HCaldwell:On . . .


What is there to say? I'm not very interesting. I'm not a good writer. I don't even dress well. If you insist on knowing something about me just wander through the archives. It's all there.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

On genealogy

When our first child was born, my wife went through a difficult birth process. I went through the most terrifying and eventually exhilarating twenty-two hours of my life. Thankfully, it all turned out well. I had refused to go sit in the waiting area after being hurriedly ejected from the delivery room. Pacing continuously in the hallway just outside the door was the best they could do with me.

An eternity later, after seeing and being reassured that all was finally well and that mother and child were resting comfortably, I slumped down into a sitting position on the floor of the recovery room hallway with my back against the wall. I was unable to make my legs push me into a standing position. Since the last thing I had eaten a day earlier was a cold, greasy, formerly grilled cheese sandwich from the vending machine, a kind and perceptive nurse came by with someone’s uneaten plastic container of applesauce. She also handed me a stack of papers that she said I might want to "look over". It was a saintly attempt to help me get off of my emotional roller coaster.

The papers were mostly pamphlets on caring for newborns, breast-feeding, and coupons for samples of disposable diapers and formula. At the bottom of the pile was a form and cover sheet about applying for the birth certificate. As I looked it over, most of the questions were pretty basic. There was an optional section on one of the forms that asked for more complete family information so that a decorative family tree could be printed. It wanted to know in what county my father had been born? It asked about my grandparent’s date of birth and marriage? Where were they born? These were the easiest of the questions. I didn’t know any of them.

I had never lived near any of my grandparents. Three of the four of them died when I was quite young. Even when it came to my own parents, I was woefully ignorant of the specifics of their lives. It was embarrassing to discover just how little family history I had to offer to the second most amazing human being to have ever entered my life (my wife still gets top billing). Sitting in that hallway, I swore to a new son that I would fix the problem.

By the time that first newborn was a teenager, I had spent an astounding number of hours trying to correct my ignorance. I had hounded and annoyed all of my aunts and uncles for dates, stories, old pictures and recollections. I think my parents learned to dread my evening phone calls where I would pester them for phone numbers or former addresses of distant relatives. I wrecked my eyesight visiting family history sites on the Net. Books by the dozens, photocopies and notes by the hundreds started filling filing cabinets in my basement. I spent days watching reels of microfilmed Census Records slowly scroll in front of me. I would have to stop periodically when the constant, jerky motion would make me seasick and nauseous. Gradually, I started to get the feeling that I had actually known these ancestors.

The life of one of them, in particular, a great-grandfather who had died long before I was born became a kind of false childhood memory. He was an English-born sailor of Irish parents who went to sea at age fourteen probably to escape the starvation of the Potato Famine. He was shipwrecked several times, but the only injury he ever sustained was losing the tip of his little finger. He seems to have worked for the Cunard shipping line at some point. I learned that he was skilled in rope craft. He could create intricate models of wooden sailing ships by hand. He disliked the oceangoing iron steamships. Just before the turn of the century, he jumped ship in New York City to start a new life. He carried a leather blackjack for protection. He kept his money rolled up in his clothing so that my great-grandmother couldn’t find it. He had been married and widowed several times before marrying her. His first wife had been named Bridgett. She had had red hair. He died at age ninety-two soon after striking his head on the bedpost during a nightmare.

I think it is in the Egyptian Book of the Dead where it says something like, “you are never really gone as long as your name is written.” As I looked down on that great-grandfather's recently discovered gravestone, I grieved for a loved one I had never met. The ancient Egyptians were almost right. You are never really gone as long as someone knows you were here.

Monday, May 30, 2005

On studying Latin

Yes, I am one of those freakish non-Catholics who actually had four years of Latin in high school. Why, you ask, would you have taken Latin? I don’t remember. I guess it just seemed like a good idea at the time.

I remember spending most of my junior year translating Caesar’s Conquest of Gaul from Latin to English. I don’t remember a single sentence from it. I’m not even sure I remember why Caesar bothered to conquer Gaul in the first place. Now, I wouldn’t know a veni from a vidi. I did go out with a Vici in college though.

I know I spent a lot of time doing verb tense and participle writing exercises. If I saw “Sum, Sumus, and Sunt” in writing today, I would think it was talking about a law firm.

Do you want to know what I can recall from four year’s worth of Latin classes?

Semper ubi sub ubi. (Always wear underwear).

Sunday, May 29, 2005

On the cat and the dishwasher

There is a cat who has occupied our house since she was a small kitten. Like all cats she is well behaved and affectionate only when it serves her ends. Being a mix of Abyssinian and Siamese, she is a small, but striking lady with a beautiful striped fur coat. The Siamese part of her heritage has also given her one of the loudest, most obnoxious voices you have ever heard. I, actually, wanted to name her, Yow Ling, but was overruled by other members of the family. She can generate a loud sustained whining screech that brings tears to your eyes and causes the wallpaper to curl. It seems impossible that such a small body could generate such a heart-rending cry at such ear shattering volumes.

For reasons beyond our understanding, she will begin yowling whenever you unload the dishwasher. Note, that I specified unloading. She is not bothered at all by the loading of the dishwasher. You can open and close the dishwasher door for hours. She will do what all house cats do so well; ignore you. You can clatter through the cupboard or the silverware drawer and she will treat you like less than nothing, far beneath her notice. But if you start unloading clean dishes from the dishwasher even many hours after the cycle has completed, then all the windows in a three-block area will be cracked by her dissonant calls.

We have always wondered about this. It doesn't seem to be related to feeding her, since she acts like what we are doing is pure torture for her. None of us can ever remember her having had any bad experiences with the dishwasher. She will sit quietly nearby when it is running and even on the door of it when you are loading the dishes. I had a theory that maybe the clinking of the glassware and silverware were hurting her ears, but a number of clinking, clanking, and oops, breaking experiments have ruled this theory out. What aspect of clean dishes could possibly trigger such piteous mournful cries?

