll give you a clue. It has to do with CB radios." Here's the amazing part: NOBODY UNDERSTOOD WHAT SHE WAS TALKING ABOUT BECAUSE NOBODY KNEW WHAT A CB RADIO WAS!!!! After the awkward pause, I mentioned the obvious: that everyone was too young to have heard of a citizen's band radio. When I mentioned the movie "Smokey and the Bandit," one person figured that the "bear" was a policeman (10-4 good buddy), then (being bright, would-be teachers) the crowd caught on and decoded (now I'm using it)the message.
I was left dumbstruck...not that they didn't know about that era, but that I knew about eras LONG BEFORE the CB age! It was enough to make me look for some "Just For Men" or drop a reference to something more current, like Woodstock.
All in all, it was enough to make me want to take a nap, and I would have, too, except there was homework, on the first day, no less! My head is already full: TMI!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Corpus Infanti

A few years ago, we visited some friends who had retired to a village in the Mexican mountains: no jet skis, no parasailing, no mai tais by the pool; in short, not a tourista-type place. While we were there, the local populace had a celebration called "Dia de Los Locos" (the Day of the Crazy Ones). It was great fun, lasted all day and into the night, and a good time was had by all. One of our friends noted that this was the reason he thought many Mexicans were poor: they had a festival every couple of weeks and spent all their money in that fashion. Maybe so, but it WAS fun. Every time I see a story about a festival somewhere, I think of the great people in San Miguel de Allende.
Many such festivals had religious origins, of course, whether to ensure a good crop or sufficient rain or fertility of another kind or seeking forgiveness for get the idea. However, I think the people in Castrillo de Murcia, Spain, have gone off the charts just a bit; more research is needed on this one, but I want to be the first to break the news (after the BBC, of course!)
This past Sunday was the celebration of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ) in the Catholic Church. Normally, there's a procession of the faithful and general adoration of God. Some are more elaborate than others, but I have never seen anyone jumping over babies. Yes, you read that correctly. As you have already seen in the accompanying photo, to celebrate Corpus Christi in this village in Spain, grownups dressed as "Colacho" (the devil) leap over groups of babies who are lying about on mattresses attempting to look casual and unafraid in an attempt to ward off said evil being. Of course, it's not Evel or Robbie Knieval jumping 24 trucks or fountains at Caesar's Palace, but these are real babies, and a miss would be mnore than embarrassing! You're probably thinking it's just a tourist-type thing...maybe so, but it's been going on since 1620! That means that initially, nobody wore Air Jordans for the leap, and there HAD to be more babies over which one must leap...a recipe for disaster if ever there was one! And is your baby safer from the devil if he or she is at the beginning of the pile or at the end when the jumper is tired? I know I'd be asking myself that particular question if Darrell Jr was in the aggregate.
Really, how superstitious (or faith-filled) must a parent be in order to have somebody attempt a flying leap over a pile of babies? My guess is that the jumpers were not exactly sober at the time, either, due to the hideous influence of El Diablo. And why hasn't Spain had an Olympic champion long-jumper? Must we consider a policy in Spain of ZPG? There are definitely mysteries here which bear investigation.
For the time being, however, all babies are safe though some were reported to have messy diapers after the festivities.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Go To the Woods With the Bears!

