Posts Tagged ‘thoughts’

A look at the turkey

November 23, 2011

As part of my occasional series titled “Lives of the Dead,” today’s post will look at the turkey.

This fabled American bird takes its place at the table with the likes of Christopher Columbus, Caesar Augustus, St. Patrick and Martin Luther as subjects of a DavisW’s blog profile. Not dead as a species but with plenty of specific casualties by this time tomorrow, the turkey becomes the first to be a living topic in this space. Let’s take a brief look at its history before we examine its innards over pumpkin pie and coffee at dinner Thursday.

In a way, it’s fitting the turkey be granted this exceptional treatment. As much as his species is appreciated as both a symbol of gratitude and a meat product, there have been no individual turkeys to rise above the rest and distinguish themselves. Other animals at least have had animated anthropomorphs to speak out on their behalf — Donald Duck, Porky Pigg, Sylvester the Cat, Fernando Lamas, the late Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.). There’s never been a single famous turkey.

It’s probably due in part to what’s come to be known in zoology circles as the “K Factor”. The K Factor is that rule which says any animal with a “K” in its name is automatically funny and disrespected. Your monkeys, your donkeys, your yaks and your kangaroos all suffer from this syndrome and can’t get anyone to take them seriously. We laugh at the poor dumb turkey even as we enjoy his succulent thighs simply because it’s fun to say anything that rhymes with “jerky” or “quirky”.

The turkey first came to the attention of an increasingly hungry Western Civilization when 16th-century Europeans exploring America encountered a bird similar to their familiar guineafowl. Since their larger poultry were imported into continental markets through Central Europe from Turkey, they thought of calling the wild Meleagris gallopavo a “Serbian” but eventually settled instead on “turkey”. (That’s why we also get the word “grease” from Greece, and the word “chili” from Chile).

The wild turkey can weigh up to 100 pounds and has a wingspan of almost six feet. They can fly for short distances, mainly when they’re being pursued by predators. Turkeys have a distinctive fleshy wattle that hangs from the underside of their beak which, when combined with their huge breasts, make them resemble actress Pamela Anderson. (You can tell the two apart because the birds have too much sense to go anywhere near Kid Rock). They also have another protuberance growing off the top of their beaks and dangling off to the side called a “snood”. Links to recipes for these appendages, including the famous Wattle Supreme and the underappreciated Stewed Snood, will follow this article.

There’s a fairly extensive fossil record of the early turkeys, starting from the Miocene Epoch over 20 million years ago. Ancient remains have been found throughout the Western Hemisphere and, when they are, inevitably the wishbone is broken in two. The Aztecs called the creature huexolotl, and it was associated with their “trickster god” Tezcatlipoca when it wasn’t being killed and eaten. (Even then, the turkey was laughed at. Aztecs would’ve told each other “that wacky huexolotl and his pal Tezcatlipoca are at it again” if they could’ve pronounced either of the words.)

It’s only been in the last century or so that turkeys became a popular form of poultry. Though it’s likely the meat was served at the first Thanksgiving attended by the Pilgrims and the Indians, that’s probably only because they kept running around the food preparation area. It was actually too expensive to become a staple at holiday meals until just recently. Before World War II, goose or beef was more likely to comprise the common holiday dinner.

When the wild turkey was domesticated, its life became both easier and harder. Today’s birds could live to be ten years old if they weren’t slaughtered at about 16 weeks. They grow up on a factory farm, bred to have magnificent white feathers to make their carcasses more appealing. The male is the tom, the female is the hen, and the baby is a poult, though they don’t spend near enough time together as a family. Mature toms are too large to “achieve natural fertilization,” as Wikipedia delicately puts it, so their semen is manually collected and hens are inseminated artificially. Neither much care for this arrangement, but what are they going to do? Break out on their own and find a nice apartment they could afford on a turkey salary?

Turkeys are popularly believed to be unintelligent. Claims are made that during a rainstorm, they’ll look up at the falling precipitation until they drown. Recent research has shown, however, that many aren’t simply stupid but instead suffer from a genetic nervous disorder known as “tetanic torticollar spasms” that causes them to look skyward. Like human parents embarrassed by the poor performance of their offspring, turkey parents can point to a disorder similar to ADHD as the reason their brats are running around like madmen, toppling lamps and unable to stay focused for more than a few moments.

The turkey is now solidly a part of American lore, especially at this time of the year. Schoolchildren trace outstretched hands to create likenesses of the animal for fall craft projects. Coworkers abandon casual conversation in the breakroom and opt instead to gobble at each other. The turkey lobby brings one lucky tom to Washington so it can receive the traditional presidential pardon, though in an attempt to be seen as moving toward the political center after recent election losses, President Obama is considering slitting its throat this year.

By Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, all we really care about is how to prepare the bird for dinner. Available in the market as either fresh or frozen, the meat typically requires several hours baking or roasting in the oven to become fully cooked. A recent trend has seen the rise of a new method, deep-frying the turkey in an outdoor vat of hot oil for 45 minutes or until the entire set-up explodes and is next seen on YouTube under the title “Butterball goes fireball.”

Ultimately, the dish is surrounded by cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potatoes, corn, and whatever that awful casserole is that your sister-in-law keeps bringing year after year. Extended families come together to share an all-too-brief moment of togetherness before heading back to their separate lives watching televised images of Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions facing their own slaughter. Soon, the notorious “tryptophan coma” descends on the gathering like a cloud of carbon monoxide until participants awake to find themselves waiting in line for Walmart to open at 2 in the morning.

As we pause during the next 24 hours to give thanks for all the bounty we share, let’s not forget to express appreciation to the noble turkey for his contribution. If Ben Franklin had his way, the creature would be our national bird, seen all over our money and other national emblems instead of all over our shirts and tablecloths. And we’d be eating bald eagles for dinner, arguing over who gets the bald spot rather than who gets the drumstick.

