Saturday, December 31, 2005

Sweater pics

This will be a brief post for those of you who followed the story of our family ski sweaters. If you didn't follow that tale, just look at the cute pictures of my grandson. Ain't he a doll?

Christina knew that Carol was knitting Trevor a ski sweater to match the family design. And she expected that it would arrive by Christmas. What she didn't know was that Carol was also knitting a matching pants and cap so Trevor would have a complete matching outfit!

Hey, if grandparents can't spoil their only grandchild it would be a sorry state of affairs indeed!

Carol knows that this act may spark some jealousy among other family members who have only a sweater. Goodness knows how much jealousy it might spark among those who have long hinted that THEY would like a matching sweater, because they are almost a part of the family. And there is a precedent: a very select few other "almost" family members (not related by blood, marriage, or ersatz adoption) are proud possessors of one of these unique items, complete with a certificate of authenticity!

All I can say to the wannabes out there is that some serious sucking up to Carol might be in order.

But as far as anyone besides Trevor getting a matching pants set... Nah! Ain't gonna happen!

Okay, enough background. Here's what it looks like.

Yeah, even though he's less than 9 months old, he can stand up if he leans on something. You can see that the pants are a little too long for him, but maybe he can wear the outfit again next year.

On the right, I think he's ready to get that hat off. It's probably a little warm. he does live in Florida, after all.

Finally, below, I'll toss in a picture of Trevor with his mom and dad. His dad's sister gave the three of them matching tie-dyed tee shirts for Christmas. That's the reason for the colorful shot.

Don't you just love the little guy's smile? Guess I'm a proud grandpa, huh?

To my faithful readers, and even you faithless ones, thanks for all your visits to this blog and comments in 2005. I hope that 2006 is a better year for you in every way possible. Have a wonderful, blessed New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2005

The Presentation, and more

Fathers’ Day, 1994, arrived. Amy was home for the summer, and was obviously excited about the gift she had managed to find for me and looking forward to my reaction.

I had no idea what it was. When she handed me the package she told me to open it first, and then she had a story to tell us about it. As soon as I had enough of the wrapping removed to get a glance at the magazine cover with the Beatles’ picture, I knew!

Where did you find this?” I demanded. She began her story as I finished unwrapping the package and passed it around for others to see. The story continued for quite a while.

(Side note: Amy is her mother’s daughter. They share so many characteristics that Amy’s friends refer to Carol as “Number one” and to Amy as “Number Two.” And no, that’s not any kind of reference to waste. Christina, on the other hand, is her father’s daughter. I won’t tell you what her friends call me and her! However, one trait Amy seems to have gotten from me is the ability to tell a story in as many words as possible. Short-winded we are not.)

You already know the story of the search from yesterday’s post. When she got to the part about the dealer asking her how much she’d be willing to pay she declined to tell us what it had cost, saying only, “More than I had planned to spend.”

Now do you see why I was willing to stand outside for four hours in the cold to help Amy get her husband his Xbox 360 for Christmas? Does this better explain the “family tradition of ‘above and beyond’ gift acquisition and giving?” Okay, then. I’m glad you “get it” now.

As far as appreciation of the gift and the effort goes, below you’ll see a picture of the display on my den wall of the magazine (in a glass-front case, matted, complete with a copy of the article AND my Olympic gold medal! Yeah, the medal is a fake replica. So?)

The Irony

Yesterday I promised you some irony. Here we go.

When Amy finisher her long, proud tale of her search for and acquisition of this rare treasure that immortalized her father, I excused myself and went to a desk in a different room. When I returned to our den, I handed her another copy of the same magazine!! I think I made some really dumb comment like, “Gee, it looks just like this one.”

Her jaw dropped. “But you said you didn’t have a copy!”

Well, I didn’t. But sometime during that last year I had mentioned in a phone conversation with my mother that I had told my daughters that story, and asked her if she remembered that episode. She told me, “Oh absolutely. I still have several copies of the magazine. I’ve saved them all these years.”

She sent me one so I could show my daughters some time. I put it in the desk drawer and forgot about it. None of us (except now, Amy) had any clue that the magazine had any value to anyone outside our own family.

Oh... My... God! How’s that for irony?

Don’t worry. Amy wasn’t crushed. I told her that the efforts (and expense) she had undertaken in finding that gift made it much more precious and special than any other copy. Hers is the one in the display case!

Final Notes

In response to emails and comments to yesterday’s post:

VIKI, I “dragged you through three days of this” because:

1. It’s a long story. I try to make my posts like Readers Digest stories: short, easy to digest, bite-size. In its entirety with pictures this would have been just too big.

2. I probably don’t create text or type as fast as you do. And I have a life and a job outside of blogging. I simply didn’t have TIME to put all this together into one post. Breaking it up made it possible to still have something new on here every day, and not overwhelm you wonderful readers (I hope).

3. And it DID bring you back, didn't it? (heh heh)

JUDY, finally, yesterday, Amy admitted to me that she paid the New Jersey dealer $75 for the magazine in 1994. But she reminded me that she probably spent a lot more than that in gas for her car and long-distance telephone charges trying to find the thing!

Anonymous Emailer: You asked if I planned to come out of retirement and participate in future ATGA competitions. The answer is no. Like Lance Armstrong, I decided to walk away from my sport at the top. There’s never been another nationally recorded Olympic champion in toilet paper unrolling since I won the title in 1964, so I have continued my reign for over forty years. Not may sports heroes can make that boast.

Yet another Earle family tradition. Eat your hearts out, all you members of lesser family units!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Search

This story will take you back to 1993 and 1994. As you read it you will come to appreciate the vast changes that have occurred in the last 12 years.

Amy, in college at the University of North Texas at the time, had heard my tale of being an Olympic Champion toilet paper unroller (all true — see yesterday’s post for proof!) and determined that she would obtain for me a copy of the magazine that I had neglected to keep for posterity. Her plan was to present it to me as a birthday gift.

Unsure of the exact issue of Newsweek, she went to her college library microfiche files and searched all issues from 1963 through 1964. Remember, this is a weekly magazine! That was a lot of microfiche viewing, looking for an article that wasn’t even listed in the contents page.

(First point: The internet was in its infancy, and Google had not been invented yet. There were search engines, but very primitive by today’s standards.)

Amy found the article, learned that it was in the February 24, 1964 issue, and thought she had all the information she would need. She went to a local Denton, TX bookstore that specialized in old and collectible publications. No luck, but they referred her to another place that might have it. Nope. But try this place. Naw, we don’t have it, but I know a guy whose uncle has every issue of Newsweek ever published up in his attic. Call him.

She called the uncle. He said sure, he’d have it, but she’d have to come over and find it. She spent several hours one Saturday rummaging through this stranger’s attic. The really curious part was that he had every issue for 1964 (and many, many OTHER years) except that particular issue.


Now this had become a challenge. She ranged farther afield, driving down to Dallas on weekends to search stores that sold copies of old magazines. One of these places referred her to a publication that specialized in collectible magazines, and contained ads from dealers all over the country.

She found an issue, and began running up a huge long distance phone bill calling both coasts and cities in between. The more she called, the more curious she became about why dealers seemed to have every issue but that particular one. She just chalked it up to Murphy’s law until one dealer in New Jersey heard the date of the one she wanted and said, “Ahhhh, the Beatles issue!”

Her reply was, “Huh?”

Turns out this issue, because of the picture on the cover and the story about the Beatles’ first trip to the U.S. and their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, was a highly sought-after piece of Beatlemania memorabilia. (Try saying THAT three times quickly!)

Well, this particular New Jersey dealer sometimes went to auctions where collectibles like this issue could be obtained. He took Amy’s phone number and offered to call her if he came across one. He asked her how much she was willing to pay for it. She admitted she had no idea what the going price was. He said, OK, he’d call her.

(Second point: eBay hadn’t been invented yet, either. Think about how eBay has changed the whole landscape of “collecting.” People used to plan trips around searches for certain collectibles that they just had to have. The search itself was at least half the fun of collecting. Now you just go online and type in the item you want. Or browse. Also, think about what eBay has done to pricing collectibles, and bargaining for them. Now you can find out immediately what the last ten of those suckers you’ve been craving sold for, and have a good idea of what it’s going to cost you to get one.)

Time had been passing already. My birthday had long since gone by. Christmas came and went. More time passed.

Then one day Amy’s phone rang. It was the guy in New Jersey, and he had found a copy of the magazine — did she still want it? Yes she did. A bargain was struck and a few weeks later she held the magazine in her hands, finally. Just in time for Fathers’ Day.

