Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Hanukkah.

Just a reminder that a 2,176 year old tradition begins anew tonight. So tonight in honor of all Jews living and passed who have helped to light up the world we live in, I light my menorah. I don’t light it out of a profound belief in the miracle of the Maccabees, for I don’t believe in miracles. Nor do light it out of any family tradition, for I was raised Roman Catholic. I light it in honor of the millions of Jewish families who should be lighting their own menorahs tonight; the millions of “missing families” who don’t even exist today because the men and women who would have been their parents and grandparents were slaughtered in the Holocaust. Slaughtered not because of anything they had done, but merely because of who they were.


Hanukkah means "to dedicate."  It’s not a major Jewish holiday, but it is the most well known Jewish holiday to non-Jews, so I think it’s a good time for us non-Jews to dedicate ourselves to remembering the Holocaust; a good time for the world to dedicate itself to never letting such genocide happen again. Religion aside, respecting and protecting all people is just the right thing to do, so for the next eight nights I will light the menorah for those who never had the chance. Happy Hanukkah.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Ant Farm Incident

It was during the summer of 1989 when my stepson Steven first took an interest in ant farming. Ah yes, that innocent August when hot days were as long as licorice ropes, and a six-year-old's dreams were limited only by the curb at each end of the block.

When I heard the news I remembered how I once asked for an ant farm too. I guess I didn’t play my cards right though because I ended up with a neurotic hand-me-down squirrel instead; a squirrel that bit me all summer long, and hibernated during the winter. Lousy gatherer, that’s all he was. He couldn’t farm a lick. Well I wasn’t about to let this kid’s dream be crushed like mine was, so we sat down... you know, man to man like, and we had a little chat.

“So" I said "ya want to be an ant farmer eh?”
“Umm... yes.”
“It’s a big responsibility ya know.”
“Umm... it’s only four dollars.”
“Sea Monkey’s were only four dollars, but do you remember what the food cost?”
“But ants eat crumbs, and junk.”

Well, that was good enough for me. The Acme Deluxe Ponderosa Ant Farm arrived in the mail three weeks later.

“The ant farm’s here!” I announced.
“The what?” said Steven.
“The ant farm we wanted, I mean you wanted… it came today.”
“Can I watch TV?”
“Don’t you want to put your farm together?”
“Are there ants?”
“They should be in the box. Let’s open it up.”

We spilled the contents of the Acme Deluxe Ponderosa Ant Farm out on the table and took a quick inventory. Green plastic parts, clear plastic parts, bag of sand, tube of live ants, and one instruction manual/accessories order form.

“Well it looks like it’s all here,” I said.
“Can I take the ants out?”
“No, no wait. We have to set up the farm first.”

I've never followed the directions to assemble anything in my life, and I have a drawer full of spare parts to prove it, but I thought this would be the perfect time to set a good step-fatherly example and do this thing by the book.

STEP 1. Assemble the base. See fig. 1

“Can I take the ants out?” Steven repeated.
“Hang on, I’m reading the instructions. Here, snap these two pieces together.”

Before getting to STEP 2. I spied a note on the side of the instruction sheet that said “HINT: Placing ants in freezer before introduction to ant farm will calm ants for easier transfer.”

“Hey, Steven it says here we should put the ants in the freezer.”
“Won’t that hurt ‘em?”
“No, no, it’ll just slow ‘em down a bit so they don’t escape when you put ‘em in the farm.”

So into the freezer went the crew of Ant Station Zebra... Future inhabitants of the Ponderosa Dunes Agricultural Community.

STEP 2. Snap feet to base. See fig. 2... and so on it went as we reviewed each instruction carefully, ate some dinner, and talked about farming... ant farming, and farming in general. Eventually it was time to pour in the sand, so in it went. Well mostly in, a little out.

“We can sweep that up later," I said, "Look, we’re almost done!”
“But where are the tunnels?”
“Oh that’s the fun part. You get to watch the ants dig the tunnels.”

STEP 9. Assemble ant farm lid. See fig. 9

“Snap, click," and the farm was ready
"Can I take the ants out now?” Steven asked.
“Sure, go get ‘em. It’s time to start farmin’."