I’ve had deep-fried eagle before and, trust me, it’s not something you’d want to eat.

Note: To read more about Lives of the Dead, please visit the following posts:

https://davisw.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/happy-columbus-day-sort-of/

https://davisw.wordpress.com/2010/08/13/lives-of-the-dead-augustus-father-of-august/

https://davisw.wordpress.com/2009/03/16/lives-of-the-dead-st-patrick/

https://davisw.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/lives-of-the-dead-martin-luther/

He’d say “Happy Thanksgiving,” but the snood keeps getting in the way
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Thanksgiving comes early in the office

November 22, 2011

The turkey carcass sits mangled on the serving table, looking like the victim of a bear attack. The sweet potato casserole has been denuded of its marshmallow topping, but you could probably scrape a few more servings out of the corners of the pan if you tried. The stuffing is completely gone, serving its stated purpose of stuffing those who now lounge around the edges of this scene, barely moving except for the effort it takes to moan.

No, you haven’t been transported several days into the future by the magic of the blog. This is the scene I left behind at yesterday’s office celebration of Thanksgiving, long before most of us will commemorate the occasion.

The corporate calendar of holidays is not something most of us are aware of until we walk into work one dark January day and discover we’ve neglected to bring the green bagels for St. Patrick’s Day, which the outside world celebrates on March 17. Maybe I exaggerate a little, but not much.

The government has imposed Monday observance of the more minor holidays like Presidents, Labor and Memorial days. Christmas and New Year’s are complicated by the fact that the days before them — the Eves — are in many ways more important than the actual holidays themselves. Many human resources departments have come up with the concept of a “floating” holiday for individuals to use in the religious observance of their choosing, such as Yom Kippur, Kwanzaa or Talk Like a Pirate Day. People in my mostly Christian office, for example, use their optional holiday for the day after Easter, prompting one observer to wonder if the “floating” had something to do with Jesus’ ascension into heaven.

I guess having the Thanksgiving potluck yesterday made some sense on a gut level, considering few of us would want to gorge like that two days in a row if it were scheduled for Wednesday. The only opening left on the sign-up sheet when I got to it was “salad,” which seemed very un-Thanksgiving-like but worked for me since it was so easy to prepare (take one head of lettuce, rip to shreds, serves 20). Management was providing the ham and turkey, and everything else was being brought in by the staff, who would have a chance to dazzle coworkers with their best recipes, many of which involved green beans, cream soup and those crunchy onion things.

The sit-down time was scheduled for 11 a.m. so the organizers had the better part of the morning to set up the centerpieces, warm and then re-warm the hot dishes, and tempt us all with the smells of the season. This was to be an affair that combined our staff with workers from the front office, who we sometimes pass in the restrooms but about whom we know little else.

As the serving time arrived, I was unfortunate enough to be just outside their offices when a manager called out for me to summon them. At first I was confused about who exactly he meant, and nearly beckoned the 200-plus temporary work crew from the warehouse. That would’ve been a horrible mistake, certain to result in stolen plastic cutlery and tiny, tiny portions for everyone. Still, I didn’t want to call for these front-office folks I didn’t know (“hey, it’s the guy from the bathroom – what’s he want?”) so I went to hide in my car for a few minutes.

I hoped this would have the added benefit of allowing me to miss the inevitable speech-giving and prayer that would precede the food consumption. But as the schedule started running behind, I made it just in time to hear the department head note that though these are difficult times, we still have much to be thankful for, followed by a brief blessing.

Not being a currently practicing Christian myself, I’ve always felt awkward during this portion of the proceedings. It’s not because I take offense at having others’ religious beliefs imposed on me; rather, I’m bothered that I use the respectful silence to think of the sarcastic prayer I’d be tempted to offer if I’m ever called upon. Instead of beginning with “dear Jesus” or “holy Father,” the sacrilegious scamp in me wants to begin with a “good God” and then launch into several other James Brown references like papa’s brand new bag and how good I feel (so good). Fortunately for everyone, Edna does a nice reverent offering, and it’s finally time to chow down.

Office chairs were pulled up to the long row of covered work tables. After people made their way down the buffet, carefully gauging the decreasing capacity of their Chinettes against the promise of what appeared further down the line, we were told to squeeze into a seat and begin the scheduled conviviality. The randomness and closeness of this seating arrangement, not to mention my very real fear of being injured by flying elbows, caused me to linger toward the end of the buffet line in the hope the table would be too full. I lucked out and was able to return instead to my work station to eat, where I got a kernel of corn stuck between “F7” and “F8” on my keyboard.

I genuinely enjoyed the food, as did everyone else. I was also able to enjoy the air of warmth and geniality in the room without actually having to get any of it on me. We didn’t have any holiday music piped through the intercom as we’ll do at Christmas — primarily I guess because there isn’t any, except for the less-than-festive “Turkey in the Straw” – but there was a certain atmosphere that for a moment almost made me give some actual thanks.

I managed to avoid overeating, which was good since I had a long drive home to navigate in the next hour and I didn’t want to sleep through it. Others in our department weren’t so lucky, as they staggered back to their desks to face another three hours of duty. The combination of turkey, heavy carbohydrates and the kind of workload you might expect at a financial services firm during a lingering downturn must’ve been as tough to handle as an Ambien/opium blend injected directly into your forehead.

At least there were no Detroit Lions to send them over the edge and into lethal coma.

Turkey time at the office

November 18, 2011

The food for the office Thanksgiving luncheon was all set up and ready to be eaten. Workers summoned for the feast from different departments stood about awkwardly, hungry but mindful of the need to wait for some kind of “GO!” command.

First, the district manager had a few words to say. He welcomed the 50 or so white-collar staffers, and spoke of an old tradition that he greatly admired. He’d heard of a family that asked everyone in attendance at their holiday dinners to talk briefly of something they were thankful for in the past year.

