Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Mark's Christmas short story


It’s Christmas Story time. As usual, the names and happenings in this year’s tale were dreamed up… after a short prayer. Wishes for the very best Christmas ever from the Hayters.

“The very best picture ever”

The good thing about Galen’s job was the fact that few people would be able to recognize him. Except for Kate. She would know him anywhere. They had been friends since junior high, and husband and wife for 17 years. Oh, and Kate was there when he first tried on the Santa suit. She laughed, even though she assured him she wouldn’t.

It was a long hour before his next break, and he was already completely sapped. Both physically and mentally. It’s hard to believe the number of kids who are thrust upon Santa. “NOOOO! No, Mommie!” Then comes the shrill bawl.

That was pretty much a normal day. But, with a little less than a week to go, he was still trying to focus on the positives of life. He was certainly doing something different. Different’s good. He hoped it more than believed it.

He had spied Kate and the kids coming out of JC Penney a half hour earlier. The activity around the portable cliff-climbing wall distracted Bailey long enough for Kate to blow her husband a kiss. Santa caught it with his free hand.

He wasn’t expecting Kate to bring the kids to the mall today. He was only the part time Santa, and thought sure Kate would pick a time when the full-time Santa would be there. That’d be Larry from church. Larry started letting his beard grow out in late July. By December, kids would yell and point at him, telling their mom’s that “It’s Santa!” Larry was the real deal.

He was also the one who recommended Galen for the Santa job. Larry knew the family was hard-up at the moment, and just wanted to help out. While Galen was not comfortable with the job, it did supplement what he earned from stocking shelves at the discount store and his newspaper delivery job.

“Over here. Look up here. Smile!” Elf Wanda was a good photographer. She was so unthreatening to the kids. The antithesis of Santa. Of course, put her in a Santa suit and she’d be scary, too.

While waving bye to the screaming Cody, Santa said, “Okay, who do we have—“ He then glanced over to see Bailey, his six-year-old daughter, being escorted by Elf Nancy. Santa glanced over to see Kate giving him the “I couldn’t-help-it look.”

Bailey was the only Sutton in the family tree with red hair and freckles. She was a true wonderment. Her camouflage-cap and cherished Seahawks jogging outfit did nothing to detract from that wonderment. Bailey knew nothing of the Seattle team. She just liked the colors. Oh, and, she kept the camo-cap on constantly… except for bed and baths. “Don’t make a big deal of it, darling. She’ll tire of the cap when she starts second grade.” Right.

All during the usual ho, ho and what-do-you-want-for-Christmas spiel, Bailey never took her eyes off Santa. “You look like my daddy,” she finally said. “Are you my daddy?”

Galen pulled his fake wire-framed glasses further up on his face and said, “Why I’m Santa, Bailey.” – Bailey’s mouth flew open. “How’d you know my name?” – “I’m Santa,” Galen said. “Now, why don’t you tell me what you want for Christmas?”

Bailey informed Santa that she had already sent him a letter telling him what she wanted. “Don’t you eben member?”

Galen thought hard and then replied, “Oh, yes, you want some kind of explorer doll.” -- Bailey beamed. “That’s right. I wanna Dora The Splorar Doll, and a sticker machine what makes stickers, a jewelry box, a silber ring and a necklace wif snow flakes…” Bailey’s list ended with “… and a guitar.”

“A guitar? I don’t remember a guitar on your list,” Santa told her.

Bailey nodded and then explained. “That’s thcause my bruder ober dare,” she said pointing to the 12 year-old standing next to Kate, “he wants some drumbs and I wanna guitar to pway in his band.”

“Will there be anything else?” Bailey shook her head. “No, sir. That’s just what I want. But see, Mommy and Daddy always gib me the little pwesents, and you always bwing me the one big pwesent. This year, I’ll just get the one fwom you, ‘cause Daddy got laid away at work and doesn’t make any money for Cwismas.” When asked what one present she wanted Santa to bring, Bailey looked deep in a thought and then said, “I think I want the sticker machine, what to make stickers for people. And, that’s all. Or, maybe the Dora doll.”

“I see. I see,” Santa said. And, with tears in his eyes, he said, “I’ve got somebody working on that right now.”

After the photo, Aiden walked over to retrieve his little sister. He aimed her toward Mom, and then climbed into Santa’s lap. “Aiden, I can’t believe you want a picture with Santa.” -- Aiden shook his head. “I don’t, Pop. If such a thing like that got out, the guys at school would kill me. No, sir, I just wanted to see what it was like here.”

“You never did believe in Santa, did you?”

“No, Pop. Didn’t make sense. But, it’s cool that you do this. Oh, and I wanted to say I’m sorry for getting upset about the drums. You would get ‘em if you could. Things will get better.” Santa’s loving look caused Aiden to add, “Uh, don’t hug me now, okay Dad?”

Galen apologized for the near disaster. The he asked if his son had any second choices for Christmas. “Well, it’d be nice if we could get a flat screen TV and have the cable turned back on, but that’s not happening, is it” Galen shook his head. “Then I just want you to pick something out that you’d like to have. We’ve got the same taste.”

Before Elf Wanda could snap a shot, Aiden hopped off Santa’s lap and went to watch his sister while his mom sat on Santa’s lap. “What on earth are doing?” Santa asked. --“I’m hittin’ on Santa; what does it look like?”

“Hey, you can’t do that lady. Just tell me what you want for Christmas. No hanky panky.” -- “Well, let me think. What I’d really like is a night out with my husband. Maybe a movie, a large popcorn and then some seafood at Babin’s. That’s what I’d really like.”

Santa thought for a moment and then said, “How about a movie, we split a small popcorn, and then we split a meal at Black Eyed Pea?” – “Sounds great, but where would we find a cheap sitter for the kids?” – Santa gave an assuring nod and said, “I think Aiden can handle it. The kid has grown up quite a bit over the past year. Both of ‘em have. You know, a month after Christmas, I’m gonna check on e-bay. There’s bound to be someone trying to unload a set of drums. As much as I hate the thought, I think we should get Aiden a set.” That’s when Kate kissed Santa… right there in the mall.

And, that was the prelude to Christmas 2009 for the Sutton family. The only tangible evidence of the happening is a framed picture sitting atop the old 27 inch Zenith. It’s a photo of Kate, Aiden and little Bailey all snuggled on Santa’s lap.

“I wish Daddy coulda been dare,” Bailey said. “Then it would be da berry best picture dare is.” Bailey is a true wonderment. A freckled-faced, red-haired, camo-capped wonderment… with a new sticker-making machine. Oh, and a Dora the Explorer doll.


Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Christmas light speedster guy

MARK’S ARTICILE -- December 17, 2009

"A Christmas light tour"

There might be some cause for worry here. No one has mentioned driving around to look at Christmas lights. I’ve brought the subject up more than once, but you’d think I was asking people to sniff my socks.

You know what it is, don’t you? The Plilers say I drive too fast through the neighborhoods. One speed bump incident eight years ago and they go crazy. Won’t let it die. Two chipped teeth, a nosebleed and a bruised spleen. You’d think I’d killed somebody. I didn’t even know you could bruise a spleen.

Isn’t there a law against unmarked speed bumps? Aren’t they supposed to be painted with some kind of reflective material? This one was painted with cloaking paint. The road looked flatter than a 50-cent burger. The strewn hubcaps along the road were the only indication that the bump was there. Doesn’t matter. I’ve now got the reputation of a… uh, Christmas-light, driving speedster guy. Something like that.

Kay has even bought into the myth. "Not tonight, Dear. I’ve got to straighten out the Jell-O mold." Looks like I’m gonna have to go by myself. "Pick a night, Mark." I’ll show ‘em. They’re gonna laugh themselves all the way into a… uh, no-Christmas-light touring bunch of silly people. What I’m sayin’?