It all started with a somewhat frantic phone call.
"Oh my God! There's green mold ALL OVER THE HOUSE! IT'S EVERYWHERE, AND I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO DO!" Sitting at my desk at work, there was certainly nothing I could do at the time, but I envisioned a green mass overtaking the house and slowly encroaching on the neighbors' places like molten lava until an atomic bomb would be the only resource left capable of stopping the alien growth. I could see Joel/Mike and the 'bots from MST3K viewing the whole thing and cracking wise about the destruction of the "desirable Red Smith" neighborhood.
For a fleeting moment, I thought that perhaps we'd have to torch the place and begin again, rebuilding like Solomon's temple (though that was rebuilt more than a few times throughout history). I was somewhat relieved that an emergency call had been put through to Dave, the guy who built the house...not that he had any responsibility after four years, but he was apparently the only troubleshooter on speed dial (yes, we have new cell phones).
I rushed somewhat anxiously home to survey the disaster scene but was somewhat disappointed: the place was still standing, and the offending spots were visible from a distance of three feet. True, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of them adorning the south side of our house, and they WERE green, but I failed to see any imminent danger. Armed with a stiff brush and a bucket of bleach/soap and water, I managed to clear part of the offending material...I was satisfied to wait for the rest until it was deemed that my efforts would be successful though I must admit that i checked myself carefully to see if I was beginning to sprout spores.
Dave showed up the next day and informed me that the offending material was nothing more than insect detrius..."poop" if you prefer. It appears that spiders eat flies and crap out waste product. ON MY SIDING! PROBABLY IN BROAD DAYLIGHT! The sheer volume of it made me wonder whether we were due for a spider invasion or whether the fly population had just been decimated. Spider poop, indeed! On closer examination, I even noticed little signs, evidently marking the males from the female "bathrooms" and little flecks of what appeared to be spider toilet paper.
Determined not to let this affront to human decency go unpunished, I borrowed a neighbor's power washer and blasted the remaining residue into the flower beds for fertilizer. Whew! Disaster averted...and a few positives as well:

1. Joe, my neighbor's 4-yr.-old, got to say the word "poop" a few times.
"Ooh, spider poop. EEEWWW!"
"Can I see the spider poop?"
"My mom won't let me poop outside." This comment drew an exasperated look from his mother, but she said nothing, realizing that this was "guy talk." After all, they go camping and boating all the time, and there's NO WAY this kid hasn't been "exposed" to guy elimination habits.

2. I discovered a lot of dirt hiding in the soffits of my house which allowed me to use the power washer for another 20 was fun!

3. I discovered that spiders poop blue stuff. How? It turned green on my yellow siding. Must have been blue bottle flies.

4. A person who spends a couple of hours cleaning spider crap (visible from three feet away)off his siding really has to find a hobby of some kind.

What's next? I'm thinking of residing the house to see whether spider poop is a different color on something darker. Well, it's a hobby.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"It's Their Idea of...Fun"

If you've ever seen "Fearless Vampire Killers" (Sharon Tate's last movie before...Chuckles Manson, and Roman Polanski's last movie before he made a hasty retreat from this country to avoid child enticement charges), the title makes no sense. In that case, stop reading this right now and go to the nearest Blockbuster or wherever you rent movies and get this one. It's hilarious.
Anyway, you know how parents are always trying to convince kids that certain chores are really fun and not just work? Kids, if they're young enough, sometimes fall for that trick, but most of us sooner than later realize we've been had and come up with a plethora of reasons why we cannot complete said task...most of us. My buddy Mike is the exception to the standard. He is totally serious about making every chore a game, a challenge or some kind of fun. He's got younger kids, so I understand, but HE DOES THIS WHEN HE'S ALONE, TOO! Today's installment might be the most head-shaking example yet.
The conversation began simply enough with him describing how he gets his kids to do chores much like his dad convinced him: it could be fun. I was munching on the sausage pizza, nodding in agreement...until he got to the lawn mowing example, See, he times himself with a stopwatch every time he mows his lawn...and more. He purposely does not use the self-propelled function on his mower so he can get a better workout. He does not bag the grass because it would slow him down, and he doesn't get too close to the swing set legs, etc. because that,too, takes away from his finish time. Crazy? Not by a long shot: he also records his time every week and has a written copy of all his past finishes! He has a personal record and is actually disappointed if he's more than a minute off his best time.
By this point in the story, I've coughed up three chunks of sausage that I've begun to choke on while laughing hysterically at his story...AND HE IS COMPLETELY SERIOUS! He sees nothing odd about his behavior and insists that this is normal! I mean, I can usually tell how long it will take to mow the lawn, but I don't have a PR, and I certainly don't keep a written record of my accomplishments in that area. Mike just shook his head in wonder that I would find his story in any way out of the soda was coming out of my nose, and I had to get up and grab more napkins; it was not the onions that brought tears to my eyes, either.
Just to check, I asked him if he had experimented with different mowing patterns in case one way might be faster; to which he replied with a detailed outline of his yard (on a napkin) illustrating how his method was absolutely the fastest possible way. I persisted, "Well, did you ever, at least, mow in the opposite direction to alleviate boredom and keep the grass from permanently bending in one direction?"
"Boredom?" was his response. "I'm never bored mowing the lawn because I have the stopwatch to keep me going." He also proudly professed to have the shortest lawn in town and the lawn that went brown the fastest in his neighborhood.
In the interest of fairness, I subsequently asked a few people about their lawn-mowing habits; not one even had any idea of the fastest time ever (though many knew approximately how long it took), and a majority of them responded very quickly with, "Uh, I've gotta get going now."
And my wife calls me crazy for swearing at dandelions as I dig them up and toss them unceremoniously to the curb! Now, THAT'S fun!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My Summer's Planned Around Tunes