A few sidelong glances were exchanged among the famished professionals — “at this rate, we’re never going to eat” seemed to be the unspoken consensus. The manager sensed the crowd’s reluctance to talk about home and family matters at work.

“Anybody have anything they’d like to share?” he asked.

There was some lame muttering from the back about being thankful for friends. Another person said they had suffered a lot in the last year while recovering from a serious motorcycle accident, then realized this wasn’t much of a reason for thanks and instead turned it into a “deep gratitude” that another accident hasn’t happened again.

I felt embarrassed by the silence and sorry for the well-intentioned manager, and almost spoke up myself. I was going to say I was just thankful to have a job in these difficult times, then realized it might prompt him to wonder “why is he still working here?” and decided to hold my tongue. When it became apparent that no one else was going to speak — unless we wanted to ask the people ringing our phones off the hook while the receptionist was away microwaving the green bean casserole — he moved on.

After a pause, he again looked around the room and asked if anybody wanted to say “a word” before we began eating.

Were this any other region of the country besides the South, the word people might’ve offered would be something like “c’mon” or “let’s go, already.” Down here, though, “a word,” especially when requested immediately prior to the consumption of food, means a prayer. Finally someone accepted the challenge, and asked everyone to bow their heads. I used the opportunity to study what a nice pair of running shoes the person next to me recently purchased, and how well their color coordinated with the office carpet.

The prayer (prayist?) proceeded through an acknowledgement of the usual litany of Christian superheroes. He thanked an unseen timekeeper who granted us the opportunity to join together. He gave a brief preview of the available entrees, specifically mentioning both turkey and ham. He said he did all this “in Jesus’ name” (though I bet he’d be resuming his usual role as Bobby in just a minute), then everybody said “amen.”

I’m really glad that I, an agnostic, have never been forced to deliver an impromptu invocation at a company function. I’ve had years of Lutheran training and could probably recall a doxology or two if pressed. I think I could fake my way through it.

Actually, I’ve been known to invoke the various names of the Almighty and His Posse on numerous occasions throughout the average workday. I’m not sure how good a prayer it would make, but I could improvise something like the following.

Good God
I can’t believe the last person to use the copier didn’t hit the reset button when they were through.
Now I have 50 copies when I only wanted two.
And they left blue paper in the legal tray.
Christ Almighty
Those people on the night shift have been using our creamer again.
And doesn’t that guy over in Legal realize that you’re supposed to pay to be in the coffee fund?
Mary, Mother of God
Why have these maintenance people vacuuming while I’m on this important call?
They now wear portable motors and bags on their backs.
I wish those were jetpacks and they’d fly the hell away.
Sweet Jesus
I’m out of sticky notes again.
And I think someone slid a different chair over here, because this one just doesn’t feel right.
Is there no respect for personal property in this place?
Holy Cow
They’re cranking up the thermostat again even though it’s already 150 degrees in here.
These women need to ditch the sleeveless tops already or else bring their Snuggies to work.
God Damn It
It looks like there’s another network outage coming in five minutes.
Tech says it’ll only take about thirty seconds, but by the time you have to restart and bring all your programs back up, you might as well call it a day.
They’re probably doing some upgrade that blocks even more websites.
Jesus H. Christ
Those new paper towels in the men’s room are so thin, they’re practically toilet paper.
I’m sure it’s cheaper than the old stuff, but don’t they realize we’re using twice as much?
I am sick of tiny disintegrated shreds of saturated paper sticking to my hands.
God Almighty, what is wrong with these people?

 

Sweet Lord

Watching too many TV commercials

November 17, 2011

Open with exterior shot of long white limo driving down a country road. Graphic points to car’s “blacked-out windows”.

Announcer overdub: “A lot of people don’t think food companies are honest about the source of their ingredients.”

Cut to interior shot of focus group sitting around a conference room table. Facilitator asks: “Do you think Domino’s wants you to know where their ingredients come from?”

Hispanic woman: “You should be able to know.”

Anglo woman: “Yeah. With Domino’s you assume the worst, so it would be reassuring to at least believe the ingredients are carbon-based.”

Black man: “I don’t know about that crust, man. Kinda reminds me of chipboard.”

Walls of conference room fall away.

Asian man: “Oh, my god. It’s an earthquake! The building is collapsing! Hand me that pizza so its rock-hard shell can protect my head from falling debris!”

Collapsing walls reveal exterior shot of expansive paper mill. Focus group surprised to find it’s now inside a large warehouse. Safety-helmeted plant worker approaches group and speaks:

“No, it’s not chipboard. Domino’s crust is made of only the finest corrugated cardboard, formed right here in this mill from virgin stands of California hardwood.”

Hispanic woman: “What’s that horrible smell?”

Worker: “That’s the smell of raw wood pulp being boiled and processed to make the grade-A cardboard that forms the base of our famous pizza.”

Black man: “So that’s how I can now order two medium-sized two-topping pizzas for only $5.99 each. You save on production costs by cooking the packaging right into the pie.”

Worker: “That’s right. By eliminating the box and building the pizza out of triple-laminated paper products, we save you money while also offering you the best quality possible.”

Announcer overdub: “Be sure to visit behindthepizza.com to see what else we’re baking into our product that you wish you didn’t know.”

Anglo woman: “I had a friend who worked at a Domino’s once. She said it’s not what’s behind the pizza you should worry about, it’s what’s behind the ovens, behind the counter, in the bathroom, under the fingernails of the workers. But seeing this paper mill somehow makes me feel better. Or at least light-headed. What are those chemicals I’m smelling, anyway?”

Asian man: “I always thought Domino’s was only slightly better than the rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and the subsequent world war that killed over 60 million people. My opinion of them is now much higher, considering the paycheck I’ll be getting for this commercial.”

Announced overdub: “Order your all-natural Domino’s pizza today.”

