Friday, July 31, 2009

July Weight Watch Page

Here is the link to my July Weight Watch Page.

Starting the month about 14 pounds lower than I began April. Hoping to end the month 20 pounds lighter.

EDITED: July 18th - Updated weight figures for July 12-18

EDITED: July 11th - Updated weight figures for July 5-11
(a difficult week)

EDITED: July 4th - Updated weight figures for July 1-4

Lessons Learned the Hard Way

Back in the 1960s political correctness had yet to arrive. That alone made the decade worthwhile in my opinion. Other than that it was a nasty time. There were racial tensions all over the place. There was a war nobody understood or liked. Poverty was a big deal. People were being overwhelmed by technology.

It's a good that things have changed so much in the past forty years, isn't it?

But back then it was totally appropriate for children to play with toy guns. It was encouraged. There were entire aisles in the toy sections of bigger stores devoted to hand guns, rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, etc. And where I grew up it wasn't just the boys who played gunfighter and war. The girls were just as prone to violence as the boys.

The cool thing about playing guns was that you only missed when you wanted to miss, and you were only shot when you wanted to be - or everyone else insisted you were. And if you were the socially dominant one that meant never. I was never the socially dominant one. Got shot lots of times.

It was frustrating, though, to be told I had been shot when I knew for a fact that my "enemy" hadn't even managed to point their weapon at me. You see this on the old western shows all the time. There's a gunfight, and the hero fires his weapon at a forty-five degree angle to the ground. The bad guy puts his hand over his heart and falls dead. Heart attack, I guess. It's a good reason not to be a bad guy. Apparently it causes heart problems.

Chris's dad owned a cabinet shop, and as a treat he made wooden guns which fired rubber bands. Chris was thrilled. Now he would have positive proof of his prowess with weapons. The rubber bands would not lie.

He and his brother and cousin all had them, giving them what the rest of us considered an unfair advantage. We were horribly jealous. Chris and Dale had pistols, and all three had rifles. The only difference between the pistols and the rifles was that the pistols weren't rifles and the rifles weren't pistols. No difference in accuracy or distance.

The pistols were quickly abandoned after Chris and Dale shot themselves in the foot several times. The rifles worked fine - if they could get closer than ten feet to their target - and it wasn't windy.

I was lucky enough to get my own version of a projectile firing weapon. It was an oversized pistol which had one redeeming value: it fired bullets.

The bullets were plastic, of course. But they had the added benefit of being loadable. One just took off the back, filled the tube with baby powder, replaced the back, put the bullets in the gun and went off to shoot something. The rounded point was open so that the bullet would leave a powder mark as proof of accuracy. The other kids hated this weapon. Why? I was good with it.

You see, Daddy had taught me to use guns when I was five. I learned to respect them like I would a butcher's knife. Real guns would really kill. And they didn't care who they killed. Even when I played with toy guns I was not allowed to treat the weapons indiscriminately. I was allowed to point my weapons at people on one condition: I intended to shoot them. That went for play time as well as real time.

That taught me to be careful on my fast draw. I could outdraw anyone. And with the projecting bullets I had proof of my accuracy. Of course, it was hard to miss when one was only six feet away from the enemy. Plastic bullets had a similar problem with distance as rubber bands.

The biggest problem I had was that holsters were generally made to be worn on the right side. I wore my gun on the left. This required a bit of fanangling, and the result was my gun refused to remain holstered when I wanted it to be. This meant many accidental drops to the ground and eventually a broken gun. So much for the fastest gun alive.

I've always liked shooting guns. Just not at living things. Never been much for hunting. Went a few times without killing anything. Then, the last time I went, I did. I remember hesitating before firing my weapon. I didn't want to do it. Then logic worked in my brain. What the h*ll was I doing out there if I wasn't going to complete the mission? Others were depending on me to do this. So I fired.

I felt sick, and distant from myself. Almost numb. I didn't like the feeling of remorse. This was not play time. I had killed something. On purpose. Just so I could eat it. I made a promise that I would not hunt again, and I haven't.

Son has some toy guns. Spouse got them for him. It never occurred to me to buy them. I have placed the same rule upon him that Daddy did to me: do not point the gun at anything you do not intend to shoot. And that includes the cat.

I knew some kids in school who had taught their dog to fall over and play dead when they pretended to shoot it. Don't waste your time trying that with a cat. Cats just like at you like you're nuts. I think they're right.

For myself, my shooting days are over.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Casting Call - Bevie Stay Home

Many are the days I have wondered how different my life would be had I only dared involve myself more wholly into theatre - as I desired. There were various reasons why I remained an outsider, even after I joined theatre in high school.

Theatre can be very cliquey, and I don't do well in cliques. I don't like excluding others. Thought this was a more recent development in my life, but as I remember back even to my grade school years I was conscious of those who were being left out and often tried to bring them in - sometimes to the anger of the rest of the group.

The sense of isolation increased in college, especially after I took exception to a particular play we were doing and dropped out. I was subsequently kicked out of the theatre program entirely. Since that time I have only taken part in one play. It was a community theatre project. Neil Simon's, "Fools". I played the villain. Was originally cast in a small role as the mail carrier, but when the original lead quit to take the lead in a bigger production the original villain became the lead and I was given the villain part. Got a standing ovation on the Friday performance. That may have been my "ten minutes of fame", I fear.

But I recall how others described my play-acting when we were just playing around the house and/or yard. Mickey, my brother, would tell others how I was great in pretend shoot-up games. "When you shot someone else, they would carefully go to the ground. Not Bevie. If Bevie was running and got shot, Bevie would crash like it was real. Completely heedless of harm."

When others would look at me with amazement and ask me why I told them: "I was dead. Being hurt wasn't a consideration."

I suppose that made me more of a physical actor than a mood one. There were certain things I did not do well at all, and that I see so few professional actors do them well either makes me feel better about my own failures. For instance, I don't do drunk well at all. My point of reference is simply watching others. Never been drunk myself. But drunks don't "act drunk". Not until they are so close to passing out they can't really do or say much at all. Up to that point they just tend to get a little louder, and a more passionate about whatever it is they are talking about. But I can't do drunk because I really don't know what it is they are feeling. That's always been key to my play-acting. I try to be whoever. Feel what they feel. How can I do that if I don't know what it is?

Don't know that I could do a love scene either. Of course, after a quick glance in the mirror, I need not fear being put in that situation should I even find myself on stage or before a camera. Those days are long past. (If, indeed, they ever existed.)

Crying scenes are hard. Not because I can't feel the emotional pain, but because my Scandinavian heritage has trained me to keep my displays at a minimum. I cry. But I don't sob. Once, when something quite horrible had happened and I felt like I should explode, I tried to make myself cry and weep with animation. I couldn't do it. Not even when it was real. How odd.

But I like acting. I like being somebody else. Anybody else, if it's for fun. Used to do that in school all the time. I would see some comic or comic actor on television and them emulate the routine in school. Lots of trouble. Lots. Teachers back then had no sense of humor whatsoever. I wasn't exactly politically correct even back then.

Although I know I would never have been a Mel Gibson, Johnny Depp, Paul Newman, or Clark Gable, I might have been a decent character actor. One of those characters you need to help give the leading characters purpose.

You know, I guess it wasn't my calling, by I still feel bad that I missed it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

I Guess I'm Just a Shameless Flirt

I have posted before (I think - d*mn it's a nuisance being older) about how Spouse used to be quite jealous of me and my time. Not for a long time now. One look in the mirror is enough to tell me why. Which is why I don't keep a lot of mirrors in this house. That the seals on the windows are broken is a blessing because the glass is all fogged up and I can't even see my reflection there. Sigh. There was a time when I was actually beautiful. Or so I was told.

But I never thought I gave good reason for anyone to be jealous over me. Still, I am fairly simply and silly about such things. Apparently, what I consider to be simple fun is, by others, considered advanced flirting. And the reverse is true, too. More than once (in the past) I would get chided by Spouse for tolerating the blatant come on behavior of some woman as she talked with me. I didn't have a clue to what she was talking about. (Remember who it was who was brilliant and came up with a way to actually play tennis instead of finding something else to do when three guys and three girls got together?)

My problem, I suppose, is that I really like talking with women. Girls, when I was young, but women now. I feel I can discuss a wider range of topics, although there are a few which I find embarrassing. That's something else about women I've noticed: they don't get embarrassed so easily. And when it comes to potty mouth, women are either in first or last place. No middle ground.

I think Death must be a woman. Why? Because I have found myself flirting with Death on more than one occasion. And, just as in any other relationship I have had with a woman, I failed to recognize the ramifications of certain things. This is especially amazing to me when I realize I have an exceptionally high I.Q. and so, supposedly, intelligent. But consider:

I've never been a good swimmer. In fact, I didn't learn to swim until I was nineteen. So what did I do at the age of five or six at the lake up by Grandma's house? I watched the teenagers run down the dock and dive into the water. They were having some sort of contest about who could get out there the furthest. When they finished I decided to have a go. Being intelligent I walked in the water along the dock to the end, just to make sure I could stand up and breathe after landing in the water. I gauged the likely distance I was to get from the dock and walked there. No problem. So, I went back to shore, got onto the dock, and began running as fast as my little legs would move me. When I reached the end my foot pushed off the end in a mighty leap and I went way out there. Far beyond my estimated distance. Right into the drop-off and weed bed.

