Archive for September, 2010

I don’t like Monday

September 20, 2010

My adopted home state of South Carolina is once again proudly in the news:          

Last Wednesday, a 48-year-old woman from the small town of Clover accidentally shot herself in the mouth while trying to kill a rat.          

No, the pest hadn’t climbed in while she slept, mouth agape. The woman told sheriff’s deputies that she was sitting on her patio with a .22 caliber revolver in her lap, waiting for the rodent to be lured to a piece of cheese she had placed on the ground. When she leaned over to adjust the cheese, the gun accidentally discharged.          

She was rushed to a local hospital, where a doctor found a bullet lodged in her jaw. She was treated for being shot in the face.          

The woman was alone at the time of the shooting, and no charges were filed. There was no report on the condition of the rat.          

+++          

I wonder if anyone has ever made the following mistake:          

Long interested in studying the galaxies but as yet unable to complete the GED that would get him admitted to college, the young student stumbles across the Kenneth Shuler School of Cosmetology. He is surprised to learn that only $300 allows him to become enrolled.          

He shows up for the first day of classes, and his teacher begins with an overview of scissors work. At the next session, he learns about permanents and body waves. It’s not until the third day, when tinting and highlighting are introduced, that he starts to wonder when they’ll start talking about the origin and structure of the universe.          

“You’re looking for a program that studies cosmology,” the teacher sadly informs him. “This is cosmetology.”          

Actual photo from the Shuler Cosmetology school website. Seems a makeover like this would really cheer up someone like Stephen Hawking.

+++          

A new sign has been posted outside the men’s locker room at the local YMCA:          

“Please report any staff members engaged in strange behavior, or other activities that do not reflect our core values of Honesty, Responsibility, Respect and Caring.”          

Is this supposed to reassure members that management is trying to provide us with a safe environment for our workouts? Because I felt oddly un-reassured being asked to join in an effort to stamp out strangeness at the Y.          

Also, I wondered if behavior that is “strange,” but still in keeping with those core values, is okay. The 75-year-old guy who sits naked and splayed on the bench in front of the lockers is, in a way, honest, perhaps to a fault. If the same guy starts exhibiting a “caring” attitude toward me, I guess I would regard that as bizarre.  

With cool weather finally returning, I think I’ll give up the treadmill and start running wildly through the streets again.          

+++          

This is the scene I encountered when going out to pick up my morning paper Saturday:          

The music professor who lives in the condos across the way is not your typical resident of South Carolina. He likes to greet the morning sun each day with an outdoor session of tai chi. Right across from my driveway.       

I know for a fact that this ancient Chinese martial art is a tremendous exercise for both mind and body. My wife spent several years teaching both tai chi and yoga, and I’ve seen first-hand the good it has done for her and her students.       

Still, I find it somewhat unseemly for a neighbor to be half-twisted, half-crouched, and waving his arms about his torso in the middle of a neighborhood street at 9 o’clock in the morning. If I walk down and pick up the newspaper, I imagine he’ll greet me, and then what am I supposed to do? If he stops his routine in mid-Slow Power Heron Step, I’ll feel guilty that I’ve interrupted him. If he continues sweeping his limbs about him as we discuss current events of the subdivision, do I have to join in?       

“I hear that one vacant lot up the road is being cleared for new home construction,” he might say as his right arm curls gracefully above his head. “Let us greet the morning star, for he is our brother.”       

“I saw them doing some trench work there just last week,” I could respond. “How’s it goin’, sun?”       

I refuse, however, to join him in his snail-paced dance.       

+++    

My son and I were scrolling through what we call the “Channel Channel” Saturday night. This is the cable-provided listing of all programs then broadcasting on each network and in each time slot. It’s the service that basically killed TV Guide single-handedly.     

There was little to choose from at 8 p.m., so I paused on the entry for “The Apprentice” and hovered my thumb over the “select” button. I’ve never before watched this much-hyped Donald Trump reality show, yet there was so little else from which to select.     

“What do you think, Daniel?” I asked. “Should I do it? Should I push the button?”     

“I’m not going to be the one to say ‘yes,'” Daniel responded. “You realize you’re about to consider altering the arc of your entire life, don’t you?”     

“It seems like harmless fun,” I said. “Let’s give a shot.”     

And so we sat for the next two hours, watching the premier episode in which eight alpha males and eight alpha females bashed and clashed with each other, while The Donald and His Demon Spawn glowered their disapproval. Gee, I thought, what they’re doing is even worse than my job — this is great!     

So now my DVR is set up to catch the second episode, scheduled for Thursday night. And, for your information, I also plan on watching “Dancing With the Stars” tonight, even if it doesn’t include a performance by my neighbor.     

So there.     

+++     

Domino’s Pizza received generally high marks from those in the advertising industry for the campaign it began several months ago admitting that its product sucked. The chief executive himself was seen promising viewers that Domino’s had heard the complaints and was working hard to regain consumer confidence. They even badgered innocent civilians who had previously refused to eat the pizza. Give it a try, they urged the individual from billboards and sound trucks and street signs around their city. Not bad, most responded when finally confronted with the pie in question.     

They also asked people to send in their own photos to prove how good the pizza looked when it arrived at their doors. One unlucky home diner found his toppings adhered to the lid of the box, and sent in a picture to show it.     

This photo is now included in the latest series of ads from the campaign. “We still have work to do,” says the CEO, a full nine months after promising the pizza maker had already reinvented itself.     

As for me, I’m starting to lose faith that advertisers speak the truth.     

+++  

A friend at work was showing off a new spread he was applying to his graham crackers. It was a product called “Naturally More.” Included on the label was the tagline “What Peanut Butter Should Be.”   

“So, it’s not peanut butter,” I said.   

“Sure, it’s peanut butter,” Adam replied. “That’s what it says.”   