I am one of those people who subscribe to the theory that house cats are actually transplanted aliens from another galaxy. They simply act too weird to be from this planet. Perhaps, in that distant place the sound of clean dishes portends some ominous fate. Perhaps, their civilization was kidnapped and brought here in a flying saucer. Oh.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

On the guy on the crane in Atlanta

I don’t get it. Did he think this was a great hiding place? Reminded me of an old joke from the sixties about a guy who hid a bag of marijuana from the police by throwing it real high up into the air. It worked great, but only for a very, very short period of time.

On the names of paint colors

I have to repaint the bathroom. My wife does not allow me to choose paint colors. I can do all the shopping, prep work, painting, and clean up; but I can’t choose the paint color. Such is the division of labor in our household. I go the paint store and bring home a batch of paint chips for her to select the color. During this latest visit to my local House Of Paint, I noticed a lot of unusual color names on the paint chips. I brought home a bunch of them just because I thought the names were interesting. My wife was not amused.

Desert Mist – A non sequitur. (No? OK, an oxymoron)

Inferno Red – I mentally renamed this one Infernal Red. Very ugly.

Modern In-Touch Living – I wonder what “A Little Out of Date, But Still Trying To Keep Up With The Joneses” looks like.

Soft Blush-They didn’t have a Hard Blush.

Peach Blush – The most puzzling aspect of this color name was the fact that the color was actually a purple. Where do you get an image of Peach Blush from purple?

Barley White – I think this must be a typo for Barely White. It was tan.

New York Blue – A state of mind, perhaps?

Rosy Outlook – See above.

Crimson Night – This one was a little scary. I think I’ve seen this movie.

Winter White – Got it.
Spring Green – OK.
Autumn Memories-What!?!?

Friday, May 27, 2005

On having ideas in the shower

Believe it or not, there are actually people out there who read this blog. That fact alone surprises me. I am always startled when someone posts a comment. It's like talking to yourself and having someone catch you at it. (I really hope it isn't only me that has had that experience) Someone asked me, “where do you come up with this weird stuff?” Sadly, "this weird stuff" IS the story of my life.

Most of the things that end up being posted on this blog, appear in my brain while I am in the shower. I don’t know why that is. Standing in the mechanically enhanced downpour, I suddenly recall the strangest moments or observations. The collection of memories then seems to ooze out like an overfilled taco onto this blog. Because of my shower induced flashbacks, I had considered naming this blog, Naked Wet Man. It would probably get more hits on the Search Engines that way, but the image it evokes is just too unsettling, even for me.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

On baking bread

Bananas, yogurt, and white bread were the only things that my four-year-old son would eat. This is the literal truth. We could not have forced a candy bar or a carrot down his throat. We had to buy him a Happy Meal at McDonalds to get the toy. The food he would actually eat there we had to sneak in under our coats. After this phase had gone on for several months, we starting to get worried and mentioned it to his pediatrician. She told us that since he was healthy, growing, and obnoxiously happy on these limited food choices; we should not worry about it. After all, he could have fixated on a lot worse diet.

Still, it bothered me. It’s hard to improve on the nutritional qualities of bananas or yogurt, but the ingredient label on the loaf of white bread seemed eerily reminiscent of the ingredient label on my shampoo bottle. It seemed possible to add a few cups of bleached, bromated and processed white flour to my shampoo, bake the combination at 375 degrees and call it “wholesome goodness”

I had actually learned how to make bread when I about fifteen. I spent a summer working at a camp as a “cook’s assistant”. As the junior member of the kitchen staff, I usually just spent my working hours hauling boxes around and opening large tin cans. But we all spent every Saturday making and kneading what seemed like hundreds of pounds of bread dough from scratch. It was formed into cinnamon rolls and dinner rolls for Sunday meals.

So, I embarked on a mission to improve on one of my son’s three food groups.

Since the only bread recipe that I knew involved using fifty-pound bags of flour, I decided to start small. I went out and bought a bread maker. I tried and tried to get it to bake a loaf of bread that didn’t have the consistency of cardboard and the taste to match. I returned several brands to the store that burned the outer part of the loaves into a black inedible shell and left the center gooey. Then I caught on to the secret. Bread makers bake lousy bread loaves, but they are great for making bread dough. Once I had made that breakthrough, I started to experiment. Eventually, I came up with a bread recipe that my son and half the children in the neighborhood would line up for on baking day. Rather than making loaves, I formed the dough into baseball-sized rolls that made softball-sized bread that could be easy carried around and munched on during playtime. If the recipe doesn’t work out for you, then you're doing something wrong. Do what I did and figure it out.

Combine in mixer bowl or bread maker (set to dough cycle):
1 2/3 cups skim milk (warm)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons of sea salt
2 heaping tablespoons of dark brown sugar
2 heaping tablespoons of non-fat powdered milk
1 heaping tablespoon of wheat germ
(if using a mixer, mix at this point)

Then add
4 1/3 cups of unbleached, non-bromated white bread flour
(I prefer some of the brands put out by the smaller manufacturers)
2 level teaspoons of dry yeast
(I usually just add it dry, but you can activate it first, if you want, with a little warm water and a touch of sugar.)

(If using a mixer, mix with bread hook, then manually go through 2 knead/rise cycles. This is point where the bread maker dough setting is worth the money. It does the knead/rise cycles for you.)

Turn out the dough onto a floured surface.
Divide and hand form the dough into baseball-sized rolls and place them on a greased (I like using a vegetable oil spray) cookie sheet or large pizza pan. It will make about 12 to 18 rolls.
Cover with a cloth and let the rolls rise until they double in size.

