Friday, December 19, 2014

Up on the Rooftop

We didn't put up outdoor Christmas lights this year. (Not that we have ever set up a spectacular winter wonderland in the past; we have always put up a modest string of lights or two just so the neighbors didn't think we were a family of Scrooges.)

Simply put, I looked at the outside of our new house and realized lights could not be put up without climbing up on the roof. Longtime readers will think this is because of my recent ladder incident. Although there may be a smidgeon of truth to that, the real reason was that in my old age, I have become scared of heights.

My 12 year-old self would never have believed this. Although I certainly never did handstands on the edge of tall buildings, heights never bothered me, and I sometimes very much enjoyed them.

Back in the day, my family annually put up a somewhat elaborate display of Christmas decor including lights, wooden reindeer pulling a wooden sleigh carrying a wooden Santa Claus. After getting vandalized one year, we started putting the reindeer and sleigh on the roof as appropriate. Our two story split-level house had a lower roof on one story and a higher roof on the two-story side. Originally we put the reindeer on the lower roof but decided people might miss it if coming down the road from the opposite side. So my brother amazingly convinced my parents that we should put the reindeer on the higher roof.

We set up our ladder on the lower roof only to find it didn't quite reach. I think we were going to try it anyway by climbing up as high as possible, grasping the overhanging ledge with a hand or arm and then pulling the rest of our bodies up. Luckily smarter minds decided we should borrow the neighbor's ladder instead.

Our house also had a basement which actually sat above ground on the side and in the back. This meant a three story drop from the top roof to the concrete driveway. Of course the first thing we did up on the roof was to glance down to appreciate the long drop. Then we sat and took in the panoramic view thinking we could see the entire world. Setting up the reindeer wasn't much fun, but I loved being up on the high roof.

Flash forward thirty years to find myself standing on a ten-foot step ladder getting ready to climb on the roof of my one-story house. From the step-ladder, I would have to throw my body onto the roof while I imagined myself quickly sliding down the slope and down onto the patio below. I stood on the ladder a long time before I finally talked myself into it. I survived and learned that using the step-ladder wasn't so bad.

Ten years after that, we now had an extension ladder which should have made climbing onto the roof even easier. After a big hailstorm, I watched roofers all over the neighborhood practically sprinting up ladders and stepping onto roofs. I decided I could do the same. After chickening out a few times, I climbed up the ladder without thinking and without stopping. I made it to the roof easily.

I spent about an hour cleaning up debris and cutting branches from an overhanging tree. As I cleared the debris, I realized I wouldn't get closer than five or six feet from the edge. The closer I got, a nervousness grew in my stomach. I imagined myself getting dizzy and threw branches from as faraway from the edge as I could.

"This is strange," I thought. "I've never felt like this before. I still remember running around on the top roof of my parent's house never worried about falling."

When I finished I walked back to the ladder and sat down on the roof. I realized I would have to go to the edge to climb down the ladder. I slowly slid down the roof from my sitting position until I rested next to the ladder. I turned and tried to set my left foot on a rung only to push the ladder away. Luckily it didn't fall but that made me sit back down and rethink my predicament.

After a few more failed attempts, I realized the ground was only about ten feet down. A jump wouldn't be so bad. Or better yet, if the gutter could support me, I could just slide down, hold onto the gutter then drop easily to the ground. I seriously contemplated this until I realized the gutter would never support me. Twenty minutes later, probably too tired to care anymore, I finally managed to slowly get my feet on the ladder and climb down.

There are other incidents which make me think I'm scared of heights now, but being afraid to go on the roof has mystified me. Maybe it's just a matter of age perspective:

Twelve-year-old self probably looked down and thought, "If I land just right and drop to the ground like a paratrooper, worst case scenario is a broken arm or leg."

Current self looks down and thinks, "If I fall, best case scenario is a broken arm or leg."

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Rule 34A: Ladders Can Turn on You

I try to live my life by a few simple rules. For example:

1. The workday ends at 6:00 p.m. unless there's a life and death reason to continue. (Note: this mainly applies to weekends and finishing up household chores and duties)

2. Happy hour starts at 6:00 p.m. (this rule also helps St. Pauli Girl tolerate rule number one)

These are just a couple of examples, but I never know when I'll be adding a new rule.

Our new house has motion detector floodlights in the backyard. We never noticed this until one morning after a vicious thunderstorm, St. Pauli Girl saw the lights flashing like a strobe light on a disco ball.

"The poor dogs probably didn't get any sleep," she said.

"Yeah, well they were probably dancing."

She didn't find that humorous and later that day, I climbed up a ladder to disable the motion detector. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a power switch; instead I set the sensor to its lowest setting and aimed the detector at the wall. Unless we had an earthquake, the lights shouldn't come on again.

A week later, we went to put the dogs outside at about 11:00 p.m. For some reason, the lights were flashing, and no one was dancing. I pulled the ladder from the garage and set it against the house. This was an extension ladder where you could slide part of the ladder higher and some sort of locking mechanism would hold it in place.

I started climbing the ladder then paused to shield my eyes from the blinking floodlights above me. Suddenly, the ladder slid down by one rung. The locking mechanism must have failed. Luckily, I kept my balance and remained standing on the ladder. Then everything seemed to go in slow motion.

The ladder slipped down another rung. I held onto the ladder but this time my left foot got caught between two rungs. A sharp stab of pain shot through my foot. At this point I realized the ladder would continue to collapse rung by rung, so I would have to free myself. Luckily, I noticed I stood only three rungs above the ground. Before the ladder gave way again, I stretched and got my right foot on the ground. This improved my situation, but my left foot remained stuck in the ladder.

I yanked my left leg hoping to pull my foot from the ladder. Instead the entire ladder pulled back from the house toward me. But the top heavy ladder shifted and started falling to the ground left of me, pulling my foot with it. I danced and hopped on one leg toward it as it fell. When it hit the ground, it spun me around, and I fell onto my left arm on the concrete sidewalk. As I lay on the ground cursing and wondering what part of me hurt more, Bonny the dog came over and licked my face in a friendly gesture. Either that or she hoped to eat my dead carcass.

The good news was that my foot was no longer stuck in the ladder. The better news was that my foot no longer hurt or maybe it just didn't hurt in comparison to the pain in my arm. I suffered enough injuries in my youth to realize nothing was broken. I self-diagnosed myself with a bruised elbow and sprained wrist.

After a sleepless night, I spent the next day wondering how cavemen survived. "I could hardly type much less kill a sabre-tooth tiger or even gather nuts and berries," I thought. "Stuff like this must have happened to them all the time."

After six weeks, I'm mostly recovered although I probably couldn't operate a tomahawk right now if I had to. Luckily I'm right-handed. But this incident forced me to add a new rule/caveat to my life:
Nothing good happens that involves a ladder after 11:00 p.m.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Where's Lassie When You Need Her?