(Tomorrow: The presentation... And the irony!)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Dumb Things Dad Did

When our children were little, Carol and I tried hard to maintain the myth that we, their parents, were perfect. We wanted them to perceive us as infallible guides to right, wrong, and general wisdom. There was nothing we didn’t know, and nothing we couldn’t do.

Of course, that lasted until they were about 6 months old. Being bright kids, they quickly perceived that we didn’t always agree, and thus one of us (their Mom) might be perfect, but the other one (me) fell far short of that standard.

Later, in an effort to help them learn from my earlier mistakes and thus avoid repeating those same mistakes themselves, I told stories of lessons I had learned, well... the hard way.

Thus was born what became a favorite pastime, especially when we were driving long distances (anything over a couple of miles). Inevitably one of them (Christina usually) would demand, “Daddy, tell us about some of the dumb things you used to do.”

That resulted in a very large number of tales, most of which Christina could probably tell you today given her excellent memory for stories. (Darn it.) But one in particular seemed to tickle them sufficiently that it was retold a number of times.

It was about the time I became an Olympic champion at the manly sport of toilet paper unrolling.

Yes, you read that correctly. That particular sport was never accepted by the IOC to be included in either the summer or winter games (it truly is an activity for all seasons), probably due to the difficulty in finding a suitable venue. But the fact is, I reigned as champion for a time.

Perhaps my 15 minutes of fame came when I was 17 years old. But before you laugh TOO loudly, how many of YOU have ever been featured in an article in a nationwide weekly news magazine? Huh? How many?

(I thought so!)

What? You doubt my word on this? Well then, unbeliever, take a look at THIS:

In case you can't read the date on the cover, it is February 24, 1964. This issue became known later as the famous "Beatles Issue," for obvous reasons. More on that tomorrow.

Yes, this is all part of a bigger story than you think. But not so terribly big.

Keep reading. You'll enjoy it. You're just about to get to one of the good parts.

Toward the back of this particular issue (page 88, to be exact) you'll find a short article entitled "Silly Season."

In case you don't believe me, below is a scan of page 88:

If you can't read the print (who can?!), click the picture of the page to see a larger version. Or, click HERE for a large print copy. (I hope the link works for you. It works on my machine using Internet Explorer. You'll probably have to click the little button that pops up labelled "Expand to regular size.")

Yes, that’s me they’re writing about on page 88. And yes, we really held competitions, several of which were coeducational. (Heck, it seemed like a great way to meet girls with a sense of humor.)

This was a sport in which the women could excel just as easily as the men. Size and strength were much less important than smooth, flowing motions and a consistent soft touch.

We were even successful in convincing Scott Paper Company to donate three huge cases of single-ply institutional grade toilet paper to our Association for competitions.

This was but one of the many stories told by Dad to his daughters about the “dumb things” he’d done. At the time I told them, they asked to see the magazine. I admitted I hadn’t saved any copies of it, but they could look it up in a library. They were both very disappointed in me for not saving a copy for posterity.

I told them, “Let that be the lesson you learn from all this! If you ever get written up in a newspaper or magazine, save a copy!”

(More to come on this next time).

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


Remember my friend Jay? The one whose across-the-street neighbor sometimes fired off a shotgun blast from behind their tall hedge and metal driveway gate?

(If not you may want to revist THIS POST to refresh your poor memory.)

After my blog post of last week concerning this strange behavior, Jay sent me a Christmas card you might enjoy. He thought it was extremely appropriate, given our recent conversations.

Outside the context of his comments about his neighbors, this would have been amusing, but inside that context it seemed hilarious.

Then he called again to tell me that his same neighbors had just put up a sign at the end of their driveway. Jay sneaked out to the street and snagged the picture below. He didn’t want to be seen taking the “shot” (sorry!) for obvious reasons...

I suggested to Jay that a move to a different neighborhood might not be a bad idea.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Amy’s Report

(More on yesterday’s story. Read it first, please, to get the full effect.)

A week prior to Christmas, Amy had put an Xbox 360-size wrapped gift under their tree. Tom hefted it and knew immediately that it was much too light to be the real thing.

He had bought into the story that although Amy had tried her hardest, she just hadn’t been able to get her hands on one. (And at that point in time, it was true!) But, being a bit smug, he figured she would get him one as soon as possible after Christmas when more were available.

He bragged to her, “I know what THAT present is!”

She challenged him to tell her. He then demurred, saying, “Well, I’ll write it down and show you my guess after I open it. I may be wrong, and I don’t want to be hurtful.” That was considerate. He wrote, “Xbox 360 IOU,” put the paper in an envelope, and put it on the tree.

On Christmas Amy played it to the hilt. She whined that she had tried SO hard to get him the Xbox, but she just HADn’t been able to get one, and she KNEW how disappointed he’d be, and she was sorry, and even Jake and others (she named several) had tried for her, but...

Of course, being the loving husband he is, he consoled her. He hugged her and told her, “That’s OK. I know you; and I know you tried as hard as you could. I’ll get one in a month or two.”

When the big, lightweight box was opened it contained, not the IOU he had suspected, but a GAME for the Xbox. She told him she didn’t want to seem to be mocking, but she wanted to get him something Xbox-related, and please don’t think badly of her for just getting the game and not the real thing.

He then showed her the guess he’d written, and admitted he’d been wrong. Again she said how sorry she was, and again he consoled her. (Awwwww).

Then, after all gifts had been opened and it was time to start gathering up wrapping and sort things out, Amy said as if remembering, “Oh, there’s one more little thing I got for you, but it’s just a little joke gift. It’s in the closet.”

When she brought it out, he knew.

Tears flowed. On both sides, I think, but Amy only mentioned Tom’s.

My phone rang at about 9:00 a.m. When I answered, Tom’s smiling voice said, “Guess what I’m holding in my hands!” He was a very happy gamer. And just so you’ll know, the real fun for both of them was not in the Xbox itself, but in the mind games they’d been playing

So, at least until next year, this shall be known as “The Xbox Christmas” among members of my family.

Oh, it will also be known as the Christmas when Carol was sick. She was up most of Saturday night with some kind of 24 hour bug that had her vomiting, and then she spent much of yesterday in bed. Since our Christmas celebration was only going to include the two of us and Carol’s mom, we postponed Christmas for one day. Today will be our celebration.

Carol is feeling fine now, and is preparing our mid-day dinner. I’ll go pick up Grandma in just a bit and we’ll open our gifts, reminded that the gift of good health is one of the most precious.

I hope all of you had a wonderful, blessed Christmas holiday. We certainly did, and are.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

A (Christmas) Tale of Two Many Cities

(If you can't read the text in the comic, click HERE for a bigger image.)

Last weekend I included in one post a “teaser” mentioning that I had gotten little sleep on Saturday night but would explain later. And no, despite the expectations and questions of some, my sleepless night had nothing to do with sex. No all-night debauchery of any kind was involved.

There! That got rid of the casual reader trying to satisfy his/her prurient interests. Now, on to my story.

My son-in-law Tom (Amy’s husband) is a certified gamer geek (see the cartoon above). Tom informed Amy several months ago that when the new Xbox 360 came out, he wanted one for Christmas. So when they were first released back in November, she waited until he left their apartment for work and hurried to her nearest Best Buy to get one.

As she and thousands of others found out that day, all of these gadgets had been snatched off the shelves immediately. Many people had spent the night outside a store to be early enough in line to get one.

Oh sure, she could have bought one from a “scalper” on eBay for well over $1000, but that was out of reach and out of reason.

She tried to let her husband know that there was no way he’d get one for Christmas, since there was no way she would be able to get her hands on one. He just laughed at her and said, “No, I know you! You’ll find a way to get one.”

Thus infuriated (and challenged), she launched a team effort including all her friends, her co-workers, and even her parents to join the search. Weeks passed, with no luck.

One co-worker (Jake), a gamer geek himself and part-time underground computer wizard, managed to find a web site that purported to know where shipments of Xboxes were going in advance of their arrival. That site informed him that Best Buy was getting hundreds of them, and would put out a nationwide newspaper ad on Sunday, December 18, announcing that they be sold on a first come basis when the stores opened Sunday morning.

Amy’s assumption was that other retailers might be getting similar shipments about the same time. Calls went out and her team swung into action, calling electronics retailers in Chicago, Norfolk (and surrounding towns), St. Louis, and more. Here in Victoria, TX, I learned that our local Sam’s Club had received a few but had put them on the shelves and sold them immediately. Target thought they might get some, and a re-stocking truck arrived daily, but they never knew in advance about the Xbox. I also checked the Toys-R-Us, and Hastings. No luck.