Small disclaimer type at bottom of screen: “Not responsible if delivery man slays your family. Our drivers carry less than $20 in change and make less than $15 per day. Must purchase at least 50 pizzas to receive advertised price. Must specifically ask for ‘limited time offer’ and use a cartoonish high-pitched squeak to place your order. Prices, participation, delivery area and charges may vary. We reserve the right to substitute a picture of a pizza for a real pizza.”

Possible alternate ending for release later in current advertising campaign: Focus group questions quality of meat toppings, and conference room walls fall away to reveal a slaughterhouse. Panicked cows cry out as they’re stunned before butchering. Focus group participants comment favorably on freshness of meat. “You can almost taste the blood,” one says. “Or is that the tomato sauce?”

+++

Fed up with partisan bickering among the nation’s three branches of government, Americans appear ready to install a new regime headed by the three most prominent insurance pitchmen currently on commercial television.

An all-powerful triumverate consisting of Progressive’s “Flo,” Nationwide’s “The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in the World,” and State Farm’s “Vaguely Mexican-Looking Guy Outside a Coffee Shop” has agreed to rule the land with a sympathetic but iron fist.

“I’m ready for any change at all that will get the Republicans and Democrats out of Washington,” said Alyce Jones of Chicago. “Those insurance folks offer a goofy sincerity that seems right for these troubling times.”

“The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in the World has really come into his own since being lured out of his backwoods cabin and back into insurance sales,” said Rob Fallon of Las Vegas. “He’s convinced me that Nationwide wants to know everything about me so they can tailor a product that meets my needs. Have you seen the one where he’s dealing with a lady named ‘Pam,’ and he offers to change the name of the company to ‘Nationpam’? That’s the type of can-do spirit we need if we’re ever to convince the Chinese to allow their currency to float on the open market.”

“Like a good neighbor, that Mexican-looking guy is there, always hanging outside of cafes and introducing people to State Farm agents,” said Ronald Henderson of Atlanta. “He puts a real friendly face on the problem of illegal immigration. I’d rather see him outside a Starbucks than offering to do day labor outside a Home Depot.”

The trio would govern by fiat, announcing a new round of federal laws several times an hour on all the major networks. Viewers who don’t follow their every command will be banished to a world where modern insurance products don’t exist, and yet people somehow survive by simply being careful about how they live their lives.

Tentative plans call for Flo to head up the nation’s judiciary as a one-person replacement for the Supreme Court. The World’s Greatest Spokesperson will replace both houses of Congress, and the Mexican guy will become the nation’s first Hispanic president.

“Flo’s perky haircut and headband will look just darling accented by judicial robes,” said Jones. “And the Nationwide Guy, with that signature blue rotary phone hanging from his hip, should be able to reach across the aisle in both the House and Senate to compromise with himself. I’m finally excited about the direction our nation is headed.”

“I think the new president is hunky,” said Phyllis Lee of Oklahoma City. “That could carry some real weight in the START Treaty negotiations with the Russians.”

Cancelling the Gutter Guy

November 16, 2011

Sometimes, voicemail can be a blessing. Other times, it only delays the inevitable.

Yesterday morning I had to call and cancel an appointment with a pushy salesman trying to get me to buy new gutters for my house. Under the mistaken impression that his firm would simply clean my gutters rather than propose a whole new installation, I made this poor man drive all the way from Charlotte to Rock Hill last week. I dashed his planned two-hour sales pitch about 15 minutes in, when I had decided that I (and he) urgently needed to be someplace else.

To peel him off of me, I had to promise he could come back when I’d be better prepared to carve out a good eighth of my waking hours to learn about the advantages of Guardian Gutters (or perhaps it was Gutter Guardians). Now, only hours from the appointed time, I was going to back out.

I called his office and listened carefully to their voicemail options, as it seems they had changed recently. Patience paid off when I learned that option 6 was to cancel a sales presentation. It looked like my rejection could be done automatically.

Unfortunately, after a few rings on the other end of the line, a machine belonging to “Ed Reynolds” picked up and claimed he was out of the office but would return my call when he returned. I didn’t dare simply leave a message and hope that my salesman, some non-Ed Reynolds guy whose name I think was Mike Something, would get word in time to abort his 2 p.m. appointment. So I hung up and re-dialed the main number.

This time, I chose option 2, to speak with an office manager. I mentally rehearsed the reasons I would give for ditching a perfectly serviceable gutter guy on such late notice:

• My aunt’s recently diagnosed hair cancer looked like it was spreading to her eyebrows and mustache, and family had been advised to prepare for the worst, plus
• I was expecting an urgent call from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, plus
• I damaged my hearing at a Mannheim Steamroller concert and couldn’t hear a word he was saying, plus
• It’s pretty hectic so close to the holidays, maybe we can reschedule after the new year.

The office manager was all business regarding my request and, to my relief, she didn’t demand an explanation. She did press for a January meeting, and I agreed, but didn’t settle on a year. When they do call back to remind me of that perceived commitment, I’ll deny all knowledge of gutters, eaves, fascia and soffits, and will adamantly insist that roofing in general is all a big hoax.

I did, however, want to make sure that the salesman was absolutely, positively not coming. I didn’t fancy the thought of again having to resist his sales superpowers and escort him off my property at the same time.

“You’ve definitely got the right appointment cancelled?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “You’re in Rock Hill, on Brookshadow Drive. The 2 p.m.”

That’s the one. I thanked her for her time, apologized for the inconvenience, and ended up pretty confident that the salesman wouldn’t return that afternoon.

I got off early from work so I could be home in time to lock all the doors, draw all the curtains and hide under the covers of my bed until at least 3:30. Just in case.

From this angle, the gutters don’t look that bad after all.

Wallowing in the gutters

November 15, 2011

I am not what you would call “handy.” I do have hands — two, I’m proud to say — but I use them primarily for eating, typing and pointing at ugly people, not for do-it-yourself jobs around the house. My idea of a home-improvement project is buying a big-screen TV or spraying a room with air freshener.