STEP 10. To calm ants for easy transfer into their new environment place ant vial in freezer for 2 minutes. IMPORTANT: Do not leave ants in freezer longer than 5 minutes!

“Wholly shit!!” I let slip.
“What?”
“Oh nothing… Hurry up, get the ants!”

The ants poured into their new home like a teaspoon of Rice Krispies.

“When are they gonna start digging?” the new farm boss asked.
“Well they need to thaw out first” I said, wondering where I could find a replacement ant colony at this hour.

We watched, and we waited. Then we watched, and waited a little longer. It was like waiting for that first kernel of popcorn to pop, except in this case there would be no second or third, let alone any forth or fifth kernels popping. Five minutes passed, and then... very un-suddenly there was movement in the pile. A lone limping ant emerged from the heap of assorted legs, antennae, and thoraxes. It looked like it had just climbed Mt. Everest barefoot with no oxygen. In other words it was very calm. Slowly it ambled half way across the Ponderosa before stopping to rest.

“What about the rest of ‘em?” Steven inquired.
“I think we got a bad batch.”

The next hour confirmed that yes, we did indeed get a bad batch.

"Well, it's gettin' late," I said.
"They're dead huh?"
"Yeah, but maybe we can find some more outside tomorrow.”
“Yeah, maybe.”

And so we placed the ant farm up on the dresser...
right next to the dried up Sea Monkey aquarium.

“Good night.” I told Steven
“Good night.”

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Curmudgeon’s Holiday Poem


My knees are feeling older
And the toilet seat is colder
But there’s paper in the holder
So I guess it could be worse

Oh the joys of late November
With a turkey to dismember
These are times I will remember
Future stuff to tell my nurse

We all gather at the table
And give thanks that we are able
To watch football on the cable
So we don’t have to converse

Now the Firewood needs chopping
But we’re going Christmas shopping
And the mall is really hopping
No, I will not hold your purse!

In a beard too tightly fitting
Poor ol’ Santa’s head is splitting
On his lap the kids are sitting
Kringle looks a little terse

Little drummer boys are drumming
And the Christmas cards are coming
Now we have some frozen plumbing
This is when I start to curse

Oh the joys of mid December
With a faucet to dismember
These are times I will remember
I feel sorry for that nurse

Oh they say they are delighted
To their party I’m invited
Such delight is unrequited
In their wine glass I immerse

Oh the joys of January
I don’t mean to sound contrary
I’ll say “have a very merry…
Holiday” and I’ll disperse


Yes that was the final verse

Nurse!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Beef Jerky

I’ve been living as a quasi-vegetarian for almost a year now, eating primarily vegetable, fungus, and fish matter with feigned enthusiasm to support my wife’s new “let’s see how old we can grow” healthy lifestyle strategy. Well today I was searching the kitchen cabinet's snack selection of sweet-potato chips, dried fruit chunks, bulk granola, raw almonds, yogurt raisins, etc. when way in the back, behind the natural sea salt chips I spotted a bag of beef jerky ...beef jerky? Wholly smokes! My head went on a swivel to make sure I was alone. My heart started pounding. I suddenly felt flush. "Beef jerky, how long have you been back there little guy?”

Okay, I knew I had to act fast. Luckily we men are always in touch with our lizard brain, and though dormant for much of my adult life I found out today that my primal instincts have remained razor sharp! I immediately remembered being in a similar situation at one other time in my life, and just like that day long ago when I was only twelve years old, I grabbed the dirty magazine, er I mean the beef jerky, and ran to hide it in a place where only I would have access to it, and I’m sure I’ll be going back there often to retrieve it in the coming days. In fact I feel like going back there right now just to look at it.

Umm, let’s just keep this our little secret …okay?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Cursing Hitler

House lights and street flickered and dimmed,
as the din of air raid sirens flooded every corridor
like ice cold blood rushing down from the hills.
Soon every light went black, and every sound went silent,
and every breath was held, and every hand was clenched.
Even the iron hands of the old town clock were too afraid to move.

