Hair Weaves from Hell

vulcan

I was watching a portion of the national evening news this evening, and one of the featured interviews involved a ninety-four-year-old man.  All I can say is that I hope I look that good when I’m his age, assuming I’m still around to poof myself up in front of a mirror, that is.  Not only did he sound reasonably articulate, he also managed both not to drool and or fall asleep during the segment.

And his hair.  My God, his hair.  He sported a full head of jet black locks, as if he had used shoe polish as a dye.

Dude.  Your 94 freaking years old.  There’s no way your hair isn’t gray.  No way.

Why is it that guys who reach a certain age have to undertake such extreme, ridiculous measures to hold onto some fiction of their youth?  Has The Real Housewives perfection desperation migrated to men?

I really don’t know the answer, but the phenomenon of ridiculous-looking elderly men tarted up with unnaturally colored and fully covered noggins seems to be spreading.

It is my understanding that when we grow older and reach a certain age, our hair will turn gray and will slowly thin out — maybe not in that order, but you get the idea.

But it seems that some guys just can’t accept the facts, and the results are often cartoonish shades of black and orange tresses buttressed by a body with a dumpy midsection propelled by feet adorned with white socks and sandals.

Classic AARP mass hysteria.

And I haven’t even mentioned the dreaded comb-overs yet.

For instance, I occasionally have to deal with a very senior guy at work, and I have an extraordinarily hard time even talking to him with a straight face.  Sure, he’s nice enough, but whatever it is on top of his head resembles a giant squirrel’s nest or something.  I half expect to see an acorn drop out, but the rug he wears occupies a solid position within the top ten list for worst hairpieces ever worn by man.

I frequently find myself completely ignoring whatever he’s saying because this voice inside of me keeps yelling, “For God’s sake, man, don’t you see yourself?  Either come clean and go bald, or break out a WeedEater and get that mop into shape!  It’s over-the-top horrible, after all.”

I just can’t take him seriously with that thing on his head.  And if that’s his modus operandi regarding personal appearance, what does it say about how he conducts business — “Yep, we rounded up on that invoice, but we’ll probably round down on the next one.  It will all work out.”

You get the picture.

Generally speaking, I’ve come to terms on a personal level with the ongoing graying and thinning processes.  After all, I think I had my first gray hair in high school, so it’s not like I’m surprised it’s happening.  I’m also determined not to fall prey to the dreaded comb-over zombie attack.

Unless, of course, I want to portray myself as a complete clown and buffoon to the world at large.

But just when I think I’ve got the whole thing figured out, I get surprised.

Not more than four days ago at a fast food joint, there was an elderly gentleman who sported what can only be described as a work of art on his head.  The color was almost natural, but what truly impressed me was the multi-layer comb-over that had a solid cumulus cloud baseline around his ears and was topped with a Greek mantle weave worthy of Zeus himself.  It was classy in a Ron Burgundy sort of way, yet dignified in an Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter sort of way.

In other words, it just worked.

So I guess I have another option to consider taking over the next twenty or thirty years.  Option A remains keep everything close-cropped and neat, since Matt Lauer seems to have popularized that look.

But then there’s Option B.  That would include letting everything grow out in biblical proportions and length, with the idea that with enough brittle stringy hair, anything might be possible.

I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking dreadlocks.

Plus, there’s the added bonus that it will surely annoy Daughter, as well as my greater family at large.

And that makes it all worthwhile.

- Dad

About these ads

Moron Mechanic

scooter

Rather trying to “walk off” Thanksgiving turkey and wine, I chose to spend what little is left of the holiday drinking coffee, watching sports, and working on the various motorized vehicles that litter the general environs of my home.

And I really attempted to tackle the sorts of mechanical jobs at the end of which I could hang a “Mission Accomplished” banner across the garage threshold.  You know the kinds of things I’m focused on here:  tightening a few bolts, inflating tires, and wiping off the greasy detritus of many, many months of mechanical non-intervention. 

True story:  I was recently engaged in the semi-annual washing of my much beloved but very “beaterish” Miata (“You know that’s a girl’s car, Dad.”), when I heard a hissing sound from one of the wheels.  Fearing the worst — that my car was either haunted (which would have required an immediate call to Zak Bagans) or was harboring a snake — I soon discovered that I had damaged one of the valve stems when I cleaned the wheel. 

(Note to self:  Don’t clean the wheels.  They just get dirty again anyway.)

Upon closer inspection, I discovered all four valve stems were damaged and ready to crack, and for once in my long-suffering lifetime of automotive woes, I actually had a workable backup plan already in place, as I had picked up a used set of wheels and tires several months ago.  They had been rotting on the side of the house since purchase, of course, but they held air. 

Ready, set, swap-o-matic, and I was back in business. 

It only took me two months to get around to fixing the valve stems on the original wheels, but I had a great time doing it this week.  I got to use an industrial, real-world tire changer.  And the guy at the hobby shop only had to explain to me five times how to use it. 

I’ve got new respect for the knuckle-draggers at Discount Tire now, believe you me.

So the tire mounting deal turned out not to be enough of a challenge, and I ramped it up a notch:  Clean the carburetor on a friend’s scooter. 

Now I had already cleaned and serviced this scooter for the same guy ab0ut a year ago, and though I returned a perfectly functioning, driveable piece of crap Chinese motorbike to him, he promptly let it sit for a year and finally returned it to me, head hung in shame, asking me to repeat the favor. 

I agreed to work on the bike on one condition.  I told him he had to sell it if I fixed it. 

That might sound harsh but:  1)  I was sick of this particular piece of machinery, and 2)  I feared for his safety riding it.  It truly is a junker and is truly better off being donated to some high school automotive shop class to demonstrate how not to build quality machinery. 

Long story short.  I’d done this particular job before and could do it again, probably in under an hour — especially if I didn’t replace all the bolts and screws (or simply dropped some of them, never to be seen again).

So I dutifully pulled everything apart and got most of it back together correctly, and then tried to fire it up. 

And tried again. 

And again.

Oh, it cranked.  It cranked until I killed the battery two or three times.  This is how I know having a battery charger comes in handy — another purchase made because of idiotic decisions I’ve made in the past.

But no matter what I did, I could not get the stupid thing to start. 

Surely I had made some stupidly simple mistake in reassembling the carb, I thought

I probably tore it down and rebuilt it at least three times, since I was absolutely, positively sure it had a carb problem.

Nada. 

Time to retreat to the Internet.  And I quote, “In general, a scooter needs three things to start:  fuel, spark, and the left handbrake engaged.  And remember to ensure the kill switch is not on.”

Snap! 

Kill switch.  This bike has a kill switch?  No way.

I went back outside to determine whether this stupid scooter had a kill switch.

Yes way.

Was it pressed in?

Yes way.

If I disengaged it, would the scooter immediately start?

Yes way.

By the way, even though the engine started on the first crank, because I had screwed around with the carburetor so much, I am fairly confident I damaged some of the internals. 

Why do I think this?  Well, though the bike runs, it runs and drives like crap which, I suppose, is appropriate, given that the entire thing is a piece of crap (or carp, depending on how tired my typing is, and that’s kind of a Chinese analogy, too). 

Now I sit here in a pool of shame and need to go out and buy a carb rebuild kit, to fix something that I should never have broken in the first place.

On this Thanksgiving, then, I have confirmed that I am both a moron and an idiotic mechanic. 

If you haven’t figured out something to give thanks for this year, count your lucky stars I’m not the guy working on your car, or motorcycle, or scooter, or bicycle.

Did I mention I’m a pretty awful carpenter, too? 

Happy Thanksgiving, then.

- Dad

 

Knock it off, People!

lights

It’s getting pretty bad around here.

You know.  My neighborhood.

It started before Halloween when several of our fellow Muggle inhabitants chose to both decorate and put up lights.

For Halloween.

I’m not talking about a random plastic lighted jack-o-lantern here and there.  I mean strings of orange and white lights, inflatables, and elaborate figurine displays.

I mean, come on, don’t these folks have anything better to do?  Why don’t they treat Halloween like the rest of us — scrambling around late in the afternoon on Halloween itself looking for the meager, years old bargain bin crapola we will gladly drape over our doorway and sagging fall foliage in the front yard?

After all, that’s tradition.

So I tried to file away this year’s early decoration phenomenon as simply a one-year anomaly, until early one evening last week I spied something very disturbing while cruising down an adjacent street to ours.

Oh, My God.

Christmas lights.  Somebody has already hung up (and turned on) their Christmas lights!

Mark the day:  November 8th.

That’s just wrong.

And I have to make a distinction among neighbors, at this point.  We do have a few who apparently never take down their Christmas lights.  I guess during some long ago December they made the effort to hang them and simply decided that once was enough, damn it.

There’s a certain logic to that approach, I suppose.  But at least these lazy butts people have the decency not to illuminate for the balance of the year.

You know that would truly be in bad taste.

I guess compared to hanging early, it  is only a little less distasteful to leave your lights up year round, and there’s a certain measured ambivalence in doing so, especially around here.  It’s almost like thumbing your nose at the HOA.  After all, as I’ve mentioned previously, our HOA would not seem out of place in 1938 Germany — I half-expect a Kristallnacht to occur one of these years.

To compound matters this year, a local radio station started playing 24 hour a day Christmas music last week — about November 15.

And they are proud of it.

But let’s think about this.  How many possible recorded versions of Little Drummer Boy can there be in existence?  I’m guessing plenty, unfortunately.

Plenty.

Which brings me back to what exactly I’m supposed to do about all this premature display activity.

Well, I have thought it through (not really), and have come up with the following.

I have decided that I will wait until the last possible day to put up decorations.  I have decided that they will be as kitschy and rusty as possible.  I have decided that those made out of plastic absolutely must originate from China.  And I have decided to keep whatever original yard and house display I put together will remain fully functioning and lighted all the way through the end of January, or until I blow one of the house’s main fuses — whichever occurs first.

And just to demonstrate that our Nazi Storm Trooper wonderful HOA scions have a heart and really do care about appearances around in our neighborhood, today we received a letter from them to trim down the three dead palm fronds in our yard that are visible from the road.

Yeah, I’ll trim them soon enough, after I get the holiday lights up.

Sieg Heil!  Merry Christmas!

- Dad

RIP Chuck Taylor

chuck

First off, I don’t even know who Chuck Taylor is.  I guess I should, but that would require either:

a)  Executing a cheap google search that would simply lead to a crappy Wikipedia entry of dubious accuracy and/or quality, or

2)  Accessing the deep recesses of my increasingly faulty internal memory banks to try to remember what is was like in the “good ole days” and why I used to care.

Instead, I will just lay out the story simply and quickly, and then you can figure out how much older I’ve become.

As many of you know (and probably lots more don’t), I usually treat myself to a foo-f00 coffee on the way to work most Friday mornings.  Most of the time I try to leave the house a little bit early to make up for the delay along the way, but today I actually left later than usual, with the very predictable result of longer lines in the shop and heavier traffic on the interstate afterwards since every other Muggle in existence seemed to have gotten a delayed start to their Friday morning like me.

Whatever.  Work will wait, I know.

While standing in line waiting for my beverage, I noticed a young lady amongst the throng of other  customers also waiting for their (to me) indecipherable specialty drinks, and she was wearing a pair of high-top Converse Chuck Taylor basketball shoes. 

I happen to be familiar with these shoes because:

a)  I used to own several pairs myself from the ages of 8-14 or so — you know, back when they were actually used for athletic events, and

2)  I’ve seen Daughter wear some version of the same footwear around the house on occasion. 

