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

Sunday, July 24, 2016

vive le differance

Vive le difference. That's French for "we are totally incompatible.  How in the world did we last this long together?"

For some reason I spent most of my afternoon nap time today thinking about how different my wife and are from each other. There is an incredibly long list of contrary likes and dislikes that fills the chasm between us. Those differences are plentiful, filling that latent relationship killing chasm to the top, making it possible for us to cross over, sometimes only halfway, but often enough all the way across, where we can then work on overcoming those quirks and idiosyncrasies that might otherwise doom us.  That we have worked at overcoming those might-have-been deal breakers, is a testament to the strong love we have for each other.  After nearly 47 years of working on our relationship, we have finally reached a consensus.  We realize that we will never be compatible, we will never like all the same things, and that we really shouldn't be together at all.

No, don't worry, we are not going to separate. There is no divorce imminent. We have just decided not to try to change ourselves to please the other. And conversely, not to try to change the other to please ourselves.  Does that make sense? It took is all this time to come to the conclusion that we are each special in our own way, and that is why we got together in the first place. We have vowed to raise our level of tolerance for the things in our life together that drive us crazy, sometimes even murderous.

We have invested too much in each other over the years to let it all slip away over her inability to load the dishwasher properly.

I will not complain as loudly, or as often, when she interrupts my train of thought when I'm writing or deep into an art project.

I won't scold or berate her for changing the subject of conversation when she doesn't like the sports conversation I might be having with another Packers fan.

I will refrain from pulling my hair out when she reminds me to do something that I am already doing.

I promise to only mutter obscenities in her direction when she asks me a question and then, while I am trying to answer her, she talks over my answer while asking me the same thing again.

I will try to tolerate the silence when we are in the car and she won't let me turn the radio on to listen to some tunes. Since she does most of the driving, she gets to choose whether the radio stays on or off.  This is going to be really difficult for me. I gotta have some music when I am in the car, especially when she is driving.  Music calms me down when she refuses to drive the way I tell her to.

I have promised not to get all pissed off when she just assumes I will immediately do everything on the todo list she provides even though I may have my own agenda for the day. Her priorities take priority over anything I might want to do. It has always been so, and always will be no matter how much I moan and groan about it. Just because I let her be the boss one time, she thinks that means she can always be the boss.

I so enjoy (that's my first lie today) moving furniture around when she insists that I vacuum under the furniture instead of just going around it.  If you can't see the dust bunnies (of course there has never been a dust bunny in HER house) then there must not be one under there.  Why test fate? Life is difficult enough without getting all hot and bothered over a little bit of dirt.
I will not even try to defend myself when she again accuses me of being crude and insensitive when I make comments and jokes about people who are different than me.  Bigotry is ugly and she knows I'm kidding. Really.

I will try not to cringe noticeably when she asks me the same question three or four times. Sometimes I'm just not paying attention, and sometimes I don't understand the question. Especially questions about money.  She can ask me questions about our finances all she wants and I still won't get it.  The money handling is her job, always has been and always will be. Nobody told me there would be math involved when we got married.  As long as I get my weekly allowance to squander anyway I damn well please, I will try my best to fake it when money is the subject at hand.

And I will not let it irritate me when she wants to talk about insurance.  I know, everyone gets irritated when talking about insurance. It doesn't matter if it is health insurance, life insurance, car insurance, house insurance, or any other type of insurance. This will be a tough one, because she feels the need to talk about insurance all the time. I think it has something to do with all the medical bills that piled up last year when she got so sick and worried that our health insurance wouldn't cover everything. She still thinks they (the insurance companies) will find some way to make her pay.  She worries about that a lot. So I will keep my irritation to myself and let her know that I appreciate her worries and will do my best to reassure her that the big bad insurance moguls will not get to her. They will have to go through me first.

Instead of whining about the temperature in the house when the AC is on in the summer heat, I will simply, without a frozen word of complaint getting past my chattering teeth, put on an extra layer or two so I won't freeze to death.  Either I have a faulty inner thermostat, or none at all, or she really is the Ice Maiden incarnate.  I have always thought that a temperature in the low 70's was considered comfortable for most people.  I just can't understand why she insists on keeping the house temps in the meat locker range. I admit that I do get chilled easily, but I think any normal person would agree that keeping the thermostat on the wall set to keep the house in the low 60's is taking the old hot flash excuse too far. So despite the icicles hanging from my nose, my frozen breath creating clouds of frozen vapor, and my hands so numb from that cold that even an Eskimo would complain, I have vowed to never again sneak up behind her and place my frozen palms against her neck to shock her into believing that I REALLY AM COLD!  Actually that would be a waste of time since the one time I tried that gambit, she thanked me or being so considerate by helping her to cool off. I may just have to go back to whining like a little girl, which should at least sound like a little girl since my nuts will have frozen off and dropped somewhere never to be found again.

Conversely, when winter settles in and the furnace kicks on to warm our humble abode, that damn thermostat always seems to find its place in the lower level of tolerable.  So I then have to cope with the cold again while she complains about being overheated. But this time I have it all figured out.  I will simply leave all the same clothes on that I wore when it was supposed to be summer both inside and out.  My clothing will consist of the same two sweatshirts, the same pair of longjohns, the same jeans, the same hoodies, the same thermal socks, the same caps and knit hats, and the same gloves I wear inside and out. A great side effect of my shivering despite the season is the cheap wardrobe I will need to combat the hot and cold conditions without sneaking over to the thermostat, surreptitiously lowering or raising the setting to my comfort level. But she always senses when I do that, or she has hidden cameras that monitor my every move, and quickly restores the status quo before I can get any relief.

She is admittedly not an avid sports fan.  But she tries to be interested when I am watching a ballgame of one sort or another.  However, her interest becomes highly annoying when she asks what the score is when it is posted on the TV screen, whether the Packers have scored a run yet, or if the Brewers got a touchdown, and why doesn't the kicker score a point when at the kickoff, he kicks the ball into the other team's end zone.  And why oh why must baseball players spit so much. That is just disgusting and what are their mothers thinking. Why is a field goal worth only three points when it seems much more difficult than just throwing the ball into the end zone or having some big fat guy run it in for a touchdown, which, by the way is worth 6 points, not 7. The team scoring the touchdown then gets  to kick the extra point or maybe try for a two point conversion if the game strategy warrants the risk. By this time my attempts to educate her on the basics of whatever game I am watching has fallen on deaf uninterested ears. She gets bored with sports easily and doesn't really listen or learn. You would think that having been a high school English teacher for 38 years she would understand the students being bored with the lesson at hand and try to learn the nuances of the sports that dominate the TV and consequently me.