Time stood still, and all the people in the city stood frozen.
But on this night instead of the hum of airplanes approaching,
the coarse scratch of a wood match against a concrete wall broke the silence,
and the flickering face of a withered old man lit the room.
Time moved for him alone as he inhaled from his pipe, and dropped the match.
Pushing through the stillness he opened a door, and stepped into the street.

“I’m sick of your bloody fucking war!” he cursed.
Then he looked up, puffing his tobacco,
and dared the sky to answer him.
Tired and proud, he stood alone,
and he waited, unwavering,
for Hitler to respond.


  

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It Just Can’t Get Any Better Than This... Can It?

 
What a great day it was today. The sun was perched up over the house with a big warm grin on its face, and for the first time this year it actually felt like a proper springtime afternoon. Now I didn’t want to insult Mother Nature by staying indoors, so I decided I‘d go give the lawn its second mowing of the season. I used to think that mowing the lawn was a chore, but that was before I’d advanced from the drudgery of push mowing to the pleasures of motorized lawn tractor mowing, which is really just an excuse for drinking a beer and smoking a cigar in the middle of the week, while driving around in circles. You can’t say that about vacuuming now can you ladies? Of course not, so into the closet the vacuum cleaner went, and out the back door I went to answer the beckoning call of a manlier chore, with an ice cold beer in one hand, and a counterfeit Cuban cigar in the other.

In no time at all I was out there on the track lapping the competition… “Outta my way donkey! Look out goat!” Around the tree, past the horseshoe pits, and down the fence line I went. Mowin’ and drinkin’ and smokin’ and bouncin’ my way around the rutted weed carpeted grounds of Johnson Manor. Then about a half a beer later as I was cruzin' by the back deck I thought to myself “Man, it just can’t get any better than this.”

But then a glint of golden sunlight bounced off the glass French doors over by the hot tub, and shot back across the deck straight toward my amber bottle of now warm foamy refreshment, which it struck with an inspiring sparkle that caused me to amend my previous thought to “Man, maybe it could get better than this.” Then I looked back up at those glass French doors as my thoughts continued to drift… “Maybe a topless woman could come walking out of that doorway there, and bring me a fresh ice cold bottle of beer.” You know, because I was working so hard.

Yep, that’s me, the eternal optimist. So as I was riding around the yard smoking like a chimney and drinking like a fish… oh yeah, and mowing the grass, I pulled out my phone and called up the wife up at work and said “Hey honey, why don’t you leave the office early today? …Yes, you deserve it …Yeah, and when you get home could you grab me a beer, but before you bring it outside to me could you take off your….”

“Hello? ...hello?”

Darn cell phones. She must have had a bad connection. Hmmm, maybe I should call her back. I forgot to tell her which kind of beer I wanted.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Of Bottles and Diapers

  
Over the past couple days we’ve been taking care of a 2 month old little girl (the human variety.) Sure people occasionally drop off their dogs, cats and goats at my place, but seldom am I entrusted with a member of a higher species. Wait… before you panic, let me inform you that I did raise a couple kids of my own just a quarter (and change) of a century ago, so as they say it’s just like riding a bike, right?

Wrong! It’s more like riding a unicycle… on a high-wire, while juggling flaming chainsaws (Tickets still available for the midnight, and 4:00am shows.) Well to be honest, my wife is the one doing most the juggling. I’m just standing down here under the net giving her moral support, and assisting with some of the props (oh so many props!) and as I assist (safely out of spit-up range) I’m gaining a new level of respect (and sympathy) for my all grandparenting friends out there who do this sort of thing regularly.

Oh by the way, Mama will be stopping by at 4:00 this afternoon to pick up her adorable little chainsaw.

