Thursday, December 31, 2009

Harmonic Happiness

I have always enjoyed music from as far back as I can remember. I enjoy many different styles of music: rock, southern gospel, country (especially the older stuff), classical, blues. With very few exceptions, the one thing that ties my love of the genres together is the role of the guitar. The guitar is not just a beautiful, expressive, and versatile instrument. For me, the guitar is the primary element that makes a musician look cool and makes a song sound cool. It doesn't matter whether it's Marty Robbins falling in love with a Mexican girl, Stevie Ray Vaughan walking a tightrope, or the Everly Brothers trying to wake a girl at 4 AM (some 25 or 6 minutes after Chicago was searching for something to say), there would be a serious void without those strummed strings in the mix.

I have had a guitar around the house since I was about 13. My Dad would hang with his friends and sing old country and western songs. My Dad has even written a few songs over the years. It amazed me to watch my Dad strum those chords and sing songs like "Long Black Veil" or "Because He Lives". I, on the other hand, would sit in my room and struggle with that open C chord. One day, I finally got that chord to ring clear with no thudded notes. I then learned G, F (that was a toughie), D, E, A, and even a couple of minor chords. Some time after, I was not only playing along with my Dad, I was learning songs by Paul Simon, Bob Seger, and the Everly Brothers. I would even, on occasion, plug in, crank my amplifier, and bang out some power chords. In my mind, I was the next Paul Stanley. In reality, it only resulted in the windows vibrating and the neighbor's dog contemplating suicide.

I am now into my forties. My 70 watt amp is gone as well as the Les Paul I got at 17 (it was stolen 2 years later). I still have a very beat up late 1930's Gibson L-00 acoustic that my father gave me. Unfortunately, due to a nasty case of tendinitis (especially in my left hand) and the guitar's very wide neck, it is very difficult to play for more than 10 minutes at a time before the pain gets too bad to play. As a result, I am very out of practice and my older son is a better player than I was at his age. Nonetheless, I still pick up that old guitar and I start playing the chords to "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground". I never get tired of that song or playing those chords. Still, it does get heartbreaking sometimes that I can't play it for hours as I did when I was younger. I am sure, at some point, I will invest in another guitar that is a bit friendlier to my wrists. In the meantime, I just grin and bear it as I struggle with that nasty B7 chord.

This past Christmas, I got some really nice gifts. I got some rubber ducks to add to my collection. I got some DVDs of "30 Rock" (I love that show). In addition to these, I got a really cool gift from my older daughter. She got me a set of harmonicas in 7 keys. She told me that this would allow me to play something that would not be so hard on my wrists. As a result, I have been scouring the Internet for online lessons and tabs. So far, I have been practicing songs like "Love Me Do" and "Amazing Grace". Maybe over time, I can learn the harmonica part for "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground". At this point, however, I could have sworn I saw one of my cats updating his will.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Building the Bubble

More often than not, when I write for my blog, the hardest part is putting myself in front of my laptop computer and opening the word processor. Usually once I get started, the words start to flow pretty well. I become incredibly focused and tune out the world around me. It is really a great place to be. It is just me and the work. As each word transfers from my mind to my fingers to the keyboard to the page, a wall begins to form around me. I become encased inside a great big bubble.

Sadly however, a bubble is not an impregnable fortress. A bubble is actually a very fragile barrier. It takes just the softest projectile and POOF; it is gone. Many a time, I have told my family that I am about to write. They allow me to get started. They are even kind enough to let me get my bubble formed. You can almost see the rainbow colors shimmering all around the bubble as I type. I am in the groove. I am in the zone. I am in the bubble. The words are flowing in a feverish frenzy (in spite of the fact that I have been advised to avoid alliterations altogether). The keyboard and I are one. We are a powerful locomotive — The Literary Limited.

Without warning, a voice emanates from outside the bubble: “Daddy, what is the formula to determine that two consecutive integers equal to eighty-seven?” POOF! My mighty bubble is gone. I take a deep, cleansing breath. I try not to weep in front of my daughter as I mourn the loss of my precious bubble. “Are you OK, Daddy?” Yes, Baby Girl, I’m fine. Try x+(x+1). “Thanks, Daddy.” She kisses my cheek and leaves the room with her ponytail swinging like a pendulum.

I take another deep, cleansing breath. I read over what I have typed thus far. I attempt to get back aboard that train of thought known as The Literary Limited. I slowly peck out more words. Tap. Tap. Tap. With each word the wonderful bubble begins to form again. I am back at the breathless, breakneck pace (while continuing with alluring, alliterative phrases). The bubble is not only back; but it is bigger and better than before (Oops, there goes another one).

There is another unfortunate fact about a bubble. As it becomes larger, it also becomes more easily penetrated from a greater distance to its center. “Honey, I lost another 4 pounds today!” POOF! The bubble is penetrated with such force that I can almost feel the liquid on back of my neck. I take some more deep cleansing breaths. I am actually trying to avoid hyperventilating at this point. I look her into her eyes and state: That’s good news, Baby. You look great. “AWWWWWW!” After all, she means no harm. I am writing for pleasure at this point in my life. This is not the time to turn into Jack Torrance. Besides, she really DOES look great.

I close my eyes for a moment. I gather my thoughts. I look over the words again. Tap. Tap. Tap. I do my best to build the bubble once again. I must remember, however, that a bubble is a very delicate container. Its use is only meant to be temporary. It is great to be inside the bubble. But, I must also be thankful for the elements outside of the bubble. Without them, there would be no reason to write in the first place. Now, where was I? Tap. Tap. Tap.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Weak Scrod and Parachute Pants

There are some things in life that while being theoretically possible, their pursuit often seems to be an exercise in futility. You can only pursue them and hope for the best. The three best examples are: planning the next Buffalo Bills Super Bowl Party, explaining the plot of "Eyes Wide Shut", and getting a benefit from a warranty or insurance claim. I am going to explore the last of these items.

In April of 2008, I purchase a computer bundle which included the computer tower, a monitor, and a printer. In addition, I purchased an extended warranty. I purchased the extended warranty because, like the parachute pants I bought in 1984, it seemed like a great idea at the time. After all, this warranty was being backed by a reputable company which had gained a reputation for its customer service. In an effort to practice good taste, I will not mention the company by name. Let's put it this way, if you are in a seafood store, you don't want to get the weak scrod. In other businesses, it is probably best not to buy services from an agency that happens to rhyme with weak scrod.

We enjoyed our computer system greatly over the course of the coming months. Suddenly, without warning, the monitor gave up the ghost. It just stopped working. My wife called the company servicing our extending warranty. They told my wife that our monitor was covered under warranty until April 2010. That was really good news because it was the day before Thanksgiving. April 2010 gave us plenty of wiggle room to get our monitor repaired or replaced free of charge. My wife took the monitor to the store to return it. The man behind the counter then informed her that the monitor was not covered. Doing her best to maintain a cool head, my wife demanded to speak to the manager. The nice man (whose breath reeked of weak scrod) told my wife that when we purchased the warranty, it only covered the computer tower. Neither the monitor nor the printer was covered. My wife explained this to me on the telephone. I looked down and was sure that, for a minute there, I was wearing the parachute pants I bought in 1984. In the end, they wound up recycling our monitor and giving us a $10 gift card.

I shouldn't be surprised about this. Such things have happened many times throughout history. Scholars uncovered a record of an insurance claim. It appears that a man was looking to receive a benefit from Galilee Mutual Insurance. The man's claim asserted that while feeding his pigs, he dropped bag of pearls he was holding. The pigs began to eat the pearls and spit them out. The man was then severely hog cut. In addition, a wind storm blew in and destroyed the cages holding his sacrificial turtledoves. The turtledoves flew out and the man's dog ate them. Sadly, Galilee Mutual Insurance did not cover the man's claim. Galilee Mutual cited an exclusion in the policy: Matthew 7:6 – "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." They also stated that the cages for the turtledoves would not be replaced as the windstorm fell under the Acts of God exclusion.

Another historical account tells of a man in 1588 that purchased a sextant. The sextant came with a 30 day no questions asked money back guarantee. The man filed a claim to get money back to return the sextant and repair damages to his ship. However, the warranty clearly stated that the sextant (a Vespucci 1600 model) was best used in conjunction with a map and a compass. The man used the Vespucci 1600 by itself and misinterpreted the readings. His ship wound up sailing right in the middle of the Spanish Armada fleet. This accidental placement in battle caused severe damage to his ship. The warranty also stipulated that the sextant is ineffective in British territory. The reason for this is that a sextant is designed to be used at night and the sun never sets on the British Empire.

As anyone can see, history clearly stakes the deck against a successful claim. All we can do is to get everything and writing and read the fine print as they say (whoever THEY are). Otherwise, you may be caught with your parachute pants hanging down and smelling of weak scrod.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What a Wonderful Word

I have always enjoyed learning new words. Some of this is due to the fact that from as early as I could remember, my mother would advise me to "look it up". I'd grab the family dictionary. This great tome of reference was handy for increasing vocabulary and killing cockroaches. I think my parents figured I would either acquire a large vocabulary and become a great orator or develop huge biceps and play running back for the University of Georgia. Let's just say no one's ever confused me for Herschel Walker.