When I realized I wasn't going to touch bottom, I fought to get back to the surface. I saw the dock, off in the distance, beyond my reach. Maybe I could thrash my way to it? But the weeds wanted to play. They took hold of my legs and kept pulling me down. Twice I made it to the surface, and twice I screamed for help, and twice I was pulled back down beneath the surface. Nobody came to help, despite forty or more people being just thirty yards away. I guess they didn't hear me.

I went down after the second scream and thought in my head, "Please, God, help me." And when I came up the third time my head almost hit the dock. I grabbed hold and held on for a good long time while I got my breath back. When I went to shore and told what had happened - SLAP! Why was I such an idiot?

When I cracked my own head open with a shovel (don't ask) I got yelled at for being stupid, too. And when I fell out of the tree. Why did I climb so high when I knew the branches couldn't hold me? Well, I hadn't known. Not until I put my full weight on the one. Then it was a long drop down. Fortunately, my descent was slowed by other branches in the way.

So when I tried testing Cedar Creek in the spring, when the water was about six feet deeper than normal, and I nearly got swept away, I didn't tell anyone. You see, I was learning. And when Chris, Mark and I were bicycling in January and I got hit by the car, I kept quiet.

That was an experience.

It was night. We were biking home from Cedar, the small town just to the north. Why we thought it was a good idea to bicycle on icy roads I don't know, but that's what we were doing. When the light from the car's head lamps beamed upon us I decided to switch to the other side of the road. I wasn't keen on having a car pass close to me while I was biking on ice. About halfway across I realized the vehicle was moving a lot faster than I had determined. I tried to get back, but I had to go slow. The road was icy.

I heard the car as it slid across the ice, the driver no doubt desperate to bring his vehicle to a stop. I actually thought I was going to make it when - WHUMP! My bicycle went out from under me and I went down like a sack of potatoes. (You ever see a sack of potatoes go down? It isn't pretty.) Still holding onto the bicycle's handle bars I felt my butt slide across the road. My back slid down the side of the car until it reached the rear wheel. Once I felt that I arched my back and tried to keep myself from sliding under. The car appeared to be moving faster than I was.

It seemed like a long time, but I doubt it was. We came to a stop and I got up. Chris said the driver was hunched over his wheel. Finally, he got out to investigate. By then I was on my feet and laughing. Chris and Mark were staring. The guy (who was the local banker) was relieved I was up and walking about. He asked me if I was all right and I asssured him I was. He drove away.

I didn't tell my folks. Both Daddy and Mother were home that night. By some odd coincidence they were invited to Chris's house that night to share an evening with his parents. I had gone home to change clothes (the seat of my jeans was gone) and then went to Chris's house, too. I wasn't there long when I was called down to the kitchen. What was this, my folks asked, about me being hit by a car? Fortunately, we were at a neighbor's house. No beatings allowed at neighbor's houses. Besides, this wasn't something Daddy hit for. Mother, yes. Daddy no. He just looked me in the eyes and asked me if I had learned anything. I said I had. Fortunately, he didn't ask me what I had learned.

What had I learned? There's no such thing as a secret.

I have flirted with Death more times than I can recount. My doctors say that's kind of what I'm doing now. Maybe so. But I thought flirting was supposed to be fun. Flirting with Death is kind of frightening. You know?

Monday, July 27, 2009

When Good Friends are Kept Apart

Yesterday, after I wrote a post for this blog, I came up with an idea for another post. Since I had already posted I decided to wait until today to post it. But now I'm going to write about something completely different: sleep.

It's on my mind right now because my body and brain are telling me I need some. Unfortunately, I have to be away within the hour, so I'm not going to be getting any sleep until a few more hours have passed.

It seems my good friend Sleep and I don't get much alone time. That's a real shame, too. Sleep is a good friend of mine. Often, Sleep gives me wonderfully vivid dreams. Occasionally, we quarrel, and I've awakened with screams. That doesn't happen real often, but it does. Other times I have just woke in tears. But most of the time, Sleep and I get along just fine. If we would only be left alone.

All my life my time with Sleep has been shortened by this or that. Mother used to tell of how Helvie was always such a cheery baby. "We would wake her up to greet guests and she would be smiling and happy. Bevie, on the other hand, always woke up grumpy."

Well, just what in the h*ll did you expect? Me and Sleep were enjoying a good time together and you come along and send Sleep away. And why? So a bunch of dorky relatives can fuss all over me. Had I been able to say it then, I would have told them: "Get the h*ll out of here and let me go find Sleep!"

Growing up in rural Minnesota one might suspect that it was quiet and serene at all times. Generally, it was. Just not when I was trying to invite Sleep to stay the night with me. Until you've been there, you just cannot imagine how far the sound of dogs barking in the night can travel. I can. It was a quarter mile to the one farm, and a half mile to the other. It didn't happen every night, but many were the nights when I lay in my bed, weeping at the absence of my friend, Sleep, all due to the incessant barking of dogs too far away for me to silence. I tell you truly - had they been within rifle range I would have silenced them.

I loved visiting up north, at Grand Rapids. That was where Alfred lived with his family. Alfred was Mother's cousin, but he and Daddy were best of friends. As soon as we arrived they sat and began talking - and drinking. Then, at night, the entire house shook with their snoring. For the life of me I cannot understand how anyone else in the house slept. On the worst nights they didn't. But I never did.

Snoring and barking. Barking and snoring. Sleep and I have lived a difficult relationship. Why does everyone seem to hate my friend, Sleep? Or at least hate it that Sleep and I are so close?

Last evening Spouse, Son, and I stayed up until ten watching M*A*S*H reruns. I knew it was a risky thing to do, as I prefer to go to bed around eight. But Spouse and Son like to stay up and the only television we have left which really works is in the master bedroom. Some nights I am able to fall asleep despite the noise, but even then I'm up later than I want. But last night was deliberate. I stayed awake until ten, knowing I had to be up by seven in order to drive forty-some miles to my digestive doctor.

Fortunately, after we shut off the lights Sleep came to visit me fairly quickly. It was a nice visit, with vivid dreams no doubt affected by the marathon of Korean War sitcom viewing. Then, shortly after eleven, Sleep left. You see, as much as I dislike snoring, Sleep just will not remain if there is any hint of snoring in the room. Sleep has left when I was snoring. That usually happens when I am exhausted, or in winter, when my throat fills with phlegm. (What causes that, anyway?)

Anyway, I wasn't the one snoring, but Sleep didn't care. Sleep just cannot abide snoring. After an hour of hoping the snoring would cease and Sleep return, I finally got up, took my pillows and blankies, and went to the play room, wherein there is a spare mattress laying on the floor. For three hours I begged Sleep to return, but there was enough of the faint sound of snoring to keep Sleep away. Finally, I just said, "To h*ll with it." I got up and played a computer game, taking my frustrations out on imaginary gremlins, tree monsters, and flying reptiles. Been doing that for about three hours or so.

And guess what? Sleep has sent me a message asking if I would like to get together. Yes, I would. Except I have to be leaving within about twenty minutes, so it seems like there's no point. Hopefully, when I get home from the doctor in a few hours, Sleep and I can have a nice long visit.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Form of Charity - But Without the Power Thereof

My sister and mother were by to visit on Saturday. Judayl needed to bring home her things which failed to sell at the garage sale back in June. They stayed for three or four hours and we had cookout on the grill with a Jello-Cool Whip dessert.

As is usual with my family our conversation spanned a variety of topics, from politics to family history to driving. During our varied talks Mother mentioned Daddy's attitude toward saving lots of money: he saw no point in it. Probably because he had grown up poor and mistreated during the Great Depression. He saw how little a person could have. Of course, that doesn't make things easy. But I guess he used to say, "What's the point of saving all that money? If disaster occurs, you've never saved enough, and no one will help you until it is all gone anyway."

I think he was right about that. Mother related how she and Daddy had watched a fairly well-off family lose their farm when their little girl took very sick. No help came forth until they were completely broke. But being broke doesn't always mean one gets help - even from those government agencies created to help people who really do need help.

One of Mother's friends, an elderly woman in her late 80s, has developed MS. She's bruised all over from falling down all the time. Once she lay on the floor for two hours until someone chanced by and heard her calling for help. She has no family nearby so she applied at the state for assisted living. She was turned down. Told she wasn't sick enough.

A friend of my sisters has a baby daughter, less than two years old. She has a rare condition of elephantitus in which only half of her body is swelling. This includes internal organs. Her throat is damaged from acid reflux because her esophagus is not uniform. The family has spent thousands upon thousands of dollars of their own money (after insurance) to keep her alive. They also went to the state seeking some kind of assistance. They were turned down. Turns out baby just isn't sick enough.

