Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Path of Least Resistance

If ever there a path be in my life,
cut out to parry every kind of strife,
in earth so deeply carved by demon tools;
one littered with the flinty glint of jewels,
and polished with the easiness of fools,
do prod me climb the grip-less hard-pitched walls.
In guise the path of least resistance calls.
Do prod me hard that I cannot ignore.
If hear you nay, pound hard upon my door.
Leave not, or I shall wallow evermore.
For the trap of least resistance does conspire,
to consume the hoard that sink beneath the mire.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Warning Facebook Friends (Escaping Farmville)

Like the rest of us, you don't understand how Facebook really works. Nobody does; nor do we know why it exists, or how we got there. Alien abductions I suspect. Like the rest of us you’ve probably had a memory implanted into your brain that a “friend” invited you there. It’s useless to resist. You’re there now, and there’s no escaping. If they haven’t done so already, the aliens will soon give you a task to perform. I for example maintain a farm in "Farmville" for the aliens, where I’m forced to harvest crops several times a week. The crops I assume go to feed the needy on some far away planet. Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against helping the less fortunate in other galaxies. I just don’t like being enslaved this way, so tonight I am planning to flee the farm. “Friends,” if you see my unattended crops left dying in the fields, please do not notify The Big Face. I want to be as far away as possible when the aliens notice!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Very Brief History of My First Car

Reflections of power lines against a June blue sky began to bend oddly across the metallic gloss of her burgundy hood. The road ahead had suddenly become an unfocused white background lost in my peripheral vision as I watched the reflected lines bend, and re-bend. It was the maiden voyage of my 1967 Mustang, and I’d already struck an iceberg. A ripple first appeared at the far corner just above the right headlight, and it began to grow. Folding metal was coming at me like waves on the ocean. Flakes of paint instead of foam capped each breaker as they approached. It was 1977, and thus it wasn’t the Mustang’s maiden voyage, but rather my maiden voyage in a car of my very own. For fourteen glorious minutes, from the time it was insured at Allstate to the time on the police report (12:14 pm,) it was all mine, and I couldn’t wait to get it home. Graduation was just two days away, and the rearview mirror that I would soon hang my blue and gold S.H.S. Class of ’77 tassel on was now being ripped from the windshield by the side of my head. Through the broken glass a white station wagon came into focus, and then faded away.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Toaster Story

Today, all I wanted was a warm piece of buttered toast, and because that’s all I wanted, I wanted it to be the best warm buttered toast possible; made with only the finest toast making ingredients, and cooked in the finest toasting appliance ever made …so I went down to my local Gigantic Boxo-Mart Store and bought the best, most expensive stainless steel Oster® name brand toaster they had on the shelf. Then, leaving all the lesser toasters behind, I headed to the checkout counter.

Standing in line I could almost smell my toast toasting ...melting butter dripping ..soft peanut butter oozing. “Oh?! Yes debit, no, no cash back. I'll put it in the bag myself, thank you.” Off to the car I ran. With little Oster® safely in the passenger seat next to me we drove home. Making nearly every traffic light along the way, I reveled in my good fortune, and was soon pulling into my driveway. Through the gate, up the walk, into the house we went.

The peanut butter jar greeted me from across the kitchen, “Is that the new toaster?” it asked. “Yes,” I replied as I carefully cut through the double layer of packaging tape and removed it from its box. “Bring it over here,” the peanut butter said, “I want to have a look at it.” We both agreed it was the finest toaster we’d ever seen. Placing it carefully between the blender and the coffee maker, I plugged it in. Fighting to get to the front of the loaf, the bread slices were jostling for position as I untwisted the wire tie to free them from their plastic sleeve. Although the heel protested, the second and third slice were selected to go first.

My whole day had come down to this moment. “Ready?” I said. “Ready!” said the bread. I pressed down on the lever, plunging the bread into the depths of the hot wired cavern that would soon transform their cold limp forms into hot butter-melting masterpieces! I let go of the lever and ….up sprang the bread. I pressed it down again, and again, but the bread would not stay down! What kind of hell is this!? I picked up the shiny new Oster® and shook it. Something rattled inside. I turned it upside down, and along with two slices of not even slightly warm bread a piece of broken white plastic fell out. A piece of white plastic who’s only job in the world was to hold my bread down!