My pal Bill called me last week to let me in on the fact that the band in which he plays will be opening for Buckwheat Zydeco in a couple of weeks: backstage passes were implied, but only after I told him that I'd be out of the state on the play date. Otherwise, I'd be there extra early just to stand for three hours in front of the stage. "Big Mouth & the Power Tool Horns" is a fun, funky mix of musicians, but I can see them locally many times: Buckwheat Zydeco, on the other hand, would have been a twice-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In spite of that disappointment, you'll be happy to know that the "Summer of Reunion Band Tours" is upon us. Bands like Motley Crue, Yes and The Police (who I saw last summer at Wrigley Field) are out in force. If you're a 70's fan, you have the opportunity to catch Journey, Heart and Cheap Trick.
The B-52's and The Black Crowes have new albums (digital, of course) out, so they'll be hitting the road. Packaged tours are getting popular: The Regeneration Tour (or Geritol Tour, if you prefer) features The Human League, Belinda Carlisle, ABC and Dead or Alive...I mean, I have 45's of those people!
The ultimate display of chutzpah (I hope I spelled that correctly) has to be the reunion tour for ...ready? The New Kids on the Block! I mean, after all, they are NOT new, and they are definitely NOT kids anymore; however, I can see the 25-yr-old ex-teenyboppers scream every time one of the "kids" gyrates and gives some sweet dance move, prior to pulling a hammy. Face it, nobody is going to be screaming at a Yes concert...getting stoned, sure, but screaming? no way. And people will probably go the CrueFest just to see if Pamela Anderson shows up (if she has not been kidnapped by Borat). So, the musical palette is especially colorful this summer, but there are some bands that I would like to see even more than those already mentioned.

It would be great to see The Beatles play again.
A Country Outlaws tour would be fun...but only if Jerry Jeff Walker was involved.
I would definitely pay to see The Clash, The Romantics and Buddy Holly & the Crickets.
In a heartbeat I would drive to see Toots & the Maytals, Peter Tosh and Bob Marley in the "Legalize It" Tour.

However, since gas is rapidly approaching $4.00 a gallon, my plans are to catch Big Mouth & The Power Tool Horns every other weekend and shout ridiculous things at the stage like "Tear the roof off the sucka!" or "She's a Brick House!"
Soon, the band won't even advertise where they're playing in fear that I'll show up.
Rock on this summer!