Somehow, I’ve still managed to be a homeowner for most of my adult life without having the structure collapse around me. I’ve accomplished this through a strategic combination of not caring when the small stuff breaks, and hiring a contractor to take care of the bigger repairs.

If the sliding glass door is permanently stuck or the lights don’t work above the vanity, I can adapt to the small inconvenience. The tile on the floor of our half-bath is warping from shower seepage that may eventually rot the flooring, but who can name the day I’ll slide nude and lathered into the crawlspace beneath our home? We might all be living under North Korean rule by the time, which would make a hole in my bathroom floor pale by comparison.

As long as the embarrassing demise of my residence is happening in private, I can look the other way. But when it is taking place outside in public view, there are certain covenants in our subdivision’s homeowners association agreement that require me to give a shit.

I’ve had to deal with two of these issues in recent weeks. First, a windstorm sheared a backyard hardwood in half, dropping about 25 feet of lumber into a stand of shrubs. We called a tree service to offer an estimate of what it would take to fix. In just a few minutes, the tree guy told us he could cut down the rest of the trunk and haul everything away for $350. He made it sound so simple that we hired him on the spot, and within a few days the tree was gone. Once again, we were in compliance with the provision that commercial logging of old-growth timber should be kept to a minimum in Brookshadow Acres.

While we were outside and looking up, we also noticed that the gutters meant to collect rainwater from our roof had become packed full of fallen autumn leaves. I could scale a ladder and waste a perfectly good Saturday afternoon digging decayed biomass out of the trough, or I could pay someone to do it. Much as I might enjoy the satisfaction of going elbow-deep into a 30-yard tube of acorns, mud and squirrel remains, I’d rather hire some poor bastard who does this for a living.

I noticed that our next-door neighbor recently had some gutter maintenance done on his home by a company called Guardian Gutters. I took down the phone number and set up an appointment for the next day to meet with a gutter professional.

Mike arrived promptly at 2 p.m. and barged into our sunroom with the breezy confidence of a well-polished salesman. He admired our decor, repeated my name frequently to show that he had remembered it, admired the decor again and remarked that — imagine the coincidence! — his wife was also named Beth. He had already launched into his carefully practiced sales pitch when I reminded him that the gutters were affixed to the exterior of the house, something you’d think a pro would know. I ushered him back outside, where I felt it’d be easier for me to run away if things got out of hand.

We stood shivering in a cold breeze as he began his presentation. The modern roof is the culmination of eons of trial-and-error by ancestors looking for the ideal way to shelter themselves from the elements, he said. Early dwellings were often covered only with twigs or animal hides, and did a poor job of protecting residents. The caves of the Neanderthal provided better protection, but since the collapse of the grotto bubble with the recession of 1 million B.C., these were generally outside the price range of most primitive families.

“If you look right up under here,” he directed, “you’ll see this long panel of wood stretching the length of your house. This is called the ‘eaves.’ Attached to the eaves is a strip that we call the ‘fascia,’ and it’s behind here that poor gutter work can lead to trouble.”

“And you can fix that?” I interrupted. “You can clean those things out for me?”

“Well, no,” he chuckled. “These gutters you currently have are going to require constant maintenance. We sell a far superior product called the Guardian Gutter, and we’re the only contractor in the area that offers this patented technology.”

While I had originally been interested only in having my gutter cleaned, I’d be open to the idea of getting a replacement that would free me from fascia-related worry. But I was getting cold, and he was getting nowhere near the bottom line of what his company’s work might cost me.

“If you notice that small bit of separation right there along the edge, you can see why the French aristocracy first used gutters in the early 18th century,” he continued. “Now, if we walk around to the front of the house…”

“Look,” I interrupted. “I’m kind of interested in wrapping this up pretty quickly. Is there any way you could hit just the high points for me in about 10 or 15 minutes?”

“Oh, no,” he said. “I want to make sure you and your wife understand fully the value we offer with our product. We can finish this exterior inspection in probably 20 to 30 minutes, but then I’ll need another hour or so inside to lay out all the options we’re prepared to offer you.”

“Can you at least just tell me the price before we go any further?” I pressed.

“No, I can’t really do that without you knowing our features thoroughly,” he said. “If I told you right now that it would cost — say, $8,000 — you wouldn’t be able to appreciate all that your money would buy.”

Eight thousand dollars? I thought in italic. I’m not paying that kind of money to make sure rainwater is corralled down a drain spout unencumbered by putrefied leaves. I had obviously gotten in over my head, and needed to explain to this guy that I wasn’t prepared to make such a big investment, neither in thousands of dollars nor in hours of study about the history of modern roof drainage.

I would just have to explain that I misunderstood what his company offered, thank him for his time, and send him on his way.

“I’m sorry, we had an emergency visit to the hospital last night and I’m still a little distracted,” I lied. “My daughter was diagnosed with an immune-deficiency disorder, and I’m not going to be able to allow you in the house. Sorry.”

A salesman of this caliber, however, was not about to take “no” for an answer.

“Perhaps I could return at a more convenient time,” he offered. “While you’re thinking it over, let me show you this list of satisfied customers in the area. We have pages of names and phone numbers in here, and I would encourage you to call several of these folks to hear for yourself how they feel Guardian Gutters have made all the difference for them.”

“Okay, okay,” I relented. “Maybe we could have you back next week. Maybe Carla’s immunity will have returned by then, God willing.”

“Great,” he said, and dialed his home office to officially set up another appointment for 2 p.m. Monday.

Be sure to read tomorrow’s post, in which I describe how I call and cancel the appointment at the last minute.

My clogged gutter: A shame I may have to live with

Cleaning out some old pictures

November 14, 2011

I’m told our home computer is getting too full, that it has memory problems. Since I can relate to both of these issues on a personal level, I told my wife and son — the two resident computer experts in my home — that I’d do what I can to help.