“No, it doesn’t,” I contended. “If you read it carefully, that’s not what it says at all. It might be ‘what peanut butter should be’, but that doesn’t mean it’s peanut butter.”   

We read a little more of the small type from the label.   

“It features a natural recipe that, unlike most peanut butters on the market today, is enhanced with beneficial nutrients.” That doesn’t say it’s peanut butter.   

“While normal peanut butter is almost exclusively monounsaturated fat, Naturally More contains essential fatty acids.” Still not officially peanut butter.   

“The unique formula has a peanut butter base, fortified with flax seed and flax oil.” Close, but a “peanut butter base” does not a “peanut butter” make. And the flax sure doesn’t help.  

Adam offered me a sample, and I tried it. It tasted approximately like peanut butter. Which is what it was.

Revisited: Working with babies

September 19, 2010

Everybody stop what you’re doing! There’s a baby in the office!

I’m not talking about that maturity-challenged assistant manager who seems to be eternally stuck in pre-K. I’m talking about the straight-up, hard-core, full-bore baby, the kind who was physically borne into the world sometime within the last year. The kind of newborn who is so adorable that everybody in the workplace has to stop what they’re doing — regardless of the urgency — and come admire the fact that before humans can be big, they have to be little.

You say you’re in charge of directing jumbo jets to land at a major international airport? Surely you can break away from the radar screen for a minute; he’s so cute in his little sailor outfit. You’re a 911 emergency operator with a suicide threat on the phone? Tell the distressed caller to stop by central dispatch as soon as possible to get a look at this charmer. In the midst of robbing a bank teller at gunpoint? You should be ashamed of yourself — you might startle the baby.

In most cases, these infants didn’t just wander in off the street of their own volition. Typically, they had to be carried into the office, usually by a parent who works with you, or by their spouse (unless it’s one of them fancy walkin’ babies). The new parent has been monopolizing the breakroom conversation about his or her ability to procreate since this Max or Emma or whatever you call ‘em was merely a splotch of cells on the sonogram. Now they feel compelled to offer physical proof that their time off from work was spent bearing live young. Maybe it’s some kind of human resources requirement.

Now I don’t intend to come off as a curmudgeon who casually trashes toddlers. I’m actually a big fan of babies. As I’ve written in this blog before, I believe that children are our future and that, by transitive property, babies are our children’s future. We need to take care that they’re raised up properly, with all the values critical to a civilized society, and with as few missing limbs as possible. Part of the socialization process has to involve meeting with strangers and projecting a variety of protein spills at them. It’s how you interact with your boss, and it’s how your child will have to interact with his.

When we have a newborn stopping by my workplace, I’m always eager to join in the scene, smiling and cooing with the best of them. I’d even be glad to hold the baby for a while, if I could wrestle him or her away from the women who are beside themselves with excitement. It’s been too long since I got to cradle my young son in my arms, and I honestly miss the wiggling heft of the young child. It would also represent the rare chance to be less creepy than my fellow employees if I were not among those asking “is it okay if I steal him?”

I think I remember the basics of elementary tot handling. If they’re really young, you keep them horizontal, with the head in the crook of one elbow, the feet in the crook of the other, and the mouth as far from your breast as you can. If they’re slightly older – as distinguished by the fact that you can tell what sex they are, or perhaps they’re wearing a watch – they can be held in a more upright position. These are sometimes called “hip babies” in the parlance of my small Southern town, not because they are “cool” or otherwise “with it,” but because you sit them on the outer edge of your pelvis.

I also learned an early lesson about the wisdom of not holding the baby by its head. To this day, I remember the psychological trauma of an incident from my early childhood where I was called on to admire the new member of our neighbor’s family. I resorted to interaction practices I knew best from my own home, which were those I’d had with our dog, Augie. I patted the baby on the head.

Bad move. There’s this thing called the “fontanelle,” and it’s very much different from another feature I knew from 1950s Miami, the “Fontainebleau” resort hotel. The fontanelle is the area on the top of the infant’s head where the skull is not yet completely formed. If you touch it, the plates of bone will shift to the side, lava will erupt and brain damage will ensue. At least, that’s what I was led to believe. I was worried for days that I had severely disturbed the development of this young child and, sure enough, he beat me up a decade later.

Probably one of the best things about babies, aside from their portability, is that they’re not terribly discriminating in their dealings with other people. You could be Mother Teresa or you could be Hitler; it’s all the same to them. (In fact, they might even prefer Hitler, considering how much his moustache resembled a kitty). Still, I try to do what I can to impress them because, more than anything else, I want to be liked.

The whole “goo-goo, ga-ga” gibberish is not really something they relate to, and they’re more likely to think you’re patronizing them than trying for any type of meaningful dialog. Likewise, an adult-style conversation starter like “hot enough for you?” or “how ’bout them Cowboys?” tends to go over their soft little heads. Smiling and waving are good, or at least it seems to make the parent happy. When you’re meeting them in an office setting, though, there’s not a lot more you can do to entertain them. Makeshift amusements like staplers and push-pins are rarely a good idea. The last time we had a visiting baby, I offered her the prospectus supplement I had just finished proofreading which seemed to make her happy, at least until she turned to the “Risk Factors” section. A rolled-up ball of paper, a dangling string or a can of Red Bull (unopened) can also provide pleasant diversions.

Above all else, it’s important to remember that the experience of encountering a crowd of strange, contorted faces in an alien environment can be overwhelming. I’ve gotten used to it after thirty-some years in the workforce, but an infant is still adjusting to even the most basic stimuli. Make your movements slow, your speech patterns sing-song, and don’t expect too much. It’s not really all that different from working with grown-up fellow employees on an everyday basis.