There’s another Christmas first I’m considering. I’ll tell you, but you’ve gotta promise to keep it to yourself. Promise? Okay, get in close. No pinching. I’m thinking of going to the movie Christmas day. Shhh! What’d I tell you?

Did you know that "Sherlock Holmes" is opening on Christmas Day? Well, it is. Years ago, I would’ve never considered this. That was back when I actually got stuff to play with for Christmas. And, back when we played football after we ate.

Some of you may be thinking that it’s irreverent to go to a movie on Christmas. Mom would’ve even gotten after me for the mere thought. But, Mom’s reasoning was all warped.

Is going to a movie any worse than staying home and eating till you about get sick? Or, trying to throw family members in the mud while playing football? Or getting a new stopper gun and trying to make a stopper stick to Al’s forehead? I don’t think so. Each of ‘em may wear the taint of irreverence, but each is something Mom did herself. Except for the stopper gun. -- "Mark, you quit aiming that thing at your brother! I’ll bop you with this stupid lamp your father bought me!" Ah, Christmas memories.

When you shuck down the corn, I think it’d be a blessing if I took Kay out on a date Christmas Day. The only reservation I have is that the people running the concession will be teenagers forced to work on Christmas Day. That’s a gross trick waiting to happen.

As long as the trick is covert, I’m okay with it. Unlike a speed bump, I’d just as soon not know about popcorn tampering. I eat popcorn so fast that I only taste about a tenth of a bag. Kay gripes about that, too. Calls me a, uh… a too fast popcorn eating person. That’s one of the things she calls me.

Well, see you at the movie. Or not. I’m thinking not.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Hairless Vampires and Big Dogs

MARK’S ARTICLE – December 11, 2009

I took Kay to the movie last weekend to see “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.” For those of you out of step, that’s the movie about the teenage vampires and werewolves. Young people are going gaga over it. And, some older people. No men.

Kay is not a fanatic by any means, but she has read all four Twilight books. It’s no biggee, though, ‘cause the girl reads a lot of different stuff. Constantly.

I can read, too, but not as fast as Kay. Kay reads at least ten times faster than I do. That’s ‘cause I look at all the words and say them in my head. Kay doesn’t like to dwell. Her eyes flow over a page like waves over a fish carcass. Or, waves over an empty perfume bottle. Yeah, more like that.

She did enjoy the Twilight read, though, and suggested we see the latest movie. Since there was nothing I really cared to see, I took her up on it. You give me a big enough bag of popcorn and I’ll sit through a halftime performance.

The Twilight movie turned out to be more like five consecutive halftime performances. There’s not a big enough bag.

Nothing I say about the movie will in any way sway Twilight fans’ view of it. But, between non-fans and me, I gotta say it was beyond sappy. Sappy plus. The acting was actually quite good, though. It took super actors to deliver some of that stinky dialogue.

On the bright side, I did learn a lot about vampires and werewolves. Vampires aren’t really scared of the sun. It’s just that they get all glittery-looking when they’re in sunlight. They’re not supposed to let people know they’re vampires, so they stay in the shadows. I had no idea. Neither did Bela Lugosi. The guy was an idiot.

And, most vampires aren’t all that mean. They just get real excited about human blood. Kind of like I am with cashews. Well, not that bad, but close. Oh, and werewolves are really just wolves. Big wolves. And, the moon doesn’t make them turn. It’s when they get angry or excited. I didn’t know that. Kay said the werewolves in Twilight weren’t really werewolves. More like shape-shifters. Ooookay.

Something else I discovered was the fact that the young men of today have no chest hair. When I was growing up we had hair on our chest, backs and toe-tops. Boys today are hairless. I think it’s those I-Pod things.

You surely know that there are two camps forming over which boy in Twilight the main girl should go with. Should she choose the pale, thin vampire or the tanned, buffed-up werewolf? Most of us know that she should pick the vampire. I’m as straight as you can get, but I gotta say that that vampire guy is super cute. The wolfboy was just muscles.

As we left the theatre, Kay apologized. Told me that since I had been so nice about the movie, she’d go to the next big, stupid action flick with me. I’m thinking the next Rambo. “Rambo 9: Boy, is he mad!”

Speaking of which, I’d take Rambo over either one of those hairless Twilight guys. I mean, I wouldn’t date ‘em or anything! Sheesh! I go to one vampire chick-flick and I end up having to defend myself. Ridiculous. Uh, regardless, no one mention this to my brothers, okay? Let’s just move along, people. Nothing to see here.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Man against crab: A saga.

MARK’S ARTICLE -- December 4, 2009
“Crab Man”

Yesterday evening after supper I ended up cleaning two pair of pliers, two box-cutters and a hammer. We had one serious meal. I don’t care to duplicate the experience any time soon.

It was Kay’s fault. That morning she called me from work to tell me that Kroger had crab legs on sale for a penny short of five dollars a pound. That meant something to her. The news was lost on me, though.

Kay went on to tell me about the time she bought a pound of crab legs and had a feast. I said, “Was I born yet?” That’s what I say when I don’t remember stuff that happened.

Kay told me that she did it when I was out of town the last time. I asked her why she never told me. After all, it’s weird. We’d never done the crab leg thing before. She said that she just likes to do wild things when I’m out of town. That was comforting as all get out.

I told her that I don’t know how to cook crab legs. I don’t. She said you’re supposed to steam ‘em. Suggested I get two pounds of ‘em while they were still on sale.

I ended up getting a few ounces over three pounds. I seriously doubted I’d ever get crab legs again, so wanted to get my fill. Always thinking.

Don’t know if you’ve ever steamed crab legs. They’re a rather unwieldy entree. Gangly is what they are. Takes a massive contraption to steam those buddies. I first thought of boiling ‘em. Everything I read mentioned that they needed to be steamed, not boiled.

Why is that? You can boil a lobster, boil a shrimp and boil and egg, but you steam a crab. One thing I read said to keep ‘em at least two inches above the water. That’s one finicky crustacean, you ask me.

By the time Kay got in I had a small pot of cooked rice and a pan of stir-fried veggies on the stove. A wash tub of steamed crab legs took up most of the table. I used every pot in the house. Glad no one was filming the spectacle.

Kay came to the table with a pair of pliers and a screwdriver. I went to the toolbox and grabbed box cutters, channel locks and a hammer. Mealtime.

Do you peel till you get a whole pile of crab, or just eat as you go? I did some of both. Oh, the horror. I sent crab juice flyin’ all over the place. Kay was daintier, but still worked up a sweat. When the fog of crab settled, the table looked like a herd of otters had been amongst us. Herd of something.

And, like I said, the cleanup was massive. Don’t know if you’re aware, but you have to disassemble box cutters to completely de-crab ‘em. The hammer was no trouble. The pliers, just awkward.

I ended up mopping part of the floor, spot-cleaning the curtains and lighting three scented candles. Heck of a meal. The stuff of legend.

It’ll never happen again. Wouldn’t have happened this time had it not been for Kroger. Can’t believe they did that. Of course, part of the blame is mine for going out of town. She likes to do “wild things” she says. That’s just scary.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Years of Thanksgiving

MARK’S ARTICLE – November 26, 2009 “Thanksgiving”

There is no better time of the year than from now till about the second day in January. I just love it. Can’t get enough of it… oh, baby. (Sorry. I was working on a song there. I’m through.)

What makes me/us get so excited about this time of year is the memory of the fun we had last year at this time. It was the stuff of traditions. Traditions are fun. They’re seldom as fun as you remember, but what is? The bad thing about traditions is the fact that they’re gonna croak. They just have to.