I figured my only chance was our Best Buy. I refused to spend the whole night outside the store (it was 42 degrees in Victoria that night), but I was willing to set my alarm clock for very early Sunday morning before the paper hit the streets and see if the line was short enough that I had a chance. Our Best Buy was supposed to get 24 of them, according to Jake’s web site.

I went to bed early and set my alarm for 3:45 a.m.

Ah, but do you think I went to sleep? HELL, no! All I could think about was getting up in a few hours to see how many people were in line. If I went over there now, was it already too late? If I waited until about 4 a.m. would I be too late? Should I go at some other time?

I dozed, and woke wondering what time it was and if there was already a long line. I dozed, and woke at 2:30. I woke at 3:15. At 3:30 I gave up, got up, put on 4 layers of clothing plus a windbreaker jacket and a stocking cap and went to Best Buy.

To my dismay there were over a dozen cars parked in the otherwise empty mall parking lot, and all were right in front of Best Buy.

As I approached the store front I saw bundles wrapped in sleeping bags. There didn’t seem to be too many, so I parked, got out, walked to the door and counted. 14! I ought to be early enough!

I took my place behind the last shapeless bundle on the sidewalk, and immediately a car door slammed. A young man walked to the spot behind me. He told me he’d been waiting in his car in warmth until he saw me come and decided he’d better get his place. Just then another car door slammed. This time a woman came to the next spot with a lawn chair and lots of blankets.

By 4:30 the young man behind me had called a cousin who brought him a quilt to wrap up in. Time passed, and the line slowly grew. By 5:30 it had exceeded the magic number of 24, and by 6 there were nearly 35 people in line. Other cars would roar into the lot, pull up and stop, wait long enough for someone inside to count heads, and then pull slowly away to leave.

Carol called me on my cell phone to report that the newspaper ad said our Best Buy would have a minimum of 20 Xboxes. I supposed that was why people were giving up – they had read the ad.

It was cold! Not bitter, freezing cold, but the light north breeze didn't help. Time passed as slowly as time does when you’re out in the cold with no shelter available and no possibility of moving for another two hours.

Fast forward ahead to 7:45. The store manager came out with “tickets” representing an Xbox 360. He gave one to each of the first 24 people in line and told us that was all there were. About 10 people left very disappointed. But I got one!!

I learned that the people just ahead of me in line had driven 2 hours to Victoria from Corpus Christi. Their Best Buy already had 50 people in line when they got to it at 10 p.m. prepared to spend the night. They drove immediately to Victoria, arriving at midnight, and became numbers 13 and 14. Behind me was a man from Karnes City (a one hour drive from Victoria), and several people from Houston (2 ½ hours away).

I "only" had to wait for just over 4 hours, and then was home in 5 minutes!

So, Amy got her husband an Xbox 360. It arrived at her home in Chicago on Friday, two days before Christmas. She has now convinced Tom that she was unable to get one for him. His surprise and delight should be complete.

And me? I’d like to say something like “It’s a far, far better thing that I did, than I have ever done.” (Which, for you who are not well read of Charles Dickens, is a quote from the end of “A Tale of Two Cities.)

But what I DID tell Amy was, “You and Tom OWE me BIG TIME!"

I couldn't post this story until today for fear that Tom might come across it and the secret would be out. My next post will contain a description from Amy of Tom’s reaction.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

My last work day before Christmas

I get a four-day weekend starting tomorrow. Aren’t I lucky? (Well, yes I am. And for a lot of reasons. But having a four-day weekend is nice!)

Today at the office everyone was in a holiday mood. We had scheduled our annual “Chinese Christmas Party” for today with a $10 limit on gifts. You all know how those work, right?

We had 19 participants. Each person brought a wrapped gift. We all drew numbers, and number 1 selected first. She opened her selection and held it up for all to see.

Then number 2 had a choice: either select and open a wrapped gift, or take the gift number 1 had opened. If number 2 takes number 1’s gift, then number 1 selects another wrapped gift, and it’s then number 3’s turn.

Things get exciting after about half the gifts are opened. The rules state that if your gift is taken, you can take any OTHER gift, or select another wrapped gift, but you can’t take back the gift that was just taken from you.

So the strategy becomes (if you want that gift BACK that was just taken from you) that you take a gift that is already popular and desired by several people. Chances are, someone will take it from you soon, and you can THEN take back the gift that had been taken from you earlier.

Two other rules are important to make this work: First, if one person manages to possess the same gift three different times during the game, that gift becomes theirs permanently and can’t be taken from them again. Second, after the last (highest numbered) person has selected, and there are no wrapped gifts left, number 1 still has one chance left to take his/her choice of any gift NOT permanently belonging to a player. (The theory is that number one might never have had his/her first gift taken, and thus never had a chance to choose between a known, unwrapped gift and the unknown wrapped gift he/she first selected.)

We do this early in the morning, and bring in breakfast taquitos and donuts. I found a $2.00 red Santa hat that was 25% off on clearance, and bought it to wear today. It was a hit. I told everyone, “Ho, ho, ho. Layoffs next week!” (I’m the HR Manager, remember?)

Don’t worry. I told them all I was just kidding. They know I’d never joke about something like that if there was any chance of it happening.

I don’t know WHY my car tires were slashed, though.

I’ll post over the weekend if the opportunity presents itself, but don’t be too surprised if not much happens here on “Romantic Ramblings” before next week.

Have a merry, blessed Christmas celebration!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Stale humor?

Since yesterday's post with an old, resurrected email joke got such a good response, I figured I'd bring back one or two more that I found funny enough at the time I received them to save for possible future use.

Hey, that was before blogs were invented. Sometimes being a pack rat has its advantages. Enjoy.


The joke below is not politically correct, exploits stereotypes, and may be offensive to some. That said, read at your own risk.

(Boy, THAT ought to get everybody reading!)

Heard at a foreign embassy bash in the nation's capital: Once there was a beautiful deserted island in the middle of nowhere where the following were stranded:

* Two Italian men and one Italian woman
* Two Frenchmen and one French woman
* Two German men and one German woman
* Two Greek men and one Greek woman
* Two Englishmen and one English woman
* Two Bulgarian men and one Bulgarian woman
* Two American men and one American woman
* Two Irishmen and one Irish woman

After one month on the island, the following has occurred:

* One Italian man has killed the other for the Italian woman.

* The two Frenchmen and the French woman are living happily together in a menage-a-trois.

* The two German men have a strict weekly schedule of when they alternate with the German woman.

* The two Greek men are sleeping with each other, and the Greek woman is doing the cooking and cleaning.

* The two Englishmen are waiting for someone to introduce them to the English woman.

* The Bulgarian men took a long look at the endless ocean and one look at the Bulgarian woman... and started swimming.

* The two American men are contemplating the virtues of suicide, while the American woman keeps on complaining about her body being her own, the true nature of feminism, and how she can do everything the men can do, about the necessity of fulfillment, the equal division of household chores, how her last boyfriend respected her opinion and treated her much better, and how her relationship with her mother is improving. But at least the taxes are low and it's not raining.

* The Irish began by dividing up the island Northside/Southside and setting up a distillery. They don't remember if sex is in the picture because it gets sort of foggy after the first few liters of coconut whiskey, but at least the English aren't getting any.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Setting the Record Straight (more or less)

Yesterday, Michelle of South Africa spoke of the danger involved in “raising a finger in a traffic jam.”

This in turn led to a number of comments about digital communication in various circumstances. I asked if she had seen the story that circulated around the internet several years ago concerning the origin of that particular gesture.

She and others indicated they hadn’t—or didn’t remember—so as a public service I will provide it in this space below.

The Story Of The Finger

In the recent film, Titanic, the character Rose is shown giving the finger to Jack (another character). Many people who have seen the film, question whether "giving the finger" was done around the time of the Titanic disaster, or was it a more recent gesture invented by some defiant seventh-grader.

According to research, here's the true story:

Giving the Finger

Before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, the French, anticipating victory over the English, proposed to cut off the middle finger of all captured English soldiers. Without the middle finger it would be impossible to draw the renowned English longbow and therefore the soldiers would be incapable of fighting in the future. This famous weapon was made of the native English Yew tree, and the act of drawing the longbow was known as "plucking the yew" (or "pluck yew").