I must say that my first-hand exposure to Chuck Taylors in my youth was when they were pretty much considered the de rigueur basketball shoe back in the day.  Owning a pair of Chuck Taylors was something every young kid aspired to, and an especially sought after color was Carolina Blue. 

On the other side of the tracks, the lesser, uncool kids had to make do with shoes from Kinney’s or Sears or, God forbid, Montgomery Ward.  Don’t ask me how I know.

Just google those stores if you’ve never heard of them.

I seem to remember a real battle for supremacy in the athletic shoe market took place at some point between increasingly upscale Converse and ProKeds.  I could only afford the Keds, and I used to own a pair (factory blems, mind you) of suede ProKeds that not only weighed about twenty pounds each, but were also nuclear fallout-proof. 

They were rugged. 

I eventually gave them away when,  after years of ownership, they simply never wore out.  Their real fault was that they smelled bad and had fallen out of style. 

Canvas Chuck Taylors still survived, of course, and periodically I still wore them, but time was beginning to pass them by since the 800-pound Nike gorilla had entered the scene and was beginning its long, inexorable march to market domination.

Side Note:  When Nike first appeared, my friends and I didn’t know if the brand was cool or not (we hadn’t been bludgeoned by their marketing yet), and none of us knew how to pronounce the name.

Nowadays, Chuck Taylors have become some kind of “street cred” fashion statement, and I’m sure most of the punks kids wearing them know nothing of their long and storied sporting history. 

As for myself, I no longer care what brand of athletic shoe I wear, as long as they are comfortable.  Good grief, three layers of tissue paper have more cushioning than Chuck Taylor soles, after all. 

So, I figure I can talk reasonably intelligently about three types of shoes at the next holiday party I attend (Yes, maybe I’ll be invited to one this year.  Who knows?):  Chuck Taylors, loafers, and espadrilles. 

Well, I really don’t know anything about espadrilles, but I do remember a creative writing instructor in college using the term in one of his short stories and me thinking, “How the hell does he know anything about women’s shoes, and I need to get some more life experience.”

And platform shoes.  I can talk about platform shoes, I think. 

The irony is that now that I can afford basically any Chuck Taylor version out there, I don’t care to wear them anymore.  I know they would hurt my feet, and other Muggles might think I’m pretending to be seventeen years old or something. 

Sorry, Chuck.  But the good new is that googling you is on my “to-do” list this weekend. 

- Dad

It Only Seems Fitting . . .

doggie poop bag

The details are not important, but Daughter has berated me into attempting to take up my end of the bargain again and continue to contribute “average” posts to this Blog so that hers, in comparison, seem erudite, hip, and just cool.

If there’s anything I recognize in life, it is my place in it these days.

Plus, she reminded me that the Blog has been in existence for a year now, so in tribute to the two Followers and six Additional Muggles who read my posts, here goes.

It is something of a daily right in our household to not only walk the dog twice a day, but also to determine the state of his intestinal health after the fact.  It is a routine that disgusts Daughter, in particular, which means that her Mother and I enjoy it all the more.  After all, DandyDog is firmly planted in his early elderly years, and we take an abiding interest in everything associated with his health.

Including his poop.  An abiding interest.

So, a typical post-walk debrief might go something like this:

“Did the dog poop?”

“Yes.  Yes, he did.”

“Was it a one-bagger or a two-bagger?”

“Well, he squeezed out an initial perfunctory poop since you (Daughter’s Mom) didn’t come along, but I made him keep walking and he did a second one later on.”

Then the fun starts, because what we’re all really after comes next.

After all, the most important thing next to the quantity of the poop is the quality.

“Was it firm, or was it mushy?”

And, of course, the answer depends on many factors — what Dandy ate for the day; how much cat poop he was able to sneak out of the cat box; whether he raided the kitchen trash can, etc.

But what we’re all after is that which indicates satisfactory canine gastric health:  a firm, well-formed poop.

So it was not without some soul-searching the other night that I began to wonder about dog poop etiquette.

Don’t get me wrong.  The overwhelming majority of dog walkers in our neighborhood are very responsible and conscientious owners.  They walk their charges, armed to the teeth with poop bags, and for the number of dogs that live around here, we have a fairly poop-free environment most of the time.

My own etiquette dilemma concerned just how far into someone’s yard is it acceptable to allow your dog to do his or her business?  I mean, I am going to pick it up anyway but I think the general rule of thumb (for most of the folks around here) is that it’s okay to allow your pooch to use a “leash length” to take care of necessities.

Any more than that seems like some kind of violation of propriety.

It comes as no surprise that our Dog apparently didn’t read the manual, didn’t get the memo, or was otherwise occupied when the information about pooping was passed around amongst his furry pals.

Two nights ago Dandy decided (and I allowed him to) break the rule and scamper up into someone’s yard, well beyond the normally accepted limits.

After a thorough exploration of the smells inhabiting the general vicinity, he decided to deposit his load.

Even though I quickly picked it up and we continued on our way, I couldn’t shake the notion that we had violated a fundamental tenet of Dogdom because we had strayed too far from the sidewalk.

But since it was nighttime, no one else witnessed the transgression.

I suppose it is something I will have to struggle with and eventually come to terms, since I have little else of real substance to occupy my brain these days.

I stopped trying to figure out the String Theory of the Universe years ago.

So it seems only fitting to celebrate one year of TheDailyTripBlog.com by writing about poop.

And if you were wondering, Dandy’s poop in this instance was firm and well-formed — not mushy at all.

- Dad

I Guess I’m Not Rich

checkbook

Yesterday was a quiet Sunday morning, and before I entered the maelstrom of afternoon Men’s League soccer refereeing (it’s a war out there), I treated myself to a quiet cup of expensive foo-foo coffee.  Everyone else in the house was either still sleeping or otherwise occupied and couldn’t be bothered to join me.

Just as well.

I grabbed my cup and retreated to the outside patio, which offered a perfect vantage to watch a local, in-progress 100-mile bike race.  I use the word “race” very loosely, as it was distinctly clear to me that many of the participants very rarely biked or even exercised, for that matter.  More than a few stopped at the intersection in front of me, got off their rides, and pretended that they were adjusting some critical component on their ride.

They weren’t fooling me.  I knew they were exhausted and thinking, “How can I possibly get up another hill?” and “Why am I here?”

Their torment made me feel a bit better about myself, since when I sat down and observed the spectacle before me, my first instinct was to beat myself up thusly:  “I should be out there with them, working hard, breaking a sweat, making myself stronger.”

Then when I saw how many people were barely locomoting their bedraggled asses butts along the route, I figured:  “Actually, I’m pretty happy sitting here in the sun watching these guys kill themselves.”

Thoughts (and dispositions) can be fickle.

I then turned my attention to catching up on things via the latest on-line news articles, and more out of sheer government shutdown fatigue than anything else, I clicked on a link that described the four main habits or characteristics of “wealthy” people.

Hmmm,” I thought.  “Let’s see how bad off I really am.”

There was good news and bad news.

According to the link (I guess I should reference it, but all I can remember is that it was somewhere buried on msn.com), I’m actually in fairly decent shape regarding three of the primary points.  That is to say, Wealthy Muggles:

1)  Tend to stay married/in a relationship with one person for a long period of time.

Check.  Approaching twenty-eight years on this one.

I’m thinking if you marry and divorce a lot (whatever that means), it’s a detriment to one’s overall financial health.

2)  Tend to stay in one house/dwelling for a long period of time.

Check.  Approaching fourteen years in this ramshackle modest suburban box, in which something is always broken and needs fixing.

3)  Tend to not spend a lot on expensive cars and things, while saving approximately 20% of what they earn.

Sort of.  I’m not sure about the percentage we save or the other tendencies, which leads me to the Bad News of Point Number Four.

4)  Compared to most everyone else in this country, tend to dedicate three to four times as much energy and time to budgeting, tracking spending, and knowing exactly where all the money is going each month.

Nope.

Oh, I guess we have a general idea, really.

Most of the money around here seems to go to food, gas, and the kids, and not necessarily in that order.

And I think that’s how we’re going to leave it.

Rather than worry about the Habits of the Wealthy, the article made me think of the definition of Wealth itself.  For instance, there was no discussion about whether these sample people with their sample characteristics were happier than any of us Dog Scientists.  Or if they had pets, or watched Downton Freaking Abbey, or gave up watching Major League Baseball in the 1990s.

As my twelve-year-old would say, “Hmmmmm?”

And at the end of the day, you can’t take any of the money with you anyway.  You can spend it while you’re alive or leave it to others, but as my grandmother supposedly used to say, “There are no pockets in shrouds.”

In fact, I began to reminisce about the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and I thought there was a line in there somewhere about happiness and wealth.

After an exhausting Google search, I found the quote: “Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings, Love Clarence.” Clarence the Angel wrote that inscription in the book (Tom Sawyer) he gave to George Bailey.

I may not be wealthy but I’m not a failure, at least by the definition above.  At least two of the cats in this house are friendly to me just about dinnertime.

- Dad

Real Housewives of . . . . Nah.

realoc

I had to drive to and through Laguna Beach today.  While there, I saw no fewer than three Lamborghini’s and two Ferrari’s in the span of four blocks.  The other predominant vehicle of choice there is Mercedes-Benz.

Why was I there?  It’s a long, uninteresting story, but it involves ebay, Craigslist, and a complicated sale and swap of various vintage Alfa Romeo interior parts.

First stop:  the OC.

Several aspects of the area made an immediate impression on my jaded Muggle self.

First, it’s sickeningly beautiful.  Wonderful sunny weather, the smell of salt air, and beautiful wind-swept ocean vistas everywhere you care to look.

Both those positives are offset by heavy traffic, stop lights every fifty feet, and what I will simply refer to as moronic behavior everywhere, beginning with the drivers.

According to my observation, these folks come in two basic varieties:  rich jerks who tailgate you, and rich jerks who meander obliviously down the Pacific Coast Highway, with nary a care in the world.

Clearly it was time to activate Zen-me — roll up the windows, turn on the a/c, and crank up some tasty tunes, which I did.

In other words, I wasn’t bothered too much.

As I chilled myself out, I had the opportunity to view some of the folks walking the sidewalks and holding up traffic in the crosswalks.

Basically, they all looked the same to me.  (Note to self:  I love make these kinds of broad generalizations.  Keep it up, self!)

All the women were outfitted by Prada (is that right, or should I be referencing some other designer now?), and the men wore oversized shades and tried to look cool with their smokes.

Oh, right, a lot of the guys weren’t wearing shirts.

At least that part gave me some hope.  It is a fervent desire of mine to live long enough to when I’m perfectly comfortable walking around in nothing more than my brown leathery skin and a two sizes too small pair of red Speedo swim trunks.

Are they even called swim trunks anymore?  Seems very 1950s-ish.

speedoOf course, the above photo in no way, shape or form resembles anything close to me, either in the past, the distant past, or ever.  It’s basically just for reference, folks.

Fortunately, the guy I was meeting lived well off the main thoroughfare, and he seemed normal enough.  Plus, we shared the same (ridiculous) passion for kidding ourselves into thinking we’re actually restoring old Italian sports cars.  For reference, old Italian sports cars are never completely restored.  They always need something, no matter how much money you’ve lost invested in them.

And the Italians are laughing all the way to the bank, but that’s the nature of the business.

After making our parts/money exchange, I returned to the Pacific Coast Highway, waded into the OC traffic going north, and got out of there as quickly and as sanely as I could.

The Garmin directed me to my second and final destination in LA, where I made my last parts deal with a vaguely Middle Eastern guy who had been out of work for a couple of years.