Preheat oven and bake (remove the cloth, of course) at 350 degrees for between 17 and 22 minutes depending on your oven.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

On coincidences

How strange life can be. About thirty seconds after posting “On tying knots” to this blog, I walked downstairs to turn off the television that someone had left on. There was a daytime rerun of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” playing. Just as I walked into the room they were revealing the question. It was, “Which knot is traditionally used to temporarily shorten a length of rope?” a) Sheepshank b) Bowline c) Clove Hitch d) Square Knot. I, of course, stood there and for several minutes yelled at the woman on the screen to pick a) Sheepshank which was the right answer. She got it wrong. I was so furious that she hadn’t listened to me.

What are the odds that right after a posting about an obscure subject, I would see that same obscure subject on the television? On a show, I have never watched? At a time, when I never even have the television turned on?

I am seriously considering posting a lengthy dissertation about winning the lottery.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

On tying knots

I read somewhere that although we always imagine the ancient hunter-gatherers using spears or bows to hunt for their food, it is more likely that the majority of their animal protein was the result of using traps and snares. The ability to make and use rope and twine is what allowed them to survive.

One hundred years ago, I would guess that most of the people in the US would have been able to tie at least a half dozen different knots. You weren’t asked about “paper or plastic” in the grocery store, but your purchases were wrapped in papers and fasten with a combination of string knots and hitches until you got them home. On the farm, you would hitch animals. At work, you would lift objects with block and tackle. Knots were a part of life. Tying them was a life skill.

Those skills have gone the way of buggy whips and American made shoes. Few people now can even tie their Asian made shoes correctly. The Boy Scouts, which for many years have been the lone repository of knot tying skills, seem to be getting away from the rope craft tradition in favor of more relevant subjects.

It’s really too bad. There is something kind of fun about a Zeppelin bend that was used to tether the US Navy Zeppelin fleet to their moorings. Using a Constrictor knot that can be formed in seconds, but applies enough pressure that it can be used as an emergency hose clamp, is rather empowering. Knowing how to tie a Jury Mast Knot, probably the origin of the term jury rig, lets you recreate a moment in history from the era of great ocean going sailing ships.

Yes, I know. You’re thinking, “how very odd you are”. Or as my son sarcastically said to me when I showed him how to tie a Zeppelin bend, “Gee dad, that’s great. Now if we’re driving down the street and see a Zeppelin that’s broken loose – we’ll be set!”

Monday, May 23, 2005

On taking a ceramics class

I took a ceramics class once. I made a large warty textured green lamp. Most people think it looks like a giant dill pickle with a light bulb sticking out of it. I starting doing a self-portrait on a plate then changed my mind and turned it into a clock face. The stem for the hands comes out of one of my nostrils. It is a very ugly clock and hangs in my bathroom. The most useful item I made is a small object that is the color and shape of a crumpled used teabag. It is a saucer for holding used tea bags.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

On the big lie

I think it was one of Hitler’s henchmen who formally stated the concept of the Big Lie. The idea is that if you take an obvious untruth and say it often enough, people will actually begin to believe it is true. I am starting a collection of everyday, modern Big Lies. Here are a few of them that I've noticed so far:

Lie: For your protection these premises are monitored with closed circuit TV.
Truth: Your protection has nothing to do with it. Our customers and employees are ripping us off so we decided to electronically spy on everyone who enters the place in an effort to catch them.

Lie: This call may be monitored or recorded for quality control purposes.
Truth: Even we aren’t sure what the phrase “quality control purposes” means. The truth is that we record your calls in case you sue us. If, of course, the recording helps your case; we will have routinely recorded over the conversation. Oops.

Lie: This is a courtesy call regarding …
Truth: You have registered yourself on the Do Not Call list. So we had to come up with this flimsy excuse to get at you, hopefully right when you were sitting down to dinner, without getting fined by the Feds.

I really wanted to collect examples of the modern Big Lie during the last election cycle, but I only have an 80 Gig hard drive.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

On walking to the donut shop at 1:00AM

As college freshmen, we were not given a choice of roommates. Supposedly, it was just luck of the draw. I was of the opinion that luck had little to do with it and that the Dark Forces of Hell-Driven Satanic Evil were sent to punish me. It would not be fair to go into the details, but my assigned college roommate and I were simply not compatible. I could make a long list of areas where we did not get along although my side of the story can be summed up in one sentence. He would play marching band albums on my stereo at 6:30 in the morning. It is, perhaps, the only instance where I think capital punishment is merited.

After one particularly disturbing late night incident involving his tuba and a pair of dirty gym socks (you just don’t want to know!), I stormed out of the room at 1:00AM. A few doors down the hallway sitting on the floor with his books was a guy I had seen and talked to a few times, but didn’t really know that well. I think our conversation at that moment consisted of,
“Roommate?” “Yeah” “Me, too”

We sat there in the hall on the cold tile for few more minutes just being two strangers sharing a common misery. To this day I cannot recall who suggested it, but one of us looked up and said, “So, you wanna go to the donut shop.”

The donut shop was about six blocks from campus. It was on a somewhat rundown section of road that had once been a major thoroughfare, but was now just a worn-out series of gas stations, diners, and closed-up storefronts. It was definitely not a popular area for students to hang out. That donut shop’s only appeal stemmed from the fact that it stayed open all-night and had really strong, really bad coffee. It also had hot chocolate that tasted suspiciously like the really bad coffee. At one o’clock in the morning, we started walking down the dark off-campus streets heading for the donut shop. We talked about nothing important and mostly just complained about our respective roommates. After having a greasy donut and a hot drink, we walked backed to the dorm and slipped into our rooms long after our roommates had fallen gloriously unconscious. Thus was born the strange ritual that allowed me to survive my first semester of college without being brought up on capital murder charges.