Revisited: Guilty pleasures from my iPod playlist

September 18, 2010

It sure was great seeing Paul McCartney perform on the David Letterman show recently. It brought back lots of great memories of some great songs from my youth. It was an inspired touch to have him performing on top of the building marquee, recalling the Beatles’ final public performance on a London rooftop 40 years ago. He looked great for a guy in his sixties; a little jowly maybe, but hardly deserving of the steel girders propping up the marquee beneath him.

As a baby boomer, the soundtrack of my youth included a stunning variety of the most innovative music ever produced. Much of what we still recall today justly deserves the designation of “classic.” However, there are quite a few compositions that would be better off lost.

Some of these songs just had unfortunate titles. There was a Journey hit of the seventies, a soaring melody sung by Steve Perry, one of the best power ballads of the time until it came to the chorus of “So now I come to you, with broken arms.” There was the Boston classic “Four-Letter Feeling,” truly great guitar rock unnecessarily spoiled by the suggestive title. Even the Beatles themselves, widely acknowledged for three generations now as the greatest pop group of all time, stumbled with the unfortunately titled “Hey Jew.”

Other songs may have seemed like a good idea in an earlier, less-sophisticated time, yet just don’t fit the politically correct sensibilities of today. Take “Young Girl,” a number-two smash from 1968 by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap:

Young girl get out of my mind
My love for you is way out of line
You better run girl
You’re much too young girl
With all the charms of a woman
You’re just a baby in disguise
And though you know that it’s wrong to be alone with me
That come-on look is in your eyes.

It might be easy to dismiss a little-known band trafficking in pedophilia like the Union Gap, but even some of the greats had moments of questionable judgment. John Lennon wrote lyrics to “Run for Your Life” that included the line “I’d rather see you dead, little girl, than to see you with another man.” Neil Young penned “A Man Needs a Maid,” reacting to a fictional breakup with the reassuring thought that he could always pay “someone to keep my house clean, fix my meals, and go away.”

There is a difference, I would contend, between popular songs about misogyny and sex crimes with minors, and the songs that are bad for more innocent reasons. These are the so-called “guilty pleasures” that populate many of our iPod playlists, mine included. When you’re looking for a certain beat, a catchy interlude or a fond but distant memory to inspire your workout at the gym, quality of composition is not a prerequisite.

So here I come clean with some of the favorites from my music player, along with an attempt to justify my choices. If no justification is possible, I’ll admit that too.

 “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” by Abba. Answering the musical question “Do you realize how many people loathe your music? Do ya? Hunh? Do ya? Do ya?”

“The Stroke” by Billy Squier. A rhythmic masterpiece (or master-something) containing the unforgettable lyric “stroke me, stroke me, do it, stroke me, stroke me.”

“The Good Ship Lifestyle” by Chumbawumba. Inexcusable.

“Life in a Northern Town” by the Dream Academy. If the makers of Ambien set up a charter school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, this might be their senior class project.

“1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky. Originally composed for a cereal commercial in the 1960s (“this is the cereal that’s shot from guns,” for those of you under 50), the piece was later adapted and expanded for use at the conclusion of the annual Boston Pops Fourth of July concert. I’m pretty sure it’s the only song on my playlist that features a solo for cannons, and makes me wish Abba had thought to write more music for medium-range artillery.

“All We Like Sheep” from Handel’s Messiah. A celebration of our relationship with the Lord, or, a discussion of the many advantages of domesticated herd animals (wool, mutton, milk, nursery rhymes, etc.). In either case, an inspiring example of Handel’s genius, regardless of whether you’re a Christian or an animist.

“Wind It Up” by Gwen Stefani. What do you get if you combine the yodeling song from “Sound of Music” with a dance-club beat, then throw in the occasional voice of a black guy noting that “she crazy”? My sad, sad attempt to enjoy the latest sounds in pop.

“Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves. A breezy summer hit that captured the spirit of warm-weather efforts at “tryin’ to feel good,” until later connections to a certain killer hurricane with 25-foot storm surges dampened Katrina’s career.

“Beautiful Stranger” by Madonna. Indefensible.

“Word Up” by Melanie G. Former Spice Girl tries to go urban but instead ends up in the central business district.

“Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield. Hypnotically repetitive, this piece is best known as the theme from the movie “The Exorcist.” The only lyrics are spoken introductions of the musical instruments – bagpipe guitar, glockenspiel, mandolin, fuzz guitar, Farfisa organ – capped off with the triumphal announcement of “tubular bells!”, apparently a kind of chime.

“Kicks” by Paul Revere and the Raiders. An early anti-drug anthem that would’ve been a lot more effective had it not been sung a band that sported tri-corner hats.

“Grand Hotel” by Procol Harum. Most regrettable.

“Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin, “YMCA” by the Village People and “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. There’s just something about the heresy of listening to gay anthems like these while watching Fox News on the Y’s treadmill that gives you a tremendous energy boost.

“El Condor Pasa” by Simon and Garfunkel. This ethereal but little-known piece, featuring ghostly Andean flutes, is either about the endangered scavenging vultures of South America, or Paul Simon’s disappointment at losing a bidding war on a condo in Manhattan.

“Something in the Air” by Thunderclap Newman and “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum. I always thought of these songs as being a paired set, but didn’t realize why until I typed them here and considered the similarities in the titles. They’re both incredibly pretentious.

“Chariots of Fire” by Vangelis. A must for any treadmill runner who looks as bad in shorts as I do.

“Clones (We’re All)” by Alice Cooper. A wonderfully clever song from late in his career, except for The Title (Being Too Clever With).

“How to Kill” by Art of Noise. Inexplicable.

“Walk Like an Egyptian” by the Bangles and “Venus” by Bananarama. These could easily be the same song – “Walk Like a Venutian.”

“How Can I Keep From Singing?” by Enya. One might suggest this now-aging new-age ingénue consider stuffing a large, wet sock in it.