There are some words that I just find amusing. They are legitimate words with legitimate uses. Nonetheless, they sound funny to my ears. Some words even sound like you are deliberately trying to be funny when you use them. I have asked some close family and friends what words sound funny to them. I had no idea such a subject would result in sitting with my two sons; one holding a dictionary and the other holding a thesaurus. My older son even noted the irony that A-OK, alley-oop, and wassup are all in the dictionary but newb is not. I therefore present the following words with the reason why I find them amusing.

  • Annotate – This word came up because my daughter coincidentally called while my sons and I were involved in our vocabulary summit. The word simply means to provide explanatory notes on a subject. Still, I get the image of a 1970's medicine commercial: Having trouble remembering things? Talk to your doctor about Annotate. Write it down.
  • Behoove – This word simply means that something is potentially advantageous or beneficial. I hear this word and get one mental image: insect shoes. Would it behoove a bee to wear shoes? How can a bee be behooved?
  • Carafe – This word sounds funny to me because a carafe typically has a long neck. It is defined as "a bottle with a flaring lip used to hold beverages" (according to Merriam-Webster). I don't know what sounds funnier; the word or its definition.
  • Defenestrate – This means to throw someone out of a window. It sounds like a health condition. Mind you, one who has been defenestrated quickly acquires a health condition.
  • Guano – The word simply means bird droppings. I guess the scientific powers that be thought it would not sound offensive if they used a Spanish word. They were right. Now, it just sounds funny.
  • Juxtapose – Come on, now. Why not just say "side by side" and be done with it?
  • Ointment – Chicken pox is not funny. You should at least get a giggle trying to relive the itching. Salve just isn't funny enough.
  • Onomatopoeia – This is the use of words to represent a sound (The thunder crashed. The snake hissed). Go ahead. Say it to yourself. You just giggled didn't you.
  • Persnickety – This implies someone is fussy about minor details. If you don't find this word funny. I might suggest you are a persnickety, picayunish, fussbudget. Say THAT without a giggle.
  • Phlegm – I don't know why this word sounds so funny. It just does. It's not a shame to have phlegm. It's just a shame to share it.
  • Pomegranate – This is a tasty fruit. It brings the image of a magic trick. The magician made the rock disappear when he learned how to pomegranate.
  • Quiche – Real men don't eat it because they can't stop laughing.
  • Rubric – A rubric is the way that something can be categorized. To me, it sounds like a word you'd hear Scooby Doo say.
  • Scabies – Once again, the scientific powers that be went for the funny bone. It sounds a lot funnier than saying someone has parasitic mites. Those jerks are snickering as we speak as they develop a new ointment for scabies.
  • Similarly – OK let's review some of what we covered so far: After insisting that the pomegranate and the ointment be shelved similarly, the persnickety store manager was defenestrated.
  • Spelunker – This hilarious sounding word defines a cave explorer. What strange however, is that in spite of what the word implies there is no verbal component to this noun. A spelunker does not spelunk. He can however be defenestrated.
  • Sycophant – A sycophant is a social parasite; a person who users flattery or a self-effacing appearance to gain an advantage or favor. Again, this word brings a twisted mental image to my mind. The college-aged pachyderm told his parents: Mom, Dad, I'm a sycophant." OH NO! WHAT WILL THE NEIGHBORS THINK?
  • Wiki – A wiki is a web site that allows visitors to make contributions or corrections for the purpose of reference on a particular subject. From what I understand, the word wiki is Hawaiian for quick. Of course, I read that on a wiki web page so that's probably not true.

There you have it folks: a list of words which sound funny to me in spite of their legitimate usage. I am certain as time goes on. People will point out words I omitted. They're just being persnickety.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Hey There, Sunshine

My work day usually starts off with a variety of routine sounds. The first sound comes from one of the four cats that roam our house. It is always the same cat of the four — Sonic. Sonic unfortunately has more respect for routine that he does for the sleep patterns of my wife and me. He jumps on the bed and emits what I have dubbed the Marge Simpson meow. In short, he meows at us; but is so apathetic he doesn't open his mouth to produce this sound. Sonic then feels it necessary to climb on my pillow and begin nuzzling my face. It's is usually at this point when I give the cat lessons in Newton's Law and the Laws of Aerodynamics simultaneously. All of this usually happens about an hour or two before the next sound of the day.

My alarm clock lies across the room. The reason for this is simple. If I have to get up and go across the room to shut off the alarm, I'll stay out of bed (WRONG!!). I reset the clock to go off in another hour. After all, I should have no problem going back to sleep and that extra hour will make all the difference in the world (WRONG AGAIN!!). The alarm clock emits a sound reminiscent of the Emergency Alert System tone as recorded by a mid – 1980's punk rock cover band. In spite of this, I endure this sound twice every morning; 5 days a week. What can I say? I can be as much a slave to routine as Sonic.

I then place my hopes upon my bathroom sink. Every morning, I approach the sink with the firm belief that my soul will be revived by the brushing of my teeth and the splashing of water on my face (Morning 3, Shane 0). I head downstairs to the smell of coffee and breakfast lovingly prepared by my wife. I walk into the kitchen to grab my coffee. It is at this point that I hear an ominous growl emanating from the kitchen counter. The coffee maker is hissing at me. It's almost as if my coffee maker doesn't like to do mornings and is in need of…well…a cup of coffee. I leave the room. After all, I already HAVE coffee. I am not going to tolerate such a contemptuous tone from a machine (I know; why stop now?).

Finally, I sit on front of the TV to look at some very important developments in the world. Once I see that the roadrunner has AGAIN eluded the otherwise intelligent coyote, I turn to the news and watch for the traffic report. Mind you, I take the same route to work five days a week. There isn't much short of a black hole in the middle of the interstate that will make me change my route. This is not an issue of routine. It is due to the fact that any alternative route will only further delay my trip. I view the map on the TV and listen to the reporter speak of accidents and construction work. Some roads are red (very slow traffic) and others are yellow (traffic just slightly faster than a funeral procession). Suddenly, something very out of the ordinary happens. The interstate that I take to work is GREEN. Things are looking up.

My dad used to greet me every morning by saying: "Hey there, Sunshine. BOY, DO I FEEL GOOD THIS MORNING." I decided to try this approach in light of the unusual traffic news. I stood in front of the TV and shouted: BOY, DO IFEEL GOOD THIS MORNING. At this point, the cat and the coffee maker let out a guttural groan. This is followed by the traffic reporter announcing a "rubbernecker delay" on the interstate that I take to go to work. Nevertheless, chanting my Dad's mantra felt good. Final Score: Morning 4, Shane 1.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Class Dismissive

As young children, we are taught to abide by a set of rules. These rules may pertain to playing a game (spin the dial and the highest number gets the first turn), behavior in the classroom (raise your hand to ask permission to go to the restroom), or addressing an adult properly (Miss B, may I please call my mother for a change of clothes? I REALLY needed to go to the restroom). This leads to the use of words such as etiquette and chivalry. Most people in today's society refer two these two words as bygone behaviors ("That boy has no manners") or extinct entities ("Chivalry is dead"). I am here once again to inform and entertain. That being said, let's examine these two words: etiquette and chivalry.

Etiquette is an unwritten code of behavior for polite society. Many of these are determined by one's community. The word has a rather unique origin. The word literally translates from the French as "ticket". Apparently, Louis XIV had a gardener who became quite miffed at passersby who would walk on the lawn as a thoroughfare and even through the garden. The gardener began putting up signs (or tickets) to ward these rude people away. The gardener was apparently not privy to the use of rock salt in a pellet gun. Then again, some would have regarded such a response to be equally rude. Anyway, this lead to signs being posted in French courts as to where people could stand and when they could speak. This would lead to the first formation of the Polite Police. Legend has it that speaking out of turn could get you three days in the Polite Pokey. I find this all interesting because; in modern society disobeying a posted sign ("No Parking This Side…Monday – Wednesday - Friday 8:27 AM – 9:12 PM), you are issued a ticket. Then, you have to go to court and obey more signs as the risk of getting another ticket or worse.

I had a science teacher once who found it extremely rude to chew gum in her class. Any student guilty of such an infraction had to write the following sentence 500 times: "I will not chew gum in Mrs. Douglas' Life Science class in Room 80 of Quail Hollow Junior High School in Charlotte, North Carolina". Needless to say, I never chewed gum in her class. After all, I may have flunked her class but I was not a barbarian.

Chivalry is basically another form of etiquette (without as many posted signs). Chivalry derives from French word chevalier ("one who sings in a 1959 Academy Award winning musical"). Chivalry is simply a code of conduct that teaches (and expects) men of all ages to act as gentlemen. People often associate chivalry with a basic level of respect toward women. In short, a gentleman is to treat a woman like a lady (thank you Eddie Cornelius). I took a girl to a dance once when I was a kid. I believe I acted as a gentleman. I presented my date with a corsage. I complimented her about the mint green dress she wore. I then politely asked her mother to pin her corsage for me so that my nervous shaking would not risk given my date a collapsed lung.

