I believe in discovering fun and pleasurable things wherever I find myself each day and I am told I have a knack for unearthing them. My hope is that by sharing in my pleasures and some of my ways of finding them you will begin to collect all the riches that lie in the moments of your life. They are there. Take them! All our lives should be.....Epic.
Friday, November 27, 2009
My wife and the then one year old Future Rock Star were on our first trip to my parents' home for Thanksgiving dinner. All went well until afterward. When the FRS, displaying his now legendary inability to go to sleep until the wee small hours, howled mercilessly as soon as we returned to the motel room. His poor mother was even more exhausted than I. Finally admitting defeat at about one in the morning, I bundled up the FRS and we got in the car and drove across the highway to a 24-hour discount store. Where I pushed him about in a shopping cart for about four hours while his mother slept.
The town where we were staying isn't really a town. It is more of an interstate highway exit with a couple of motels and a shopping center. I mean, this is in the country. And the surrounding woods and fields are populated with deep country folk. Which in my neck of the woods means mainly big, heavy folk.
We saw many odd and horrific things during that four hours. The first was the fact that there were shoppers in the store at one a.m. Lots of shoppers. The second was the realization that the FRS and I were the only male shoppers. The third was a strange merchandising technique.
The store had placed huge pallets of mystery goods, six or seven feet high, at extra-low sale prices, out in the aisles wrapped up like big Christmas packages. The notion was that at certain times of the night/morning announcements would be made that "package A is ready to be opened" and then the shoppers would advance and in an orderly fashion remove the wrapping paper and get the individual goods underneath into their shopping carts. Obviously not a marketing idea that was run by the legal department beforehand.
Despite my own level of exhaustion, I had just enough sense left to realize that I did not want to be anywhere close to those packages when they were subjected to the "orderly" unwrapping efforts of the other shoppers. But I wanted to be in viewing range. Safe viewing range. The first pallet was due for unwrapping at 2:00 a.m. At about 1:30, a huge woman came up to me and said "Honey, you don't want that baby anywhere near that package when they say we can undo it". I thanked her and backed even farther away. Like a civil-war artillery colonel looking for better ground.
At 1:45 a.m., my fellow shoppers began circling giant package "A". I could see that, in shopping as in the rest of life, experience is everything. There were two kinds of ladies in this store shopping. Very big. And very small. The more experienced ones seemed to have a team-mate who was responsible for the cart while the leader would charge the package. A crowd of women, some with carts, some without, began circling giant package "A" as the loudspeaker announcer counted down the time to the unwrapping. It reminded me of the start of a yacht race, when the boats all jockey and circle about so as to cross the starting line at precisely the moment the race begins. Only this circling was more malevolent. And drier.
At 1:55, I felt like the lookout on the Titanic, seeing the iceberg coming but not able to avoid it. I backed our shopping cart farther away. Wished deeply for a martini. Or a beer in a long-neck bottle. It is universally accepted that, if needed, a long-neck bottle makes a far better weapon than does a martini glass.
When the announcer stated at 2:00 a.m. that package A could be unwrapped and that "all shoppers should be careful and watch out for the safety of other shoppers", all hell broke loose. Utter carnage. The little, skinny ones hit the package first, due no doubt to their greater speed and agility. You had to admire their boldness and lack of concern for personal safety but they forgot they had to get the wrapping paper off the stack of merchandise. Hands were tearing at the wrapping paper from all quarters. What struck me was the total silence of the shoppers. The only sounds were piped-in Christmas music, tearing paper, and the exertional sounds of the crowd of ladies mashed around the pallet. I leaned over and whispered to the FRS, "behold the ferocity of nature run amok". Or something to that effect.