Walking to the donut shop in the dead of night became our pressure release valve. It didn’t matter how late it was, if one of us was feeling fed up or needed a caffeine/sugar boost to stay up late and study, we would knock on the other’s door. Then, without question or comment, trek to the oasis of lard. I’m not sure if it was the walk, the shared unhappiness, the often-obnoxious conversations, or the really bad coffee/hot chocolate; but it seemed to make the trials of our freshman year less pressing.

You would think that the college experience would somehow be found in a glorious explosion of knowledge or at the very least, at a drunken toga party. But for me, some of my strongest memories of my freshman year are found at 3:00AM sitting in that donut shop with the snoring drunks and the smell of stale cigarettes. My memories of those late night sessions have an unreal quality to them now. It was like stepping out of college life and entering a Twilight Zone episode. It is more than a little scary that in retrospect many of my lifelong beliefs about society, politics, and the human condition were hashed out in long late night discussions in that donut shop.

At the semester break, we were allowed to change roommates. Since my pre-assigned roommate dropped out of college and his moved into a frat house, my fellow nocturnal trekker became Roommate. It was a title he held until the day we both graduated three and half years later. During that time there were many occasions when one of us would wake up in the middle of the night and proclaim, “donut”. We would then repeat our ritual pilgrimage sometimes waking and gathering up groups of companions along the way. I find myself missing those days. There was something really wonderful about a time in your life when everything could be made to seem better by just walking to the donut shop in the middle of the night.

Friday, May 20, 2005

On the “infinite monkey theory” blogging corollary

If the number of blogs and bloggers continues to increase to the point of infinity, I predict that eventually one of us will write something that is actually worth reading. Then again, we may just inadvertently re-write all the plays of Shakespeare except with the phrase "My Life Sucks" added to each of the titles.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

On inventions whose time should never come…

An airline seat with built in handcuffs and shackles

Dirt colored lawn grass

A car that eliminates the middleman by burning US currency directly instead of gas

Transparent luggage

A television remote that fires 45 caliber slugs when tuned to Fox News

Carpeting with the texture and color of cat vomit

A home coffee maker that charges you four dollars for a cup of coffee

Kevlar socks

A beer can with a really sharp point on the bottom (to rid the world of those who like to crush beer cans on their foreheads)

Combination time clock/paper shredder

Magazines that come already outdated, covered with dust and coffee cup stains

Dark brown toilet paper

Storm door glass permanently etched with greasy fingerprints and smudges

Automotive paints in a wide range of bird crap colors and textures

Bio-diesel powered computers

Magnesium fireplace screens

220V combination electric toothbrush/car polisher

Wind-up chain saw

Velcro condoms

Judicial nominee player cards

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

On eating shelled green peas

If you take green peas out of the shell, I hate them. As my waistline will attest, I like most foods. There are almost no vegetables on my “ick” list, except shelled green peas. I not only do not like them. They actually make me gag. They are my metaphorical “Green Eggs and Ham.”. It doesn’t matter if they are canned, frozen, dried, put in soup, potpies, or otherwise mutilated, I do not like them in a car, bar, boat or with a goat.

I have tried for many years to figure out why. I can’t recall any childhood “Green Peas Incidents”. I have nothing against the color green or the letter P. None of my other mental disorders, emotional incongruities, or chemical imbalances involve members of the plant family. I don’t even think I can blame genetics, the rest of my bloodline love the nasty things. I can only come up with one tried and true time-tested explanation.

Government Conspiracy.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

On offers for bank credit cards

I have been with the same bank for several years now. For some reason, they suddenly started sending me several letters per week asking me if I wanted to get a credit card with them. The fact is that I already have a credit card with them. I have more debt than many African nations. So, it is doubtful that I would want to have yet another credit card with this or any other bank.

After receiving about a dozen or so of these solicitations, I called the bank’s customer service number. I spent about ten minutes wandering through an endless morass of automated option before finally reaching a real person, Brian, a pleasantly bland customer service representative. I explained that I had begun receiving multiple offers for credit cards and just wanted to tell them that I already had one. They could save a little postage and stop sending me three offers per week. Brian, the pleasantly bland customer service representative, informed me that he could not stop the mailings. I would have to send a letter to a different location to get them stopped. He then proceeded to give me an address and a list of about ten items that I would need to put into a signed letter including address, previous addresses, birth date, account numbers, social security number and the names of the fathers of the last three girls I had gone out with in high school. (Just kidding about that last one, they only needed the last two fathers)

I was taken aback. I mentioned that I had not done anything to start this avalanche of offers. I had always carefully read and followed the arcane instructions on every opt-out form I had ever received from the bank. Why did I have to spend an hour writing and mailing a letter to stop these mailings? He said he was sorry, but that the process was handled by a different part of the organization and could not be handled by him. He also informed me that “due to the bank’s policy” I would be unable to resolve this by phone. I suppressed the urge to get into a heated discussion with Brian, the pleasantly bland customer service representative, concerning the bank’s definition of the term “customer service” in their policy statement. Instead, I asked him why I could not handle it over the phone. Was that other "part of the organization" not allowed to use the phone? Were they being punished for running up the long distance bill or having a party while the parents were out of town? Was the technology being withheld from them for fear of disrupting their delicate cultural balance?

My sarcasm went unappreciated by Brian, the pleasantly bland customer service representative.

I still receive that near constant barrage of solicitations. Now, however, I send back the business reply envelopes filled with the dozens of fliers and ads that come to me in my phone bill. Somebody needs to help those poor devils get a phone line.