Unfortunately, chivalry and etiquette can often result in a frustrating stalemate. It is not uncommon to see two fine Southern gentleman engaged in a fistfight because each insisted on paying the check. After all, the only alternative would be for one of them to compromise their chivalrous integrity — HORRORS!

It is also worth noting that geography sometimes dictates etiquette and chivalry (even in the same country). Back in the 1990's, I was working in a hospital and approached a nurse I had not met previously. I said: Excuse me, Ma'am. She indignantly responded: "WHAT did you say?" She then ranted about how she hated to be addressed as Ma'am. I explained that it was merely a form of Southern chivalry. She then explained that in the Northern United States, many women interpret being addressed as "Ma'am" as an indicator that they are old. Embarrassed by my faux pas, I said: Duly noted, Toots. It won't happen again. After all, I AM a Southern Gentleman.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Writer and a Gentleman

I have been spending at least one day per week working on my laptop writing essays for my blog — BDGJM. I have many times sought the counsel of fellow writers or done some research in how to deal with writer's block. Simply put, writer's block is the inability of a writer to produce new work. This has frustrated some writers to the point that they stop writing for long stretches of time or permanently. Fortunately, for me, the block is only temporarily frustrating (but nonetheless VERY frustrating).

A lot of times, the hardest part is actually opening up the word processor to get started. If I already have a topic in mind, the words can flow like a river. When I am blocked, I have to let my warped mind jog around the mental track and see where it goes. This can be even more frustrating sometimes because I hate jogging. I tend to associate it with the training I went through in the Navy. So, in my mind, Louis Gossett, Jr. shows up wearing his Gunnery Sergeant uniform.

I stand there as he gives his introduction: "You are coming to me because YOU want to be a humor writer. I am an Oscar winner for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. I am going to use any means, fair and unfair, to trip you up". Then he stands before me eye to eye. "Are you eyeballing me, boy?" No sir; I am not eyeballing you. "Did you just call me a ewe? A ewe is a female sheep. ARE YOU LOOKING TO WRITE A ROMANCE NOVEL, MACK-UH-FEEEEEE?" NO SIR! "Better watch your step, Mack-uh FEEEEEE. Ain't no virus program to protect you from ME!" I try to catch my breath and stay focused.

Then, the drilling starts. "OK Mack-uh-FEEEEEE, let's see how your mind works. You answer my questions and spit them right out." YES SIR! "Give me the quadratic formula." x = -b ± ( (b²-4ac)/2a) SIR! "Factual, but not funny Mack-uh-FEEEEEE. Just give up now." I'M NOT GONNA QUIT! "Who was born Nathan Birnbaum?" George Burns and Nathan Birnbaum, SIR! "Is that the best you got, Mack-uh-FEEEEEE? Tell me the three greatest disasters in human history." The release of "Enemy Mine", "Iron Eagle 2", and "Iron Eagle 3" SIR! "OHHHHHHHHHH! You MUST be a humor writer. You've got JOKES all of a sudden!" I can tell by the gleam in his eye I have gained his respect; but he's not going to tell me that.

The words begin to flow and the work gets finished. I stand before him and hand him the essay. He gives me a sharp salute. "Congratulations, Humor Writer McAfee." Thank you, sir. "Gunnery Sergeant, Humor Writer McAfee." I'll never forget you. "I know that. Now, get out of here." I then walk up to my wife and pick her up and carry her off. I have no idea where we are going but that's okay. Don't over think and spoil the moment. My wife takes off my Atlanta Braves hat and puts it on her head. Suddenly, I can see a British blues rock singer going into numerous contortions as he sings a love ballad with what's-her-name.

The End

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pandora’s Library

I wrote a series of essays recently that revolved around books and reading. An organization called The National Association of 
Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) celebrated Great Books Week (October 4 – October 9, 2009) by hosting the Great Books Week Blog Tour. NAIWE invited bloggers to post one blog entry per day on topics they provided. I posted essays for four out of the five days (I got sidelined by an illness that laid me up too much that last day).

The first essay for this series was entitled "Seven Books, A Desert Island, and Me". The basic premise was to list seven books to take if stranded upon a desert island for a few years. The last book on this list was Billy Sunday by Rachel M. Phillips. I listed this one because it was a book I had always wanted to read but I had not yet read. Coincidentally, I had just purchased the book before getting wind of NAIWE's challenge.

This lead to some conversations between my sister and me about books we had read. Our mother was an avid reader who frequently gave books as gifts. Our father on the other hand is not as much of an avid reader as our mother (to be fair, I have met few people who were). That being said, if you gave my father a book, he would read it. If he found a particular book insightful, he would take you to school about it. My sister began to talk about a particularly moving story called The Shack by Wm. Paul Young. This was one of those books that turned my father into Professor McAfee. Trusting my sister's insight (as well as my father's), I put this book on my online wish list.

The conversation then turned to another book called 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper (with Cecil Murphy). My parents were involved in a severe automobile accident in 1999. It was by the grace of God that my mother not only survived the accident but lived for another seven years. My parents shared a house with my sister and her family starting in 2002. My sister told me that 90 Minutes in Heaven was a book that my mother felt was required reading. Apparently, it provides a very accurate portrayal of my mother's experience immediately following the 1999 accident. So, once again, I updated my online wish list.

In addition to this, one of my favorite writers/podcasters, Kevin Cummings, is promoting his new book called Happily Domesticated: Musings on life, love, parenthood, malfunctioning appliances and marital bliss. I love Kevin Cummings' work. In addition to his book he runs a podcast called "Short Cummings Audio". If you haven't read Kevin' work or heard his podcast, you are truly missing out. Needless to say, Kevin's new book is part of my wish list.

The days that followed became more and more interesting. I received a copy of The Shack in the mail. My sister went to my online wish list and ordered the book as a gift. I haven't even started Billy Sunday yet and now I have another book to add to my reading list. Several days later, I received 90 Minutes in Heaven arrived for me (once again due to the generosity of my sister). On top of all this, I received an email from Kevin Cummings. Kevin ran a contest to promote his book. I entered the contest and added an online link to his book onto my blog site. Kevin decided to award all five people who entered the contest an autographed copy of Happily Domesticated: Musings on life, love, parenthood, malfunctioning appliances and marital bliss. I am thrilled beyond words to receive something like this from someone whose work I admire so much.

I started this week by responding to a challenge of writing daily for several consecutive days (something I had never done previously). This helped to remind me that I am the conduit of my writing, not the source (a wise writer once told me that). My week ended with four new books to read. Three of these books were given to me by people I respect a great deal. My writing this week opened Pandora's box. I am delighted to find it full of books.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Now That I Understand It….

The first week in October marks an annual celebration called Great Books Week. To honor this week, The National Association of
Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) is holding the Great Books Week Blog Tour. The tour invites bloggers to post their own blog using their topic suggestion for the day. My submission for Thursday is below. For more information, go to

When I first started high school, a lot of my friends were reading "Macbeth" by William Shakespeare as required reading. I was in the drama club in school and loved the theater. My curiosity got the better of me so I checked out the book of the play from the library. Several of my friends who read it absolutely loved it. After reading through it, I thought maybe my friends were pulling my leg knowing I would get curious and read it. I mean with all the old English and the witches; I was going crazy trying to read this junk. And it was worse because I was doing this BY CHOICE. I took it back to the library vowing to do my best not to be exposed to that drivel ever again.

The following year, something happened that changed my viewpoint. The local youth theater was putting on a production of "Macbeth". Even better, several of my drama friends were in the cast. This included a friend whose acting talent I admired in the role of Lord Macbeth. Seeing the story before my eyes gave me a whole different view. It forced me to take the time to understand the story. Make no mistake; this truly is a great story.

In my senior year, my literature class had to read through "Macbeth". Everyone in the class was given a part to read aloud to the class. The teacher had me reading the part of Lord Macbeth. This allowed me to understand the story even better. Lord Macbeth was a man with unbridled ambition. Lady Macbeth was even more ambitious than her husband. She used her husband's love for her and his ambition to do unspeakable acts of murder in order to further their (or rather her) agenda. I'm not a chauvinist but it was clear who wore the panties in the House of Macbeth.

Lord Macbeth was told that no man born of a woman could stop him. This was fine until he met Macduff. Lord Macbeth said: "Look, Dude. If you were born of a woman, you better step out of my grill or get stomped" Macduff countered: "Guess what, Brah. I was a C – section". Lord Macbeth lost head his upon hearing this (literally). "Macbeth" is definitely worth the read (even if it requires a dictionary the first time)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Cherry Pits and Worms

The first week in October marks an annual celebration called Great Books Week. To honor this week, The National Association of
Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) is holding the Great Books Week Blog Tour. The tour invites bloggers to post their own blog using their topic suggestion for the day. My submission for Wednesday is below. For more information, go to

I'd write my autobiography but I don't have it would be redundant. My life story has already been written by the late Erma Bombeck. In her book, if life is a bowl of cherries – what am I doing in the pits? (sic), Bombeck wrote of everyday living as a wife and mother. Admittedly, this may seem strange that a 43 year old man relates to such a book. The thing is, when Bombeck wrote of the daily frustrations of rearing her kids, I KNEW she was talking about me and my sister. My sister and I still take pleasure in implying the other eats worms. We would mimic some of the behavior in this book just for the sake of provoking our poor mother into a tizzy. Bless her heart, Momma didn't know whether to laugh or ground us sometimes. We also had the invisible siblings (Idunno and Idontcare) roaming about the household.