From my vantage point, it became immediately apparent that the largest shoppers were holding back waiting for an optimum moment to charge. Rather like a medieval force of mounted knights waiting patient in their armor for the foot soldiers to slug it out a bit before smashing into the melee at full gallop. The optimum moment was when the littler, faster ladies had torn all the paper off the pallet, thus identifying for the first time what kind of item was stacked there on deep discount. At that moment, the cavalry charged. With historically proven and gruesome results. Scattering their smaller sisters before them like chaff. Groping boxes of toaster ovens two or three at a time, then elbowing their way out to their waiting team-mates with the shopping carts. I saw more than one ninja-level shopper actually pull toaster ovens off the stack and throw them over the other shoppers to a waiting accomplice who would put them in their team's cart. One lady was talking on her cell phone when the unwrapping time was announced and she missed her moment of attack. Seemingly unhinged, she tried to recapture her advantage by ramming her cart into the throng around the now-denuded pallet. The FRS and I agreed that this was a time-honored and acceptable tactic. At least in naval warfare. Not so much in shopping. The shopper was ejected from the store. Rules must pertain at all times. Or civilized society breaks down.
Over the next two hours, the FRS and I watched the same scene repeat itself four times, on the half-hour. I have never since seen anything like it. If I could have put video of that night on YouTube I would have been famous. I have never been back to that town again on a Thanksgiving night. But if I ever find myself there....
No. I am a lot older now. More easily injured, more prone to psychological trauma, etc. Besides, now they probably charge us mere spectators an admission fee. Whatever the ticket price is, I can testify that it would be the true bargain.
After my one, unintended, entry into post-Thanksgiving shopping, I now shop primarily on line. Today, I hope that all my readers in countries where this madness prevails will sit back, have a martini or a nice glass of wine [or both], and sink into the fantasy and beauty of a lovely web site such as the 2009 Brooks Brothers Holiday Shopping Web Page. It is just gorgeous. I could sit and gaze at the twinkling of their Christmas tree lights all day. Perhaps I will do just that.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
My mother gave me this little composition book a while back. I carry it around with me and use it as my chapbook, the repository of various scribbles. Items to be submitted to Six Sentences. The first lines of poems. Blog ideas. Random notes.
My last post was, in part, about making omelets for my son. A few days after publishing it, I was in an airplane seat paging through my chapbook and I realized that I had written another version of my omelet post some weeks earlier. It went like this...
Late Night Omelets.
A man needs to know how to cook. All the books say so. My wife says so. If there is one thing I learned from pouring over old copies of Esquire and Playboy during my formative years, it was the utility of being able to make up a little something to ear at one in the morning while a painfully chic and leggy date sipped a martini on the sofa of my penthouse apartment.
As luck would have it, I ultimately found my cooking skills most useful after a long night at the office rather than at a swanky night club. Possibly a function of the fact that there are no swanky night clubs where I came to live. My mistake. In any event, the ability to put together a nice meal with a minimum of chaos is, in my book, a mark of the well finished man.
So too the man-in-training. My son, the Future Rock Star, has always loved to cook. But he loves more watching me cook for him. Especially late at night. In my house, it is not unusual for the FRS to manifest at my side of the bed around midnight, hair sticking out all over, hazel eyes sparkling. Wide awake. Needing an omelet. His special omelet. Derived by us over many late nights at stove and table for half of his twelve years. I hope the music thing works out for him. He certainly has the internal clock for it.
So I rub my eyes open and stumble to the kitchen. Where we end up cooking the FRS Special Omelet while laughing, talking or doing nothing at all. Here is the recipe:
1 large [preferably brown] egg;
1 slice American cheese;
"Hot Shot" pepper blend [cayenne and black pepper in one bottle]
Valentina hot sauce
Crack the egg into a bowl and scramble it up. Pour it into a small saute' pan and sprinkle the top surface with garlic powder and Hot Shot pepper mix. As the omelet is firming up, slice the cheese into little ribbons with the tip of a paring knife. Add the ribbons of cheese to the top of the egg and watch them melt into interesting shapes. The shapes are more interesting at midnight, I can tell you. When they are melted, fold the omelet with a spatula and serve with the hot sauce on the side.
Repeat as necessary until hunger abates. Sleep comes. And nourishment, physical and emotional, is stolen from the ordinary events of another late evening. Bon appetit.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Someone at my son's school is a real sharpie. Every so often, they have a "Dads for Doughnuts" event when we can visit our child in class, sit in an excruciatingly confining chair or desk, and have doughnuts with them for half an hour. It is a lot of fun, but amazingly it always falls on the day that some big fund raising event is kicking off. Book Fair. Holiday Greenery Sale. You get the picture. I imagine that Dads for Doughnuts mornings are very effective for fund raising. If the number of books I typically purchase at the book fair is any indication.