Monday, May 16, 2005

On not using the word Venti when ordering at Starbucks

I usually order a large coffee at Starbucks. Note that I did not use their pseudo word, Venti. I refuse to use that foreign sounding faux descriptor. I know that there have been many others who have commented on Starbuck Speak. I’m also sure that there are copyright and trademark reasons why they made up a word to describe a quantity for their beverages. I still refuse to sound like I’m making fun of Italians when I order my coffee.

There has been a trend going on for some time now where food and beverage vendors feel the need to create new “sizes”. Small, medium, and large just don’t have any appeal for them. Those sizes have worked well for centuries, but fashions in quantification seemed to have moved on. We can’t just ask for something to be “larger”. We have to sound as though we are still three years old and “biggy-size” it.

I won’t even get started on using the term “super-size” as a verb.

But to be honest, I still enjoy Monty Python. I have to admit that I am saddened by the realization that I will probably never be able hear the speaker at the drive-up lane say, “Would you like that larger?” So that I can reply in a stiff British accent, “That’s rather a personal question, isn’t it?!?”

Sunday, May 15, 2005

On diet books

Go into any bookstore and you will find shelf after shelf of diet books. The range of weight loss strategies they describe is really amazing.

Eat grapefruits. Don’t mix foods that start with consonants. Eat fats. Avoid carbs. Avoid protein. Don’t eat fried foods. Eat beans. Drink dairy, but only on Thursdays. Eat portions only as big as your eyes. Weigh your food. Eat grape seeds. Chew each bite fifteen times. White bread is the tool of Satan. Don’t eat animal protein. Eat green vegetables. Avoid carrots. Eat melons. Avoid blue food. Tofu today, tutu tomorrow. If it doesn’t come in plastic, it isn’t food. Count your points, better living through mathematics. Eat grape nuts. Raisins are good for your colon. Only eat after noon and before midnight. Sing the entire Notre Dame fight song between each bite of your meal. If you haven’t memorized the label, don’t eat it. If it has a label, don’t eat it. Maple syrup is your friend. The new food pyramid is absolutely correct, we were just joking about the earlier one. Never eat in the kitchen. Avoid grapes. If it doesn’t make you have to pee all the time, it isn’t good for you. Eat pine nuts. Avoid peanuts. “Yes, many parts of the pine tree are edible.” Eat grapes. Puree all solid foods. Boil all foods in holy water. Avoid garlic. Curry is THE secret of long life. The three secrets of overnight weight loss – turnips, turnips, and turnips. Radishes rule. Avoid fruit. Count calories, better living through the British thermal unit. Don’t drink water with your meal. Drink your meals. If it doesn’t taste like cardboard, it isn’t food. Don’t eat rye bread. Whole wheat means never having to say you’re sorry. Don’t mix foods. Drink mixed beverages. Beer is one of the major food groups. Eat only our complete line of flavor-free foods. Eat bread, but only toasted to resemble notable religious figures. Remember those grapefruits, avoid them.

I want to write a two-page diet book. Page one will say, “Eat less food”. Page two will say, “Exercise more”. I don’t think I will attract any million dollar book deals.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

On using the International Phonetic Alphabet in everyday life

I learned the International Phonetic Alphabet. You know, the Alpha, Bravo, Charlie recitative that you’ve heard on JAG or in war movies. It seemed like a good thing to know. It also seemed like a good idea to practice it by using it in everyday situations.

When the Starbuck’s employee wanted to write my name on my coffee cup, but couldn’t understand me over the general din of people and street noise.
“Edward…Echo Delta Whiskey Alpha Romeo Delta”
At that moment, he wore the same expression that people get when they drink their iced lattes too fast and suffer from brain freeze. He ended up whispering something to the woman making the coffee and just drew a diagonal line across the side of my cup with his grease pencil. I’m still not sure what that slash signifies.

I’ve tried using it on my cell phone when the receptionist needed to have me spell out my street address on my way to an appointment. I said,
“6100 Donegal Way”
“Is that spelled with a T or with a B?”
“No, no T or B. its Donegal…with a D…Delta”
“What’s Delta?”
“The first letter D, Delta. Its Delta Oscar November Echo Gulf Alpha Lima...Donegal.”
There was a long silence.
“Sir, maybe we should just complete this when you arrive.”

I could not have imagined that by learning the IPA I would also be mastering the comedic style of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

Friday, May 13, 2005

On yelling at the television set

I suffer from Remote Rage. It seems that I am unable to watch television without yelling at it. I’m not sure if there is a twelve-step program that will help me overcome this malady; but if not, there should be one. It makes my wife shake her head and expel a long-suffering sigh. It is particularly embarrassing to the kids when they have a friend over to play. How do they explain away their father loudly shouting, “You’re an idiot!” at an inanimate object?

The usual triggers for such outbursts are, of course, news shows. There are some public figures that should never be allowed to speak over the public airwaves. They say stupid things. I am unable to stop myself from loudly pointing out this fact to their taped broadcast image.

News commentary shows are the worst offenders. In high school debate, one of the most common, but silliest strategies for winning was to talk really fast. If you could talk fast enough to put out so many arguments that your opponents couldn’t possibly respond to each one in the time allotted, you scored “points’. It was idiotic. News commentators and panelists seem to have developed a similar strategy involving interrupting and talking over anyone presenting an opposing viewpoint. Whose brilliant idea was this? I find myself yelling even louder and telling them to “shut up”, so I can hear the other side of the issue. How will I know if I agree or disagree if some moron who I have already listened to is talking over them?

I have a proposal. I think when they introduce the panelists and show their names under them, they should also have their mother’s name and phone number. Better yet, have their moms standing by in the studio with their own phone lines. When one of the panelists starts interrupting and trying to shout down someone, we should be able to tell his or her mother. That mom could walk onto the set, slap them up side of the head and remind them that she did not raise them to act like that. I predict that it would almost instantly end the annoying interruptions.