As I had mentioned in a previous post, we recently moved again. During the first few weeks in the new house, a multitude of workers came and went fixing this and that or turning on utilities. One day, when I wasn't expecting anyone, I answered the door where an older woman waited.

"Hello," she said, "I'm your new neighbor. Sorry to meet like this, but do you have a grey dog? I just saw a grey dog I hadn't seen before running down the street."

"Oh that's impossible," I said. "He's locked in the fence in the backyard. I'll double check. Thanks for asking."

I walked through the backyard only to find no sign of Bo. I then ran to the front yard and wandered down the street. About three houses down, I saw a grey blur darting through a backyard. Luckily he stopped when I called his name, and I carried him home.

I inspected the backyard and noticed that the fence gates won't close completely unless you turn the handle while closing the gate. Some visiting worker must have left the gate open. From then on, I inspected the gates after workers left.

A couple of weeks later, we acquired a new puppy named Bonny. Her energy overwhelmed all of us including Bo. Bonny definitely believed she had the job of pack leader and couldn't tolerate Bo getting any attention.

One day as dusk fell, I realized I hadn't seen Bo in a while. I walked through the backyard and found no trace of him. I checked the gates, but they were all secure.

"Looks like Bo got out again," I told St. Pauli Girl. "We must have a hole in the fence somewhere."

We wandered through the neighborhood then drove around in the car but could not find him and at that point it would have been difficult to see our grey dog in the dark. I walked with Bonny through the backyard one last time hoping she might provide a clue. But she never left my side, and Bo never responded to my calls. We finally gave up and hoped someone had taken him in for the night.

The next morning I wandered around the yard hoping Bo had come back to the gate. Once again, there was no sign of him. I went out through the garage, ventured down the driveway but came up empty. As I walked up the driveway, I glanced at the well-house in the backyard and noticed a board sticking up out of the roof.

"Oh no!" I thought as I ran to the backyard.

Our well-house is a brick shed built into the side of a hill. The entrance is on top and drops down about eight feet. Unfortunately, the hinges on the door had rusted away, and the opening now was simply a board on top of the hole, and the well inspectors had failed to secure it with the bricks that had been on top.

I ran to the top of the well-house and pulled out the board that had been sticking out of the opening. I peered down and sure enough, Bo stood there looking up at me. Then he ran around a bit so I knew he wasn't hurt.

"Really Bo?" I said. "You couldn't have barked?"

He wagged his tail.

I went back to the house to get St. Pauli Girl and a flashlight. I would need help to pull Bo out, and I wanted to make sure I could see what I was climbing down into as the well-house seemed like a great home for snakes and scorpions.

I climbed down the ladder into the well-house, grabbed Bo and hoisted him up and out to St. Pauli Girl who gave the hungry dog a treat. Then I made sure I secured the top as best I could although I doubted Bo would ever run across it again. Bo survived the ordeal just fine.

Later that day, I played fetch with Bonny. She would fetch the ball then show it to Bo as if to demonstrate her superiority before she returned the ball to me.

"You sure weren't much help last night," I told her. "You're no Lassie."

She looked up at me and wagged her tail. She had a gleam in her eye; she definitely liked being top dog. Then I started to wonder, "Hmmm, maybe Bo was pushed?"

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bo Knows Ice Cream

We adopted our dog, Bo, from the pound almost two years ago. We used our special method of picking the dog that wasn't yapping its head off when you walked into the pound.  They told us his name was Bo which was fine with us. (On a side note, this is the first time I've actually written out his name. I always assumed it would be as Beau because he has a grey coat, tall regal ears and bushy eyebrows. He looked like he could be a confederate general. Unfortunately, his doofus personality reminds me more of Bo Duke from the "Dukes of Hazzard", and so "Bo" it is.) Bo has been a good dog and not caused any trouble up until this past August.

One day St. Pauli Girl got distracted while opening the front door. Stealthy Bo snuck out when she wasn't looking. Unfortunately, she didn't notice he was gone until about two hours later. She quickly posted an online ad knowing he probably couldn't get far without someone from the neighborhood taking him in. About an hour later, someone called with good news.

"Yeah, I'm calling about a lost schnauzer," said the female caller.

"Oh good, you found him?" St. Pauli Girl asked.

"Well, I found a schnauzer. This one doesn't have any tags so I don't know who he is or who he belongs to."

St. Pauli Girl slapped her forehead. "Yeah, we had just given him a bath and forgot to put his collar back on."

"Doesn't smell like he's had a bath recently..."

"Well he has one of those chips in his neck so he can be tracked."

"Yeah? How's that working out for you?"

"Look, where are you?" St. Pauli Girl asked in a rising voice.

"At the Dairy Queen on University."

"That's our neighborhood. That must be Bo."

"Bo! Bo!," the woman shouted in the background. "Well he doesn't come when he's called. Can you identify him? This one is grey."

"Aren't all schnauzers grey?"

"No, I had one that was brown once."

"Well is this dog brown?"

"No, like I said, he's grey."

"Then that must be Bo. I'll be right there."

St. Pauli Girl jumped into the car and headed to Dairy Queen. As she drove, she felt relieved Bo successfully managed to cross six lanes of traffic without getting hit by a car. Then she realized that was even stranger because Bo was basically afraid of his own shadow. She parked the car and saw an older woman with a couple of kids and Bo sitting at an outdoor table.

"Thank you so much," St. Pauli Girl said.

"He didn't come running to you. Are you sure he's yours?"

"He started wagging his tail when he saw me." St. Pauli Girl walked up to Bo and began petting him. Then she noticed a white substance on his whiskers. "What's that on his face?"

"Ice cream."

"You fed him ice cream?"

"He got into my granddaughter's. Or maybe she gave him some. I don't know, but you owe me three dollars for the ice cream."

"What? Who told you to buy him ice cream?"

"Well my granddaughter couldn't rightly eat it after he stuck his snout in it."

St. Pauli Girl sighed. "I don't have three dollars on me."

The woman just waved and shook her head. "Never mind. You just get right on down to Petsmart right now and get him a tag."

"Uh, thanks."

St. Pauli Girl loaded Bo up in the car and drove off.

"Well Bo, I hoped you've learned your lesson. You're not planning on more adventures are you?"

Bo just licked his lips and stared out the window at the Dairy Queen as they drove away.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

I Have Returned

Well, we moved again. From the middle of July up until a couple of weekends ago, we've been constantly busy either getting the house ready to sell or slowly moving into the new one. So with life getting back to normal it's time to get back to the blog. But first, just a few random observations of rude and/or weird people:

If you're going to tell a lie, make sure your lie is plausible. Case in point: we were trying to order carpet for the new house and have it installed before we moved all of our furniture in. Carpet guy took measurements and said he'd send us a quote the next day. Three days later, we still hadn't heard from him. St. Pauli Girl finally called him.