Much to the bewilderment of the French, the English won a major upset and began mocking the French by waving their middle fingers at the defeated French, saying, "See, we can still pluck yew!


Over the years some 'folk etymologies' have grown up around this symbolic gesture. Since 'pluck yew' is rather difficult to say (like "pleasant mother pheasant plucker", (which is who you had to go to for the feathers used on the arrows for the longbow), the difficult consonant cluster at the beginning has gradually changed to a labiodental fricative 'F', and thus the words often used in conjunction with the one-finger-salute are mistakenly thought to have something to do with an intimate encounter.

It is also because of the pheasant feathers on the arrows that the symbol or gesture is known as "giving the bird".

And yew all thought yew knew everything!

So there you have it. I’m glad to have set the record straight and informed all of you who may have thought there was some other origin to both the gesture and the connotation.

As an English major, I always enjoy discourses on word origins.

Monday, December 19, 2005

You want Romance? Okay!

Several of my alert readers have pointed out that my recent posts have been decidedly UN-romantic. At least on the basis of the subject matter. Especially the ones dealing with guano and other animal defecation.

One reader also pointed out that I failed to post anything at all yesterday. I’m not sure if that little piece of information was intended as a dig, or as an expression of relief. But in either case, I have an excuse.

I was tired.

Why? Because I got very little sleep on Saturday night.

Why did I get so little sleep? Well, that’s a story that actually DOES contain some romance, or at least a lot of love. But I can’t tell it now. Maybe in a week or so I’ll tell it. You’ll just have to wait.

Ah! I have just created a “hook,” which is a literary device intended to engage the reader and make him/her want to learn more. And you DO want to hear the story, don’t you? See? It worked!

Today, however, I will write about the very romantic topic of auto repair. I’ve decided to bite the bullet and have 4 new struts installed in my aging Mazda Protégé commute car. It’s got over 150,000 miles on it, but the drive train seems to be in good shape and I’d really like to keep that little car as long as possible before I have to spring for a replacement.

Yeah, I know. Once a car get’s that old (mileage wise) it’ll “nickel and dime you to death.” And in general, that’s right.

But I’ve had really good luck over the years keeping little four-cylinder Toyotas and Mazdas running, and running very economically, well past what most people consider to be their normal useful life. When my daughters were learning to drive and needing cars to go off to college, we’d usually give them a hand-me-down car we had driven for well over 100,000 miles, or we’d buy them a cheap used one and try to keep it going.

Yes, sometimes they’d have expensive problems. Once I bought a used Camry with automatic transmission. That transmission started slipping within the first few months and I had to pay to have it rebuilt

Then daughter #2 wrecked it. I don’t remember if that was the time she swerved to avoid someone who cut in front of her (she ended up hitting a mailbox on the sidewalk, which we paid for), or when she was rear-ended at a stop light. Regardless, the insurance company declared it “totaled” and wrote me a check.

I bought some junkyard (“used auto parts”) pieces to fix or hide the body damage, and it ran just fine until the next wreck when I agreed with the insurance company that it was totaled, and accepted salvage value for it.

But most of the other cars suffered only relatively inexpensive failures until they were sold or given away to someone who desperately needed an old car. Yes, we’ve actually given away a couple of vehicles. They were probably worth exactly what the buyer paid for them, too.

So, I’m going to try to keep this Mazda going for a while longer. I’m pretty fond of the little car, and it’s been treating me right for about 9 years.

TOLD you this was a romantic topic.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ooooo... Another Conspiracy? How Odorific!

Karyn (who, btw, has missed another golden opportunity for a Freaky Friday post... What opportunity, you ask? Well, yesterday WAS a Friday, in case you didn’t notice! Duh.) Anyway, Karyn has pointed out that all of us writing about birds flocking and pooping sounds like another conspiracy.

And yes, the word I used above was “FLOCKing,” in case you were reading quickly and just assumed something else. Which reminds me of the line Mel Gibson used in one of the “Lethal Weapon” movies: “Let’s make like shepherds and get the flock out of here.” But I digress.

I wonder if the geese and the grackles... and maybe even Michelle’s South African penguins, are all conspiring on a global scale to poop us people out of existence. Well, hey; they MIGHT be, y’know.

After all, we humans seem to have a fascination with animal defecation.

What am I talking about? Well, one of the most frequently heard expressions around my office is “bullsh*t.” Usually it’s spoken emphatically, as with an exclamation point behind it, and its use seems to be evenly split between management and rank and file workers.

(Reminds me; given the choice, I’d rather be the file. I mean, even though a file can be hard and abrasive, who wants to be described as “rank?” But I guess we ARE speaking of fecundity here, aren’t we?)

A secondary term with very similar connotation among the workforce is “horsesh*t.” However, I’m told that term is in more common usage up in Kentucky than down here in Texas.

Next we have “chicksh*t,” which is a very pure form of guano. This term is more often used by those who are NOT in management, but spoken in reference TO managers. Why chickens are awarded the honor of having THEIR guano held up as an example of something really petty and nasty has never been clear to me. I mean, what differentiates a chicken’s guano from, say, that of the geese we were all talking about in yesterday’s post and comments? Why isn’t something really petty and nasty referred to as “goosesh*t?” Or maybe “gracklesh*t?”

Ah, the mysteries of language.

But back to the conspiracy theory. As Christina pointed out, there was a classic Hitchcock movie about the birds attacking the people. It COULD happen. Just like all the pseudo-science we hear today about humanity-ending disasters caused by global warming, the stopping or reversal of ocean currents, or earth’s collision with a giant space rock or comet.

I’m not saying these things couldn’t happen. They MIGHT! But my opinion is (and it may be chickensh*t to say this) that it’s all bullsh*t. Or, if you live in Kentucky, horsesh*t.”

But then, I’m often accused of being full of sh*t, so what do I know?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Grackles vs. Geese

Nankin mentioned in a comment yesterday that grackles congregate around her area. Well, Victoria has them also. Big time!

Wait — do my friends and faithful readers from farther north (not to mention other continents) know about grackles? Also known as “glossy grackles,” these black birds are bigger than blackbirds (like the four-and-twenty baked in the nursery rhyme pie) but smaller than crows (as in “quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore’.”) The males are solid black and shiny, hence the “glossy” part of the name. The females are a dull brown and black mix.

I don’t know this, but I’d assume the “grackle” part of the name comes from the sound they make. It varies between a whistle and a cackle. A bunch of them together sounds like really rusty door hinges squealing, followed by crunching up Doritos in a plastic sack. And loud? You can be driving down the street with your air conditioner on high, windows closed and the radio up, and you'll still hear them. It’s the God-awfullest racket you ever heard out of a flock of birds.

In the winter months thousands of grackles gather around Victoria’s one shopping mall. During the day you’ll see some there, but most are out foraging for food (bugs, seeds, food scraps on the parking lot at WalMart, whatever.) But at dusk they gather at the mall. Every overhead power line and telephone line for about a mile is packed with them. Every tree is filled with them. They cover the roofs of buildings in the area. And then from dark to dawn they do nothing but squawk, whistle, and poop.

All the sidewalks around the mall are covered with white guano. The area under every tree is solid with it as well. The city has tried noisemakers and flashing lights to scare them away, with no effect. People tried putting out poison, but poison is non-selective and might kill other species. So the birds and the people have reached an uneasy truce. They squawk and poop. We avoid the guano.

That brings me to geese.

Several years ago my wife Carol and our daughter Amy drove to Vancouver, BC. Why they went is a long story. While they were there they hired a horse-drawn tourist tour-cart and rode around listening to a tour guide tell them about the city and especially one huge park.

This was in the summer, and the park was full of Canada geese.

The tour guide pointed them out, and asked if they weren’t, indeed, beautiful stately birds. Yes, they were.

Then he said in disgust that everybody there hated them, but since they were their national bird nobody could do anything about them. His comment to Carol and Amy was, “All they do is eat and shit.”

I guess if I were on the receiving end of a deposit of bird guano, I’d prefer a grackle to a goose. I base that strictly on volume. And I assure you, I’d do my best to avoid either one.

But at least the geese didn’t roost overhead in a populated area of town and squawk and cackle, whistle and shriek, while they bombed the passers by.

All in all, I think I’d prefer the geese. They’re prettier to look at and much easier on the ears.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Remember Joni Mitchell?

She was/is a prolific songwriter and performer who began in the 60s in the folk genre.