Interestingly enough, we each wished we were doing what the other person was occupied with.  He wanted a steady job with a big company that provided benefits, and I wanted to work out of a scary industrial park in a warehouse space crammed with old Alfas, BMWs, and Mercedes.

He was certainly nice enough, and we spent a good hour examining his cars, his parts, and talking about deals we missed.

Soon enough I was on the way home, hopeful that a wildfire just off the Interstate wasn’t going to close it down.

It didn’t, and I arrived home to my humble San Diego Muggle abode, in our standard, sub-optimal subdivision.

About a block from the house, ambling down the sidewalk, was an older lady wearing snowboots, a hunting cap, and a crazy overcoat — all this on an 80 degree day here.  No Prada here.

Ah, home.

- Dad

The Swedes May Have Invented Hell

ikea

One of my recent posts described how I spent the better part of a Friday night wandering the voluminous yet crammed to the rafters aisles of a local Ikea store.

Well, once again reinforcing one of the main tenets of life — no good deed goes unpunished — I was, of course, obligated to try to assemble our purchases afterwards in the noble effort to save money. 

This aspect of The Daily Trip in my household has proven somewhat interesting over the years.  No, not the saving money part.  Rather, it’s the “what would you do (and spend) if I (Dad) weren’t here” part.

Daughter’s standard retort is that she would seek guidance and direction from her iPhone.  I suspect many children today are of the same disposition.

Thanks, Apple.

My Lovely Spouse’s standard retort is that she would pay someone to do whatever thing that I’m currently doing for free. 

So, it turns out I am actively engaged in planning my own future obsolescence, or so it would seem.

Back to Ikea and the boxes of disassembled furniture items.

It all seems so logical, linear, and straightforward.  All the parts have been neatly engineered to fit “just so” inside their perfectly proportioned, Eurotrash boxes.

And the stuff inside is the same.  Carefully cushioned and separated by exactly the right cardboard spacers and heavy-duty  lining paper.

If you aren’t OCD, it will drive you to become so. 

Many, many years ago, “back in the day” — whatever that means — I remember reading a particular collection of science fiction short stories.  I don’t know if they were by Asimov, or Heinlein, or Bradbury, but one of the tales featured a mysterious, compartmented cylinder that was planted in our solar system.  The thing turned out to be a giant puzzle.  After solving the problem in one compartment, the next would open.  However, the deeper into the cylinder the problem solvers went, the harder each one became to solve.  The early ones took hours; the later ones were taking weeks.  Eventually, the cylinder shut down, and our Dog Scientists figured it was the alien’s way of figuring out how advanced mankind was intellectually.

Clearly the Ikea Mavens ripped a chapter out of this book.

Take the the Assembly Instructions; please.  Anything over 25 pages or so generally requires a degree in Mechanical Engineering in order to put the stupid thing together.  If it’s less, I can envision a completed project somewhere in the range of 2-6 hours. 

I am not a Dog Scientist, it would seem.

I have als found that one of the most important keys to maintaining sanity while putting together Ikea furniture is to be organized.

And celebrate little victories.

I try to ignore the 1,207 separate parts contained in each included plastic bag and focus on placing them somewhere so that I don’t lose any of them, yet they are easily accessible. 

The process goes like this: 

1)  Depression/Feelings of Being Overwhelmed – Gazing upon the plastic bag o’ parts, and opening same;

2)  Elation – Screwing in the first nut; 

3)  Depression – Realizing there are 562 more nuts to screw in;

4)  Elation - Determining that one shelf requires absolutely no assembly whatsoever;

5)  Depression/Feelings of Being Overwhelmed – Undoing your last 30 minutes’ worth of work because you put together two pieces backwards. 

At some point hours later, an object vaguely resembling the one you supposedly bought teeters unsteadily before you. 

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I usually take a break and get some coffee.

The problem is, after going through these same gyrations a few times, you develop a pretty good sense of what’s in front of you the minute you dump everything out of the carefully packed box.

If there are enough parts jammed together in a plastic bag that approximates the size of a rugby ball, you’re in trouble.

It’s only taken me several weeknights over the last several days to almost completely construct everything we bought last Friday night.

I consider that to be some type of accomplishment. 

However, since I am well adept at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, I will not relax my efforts until every Ikea box and book of instructions have disappeared from my sight.

And all that will be left is modern Swedish particle board furniture.

It will be sturdy, edgy, and functional — quite hellish.

I might even celebrate with a jar of Lingonberry jam — if they ever get it back in stock.

- Dad

Moron Etiquette

moron1

In a flurry of pre-Halloween activity, the morons were out in force today.

Typically they clog up the roads and by-ways where I live, but they can be found scurrying around retail establishments, as well.

Now what I consider moronic behavior might differ somewhat from others, of course, but let me provide a typical example.

Depending on the amount of foot traffic involved, entering and exiting the double-glass doors featured at the entrance of many stores can be challenging, especially if you’ve got your hands full of crap junk.

I always try to defer to that little old lady making her way outside, even if it’s not completely clear who really has the right of way.  It’s the gentlemanly, proper thing to do, after all.  I don’t really expect any sort of thank you, but a nod or a quick smile is appreciated.

What I don’t understand is when I’m met with complete and utter obliviousness when I clearly am helping one of these morons folks out.

Of course, that happened today.  Though I had the right of way and was holding some stuff, I duly made way for an older lady and graciously held the door for her.

Nothing.  Nada.

In fact, I thought I whiffed the ever-so-faint sense of entitlement as she walked by.

If I cared any more about it, I might have gotten a tad mad.  But I really didn’t, cause I see it so often.

Thus, she qualifies as a moron in my book.  Maybe not a full-blown Class A Moron, but she’s not that far down the classification list.

Then we have the example of the driving morons.

You’ve seen them.  They’re the ones cutting in and out of traffic, and even though you happen to be exceeding the speed limit by at least ten miles per hour, it’s not good enough for them.  They tail-gate you, try to stare you down, and ultimately zip out and floor it around you for at least fifteen yards until they ride the next guy’s bumper.

My reaction?

It’s probably not the right or righteous thing to do, but if I see this kind of thing going on behind me via my rear view mirror, I will sometimes try to accelerate just enough to make it impossible for them to keep doing the same thing when they pull level with me.

The key to this particular strategy is to feign distraction or at least indifference.  Glance out the side window.  Adjust the radio.

Just never make eye contact and speed up ever so slightly so that it’s practically imperceptible.

Of course, this type of thing is only effective for a few seconds before the pace of the cars around me opens gaps and the guy can pick up again where he left off previously.

And it’s always guys.  Never any women.

I’ll have to think about that some more, I suppose.

Anyway, this delaying tactic provides only momentary mental relief for me, and I have to be sure it doesn’t transition into some kind of road rage affair, for either him or me.

The fact of the matter is that I’m so worn out from commuting these days, I rarely get upset at anything or anyone anymore on the roads.

So as the moron guns his ride off into the horizon, I typically try to busy myself finding some tunes on the radio that are vaguely familiar.  It’s a life.

Finally, I was confronted with a different type of entitled moronic behavior late this afternoon, but with an altogether different result.

As I approached a traffic light just a few blocks from my house, the light turned green and I had no need to brake.  I simply continued to accelerate through the intersection, and not particularly fast, at that.

I could see on my right that someone in a Lexus SUV did not appear to be slowing down for their red light.  This vehicle had all the earmarks of rolling through the light in order to make a right turn immediately in front of me.

Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.  Though I was already in the intersection, she (yes, it was a she) ran the light to make her turn.

But there was a difference with this moron.

She knew she had committed a moving violation sin, and she waved to me and made motions of apology.

What a bummer!  I had already begun concocting a string of vitriol, which was to be accompanied by vigorous hand and arm gestures.

Her demeanor completely threw me off my intended diatribe course.

Instead, I simply shrugged my shoulders, nodded, and carried on my merry way.

If you’re going to be a moron, I suppose that’s the best way to carry it off.

- Dad

Man, Have Friday Nights Changed!

Ikea%20Meatballs-1730376

Well, I just returned from an exhausting night out on the town.  As I glance up at the clock, I see it’s almost gone half past 8:00 p.m. — perilously close to the Witching Hour (formerly midnight, but now closer to 10:00 p.m. since I can rarely stay awake until twelve these days).

Though I would like to think I am capable of some very Big Lebowski-ish nighttime activities (you absolutely must read the linked post for reference), those days seem to have faded into the mists of time, and tonight was a perfect example of same.

Clubbing?  Nope.

Concert?  Nope.

A nice evening featuring a good meal and even better wine?  Nope and nope.

Wandering around Ikea?  Yeppers.

So, allow me to take you through the minimalistic thought processes that now dominate my gray matter when contemplating this sort of Friday Night Activity:

1)  Should we visit Friday night or anytime Saturday?  Hands down, Friday night.  Lots more parking, and the Urban Ranger clientele who normally prowl the store on Saturdays are absent on Fridays because they are out getting drunk at their obscure, trendy hotspots — you know the ones.  Everyone is wearing black – lipstick, nail polish, clothes, teeth – both females and males.  The music, if you can call it that, consists entirely of bass guitar thumping sounds.

Don’t ask me how I know all this.

2)  It’s a great opportunity to eat Swedish meatballs.  Ingesting these meatballs almost makes the effort to wander the three miles in the store it takes to find the café/restaurant worthwhile.  And I also really appreciate the fact that they give you exactly fifteen meatballs in the combo plate.  That somehow makes me whole.

Love those Swedes.

3)  The customers marching their circuitous routes from department to department remind me of my old self.  Well, that is myself thirty years ago, back when I had an open mind, harbored positive visions for the future, and actually cared about what my bookshelves looked like.  As I people-watched tonight, I saw couples (of many, many different varieties) planning their wonderful futures through furniture and unpronounceable accessories.

At the same time, I was trying to determine the shortest way to the exit through the Ikea showroom maze.

4)  There’s always lingonberries to look forward to.  No matter how crappy my day has been, or how little I care about visiting Ikea, no one can take those lingonberries away from me.

Lingonberry juice.  Check.  Wonderful.

Lingonberry jam.  Nope.  Out of stock.  Again.

Just when I thought everything was going to be okay this evening, or at least tolerable, they deny me the simple pleasure of lingonberry jam.

Damn them.  Damn them to hell.

At this point, I suppose I could write some more about Ikea and, by extension, how brutally sad what’s left of my social life has become, but those meatballs are making me sleepy and it is, after all, after 9:00 p.m.

But rather than turn in for the evening while wallowing in a fairly shallow pool of suburban self-pity, I take heart in an invitation my wife and I received earlier this week:  Some friends of ours suggested we join them for dancing lessons.

On the face of it that sounds somewhat interesting, perhaps even enjoyable.  Of course it would require effort, movement, practice, and a modicum of attention and dedication.

I think the decision to join in or not is better made while eating a warm slice of freshly made bread covered in lingonberry jam, don’t you?

In other words, it ain’t happening anytime soon.

Time to go to bed, now.  Thanks.

- Dad

The Last Supper — No, Really

persian food

On very rare occasions, the two older kids become interested in their heritage.  It usually coincides with one of them catching an episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?,” and it results in an endless round of parental inquisitions.

Their Mom bears the brunt of it, since she is a real, live immigrant to this country, as is the rest of her family (of course).

And depending on the definition, Yours Truly is either a first or second generation American, as all of my grandparents were immigrants of one kind or another.

I try to get them interested in the bits we know:

“You know your Great Aunt used to pass by the Titanic every day while it was being built?”

Silence.

“Do you know where the Titanic was built?”

“In a shipyard.”