My promise from here on out is to ignore her when she asks her dopey questions, pretending not to hear her.  But it is going to be very difficult to ignore questions like "when he hits the ball, does he score one point, and if he goes all the way to that middle base why doesn't he get two points? " If I acknowledge such a ridiculous question, it will only encourage her to ask more dopey questions, like "what position does Aaron Rogers play?" Or this little bit of stupidity, "when the guy carries the ball all the way to the goal, does he score a field goal or a home run?" (Actually, there is some logic applied there.)  Her questions about sports have been a huge irritant to me.  I have, on some occasions, threatened her with dismemberment starting at the top and working my way downward until the questions stop or she runs out of body parts. Such threats mean nothing to her, so my only recourse is to ignore her. I'm good at that, having had lots of practice over the last 47 seasons. If I don't acknowledge them I won't get irritated by them  and I won't snap and snarl at her for being so ignorant and annoying, we won't then have a fight and our marriage will survive another day.

Have you noticed that all the changing, or at least all the trying to change, comes from my side of the chasm?  She is perfect so there is no need for her to change. At least that's what she says. That must be right.  How would we have made it together for the last 47 years if one of us wasn't perfect to begin with?  Think we can make it for another 47?  As long as I keep trying to improve my behavior we should be ok.  At least that's what she says.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Shady Shades

I am usually a reliable handyman.  I can fix most of the typical household booboos that we all have to deal with.  When all is said and done, I'm the guy you want around the house when something needs to be fixed. Trust me. When I take on a job, you are going to get a job well done, not the second coming of Tim Allen.

Also, I am quick.  I hate procrastination.  When something is broken, I want to fix it NOW.  I am  not a patient man. And as a bonus, I will have a good chance of having just the right repair part on hand in my workshop.  I never throw anything out.  I always save bits and pieces of everything that crosses my workbench. You never know when that little funny shaped piece of metal or plastic will come in handy.  But there are occasions when even I find it necessary to order a part from the manufacturer, because the part needed is so specialized that even I, with  all my skills and expertise, with all my design ability and inventiveness, must bite the bullet and not let having to order a part test my manhood and jeopardize my place in the Mr. Fixit Association.

The previous two paragraphs are actually an introduction to the last home repair fix up job that the boss added to my list of chores (a list that, by some voodoo magic, never gets shorter). At least I wasn't the cause of the problem.  Honestly, I was all the way in the kitchen sneaking a cookie when she pulled the shade down, breaking the hanging bracket that was holding the  shade in place.  By the sound of it, you would have thought that Armageddon was nigh. The general racket that overlaid the distinct thud of gravity putting an end to the shade falling on the table below and knocking over the lamp which then crashed on the floor, was nearly drowned out by the surprising shriek that spewed from her surprised mouth accompanied by some wonderfully colorful language that would make a longshoreman blush. (You never really know your spouse until she gets the chance to show how inventive her cursing can be.)

You would think that just replacing a hanging bracket so you can rehang the shade is one of the simpler tasks that any Mr. Fixit would have to do.  Most of us who claim to have the skills to claim the Mr. Fixit title, could probably perform the installation one handed with our eyes closed.
But don't ever assume that any job is going to go smoothly by default.  There are too many ways that the imps of mayhem can screw you when you least expect it.  This new bracket replacement proved to be the repair job that nearly took me down, replacing my arrogance with  a good dose of humility.

It all began to go sideways when, after a close inspection, I determined that the best way to  proceed was to give up the idea of making my own replacement part and order the bracket from Hunter Douglas, the maker of the injured shade. One of my few shortcomings is the inability to understand the Internet and how everyone else in the world but me has no problem with it.  So I turned the online research and probable purchase over to my personal assistant/secretary/office manager/purchasing agent/financial manager/editor/critic/boss/ wife and lover.  She did her thing with that electronic box that sits on the desk gathering dust, and found almost instantly,the requisite replacement bracket for the Hunter Douglas Silhouette shade that we were dealing with. So far so good, right?  Now it gets going faster sideways.  We would have to wait approximately two, ( count 'em, two) weeks for them to arrive. Apparently the good folks at Hunter Douglas don't have the infrastructure to handle such a demanding order (maybe they don't understand the Internet either). I have difficult time understanding how it can take so long for something as little, simple, and on hand in the warehouse to get from there to here. When Mary buys anything online, the package is on the back stoop almost before she is done ordering. But we were at the mercy of Mr. Hunter and Mr. Douglas ( the company name would be Douglas Hunter if he had won the coin toss), and had no choice but to order their brackets for their shade which I wanted to hang again in my window. What do you think two little plastic pieces of molded plastic cost?  Or maybe I should ask, "what are you willing to pay for two little pieces of molded plastic?"  Would you pay a couple bucks?  How about a fiver?  Would you spring for that much? Under the circumstances I was willing to go five or six bucks.  The shysters who had all the power in this debate decided that $9.99 a pair would suit them nicely. Plus shipping. Don't you just love it when someone blind sides you with an outrages price and you have no way to retaliate? I felt used.  I mentioned earlier that I am not a patient man.  So waiting two weeks to receive those parts was a real test of my ability to wait to get something done.  I wanted it all to be fixed and back to normal NOW. Everyday I would have to walk past that unshaded window and feel another stab in my psyche. The fact that it was costing me most of my weekly allowance was just rubbing it in.

Well, the hangers finally arrived.  In a petulant state at being so abused by the whole transaction, I refused to open the box until after dinner that evening. Ok, so it wasn't much of a statement since the box arrived at 5:00 PM and we eat our evening meal at 5:30 PM. But at least I made my point. Once the box was opened and the contents examined, I realized that I knew how the Hunter Douglas company made a profit in their business.  They say that the one bracket package costs $9.99.  What they don't tell you is that each pack holds a pair of brackets.  As in two brackets in each pack. Mary assumed we would need two packs, each with one bracket inside, so we would be able to hang the shade with matching hangers. So now we had 4 brackets at a cost of $19.98.  Plus shipping. Plus tax. Those clever shade makers were shady in their dealings. Now I not only felt abused by doing business with those two named Hunter and Douglas, but I could feel a stiff breeze blowing out of the newly reamed hole they provided for me that should take care of the constipation that chronically plagues me.