In later years, I related to the book a lot more but from a different angle. Apparently, Idunno and Idontcare grew up and had offspring. They now live in my house. As a parent, I still wonder if somehow Mrs. Bombeck was a prophet. My kids are shocked by the way I provoked my mother as a child. I guess that means I did a good job rearing them. However, it doesn't stop them from provoking me with their bickering and non-stop need. Thanks to the prophecy of Erma Bombeck; I know that when my son gets a speeding ticket, my daughter runs her portable media player through the dyer, and the cat decorates the floor with a strategically placed hairball (all within an hour's time); normalcy has arrived.

People often say "Someday, you look back on it all and laugh". Bombeck suggests: "Why wait?"

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Thank You, Mr. Twain

The first week in October marks an annual celebration called Great Books Week. To honor this week, The National Association of
Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) is holding the Great Books Week Blog Tour. The tour invites bloggers to post their own blog using their topic suggestion for the day. My submission for Tuesday is below. For more information, go to

When I was a young boy, my favorite book was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. This story was commonly read in elementary schools by teachers. My mother even got me a 45 record of the story. I wore the grooves off that record. I cannot begin to tell how much this Southern boy loved living vicariously through Tom Sawyer. Tom was a very mischievous young boy. Tom did all of the things a Southern boy wanted to do (but most wouldn't dare). He wasn't a delinquent in the truly criminal sense. He was just a boy who wanted to have fun. For Tom, that meant breaking rules.

When Tom had to whitewash a fence as a form of punishment, he hoodwinked every boy who passed by to do it for him in trade. As shocking as it was to this young Southern boy to see Tom once again buck his Aunt Polly's authority, I couldn't help but admire his cunning entrepreneurial spirit. I loved the idea of Tom and Huck running away to become pirates on the Mississippi River. I also admired Tom's prodigal spirit when he decides to return home (interrupting his own funeral). I could even feel my heart in my throat as Tom stood up for the town drunk, Muff Potter, who had been framed for murder. Tom testified in court on Muff's behalf knowing his life was in danger for doing so. Tom WAS a rule breaker but he had a strong sense of right and wrong.

I remember seeing a movie about Tom Sawyer that showed him wearing overalls. He wore no shirt and no shoes. My mom told me that my Dad often dressed in the same fashion as a young boy. Needless to say, I dressed in that same fashion a few times that summer. Thank you, Mr. Twain for allowing me to live Tom' adventures (and not get a whippin' for doing it).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Seven Books, a Desert Island, and Me

The first week in October marks an annual celebration called Great Books Week. To honor this week, The National Association of
Independent Writers and Editors (NAIWE) is holding the Great Books Week Blog Tour. The tour invites bloggers to post their own blog using their topic suggestion for the day. My first submission is below. For more information, go to

My mother was an avid reader. It is primarily through her influence that I enjoy reading books myself. I can remember my mother commenting on a book she read: "I wish I had never read that book. That way, I could experience reading it for the first time again". The book was The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. It would be a few more years before I experienced that feeling myself. Listed below are seven books that I would wish to have with me if I were stranded on a desert island for several years:

  1. The Holy Bible King James Version – This is cheating the paradigm somewhat because technically this is an anthology of 66 books written by more than 40 authors. This anthology tells THE story from beginning to end. There are a variety of story genres contained within this anthology. If you want a romantic love story, read the book of Hosea. If you like a hero that comes in to save the day, the book of Daniel is full of them (not to mention of course the four Gospels). No other book could better assist in one's survival on a desert island. After all, it is full of stories that inspire hope.
  2. The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams - Again, I am cheating as there are six stories contained in this anthology. These stories deal with friendships, foreign cultures, and the worst kind of homesickness (because the home no longer exists). It does all of this with side-splitting humor.
  3. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain - As a young southern boy, I loved living vicariously through Tom Sawyer. Tom did things many boys wouldn't dare to do. He suffered the consequences like a man. He even stood up for the town drunk who had been framed (in spite of the fact it put Tom's life in danger). This book never gets old for me.
  4. No Time for Sergeants by Mac Hyman РThis tells the story of Will Stockdale. Will is a young man in a less than one horse town who has been drafted to serve in the military. Will's country naivet̩ is refreshing to read. This is in part that the reader finds out (over and over again) that Will is not as stupid as everyone assumes he is. They took Will out of the country. They couldn't take the country out of Will.
  5. Don't Sit Under the Grits Tree with Anyone Else but Me by Lewis Grizzard – This is a collection of writings from Grizzard's humor column. The late Mr. Grizzard was the Mark Twain of the late 20th century. His writing cracks me up every time.
  6. If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? By Erma Bombeck – Bombeck's perspectives of everyday living have taught me many times that humor can be a very necessary means of survival. I consider Erma Bombeck to be a huge influence on my writing. This book is probably the best example of her work.
  7. Billy Sunday by Rachael M. Phillips – This book makes the list because it is a book I have always wanted to read (but haven't yet). I finally bought this book yesterday.

I would definitely find some way to continue writing my thoughts on this island (even if it were a temporary medium such as sand). My main hope is that I would remember the important details to write about once I left the island. There you have it folks: Seven books, a desert island, and me. I look forward to reading your list (there are some good ones out there already).

Saturday, October 3, 2009

My Day (Original Soundtrack)

I have watched so many cartoons and slapstick movies that it is difficult at best to do even routine, daily tasks without adding sound effects. If I take a cap off of a pen, I make a popping sound akin to popping a champagne cork. I make racecar sounds while pushing the grocery cart. Let's face it. Those little sounds just make the day (somehow) more interesting.

The other habit I acquired throughout my life is listening to music while performing some of these same tasks. After all, what is life without a soundtrack? Sometimes I give songs the Weird Al treatment while I shower ("HE'S A FACE…WASH…HE---ROOOOOO….GOT SUDS IN HIS EYYYYYYYYYYYYYES"). Other times, I would play the boom box while puttering around the house. I might even occasionally sing along with the tune or even (Heaven forbid) dance. Mind you, I have about as much talent for dancing as Bob Dylan has for diction (the difference is that Dylan is nonetheless a bajillionaire).

This habit grew by leaps and bounds when I acquired a portable media player. I have more than 4500 audio tracks to lay out the soundtrack to my day. This nifty little gadget has become like having another appendage. I can fit it into a shirt pocket or wear an armband to hold it for more convenient use. The armband is great for listening while I am shaving. I even situate the ear buds so that the cables don't get coated with foam. Life just becomes less mundane.

My music choices are pretty much random. James Brown has helped me make my bed. I have walked on a treadmill while Susan Tedeschi told me how bad it hurt. I have picked up groceries while Stevie Ray Vaughan had issues with the weather because the sky cried. I have put said groceries away while Ole Willie mused about the slipping of time (which is funny when you think about it). If you brush your teeth while The Commodores are playing, your teeth get really clean by the time you're done. I have even sung with Shania Twain while surfing the net. I have to be careful about that though. I don't ever want anyone to hear me say that I feel like a woman. After all; once bitten, twice shy (to quote Ian Hunter). I have even typed my blog while Ray Charles sings of our mutual home state of Georgia (I could listen to THAT song the whole day through).

So, if you I don't immediately respond to you when you approach me, I'm not (necessarily) ignoring you. I am probably listening to Stryper sing about being a soldier. Now, what did I do with that yellow and black outfit?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Get a (Virtual) Life (As Published by

I have enjoyed playing video games from time to time. I have invested in several video game systems over the years. After all, I like it better to play on my Sokitumi 3000 at home than paying a week's wages in quarters in an arcade. There are two reasons for this: 1. Arcades are not on every corner as they were in my teenage years. 2. Given than I am in my early 40's, my Dad no longer supplies the week's worth of quarters (no matter how nicely I ask).

If you don't want to invest in a Sokitumi 3000, you can go to the Internet and play a wide variety of games free of charge. You can even sometimes combine your video game system and the Internet and play games with total strangers within the privacy of your own home. The gaming world allows you to be a soldier, fight space aliens, or join a rock group. You can do all of these things awhile sitting in your pajamas with a plate of cookies. If you want something less sedentary, you can get a sports game that will have you on your feet swinging, throwing, or running (and never your living room).

I have come to understand that part of the draw of a video game is to live vicariously through the role of a virtual entity. Who wouldn't want to be a princess saving plumber, a major league baseball player, or a heroine in painted on clothes saving the world from apocalyptic destruction? Personally, I do not wish to be a heroine in painted on clothes (but that's just me). Who wouldn't want to join a rock group that hasn't recorded anything new in 30 years? Imagine if you will, the following scenario: "Hey man, can you play guitar? Ace Van Snider broke his hand." "No, but I have a guitar shaped game controller and I know all the color patterns." "Well, get up on the stage with us, man. YOU'RE IN!" One must admit it's a great escape from the world.

