Monday, March 13, 2017

Savage beast

"Music hath charms to soothe a savage beast, " said William Congreve way back in 1697.
His pithy saying still holds up today.  I am living proof of that.

Yesterday the UW Badgers played in the Big 10 Conference Basketball Championship game. Being a diehard fan of all things UW, I, of course, planned to watch that game and cheer on my favorite team.  There was a problem to overcome first, though. We would not be home in in time for the start of the game. I figured we would make it home from Zoe's 3rd birthday party about halftime.  Solution?  Record the game and watch it in its entirety while we had our dinner.  We just had to avoid hearing anything about the game until we had the chance to watch it.

As we got closer to home and our recorded version of the game, Mary got more and more anxious. I have to emphasize here that Mary is as big a basketball fan as I am.  She doesn't always understand the nuances of the game, but that doesn't dampen her enthusiasm and loyalty to her Badgers.  So as we approached home, and halftime of the game, she was threatening to turn on the TV the minute we walked in the door so she could allay her anxiety.  She really wanted to know the score.  She hates surprises.  I was getting more than a little pissed off at her for potentially ruining my enjoyment of the game.

What happened next she adamantly and vociferously claims was an accident.  She went online for something and the score was just there. She couldn't avoid hearing it, or avoid watching the recap of the game.  She was mesmerized by the information she was getting.  Of course she insisted on telling me what she had heard, mainly because she couldn't bear to suffer alone.  I begged her to keep her mouth shut and not ruin it for me, but she was so apologetic about what she had done and was begging my forgiveness for her reporting of the details.  She was in shock to realize that her beloved Badgers were in imminent danger of losing the game.  She was near tears as the game neared its conclusion, and I was nearing a murderous rage for her talking about the game that I wanted to experience, win or lose.

I was screaming and raging and nearly apoplectic as I stormed downstairs, trying not to hear what she was telling me. When she told me the final score, I was as angry at her for telling me as I was at the score.  I vowed then not to watch any of the game I had so looked forward to seeing.  Mary deleted the recording of the game, so I wouldn't be able to watch it anyway.  I was so upset and not coping very well with the entire situation that I needed to escape and get calmed down before I exploded.

So I headed for my workshop, the one place I could go and lose myself and forget about the trauma I had suffered.  Of course a key element of my escape was listening to music while I worked.  So I turned on Pandora, cranked my speaker up, and sang along with some of my favorite tunes.  I was fortunate that the first song playing was "Hey, Jude" by the Beatles which has a great sing along "na na na na na, hey Jude" that goes on and on, helping to release any tension you might have. Next up was Simon and Garfunkel's "the Boxer" and its long singalong, "li la lie, lie la la la li li lie, li la lie, li la li li li li lie" to close out the song.  I was feeling rejuvenated by then, so hearing Crosby, Stills, and Nash finish "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" with the long finishing "du du du du du, dit dou du du du du, du du du du du, dit du du du du du..." was like the frosting on Zoe's birthday cake.  Then when I heard The Beatles tell me to "Let it be" I knew everything would be alright.

Music does indeed sooth this savage beast.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Time out

Quiet contemplation seems appropriate when another birthday passes into the used column of the ledger that records such occurrences.  Those birthdays are inevitable.  Whether we celebrate them or deny them, the only way to really appreciate the gift they are, is to embrace them and accept each one as a milestone as it is entered into the diary of your life. Time waits for no man.  Those sometime dreaded birthdays are going to keep coming, but considering the alternative, we should welcome them as a mark of distinction.  We've made it this far navigating the twists and turns and directional choices we made when we came to each of the intersections along the road of life and that is quite an accomplishment.