"Oh I tried to call your husband," said the carpet guy. "There was no answer and his voice mailbox was full."

Hmmm, well, let's assume for a moment that I don't delete voicemails after I listen to them. The problem is I get maybe three phone calls a year. If I let them all roll to voicemail, it would take at least ten years to fill up the mailbox. And that's assuming a lot of evangelicals are calling me to leave voicemail sermons about saving my soul. Luckily, we found a different carpet installer who did 90% of the job and then just disappeared. But that's another story.

A few weeks ago, we were leaving the grocery store. I saw a woman empty her cart full of bags into the trunk of her car. Then she simply pushed the cart behind the car next to hers, and drove away.

I almost always return my shopping cart to a corral in the parking lot unless it's raining/snowing or it's ridiculously inconvenient. But if not, I would always make sure I don't block a parking spot and try to anchor it somehow so it doesn't roll away. I'm trying to think of what circumstances would cause me to just park it behind another car.

Hmmmm.... if the car had a bumper sticker that said "I Love ISIS".... if the car belonged to my arch-nemesis from grade school .... if the car had "Venemous Snakes on Board" sign in the back window... if the car was a giant jacked up pick-up truck blocking my view of traffic.... if the car was partially parked in my space. No, I would either do a lot worse or nothing at all in those situations. I think it's safe to say that if you park a shopping cart behind another car, you are just a jerk.

Last week, St. Pauli Girl and I were out of town and stopped in the hotel bar for a nightcap. As we entered, the waiter said, "And what brings you here?"

"Brandy," St. Pauli Girl said getting right to the point.

"Oh, and you're staying here?"

"Do you have brandy?" St. Pauli Girl asked. "Do you have E&J Brandy?"

"Um, let me check." The waiter stepped away.

"I think you two are on a different tangent," I said. "I think he meant what brings us into town?"

The waiter came back to our table. "Yes, we do have that brandy," he said as he started writing in his pad. "And sir, what would you like?"

"I'll have a brandy as well."

"Great. Spicy or non-spicy?"

For those few readers of this blog who are unfamiliar with alcohol, as far as I know, brandy does not come spicy. It's generally just served straight up from the bottle (unless you ask for something with it). But the young kids these days, who knows?

"Non," I answered with a straight face.

The waiter disappeared for several minutes in fact, much longer than it should take to pour a couple of brandies in a practically empty bar. Finally, the bartender came over to our table.

"Did you want your Bloody Mary spicy or non-spicy?" she asked St. Pauli Girl.

We finally got the drinks straightened out and relaxed for awhile. When we finished, the waiter came back.

"Would you like anything else?"

"No, I think we're all set," I said.

The waiter started laughing, practically cackling.

"We're ready for the check," I said to make myself clear.

"Yeah," he said and kept laughing as he walked away.

"Was that funny? Are we that drunk?" I asked St. Pauli Girl.

"No, but maybe he is."

Friday, August 29, 2014

Glenpyramid Glen Vitamin

On our last night in Las Vegas, I sat at the bar getting in one last session of video poker. A young gentleman in his twenties with a beard and half black hair and half blue hair sat down at the end of the bar and ordered a beer. The bartender set down the beer, and they started chatting like they knew each other.

Blue: Just got back from dinner on top of the Stratosphere.

Bartender: Yeah? How was it?

Blue: Alright. I didn't know fancy dinners took so long. We were there 4 and a half hours! I wasn't paying so I figured I'd stay til the end.

Bartender: Took my girlfriend there once. Was good but probably not worth the price.

Blue: Yeah, I had the sirloin. Better than Golden Corral but you know, a sirloin is a sirloin. You can get them anywhere. Anyway, I'm expecting some friends, can I start a tab?

(A few minutes later, a guy in his mid fifties showed up and sat next to Blue.)

Blue: English Dan! How the hell are you? (They shake hands) How was your flight?

Dan: A flight's a flight.

Blue: Tell me about it. I'm wiped. Just got back from dinner on top of Stratosphere. Didn't want to go but Dad woke me from my nap and insisted.

(Me thinking: He's there with his dad. Interesting.)

Dan: Stratosphere? What you doing up there?

Blue: Oh man, I'm sorry. Geno called this afternoon. Said he wanted to meet the whole team but his only free night this week was tonight. So he took us up there. Man, I told him you couldn't make it but he said that's his only night and he'd make it up to you.

Dan: Yeah? How so?

Blue: He'll probably buy you lunch or a drink sometime.

Dan: Yeah? On top of the f*%$ing Stratosphere?

Blue: Geno's good for it. I saw the bill. Over two grand. And Geno's a good tipper.

(Me thinking: Okay, so these guys work for Geno in some capacity along with Blue's dad. And I can tell by looking at English Dan, he's been around the block a few times. He's not bought into this company and wonders if he's going to get paid while Blue is the young idealist thinking he's going to score big.)

Blue: The food wasn't very good anyway. You didn't miss anything.

Dan: Where's everyone else?

Blue: I think they're still at the Stratosphere. Geno took everyone up top to ride the rides. He paid for everything. (pause) Don't worry, Geno's gonna make it up to you.

Dan: How? Take me on a f*&%ing rollercoaster ride?

(another guy, Ray, in his twenties with short brown hair sat down with them)

Ray: English Dan! Good to see you!

Dan: Yeah, you go to the Strat too?

Ray: Just got off the rollercoaster. Geno woofed his dinner on it! Chunks of tenderloin flying out his mouth at 75 miles per hour and falling 150 stories!

Blue: Yeah, they still there?

Ray: The man can't be stopped. Went to the bar, had a shot, then did the sky jump. Unbelievable. Man, this is a long walk from the Stratosphere. How'd we end up staying here? (Main Street Station)

Blue: Because last year we were at California Club. Dad got drunk and trashed the room. We got banned for life so Mom booked us here.

(Me thinking: Getting weirder. He's here with mom and dad and apparently they like to party pretty hard.)

Dan: So how was your dinner Ray? Blue said not so hot.

Ray: Fantastic! Best salad I ever had. Dressing was amazing like a cool ranch blue cheese thing. And it just got better after that.

Dan: F*&% you.

Blue: Come on Ray. Wasn't English Dan's fault he missed the dinner. I was just telling him Geno promised to make it up to him.

Ray: He's right English Dan. I sat next to Geno and Geno said, "who's not here?" And I said English Dan. And he's asking me how he can make it up to you. And I said it's gotta be something good like a big ol Po'boy or something.

Dan: F*&% you.

Ray: Aw, English Dan, I'm just bustin' your balls. Geno's good for it. I don't know what he's gonna do but he's gonna make it up to you.

(Me thinking: Why do they keep calling him English Dan? Can't he just go by Dan? And why don't I have a tape recorder. From now on, I need to bring a tape recorder to Vegas.)