I haven’t noticed any performance concerns myself. I looked behind the monitor to see if any bits or gigs had overflowed out the back and, unless they look exactly like common household dust or small dead spiders, I didn’t see anything. I have noticed a slight bulging in the tower but attribute that to the Reuben sandwich I accidentally inserted into CD-writer slot when I got confused at lunch one day.

Response times still seem quick enough for the programs I use, even a little too fast sometimes: I barely have enough time to feel triumphant about laying down a “VULVA” in Scrabble before my computer opponent counters with a “QUIXOTIC”. Not only am I suddenly down 87 points, but I’m reminded of my own quixotic quest for the vulva.

As far as I can tell, the system’s memory is fine. I tell it to save a file in subfolder “STUFF” inside subfolder “BLOG” inside subfolder “DAVIS” inside subfolder “MY DOCUMENTS”, and it’s I who can’t remember where to find it, not the computer.

Beth said she needed to “de-frag” or “de-frog” or “de-something” the system to consolidate files and free up more storage capacity. I told her to go for it, as long as she wore one of those bomb suits like in The Hurt Locker in case shrapnel suddenly erupted from the keyboard. Or frogs.

What I could do to help, I was told, was to get rid of all the photos I’ve taken over the past two years for use in my blog. There were also some other pictures that might be worth saving that I could offload onto a “thumb drive,” though somebody’s going to have to tell me which slot I need to stick my thumb in to make this happen.

It was kind of fun going through all the pictures I’ve collected. Many can be easily deleted, as soon as I figure out what I was thinking when I took a picture of a featureless patch of grass. Others represent fond memories of family life: a wedding picture of me and my wife, my son’s graduation from elementary school, the time our cat thought it would be fun to go for a swim in the toilet. Still others are from my business trips overseas.

There were a few I felt deserved one more chance in the light of day before they were consigned to the trash bin icon of history. And so, I present those here.

Then I right-click and I select “delete.”
 
This is a bunch of garbage. You might immediately recognize the soiled mattress and the rolled-up carpet, but it takes a discerning eye to pick out the broken office chair in the back. Why I would take a picture of garbage, I don’t recall.
 
That’s me, enjoying a 2007 vacation to New York City. You can tell what a wonderful time I’m having by the crossed arms and the sidelong grimace. When the city workers to my left finishes painting the fire hydrant, he’ll begin work on my gigantic walking shorts.
 
This is the office where I worked in Sri Lanka training a team of outsource proofreaders. I still recall my first lesson with this group of eager young office workers: “DOITRIGHTTHE” is four separate words, not one.
 
This is a mountain bike my wife won in a drawing. We thought it was a regular bike, so we don’t use it, except to take up space in our sunroom. I’d like to donate it to some deserving youngster who lives in a mountainous region — perhaps in wartorn Afghanistan — but I have no idea how to do that. I suppose I could sell it on eBay, but I don’t know how to do that either.
 
During one trip to an Asian nation that will remain anonymous, I encountered this sign in the men’s room. Note the mortification on the face of the worker who peed himself, and the stern condemnation from the supervisor who points out his error. It’s management techniques like these that have catapulted the powerhouse economies of the East right past the U.S.
 
In Hong Kong, a street vendor of meats and meat byproducts proudly displays his inventory. “How are the pig colons today?” I ask. “Only average,” he replies. “The elk diaphragm, however, is most excellent.” In the end, I opted instead to vomit on a side street.
 
Speaking of disgusting masses of sagging flesh, enjoy this world’s worst self-portrait as I wade in the waters of Subic Bay, near Manila. Moments after this shot was taken, we were hit by a simultaneous volcano and civil insurrection.

Time to wonder if I’m an old man

November 4, 2011

On Sunday, I will turn 58. I used to think that 58 was pretty old but, with the wisdom and perspective that over a half-century of living has brought me, I realize now you’re not really “old” till you’re well past a hundred. And if I live to reach 100, I’ll adjust that definition further back to 150.

If I can’t admit that I’m old, I do at least have to acknowledge that I’m a “senior.” Being a senior is kind of cool, though, like you’re back in your final year of high school where you can date the teachers and pick on all the underclassmen. I’ll even take a “senior skip day” every now and then, calling in sick to work so I can prance around the neighborhood in a syncopated hop.

It’s hard to say exactly when one becomes a senior citizen these days. It used to be you could count AARP eligibility as a criteria, but I think they’ve moved that age down to something like 35 now as they attempt to increase their membership. Grey hair was once a pretty good indicator, until anyone with any sense of pride colored the grey away. Wandering off into the woods looking for your childhood pet, calling “Here, Augie! Where are you, boy? Where’s Augie?”, can be another symptom of advanced age. I’ve definitely got the AARP solicitations and the grey hair, but I haven’t yet mastered the meandering.

I guess what it really boils down to is the age that you act, and how other people treat you. If you’re one of these types you see in TV commercials – running a marathon at age 60, climbing Mt. Everest at age 70, falling down and yet still being able to get up at age 80 — those around you will view you as young at heart, even if you’re rocking an advanced case of hypertensive cardiomyopathy. I don’t personally know many of these vibrant seniors myself, and if I did I would resent them terribly.

What I increasingly rely on to know that I’m approaching decrepitude are the interactions I have with merchants and store clerks. I was dealing with one particularly chipper cashier not long ago who asked “and how are you today, young man?” I looked around to make sure I didn’t have a teenager hanging on my back before I realized he was addressing me. I guess he was trying to be kind, though it came off as more than a little patronizing, much like how they introduce the newly minted centenarians given birthday wishes on The Today Show for being “100 years young.”