Parallel Universe

  
In a parallel universe moss and dandelions are prized, and mole hills are considered a luxury. As I walked down the driveway this morning to pick up my Sunday newspaper I accidently stepped into that universe for just a moment, and as I looked back at the house I realized that I have the nicest yard on the block.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Morning

  
When I realized it was Easter this morning I ran to the refrigerator, flung open the door and yelled at the eggs “Run for your lives!” They just sat there looking up at me like the light was bugging ‘em or something. Just goes to show you can only help those who are willing to help themselves.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Rite of Spring

  
Ah, the smell of fresh cut grass! Yes that’s right, today was the opening day of lawn mowing season here at Johnson Manor. It’s that special time of year when I hop on the old Cub Cadet, shift the lever from turtle to rabbit speed, pull out the choke and turn the key to begin the initial harvest of spring. Fuel and adrenalin surge as I feel the power of the machine with its twenty horses rumbling beneath me, and I feel my farming ancestors as they channel through my veins. Then with the mighty tractor’s finely tuned engine revving and its newly sharpened blades spinning in unison, I drive onto the lawn where I immediately begin flinging chipped rocks and bits of lost reading glasses all over the yard as the goats and donkeys run for cover; and then I pause to wonder, as chunks of rubber dog toys ricochet off the back of the house, why any engineer worth his college degree would design a riding lawnmower with only one beer holder.

Friday, April 15, 2011

C.E.O. Position Available:

Large American Corporation seeks C.E.O. with right qualifications. Applicant must be willing to accept obscenely large salary, benefit, and bonus package in compensation for slashing the wages and benefits of hourly employees, and eliminating hourly positions when and wherever possible. A successful applicant is one who can place short term profits above the long term health of the company, the community, and the environment. A successful applicant is one who favors modern marketing techniques over personalized service or quality products to maintain a strong customer base. The moral inability to deny a family a home, deny a woman her rights, deny a man his dignity, or deny a child a doctor may disqualify any applicant from this position. If chosen for this position you will be granted a chauffeured limousine, a company jet, and a seven city condo package. If you do not already have a trophy wife, one will be appointed to you at orientation. Large American Corp. is not an EEO employer. Wealthy white male psychopaths encouraged to apply.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Man Alive

  
I take my camera with me almost everyplace I go, but not inside the grocery store. After the photo opportunity I missed today however, I may have to reconsider that policy.

This morning I pulled into the WinCo Foods parking lot to pick up some Chinese mustard, sesame seeds, and dog food (No, there’s no correlation between the first two and the later item.) After parking the truck I set my camera behind the passenger seat as I always do in such places, and walked toward the entrance. As I approached, out of the store walked a white haired man who I would guess to be at least seventy five years old. He was pushing one of those big WinCo shopping carts about half full of groceries, and behind him walked a woman who I assume was his wife.

About ten feet outside the store the old man began pushing the cart faster and faster, leaving his wife behind. Then he put one foot up on the back of the cart, and gave a couple good shoves off the ground with the other foot, sending the cart and himself flying downhill between two rows of parked cars. My immediate reaction was to reach for the camera that I wasn’t carrying at the time, and as much as I wanted to run back to the truck for it, I knew the moment would be lost if I did. And so I just stood there and smiled as I watched.

The man with his thin gray hair flapping in the wind zoomed down the incline for about thirty yards, and then he and the cart gradually slowed as the parking lot tipped slightly uphill. When he stopped, he was just feet from his car, but barely within yelling distance of his wife, who continued to walk unperturbed toward her husband. What was she thinking, I wondered. “Damn you Harold! Why must you act like such a child?” or was she thinking “There goes my hero” and remembering a time when the wind blew in both of their faces. I certainly hope it was the later.

I continued to watch as he loaded the groceries into the trunk, pushed the cart to the cart corral, and returned just in time to open the car door for his wife. Yes I wished I had my camera, but the story will have to be enough. What a picture!

While shopping I realized that my new hero (the seventy-some year old kid) could have parked much closer to the store if he wanted to. There were plenty of spaces available. I bet he parks in that spot and takes that life affirming cart ride every time he and his wife go grocery shopping. And what a good wife he has. It’s not every woman who would walk that extra distance just so her husband could take such a joy ride. Leaving the store I imagine that he must have been a race car driver, or crop duster in his younger years… and yes, then I took a little cart ride of my own.
  

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

My Own Way

  
Please teach me nothing.
Let me find my own way.
Let me make my own mark on the wall,
Below the millions who have come before me,
Above the millions who behind me crawl.