As I enter into the 70th year of my current life, I am able to look back with amazement that I have made it this far down my life's timeline. I don't come from a family whose longevity is anything to brag about. My father died at the age of 58 and my mother lived to nearly seventy, but using them to gauge my anticipated life span would be making a mistake since neither one of them died of "natural" causes. Both died after lengthy illnesses and much suffering. If we look at both sides of my extended family, the picture isn't bleak, filled with short lived people, nor is it exceptional for containing above average life spans. My father had two older brothers, one who lived into his late seventies and died of heart failure (I think), and one who was murdered when he was about 73 ( that is a fascinating story, one I will share with you some other time) I had one cousin among my paternal relatives who died in his sixties (at least I think that's correct.) But using him as a judge of life expectancy wouldn't work, since he was a smoker and a heavy drinker, and we all know what those two bad habits can skew the average Iife-time equation of the rest of the family.  On my mother's side of the family we find a similar pattern of shortened lifespans that will make the average skew lower than we would hope it to be.  My mother was one of six siblings, all of whom died after a bout with cancer of one kind or another.  Both of my maternal grandparents lived long and mostly healthy lives--my grandfather, I think, was in his late seventies when he died and grandma lived to age 93. Given their long lives it is comforting to think that my two older sisters and I could expect to live long lives as long as we avoid the bad habits and illnesses that claimed the generation before us.

Time marches on ignoring our complaint that time isn't marching, it is flying.  We would like to call a time out on occasion just to get some rest and get our timing back.  We can look back in time and see where we went wrong, or right, while we have no choice but to realize that hindsight is always 20/20.  Sometimes  20/20 agrees with our memories of time gone by. But often our memories are at odds with our hindsight, leaving us to wade through the ever growing pile of regret every time we look back in time.

When I think of all the decisions I've made during my tenure among the current crop of beings, I can't help wondering how different my life would have been if I had made a left turn instead of a right turn back at that intersection I encountered when I was 12, or maybe it was when I was 16, or 18.  The point is that we all make decisions every day that have a bearing on the rest of our lives. Hundreds, no thousands, of like decisions that followed that one fateful turn in the road and made me into the creature that stands, for good or bad, before you now.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

But, you

I have a wife who is everything a good wife should be.  She takes wonderful care of me, even when she is pissed off at me for some imagined problem that she assumes is all my fault.  In fact now that I think about it, I get blamed for everything that goes wrong around here.  Blaming me is her default setting when there is blame to be administered. I know she loves me because she repeatedly tells me so.  Many times each day she will preface her remarks to me by telling me "Bob, I love you dearly." It's when she gets past that preface that the real reason she wants to talk to me becomes clear.  After saying "I love you dearly," she always follows up with a BUT phrase that tells what is really on her mind. As in "Bob I love you dearly, BUT you are an idiot."
Or she will say, "BUT you are so stupid."
Or, BUT you drive me crazy."
......BUT you never do what you're told.
......BUT I can't count on you for anything.
......BUT you never follow directions.
......BUT you can be such a slob
......BUT you always ignore the list of things I want you to do
......BUT you never turn off the lights when you leave the room
......BUT you are so inefficient
......BUT you are a lousy shopper
......BUT you don't know your limits
......BUT you always forget a towel or two when you do the laundry
......BUT you always manage to do only 90% of the task at hand.
......BUT you always make such a mess when you are cooking.
......BUT you always make too much noise when I am trying to take a nap
......BUT you never put your clothes away.
......BUT you always grab the last cookie.
......BUT you never vacuum under the furniture.
......BUT you always disappear in the store when we are shopping
......BUT you always find a bunch of things to buy when you sneak away from me in the store.
......BUT you never need the stuff you insist on buying
......BUT you are so full of shit.

But you get the idea. I could probably go on and on finding and listing all my transgressions, faults, proclivities, idiosyncrasies, and peccadilloes and they would all be true.  My wonderful wife is absolutely justified in her criticisms because she is right. I am guilty on all counts.
But that's me.  It tells a lot about her character and loving nature that she is willing to spend so much time and effort helping me to become a better man.

BUT for me to become all the man she wants me to be, I will have to first learn to listen to her when she is talking to me.

Saturday, December 31, 2016


Ok, I know we are living in a technological world.  Those of us, of a certain age, who have embraced that technology, have done so with less than, shall we say, total enthusiasm.  My attitude toward all the newest and, mostly unnecessary electronic devices that inundate our lives, is the old adage "if you can't beat em, join em."