Ray: So where's mom and dad?

Blue: Mom's in bed already. Tired after all the traveling. Last I saw Dad was at Stratosphere. He got pretty lit up then walked down the stairs from the top of the Stratosphere. Can you believe it? What's that, like 300 stories? Anyway, hostess sees him come out of the stairwell, and he's drenched in sweat. She's like, "what happened to you?" And he says, "I was looking for the restroom." She points across the lobby and he says, "Oh don't worry, I found one on the 50th floor."

Ray: Oh man, I love Dad.

(Me thinking: Okay, so mom and dad must not really be their parents because they're definitely not brothers. Some sort of code name.)

Blue: Anyway, we meet Mom and Dad at 9:00 for breakfast. Then we set up shop at 2:00. Geno's gonna be in and around. He's got meetings all week.

(Me thinking: I started to get the picture. Geno is the head of a pyramid scheme. Mom and Dad are the local bosses of the team while Blue, Ray and English Dan are at the bottom of the pyramid. Blue and Ray are the suckers while English Dan knows it's going nowhere. I just can't figure out what they're selling. But the whole conversation reminded me of the film "Glengarry Glen Ross" except without the suits and without the real estate and less profanity. My best guess was that they're selling vitamin supplements. But I also realized I had now spent an extra $20 on the video poker that I wasn't planning on spending just to keep listening to them. But it was worth it.)

Ray: What do you say we hit that Fremont Street experience. Supposed to be pretty cool.

Dan: I'm going to bed.

Blue: Lighten up English Dan. I told you Geno's gonna make it up to you. Hey Ray, did I tell you I saw the check at the Stratosphere? Over 3 grand!

Ray: Yeah and I bet Geno left a big tip too. English Dan, when Geno buys you a beer, hold out for something better than a Miller Lite. Like a Guinness or Stella Artois or something.

Dan: (flips off Ray)

Ray: (to bartender) Hey, can I get a cup of coffee?

Me: (I hit the cash out button on the machine and stand up.) Coffee? Coffee is for closers!

Friday, August 22, 2014

More Notes From Las Vegas

We recently returned from Las Vegas (again). Here's a few notable stories:

For some reason, I had a difficult time adjusting to the time difference on this trip. This led me to going downstairs to get coffee every morning at 7:00 a.m. One morning, I rode the elevator down to the lobby; as the door opened, a man and his wife came barging in, pushing me to the back of the elevator.

"Oh sorry," I didn't think anyone else would be up this early," he said.

I managed to circle my way around them and stumbled off the elevator without saying what I really wanted to say, "No, jerkwad, civilized people wait for the doors to fully open, verify no one is in the elevator or let them get out before entering the elevator themselves. Or in a moment of forgetfulness, when they bump into someone getting off the elevator, they apologize then get out of the way rather than barreling ahead pushing the person back onto the elevator."

I don't know, maybe they just thought I was joyriding the elevator.

One morning I happened to walk past a slot machine tournament. I stopped for a minute to take in the action. If you haven't seen one, well, it's exactly what you'd expect. Thirty or forty mostly older people sitting at slot machines constantly slamming their hands on the "max credits" button. And on top of that, no one seemed to be having fun. It seemed to be the equivalent of working in some foreign sweatshop factory stamping U.S. corporate logos on some cheap product. Except at the end, a winner would be declared.

Anyway, I don't understand why they just don't put bricks on the "max credits" button and people can bet on which machine will reign supreme. Seems it would be easier and more fun.

One early evening, I found an empty seat at the bar and started playing some video poker while minding my own business. The gentleman next to me started sighing loudly and mumbling, "wow, just wow."

I refused to take the bait but then he finally turned to me and said, "Did you hear the news about Robin Williams?"

"Yes," I said without looking up. "That's awful."

Then he shoved his cell phone showing an article reporting the death into my face. I wasn't sure what to do, did he not hear me the first time or was he trying to demonstrate that you can look at newspapers on cell phones?

"Yeah, that's terrible," I said and went back to playing my game.

He continued to sigh and played with his phone. Then he heard a group of people at the end of the bar talking about Robin Williams. He ran to the end of the bar and showed them the article on his phone. Meanwhile, I scanned the bar for another empty stool but no luck.

He came back and sat down next to me. "It's amazing, I was just watching some of his videos on youtube just last night," he said.

"Then it must be your fault," I wanted to say but did not.

After a few minutes of silence, he tried a new tactic. "Hey, did you hear about that baseball player that swung the bat and it broke in half and he didn't even hit the ball?"

"Must have been a powerful swing," I said without looking up.

I thought he had finally taken the hint as he went back to playing with his phone. But then he started playing some sort of loud concert video footage on his phone and put the phone on a little stand on the bar so I guess everyone could enjoy whatever it was along with him.

I finally took the hint and cashed out. As I got up, I said, "Dude you really need to find a friend."

Sunday, August 3, 2014

One Step From Immortal Glory

As I get older, I am constantly amazed at the ancient personal memories that get stuck in my head:

In the summer of my sixth year on earth, my t-ball team, the crickets, met the birds in the t-ball championship. In case you are not familiar, t-ball was the baseball starter league for 5 and 6 year-olds where players hit the ball from a stationary tee. Everyone got to play with about twelve kids in the outfield at a time. You might think this would be unfair and lead to low scoring games except for the fact that when the ball came to most of the kids in the outfield, they just threw their gloves in the air and started running. Sometime they even ran toward the ball.

We were probably the third or fourth best team in the league while the birds were the equivalent of the New York Yankees. They were undefeated and won their games by an average score of 33 - 5. Despite the odds against us, we played well and kept the game close. Early in the game, the ball came to me in shallow left field. As a runner ran toward third base, I picked up the ball ready to throw him out. Unfortunately, our third baseman who I shall call Brooks, stood with his back to me, and staring at I don't know what. He certainly wasn't staring at girls unless he was trying to figure out which ones had cooties.

"Brooks," I yelled as I wound up ready to throw. "Brooks! Over here! Come on!"

Maybe because of the loud screaming parents, he didn't hear me. The runner neared third base so I finally just threw the ball at Brooks hoping he would turn around. The ball bounced off the back of his head. I had to run and pick up the ball while the runner scored. Luckily, Brooks shook it off, and if we were lucky, the ball knocked some sense into him.

We finally took the lead but the birds got to bat last. We just needed three outs for immortal t-ball glory. The birds scored a few runs to pull within one, but there were two outs with runners on first and second. With a force out at any base, things looked good. The next batter hit the ball on the ground right to me. I scooped it up knowing we just needed the force out at third. I pulled my arm back ready to throw. Brooks stood on third base waiting to catch it.

