Archive for May, 2011

That’s racin’, though not necessarily entertainment

May 31, 2011

On Sunday, the biggest day in auto racing, Dan Wheldon passed what was left of rookie J.R. Hildebrand to win the Indianapolis 500, while in Charlotte, Kevin Harvick sped past an out-of-gas Dale Earnhardt Jr. to take the Coca-Cola 600.

I could give a shit, but it’d be about as hard as staying awake watching droning cars drive in circles for hours at a stretch.

Despite my sad existence as a white middle-aged Southerner, I’ve never been a fan of auto racing. I look at the car as merely a vehicle to get from one place to another, not as a high-powered machine with the ability to burn more petroleum in one afternoon than exists in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

Turning the workaday routine of driving into a “sport” makes about as much sense to me as forming a league for those who are fastest at using an ATM or at tying their shoes.

But summer is here, and quality television has started its four-month hiatus. Flipping the dial on Monday afternoon for something to watch, it came down to cats from hell, Kardashians from hell, and swamp people. So I tuned in to the so-called “greatest spectacle in racing,” the Indy 500.

This was the 100th running of the Brickyard classic, and befitting such a long-standing institution, the race was filled with tradition. The racers gathered to kneel and kiss the hallowed road surface in one of the most unhygienic traditions in all of sport (second only to hockey champions’ ritual group-pee into the Stanley Cup). An honored guest was designated to announce the classic line “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines,” as if the drivers wouldn’t think of it unless reminded. The winner gets to drink a half-gallon of milk, exactly the kind of refreshment I’d be looking for after four hours in the stifling heat.

Amidst all this, they also held a car race, and it was one of the most exciting contests in history, or so I was told. For a while, someone I had actually heard of, GoDaddy spokeswoman Danica Patrick, was in the lead. She gradually fell behind a hard-charging Belgian named Baguette, who was then passed by Hildebrand, a driver making his first start at Indy.

Hildebrand had the race all but won when he rocketed into the final turn and crashed into a wall. His battered vehicle skidded toward the finish line only to be passed by the largely intact Wheldon. If any part of Hildebrand’s disintegrating ride had managed to be flung ahead of the wreckage, or any amputated piece of Hildebrand himself had skidded past the checkered flag, the rookie would’ve been the lucky winner pouring dairy products into his maw. Instead, it was the lactose-tolerant Wheldon who hoisted the Hallowed Half-Gallon to his lips in victory.

A few hours later, it was time for NASCAR’s Coca-Cola 600, held just up the road from my home near Charlotte. This is where the good ol’ boys race real cars, not those road-hugging open-wheel homo-mobiles they run at Indy.

Long a favorite of those whose necks tend toward the red persuasion, NASCAR has its traditions too. Some — like running large parts of the race under a caution flag because beer cans constantly roll onto the track — are as quirky as anything Indy might offer. Others — like adding a hundred miles to the 500-mile length of most races in a piteous attempt to make the contest 20% better — are just dumb.

Much of NASCAR’s tradition comes in the form of nepotism. Most drivers are related to other drivers in an attempt to appeal to the sport’s largely inbred fan base.

Two of the biggest stars were near the lead when I tuned in near the end of Monday’s race. Kyle Busch is the brother of Kurt Busch and made his most recent splash in the news by being ticketed for going 120 m.p.h. on a 45-m.p.h. road that fronted a nearby church and daycare center. He’s also well-known for looking like a pinhead.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the son of racing legend Dale Earnhardt Sr., who died in a 2001 crash at Daytona. “Junior,” as he’s called, has been the most popular driver on the circuit since his father’s death. Unfortunately, being related to someone with a particular skill doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll inherit that ability, as Junior’s career-long losing streak has shown. (See also the presidency of George W. Bush, the singing career of Frank Sinatra Jr., and the bankrupt barber shop run by Abraham Lincoln Jr.)

Earnhardt Jr. too looks like a bumpkin.

But approaching the end of the 600-mile race, he was a bumpkin who appeared ready to shatter his losing streak in spectacular fashion. Then he ran out of gas. On his previous pit stop, he had been careful to make sure the windshield washer fluid was topped off, that the cup holders were cleaned of pretzel crumbs and that the eight-track tape deck still worked. But while he was in Gomer’s store buying a Mountain Dew and a chaw, he had forgotten to ask his crew chief to “fill ‘er up.” Eventually, with the help of Triple-A, he coasted across the finish line in seventh place.

Earnhardt Nation, many of whom had been camping in the speedway’s infield for a week in anticipation of a breakthrough for young Dale, sat stunned that the same result that had happened in his 103 previous races had occurred yet another, 104th time.

I was not particularly impressed with the “drama” of such an exciting finish. I’d have preferred to see something different. Maybe having the Target race team’s pit crew, each wearing a large target on the back of their jumpsuits, run for their lives as other drivers aim oncoming cars at them. Maybe having a second race run simultaneously with the first one, but in the opposite direction.

Fortunately, I was able to switch channels and enjoy the rest of my Memorial Day weekend watching the Hub Channel’s “Batman” marathon. That Batmobile could win any race.

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Revisited: A labored Memorial Day

May 30, 2011

It was going to be a natural tie-in. A photo essay of the typical chores I tackle on a Sunday, even a Sunday that’s part of the Labor Day holiday weekend.

It wasn’t till I was just about finished that I realized — oops, this isn’t Labor Day, it’s Memorial Day.

I always get these two mixed up. I know one is the unofficial start of summer, one is the unofficial end of summer, and they both have something to do with the propriety of wearing white shoes. I thought they fell in alphabetical order, which would make sense in a truly logical universe. (My proposal: Arbor Day replaces New Year’s Day on Jan. 1, Christmas comes in February, Halloween around May, and Zeus’ Birthday ushers in the end-of-year holiday season).