However, I have become greatly confused of late. Players all over the world (me included) have been drawn into a different type of game. I am referring to games of simulation. You start in a virtual environment that is completely bare and build it from the ground up. You can be a virtual farmer or a virtual college girl in a dormitory. I personally do not want to be the virtual college girl (but that's just me). You can build an amusement park or a restaurant. The simulated gaming world offers a wide variety of scenarios. What's strange is that you can even be an average Joe living in a virtual home. You can buy virtual furniture, virtual appliances, and a virtual painting to go above the virtual fireplace paid for with virtual money. I have even seen someone seat their virtual character on a virtual couch and play a virtual video game on a virtual wide screen HDTV. That's right. I saw someone playing a video game where there avatar was playing a video game. I was afraid that avatar's avatar would also be playing a simulation game that would create a virtual vortex that would end the world as we know it.

What gets even crazier is that some people even revolve their real lives around their virtual characters. I got home from work the other day and asked my wife to run an errand with me. She was sitting at the computer and said she had to wait until her cookies were done. I took a sniff and noticed something strange. I couldn't smell anything baking. My wife corrected me. "No, my ErsatzWurld avatar is baking cookies. If I leave now, they'll burn. Do you want my home to catch fire?" I asked her to forgive my obvious thoughtlessness and ran the errand alone. When I returned she was tending her online farm. After all, you can't let virtual blueberries go to waste.

I can't help but wonder what will happen next. Perhaps the virtual farming industry will take an economic nosedive. This will inspire three virtual musicians to host a virtual fund raising concert. You can have virtual vendors selling overpriced virtual t-shirts. You can recruit the rock group gamers to fill the virtual bill. Maybe Ace Van Snider's hand has healed. If not, I've been practicing.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Praise Her from the Rooftop (But Watch Your Mouth)

Often in my writing, I tend to throw a quotation from a historical figure, or an old friend, or my Dad. I have been recently been reminded of two that I have had to utilize in a way that I did not anticipate in nearly 16 years of marriage:

  • "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." – Abraham Lincoln.
  • "A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards." – Proverbs 29:11

For the past two years, my wife has been involved in an exercise regimen at a local fitness center (actually a "wellness center" but I won't go down that bunny trail again). Like many, she has fallen off the proverbial horse only to get back on and kick it harder. She has made tremendous strides and I am very proud of her. The problem is that with every milestone she hits, the muscles of my restraint are tested to the breaking point.

It all started innocently enough today. My wife comes home from the gym…umm…fitness…that is…wellness center. She then goes into her post-exercise ritual. She pulls at the elastic waistband on her gym clothes (or is it wellness center apparel?). She stretches the waistband about a foot from her body. At this point, she reminds me that when she first bought those pants, they fit like a tourniquet and made her eyes pop out like she was Marty Feldman. Next, she steps on the scale. She screams with the enthusiastic glee of a schoolgirl watching her favorite teenybopper star on TV. Now, I am no proverbial fool. I will not disclose the reading. Let's just say she has lost more than 50 lbs. and it shows.

So far through these rituals, I believe I have acted with kindness and support. That was until she whipped out two more items: a "Body Composition Profile" and a tape measure. She begins measuring various parts of her body and recording the results. She begins to measure her waist and asked me to read the measurements. I began laughing because she was using the metric side. I pointed this out to her because I didn't really want to state that her waist size was 124. Unfortunately, the laughter wore on my restraint. She asked me to read the measurement of upper arm. I looked at the measurement and said "Lessee now, if you carry the 6…." She then asked me to surf the net for a body mass index (BMI) scale. I asked her if she needed standard, metric, or Kelvin. Mind you the question made no sense and it got dirty stares from my wife and daughter. Nonetheless, it made me laugh. I gave her the reading from the BMI scale. She then recorded this result in her Body Composition Profile. Her girlish joy returns as she read the profile's results: "I'VE GONE FROM BEING OVER FAT TO FAT". Now, I am trying to be supportive but I cannot control my laughter. I try to picture the average husband looking his wife in the eye and saying the following: "Baby, you look great. This week you're fat. At the rate you're going, you'll just be fatter than average in two weeks". Such an utterance can only lead to the husband winding up in the doghouse. The dog will glance at him and ask "So, what are YOU in for? I chewed up her running shoes."

In the end , I managed to get through this ordeal without my wife thinking I was a cretin. It is with this in mind I address husbands worldwide. Gentlemen, if you wife takes (or has taken) such a venture, be supportive and encouraging. The trick is in being careful about HOW you support and encourage. I'll leave you with a final quote from Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part One: "The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life".

Sunday, August 30, 2009

What Did You Just Say?

We all go through our lives with adages, axioms, aphorisms, maxims, mantras, and mottos that guide our daily lives. Such musings can be referred to as "words to live by", "food for thought", or "that weird thing he always says". For the purpose of this writing, I intend to share my thoughts on quotes I have heard (and sometimes passed on) over the years. Some of these are very wise quotations. Others are just funny to me. One or two of them may be a bit of both.

  • "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" – Lao Tzu. I have tried to apply this one a lot for myself as well as pass it on to others. It basically implies that if you help someone in the right way, they become more self sufficient. In other words, if you teach a man to fish, he'll leave you alone for a bit. However, it should be noted that if you teach someone to fish, you may find that they frequently ask to borrow your tackle box.
  • "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by" – Douglas Adams. I hate being late. I think I detest waiting for others whom are late even more. Douglas Adams is one of my favorite writers. This quote reminds me that sometimes (not always but sometimes) I need to lighten up when it comes to time frame issues.
  • "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones" – Proverbs 17:22. I REALLY like this one. This is one of the reasons that I do humor writing (at least that's my intention). You can take most people who have their bottom lip dragging the ground for whatever reason. If you can get that person to smile (or better to laugh) about something. You heal their heart and lighten their burden. Even if that effect is temporary, it is beneficial.
  • "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt." – Abraham Lincoln. I share the same birthday as Lincoln. Lincoln was a fine president who had many amusing quotes. This one, however, demonstrates that Lincoln also knew when to shut his yapper.
  • "…more nervous than a cat in a room full of rocking chairs" I have no idea where this originated but it tickles me to hear it. I am not a cat lover. Nonetheless, my family has four cats. Sometimes I want to spend my paycheck on rocking chairs just for my own savage amusement.
  • "A short pencil I better than a short memory" – Charles Hughes. Mr. Hughes was an old family friend. He has been gone for some 20 years now. Mr. Hughes had a tendency to jot things down on whatever was handy (like napkins for example). This is a very important adage. WRITE IT DOWN!
  • "If I tell you a rooster can pull a freight train, put a harness on it" – Lawrence H. McAfee. My Dad has a talent for telling you the most ridiculous thing with the straightest face. He convinced one poor (however gullible) woman that you set a microwave on negative digits and it would freeze your food. If you hear him bring up the rooster and the freight train, it meant he had authority on a subject and he could be trusted. Nevertheless, it is wise not to forget my Dad's aforementioned talent.

There you have it folks. If you have been wondering up to this point: "What's going on in his head?", the above quotes may occasionally provide an answer. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to check the store circulars for any sales on rocking chairs.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Ohhhhhh Me

As many who have read my essays are painfully aware, I am a native of the great state of Georgia who has spent most of the last 20+ years in Western New York. Some who hear me speak think my Southern drawl is barely noticeable. Others assert that my "twang" is thicker than molasses in January. I even had one surly Rochesterian give the following request: "Can you please stop talking like you just walked out of 'Deliverance'?"

I have to be honest. I love hearing someone with an authentic southern drawl. It is about as refreshing to me as freshly brewed sweet tea. In the course of my job, I occasionally get to speak to a fellow Southerner. This sometimes allows me to hear words and phrases I grew up hearing. Unfortunately, they would possibly confuse my Northern colleagues, friends, and family. Therefore, I feel led to teach some of my readers some terms they may have heard and some they may have not. I am sure many of my Southern friends well let me know I left out some good ones. To my Northern friends, I quote Sir Francis Bacon: "Knowledge is power".

  • Ohhhhhh me – This is an interjection that can indicate mild exhaustion, amazement, or frustration. "Ohhhhhh me, I can't believe you did that."
  • Dadgum – This is a word that has resulted in many Southern kids getting  smacked because it a euphemism for profanity. "Ohhhhhh me, my hair is a mess but I can't find my dadgum brush."
  • Say – This is an interjection that is used when someone has asked a question and has not received an immediate response. Southern parents use this interjection quite frequently with their children. "Boy, why did you put a frog on your sister's bed? SAY!"
  • EHHHNNK! – Another popular interjection with parents. It is used to tell a child to immediately stop whatever activity they are doing or trying to do. For example, a boy's mother notices him trying to sneak some cookies from the cupboard. The mother shouts "EHHHNNK!" The boy stops immediately and darts out of the kitchen.
  • Hey – This is a Southern greeting equivalent to the Northern "Hi" or "Hello". In Northern circles, it implies contempt. To Southerners, it is a warm greeting. For example, Northerners would say: "Hey, don't give me that monkey business". Southerners would say: "Hey, how ya' doin'?"
  • Bless his/her heart – This is a modifier that implies what follows is potentially insulting. "Janie is a pretty girl but, bless her heart, she can't boil water without burning it".
  • Up and — These are words that imply an immediate (perhaps even impulsive) action. "I can't believe the way that boy just up and walked away from his Momma when she was talking to him".
  • Said it with his/her own mouth – This implies audacity on the part of the person being cited. "That boy up and said with his own mouth that he didn't break that window. But, he had a bat in his hands".