I hesitated remembering what happened last time. But Brooks stood on the bag with his glove open ready for the throw. I quickly decided to do the sure thing; I took off running figuring I could beat the baserunner to third base. Brooks yelled at me to throw it, but even a ten meter throw from a 6 year old is no sure thing. I focused on the runner; I had a step on him. But he had an extra gear and managed to get in front of me.

He made it the base first while I came in hoping I could tag him if he stepped off the base. Instead, I tripped over the base and fell into foul territory. Luckily I held onto the ball. The umpire helped me up and I noticed the birds cap on his head. Even if I had tackled the baserunner and tagged him out fifty times, he probably still would have been called safe.

Our coaches told us to cheer up and focus. After all, we still only needed one more out with the bases loaded. But the next batter hit the ball over everyone's head as our outfielders threw their gloves in the air and ran away from the ball.

The birds won. I learned two valuable lessons that day:
1. If you want to make sure something gets done, do it yourself.
2. If you do something yourself and do not achieve the desired results, expect persons in authority (and teammates) to get mad at you.

I've been wondering why I keep thinking about that game lately. At first I thought I remembered that I had beaten the runner, and the umpire had made a bad call. All these years later, I felt the deep wound of injustice. But I guess that was selective memory trying to rewrite my history. Upon further review, I still remembered what really happened. So even after forty years, I still can't outrun my mistakes, much less the kid running to third base.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Sauce Must Have Been Good

I recently read an online discussion about restaurant dining on a newspaper website. One person wrote about a time he left a 1% tip: drinks didn't arrive until after the entrees, one entrée came out 30 minutes before the other one, the second order was completely wrong although the server insisted other wise and they had to wait an hour for their check. Sure that may justify no tip, but what amazed me, was how long people will actually put up with poor experiences before being pushed hard enough to fight back. If I have to wait more than five minutes to order a drink after I'm seated, I start muttering, "who do I have to kill to get a drink in this place?"
That story reminded me of an incident that happend in our restaurant:

It took a good year and a half before I finally decided that our restaurant was going to make it. I would go home after a successful day then come in the next day wondering if any customers would show up. During this time, as guests were leaving, they frequently asked if I was the owner. I would begrudgingly answer affirmatively while bracing myself for a slap in the face, a kick to the groin, or a challenge to a duel, or at least a firm tongue lashing. But probably 95% of the time, they had really nice things to say about the restaurant. 4% of the time, they might have valuable constructive criticism while the other 1% challenged me to duels. I had gotten used to feeling the love.

One Saturday night, I came in about 5:00. Only one table was occupied by a family of four in the corner. I didn't pay much attention as I went about my business getting ready for the dinner rush. As they got up to leave, I happened to be standing near the door. The father of the family asked if I was the owner. I smiled brightly and almost held out my hand ready to be kissed.

"This restaurant is a disgrace," he started. "I've never had a worse meal in my life. The food was cold and way too expensive. My wife's chicken was raw!"

Like a punching bag hanging from the ceiling I kept swinging back for more. Finally, I managed to jump in and tried to solve the problem. "I'm very sorry to hear that. Did you talk to the server and have the chicken replaced?"

"No, we didn't."

"Well let me get you something else. I would hate for you to leave hungry."

"I wouldn't touch your food if you gave me a million dollars."

(I guessed he wouldn't be enthused about a complimentary gift certificate.)

"We don't want anything," he continued. "We just wanna get out of here so we can go tell our friends about it."

"Yeah," the wife finally chimed in. "And we're gonna put it all over facebook so our friends can tell their friends. No one's gonna come here again."

They stormed out the door as I struggled to find anything to say. I ran back to the kitchen and found the server who was one of our best.

"What happened? Did they say anything to you?" I asked.

"No, everything was fine. They never complained. They weren't talkative, but I had no idea there was a problem."

We went back to the table and inspected the plates. They were empty, no sign of any leftover half-eaten, much less raw chicken. I walked back to the office and sat down trying to comprehend what had happened. The best I could figure was that they were hoping to get salmonella poisoning for a lawsuit payday or just to prove some sort of point.

That day I realized that complainers are nothing to worry about or fear; their problems are usually easily fixed. It's the people that have a bad experience and walk out without saying a word that are the ones to worry about.

Luckily, their Facebook campaign (if they indeed waged one) didn't hurt our business. But at the time I thought, "Yes, please tell your friends that you were served raw chicken. And that you just went ahead and ate it anyways."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

How Not to Die from Sitting

I recently read this article about how sitting all day is really bad for you. It listed the usual reasons like standing burns more calories, muscle metabolism changes, and you are at increased risk for various cancers. To top it all off, each hour of sitting results in a loss of 21.8 minutes from your life expectancy. Seeing as how I've been sitting most of my life, I probably have minutes to live.

After crunching some numbers, it's fair to assume that I've lost over four years of my life expectancy. I knew I had to put a stop to it. Not only that, I had to figure out how to get those four years back before it was too late. So I decided to alter my habits and keep a diary to hold myself accountable:

Friday July 11
4:00 p.m. Let's get started!
4:01 p.m. Since I've already been sitting here for the last six hours, we'll just wait and start the diary tomorrow.

Saturday July 12
11:00 a.m. Stood in my office thinking about my next blog post.

11:20 a.m. Sat down to write blog post then realized since it takes about an hour to write one, I'm sacrificing 22 minutes of my life for my dear readers. I hope you appreciate it, all five of you.

11:25 a.m. Decide to take a walk to offset my sitting problem. Walk to refrigerator and pour myself a glass of wine. Maybe alcohol isn't the best choice for my new lifestyle, but I believe it greatly improves my mental outlook so that offsets any bad effects from sitting.

11:26 a.m. Try to stand and type my blog. I do not have a standing desk. Ouch, there goes my back. I take a sip of wine.

11:30 a.m. A brilliant idea! Some exercise should get me some time back on the lifetime clock. I get on a stationary bike and start pedaling. But now there's a new problem: although I am exercising, I'm still sitting down, so the two acts just cancel each other out. I've got it! I take my laptop and get back on bike. Although I'm not gaining any time, I'm not wasting 22 minutes of life writing this blog. 

11:32 a.m. Sweat starts dripping onto my laptop. I'm now worried about getting eletrocuted. I put laptop back on my desk and get back on bike.

11:34 a.m. This is boring. I get my glass of wine and sip wine while riding stationary bike.

11:45 a.m. Lunch time! Prepare a big healthy salad of spinach and spring mix. Pour half a bottle of bleu cheese dressing on it.

11:57 a.m. Maybe that salad wasn't so big as I'm still hungry. I fix a large plate of bacon (it's okay, I'm on a low carb diet and can eat all the bacon I want). 

12:15 p.m. I happen to glance in the pantry to see a bag of Fritos. I grab a handful, but I eat them while standing. Unfortunately, you can't have just a handful of Fritos. I take the entire bag out. But I walk around the block while eating the bag. I'm starting to get the hang of this.