I have tried and tried and tried again with the best of intentions, to understand those devices that enter into our life here in Seniorland, but I just get a smirking, thumb-your-nose reaction from the gods of technology no matter what I do. I admit I've tested the patience of those gods on too many occasions for them to cut me any slack now when I need some TLC and an "atta boy" when I figure out how to turn the new device on.  Burt I have been deserted and left to fumble around on my own, trying to decipher the Japanese or Korean written, but still accented and mostly unintelligible, instructions on how to make it work the way they intended it to work,

My latest foray into the wild and scary techno jungle, where there is a new and complicated unhousebroken device hiding behind every tangled clump of cables, involved installing our new 48" smart TV.
"Of course I can install it myself," I confidently reassured Mary when she asked me if we should engage the Geek Squad to do the technical stuff.
"How difficult can it be?" I naively retorted, forgetting momentarily those tech gods who were not going to cut me any slack. "All you do is stick a couple of cables into its backside, plug it in, and you're done.  A ten year old could do it." I stated with false bravado. The more she asked me if I was sure I could handle the task, the less confident I got.

I should have realized that it wasn't going to be the easy straightforward job i was hoping for right at the start when I couldn't get the new TV out of the box.  They packed that TV so tight and secure that I could have used at least two more men and a boy to help coax it out of its hidyhole.  Trust me, I know constipation really well and that process of getting the TV out had an amazing similarity to what I'm familiar with.  What I needed was some industrial strength Myralax--probably several large doses-- to grease the passage out of the box and get some relief.  Finally, with a hearty burp, the box gave up the struggle and my new TV was free and ready to begin its new life as our central  entertainment option. At least that's what I envisioned.  But the fun was just  beginning.

I thought I was being exceedingly clever when I took several pictures of the back of the old TV to show how the various cables were connected.  I figured that with pictures and my memory and my innate abilities to fix stuff, I would be done before I knew I was doing it.  Oh, you silly twit.  I had naively assumed that the new TV would be just like the old one, and all those pretty red, yellow, white, blue, and green cables would plug themselves into the appropriate holes in the new TV.  But, no, those damn Koreans went and changed everything. There were no pretty red, yellow, white, blue, and green cables to make any connections.  All I found were two unremarkable plain black cables with some silly looking ends that were meant to connect something to somewhere. It wasn't just that the cables were missing.  There were no holes or jacks or any other orifices to stick anything into. After an inordinate amount of time scratching my head and wondering what life would be like if there were no orifices to stick anything into, I gave up and called for help.

I called the tech helpline of the manufacturer. The first tech "helper" I got on the phone introduced himself as "George," but if he was named "George" his nickname had to be Kanu or Mohatmas and English was certainly not his native language.  After 15-20 minutes of my trying to understand what he was saying and his inability to understand what help I needed, I abruptly hung up on him with more than a few uttered curses in my native language.

I then called the store where we purchased the TV to see if one of their knowledgeable people could, or even would, explain the absence of those colorful cables I had expected to find, and what I was supposed to do without them.  The guy I talked to was a bit circumspect about helping me over the phone.  Apparently the store has a policy of not giving away information when they can charge you a hundred bucks for an insurance warranty issued by the Geek Squad who would then answer all questions pertaining to whatever device you needed help with.  I was sufficiently indignant and then pathetic and helpless sounding that he, probably tired of my whining, whispered some of the forbidden information to me. I learned enough from his bootlegged info that I was able to stick those two plain black cables into the correct spots.  Now why couldn't the TV come with instructions to connect one hdmi cable into the cable box and the other end into one of hdmi slots on the TV? The other cable connected the TV to the DVD player. How incredibly simple it was. Simple if you happen to know what a hdmi cable is and where it goes.  With that information the installation of the TV was really simple.

So with all the connections made, I was ready to enjoy watching something, anything, just to show Mary how capable I was when it came to technology.  I called her into the room and made a big deal about turning it on.  I pointed the remote at the TV and got .......nothing.  I was totally confused.  It was supposed to work with all the correct cables in their correct places.  I was ready to get my hammer and put an end to my misery.  As I was headed out of the room on my way to fetch that hammer, Mary calmly suggested that I bring back some batteries with me for the remote.  Damn.  Now she's going to take all the credit for making the TV work.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Before the cold

I just finished as the wind changed direction and started howling and the temperature dropped.  I had heard the latest weather report on the car radio on my way home.  WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY!  It scared the bejeezus out of me.  So as soon as I parked the car in the garage and hauled the groceries inside, I gave in to the temptation to do something I always vowed I wouldn't do until the last turkey leg was history.  I am somewhat ashamed to admit to such a grievous sin, but you can't mess with Mother Nature at a time like this.