Join’s songs were performed by many of the well-known artists of that time frame and later. So much so, that her poetry and music have become part of the culture of those who are influenced popular music. Like me. Some of her better known works include “Both Sides Now,” and “Circle Game.”

I first heard her song “Urge for Going” performed by a relatively obscure artist named Tom Rush. I’ve never forgotten it. If you’re curious, simply Google “urge for going lyrics” and read them as a poem. Then, if you don’t know the song, just imagine that they were sung to a slow, haunting melody befitting someone lamenting inevitable change, wanting to do something about it, but unable. It wasn't done in a minor key, but it sounded like it was.

Lines like, “The warriors of winter give a cold, triumphant shout. And all that stays is dying, all that lives is gettin’ out. See the geese in chevron flight, flappin’ and a- racin’ down before the snow. They’ve got the urge for goin’ and they’ve got the wings to go.” Those just stay with me.

Or how about, “And when the leaves fell tremblin’ down, and bully winds did push their faces in the snow...”

It’s all about the onset of winter. The poet is unhappy about it; wants to get away, but somehow can’t/won’t/doesn’t.

I love to see the seasons change. Yes, I love summer. But I also love fall and winter. Here in South Texas the standard joke is that we have 10 months of summer, six weeks of winter, and one week each of spring and fall. And there’s a lot of truth in that. As I’ve written here before, we either have our air conditioner on, or the heat. I miss the change, and the period of “in between.”

What got me started on this topic? Well, this is the time of year when the migratory birds come to South Texas. The most visible are the Canada geese, and the snow geese. We have them by the thousands. Some stay in this area for the winter, and many, many more pass on farther south.

I love to see them flying over in their vee formation (“chevron flight” according to Joni), laughing and calling and flapping. Most often I hear them before I see them. Sometimes they are so high I can barely make them out against the blue sky. Other times (more thrilling to me) they are at tree-top level, likely searching for a spot to spend a few hours grazing or spend the night.

This year they seem to be a little later than usual, but they’re here now. They got the instinctive “urge for going,” and they had the wings to go. And when I see them, I always remember that song.

Good stuff, Joni.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

... You might be a redneck.

Last night I was talking with my friend Jay.

No, not the one I work with who had a pickup truck tire and wheel combination slam into the side of his house, crack his siding and break out a window.

The other Jay — the one who wanted help installing a wireless router for his wifi laptop and didn’t realize his DSL modem was already broadcasting wifi.

Anyway, last night he was telling me about his across-the-street neighbors. These folks seem to like their privacy, since they planted a hedge all around their property and have let it grow very high. Then, a few months ago, they put a solid metal gate across their driveway, blocking the one remaining view of any of their property from the outside.

No one else among Jay’s neighbors seems to know much about the people who live behind this barrier. In fact, no one is sure who they are or how many of them live there. At various times Jay and his spouse have seen people (male and female) come out to the curb-side mailbox to pick up their mail, and different vehicles have been observed coming and going.

Jay told me that every once in a while he’ll be outside when someone appears from that metal gate. He’ll wave and say something innocuous, like, “Good morning.” The neighbors will respond with a wave and little else before disappearing back behind their hedge.

I said, “Well, so what? A lot of folks like their privacy.”

Jay agreed, but then wondered aloud why they occasionally fired what sounded like a shotgun.

“What!?” I was incredulous.

Jay remained matter-of-fact. I guess he was used to the idea. “Oh, yeah, a couple of times we’d be sitting inside, watching TV or whatever, and BOOM! You know; not the sharp crack of a rifle or a pistol, but a deeper sound. We’ve talked to some of the other neighbors, and they all think it’s a shotgun.”

I immediately asked if Jay thought they had a marijuana garden behind that hedge. He rubbed his chin. “Could be,” he offered.

“Doesn’t that bother you? You’ve got children! Don’t you think you ought to notify the police or the sheriff’s office?”

He thought about that, but said, “Nah. Far as I know they haven’t done any harm. But I don’t want it getting back to them that I called the cops on ‘em.”

I couldn’t help but think of a Jeff Foxworthy routine.

“If your neighbors live behind a big ol’ hedge and let off a shotgun blast ever’ now and then... And you don’t know how many of ’em live there... And that doesn’t bother you... Then you might be...”

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Candace's book meme

Okay, I know, the last two days of posts were BOR—ING!!

Today I’ll try to spice things up a bit.

Candace (formerly Chenoah, but now reincarnated through the miracle of electricity) over at Chapterhouse has tagged me with a simple meme. My assignment: write a personal list of 15 things about... books.

Gee, Candace. Fifteen whole “things?” I don’t know where to start.

1. All my life I’ve heard, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Which I know is a metaphor for “Don’t judge based on outward appearances.” But we all do, don’t we? To some extent, at least. Why is that?

2. Unlike Candace, I don’t own thousands of books. But I belong to the library, and I use my card a lot. Likewise I don’t buy videos and DVDs, but I’m a Netflix user. As long as something is available to borrow (free) or rent (cheap), I’ll not spend a lot of money to own it.

3. I’ve been an avid book reader since age 5. There’s ALWAYS a book on my nightstand.

4. The book on my nightstand right now is a library copy of Tom Clancy’s “Executive Orders.” Yeah, I’ve read it before. But this summer I started back through his series of stories from “Hunt for Red October” and that’s how far I’ve gotten reliving the Jack Ryan chronicles.

5. My favorite all time book? I have no idea. Too many good ones out there!

6. Favorite all-time author? Again, when I think of a possible name, 5 more come to mind. If I started listing them, the list would fill up this post.

7. The book I’ve read cover-to-cover the most often? Easy. The Bible. For over 20 years... no, nearly 30, Carol and I have read the bible all the way through each year. We read it aloud to each other. If that makes me weird, so be it. But ask me a bible question on Jeopardy, and I’ll bet I know the answer!

8. (Whew! Half way home.) I always thought books would be pretty easy to write. Until I tried to write one. Oh, sitting down and putting a few thousand words on paper (or screen) is pretty simple, but when you read back through the stuff and see how BAD it is, and then end up editing each passage umpteen dozen times, and even THEN it’s of questionable readability... Well, it ain’t easy for ME!

9. Did you know you can cook books? Corporate accounting types at places like World Com and Enron wrote the book (Ha!) on how to do it. “Creative Accounting,” right?

10. Did you ever wonder why, when you’ve made reservations for a trip or a hotel stay, you have “booked” it? An obvious reference back to the days when everything was stored in hand-written ledgers. But that phrase will probably be around for centuries yet.

11. (Gee. Five to go. Let’s see...) First book I ever read? No telling. I don’t remember that far back. I’m not sure the printing press had been invented yet, either.

12. Did I read books to my children? Absolutely! Do you know (this is true) that one of the first phrases my first child (Joy) ever uttered was, “READ DA BOOK!” Even as a toddler she loved to be read to! Maybe part of it was being held in Daddy’s lap and looking at the pictures, but she would toddle into a room where I was, little book clasped tight in both hands, and demand, “READ DA BOOK!” And by the time she was 4 she was reading all by herself. At age 5 we had her tested for entry into school, and she was reading at a 6th grade level. Actually, they got that far and stopped testing, so I don’t know WHAT level she was on.

13. Have books influenced me much? Immeasurably! They were one of the many sources for my values and attitudes on a lot of issues.

14. What have I learned by writing my own book? It’s not nearly enough to have a good story to tell, although that helps. It’s much more important to present the story in a way that the reader is unaware of the author. The reader is in the story, and a part of the story, and is sorry to see the story end. How do you do that? Well, there are many books written on that subject alone, but I think you have to have a knack, a perception of how the reader is involved. I don’t think following a list of rules on how to do it makes it happen. If I ever figure out a simple way to make it happen, I’ll write a bunch of bestsellers and then have my “How I Did It” book published posthumously, the proceeds to benefit my heirs.

15. Finally, (FINALLY!! AKA, the “F word” to my daughter Joy) why do I want to see my book(s) published? Money? Nope. Ego? Well, yeah, partly. I think I have a good story that involves the reader and is entertaining. I have BEEN involved in, and entertained by, so many good stories that I’d like to have the chance to involve and entertain others. Is that altruism? I hope so, a little bit. Ego, as above? Probably. It would definitely be a satisfying accomplishment. When someone reads my “CHERISH IS THE WORD” and then tells me they cried; I get shivers. (Some have, and I did!) Maybe someday...

Okay! There’s my list. In the spirit of keeping these things going I’ll tag Rob Hamel, and Karyn to produce their lists if they want to. No coercion.