The Hayters used to always gather at Mom’s on Thanksgiving and chow down, rest a few minutes and then play football. Started out as flag football, ended up as a brawl. I loved it, and I’m sure you all loved reading about it. What?

But those days are gone. Mom’s not here to cook all that food for one thing. For another, she’s not here for the big football game. I remember I used to whisper to Big Al (captain of the other team) that we were getting ready to call Mom’s number. That meant, let the woman catch the ball.

Lynda would hike me the ball and I’d lob it to Mom, who would occasionally catch the thing. The times she did, she’d start screaming and running in some direction until somebody brought her down. Can’t do that anymore.

Can’t pile on top of our big brother Larry after he makes a fantastic catch, while ending up in a sea of mud. Oh, those were the days. No more. And, that’s a good thing. I would absolutely break if someone tackled me today. Or, piled on top of me. I don’t mean I’d pull something or dislodge something. I would absolutely break. “What happened to Mark?” – “I think he broke.”

Truth is, our entire Thanksgiving tradition is pretty much a thing of the past. Last year, Kay and I had Thanksgiving at our house. Only Big Al and Jill’s family came. The others did their own thing with in-laws and grandkids. We had plenty of leftovers.

This year, Kay and I are again hosting Thanksgiving. And, again, it will only be Jill and Al’s families here. We’ll have a blast, but it won’t become a tradition. I won’t let it. I much prefer showing up somewhere else and leaving once the fun is gone. You can’t beat a deal like that.

Fortunately, I have a plan to kill any notion of a Mark’s House Thanksgiving Tradition. This year, after we eat, I’m going to get people to help me take down a dead tree. A sweetgum that lightning got to. I’ll have ‘em sawing and chopping and stacking until they’re begging to go home. Yeah, they’re gonna remember this one.

I think I’d even have Mom’s blessing on this thing. She was always reasonable. Couldn’t play football worth a flip, but she was a wise woman. If they have football in heaven, she’s probably running and screaming to beat the band. She was an easy take down. We had to tackle her on top of Larry, so he could cushion her fall and keep her from breaking.

We didn’t wanna break Mom. Moms are the stuff of tradition. You’ve just gotta hold to ‘em till you can’t. Then you move along.

Well, on that note, Happy Turkey Day, readers. Let’s have fun out there. – Next time.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Texas: Let's be nice, people.

MARK’S ARTICLE – November 20, 2009 Finding a kinder image for Texas

Today, I thought we’d talk about Texas. It happens to be on my mind because of a talk I just delivered in the Woodlands to the Lone Star Chapter of the Sons of the Republic of Texas. The ol’ LS Cot Sot RoT. (I like to form acronyms to help me remember stuff. Sometimes it doesn’t help.)

When first asked to speak to such an austere group, I was quite reluctant. Scared is what I was. Sons of the Republic for goodness sake! No way could I match them in pride for or in knowledge of the State. I was born and raised in Texas, but, sheesh, I’m no Republic’s son.

To be qualified to join the Sons of the Republic, you must first be a son, and then be able to trace your direct lineage back to the time Texas was a Republic -- March 2, 1836 to February 19, 1846. I can only go back as far as 1853.

I’ve probably mentioned this more than once, but my grandpa’s grandpa, Andrew Shannon Hayter, settled what is today known as Arlington, Texas. From 1875-1877 the town was known as Hayterville. (I’m not making this up.)

When the railroad came to town, Great Great Grandpa Andrew not only surveyed the area for the railroad, but he also suggested they change the name of the town. He recommended naming the place after Robert E. Lee’s homestead, Arlington. It’s just like a Hayter. Reeking with humility. About makes me sick.

When I told that story to the Sons of the Republic, they didn’t appear all that excited about it. Hey, one of the guys traced his lineage to Jim Bowie. A surveyor and Presbyterian minister can’t compete with a hero of the Alamo.

Instead of trying to impress the audience with my knowledge an expertise on Texas, I decided to enlist their help in a project. That project being, to improve the image of Texas.

In order to do that I had to establish the fact that Texas does seem to have a bad image. Don’t know if you’ve noticed. You might venture across state lines to find out for yourself. When I asked those in the audience why we might have a poor image, the answer I got was because people of other states are jealous.

I expected that. And, I’m sure it’s true. However, I venture that another reason is that some Texans (a few) act like jerks. I saw a guy at the Fair on the Square in Crockett who was wearing a Tee Shirt with a slogan on the back that read, “I’m from Texas, @#%& You. Only it really spelled out the word.
I just don’t think that’s nice. I would’ve told him so, but he was a big ol’ kid. Way up there he was.

One of my favorite songs of Shake Russell, a Texas gem, is a song he wrote and performed for the TV series “The Eyes of Texas.” ( Near the end of the song he sings, “The Eyes of Texas, the hearts and the hands, say welcome stranger, Texas means friend.” That guy in Crockett was trying to tell everyone that Texas means “Jerk”. That shouldn’t be.

I don’t really think the Governor’s mention of seceding from the union did a lot to promote the State. Of course, I think he was joking. Might’ve been joking. Bad joke.

Regardless, if we did secede we would be forming a nation with one of the most inefficient Constitutions ever written. The citizens would hafta vote on everything. That’d be okay, I guess, but few Texans vote. In the last election over the Amendments only seven percent of qualified voters voted. The outcome of that election ended up added to our State Constitution. Eleven new amendments.

Our Constitution has well over a thousand amendments. We have possibly the only State Constitution with the word “idiots” in it. Somewhere along page 159 it reads that County Judges shall “…appoint guardians of minors, idiots, lunatics, persons non compos mentis and common drunkards.”

There’s bound to be a legal definition of “idiot” ‘cause, without one, any of us could be guardianshiped on any given day. For all I know, I’m already non compos mentis. What I’m thinking.

Yes, I did some joking around, but that’s pretty much what I do. And, all in all, I was received well.

And, why not? I was just trying to spark a desire to promote a kinder image of Texas. I’m doing my part… even though I am rather miffed that Great Great Grandpa Andrew suggested Hayterville be changed to Arlington. That really ticks me off.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Kay's forever blowing bubbles

MARK’S ARTICLE -- November 16, 2009
“Forever blowing bubbles”

Kay and I went to a wedding a couple of months back where, instead of a handful of rice to throw at the couple, we were each given a tiny vial of that bubble blowing liquid. Cool.

The lid to the vial had a little hoop thing affixed to it. Kay and I didn’t stick around for the bubble blowing, ‘cause it was apparent the bride and groom intended to stick around longer than I cared to. A wedding can really drag. Have you noticed? So, Kay and I left, but we took our bubble blowing stuff with us.

Once home, Kay ended up using all of her bottle of bubbles and then used up mine. I thought that perfectly swell, ‘cause a little bit of bubble blowing goes a long way with me. “Oh, look, bubbles! That’s about enough of that.”

I was the same way as a kid. I had a very short fascination span. If the model airplane had more than four parts, I wasn’t gonna finish it. “Okay, this is too complicated. I’m gonna get a stick and go hit stuff.”

Kay couldn’t get enough of blowing bubbles. When she ran out of the liquid, she got on the Internet and found out how to make her own. Something to do with glycerin. Sounded dangerous to me.

So, Kay made a barrel of the stuff. She was bubbling up the whole neighborhood. I thought it sweet. But, then she brought a quart-sized bottle of solution inside and started blowing bubbles in the living room… while I’m trying to watch a football game. She’s sitting there in the recliner making the place look like Lawrence Welk’s honeymoon night. A scene I don’t care to think about.

I first just said, “Wow, I never thought of doing that in here.” She said, “Well, it is very calming.” I had no idea.