“Flying Dutchman” by Richard Wagner. Not sure you can characterize Hitler’s favorite composer as a “guilty pleasure.” This is also the tune used in the Looney Tunes classic wherein Elmer Fudd, another of history’s homicidal maniacs, sang “kill the wabbit.”

“Circle of Life” by Elton John. I forget now where the circle started for Elton but I know it ended up on a tour with Billy Joel performing before half-filled arenas.

Footwear is now required

September 17, 2010

Trick or treat
Smell my feet
Give me something good to eat

I’m reminded of this ungracious taunt from my childhood as I think about Halloween being right around the corner, and as I look down at the appendages attached to the end of my legs. I’m not asking you to smell them (for now, at least, that’s still impossible on the Internet) but I do ask you to take a look …

You may be able to tell that I’m wearing three overlapping pairs of slippers. This is not an attempt to recreate the popular layered look. Instead, I’m simply trying to keep my tootsies warm.

I guess it’s a matter of advancing age and retreating circulation that I find it harder and harder to keep my feet toasty. We maintain a vigorously air-conditioned home, which I’ve always found to be otherwise comfortable. Having spent the first half of my childhood in Miami without the benefit of AC, I figured my metabolism had been permanently reset and that thermostatic extremes are now required. The rest of my body likes this. My feet, not so much.

For the last half-century or so I went barefoot every chance I got. Growing up in south Florida, we played stickball in the street without shoes. We explored nearby construction sites without shoes. I tried to go to church without shoes once (you’d think Christianity would be okay with this, considering all the foot-washing references in the Bible) but, in the Lutheran denomination anyway, this was frowned upon.

You also had to wear shoes to go to school, at least until I went off to college, where there was no such requirement in the 1970s. While attending Florida State, I also played tennis barefoot (recreational, not varsity), went to work at the student newspaper barefoot, lived virtually my entire life barefoot. I developed immense calluses that rivaled the protective qualities of some of the world’s best sandals. I was like Huck Finn, except a little less tow-headed. Life was carefree and wonderful.

Now, of course, I have to wear shoes more often than not, at least if I hope to earn a living outside the home. Like the Lutheran church, the financial document analysis business frowns on the unshod foot. In my particular office, we don’t have any direct contact with clients that would require the decorum that shoes provide. Still, right there in the Employee Handbook, on page 37, between the requirements to wear pants and to occasionally cut your hair, it is clearly stated:

Associates must wear appropriate footwear at all times. Steel-toed shoes are required in pressrooms and warehouses. Elsewhere, it is to be decided by the local management team what kinds of footwear are and are not proper.

I don’t know how often the managers at my facility hold meetings amongst themselves to discuss the kinds of shoes that associates are wearing, but it can’t be that often. Throughout the summer that’s just now ending, most women wore flip-flops, or a slightly upscale variation thereof. The men generally went with athletic shoes, though a few (especially on the night shift) would occasionally don foot thongs. Loafers and wingtips were extremely rare.

I went with a pair of nice running shoes on most days, but as soon as I got home, I’d abandon these at the foot of my bed, a good idea considering I’d usually be taking a brief nap after having gone to work at 5 a.m. Even after I woke up and began puttering about the house, I’d typically leave the shoes and socks aside.

Now, though, I’m starting to wear these slippers. Maybe I’ve got that Peripheral Artery Disease so common in TV commercials. Maybe I’m feeling some early symptoms of diabetes. But I’m not about to show up at the doctor’s office with the complaint that I have to wear foot coverings. I’m sure that’s not covered by insurance, even though it really really hurts when your feet get cold and you can’t get them to warm up.

So I guess I’m fated to finally act and dress like a grown-up. As the blood flow retreats more and more from my extremities, I’ll do whatever it takes to stay comfortable. I guess a hat and gloves are next. Not long after that, I imagine I’ll start rocking a shawl, and then soon thereafter, they’ll dress me in a full business suit for my viewing at the funeral home.

But most caskets I’ve seen have a two-piece lid, and maybe I can be barefoot under the bottom half. I don’t think they have a “no shoes/no service” policy in Heaven — in fact, most artistic renditions of God show the Almighty sans footwear or, at most, wearing flip-flops — though I might need to be careful where I step if I end up in Hell. At least my feet will be warm.

An editorial: Is it really a seven-layer burrito?

September 16, 2010

The seven-layer burrito, as created and sold by Taco Bell, is a wondrous thing.

Available at most locations of the popular fast-food outlet for as little as $1.49, it’s practically a meal in itself. A soft flour tortilla wraps around rice, beans, a blend of three cheeses, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and guacamole, like a protective mother wraps her arms around her children. Spicy scamps that they are, the ingredients try to ooze free as you eat the burrito. But they are doomed instead to satisfy even the heartiest hunger, except maybe for that glob that landed on your shirt.

There is little that one can editorialize against in this marvel of Mexican cuisine. Oh, sure, the food police will tell you that it’s got too much fat or sodium or cholesterol or insect parts-per-million. What they neglect to note, however, is that by ordering it “fresco-style” — with salsa serving as an able replacement for the cheddar, pepper jack and mozzarella cheese sauce — you can cut the fat content by 25%. Also, it has 12 grams of dietary fiber, which sounds like a lot of grams.

Where the editorial board here at DavisW’s blog has a bit of a quibble is with the marketing of the product as “seven layers.” The dictionary defines a layer as “a single thickness of something that lies over or under something or between other similar thicknesses.” Once compressed into its cylindrical casing, the true meaning of “layer” is lost. What arrives through the window of your car at the drive-through is more of a mish-mash of ingredients, randomly swirled about by the whims of the burrito’s creator, and by how it is jostled during its journey from the warming tray to your open maw.

Also, the use of the number “seven” to describe the quantity of components is a little misleading. If you count the three different cheeses as separate entities, what you’re actually getting is a ten-layer burrito. One could even make the argument that the tortilla itself should count as a layer, bringing the constituent total to eleven. Why, then, is it not named after a larger and presumably more desirable number?