But both are writers and very insightful, and I’d love to read their lists.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Happy ending

So what happened to the company that was liquidated? It’s gone. All the headquarters jobs in Pittsburgh just went away. Three of the four plants were sold to three separated entities. And the one that WASN’T sold, because no buyer could be found, has since been razed to the ground. The cleaned-up real estate is still for sale.

A side note: What’s perverse about that one plant being unsold is that the local union there was the most cooperative during all the cutbacks and layoffs that happened before liquidation. Those employees were trying desperately to save their jobs and livelihood, but failed. The other unions fought tooth and nail against every measure which might have saved the company. Although many of their jobs went away also since the new owners pared back the facilities, at least some of those workers are still employed. Irony. How ironic.

Oh, and this is in response to several of the comments I received on this story. Karyn said, “That's what happens when you put people in charge of money that isn't theirs.” My response: Yeah. Remind you of Congress? Candace basically said that, but wondered if the whole country ran that way. My response: Exactly. If that one group of banks handles big loans that way, I’m sure others do as well. Think how many hundreds of millions are just flushed away each year from their shareholders’ equity! And the shareholders never know the details! Finally, Michelle said, “In all probability the attorney was getting a percentage of the sale as his fee and was being greedy.” My response: Actually I think he was getting paid by the hour, so yes, it was greed. But the longer he prolonged the negotiations and auction and sale process, the more money he made. He had NO motive to save the bank shareholders any money. None.

So where’s the happy ending? Well, MY plant came out bar far the best.

Yes, we laid off all but 16 people, and put those 16 on reduced hours and pay. (I was one of the lucky 16, only because my boss tried to keep a core group together so that when/if a buyer was found for this place we could get it up and running again quickly.) (See, it PAYS to kiss up to the boss! Just kidding Greg! Really!)

We 16 lucky ones came to work for 32 hours a week (four 8-hour days). There was enough actual work to keep us each busy, oh, maybe 1-2 hours for each of those days. What did we do the rest of the time? Well it varied, but I used the time to write my novel. That schedule lasted for 7 ½ months!

At the time of the final auction there were two bidders. One was a company from India, and the other was Unocal, who was going to be prevented from buying us if there were any other qualified buyers. Why? Anti-trust reasons. Unocal and Conoco and my plant were the only 3 companies in the USA who made the product this plant makes. If either of those two bought us, there would be only two players, not three.

BUT, if there were no other buyers, then there would only be two competitors anyway, and then the Dept. of Justice (DOJ) would have no concerns.

So the bankruptcy judge scrutinized the Indian firm to see if they were a qualified buyer or not. He soon determined that though they claimed they would operate the plant in this country, this firm had a practice of buying up very cheap plants in the US, dismantling them and shipping the equipment to India where they reassembled them and ran them.

The judge declared them NOT a qualified buyer, and the DOJ allowed Unocal to buy the plant. Purchase price? $4.5 million. The cost to build this plant in 1982? $230 million. Not a bad bargain.

Why is that a happy ending? Unocal immediately told us 16 folks we were hired, and to rehire enough of the former employees to staff the plant at a minimal operating level until they determined the market demand for our product. We hired back 70 people, and today we’re up to 95.

Meanwhile, Unocal had LOTS of resources (read: deep pockets!) and put things back into very good shape. That purchase took place on July 13, 2003. Counting the $4.5 million plus all the other money spent to get the plant going and in good shape, Unocal spent about $20 million.

Then in April of 2005, they sold us to a private buyer for $50 million.

Not a bad return, huh? Plus, we had jobs with good pay and benefits. The plant stayed in the US and is now contributing to our balance of trade (since we export a lot of what we make). And we’re currently making a profit for our new owner.

If we make enough profit, he may sell us to someone for $100 million.

And the beat goes on.

(Yes, in case you’re wondering, I have a GREAT book outline in all of this, with compelling heroes, heroines, and villains!)

Sunday, December 11, 2005

An obscene story

Back in 2001, the company that owned the plant where I work was forced into bankruptcy.

You’re thinking bad management, right? Depends on your definition. Our parent corporation had $120 million of borrowed capital. The lender was a group of eight East Coast banks, led by PNC (formerly Pittsburgh National Bank).

A number of events took place within a short time span which strained the company’s ability to make scheduled payments. We never fell behind on our interest payments; but we stopped paying anything off on the principle. After a few months, the banks pressured us to make up the missed payments. Meanwhile we were petitioning the banks for a little leeway.

Their answer? No dice! Make up all back principle payments now or we’ll foreclose.

You’d think with $120 million at risk that they’d work with us a while, right? I mean, we were paying their interest! They were making money on their loan. But no, certain of their inviolable covenants had not been satisfied, so they “forced us” to declare bankruptcy to get “protection” from our creditors.

We had a “white knight” buyer waiting in the wings. He offered the banks $85 million for their loans, or about 71 cents on the dollar. We were sure they’d take the deal.

We were wrong. They said, “No, we can do better.” They put the company up for sale through Smith Barney, the investment firm. A few months later they had an offer to buy us for $50 million. Hmmm. “We can do better,” they proclaimed again.

A few months later a different firm offered them $35 million.

Bankruptcy protected us from them for about 9 months. During that time we continued to make all interest payments, but nothing more. We were servicing the debt, but delaying paying it down. At that point their lead attorney told us we had been placed on their list of “under-performing loans,” and they were going to close us.

“How?” we asked. We were protected by the bankruptcy laws! They just laughed. They handled all of our financial accounts, including checking accounts that took care of paying our suppliers and our payroll. Without access to those, we were out of business instantly.

We shut down all processes and laid off all employees except a small “custodial” staff to keep the property in good condition for possible sale.

Okay, now guess how much the banks received when they finally sold off the four plants and all inventories and assets at a bankruptcy auction sale.

Remember, they had been offered $85 million just nine months earlier.

Go ahead and take a guess.

Okay, the amount they received was just over nine million dollars.

Because some loan committee had decided to place us on this list of “under-performing loans,” we were turned over to their liquidation group to be sold for any price just to get this bad loan off their books. They turned down $85 million, then $50 million, then $35 million, all to get just $9 million.

Said differently, they just waved away $76 million (85 minus 9) from their bottom line because some attorney in Pittsburgh said, “We can do better.” And nobody at the banks lost his job. The attorney wasn’t fired. Nobody cared.

The “under performing loan” had been dealt with and liquidated, so the board of directors was happy. Managers (at the banks) got their performance bonuses for doing a good job. And the shareholders (the ones whose potential share value was $76 million less than it should have been that year, never knew.

Obscene, right? Told you!

Tomorrow I’ll tell “The Rest Of The Story.”

Saturday, December 10, 2005

"Saturday, in the park. Think it was the fourth of July"

(Chicago sang that, remember?)

Okay, since I KNOW you’re all dying to know... Yes, we managed to get in a round of golf today. And our Victoria, TX, public golf coures is located in Riverside Park. Hence my post title.

There. I hope you all feel better now, knowing. The sky remained cloudy and dreary all day, but there was no rain. Also very little wind, so the 60 degree temperature didn’t feel bad. Especially after the 40 of yesterday. Tomorrow should be sunny and even a bit warmer.

Well. Now you’re all caught up on the weather and our activities. So, what shall we discuss in this post? (Notice my use of the “royal we” in that sentence? I’m feeling very regal this afternoon. More regal than ducal. Hmmm. "Ducal." Is that a word? It sounded good when I thought of it. Oh well, if it’s not I’m sure my eagle-eyed daughter Joy Christina will call me on it.)

Everyone’s favorite question these days seems to be, “So, are you ready for Christmas?” How does one get “ready for Christmas?” I suppose they mean, “Are all of your gifts bought, wrapped, and delivered? And, are your arrangements made to get together with family and friends during the next three to four weeks for dinners and parties and fun times?”

If that’s what they mean, the answer is “NO.”

MOST of my gifts are bought (some were delivered directly to the recipients), but none are wrapped. We have NO party plans, and little family gathering plans. Some years, that’s just the way things go.

But if they meant, “Are you ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus?” well, yes and no. Carol and I are ALWAYS ready to celebrate various aspects of our Christian faith. And we’re not hung up on things like whether or not a Christmas tree is a pagan symbol (who cares?) and whether or not Santa in his red suit is Satanic (give me a break!). But neither do we wait for a particular day of the year to acknowledge the things we believe.

