Tag Archives: Comentary

It Just Slippered My Mind

9 Jun

                    The other day when I got out of the car going into  Barnes & Noble’s   I was appalled  to see that I was wearing a slipper on one  foot and a shoe on the other. I immediately thought of the All in the Family episode in which Archie Bunker told the   story of how he was so poor as a child that he had to wear one old boot and one worn shoe to school.   All the other kids teased him–  calling him Shoebooty.  There I was– Slipshoey.

                    For me just thinking about something has become the  equivalent of doing it. When I think about something I plan to do,  it seems as if I already did it and my thoughts get stored like a real memory. 

                  Evidently I was distracted while changing shoes.  I was only glad that  none of our   children were around to witness this, since it would have been conclusive proof that I had completely  lost my mind, as they have long suspected.  Wearing one slipper in public would be the final nail in  the coffin of my credibility.

                  When they were little they would ask me all sorts of  questions and considered me the fount of all knowledge and wisdom.   Now they regard me as completely clueless and  ignore any of  my advice,  while completely subscribing to any claptrap they find on the internet or hear from one of their peers. Even when they think I might actually  know something, they say,  “Just leave your expertise at the door.” I know this arrogance of youth  helps them establish  an independent  identity, but they still seem a little too eager to abandon me on some ice floe.

              When I noticed the two different shoes, I considered staying  in  the car, but I really wanted to look at   books, so I told my wife, Diane that  I was going to pretend that I had a sprained ankle.  I limped around Barnes & Nobles, taking pains to never look  at my shoes and  occasionally giving a subtle grimace.  I am fairly proficient at limping. I learned to do this convincingly at  high school football practice, just in case our coach was in one of his frequent  foul moods and was looking for someone to take a an extra lap.  

           Having one dark brown slipper and one light brown shoe was like wearing two different colored socks.  When comedian Steven Wright was asked why his socks didn’t match,   he said they did,  because  he went by  thickness instead of color.   

            Such faux pas  are  pretty common for me.  Like the time in high school I discovered the macho green beret I was wearing came from my sister’s old Girl Scout uniform or a few years ago  when I went to an important meeting wearing my sweater inside out. I may not be  Einstein, but I  do occasionally dress like him.

             Regarding embarrassing shoe mishaps, back in the days when we were young and poor,  we attended a church where you had to kneel  at the altar railing during communion. In this position  the rest of the congregation  could get a good gander at the bottom  of your shoes. It seemed like  this  would always happen on the Sundays when I was wearing my only pair of dress shoes— ones  that had a noticeable hole. Evidently all was not well with my sole. I would be anxious during the whole service and  tried, without  success,  to edge out a couple of old ladies,  so I could get to the side railing to decrease my potential audience.

            I suppose I do need to pay more attention to things.  Just the other day I  lost my wallet, again. This usually happens just as we are about to go out the door. Then I wish I was able to call my wallet,  like I do my cell phone,   when I misplace it. After the usual five minute of  hysteria, I finally found it–  in the washing machine. Our kitchen table is still cluttered  with ID cards, dollar bills, scraps of paper, and unreadable debit card receipts that are drying out.  

                Diane (Miss Perfect) is always warning me to check my pockets. I graciously  do not mention the numerous occasions she has left her purse somewhere,  or the time  it was mailed back to us in a bright red and white three-piece box, from a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant  inSpringfield,Illinois. Everything was intact. Miss Perfect certainly lives a charmed existence at times.

             I’ve been thinking  about the Barnes and Noble fiasco and maybe I should just give up and wear some of those bright yellow Crocks®  all the time.

 

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Brother-Hood: Another Steeltown Story

3 Jun

 If you ever had a big brother like mine you are familiar with the horrors of nuggies, paralyzing punches in the shoulder, the Dutch rub, and the dreaded Indian burn. The Communist Chinese had nothing on my brother Norman. But where he really excelled was in the area of psychological torture.