This probably has to do with the storied history of the meal itself. As far back as the Aztecs, the number seven held mystical properties. When they sacrificed virgins to their primitive gods, all the girls had to be at least seven years old (something to do with what we now know as child labor laws). The ancients measured their year as consisting of seven months of 52 days each. When they slew their enemies in war, they ate the defeated heads as the original seven-layer burrito, oddly counting the nostrils of the nose as two separate ingredients while both the eyes and the ears counted as one item each. The tongue was the original “al fresco” option — warriors could choose to omit it if they were watching their weight.

What concerns those of us who reside in the 21st century is how to order the seven-layer burrito when we want to omit an item or two. Should we ask for a seven-layer burrito without the cheese and sour cream, even though such an omission makes it a less-than-seven-layer burrito? Would it be better to characterize this order as a five-layer burrito, or would that be too confusing for the marginally educated counter staff? Why not start instead from the bottom up, requesting a “zero-layer burrito” with rice, beans, lettuce, tomatoes and guacamole? Or might this prompt them to leave out the tortilla entirely, instead handing you a ball of soggy starches and vegetables unrestrained by an outer casing?

We call on Taco Bell to clarify their position on this issue. Consider an a la carte menu option. Allow us to enter the food preparation area and construct the mass ourselves. Remove any number from the name of the product, and call it simply the “layered burrito.”

Just don’t make us do math — especially subtraction — when all we’re interested in is satisfying a hunger as primal and demanding as those Mesoamerican civilizations of centuries past.

Trying to explain cats in my car

September 15, 2010

It was an odd sequence of events that began with a tickle on my neck and ended with me trying to explain to a police officer why I was sitting in my car, under a tree, next to the lake, with a vehicle full of imprisoned cats.  

About a week ago, I was lounging on the couch, watching some skuzzy reality show on TV, when I thought I detected something itching around my collar. Probably just an allergic reaction to the quality of the program, I thought, some mild communicable disease I had picked up from a syphilitic bachelorette. (Disease transmission via television, turns out, is rampant in these days of high-def programming).  

When I went to scratch my neck, I looked down into my lap to discover a large roach, about three inches in length, strolling down my thigh.  

Having been born and raised in the subtropics of Miami, I’m usually not alarmed by unexpected wildlife encounters. Where I grew up, it was not uncommon to find giant bufo toads hopping around the backyard, at least until I ran over them with the lawn mower. We had alligators in drainage ditches, chameleons all over our shrubbery, poisonous snakes working the drive-through at McDonald’s. My mother still proudly tells the story of the time we removed a dying tree from our property, then woke up the next morning to find a window so darkened by the coverage of palmetto bugs that you couldn’t see out.  

So to me, a roach is not a big deal. But to my family, raised in more civilized parts of the country, it was a huge deal. I made an appointment with the exterminator.  

The nice lady at the aptly named Killingsworth Pest Control answered my questions patiently. The treatment would take about an hour, and could be scheduled for Monday. They couldn’t guarantee a completely roach-free lifestyle after they were finished, but we should see a significant decrease in vermin. It was okay for humans to be in the house while the spraying was done, however it would be a good idea to remove any pets.  

“Some people will schedule vet appointments while we’re there,” she said. “Or maybe just take them for a nice ride in the car.”  

In my home, all the pets are cats. Unlike dogs, they are not familiar with the idea of a “nice ride in the car.” You rarely see cats driving down the road, their heads straining out the window to feel the onrushing air in their slobbery jowls. That’s a dog thing. The cat thing is to cower in a puddle of your own vomit while howling at ear-splitting volumes.  

When the appointed afternoon arrived, our plan was in place to evacuate our three cats into three separate cat carriers, and put them in my car. I was to crank up the air conditioning, drive to a shady location and wait with Harriet, Taylor and Tom until we were called with the all-clear signal. Beth would supervise the bug guy and make sure he didn’t spray any pyrethrum on our toothbrushes.  

We maneuvered the cats into their respective cages without too much trouble, though Harriet did put up a respectable resistance. As the more elderly cat of the three — she’s about 13 — I would place her carrier next to me in the front seat. She would ride shotgun and I would calm her as we drove. Tom and Taylor would take up the back seat. I positioned their cages so the open ends were facing away from each other, since imprisoned cats are not known for comforting their comrades.  

I drove toward Winthrop Lake, a tree-covered recreation area about two miles from our home. Marie howled piteously the entire route, while the two backseat cats were a bit more restrained.  

“Don’t worry,” I told them. “We’re not going to the vet. We’re just going for a little ride in the car. You guys don’t get out much anymore and I thought you might enjoy a trip to the park.”  

When my quiet, deliberate speaking tone didn’t seem to work, I turned on the radio. Neal Conan was hosting “Talk of the Nation” on NPR, and that man’s voice could soothe a caffeinated Jack Russell. The meowing started to subside just as we pulled into the park.  

Neal Conan, calming radio voice

I knew that next to motion sickness, my biggest concern in maintaining the cat’s health would be the temperature of the car. It was almost 90 degrees outside, and the full-blast air conditioning of my Civic could provide only so much relief. If I parked under a tree near the cooling breeze that came off the lake, we should be comfortable.  

Once the car had stopped moving, everybody settled down. Outside, I could see a few college students playing Frisbee across the way. A slightly older man was roller-blading on the road that ran around the lake. Young moms were dropping their children off at a nearby rec building for some kind of after-school enrichment. Inside my car, Neal was transitioning out of a discussion of the 2008 banking crisis, which all three cats agreed was a wake-up call to the perils of capitalism run amok. Though they had been very upset about the bailout at the time, they had now calmed down nicely.  

When he returned from the break, Neal introduced his next guest. The man was an ex-pat American who had grown up in Chile, and was on the show to discuss how the current entombment there of 33 miners represented a recurring theme in a Chilean culture that had relied for two centuries on the extraction of minerals for the nation’s economic survival.  