Well, there you have it folks. Class is dismissed. I hope you this entertaining and informative. After all, it took me years of living in NY to figure out that "not for nothing" was another way of saying "with all due respect". A Southerner would just say: "Bless her heart".

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When the SuperEgo Reveals the Id(iot)

I have been working in the information technology field in one facet or another for approximately 7 out of the last 9 years. I have learned a few things about computers and how they work. This has resulted in many family members and friends (in several states) to come to me for their computing needs. These needs range from advising what the appropriate hardware is needed to play the latest release of "Barfmonster Battle XVII" (including the USB mic headset and 26" plasma monitor) to setting up the speech recognition software (including the USB mic headset and 26" plasma monitor). I have no problem with this and I am happy to help. Occasionally, there are times when I must reluctantly utter three words —"I don't know".

This isn't so bad when it's just me and the other individual (such as my wife for example). Unfortunately, men are strange prideful creatures. If they are in the same room with their friends (or a repairman), they suddenly transform into a panel of experts in that particular field. A man can have something go wrong with his car. If his wife asks what is causing the problem, he'll simply say "I don't know". However, if one or more if his friends how up, you will find them both with their head under the hood uttering phrases such as: "Yup", "Did you calibrate the intake?", "Sure did, I also reset the inner side torque to 8 ft/lbs". This conversation will then turn to one man with his head under the hood wiggling random parts and going "TRY STARTING IT NOW!" The other man will begin turning the ignition key and saying "C'MON BABY". After 8 hours of this routine, the men decide reluctantly to retain the services of a mechanic with the simple rationalization: "I don't have the tools for that job".

It is truly an exercise in humility to hand the mechanic the keys and try not to engage in any conversation. After all, why reveal to the mechanic and your wife that you were completely clueless all along? I felt better after I got home. One of my friends came by because he had a computer problem. Finally, I was back into some familiar territory. This resulted in the following conversation: "Did you restore the hyperthread registry?", "Yup, I even flushed out the TCP/IP", "TRY RE-BOOTING IT NOW!", "C'MON BABY", "Oh wait, dude. I know what the problem is but you need to call tech support. I don't have the tools for that."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Randomizationalism Volume I

Sometimes, I let my warped mind run wild. This causes me to make strange assumptions about known facts and ask strange questions. Ironically, I believe it is these random ramblings and mindless minutiae that sometimes keep me from going insane. I have put these observations and queries into a category called Randomizationalisms. Actually, the word was conceived by my daughter Brianna. Randomizationalism was going to be the title of my blog before I decided that BDGJM (Babbling, Drivel, Gibberish, Jibber-Jabber, and Mumbo-Jumbo) was more suitable. In any case, please ponder these few fleeting facts, quacky queries, and warped wacky world views.

  • A female cat is called a queen. A female turkey is a hen. The male of both of these is a tom. A young cat is a kitten. A young turkey is an egg.
  • A whale is a salt dwelling mammal. This is why we never hear of a whale being "laked" or "ponded".
  • If there is a kitty corner, is there a puppy peripheral, a gerbil geometric, or a turtle tangent?
  • A female kangaroo is called a doe. A young kangaroo is called a joey. A doe kangaroo with a male joey is called a male carrier.
  • Why do parents, in the say conversation with their kids, say the following phrases (sometimes in succession): "Don't talk back to me", "Now, ANSWER me", "Is that understood?"
  • Why do people name their cats? The only thing a cat responds to is "KITTYKITTYKITTYKITTYKITTYKITTY" and only then because they believe they are being fed.
  • It's bad enough to lose a hockey game. It has got to be downright humiliating to lose to a team called the Penguins or the Mighty Ducks. Then again we also have baseball teams called Orioles, Cardinals, and Blue Jays. I'm sorry but bird teams just don't sound that intimidating.
  • Guy's guide to classic movies: If you want to laugh, watch "Airplane". If you want a prison move, watch "Cool Hand Luke". If you want a good war movie, watch "The Bridge on the River Kwai".
  • It is quite possible that a public catastrophe will occur and someone will shout: "IS THERE ANYONE HERE WHO WRITES A BLOG?" I will never be prompted to say: "It's OK, ma'am. I'm a blogger". Nonetheless, I'll probably do it anyway.


So there you have it folks, there may be more of these in the future. Time (and my warped mind) will determine that.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Welcome to the (Wellness) Machines

During my childhood years, I was a very lanky kid. As the youngest in the family, I was often self conscious about my thin frame and short stature. Needless to say, I'm not a kid anymore. I am much taller and quite overweight. Recently, I reached a point where I came to a decision. I am tired of being overweight. I am too old to continue outgrowing my clothes. Lastly, I am tired of getting sand kicked into my face by 75 year old men and 19 year old girls. I had decided that enough was enough.

I was prepared to gamble the cost of a postage stamp for a free exercise book. After all, I saw it advertised in a comic book. If you can't trust the advertising department of your favorite comic book, whom CAN you trust? Instead, I decided to join the local gym. After all, why pay less than a dollar for an exercise book when you can make a recurring monthly payment? That SEEMED to make sense to me at the time.

I was a little nervous on my first visit to the gym. I was in my workout clothes and ready to start my journey to better health. My first eye opener was a lesson in nomenclature. I was not about to enter a weight room, an exercise room, or a workout room. I was about to enter the hallowed halls of the "Wellness Center". Apparently, I had not been reminded enough of unsightly physique and the effects on my health. I began to envision the Statue of Liberty wearing tank top and gym shorts. She held a water bottle in her hand. The inscription read: "Give me your tired, your overweight, your sedentary masses; yearning to fit into the clothes they wore in high school. I lift my water bottle beside the Wellness door". As I enter the exercise room. Pardon me. As I entered the Wellness Center, my eyes and ears were exposed to all sorts of wonders. There were approximately 18 different televisions mounted on the wall. Each was tuned to a different channel. You could use headphones to listen to the TV (or radio) station of your choice while you exercised. Some of the exercise machines even had TV mounted to them. This seemed odd to me. Wasn't watching TV part of the reason I needed this Wellness Center in the first place?

Taking a further look around, I saw cardio machines of all shapes and sizes being used by people of all shapes and sizes. Cardio machines exercise the heart. That is to say; cardio machines give you the sensation that your heart is banging on the cage that is your ribs and desperately seeking escape. The names of some of these machines are pretty self explanatory such as the treadmill and stair climber. However, other machines are given names that make me scratch my head in wonder. Why is one machine called an elliptical trainer and another called an arc trainer? Is there much of a difference between an arc and an ellipse? Why is there an apparent obsession with curved shapes? I can only assume that by using this machine, one can gain a curved shape. I already have a curved shape. A circle is a curved shape. Also, I am not sure I get the concept of a recumbent bike. I can't help but think that I can connect a bike chain to a recliner and accomplish the same task. I think I just made Red Green reach for his duct tape.

Lastly, I looked to the real meat and potatoes of the Wellness Center— the weight machines. I saw patrons using these machines with varying degrees of effort. I could have sworn that one of the people using the machines had kicked sand in my face once. I decided not to confront him. After all, it would be brutish to make a scene. I could tell by the names of some of these machines that there would be some great discomfort involved. I saw names such as abdominal crunch, leg curl, and back extension. Apparently, such exercises were created by a contortionist bully. I am aware of the adage: "No pain, no gain". I KNOW this is not true. Over an 8 month period, I lived a relatively pain free life and gained 40 pounds.

I have made a few visits to this Wellness Center. I am ashamed to admit that I do not currently have a steady routine yet. It is my fervent hope that one day; I will be self conscious about how I USED to look. In the meantime, I think I'll keep the pizza joints on my speed dial.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cube Farm Fever (As Published by

Over the last 9 years, I have worked one type of job or another that involved sitting at a desk within a cubicle. For those who have never had to work indoors for the last 30 some odd years, allow me to explain the cubicle. Most rooms in your house have four sturdy walls and a door separating it from other rooms in the house (as well as a ceiling). When you went to school, the principal's office had four walls, a ceiling, and a door (don't even TRY to pretend you've never been there). Cubicles are very similar to this except there are only (at most) three walls, no door, and no ceiling. These walls are also only about 2 inches thick. This was corporate America's way of telling the employee that they do not deserve the investment of a private office (neither does your boss). If you happened to be located against a wall (i.e. an actual wall made of concrete, or stucco, or whatever), the company can save even more money by providing one less wall. Sometimes, there is no actual wall and the only thing separating you from your co-workers is less than a foot of space.

This wonderful labyrinthine layout has lead to a new term of corporate jargon: cube farm. This derives from the fact that the overhead layout of the average company closely resembles that of an ant farm. I can see the similarities between the two entities. Both contain a network of workers doing their respective jobs in their respective area. The only major difference is that I never have to worry about King Kong picking up the building and shaking it.