The bubbles kept coming. They were the small ones. Billions of small bubbles drifting in front of the TV screen an all around the periphery.

I don’t know how long I let the bubble blowing go on. Seemed like an hour or two. I kept thinking she would tire. She didn’t. I hated to stop her, ‘cause she said it was calming. I like a calm Kay. I sure need to be more calm, but bubbles have no affect on me. Just the opposite.

Any minute now, she’s gonna stop. I can wait this thing out. I even threw out a hint. I said, “I wonder if when a bubble pops it leaves a stain on the furniture.” Kay said, “I don’t think so.” More bubbles.

Don’t say anything. Don’t say anything, I kept telling me. In the middle of one of my warnings, I heard somebody say, “Uh, Darling, that’s really annoying.” I have no idea where it came from. Sounded like my dad’s voice, but it couldn’t have been.

Without a word… no words, Kay got up and left the room. I had no idea what point she was trying to make. I would’ve asked, but I’ve learned never to ask if you think the answer might be lead to controversy.

After the game (we won, by the way), I found Kay reading her book, and I gave her a big ol’ kiss. It might’ve helped. I don’t know. Sometimes it’s hard to read people. Even your spouse. But, not my dad. I’m pretty sure that was him surfacing with “That’s really annoying.” Yep, I’ve heard that a few times. Never over bubbles, though. Dad tired of a lot of things we did, but we never played with bubbles long enough to get yelled at. Just didn’t.


Monday, November 9, 2009

MARK’S ARTICLE -- November 9, 2009
“Trash Talk”

If you don’t mind, I thought we’d talk some trash. Never in the history of civilization has there been so much of it. We haul it into the house practically every day. And, some of it can really hurt.

See this? No, what are you lookin’ at? On my thumb! Right, Sherlock, it’s a cut. I got it while trying to open a contraption that housed a curtain rod. We have packages for curtain rods! Can you believe that? Oh, and I’m sorry about the “Sherlock” remark. I get a bit testy when I talk trash. Yeah, that’s gonna get old.

There was a time when you could go to the store and grab a curtain rod or a stopper gun or flashlight; take ‘em home and use ‘em without performing an intricate operation. You bought a naked curtain rod with a price tag on it. That’s it.

Now, all items come with a form fitting, heavy see-through plastic that sticks out four times the product’s size. And, the “plastic” has the tensile strength of titanium treated carbide steel. And, no, I have no idea what tensile strength or carbide means. Work with me.

Point is, you could drive a Humvee over the curtain rod and it would completely destroy it, but you still couldn’t open the package. It’s tougher than dried elephant snot. I read where that’s pretty tough. Bushmen use it to protect their spear points. -- What? Yeah, I couldn’t think up a good “tough” comparison. Uh, metaphor? I don’t know.

Every other time we buy an open-proof packaged product I say to Kay, “How do they think some old lady’s gonna open this?” My thumbs bleeding and I’m developing a severe eye twitch. All the while, I’m thinking of a poor grandmotherly-type yanking and pulling and gumming at the plastic demon. She eventually sits down at the kitchen table and weeps. Just breaks my heart.

By the way, after I stopped the bleeding, I tried to throw the rod containers into our tallest indoor garbage can. When I stand up in the thing it hits me mid-gut. (Don’t ask.) Yet, the slashed rod containers would not fit. Too tall. To get ‘em in, I’d hafta cut ‘em, both in two. I refused. They’re out there by the curb sticking out of a black trash bag.

By the way, there are 11 garbage cans in our house. Two people and 11 trash cans. Every Monday and Thursday morning I walk around and empty each can into a large trash bag. I seldom inspect the contents of the cans. The trash is bound to come from stuff we brought into the house. If not, I’m gonna freak.

When I was growing up, we only had two garbage cans in our house. Nine people and two garbage cans. One in the bathroom and one in the kitchen. We didn’t create all that much garbage back then. What we couldn’t eat we made into household items. “Don’t throw that broken clothes pin away. I’ll make a measuring spoon out of it.” – “But, Mom, I want it for a doll.” We were so desperate.

We got no junk mail. Everything was either a bill or letter from one of the aunts. Boring mail. If Mom hadn’t been living with us, I doubt anyone would’ve ever retrieved it.

Yes, it was a different time. Not necessarily better, just less trashy. Back then you could buy a lawnmower without cutting it out of a giant box. A ballpoint? “Hey, it’s in a jar over there. Grab one.” A TV remote? “It’s right—“ Oh, yeah, they hadn’t been invented. Like I say, it wasn’t necessarily a better time, but stuff was sure easier to get to. That’s all I’m sayin’.

Contact Mark at

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween: a family history of

MARK’S ARTICLE – October 29, 2009
“Weird is weird enough”

ROOFTOP – I thought we’d have a late night roofsit so we could better get the sense of the approaching Halloween. Sense of Halloween. Now that’s a paradox for you. Para something.

While waiting for you, I was focusing down at the yard trying to conjure the ghosts of Halloweens past. Weird, the stuff you can see up here when it’s dark.

What was particularly weird was being able see some Halloween moments that I never experienced. That’s one serious ghost encounter. What I was really doing was remembering my favorite scene from “Meet me in St. Louis.”

From up here I could picture Margaret O’Brien as she knocked on the door of the Braukoff home, grabbed a handful of flour from a paper sack, and screamed, “I hate you, Mr. Braukoff!” Then she hit him right in the face with the flour, and ran away screaming, “I killed the Braukoff!”

Upon hearing the news at the bonfire that’s blazing in the middle of the street, Darryl Hickman proclaims that “Tootie is the Most Horrible!” One of the strangest scenes of any classic movie, and just as intriguing as all get out.

Halloween has come a ways over the years, hasn’t it? Remember me telling you how Mom and her friends used to go around and cut people’s flowers on Halloween? That was during her childhood days in Oklahoma. Nothing recent.

Destroying peoples’ flowers is about as cruel as throwin’ flour at ‘em and screaming that you hate them. Makes about as much sense, too.

When I was growing up we were a little more civilized. We dressed up as hobos or ghosts and went around trying to extort candy from people. Trick or Treat! What is that if not extortion? “Give us candy or we’ll mess somethin’ up!”

Fortunately, people knew we weren’t serious. Oh, there was the occasional dirty trick played by some of the mean kids. We called ‘em hoods. These guys would egg a house or soap the windows regardless if they got candy or not. Hey, they were hoods.

We never pulled pranks. We’d holler, knock for a few seconds and then move along. Seemed we walked for miles. We’d cross from one subdivision to another, knocking on hundreds maybe millions of doors and screaming “Trick or Treat!” Often having to go home to get new grocery sacks for our candy. The sweat and some of the gooey stuff we collected could do a number on a paper sack.

Late at night (like after 9:00) we’d come home, empty our loot on spread-out newspapers, and sort our stuff. Separate piles for chocolate, suckers, hard candy, gum, popcorn balls and other homemades… Oh, and the bad candy – you know the ones – were placed in a separate bag to be eaten sometime in late February.

Today, parents would wisely refuse to let their children eat a popcorn ball or homemade goodie from a stranger’s house. In the olden days -- the days before the Pixy Stix poisonings – we trusted people a little better.

Today, Halloween has pretty much evolved into something called “Trunk or Treat.” A gated facility or church will have a party where people decorate their car trunks, and hand out candy to kids who walk around the parking lot. A kid can make quite a haul in a very short walk. Kids today have it made.

Halloween has had a few makeovers, has it not? Twenty years from now, kids will probably stay home while parents go around knocking doors and handing out candy. They’ll announce themselves by hollering, “Lab-tested Treats!”

In the meantime, you need to share your Halloweens past with the grandkids. Don’t embellish. What we did needs no embellishment. Weird is weird enough. And, you can quote me.