Monday, May 19, 2008

$10,000 Poorer

How many times has this happened to you? Something incredible happens, yet there is nobody around with a video camera to record it for posterity? I mean, I've seen video taken of airplanes falling out of the sky or bridges collapsing and wonder, "Why would anybody train a video camera on a plane or a bridge for days on end just in hopes of getting the catastrophic shot?" Even if I had a camera phone at the ready (which I do not), by the time I snapped the photo, the big event would be over. I tried to film shooting stars once, but I fell asleep waiting for something to happen. To date, my only prescient photo had to do with standing eggs on end during the vernal equinox...really, eggs WILL stand on end during that 24-hour period. I think it works on the autunmal equinox, too, but I have no corroborating photos. Anyway, all I have to show for today's "missing camera moment" is a sore eye courtesy of a woman who takes her name from the word "ruthless."
I understand that "Ruth" is a Biblical name meaning "compassionate friend," but I have to call that into question after she assaulted me today. Actually, it's a bit embarrassing to talk about since I'm probably a foot taller and outweigh the woman by 100 pounds or so, but still, I'm the one who'll have the shiner tomorrow.
Actually, it was a Wile E. Coyote moment, and one that I have never seen or heard of prior to today. You know the old "step-on-the-rake-and-get-hit-in-the-eye" routine? Well, that's what happened to me today, except that I DIDN'T STEP ON THE RAKE!
It was all too impossible to believe: I was announcing at a track meet, and Ruth (not a made-up-for-the-sake-of-anonymity name, either) stepped over to look at a heat sheet to point out her grandson (yes, I got smacked by a grandmother) who was running in a later even. As she turned to walk away, I realized that I had some important business in that direction so I turned to follow. She stepped on a protruding rake tine, and I turned just in time to watch the rake handle hit me just below the looker (said implement was previously leaning against a wall, not lying on the ground, however).
I immediately begain to wail as if struck by, well, a rake handle in the face. Ruth hurried away as if to say she had no idea what had just happened while I had visions of being a pirate at Hallowe'en for the rest of my life. On the other hand, I wouldn't have to worry about that slightly lazy right eye anymore...I'd also have to buy contact lenses for only one eye, too. Just as I was making the best of everything, I uncovered my face and found that my eyeball was unaffected and I wasn't seriously injured (in spite of a massive concussion probably showing up tomorrow) even though my pride had taken a serious beating: nobody was rushing to my aid, and those not laughing hysterically were high-fiving Ruth for making their afternoon less cold and tedious.
Nobody got the video. No real witnesses agreed to back my story in court, and Ruth has become the stuff of legend in Algoma. Every time there's a track meet from now until forever, someone will no doubt say, "Hey, remember that time when the announcer got whacked by the woman who stepped on a rake?"
Well, it's SOME kind of fame, anyway.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Gotta Lose? Get Arrested in Alabama!

I must admit that since I've restructured my life and become somewhat more sedentary, I have added a few pounds...enough to necessitate some wardrobe adjustments. The time to exercise just slips away when I'm not in a gym 7 hours a day like I used to be. I know G-Man is trying to drop a few so he can fit into a Hawaiian shirt for his brother's wedding in a couple of weeks, and Joseph has stopped drining Powerade because of the high-fructose corn syrup (a sneaky fat builder hiding under the radar). Even my twice-a-year lunch buddy Dan has cut back on the soda and the fast food and is trying to eat more healthy (which makes for lunches in places where they have two forks and linen napkins at every place setting, though I'm not sure how many of those places exist in Green Bay...or even more important, wopuld they let us in?).
Anyway, I have a perfect suggestion for all of us: we need to get arrested in Alabama: nothing major, mind you, just enough to make the county crowbar hotel for a couple of weeks. It seems that the state of Alabama portions out $1.75 for each prisoner's food EVERY DAY (note: not every meal, even, every day!). Let me see, that would make a 3 Musketeers bar and a Diet Coke or something similar, without free refills on the soda...oops, which we are definitely NOT drinking anyway.
The standard was set in 1927 and allowed local constables the keep any money they did not spend on food for the cons. Well, I suppose in 1927 a sheriff could make some cash by careful manipulation of the food portions, but now? No way.
It's not surprising, of course, that complaints about the food are widespread: everything from powdered food to miniscule portions. But, hey, YOU'RE IN JAIL NOT AT THE MARRIOTT!
However, should I be arrested, I want to be in the hoosegow in Limestone, Alabama. Prisoners get three meals a day during the week and only two on the weekends. However, a typical day's menu looks like this:
BREAKFAST: 2 pancakes w/syrup, sausage and milk.
LUNCH: peanut butter sandwich (no jelly?), chips and Kool-Aid
DINNER: white beans, turnip greens (it IS in the South, after all), fried squash (see?), cornbread and sweet tea. Heck, the McDonald's in Green Bay just got sweet tea on the menu.
Not bad, but the Feds give every school district $2.47 to feed kids on free lunch. Imagine what they could do in Limestone with that kind of cabbage!
I have no doubt that we'd be dropping the pounds like we were starring in a liposuction commercial. I'll bet people are falling all over themselves getting arrested there instead of paying Jenny all that money to lose weight. And the real beauty? NO OPPORTUNITY TO SNACK!
All this food talk has made me hungry. I'm off for come Cheetos.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What's Not To Understand?