1 extra-large [preferably brown] egg
Crack the egg into a bowl and scramble it up. Pour it into a small saute' pan. Sprinkle the top surface with garlic powder and Hot Shot pepper blend. Slice the cheese into little ribbons with the tip of a paring knife. When the surface of the omelet firms up a bit, distribute the cheese around on it and watch it melt in little ribbon shapes. This is actually a zen like experience, especially at midnight. Then fold the omelet with a spatula [no flipping of omelets for us, especially at midnight] and serve with a bottle of Valentina sauce. This is a very fine hot sauce by the way, and inexpensive at that.
When I was a small boy, my grandfather was cutting my hair at his kitchen table one morning and nicked my earlobe. I bled like a pig. My poor grandfather thought he had killed me. I thought he had killed me, since this was my first experience with the drama of seeing ones own blood spilled. The only thing my traumatized grandpa could think of was to put a big bag of multi colored marshmallows in front of me and let me eat them all. Worked like a charm. That was when I first discovered the magical [and life saving] powers of food.
The nourishment, spiritual and physical, that my grandpa provided to me that morning long ago is something that I am proud to be able to pass along to my son. Early or late in the day.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Then again, sometimes you just see an image that makes you want to run out and buy a new bed...
Sunday, November 8, 2009
So, did ya'll get enough of pressure washing this weekend?
I am now fully qualified to say that pressure washing your house and all the horizontal cement surfaces appended to it fits squarely in the category of "a hell of a lot harder than it looks". Gather around my brothers and sisters, and hear a cautionary tale...
A rule that I have found to be universally true is aptly described as the Occasional Accomplisher's Paradox. Simply stated, the rule holds that
When one manages to actually do something one didn't think one could do, and one finds oneself increasingly confronted with other tasks and thinking "I'll bet I can do that, it doesn't look that hard", the subsequent tasks will turn out to be a exponentially more difficult than the first one and very hard indeed. Gruelling even.
A second rule which I hold dear is commonly referred to as the Age/Activity Imbalance. This ancient wisdom is summarized as follows:
Do not under any circumstances attempt any new, demanding, physical activity after the age of fifty. Especially if it involves the out of doors.
Of course, when one is trying to hold up the side, stand for one's family home, be fiscally conservative [an unnatural act for me, I confess] impress one's spouse and child [not to mention father-in-law], etc., even well established rules tend to go out the proverbial window. Often with garish results.
The device shown in the lead photo should have told me all there was to know as soon as I spied it at the pickup door of the "rent-all" joint. Simple yet somehow deviously complicated. The friendly fellow told me early Saturday morning that all I had to do was "attach the hose and crank 'er up." Oh, and do not under any circumstances turn loose of the hose after "'er" is cranked up or dire consequences result. Oh, and if by some minute chance a horrendous leak manifests itself in one of the hose connections, don't worry, we gave you these extra o-rings here for that. In two sizes. You just pop out the old one and pop in the new one. It may take one of those special awls with the curved tip, you know? Awls? Special awls? ML, put the sprayer down and back away slowly...
At this stage, I should have just left the thing sitting on the tarmac and demanded my money back. But when one is trying to hold up one's side and impress one's wife and all that...you get my point. We loaded the 4200 p.s.i. washerdemon into the back of the truck. As I was driving away he called out...
Oh, and another thing....don't ever, ever, ever, let any sand get into the hose fittings because......
I was busy pulling through traffic and did not hear much of that last part. Whatever. Pressure washing looks pretty easy. How hard could it be?