Monday, October 26, 2009

A peak drive

MARK’S ARTICLE – October 26, 2009
“Wind over ol’ Satchaconachi”

The highest point in the Northeastern U.S. is the 6288-foot peak of Mount Washington in New Hampshire. You’d care so much more about that if you had ever come close to being blown off that son of gun.

It’s only Kay’s constant whining and claw-like grip that made it possible for me to write this second installment of our recent New England trip. Thank you, Kay. You can let go now.

The highest wind speed ever recorded on this planet was 231 mph, recorded in 1934 at the peak of Mount Washington. The closest thing to that in the entire Solar System, if not the universe, is a gigantic tornado that’s currently whooping it up on Mars. (We can’t determine the wind speed of our own tornadoes, but we can tell how fast they go on other planets. Yeah right.)

The wind speed of the Martian tornado is only slightly less than the non-tornadic wind that blew atop Mount Washington. I’m sure it’s not the fastest that’s ever blown on the summit. It’s just that the poor sap who has to check the twirling windthinger sometimes refuses to leave his bunker. And, I apologize for the technical jargon.

The day Kay and I made it to the top of ol’ Satchaconachi (That’s the Indian name for Mount Washington. It means – “Wind Blow Like Tantu.” Odd, but no one has yet found the meaning of Tantu.)

What was I saying? Oh, yeah, on the day Kay and I went up there, the wind was a little less than 231 mph. But the wind chill was 240 degrees below zero. Remember, that’s not the real temperature. It’s just how cold it would feel if you were strapped to the windshield of a really fast-moving semi. Bottom line, it was cold up there, people.

The wind was so fierce that I couldn’t see. My eyes were just a glob of tears. Frozen tears. Your eyes water big time when a cold wind hits ‘em. They also water when you’re bawling like a baby. Just thought I’d throw that in.
I would’ve turned and walked backwards, but Kay would’ve kept kneeing me. The girl was attached to me at the waist and shoulders. If she had let go, we probably both would’ve taken off. Had I even glanced up, my souvenir cap would’ve ended up on the deck of a Japanese whaler. In which case, the bald spot of my head would’ve developed frostbite and they would’ve had to amputate the part of my brain responsible for intelligent reasoning. Squirrel!

We did get a certificate for making it to the top of the peak. Also got a bumper sticker, which reads “This car climbed Mt. Washington.” I would’ve stuck it on our car, but it was a renter.

We did end up with a bunch of pictures of our journey up the mountain. No photos were taken on the descent. It was all I could do to drag Kay out of the visitor center for our trek to the car. She’d still be up there on that mountain with nothing but really bad chili to eat.

Makes one realize that Mars has nothing on ol’ Satchaconachi. I’m here to tell you, hadn’t been for Kay’s claw-like grip, you would’ve missed out on all this. You would’ve, instead, read something about it in Section A. -- “Conroe couple blown off mountain. Man’s $10 souvenir cap ends up on Japanese eel boat.” – Next time.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

New England: Worth the trip for the lobster alone

Photo of the bay at Camden, Maine

MARK’S ARTICLE – October 21, 2009 “In search of more lobster”

CAMDEN, MAINE – Vacations would be so much more pleasant if it weren’t for all these tourists. You couldn’t stir people with a foremast bilge gaff.

I just made that up. I was looking for something nautical sounding to match the area. A fishing town we be in. Fishing and touristy it be. Oh, and lobstery. I really like that about this place.

Kay wanted to make the New England trip mostly to see the fall colors. I came for the lobster. The foliage is just butter on the crustacean for me. So far we’ve each had two lobster rolls and a whole lobster.

It was the first whole lobster I’ve ever had. And, I was the only one in the restaurant who put the little plastic bib on. I smashed the daylights outta that poor lobster. Sent lobster spray all over the room. People were ducking. It was delicious.

We actually got the best lobster roll in New Hampshire. I believe Conway was the name of the town. Twitty’s birthplace. Maybe. Kay took a picture of the lobster roll. So far it’s my favorite picture of the trip.

I should probably tell you that we’ve also seen some beautiful country. Breathtaking. You know how on Texas maps they’ll have scenic highways highlighted? There is none of that on our New England map. Every road is scenic.

When we first got here, we stopped at each overlook and snapped pictures. Dozens of stops. Hundreds of photos. After a few hours we pretty much quit with the photography. – “Oh, my goodness! Look at that!” – “Yeah, yeah, it’s a pond with some pretty trees. I’m lookin’ for lobster, here!”

In New England they don’t have lakes. They have ponds. Ponds are as big as our lakes, but just not named right. Golden Pond was really a lake. Did you pick up on that? You ol’ poop. (If you didn’t see the movie, don’t read anything into that remark. It was meant to be cute.)

Oh, and speaking of New Hampshire, did you know that their Farm to Market Road signs have the outline of Arizona on ‘em? Looks like that from a distance. I thought New Hampshire went in with Arizona to save some money.

Turns out the New Hampshire image is actually the outline of that Old Man of the Mountain Rock they’ve got. The one whose face fell off a few years back. Now it’s just Old Faceless Rock. Sad. But, the citizens will not let the image die. They keep it on their highway signs. Looks a lot like the outline of Arizona.

Besides lobsters, beautiful foliage, lots of tourists, and Arizona signs, they also have moose here. I haven’t seen one, but I’ve seen the warning signs. Every hundred yards they have a highway sign that reads “Brake for Moose.” Without those signs, people would just run right over ‘em.

At the bottom of the sign they have a serious warning meant to scare the willies out of you. Says something like, “A billion people die each day from hitting a moose.” You’d think by now it’d know to stay outta the road.

I’ve got a bunch of other fascinating stuff to tell you about the trip, but I see my time is up. I’ll hafta write a sequel. Till them, I’m on a lobster quest. This time I’m getting the Lazy Lobster plate. That’s the one where they do all the lobster smashing for you. It cost a little more, but well worth it. I’m here to tell you that I beat the daylights outta that poor thing.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A family in search of a host/hostess

MARK’S ARTICLE – October 13, 2009
“Jill dry-docks Juggernaut”

I don’t know if you’re aware but last month Jill gave up her role as family organizer and go-to person. Just flat out quit. I would’ve told you earlier, but wasn’t sure how you would take the news. It hit me pretty hard.

Jill didn’t quit ‘cause she was upset about anything. She was just tired. I can certainly understand why. Nearly every get-together our family has had since, oh, the last three decades has been organized and, for the most part, hosted by my kid sister. She took responsibility for finding a time that would come closest to suiting everyone, telling each person what to bring and setting up the appropriate games and prizes.
This is the winning team in one of the family's Thanksgiving Day Football games. I don't remember the score of the game, but I assure you that Jill included it in the Family Newsletter.

Jill not only wrestled with that kind of stuff, but she also managed to publish a family newsletter from ’88 through ’99. There were few secrets in our family during that time. Jill told all.

Here, I’ve saved all copies. Let’s see what she wrote this time back in ’88. Okay, it seems that we drew names for Christmas at our October get-together. Someone even had an idea to draw names for birthdays. That way we only had to buy one birthday gift a year. Don’t remember how that went over. I’m sure mine was a “Yea” vote.

Look at this, Larry sent in a joke in this issue. It’s old as the hills. I think I’ll share it. – A duck goes into a fancy restaurant and orders the most expensive thing on the menu. The waiter asks him how he’s gonna pay for it. Cash or credit card? The duck says, “Just put it on my bill.” -- Larry is such a goober.
This is Lynda performing at one of Jill's hosted parties. The girl was rockin' out!