But back to the simple job of replacing a shade hanging bracket.  Finally with bracket in hand, I was able to study the part up close to determine my next step.  The only problem with having the bracket in hand to study it, was that I had to hold it in hand to study it, because  those wacky guys who made the bracket assumed that the part was so simple and so easy to understand and install that they felt no instruction sheet was necessary, nor was one provided. I hate to admit that I was flummoxed by that little plastic piece.  For the life of me, I could not understand how the hanger was supposed to relate to the shade and how the bracket needed to be placed so that the result would be a shade hung from the top window frame, ready to be released by the cords that hung alongside it, thus fulfilling its stated purpose. I turned it upside down. No that wouldn't work.  I even tried to get it to do its job sideways, but that was just stupid. I tried to get it to cooperate by whispering sweet endearments to it while caressing it as a lover would, but that just embarrassed me when Mary caught me licking it behind the flange that seemed to play an important role in the successful application of the bracket. When all that TLC failed to provide the desired effect, I switched to the opposite approach and began my bad cop routine, hoping to scare the shit out of my little plastic adversary.  I cursed at it, called it nasty names, impugned its history, questioned its ancestry, threatened to melt all its siblings over a candle flame, got right up in its face, spewing my spittle at what I imagined was its eye.  I slowly turned away from it, then snapped back suddenly hoping to catch it making funny faces at me, ridiculing my inept attempts at unlocking its secret. Then just as I was about to fling it across the room, hoping to shatter it against the wall into a million useless pieces (remember, I had extras on hand), I had an epiphany.  The proverbial light bulb above my head flashed brightly, while a sigh of relief calmed my soul. I figured it out just before my standing in the Mr. Fixit hierarchy was threatening to slide into oblivion.

I set about placing the brackets in position only to find Mother Nature interfering with my efforts.  You see, I had waited too long to get the job started. The west facing window I was working on was directly in the glare off the setting sun.  I was blinded by the light. Now that I had finally gotten ready to finish the now two week old project that had tested my patience, I was stymied by the sunshine. But I felt so relieved that I had solved the puzzle and validated my creds as a
handyman, that I didn't mind waiting a little bit longer. Patience is indeed a virtue.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016


I have never felt so lethargic in my life.  I just can't seem to get going with anything.  I have a long list of things that I want to do, yet there seems to be no urgency to getting them done. Mary has been feeling the same way. The two of us have been sniping at each other one moment, and the next moment we will be hugging and trying to hold back the sobs that have been so frequent for the past ten days. Mary loved Rich as much as I did, and we are both trying to figure out what comes next.

We have lost loved ones before: our parents and grandparents are all deceased, Mary's brother, our next door neighbors, who were dear friends to us and wonderful grandparents to our two kids, and others that weren't necessarily as close as family members, but for whom we still grieved. Death is not discriminatory.  It will take us all sooner or later.  Rich's death just fell into the sooner column where we didn't expect to see it yet.

Rich is still affecting us as if he was still part of the conversation.  The current subject would have brought out the best of his verbal skills. Because, you see, the subject is God, His existence, and whether or not He has a hand in everything that happens to us or what we do. Rich and I spent our high school years together in the seminary, so I know he believed in a deity of some kind that had something to do with our very essence. I think though that he had, like I did,  a crisis of faith as he got older. He was no longer the devout Catholic that had brought him to the seminary. I wasn't the same either. Neither of us was ready to dismiss the existence of a higher power.  Just what that higher power was and did was the question that vexed us.

I know Rich wrestled with the very concept of "God" because we talked about that concept many times during our years of lunches together. Rich would never dismiss you if you disagreed with him, but would embrace your ideas and give them the respect and reflection they deserved.  That's what he did when I had a return to faith last year when Mary was so sick.  I found myself praying more and more to my God and seeking solace in the understanding that He was making it possible for me to return to faith on my terms.  When I told Rich that I was attending mass again and that I had, dare I say it, a "born again feeling," he didn't dismiss me out of hand, but was truly interested in how I arrived at this stage in my life.

Mary's concept of God is more mainstream and questioning.  She has an unshakeable faith in God, but just can't understand why He allows all the bad stuff to happen if He is the loving, beneficent God we think he should be. She wants an explanation for all the evil and sickness that we have to suffer through.  When she asks me for answers all I can say is "it's God's will."
That's the best I can do.  It is like we are all game pieces that get moved around the game board while we play the game of "Life."  We all take turns rolling the dice and moving our piece to the indicated place on the board.  The places we can land on determine what our lives will be like. If you are unlucky and land on the colon cancer place, too bad. You got it. Land on the clinical depression spot and you will spend your life depressed. All the diseases we know of are represented on the game board, so you have good odds of suffering sometime during your existence.  Of course if you are lucky, you will land on the "You just won the lottery" place and spend your life living it up and not worrying about the cost.  Or you could land on "you will have a loving wife or husband" place and have a fifty year marriage with a life full of family happiness.

The point is that whether there is or isn't a God we an all agree on, there will always be human suffering, human happiness, human confusion, human disagreements, human expectations of your God, misinterpretations of the so-called word of God, which will lead to wars and more human suffering.  That beneficent God is just trying to stay out of the way so we can use the extraordinary gift of "free will" that He gave us.  All the mayhem and all the sickness, all the killing by lunatics with assault weapons, all the genocide by people who are just like the people they are trying to eradicate, all the thieves who disguise themselves as bankers and fund managers who steal our money, all the alcoholics who drive their cars while impaired, killing our children, all the liars and backstabbers who spread vicious rumors that can cause the ruination of the innocent, all the drug pushers that turn decent people into addicts just for the money they can make selling their poison, are all just mankind doing its best to screw up the chance to live the moral and ethical life that God hoped for when he made us in his image.

All these are the result of mankind using the "free will" that God granted us. I wonder if He ever sits back on His throne, surrounded by angels, and seriously considers pulling the plug on His creation. That mankind could screw up such a wonderful gift from God has to make Him wonder why He bothered to create us in the first place.

While we haven't reached any solid conclusions in this argument, I can hear Rich in the background chortling at some of the more outrageous ideas that spew forth from mouths that should stay shut.  That he would have a lot to say on the subject is a given, but he would never force anyone to agree with him. The more disquieting the question, the deeper he would plunge into the fray, eyes twinkling in delight at the opportunity to display his logical and erudite debating skills.  The quiet force of his intelligence melded with his sense of humor and presented in his rasping voice, won him many arguments when others would have given up the fight in frustration. I lost many an argument to him and got quite an education in the process. But I had my share of wins, too, which he readily acknowledged, delighted that he had the opportunity to enjoy another lively conversation.

How can I ever replace those conversations and my continuing education now that Rich is no longer sitting on the other side of the table? And when will I snap out of this lethargy that I find so debilitating? Grieving for a lost friend includes grieving for the chances lost that can't become memories. I know Rich would want me to get on with it and stop all this mourning and grieving. Time is being wasted by the display of emotion, he would say. But I still need more time to adjust to the new reality in my life. Mary may never give up mourning him, and that would upset him even more.  Rich, old friend, we are doing our best to get beyond the grief that has taken over a part of our lives, but we will never forget you, the reason we are in this emotional predicament.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016


It was just last Friday that we talked to each other. Typical of him, he called me knowing that my schedule on every other Friday would have me probably headed for home after having lunch after my 11:00 appointment.  I struggled to get my phone out of my pocket, but eventually it gave up the fight and I was able to answer before he hung up.