Many of my earliest traumas relate to my brother and food. For example when I was about five years old, I learned that eggs come from chicken’s rear ends or as he put it– “butt-holes”.Normantaught me this, just as I was sitting down to breakfast. My mother believed that an appropriate  stick-to-your-ribs breakfast consisted of two eggs, four pieces of bacon, and about half a loaf of buttered toast, all washed down by a heavily sugared cup of milk with a teaspoon of coffee added so that I would feel like a grown-up.  I ate this breakfast with relish for several years until that fateful morning whenNormanexplained to me where eggs came from. While his anatomical knowledge of poultry may have been limited, it was close enough for me and I stopped eating eggs for the next 15 years.

Norman also taught me that mustard was harvested from dirty diapers. This lesson came one day while I was eating a mustard and bologna sandwich.Normanalso went on to tell me how health inspectors had found rats crawling in root beer bottles as well as tiny white worms   in my favorite candy bar. Wally Cleaver would never tell the Beaver such things. It   dawned on me that I was stuck with Eddie Haskell for a brother.

When I switched from root beer to cola,  Norman described how the company that made my favorite cola had a terrible accident one day, when a worker fell into a vat of cola and drowned. Of course the carbonation dissolved the poor fellow’s eyeballs and the company didn’t discover the body until the entire batch was bottled and shipped out. Bottles from this batch remain on grocers’ shelves to this very day. My mother must have wondered if  I was developing anorexia by this time.

In the  days before convenience stores, Steeltown have several  corner stores. My favorite was an establishment about two blocks from my house. It was called Baxter’s and they not only carried Superman comic books, but also served Chapman’s ice cream. Kindly old man Baxter would puff on his pipe patiently waiting for you to decide on what flavor you wanted. Baxter’s was much friendlier than Pepper’s Confectionery, where the paranoid owners treated everyone like a shoplifter. One day I was eating an ice cream cone, whenNormanarrived home from one of his frequent  delinquent forays. He was riding my black Schwin bike and as usual he jumped off before it stopped and the bike continued on, crashing into the side of the garage.  He had already ruined his own bike doing this and was well on the way to demolishing mine as well. “Didja get that cone at Baxter’s?” he asked. “Yeah”, I admitted reluctantly. “You know why those cones taste so good, doncha?” “Oh, no!” I thought, “I don’t want to hear this.” “It’s because old man Baxter slobbers pipe drool all over the ice cream.” “Oh Yeah?”, I said, without much conviction. “See for yourself.” he grinned.   I never finished that cone as I could swear the vanilla ice cream seemed to develop an aromatic tobacco tang.   The next time I was in Baxter’s I carefully kept an eye on old man Baxter scooping the ice cream, while I pretended to look at the comic books. Damn it if  Norman wasn’t right.

My parents often went out on Friday nights, leaving me completely at Norman’s mercy. He insisted on watching the Spook Spectacular movie—  a television show consisting of  old Universal Studio’s horror movies that completely terrified me. One stormy night, when I couldn’t stand to watch another second of Frankenstein strangling a little girl, I retreated to the back bedroom where I hoped I could avoid hearing the grunts and screams. I crept into the back closet and shut the door. This was an odd closet that had a window that overlooked our back porch. I opened the window wide and stood in the darkness, glad I couldn’t hear the television. 

Except for the lightening,  it was pitch dark.Normanmust have though I went to bed. About 15 minutes later, he strolled out on the back porch to smoke a cigarette, so my parents wouldn’t smell it in the house. It was so dark thatNormanstood right next to open window where I was standing, not six inches away, but failed to see me. Looking jumpy he lit his cigarette and anxiously scanned the stormy skies. The movie and the piercing thunder must have unnerved him too.  I knew I’d never get a chance like this again so I waited until next loud crash of thunder and leapt through the window yelling and grabbing atNorman. He dropped his cigarette– screaming in terror, like a little girl. When he recovered enough to realize it was me, he started chasing me through the house, swearing and threatening to kill me.  I ran into the bathroom and locked the door.Normanswore at me and pounded violently on the door until my parents finally came home and grounded him for a week for keeping me up so late and having a cigarette burn on his shirt.Normantried to play dumb saying he didn’t know where the cigarette burn came from. Maybe it came from an Indian burn that backfired, I suggested.