Spouse and I have gone through something similar, although not so dire. Having seen our family income drop 80%, we often find it difficult to make ends meet. (Hence, the foreclosure on the house.) Spouse has applied - more than once - to state and county agencies for help regarding health insurance, utility bills, and refinancing the house. Every time we applied the response was the same: You make too much money for us to help you.

That's fine. Except I don't think it's the truth. Why do I think it's a lie? Because the specific thing we are told is exactly the same every time Spouse has applied. "You make $500 a month too much."

Well and good. Except how can we be making $500 a month too much when that was how much too much we made the last time we applied and our income has gone down? Regarding health insurance, it got so bad with the county that we could not qualify for assistance with health insurance unless we made less than $6,000 in a year. That's insane! Three people living on $6,000 in a year? I don't think so. But the truth is, we don't earn that much more anyway.

It seems clear to me that we were turned down for some other reason and that "you make too much money" is the standard rejection. Probably the same is true for health things, which is why the senior woman and the baby were said to "not be sick enough".

And it's not like nobody is getting any help. There are people who earn more than we do who are getting state and/or county assisted health insurance. Why? How? When we asked them we got uncomfortable looks and incoherent mumbling. We are left to guess, and my guess is that perhaps they have not been entirely truthful in their paperwork. Not that I blame them. Our entire society is geared to encourage lies. Lies are rewarded - even when everyone knows it is a lie. The more we tell the truth the more we are punished for it.

Americans do not like the truth. When the truth is bad, we surround it with disinformation, as it is called. Putting it plainly, we lie. That's what Washington is all about. Lies. Half-lies. Three-quarter lies. It's amazing that people survive being there. But it filters down into all aspects of our society.

For myself, I don't really mind being turned down by the agencies my past tax money went to create. What bugs me is being told something so completely ridiculous as an excuse. I would much rather just be told the truth: You're too old; You're fat; You're ugly; You're black; You're white; You're a Democrat; You're a Republican; You're Independent. Just tell me the frikkin' truth. I can't afford a lawyer, so I'm certainly not going to sue. I didn't sue the idiot who told me to my face I was too old to send to a job interview. (Why bother?)

It's like the guy from the bank talking with Spouse last fall. "Well, we'll be happy to help you renegotiate your monthly payment - as soon as you make more money than you spend." Spouse responded with, "If we made more money than we spend we wouldn't need help."

But that is also the American way: Help those who need it least. Not that I necessarily mind anyone getting help. Just stop giving me a*sinine reasons why I don't qualify.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Violence Without Consequence

It's been a rough week. For one thing I've been ill. Mostly light-headedness and nausea. That affected my eating habits and I have actually gained weight the past two days. Not falling to the floor anymore, but am still utilizing restroom facilities at increased frequency.

Have had to deal with poor sleeping, too. My beautiful days of getting to sleep before nine and waking again before four are but faint memories in my head. The sun is high in the sky when I get up now, and the household wakes soon after I do. No more blocks of four hours alone time.

We've had enough rain this week I have not bicycled much. And when it hasn't been raining I have needed to remain close to the restroom, so I have avoided going then, too. Not a week for exercise.

Still found plenty of time to laugh, though. Son and I have been watching Star Trek: Next Generation episodes and use the many opportunities to fill in our own sarcastic dialogue. Sometimes we get to laughing so hard we can't talk and our eyes water. It's amazing how many straight lines there are in a single episode. And some characters are much better at delivering them than others. One of our favorite characters to dislike is Wesley Crusher. What a twit. His mother, the doctor, isn't much better. But they provide some the best opportunities for spontaneous dialogue. Other favorites (to make fun of) are Counselor Troi and Captain Picard (even though the captain is one of our favorites).

The Bible tells us "a merry heart doith good like a medicine". Maybe that's why I'm feeling a bit better now than before.

Anyway, the week is slowly winding down. Not everything has gone as I would have liked, but there have been some good moments. Wrote a new story which went over pretty good. Had fun playing mindless games on the computer. There's nothing like mindlessness to calm a troubled mind.

Saw a guy who is important with Best Buy's Geek Squad on a forum the other day. He talked about how the Geeks grew up and invented computer games so the jocks would have someone else to pulverize. Yeah, that's kind of true, isn't. Violence without consequence. How many wizards, genies, haflings, gargoyles, and titans have I sent to their deaths in the past few days? And how many archers, gorgons, skeletons, centaurs, wraiths, and such have I killed? And I've committed no crimes.

It's amazing how much havoc one can create when one is ill. A different way of venting.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Does Harassing People Really Generate Money

I am not a telephone person. Never have been. There have been several times in my life when I lived without one. Never had one when I was single. Went a couple of years without one after I got married. Cost me a promotion once. Big deal. It was worth it.

The telephone is the one thing we have in our homes which we do not seem to have for our own convenience. Apparently, we have it for the convenience of other people. I have had the following conversation more than once in my life.

Bevie. Where were you last night?


No, you weren't.

Yes, I was.

But I called you! No one answered.

Oh, that was you? Yeah, I heard the phone ring.

Why didn't you answer it?

I was busy.

Doing what?

I don't know. Something. Can't remember now.

Yell, yell, yell. Snipe, snipe, snipe. Why do you even have a telephone if you won't answer it?

After at least one of those conversations I actually did cancel the telephone. In fact, the only reason I have a telephone now is because of Son. If ever I need to dial 911 for help I need to be able to do it. Actually did once. That was a scary time, but it turned out all right.

Last year I never answered the telephone. Nearly every call was from a bank representative, calling to tell us we were losers, equivalent to criminals, and that we'd better come up with money. Of course they were willing to help. "Pay us what you owe us and we'll leave you alone." Well, we were never able to do that, so they helped out in a different way: They foreclosed on us. No more telephone calls. Cool.

Since then I do answer the telephone - most of the time. Spouse's work kind of requires it. Unfortunately, our calls are seldom related to Spouse's work. Generally, our calls can be grouped as follows:
  • Personal calls to myself - 0%
  • Personal calls to Son - 0.5%
  • Personal calls to Spouse - 10% (usually a sister)
  • Work calls for Spouse - 10% (please, can you work for me)
  • Calls for our gift business to buy inventory - 10%
  • Calls for us to borrow money - 30%
  • Calls for our gift business to borrow money - 39.5%
Nearly all of our incoming calls are from the same people (computers). I've lost count of the number of "this is your final opportunity to take advantage of this fantastic deal" calls I've taken. Some of them are actually from real people in real time. We tell them not to call us again and they apologize and say they will take care of it. Generally, this results in two calls a day instead of one for the next week. The calls only reduce in number if one hangs up. This is for real people and not computer calls.

Last spring I got a call from the lawn service which used to do our yard. They did an excellent job, but we saw no reason to spend hundreds of dollars on a yard for house which we were being thrown out of. So I told them we had lost the house and were not interested. The guy told me how terribly sorry he was to hear that. Then he added, "But if you should need lawn care where you're going, do give us a call." Uh-huh.

Well, Monday of this week I get another call from the same lawn service company.

Hi. I was just wondering what your plans were for your yard for the remainder of the year.

Well, as I told you last March, we have been foreclosed on. We don't have any plans for the yard.

Oh, I'm sorry. But if you should change your mind do let us know.

Right. Well, yesterday I get yet another call from the lawn service company, wondering what my plans are for the yard this fall. I explained again the situation and added the following.

You know, I do wish you people would keep accurate and up-to-date records. I told you last March we had lost the house. I told you again yesterday. Now I'm telling you again. Do you understand this is really annoying?

It took a lot of effort, but I thought I was quite polite. Tomorrow when they call, I won't be.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What to Watch When the Television is on the Fritz: 1970s Style

Got to thinking about clothes this morning. Several bloggers have mentioned clothes in one fashion or another (how's that for utilizing words).

For myself, I'm not fashionable at all. While I like nice clothes, finding them is hard, because what I think looks nice seems to be completely wrong as far as current fashion goes. So I don't even try.

All summer long I have been rotating through three pair of solid color golf shorts. I assume they're golf shorts. Lots of pockets. One is sky blue, one is black, and one is a beige. During cold weather I rotate between different colored sweat pants. Those are all tattered now and I am going to have to replace them. Apart from that I wear t-shirts, both as an undershirt and an overshirt. I attempt to match colors when I go out in public. My coolest look is when I wear black. But it's hard to look cool when one is over fifty, overweight, and over-the-hill.

Shorts have always been my apparel of choice for warm weather. When I was very young, I would cut the lower legs off my jeans when my knees broke through the denim and wear cutoffs. Those were great because I never had to change clothes to go swimming. (Only skinny dipped a couple of times. Didn't much care for that. Maybe if there had been girls present it would have been different. We didn't have that kind of courage.)