“Where?”

Silence.

“Belfast.”

“I don’t remember that in the movie.”

Since we have a tendency to quickly exhaust the parts of the family tree for which we possess vague facts, we soon turn our attention to those parts for which all connections are somewhat tenuous.

You know.  The bits we don’t know.

Like my father’s side of the family.

The roots from that family tree originated from what used to be called Persia.

It’s a part that of our past that is only revealed when I grow a full beard.

Let me tell all you Muggles that no Mullah’s got anything on me when I sport full facial hair growth.

It’s both wild and exotic.

So it came to pass a couple of years ago that a Persian restaurant opened in our small suburban SoCal enclave.  In the spirit of supporting small businesses and paying tribute to our pseudo-heritage, we decided to make a visit.

The food was good, if not a bit pricey.  I think the bill for three of us was seventy-five or eighty bucks — roughly equivalent to seven trips to In-N-Out or four trips to Rubio’s (fish tacos must be more expensive than ground beef).  Overall, it was a pleasant experience, but I would be lying if I said we were dying to go back again.

After all, heritage is worth only so much, you know, especially when you’re hungry.

Just one shop over from the Persian place is a Vietnamese pho place.  I’ve gone there countless times over the last twenty-four months, and it is usually packed for both lunch and dinner — maybe because you can feed a family of four for about twenty-five dollars or so.

It’s all in the numbers in the restaurant patron game.

I often wondered how the Persian folks felt seeing their Vietnamese neighbors raking in the customers.  I couldn’t help but notice that they were never likewise that crowded.

So it came to pass three weeks ago we decided we needed something different for a meal out, and we hit upon the idea to visit the Persian place again.

Sadly, on a Sunday night the place was empty.  Oh, there was a guy at a table near the front, but I had the impression he was part of an extended family and not a real customer.

On this particular evening it was really, really hot, as well.  We were experiencing the last vestiges of what passes for a summer heat wave around here.  Aside from the lack of paying diners, the restaurant also had no air conditioning or, rather, chose not to have the a/c turned on.  Instead, there was a small oscillating fan swaying back and forth, and the hostess eventually pointed it sort of in our direction, which provided the illusion of ventilation for us.

No matter.  We ordered, and waited, and gazed upon the sea of vacant chairs and tables.

The sense of hopelessness was palpable.  It seemed they had given up.

What had happened, we wondered?  The food was good.  The place nice enough.  What?

We just didn’t know.

After our meal was delivered and consumed, I mentioned to the waitress/hostess that we always had good food here (both times we ate, I didn’t mention).

She thanked me and took my credit card.

Two weeks later as we rolled up for some pho, I noticed the lights were off at the Persian place.  My wife thought they might be closed on Sunday nights.

“It looks like they’re really closed, as in no longer in business,” I replied.

We walked up to the picture glass windows and gazed inside.  The space was barren.  Not a detail of what once had been still remained.

“Well, that must have been one of the last meals they ever served when we were here before,” I said.

“They had an ‘A’ Health Department rating,” my Spouse responded.  The sign was still hanging up.

It didn’t help.

A few days after I saw one of the two ladies that formerly ran the restaurant at a local foo-foo coffee place.  Though she didn’t recognize me, I did her.  She had taken my credit card during our last supper with her.

I overheard bits of her conversation with a friend, and she was celebrating her birthday.

She looked very happy.

- Dad

Playing For Time — It’s Awful.

hospital

I’ve spent a fair chunk of my life the last two weeks visiting either hospitals or medical clinics.

What’s the difference between the two?  Basically, a hospital doesn’t smell as good as a medical clinic, and a medical clinic is always running out of things compared to a real hospital.

No matter.

The hospital where I receive most of my major medical interventions, as they deem necessary, of course, is a bit of an older place, just slightly run down, yet always in some state of renovation.  And the renovators never quite seem to catch up with making the place nice and whole.  As soon as they get one corner squared away, they’re tearing down another.

So I was a bit surprised earlier in the week as I walked up to the main entrance of the place.  Usually there’s a clutter of folks in wheelchairs being shepherded around by family members, and there’s always a few cops loitering around.  I’ve never really seen the security people there do much of anything, except park their vehicles in the handicapped zone out front which makes the real handicapped patients move farther down the curb to unload.

But I’m sure we’re all safer because of the rent-a-cops police presence.

Anyway, as I approached the sliding glass doors at the front, I was met with the sound of keyboard music.

“What’s this?”  I thought to myself.  “They’re now piping Muzak in the lobby to try to make us all feel better than we really do?”

If only that were the case.  As the doors shushed open, a little old lady was planted in the vestibule, sitting in front of an electronic piano, dressed in a shabby caricature of some kind of tuxedo, and banging away on the keys.

She only hit a few wrong notes during the three seconds I walked by.

I guess it was the institution’s attempt to add a little joyousness to the day, but it had the exact opposite effect on me.  For some odd reason, I felt like a prisoner at a concentration camp headed to God Knows Where, receiving a send off from my fellow musician inmates.

I half expected someone in a white lab coat to be waiting ahead, separating the prisoners patients, as appropriate:

“You.  Left.  You.  Left.  You.  Right.”

“Wait a minute.  Why am I going right?  Audiology is to the left.  Please, I want to go to Audiology.  I won’t cause any trouble.”

“You.  Right.  Get the dogs.”

Of course there was no selection, no Sophie’s Choice, but it sure put me in a spooky mood and set the tone for the morning.

Later, after my appointment was finished and I received a relatively clean bill of health, I decided I would take the stairs down from the third floor rather than the elevator.   Might as well get some exercise, I reasoned.

But I vaguely remembered trying the stairs on a previous visit, and I reminded myself they weren’t a straight shot down to the ground floor.  You had to criss-cross a couple of times to different ladderwells before getting spat out at the bottom.

What the heck.  I went for it.  I mean, how lost could I get?

Big mistake.

The next thing I knew I was wandering around the second floor, looking for that elusive express stairwell, when I stumbled into some kind of controlled access area.  Well, it was really more like a holding cell or jail.  There was a pleasant-looking courtyard, except that it was fenced and surrounded by barbed wire.

And then there was the posted sign:  “Danger of Elopement Present.”

What the what?  Where was I?

Wherever I was, it was eerily quiet and deserted.  There were a few lights on in the corridor, but I had a bad feeling I was about to run into an Eloper at any second.

Either an Eloper or Sasquatch.

I tried retracing my steps back while I looked for another stairwell, any stairwell, which I fortunately soon stumbled upon.

Eventually I made it back to the ground floor, and I hurried my little self out of that place as fast as my sore feet would carry me.

The little old lady pianist was still seated in the vestibule, but she was taking a break and talking to one of the inmates patients.

I hopped in my car and departed the parking lot post-hates.

Next stop:  foo-foo coffee.

I figured I deserved some, because even though I really didn’t dodge any sort of bullet that morning, I sure felt like someone was taking aim at me.

Nothing that a little caffeine and a chocolate croissant wouldn’t take care of, however.

- Dad

“We Don’t Have A Dog In That Hunt” and Other Fractured Fairy Tales

pointer

Today I was involved in a very complicated technical discussion at work.  At issue was determining whether we were responsible for a problem that was cropping up regularly with one of our projects and which was subsequently affecting an important customer. 

As the Dog Scientists debated the conditions and parameters that seemed to describe the annoying phenomenon, I listened closely to the details.

Two aspects of the situation quickly became apparent to me. 

First, I had little to no idea what these guys and gals were talking about.  After all, I had difficulty helping my twelve-year-old Daughter (Daughter Number Two) with her “fun” math homework the other night.  I seem to remember giving her advice something along the lines of, “It’s probably better to check with your Mom.”

Second, whatever the real engineering problem at hand today was, it was clearly not due to anything even remotely associated with us.  That much was certain.

After all, I might be dumb, but I’m not stupid.

Thankfully, then, we came to the conclusion it was somebody else’s burden to solve, and we were in the clear.

And to cap off the collective conclusion of non-responsibility, our absolutely awesome project manager (who has bailed me out on countless occasions over the last fifteen months) declared, “We don’t have a dog in that hunt.”

“Yikes!”  I thought to myself.  “Something I actually know something about.  I can make a meaningful contribution to this discussion.  Finally.”

I then commenced to interject my interpretation regarding one of the finer points of Southern colloquialisms. 

“Look.  I feel I have to jump in here and make a correction.  You can’t say, ‘We don’t have a dog in that hunt.’  You can either say, ‘That dog won’t hunt’ or ‘We don’t have a dog in that fight,’ but you can’t mix them up like that.  After all, that would indicate we don’t seem to know what we’re talking about, you know?’

My comment was met by dead silence. 

Oh, well.  I tried.

You see, one of the (many) enduring burdens of my life is that even though I do not possess a Southern Accent or even remotely sound like I hail from below the Mason-Dixon, I did, in fact, spend my formative years in the South, which has (for better or worse) instilled in me something of its sensibility.  

In fact, just this week I was explaining to my new primary care physician, who had just moved here from New Orleans, the Danger Signs I recognized in that area of the country as a young adult and that led me to seeking an “out” before I was sucked into the Black Hole of Comfort there.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Well, for guys, it was football, nicotine, alcohol, and girls.  And not necessarily in that order.  The average guy in his mid-fifties already looked like he had one foot in the grave.”

“I know,” she responded.  “I definitely saw that there.”

“I guess they thought the short journey was worth the price.  But not for me.  I was determined to leave once I finished school,” I replied.

And leave I did.  

But by sheer happenstance and courtesy of the US Navy, I have spent a good portion of my adult professional life living once again in various locations throughout the South. 

So, I escaped initially but then I returned. 

“Well,” my doctor continued, “You look exactly what I’d imagined a ‘hip’ Southern California guy would look like — you’re wearing shorts and sandals, you look like you’re in shape, and you seem kind of relaxed.”

“Ha,” I thought.  “My family would become catatonic if they heard you describe me like that.”

“I try,” I said. 

And then I headed for the exit and waded into the afternoon Interstate commute home, feeling pretty good about myself.

I guess there’s no real point to this story, other than I realize now I made a fairly large linguistic mistake earlier today.  It turns out that the more I think about it, the better the newly concocted colloquialism sounds to me.

Because the older I get, I find I have fewer dogs involved in any sort of hunt, and for the most part the following accurately describes me today:  I don’t have a dog in most fights; I don’t have a dog that hunts; and, especially, I don’t have a dog in that hunt.

After all.  Look at him.

There's only room for one sheriff in this town.

I don’t fight, and i certainly don’t hunt.  But I do eat cat food and cat poop.

- Dad

There Is Crying in Soccer!

cry

And a lot of it.

Ask me how I know, and I’ll tell you the story.  But it’s not all that sad.

It just is.

Here goes.

For reasons not altogether completely clear to me, there seems to be an unending shortage of soccer referees around here these days.

Upon further reflection, I really think I do have a relatively good idea why there are problems in this area:  Referee Abuse — from parents and coaches and players.

But mainly from coaches and players.

It’s gotten so bad that many of the younger refs we’re trying to nurture along simply get so intimidated early on that they abandon the pursuit and turn their attentions elsewhere to less demanding climes.

In my case, I’m so old and curmudgeonly that I pretty much don’t care what kind of things are verbally launched in my direction.  Plus, I can’t hear most of what’s said anyway, so I kind of works out in the end.

But this post is not about the greater ill affecting the game.  It’s about the symptom — the ongoing shortage.

Over the past weekend we were collectively facing the dilemma of not being able to source and assign enough referees for all the available games here in my region.  So in a fit of misplaced selflessness, I volunteered my services on Saturday, already knowing I had been assigned some terribly difficult games Sunday morning that would require all my strength reserves and resolve to complete.