There is news of softball and volleyball games. News of family happenings small and… well, mostly small. There is one big story about our niece Cheryl helping the police catch a car thief. Great story. She had to go undercover. And, she’s not even a cop!

So much stuff. So many family stories. That was awhile back. After closing down the newsletter, Jill still continued taking care of all get-togethers. Kept at it even after Mom passed. I think that’s really what made her tire of it. Her heart’s not in it as much now.

As soon as I got word from Jill that she was quitting, I sent all family members the following e-mail:

On September 1, twenty-hundred and nine, a date that will live in family infamy, Jill resigned as matriarch of the family gatherings. A week of mourning has been called for and ratified by the powers that be. Take my word. All trophies won and/or photos taken at previous get-togethers are to be turned to face the wall, not to be righted again until midday of Sept. 8, 2009.

You served your family well, Jill. By lifting a huge load from yourself, you have left us a miserable mass of familydom. Your tremendous effort was never in vain, nor your intense responsibilities and unwavering devotion likely ever to be forgotten. Signed: #3 Son.

The costume that should've won the best costume award at the '87 Hayter Halloween Party hosted by Jill... of course.

So, there you have it. The family is stunned, but not undone. It takes more than this to dry-dock this juggernaut. We’re too close. We’re too—Oh, who am I kidding? We’re dead in the water. Somebody has got to step up to the plate before Halloween. We’ve already missed Dennis’ birthday. Time for a “Draft Jill” movement. I’ll be probably be calling you this week for donations. Hey, everybody else does it. – Next time.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

From the Old School

MARK’S ARTICLE – October 8, 2009
“Crying over packbacks and bad candy”

While I wouldn’t care to be a young person in today’s society, I sure envy ‘em for what all they have. Those lucky ducks.

Nowadays the first thing a kid needs before starting school is a backpack. I don’t think they’ll let you in the door without one. Backpacks weren’t invented when I was a kid. Probably doesn’t matter, ‘cause the principal wouldn’t have let us use ‘em. -- “You like that thing, do you? Makes school easier does it? Well, you can’t use it.”

No we had to carry everything separate. I had this giant, drab-colored, zip-up loose-leaf notebook. I could carry crayons and a ruler and glue and stuff, but it wouldn’t hold all my books or my lunch. No, we had to carry our stuff loose. That way, when someone tripped us, everything would fly all over the place. Or when they’d sneak up behind and tug on your books, there’d be an avalanche. It was supposed to be funny.

A backpack would’ve been way cool. Can you imagine the first kid who tried it and got away with it? “Hey, Sara’s got this backpack or packback! We haven’t named it, yet. But, get this, she never has to go to her locker. And, best of all, old Mrs. Thumphead says it’s okay to bring it to school!” That’s probably the way it happened.

Molly Reeves was the first person to ever bring a lunchbox to school. I’m pretty sure that’s been documented. It was an Annie Oakley. She was standing on a galloping horse while shooting at something. Annie Oakley, not Molly. Some of you are just too cute for words.

Regardless, I never had a lunchkit. That’s what we called ‘em. Not lunchboxes. I always carried my lunch in a brown paper sack. And, it always had a little wet spot at the bottom, where my pickle bled through. Mom always stuck a pickle in our lunches. I never told her I didn’t want a pickle, ‘cause every once in awhile I’d eat it. You can never know for sure when you might wanna pickle. If I had mentioned it to Mom I would’ve never had one on the rare days I wanted one.

Back then, the only things we had to wrap food in were either wax paper or aluminum foil. Foil was way too expensive, so Mom always bought Cut-Rite wax paper. Cut-Rite started making wax paper right after Thomas Edison invented it. Edison said it was leak proof. He apparently tested it on a lot of different wet things. Everything but a pickle.

Regardless, wax paper was the universal wrap of preference. Up until Alexander “Zip” Conrad invented the ziplock bag. Genius it was! But, it came too late to do me any good. I developed a reputation. -- “Do you know Mark? The kid with the leaky lunch? Well, I avalanched him, and his books went flyin’. Flattened his lunch. Whatta dweeb!”

I always wanted a lunchkit and thermos. All the kids with nice parents had ‘em. One kid in class had that Commando Cody kit with the spaceship thermos. I tried to trade him my Fanner Fifty for it once. He laughed at me. Like I was an idiot. Well, who’s laughin’ now? -- That doesn’t apply to anything. I just felt like sayin’ it.

I wasn’t the only kid with no lunchkit. A few others were bag-toters. That’s what they called us. Lowdown bag-toters. Some of the kids actually twisted the tops of their bags, so you couldn’t tell if they were carrying a lunch or a bag of marbles. Everyone was wise to ‘em, though. You carried marbles in a sock. Not a bag. Those poor slobs.

Now, few kids have lunchkits, ‘cause they buy their lunches. It’s not a nutritious or even a tasty lunch, but it’s so much better than having the stigma of one who brings a meal to school. Kids can’t handle stigmas today. We were so much tougher. “Sticks and stones…” We drew it like it was a pistol. We had to.

Oh, and speaking of dumb kids, I was paying my check at Cracker Barrel the other day when I spied some bags of those orange, peanut-shaped, hard marshmallow candies. (Sometimes they’re pink instead of orange. Cracker Barrel is big on retro candy)

I told the kid who was checking me out that I doubted he sold many of those. He said, “You’re kiddin’. Those things are great.” That’s what he said, the little lunatic. When I was growing up, Dad only bought one kind of candy. Cheap. Apparently peanut marshmallows and orange slices and individually wrapped balls of bad taffy were cheap, ‘cause we sure got a lot of ‘em.

It’s terrible to be in the mood for a good ol’ Almond Joy and have to settle for a lousy orange slice or taffy ball or -- somebody just shoot me – pink or orange peanuts!

“Those things are great!” What kind of sheltered life has that boy led? He’s had so many Almond Joys and Snickers that he actually cherishes an orange or pink marshmallow peanut. He’d probably turn flips for a taffy ball. I feel a cry comin’ on.

Unfortunately, time does not serve for me to mention the fountain pens that would leak inside your notebook, or the 1949 Compton’s Encyclopedias that I used all the way through my Elementary and High School days. No telling how smart I would’ve become had I had a Pentel Hypergel roller ball pen or the Internet. Either one.

No, like many of you, I was raised in The Day. A time before backpacks. A time of paper bag lunches and bad candy. A time when high-top Keds were the Air Jordans of the day. A time when a boy wasn’t aware of how stupid it looked to ride a stick horse. Even at the age of 18.

But, we survived. And, we’re better for it. No idea why, but it’s good to think. Yeah, like I said, I wouldn’t trade places with youngsters today, but I sure wish I had had access to some of the neat stuff they’ve got.

Of course, if my Dad were alive, he’d probably tell me about the time he wrote his homework with a piece of coal on a shovel. Dad had some pretty good suffering stories. He seemed to always come up with one after he brought home a bag of those lousy marshmallow peanuts. Okay, it’s handkerchief time. – Next time.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

The lawnmower blues

MARK’S ARTICLE – October 4, 2009 “Probably broke a Commandment. Maybe a Beatitude”

ROOFTOP – Have you noticed how this turbo vent seldom turns? You’ve been up here long enough to have noticed. Last time it was so stationary we used it to set our coffee mugs on. Remember? Well, we did. The thing doesn’t turn.

And, today we have a bit of a breeze and the thing acts like it’s asleep. What I’ve got here is a hole in the roof with a vented metal bulb over it.

I’m pretty sure what happened is I didn’t make it tall enough. The turbo just barely clears the peak of the roof. It probably needs to stick way up there. I should’ve known better than to try to install it myself. -- Beg pardon? What’d I miss?