However, life in the cube farm can also lead to a potentially critical condition: Cube Farm Fever. Cube Farm Fever (or CFF) is brought on by the fact that the relatively thin but sturdy cubicle walls on create the illusion of a separate work space. For example, I work for a company that provides a wide variety of services to other companies. This means you can stand in the aisle, turn your head from left to right at 18° intervals and hear the following conversations:

  • "Thank you for calling StaticPhone Mobile. Can I get you started on a 7 year mobile phone contract today?"
  • "No, sir. You CANNOT give your computer better memory by coating it with Gingko Biloba.
  • "Good afternoon, ma'am. We're taking a poll today. We'd like your opinion on the President's proposed Fiber Stimulus Plan which provides tax credits for adding shredded wheat to your diet."
  • "….and for signing up with RisqPul Insurance today, we'll send you a free CD of the "Flaming DoorKnockers: Greatest Hits" which comes with three free aromatherapy candles"
  • "Yes, according to the company dress code, the necktie should be no higher (or lower) than 1 inch above the belt line. You'll have to clock out and adjust your tie in the men's room"

These are all in addition to the phone call you are trying to conduct with your customer while your co-workers are discussing the latest and greatest way to clear Level 27 of the latest and greatest computer role playing game. Symptoms of CFF include: a constant rubbing of the temples and forehead, shaking of the head with the eyes closed, and breathing through the teeth while the eyes are as big as the tires on a monster truck.

The onset of CFF can be prevented by using a portable media player to isolate yourself from outside noise or getting up and walking away from the work area for two or three minutes every two hour (company policies usually prohibit doing this for any longer than two or three minutes). Failing to take these steps can result in a craving for extreme isolation and repeated viewings of "Office Space".

Recently, I was working in my cubicle. I overheard a one-sided phone conversation taking place on the other side of the wall. The lady on the other side of the wall seemed to be having a normal conversation with a customer. At some point the customer on the phone said something hilariously funny. This caused the customer service representative to laugh loudly. This wasn't so bad except that every four beats of laughter was punctuated by a horrendous snort. This woman snorted so loudly I thought she was going to blow a pork loin through her nose. Then, just as it seemed she had caught her breath and stopped, she started the laugh 'n' snort shuffle again: "tee hee hee tee hee hee tee hee hee SNORT". I started to find myself rubbing my temple and shaking my head with my eyes closed. I looked at my watch and was rescued with relief. It was quittin' time. I got up and clocked out. I also decided to hold off on watching "Office Space" again.

Monday, July 20, 2009

But, Seriously, Folks…..

Ever since I was a kid, I have tried my best to approach life with a sense of humor. There are very few things in life I can think of that are enjoyable than laughter. The Bible says: "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine" (Proverbs 17:22). Jerry Clower once said: "The only place where there is no laughter is Hell. I've made arrangements to miss Hell". I could go on and on listing people on TV or radio or in print that have made me laugh: Douglas Adams, Jack Benny, Lewis Grizzard, Red Skelton, Jerry Lewis... (like I said, I could go on and on). Almost as good as laughing is seeing someone else laugh. I went to see a movie with my sons last summer for Father's Day. The movie was funny. The best part however, was sitting between my 15 and 20 year old sons, turning my head left to right as if I was watching a tennis match, watching them both laugh so hard they could barely breathe. Don't even get me started on babies. My friends have a 6 month old girl. She is living proof that a college educated man will turn in to a babbling chimp all in an effort to make a baby laugh.

I attribute a large part of this bent for humor to my Dad. My Dad can tell you the most absurd thing with the straightest face. He had one poor woman convinced that you if you put food in the microwave and set it to negative numbers, the food would freeze. Ironically enough, my Dad is probably the worst poker player on two legs. He can spin yarns of hilarious pranks and practical jokes (many of which he played on his wife and kids). Having said all that, seeing my Dad laugh is downright infectious.

This has lead to some very interesting lessons in boundaries over the years. Once, some friends and I were visiting at a girl's house. She had used the fact that her parents were not home as an opportunity to get a little tipsy. Therefore, my friends and I did what any young man in our position would do. We tilted EVERYTHING in her living room: pictures, a table, a stereo console. We tilted everything in the same direction. We then stood in front of her, side by side, and leaned in the same direction of everything we just tilted. The girl just sat there, staring at us, and began to lean in the same direction. It was the guy thing to do. In an effort to show that we weren't (complete) cretins, we made a point to put things back the way we found them and went on our way. About an hour after we left, the girl's step-father came home and noticed that two pictures on the wall were still tilted. Fast forward a few hours later that evening when I overheard my Dad on the phone. "I'm sorry. My boy did WHAT?" "I'm very sorry, sir. I'm promise you, I'll deal with this straightaway." My Dad then called me into his room and asked me if the story he heard on the phone was true. While I deliberately omitted the fact that the girl had been drinking, I admitted to my actions. My Dad then tried his level best as a father to counsel me about being more respectful to other people's property. Unfortunately, his efforts were somewhat futile as he could not contain his laughter as he mentally processed the image in his mind. My father looked me in the eye and knew he was gazing into a mirror. I took it upon myself to apologize to the step-father and endure the obligatory finger wag. My friends allowed me to do this singlehandedly. Again, it was the guy thing to do. They offered to give me backup and then they backed up.

Those of you who have read my blog previously will not be shocked to know that I have not changed much since then. I cracked jokes as my wife panted heavily during the birth of our youngest son. I have played numerous pranks on my kids. I have also stood there, shaking my head in (feigned) disbelief over a stunt one of my kids pulled. I told my wife recently a story of a girl who made me sign a contract. The contract stated that I had to sit and converse for an hour with this young lady without cracking a joke. The only thing my wife found shocking about the story was that I actually honored the contract. Looking back, the girl probably just wanted me to take her out. Either that or she just wanted me to shut up.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

When Do I Say “FORE!”?

I spent a WONDERFUL 4th of July with my family. Every year we go to a sports park that is owned by our local church. The day is spent enjoying all kinds of great activities: inflatables, lawn games, a baseball pitching range, and face painting. This is in addition to all the concession food you can eat (everything was a buck apiece) and one of the most phenomenal fireworks displays ever seen.

In another recent event, my wife and I renewed our wedding vows in a mass ceremony the previous week. Due to this, I told my wife that as "newlyweds" we need to be a bit spontaneous and try something we normally wouldn't. That's right folks, right there on the 4th of July, me and the missus headed straight for the lawn games. There were two games to choose from: bocce and croquet. Wifey and I decided to play croquet.

A very nice man approached us. He was in charge of coordinating guests who wanted to play croquet. He asked if either of us had played before. We explained that it had been since childhood for both of us. We asked if he just walk us through it as if we knew nothing about it (pretty close to the truth anyway). He kindly replied: "Well, you folks are probably used to playing nine-wicket croquet. This field is set up for six-wicket croquet. I'll explain it to you". This man then proceeded to spit out more words than a dictionary in a wood chipper. To his credit, he explained the rules and object of the game with eloquence and clear authority on the subject. My wife and I stood there, holding hands, trying to hide our deer-in-the-headlights feeling that had overcome us both. We both nodded our heads to properly feign complete understanding of what this fine gentleman had just explained to us. My lovely queen and I did our best to piece together his instructions. We also took pointers from another couple who already had a game in play. At game's end, my wife and I both had a great time. We then went to get our faces painted because; after all, we're newlyweds.

After leaving the lawn games, my mind got very curious about the origins of the game. You, my dear reader, are about to experience the origin and rules of croquet as I understand them. Please feel free to take notes. I know it is a common tactic for many to trust but verify. As a winner of many a trivia game, I can assure I can be trusted with this information.

Croquet was originally pronounced "KROK-et". That is because the game was named after the King of the Wild Frontier himself: Davey Crockett. It seems that when Crockett wasn't fightin' single handed through many a war and fixin' the crack in the Liberty Bell, he would passed the time playing a game he devised himself. Crockett would stand in his field and hit a boulder with a sledgehammer. The object was to make the boulder pass underneath the openings in his fence. This was any easy task for a man who killed a bear at the tender age of three. After all, Davey Crockett was a man. He was a BIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIG man. Wait a minute. Sorry, THAT was someone else.

After the Louisiana Purchase, the Marquis de Lafayette was rather intrigued by the frontier game. Due to Lafayette misspelling (and mispronouncing) Crockett's name, the game was changed to croquet (pronounced "krow-KAY"). The name loosely translates as "sledgehammer golf". Also, Lafayette Incorporated the use of smaller spherical balls. He also created small arches which were driven into the ground. After all, Lafayette did not kill a bear at three years old. It's quite possible Lafayette NEVER killed a bear but I digress. Lafayette then struck a stick into the ground in the center of the play area in order to lean against it while his opponents were playing. Unfortunately, any given player's trajectory would eventually hit the stick. Lafayette eventually gave up and just made the stick a part of the game. Lafayette then painted the stick to look like a barber pole. Thus, the tradition was born for player' to get a haircut immediately following the game. This tradition ceased quickly as player's wanted to keep playing the game but were catching a death of cold.