12:45 p.m. Feeling a little sleepy. Decide to take a nap. That article said nothing bad about laying down or sleeping.

2:30 p.m. St. Pauli Girl hands me a grocery list. The store is too far away to walk to but I really hate the thought of sitting while driving to the store. While driving, I open the window and poke my head outside the window. I believe that trying to keep my head still against the speed of the car offsets the sitting in the seat. I stop at a traffic light with my head still outside the window. A dog in the car next to me pokes his head out and barks at me. I bark back.

2:55 p.m. A genius move! I have the checkout kid bag my groceries in plastic so I can strap them all onto my arms. I load up all twelve bags on my arm and with my free hand pick up the 12 pack of pop. The cashier asks if I'm sure I don't need a carryout. "No," I grimace. I get to the car and realize I have to drop all of the bags to the ground to get the keys out of my pocket. I don't care; this exercise has probably added a solid 90 seconds to my life expectancy.

3:30 p.m. Decide to watch some golf on tv but while standing of course. To make it more interesting, I imitate all of the players' swings as they happen. I've never played so well in my life.

5:35 p.m. Happy hour! St. Pauli Girl and I sit on the patio and discuss the day's events over a glass of wine. I want to stand but my heels are actually killing me. I come up with an idea:
"Let's arm wrestle!" I challenge her.
"Yeah, we're killing ourselves by sitting here. So let's get some exercise. I'll even go left handed!"
"You're stupid."
"You'd be stupid not to play! I'm going left-handed plus I'm pretty sore from golfing."
"Why don't you be useful, and cook dinner," she finally said.

6:15 p.m. That was a great idea; I can easily man the grill while standing. We have three grills, so I choose the manly Weber charcoal grill. I light the fire and stand next to the grill as it burns down.

6:45 p.m. I throw some hamburgers on the hot grill. I lean down and inhale deeply that wonderful charcoal hamburger cooking aroma. Then I slap myself on the head. I sit down next to St. Pauli Girl.
"I don't know. I just can't win," I say.
"What's the matter?"
"Charcoal has carcinogens. That breath probably cost me four seconds of life expectancy."
We sit quietly for a minute before St. Pauli Girl refills our wine glasses. She holds her glass out to me, "Here's to life."
"Every single day of it," I reply with a smile. Clink.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Bearly Escaped

Alert readers will remember my previous reminiscence on bears. This past weekend we returned to the remote New Mexico cabin of St. Pauli Girl's brother and sister-in-law who I affectionately nicknamed Mr. and Mrs. Grizzly because they built the cabin themselves on a mountain in the middle of nowhere.

This cabin is in an area populated by people who do not wish to be found (all six of them). It is so remote that mobsters will tell you that you only need to go about a quarter ways up the road if you want to bury a body. It is so remote that even UFOs are afraid to go there (and we all know how much UFOs love New Mexico). But more importantly, this is a place where you learn what "night" really means. If you haven't been in the dark hundreds of miles from the nearest city light, you don't know about night.

During the weekend, St. Pauli Girl kept making fun of me for being afraid of bears while I maintained that I had a healthy respect for bears. She apparently thought that if a bear appeared, you packed it up a nice picnic basket and sent it on its way. We spent the day hiking up the mountain while practicing our bear scare tactics like stepping on broken branches, banging on rocks and calling out to the bears so as not to surprise them. Meanwhile, I imitated the sound of a .50 caliber machine gun and World War II howitzers thinking that would best scare bears. After barely making it back to the cabin before a thunderstorm, we spent the remainder of the day and night in the cabin.

Main Cabin
The cabin had only one bedroom and a loft which is where we slept last year. However, this year, Mr. and Mrs. Grizzly had set up an old small camper behind the cabin as a little guest cottage. We said goodnight and headed to the tiny camper.

Guest Cottage
After we went to bed, I looked out the window and noted, "It's much brighter tonight than last night."

There was a half-moon and some cloud cover which provided a surprising amount of light. About forty minutes later, as I was drifting into unconsciousness, I suddenly opened my eyes. I didn't hear anything so I must have sensed the dark now coming through the window. I saw a silhouette of an animal's head and two large paws in the window. A bear!

My bear survival instinct immediately kicked in, and I screamed. As St. Pauli Girl sat up, the shadow disappeared. We looked at each other and realized I had had a bad dream. But then the shadow popped back up in the window. So apparently, dreams can't come true, but nightmares can. I leaned forward and closed the window while we both yelled and screamed at the bear to go away because bears are supposedly frightened of humans making noise. The bear disappeared again, and we thought we were safe.

Then it appeared in the back window. I struggled to find the handle to close that window. We kept yelling and pounding on the side of the wall. I got the window closed then tried to close the curtains thinking that would save us. Then I thought that's stupid, I can't see what's happening. I pulled the curtains open and saw that was one ugly, mean looking bear. So I closed them again right as he slammed a paw against the window.

Meanwhile, St. Pauli Girl put a pillow up against the window. I sat back and tried to think of something to scare the bear.

"Oooga-Booga-Boo!" I shouted.

"Wait," St. Pauli Girl said. "Did you just go Oooga-Booga...?"

"Well you're the one trying to start a pillow fight with him!"

I then resorted to pirate talk, "Arggggghhhhh!" I shouted. I noticed the cabin lights had come on. "That's good, I guess Mr. and Mrs. Grizzly heard us. They'll save us. They must have a machine gun or a bazooka to deal with this thing."

A minute later, we heard Mrs. Grizzly on the deck banging on pots and pans. At last, this disrupted the bear because he was torn between engaging in a pillow fight and getting called to dinner.

Mr. Grizzly came out onto the deck and sized up the situation. He looked at the bear then at the twisted, dented skillet in Mrs. Grizzly's hands. "You're gonna need a bigger pot."

He grabbed a shovel and waved it over his head, cautiously approaching the bear which lumbered away. He grabbed a small flashlight and set off after the bear. And by small flashlight, I mean it would have been good for a dentist looking for cavities but not so much looking for a 300 pound black bear in the dark night.

We finally felt safe enough to step out of the camper. Figuring our noise and the shovel had scared the bear away, we began to calm down and relax. Mr. Grizzly called out from the darkness that he couldn't see the bear anywhere.

"I think he went under the camper," St. Pauli Girl said.

I jumped back about five feet. "Then why are we standing right next to it?"

Mr. Grizzly shined the light under the camper, but the bear was nowhere to be found. We all stood next to the deck and breathed a sigh of relief. After a few minutes, Mrs. Grizzly shined her flashlight just beyond the camper and onto the bear's head. He had been sitting there less than ten meters from us the whole time. Now if Yogi was smarter than the average bear, this bear was valedictorian with scholarship offers from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and naturally, the University of Maine.

