Sunday, August 19, 2018

Hobby Lobby

            I broke tradition this year and bought Kay a birthday gift. I had guilted myself into a corner, by talking to several husbands near my age who said they always get their wives something. Acted like I was nuts for asking the question. What a bunch of losers.

            Kay and I got past the gift giving thing, when I kept getting her stuff she didn’t want, and she kept getting me stuff I could use, but didn’t want to. So, we agreed to just stop the silliness. Up until this year when my friends persuaded me that I was an old goat.

            Clothes, jewelry, perfume, and other womanly stuff was not even on my radar. No, I decided to shop at Hobby Lobby, the place where Kay gets most of her art and craft supplies. The girl paints, turns small rocks into birds, and dogs, makes jewelry… and a bunch of other stuff that appeals to me not in the least.

            So I was off  to Hobby Lobby. I call it Lobby Lobby, ‘cause I like to mess with words. I even occasionally pronounce the “w” in sword, strictly out of sympathy. The letter has been forever neglected in that word. Believe me, I know how it feels when people talk like you’re not even there.

            So, where was I? Right, Lobby Lobby. I don’t know if you realize this, but the parking lot at Lobby Lobby is the hottest place in the county for a person to sit in his car and wait for his wife.  I’ve had women stop by my parked car and threaten to dial 911. “Hello, I need to report that a wife has left her husband in the parking lot of Hobby Lobby. He says he’s been sitting in this heat for an hour. I think the heat has gotten to him, because he keeps referring to this place as ‘Lobby Lobby.’”

            Well, this time there was no waiting in the car. Kay’s gift was not going to come walking out and jump into the car. If they had a system like HEB, I could just call in and say, “I need you to pick out something for my arts and craft wife. Nothing over $20. You can find me with my engine running by the entrance at 2:00.  I’ll be in a red sweatband.”

            Hobby Lobby has yet to see the need for phone-in orders.  So I had to march my surly buns into the establishment, where I got a pleasant “Hello!” at the door. I didn’t let it slow me down, because I was going to be in and out. Unfortunately, I did stop and handle a couple of small metal buckets on my way back to the craft stuff.  Little buckets are so much more fascinating than big buckets.  I then stopped and read some of the small wall signs on display. Sweet stuff like  “Choose Kindness” – “May your journey always lead you home” and “Rawr Rawr Dinosaur!” Again with the “w.” There was a drawing of a brontosaurs in the middle of the sign, and I was quite taken aback by the weirdness of it.

            Eventually, I made it to the 82 rows of craft supplies. I didn’t know the purpose of 80 percent of the stuff. As hard as it is to believe, I have no artistic vision. I’m more into screwdrivers and pliers.

            After 40 minutes I decided to vacate the massive arts and crafts area and head for a place where stuff is already made. They’ve got shelving and bookcases and cubby-holes with baskets in ‘em. None of it was doing it for me. Just as I was about to return to the “Rawr Rawr” sign, I saw ‘em. Jigsaw puzzles. It was just the other day that Kay said how much she wanted a jigsaw puzzle. I remembered it because I always thought she hated jigsaw puzzles. What a gift! Not the puzzle, just the fact I found something. I settled on a 1000 piece puzzle. Had I gotten the 2000 piece, she would’ve taken up the entire dining room table working on it. I grabbed a scene with a house on a hill with a pasture and barn in the background. A few cows, a flower garden and wooden fence. A real sappy scene.

            I put a card and the wrapped puzzle next to her recliner. She was excited. Kay really likes me getting her something… until she sees what it is. The wrapped box was beautiful. Had a ribbon and three little rocks stuck to it. I can glue rocks, I just can’t make ‘em look like anything but what they are. Kay anxiously opened the gift, smiled big and said, “Wow, a puzzle.” Then she gave me a big smacker. It was while we were eating out that I said, “I thought you liked jigsaw puzzles.”

            She said, “No, that must’ve been your first wife.” Kay is such a hoot. It’s weird ‘cause I distinctly remember her mentioning jig saw puzzles earlier in the week. She said, “That was Virginia when we were at the Cracker Barrel last Thursday. I’m proud that you were even listening.” 