Now if we could only torture and imprison anyone who is found guilty of writing an infomercial, I could finally watch television in silence.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

On the advice of a gym teacher

When I was in the ninth grade, I was blessed to have been instructed in the manly art of physical education by Mr. Dunstone. You can easily imagine what we called him behind his back. He loved to have us scrawny fourteen year olds participate in the usual tortures like dodge ball, running around the track in ninety degree heat, and calisthenics.

Mr. Dunstone had an indistinct southern accent. What made him really painful to listen to though was the fact that he spoke very, very, very, slowly. He would place the most incredibly long pauses between each word. It was as though each word that he spoke held the full weight of prophetic pronouncement.

During one of our health classes when we were shown what appeared to be an Army training film entitled “Emergency Childbirth” (I am NOT making this up!), he was only able to get out, "You… may. . . leave . . . if . . . yuh . . .start. . .feelin " before half the class had already run from the room gagging. I got through that film, but the one by the Iowa State Highway Patrol with the graphic pictures of fatal car accidents was almost beyond me. I could barely make it past the officer in the huge Smokey Bear hat saying in a monotone, “Yes, this could happen to you…you...you” (cheesy echo effect) while they flashed up pictures of mangled corpses. Who writes this stuff?

Mr. Dunstone did leave me with a piece of advice that I treasure to this day. We were doing a class where we learned to jump and flip on a trampoline. Mr. Dunstone lined us up in front of him arms length apart, of course. He walked up and down our line and spent a good two minutes slowly intoning the following warning that has stuck with me to this day . . .

“Gentlemen, Ah will only say this once. Don’t git yur gonads caught in the springs.”

Truly, words to live by.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

On filling out the medical history form at the doctor’s office

My college roommate introduced me to the concept of cognitive dissonance. It is the feeling of discomfort when you are faced with equally valid, but conflicting "truths" or credible evidence that contradicts your own beliefs. It was immediately recognizable to me as my normal state of mind. I feel I should be able to put it down as a pre-existing medical condition. After I am asked if I have ever suffered from acne, venereal diseases, tumors, etc.; there is usually a blank next to the word “Other”. I want to see if I can get it noted in my chart that I suffer from “chronic cognitive dissonance.” I wonder what they prescribe for that?

On the “Very Large Telescope” in Chile

The newspaper article was about the discovery of a gas giant planet circling a distant sun. It is an impressive accomplishment. The naming of an expensive and complex device “Very Large Telescope” was really the eye-opener. These are same scientist who gave us such hit as quarks, quasars, and chromatic aberrations. Did they just run out of exotic sounding names? It could be an attempt at setting a new trend in the name game. It wouldn’t be so bad to have football stadium names that didn’t sound like the cover page of an annual report. What’s wrong with spending the afternoon at the “Huge Grey Oval”? I’d be fine with that as long as there are plenty of places to park my 2004 “Big Metal Box With Wheels.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

On watching Scottish football (soccer)

For several years, our local public television station carried pre-recorded Scottish football (soccer) games at midnight each Saturday. I am a soccer (football) fan and when I accidentally ran across one of the games, I was hooked. I even became something of a Rangers’ fan and would wake up everyone in the house with a loud shout when they landed one in the net. It became a weekend ritual for me to stretch out on the couch and watch those ninety-minute broadcasts.

Although the games were usually pretty lively, part of the draw for me was listening to the announcers. They were speaking English. They were describing events that were fairly self-evident. Yet, I was unable to comprehend a single word that they spoke with the exception of an occasional “Guhl!” It was baffling. Yet, I knew they were speaking English. I had watched games announced in Spanish, French, and Italian, but I could readily accept that the words spoken in those languages would simply bounce off of my brain without leaving a mark. I, generally, just turned the sound off and enjoyed the action on the screen. But these guys were speaking English!

Sure, they had an accent. This should not have been a problem. I grew up in the Midwest with a Southern grandmother who called my dad a "damned Yankee" till the day she died. I have no trouble with baseball announcers from New York, college football announcers from Louisiana, or hockey commentators from Canada. I live in a country where the President thinks the word “nuclear” is pronounced “nook-que-lur”. English and Irish football announcers are perfectly intelligible to me. English-speaking accent-blessed broadcasters from Jamaica, Brazil, and Japan present no challenge. My German neighbor was always easier for me to understand than my teenage son. What is it about a Scottish accent?

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not blaming those announcers, their country of origin, their speech, or their excellent football. Judging from the rhythm of the enthusiastic exchanges that came out of my television’s speakers, I would guess that they were providing insightful and interesting commentary. No, I blame myself. When Mike Myers used a Scottish accent in cartoons like Shrek or while playing Fat Bastard in the Austin Powers movies, I struggled to catch about every third word. Even though I think that he will always be the best James Bond ever, I have to really concentrate to figure out Mr. Connery’s clever repartee. My theory is that I have a double recessive for the “Scottish Non-Comprehension” gene. I can’t roll my tongue and I can’t understand anyone who speaks with a Scottish accent. I blame my genetics.

I enjoyed watching those games. I missed them when the station decided to discontinue airing them. It was great physical football. Puzzling over what the announcers were saying only added to my enjoyment. It was multi-level entertainment. It was like combining a game of scrabble with a good baseball game on the radio or playing chess while watching the Super Bowl. What more could any Scottish accent challenged man want?

Monday, May 09, 2005

On why the Internet has reached its full potential

I sat down in front of my computer screen tonight. In only a matter of minutes, I was able to send eighty-seven pages of “How many (?)s does it take to screw in a light bulb?” jokes to my printer. It just can’t get any better than this.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

On using quotations and sayings

My office walls are covered with quotes or sayings that I have read in books or seen online. I particularly like the ones that make you do a sort of mental double take. Like, “In 1910, pancake make-up was discovered; but most people still preferred syrup.” or “All that glitters has a high refractive index”. Co-workers poke their heads in just to see the new ones.