Memorial Day is the day we honor the nation’s war dead by racing the Indianapolis 500 and staging Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial golf tournament on the beautiful Muirfield Village Golf Course, where Tiger Woods will face a stiff field of challengers including up-and-comers like Jason Bohn and Matt Kuchar. Labor Day is when we pay tribute to America’s mothers who endured hours of unimaginable pain birthing this nation’s grateful work force. Why can’t I keep that straight?

Regardless of my error, you’re getting the photo essay.

Sunday has always felt right to me as the proper day to undertake household chores. Maybe it has something to do with my Lutheran guilt that I no longer attend church. If I can’t sit through another interminable sermon about how Zachariah slew Obidiah after Jebediah stole his Uriah Heep album, perhaps I should endure the equivalent anguish of running the vacuum cleaner. Though I didn’t quite get to the carpet on this particular Sunday (unless you count the part where I fell down while dusting the fireplace), I did accomplish the following:

The Laundry

Yes, I am the rare enlightened married man who does his own washing and drying. I keep trying to tell my wife what a “catch” she has here though, even after almost 29 years of marriage, she’s yet to be convinced that’s quite the right word for it. I also make my own breakfast, pack my own lunch, wash my own face and brush my own teeth, because I’m a big boy. Note the care with which I have balanced the shirts around the bin, indicating an expertise far beyond my years.

The Billing

I’m the unofficial accountant for my wife’s free-lance proofreading business, and every week or so I’m in charge of invoicing her clients. It’s a tedious, afternoon-long chore still inexplicably done on paper instead of electronically. Occasionally, just for fun, I’ll mistakenly write “thousand” instead of “hundred” on one of the bills, in the hope that her clients’ inability to find errors extends beyond their proofs and into their accounts payable department.

The Catbox

With three cats under our roof, this is more than a weekly chore, or at least that’s how Harriet, Taylor and Tom explain it to me. Strange how my role as lord and master over their dominion includes me cleaning up their waste products. I doubt that’s how ancient Egyptian pharoahs interacted with their slaves. Though I actually can imagine King Tutankhamun having to take a few minutes away from ruling virtually the entire known world to comb through the sandbox of his royal felines Boots, Hosni and Mr. Hatshepsut.

The Mowing

I would absolutely LOVE to trade my stuffy office job for a position as a professional grass-cutter. I find the fresh air, the physical labor, the thrill of possibly losing an eye to be positively exhilarating. And the sense of accomplishment after seeing your hard work transform a weedy mess into a manicured landscape can’t compare with the successful downloading of a spreadsheet, even though the spreadsheet (usually) leaves me less dehydrated.

Revisited: Welcome guest blogger Ronnie Lee Gardner

May 29, 2011

(Reposted from May, 2010)

Today, we have a guest blogger. Ronnie Lee Gardner, a 49-year-old native of Utah, was executed by firing squad early this morning. But before he was blasted into Kingdom Come, he got off one final shot of his own with this day-long account of his last hours on earth.  

Gardner was facing murder charges in the 1984 slaying of a bartender when he tried to escape from the courtroom. During the attempt, he killed a lawyer and shot the sheriff (though let the record show that he did not shoot the deputy). He was tried for the second murder and sentenced to death. Given the choice between lethal injection and facing a firing squad, he opted for the latter in the belief that it would be way cooler.  

Guaranteed a swift resolution of his case by the Constitution, now it is 25 years later and — sorry, Ronnie — but it’s time to die. First, though, he took us through his final day.  

8:30 a.m. Thursday — Woke up. Got out of bed. Dragged a comb across my head. Go ahead and sue me if you want, surviving Beatles. I just hope your case gets on the docket pretty damn quickly because I’ll be dead by this time tomorrow. Besides, if you’ve seen any recent pictures of me, you know I don’t have any hair anyway, so I’d get off on a technicality. Though I am thinking of wearing a toupee to the execution. Sure, my head will be covered in a shroud, but I’ll know I’m looking sharp and that’s what really matters.  

8:45 a.m. — Bit of a nasty incident with the kitchen staff. It’s my contention that when I’m guaranteed a “Last Meal,” it means I get to eat whatever I want for each of the last three meals of the day — breakfast, lunch and dinner. So I ordered a vegetarian omelet with Egg Beaters, turkey sausage, a fruit cup, juice and coffee. And they tell me, no, you’re getting the usual, some generic version of Honey Bunches of Oats and toast. So I go on a rampage on the cafeteria ladies, killing three and wounding six. I’ve had it with these people. I’m going on a hunger strike. I know it’s only 15 hours til I’m shot, but there’s a principle involved here.  

9:00 — Time to watch me some Hoda and Kathie Lee on the fourth hour of the Today Show. All the guys in the yard find this is a great way to catch up on a little news, some cooking and housekeeping tips, celebrity gossip, etc. It’s kind of a bonding experience for us. We gots to have our daily dose of Hoda.  

9:50 — A clergyman stops by to ask if there’s anything he can do to help me feel I’m “right with God.” I say, yeah, how about a 50.0-magnitude earthquake right here in Utah, breaking me out of this joint and opening up a fissure in the countryside that reveals a treasure chest of gold buried by the ancient Mormons. I grab the gold and head into Salt Lake City to get me some hookers and some crack. He says he can’t do that, because there ain’t any hookers and crack in SLC.  

10:05 — A riot erupts in the common area. There’s one gang, the Aryan Supremacy, that prefers to watch Regis and Kelly while a rival gang, the Latin Kings, want to see Judge Judy. A hail of tear gas and rubber bullets bring the mob under control, and the guards insist on a compromise of The Price is Right. It’s not the same since Bob Barker left, but still it’s better than being thrown into solitary.  

10:30 — I head back to my cell for a meeting with my attorney about the last-minute appeals. (He tried to blow me off til tomorrow but I’m like, “hello?”) He said my last chance is with the U.S. Supreme Court and it doesn’t look good, especially since Justice Scalia has applied to be on the firing squad. I say Scalia should recuse himself then, and my idiot attorney says “what’s recuse mean?” so I guess that means there’s not much hope.   