"Hey, Bob how are you?  Are you feeling  good today?"  These were always the first words out of his mouth when he called me.  If I called him, Rich would respond with the those same words because he genuinely wanted to know how I was doing.

Then he said, "I figured by now, after your appointment at 11:00, you would have finished having lunch and you'd be parked in front of Mary's favorite store, waiting in the car while she did some shopping."

"You can't be serious." I shouldn't have been surprised by his remark because he knows my schedule better than I do. "I'm sitting in the exact same parking spot while Mary is in the same store shopping just like I was two weeks ago when you called me.  Sometimes you scare me."
But that was typical Rich.  He always seemed to know what was going on and where I would be at any given time.  He even reminded me when Mary's birthday was coming up so I wouldn't forget it and get in trouble with her. He also knew all the birthdays of my 3 grandkids.  He never forgot a number once he got it in his head.  Birthdays, anniversaries, phone numbers: he never forgot any of them. His amazing memory allowed him to recite the starting lineups of the Packers first two Super Bowl teams.  He could recall specific plays from any game you asked about, whether it was Packers, Brewers, and even the Cubs, who for some reason he was drawn to.

Our phone conversation last Friday, though, was my chance to ask him how he was feeling.  For the past two months he had been in and out of the hospital several times suffering from an infection of the colon called "c diff," which left him very sick and weak. Worst of all, he had to go it alone because c diff is very contagious and he wouldn't allow anyone near him lest they get infected.  In the hospital he was in isolation with the staff who cared for him having to wear sterile scrubs whenever they entered his room. Naturally I was worried about him being alone with no one to help him.  I could do nothing for him during his illness.  I couldn't run the risk of infection since my immune system is already compromised by PD.  So I was limited to supporting him with phone calls and texts.  That's why I was happy that he called me on Friday.  That meant that he must have been feeling good that day.  He sounded upbeat and normal. We both figured that was a good sign, that maybe the latest medicine he was taking was winning the battle. Rich was confident that he was on the way to recovery.

"I just want my life back." That was his wish everyday.  That was my wish for him, too. Since he was alone with no help at home, he contracted with the home health care service to help him.  He had an appointment with them for 8:00 AM on Monday morning.  When the health care nurse arrived Monday morning, she found him lying in his recliner. He was dead.  He had passed away sometime during the night, peaceably with no sign of distress. His body just had had enough and had given up the fight.

My God, I am going to miss him. I don't know that I will ever be able to fill the gaping void his death created, or climb out of the endless black hole that he left behind.  For 54 years he had been a part of my life. We didn't always agree on everything, but we had a wonderful time disagreeing. Most of all I want to thank you for the fine example of how to live a life honorably and morally right, without compromise or even the hint of hypocrisy.

I could write a hundred pages about all the interesting things that went on between us, by us for us and despite of us, but that would only serve to add emphasis to our strong friendship. It doesn't need more emphasis.  Our friendship was a God given gift that we made the most of and I will never forget HOW we made the most of the opportunity that God gave us.  So goodbye old friend.  I will see you soon enough, so we can continue on doing it all again.

My friend

Have you ever known someone who was so tuned into you that it seemed like he could read your mind? I mean really get into your head?

Have you ever known someone was so pure in his intentions that his life was lived fully through his caring for others?

Have you ever known someone who could and would laugh at himself first so you wouldn't feel foolish for something you did or said?

Have you ever known someone whose whole body would convulse and shake with uncontrollable laughter, his eyes squinting to hold in the tears, that was so contagious that you'd be smiling at the memory of his laugh, but not remembering what caused it?

Have you ever known someone who would unfailingly put your interests first, dropping whatever he was doing so he could help you out?

Have you ever known someone you could confide in, telling him your worries and fears, your dreams and hopes, knowing that he would hold that confidence close and respect your willingness to share those burdens and triumphs?

Have you ever known someone who was so generous in spirit that you soul felt newly
inflated whenever you were with him?

I have.  My best friend, my confidant, my anchor and my wings, my partner in life's battles, Rich was the one person who embodied all those attributes and more.  My God, how I will miss him!
How will I ever bridge the gaping chasm his death has laid in my path?  How will I fill the endless black hole that his passing created in my life?

RIP.  Rich (6/6/16).   I will never forget the many joys we shared and the many celebrations of family for the past 54 years.  Having you as my friend was truly a God given gift.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Never forget

I never made use the opportunity to prove my patriotism and risk my life for my country.  Coming of age during the Vietnam era meant making some difficult choices for all of us who were ripe for the picking. The first draft lottery was held during my senior year in college and I had the bad luck in that lottery to draw a low number. A low number was the kiss of death.  A low number meant your odds of being drafted into the army, and ultimately sent to Vietnam, were heavily in the army's favor.  My number was 88. They passed that number by mid February.

For the remainder of my senior year, everything I did or thought was influenced by my draft status. Plans were made and rejected, then made again when a new idea crawled into the void left by the previous untenable plan. It was a time of anxious uncertainty. On the one hand I wanted to run away and not be found until that stupid war was over.  On the other hand I wanted to prove my patriotism and serve the country that I truly love.  But I just couldn't get past the fear of being sent to a war zone on the other side of the world, risking my life for an unjust cause that was decimating my generation. I knew a few young men who went there and met that fearsome horrible fate that sent them home lifeless, bringing tragedy and sorrow, mournful questions and disbelief, and family emptiness and anger as pallbearers.  Although none of my friends or close acquaintances suffered that fate, I knew from a distance many young men who did, and was torn apart inside when one more fell from an unseen enemy's bullet.

I finally resolved to join the Army Reserve as a way of, hopefully, avoiding being drafted. At the time, finding a reserve unit that had an opening for one more draft avoider was difficult because so many of us were standing in line to get that spot on the roster. But I got lucky and found my new military home in the reserve unit in Sheboygan. I drove to Sheboygan from Madison on graduation day, passing up that ceremony to raise my right hand to swear to defend my country in a far simpler ceremony.

Obviously my plan worked.  I never even came close to Vietnam.  I served my 6 year obligation And added 2 more years on top of that before I was done with the army and my beloved country was done with that hideously wasteful war.

My feelings of guilt or not getting into the jungle, dodging bullets and bombs, and suffering the through that tortuous time, have kept me away from visiting the Vietnam Memorial.  I know I would be shedding uncontrollable tears as I read the names of those who earned their place on that granite slab by making the ultimate sacrifice for their country.  I honor their bravery with my tears. I cry tears that I hope would rinse away the waste of a generation, I assuage my guilt with my tears, and hold the utmost respect in my heart for those fallen heroes. I'm grateful that my name isn't etched in granite alongside those enshrined there. I am grateful that so many were willing and able to do their duty so that I could continue on with my life.  I will never forget those boys (for many of them were just boys) who became men forged in the crucible of war.

I will never forget.