We shouted and yelled and banged on the pans again. He slowly got up and began to saunter away like he had been caught with a fake ID at a bar. As he moved up the trail, he looked back over his shoulder at us. I couldn't decide if he was thinking, "You guys are no fun" or "yeah, I'll be back."

We weren't taking any chances. We moved our belongings into the cabin and the spent the rest of the night in the loft.
Outhouse in the distance. That's a really long walk after dark.
The next morning we conducted a postmortem over coffee. We decided had we simply closed the windows and kept quiet, the curious bear would have eventually left of his own volition. We also learned that bears can be vewy, vewy, quiet, fearless and leave no footprints despite the rain of the previous day. In short, bears probably prowl the area more than anyone realized. But then the discussion degenerated into puns like "we bearly escaped" and "it gives you paws for thought."

But if you're keeping score at home: Bears: 1, Pots and Pans: 0 (with one skillet on the disabled list).

Monday, June 30, 2014

Freedom's Just Another Word for...

Several years ago, my brother told me about a colleague that he golfed with. One day after the colleague relieved himself in the woods, he came out and told my brother, "You know, if I couldn't piss in the woods, I'd give up golf completely."

Sure, when nature literally calls and you're in the middle of nowhere, you do what you have to do. But personally I'm more worried about my reaction if a rattlesnake or copperhead slithers up while I'm doing my business rather than embracing the act as some sort of freedom loving, rapturous experience. As time has gone on, I am apparently in the minority.

Back when we lived almost in the country, yet still in a housing development of which we were the last house bordering a somewhat less prosperous development, I walked out to the backyard one day to mow the lawn. I looked up across the chain link fence and saw our neighbor relieving himself in his backyard. Stunned, I didn't know what to do so I just waved. He waved back, sort of. In his defense, he may have not had indoor plumbing, but I doubt it.

A few years later, I was at a friend's house where a big group of mostly guys gathered to brew beer. Homebrewing is one of those hobbies that's best enjoyed while drinking beer. And since it takes about five hours, nature will undoubtedly call. Luckily this house had indoor plumbing; I would know because I used it. But then I noticed the other guys had some sort of aversion to walking twenty feet to the house and the bathroom, because they would just stand by the side of the garage and let it rip.

I tried to figure out why they couldn't take the extra two minutes to walk to the house. What would they miss? Heck, they could even take their beer with them into the bathroom if they wanted. I finally decided that it was some sort of bonding experience. By the garage, they were close enough that you could cheer or shout encouragement if you wanted. Or maybe they were acting like a pack of dogs where once one dog marked his spot, all the rest had to do the same on the same spot. I never did bond with them.

A couple of months ago, St. Pauli Girl and I sat on the front porch late at night in the dark watching some seldom seen rain actually fall in our neighborhood. After awhile, our next door neighbor pulled up in his pickup truck. He has an interesting relationship with the old widow across the street in that he mows her lawn, stores his motorcycle in her garage and often parks his truck in her driveway.

He threw his truck in reverse and carefully backed into her driveway. We gasped as the truck headed diagonally across the driveway and toward a tree. He stopped just in time, straightened it out and successfully parked. He stayed in the truck for a few minutes with the lights still on. Then he got out in the rain, went to the side of the garage and proceeded to relieve himself in her front yard. He then climbed back in the truck, turned off the lights, and we never saw him come back out. We assumed he slept in the truck.

"We really need to move out of this neighborhood," we both said in unison.

I wondered if my brother still played golf with that colleague. I kind of doubt it after so many years and moves. But if my brother ever sees him again, I hope he tells the colleague that he's a prophet. At least in my book.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I'll Be the Roundabout

In honor of the World Cup, I will share a story from my international travels.

My first international business trip involved traveling to London several years ago where I met a couple of other contractors who had rented a car. I did not understand why we rented a car since we would have to to drive on the left side of the road which none of us had done before. But it wasn't my decision, and I would simply be a passenger.

We pulled out of the lot and drove around the airport a couple of times just to get used to this new way of driving. Finally, we got on the major eight lane highway in Monday morning rush hour traffic.

The driver said, "I'm just going to go slow and stay in the right lane until I get the hang of this."

Shortly after pulling into the far right lane, cars flashed their lights, honked and passengers made obscene hand gestures to us as they flew by us on the left. We were surprised that apparently London was the rudest city in the world before we finally realized that we were in the fast passing lane while the left lane was actually the slow lane. I decided that I would not try to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road during this trip.

Flash forward about six years later when I had to spend a month in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I stayed in a company owned townhome along with three co-workers and we shared a tiny car which made a Smart car look like an SUV. One of my co-workers was British so he did most of the driving.

One night after spending some time in the local pub, my British co-worker, who I will refer to as Lloyd because that was his name and it will help you better imagine his high class British accent, suggested that I drive us all back to the townhome.

Lloyd's accent made him sound about ten times smarter than he actually was, and he was pretty smart. For example, we could be having an issue with the washing machine and he might say, "If you put your tongue in the electrical socket, that will probably solve the problem."

And you would think about it for a second before saying, "Hey, wait a minute."

"Remember British electrical sockets are different than American. It's quite safe, really," Lloyd would double down.

Next thing you know, you're on your hands and knees in front of the socket.

Anyway, I explained to Lloyd that was a bad idea since I had never driven on the left side of the road before.

"But," Lloyd said, "I have a British driver's license and if I get pulled over, I'm going to jail and losing my license. But if you get pulled over with your American license, it'll be 'alrighty then, off you go, cheerio.'"

That sort of made sense when you hear it in Lloyd's accent. But looking around at our group, I realized I was the only one that hadn't heavily imbibed, and it probably did make sense for me to drive. Besides, it was only one to two miles on quiet streets and no big intersections save for one roundabout. I took the car keys from Lloyd.

We stuffed ourselves into the car, and I pulled into the street. With the steering wheel on the right side of the car, staying in the left lane would be easier than I thought. I told everyone to warn me if I accidentally got into the right lane, but they were so busy giggling, I don't think they heard me.

The drive was uneventful until we got to the roundabout where I paused then turned to the right. Screaming from the back seat made me jerk the wheel hard to the left. Luckily, being in a small car, I was able to turn in the proper direction without hopping the curb. With all of the yelling and laughing in the car, I lost track of the proper turn and we completely circumnavigated the roundabout. And then again.

"I'm starting to get dizzy," I said. "Would someone please point out the proper turn."

"Just take the next one," Lloyd said. "If we end up back at the pub, it was meant to be."

"We're not going back to the pub."

"Eenie, meenie, minie, moe..." came another helpful voice from the back.

"Go faster, it's like we're on a racetrack," said another.

I finally got my bearings and pulled out of the roundabout onto the correct street. We made it home without any further issues. After parking the car, Lloyd managed to fall out of the backseat onto the ground laughing uproariously. I went inside the house and locked the door.