“Children learn from a young age that entrapment is something that can happen,” the man told Neal. “There’s a certain mythology to it in Chile, not unlike how Americans feel about the adventures of the Wild West.”  

Harriet stirred in her cage. Taylor started poking a clawed paw through one of his breathing holes. Tom began turning in tight circles, rocking his carrier back and forth. Clearly, they were not interested in hearing that being confined in a closed space with no escape in sight was an acceptable state of affairs.  

This was about the time that the police car pulled up next to mine. The officer climbed out and approached us. I rolled down my window about halfway, trying to strike a balance between further alarming the cats with noises from the outside, and easing the tension that all law officers feel when they encounter a suspicious vehicle.  

I tried to start off the conversation on a light note.  

“I’m sure you’re probably wondering why I’m just sitting here in the middle of the day with a car full of cats,” I chuckled. “This probably seems a little weird.”  

He peered into the car to see a trio of rocking cages, each with a furry body part poking out the side. I’m sure he wanted to believe they were just cats, not the twitching remains of a dismembered corpse, but he had to be sure.  

Harriet went into full howl mode, and the officer seemed reassured.  

“We got a report of a suspicious vehicle, and I had to check you out,” he said.  

Just then, my cell phone went off. Beth was calling to say the exterminator was finished, and it was safe for me to bring the cats home.  

“That went pretty quickly,” I told her. “Does he feel like he killed them all?”  

I realize now that this was probably not a good question to be asking in front of a policeman. He looked like he was taking it in stride, though I could sense he was thinking of pulling out his tazer and training it on us. I didn’t relish the thought of what would happen if you tazed a cat.  

“We had an exterminator out to the house, and they said we shouldn’t have pets around during the treatment,” I told the officer. “I didn’t know what else to do with our cats, so I figured I’d ride them around in the car for a while. Then I was afraid they’d get carsick so we stopped here.”  

He eyed me cautiously.  

“They’re very nice kitties,” I continued. “They don’t usually make this much racket.”  

“So you’re ready to go back home then?” he asked.  

I answered that I was, and he appeared relieved. He stood up straight and motioned for us to move along.  

I started the car and we had an uneventful ride back home. About halfway back, my phone went off again. It was Beth, suggesting that I might want to write a blog post about this experience. She’d meet me in the driveway to take a picture to go with the article, and here it is…  

An imprisoned Harriet, asking "Are we there yet?"

 Yes, Harriet, we are there.

The NFL: A look back at Week One, and forward to Week Two

September 14, 2010

This is your Fearless Football Forecaster here, reporting in on my perfect prognostication of games in week one of the NFL season.

I was a flawless 16-and-0, predicting the winner of every single contest played in the opening weekend of pro football. My secret? It’s a careful analysis of offensive strengths pitted against defensive weaknesses, with an “X Factor” in which I multiply the quarterback rating of each starter times the number of suspected felons on the special teams and divide that by the number of traumatic brain injuries suffered during the preseason.

Then I take that number, I write it on a piece of paper and I flush it down the toilet. Because all I really need to consider is the nickname of each team, and how that character would perform against its opponent in a real-world fight. So the sharks always beat the tuna, the leopards always defeat the wildebeests, and any dogs beat any cats, any cats beat any birds, and any birds beat any worms or insects (which explains why there’s no such thing as the San Antonio Silverfish or the Minneapolis Mealworms, except maybe in the Arena Football League).

It’s a simple system but you have to know how to use it. And, boy, did I use it this week!

New Orleans 14, Minnesota 9
Both saints and vikings are long dead, so you’d think this was a close call. While the final score was indeed tight, you have to consider that, on average, Nordic seafarers of the tenth century have been dead longer than most saints, and that increased decomposition time is sure to play havoc on endurance, especially in the fourth quarter. And if they were both alive, the Saints have good on their side, while the Vikings had mostly herring going for them.

Miami 15, Buffalo 10
Dolphins are generally known for their friendly nature, their comical laugh, and their unstoppable desire to rub their fishy privates against you during a Dolphin Encounter. But they can turn violent, especially when confronted by a squad made up of Bills: Bill Cosby, Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Billy Bob Thornton and the Rev. Billy Graham. The 91-year-old Graham, who opens the season at quarterback for the Bills, at least provided inspiration to Brett Favre that he’s got another good 50 years in him. But the wheelchair-bound evangelist’s 12-for-26 passing performance with two picks and only one TD make you wonder how long he has left.

New York 31, Carolina 18
The panther is one of the animal kingdom’s most dangerous predators and, were the team from Charlotte made up of giant panthers, they would’ve easily overcome the giant men. However, the New Yorkers used their superior size to literally step all over the cats, opening their new state-of-the-art stadium with a resounding victory.

Green Bay 27, Philadelphia 20
Meat-packing businesses usually offer butchering services as well, which does not bode well for a raptor that, while admittedly fierce and majestic, still provides little match for an abattoir full of burly Wisconsinites. The Eagles did manage to peck the eyes of a few of the Packers, but it wasn’t enough to overcome carnage on an assembly-line scale.

Washington 13, Dallas 7
On paper, you see a matchup between cowboys and Indians, and you’re thinking it’s a no-brainer to pick Dallas. The Redskins, however, are red not only because of their native American heritage, but they’re also boiling mad about preseason controversies which kept them out in the sun too long. And remember that cowboys, despite their portrayal in popular media, spent most of their time herding cattle and strumming guitars around a campfire, not battling indigenous peoples with six-shooters.

Now, a look forward at next week’s schedule.