Sunday, May 29, 2016


I've had a very productive day so far. I got almost everything on the old honey-do list that Mary left for me when she left me.  I mean she left home to do her own thing. No, that doesn't sound right either.  What I mean to say is that she went to town this morning without me to meet Jonathan and our two beautiful grand daughters at the zoo.

I was not invited on the zoo excursion.  I don't know why.  Maybe I embarrass them when I walk around shouting "Free Willy" whenever a zoo official passes by. Or maybe because I hate zoos in general, seeing all those sad eyes and frowns on those unfortunate inmates lazing around in the dust, and sometimes mud, devoid of privacy or any of the real comforts of home.  No, I am not good company at the zoo despite Paul Simon's insistence that "It's all happening at the zoo."

Then again, maybe they only invited grandma along because they had one more admission ticket, and that they know that grandma loves the zoo.  The only thing I'm complaining about is that she gets to spend that time with our granddaughters, whom she loves almost as much as I do.  But a good thing that always comes with her spending time with them, is that she is then happier and easier to live with.  So even though she always leaves me a list of chores to do, I don't mind if she has a smile on her face when she gets home.

But I digress.  I started out to say that I've had a productive day, even though all the things I accomplished were minor piddling little irritating chores that you wouldn't normally set aside time to do.  Like I retied and replaced some of the cable ties that hold the windscreen on the upper deck railing. Like vacuuming the kitchen (even though it wasn't on the list. I just thought it needed doing). Like installing a hook in the bathroom to hang the little clock on the wall.  Like assembling and replacing in their proper place outside, the three burned out garden lights.  And get this--I even baked a dozen gluten free sugar cookies and a dozen gluten free banana muffins. And it's not even lunch time yet. And I emptied the dishwasher and took out the trash.

I accomplished all that and I didn't even have to put my pants on.

Friday, May 27, 2016


Jannelle's comment on my previous post that showed the plantings I had done on our condo's walkway entrance stirred up some memories about the peony plant in one of the pictures. She had noted that the plant already had some buds on it, which is somewhat unusual.  The peony plant that this one came from typically bloomed in the week after Memorial Day. Those early buds make me think that I am being watched over by the man who gave me the original plant and taught me how to take care of it.....

When we moved into our house 45 years ago, we were entering a strange new world of responsibility that we may not have been prepared for.  Sure, we knew the basic duties that needed to be taken care of on a regular basis to keep our new home comfy and cozy, but we weren't quite prepared for the myriad mundane chores that seemed to increase in number every month.  The outside work, for instance, was a revelation.  I wasn't so naive as to think the grass would cut itself or the snow in the driveway would  miraculously melt before I could get my shovel, but I was unhappily surprised at the amount of time all those chores took.

But we learned to deal with all work that seemed to continuously pile up. As long as we knew what to do, we had no problem doing it. Our youthful enthusiasm and boundless energy saw us through most of the problems that were stacked on our doorstep. On those occasions when we were stymied by some household conundrum, we relied on the knowledge and expertise and good old common sense that our elderly next door neighbors had in abundance. Thankfully they were willing to pass some of that knowledge on to us.

When it came time to do some gardening or landscape work all I had to do was ask Karol, my elderly next door neighbor, how to get the job done.  Karol was a consummate gardener.  He could grow anything and have the plants thrive way beyond expectations. So when I put in a new concrete walkway from our front door to the driveway and decided to plant peonies on each side flanking that walk, naturally I sought Karol's advice on selecting the right variety of peony, how to plant them, and how to take care of the new plants. I got the idea of using peonies along the walkway from looking at the peonies that Karol had planted along his driveway.  Those peonies were spectacular when they bloomed each year.  I was hoping to get the same result with my flowers.

When I told him I planned on buying two dozen plants, he looked at me like I was crazy.
"Nah." He drew out the word into three syllables in his thick Polish accent, all the while shaking his head at such an absurd idea. "You don't buy. I give you." That made me shake my head at such an absurd idea.
"We take cutting from my plant.  We dig up like this." He took the shovel he had been leaning on and proceeded to split one of the peonies along his driveway in half, digging up a sizable chunk of root stock while leaving the other half in place.

While he dug up the two dozen plants I needed, he told me all about those peonies. When he first came to this country after WWll in 1948 (the year I was born), he lived in an apartment that had the remnants of a garden gone to seed. Among the weeds he found a rather forlorn and wilted peony plant that he took a special interest in. He turned that sickly specimen into a prime example of what a peony should be.  At that time he judged that plant to be around 75 years old, figuring it had probably been planted when the building was built. When he married Emma and moved to a different apartment, he took that peony plant with him.  Then when he and Emma built the house next door in 1962, he propagated all the plants that lined the edge of his driveway from that one plant that he had found abandoned in that backyard 15 years before. That made that original peony about 90 years old. We bought our house in 1972. At that time Karol's peonies, all propagated from that original plant, could be traced back 100 years. For the remainder of the time we lived in that house, 42 years, following Karol's example, I took great care to maintain those 24 plants that were the direct offspring of Karol's  original peony.

So when we sold the house two years ago, it was only natural that we would take a cutting from that row of nearly 150 year old peonies alongside the walkway, and transplant it here where it will serve as a reminder of our history and honor the memory of Karol.

Hopefully that line of peonies will continue for the next 150 years to bring good luck and beauty to whomever has the good fortune to take care of them.


We never notice it during the day.  But last night was one of those nights when Sleep was hiding just beyond the shadows, afraid that I would grab her and hold on until morning.  During the day there is too much of everything else going on that we would have to concentrate hard if we were to hear it.

Last night, however, during that sleepless interlude when Sleep was flitting in and out of the shadows, teasing me, I counted six times that I was almost lulled toward sleep by the urgent drone of a fast moving freight train. That drone, along with the vibrations that echoed through the ground from a half mile away, together were the unmistakeable announcement that something important was happening either north or south (I couldn't tell which way the train was moving) and it was paramount that the train be there on time, whether to witness or participate I could only guess at.

Clicketyclackclittyclack that train aimed toward its destination, roaring past the barricades that were meant to stop the feeble autos that would skip across the tracks after the train had pulled the last railcar down the line. That roar and its echo changed the night into a Doppler serenade, gradually dying off into a sigh that only those waiting for it could hear.

People have mostly given in to the notion that a passing freight train, heard from a distance, stirs the soul and fills it with romance. There is nothing romantic about a freight train taking its time passing in front of you with a stacked up jumble of cars jamming the one lane street, stopped and waiting for the damn train to pass on by so you can get to your very important meeting. There is nothing particularly romantic about a hungry hobo hopping on a freight train, hoping it was going someplace warm. There is nothing romantic about counting train cars as they move across your only route to that very important meeting. Stuck in a situation like that, I could never count past 50 or so because the cars were whizzing by like they were being chased by a guy named Lionel, who wanted to shrink the entire train and give it to good little girls and boys, or because the passing train was moving so slowly that I would fall asleep by a count of 30.