All of that said, my answer to the question “Are you ready for Christmas?” is almost always, “Yes.” I’m ready for the attitude of giving and sharing that accompanies the season. I’m ready for a few extra days off from work. I’m ready for the symbols of this season and the decorations, pagan or not. Christmas is (or is supposed to be) a joyous time and a time to be tolerant of others who may have different beliefs or values.

And I’m always ready for that. I hope you are, too.

Happy Saturday. Hope yours was as good as mine!

Friday, December 09, 2005


It's Friday!! (As if you didn't know.)

Finally Friday. Freaky Friday (that's Karyn's copyrighted phrase, but I can use it if I give her credit). Or Frigid Friday in much of the country, including here in South Texas.

I wore a wool turtleneck sweater over a cotton turtleneck to work today. I had on so many turtlenecks they were pushing my chin up in the air and everybody thought I was being snooty. But at least I was warm. And I work in an office!

Now my work week is over and I'm snug in my home. I have perused most of the blogs on my blogroll, but have no idea what scintillating topic I should choose to post on today. So I'm rambling here on the keyboard until something occurs to me.

Maybe... How about the weather? Tomorrow is supposed to be cloudy but with moderating temperatures and much less wind. All the way up to a high of 61, they're saying. Might even get in some golf in the afternoon.

OH! I know. Let me tell you the latest on my book manuscript. Katie, my wonderfully supportive and perceptive critique partner, and HER critique partner and multi-published author, have declared my CHERISH IS THE WORD to be "awesome," "a three-hanky ending," and "ready to sell."


Now I'm working on a new, riveting synopsis and a killer query letter that no agent or publisher will be able to resist. I plan to start mailing these out to a very select list within a couple of weeks -- hopefully before the first of the year.

That will doubtless result in a barrage of offers to represent me. After I make my selection from the pile, I'm sure that within a few weeks my chosen super-agent will have set up an auction so publishers can compete for the privilege of having their house's name on my books.

Ahhh. Friday. A wonderful day!

(By the way I found my meds this morning, took a double dose, and everything is pink and rosy now. I knew you'd want to know that. But Nankin, I really think you should get your own "happy pills." These are all for ME!)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Now I’m really getting worried

The cruise control on my little Japanese commute car stopped working yesterday.

Big deal?

Well, maybe. Is this the next step in the conspir... oops! The, uh... (You know!)?

I was cruising home from work when the little “Cruise On” light on the dash just went out and the car decelerated. No smoke. No fanfare. No sound at all.

What? Can’t I drive without cruise control, you ask?

Of course I can. It’s just that I’ve become so lazy from depending on it for years to keep me from creeping up far enough over the speed limit that I’ll have a close encounter with the DPS.

Oh, for you non-Texans, that stands for the Department of Public Safety. A.K.A. the Highway Patrol. A.K.A. state troopers.

A.K.A. “Take your pick. Plead no contest and pay your $100++ fine (depending on how FAR in excess of the speed limit of were driving) OR Pay about $100 for a course in ‘Defensive Driving’ and keep the ticket and the ‘points’ off your record.”

Okay, okay. I agree. In the overall scheme of things a broken cruise control is No Big Deal. So why am I worried? I can’t help but wonder what’s next. In the conspir... (You know!)

This weekend I’ll go through the owner’s manual to see which circuit breaker(s) or fuse(s) protect the cruise control system. Maybe it’s something as simple as a loose wire or a blown fuse. I’m good at replacing a fuse or re-connecting a loose wire.

If it’s more than that, I’ll have to decide how much I’m willing to pay a shop to fix the darn thing. With my luck it’ll be some electronic circuitry that can’t be fixed but must be replaced in full. And — oh by the way — it’ll likely cost several hundred dollars.

About enough to pay for two tickets, or maybe three defensive driving classes. Depending on how fast my uneducated right foot has me traveling.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A free sample

Several of you asked me for a sample of the kind of poem I write when someone leaves the company to retire or whatever after a fairly long tenure.

Well, okay.

I had to change the names (to protect the innocent AND the guilty!), and the new names had to rhyme with the original or the poem wouldn't work. But, that said, here you'll see the light-hearted nature of these things. They're intended to make people laugh, and to be a keepsake to the departing employee.

Without further ado, here's one from several years ago.


Miss Alice came to work for us the fall of ninety-three.
A senior then at Calhoun High, enrolled in V.O.E.!
She’d only had one job before, but her last name was Beaman,
So she started in accounting, and worked just like a demon!

Well, after graduation, she took up with Allen Martin,
And pretty soon we noticed that a family they were startin’.
She went off to have her baby, but she said that she’d return.
It took nine months, but in the end, she had to work, she learned.

One day down in the lunch room, the discussion turned to gas.
And Linda asked her for some tips on how to make it pass.
She skipped around the room to demonstrate, did Alice Martin.
Then sat down laughing to exclaim, “My specialty is fartin’!”

Once she and Sam debated over which of them could eat
A jalapeno pepper that produced a lot of heat.
She ate one bite by bite, then turned away proclaiming, “Tasty!”
But soon her tears and swollen lips were proof she’d been too hasty.

Then she took Sandra off one day to Houston to go shopping.
But on the way a D.P.S. patrolman had them stopping.
”I had you clocked at 80, Ma’am. Now what’s your rush this morning?”
She charmed him with her shopping tale, so he gave her just a warning.

A thing that everybody learns before they know her long,
Is that sneaking up on Alice is an act that’s always wrong!
In fact it doesn’t matter that you didn’t try to sneak,
If you surprise her, half the plant will hear her jump and shriek!

Once Lydia and Linda, up at Houston’s ADP,
Took Alice to a restaurant, Italian specialty.
This place was kinda ritzy with a high class atmosphere,
You need to have your best behavior on display round here!

The piano player asked them for requests and played their tune,
Then asked of Alice curiously just she was a-doin’.
He couldn’t hear her so she called to him above the crowd,
“I’m pickin’ my TEETH!” All conversation stopped; she was so loud!

The years went by and working here to Alice seemed like heaven.
Then hard times came and we were forced into Chapter eleven.
Our vendors all called Alice then and pleaded for their money.
She charmed them with apologies, her voice was dripping honey.

She finally met her Mr. Right, Joe Donald, or J. D.
Got married at the end of May, a happy family!
The problem was, J. D. was working up at College Station.
And Alice said she had to go, which caused us consternation!

So now she’s Alice Banner, with a brand new job as well.
Tomorrow is her last day here, it’s almost sad to tell,
So here’s to Alice! Knowing you has made us all feel blessed.
We wish for you a life filled with the very, very best!

But if life ever treats you wrong, if the Aggies say “Goodbye.”
Or even if things go so well you win at all you try,
Pick up the phone from time to time, or e-mails to us send,
For though the miles may come between you’ll always be our friend!

June 6, 2002

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Busy day

Today was. At work.

There’s a lot of routine stuff going on, but also one special event. Tomorrow is the last day for one of our plant’s long-term employees; he’s retiring.

We’re a very small company now (under 100 employees), but we’ve bought a gift for both the employee and his wife, and we’re having a send-off celebration with a big cake.

Why did that make me busy? Well, I’ve become known as the company poet. Whenever a long-term employee has left in the past and we’ve planned any kind of a good-bye party or gathering, I’ve written a humorous (I hope) poem.

I always try to put into the verses references to events that happened during the person’s employment. I don’t try to “roast” them, just get a few laughs at the memories that come back.

Well, this particular employee has always been pretty low key, and just a really nice guy. I spent ALL DAY today writing a poem for him. There’s very little humor involved, darn it. I just couldn’t come up with anything.

And as all you writers know, when you’re having a hard time coming up with ideas and you have phone calls or other interruptions, the whole process takes TEN TIMES as long.

So the poem turned out as a way to mention a lot of the employees who had worked alongside of this guy over the years, rather than a re-hashing of the guy’s foibles. I listed many of the supervisors and managers who came and went during this retiree’s tenure. I listed many of the people who worked with him in two different departments.

At least that way a lot of old names will be remembered, and some current folks will perk up to hear their own names. I hope it will suffice.

I would include the poem for your reading pleasure, but I usually don’t put actual names on my blog posts to avoid making people who may read it feel like their privacy was invaded.

Anyway, I was busy ALL DAY today. And that’s why you’re reading a boring, non-humorous, non-romantic, non-much-of-anything blog post. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

Let’s hope.

Monday, December 05, 2005

What’s with the new comments on very old posts?

Today I’ve received two comments on posts from back in May and October. One was from “anonymous” which really narrows down the field of possible senders. The other was from Oscar Laurent.