War of the Wasps

4 May

The hedges in the back yard are out of control and we can’t see through any of the windows. All is a blur of variegated green and white. My wife blames me, but the real culprits are those devious wasps. I knew they were there ever since I saw a few dead ones floating in the pool. Their thick papery nests were stuck to the soffeting and I repeatedly shot them down with the hose. I thought they had left.

I heard nary a buzz until the day I bought an electric hedge trimmer at a garage sale. I was determined to finally clip those overgrown hedges. After running the extension cord through a window, I started cutting the hedge nearest the dinning room. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds, the air gradually thicken with wasps, until suddenly I was in a cyclone comprised entirely of wasps. Only then I noticed that my electric hedge trimmer was three inches away from an enormous wasp’s nest right in the middle of the hedge. That’s were they had gone. They did not seem to appreciated the violent shaking the trimmer created. Before I could apologize or retreat, I felt five simultaneous stings on my arms and back. I jerked up on the trimmer, cutting clean through the extension cord.

In panic I abandoned my equipment and made for the house. I could see the wasps buzzing around the decapitated extension cord in a frenzied dance of victory — the little bastards. Of course this meant war. I dressed my wounds and took a handful of Benadryl as I started swelling up like a bratwurst on a hot grill.

I sat in the dinning room studying my enemy through the window. My helpful and comedic wife, amused by my humiliation, suggested that I dress up like a giant wasp to fool them– a tactic once employed in a famous Donald Duck cartoon about honey bees. Although I rejected that plan and its accompanying sarcasm, it did suggest another strategy– I would make a bee-keeper’s suit and teach those wasps a much needed lesson.

I went out to the garage and concocted a spray bottle of the most deadly insecticide ever devised. The environment be dammed, this was war. Then I took my heaviest winter coat and fortified it with two sweatshirts. I pulled on two pairs of sweat pants over my bluejeans. And then I took my son’s pith helmet and put a double layer of sheer cloth over it, tucking the ends into the coat. Old thick leather gloves completed the insane ensemble.

Barely able to see and dribbling virulent poison all other the house, I made my way out the sliding glass doors, towards the hedge. The pathetic wasps were overwhelmed and soon saw that they were out of their league. In keeping with my scorched earth policy, I stumbled to the hedge with the wasp’s nest and pumped enough poison into it for it to be toxic for the next thousand years. My revenge, however, was short lived.

I had made just one fatal miscalculation. I forgot it was July. With the ambient air temperature like a sauna, the internal temperature of the improvised bee-keeper suit was about the same as the fiery furnace into which Shadarach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown. My profuse sweating interfered with my vision to such an extent that I tripped and spilt the venomous insecticide all over my ersatz bee-keeper suit, which now resembled a portable gas chamber.

I started choking and things were going dim as I struggled to get to the house. Had I really poisoned myself or was it the Benadryl kicking in? With my last reserve of strength, I peeled off the malignant clothing and crawled into the shower. Through the window, I could see the surviving wasps rejoicing — They were sure they had gotten me this time.

As I lapsed into semi-consciousness, I wondered if the EPA Superfund would pay for cleaning up my house and if a shish-ke-bob skewer would work as a stinger for a wasp costume.

Repairathon Man

8 Apr

If you have three small children and a broken dryer,  you have some idea of what hell is like.  A few weeks ago we were at my daughter’s house and   her bathroom was covered with hangers holding various articles of clothing, while a large fan whirled relentlessly.  The dryer had broken and they were waiting fir a replacement part they  ordered online. She had not yet resorted to that epitome of despair– taking her wet clothes to the  laundromat. 