Can someone please explain to me the immutable law of the Train Gods that says the slower a train moves, the longer it must be with cars overloaded with exotic and other unusual goods destined for exotic and unusual places. And why does it always seem that the train workers controlling their behemoth hunk of machinery can walk alongside their slow moving status symbol, and become more haughty and seem as though they are thumbing their noses at us while we are locked in the parking lot that should be a street, where we are held at bay by that one flimsy barricade pole stretching across our path.  I'm sure that there are many like me who formed amazing fantasies about how the train workers would be tortured with rail spikes driven through their skulls with 20 pound sledge hammers, then tied to the tracks just before the express train arrived with its arrogance on full display, and while screaming for you to get out of the way, chopped those workers tied to its track into hamburgers that would later feed all the hobos on board.

Those hobos had it all wrong. I figured that if you were going to ride on the train, you would do so by sitting in a seat in the specially appointed passenger cars, or if you were really special, in the caboose.  I never bought into that romantic notion, preferring to dwell on the power of the engine that put forth the Herculean effort to pull so many boxcars behind it. That an engine, usually alone at the front of the line, was able to generate enough power to control its family of boxcars, tankers, flat beds, and the punctuation of a caboose, has always been a source of wonder for me.

My train training began when I was maybe 3 or 4 years old.  We then lived across the street from a set of tracks that sat on top of a ten foot berm.  There the tracks were so close that when it passed we could see the gleam in the eye of the engineer, who knew what a special place he held in the imaginations of the kids he waved to as he chugged on past.

That set of tracks also seemed busier at night, too.  That it passed through our neighborhood more slowly than normal may have been a concession to the local powers that be who wanted as little disturbance as possible for the people who lived there.  That was fine with me because I could curl up in my bed, listening to the monster across the street roar on by and feel the vibrations that nearly crumbled the walls of the house and feel safe.

I'm sure that the trains, those scary, noisy monsters, fueled my imagination and provided me the early lesson to pay attention to what was going on around me. That's why I would never cross the street without someone holding my hand to make sure I didn't get too close to the tracks. That's why, although I've never seen it, I have such a clear picture of that train in my mind, when I hear the night trains now, not across the street, but that half mile away. That sound wafting over the terrain that separates us will always bring back those early memories of when trains were exotic monsters to be respected, wondered at, and enjoyed for all their power to inflame boys, now men, with wonder.

Monday, May 16, 2016


I was in a hardware store today just because. I wasn't there for any specific reason. I mean there was nothing that I needed from a hardware store, I just like to wander around hardware stores absorbing the aura of machinery, paint, chemicals, plumbing paraphernalia, electrical doodads, and all those nuts and bolts and screws of every size and  shape that you can buy by the case or single piece.  That aura will permeate my soul, keeping it satisfied and content until I can return to recharge that feeling.

Some hardware stores are better than others, of course.  The newer ones with their nice shiny floors, wide aisles, and professional merchandizing, are a bit too slick for me.  I much prefer the old stores that you will find in any prosperous small town.  That is where the business was started by someone's great grandfather and handed down through the succeeding generations.  The store would have solid oak wood floors with ruts in it where customers habitually walk to get to the back of the store to pick up that one S-hook they need to hang the pot of petunias that the wife got at the local farmers' market.   All the walls will be fitted out with heavy duty pegboard that is crowded with the merchandise you just can't live without. Some of that merchandise has been there for years; you can tell by the accumulated dust and the faded package. The seasonal goods will be rotated in the front left corner of the store.  But don't look for Christmas decorations there before Thanksgiving, or the grass fertilizer and  weed'n'feed before Easter.

You can always count on there being knowledgable clerks to help you find the exact thing you need, unlike the new places who hire teenagers who don't know their adz from their zax.  Whenever you go into an old fashioned hardware store to find that 10-24x2 hex nut with the plastic lock washer attached, look for oldest clerk there.  He will probably be named Otis or some similar name from the past, and he will know exactly where to find any esoteric item in the store. If you are unsure of how to do something with that item, Otis will teach you. Otis knows everything there is to know about hardware.

Those old time hardware stores always have guy who can fix anything from the screen door that
your grandson kicked his soccer ball through (from inside the house), to your 25 year old lawnmower that he had to make the parts for. His workshop is usually in the low ceilinged basement lit by 4 bulbs hanging from that low ceiling. Larry (what else could his name be) rarely sees daylight and has bumps that cover every square inch of his head because of that low ceiling. The proof of his dedication to his job is the fact that if he could stand up straight instead of moving around in a bent over habitual slouch caused by the cave he spends all his days in, he would be 6'4".

Give me that hardware store anytime. Entering a store like that is like falling into the rabbit hole where everything is magical. I don't need to need something as an excuse to go into that special environment. All I need is a whiff of the unmistakable air wafting out the open door to lure me inside.

Friday, May 13, 2016


Mary has expressly forbidden me to write anything about her or anything that has happened to her.  That makes it tough for me to find something to write about since she is such a wealth of material, even on days when nothing happens to her.  So to comply with her wishes, I will just have to present to you a hypothetical situation that could happen to her or has happened to someone like her. I will insert myself as narrator into this hypothetical situation only to keep it simple.

Our protagonist (let's call her Mary, hypothetically, only because this is the kind of thing that would happen to her), was on her way to her hairdresser, with your narrator riding shotgun, cruising down a fairly long hill, building momentum for the climb back up the other side of that same hill. She was talking to me, pointing,and telling me that the bottom of this hill we were rushing down was a favorite place for the local police to set a hypothetical speed trap. Sliding down toward that hypothetical speed trap somehow created enough hypothetical momentum to get the hypothetical car up the hill and to the stop sign where it stopped to catch its breath.

The four way stop at the hypothetical intersection is confusing enough at times. Drivers from all directions vie to be the next in line to move forward, thinking that it is their turn to go. Of course, with all those drivers thinking it is their turn to go, there is a lot of starting and stopping, waving of arms, exasperation on their faces and quite a bit of finger messaging going on. Our protagonist finally got her turn to proceed and squeeled her tires to show how impatient she was. She was determined not to be late for her hypothetical appointment with her hairdresser.

After starting out from the stop sign, our protagonist would suddenly hear, nearby, the chirping sound a squad car siren makes when it is clearing its throat, readying itself for a full blast wail at the villain he is pursuing.
"Did you hear that?" She might hypothetically ask your narrator. " where is it coming from?"  She probably would be a bit confused upon hearing that same chirping getting closer. Finally she would see the flashing blue and red lights behind her.
"I should pull over and let him past." She is after all, a careful driver, observant of all traffic laws who has never gotten a ticket for any vehicular transgression. So she would dutifully pull onto the shoulder to aid the following policeman in his pursuit of the scofflaw that he was after.
"What is he doing?" she would ask upon seeing the police car follow her onto the shoulder and stop in the position of control that they do when apprehending serious criminals. "He can't be after me, can he?"  Her hypothetical incredulity was working overtime.