Later, after I had discovered the joy of tennis, I constantly wore a pair of tennis shorts under my regular pants. Bought an entire wardrobe of white tennis shorts so I would always have a clean pair to wear. I kept my tennis raquet in the car so should any opportunity arise I could play. Freaked out more than a few people when I would walk out onto the court and drop my pants. I guess I have a bit of the exhibitionist in me. I just don't go so far to actually reveal anything. Well, not on purpose. I just reminded myself of a time when I was especially stupid.

I was in my early twenties and living alone on the third floor of a delapitaed complex. My only possessions were my round bumper pool table, a box spring and mattress, and a clock radio. Since I worked at a pizza place I kept no food, so I was unaware of the infestation of insects which plagued the place. Finding nothing to eat in my apartment/flat the bugs stayed away. I only learned about it when I saw someone's note by the mail boxes demanding that something be done about the silverfish.

Anyway, I would come home after work, some time after midnight, and either work on Swords of Fire or my current sports league. On my way home I would stop at a local convenience store and buy two cans of Beefaroni and a two liter of Tahitian Treat. I would get home and heat up my Beefaroni and eat and drink. I had no dishes apart from the pan I used to heat my food and the spoon I used to eat with. Very soon after taking this apartment it dawned on me that if I was going to have dishes I would have to wash them. So I threw everything except the pan and the spoon away. My method of washing these utensils was to run them under hot water until the orange was gone.

Anyway, there was no air conditioning in this place, and back in those days we were having normal summers, complete with heat and humidity. Just breathing would make me sweat. But then I've always been a sweater. Even when I was ungodly thin. So, to avoid having my regular clothes soaked with sweat (and hence smell, because I only did laundry once a week back then) I would take off all of my clothes. You see, I didn't have that many. But what did I care? I was on third floor. Who could see me? Right?

To be sure, I had even gone downstairs and walked outside to look up. I was able to determine just how close I could come to the windows without being seen. I was quite proud of myself. All I had to do was stay deep in the apartment and I would be fine. That's what I thought. What a moron!

It was a few weeks later that I learned the truth. I was especially hungry and decided to walk back to the store and get more Beefaroni and Tahitian Treat. (My work, the store and the apartment/flat were all within a quarter mile of each other.) Since I was coming right back I left the lights on. It was while I was returning that I saw the truth: From a distance, I could see absolutely everything in the apartment that was higher than two feet off the floor. Privacy? I was the neighborhood show!

Fortunately, back then I was in my early twenties and still thin. Had I looked like I do today the police would have been called imediately. As it was I now had a better understanding of the looks I was getting from all the women. And the one guy. It might have also explained why Marilyn (a waitress at the pizza place) chose to move into the building across the parking lot from mine. I never dared ask.

Monday, July 20, 2009

(Almost) Passive Disobedience

All of our life we learn things. From the moment we are born we begin learning what it takes to survive and maybe even get our own way. We learn there are decent people in the world and people who are exceptionally cruel. We learn who to avoid, what to avoid, and where not to go. At the same time we learn who is nice, what is nice, and where is nice.

Most often, people are going out of their way to teach us things. Some of what they're trying to teach us isn't true, but they don't care. They either believe themselves, or they just want to have control over you (and me). For those latter folks there is a lesson they never want to see anybody learn. I call it the, "I can take that," lesson.

Basically, it goes something like this.

Back when I was young one of the things teachers would have students do when they were being offensive somehow was write sentences. "I will not call the teacher names anymore." Forget how many times and variations I wrote that one. Since an early age I have had the same problem with authority figures. Often, these people are not worthy of the position they hold and very quickly lose my respect. At such time, I find various ways to let them know it. It always costs me something, but sometimes I don't care.

I think it was in third grade when Mrs. St.J. assigned me a sentence to write 100 times. There were two others names up on the chalkboard ahead of me. When she left the room for something I got up and added something like one hundred more check marks (each check mark represented one set of one hundred sentences). When Mrs.St.J. came back she was furious. Cindy told on me, and as a consequence Mrs.St.J. erased everyone's sentences - except mine. For me, she left two check marks. My prank had just doubled my sentence. (No pun intended. Well, maybe just a little.)

While I felt she was justified in adding to my punishment, I didn't see where letting everyone else off just to spite me was appropriate. So I resolved in my heart at that moment that if they were not going to write, I wasn't going to write. And, being an honest sort, I told Mrs.St.J. I didn't care about the extra check mark. So she added another.

She misjudged me. She figured she could intimidate me by required more and more sets of one hundred, so she would add a check. I would announce I didn't care and she would add another. I suppose she figured there would come a point when I would collapse under the pressure. But as I had already resolved not to write any sentences what did the check marks mean to me?

When she finally realized her strategy had no hope of working she tried a new threat. Fine. She wouldn't add any more check marks. However, I would write the 1,500 sentences by the end of school or I would not be allowed to move on to the fourth grade. I responded with, "I don't give a d*mn. Do what you want. I'm not writing anything."

Ultimately, I never did. And I was moved on to fourth grade. But I didn't find that out until August.

Mrs.St.J. shifted her entire approach to me after that and amazingly became one of my favorite teachers of all time. I went from being a perpetual pain in her backside to one of her best students. The following year, she changed from third grade to fourth and made sure I was in her class. That set the stage for me jumping way ahead of my classmates in matters of reading and math. Fourth grade was a good year.

I guess I have a lot more pride than is good for me. A few years later I was confronted by a group of older boys who felt like pushing underclassmen around. I was ordered to open the door for them. I told them what they could do with themselves. When they threatened me with violence I sized things up. Just how far would this violence go? Figuring I was not likely to die, or be blinded or permanently injured, I refused to comply. Got my a*s handed to me that day. But they didn't get what they wanted. (They thought they did because they picked me up and pushed me through the door. But it took all of them to do it. And they never bothered me again afterward.)

At the last job I had I was called on the carpet for something someone else had done. I interrupted my manager and explained in no uncertain terms that there was no way in h*ll I was going to suffer for someone else's error. I didn't take credit when it belonged to others, and neither would I take blame. "Fire me if you want. But don't go b*tching at me about things I didn't do. I won't have it."

Of course, I don't work there anymore, but the manager actually liked me better - for awhile. When she realized I had no interest whatsoever in "climbing the company ladder" she became disheartened with me. It was her belief that good employees should strive to be managers, directors, and executive vice-presidents. I just wanted my paycheck, and I was willing to do whatever my job required to get it. But I wasn't going to strive for more in an industry which I cared nothing about. It was a job and nothing more. Emphasis on was.

A long time ago, when I worked at a pizza restaurant (sit down eating in those days), some us on the staff got to talking about what word best described each of us. We all had laughs about the words offered for each, until it was my turn. No one could think of anything. (Anything they wanted to say out loud anyway.) One of the waitresses, Betty, struggled hard with it and told me she would give it serious thought. I forgot about it, until two hours later when she walked up to the cook's counter and called to me.


I remember I thanked her, but I didn't feel complimented. Seemed like kind of a dull word. I'd been hoping for something better. Something glamorous, or magical, or adventurous. She made me sound like the turtle in the Tortoise and Hare story. Besides, if I think the deck is stacked against me I will quit. P*sses people off to no end, but what's the point of trying when you know you can't win?

And yet, I wonder. Maybe Betty was right. How many times have I stood, knowing the consequence of holding my ground, and refused to walk away? Sometimes quitting can be a form of defiance. There are some games I just will not play. Not for any money. But I'm not sure if that's perseverance, or if I'm just self-destructive.

Doesn't matter. Not really.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It's Easy to Be Confused

Before I get to my post I would like to recommend you jump over and read this POST from Fairyhedgehog. As is generally the case, she has found a topic of great interest. Thanks, fairy, for being good at finding these things, and then passing them on to the rest of us.

Now, as to what I was thinking of writing about.

Thought about it yesterday, but as I had already posted I decided to wait a day. Last fall I had a few days in which I did multiple posts, but readers were finding that was a nuisance to deal with, so I've tried to restrict myself to a single post in a day.

For whatever reason I got to thinking about how absolutely stupid people (and I am a people) get when they get carried away with an idea and let it take them past the point of intelligent thinking. One of the more stupid, and offensive actually, ideas is that when a couple conceives a child it isn't just the woman who becomes pregnant. They both do.

This is one of the most a*sinine concepts I've ever heard. Yes, both the woman and the man are affected by the pregnancy, but they are not both pregnant. To claim such is like saying, "You and your spouse have cancer", when it is just your OR your spouse. Or perhaps, "Fred and Joan have a broken leg. Fred fell off a ladder." Everything in a couple's life affects both of them. And when children arrive they are affected, too. So, if the baby on the way is the second, or third, or whateverth child, does that mean the children are pregnant, too?

I understand the concept of inclusion, and trying to make the guy feel like he's part of what's going on. Well, if he's any kind of a man at all he does. And he doesn't need to be told he's pregnant in order to be so. And telling him he is isn't going to change things if he isn't interested. If he isn't interested in the baby he helped create then he has bigger problems than feeling left out. In fact, I doubt he feels left out. He's clueless.