10:45 — I turn on the portable TV they let me have in my death row cell and watch a little bit of that BP boss (Tony Hayward) testifying before Congress. It gives me great comfort to see somebody who’s under more fire than me. But I could not believe that Republican guy who apologized to BP because Obama was making them cough up $20 billion to pay for the damages. I mean, I’ll admit I’m a low-life scumbag but this Barton guy is even worse. I just wish he’d volunteer for my firing squad. He’d probably apologize to me for how uncomfortable the execution chair is, then end up shooting himself.   

11:30 — I return my Netflix movie, Mamma Mia! I never did get to watch it, what with all this last-minute stuff going on. I’m not leaving much behind, but I’ll be damned if my kids have to deal with Netflix in probate.   

12:00 noon – No lunch for me! I’m on a hunger strike! Okay, maybe just a cookie.   

12:30 p.m. — Nap time. I’ll be up past midnight tonight (even if it’s only til 12:01) so I need a little shut-eye.   

1:45 — Guess I better go ahead and execute my pet roach, Larry. He’s been a good pal these last few months, yet I can’t stand to think how he’d survive without me, so I’m doing one of those mercy killings. I knitted a little hood for his head out of dental floss but damn if I could get it on him. He kept twitching his antennas so I finally just stomped him with my shoe. Farewell, Larry. I’ll see you on the other side.   

2:30 — I watch some World Cup soccer, Myanmar versus Antarctica, I think it was. Soccer is so boring, but it makes time go past slowly which makes me feel like I’ve got more hours to live.   

3:00 — My business manager stops by to offer a final goodbye and some good news about a promotional tie-in we’ve been working on. Usually, the execution guys just pin a white circle over your heart for the firing squad to aim at, but we worked out a deal with Target to use their logo instead. I wasn’t too sure at first about increasing the odds that somebody’s going to shoot my heart. Fortunately, that check for $10,000 convinced me otherwise.   

4:15 — I get access to the computer in the prison library. I’m writing some letters to the families of my victims asking for forgiveness but I can’t get the damn Word files to attach to an AOL email. Oh, how I hate AOL. I look forward to meeting them in Hell. I manage to sneak on to Overstock.com and find a great deal on a bullet-proof vest. I’m willing to pay extra for expedited delivery; I’m just not sure it’ll make it here in time.   

5:00 — No dinner! What? This really is my Last Meal? Okay, I’ll have filet mignon, lobster, caviar, champagne, foie gras, chocolate mousse, and baked Alaska.   

5:10 — Warden says no dice on the fancy dinner, though he’ll be glad to send out a press release saying that’s what I “requested”. (Ever notice that they always say “he requested such-and-such for his last meal” but they never tell you if the prisoner actually gets it? What a scam!) Guess I’ll eat the chipped beef on toast anyway, since now I got myself all hungry.   

6:30 — Doing some yoga moves I read about in the library that are supposed to relax you. I also found one that supposedly allows you to shift your internal organs around. I’m working on having my heart and appendix switch places so that instead of death by firing squad, I’ll simply be having an appendectomy tonight. Hope it works.   

7:15 — Having some second thoughts about turning down that lethal injection thing. I bet it gets you high first, at least for a second or two.   

9:00 — One last bit of fun before meeting my maker: I get to watch Game 7 of the NBA finals. I got the Lakers by eight in the Death Row pool, though it’s not going to do me much good to win the pot. I just hope it doesn’t go into overtime, taking it past midnight.   

10:40 — Back to the library for one last session on the computer. Updating my Facebook status to “almost dead”.   

11:30 — They’re taking me down to the firing range. This is it. Goodbye, cruel world. Oh, and my thanks to DavisW for giving me this last chance to chat with everybody on his blog. It gives me great solace to know as many as 250 people may actually read this.   

11:59 — They’re strapping me into the chair. Here comes the hood. Hey, watch the toupee, will ya? Jeez, it slipped down over my forehead and is now itching me like crazy. Oh, the indignity.   

12:01 a.m. — Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow! Damn, that hurt.  

Thanks, everybody, for reading my blog!

Revisited: Tidbits from a steaming summer weekend

May 28, 2011

Ever see that Temper-Pedic mattress commercial that demonstrates how you can have all kinds of action on one side of the bed while on the other side your partner sleeps soundly and unmoved?    

There’s a thirty-something couple, both wearing long-sleeved silk pajamas. While the man sits cross-legged on the left side of the bed, his wife is on the right, vigorously jumping up and down like a ten-year-old who just checked into a motel. Between them sits a glass of wine, standing rigid despite the woman’s spirited leaping.    

I’ve heard of some kinky peccadilloes before but this one is pretty unusual. What exactly is the climax? She eventually knocks the glass over? Somebody drinks the wine? He too joins in the jumping and they eventually chest-bump? They call the 800 number shown on the screen and ORDER NOW, taking advantage of the 30-day money-back guarantee and 50%-off shipping charges?    

That would be really weird.    

+++    

I was accused recently of being “anti-bag” and it had nothing to do with Helen Thomas.    

The occasion was our weekly trip to the organic grocery store. We were running low on some socially conscious foods, and I was particularly interested in a piece of ecologically sustainable chocolate cake I had spied the day before.    

In the interest of environmental responsibility, this chain encourages customers to bring their own grocery bags. They’ll sell you a reasonably priced reusable “Envirobag” that looks like it’s made of plastic but can’t be because it has “enviro” in its name. They also keep a stash of boxes near the checkout to put your purchases in. They’ll provide you a paper grocery bag as a last option but you’ll be charged five cents for it, which is collected for a neglected children’s home. All good stuff.    

My wife and I have several of the Envirobags. She keeps hers in her car and I somehow always leave mine at home. I was driving this particular afternoon and as we walked across the parking lot, Beth asked the question that deep down inside she already knew the answer to. “Did you bring the bag?”    

No, I had to admit, I didn’t bring the bag.    

“Why are you so anti-bag?” she asked.    