But there it lay on the counter along with two pieces of bread and some crumbs. White crumbs! Hey, I’m making wheat toast here! My thoughts began to rush! Backward through the day my mind flew. Then forward it sped until …STOP! …I could see the clues boldly italicized before my very eyes: White crumbs! double layer of tape! Those Gigantic Boxo-Mart Store bastards!

This piece of junk Oster® toaster had already been returned once by some sorry white toast shopper, and they just taped it back up and threw it back on the shelf! Now I can’t stop the rapid decline of Western Civilization, but I can help you cope with it with this simple warning: If you’re at the Gigantic Boxo-Mart Store and the item you want to purchase has two layers of packaging tape on it, don’t frickin buy it!

The Incredible Shrinking American Vacation

Once upon a time the average American family would pack up the car each summer and go on vacation. They would travel the interstate highway system to such great places as The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park, Knott's Berry Farm, or even Disneyland! During the last quarter of the twentieth century Americans often flew to far away places like Hawaii, Mexico, The Bahamas, or even Europe! These vacations which once occurred annually usually lasted a full week or two. This was the reward for eleven plus months of working the All-American forty hour work week. Recently however the annual weeklong vacation seems to have gone out of style around here. The travel ads of yesteryear have all but disappeared from my newspapers, magazines, and billboards. In their place I’ve noticed a new phenomenon with all new terms.

On my radio last week I heard a local hotel pitchman tell me that I deserved a "staycation" at their fine local facility. I’ve also noticed this word “staycation” in a few print ads over the past summer. Apparently a staycation is just like a vacation except you don’t go anywhere. No passport, no jet lag, no currency exchange; just stop the mail, pack your bags, and drive fifteen minutes. Welcome to not quite home! “Honey, you forgot to pack your dress shoes for dinner tonight. Oh, that’s okay dear we’ll just swing by the house, and pick ‘em up on the way.” Ahh, this is livin’! This is the staycation the radio told me I deserved. Also, because there’s not much to do fifteen minutes from home, you can squeeze in a lot of staycationing in just two days, which is as I found out how long a staycation package lasts.

But what if a staycation just isn’t right for you? If you can’t afford a two night hotel stay because you lost your job, or if you’re working six days a week to keep your job, you might be in the market for a “daycation.” That’s right; I saw it on an advertisement just yesterday. A local spa suggested that I should spoil myself for a whole day with a "daycation" at their exotic establishment! In at ten, and out by five. I suppose I could mail off the postcards around noon. I’ll have to unpack fast when I get home. I want to catch the six o’clock news tonight to see what happened while I was away on daycation.

I remember just last year thinking that a week wasn’t enough time for a real vacation. Whenever I was on one of my week long (nine days including both weekends) vacations I’d invariably end up talking with some Europeans on holiday. The conversation would always go the same. What was my whole vacation was just a one week stopover on their two month tour of the entire western hemisphere. Oh, how I dreamed of taking a two month vacation someday. A vacation with more than a single destination. But now I’d gladly settle for one whole week (nine days including both weekends) anyplace away from here.

Well, all this writing and dreaming of foreign travel has me worn out. I think I’ll go take a nap now. No, on second thought I think I’ll take a “laycation.” Afterall, I deserve it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Death Defiant

Should time of my demise be left to choose,
Procrastination be my loyal ruse.
And if the place be left to utter sway,
Then name a place beyond the far away.
And be the method past within my power,
Then lash me to the poison poppy flower.
Today defiance held as my decree,
Tonight I feel he’s coming after me.
I thought I heard a footstep on the path,
A press upon my door by demon’s wrath.
On window near a finger lightly raps,
In corner of the night a black boot taps.
But I’ll sneak out this room before the dawn,
And far into the wood I shall be gone.

The Iron Latch

At first it seemed too plain a thing to write.
A memory that need not a pen record.
In passing by the gate into the night,
The iron latch my ear so long ignored.
In slamming she may choose to catch, or not.
No oil has wept for years upon her clasp.
The post to which she clings has gone to rot.
The gate she holds relentless in her grasp.
In time the post and gate will two be gone,
Eroded by the salty wind of time.
The iron latch alone will carry on,
Though by the bye another post to climb.
But I will never hear its solid sound.
By then I shall be buried ‘low the ground.