For me the  laundromat, always   triggers traumatic memories of when I was single and spent   a large portion of my life at the “World O’ Suds”. I would  s put this off until the last possible minute and then I would schlep down there looking like a hobo in the only clean clothes I had left, in order to spend a fortune in quarters trying to get those darn towels dry.

Just a few months ago our dryer broke down. I decided to save a few bucks by seeing what the internet could offer. I eventually found a website that showed my dryer, and exactly what I needed to do to repair it. It seems that all the fuss was caused by a minuscule plastic fuse that cost about five dollars and takes 10 minutes to replace.  I went to the appliance store  where I bought the dryer and they sent me to an appliance parts warehouse out near the airport. This place actually had the fuse I desperately  needed hanging on a display rack near the cash register like it was a box of TicTacs®.

When I got home I managed to lose about half of the little metal screws that hold the back cover on the dryer, but after 10 minutes— all I can say is “Mission Accomplished”.

            Last winter, I used the Internet to fix  our furnace.  We have an oil furnace, which always manages to run out of fuel on the coldest day of the year. When our oil  furnace    completely runs out,  it  requires that you run some fuel through the line before it will start pumping again. So even when we finally got our fuel tank filled,  the furnace wouldn’t work.

I looked all this stuff up on the Internet and had decided to try to fix it myself, although I was very worried about what might happen in light of the unfortunate incident of the Coleman® Stove. I was alarmed to find that the process of running fuel through the lines is called “bleeding”, a term which has been often associated with my home repairs. I was also worried because the furnace in the pictures did not look very much like our furnace so I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing. With ticking  parts and colored wires sticking out all over, the furnace resembled  a large time bomb that I was trying to defuse. Call it “beginner’s  luck” or more properly “dumb luck”,  but I managed to bleed the line, only spilling  a gallon or two of No. 2  fuel oil over my coat and our basement floor.

            I must admit that I usually try pawn off calling the repairman on my wife, Diane. I also   make a point of not being around while the repairman is there and I have even  been known to take several trips around the block,  waiting for the repair truck to leave our driveway.

I think I do this for a couple of reasons. First it seems less than masculine to have another man come to your house to fix something that you should be able to repair yourself. Secondly, repairmen all seemed bent on giving me  a lecture on how I  can  make the repair myself in the future should it break again. Having no intention to ever do so,  I nod my head knowingly and have no idea what they’re talking about when they rattle on about   broil plates, solenoids, mullions and my personal favorite “the infinite heat switch”. Then I say that I understand perfectly and make a mental note that if it breaks again I will definitely have to get Diane to  call another repair guy.

Finally I  am embarrassed that they might   disparage my lame attempts at fixing the appliance before they came. They might ask what happened to all the metal screws on the  back cover, for example,   or ask what is all that duct tape doing wrapped around the infinite heat switch.

Years ago I had a van that would stall out all the time because the carburetor’s butterfly valve  would  not open and car didn’t get  enough air.  I discovered that if I shoved an object into the carburetor, it would open the valve enough to allow the engine to run. Generally I used a screwdriver for this purpose, but once I couldn’t find one  and instead   used  an old  bayonet,  I had  nagged my dad in buying me at the army surplus store when I was a kid. 

A few weeks later the car had other problems  and I took it into the garage, completely forgetting  about the bayonet. When the mechanic saw it  sticking in the carburetor he pulled it out as if he were King Arthur extracting Excalibur.  He said “I think I see your  problem, someone has engaged this van in hand to hand combat”.   I never lived  it down.

When we visited our daughter again on, thankfully,  her dryer was working again. We knew it was working because we could hear a continuous loud squeal emanating from her basement — or should I say “her downstairs”.  She has a walk-out  ground floor that she hates to hear us call  “a basement”.  I’m not sure what was wrong with the dryer, but I  told her if should  could  find me a large dagger of some sort,  I’m  sure I could fix it.