The hypothetical policeman was polite, but cold, when asking our stunned protagonist if she was aware that the law required her to pull to the side of the road whenever a police car was flashing its lights. She would likely answer, a bit petulantly, "of course I know that. I've been driving since I was 16."
"Then why didn't you pull over when you saw me behind you."
"Because I didn't see you there." She would then roll her eyes at the obviousness of it all. "I was looking where I was going, not where I'd been. So why did you stop me"
"I had you going 15mph over the limit coming down that hill back there."
"Well of course I would be going faster down that hill." She was certainly not going to let the logic of the situation be missed. "It is downhill after all."
The hypothetical cop would then take her license and vehicle registration back to his squad car and take his time writing her a ticket while our protagonist would sit and stew in the invective that would be choking her. She would dig deep to cuss that lowlife cop who was making her late for her all important appointment with her hairdresser.
A hypothetical situation like this would probably get a ticket that would set her back around a hundred bucks and the loss of 3 points. She would not be smiling when she told whoever was riding with her (like our hypothetical narrator) that he had better not post anything about this if he knew what was good for him. But all her companion could think of was all the ammo that just filled his domestic armory and how she would never live this one down.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

hang on

We have been in a replacement mood lately. It seems that things in our household that we take for granted are deciding to wear out at the same time. I just hope that we aren't part of the trend.
The truth is, I like having new machines and such around the house. Those new, technologically up to date gadgets and gizmos keep me interested. It seems like I always have a new toy to play with. That is, of course, if I've been good and Mary sees fit to reward my good behavior.
Well, I must have been especially good lately because she bought me a grand spankin' new, up to the minute dodad-wise, testosterone oozing, ready to attack first and damn the nametaking, VACUUM CLEANER! And it'is RED, my favorite color.
I'm telling you, this puppy is hot. This morning it was sitting in the garage in a closet that holds most of the rest of the cleaning stuff we have--you know, like the half dozen mops (each with a particular function), all those special rags I've mentioned here in the past, brooms, extra plastic bags just in case, a couple of rugs (the runner type in case someone with dirty feet wants to enter the house and defile it with their unwelcome dirt), you get the idea. I could sense that there was something amiss whenever as I approached that closet. I felt a strange vibe coming from inside. At first, I ignored it, but the longer I took to acknowledge it the more palpable that unhappy aura became. I finally gave in and freed the grumbling machine from its cell.
It sat in the middle of the room (I swear I could hear it purring the way a lion does when it anticipates a kill), arrogantly daring me to plug it in and see if I was man enough to take it for a spin. I figured no vacuum cleaner, no matter how red, was gooing to get the better of me. So, with a tinge of trepidation, I took the controls in hand and let her fly.
I was in control of the beast but could sense that it just wanted to take off and go where no vacuum has gone before. It handled like an Italian sports car, cornering like a Ferrari, and eating up the straightaways like a Lamborghini racing to the finish line. I felt like a real man chasing after that vibrant red machine. No toy, this one. When I was done with the vacuuming I felt like a conquering hero. I showed that pissant vacuum who was boss.
Mary must really love me. She buys me new toys and let's me help clean the house. What more could a guy ask for.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Mary's boys

I am frequently, no constantly, amazed at Mary's affect on high school age teenage boys and her continuing that affect as those boys become college students, growing into their young manhood. She has demonstrated an uncanny control in many different situations during her many years of teaching high school English to them, getting them to accept that Satire, Short stories, Science Fiction, American lit, and even English Literature are worth studying and knowing. Many of her former male students realize that they are better off because Mrs. C had the patience and ability to get them interested.
How do I know this? I know these things because they have told her so, with me standing, or often sitting as a witness beside her, after they have spotted her and run up to her to give her a big hug, while asking her at the same time, "Mrs C, do you remember me?" Her young men are never reluctant to approach her to express their joy at running into her at the mall, or at a restaurant where they are waiting tables, or at any public place where it is not unlawful to give your former favorite English teacher a big hug. Oddly enough, she once encountered one of those admirers in the back of an ambulance. The young man was a paramedic who was part of the response team that answered my call for help. When he recognized Mrs. C, I, the suffering patient lying on the ambulance's gurney, became an after thought. Such is her influence over them.
I bring all this up because we recently vacationed in Florida where she had occasion to exercise her abilities once again. I shouldn't be surprised at her handling of the "situation" that arose, since we have encountered the same thing on previous vacations at the same place. For the past three years we have rented a "cottage" that is next door to what we, and everyone else who has been in the vicinity, call "the party house." It is a large house with a small pool and a spa that will sleep, I expect uncomfortably, up to fifteen people who invariably turn out to be college kids on Spring Break.
Now we all know that when you get a gang of male college students on Spring Break wedged into an inadequate space for them to exist comfortably, mix in a quarter barrel or two or three, add in a few bikini clad coeds found on the beach who are, shall we say, pliable and willing to brave that churning cauldron of testosterone, then crank up the volume on the earth shaking music machine (they were playing classic rock,my favorite genre, so I can cut them some slack on the volume) and if you don't notice all hell breaking loose, then you are obviously dead.
In years past when our neighbor's in the party house were more than a little raucous into the wee hours, we just turned over in bed, put the pillow over our ears, and slept late the next morning. This year the fraternity brothers who took over the house that had made its reputation as THE PLACE TO PARTY, thought they were being clever by launching a preemptive strike at us before their turn to party got started. The afternoon they arrived, two of their more charming members, Robert and Stuart, came knocking on our door intending to reassure us that they were not a pack of rowdy hooligans who were unaware of the finer social mores that we, as members of their grandparents generation, were likely to practice. They actually had a pretty good idea--ingratiate yourself to the neighbor's, get them on your side from the get go so that they wouldn't immediately call the cops when the party was at its apex, teetering on the razor edge of sanity and total chaos. They came forward with the promise that they would not be noisy past midnight so we wouldn't be deprived of our much needed sleep. Mary, however, thought 11:00 PM was a better idea. She gave them her best "this is my world and you are welcome here as long as you obey my rules" look, which served her so well in the classroom all those years.