            I told her she could give Virginia the puzzle with my blessing. She said, “No, you’re going to help me put this thing together.” –  No way! That’s what I said. “No way!” Then I told her that she didn’t have to reciprocate and get me something for my birthday, if I didn’t have to help with the puzzle.

            “It’s too late for that,” she said. “I already ordered you something on line.” 
            D’oh! That’s what I said, “D’oh!” --  Next time.

Mark can be contacted at

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Whine and Dine

“A Brad Meyer Reunion”

Brad Meyer and I had breakfast together this morning at the 105 Café in Conroe.  The café used to have Brad’s restaurant review posted on their bulletin board. Tom (the owner) must’ve finally gotten around to reading the thing. – I joke. It was a good review.
Brad and I used to eat out a bunch together, but that was back when Brad would pay for my meal. As I alluded to in the first paragraph, Brad was once the newspaper’s restaurant reviewer/news reporter.
It was his restaurant review column I was interested in… but only after he called me up and asked for me to help him. Brad thought his column needed a lift; a shtick, if you will. Monday night football had Don Meredith. Brad ended up with me.  I have no idea how many people turned him down before he gave me the call.
Truth be told, Brad didn’t like me back then. He thinks I’m swell now, but back then he considered me stuck up. He came to that conclusion one night while at the Crighton interviewing the cast of “A Christmas Story.”  (The one where the kid wanted a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas.) During the interviews, I made it a point to stay in the background. While I just love the daylights out of notoriety, I hate to chase it.
I actually thought the children were the ones who needed the attention. The kids and the director, Don Hampton, who kept kids and adults under control during rehearsals. So, I pretty well stayed hidden during the interviews. Bottom, line, Mark, the very personification of humility, came across as “stuck-up.” 
But, let’s forget about judging others. When Brad asked me to help him out with his column, I jumped on the Brad Meyer Restaurant Review wagon. Together we formed a duo that would live in the diaries of both our wives, had they thought to keep diaries  
I’ve got to hand it to him, the new found  humor in Brad’s articles added tremendously to his success. That guy humiliated me even beyond my natural humility. He was mean. -- Yes, it’s true while at a ritzy restaurant I returned a dish of smoked salmon. I had no idea it was served cold, with a texture of raw fish. 
It wasn’t long before Brad and I decided to produce some ad-libbed videos of the  reviews.  I don’t know how many videos we put on YouTube, but it was several… and they’re still there.
One thing about Brad, the guy was honest about his reviews. I just hate to upset people, but Brad called it like it was. He has a history of managing eating establishments and resorts, so he knows a lot about proper dining. I wouldn’t know proper dining if I was sitting on it. I know what I like and what I don’t; and I don’t like raw fish.
That kind of stuff played well in the videos we produced. We shot the segments on site, in Brad’s studio, and in the newsroom at The Courier. I liked the newsroom because I got to meet a lot the people who put the newspaper together. They’d scurry around while Brad I sat and chatted. I felt almost like one of ‘em.
Brad and I seemed to play off one another well, considering we don’t agree on much of anything. Brad is a man of the world. He’s been around the block a few times. (Take that anyway you want.) Me? I’ve only ventured to the edge of the driveway. Brad has so much stuff stored in his noggin, most of which makes for good story telling. Unfortunately, there are only a few of his stories I can share with others.
After all of that background on “The Brad and Mark story,” it had been a year since I last saw Brad. The last time we were together was just before Kay and I moved to Washington for six months. I was trying to get rid of a bunch of stuff before the move, so decided to give my electric smoker to Brad.  I paid $200 for the thing, and only used it five times. I couldn’t get it to smoke. After giving it to Brad, I ran across instructions that said to only used shaved wood. I had been using chunks of wood. Ah.
When we got back from Washington, I didn’t communicate with Brad until a few weeks ago when he sent me an e-mail asking me to take back my old smoker. I reminded him that when he agreed to take it off my hands it was a  “No backs” agreement. No one can renege on a “No backs.”
After a couple of other e-mail exchanges, we decided to eat breakfast together. That’s where we were at the beginning of this article.  
While at the 105 Café, Brad and I talked of old times and what all we had been doing the year we were not in contact. Brad didn’t seem to care one way or the other about the “Acknowledgement” I gave him in my book, “The Summer of 1976.” (Now available on-line from Amazon Books. You might want to make a note of that.) 
After our meal and carafe of coffee, the waitress brought the check. She had forgotten to give us separate checks as I had instructed.  Brad immediately grabbed the check and said, “I’ve got this.” I would’ve fought him for it, but I hate to draw attention to myself. Hopefully, I’ve made that clear.
Mark can be contacted at

Thursday, August 16, 2018


            Like most of you, I have experienced a lot of unfairness in life. I was not born a fast runner. I could’ve trained until my nose bled, and would’ve only accomplished the ability to run a little faster. But never FAST.