      

Situational Reading

2 Mar

             

The other day I heard a psychologist say that if  you don’t doze off within the first half an hour after going to bed, don’t lie awake struggling to fall asleep. Instead   get out of bed and read until you feel tired. My sister tried this, but would then stay up half the night reading. Her doctor advised her to stay in bed, keep the lights off and not be so impatient.  I suppose, that if you do read,  the trick  is to find a book that is not very engaging– something where  you don’t really care what’s going to happen next. Fon   Boardman Jr. from the Columbia University Press, polled librarians, editors, authors, reviewers, and  teachers and  their  consensus was that the world’s most boring author was George Eliot, so you might want to try reading Silas Marner.  It  certainly put me to sleep during sophomore English. One of my classmates referred to it as “Silly-Ass” Marner.    

            But without Mr. Boardman’s help,  how could you find such a book? Most libraries classify their holdings using either the  Dewey Decimal System or its  rival the Library of Congress Classification. Both systems   organize knowledge into  major classes and subdivides them into  divisions and  sections.  The Dewey System  is purely numerical and assigns a decimal number to each book and  can easily accommodate  an infinite number of works.     The Library of Congress  System   is an alpha-numeric mix with letters signifying the main divisions and double letters indicating subcategories. I can still remember that BF is the designation for psychology, but only because B.F. were the initials of arguably the most famous of American psychologists,  Burrhus Frederick (B.F.) Skinner. 

            Because they are based on categories of human knowledge, neither of these systems, can help you locate written works that are appropriate  for specific circumstances  like trying to fall asleep. In addition  to falling asleep there are   also a variety of other situations and venues which might call for customized reading materials. 

            To remedy this problem, I’d like to proposed a new classification system  based  on the demands of the setting–  the “Situation, Time,  And Whatever, Analytic Reading System or   the STAWAR system.

            Instead of subject matter; such as science, literature, or philosophy;  the STAWAR  system  employs other important attributes of reading material  such as how boring or engaging the material is,  its physical features (weight, size, appearance) and dimensions  such  as  granularity.  A blogger, named Pont,   defined   granularity as the “size of the semantic chunks of a work”. For example A dictionary or trivia book would have high granularity, a short story collection medium,  and a  Victor Hugo novel   very little.

            Below are a few proposed category descriptions  from  the STAWAR system: 

AP (Airplane): Airplane reading material should be lightweight and easily tucked into a pocket or carry on bag. Since the seats are narrow, newspapers are not recommended unless you are angling to become intimate with your seat mates.  Indigenous reading materials such as  the In-Flight Magazine,  weird catalogue,  safety card, and barf   cannot be  relied upon for  entertainment. This  material should be moderately engaging as  to distract your attention from strange engine noises and peanut crunching fellow passengers. Granularity should be based on the length of the flight or numbers of layovers. Excluded from this class are FAA safety reports and any stories regarding crash landings in the Andes or  incipient cannibalism.       

BB (Barber/Beauty Shop): In these settings there is often a gender divide in  reading materials between  sports magazines and newspapers  vs.  beauty and fashion  publications. If you bring your own reading material  to the barbershop,  it should not  be too pretentious or you run the risk of social humiliation. In college I made the mistake of bringing a textbook from a class on the psychology of learning to the barber shop. It was entitled “Principles of Reinforcement”. The fellow sitting next to me noticed what I was reading.   I suddenly realized my mistake  and prepared for the inevitable  teasing. I was granted a  reprieve when he looked at the title and just said, “Oh you’re studying construction.” Thankfully construction work was sufficiently testosterone drenched in a way that psychology couldn’t be.   

BE  (Beach):  Beach reading is usually light guilty pleasures.  The books themselves   should usually be   inexpensive since they will be exposed to  water,  sand, and suntan lotion. Low  reflectivity is a plus. Occasionally larger volumes can be usefully employed. Although lugging them onto the beach can be a chore, they are serviceable as a makeshift pillow if you wrap a towel around them. 