"It's a game I don't like to watch and people I don't understand." That was the big ol' bucket of cold water doused on me today by my buddy Joseph. He is a college coach and is intimately associated with almost every sport (unless one counts NASCAR as a sport). The "genius" Dan says that it can't be counted as a sport unless there's defense involved...I'll have to ask him if defensive driving counts. If it does, then maybe the pro drivers are involved in a sport in the same way that my wife is involved in a sport every time she rides with me. Anyway, Joseph was talking about football, specifically Green Bay Packers football when he made that comment.
In his defense, I will say that Joseph grew up in Jersey and spent most of his professional career in the South...hence, Packersmania is not part of his life fabric. He played football from age 5 until age 18 so he knows the game (though he did say that many people presume he doesn't like it because he doesn't understand it. He was particularly irked that more than a few women have made that comment to him)I knew this but wanted to share the news anyway.
"What news?" you may well ask. Our family won the lottery yesterday. No, not the million-dollar more important and life-changing. Both my wife and daughter were selected in the Brown County lottery for fans allowed to buy tickets to one Packers game this coming year. It's a complicated story involving taxes and county residents so I won't bother with the details. Each of the girls can now purchase four tickets at $60 each to a Packers game for the upcoming season. The lottery goes further since their names now get put into another lotto and get drawn with all the other winners to see which game they get to watch and where they get to sit (above row 60, for sure!).
Neither has ever been to a game, and I'm not certain just how excited they will be if they get a December game (where the cheese for the nachos will be rock-hard and the onions for the brats are frozen inside the container), but there are plenty of takers in the family. Me? I would like to get tickets to the Vikings or the Bears on the 50-yd. line: EBay, here I come! Of course, since I didn't win anything, that won't be an option.
But I would never say I did not understand Packers fans. I totally get that kind of reality since I see the faithful flock to Lambeau every summer to take the tour and bask in the aura that is the Packers. When asked if I'm a major fan, I usually reply very simply that I belong to a different church and let it go at that.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Happiness Is...Old Age?

According to Lennon and McCartney, happiness is a "warm gun." Jimmy Soul figured that in order to be happy, a man should never marry a pretty woman. Philosphers more erudite than rock 'n' roll performers ahve tried to find the secret to happiness for a very long time. (LSD wasn't the answer, either!) It turns out, in America at least, that happiness is accomplished by nothing more than growing old. While most of us have a somewhat negative perception of that process, Yang Yang, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, has just published his findings on happiness based on interviews of 28,000 people between the ages of 18 and 88 during the years 1972-2004.
His conclusions may be startling to some, but I think it makes some sense. He thinks older people are more happy because they tend to be more content with what they have, while younger people are still in that "gotta have it" mode. Not only were the older people more happy in Yang's study, they were also more socially active. Does that sound hard to believe? Not games and sedentary activities have sapped a lot from younger people. Why, back in MY day, we didn't have...oh, never mind.
You'd think that the aches and pains of getting older as well as the increasing loss of friends and loved ones would make older Americans more unhappy, but 'taint so. They just seem to be better at making adjustments to the fortunes of life because they realize that certain things are inevitable. No use crying over spilled prune juice.
Not at all startling is the statistic that mentions that young black people and the poor were less happy than white people and wealthy THAT didn't take years of interviewing to find out. However, if you are a stats nut, here are some for you:
33% of those interviewed at age 88 were happy.
24% of those interviewed between the ages of 18-25 claimed to be happy.

75% of those interviewed between the ages of 57-85 engaged in a social activity at least once a week.(Perhaps explaining the report last year of an alarming rate of increase in STD's at The Villages in Florida!)
Those in their 80's were twice as likely to engage in social activity than those in their 50's.

OK math geeks, figure this one out. Yang decided that the odds of being happy went up 5% every 10 years. Does this mean we'll NEVER be even halfway happy? What is the standard deviation, the mean, the median and the mode? Is there a degree of happiness that we are born with? (happiness is a dry diaper? Perhaps true for both young AND old!)

The most disturbing fact, for me at least, is that the baby boomers are the least happy, in part because we still believe that WE CAN HAVE IT ALL, AND WE DESERVE TO HAVE IT ALL! The sobering reality is that it will never happen even though we'll cling to the idea like pet hair on a black suit.