“I’m not anti-bag,” I protested, trying to spin my position into a more positive context. “I’m pro-not-buying-more-than-I-can-carry-in-two-hands.”    

+++    

When we finished shopping, we stopped at the bloodmobile to make our regular donation of the gift of life.    

Beth has been donating blood ever since college, and was recently recognized by the Red Cross for giving enough to fill an oil tanker. She got me in the habit several years ago when I was discovered it was relatively painless, that I got to brag to a stranger about all the overseas destinations I’ve visited, and that there were free cookies involved.    

We were first in line this particular day, and were escorted off to separate private cubicles to answer all the embarrassing questions they need to screen out the large population of syphilitic lepers Rock Hill is known for. I haven’t done as much international travel as I did at one time, but it’s still been less than three years since I’ve been to Sri Lanka, so I wrote that down. The nurse came in to review my form.    

“You’ve been to St. Lanka?” she asked.    

“Sri Lanka,” I corrected. “I didn’t go outside the capital and last time I donated they said that was okay.”    

She reached up on a shelf above us and pulled down a large three-ring binder, filled with maps of every nation. The maps apparently show which areas are civilized, and which are disease-ridden hellholes, even worse than South Carolina.    

She leafed through the plastic-covered sheets and asked, “Did you say Panama?”    

Fortunately, it was another healthcare worker who took my blood, rather than this geography-challenged woman who might’ve attempted to tap God-knows-what for blood.    

We were soon done and out of the van, heading back to the car. I know that if I bleed out, get fully transfused and repeat the procedure a dozen times that I’ll never catch Beth in the amount of blood extracted from my veins. So I thought instead I’d engage her in a little friendly competition on the subject of the mini-physical they give you as part of the screening.    

She soundly beat me in blood pressure (I was 131/82 compared to her 120/80) and narrowly edged me in pulse, by a score of 75 to 77 (like golf, a low number is better). That left only two categories for me to achieve at least a draw. I won the hemoglobin/hematocrit competition (something to do with iron, I think) with a cool 16.7. This meant the body temperature would decide the championship.    

“Let’s see you beat 98.7,” I said confidently.    

“I was 97.7,” Beth said. “I always register a little lower than normal.”    

“Hah! It’s a tie then!” I crowed.    

Except that’s not how she saw it. Rather than counting closest-to-98.6 as the best score, Beth contended that the lower the temperature the better. Something to do with burning off calories more efficiently.    

“So the healthiest person in the world, temperature-wise, are those frozen explorers who made a failed expedition to the South Pole?” I asked.    

Tired of me and my stupid games, she conceded the argument, giving me one point and an excellent chance to emerge from Group A if I can come up with a respectable effort against Serbia and Algeria.    

In addition to donating blood (right arm), I also had lab work done for my annual physical (left arm). I proudly wore the bandages for two days to garner all the sympathy I could. Panama, incidentally, is on my shirt in the center of the photo.

+++     

Despite the 90-degree heat we had last weekend, I still found time for a bit of my favorite yardwork — removing mushrooms.    

This is the one opportunity I have during the summer to combine sport with landscape maintenance. I break out the 9-iron, pretend that our city-issued refuse bin is the 18th hole at Pebble Beach, and lob shroom after shroom in a soaring arc, right into the can.    

At my age, I take my fun where I can find it.    

Fun with fungus

+++    

By the way, it’s not too late to suggest a name for the emu that escaped from a farm near here a few weeks back, and gave the local newspaper feature writer a much-needed topic for a slow news day.    

The unidentified emu cavorted on city streets for several hours before being corralled by its owner. Locals got a big kick, as well as a few nasty lacerations, trying to wrassle what they thought was a giant chicken into submission.    

Now, a month later, the emu is back at its home awaiting whatever fate this unusual type of farm animal is destined to face. (Do you eat ‘em? Wear ‘em? Melt ‘em down for fuel oil? Hell if I know). And the feature writer has decided he can squeeze another story out of the subject, so he’s staging a “Name that Emu!” competition.    

Go to heraldonline.com to place your vote. And no fair choosing Emily — that’s my submission.  

+++  

Looks like another “staycation” for me this summer. I’m taking a few days off in July to set up a lawn chair in the median strip of I-77 to watch the cars speed by, then in August I’ll be climbing into my dryer with a scented fabric softener to simulate a flight to Europe.   

+++  

Not that anybody needed confirmation, but you could really tell last night’s Tony’s were a second-rate awards show when they got to the who-died-last-year montage. While faces of press agents and last Ziegfeld girls flashed by to mournful music, the audience was, like, whuh? Finally a vaguely recognizable face like Rue McClanahan would appear and the crowd offered a smattering of applause, figuring that’s about the best it’s going to get.

Glimpses of life in South Carolina

May 27, 2011

Man drinks two pints, grabs shirt

A Clover woman said she feared for her life after she had an argument with a man who later fired a gun.

The 49-year-old woman said she and a 49-year-old man had an argument over a past relationship about 1:45 a.m. Wednesday, according to a Sheriff’s Office report. The man told her to leave the residence and refused to give the woman her cell phone. She said he then grabbed the front of her shirt and shoved her out the door.

As she was walking from the home toward the road, he fired a shotgun, the report states. The man admitted to officers he had fired into the air but that he was not trying to shoot the woman, according to the report.

The man had a strong alcoholic smell and said he had drunk two pints of liquor, according to the report. While searching the residence, deputies also found crack cocaine in his bedroom, which was placed into evidence.

He was arrested and charged with use of a firearm while under the influence and criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature, according to the report.

Man steals CD player (what, his 8-track was broken?)

A Chester County preacher caught a man breaking into his church, police say.

Around 11 a.m. Wednesday, deputies were dispatched to Orrs Station Baptist Church in Chester where they met Charles Runion, a preacher who had caught a man stealing a CD player from his church, according to a release from the Chester County sheriff.

Runion lives beside the church.

David Chad Ramsey, 30, was arrested and charged with burglary. He is awaiting bond in the Chester County Detention Center.