I learned two valuable lessons that night:

Driving on the wrong side of the road for the first time is probably pretty stupid after a night at the pub even if you aren't drunk.

And a British accent is not necessarily a reliable indicator of IQ.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

I Only Got Four Inches

I recently wrote about how men will always lay claim to the best deal on buying and repairing cars. Turns out, that's not all:

We recently hosted a dinner party on our backyard patio. A gentleman we shall refer to as Mr. X, pointed to our back fence and said, "I see you got a rain gauge back there. How much rain did you get last night?"

"As a meteorologist would say, just a trace. Didn't even register," I replied. I then thought back to Memorial Day weekend when it rained for four straight days. "Yeah, but Memorial Day weekend we got 3.75 inches."

"Really? That's great, we got five inches at our house."

Overhearing our conversation, Mr. Y from across the table shouted, "That's all? We got six inches!"

I rolled my eyes while they smirked at me. "Well, my rain gauge is partially under a tree so it probably missed a lot."

"I don't know," Mr. X said. "You probably got extra in there after it stopped raining and the tree was dripping. I bet you only got about 3.5 inches."

"Whether it's four inches or six inches, I think we can all agree that we got some badly needed rain," I said trying to end the conversation on common ground.

"Woah, hold on there," Mr. Y said. "Who said anything about four inches?"

"Well I just rounded up from 3.75 to make it easier."

"You can't do that," Mr. Y said.

"Yeah," Mr. X chimed in. "We only get what, ten inches a year? If we were talking millions that might be okay, but that's more than a rounding error."

"Right," Mr. Y added. "I mean in baseball, if one buy is batting .249 and another guy is batting .251 they don't say one is a .200 hitter and the other is a .300 hitter. They're basically the same but rounding makes one an all-star and the other guy a chump."

"Whatever," I said. "Can't we just be thankful for the rain?"

"Sure, some of us more thankful than others," Mr. X said with a laugh.

"Yeah, your rain gauge needs another weekend like that to catch up with mine," Mr. Y said.

I gave up and waited for them to high-five each other which they never did but that could be because Mr. X still felt inadequate to Mr. Y.

I don't know what I did wrong, bought a house on the wrong side of town, bought a lot with too many trees, didn't pray hard enough or maybe I just put the rain gauge on the wrong side of the yard. But the rest of the town was enjoying their five or six inches while I got stuck with a lousy 3.75. I could hear the lawn mocking me. I imagined the lawn might leave me for Mr. X or Mr. Y.

Later I realized I had it all wrong and came up with the perfect solution.

"Next time we have a party," I told St. Pauli Girl, "all male guests are required to bring documentation of their last car purchase, a receipt from their last car repair and their rain gauge with a signed notarized affidavit of the correct level of the rain gauge. If not, they can just stay home or shut the hell up."

St. Pauli Girl didn't even look up from her book. "Yeah, men are always lying about the size of their rain gauges."

Thursday, June 5, 2014

That Time I Almost Met Evel Kneivel

Years ago (on December 31, 1998 to be exact) I landed at DFW (Dallas-Fort Worth Texas) airport just as a snow storm began picking up steam. I had a two hour wait for my next flight and hoped/prayed that the heavy stuff wouldn't come down for a bit so I could get home. Four hours later, my flight was finally cancelled.

I went to the gate agent desk to check my alternatives. The agent told me he could rebook me on the next flight which left at 8:30 or he could put me in a hotel for the night. Then he said, "Aw, this ain't too bad. I'm sure the later flights will be getting out. Besides, traffic getting to the hotel will be worse than what we got here."

Who else better to trust than a gate agent who is at the airport every day and surely knows airport operations better than anyone? I opted to get rebooked on the 8:30 flight.

"Good choice," he said. "That's what I would do."

Three hours later that flight was canceled and every hotel room in Dallas and Fort Worth were completely filled up. I would get to ring in the new year in the DFW airport. And it would be the last time I ever trusted a gate agent.

What else to do but find the bar which luckily stayed open late to accommodate all of the trapped passengers? I managed to score a barstool next to a fidgety young fellow who would probably die if he went fifteen seconds without some sort of human interaction. He talked to the bartender like they were old pals; he talked to people on the other side of the bar, and he talked to the woman next to him. I did my best to pretend I was deaf. But when the woman sitting next to him finally got tired of it and just left, he turned to me.

"Can you believe that?" he asked.

I produced a faint smile and shook my head.

But it was no use; he had me trapped, as I had no place to run to. I don't remember much of what we (he) talked about, but I'm sure it was the usual background info you might give someone next to you on a plane and how we still couldn't believe that woman just up and left.

At some point, he started flipping through his little black book (remember, this was the 'nineties).

"Hey check this out," he said pointing to a number. "That's Evel Kneivel's number."


"You don't believe me? Let's call him. I'll call him right now." He reached for his cell phone.

"No, I believe you." I sort of did because if he were just trying to impress me, surely he could have thought up the name of someone a little more relevant at the time. Evel Kneivel hadn't been in the news for years. In fact, I thought he was dead.

"He's a real down to earth guy. I mean, you think a guy like that would have an assistant answer his phone, but he answers it himself."


"Man, you still don't believe me. I'm calling him. Right now." He started punching at numbers.

"No, don't do that," I insisted. "Poor guy can probably barely walk to the phone with all those broken bones."

"Aw, he never complains about that at all. The man's a prince." He listened to the phone for a second then handed it to me. "Next voice you hear will be Evel's."

I tried to push it away but then reconsidered. Evel--if it really was him--would be upset if he hobbled all the way to the phone and no one was there. I listened, wondering what I might say. "Hey Evel, how's it hanging? Big fan here." Or "Man, I've seen you crash and burn a bunch of times!"? Or maybe "Got any new jumps in the works?"

I held my breath as the phone rang. "He's not home," I said, handing back the phone after eight or nine rings.

"Yeah, and darn it, I don't have his cell number. He likes to have some privacy, you know." He put his phone away. "Shame, you would have really liked him."

A short time later, he excused himself to the restroom. I enjoyed my newfound tranquility so much that it took me awhile to realize he never returned.

The bartender approached me with a suspicious stare. "Hey, where's your buddy?"

"My . . . buddy? I don't know him. Just met him tonight. Jabbermouth."

"Yeah, well he walked his tab."

"Really? Aw man, that stinks." I went over the top, milking it up in case he tried to stick me with the guy's tab. "Scumbag. Jerk. You can't trust anyone these days."

The bartender shrugged and lightened up a bit.

"You know," I said, "maybe he's getting Evel Kneivel to wire him some money."

The bartender gave me a blank stare. I paid my check and left an extra big tip.

It's a good thing Evel didn't answer his phone; he probably would have pretended like he didn't know that guy either.