I think I have the real reason why older Americans are more happy: they have done it all and survived, as well as outlasting all those other peole who said they'd never make it to Medicare. There's a lot to be said for merely outlasting the competition.
I know I'm going to do my damndest to accomplish it just so I can say "Back in the day" over and over.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

"Do You Feel Lucky, Punk?"

uh...not so lucky

You've seen them hanging in the party section of almost every department store and card shop. They're especially popular now that there is an Hispanic contingent here in Green Bay. Perhaps making Sponge Bob into one is going a bit far...I'm partial to the donkeys and traditional shapes myself. Of course, I'm talking about pinatas: filled with candy and suspended from an overhanging branch, they make great fun for kids least until somebody gets whacked with the stick and a mother screams, "You could put an eye out!" Candy eventually spills out, and there's a bigger pileup than you'll ever see on WWE Smackdown!
As I say, I'm all for that kind of fun, except when I get to be the designated pinata and there's no stick but hundreds of paintball projectiles whizzing past my prone body. And, as you can see, I'm not nearly as quick getting out of the way as I used to be (dodging line drives as a Little League pitcher gave me lots of practice: "chuck and duck," that was me).
You would be quite within your rights to ask why in the world I was even in such a situation..."male bonding," would be my reply. Actually, I think it was a carefully crafted plot just to whack me, but I'll probably never know.
It seems that the men's hoops team with whom I work decided it was time at the end of a long semester to do some team bonding. Sitting around the campfire singing "Kumbaya" probably didn't make the cut, and sack races and trust falls were, no doubt, discounted as well...that left paintball. Mind you, I had never done this in my life, my actual gun experience being limited to shooting rabbits with a .22 as a kid and blowing up all sorts of electronic equipment (don't ask) with my buddy Karl during the halcyon days of the Hungry Man lunch and World Team Wiffle Ball.
Naturally, I was a little reluctant to join in when asked, but I do feel a bit of kinship with most of the guys...and I had been stressed out by the "end-of-the-semester-and-I-have-a-project-to-start-can-you-help-me-please" song and dance that had been occurring with more than a few of my academic charges (glad I never did that while in school)...face it: I needed to expend some energy, and my calf still hurt a little bit too much to run. was "Welcome to the Jungle" time with the coaching staff and the guys. It was an interesting afternoon: one from which I may recover any day now. Here are some things that I learned:

1. One has NO peripheral vision in the protective helmets. Seeing ahead is hard enough, and EVERYBODY looks alike with a mask on.
2. One can follow a paint shell from quite a distance, right up to the point where it smashes into the helmet for a close up view.
3. "Kentucky windage" isn't really necessary at 2,000psi.
4. Bruises don't go away all that quickly.
5. Getting a paint projectile in the "man zone" slows the game down person rolls on the ground attempting to get his breath back, and everybody else has to stop because they cannot shoot and laugh at the same time. This might have been to my advantage had I recovered any amount of O2 quickly, but the tears rolling out of my eyes smudged the inside of my helmet goggles, rendering poor vision hopeless.(No taking the helmet off to throw up,'s dangerous out there)
6. Bonding experiences really DO bond groups more firmly...even if just for the retelling of the stories of the pinata.
There was NO candy inside.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Skip TwoDaLoo, My Darling