            I wanted to be able to play the piano and the guitar, but I wasn’t born with a spirit of stick-to-itiveness. I tried my near-best to learn to read music. I can still remember the musical tool of “Every Good Boy Does Find.” Unfortunately, I have no remembrance of what it refers to. Yet, some kids are writing concerto’s at the age of four. I don’t even know what a concerto is.

            I had no desire to play chess or disassemble an alarm clock and then put it back together. Had PCs been around when I was a kid, I wouldn’t have seen the point in having one? As a child I could find no reason for which to proud of myself. My friends couldn’t even find one for me.

            The thing I was most ashamed of was my inability to determine when someone was trying to trick me out of something. It would take me a good 15 minutes to catch on to the fact that Dennis had tricked me into trading my good Fanner Fifty holster for his ruined one. It really hurts when you earn the distinction of being the butt of the joke. I tried to get revenge, but I could seldom pull it off. I believe it was John Wayne who said, “Life is tough, but it’s tougher when you’re stupid.”

            If you mess up enough, you catch onto the notion that life isn’t fair. It’s people with no problems that have trouble arriving at that conclusion. Here’s a John Wayne quote that actually applies to that.  -- “If everything isn't black and white, I say why the hell not.” It’s the simplicity of the statement that makes it so popular. It’s that same simplicity that makes it so wrong.
            None of us are participating in life on a level playing field. From the get go, many of us are walking up hill while others are coasting downhill.  My talents were not those that one generally associates with success. The vast majority of us aren’t born into wealth. The Beatles were right in singing that “Money can’t buy you love,” but wealth can certainly level out the playing field for you.

            In truth, unfairness, has its good points. There would be no movies worth watching and no novels worth reading were things perfectly fair. Human interest lies in stories of individuals who have overcome unfairness in life to the point of greatness.

            My friend Johnny showed up last Tuesday and we went to see Equalizer 2. It’s one of those action movies where the bad guys are really bad. The goal of most action movies is to generate in the viewer a sense of hatred for the bad guys. I don’t care how unfair the life of a bad guy was, I want him brought down. I hate to give away the ending to Equalizer 2, but Denzel Washington ends up killing all the bad guys. And I ended up with a real sense of satisfaction in him doing it. Shallow in the heart of mankind is the sense of fulfillment in someone getting his or her comeuppance. – Wow! That just came to me.

            You and I are very fortunate not to be numbered among the bad guys in life. However, we are and always will be subject to some of life’s unfairness. Being treated unfairly can create in the actions of some of us a need to rant and rave or flash an obscene gesture or pull a gun. If you survive the experience, it becomes a part of who you are.  In other words, we’re each the sum total of all the good and bad stuff that’s happened to us. In fact, who and where you are in life this very minute is a result of how you reacted to stuff that’s happened to you. -- I’m sure John Wayne could have made that point so much simpler.

            What I managed to learn from my bouts with unfairness is that there is no peace in thinking that things were meant to be fair. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to level the playing field for one another; it’s just that some fields can’t be leveled. Not physically or mentally. If Kay wishes to donate my brain to science there will be some noticeable irregularities between my brain and Einstein’s or Steven Jobs or Boy George. None of us had the same mental makeup.

            While I see no sign of complete fairness in the physical or mental aspect of mankind, I do believe that we find a level playing in our spirituality. And with that I will give you a quote I ran across this morning. You can blame this quote on me choosing this less than humorous topic. I have no idea who first penned these words. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t John Wayne. So, I now leave you with this thought – “It is in a world unfair that faith gains its legitimacy.”
Mark can be contacted at

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Weird Day

“Denist, Jehovah Witnesses and Smoothies"

OUT BACK -- Do you know what cottage cheese does to your body? Do you? I don’t either, but that is the question that led to me sitting out here. It’s part of this unsettling day.