I didn’t think we should pass up a nice day like this. It is the first halfway cool day since mid-May. It’s been overcast since early morning. I decided that if it stayed that way till after lunch, we’d go roofward. Not bad is it?

The lawn looks nice too, doesn’t it? I’m sure you were going to mention that at some point. I’m really proud of my Honda self-propelled mower. The thing doesn’t cut as wide a swath as I’d like, but it sure starts easy.

Usually when I mow I’m afraid to kill the mower to talk to a neighbor or pick up a limb. Too afraid I’d have trouble getting the mower restarted. That trait, attitude, weirdity… was caused by years of bad mowers.

When I was a kid, we never let the mower die till the job was done. Our first un-rented mower was a 20-inch piece of junk with a blade. You’d have better luck getting a cat to whistle than to start the thing before the 20th pull. .

The only thing dad knew to do with the lawnmower was to change the sparkplug. He had a drawer full of sparkplugs. All sizes. I don’t think he ever threw one away. So, we’d replace one bad sparkplug with one as bad.

Eventually, the mower would start, and Dennis and were off to the races. We’d take turns running around the yard pushing that small-wheeled piece of… I’m sorry. I kind of got carried away. Point is, I like my new Honda mower.

One of my neighbors signaled me a couple of weeks ago while I was mowing. Wanted to have a chat. I don’t think Jerry ever worries about turning his mower off to do stuff. He must’ve had good mowers when he was a kid.

Now he’s got a riding mower that cuts a serious swath. I think it’s a John Deere. Or, at least, John Deereish in color. I don’t know if that’s ever been said. John Deereish in color.

When I see Jerry mowing his lawn, I really have to wrestle with the ol’ tenth Commandment. That is the one about coveting, isn’t it? Might be bearing false witness. Hope not. That one sounds worse than coveting. With coveting I’m just thinking that I wish I had Jerry’s mower. Better than that, one of those turn on a dime things. I could mow my lawn in 20 minutes with one of those.

But, forget that. I’m trying to tell you about my neighbor comin’ over to chat, but someone keeps interrupting me. So, Jerry waves at me and I cut the mower off. Didn’t give it a second thought. It’s a Honda.

Jerry walks over and I take off my cap and wrestle off my doctor’s mask that I wear for allergies. I don’t know if it works, but it sure makes my face hot and sweaty.

We talked for a good while about… I don’t know. Nothin’ important. Then he went back to doing his chores and I slipped the mask over my head, put on my cap and pulled the cord on the mower. That bubba started right up. I almost cried. I only wish Dad had lived to see a mower that starts on the first tug.

Unfortunately, things turned bad quickly. I’d gone back and forth and around a few trees before I noticed that my safety glasses weren’t fogging over. That was odd. It didn’t take long for me to figure out the reason. I wasn’t wearing them. Apparently, they flew off when I took my mask off to talk to Jerry.

So, again I stop the mower. I walked all over the place looking for those glasses. Well, not on the next block. That’d be stupid. Eventually, I gave up and went back to mowing. Wasn’t long before I ran over the glasses. They had apparently camouflaged themselves.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a pair of safety glasses hit by a mower. It looks cool. They got hit right at the nosepiece. Ended up with two curved lenses with mangled arms. I guess that’s what you call the two parts that set on top of your ears. Arms? Legs? Brickersnicks?

It just goes to show you that, while safety glasses will protect your eyes from hurled objects, they will in no way protect your face should a mower run over your head.

I really liked those glasses, too. They had a slight tint. And, made me look super cool. When you’re wearing a white mask out in the yard, you grab for any chance to look cool. Fortunately, I had a spare pair of glasses. They’re not dorky-looking, but not cool, either.

I’m probably breaking another commandment thinking negative like that. I should be thankful that at least I have eyes. And, a mowed lawn. Look down there. Doesn’t it look nice?

Now, if I could get this turbo vent to spin, I’d be one blessed fella. Of course, then I’d lose a setting place for my coffee mug.

The message I’m taking away from this entire roofsitting episode is that we all oughtta just count our blessings. I don’t know what all you’ve got, but I’ve got a buncha stuff. For one thing, I’ve got you to join me up here on the roof. All six of you. And, I’ve got a lawnmower that starts on the first tug. You add Kay to that mix and I’m one blessed guy.

Whoa! And, if I could get Kay to help mow, I’d-- And, there you have it. I pushed too far. Just went over the edge again. Probably broke another Commandment. Maybe a Beatitude. Blessed is he whose wife moweth not, for he shall find rest atop his own roof. Now, that hints of blaspheme. Just say goodbye, Mark. – Next time.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Car repair made easier

Waiting room? What are we waiting for?

MARK’S ARTICLE – September 21, 2009 “And, the fourth worst driving distraction is…”

WAITING ROOM -- I’ll tell you right up front, I would not be here with you if you were the one waiting for your car to get repaired. You readers are just nicer than nice. I’m beyond flattered. I’m… Give me a second. – I’m the size bigger than Grande flattered. Venti is what I am.

Honestly, I don’t think we’ll be here all that long. They’re just checkin’ my cruise control. It went out after they changed my timing belt last week. You have to loosen up and unplug a buncha stuff to get to a timing belt. I heard that somewhere.

If your timing belt goes out while you’re driving, it will cost a lot more to repair the engine than it will to replace the thing before it goes out. A friend of mine had that happen to him. Thought I’d change mine after 90,000. I think that’s scriptural.

And, no, I don’t know what a timing belt is. I don’t think cars used to have ‘em. Dad never changed ours. To my knowledge. And, the man coulda done it. That was back in the day when you could actually work on a car yourself. I couldn’t, but Dad could. Pretty much.

I really hated it when Dad would crawl out from under the Chevy Biscayne and say, “Mark, I want you to run down to the auto parts and get me a ¾ inch reprometer arm(or something like that). Here’s 10 bucks. That oughtta cover it.”

Inside I was screaming, “Nooooooo!” I never said that to Dad, though. Don’t know for sure what he would’ve done, but it’d probably end up with me uncontrollably flinching the rest of my life. Instead, I’d say, “A reprometer arm? And, at the auto parts they’ll know what I’m asking for?” – “Sure. Go!”

The guys at the auto parts acted like they never knew what I was asking for. Either that or they just enjoyed giving me a hard time. They’d ask me a hundred questions. Questions about ratios, valve clearance, vacuum pressure, differential gap… Stuff that would bring tears. But, I had to come up with answers on the spot. Dad would expect it. I’d eventually come home to get yelled at. “What th—What is this? Doesn’t even look like a reprometer! Do you see an arm on this thing?”

I wanted to say, “Dad, we go through this every time. When will you learn not to send me?” But, you never questioned Dad’s reasoning. I guess he was thinking something about a roomful of monkeys typing out the Gettysburg Address. Something like that.

At one time I think I made four trips before bringing back the right part. Dad could’ve done it in one trip. I guess he was trying to teach me something. Humility? Like I didn’t already reek of it.

That’s pretty much why, over the years, I never tried to repair my car. No confidence. Oh, I once tightened a flywheel on my LeMans, and put shocks on my old pickup. I even adjusted a carburetor once. Cars don’t have carburetors anymore. They’ve got… something else.

Today’s cars are so complicated that you need a computer to figure out what’s wrong. That’s why I always take my car back to the dealership. They’ve got the right computers with the right codes. You’ve gotta have the codes. I have no idea what that means.

Right now they’re just looking at my cruise control. I’ve gotta have it. Do you have any idea how many speeding tickets I’d have without cruise control? That was rhetorical. Quit guessing. You were way low, anyway.

Before the advent of cruise control, my speed varied depending on what I was thinking while driving. If I thought about an action movie, I drove fast. Plumbing jobs made me go slow. A visit to Hobby Lobby would occasionally have me pulling to the side of the road.