The True Story of Little Miss Muffet

I took this photo of a spider in front of my house and titled it "The Great Wallenda" …but the interesting part was what happened after I took the photo. While the spider was signing the model release form we struck up a conversation during which he told me a story that has been passed down in his family for generations, and now with his permission I can share that story with you here:

"The Great Wallenda"
The True Story of Little Miss Muffet

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet
Eating her curds and whey.
Along came Wallenda,
With a different agenda
And they still talk about it today

However due to legal wrangling between the Wallenda’s and Tuffet’s, in today’s version Wallenda is simply referred to as “a spider.” Wallenda originally wanted top billing in the story, which was immediately rejected by the Tuffet’s team of lawyers, and as talks broke down he was eventually denied all royalties from further publications of the event, causing him to demand that his name and likeness be removed from the story entirely. His name was removed, but despite an intense court battle his likeness remained because the judge agreed with the Tuffet’s counsel that “along came a cricket who wanted to lick it” changed the story entirely. Pleas by the Wallenda’s lawyer to use a beetle or cockroach instead of a spider also failed. And that’s why in today’s version it was “a spider who sat down beside her, and frightened Miss Muffet away.”

Now you know the true story.

The Last Witness

Sapless, brittle leaves scuttle by my feet,
As moth obscured street lamps cast shadows faint.
Winter winds chase disarray down the street,
Across lines of time, and weathered white paint.
Tis here I sit, in the ghost of town square,
Upon wooden bench of love deeply carved.
Initialed by those who once lingered there
To inscribe promises later gone starved.
Better it was here a century ago.
Before men’s titanic arrogances.
This concrete then meadow frosted by snow.
Before blood poured o'er these barbed wire fences.
Rest I now ‘neath the last witness to thee,
Consoled at the base of a mournful tree.

Below the Sawmill

Towering o’er the hunchback man
Steam driven arms thrust and clank
A vault of toil, deafening, dank
The ceiling shakes a cable snakes past creosoted beams
Once tall and lean, now bent unclean of sweat and steam
The old man sweeps

A small dark room of bench and broom
From where he sweeps to earn his keep
A place I still see in my sleep
Long ago there was a crack, and a cable took as cables do
When cables snap, the shortest route from me to you
Steel breaches flesh and bone

Doctors mend what doctors can
And though he’s bent, it’s left unspoken
A lucky man he is, for he’s not altogether broken
And the leaders of the company in all their generosity
Show their binding loyalty, but nothing ever comes for free
An offer made is accepted

A wife a child and bills to pay
And so beneath the grand machine
He works to keep the basement clean
Above his head, steam pressure makes the mighty head rig lunge
Teeth of saw blades tear the air, and into timber plunge
Slabs of hemlock feed the mill

And sawdust falls between the cracks
Just as he has, to the floor below, to a life hollow
A life bent and crooked hard to swallow
Dirt blackened face and empty eyes, into the broom he leans
I walked in green, just a teen, sent below the mill to clean
When I came upon the hunchback man

Davenports and Naugahyde

Back when wild naugas were skinned for their colorful hides and made into davenports, and television sets had legs, we all expected to be zipping to work in flying cars by the 21st century. But today, both naugas and davenports are virtually extinct, and evolution has taken the legs from our television sets… I hear our little toes may be next! Well before that happens I have a flat tire to change (my flying car is in the shop.)

...if you're too young to remember davenports or naugahyde maybe you could give this old man a hand with that tire iron.

Remembering Jim Hinde (singer-songwriter, patriot)

In 2003 I attended my first Oregon Country Fair. I walked in with little idea of what to expect, and immediately became lost among the many paths winding through the trees. The woods of the fair grounds were filled with stages, booths, and eateries, occupied by an eclectic variety of performers, artisans, and cooks. The first performer I happened upon was a gray bearded folk singer sporting a wry smile and worn out blue jeans. He was surveying the crowd through piercing gray eyes from beneath the brim of his tan panama hat. The black guitar case that lay on the ground in front of him contained a few CD’s and his morning’s earnings. Several stickers adorned the case, but one in particular stood out from the others. It was a large black and white bumper sticker that read simply “IMPEACH BUSH.”

If the bumper sticker seemed bold, the songs were even bolder. Songs like Doin' the Perp Walk, and Raise Your Ass, Raise Your Bail told us all what he thought of our presiding administration. They called for the impeachment and arrest of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, and the rest of the gang who were running the country into the ground at the time. This guy with the rosy red cheeks and glinting eyes may have looked Santa Claws, but he was angry. Not angry at life in general, or at the people around him. His smile and kind nature let everyone know he was a gentle man, and his irreverent humor made us all laugh. His anger was an intense anger at injustice and greed. An anger at people so greedy that they’re willing to send other peoples children to die just to increase their own fortunes. As I learned during the show, he was one of those sent to die some three decades earlier.