Pittsburgh vs. Tennessee
Steelers are merely factory workers employed in an industry that’s shipping most of its jobs overseas. I’m not sure what Titans are, though — unless I miskeyed their name into Google — they appear to be an outfit of sixteenth-century Italian painters. I’m thinking the Titians’ loose brushwork and subtlety of polychromatic modulations without precedent in the history of Western art will be too much for a group of working class stiffs from the Rust Belt.

Kansas City vs. Cleveland
This inter-ethnic match-up could be the week’s most entertaining game. The Chiefs were Plains warriors who held white intruders at bay for nearly a century before succumbing to disease and forced relocation. The Browns are a melting pot of Hispanics, South Asians and Pacific Islanders who don’t have a strong tradition in football, but whose expertise in landscaping, business process outsourcing and tossing coconuts back and forth will likely give them the edge.

Seattle vs. Denver
Only in the NFL might you see a fight between a seahawk and a horse. Normally, these two creatures leave each other alone, considering one flies high above the ocean while the other is largely confined to rodeo stadiums. I predict a low-scoring affair, as it’s entirely possible they might just stare at each other for the entire contest. In the end, though, I think the bronco will be able to kick just high enough to knock the hawk out of the air, bringing new Seattle coach Pete Carrell his first loss of the season.

St. Louis vs. Oakland
Were this contest to take place in St. Louis, I’d give the rams the edge, even though their massive horns would do little damage to men who have peglegs. Since the game will take place in the Raiders’ arena, I anticipate an entire flock of sheep walking the plank.

Arizona vs. Atlanta
Both the cardinal and the falcon are birds, so this could be a close one. When they’re not hopping around among your azaleas, it’s important to remember that cardinals also serve in a prominent position within the Catholic Church, where their power is second only to that of the pope. I pick the Cardinals over the Falcons in this week’s Upset Special.

Blogging while jogging, and vice versa

September 13, 2010

Many great artists got their inspiration when they least expected it. John Lennon scribbled the lyrics to “A Day in the Life” on the back of an envelope after he woke up dreaming about them. Pablo Picasso began work on his masterpiece “Guernica” after a vigorous walk along the Seine. William Shakespeare was known to work out with weights and spend 30 minutes on an elliptical machine to clear his mind for wrighting plays.  

Hacks too can find exercise to be a stimulant to creativity. It’s often during my daily run that I come up with ideas for this blog. I’ll be loping along the sidewalk when — boom, out of nowhere — the idea occurs to me that it might be funny to write a history of the human foot, or about my plans to rob a liquor store.  

As soon as I get home, I’m quick to jot these nuggets down on a scratchpad I keep on my dresser (at least, I try to write them down, if I can find a piece of paper not already sodden with perspiration).  

I often think how much simpler it would be if I could just carry my netbook with me as I jog, and work simultaneously on my posting and my endurance. Then I think about how difficult it would be to type and watch for oncoming cars at the same time.  

So this weekend I tried the next best thing — dictating into a voice recorder as I ran, then transcribing the results when I got home. You, the reader, get to travel along with me at the moment this essay is first imagined. It’s like being in on the extraordinary moment of human conception, except without fallopian tubes.  

I hope you enjoy and, don’t forget, be sure to do at least 15 minutes of cool-down stretches when you’re done.  

Runnin' down the road, tryin' to loosen my load

OK, so this is an attempt to record what goes on during an average run through the neighborhood, starting out in front of my house, and here I go…  

And this doesn’t look foolish at all, that I’m talking to myself while I’m running. This is the route that I do pretty much every day. It’s about 3 in the afternoon so there aren’t a lot of people around to wonder why some guy’s running down the street holding a microphone to his face.

There’s utility construction going on in the neighborhood, being done by a contractor called “Trenchco.” Apparently they build trenches or dig trenches or maybe they just like trenches. We don’t know what they’re putting in the trenches but I hope it might be better-quality cable. There’s a bunch of workers up the hill. My wife keeps saying we should ask them what they’re doing, but I doubt they know.

It’s about 87 degrees out here, which is pretty warm for somebody my age to be running. I was known to run in temperatures as high as 100 degrees when I was younger. People know me around the city as the crazy guy who runs no matter what. I once ran in an icestorm, but then I fell down.  

More cars as I turn the corner onto the main road. People are looking at me, wondering what I’m doing, wondering why I’m talking to my hand while running in such heat. I think one should explain the other.  

There goes a red truck.

My wife is at home right now playing Wii Fit with my sister-in-law, so they probably have the more sensible exercise idea than what I’m doing. I’ve always been told I should carry ID when I got out for these runs and I never do, so if I ever drop off the face of the earth, you’ll know what happened. Hopefully somebody will find my body before the raccoons do.  

Passing some private homes on the right, and on the left is a new subdivision they started building right before the recession. They got about half the houses built and pretty much gave up. I think they’re townhomes, which is kind of like living in a real home from what I’m told.

Glad you can’t transcribe panting because that’s what you’d be reading right now. There is a little bit of a breeze as I get close to the top of the hill. The sky is pretty clear, some high clouds not doing much to block the sun. I try to keep my head down while I’m running. Every now and then I’ll find money or something. I found $20 the other day, just laying in a parking lot.

Wow, there goes a huge truck from a nearby paper tube company. “World’s leading manufacturer of paper tubes,” it says. Not sure who uses them but I guess you have to wrap your toilet paper around something.  

Passing some apartments on the right, and another newish subdivision on the left. It’s called “The Pines at India Hook,” located interestingly enough on India Hook Road. The apartments are called Village Station and it’s an “apartment community,” not just apartments. So I guess they can charge an extra $50 a month for that.

There’s an older house here on the right that’s now a law firm, I think. Tall, beautiful hardwood trees out front. I’d say oak or maple or — what’s that other kind of tree they have? — elm. Could be any of those.  

Off to my left is an older neighborhood with a “Dead End” sign. I don’t think that’s the name of the community though, I think it’s just a street sign. On my right is the Spring Arbor Alzheimer’s Care center and there are some folks sitting out on rocking chairs today because it’s so nice. I’ll try not to talk too loud so I don’t disturb the Alzheimer’s people. I don’t want any of them wandering up this way.