What you’re supposed to do if you don’t have cruise control, is to pick a car that’s going about the right speed and plant your bumper on it’s tail. I read that on “Hints from Heloise.” Probably. If everyone tried that, the first guy on the freeway would set the speed for the entire day.

What reaction do you have when you see someone driving while talking on his or her cell phone. Makes you wanna kick ‘em doesn’t it. I’d be on the list of kickees, ‘cause I’ve sure done it. Fortunately, I’m smart enough to do it.

Of course, I’d rather people their phones while driving than do it in the waiting room. Listen to that lady. She acts like she’s talking to someone through a wall. Do you have any change or fruit I could throw at her? You sure?

Text messaging is also bad when you’re driving. It’s the third worst driving distraction. It’d take both hands and a bare right foot for me to text message. My nephew, C.J., can drive, talk, point and check the glove compartment while texting. He’s got a gift. It’s called a guardian angel.

By the way, the fourth most hazardous distraction while driving is blowing your nose. Takes both hands and requires focusing. Fourth worst. I doubt anybody has proved it. Big Al and I plan to prove it on one of our “From the Rooftop” episodes soon to be appearing on a local computer network. I’ll try driving while on the phone, while text messaging, while eating a burger, driving with kids in the car, while blowing my nose… eventually, while doing all at once. Hey, I can’t wait to see this. Probably should have Al try it..

Oh, and since we’re here at a car dealership, I think I’ll mention a car and bike show that’s coming up this Saturday (Sept 19). It’s being held to celebrate and support the efforts of the Texas Honor Ride. They’re the motorcyclists who accompany funeral processions of our fallen soldiers, and who are committed to helping “wounded warriors and their families.”

At the car show there will also be Frisbee dogs (little flat puppies), helicopters, live bands, food… a bunch of stuff, including Big Al and me. It’ll be eight in the morning to five in the p.m. at West Conroe Baptist Church, the corner of Longmire and Loop 336 North. Big place.

I have every confidence you’ll be there, ‘cause you showed up here in the waiting room of the car dealership. And, let me tell you, I’m blown away by it. Tearing up, even. And, it has nothing to do with what it cost to get my timing belt replaced. Hey, I don’t even know what it is.


Monday, September 14, 2009

A Galveston Birthday trip

I put this in 'cause I like Penguins.

MARK’S ARTICLE – September 14, 2009
“It turns mean at sundown”

Last Monday the Plilers and Hayters took another birthday trip. Birthdays don’t let up. Eventually they will, but right now they’re constant. Like phone calls at suppertime. Maybe not that frequent.

Maintaining our Birthday Day Trip Tradition (the ol’ BDTT), requires four trips a year. Four trips that demand we get home before sundown. Any longer than that and there are going to be fights. After ten hours with me, people get surly. Lose control. Turn into gooberheads. Mean gooberheads.

Even Kay. When we’re alone she’s okay. But, put the Plilers in the mix and Kay’s swinging away like the others. No explanation.

This time, to cut down on any rude behavior, it was decided we combine two birthdays into one. That would eliminate one occasion for fisticuffs. It was Virginia’s idea.

It was easy to figure out which birthdays would be combined. Kay and I were born two weeks apart. Kay was born on the birthday of the bombing of Hiroshima. I was born on the birthday of Benjamin Harrison. He was our 23rd President. I had to look that up. Regardless, all three births and the one bombing took place in place in August.

August is a bad month. I’m not telling you anything there. Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but August is a hot month. It’s a continuation of July, only hotter. It’s the month that puts the kabash on any grass left in yard. It’s the month when sweat pours and TV programming stinks. It’s the month that school starts. And, it’s the month Benjamin Harrison was born. Enough said.

So, in light of August’s well-earned bad reputation and of the potential for the rude behavior previously mentioned, it was decided we celebrate both August birthdays on one day in September. It was genius.

I would’ve wholeheartedly agreed to put off our birthdays till December. Birthday, Smurfday! Let’s move on, people. I’ve got too much joy to spread to get upset about birthdays.

Of course, right off the bat, we had trouble agreeing on a place for the trip. Kay wanted to go someplace we’d never been. She couldn’t think of one, ‘cause we’ve been everywhere, man. Across the burning sand… Ah, forget it.

I suggested we go somewhere we hadn’t been in ten years. Obviously, I was referring to the IMAX at Moody Gardens. I love 3-D movies on big screens. They’re so much better than 2-D movies on tiny screens. And, get this, on Monday they had a one o’clock showing of “Wild Ocean.” Wow! It’s an ocean and it’s wild. I’m there.

Unfortunately, Kay wanted to see the 11:00 showing of “Dolphins and Whales.” Not wild enough. Plus, I knew it was impossible for the Hayters and Plilers to eat breakfast out, fight traffic and make it to Galveston before eleven. We would hafta get up at four. Too many morning routines. I don’t care to talk about it.

To pacify Kay, I suggested that after the IMAX we could take the ferry to Bolivar and survey the damage Ike had done to Crystal Beach. Crystal Beach is were we used to rent a beach home for the weekend. We had a blast there. We needed to return to see what was left.

With the itinerary set, we got up Monday morning and headed for I-HOP, where they were just starting out a Football Celebration menu. Get this, they offered stuffed French toast in the shape of a football, sitting atop a sea of blueberry syrupy stuff. You can stuff anything with a fluffy whipped cream and I’ll eat it. Even a football. Oh, and I-HOP puts the coffeepot right on the table. It sounds wilder the more times I say it. Right on the table!

So, after we pigged out, we headed for Galveston. Oh, before shoving off, Freeman turned around and gave Kay and me our $15 to spend. You see, the birthday people get $15 to spend on something they wouldn’t ordinarily get. Something frivolously fun.

But, and it’s a big BUT, we’re not supposed to get the money until we decide on what we’re gonna buy with it. Hey, it reads right there in the Handbook of Traditions. So, I said, “No, Freeman. You see, we’re s’posed—“ That’s when Virginia said, “Hey, just take the money, Mark. We don’t wanna hear it.” What a rudebousky!

Well, we made it to Moody Gardens at 12:45. I was proud as could be. Freeman and I ran to the ticket office, while Kay and Virginia sat at a picnic table and tried to explain to an overly friendly grackle that they had no food. According to them, the bird practically sat in Kay’s purse.

When Freeman and I got to the ticket booth, we were told that the 1:00 showing of “Wild Ocean” was cancelled due to a power outage. We could wait around till 3:00 if we wanted. No one wanted. We feared the grackle had friends.

So, we then went to lunch at an overpriced seafood restaurant (that’s so redundant). I came out in tears. Fortunately, I still had the $15 Freeman gave me.

Then we ferried over to Bolivar and saw… well, it was sad what we saw. The Gulf had moved so much closer to the highway. All of the beachfront homes we remembered were now gone. Homes that had been a good distance from the shore were now beachfront. And, the beach was, well, not all that inviting.

The little cafĂ© where we always ate breakfast was gone. I don’t mean in ruins. I mean it was no longer there. There was not a place that had not in some way been altered by the storm. None that we saw. It was a sad visit.

All in all, it turned out to be one disappointing trip. No IMAX, way expensive seafood, Crystal Beach not even a shadow of itself. And, Kay and I ended up not spending our birthday money.

Just so you’ll know, I’m saving mine for the Dollar Store. I’m buying a bunch of stuff I wouldn’t normally get. Peanuts from China, a box of Spiderman pencils, a tire pressure gage that whistles… stuff like that.

Either that or I’ll go back to IHOP for more football French Toast. And, coffee. They set the pot right there on the table. That’s wilder than wild.