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.