And now here’s Chandler Place, a so-called independent retirement living facility. I think that’s sort of like an old folk’s home, but with fewer safety rails. There are some “shoppes” up here on the end, one little restaurant we go to sometimes. I’m going to try to cross the street now and go back down the hill toward my neighborhood.  

So I’m headed back on the other side of the street, a nice white picket fence to my right. This is a pretty nice part of town. I figure the distance that I’m running is about 1.6 miles maybe. I used to do it every day, lately not so much because of the heat. I guess that’s a good excuse.  

From this spot I can peek into some private backyards … not much going on at this hour of the day. Every now and then I’ll witness an illicit affair.  

Coming up on the right is what used to be another rest home but is now taken over by a church that does day care. It’s called “Taking the City Ministry,” and the childcare is called “God’s Blessings Christian Childcare”. I think the kids are all inside right now. Not sure of the church’s denomination. “Taking the City Ministry” sounds pretty aggressive but I think they mean it more spiritually.

There’s a flag over there …  might be the South Carolina state flag. It’s all ripped and stuck in some trees, so it’s kinda hard to tell. Maybe the apartment community has their own government and it’s their flag.  

Hitting a downhill part now and going past a shady area and becoming a little less self-conscious about talking to myself while running. Every now and then somebody from work who lives around here will say they saw me running, and I’ll say “oh.”  

OK, coming up now past that half-built Village at India Hook — “single-level villas, no maintenance, clubhouse/fitness center, two car garages,” says the sign. They look like nice places. I think they still try to sell them on the weekends. They’ll put signs up like “move in today” or “agent on duty” but I don’t think they’re trying that hard.  

So this will count as my exercise for the day. I remember back in junior high the most they’d make us run would be 600 yards which, when I think about the marathons and 10Ks I’ve run since, seems like nothing now. But at that time they called it a “walk/run” because they knew we couldn’t run the whole 600 yards and in fact I could not, except one time I got tired of coming in last and sprinted the first 100 yards and was out in the lead and everybody said “hey, look at fat Davis go!” and then of course I ran out of gas and finished last.  

Somebody just waved at me from a passing vehicle. Doesn’t necessarily mean they know me, it just means that I’m in the South. Running  past a patch of woods. Every now and then I’ll see deer coming out of here. They’re gradually putting up more and more homes in this area so the deer either have to go somewhere else or figure out if they want to rent or buy.  

Going past Heathwood and Heathwood Forest. Looks like the same neighborhood to me. I’ve run back there on occasion and I think there was a woodsy part so I guess that was the forest. Should be “The Forest at Heathwood” though, shouldn’t it?  

Almost to the place where I normally stop. Still not much traffic out … it’s basically the middle of the afternoon and most decent people are working. I guess I’m indecent, as my tightly clinging sweaty T-shirt will testify. They’ve got some election signs out at some of the houses. These people seem to want Tailor for Judge. Yeah, it says “Carolyn Tailor for Judge” … I thought maybe it was somebody named Judge who was running to be elected Tailor.  

Going to have to cross back over the road now and watch for traffic. Here comes a car but I don’t think he’s going to hit me because of the hassle of accident and insurance reports.  

Alright, well, coming back to my neighborhood. Just beyond where I’m turning is the Westminster Church — there goes a motorcycle, by the way — and there’s a bus from the Christian school that’s associated with the church.  

Back in the neighborhood now, not so many cars. Do have some blind corners I have to watch for in this area and no sidewalk, so some care is required here.

Think I’m going to knock off now because I’m getting back in the area where the neighbors may wonder about me. These are people that are more likely to know where I live and leave notes in my mailbox telling me to stop talking to myself while I’m running, so I’ll be signing off.

Revisited: He’s Tom. He’s a cat.

September 12, 2010

This is my cat. His name is Tom. We already had two cats when we got him, so we didn’t put a lot of creative energy into naming him.

He lived outdoors for at least a year before we adopted him, and has the attitude and scars to prove it (there’s one — a scar, not an attitude — you might be able to see on his nose in the picture below). He’s fat and happy now that’s he’s living the indoor life. His hobbies include getting really mad at birds, and biting any human that attempts to pet him.

In this photo, he’s holding down one of his favorite positions on the kitchen window sill that looks out into our front yard. It’s a defensive posture from which we have trouble getting him down. He hunkers behind a ceramic cat mobile that he can tangle himself into should one of us stop by and feel the need to pick him up for some much-hated hugging.

They say that, unlike dogs, cats can’t show emotions via facial expressions. After viewing the contempt in his face that’s shown in this picture, I challenge anyone to agree with that contention.

He’s Tom. He’s such a kitty.

Tom says: "Just try picking me up from here. Just try."
Tom says: “Just try picking me up from here. Just try.”

Revisited: Clearing out the photo files

September 11, 2010

I was going to follow up a recent post about mortuaries with some leftover information on the subject of cremation. On further reflection, however, it seemed like that wouldn’t be such a great topic for a Saturday.

I still wanted to share this one photo that I found. It shows the crematorium worker whose job it is to operate the furnace. Notice how concerned he is about the quality of his work.

"Everything going okay in there?"
“Everything going okay in there?”

 

Another picture I found while researching corpse disposal methods used by Native American tribes of the far north. This shows the lamalor armor made from hardened leather, wood and bones worn in battle by Siberians and Eskimos. It looks more to me like an ancient attempt at flight, what with the wing structures on the back. See what you think.

Protection at the expense of mobility
Protection at the expense of mobility

 

Finally, here’s a picture of an escaped murderer, included for no apparent reason.

If this guy wants to clean your gutters, say "no"
If this guy wants to clean your gutters, say “no”