It started early this morning with a visit to the dentist where I got a bunch of goop stuffed into my mouth. I was getting fitted for what’s called a hugger bridge. A hugger bridge is a removable contraption that fills the gap left by a missing tooth or teeth. I used to have a permanent bridge in the gap, but it came unbridged by a Breakfast on a Bun from Whataburger. The story cuts to the heart, so I’m not retelling it.

While at the dentist, it took multiple mouthfuls of quick dry cement to get all the settings required to make the hugger. -- “Okay, Mark, don’t move your head, mouth or cheek, and breathe through your nose. By the way, have you and Kay gone on any trips this summer?”

When I got home from the dentist, I decided to eat leftover frozen pizza. Kay wasn’t hungry. The timer on the oven had five more minutes when the doorbell rang. It was the Jehovah Witness ladies. They visit Kay once a week around lunchtime. Kay and I are not Jehovah Witnesses, but Kay enjoys talking with the ladies. They like Kay. Everybody likes Kay.

While the ladies sat at the table, I hid in my study with my pizza drying out in the oven. After about 15 minutes, I decided it was time for me to make a fool of myself. I interrupted the session announcing that Kay and I were devout Christians who just had a different take from Jehovah Witnesses on some of the less obvious points of scripture.

I’ve got to tell you, there is no arguing with three Jehovah Witnesses. You would have more luck with two white shirted, bicycle-riding Mormon young men marching up to your door in Bellsnap, Nebraska. I used to thank God that I wasn’t a Mormon, ‘cause I just couldn’t handle the thought of knocking doors in Peoria in an attempt to win over unsuspecting Second Baptists in central Illinois.

At this point, I feel it necessary to tell you that I like Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Episcopalians, Pentecostals… any religious group that doesn’t want to hurt or pester me. I realize that there would be absolutely no arguments on religion if God had only refused mankind the right to choose.  When given a choice, humans go ape. Regardless of what we read, we don’t all read into it the same thing. Even atheists don’t agree on what’s going on.

The three ladies didn’t hate me when they left. I hugged them each right there in the kitchen. They’ll be back next week. I’ll probably be busy weeding Kay’s garden. In spirit.

After lunch, Kay went to her art class, That girl is so gifted. I can’t wait to see how good an artist she is with lessons. While she was gone, I took a nap. A short nap. The doorbell rang just as I got into the dream about going to the dentist in my underwear.

I hated the dream, but hated answering the door even more. But, thinking it may be the Jehovah Witness ladies bringing me a fruit cake, I went to the door only to find a salesman with a special on pest control. His company was spraying the entire neighborhood at the ridiculous price of $50 a residence, and wanted to sign me up. His spray even killed insects with backbones. For whatever reason, that seemed to be a selling feature. I filled the guy’s water bottle and sent him on his way.

After that, I checked my e-mails and noticed a pop-up ad that showed an open carton of cottage cheese with the question “Do you know what cottage cheese does to your body?” Truth be told, I’ve got enough worries as it is without stewing over the effects of cottage cheese consumption. 

I then left my study and made myself a mango smoothie. I’ve gotten into fruit smoothies… and no, I don’t want to know what they’re doing to my body. After the smoothie, my body felt cooler, so I decided to sit on the back porch. And that’s when you walked up. There’s only one rule out here today. Anyone who mentions how hot it is must go home.

By the way, I’m glad you're here. I need to backup on something I told you last week. When I mentioned that my niece has a phone that not only will locate my phone, but will tell me how fast it’s traveling. What I meant to say was “It will NOT tell  her how fast I’m traveling.” When a reader, Wanda,  asked me about that, I got in touch with my niece who told me that she was only joking when she told me I was speeding. She could discern my progress, but not my exact speed. So that takes care of that.

Okay, now, let’s take a look at the birdbath. I bet that water is 102 degrees. – What? You’re leaving? Too hot? No, don’t go! I’ve got enough frozen mango for maybe two more smoothies. Anyone? – Well, that’s just ducky. Talk about an an unsettling day! And, it’s only half over. --  I might as well go inside. It’s too hot out here. – Next time.  

Mark can be contacted at