From the day I learned Son was on his way I read to him. Spouse thought I was an idiot, but she was intrigued by me laying on my stomach reading into her stomach. She wasn't sure what I was trying to accomplish, but I wanted our baby to recognize my voice when he/she came out. My hope was that the distortion from her skin and the fluids wouldn't make a big difference. I'll never know. However, at the birth, after the nurse had cleaned him up and wrapped him tightly in a soft, soft blanket, he was handed to me. I began talking to him. His eyes opened and he stared at me for a full hour as I paced the floor, telling him all about things. When he fell asleep I gave him to his mother. (Don't criticize. She was so exhausted she needed the time to gather some strength. She only held him about five minutes and then needed to sleep.)

I was still working in an office during that time. I shared a cubicle with "John". It was rectangular, with his desk at one end and mine at the other. A table, used for collaboration on project and code design, separated us. John was in his early twenties and just married. I was going to be forty in a few months. As co-workers do when there is constant opportunity, we chatted about things. We didn't always look at each other when we did. Didn't have to. We could multi-task: get work done and waste time at the same time. It was great.

Anyway, I made some mention about needing to go out and buy a crib. John stopped what he was doing and spun around in his chair. (I loved those swivel chairs. In fact, when the company got new - and horrible - chairs to replace those we were using then, I bought two for ten dollars apiece. Spouse and Son wrecked one, but I'm sitting in the other as I write this.)

Are you and Spouse pregnant?

No. Spouse is pregnant. I'm just fat.

John apologized, saying he hadn't been clear if I was into that kind of nonsense or not. His wife was, and so he tended to be that way at times, too. Although very much a young guy, John also had no problem with what they used to call, 'his feminine side'. But no one ever called him a woman. His name was John.

Of course, anyone who saw me would not confuse me with a woman either. Don't have the hips for it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ostracized By Summer

We are having one frikkin' cold summer. Most people around here seem to be happy with it. On the television the news and weather crews keep talking about how 'wonderful' it has been. Wonderful? It's frikkin' cold! In July! We should be enduring temps bordering - and sometimes exceeding - 100 degrees. (That's about 38-39 for those you who measure in celsius.)

I guess I make a poor Minnesotan. Born and raised here, I hate cold weather. Even as a young person I seldom went outside in winter. Only when I had to. There was a person (who shall remain nameless) from my past who used to say, "I like winter better than summer. At least in winter you can put on more clothes. There's only so much you can take off." Well thank God for that!

Most Minnesotans complain about the heat in July and August and then b*tch about cold in December and January. Not me. I moan about the cold all year long and never complain about the heat. Even when it's too hot for me. It's such a rare commodity in this state. Of course, now that I'm incredibly fat I cannot tolerate heat at all anymore. But I won't complain. The heat didn't make me fat. I did that on my own. And when I wasn't fat I could tolerate anything.

Used to convince Stephen to play best-of-five sets in tennis when it was 101 degrees. That's how I know he had to have loved me. Stephen was not a hot weather person. He was the one who got me to go out into the snow. (The things we do for love.) But poor Stephen would just be melting in the heat while I sailed through point after point. Our most famous match came on a Saturday in August when it was 102 and not a cloud in the sky. I won in straight sets: 6-0; 6-0; 6-0. The only points Stephen won were my three double-faults. The final point was scored on his weak lob to the net. I rushed forward and smashed the ball to the court. Stephen wearily turned to fetch the ball. When he did I noticed him brush his shoulder. When we got to J's Pizza (a favorite hangout which still exists in Spring Lake Park this day) he had downed a couple of Pepsi Colas he confessed something.

Remember when you hit that last point?


Did you see me brush my shoulder?


Well, just as the ball went past me a bird flew over and sh*t on me. I thought it an appropriate end to the game.

It's been so cold around here I decided to put in a Christmas movie last night. Polar Express. Just out of spite. Of course, I fell asleep just as they reached the North Pole. I do that now when I watch movies at home. Fall asleep. I expect I could put in a movie ten minutes after getting a restful night's sleep and be out again before the thing is half through. I suppose it doesn't help that I watch television while laying in a bed.

No hot weather. Not a fun summer at all.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

An Easy Way to Fish

As I've written before, I am not, and never have been, real keen on fishing. But before Stephen and I would drive and hike to the Rum River, or Cedar Creek, I would sometimes be up at my uncle's cabin near Grand Rapids. The cabin was high on a hill overlooking Little Wabanna Lake. Little Wabanna was one of those tiny pond-like lakes, great for pan fish and a few northern pike. Only catching the big fish was difficult. The reason was the lake was so inundated with small fish the big fish hardly bothered with bait on a hook.

We used to sit on the big pontoon raft about thirty yards from shore in fifteen feet of absolutely clear water. You could see the bottom. You could also see hundreds of pan fish swimming in the pontoon's shadows. We would row out to the raft with cane poles and a carton of worms. Then we would fish.

This kind of fishing was incredibly easy. Hooks would barely enter the water before six or eight fish would swarm upon them. A quick jerk of the pole and up came the catch - generally a pitifully small sunfish. Sometimes it would be an even smaller perch. The bigger fish were deeper down, but getting the hooks down there was a trial. We would put six or eight lead sinkers on the lines and drop them in. But with all of the small fish the odds of catching a "keeper" were fairly slim. Yet it was not catch and release. The lake was so overstocked with fish that the rule was keep everything. What you didn't eat yourself would be fed to the hogs, or buried in local gardens for fertilizer. There were just too many fish in the lake.

I found this out first hand when Helvie and I were fishing. We ran out of bait and as a joke I just dropped an empty hook into the water. I caught a fish. We thought it was so funny we sat and caught a dozen more. From that day on we never used bait. We just went out with hooks and caught fish. For eight and nine-year-olds it was great.

What I remember, though, is how the fish quit biting around sunset. That was when the lake's surface became covered with water spiders, gnats, and other insects. At that point the fish would ignore even the best of bait and head to the surface to eat bugs. We would sit and listen to the popping sounds all around us. It sounded like a room full of gum chewers smaking their lips. It would last until dark. Then the fish would be done until the morning.

Eventually the lake's overpopulation of pan fish dwindled. I haven't fished there in at least forty years. My aunt still lives there, but I think she's gone most of the year now. The bug population is still high. Mostly mosquitos.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

When Cruel and Stupid People are in Charge

So I'm supposed to go to the clinic this month and have my blood retested. There is a problem with that. Well, actually, two problems, but the one isn't that big of a deal.

The big problem is that they won't schedule a time. I'm just supposed to show up. Only I have to fast for twenty-four hours beforehand. The problem with not having an appointment is that I won't think about going twenty-four hours beforehand so I won't fast. So I can't go. The month's half over already, and the only time I think about it is when I'm eating. "Oh. Yeah. I need to fast so I can go get the blood work done. Tomorrow. Maybe."

The little prlblem is I don't have health insurance anymore. It came down to having insurance or a place to live, and a place to live won out. Not that we can really afford the place to live either, but one has to be some place. (I argued this point with Spouse a year ago, but lost out. Pity. The premiums meant several thousand dollars went down the toilet.)

Meanwhile, our brilliant (and greedy and completely clueless) government officials are trying to pass a law making it illegal to be poor. That's right. Those of us who cannot afford insurance will be fined the money we don't have to pay for the insurance. What will they do when we can't pay the fines? Throw us into prison? We've gone backward in time to the days of debtor prisons. At least then we'll have insurance. Pretty good insurance from what I've heard.

Yes, they say the government will subsidize the poor who can't afford it. Right. And you know what kind of insurance that will be? Basically, free clinic stuff. If only our people weren't such arrogant and proud a*sholes they could copy a program which actually works instead of trying to invent something new and ruining a lot of people's lives in the process.

I don't know how much I give a da*n anymore. They say I'm costing the rest of the country billions because I don't have insurance. How? And why am I not seeing any of this money? When there is no insurance to pay my medical bills, who pays? I do. Or, I just don't go (which is more likely). I went two years with three broken teeth because I didn't have dental insurance. I went four years without being checked for diabetes (which I have, by the way) because I couldn't afford it. When I told my diabetes doctor I was soon to lose my insurance he asked me how that would affect me. I told him. I would do what thousands upon thousands of people in my mother's generation are doing: decide between medicine and food. Food would probably win. He said doctors don't like to be told that. Well, I've got news for the doctors: The poor don't much care for having to make that decision. But it's life. And believe it or not, there are actually thousands upon thousands of people who would give anything if they could trade place with me. The son of the people across the street comitted suicide this spring. What do they care about money problems? At least I have my son.

But where is all of this money being spent by others because I don't go to the doctor, or buy my medicine? Lost time from work? Well, I've been dumped from every job I've had because I'm too old to have it anymore, or the greedy b*stards in the financial industry have forced the business to collapse. Yes, Madoff got 150 years. I saw where on the news. They report that it's like a college campus. Maybe I'll get lucky, too, and be sent there. I can room with Madoff.

Hi. My name's Bevie. What are you in for?

Stealing billions from the world and forcing an economic collapse that put millions out of work. And you?