The only condition I made to my assignor for Saturday, should he need me, was not to put me on any sort of demanding games in the afternoon, lest I be rendered so tired and unfit I would be unable to rise from my slumber and work the next day’s assignments.

Accordingly, he paid attention to my warning and gave me three little kids’ games to handle — Under 7 and Under 8 Year Olds.

No problemo, man!  I can help you out!

But then I realized I hadn’t done these types of games in years and, sometimes, the parents at that level can be horrendous.

No matter.  I was “taking one for the team” because, after all, without me, there would be no games at all.

Not really.  I’m fairly sure my assignor could have put his hands on some other schmuck, but I can be delusional when the situation warrants.

As it turned out, most of my time on Saturday was spent teaching the two new assistant referees working the games with me the finer points of soccer.  The instruction went something like the following:

“How long have you been refereeing?” I innocently asked.

“This is my second weekend,” answered one.

“And you?” I hazarded to the other.

“Third weekend, but I have a good understanding of all the rules.”

Okay,” I thought.  “At least I won’t have to work so hard on that one.”

Wrong-O.  My “experienced” guy soon proved he had no understanding that being an assistant referee required one to move up and down the sideline, even (gasp) occasionally run.

This was going to be a longish afternoon, clearly.

Then there were the little happy-go-lucky players themselves.

They didn’t stand a chance out there.

They were subjected to a constant and unending barrage of “encouragement” from their parents and erstwhile coaches.  And from their real coaches, too.

To label the atmosphere as confusing would be akin to comparing this blog post to Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

It don’t toll for thee, dude.

In the midst of the audio bombardment, an attempt was made by a few to play some soccer.  However, more time was spent re-doing throw-ins and chasing down errant balls than anything else.

Then came the crying.

Some of it was understandable.  Here and there a player took a soccer ball to the face or the stomach, or simply tripped.

Oh, that’s right.  I forgot.  We also experienced many stoppages of play for shoelace tying.  These kids were as bad at that at playing soccer.

But back to the crying.

Outside of the normally explainable instances, there were other, unique events.

The first involved a little boy who couldn’t figure out which side of the center line to stand on before the kick-off occurred.  The more he was “encouraged,” the worse his immobility became.  He was glued to that piece of turf, and I suppose he figured things couldn’t get any worse if he just hung tight there.

But then his resolve started to crumble and the tears began to flow.

I had had enough  of this scene and stepped in to help out the little bugger player, since everyone else was screaming at him.

I crouched down next to him, told the sideline to zip it, and just talked to him in the calmest, most reassuring voice I could muster.  The problem was, I really didn’t know what to say.

So I just made it up.

“You don’t need to cry.  No one is mad at you.”

More tears.  Trembling lips.

“All you need to do is stand on the other side of the line here, and life goes on, kid.”  I didn’t really say the second part.

“You’re just out here to have fun.  Don’t worry about them talking to you.”

I gently maneuvered him to the correct position, and the world started spinning again, and the salty discharge quickly evaporated.

Until the next incident.

Two little boys starting a teensy tiny shoving match.  Nothing much to it, really, but I needed to get them to knock it off before somebody decided to bite someone else.

“You, two.  Come here.  Both of you.”

My summons was met by the classic “if I pretend to look away, then he’s not talking to me” feint, but they soon got the message and frighteningly approached me.

“Look, you two should be having fun.  I want you to knock it off and stop. . . “

Then the tears began to flow.

“He started it first (sob),” and so on.

I had to calm down these tykes quickly or half the field might erupt in waves of sorrow.

“Guys.  I’m not mad at you.  You just need to stop shoving each other.  You’re supposed to be having fun out here.  Now no more pushing, okay?”

I had to give the one kid a hug in order to prevent a total meltdown.

I’m a bad man.  A very bad man to cause such pain.

After the games were complete, I sat on a bench at the end of the field, packing up my stuff for the drive home.  I was more hot than tired, and more thirsty than hungry.

And though I hardly ran at all, my feet hurt.

So much for selflessness.

But then a couple of parents passed by on the way to the parking lot and commented on how well they thought I handled the kids out there.

Okay.  Feeling a bit better now.

I guess I wish all crying were so easy to stop, but I do keep a lint roller handy because I never know when I’m going to be herding cats, or little kids.

- Dad

Well-Behaved Women Never Made History

katharine-hepburn-6-the-philadelphia-story

Ah, children.

Their ability to take the finest parental notions and twist them to meet their own needs knows no boundaries.

Take my own Daughter.*

Please.

After spending countless hours and thousands of dollars researching, saving for, and funding one of the finest university educations we could afford (at a foo-foo Lesbian Cult College, no less), it has all come back to haunt me.

But first, a little context is definitely in order.

As the father of two girls (we also have a son, but he doesn’t figure into this particular diatribe), I am well aware of the pitfalls they will face in this male-dominated world of ours.  In my simple Muggle mind, I calculate I have exactly two options regarding their preparation for life outside of the family home:

1)  Nurture, encourage, coax, and beat it into them to think for themselves, and become independent and strong.

2)  Buy a burka and call it a day.

That simple, homespun formula success for Daughter fortunately included a post-secondary education that focused on the developing Strong Minds and Strong Bodies.  I was somewhat heartened to note the abundance seemingly “leftist” feminine bumper stickers that adorned many of the vehicles around campus.  Yes, there were a few “Imagine Whirled Peas,” but there were also many “Well Behaved Women Never Made History” ones, too.

“Yes, this place will be good for Daughter,” I thought.  “When she’s finished here, she’ll be well-equipped to handle herself, even when I’m no longer around.” (Sobbing sound added for effect here, please.)

I suppose a few cracks began to appear in the foundation during our Road Trips (read any of those blogs for reference), when it began to become clear that common sense navigation was impossible without the assistance of an iPhone app — “The Starbucks is supposed to be right here!  It’s right here on GoogleMaps.  I don’t know where it is.  Let’s just keep going.”

You know.  That kind of thing.

So lately, Daughter has taken it upon herself to lower her standards somewhat while she stalks around the house.  Her recent references to etiquette notwithstanding, she occasionally descends into behavior more suited for an “All Men Are Pigs Locker Room” than the family living room.

And her excuse?

Well-behaved women never made history.

Repetitive belching?  No, that’s too polite.  Mega-Burping?

“Well-behaved women never made history, Dad.”

General cleanliness and helping out around the house?

“Well-behaved women never made history, Dad.”

Passing gas (some children do read this blog), in public (in the home).

“Well-behaved women never made history, Dad.”

Keeping her car clean?

“Well-behaved women never made history, Dad.”

Okay.  I get it.

When I was her age, I literally couldn’t imagine any sort of fate worse than having to move back home with my parents.  After all, it was very difficult trying to explain to my mom on Saturday afternoon why there was a completely frozen can of beer in the freezer (left over from the night before).

No one needs that kind of grief.

But there is one saving grace in this entire dilemma, and I keep reminding myself of it.

That is, though well-behaved women never made history, neither did well-behaved men.

Therefore, I have license, at a minimum, to walk around without a shirt, wear my shorts hiked up as high as I deem fit, and act like a Visigoth whenever the mood suits me.

Kids.

Don’t you just love ‘em?

- Dad

*(Daughter Number One, not Daughter Number Two — she has her own issues, after all.)

Five Screws

computerparts

I figure the title to this post would probably generate some interest from that portion of the populace that Daughter and I don’t normally reach.

So be it!

Simply stated, I am here to declare that over the weekend I managed to take the above pictured box o’ computer parts (Daughter’s much-abused laptop) and produce an almost complete and correctly reassembled machine.

I had my doubts and figured that my probability of success was somewhere south of 50%.  See previous discussion here.

Fortunately, there’s YouTube.

Fortunately, the videos there all feature a “Pause” button.

Using “The Rule of My Father,”* I calculated that it would take me approximately four hours to put the stupid thing back together, since I spent nearly an hour and a half taking it apart — and that was weeks ago.  And as I examined the IT Detritus piled before me, I swear I couldn’t remember most of the details associated with disassembly.  Age and an amazing lack of hubris will do that for you, dear Muggles.

*The Rule of My Father explained:  Take any task and multiply by three the time duration of the original estimate, i.e., “Son, it will only take you about an hour to clean the garage this morning.”  Translation:  At least three hours will be required to approach any level of completion. 

Though I really, really attempted to be systematic in my efforts during this project, I failed miserably in segregating the multitude of screws that held the entire device together.

Basically I had some big parts that somehow consisted of little parts, and the entire shootin’ match was held together by approximately 37 miniature screws of varying lengths and thread types (don’t ask me how I came to know about that, please).

I will spare you most of the gory details, but my faith and confidence were spurred on by the words of one of my IT-savvy co-workers who said, “Don’t worry about reinstalling all the screws.  They really overbuild these things, and they aren’t all really necessary.”

I think that’s roughly the equivalent of a guy at Pep Boys saying, “Your car only really  needs three tires most of the time to drive okay.  The fourth just balances things out.”

Or some such.

Suffice it to say, there came a point late Saturday afternoon when I definitely began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  The Box o’ Parts was starting to take shape, by golly!

And then it happened.  I tightened the final screw on the bottom of the laptop, and I was done!

I only had five really tiny screws left over.  They couldn’t be that vital, could they?

Success!  Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition!  I Be Special!

Of course, that feeling lasted approximately five nanoseconds; maybe shorter.

Because when I flipped the laptop over, the keyboard promptly fell off.

“Hewlett-Packard.  We have a problem.”

Addressing this issue required retracing my last seven steps and basically taking apart most of the machine’s base.

You see, I discovered I needed the really long screws to secure the keyboard, and they were already buried somewhere else in the bowels of mechanism.  Fortunately, I found them soon enough, but still couldn’t really place where the other five “extra” leftover screws came into play.

Whatever.

Next step:  Power.

I plugged the beast in, hit the “On” switch, and held my breath.

Wouldn’t you know it?  It booted right up and everything worked.

CPU Thermal Paste?  I laugh at you, even though I don’t know what you really do and why I smeared some of you on a copper plate next to a circuit board.

I got to thinking, “Hey, there’s not much I can’t do, really.  If I can put this thing together, then the world is my oyster.”

Then I received the first report back from Daughter:  “Hey, Dad, the keyboard seems to keep falling out.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I replied.  “It just needs a longer screw.  Just keep it level, and I’ll figure it out in a few days.”

I do not intend to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory, so my story for now is, it works.

And, once again, I’ve prevented dogs and cats sleeping together.  You know:  mass hysteria.

World Order has been maintained.

Using those terms to describe fixing my kid’s computer?

Age and an amazing lack of hubris will do that for you, dear Muggles.

- Dad

Apparently, Men Really Are Pigs.

aim

It’s official.  It’s an epidemic.

And I knew nothing about it, other than having a vague notion their might be a problem among some segment of the broader male population that uses urinals.  After all, there’s been a sign posted in the men’s restroom at work for a long time now.  So long, in fact, I felt compelled to write about it.

Then on Thursday I was feeling the need to get a haircut (I heard the expression on Car Talk with Click and Clack, The Tappet Brothers, today, so give me a break), and I mosied down the hall in an office building I sometimes frequent when I was confronted by yet another sign posted strategically on the bathroom wall.

Compared to the one at my own place of employment, the message on this one was a lot more direct:  Aim, Use, Flush — It’s Not Difficult.