I have also been guilty of using quotations and sayings to irritate those around me. To a complaining co-worker, I might say, “Hey, if it was easy - anybody could do it.” or “It is a poor craftsman who blames his tools.” For those who just couldn’t seem to move on anything without a lengthy discourse, I liked “Don’t worry about the mule going blind, just move the wagon.”

My children have suffered through such gems as “Just because everyone else is doing something, doesn’t make it right” and “Privileges aren’t granted, they’re earned.” I'm sure that some therapist in their future will blame their emotional ills on chronic parental homilies.

I am not above making up a useful quotation. Shakespeare’s Hamlet might address some obnoxious bystander by exclaiming, "Methinks I hear the braying of a distance ass” or Hezekiah 6:12 might yield “I shall take no bull from your house.”

There have been those who have asserted that my use and misuse of quotes is a sign of some severe character disorder. What can I say, “I only quote, when it’s absolutely convenient”

Saturday, May 07, 2005

On the ceiling of the grocerystore

If you place loudspeakers above a stage or movie screen, it is fairly certain that the audience will not notice that the voices are coming from dozens of feet in the air. The reason for this is that our ears are located on the sides of our heads, rather than on chin and forehead. We just aren’t very good at locating sounds vertically.

While driving to the grocery store, I began wondering, if maybe, I might be missing a lot in my vertical plane of vision. After all my eyes are side by side. Although some early mornings they seem to want to position themselves into a scalene triangle. As I walked into my customary grocery shopping establishment, one of those warehouse-like behemoths, I took a moment to really study the “Vertical Plane of the Moment”.

Looking down was not terribly interesting. Dirty linoleum has few charms.

Looking up was much more startling. I realized that I had never looked into the vast space above me, although I had been coming to this store for years. It was covered with an upside down forest of steels supports, wire, cables, conduits, and lighting fixtures all painted a yellowish white color. It may be have been painted white originally, but had since developed an unsavory yellow "patina". The top of the ceiling was made of undulating sheets of steel that seemed to be coated in gravel. The roof supports made endless rows of xs. The perfectly straight lines of lighting fixtures seems to converge into the distance resembling the fighter launch tunnels on the Battlestar Galactica. The whole things is festooned with many, many security camera cunningly disguised as large, black plastic balls.

I supposed I should have had a moment of enlightenment. Instead, my first thought was, “How do they clean up there?” Surely those tangled surfaces had to be luxury condo living for dust, debris, and dead insects.

There are some things you just shouldn’t think about when you’re out picking up a tub of cottage cheese.

Friday, May 06, 2005

On unworthy thoughts of unspeakable cruelty

I want to put “Please Use Other Door” signs on all the doors.

I want to teach a young child that Q is the first letter of the alphabet.

I want to randomly rearrange the shelf-mounted price tags.

I want to take out a million dollar live insurance policy on myself payable to a complete stranger and then die under suspicious circumstances.

I want to buy my nephew an electric guitar for Christmas.

I want to pipe Pink Floyd’s “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” into a hospital operating room.

I want to put a sign up on my street that says, “Slow Children Playing”.

I want to fill out thousands of marketing surveys identifying a white male friend as a bi-racial Female Visigoth/Inuit who is ninety-two years old and is interested in buying replacement windows.

I want to sneak into my parent’s house and re-wire the television so that MTV is on all the channels.

I want to buy cases of canned okra for the annual charity food drive.

I want to publish a book of tell-all interviews with men who have suffered from “erections that lasted over four hours and needed medical attention.”

I want to purchase 25 cents worth of gas 80 times in a row at the same gas station.

I want to go to court on a traffic ticket and convince the court clerk that I only speak Ancient Latin and will need a translator.

I want to buy a large farm and grow only ragweed.

I want to design an electronic voting machine that argues with you about your choices.

I want to eat a bag of multi-colored gummy worms on the way to a dentist appointment.

I want to put out a want ad that’s looking for someone who has “3 to 5 years of experience answering want ads”

I want to go on Jerry Springer and spend an hour calmly discussing my stable relationships, my happy childhood and the quiet, ordinary nature of my daily existence.

I want to write a computer virus that deletes all the other computer viruses and then makes it impossible to uninstall the anti-virus software already on your computer.

I want to convince someone that it would be a great idea to name his or her infant daughter, Stinky Anthrax.

I want to sell a clock radio that is designed to randomly go off two later than the alarm set time.

I want to call Microsoft and tell them that some kid just hit a baseball through my Windows and can they tell me about how much it would cost to fix it.

I want to vote Republican in the next election.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

On reading an online discussion concerning the song "25 or 6 to 4"

I was wandering aimless through the web yesterday and found a discussion concerning the "meaning" of the song "25 or 6 to 4". It reminded me of one of the weirdest moments of my life. The day several years ago when I GOT the title to that song. Judging from the posts, I am not the only one who has had an out of body experience with it.

Approximately one billion years ago, I enjoyed listening to the band, Chicago. I had several of their records. They had a big hit with the song “25 or 6 to 4”. It was a great song and played on the radio and on my stereo for a long time. I knew all the lyrics. I thought they were probably about drugs. At that point in history, all songs lyrics were probably about drugs. There was only one problem with the song. I didn’t understand the title. Somehow, the first time I read or heard the title it got planted in my brain as “25 (pause) or 6 to 4” I didn’t get it. What did that mean? Was it a musical reference signifying Opus 25 in 6/4 time? Was it some obscure private joke shared only by the band? Was it simply beyond all sober understanding like Country Joe And The Fishes’ “Porpoise Mouth”? Even the song lyrics didn’t seem to illuminate the meaning of the title for me. After all, what did that combination of numbers have to do with anyone or anything sitting cross-legged on the floor. I, truly, was puzzled.