Woman reports abuse against BBQ sauce

A Clover woman reported a burglary at a Rock Hill home in which someone threw a bottle of barbecue sauce out the window.

The 21-year-old woman told police she used to live with the father of her child at the Milton Avenue home, Rock Hill police said. She had been trying to reach him but couldn’t, so she went to the home at about 11 p.m. Sunday.

That’s when she saw a rear screen door and glass had been broken. Bedding had been tossed around, the floor heating vents were removed and everything had been pulled out of the refrigerator, according to a police report.

Someone had thrown a bottle of barbecue sauce out of a front window.

The woman told police she believes the crime is drug-related, the report states.

Teen shoots self in foot, literally

A York teen suffered a gunshot wound to the foot early Monday but declined to tell police details of the incident, according to a York Police report.

The report states Ramon Baxter, 17, was found with the wound at a friend’s apartment after the friend called authorities around 12:30 a.m. Monday.

Police questioned Baxter but he said he didn’t know who shot him and declined to give any more details, the report states.

Police searched the area with a dog and found the victim’s shoe.

No other leads were found and no arrests have been made.

Home invader: ‘Y’all got some money?’

Rock Hill Police are investigating an overnight home invasion.

Officers arrived at the Gable Oaks apartment about 3 a.m. Tuesday morning, according to a police report. When they arrived, the caller was cutting loose one of the victims, a 25-year-old man whose hands were bound. The caller said he heard a female screaming for help and called police before going outside, where he found the man naked and bound, the report states.

The second victim, a 25-year-old woman, said about 11 p.m. Monday two women came to the door, said their car was broken down and asked to use the phone and bathroom, the report states. Then a man rang the doorbell and asked to come in, saying he was with the women. He was followed by a second man.

As soon as the men entered, one pulled out a pistol, hit the male resident in the head and said, “Don’t y’all got some money in here — where is the money?” according to the report. They tied up the man, stripped him of his clothes and poured hot water and bleach on him, the report states.

The two suspects stayed until around 3 a.m., tearing apart the apartment looking for money, according to the report. They took two flat-screen televisions and two cell phones before leaving through the back door.

Lt. Brad Redfearn said Tuesday police believe this isn’t a random home invasion. Because of the ongoing investigation, Redfearn would not provide further details on why the two were targeted.

Father and son go bat-$#&@

Two Rock Hill men — a father and son — were charged with disorderly conduct after police were told they were fighting a crowd with baseball bats Monday evening.

Rock Hill police officers were called out to Wildwood Springs Apartments about 7 p.m. on a fight-in-progress call, according to a police report. When officers arrived, Danny Funderburk Sr., 59, and Danny Funderburk Jr., 24, were running into a residence carrying what appeared to be wooden bats. A large crowd was gathered outside one of the buildings.

Officers asked both men to step outside and saw fresh blood on their clothes, the report states.

The older Funderburk’s wife told police both men were upset about being accused of stealing tools from a vehicle at the apartment complex earlier in the day. The woman said they left the apartment with the intention of finding out who had accused them. She said her husband had a knife, and both of them approached and threatened several residents, after which a fight began.

Officers were able to find the knife, but couldn’t find any bats allegedly used in the incident, according to the report. Both men were issued citations and taken to the Rock Hill Law Center.

New GOP candidates on horizon

May 26, 2011

Fresh off last night’s victory on “American Idol,” country crooner Scotty McCreery has emerged from a dwindling field of potential candidates as a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

Garnering a majority of over 120 million ballots cast on last night’s season finale, the 17-year-old grocery bagger from North Carolina demonstrated his ability to get out the vote among the critical younger demographic.

GOP party officials had been concerned about announcements from high-profile Republicans like Mike Huckabee and Mitch Daniels that they would not run in 2012. The declared field so far includes lackluster names like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich that have not generated a lot of excitement among the independent voters that will be needed for victory.

“I definitely have ‘Scotty Fever’,” said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. “Such a fresh face on the national scene is bound to get us over the hump and into a competitive position to defeat President Obama.”

Priebus addressed concerns that McCreery, a full 18 years short of being constitutionally old enough to run for president, is not fit for the nation’s highest office.

“He’s taking both a civics class and a government class as part of his high school studies,” Priebus said. “I know he’s just a junior this year, but in the fall he’ll be a senior and by the time November of 2012 rolls around, he’ll be attending Suffolk County Community College. He’s said he plans to major in heating and air conditioning repair there, which will be helpful in the critical Sunbelt states.”

The GOP chairman dismissed concerns about the legality of electing a teenager to be commander-in-chief when the Constitution clearly states candidates must be at least 35 years old.

“Constitution, Schmonstitution,” Priebus said. “We only follow that when we feel it suits our needs.”

When asked about the rumors swirling around him, McCreery appeared to leave the door open to a possible candidacy.

“I’m right honored to be considered,” said the polite Southerner, who could help Republicans win in his home state, which went Democratic in 2008. “I think my bagging experience could be a big plus. Just like you need to put canned goods on the bottom and baked goods on the top, so too does our country need to make a responsible fiscal policy our bedrock while spending for social programs can get crammed in the top, if there’s room.”

“And I’m not carrying your bags out to your car for you, either,” McCreery said. “Those kinds of entitlements must end.”

McCreery’s possible entry into the race comes on the heels of reports that several other unconventional candidates may toss their hats into the ring. Among those mulling a run include vintage cartoon characters Quick-Draw McGraw and Huckleberry Hound, a box of glazed donuts, 1960s pop group The Turtles, the geological formation known as the Athabasca Oil Sands, last Friday’s horoscope, an iPad, and 19th-century president Franklin Pierce.

Our 45th president?

TV dinners not so easy any more

May 25, 2011

Ah, for the days when making a TV dinner was as easy as turning on the TV…

(And for that matter, ah, for the days when turning on the TV didn’t involve a half-dozen remotes, proper integration of cable boxes, DVRs and game consoles, and enough knowledge of modern electronics that you could rewire the nation’s missile defense system if you had to in a pinch…).