His Name was Jim Hinde, a proud but disillusioned American Veteran of the Vietnam War. I watched Jim perform again later that same day, and I’ve returned to The Oregon Country Fair every year since to watch him perform his songs of peace and defiance. I’ve purchased every CD Jim ever made (some of them twice) and played them repeatedly to keep my sanity during the “Bush years.” As cowards like Bush and Cheney played army with the lives of millions, Jim Hinde sang his songs of true patriotism, and sought to change his country for the better.

The song Frank Dennis and Me tells the story of survival, sorrow and lies that tens of thousands of Vietnam Veteran’s experienced. Songs like The Dance, Shout Down the Wind, and A Mighty Sad Song, give you further glimpses into life of this remarkable man. The song They’ll Have to Kill Me Down the Road reflects his determination to never compromise. The song Freedom Road was the gift he wanted to give all of us. And after the songs were done, Jim’s willingness to talk to each and every fan who wanted to get an autograph, or share a story showed his genuine humanity.

Jim Hinde was one of my heroes. A man who fought for his country and was nearly destroyed by the Vietnam War. A man who spent the rest of his life fighting his own demons and fighting for peace until his death in 2008 at age 56. May you at last rest in peace Jim.

A memorial tribute performed by folk singer-songwriter Jim Page and others was held for Jim Hinde at the 2008 Oregon Country Fair. Jim’s songs were sung by several of his musician brothers and sisters, as a life sized rainbow colored silhouette of Jim with his guitar stood at the edge of the stage. A photo of Jim, and his tan Panama hat rested on a stool beside it.


Wisdom of a Child

It was another gray morning in the Pacific Northwest, but it was a good shade of gray. It was springtime gray, and the 1968 Tacoma Junior Daffodil Parade was about to begin. A group of volunteer moms were busy preparing refreshments for the long line of leg weary little marchers that would soon be approaching the end of the parade route. I’d walked the route twice in the past two years; first as The Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz, and last year as Robin Hood from Sherwood Forest. I don’t know which made the walking more uncomfortable: silver spray-painted cardboard tube legs, or little girls green tights. Either way it didn’t matter because now that I was nine years old I was retired from the parade, and this year I would be passing out potato chips to the mostly younger kids.

The Greyhound Station parking lot that would host the after parade party was bustling with activity. A portable soda fountain donated by the local Coca Cola bottler was being set up. Four Tacoma Firemen dressed to do battle with anything flammable were at the scene with their big red fire truck, industriously transforming a stack of sawhorses and sheets of plywood into four large tables that would soon hold enough drinks and goodies for several float-loads of kids. Hundreds of mini bags of Nalley’s Potato Chips from nearby Nalley Valley were being unboxed. Bags of candy, cups, napkins, and balloons on sticks were being hauled from nearby cars. Then, little by little the sky began to do what the sky so often does around here.

It turned dark, and it began to rain. Then it began to pour. Anything that couldn’t be shielded by umbrellas was put inside the Coca Cola booth, or thrown under the plywood tables. People ducked under awnings, or back into their cars. I sat under one of the plywood tables, and watched as the undaunted firemen surveyed the scene and discussed how much tarp and rope they would need to set up a makeshift cover for the refreshment area. As they continued pointing and calculating the downpour turned back into rain which slowed to a drizzle before becoming a sprinkle, and then it stopped.

The darkened sky returned to springtime gray which eventually gave way to blue and the umbrellas began to fold. Soda pop began to fill the paper cups. Boxes were pulled from under the tables, and then everything came to a halt. The tables that were supposed to hold all the drinks, and treats, were covered with puddles of water. The moms all looked to the firemen for help. The four quickly began wiping off the tables with their hands. They splashed at the puddles, and used up all the napkins they could find in a futile effort to dry the tables. Two of the firemen left to go get a squeegee and some towels from their truck.