The famous clothing design label? No, that’s Yves Saint Laurent. This comment to a May post said simply, “I’ll be back. Later. :)” When I clicked on his name, my screen showed, “Account Closed.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve had a rather random comment (meaningless) from a closed account.

They don’t seem to be spam. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern. They’re innocuous. And they often are attached to very old posts.

Are they real? From real people? Or are they a spammer’s trial balloons to see if they can defeat the “word verification” hassle that we’ve been forced to employ?

(Although I see some of my blogroll buddies have turned off the verification feature, willing to put up with the spam to make commenting easier. What a mess!)

The other post today (from “anonymous”) seemed to be a real person who made an intelligent comment. I’d love to know who it was so I could respond. But how?

The comment was to a post from two months ago. How did he find it? A Google search? Maybe.

Will he go back trough my archives (or through Google) and look for a response to his comment? I doubt it.

Oh, well. In the overall scheme of things this is clearly no big deal.

Any of the rest of you having experiences like this?

Or is it my computer and other appliances conspir... NO! Never mind. It’s innocent. I’m SURE of it!!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Please ignore my previous post

There's no conspiracy (ha ha). I was just joking.

None of my possessions actually communicate with each other or plot together to cause me misery. Oh, no. That was all just for humor. And I KNOW that none of you ever thought for a minute that I was serious. Right?

Of course not! And I don't expect that any other appliances, or elecrtonic gadgets, or mechanical or electrical or plumbing things will malfunction ANY time in the near future.

And if any of them DOES happen to malfunction, well, that'll just be a coincidence.

There. That ought to put the ENTIRE issue to bed!

Don't write ANY comments disagreeing with the above. We might be able to avoid stirring everything up if we're REAL careful. With all my Christmas shopping and other holiday expenses (and with my annual family SKI TRIP coming up, I can't afford to repair or replace any more things for a while.

I'm sorry I brought the subject up!

So, I hope that all of you enjoyed my joking, humorous post of yesterday. But now I want you ALL to just put it out of your minds. And whatever you do, DO NOT pass on anything from that post to your friends or blogroll buddies!

Okay? Got it?



Saturday, December 03, 2005

Shhhh. (More on the Conspiracy?)

Oh, dear.

Our dishwasher quit working this morning. A quick examination showed that a part was broken. This part would probably require replacement of several major components.

After some thought, we determined that the appliance was 15 years old and that it was probably time for a new one. Appliance, that is.

So today we shopped for a dishwasher.

ARRRRGH! I HATE shopping!

I started on the internet, looking for reviews of various models and lists of features. I quickly determined that I could spend anywhere from as little as $200 to upwards of $2,000 if I wanted to! Well, I really didn't want to.

Besides, the dishwasher resides in the kitchen, which is Carol's domain. She is the one who needed to decide which features were important and which ones were needless for us.

So after a brief excursion through various web sites, we went out to actually look at different models.

BIG mistake!

We started at Lowes Home Improvement Warehouse, then went through Sears to Home Depot. The more we looked, the more difficult a decision became.

We came home, had lunch, and golfed. (Ahhhh! Much better use of a Saturday!)

After golf we got back on the internet and shopped some more. We finally settled on a brand and a model. Then we started comparing prices. Found one site that was offering a 10% discount this weekend only, free shipping, no state sales tax, AND there was a $50 rebate coupon available for that brand.

So even though I would like to support my local merchants... The offer of a cheaper initial price, plus no 8.75% sales tax, no shipping, and a rebate made an "offer I couldn't refuse," to quote from "The Godfather."

We ordered, and expect our new appliance to be delivered in a few weeks. Meanwhile we'll (or I'll) be washing dishes by hand in the sink for a while.

So, why the title for this post?

Well, last month our vacuum cleaner motor smoked itself out of existence (a short, I'm sure). This month it's the dishwasher. Can the washer and dryer be far behind? What about the stove and refrigerator? The garage door opener? And (gasp!) my computer!?

I know all the plumbing, electrical, and mechanical devices and equipment all communicate and conspire against the common homeowner. But for a while there I had a respite from their attacks.

It looks like they're starting up again!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Sweater pictures!

Okay, all you readers who got involved in our discussion a few months ago about Earle Family Ski Sweaters. Here’s what you’ve been waiting for!

Below is a link to the Worldwide Unveiling of Carol’s latest knitting creation, a baby-size ski sweater to match those that the rest of the (extended) family members already have.

Tom, if you still harbor issues about Trevor having a sweater, you’d better get used to the idea.

Tina, if you are still jealous, you’ll just have to get over it. Or, when you see the sweater, you may just go ballistic.

Karyn, this is what the furor is all about.

(A little fanfare, please...)

Okay, everyone please click HERE and be ready to marvel at Carol’s consummate creativity.

(It’s been a while since I’ve thrown some alliteration at you. No, don’t thank me. It’s really no effort.)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Follow-up (Somewhat Unbelievable)

Or a better title might be: "Sh*t Happens, But So Does Good Stuff!"

Remember my posts about one of my employees with a tax levy from the IRS?

No? Well, for a quick review check out this post and this post from back in early October.

Okay, now that you’re up to speed, here’s the follow up. (Initials have been changed to protect confidentiality.)

Mr. F tried to live on the $158 per week the IRS allowed him to take home. After a month or two, when doing so (living) became obviously impossible, he petitioned for a reduction in the amount of the levy. He called the same “1-800” number 6 times over a few weeks, but each time was connected to a different IRS office. As you might expect, he received no help at all from some, and conflicting information from others.

He pleaded with me for help, but I had a court-ordered levy to deal with. I couldn’t ignore it, nor could I stop sending the levied amount to the IRS without written instructions from the IRS. I sent him back to the IRS to ask them for something in writing that I could use to reduce his levied amount.

This week he came to me in tears (a bit disconcerting — this is not a man prone to them). A lady in an IRS office in California had told him they only expected us to be sending them $590 per month on his behalf, and we were sending almost $1,800. She didn’t understand why. She had an agreement, signed by a Mrs. C, which stated the $590 number.

Just so you’ll know; Mrs. C is our company’s payroll administrator. She works for me. I asked her about this alleged “agreement,” and she produced a copy of the only thing she had ever signed and sent to the IRS. It was VERY CLEARLY not any kind of agreement. It was simply a cover sheet that went along with the first check we sent them on Mr. F’s behalf. That first check had been for $590.

This was no “agreement...” but if the IRS thought it was... and accepted it as such... AND (most importantly) if somebody changed his account records in their computer system to show that they HAD such an “agreement”... Well, all would be wonderful.

Apparently that’s exactly what happened.

Today Mr. F, Mrs. C and I called the 1-800 number from my speakerphone so we could all participate. We were on hold forever, but then were connected to a Mr. White. He listened to the dilemma, checked the computer records, agreed that Mr. F had an agreement with the IRS, and only owed them $590 per month!

When I explained my need for something in writing to authorize me to amend the current levy, Mr. White agreed again. He kept us on hold for a loooooong time. Twice he came back on to ask us a question, and then we were back on hold.

Then he asked for my fax number, and a minute later I had my signed, written authorization. Since we are processing the current pay period’s payroll today, this allowed me to immediately change the levy and spare Mr. F another two weeks of extreme hardship.

Now, that would be reason enough to celebrate and marvel that the IRS had made such a goof and it actually benefited a taxpayer. But if you’ve gotten this far, read on a bit.

When I thanked Mr. White for all of his empathetic efforts, and told him that he may have literally saved a life today (Mr. F told me he was wondering why he should go on living), Mr. White said, “Well, the Lord has me here for some reason, I guess. But I’m just doing my job.” (That from an IRS agent!?)

At that, Mr. F’s tears began to flow again and he stepped out of my office. He had been on his knees last night in desperation, asking God to intervene. Mrs. C got teary as well. She has prayed about this situation, feeling terrible for Mr. F. But worse, as the payroll administrator SHE had to arrange for that horrible levy every payday. She had also asked God to intervene.

Now get this: The paper she signed that became this “agreement” that the IRS accepted and then cut the levy by two-thirds, contained the $590 figure in error! In figuring up that first check (it was the first time she had ever done this) she exempted some amounts that were not supposed to have been exempted. From that first erroneous check until now, the amount we’ve had to take out of Mr. F’s biweekly check has been hundreds higher.

You can easily attribute these events to a government snafu or a comedy of IRS errors that worked out okay for once.

I choose to believe that God answers prayer, and has intervened.