My earliest memories of cooking and eating a frozen dinner go back to high school. As a break from the monotony of the delicious home-cooked meals prepared with love and care by my dear mother, we’d occasionally toss a Swanson’s TV dinner into the oven for a few hours at 600 degrees for a special treat.

By the time it was ready (and our un-air-conditioned Miami home began to feel like a Seminole sweat lodge) the anticipation was palpable, even if the food was barely palatable. My favorite was the meat loaf dinner. It consisted of a tomato-sauce-drenched triangle of meat-like matter, a whitish plasma purported to be mashed potatoes, and no more than 35 kernels of buttered corn. Simply add a piece of Wonder Bread to sop up the remains from the corners of the metal tray, and you had a complete meal, including your minimum daily requirement of aluminum.

What it lacked in fine dining it more than made up for in convenience. The preparation steps were simple: (1) remove foil tray from box; (2) stick it in the oven; (3) find something typically ’60s-style to pass the time, like marching on Washington to protest the Vietnam War; (4) suffer third-degree burns removing the metal from the oven; and (5) enjoy.

Since those innocent days over 40 years ago, frozen dinner technology has advanced markedly. The variety and quality of food is vastly improved. Preparation time has been slashed to mere minutes. Cooking instructions on the package are now printed in both English and Spanish, for our Hispanic friends who wouldn’t otherwise know what a “panini” is.

The only advancement left is to have the food pre-chewed for you, which I understand the Swanson’s people are working on.

Having grown tired of the bland turkey-on-wheat sandwich I’ve taken for lunch for several decades, my wife recently suggested I consider bringing frozen foods. There’s now an entire aisle in the grocery store devoted to such meals. The variety can be overwhelming, so I made my request simple: It has to be so easy that a monkey could do it.

Beth brought home an inviting sack full of Stouffer’s dinners. She’d done a good job of reviewing the cooking instructions so my role would be minimal. The most that any of them required was piercing a few holes in the plastic film to vent the food so that meltdowns could be averted.

Within several weeks I had explored all the subtleties that Swedish meatballs had to offer, and was ready for something different. This time, I went to the grocery store myself. I operated under the assumption that none of the offerings could be that hard to prepare, and let myself get a little carried away.

The first dish I tried was the “New! Lean Pockets Pretzel Bread sandwich.” The roasted turkey with bacon and cheese offering looked delicious on the package, and my mouth watered with anticipation as I stood before the microwave at work and read through the directions.

Step one required that I unwrap the product and insert it into the “unfolded crisping sleeve.” Two questions immediately came to mind: How do you insert something into a flat unfolded sheath? And what the hell is a “crisping sleeve”? Also, if I can’t figure out how to get the sandwich into the crisping sleeve, would my shirt sleeve work just as well?

Once I got past this obstacle, I noticed that cooking times varied depending on the type of microwave oven used. For those with 1100 watts of power, one sandwich took 2 minutes and 15 seconds, while “lower wattage/compact microwaves” would require a minute longer. The small desktop appliance at work seemed pretty compact, but I had nothing to compare it to. It definitely wasn’t the room-sized monster I imagined an 1100-watt machine would be. I split the difference and zapped it for 2:45.

The next bit of doubt came along after the cooking and two minutes of cooling time were done. The crisping sleeve was apparently meant to double as a plate substitute. “Fold and lock bottom flaps of the sleeve, peel away top tab as you eat,” read the package.

“Crisp and carry!” said larger type on the sleeve itself. “Find us on FACEBOOK at facebook.com/leanpockets.”

So I was going to have to make a fool of myself on the world’s largest social network? All my friends were going to see that I couldn’t comprehend the origami required to enjoy a simple lunch? I don’t think so.

I slid the sandwich out of the sleeve, impaled it on a fork, and ate it like a popsicle. Despite this blatant disregard of protocol, it was pretty good.

Now I had the confidence to proceed toward even more difficult preparation methods. I tried the Lean Pockets Seasoned Crust Grilled Chicken Mediterranean stuffed sandwich. It too had a crisping sleeve (or “cajetilla de cocinar”), though it was a much bigger version that I wasn’t required to eat out of.

The real test came with the Lean Cuisine Chicken, Spinach and Mushroom panini. This meal not only used a “REVOLUTIONARY GRILLING® Tray,” something that sounded like it came right out of Col. Qaddafi’s attempts to quell his nation’s Arab Spring revolts. It also demanded that you mold the carton itself into a “platform, then align panini halves, edge to edge, along the vertical indent in the ‘REVOLUTIONARY GRILLING® Tray'”. After two minutes and 45 seconds, not counting a consult with professors at MIT’s school of engineering, the sandwich would be ready.

Somehow, I managed to fake my way through it. I scraped the exploded remnants of the lunch from the corners of the microwave, heaped them onto a paper plate and, as instructed, I enjoyed.

Monkeys would be proud of me.

A savory delight (once you figure how to cook it)

Enjoying “Words” with “Friends”

May 24, 2011

Springtime temperatures are rapidly becoming summer-like. Kids are just about out of school for their annual break.

For the sports-minded, it’s a great time to head outdoors. There’s nothing like the crack of a baseball bat and huge expanses of green fields to fire up the competitive spirit.

It’s the perfect time of year to sequester yourself in a cool, dark room and crank up a game of Words With Friends.

WWF — formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation and, before that, the World Wildlife Fund — is a popular online diversion in which I’m majorly kicking butt. It’s a crossword game just different enough from Scrabble to keep its makers from being hauled into court. (One difference, for example: the words “copyright” and “infringement” are worth a total of 96 points in WWF while they’re worth only 92 in Scrabble.)

I’ve been playing the game on my iPad for several months now. Before that, I got my Scrabble fix in the most pathetic way possible, playing a desktop game alone against computer-generated avatars with names like “Elite” and “Master”. It was so embarrassing, I’d occasionally assume a disguise by creating new players for myself with names like “Davis1” and “Hitler”.