It almost reminded me of a military recruiting poster, to be honest.  Something like, Remember the Enemy is Sleeping with Your Mother!  Aim, Use, Flush!  It’s Not Difficult, Comrade!  The Motherland is Depending on You!

Of course, I can only imagine the type of behavior that prompted the posting of this signage in the first place.

I have to tell you, however, that whatever egregious acts were committed previously, the small lavatory seemed completely normal and clean to me (as if I’m an expert in such things).

Basically, it didn’t smell, okay?

Though I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it, I find it curious that someone actually takes the time to print out and hang up these things.  I mean, unless you are having a really bad gastric distress kind of day, how many minutes does one tarry in public restrooms on average?  It can’t be that many, can it?

There’s probably a post-graduate thesis buried somewhere in the foregoing discussion, and I suspect it would be more interesting than anything vaguely tangential to Daughter’s own near and dear Lindsay Lohan treatise.

Alas, I digress.

As fate and luck would have it, between the time I initially spied this sign and approximately two hours later, I drank some water.

Lots of it.

So, I found myself returning to that same restroom before going out to the parking lot and driving home for the day.

I also thought it might be a good opportunity to snap a quick photo for the blog, if for no other reason than to somehow prove I don’t make this stuff up — photographic evidence can be forceful.

But it could be tricky taking a pic, I began to wonder.  For instance, if someone walked in and found me taking snapshots, what might they think?

“Hey, man, what are you doing?”

“Taking a photo of this sign for my Daughter’s stupid blog,” I might reply.

“You’re making that up.  You’re a pervert, aren’t you?  I’m going to beat you up now.”

Or some such.  I just hoped no one was going to be in there.

And there wasn’t.

But something even more strange had taken place in the interval between my visits:  Someone had edited the sign.  See below:

aim1

An Unknown Muggle had added the phrase, “Short Barrels are harder to aim.”

Well, I thought everyone knew that was a Universal Truth.

Guess not.

Since I return to this same location later this week, I will make a special visit to this particular restroom while I’m there, regardless if I need a haircut or not.

What words of wisdom will the next anonymous scribe leave for us all to contemplate?

I can’t imagine, but I think I know the general subject area.

- Dad

What Price Bounty?

quarter

I’m always struck by two characteristics of my personal “adult” world that very greatly from those of my extreme childhood.

The first is that I never, ever remember seeing any raptors (eagles, hawks, etc.) growing up, even though we frequented many areas on the east coast that should have featured them (and I was always looking, believe me).  Today, whether it’s because of the decades-old ban on DDT (look it up, Daughter) or the fact we now live in Southern California, I see raptors all over the place, every day!  It’s awesome!

The second is how frequently and often I find money during the course of my daily travels.  As a youngster who was perennially short of funds, the search for random bits of change was something of a part-time obsession.  And it was almost never requited.  But when I did come across that penny, it was magic.  Sure, I might only accumulate seven cents during an entire year, but it kept me going.  By contrast, it’s actually rare that a day goes by now when I don’t find some loose change out in the world somewhere.

Of course the foregoing completely ignores the more dramatic real history moments that have happened in the last four or five decades, like going to the moon, cell phones, wars, famines, iPads, etc., but it’s my timeline, so I get to choose.

Anyway, at some point quite awhile ago, I believe it was my Lovely Spouse who came up with the notion that the coinage I come upon is really a reflection of God’s Bounty.  Actually, it was my Spouse channeling Dr. Wayne Dyer, but I like the notion anyway.

I always pick up that stray penny or dime because part of me also thinks that it would be a Sin not to do so.

So how does Whole Thing work on a Practical Muggle Basis?  It certainly has its upside and downside.  On the positive, there are plenty of days on which God shows His or Her Bounty to me.

Lots.

Rarely are substantial sums in play, although I did find a little over twenty-four bucks at the theater a couple weeks ago.  But sometimes, it does seem other factors are at work.

Case in point.  Several years ago now, Daughter spent a summer far away in Ghana volunteering at an orphanage.  One evening, not long after she arrived in country, I was happily walking DandyDog here around our neighborhood on one of our regular rounds.  About midway through, I spied a large coin on the sidewalk ahead of me.  When I reached down and picked it up, I discovered it was not American — it was a Ghanian cedi.

Was it a sign that Daughter was being watched over?  I tend to think so.  Nothing ever remotely similar has happened before or since.

But sometimes, if God’s Bounty has not been apparent for several days running, I have a tendency to get a little worried.  Have I been abandoned?  Am I being punished for drinking a real non-diet soda?  Is the world about to end?

Since I’m rarely clear regarding the details of the Universe Master Plan, I just redouble my efforts to see and find God’s Bounty.

To wit, on Friday morning on my way to work, I was stopped at a traffic light that is positioned just before a main thoroughfare out of our little subdivision.  As I was dreading plotting planning my day of work, I glanced outside the car to my left and there was a shiny quarter lying in the road next to the median yellow stripes.  I did a quick calculation and thought I could just open the door, step out and retrieve the Bounty, and get back in before the light changed.  And there wasn’t much traffic behind me.

Well, I thought about it a little too long, and I failed to grasp the moment before it was gone and I was swept up with all the other Muggle Commuters headed to the office.

I was bummed.  After all, does it still count as God’s Bounty if you don’t actually pick it up?  I was left with that question to ponder all day.

I made a point to check to see if was still there when I drove by on the way home, but I didn’t see anything.  But because I was going a little too fast to conduct a really good scan, I rolled by again yesterday to take a closer look.  (This Bounty search can get a little out of hand sometimes.)

Nothing.  It was gone.  Bummer.

But wait, there’s more.

As I left the house late yesterday, I looked down when I opened the front door and there lay a shiny quarter, right on our threshold.  Admittedly, there’s a lot more loose change scattered around this house than the average residential street, but still . . . .

It looked as if the Universe was back in alignment, if only for a short spell.

Well, this morning I had an early Sunday meeting with a friend of mine for coffee.  As it so happened, my route took me by the site of the “lost quarter.”

Guess what?  It was still there — just shifted a bit to the middle of the median and almost invisible to the average passerby.  Since it was quiet and the streets empty, I quickly slipped out and picked it up.

God’s Bounty.

The Order of the Universe has been preserved.

At least for today.

- Dad

As a Matter of Fact, I Do Need a Ferrari — A New One!

tow truck

Every single day I visit a car collector website known as “Bring A Trailer.”  It gets its name from the decrepit state of the vehicles it features, many of which require a trailer to facilitate actual locomotion — if you want to get whatever currently listed project of the day home, you’re typically going to have to drag it back.

Get it?  You have to bring a trailer.

I have discovered that one of the prime characteristics of this particular website is that it is practically ruled by a Nay-Saying Peanut Gallery.  For every sound, reasonable comment regarding a vehicle’s collectability, requirements to put back on the road, etc., there are twenty others who shoot down the same vehicle for any number of flaws, either real or imagined.

It’s entertaining, even for a Muggle Curmudgeon like me, but it can really get annoying sometimes.

And to make matters even more interesting, it is considered something of an honor in the classic car world to snag a listing on “Bring A Trailer” because most of the ads are submitted by readers.  So with the right luck, timing, and viewing audience, that old Peugeot you have listed on Craigslist in Topeka might suddenly gain truly national exposure, and you’re almost guaranteed to make a sale.

So I was reading a listing on BAT either yesterday or the day before, and someone made a comment along the lines of “everyone needs an Old British (or German, or Italian, or Whatever) sports car story to be a part of their life history.” After all, it’s those breakdowns and escapades that provide the color to our existence, as well as foster the development of an extensive Vocabulary of Profanity.

Of course, this type of observation can only be made by old people, because they either have the time or the money to withstand breakdowns or, like me, they simply don’t care anymore and basically expect pretty much everything in their lives to go to Hell and a Handbasket at one time or another.

In other words, having your stinking car break down on the way back from Target when you’re twenty-two years old is completely different than the same occurrence when you’re fifty.  The first is usually a panic-attack disaster; the second an annoyance and eventual hit to the credit card.  After all, there are lots — lots worse things that can happen in this world.

At least that’s how I feel about it these days.

Well, dear Readers (all three of you), in the spirit of complete honesty, my favorite non-Ferrari I described just a few days ago here on this very blog bit me in the ass buttocks (not sure if it was the right or left) last night.

The set-up was thus — Early in the evening (say 8:00 p.m. or so) everyone in the household was either fast asleep or in bed or pretending to be in bed.  Since I was saving my DVRed Masterpiece Theater episode for viewing later in the week, I decided to make a quick run to the store in my classically ugly Fiat wagon.

I took a leisurely back route to the store and, once there, found absolutely nothing I needed, and I almost immediately commenced the return trip home.

So far, so good.

About five minutes later, just after making a left turn onto a busy street, the Orange Bomb Fiat shuddered.

Then it stuttered.

Then it died.

I coasted to the side of the road and tried to figure out what to do.  It was dark, I had no tools, and I really had no way to figure out what was going on under the hood given the circumstances.

I decided to do the next best thing:  See if the stupid thing would start up again.

It did.  Success!

I managed to drive all of about thirty seconds closer to home before it died again.

I coasted to the shoulder once more.

Something funny is going on here,” I figured — I tend to devolve into a plain simple-mindedness in times of crisis.  To others I appear calm, but that’s not really what’s going on.

I tried starting it again, and it fired right up, enabling me to drive approximately seventeen more seconds before it stopped.

This was really getting annoying, but I didn’t freak out as I coasted over to the side of the road again.

Instead, I began to review my options.  Option A was calling My Lovely Spouse (or anyone else at home) for tools and assistance.

Since they were all sleeping and not usually inclined to help me with what they consider a “Hobby Emergency,” I bit the bullet and settled on Option B — calling AAA for a tow.

Hey, I pay for it.  I might as well use it.

In the meantime, I had to exercise Option B1, which was figuring out a way to empty my full bladder whilst stuck on the side of a busy road with a broken down classic.

Option B1 is also known as a “Nature Pee” throughout my extended family, and they would be proud to know it was calmly executed.  I only really risked an arrest for indecent exposure in addition to causing a traffic accident should someone have slammed into my disabled vehicle during the “event.”

Fortunately, none of that happened, and no one was wiser to my actions in darkened grove by the sidewalk.

Feeling refreshed, I received a call from the tow truck driver who indicated he was having trouble finding me.

I began to say, “Look for the flashing yellow lights on the wagon and the Flasher in the woods standing next to it,” but instead figured out he was dispatched to the wrong address, which I quickly clarified for him.

In the seven minute interval before he was due to arrive, I decided to, just for grins, try to start the car again in hopes it would at least idle so the battery wouldn’t drain because I had the lights on.

You guessed it — she started right up.  I revved it up a few times to make sure she would stay running, and then I stood on the sidewalk awaiting the tow.  When the guy rolled in behind me, I explained the car now seemed to working okay, but I wouldn’t really know until I put it in gear and tried to drive again.

“They told me you were out of gas,” he said.

“I told the AAA lady I might be out of gas, but I really didn’t know what was happening,” I said.

“I’ve got two gallons for you here, and it’s free (not really, of course — nothing is), so we might as well put it in the tank.”

Okay,” I figured.  “What the hell?  Gas is four bucks a gallon out here.  I’ll make the best of it.”

“Do you mind following me for a bit?” I asked.  “I don’t live that far away.”

“Uh, sure, I guess.  Your car is running?” he asked with a quizzical look.

“Yep.  Let’s roll.”  I didn’t really say that, but it sounds cool now.

I’d like to say it was an adventure driving home, that it featured fits and stops and feats of imagination and strength.

But it didn’t.

The wagon ran just fine the whole way.