The answer, of course, is plenty hard. The first thing you have to do is get the thing off the truck when you get home. Not too easy when it weighs about 200 pounds and there is only you to wrangle the thing. After considering this problem a minute or two, I decided to meditate on it in hope of Divine communication of a solution. Finally, my wife and father-in-law returned home from an appointment to find me sipping a Miller High Life and pondering the physics of extracting the washer from the truck bed. After considering all the options, I was ready to opt for detaching the dining room table top and using it as a ramp when my F-I-L, ingenious man that he is, suggested backing the truck up to the sloped bank of our front yard and then merely rolling the sprayer straight off the tail gate onto the ground. I took this under advisement for a moment. Despite the fact that I had solved the problem via an act of table dissection, I had to admit it that the "backing to the sloped bank" was a stroke of genius. My father-in-law had nullified the forces of gravity and saved my back (not to mention the dining room table) with one suggestion.
Once I had the infernal contraption unloaded, I hooked a garden hose to some fitting provided for that purpose. Looking back on it, when I twisted the water hose into the fitting, it made a sort of scratching noise and had a bit of a grinding feel to it. But, how could that be important? I wanted to "fire 'er up". Which I did, even remembering to hang onto the spray nozzle as I did so. Even the nozzle is rather intimidating...
especially when it has 4200 pounds per square inch of pressure bounding through it. Think about it. That is almost a ton and a half of pressure directed at one square inch when you pull that handle. That is why you have to be certain of hanging onto the thing when you fire "'er" up. Failure to do so is to know what it is like to have a tiger by the tail. Let me say one more time though, I never let go of the nozzle at any significant time.
Before continuing, I must address the issue of proper apparel. I live in a geographic area which acts historically as a catcher's mitt for hurricanes. This unfortunate fact has required occasional massive mobilizations of manpower over the years to clean up storm debris. In each such occasion, I have worn the same gear. The "up country" surplus hat and heavy work gloves...
I have the names of all the hurricanes written on the inside of the hat with a permanent Sharpie marker. Now, I am adding "power washing--October 2009" to the list. That should tell you a lot. With my quasi-military uniform on, and at least one Miller High Life down the hatch, I felt bucked for a couple of hours of power washing. I seem to recall that some annoying sticker or label on the unit mentioned something about eye and breathing protection, but I am not completely sure. Because I did not read the label.
In any event, I launched into my assault upon the mold, dirt, mud, leaf acid stains and fungus with gusto. The thing is, power washing is, if you will forgive me the term, a blast. It is very effective and provides the user the satisfaction of immediate evidence of progress. At least when you have 4200p.s.i. at your command. In fact, you can do power washing TOO well. With 4200 p.s.i. you can strip vinyl siding off and rip painted surfaces off if you are too zealous. Nothing like flying clouds of vinyl siding and formerly painted surfaces to earn you a raised eyebrow from your spouse. I was very diligent not to cause actual damage to anything. Or anyONE. They told me at least two or three times at the "rent-all" joint to make sure to wear good, sturdy shoes and to not use the nozzle to clean them [or my legs] off. This is because careless contact between 4200p.s.i. and human skin does not produce a pretty sight. I carefully avoided personal injury as well during this odyssey.
I powered through the vertical vinyl surfaces [eves, garage doors and the like] with barely batting an eye. They gleamed. Then, overwhelmed with my superman-like powers, I moved on to the brick facing. Which comprises about 98 percent of the exterior surface of my house.
If you do not live in a subtropical environment, you do not really know about mold and fungus. You may think you do. But you don't. Where I live, a brick home may well look perfectly fine as long as you only look above the hedge row line. Back behind those hedge rows though, where it is shady and damp, is where green and black mold will grow. And where 4200 p.s.i. really comes into its own as a cleaning weapon. In very close quarters. You either have to poke the nozzle through the hedges to hit the bricks behind them, or you have to get yourself behind the hedges and work down the sides of the house that way. Since hedges are not planted by houses with an eye toward getting a fifty year old male body and a spray nozzle and hose behind them with ease of movement, the latter option is not easily accomplished. Unfortunately, the "squeeze it all between the hedge and wall" option is mainly what one has to do. But, man, does it work well. And, man, is it a mess. You are almost immediately covered from head to toe with water and mud. And mold. And small mold and mud dwelling creatures. I wear prescription sunglasses, so I had a modicum of protection for my eyes. I was not worried about my eyes in the least.