You guessed it.  I put the outdoor Christmas decorations up.  Checked all the little lights to make sure they would provide a bright twinkling holiday.  We should have another well lit Christmas since all the lights worked.  Yes, miracles do happen. I just feel that since all the lights will contribute their festive gift, God is smiling on me and letting me know that I did the right thing.  As a compromise with my doubts about the early arrival of Xmas decorations, I promised to not turn on the lights until the Thanksgiving  holiday played out.

So I beat the weather and got a jump on the season, And I don't mind skipping the frozen fingers or running nose while working outside at this time of year.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Caricature

You know that caricature we've all have seen of the elderly gentleman who thinks he's well dressed and is otherwise totally unconcerned that anyone else might think differently.  He wears his shorts cinched under his pot belly with an oversized belt, his polo shirt is so tight he looks like he is stuffed into a sausage casing, the shirt a size too small so that a sliver of that pot belly is poking out as if looking for a glimmer of light and a breath of fresh air. The clincher that he is clueless about his clothes is, of course, the ultimate anti-fashion statement: wearing those shorts with black socks and dressy brogues.

Well, I hate to admit this, but this afternoon I came close to being that old guy who dressed badly and didn't care.  After watching the Badgers play some lousy football, I decided that since it was so nice outside, I would clean the deck with my power washer.  I was wearing jeans and black socks and shoes, so I looked like I knew how to dress myself.  But then I decided that getting my good jeans wet was not good, so I shed the jeans and grabbed a pair of shorts to wear instead. I figured that if I was worried about my jeans getting wet I should be more concerned about my shoes getting soaked as well. So I took the good shoes off and slipped on my well worn brown schechers.  I looked like that old guy we were making fun of but without the pot belly.

I knew I looked bad because when I saw some neighbors out for a walk, I quickly ducked inside to avoid having them see in such a state.  After they passed by I got real busy and finished the job quickly to avoid another accidental sighting by another neighbor.  There I was, black socks, brown shoes, old shorts and Mary didn't even make a comment about how I looked, let alone laugh at me.

spot on changes

.We added a bit of variety to our life today.  Instead of seeing a gastroenterologist, neurologist, or a therapist of some kind, we changed it up and went to see a dermatologist.  Mary has been concerned about the various spots that speckle my head. Actually, I think she's worried that I may be losing my manly good looks with all those spots marring my exceptionally pleasant countenance.

There was some concern about precancerous spots on my head since I worked outside in the glorious sunshine for many years and spent a lot of time on the golf course as well.  I never bothered with sunscreen either.

I wasn't particularly concerned about all those discolored beauty marks, but I had to humor Mary or she would be on my back like another big spot until she drove me crazy and drove me to a doctor. I also wanted to se the dermadoc about an ouwee on my left ear that has been there for a very long time without healing.

It turns out that all those spots we were dealing with were nothing more than "wisdom spots" as the doc referred to them.  That was just a nice way to say "old age" spots. Nothing can be done with them. And I should expect to have more of them appearing as I get older.

The ear sore was something else though.  The doctor diagnosed it as chondrodermatitusnodularishelicis.
I said, "That's easy for you to say, but what is it in English."
He said, "sore ear."

Funny guy.  He told me that the soreness was caused by compression on my ear, probably from sleeping on it too much. His recommendation: get a piece of foam and cut out a hole for my ear to fit into so nothing is touching it, and eventually it would go away. If I do that you will never know because I will forbid any photographic evidence to appear for you all to make fun of me.

Then, to mollify Mary, the doc said he would freeze some of those "wisdom spots" and make them disappear so I wouldn't get too much uglier.  He grabbed his liquid nitrogen gun and proceed posthaste to zap the chosen offenders.  What he did not do is warn me that freezing them would be stingingly painful.  He caught me surprise, and I am not ashamed to admit that I screamed like a little girl when he shot that liquid nitrogen on those spots.  He looked unapologetic, even pleased with himself, when I squeeled in pain.  And I am not too pleased with Mary's reaction to my suffering either.  She seemed disconcertingly pleased with my reaction. We will have to talk about that real soon.