Now, I’m involved in a number of healthy interpersonal relationships with actual online people. We laugh, we chat, we commiserate over lousy racks of Hawaiian words like “EIAOUEU” (a kind of rice and plantain mixture) and “AOEUUUAU” (the last thing you say before being crushed by a tsunami). But mostly, we feign surprise at my extraordinary ability to crush them on a regular basis.

A few of my regular opponents — or “friends,” in the parlance of the game — are people I actually know in real life. “Era101” is a top manager in the New York office of my company who is so addicted to the game that she recently made several moves against me while vacationing in Paris. Another regular is my niece, a med student just back from a humanitarian mission to Uganda during which she helped treat end-stage AIDS patients and played the word “GROTTOS” for 26 points.

Perhaps the most curious relationship I have is with “Puba99,” a young coworker who sits four stations down from me. She’s a shy, quiet type and I’m a taciturn misanthrope so we never speak to each other in real life. In the game, however, we’re best buds, exchanging “GG’s” (good game) and “OMG’s” like a couple of giggly teenagers.

I know little about the rest of my regular opponents other than what I can glean from the name they’ve chosen for themselves. “TheNameIsDude” is, I assume, a Californian, and he offers me the strongest competition. We’re currently locked in a tight 313-303 match in which he’s played words like “DHAK” and “UNDEVOUT” while I’m waiting for my next turn to hit him with a “XGRRWYI” (a sloth-like tree bear from Peru and Ecuador, or perhaps a viral infection).

Others in my circle of friends include “CoastalHD,” “php67,” “Jack-of-all. No master,” “Mary0121” (who I imagine to be a 90-year-old born in January of 1921) and “Crmj3,” who I playfully refer to as “The 3 Man” though he may in fact be a precocious preschooler.

As for the game itself, it closely resembles conventional Scrabble except for certain letter point values and the position of bonus squares on the board. One quirky difference is WWF’s position on terms of a scatological nature. Unlike desktop Scrabble, it won’t allow words like “cum” and “tit” (I’m guessing it’s because game-makers don’t want to sully up the Internet with obscenities). However, it accepts “shat” and “poop” with no problem, though it shot down my attempt to add a “y” to the end of “poop” with an insincere “sorry, that is not an acceptable word” message.

I’m tempted to complain to World Wrestling’s founder Vince McMahon that if it’s acceptable to hit half-nude mesomorphs with folding chairs, it should be okay to play “poopy.”

If any of my readers our there would care to challenge me to a game some time, just search for “Davis1153” and invite me to play. If you enter a chat message referencing WordPress, I’ll promise not to play a “ZA” or “QI” against you, though I do reserve the right to smack you with a “DJINN”.

I was picked for The Rapture!

May 23, 2011

I could’ve used the extra rest this weekend but instead decided to tackle a bunch of long-neglected chores. I cleared out some old magazines from our overloaded coffee table. I made a trip to the dump. I replaced the filter on our air-conditioner and got caught up on my laundry.

Also, I was raptured.

I know — I couldn’t believe it either. I hardly seem like the type. You’d think I’d be one of the ones left behind. They say the Lord acts in mysterious ways and I guess this — and the continued existence of the Bravo network — proves it.

Like most of the educated world, I had pooh-poohed the predictions of the elderly zealot from California who proclaimed the world would end at 6 p.m. Saturday. Global earthquakes followed by the ascension of a few million true believers followed by five months of tribulation seemed pretty unlikely. (I dread a summer full of humidity and bad TV as much as the next person, but it hardly qualifies as a “tribulation”.)

I had almost put the whole thing out of my mind by Saturday afternoon when I’d finally taken a few minutes to lie on the couch and watch the Preakness. As the ponies pounded down the backstretch, I felt that primal power of their hooves thundering against the turf. Then I realized the thundering seemed louder than usual, and might instead be a looming storm outside. I stepped out onto the porch to see if we were having an earthquake.

What I saw next amazed me. At first, I thought it was some of the vultures that’d been circling over our neighborhood since that possum had been hit by a car Friday. Then I looked closer and saw what appeared to be Mr. Marshall, from the house two doors down, rising slowly skyward, still clutching his cane and the two dogs he routinely walks around dinner time each night. They were being summoned to heaven! (Even the cockapoos!)

I started back into the house to warn my family about what was happening when I too felt an upward pull. Suddenly, I was off the ground and rising up past the treetops. It was the strangest sensation I ever felt — like I had been fitted into an invisible harness for my journey skyward. It even gave me a wedgie, although since it was of the celestial variety, it wasn’t uncomfortable at all.

Normally, I’m afraid of heights but this experience filled me with peace. It did get a little chilly as I approached the lower reaches of the ionosphere. The guilt I’d felt earlier in the day about lazing around in sweatclothes quickly evaporated as the fleece served to protect me from the elements. I started to worry about getting enough oxygen this high up, yet as soon as I did, the clouds parted and I saw the magnificent gates of heaven.

Considering how many people were being raptured at the same time, the line wasn’t that bad. Vendors had set up some kiosks where the line snaked around the Heavenly Palace so you could buy hotdogs, cool drinks, even souvenir t-shirts (my favorite: “I’ve Been Raptured And All I Got Left Is This Crummy Soul”) while you waited. I could just barely see the turnstiles in the entranceway and God seemed well-staffed to handle the surge in business.

When I got to the front of the line, I expected to encounter the legendary St. Peter who would review my accounts and make a final determination that truly I was invited. Instead, a man whose nametag identified him as “Saint-in-Training Jerrod” was on duty. He asked my name and made a brief notation on the scroll he held, then gestured behind him saying “right this way.” His manner was efficient but he seemed bored. I’m guessing he was a temp.