Please show me nothing.
Let me use my own eyes.
Let me contemplate the world I see,
Here in the moment, from the my own perspective,
To witness and imagine what could be.

Please sing me nothing.
Let me hear my own song.
Let me hear the music of the land,
From melodies that blow through windy canyons,
To beating waves that crash upon the sand.

Please give me nothing.
Let me earn my own way.
Let me find a way to show my worth,
To add coin of gratitude for my time,
For all the days I walked upon this earth.
  

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Wall Street Doughboy

  
The Wall Street Journal reported that Hedge Fund Manager John Paulson earned a record $5 billion in individual income during 2010, so I got out my calculator and crunched the numbers:

$5 billion in one year is equal to $13.7 million per day, or $571 thousand per hour, or $9.5 thousand per minute, or $158 per second. But wait, those figures are only valid if you consider him to be at work 24-7-365. Hey even this guy’s got to sleep and spend some quality time with the family, so if you recalculate those numbers based on a 40 hour per week salary (including golf meetings and paid vacations) the amount he was paid for his invaluable services in 2010 was in excess of $2.4 million per hour, or $40 thousand per minute, or $667 per second.

Yes I know, most weeks Mr. Paulson probably puts in more than his 40 hours at the office/golf course/yacht club, but as all of us who've been in management know, when you go on salary you get screwed, so let’s cry some crocodile tears for poor John. Go ahead, go get your Kleenex, and when you get back I’ll show you some fun comparison’s between John’s life and ours.

Fun comparisons:
The average human heart rate is 70 – 80 beats per minute.
...John gets paid over $500 per beat.
The average person blinks every 4 seconds.
...For John that’s $2,668 per blink.
It takes 45 seconds to microwave a hot dog.
...That’s $30 thousand to wait for the ping.
If it took you a minute and a half to read this, collect $60,000.00
...Oh wait, if you’re not John Paulson collect zero.

Important tax note:
80% of John’s earnings were paid in capital gains, so luckily his tax burden will be minimal, and if Republicans get their way, soon capital gains won’t be taxed at all. Won’t that be nice? Maybe then John can go out and buy that small country he’s always wanted.
    

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pioneers

 
Sometimes when I see a jet fly over, or watch the space shuttle on TV I think “I wonder what it would be like if Orville and Wilbur could be brought back to life to witness this.” What would they think? Surely they’d be thrilled beyond belief.

And I wonder what it would be like to take Leonardo da Vinci to the Smithsonian for an afternoon to show him how far we’ve come? Would he be impressed? Would he be surprised and pleased that we remembered to credit him with inventing the delta wing, the hydraulic pump, and so many other things that we use in modern engineering today?

Similarly on the night that Barack Obama was elected I remember thinking what millions of others must have been thinking, “I wish Martin Luther King Jr. could witness this moment.” I thought of how proud and happy he would have been. Of course looking back on it now, it would have been merciful to have returned him to the grave soon after, because I’m sure that after the high of that night the amount of bigotry and racism that arose so quickly after the election from communities all around this country would have saddened Martin greatly. I know it has saddened me.

I hope that someday before I die I can once again think “I wish Martin Luther King Jr. could witness this moment.” Until then, rest in peace Martin. You’re work is finished. America’s work ineptly continues.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Gun Owner's Rant

  
Regarding the viral facebook message that begins with “To everyone who is calling for stricter gun laws in light of the tragedy in Tuscon,” and ends with “if guns are outlawed - only outlaws will have guns!!!”

Folks, “regulating” does not equal “outlawing.” Conflating these two things is an overused NRA tactic that works very well on weak and paranoid minds, but it has no basis in reality. When is the last time our government regulated something as a first step toward outlawing it? That's okay, I’ll wait…........ Well? Considering the fact that unwarranted wiretaps, and secret searches of American citizens by former President what’s-his-name didn’t bother the NRA crowd you wouldn’t think the mere thought of regulating little things like 30 round clips for semi-automatic handguns would upset them, but it does, and how! Just try using your first amendment rights to quiz them about their second amendment rights and you’ll find out how. Yep, they’ll be in your face as fast, loud, and dumb as Billy the Kid’s six-shooter (Believe me. I’ve had that conversation a couple of times now.)