They never knew what hit them. Smiling all the while, Mary assured them that their mothers would be proud of them if they did as she expected. They were also informed that she would contact them each with a text right at 11:00 to remind them of their self-imposed curfew. To that end, she elicited each of their phone numbers, which they gave up willingly without another thought. By that point all that Robert and Stuart wanted to do was get away while they still had their balls in the right place.
While Mary, their new best friend, was laying down the law, I couldn't help noticing the sweat on their brows and the moistening of their armpits as they stood silently, in rapt attention. Nodding dutifully, agreeing to adhere religiously to the tenets presented to them by this most admirable of teachers, they were convinced that every thing they were hearing from this supreme being had been their idea. When Mary finally dismissed them with her motherly smile and a soft touch on each arm, they didn't realize how they had been manipulated, or how they had come to be in the presence of this motherly, nay, grandmotherly goddess of the Psyche. She had used her myriad magical psychological gambits to convince Robert and Stuart that this was all their idea: the 11:00PM curfew, the lowering of the music volume, the awareness of their language (Mary had indicated to them that the vulgar cussing so common in their conversation was unacceptical even though she could out cuss a horde of Huns if need be), that their clever opening move had succeeded beyond anything they had imagined, and that they had put one over on the nice, but simple, elderly couple next door. Mary had allowed them to leave with their dignity intact, their sense of manhood unscathed, and a feeling of accomplishment that will boost their confidence the next time they enter into negotiations with somebody.
From that moment on we had a great relationship. Every time they saw one of us, they were quick with a smiling greeting and a willingness to talk with the "elderly couple next door," whom they showered with "sirs" and "maams." They got a life lesson in communication with someone of another generation that in the past they might have been reluctant to approach. You can bet that if our paths ever cross again in some far away place and when we least expect it, Robert or Stuart will run up to Mary, embrace her with a monster hug, and say, "remember me?"
And best of all, the party noise never crossed the line into objectionable territory. We all got plenty of sleep, and Mary had provided those two young men a lesson in getting along with others, even the elderly couple next door. And I got material for another Mary C story. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016


I was sitting here thinking about all the people we know, the people we call friends, and the people we consider special in our life. We, of course, have some very longstanding friendships that are significant because of their longevity. Those are the people who are essential to our life story, the narrative that defines us now and how we got to this moment. Then there are the more recent relationships that have entered our life and are held there by a rather tenuous thread that can grow stronger with time or shred into strands of memory. Such temporary friendships are more common and can blossom into full friends of lofty status or remain as acquaintances, pushed to the sidelines and easily forgotten when the next new friend appears. We, of course, have experienced all those different kinds of friends, from the dearest of friends to the slight acquaintance, through the years and have enjoyed being one of those different kinds of friend, from "best" to "barely know them" to them in return.
We are very fortunate because we make friends easily. Smile at me as you pass me on the sidewalk and you are close to being my new best friend. Once we get to talking, you're mine. Mary has the real gift, though, that attracts people to her like metal shavings to a magnet. For some reason, total strangers feel compelled to confide in her. If given 5 minutes with her, she will know that person's life story, the names of all her family members down to her cousins, all their husbands and wives, all their birthdays, their political leanings, how many devout Christians and how many devout Muslims are in their family, and how regular they all are. Mary was in Kohls one day, standing in the checkout line when she struck up a conversation with the woman behind her in line. Five minutes later they had made a lunch date and a promise to get together frequently. That was nearly three years ago and they are still meeting for lunch. Not the same lunch, obviously.
Then there are the friends who get separated by living their lives and putting all their effort into the necessities of that life. They get married, have 2.5 children, change jobs a half dozen times, settle in a city far across the country and only occasionally, think of you. Then one sun shining day, without warning, the fates nudge them to look to their left instead of to the right. And there the friends cross paths 40 yrs down the road, quickly get reacquainted, and pick up their friendship right where they left off those many years ago as if there was no intervening hiatus. I have had that happen to me twice in my life, and feel enriched and thankful to God for giving me back my friends.
If I had to guess, I would say that at least half of you have had a so-called friend who hurt you by doing or saying something stupid that made you question the value of that friend. Friends can usually get away with an occasional insult or observation that cuts to the bone, like a razor sharp stiletto stuck between your ribs and twisted more than once. That hurts. But hurts will heal if given time and the cause of that hurt will mercifully be forgotten. Tolerance for the idiosyncrasies that made you want to have that person be your friend, is the key to the door that opens into the room that holds all the good attributes that drew you into that friendship in the first place.
It is important to remember that there are good friends and bad friends. Remember how often your parents questioned you about who you were hanging with and what you were doing with them? Isn't it amazing how right your parents were, how much they knew and how intelligent they became as you got older. Parents' duty is to protect their children from the hazards of life. Vetting your friends may seem to be an invasion of privacy at times, but how grateful were you when Mom warned you to stay way from that kid you thought was your friend who ended up in jail for dealing drugs. That is the quintessential bad friend. Of course, Moms and Dads can be

wrong at times. When the kid who would be your friend that they didn't want you to associate with turns out to President of the US, they will brag about your taste in friends and they will have to admit their error and eat their words.
Let's not forget the steadfast friend who has always been there for you from the first time you met. He is the guy who will always show up to help you move, to shovel that 4 yards of topsoil, to babysit your kids on a moment's notice, to lend you his car when yours is in the shop. He's the designated driver the night of your stag party. He's the epitome of "best friend." Everyone should have a friend like that, if only to use as contrast and to make you appreciate all those others who would claim friendship with you.
So there you have it, friends. I hope this little essay will stir your appreciation for your friends. I hope you all are blessed with fine friends. Feel free to count me among them. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

art, mostly

Last week, or maybe it was the week before, Mary and I spent some time one afternoon at one of my favorite places, the Milwaukee Art Museum, or MAM as we refer to it. I never get tired of going there, and even though we've visited it a thousand times over the past few years, every time we go we discover something new and extraordinary that we had somehow overlooked on our previous visits. 
Now that the 2yr renovation and remodeling of the place is complete, we have more incentive than ever to visit and rediscover our favorite artworks displayed in new galleries. The world outside disappears for the time we seek sanctuary within the walls that are adorned with such marvelous proof of man's ability to inspire awe in all those who view their efforts. 
Our conversations as we wander through the galleries are always about the art in front of us. There always seems to be something new to say, even about our favorite paintings, some new insight that we feel compelled to share. So I was somewhat surprised when Mary was uncharacteristically quiet while we stood in front of several of the most amazing paintings showing the colors of nature in the wondrous light of the Southwest. We were in the Georgia O'Keefe gallery, one of Mary's favorite painters. I was sure she would have something to say about the new exhibit because the paintings were hung with such loving respect that the aura created in that gallery pulled you into the environment of color and light that Georgia O'Keefe alone was able to create on her canvas. Such forms, such composition, such suggested shapes defined by her impeccable understanding of light and color, and how each defines the other showcase her incredible talent. Whenever I see one of her paintings I appreciate her body of work more and more.
Basking in that aura that surrounded me and seemingly caressed my soul, I waited serenely for Mary to make an enlightened statement about what she was feeling in the presence of such greatness.
"Oh, shit. I forgot to buy radishes for our salad."