As I waved to the tow truck driver when he merged onto the Interstate and out of my life, I realized I just became the recipient of the first “classic car story” with this particular Fiat.

I feel confident there are probably more to come.

I haven’t really had any time since to try to figure out what went wrong last night, but I’m sure it’s nothing that money, luck, a little imagination, and a lot of mechanical know-how can’t fix.

But that’s an adventure for another day.

Tonight, I’m simply grateful  that I also happen to own a late-model pick up that never breaks down, and an older Miata Beater that always threatens to but never quite does.

And I would like to make the final point that, technically, the Fiat didn’t leave me stranded.

Apparently she only wanted to provide Fair Warning last night.

Duly noted!

- Dad

Who Needs a Ferrari?

magnum

It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago that I envisioned a Ferrari as part of my very ordinary life.

Of course, two things about that notion are important to mention.  First, it actually has been quite a number of years since that was even a semi-serious consideration for me – say, thirty or so.  And second, I never thought I would own a 308 (Thomas Magnum’s car above) because it was simply unaffordable to a non-lottery winner like myself.  I had my sights set on something much more reasonable from the early 70s:  A 308 GT4, which costs a lot less than other Ferrari models because nobody wants them.  They are effectively shunned.  Translation:  Right up my alley –cheap (relatively) and unwanted.

Good deals used to abound, if this type of automobile floats your boat.

However, I guess at some point I lost whatever desire I had for this Italian exotic because of kids, and moving, and money — yep, mainly money, but I replaced it with the Next Best Thing in my Personal Automotive Pantheon:  the Porsche 911.

porsche

Porsches have always been a lot more available and affordable, and I have spent a good amount of time educating myself on the details associated with the different years and models.  Eventually, I determined that an early car from the late 60s or early 70s would probably suit my needs best, and I kept my eyes open for exactly the right car.  I suppose the closest I ever came to buying one was test-driving a slightly crusty, green 911T one evening about fifteen years ago now, but I failed to pull the trigger because it had the beginnings of a little rust in a couple of places, and bringing something home that might require real maintenance from Authentic German Mechanics simply scared the bejesus out of me.

Point of reference for those near misses in life:  I had my then-young son in tow with me that night, and he still remembers the excitement of that ride all these years later.

In 2013 it’s very clear to me I should have made the deal on that vehicle.  What was a $5,000 car in 1997 has become almost $25,000 today.  And climbing.

Complete bummer, man.

The entire collector car market has exploded around me this year, and even formerly neglected makes and models are riding the rising tide.

Ferraris and Porsches?  I don’t even think about them any more, except when they blow by me on the Interstate.

So what’s a sad, poor Muggle to do?

The second part of the answer to this question came to me today.

But the first part made its appearance a few weeks ago when I read an interview with a major car collector and classic Porsche 911 owner.  You see, he also owns a Mazda Miata like mine.  Well, not really like mine.  I’m sure his is nice, well-cared for, and shiny.  Mine is an out-and-out beater.  Anyway, he said the Miata is more fun to drive at one-tenth the cost, compared to his foo-foo Porsche.

Score one for me.

The first part of the answer happened this morning.

As I pulled into a space at a nearby community park for some Sunday morning soccer refereeing, one of my fellow refs, an older German gentleman, asked me what I was driving and from whence the car came (see photo below).

fiat131

“I’ve never seen one like that before,” he said.  “It looks good.”

“It’s a Fiat 131 Wagon,” I replied.

And then I thought some more about it.

“You know, it’s probably the only one in the State of California.  Maybe even the entire country.”

“It’s great,” he said, and we both hobbled off to work our games.

So what I’ve got with my old Fiat wagon is basically a car that leaks both oil and transmission fluid, shudders like a ship running aground any time I even think about going faster than 60 mph, and something that’s so unique I get bombarded with questions about it every time I take it out of the neighborhood.

It gets noticed, that’s for sure.

They way I look at it, though it’s about as fast as a snail and ugly as a slug, it’s very lovable in a unique, old-car stinky kind of way.  I think about that every time I’m passed by Porsche, or Ferrari, or farm tractor pulling a hay wagon.

Did I mention it’s slow?

And there’s another good thing about it.  Everyone in my house absolutely hates it, except for twelve-year-old Daughter Number Two.  Though she sometimes has a hard time pronouncing Fiat, she knows a classic when she sees one.

Daughter Number One:  Just to be clear, don’t even think about asking to borrow it.  Both the car and I know you don’t like it.

- Dad

No Good Deed

computerparts

Sometimes you can’t win for losing.  That’s an expression I learned from my pals in Louisiana.  Except they pronounced “can’t” as “cain’t.”

No matter.

About two weeks ago I spent the better part of an afternoon replacing the spark plugs on my pick-up.  It was, unfortunately, eerily characteristic of many of my mechanical escapades.  I took on a seemingly simple task and managed to turn it into my own personal assault on Mount Kilimanjaro.

I’m in no shape to be climbing mountains, let me tell you.

Even though I managed to get everything under the hood reasonably reassembled, I hadn’t taken the truck out for a real spin to check my work until last Friday.

Once I turned on the ignition, I noticed it was idling a bit high.  I attributed it to the engine being cold and the new super duper plugs I had installed.  As luck or fate or both would have it, the symptom didn’t go away.  The more I drove it that day, the worse it sounded.  Things reached a fairly crappy climax in the afternoon when the dreaded “Check Engine Light” suddenly illuminated.

Well, that really chapped my a**, as my Southern buds would say.

All kinds of resolution scenarios started flowing through my mind.

Had I forgotten to reconnect one of the thousands of vacuum lines properly?  Did I screw up the intake manifold somehow?  Am I sure I even know what an intake manifold is anymore?  Did I install the wrong kind of plugs?

Really, the possibilities were endless.

And I absolutely suck at complicated automotive troubleshooting.

But instead of taking my vehicle in for professional advice, I decided to tackle the diagnosis myself.  I had little to lose, I figured.

Clearly, I had done something wrong, but what?

Since many, many prior personal automotive problem episodes preceded this one, I made the wise investment years ago in purchasing what’s known as a “Code Puller.”  Basically, the Muggle Mechanic plugs this thing into the vehicle’s computer, and out spits various unintelligible letter/number sequences that translate into specific problems currently plaguing the vehicle’s DNA.

After running the device through a couple of cycles, I wrote down the associated codes and headed inside to the internet.

P0502:  High Idle Condition.

Well, no sh kidding.  That was helpful.

Next stop for me, still on the internet, was visiting various websites and owner’s forums to determine if anyone else had ever screwed up experienced this problem, and if they had, what was the fix?

It turns out that in my zeal to not only change the spark plugs, but also to address a couple of other issues I found in the process (namely carbon build-up in the throttle body, which I diligently cleaned), I quite possibly managed to destroy one of the most expensive and sensitive parts of the intake system.

All because I was trying to be thorough and do the right thing.

I guess that teaches me.  From now on, I am returning to my scattershot, half-assed automotive repair methodology.

It’s clearly less risky and less expensive.

However, before I became completely distraught, I stumbled across a very thoroughly explained engine computer re-set procedure that, if executed correctly, might be the answer to my troubles.

In order to successfully complete this step-by-step process, timing (to the second) was critical, and disconnecting other devices under the hood was required for everything to work out properly.  The whole thing was fairly complicated.

More defeated than confident, I threw caution and what was left of my self-esteem to the wind, and gave it a go.

Well, it took me three tries, but eventually I got the process right, and it seemed to work.  After I buttoned everything up, I drove the truck around for a bit and, indeed, I cautiously declared success.

I went inside and beamed to my Lovely Spouse, “I think I fixed it.  But I’m not 100% sure.  I don’t want to grab defeat from the jaws of victory.”

“That’s great,” she replied.  “I didn’t know there was a problem.  Where do you want to eat dinner tonight?”

Ah, normalcy.

Which brings me to today’s crisis:  Daughter’s Computer (pictured above).

In a rousing bout of self-restraint, she recently declared she’s going to hold off replacing her iPhone, but could Dad please replace the cooling fan in her dying laptop?

“No problemo, Daughter!  I just single-handedly (not really — an internet cast of thousands helped) repaired my 2006 pick-up truck, which had a very complicated issue that I resolved.”

I mean, how hard could replacing the fan in her computer be?  A couple of screws here, a panel there, and Voila!

It took me about an hour, and I somehow removed about fifty miniature screws in the process, but I got the stupid thing apart and the fan out.  This time around, for help I referenced a YouTube video, where some dude in a ballcap took apart the same laptop in about five minutes.

When I examined the faulty fan, I discovered it was jammed with five years’ worth of dirt and dust.

Daughter had killed it.

So after a quick trip to Fry’s (“Nope, we don’t stock that stuff.  Go to Amazon.), I placed an online order and her new fan is on its way from China.

It may get here in thirty days.

It may not.

I know one thing.

I will have forgotten absolutely every detail associated with taking the stupid thing apart by then.  I will, indeed, need God’s Help (and some nuns’, too) to put it back together again properly.

I put the odds of success at roughly fifty percent — if one of the cats doesn’t knock the box of parts over in the meantime.

If that happens, all bets are off, and Daughter probably becomes the beneficiary of a new device.

I guess I need to hide the box now.

- Dad

My School Found Me

Since I had no vision of furthering my career in academia while still in college many years ago, I decided for purely financial reasons to obtain my master’s degree at the same institution that conferred my bachelor’s degree.  It was a straightforward way to delay entering the Real World for at least two years and, besides, the school foolishly gave me a teaching assistantship, which translated into a completely subsidized Master of Arts degree.

All I had to do in return is read the over 400 books on the Required Reading List in just under two years and pretend to know what I was doing by instructing three classes of Basic College Writing every two semesters.

Cake!

In fact, it was the first time since I began attending my alma mater that I considered myself relatively well-funded — regular meals, gas in the car, and enough extra cash for beer money.

What could be better?

Rather than retrace the gory details of graduate school, suffice it to say I somehow miraculously was awarded a master’s degree, and I left my campus home in the summer of 1983, never to return.

Actually, I’ve been back one time that I can remember, but it’s so far out-of-the-way that I haven’t really made the effort over the years, to be honest.

Maybe fifteen or twenty years ago, I received a survey from the College of Arts and Sciences which was an effort by the school to determine how I’ve made out in life (Warren Buffet, Tom Selleck, and Peyton Manning have nothing to worry about), and how the school either did or didn’t prepare me for the Real World.

I was impressed that they took the time to track me down for my input, but I was less impressed by the avalanche of donation solicitation letters that flooded my way after I made the mistake of returning the questionnaire.

As either luck or fate would have it, I was something of a vagabond at the time (due to my job), and we moved frequently.  In those pre-internet days, I think it was easier to become lost, especially if you changed addresses with any regularity, and the letters from my school soon stopped.

Until last week.

They somehow found me again.

And they would like me to send them money.

It’s an insidious time in my life to solicit donations.  I’m not so old that I’ve completely lost my marbles, and I’m supposedly in the prime of my earning years (sigh).

I figure the school has done the math and paid some unsuspecting graduate student to research and create a database of their middle-aged, long out of touch alumni, like Yours Truly.

But I’m really making an effort to remember all the crappy things that the administration did while I was in school, to include towing student cars for really minor infractions, closing the cafeterias on weekends, and not air conditioning the dorms (let’s just say I attended a large university in the Southeastern Conference — it’s hot there, man!).

That’s a short list, I know, but I always resented how the school seemed to favor taking care of big-spending, loud-mouthed alumni at the expense of us lowly students.  It rankled me then and I haven’t forgotten.