Remember all you Palinite’s, the Second Amendment wasn't written with semiautomatic handguns, and 30 round clips in mind. That’s right, read it yourself. It was written so that “well regulated” militias when needed could show up with flintlock rifles instead of pitchforks to defend us against the British, or French, or whoever else might be pissed off at us. This was important at the time because we didn’t (nor did our founding fathers intend us to have) a standing army.

So why are we so against regulating, and especially against licensing guns when we regulate and license cars, trailers, boats, pets, etc? I’d gladly license my guns if I could get out of permitting my damn carport! For crying out loud, I need a license to wield a clam gun in this state …but not a Glock (unless of course I want to shoot a clam with it.) How ‘bout we consider the possibility that regulations and guns can coexist ...You know like cars and speed limits, or parachutes and ripcords, or are we against preventing senseless deaths?

And by the way, nobody’s even seriously talking about licensing guns in this recent discussion of common sense gun regulations. They’re just talking about possibly reinstating the assault weapons ban. You know, the Bush supported ban that may have saved half the people gunned down in Arizona last week if we hadn't let it expire. That ban is kind of like the ban on driving monster trucks on the freeway (it won’t outlaw “normal” hunting and sporting weapons.) There’s also talk of asking people not to bring guns to political rallies, or places deemed dangerous by local municipalities (like inside taverns for example.) That ban is kind of like saying you can’t drive your car INSIDE the mall. Again it doesn’t take away your weapons. It just says park them outside.

For the record, I’m a gun owner. I like being able to legally have my guns, but I don't feel a need to keep an arsenal. Nor do I have any desire to tote them around in public for the illusion (or delusion) of safety, or worse intimidation. I feel that owning guns is a responsibility as well as a right, and having them without having to show up for militia duty is a privilege …one that I don’t take lightly.

Oh, and one more thing: Maybe we should consider not selling guns to psychotics. I know it won’t stop all the Jared Laughner’s out there from acquiring a gun somehow but shouldn’t we at least make it harder for guys like Hinckley, Chapman, and now Laughner to purchase a gun? We don’t want drunks on our roads, or pedophiles on our playgrounds, so why do we accept heavily armed psychotics on our sidewalks? Just wondering?

Okay, I’m done yammering (for now.) Have a safe day everyone :)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fabric Softener

You live with someone for over twenty years, and then all of a sudden they change on you. That’s right, my wife recently started adding fabric softener to the towel loads! Do you have any idea what fabric softener does to a perfectly good functional towel? Well if you’ve never experienced the horror of it, I’ll tell you. It turns what was once a useful drying cloth into a plush piece of material as soft as a baby’s butt, and just as absorbent. Think about it …if baby’s butts were absorbent they wouldn’t need diapers would they? So here I am, soaking wet in front of the shower trying to dry myself off with the cotton equivalent of an infant’s behind when my wife says “Aren’t those towels soft?” “What the... what did you do, spray them with Scotchgard?” I asked “All I’m doin’ is pushing water around over here!” “...But aren’t they soft?” she continued. “Yeah, soft as a butterfly’s wing” I said “But they’re ruined!! …er, I mean yes dear, they’re very soft.”

Then the next day we’re at the grocery store, so I sneak over to the cleaning section and ask the guy stocking the shelves “Hey, do you have any fabric unsoftener?” He said “Aren’t you the guy who was looking for a stud finder finder a few weeks ago?” “Yeah, that was me …hey, you used to work over at Home Depot, right?” “Yeah, used to” he said, then he started looking real edgy “I got fired for calling a customer a moron!” “Oh, sorry to hear that” I said “but about the fabric unsoftener…” Then he started turning bright red, so I said ”Never mind, I’ll go look for it myself.” Just then my wife came around the corner, and tossed a jug of fabric softener into the cart.

As it turns out, a lot of things I need haven’t been invented yet, so until technology catches up with my lifestyle, I’m keeping a small pile of scratchy absorbent towels separate from the rest of the laundry.