Being poor.

You filthy scum.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Strategy vs Dexterity

I've always been a sucker for video games. Way back in the "dark ages", when computer games came via Atari and Odyssey, games were pretty simple and graphics were almost embarrassing. The concepts were simple and mastering most was not difficult.

There were many games I developed an understanding of in which I simply could not lose. Ever. Not unless I wished it. One was a game my brother Mickey purchased. It was a baseball game. Mickey and I loved baseball. I didn't like the game much because the pitchers could throw incredible pitches which defied all known laws of physics. This made scoring for me difficult. But I only needed one run to win. Every time. The reason was that I learned something about the game. After pushing the button to "pitch" the ball, one had but to tap the controller stick to the left. This would put the ball over the outside corner of home plate. A strike. The batter had to swing. Unfortunately, no matter when he (she) swung, if the ball was hit it did exactly the same thing every time. Roll to the first baseman for an out. I could not be scored upon, so I could not lose.

Another game was Atari tennis. It was also a simple game. Just a version of the original pong. I learned a technique which meant I could return every shot. So it just became a matter of outlasting my opponent.

Breakout was fun. Unfortunately, the original version only allowed players to clear the screen twice. I guess it was assumed no one would do that. Well, some of us did. I think the last version I played continues to infinity.

All regular computer games have had the same problem since the first were created: when the computer plays as an opponent, it must cheat in order to win. The reason is that in order to program true intelligent strategy into a game is cost prohibitive. So the programmers take advantage of the fact that the computer has to know everything in order to process the game. Computer opponents tend to get better breaks than humans. It can be frustrating and annoying.

Take Microsoft Hearts, for instance. I did some studies and determined that there is a 60% chance (on my computer anyway) of me either being dealt, or passed the Queen of Spades on every deal. This is not realistic. As many times as I have played Hearts in real life I have never had that kind of luck. Also, computer players tend to 'gang up' on human players. This can be realistic as I have learned when playing any game with my in-laws. The object in their mind is for me to lose. Then they win. They are a collective entity. So in that regard I guess MS-Hearts is realistic.

Programmers hate it when their software is defeated by humans. They take it personally. I wrote before on this blog how Randy wrote an Othello software program for his computer class in college. He eventually got it so it could defeat himself and Stephen more times than not, but it never beat me. The reason? Randy was using me to get the strategy for the game, and what he was never able to do was program a drastic shift in strategy mid-way through a game. When something isn't working, that is the best strategy.

Games now have much better graphics, but they're not a whole lot different than those of the past. Sports games really suck. Always have.

When I wrote my baseball game it was a strategy game, not an exercise in dexterity. There were no graphics. It was all text. Well, one had to push buttons in order to generate plays. But one would simply tell their pitcher what to pitch, and signal runners when to steal, and signal batters whether to bunt, swing away, or go for the walk. It was up to the players to actually do the task. This was based on mathematical probabilities based on this batter's skill against that pitcher's skill against the fielder's skill behind the pitcher and the runner's speed. It wasn't perfect, but it was interesting.

I actually managed to play a season of 102-games for six teams with a best-of-seven championship. My teams were: New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Washington. New York won the regular season and beat Boston 4 games to 1 in the championship. I completed a draft and expansion, adding four teams: Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and St Louis. But the season didn't make it very long. My saved copy of the game became corrupted and I wasn't able to reload it. The program was lost forever.

Have tried several times to rewrite it, but I get bored and never finish. Writing the software isn't fun anymore. It's playing the game that's fun. No wonder I got dumped.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Growing Up in a Mean Area

The area where I grew up had a good share of characters. I expect I was one of them, at least in the eyes of others. But some of those people were prime examples of why cousins (and siblings) should not marry and have children.

There were plenty of "odd" characters even in my class, but the older classes were filled with them. And what made things bad was that, the odder a person was, the more likely they were to be a "tough".

My brother likes to tell of how one monster of a boy in his class used to sit in the back of the room in math class picking at the wall. Now this boy would have been about sixteen years old. The walls were plaster walls and not sheet rock. In September, when school began, there was a small, pencil-sized hole in the wall. The boy (I'll call him Dorf) began picking at the plaster. The math teacher would yell at him and he would quit, only to start again later. By the time the school year ended Dorf had picked a hole large enough to drive a golf cart through. The school wasn't big on repairs in those days.

The toughs in the are really were tough. When they had parties which got out of hand the police would come in force. And the toughs were stupid enough to fight. Most people were kind of terrified of them. I was. I was only six. But that was no defense against these guys.

I remember getting on the bus late to go home one day. That was always a problem because it meant finding a place to sit would not be easy. I would have to rely on the kindness of others, and there just weren't that many kind people on that bus. There was only one seat with room. Chris's cousin, Dale, had the window, and a seventeen-year-old who had wrecked his car was next to him. They didn't want me to sit with them. I didn't want to.

But the bus driver got mad and ordered me to sit there. The tough let me, but only for a short while. Then he knocked me to the floor. Dale thought it was funny, and the tough, having an audience, knocked me around until enough other students had got off so I could sit somewhere else.

I tried sitting on the floor, but the driver would yell at me. He didn't yell at the tough. He was an old man and was probably scared of the tough. So, to make himself feel better, he yelled at me. So I got pushed around by a nut case ten or eleven years my senior, and yelled at by an adult who should have been looking out for me. At times, it was a nasty area to grow up in.

The boy across the street, Bob, was odd, but he wasn't a tough. What he liked to do was sit in his car, in the driveway, and rev his engine for hours at a time. I don't know what he was doing. Pretending to race, or something. Guess it was better than him actually going out on the roads, but it was annoying. I remember his dad was always in the garage welding. He never sold anything, or brought it anywhere. He just - welded.

Although I was big, and although I was strong, I was still a favorite target for the toughs. They were older, bigger, and stronger. And I was not an aggressive little guy. I liked to have fun. I made fun of things. Any things. Including toughs. They didn't think it was funny. Sometimes I would be making fun of them while they were in the process if inflicting pain. I guess that explains the t-shirt my siblings bought me for my birthday one year. It had a graphic on the chest: A rat about to be killed by an eagle. The rat had it's paw in the air - middle finger extended. The caption was: Last Great Act of Defiance. I was known from my early years as a boy who would accept all kinds of suffering - just to prove a point.

As I aged, some of the more clever toughs abandoned their mistreatment of me. They recognized something I had yet to realize myself. I was as big as them now. And stronger than most.

It would take a moment of fear which would put an end to the physical torments I endured. I wasn't paying attention and got myself cornered. Angry with myself, I took it out on my attackers. They would continue to taunt me and call me awful names, but the physical stuff was done.

In time, they all graduated. (I expect the teachers gave them passing grades just to keep them moving and get them out the door.) By the time I was a Freshman, it was all over. No one who wasn't at least four years older than me would try my size and strength. They knew I was afraid of them, but they weren't willing to risk their own bodies.

Every so often I wonder what happened to these people. So cruel as kids, did they carry that over into adulthood? Probably. Or did they actually grow up and learn how to leave people alone? That's kind of my motto in life. Leave people alone.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Difficult to Live With

Typically, I'm one of those people who drive those who live with me absolutely nuts. It's nothing new. Been that way all my life.

I've heard the tale several times of how, when I was only a year or two old, I destroyed something which had been in the family for several generations. It was a crib. I drove it around the house. Not the 'get down on the floor and push it around' kind of driving. No. I was far more inventive. What I would do was stand up in the crib, grab hold of the headboard (or footboard, depending on which direction I was going), and then shake the crib forward and backward. According to what I've been told (my memory fails me on this point) I was able to navigate doorways and corners using this method. I would drive my crib all around the house. Wooden floors in those days, you know. It only took a few months and I shook the thing apart. No more family heirloom.

I still like to drive. Don't like to stop often. That takes away from the feeling of freedom. But for Spouse, who's bladder is the size of a tea cup, and Son, who gets motion sickness, my excellent bladder control and love of just moving gets to be a bit much. It's more pricey, too.

Growing up in The Old House I had a particular annoying habit. (Annoying to others. Not to me.) I liked to play baseball.

Not that baseball, in and of itself, is annoying. For those who lack any interest whatsoever in it, keeping it out of sight and out of mind is satisfactory. Only I didn't do that. Oh, I would stand in the back yard hitting whatever roundish object I could lay my hands on with whatever baseball bat-like thing I could get ahold of. But I also would throw rubber balls at the house. Endlessly.

I tried throwing a real baseball at the house once. Didn't work out so well. I was stronger than most others several years my senior, and by the time I was in junior high I could throw quite hard. I set up a target on the outside wall of the porch and fired a good, hard fastball. Wham! Right through the wall. In an old post from April 13th I have a picture of The Old House in flames. You can still see the hole I made. It was never repaired. I believe the caption I wrote implies I made the hole with a rubber ball. Not so. It was a regular baseball. I made several soft throws to get my bearings, and then let loose. It only took once to break the old wood.