So, I plunged ahead. Forging my way down the (maybe) three foot wide space between home and hedge. Wreaking havoc on legions of microbiotics unfortunate enough to find themselves in my path. Which brings me to the subject of "rebound". I had never performed the work before, but through certain rather tedious professional obligations, I know quite a bit about sandblasting. You know, the job in which the worker directs a stream of sand at high pressure at an object to scrub off paint or rust. One of the things that sandblasters are very, very concerned about is the issue of rebound, the term for being hit by sand flying back at the sandblaster off the surface they are shooting at. Sort of like a micro-ricochet.
Well, waterblasters need to worry about rebound almost as much as their big brothers and sisters in the sandblasting field. At one point, a bit too close to my target, I pulled in the old handle and caught a massive blast of water, mud, and mold right in what Jackie Gleason would have called "the old kisser". Spluttering and temporarily in retreat at the biological counterattack, I thought to myself...
Wow, that is amazing! I have been pulverizing this mold and fungus all day and getting hit in the face all the time with it and its a miracle that I have not breathed in...a.....ton....of.....it...
Thoughts of that annoying and unnecessary label on the unit and some mention of breathing protection flashed across my mind. But, six hours in, I strode boldly forward. By the way, at this point, my faithful companion and assistant, Skippy the chow/Aussie shepherd mix, abandoned me. He had done well to hang in around the project all day. But even loyal dogs have their limits. Skip resided here the rest of the weekend as I inflicted my 4200 p.s.i. on the bricks...
One other unexpected benefit of the project was a bit of family archeology. As I blasted away at the back yard brick, I noticed a few round objects covered in dirt and mold. Intrigued, and not willing to grant a reprieve to any fungal creatures in my path, I hit them with a little taste of 4200 p.s.i. Only to uncover these...
Hand prints and foot prints. Squished into concrete when our son, the Future Rock Star, was very small indeed. I had forgotten all about them. But I found them again due to the great power washing of 2009. And in finding these old weekend projects, I found a little bit of the FRS as little boy. So very long ago.
Day One of the project ended at sundown with our side way ahead. I felt manly and effective. Until I woke up Sunday morning. Feeling aged and incapacitated. Stiff as a board. Looking back on it, a day of fighting the non-business end of a nozzle applying 4200 p.s.i. to something is about twelve hours of concentrated, continuous, isometric exercise. Not my usual weekend. In fact, not my usual decade.
The second day of work was occupied with even more horrid activity as I tackled the sidewalk, back patio and driveway. To "easily" clean these horizontals, the "rent-all" gents had generously provided me (at no additional cost) "the swirler"...
See, what you are supposed to do is unhook the pressure hose from the nozzle and re-hook it to this thing. Simple, right? Not exactly. A decided cloud drifted over Day Two of the project right off the bat when I could not get the hose fitting disconnected from the nozzle. I think the combination of me swearing and hopping madly about the back patio awakened my F-I-L who luckily appeared on the back patio and got the infernal fitting unhooked and re-hooked to "the swirler." Amazing how an octogenarian can have hand strength of iron. Anyway, "the swirler" was a complete joke and a waste of time. And it was VERY hard to use. You are supposed to move it about like a floor polisher as it is supposed to be supported on a cushion of high pressure water provided by a rotating arm under it. Except for some reason it didn't work that way. It was more like trying to drag a canoe across a gravel river bed with half an inch of water under it.
Finally, I abandoned "the swirler" and did all the horizontal surfaces with the nozzle. If I moved about like Frankenstein when I started Day Two, I looked like his aged brother by the end of the day. And then I tried to unhook the water hose from the unit. It had taken me less than two minutes to attach the thing on Saturday morning, despite the grinding feeling of what, on Sunday evening, occurred to me was probably sand in the fitting. When you get sand in a brass fitting, it is like cramming boulders into a small, rotating space. That then lock the thing down and prevent rotation. Thus precluding detachment of your garden hose. Which is essential to returning the rented machine. After ninety minutes of exhausted, stiff bodied effort, I conceded defeat in removing the hose. I reached for the pocket knife proffered by my F-I-L who had what could only be described as a look of deep sympathy on his face. Then I amputated the offending hose and put the whole rig back into the truck. Awaiting my return to the "rent-all" joint early Monday morning.