The rules are quite simple. There are several horseshoe thingies driven into the ground. Four of the horseshoe thingies create a large upside down U shape. In the center is the painted, stripy stick. There is also a horseshoe thingy on each side of the painted stripy stick. There are four spherical balls that are painted blue, red, black, and yellow. The balls are played respectively in that order. I don't know why that is. Nonetheless, just work with me please. Using the sledgehammer doo-dad, the player strikes the ball in an attempt to pass through each horseshoe thingy, in order, in the shape of the upside down U. Once you have passed through all four horseshoe thingies in order, you do the same in reverse order until you make you way back to the first horseshoe thingy that started the game. After you do this, you make your way toward going through the two horseshoe thingies in the center. One quick note: be careful when you go to strike the ball with the sledgehammer doo-dad. It is very easy to hit the toes. If this happens, you have to call a toe truck (sorry, I couldn't resist). Once you have gone through the center of all the horseshoe thingies (in order, both ways), you then strike the ball with the sledgehammer doo-dad to hit the painted stripy stick. Apparently, the first player to hit the painted stripy stick with their respective colored spheres wins the match.

So, there you have it, folks: the rules and history of croquet. You may feel free to take the advice of Robert Ripley and "Believe it or not". You may find differing information on the Internet, at the library, or by consulting an actual croquet official. All the same, this is MY story and I'm sticking to it.

[This piece was written with dedication and abject apologies to my US History teachers, the United States Croquet Association, and the memory of Fess Parker]


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Make a Hole, Rick!

I looked around me and I was still trying to figure out everything. For a split second, I thought I was dreaming. That idea was quickly dashed when I heard the screaming again. It was at this moment that I began to put some pieces together. I was in a barracks with seventy-nine other men. “Men” is a loose term as most of the seventy-nine others were barely eighteen years old (including me). In many states, eighteen was not old enough to buy alcoholic beverages. However, in these great United States, eighteen is old enough to vote and old enough to serve one’s country in the military. OK, now it is all coming back to me. After less than an hour of sleep (due to all the processing I went through the previous day), I was about to experience my first full day in boot camp in the United States Navy. The seventy-nine other young men were sharing this experience with me. Out of a total of eighty recruits, sixty-four would graduate eight weeks later. The other sixteen would be set back or sent home.
The man who was screaming obscenities at us at the top of his lungs was one of two company commanders assigned to the recruits of Company 202, Navy Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois. He ordered us to make our racks (i.e. beds) because our mothers were no longer going to do it for us. The company commanders wore working white uniforms with a decorative red rope attached to the shoulder of the uniform shirt. This red rope is what let us know we were looking at a company commander.  We were told if we ever pass a company commander, we were to stop, salute, and say “Good morning, Sir” (or afternoon or evening). Mind you, on the first day of boot camp, we were calling the cockroaches “Sir”.  Still, this was vital information to know. We had not even had breakfast yet and a perfect stranger was yelling and cussing at us. Therefore, it was important to know the rule and follow them. The object was to have them NOT yell and cuss at you. This was not something that could be obtained with a nice friendly smile. The object could only be met by doing what you were told, when you were told AFTER you responding sharply with “AYE AYE, SIR”.
The company commander marshaled us to the galley. We were not allowed to talk while we were outdoors. Doing so would cause a recruit to be subjected to a MASH (Make a Sailor Hurt). In short, you were told to do a callisthenic exercise for a specified number of repetitions. We marched in stone silence. We arrived at the entrance doors to the galley. It was at this point that we all began to feel conspicuous. Our first day of boot camp was July 4, 1984. The date was as coincidental as it was ironic. I did not deliberately choose Independence Day when I signed up. It just worked out that way. This also meant that we would not be issued uniforms or get haircuts for another day. The only thing close to a uniform we were provided was a thin black raincoat. These raincoats mean only one thing. It’s your first day of boot camp.
As we were herded into the galley, the smell of food made us all think there was relief in sight (at least temporarily). We were wrong. We were met with other, more senior, recruits. They looked at us in our raincoats and uncut hair with a look of contempt and pity. “FRESH MEAT!!” one snarled. Others made profane comments about the length of our hair. One of my fellow recruits had shoulder length hair and a face full of beard. Another had a long jheri curl. These two were subjected to the worst of the teasing. As we stood in line for the food, we were subjected to more yelling. “NO TALKING ON THE GREEN”. This recruit, assigned to the galley for service week (the midpoint in boot camp) was referring to the area where we were standing in line for our food. The floor tile underneath us was green. Again, violating this rule would result in a MASH. We soon found out how real that was as one of the recruits in my company began talking. Suddenly the company commander was two inches in front of his face and yelled “DROP!” The illustration was clear. Many of us were reluctant to open our mouths even when our food was in front of us. We were hungry but we weren’t crazy.
The company commander (also referred to as a CC or “red roper”) took us to an unexpected destination after we left the galley. He took us to a building that had phone booths.  It was a large room where phone booths lined all four walls save the doorway. At this point, I had been yelled at, screamed at, and degraded by perfect strangers who didn’t know me from Adam’s housecat. I figured if I could spend the allotted 10 minutes talking to my parents everything would be okay. I made my collect call home and my sister answered the phone. I asked to speak to Mom and Dad. My sister said “They aren’t here. They went out for breakfast”. My heart sank. They weren’t expected me to call any more than I was. Still, I wanted so badly to talk to them. I told my sister I loved her and hung up. It took all the restraint I had in me to hold back my tears.
Once we settled into our barracks, the CC gave us some basic instructions to Navy boot camp life. He taught us the chain of command from the President of the United States (Ronald Reagan) to the two company commanders assigned to us (RM2 Scanlon and AE2 Fertig). We were also taught that many other red ropers would make references to “Rick” or “Ricky”. This was basically our new, generic name: Ricky Recruit. We were then allowed some time to make a head call (restroom) and use the scuttlebutt (water fountain). One thing the company commander told us was very sorely needed advice. There is only one way to survive the boot camp experience: one day at a time. For a spoiled eighteen year old kid, it was the best advice I could have ever received.
I kept giving it another day; then another. I learned the rules, performed the drills, and attended the classes with my company.  Every day we became more and more like a unit. We endured physical fitness testing and (sometimes) daily MASH sessions. We did it as a unit with a straight face and a sharp “AYE AYE SIR!” We enjoyed “Coke and Smoke” sessions when we were granted them. We enjoyed CARE packages sent from home which we gladly shared with the entire company. When we heard “MAKE A HOLE, RICK!” we parted like the Red Sea to allow a red roper to pass between us. It wasn’t a bed of roses, but every day made it easier to give it another day. I was sidelined with bronchitis when my company ran its final physical fitness test (the “run for the gate”). However, a week later, I ran a makeup test and was then ready to graduate with my company.
Finally, the day came. The day we worked eight weeks to see — August 30, 1984. It was Graduation Day. I joined sixty-three fellow recruits in dress white uniforms prepared to pass in review. We marched back to the barracks to get our liberty cards and meet our loved ones back on the grinder. We even got an extra day of liberty due to it being Labor Day weekend. My boot camp experience began and ended with a national holiday. We all spent the weekend with our loved ones with no idea how to act in public. Even after graduating, we were all subconsciously afraid of saying something that would cause our CC to appear out of nowhere and MASH us.
We left our last day of boot camp the following week. Our company commander told us something that made us all proud: “You are no longer Ricks. You are sailors”. We shook hands and said our goodbyes. Most of my fellow recruits I never saw again after that day. I left for my school to train to be a hospital corpsman. I have long since been discharged but the experience I will carry with me forever.

I’d like to give thanks to a few people who made this blog post possible.
  • Radioman Second Class Michael Scanlon and Airman Electricians Mate Second Class Arthur Fertig (ranks were as of 1984). Thank you both for doing your jobs and never allowing me to give up on myself.
  • Thank you to all the wives, girlfriends, mothers, and other loved ones who provided cookies and other treats to the entire company. Unless you have been through boot camp, you have no idea how such a gesture made the experience bearable.
  • Thank you to everyone who sent letters offering encouragement and love. If you currently have a friend, son, daughter, spouse or other loved one in boot camp, keep the letters and cookies coming in.
  • Thanks to my closest ally in boot camp: Illinois resident Mike Nosek. Mike was a newlywed at the time whose daughter was born midway through boot camp. Thank you for everything, Mike.
  • Last, but certainly not least, thank you to all who experience boot camp before me and after me. Whether you are on the front line overseas or in a cushy desk job at some skate military installation, our freedoms are protected by your service. 

Posted below are pictures from my days in Navy boot camp (Great Lakes, Illinois, 1984).

The first photo is (l-r) Seaman Recruit Mike Nosek and Seaman Recruit Shane McAfee. Mike was a great guy who helped me get through the boot camp experience. His wife had a beautiful daughter halfway through boot camp. Sadly, I lost touch with him after boot camp.

The other pictures that follow is (in order of appearance): My Dad and me, me by myself, and my mom and me. Thise pictures were taken the weekend I graduated from boot camp. It was Labor Day weekend, 1984.