CA (Car):   Talking on cell phones or texting while driving as been found to be quite distracting and dangerous. Reading, while driving, certainly must be just as bad  if not worse.  I once knew a woman who read while driving. She always kept a paperback on the front seat of her car, but to her credit she only read when the car was stopped at traffic lights or train crossings. I’m not aware that she ever had an accident, but other drivers were constantly honking their horns at her, as she would try to finish a paragraph before  taking off.  She said she preferred books with short chapters. 

            Reading in  vehicles can be a  difficult task even for passengers. Our kids always read in the car,  but  my wife Diane gets car sick.  I believe that books with large type are best for car reading and can help reduce potential nausea, unless they are by Danielle Steel.

CH (Church):  Except for church bulletins, hymnals, Bibles, and  collection envelope doodles, reading in church, like cell phone use  is   seen as socially inappropriate  by most Americans.   For iconoclasts, who still insist on reading in church,  the materials should either    resemble  or be  easily inserted into an indigenous publications. Content should be serious enough so that facial expressions are not revealing. Laugh-out-loud  and  irreverent materials  should be scrupulously avoided during the sermon.

              Finally specialized reading materials could be identified for a variety of other  venues such as doctors’ offices, courts, work,  classrooms, and laundromats. In retrospect, I am afraid to speculate in what setting  this piece  might best be read.

Wayne and the Mayor: Another Steeltown Story

15 Feb

             

               Like many local politicians in Steelyown, it wasn’t exactly clear how Stan Mayer made his living but it had something to do with insurance and real estate, although Stan never seemed to actually transact any business. He spent mpost of his time in back booth at the Trojan Cafe. Wayne Flynn was a harmless and delicate  delinquent and Steeltown’s number one Beatles’s fan.  He was basically too intelligent to work for the cityand annoyed everyone by roaring around town in a silver Corvette he had tricked his father into buying. The deal Wayne made was that in the unlikely event he graduated from high school, his father would pony up for the ‘vette’. 

            Wayne had spent less time in high school than Abraham Lincoln, but somehow   graduated anyway. For four years he never knew his locker combination, which was fine because he didn’t know where his locker was anyway. No one knows how he managed to graduate. The day after graduation he got the silver corvette. He had a local sign shop paint a discreet “Loner” on the back fender and became a local legend.

            The summer after graduation Mayor Stan spotted him in Glik’s Department Store and asked,  “Well Wayne, have you found any honest employment yet?”  Reflexively Wayne replied, “Nope, have you?”

            Despite the  bravado,  Wayne desperately needed a job to pay for the expensive car insurance the fiberglass corvette required, so he went to the Illinois State Employment Office, with his Steeltown High School diploma proudly in hand. Wayne’s diploma would have been more functional if it had been printed on the back of a shop towel. 

            The State Employment Office people took one look at Wayne and quickly sent him to a green block building on the outskirts of town. Inside were dull-eyed men who were taking long metal rods and putting them into a machine that bent them into 90-degree angles. On the other side of the building another group of zombies were taking long metal rods, that were already bent into a 90 degree angle, and putting them into a machine that straightened them out. Wayne didn’t like the looks of the place at all and immediately roared home and and spent then next two weeks listening to the Beatles’s Magical Mystery Tour.  Later he told us  it must have been some sort of government job.

Terry Stawar Semi-Finalist in 2010 Robert Benchley Society Humor Writing Competition

11 Feb

February 9th the Robert Benchley Society  announced the  it’s Top Ten Semi-Finalists   in it’s 2010 Robert Benchley Society Humor Writing Competition. Among this illustrious group is Terry L. Stawar of Georgetown, Indiana, for his piece entitled The Strange Case of the Wayward Beef Roast. At last some of the fame and recognition he hungers for.