The word "job" has never held the same connotation for me since Ray used it. I mean, we used to say things like, "I got jobbed" which meant that we were, somehow, a referre, let's say. Of course, there's the use everyone knows which connotes an occupation or task which needs to be accomplished. There are slang terms such as "that 6-cylinder job over there," or "It's time for the bank job" if one is the criminal type. A "jobber" is a wholesale merchant (as opposed to the Star Wars character: "Jobber the Gut." Anyway, you get the picture; when Ray used it, I lost all feeling for the word except, EEWWWW!
Ray Ciha was a custodial engineer in the school in which I worked. Colorful in expression, to say the least, Ray referred to a juke box as a "battering ram," insisting that the students would shove it through a wall. He had other unforgettable ones as well, but the classic was his (mis)use of "job." It seems that some miscreants had taken an article of clothing from another student and thrown it in the toilet, whereupon, according to Ray, "THEY DID A JOB ON IT!!" Thus, every time a scatalogical reference arises, I think of Ray. He's on my mind right now as I gaze at an ad in the latest issue of "Consumer Reports" for something called a (really, I'm not kidding!) TwoDaLoo. This piece of crap is a porcelain commode built so that two people can, uh, do a job, side by side. Seriously, I'm not #@^^**% you! The price alone (a steep $1400.00) is enough to make me pray to the porcelain gods, but the thought of actually going #2 in tandem? PUHLEEEZE!
Now, you may be flushed with excitement over this little space-saver (after all, you have two sinks in the bathroom), but not I...thee are these little cartoons running around in my head from Itchy and Scratchy, Ren and Stimpy or Beavis & Butthead which just don't make this idea worth considering. Lest I be too indelicate, let me remind you of two very critical points: noise and, uh, odor. Maybe worst of all, the receptacles are side by side, and each person faces the other. There's just no way I could do that, in spite of the optional TV and iPod docking station.
I can just imagine being PO'ed as you fight over the toilet paper or which section of the magazine each person wanted. Of course, on the other hand, I'd have help if I got stuck on a clue for the crossword puzzle or wanted to share a recipe I'd just found in "Real Simple."
So, if the idea of a double-barrelled potty bowls you over, go to and check it out.
Me? I think I'll try to hold off for awhile.

Monday, May 05, 2008

What U.S. Grant Can Teach You

In 2007, 3.1 million children read 78.5 million books, according to the Renaissance Learning web site. In a recent report, the company released information concerning the reading habits of children throughout the United States; While the report is longer than your average 3rd-grade book (56 pages), it does list some interesting and potentially startling results.
In order to monitor the reading habits of America's children, Renaissance Accelerated Reader software is installed in more than 63,000 schools nationwide. (yes, it is a for-profit organization so you can adjust your belief in what it reports accordingly). Children take surveys following completion of a book, and the tomes are measured for word and sentence length to gauge suitability. I'm not going to give them any more publicity (unless they pay me) so on with some results.
As one might expect, the average 7th grader last year read 7.1 books. In contrast, the average 12th grader read a mere 4.5 books. This is where I start to get steamed. Why do younger children read and older ones do not? Internet? MTV? Internet porn? real sex? Have they become so inured to reading by being "forced" to read that, when given the opportunity, they choose not to do so? Are their lives so much more active that they simply do not have enough time to read? U.S. Grant led the Union troops during the Civil War and was later elected President of the U.S. and HE found time to read AT LEAST 50 PAGES A DAY! This fact is all the more astounding since J.K Rowling had not been born and comic books...oops...graphic novels had not been invented (the first comic book was almost 100 years in the future), "American Idol" was still "American Idle," and nobody had a car, a moped or a skateboard, either. Running a war and/or a country was probably a fairly busy job. Still, he found the time.
Anyhow, here's a list of the favorite books by grade level. The study broke it down by gender and section of the country as well, and if you want to wade through all 56 pages, you can find that out for yourself...since YOU still read!

1st grade favorite: "Green Eggs and Ham"
2nd grade favorite: "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie." ??
3rd grade favorite: "Charlotte's Web" (I saw the movie)
4th grade favorite: "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" (I could have written that most of the way through school!)
5th grade favorite: "Bridge to Terabithia" something about kids and a magical kingdom. Fantasy is OK at this level, I think.
6th grade favorite: "Hatchett" (a boy stranded in the wilderness...pretty good!)
7th-8th grade favorite: "The Outsiders" (Do teachers still require this book? I know we did at one time at my school) "Speak" is a much better choice for this age group, I think.
9th-12th grade favorite: "To Kill A Mockingbird" (I suspect this one is a required text as well, but a super good read) One comment about this book is that it really teaches readers that life is NOT a fairy tale, and there are definitely bad people out there. Still, it's no "Catcher in the Rye" for my money.

As a side note, #5 on the high school list was "A Child Called It" by Dave Pelzer, a story of serious child abuse and far too shocking for some people though I recommend it heartily.