I do appreciate the various discounts offered to seniors. I’m just never sure I properly qualify. Some stores use 50, some use 55 and some use 60 as the threshold for getting a dollar cup of coffee on Tuesdays from 10 to 11 a.m. At my favorite grocery store, they offer a 5% senior discount on all purchases but it’s store policy that the check-out people are not allowed to ask if you meet the minimum age requirement (in this case, 60), lest they offend any wizened-beyond-their-years customers. One creative employee who regularly waits on my wife came up with what I thought was a novel way to circumvent this well-intended rule.

“Oh, and let me be sure to apply the wisdom discount,” he said as he rang up her purchase. I’d be tempted to counter, “Why, thank you. In my wisdom, I also feel I should be given a cartful of free groceries and have your assistant manager serve as my personal slave.”

Restaurants often offer a senior menu that includes both reduced prices and smaller portions, but they rarely list the minimum age for ordering such a dish. I would happily pay less for my meal, yet I’m afraid I’ll be “carded” like some 19-year-old trying to buy beer. I can imagine nothing more humiliating than being challenged to prove my minimum age to a minimum-wage waitress, then rousted out of the establishment like some common grifter or, worse,  held inside the freezer locker until police can be called.

There is a certain measure of respect that comes with advanced age that I do enjoy, particularly in my work place. As the veteran proofreader at my location, I used to be the go-to guy for answers about style details of the assorted financial documents that we produce. After years of dispensing advice to my younger coworkers, many of them finally mastered for themselves most of the knowledge I had. Now, I’m called on only rarely, when there’s a particularly esoteric dispute, like I’m some mountaintop-based elder whose mystical omniscience is dispensed with cryptic parables.

“The spacing above a second-level subhead should always be greater than the spacing below,” I might rule. “It should be sufficient that a bird on the wing can easily pass through, yet not so much as to allow an angel to dance in the margin above the text.”

In the end, I guess, it all comes down to how good your health is. I’ve been pretty lucky to avoid any major illnesses so far in my life, and I continue to maintain an active lifestyle that includes jogging, travel and not getting into car accidents. I know some fields of medical research are attempting to make the case that aging is simply another malady that can ultimately be cured. You already see some of the early fruits of this effort being advertised during Sunday afternoon football games.

It’s not just the erectile dysfunction crowd I’m thinking of here. Now, middle-aged men who show symptoms like fatigue and loss of energy can wonder if such symptoms are due to a curable medical condition rather than the fact they just finished an 80-hour work week. We know there’s a pharmaceutical cure for just about everything these days (except, perhaps, for being a fan of the Carolina Panthers), so we’re tempted to investigate further when a commercial spokesman asks if our lethargy might be due to adequate testosterone.

“Do you have low T? Take the test at our website — IsItLowT.com — to find out,” we’re advised.

I went to this site and took the test, hoping for confirmation that I’m not a senior after all but simply need to spend $1,000 a week on a new medicine not covered by my insurance. It only took ten questions to reach a diagnosis. “Yes,” I’ve noticed a decrease in strength; “yes,” I’m falling asleep after dinner; “yes,” I’m sometimes grumpy, and “none of your business” if my erections are less strong. I should discuss with my doctor if various testosterone gels, patches, injections, pellets or a “buccal tablet” applied twice daily to my gums (!) are right for me and will restore my vitality.

I’d bring it up with my personal physician, but he’s a no-nonsense fifty-something man just like me, and I suspect he’d suggest not the IsItLowT.com website but one called NoYouAreJustGettingOld.com.

Like me, he’s a wise guy.

Old guys hang their heads in shame at the IsItLowT? website

An editorial: I could’ve, should’ve, would’ve…

November 3, 2011

We should’ve turned right on Caldwell Street, not Graham.

We’d be better off having a new kitchen trash can with one of those swinging lids rather than no lid at all.

We should’ve sat at a table, not a booth.

A successful marriage requires a lot of compromise on both sides. Husbands have to accommodate wives who have thoroughly researched every subject before arriving at the exactly correct decision. Wives have to accommodate their inconsiderate, thoughtless, dunderheaded spouses who are rarely accurate in their judgments.

It’s a lot of work. We men may look like we blithely toss opinions around with little to back them up when, actually, it requires considerable effort to be an uninformed oaf. If you don’t know what’s right, how else can you hold on so tenaciously to the wrong idea?

I was reminded of the importance of these complementary roles on a recent weekend running errands and enjoying an evening out with my wife.

First, we headed for a distant bakery we’d visited once before but whose exact location we’d since forgotten. I know how contentious the subject of directions can be for most married couples, so I tried to head off any conflict by asking Beth to Mapquest the trip. As navigatrix, she’d read the map and issue directives on which way to turn the steering wheel, and I’d be the driver, doing only as I was told.

“But let’s use Yahoo maps instead,” Beth said before we left.

“Fine,” I answered. “Whatever you think is best.”

We drove about 25 miles north of town on a familiar interstate until we came to the exit we were to take. At the end of the ramp, we were to turn onto Caldwell Street. But there was no Caldwell Street. The only option was a one-way right onto Graham.

“This is supposed to be Caldwell,” Beth insisted. I agreed, but noted my only options for turning were onto Graham or into a drainage ditch.

We continued up Graham for several miles, hoping we might find Caldwell. As businesses thinned and farmland grew more common, we realized we were unlikely to find the urbane little French-themed coffeehouse this far out in the country.

I wanted to continue driving, at least until we hit the Canadian border, but Beth insisted we stop at a gas station to ask for directions. As long as she’d do the asking, and as long as I could hunch down and hide in the car, I agreed.

She went inside for a few moments, then returned to the parking lot with an older African-American man. I watched in my rearview mirror as he pointed this way then that, then signaled a clipping penalty, then waved both arms like he was landing fighter jets on a carrier.

Based on this, Beth said we needed to turn around, make a left at the first light, look for Tryon Street, make a right, and we’d find Amelie’s about two miles down.

You can probably already guess that this didn’t work. We spent another 25 minutes exploring north Charlotte and its many challenging byways. At last we found the bakery, but not before exchanging a series of accusations that finally ended with the agreement that I was stupid for getting us so lost.