And now I’m one of those stinking alumni.

So what do I do?

One the one hand, I kind of want to support my school.  On the other, it seems that every available dollar they spend these days is focused on the football program.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like football, and I’m glad we’re playing well, but. . . . absolute power corrupts absolutely, and I saw how athletics ruled the roost, even when we were crappy during my student days.  There’s no telling what’s going on there now, but I suspect I wouldn’t be that happy about it.

Luckily, the reality is that I’ve recently spent most of my “disposable” education income on Daughter’s Lesbian Cult College and Son’s California Dreamin’ University.

I’m all donated out, to be completely frank.

So what I’ve decided to do is throw the donation letter away, and focus on the PBS preview for Season Four of Downton Freaking Abbey that’s airing tonight.

As ironic as it might seem, I do believe Lord Grantham (and PBS) probably need my money more than my alma mater.

Ain’t education a bitch?

- Dad

Do Nuns Swear?

SwingingNuns

By God, I hope they do!

And here’s why.

Every morning I join the thousands upon thousands of other Muggles around the world and grind my way into work.  As far as American automobile commuters in large urban areas are concerned, I’m one of the “lucky” ones.  I drive 23 miles one-way, door-to-door early each day and then again going home, and I can usually make each leg of the trip in 20-25 minutes.

I have friends and colleagues who spend three to four times as long as I do, immersed in their own versions of Commuter Hell, but that’s their problem, I figure, so Lucky Me.

However, a number of years ago I developed a personal theory whose thesis is that my commute is, in reality, my Transition Time.

It’s an important part of the DailyTripBlog.com Muggle Lifecycle that allows me either to wind down after a long and fruitless day at the office, when I accomplish nothing of importance (almost always) except to engender the continued annoyance of my peers and management alike.  Or it serves to pull me from my safe and comfortable morning cocoon at home and affords me the opportunity to put on the armor required to slog through all the problems challenges I fight encounter with the morons customers and other morons fellow employees I deal with day in and day out.

And it allows me to swear.

A lot.

Pretty much each one of these half-hour commuting stints is a my own virtuoso performance featuring stream-of-consciousness foul language so bad it would make the most crusty sailor afloat cringe with embarrassment.

Driving too slow in front of me?  I’m going to swear.  Merge in front of my without a blinker?  I’m going to swear.  Tailgate?  I’m going to swear.  Drive any type of car I estimate costs more than $75K?  I’m going to swear.

And I have a special vocabulary developed for most Mercedes-Benz and BMW owners, especially those in black cars.

Just to be clear, I never gesticulate, flip anyone off, or provoke any sort of road rage reaction.  Well, I might slowly shake my head as I roll by the offending party or, perhaps, throw up my hands in consternation if someone is clearly acting like an ignoramous with a cell phone glued to his or her ear.

Imagine, if you will, the dialogue featured in The Big Lebowski, and then multiply it tenfold.  Yep, I can crank out the verbal crap with the best of them.

But what I have found is that by spewing this filth to myself in the sanctity of my own automobile, I spare everyone else my enmity when I reach my destination.

I arrive pleasant, chatty, good-natured, and ready to interact positively with my fellow Muggles.

The methodology works like a charm, because I leave “Bad-Me” in the car and bring “Zen-Me” inside.

And I’m okay with it, because everyone has to have some kind of coping mechanism to deal with the God-Awful traffic around here.

That’s where the nun comes in.

As I zoomed down the Interstate Highway this morning, I spied a nun merging into a lane far to my right.

Unless she was a stripper in disguise, she had to have been a real nun, since she wore a habit and looked as if she had the full nun regalia on, as far as I could tell.  I’m no expert, but I’ve watched both Sister Act and The Sound of Music multiple times, so that should count for something.

As I am wont to do when I’m not swearing, I began to wonder how she coped with the traffic, which led to the equally pointless pondering regarding how all nuns dealt with the same situation.

Do they blow off steam by swearing in the sanctity of their cloistered car?

I tend to doubt it.

I imagine their introspective exclamations of frustration must go something like this:

“Lord, give me strength.”

Or, “Lord, please bestow enlightenment upon that soul who almost side-swiped me just now.”

Or, “Lord, I do not see brake lights up ahead, do I?  Are you kidding me?  I’m running late this morning.”

Of course that last statement would require supplemental Hail Mary’s at the Daily Confessional, I suppose.

I guess my fervent hope is that, like me, they are, in fact, allowed to blow off steam and occasionally act like the rest of us Miserable Muggles.

After all, we are all Sinners.  It’s just that some of us are a lot worse than others.

And have really foul mouths.

Amen.

- Dad

“That Will Be $14.67.”

dollar

“It will be what?” I asked in reply, late this very afternoon.

“Your total is $14.67,” repeated the very young clerk at the auto parts store.

Like the next guy, I love getting an insider’s great discount (Never Pay Retail!), but this was a little too much.

“Are you completely sure you got everything?  That’s fifteen dollars for all of this, including the oil?”

“Oh, you know what?  I forgot to add the oil.  Let me fix that — that will be $30.16, total.”

“Would you have caught that if I hadn’t said anything and just walked out the door?”

The clerk thought for a moment, then said, “No.  I wasn’t even thinking about it.”

Then he paused.

“Thanks for your honesty,” he said.

Well, that’s a new one on me.  I really didn’t want this kid’s pay docked fifteen bucks because I left the store with five quarts of free motor oil.  And he looked like he could use the money on complexion cream anyway.

Make no mistake about it, however, I make plenty of mistakes every day, cut corners all over the place fairly routinely, and can swear with the best sailors who ever roamed the Seven Seas.

In short, I can be a bad man — a very bad man.

But today I wasn’t, if only for a little while.

And I am reminded of an incident from my youth — I was probably about ten years old — when I found myself in a Western Auto Store.  As I was waiting for whichever parent toted me along for the trip (they were next door doing something else), I wandered up and down the aisles, fascinated with the wide selection of hardware items.

After a few minutes of honestly minding my own business and enjoying the cornucopia of nuts and bolts, a much older sales gentleman approached me.

“Son,” he said.  “Would you happen to have any US currency in your pockets?”

This was weird, I thought.  I’m ten.  I’ve got, maybe, three cents total to my name.  All my real assets are baseball cards.

“No, I don’t,” I replied.

“Then I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave the store.”

I guess I must have looked nefarious, though I can’t tell you why.

But I felt ashamed as I walked out and, of course, I had no reason to be.

In hindsight, I suppose the guy had probably been ripped off a few times and, giving him the benefit of the doubt, probably wasn’t a complete a**hole.  But he was close to one, and I never forgot the incident.

I suppose the two events aren’t really related, except that they are.  One guy was a jerk (salesman), and one guy wasn’t (me).

Western Auto went out of business many years ago, or was bought out, or something happened to it, because they are no more.

I’m still around, however, and when the kid handed me the receipt today, he circled some verbiage on it and said if I answered the survey, I might win $5,000.

“Five thousand bucks?  That’s a lot of money,” I said.  “You have a good day.”

“You, too, sir.  Thanks.”

- Dad

I Did One Smart Thing Today

gloves

I put on disposable gloves before I started working on the truck.

Oh, I tried to be smart.

Oh, I tried to be someone I’m not.

Oh, I tried to keep my tools organized.

But after two hopeless hours in the driveway, it went to hell and a handbasket.

The gameplan was simple and, in fact, showed a bit of foresight on my part:   After the multitude of coast-to-coast trips with Daughter in my trusty Nissan Frontier, I figured some new spark plugs were in order.  This particular engine only requires plugs every 100,000 miles, but after the abuse it’s been through, I decided to put some in with “only” 70,000 miles showing on the clock.

That was my big project for the day.

Speaking of abuse, I hinted to Daughter earlier this week that both the nice and appropriate thing to do after borrowing one’s vehicle is to return it with a full tank of gas and gently washed.  After her latest trip in my truck to the northern parts of our fair state, Daughter saw fit to bring it back filthy and with only a quarter tank of petrol.

When I queried her on the subject, she sullenly responded it had a quarter tank when she picked it up (thus, why would she put any more gas in, after all), and she didn’t comment on the external layer of road filth, courtesy of her, as well.

Oh, wait a minute.  She did wash a vehicle this week.  The only problem was it was hers.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve been hounding her for many, many moons to clean up the Cabrio.

“It’s the most expensive thing you own.  If you don’t take care of it, it won’t last.  Keep it clean,” I earnestly advised.

Silence.  Of course.

Eventually she saw fit to hose it down, but she didn’t see fit to put all the towels and cleaning materials away afterward.

Kids.  Don’t you love ‘em?

But back to my disaster at hand.

For those of you who don’t know, changing spark plugs is usually a rather straightforward affair.  There may be one or two that are difficult to get into position to remove but, for the most part, it’s not a big deal.  However, I had done some research on my particular truck and engine, and I had discovered that in order to gain access to two of the plugs, essentially the entire top of the engine needed to be removed.

Well, not really the top of the engine, but all of the intake manifold crap (that’s a technical term), along with the associated hoses, vacuum lines, and electrical connectors.

So I decided to just take the whole thing one step at a time.  I laid my tools out, and I methodically worked my way around that V-6 engine.  Before I knew it, I was two-thirds of the way through.  I just had those two inaccessible plugs left to go.

This was going well!

To make a ridiculously long story short, I spent the next two and a half hours trying to change those damn plugs.  What had begun as a pleasant afternoon’s task, was turning into a really horrific adventure.

I literally started calculating how much sunlight I had left and whether I could complete the job in time.

When all seemed lost, I figured it out.  I finally got the intake manifold off and the plugs replaced.  Ha!

Ha!  Wouldn’t you know it?  When I was putting everything back together, I dropped a socket and extension somewhere in the nether regions of the back of the engine.

And the damn things simply disappeared.

After spending the next hour exploring every nook and cranny looking for the stupid things (Stupid!  Stupid!  Stupid!), I gave up and buttoned everything back together, since it was approaching dinnertime.

What an idiot I am, of course, but when I turned the key to start the truck and check my handiwork, Lordy, it fired right up!

Perhaps not quite a Festivus miracle, but damn close.

So, I took the truck for a quick spin around the block to ensure everything was working properly, and it was, but where the hell had that socket and extension gone to?

I was resigned to the fact that it was jammed forever in the bowels of the engine compartment, never to be seen again.  I just hoped it wouldn’t lodge against something important and short out the truck, or cause a fire, or cause an explosion.

“I don’t know, Fred.  It looks like the fire started somewhere in the back of the engine compartment,” said the future fireman as he hosed down what was left of the Nissan.

In a final act of desperation before closing up shop for the night, I crawled under the truck one last time to see where the dumb socket was hiding.  I guess it really wasn’t that dumb, since I couldn’t find it.  I also guess that makes me dumber than the socket.

As I scrambled around on my back, I verified there was not a socket anywhere my blue latex-covered hands could reach.

I gave up.

I happened to turn my head a bit when I went to scoot out from under, something shiny way behind the engine on the exhaust system caught my eye.

Yep.  It was the socket.

Like the magical Kennedy assassination bullet, it had mysteriously worked its way through several trajectories and landed three feet behind anywhere it should have reasonably been resting.

Success, but conditional.

In the final analysis, it took me about two and a half hours to change the plugs, and about four hours to find the missing socket.

What an idiot I am.

But because the first decision I made today to wear disposable gloves was the best decision, I have clean hands tonight.

Yes, my left forearm is gouged and bleeding, but my hands are clean.

I am happy with that little victory but, after all, I am a very sad, sad man.

- Dad

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