The Harry Potter books made the top 20 usually, but it was interesting to see that none of them topped the charts. However, their influence on readers was immense, in spite of Dumbledore being outed eventually. They got kids to read, and that's what it's all about. My grandson loves The Boxcar Children series as a first-grader (no crappy breakfast food books for him!), and I feel certain that he will carry that love of reading with him all his life. Kudos to his parents who read to him every single day of his life until he could read for himself (he's a genius, you know)and continue to find interesting things for him to read.
Come on, people, if Ulysses S. Grant can do it, we can, too. I'm reaching for a Doc Savage adventure even as I write. Sleep? As Warren Zevon said, "I'll sleep when I'm dead."
Of course, he's currently experiencing the "Big Sleep" (look this reference up).
Don't go to the movies this week to see "Iron Man." READ IT!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

E.T. Txt Hm

It was just a matter of time. Even though I'm increasing my brain power using that...uh...oh yeah, Nintendo DS with brain stimulating games, I keep lagging behind in the race with technology. I generally feel like I'm in touch with the world, but lately, I don't think I am. Communication methods are the current examples of my slippage.
I just downloaded Skype and got a video conferencing camera so I can "see" the people with whom I'm conversing on the phone. I was actually proud of myself for getting it to work (even though it's pretty much idiot-proof). I have contacts saved in my basic cell phone, and I have phones in my office and at home. I am hooked up online and utilize email several times a day. The problem is mostly that it seems that I'm the only one who uses these forms anymore. It's all about text messaging now.
Take my students, for example, please! (Old, tired joke that shows how out of it I really am). Anyway, I send them emails all the time and very seldom get a response in any kind of timely manner. The other day, as an experiment, I tried a text message...and got an almost immediate response. This caused me some dismay for several reasons.
1. My basic phone isn't really equipped to handle a high volume of text message...mostly because I'm cheap and have a pay-as-I-go-and-hope-not-to-get-any-calls plan.
2. My fingers are a bit too fat to work the touchpad on my phone, which also contains at least two letters per button, causing me to send indecipherable messages when I forget to read them over.
3. This means that I am going to have to upgrade to a "regular people" cell phone and a service contract...and me on a fixed income!
It's just another way the man gets me down.
And, of course, by the time I figure out how to use a smartphone or qwerty keyboard, everybody else will be sending messages through brain power alone...and then, I'll be totally screwed.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Being Popular: A New Experience

It's not that I've never been's just that the circumstances were always a bit suspect. All the kids in the neighborhood were the same age as my older brother Fred so,naturally, I got excluded from those gatherings. Following Fred through grade school didn't help, either, since all I heard was, "Why can't you be more like Fred?" The fact was, I would have loved to be more like him: he was popular; he had places to go and people to go there with. But it was not to be. Thus, I played a lot of catch with God and a football: I'd kick it up, and He'd throw it back to me, though He wasn't always as accurate as I wanted Him to be. Retrieving a ball from the neighbor's garden and blaming the errant flight on The Divine Power just didn't sit well with the members of the religious right who lived around us. Oh, sure, the city librarians liked me; they kept MY book, Lank of the Little League out on the desk so that every week when I came to check it out, I wouldn't have to go back into the stacks looking for it. Oh yeah, and our family dog liked me: he used to frantically chase me around all day trying to get the steak that Mom had tied to my ankle. So, it wasn't like I was totally ALONE. I mean, we even had a radio I could listen to. Now that I've become the object of desire, it's a heady experience: they all want me, and it's just because of the ESP I happen to possess. I knew it would happen, of course, but it's still nice.
Three days ago, the offers started to trickle in, and soon, I know (because of my ESP) that the trickle will soon become a torrent.
Wal-Mart, you see, has agreed to cash my Economic Stimulus Plan check for FREE! They are willing to forego their customary $3.00 charge for cashing checks if I will agree to bring my ceck from the Federal Government to their business in order to turn it into actual money. Always the low price leader!
Soon, Round's Food Corp followed suit with an even sweeter deal: if I bring my check to their establishment, they will give me a $330.00 food card for $300.00! "Definitely food for thought," I mused.Is that a sign of my burgeoning popularity or what? I mean 10% just for being their friend...I could not believe it could get any better...until it did. Today, my new friends at Circuit City offered to take 15% off my purchase if I'd bring in my ESP check.
Now, of course, I am hesitating while waiting for more new BFF to come out of the woodwork saying that, really, they've always liked me better than Fred, and they're willing to use money to prove it.
If only my FaceBook page contained so many friends. Tom is actually somewhat boring.