And, oh yeah, we got a dog.

Roxie the would-be Superdog

Here she is, Roxie, the super dog. I have never known such gentle, trusting, lovable cuddler.  I have never allowed a dog to sit on my lap or to sit on the furniture, but I find myself reaching for her, coaxing her up onto my lap. I am a changed man when she is in the room.

Lest you think that she is a perfect angel and can do no wrong, I have to tell you about her first night here in her new home. She is very curious about her surroundings and seems to be storing all the information she learns by watching every move we make.  We put her bed, a big cushion, in the kitchen under the church pew.  She knew it was her bed without our needing to tell her, making herself comfortable.  So naturally we thought  she would be content there all night.

A few minutes after we turned off the lights for the night, we heard a peculiar noise coming from the kitchen.  We couldn't immediately identify the sound, so fearing what the dark had hidden, I boldly ventured into the scary black hole.  I reached for the nearest light switch to stymie the darkness and was rewarded with the strangest sight I've ever seen.

Roxie had managed to push aside the gate we had put in the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, as a way to control her wandering around and getting into anything that a dog should not get into, but she was still in the kitchen, eschewing the opened gate and the freedom it represented for something that she must have thought was more interesting or exciting or enticing to a curious intelligent dog.

She greeted my entrance into the kitchen with what I would describe as a "who me?" look of false innocence that nearly had me convinced that she was placed on the table by some gang of elves just passing by.  She can be very convincing.  But she was really laying on me a disdainful look that said, "you mere human. Did you really think that you could confine me with a silly little gate?"  She gave me that look from her perch on the kitchen table, which she had begun to clear off so she could be more comfortable.  The newspaper was across the room near the refrigerator.  I could swear that I had left it on the table. The magazine I had left there was on the floor and one of the placemats joined it there.  The noise we had heard that brought us to the scene of the crime must have been the falling lamp that was now on the bench. Who knows what other mischief she would have gotten into if we would have ignored that unfamiliar noise. All this happened in less than a minute.  If nothing else, she is damn efficient.

We got her back into her bed where she actually stayed for the rest of the night. I know that most of your would say crate her at night or when you are away so she can't into trouble. But my instincts say this dog would be very unhappy confined in a cage, and would likely make a commotion worse than anything she would do with the freedom to roam around.  We solved the problem by allowing her spend the night in our room on her bed, not ours.  She just wants to be near us, the rest of her pack. And really, how could I resist such a loving addition to my pack.

As long as Roxie continues to make me smile and not scowl, she will be welcomed in my home.

Roxie the Superdog

Ok, so I like to play like I'm a tough guy badass.  It's just the image I want to project so the real bad asses out there don't mess with me.  But if any of those guys saw me today they would know a bad actor when they saw me.

Today we left Roxie, the Wonder Dog, home alone for the first time.  We confined her to the kitchen by blocking the door with a temporary cardboard gate that I had made for Carrie's and Ezra's dog, Hova, when they were here for 10 days a couple months ago.
I figured Roxie, Wonder Dog or not, would have too much difficulty surmounting such a formidable obstacle as a 4 foot high wall, and would give up after her attempted escape was thwarted a couple times. This was a test of both her obedience and her possible bad dog coping skills when she knew no one was watching and she wanted to try her Houdini impersonation.  But she fought off any thoughts of destruction and curbed the urge to let us know that she would not tolerate being left home alone when there were so many interesting things out there in the world that she needed to explore.  Instead, as a good dog should, she simply repaired to her bed under the church pew, and calmly and patiently awaited our return home.

Well, I am happy to say, and quite proud as well, that she passed her tests with nary a demerit.  When we got home after being gone for about 6 hours, she greeted us with the biggest show of love and affection that any dog would be proud to display.  She was jumping up and down, running in circles, and putting on a display of happiness unprecedented in this man's home.  Not a thing was out of place in the kitchen.  Nothing was destroyed by doggie teeth.  There were no little surprises waiting to be discovered in a corner or anywhere else.

I was reduced to tears by her achievement.  There went my status as a tough guy.  If any of my would-be tough guy brethren were present for my emotional display, they would have drummed me out of the tough guy club and forbidden me the use of the secret handshake and would have taken away my key to the clubhouse. But I didn't care.  I didn't care because I had found me a DOG.  I couldn't help picking her up and giving her the biggest hug I could muster.