After the fiasco with the baseball I restricted myself to rubber ball. I think one can still find them, but they used to make rubber balls the same size as baseballs. They'd even color them up to look like one. I used those.

Scratched a strike zone on the wall of the porch (around the corner from the wall where I sent the baseball through the wall) and would spend hours pretending to pitch. Originally I used the same wall with the hole in it, but between my wild throws and the sloped roof I spent too much time running around the house to get the ball. The peaked roof gave me much more room for error. Still threw it over the roof on occasion.

That wall had a window in it. It didn't take long before the window was just an opening in the wall. Yep. Another fastball gone wild. When we were tearing off the old tar siding in order to paint the place, we also took down all of the storm windows and put them in the porch. I stacked them neatly in a row. After the porch window was gone I sent another wild pitch through the opening. I heard the painful shattering of glass. Now I would never have guess a rubber ball could break that many panes of glass like that. But I wasn't figuring on the strength of my arm. I broke them all. Amazing strength. Hmm. Not appreciated though.

But imagine being in the house and listening to the continual pounding of a ball against the house. No wonder the rest of my family likes winter so much. But winter wasn't a total respite for them. I had an indoor trick I liked to play.

I would lay on my bed and toss the rubber ball up to where the wall and ceiling came together. I'd bounce the ball up and catch it back. First with one hand. Then with the other. Did that for hours, too. The Old House didn't have sheetrock. It was plaster over lath. And every so often I would hear some break away inside and tumble down. Thump. Thump. Thump. Hours on end.

No wonder my family has never been keen on me. It's amazing I lived.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Charlie Brown With a Tennis Racquet

I used to love to play tennis. Didn't discover it until I was a sophomore in high school. That was the year The Old House burned. For whatever reason she had, Mother came home one day with two wooden tennis racquets. Helvie and I took them and walked to the nearby Coon Rapids High School where about a dozen courts were available for public use. When the new house was finished and we moved back to the old property Stephen learned of my new found joy and he picked it up, too.

Neither of us knew much about the sport. As far as we could tell, it was basically ping pong outside on a large court, so that's how we played. It was our mutual friend, Kevin, who taught us the game. His family happened to be at the court next to ours. Kevin heard me announce a table tennis score and came over and gave us pointers on scoring and what the lines were for. The rest, as they say, is history.

I especially liked tennis because it was a sport I could play with just one other person. Baseball would have stayed my favorite if I just could have found enough people who wanted to play it. But baseball was too hard for most people. They were all migrating to slow-pitch softball - which I didn't much care for at all.

Stephen liked tennis, mostly, I think, because it meant so much to me. Chris liked it, too. He couldn't beat me, and eventually he would quit playing. It wasn't so much that he was a poor sport as it was tennis had become expensive for him. He began with a wooden racquet (like Stephen and I did), but it didn't take long before his old racquet broke under the stress of blocking shots from my T-2000. I got so I could hit some powerfully wicked shots with that racquet. Still have it, too.

So Chris purchased a new metal racquet of his own. It was better than the T-2000 - supposedly. He was going to beat me at last. We were playing in Anoka, at the 7th Street Park. Chris hit a poor approach shot and charged the net. Mistake. I was coming forward and hit a blast right at him. His only chance was to hold his racquet up, which he did. When the ball hit it, the racquet folded in half. Chris would never play again.

But before that happened I managed to do something completely stupid. And neither Chris nor Stephen ever let me forget it.

It was at the Coon Rapids courts. The lights would remain on there until about one in the morning, so one could get some good late night sets in, which is what Stephen, Chris and I did often. We would play until the lights went off and then head to one of our favorite pizza places: either Kenos or J's.

Well, this one night three young women about our ages were playing in the court next to us. They noticed us before we noticed them, but their coy antics quickly got our attention. We began taunting each other, as testing the waters for encouragement. Then one of the girls dared us to do something. As a single entitity the three of us walked onto their court. They squealed with delight. Now, instead of playing two-on-one, we had a three-0n-three. But that wasn't working well, so it was decided one guy and one girl would play a singles set while the others played doubles. We would trade off.

However it worked out like this, I can't remember, but I wound up playing singles with the prettiest girl of the three. What luck! I never got the prettiest girl before. In fact, I hadn't got any girl since first grade, when Vicki and Debbie fought over me. (Eventually, they both gave me up.)

Well, this is where I began being stupid. While Chris and Stephen and the two other girls were having fun and still managing to play some tennis, I played tennis. And of course I always played to win. Remember Chris's racquet? I could hit the ball really hard. Fortunately, I'm sure she was thinking, the lights suddenly went off. Tennis was over.

Now what were we going to do? Hmm.

While Chris and one of the girls were trying to determine who's apartment was closet, I came up with a brilliant idea. We could turn the car lights on and continue playing. Wouldn't that be great!

I think everyone else was too stunned with my suggestion to talk it down. So we began moving the cars. Stephen drove his car, and one of the girls drove the other. Why, I can't remember, but the trunks had been opened. Chris and one girl ran up and jumped into Stephen's trunk. The girl I was with suggested we do the same with the other car. I was game. Why not?

We ran up and I had to help her into the moving car. Then I pulled myself in. Unfortunately, my hand caught on something and I now had a terrible bleeding gash on my hand. This was more than the poor girl could take. Whatever interest she had had in me had not only faded, but it was now gone completely. And she seemed to be key to the one who had the keys, so those two were out. Chris and the girl with him would have liked to have continued what they were about, but neither of them had a car, and their transportation was leaving.

As we watched the girls drive away Stephen and Chris both turned on me.

You idiot!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Making the Right Choices

I've never been keen on fishing. The only fishing I remember enjoying at all was when Stephen and I would fish for carp in the Rum River. That was fun simply because catching carp in the Rum was like snagging old boots. We would buy a mess of worms, or grubs, and head out to the river. We parked the car and slogged through the brush and muck to the river's edge.

We didn't bother with bobbers or anything. Just a lot of sinkers. Back then the sinkers were made out of lead. Now I think they're made from some non-toxic material. But carp are bottom feeders, and so we needed to get our bait to the bottom. Otherwise, the carp would never take it.

There were other fish in the river. Once we caught a bass, and a couple of times we caught perch. But those were accidental catches. Stephen knew virtually nothing about fishing. And I knew even less.

It's a shame, too, because Daddy liked to fish. He had a lot of fun fishing. This was especially true if he was up north and fishing with Alfred, his best friend in the whole world. Alfred knew a lot about nature, and not just fishing. He knew the animals and plants as though he were the one who made them. I was allowed to go hunting with them one year, and I remember Alfred stooping down and picking up some deer poop. He rubbed it through his fingers and gave us the deer's life history. Well, that is a bit of an exaggeration. But not much.

In the last years before Daddy died he finally was able to afford some real outdoor equipment. It wasn't the best, but it was good. He took me to Canada twice, just to go fishing. The first time was cool because we found native paintings on an island. They were faded and difficult to make out, but they were there. Afterward Daddy confessed the discovery had not been an accident. Alfred had told him which lake to find and which island. That explained why we had gone so far away from normal roads. Alfred generally didn't fish where everyone else did.

Unfortunately, I was then in my teen years and didn't like fishing at all. I liked being with Daddy (except at meal time - Daddy couldn't cook worth a dang, but I didn't dare tell him I was better at it than him), but I didn't like fishing. And I wasn't keen on how he kept taking the boat further and further away from our campsite, wrapping around island after island. I knew he was going to get us lost. He only did the one time, but he wasn't off by much. What was embarrassing was when he let me drive the boat back. I mucked up some place, and when I made the bend to camp I was shocked: camp wasn't there. Someone had stolen it! Actually, I was about a mile off from where I was supposed to be.

But more and more Daddy was giving me a choice of whether to go fishing or not, and more and more I chose not. I know he felt bad, but it never occurred to me that I only had two years left to be doing anything with him. He didn't play sports. Not anymore. His outdoor activities were hunting and fishing - the two activities I wasn't keen on much at all. He was proud of my achievements in baseball, I know. I caught him bragging about my grand slam home run. I had hit the ball farther than a lot of boys two or three years older than me could hope to hit it. But I squandered my chance to do something with Daddy. I was a selfish fool. And now there is nothing I can do about it.

What I do now is take advantage of the fact Son still wants to do things with me. The day is fast approaching when the ability to run off with friends and do things I can no longer do (or want to do) is going to reduce the amount of time he wants to spend with me. So when he wants to play computer, or go bicycling, or just watch a movie, most of the time I interrupt what I am doing in order to do it.

I mucked up once. Don't intend to make the same mistake twice.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What We Did For Fun

Taking a short break so I can post something. Not that what I'm posting is all that important, but it's nice to keep up.

Got to thinking about a couple of things today while on the way home from grocery shopping. Not keen on grocery shopping anymore. The foods I want to buy and eat I pretty much shouldn't, and so I'm not. The foods I can/should buy are about as appealing to me as chewing on old leather. Actually, I'm more inclined to chew on old leather. So once again Spouse and I walked through the entire store and I didn't choose a single thing for me to eat - except some chicken, honey mustard and hot sauce.