As soon as I got my hand stamped, I was through the gates and there it was — the Face of God. All the people who had gone in before me were nowhere to be seen. Either they had hustled off to some especially popular corner of Paradise (like the folks at Disney World make a beeline for Space Mountain) or else they had already been immediately transformed into a spectral realm, shedding their corporal being for one instead made of pure energy.

The Lord motioned for me to take a seat next to him. It was at the right hand of God, which seemed like a good sign. We sat there speechless for several long minutes. He was hogging the armrest that our two seats shared, but I figured I better not make an issue out of it. Soon, He turned to me and spoke.

“You’re probably wondering how you qualified to be here,” He said in what I’d describe as an Australian accent.

“Frankly, I am a little surprised,” I said. “I’m not a criminal or a Republican or anything like that, but I didn’t think I’d be good enough to rank among the chosen to be saved.”

“Well, you’re not,” He said crisply. “But our human resources guy is making us do this whole ‘diversity’ thing, so I’ve tried to mix in some non-believers with the rest.”

“So, you’re saying You really don’t want me?” I asked.

“Not really,” He answered.

“Tell me,” I said, leaning in closely in an attempt to gain a frank assessment of the situation. “Is everlasting life and eternal bliss really all it’s cracked up to be?”

“Depends on your tastes,” He offered. “Some find all the purity a tad boring. It’s a contented life, that’s for sure, but some might say it’s lacking in excitement.”

“So what do I face back on Earth if I decide this isn’t a good fit for me?” I asked.

“Well, there will be five months of what we call the tribulation. Normally, that means the Earth becomes a veritable hellscape of war and want. Under current conditions, however, it won’t be that much different from what you already have down there,” He said.

“Then what happens after five months?”

“That would put us around Halloween,” He said.

“Yeah,” I pressed, “but what about the billions of damned souls left behind?”

“Right after Halloween would come the end of the world,” He said. “About the time they start putting up Christmas decorations in the stores.”

“What will that look like?”

“You’ll see the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, representing Conquest, Slaughter, Famine and Death,” He said. “They’ll ride throughout the land, signaling that the end of times has arrived.”

“That’s a lot of area to cover for four horsemen,” I countered.

“They’re really fast,” He said.

“You know, I think I’d just as soon take my chances back down below,” I said. “I know it’s only five months, but there’s this project at work I wanted to finish up, and we already have a deposit on a cabin in the mountains for June. Would that be okay with You?”

“Suit yourself,” He said. “Jerrod, this one’s going back. Get the skydiving equipment ready.”

I thanked the Lord God Almighty for His time and made my way back through the turnstiles. I was directed to the loading area labeled “RETURNS,” fitted into my gear and stepped off the platform. Within just a few hair-raising moments, I floated softly back to the surface, within a block of my house.

By the time I made it back to the couch in front of my TV set, the Preakness was over. Shackleford had held on for a narrow victory over Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. Once again, there’d be no Triple Crown winner.

By the way, Conquest, Slaughter, Famine and Death all finished out of the money.

Return from The Rapture

Revisited: Sorry about that whole vulgarity thing

May 22, 2011

I’d like to formally apologize for an earlier post. In a vulgarity-laced send-up of an Obama gone wild with anger over the Gulf oil spill, I used more profanity in one day than I had previously used in one year. I employed no less than six “f-bombs” (three of which were modified by your “mother”), several “a-holes,” and a shitload of “shit’s”.

I’d like to apologize, but actually the blue language sent my readership up 35% over the previous day.

Seriously, though, I am sorry for my failed judgment. I know that dirty words make for easy laughs. I like to think that my attempts at humor are a little more cerebral than that, at least the parts that don’t discuss road kill (Wednesday’s post), the hotness of our state’s next governor (Monday), or a misunderstanding of the word “fallacious” (Friday). I generally keep my work studiously clean, unlike the back seat of my car and my thoughts about a certain assistant grocery store manager.

It was my faithful readers who were helpful enough to point out the error of my ways. Paul Dixon, the college roommate who helped me first discover the lure of the forbidden in the works of classical composer Dieterich Buxtehude, commented simply “Dern, Davis, lay that satire on with a trowel, why don’tcha?”, then added “well, it’s your blog, not mine. Better days ahead.” Another reader, Tom1950, said the Obama piece was “just a touch over the top. The language doesn’t bother me at all, but the association … with our head of state is pretty raw. More shocking that funny in my opinion.”

I also got a kind note from BiggerFaster recommending a “mail extension product,” but frankly I’m fairly satisfied with my current postal service.

I knew the post in question (read it here, if you dare: https://davisw.wordpress.com/2010/06/08/fake-news-president-finally-goes-nuts/) was pushing the limits of good taste. I told myself, however, that it was not gratuitous blasphemy I was using, but rather it was critical to the point I attempted to make. Using the real naughty words was key to mocking the criticism President Obama was getting for not showing more passion about the oil spill. It’s the same valid explanation made all the time by Hollywood actors and actresses who normally eschew on-screen proctological exams unless they’re essential to character development and the director’s artistic vision.

I’m also sorry I’m making this apology in the same week that veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas was making her mea culpa for wondering why all the Israelis don’t move back to Germany. Humility can be quite the sexy thing when done by the likes of an Eliot Spitzer or a Serena Williams, and I’d prefer to be sharing the humble pie with a couple of firecrackers like those two. This person …

 …is “sorry” on so many levels that it’s easy to lose count.

Next time I feel the need to launch a string of expletives in this space, I’ll follow the advice of Tom1950. We had a nice little correspondence on the subject of my indiscretion, and he suggested that fonts with dingbats like those that depict “cussing shown in comic strips” can make thoroughly adequate substitutes. I’m not a fan of the traditional @#%$&! you’ll so often see there, because these days it looks more like a Twitter account than a swear word. But the WordPress editing program does offer an exhaustive suite of special characters that might suit my purposes perfectly.

So to those of you impatient with the president’s cool and reasoned approach to dealing with this environmental catastrophe off the Gulf coast, I say “ξδΩΦζβΣ”. I just hope I didn’t call you an “bastard” in Greek.