With the front of the parade fast approaching, and my potato chips still not at their place on the table, I walked up to the two remaining firemen. I looked up at the bigger one who seemed to be in charge and said “Excuse me mister, wouldn’t it be easier just to turn the wood over so the dry side is on top?” I can still hear the moms laughing, and I can still see the two red faced firemen flipping the sheets of plywood over, dry side to the sky, as the other two firemen returned with their unneeded towels and squeegee in hand. With everyone’s help the dry tabletops were soon filled with enough food and drinks to serve every last soggy little kid. I even managed to pilfer a couple extra chip bags for myself... barbecue flavored.

My Advice on Sending Flowers (and a free bonus poem)

If your wife works hard in an office all day like mine does, you really should send her flowers once in a while to let her know she’s appreciated. And to reward your gargantuan effort, the least she should do is make sure they last as long as possible.

That’s why I wrote this little poem (Feel free to use it. Women love poetry) It's aptly titled:

I’d Appreciate You Appreciating My Token of Appreciation
Roses are Red Except When They're Dead

Roses are red
And these ones are for you
If you take care of them
They should last a week or two
So be sure to give them water
And check them every day
Trim an inch from every stem
And they like a misting spray

Be sure to add that little pack
Of powder in the card
It’s supposed to keep them fresher
Now that shouldn’t be too hard
Oh, and keep them from the window
Direct sun is bad I’m told
Set your thermostat at sixty
Wear a sweater if you’re cold

And you should get some bluer lights
Sylvania 60 watt
Your office lights are yellow
New ones shouldn’t cost a lot
There’s a ladder in the closet
By the bottom of the stairs
Remember that florescent lights
Should be replaced in pairs

You could screw up the ballast
If you change out only one
And changing out a ballast
Will not be cheap, or fun
Your roses will to do better
And look better in this light
But it all will be for nothing
If you don’t turn them off at night

The biological clock
That still ticks in every bloom
Must not be disturbed
For that would be your roses doom
Now if you follow these instructions
To prolong your flowers life
When your co-workers see them
They’ll think “What a lucky wife!”


Of all the years I can remember that end in nine, I think 1969 was my favorite. All of the other nines have been less stellar. Yes, there have been a couple good sevens, and maybe even a nice two or two. But for a really good nine you have to give it to the standard bearer of the sixties, 1969.

So, who was the guy that stayed in the Apollo 11 capsule circling the moon for three days while Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin got to go play in the lunar dust? If you said Timothy Leary you’re only half right.

Now whenever someone tells me something was “really good” I like to say: “Was it Neil Armstrong good? Buzz Aldrin good? or just Michael Collins good?” And when they say “Michael Collins?” I just say “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” and pretend to lose interest.

What Kind of Kid Was I?

What kind of little kid was I? Well one thing for sure, I was no Thomas Edison edition.

As a kid, my record player was my prize possession. When I wasn’t playing records on it, I used it as a pottery wheel. That’s what the 78rpm setting was for… 33rpm was for albums, 45rpm was for singles, and 78rpm was for pottery. Amazingly, all the water running off the clay never did short out that old record player. They don't make 'em like that anymore! When I eventually got a new one though, it didn’t have a 78rpm setting. All the lousy thing could do was play records!

On a related tangent; I had a toy car once that ran on batteries and went about 5 miles per hour. I figured that if I cut off the end of an extension cord and hooked the bare wires to where the batteries go, I could make the car go much faster. Everything was going as planned until I plugged the business end of the extension cord into the wall. Instead of going from zero to sixty in four feet, the car exploded in a puff of smoke, and the light bulb in the ceiling above my head blew up. The old fuse box on the back porch prevented further detonations by plunging the house into total darkness.

Having successfully not been electrocuted twice already, I eventually turned 10 and watched Neil Armstrong land on the moon. Those were good times.

Am I Mentally Nuts?

Am I nuts? I certainly hope so. Anything less is just memorization. My wife and kids would laugh at the question, and all nod yes. I tell them it’s just the creativity leaking out. Not the financially rewarding kind of creativity that has become so popular these days, but the other kind. The kind they call “nuts.” I grew up on Dr. Seuss, and National Geographic, and found them both equally compelling, so when it was time to raise my own kids I decided to raise them on 50% nonsense, and 50% facts. Later I found that facts are harder to remember than nonsense so it ended up being more like 60/40. I was constantly changing the words of their stories, and the lyrics of their songs to keep them fresh and interesting, and to avoid copywrite infringements. The kids have long since grown up and moved away, but the wife for some reason has stayed. Some would say she’s the one who’s nuts.