Roxie, the Wonder Dog, having earned her first merit badge in doggie endearment, will get to stay another day.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Harmonica jam

If there is one thing that Mukwonago does well, and usually does twice a month, is hold a Bluegrass Jam in a large community room at the local library. The Jam is organized by a local musician and brings together people of varying talent playing a variety of instruments from guitars to fiddles to mandolins to banjoes, and my favorite the harmonica.

Mary and I stumbled on the shindig quite by accident early one Tuesday evening when our only reason for being at the library was to do library stuff.  We didn't expect to hear music in the library of all places.  My understanding, from way back in my formative years, was that silence was the preferred behavior when inside the library's hallowed walls. At least that's what the gray haired old lady librarian with that tight little gray bun attached to the back of her head, the reading glasses hanging from a ribbon around her neck and resting officiously on the shelf of her ample bosom, would have you believe.

Being the nosy, no let's make that curious, people we are, we couldn't resist checking out where all that good time music was coming from.  As we reached the door to the "concert hall" my toes were already tapping.  We found at the end of the hallway a room jammed with musicians and music lovers, jamming.  Everyone who brought an instrument was encouraged to play along.  We arrived at the threshold of the melodic sound to hear the closing bars of "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" played by the lady with the fiddle as she ended her raucous rendition accompanied by a couple guitars and a banjo who had joined her on her trip, with the background being filled in by the ubiquitous harmonica blowing riffs around the melody.  Then an old guy was making his way to the low stage at the front of the room already strumming his guitar.  Once he reached the stage, he began singing in a gravely, hard used voice, a song about "Rose", the love of his life, who somehow didn't feel the same way about him. His lament went on for some minutes and when he finished with an extended fade, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

The evening continued like that, one musician after another taking the stage, playing a song
he/she had prepared to share at the jam with anyone who chose to listen or, in some cases, singing along with the performer. There were some would-be musicians who shouldn't have been let out the door at the home or who should have been shown the door at the jam.
But overall the good quality of the music was a big surprise.

If given the choice, I will always opt for live music. There is something about having the music originate with a performer standing in front of you, that makes it more real, more enjoyable.
It doesn't matter if the musician hits a wrong note along the way.  That just makes the sound       more believable.  When you can see the effort put forth by the singer/guitarist to entertain you, your appreciation of the music expands beyond the world around you and carries you off to that ethereal place called Heaven.

The Bluegrass Jam that takes place twice a month here in Mukwonago's library, is the most nonjudgmental, inclusive, venue for musicians to get up and perform that you could ever hope for.  No one cares if you play your song perfectly, or if you miss every other note, or if you sing like Reba McIntyre or Ma Kettle.  As long as you have the urge and the chutzpah to stand in front of the audience and perform to the best of your ability, you will be welcomed with open arms and ears. It's always fun and entertaining.

It is so much fun that I decided that I want to get up on stage and play and sing a song for the assembled audience.  I want to have that experience at least once before I die. The fact that I have none of the particular talent necessary to do so is not going to stop me. I vowed to give it my best effort.  To that end I decided that the time was right for me to learn to play the harmonica.  I've always loved the soulful free flowing bluesy sound of a well played harmonica. So I bought a harmonica and a started to noodle around with it to familiarize myself with the feel of the instrument in my mouth.  I then went online and found a series of instructional videos that promised that I would be playing like a pro in no time.  Those videos were actually quite helpful and taught get me a lot.  But there is something to having a teacher giving you his undivided attention while demonstrating the lesson to be learned.  So at the last Jam we attended, I approached one of the participants who played the harmonica to see if he would be willing to spend some time with me teaching me the basics of harmonica playing.  To my delight he readily agreed to give me a few lessons.  We agreed on a price for the lessons that we both thought was fair. He would do it for nothing and I would pay him nothing.  You can't get more  agreeable than that.

Today was my first lesson.  I think he was pleasantly surprised that I knew as much as I did and was impressed with my attitude.  The fact that I was totally serious about this endeavor pleased him. He spent an hour or so on the basics and gave me some exercises to do before we meet again.  I am on my way to crossing off my bucket list:  learning to play the harmonica