But on the way home I was remembering some of Stephen's and my antics, back in the day. At times our humor was kind of wicked. Even mean. One thing had to do with driving cars. Stephen was better at this than me. The only time I was able to pull it off was when I owned a little Opel GT.

Now the Opel GT was a tiny car. It only seated two people, although I was able to fit four inside. My car was an automatic, so it had no acceleration and now power. As Mother used to enjoy saying about it, "That car couldn't pull the hat off someone's head."

But it looked fast. And that was key.

I remember coming to a traffic light in Anoka. I was in the left lane. A big Dodge Charger stopped to my right. He gunned his engine. I gunned mine. Stephen looked at me and started to laugh.

You don't honestly think you can beat that car, do you?

Watch and see.

We continued to rev our engines and watch the light. Then, as the light turned green, he tore out with the smell of burning rubber. I, on the other hand, made my left turn. Drove around the block to confirm my suspicion and laughed. Sure enough, the cop who liked to hide near the park had nabbed the Charger. I got out of there in a hurry.

Stephen did that all the time. When he drove parts truck for Art Goebel Ford he would speed down East River Road - until he reached a certain curve. Stephen knew that a policeman was waiting just beyond the curve to catch speeders. What Stephen liked to do was to get into a race with some idiot. Then, as they neared the curve, he would hit his brakes and slow down. By the time he made the curve the other racer would be pulled over, pointing frantically at Stephen, who was cruising by at a mile or two below the speed limit.

Kind of mean, weren't we?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What I Miss

I don't know that I miss being young, although there are certainly a host of things about being young I miss. And by young I don't necessarily mean still in grade school, junior high, or high school, although even those days had certain advantages. Back then I was even more naive than I am now. The truth is - I miss that. There are things I wish I had never learned, because now that I know them I can't forget them.

I was in eighth grade before I was confronted with any drug stronger than tobacco or beer. When I entered eighth grade I had no clue what a "rubber" was, and that my brother stayed overnight at his girlfriend's house meant nothing to me.

But I don't know that I would want to be eight, ten, twelve, or fifteen years old again - even if it was in the same social era. Not for me. Not anymore.

The years I guess I miss most are the "lost years". Those fell within that span of time when I was reasonably healthy and strong, and in a position to use those gifts to my advantage. Only I didn't.

I could feel my feet in those days. Now they're mostly numb. A month ago I looked down and discovered I had somehow managed to scrape the skin off a toe without realizing it. The lack of feeling puts my feet at tremendous risk. That was not a problem in my twenties.

In my twenties my legs did not hurt all day every day. I often got up in the morning and, instead of attending college classes, found a place where I could hit tennis balls off a wall for hours on end. Now I can hardly hit a tennis ball, much less do it for hours on end.

Back then I could run and throw. Now I can't. I tire with a fast walk. Can't run at all. And the arthritis from my shoulder separation has made it very difficult for me to throw with any kind of strength or accuracy. Not that I was ever that accurate. But there had been a time I was strong. I once threw a baseball through a chain link fence. The fence slowed the pitch enough that no one behind the backstop was injured. But I got their attention, I assure you. Wrecked a guy's brand new baseball glove in three or four throws.

I guess that's what we really miss about being young, isn't it? Physical things. Not intelligence. Not awareness. Not comprehension. Those things come with age. There are things I desperately tried to understand at twenty that I just take for granted now. At twenty I had no patience for anyone or anything. At fifty I have plenty of patience. It comes with lack of energy.

At twenty everyone was "the best", or "the worst". At fifty everything seems familiar, like I've somehow seen it before. In the movie, Lawrence of Arabia, Sir Alec Guiness, playing Prince Feisal, makes a statement which I find to be quite true.

"Young men wage wars, and the virtue of wars are the virtues of young men: strength, courage and passion. Old men must wage the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: caution, mistrust and deceit."

The young are passionate because they believe everything will make an immediate difference. The old lose their passion because they come to understand that immediacy is not always possible - or even desirable. So, like clumsy animals in china shops the young charge forward and break a lot of things which shouldn't be broken. Meanwhile, like sleeping dragons, the old wait and do nothing, allowing injustices to continue which should never have been allowed to even begin.

What I miss most about being young is the sense of indestructibility which so often accompanies it. I miss the energy to continue and draw upon hidden reserves which just don't seem to be at my disposal anymore. That, and good health. But I do not begrudge what wisdom I have acquired in the thirty years since I "knew it all".

That's the other thing about getting older. At twenty, nobody could tell me anything. Now there's so much I don't know. What happened to all of that unlimited knowledge anyway? I used to know everything. When I was young.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

My Own Art Form

As I have said many times, my friend Stephen was an artist. He was pretty good, too. He wasn't so talented to make millions, or even hundreds or tens of thousands. But he was good. He achieved what he wanted to, and I don't think one can be much better than that.

Stephen always wanted me to participate in art. I guess he never saw story writing as an art form. I guess I do. But I tried, at various time, to tinker with drawing, painting, and sculpture.

I remember in grade school one of our assignments was to do a report on a bird. We weren't allowed to pick our bird by desire. Instead, we drew them from a box. I got the Baltimore Oriole, which is now known at the Northern Oriole. Personally, I prefer the name Baltimore Oriole. I just do.

We had a nesting pair in our yard at the time. I remember being fascinated by the sack nest hanging from the little tree just to the north of the house. They're pretty birds. Later, when Spouse and I lived near the shores of Lake Minnetonka, we had no less than five (5) orioles make the rounds to drink from our hummingbird feeders. It's one of the things I regret about where we live now. There just isn't enough trees and shrubs to attract anything but blackbirds, robins, and a few sparrows. Occasionally we get colorful birds, but not often. Saw a cardinal once. That was a treat.

Anyway, part of the bird assignment was to draw an image of the bird and color it. I remember my oriole drawing turned out especially well. I can still see it clearly in my memory. What I can't see clearly is what happened to it. Well, if it wasn't destroyed before the fire it certainly was in the fire.

My sisters and I used to make things from Play-Doh and clay. Nothing was great. We'd make things and then smash them. There's something about smashing clay which is just fun. But when I was in seventh or eighth grade art class we were taught how to make coil pots. I was moving along fairly well in the class. I was far from the best, but I had been the only one who understood the instructions when Mr. C told us to draw a collage of objects in front and behind each other. (Then I botched the shading portion.) And when it came to the coil pots I was doing excellently.

My pot was going to be the largest in the class. With my large, strong hands I was able to roll out coil after coil and smooth them nicely into place to make a bigger and bigger pot. I took great care in putting it away at the end of each class, and then taking it out the next day to work on it again. Until it was gone.

I came in on a Wednesday. My pot was nearly finished. I was thinking I could finish it that day. But it wasn't where I put it. Not knowing what to do I started back for my work station. And then I saw it. Jessica was working on it. She had taken my pot! I challenged her about it, but Jessica was a popular girl, and she had three snooty friends at her station who backed up her claim the pot was hers. I went to Mr. C. He had seen me working on the pot. He would know the truth of it.

I explained to Mr. C what was going on. I'll never forget his reaction. He looked me right in the face and said, "Then you'd better get busy working on another."

I stood dumbfounded for a minute and then grabbed a tiny piece of clay and squished out a tiny ash tray. I quit trying in the class and never liked Mr. C again. It didn't matter that he was Stephen's favorite teacher. He had worked with Jessica to steal something important from me. "Jessica's" pot would get top grade. Mr. C actually held her up to the class as a model of achievement for that project - and he knew she had stolen it. Mr. C played favorites. Stephen was one. I wasn't.

Stephen got me into painting for a time. He started me out on acrylics instead of oils. I remember going to this huge art store and buying a large amount of paint, brushes, and canvas. We went to Stephen's house and set up a canvas on an easle. Stephen talked me through what I was doing. He was into abstract at the time, working with color and balance. He had me do some free splashes with blue and then red. Having done this, I was to look at what I had and try to imagine just what it was that was trying to be painted.

I learned it isn't wise to make jokes to an artist about the process of creating a work. They have no sense of humor about that.

To Stephen's disappointment, what I saw were furry monsters in battle. Hey, I like fantasy. What can I say? Stephen was hoping I'd see something beautiful, erotic, and/or meaningful. Instead, I saw monsters. Furry monsters with claws.

I have vague recollections of continuing to try and paint, but I don't recall Stephen ever giving me a lesson again. Eventually I sold off my paint supplies and white washed my canvases. Stephen took them after that. He was unhappy I had destroyed my work. But I did that a lot in those days.

Had I the money, I think I would set up an art studio and give acrylics a go again. I expect I would still try to paint fantasy images. But I like landscapes, too. Mountain backgrounds with river and lake valleys in the forground. Maybe some deer or buffalo grazing. It's where my happy place is. Thinking maybe I need to revisit the place. Maybe I'll write a story.

Writing is an art form. To me, anyway. And I can usually write what I want. So I guess I can't get much better, can I?