But. The whole place looks amazing now. The brick and driveway and sidewalks just sparkle. And my wife is really proud of me. When I realized I was finally finished, I staggered out into the front lawn again covered head to foot in mud. Then I leaned back and fired that nozzle straight up into the air like some kind of microbial Taliban. It made a huge rainbow.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Once upon a time, I read from Thomas Merton every day. In The Seven Story Mountain, Merton relates how he went from being a young man about town to a Trappist monk in the beautiful hill country of Kentucky. He wound up missing a lot of cocktail parties but made up for it by becoming a central figure in American and world religious thought.
Merton always went out of his way to emphasize the power of humility in ordinary life. Not an uncommon thought in the writings of people that live in monasteries, but what Merton brought to the field of religious writing was that the reader knew he had lived the high life and stepped away to take a longer view of the issues that present themselves to all of us. Every day.
As I note above, Merton believed that it was humility that makes us "real". Oh, how I agree with that idea. I find that whenever I start to feel really important I get a good, healthy dose of humility that probably saves me in the long term. Scene one...
I am traveling in a very pretty part of Florida and find that I have to go to a local mall department store first thing in the morning for some sundry or another. But it did not dampen my spirits. I was on a terror of a roll. Winning everything I touched. Golden words issuing from my lips (whenever I was paid to speak them) that were seemingly accepted as truth by anyone in the general listening vicinity. Or at least that is how it seemed at the time. In any event, I was feeling pretty damned good about myself. That morning. As I headed into the men's department of a just-opened store.
One of the things about Florida is that you have quite a few older ladies working in department stores that really know what they are doing. Ladies who have worked counters at Saks and such places for years. As I was considering a display of some sort, I was approached by one such Elderly Matron of Retailing, no more than four foot five inches tall, who peered up at me and said
EMR: "Excuse me, yacallah".
ML [confused/diverted] "I beg your pardon?"
EMR: [somewhat put out] "Yacallah--yacallah"
ML [very confused] "I'm sorry...I don't understand you". I was afraid she required some sort of esoteric medical attention.
EMR: [as if I had a mental problem] "Your...............COLLAR. It is TURNED UP IN BACK"
ML [embarrassed to death, scrabbling at the back of my neck]
EMR: "Here, bend down, I'll get it, I'll get it."
After I complied meekly and she fixed my twisted collar, she looked up at me again from a height of five foot four enhanced to seven feet tall by years of top drawer store experience..."Honey, you look good...pretty suit and tie, shiny shoes...but what good is all that if you have a collar?" Adequately brought back to Earth, my formerly undefeatable self went on my way. Humbled. And better for it.
Scene two, some months later...
I am beginning the biggest trial of my career. Part of a hand picked team beginning a two-week out of town battle against tremendous odds. We are all getting ready to troop over to a large courthouse in a small town to open the case. The head of our side was a lion of the courtroom. Impeccable. Unflappable. In command of his surroundings at all times. Subject to call by private jet at any moment by any number of top corporate concerns to handle trials literally anywhere. That first morning of trial, a dozen of us were all preparing to troop out to court. But only two of us would get to actually stand up and talk. The lion. And me. I wasn't nervous. Just very proud of myself. He strode over to my side. Lions always stride over to ones side. Glanced me up and down...
L: Ready to go tiger?
ML: I'm ready to rock, yes sir.
L: Great. Butyurcuff...
ML: [a deja vous induced bead of sweat appearing on my brow] I...um...beg your pardon?
ML: [almost thrown off my pins] Eh?
L: [as if he had heard from an Elderly Matron of Retailing that I had a mental problem] "Your....left...cuff...is....turned....down...."
No, he didn't offer to fix it for me. But actually it broke the ice a bit. We hit it off famously after that. When I returned home after two weeks, I pulled a small traveling volume of Merton off the shelf of my library and put it back into my briefcase. Where it belonged. Humility makes us real. And that, last time I checked, is the goal.