Fast forward one billion and twenty-eight years, I am sitting in my kitchen reading the morning paper and drinking a cup of tea. It is quiet. There is no music playing. Entire civilizations had risen and fallen since the last time I had listened to Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” or even thought about that song. Suddenly and for no apparent reason, I hear the sound of one hand clapping. I said aloud, “Oh, 25 or 6 (pause) to 4. It's time. It’s like someone saying; “I’ll see you in 3 or 4 minutes.” Like in the lyrics, sitting cross-legged on the floor…at 25 or so minutes before 4AM. Around 3:35 in the morning. Of course. Duh!” Like a penny spiraling around those plastic vortex machines in the mall, that epiphany had finally dropped in my brain after circling for over a quarter of a century. I laughed out loud. It was so obvious. Why had I not understood?

After several minutes of marveling at my own density, I was sobered by the realization that I could, at that very moment, be completely misinterpreting most of the things going on around me. If my past was any indication, I would be dead by the time I finally figured out what the stories in that day’s newspaper really meant.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

On the top ten reasons why I called this blog - On...

10) It was less pretentious than, “Stories In The Key Of Me”.

9) Don’t remember, I was a) drunk or b) just getting old or c) what was a) again?

8) Spelling wasn’t a problem.

7) All the good names had already been taken by spammers.

6) It was my mother’s maiden name.

5) My site would be advertised on every light switch in America.

4) Only the O and N keys worked on my laptop after an unfortunate pressure washing incident.

3) It was the antonym for a well-known mosquito repellent.

2) Started to name it “Onanism”, but was distracted at the last moment.

1) It was first word that oozed out of my brain ran down to my fingers jumped through the keyboard onto my computer screen then properly encoded traveled to my server where it leaped onto the Information Superhighway and impaled itself on this blog site.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

On reality shows

“Those who can’t do – teach” (100% false)

“Those who can’t write – blog” (about 50/50)

“Those who have no business, whatsoever sharing any part of their pathetic lives, personalities, or thoughts with the rest of the world – appear on those god awful, moronic abominations which pollute the airwaves with their inane, insipid premises fostered by uninspired producers and network executives who are too cheap to hire real actors or find real writers with even a hint of creative talent who might be able to provide us with something that actually deserves to be called entertainment” (100% true, just not as catchy as the other two sayings)

Monday, May 02, 2005

On the fear of public speaking

Being afraid of speaking in public is supposed to be one of the most common fears. Personally, I don’t like snakes. I’m not sure if I’m afraid of them or if I simply don’t find anything about them to be appealing. I could say the same thing about water buffalo. They are fine to look at while at the zoo, but I don’t need to keep one in a glass case in my bedroom.

Public speaking is not something that I find frightening. Actually, it is kind of exciting in much the same way as a roller coaster ride is kind of exciting. You know that it will be a little scary, but it probably isn’t going to cause you any serious injury.

There is a lot of advice out there for people who are afraid of getting up in front of an audience. The old standard is to imagine that everyone in the room is only wearing their underwear. I don’t think I understand this one. Imagining most large groups of people without clothing is just plain disturbing. Like the joke about the best form of birth control after age forty, nudity. I wish someone would do an experiment with people who have a fear of public speaking. Use two audiences, a clothed control group and an underwear clad test audience, to finally determine if the stress level of a speaker is reduced by the absence of outer garments. The details of such a study would be the evening headline on Fox News.

I used to tell people to read their note cards just before their speech. Stand up. Lay the note cards down. Then start conversing with every person in the audience, one person at a time. No one is afraid of a conversation.

On why we identify so strongly with our cars

Most of us ride around in vehicles that expel noxious gases and noises from their rear ends.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

On answering the inevitable job interview question

At some point in the distant past, all the HR interviewers throughout the known universe held a secret meeting. During this caucus, they decided that there could be only one QUESTION that would reveal a prospective employee's abilities, attitudes, and potential. Anyone who has ever sat through a job interview has faced this “Where do you see yourself in five years?" question. Of course, some renegade interviewers have developed clever variations on this timeless classic. The “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” is a masterpiece of improvisation. Not to be outdone by the cheeky “Where do you see yourself in two years?” variation on the theme.

I have been through my share of job interviews. I always prepare some safe stock answer to the QUESTION so that I will seem enthusiastic, yet practical. Like a fine wine, I want to suggest a hint of ambition, but not so much that I seem impudent. Inevitably, as soon as I am asked the QUESTION, I suffer from a terrible moment of temptation. Infantile answers like “in a mirror” spring into my forebrain. Bizarre answers like “I don’t see myself at all, I’m just not my type” hover at the edge of my consciousness. So far, I have been able to control my more self-destructive instincts. I would like to propose to all future interviewers and interviewees that we formalize the verbal exchange that the QUESTION initiates.

Like an ancient tribal ritual, we would greet each with handshakes. Then the Interviewer would raise her eyes to the heavens and intone the great and powerful QUESTION. “Where do you see yourself in five years?” she will ask. A solemn Gregorian chant playing quietly on the office CD player would accompany her. The interviewee would then bow his head only slightly to signify the proper degree of respectful humility. He would then recite the carefully rehearsed ANSWER.

“I (insert name here) see myself being a valued and productive member of the (insert company name here) team. If given this opportunity to be the (insert position title here), I know that during the next five years I will make a significant positive impact on the work done here at (insert company name here).”

After an “Amen” softly mumbled in unison, everyone could sit down and begin the real interview.