After the bakery stop, we went to Target to buy a new trash receptacle for the kitchen. I admired a model that resembled what we currently had, except it wasn’t ripped down the side and caked with bits of ancient refuse. Beth said she’d prefer a similar style that included a lid with a swinging opening. Better to keep the smell in, she said.

“But I won’t be able to toss stuff in from across the room,” I complained. I am famous in our home as master of the three-pointer, tossing unwanted drinks and unfinished food into the bin from what would be near the half-court line if our living area were a basketball court.

“That’s right,” she said. “You won’t.”

So we bought the lidded can.

Finally, we headed back to our hometown for a quiet dinner at a new restaurant we’d heard good things about. It was still early, so the hostess urged us to sit wherever we liked. I liked a booth. Beth liked a table.

“We’ll be a lot more out of the way over in that corner,” I argued. “There’s still plenty of room to be comfortable.”

“I can’t see the front door from there,” Beth countered. “If we take the table, we can see the whole place.”

I’m constantly forgetting that, before I met her, Beth was one of the top capos in the East Coast Mob. Her work in loan-sharking, truck-hijacking and protection rackets went a long way toward paying her way through a master’s degree in English. After graduation, she was ready to leave a life of organized crime and settle down with me. But she retained the habit of self-preservation so ingrained in Underworld types. She wanted to make sure she wasn’t assassinated over the linguine.

So we sat at a table.

With these three incidents as object lessons, I hereby call on myself to be a better, more accommodating, more thoughtful husband than I’ve been in the past. I was wrong about the directions, I was wrong about the garbage can, and I was wrong about the restaurant seating. I need to do as I am told, remembering that I’m the not-so-proud descendant in a long line of barbarian males made civilized only through the tender guidance of a female life partner.

I call on myself to no longer doubt the word of the wife.

Herman Cain on line one

November 2, 2011

So the phone rings last night about quarter till 7, and it’s Herman Cain calling.

Normally, you’d expect a call at that time of the evening, right in the middle of the dinner hour, to be someone asking if I’m happy with my wireless service. Instead, it’s pizza executive, motivational speaker, Republican presidential candidate, accused lady’s man and all-around black guy Herman Cain, asking if I’m happy with my presidential service.

I don’t think it was the actual Herman but rather a virtual one, a recording of his voice. The surprise leader in many national polls is ramping up his campaign in South Carolina before that state’s January primary, and part of that effort involves calling up voters and offering them a thick, topping-loaded slice of his odd recipe for fixing America.

It was pretty sophisticated for a robo-call, I thought. It sounded like the Hermanator was talking directly to me, rather than reading a script in some distant sound studio.

“Good evening, I’m Herman Cain and I’m running for president,” he began.

I thought about hanging up right away. Not only do I object in principle to telemarketers interrupting my home life, so too do I oppose just about every hare-brained scheme the fiery Cain has proposed. But I was curious about his pitch so I stayed on the line.

Cain spoke for a minute or so in general terms, hitting the same themes that he does out on the campaign trail. He wants to get government off the back of business. He wants lower taxes and lower government spending. He wants to take our country back. He longs for old-fashioned values, like the time when it was okay for an executive to ask his female co-workers if they’d mind taking off their shirts.

Actually, he said nothing at all about recent reports that he’d been accused of sexually harassing two women he worked with back in the ’90s. (Cain has claimed he only “joked about the women’s height,” teasing that he wished instead of coming up to his chin they stood about as tall as his zipper). He kept strictly to the issues.

Then he offered me a question: “Would you mind if I asked where you stand on a number of policies important to my campaign?”

There was a long pause. I hadn’t expected this to be an interactive call, but apparently Herman’s camp has invested in voice-recognition technology that allows him to gauge Americans’ sentiments on important questions of the day, as long as they could be answered with a “yes” or a “no”.

“No?” I answered tentatively.

Within moments, Herman was off on a vigorous round of interrogation.

“Do you agree with me that life begins at conception?” he asked. After accidentally saying he endorsed a woman’s right to choose in a recent TV interview, Cain has retrenched to the far right. His position now is that even victims of rape and incest should be denied abortions, and that if a woman’s life is endangered by her pregnancy, tough toenails.

“No,” I answered.

“Do you believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman?” he pried.

“No,” I said.

“Do you believe that the Second Amendment guarantees all Americans the rights of gun ownership?”

“Well, I don’t think it’s quite that simple,” I answered. “True, the Constitution does seem to endorse private gun ownership, though many legal scholars believe it’s in the context of a ‘well-regulated militia’. Now that we have a standing army, a militia is no longer necessary.”

The other end of the line was silent. This was a little too much detail and nuance for a candidate who prided himself on a black-or-white, us-versus-them world view.

“No,” I simplified.

Herman asked a few more questions, but these were mostly to identify my individual demographic. He asked if I was male (“yes”), if I was white (“yes”) and if I was Republican (“God, no”). He asked if I wanted to work for or donate to his campaign. I laughed, which I hoped would register as a “no”.

Cain thanked me for my time and wished me a good evening. The line went dead.

Hey, wait a second, Herm. I had a few questions I wanted to ask you:

Don’t you think it will be confusing to future history students if there’s a “Cain” running for president in 2012, so soon after a “McCain” ran in 2008?

Do you think we’re headed for a “Miss America situation” in national politics? Remember how, after the first black Miss America was named, that we had other African-American winners for several years following? Is that where we’re headed at the presidential level in this post-racial nation?

Can I get you Kim Kardashian’s phone number?

But Mr. Cain was gone. All that was left was a dial tone where once there had been a vital voice for a return to conservative American values, except the ones that prevented people like him from coming to political power.

Hopefully, we’ll all get the opportunity in the general election to learn more about how a future discounted down to $9.99 is the right choice for America.

Hello, it's me