Thursday, November 25, 2010


“Enjoy the moment”

How many of you sit around the table during the Thanksgiving meal and take turns telling everybody what you’re thankful for? We’ve done it a couple of times. The comments go from sappy to irreverent. The four brothers aren’t going to share an emotional moment with anyone. Particularly not with family.

The women folk generally come up with something thoughtful and sweet to say. At some point, Big Al will put the palm of his hand to his mouth and make a tooting noise. That’s pretty much why we’ve been avoiding the Thanksgiving “thankful moment.”

Some of us have trouble coming up with something to be thankful for. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been there. And, I go back there way too often. Has to do with focus.

I’ve written a bunch of articles about my childhood, about teaching and vacationing. And in almost every article I’m remembering the good stuff. The happy moments.

The scary and sad thing is that during all of those good times, I didn’t fully enjoy the moment. As a child I had fun, but there was a lot of dread floating around in my brain that made me somewhat stifle the moment of the fun.

I had great kids when I taught and had some super moments, but I was too often focused on the class preparation, the things that might go wrong, the grading of papers, and the few kids that were too often disruptive. I couldn’t let myself fully appreciate the moment. Years later I’m appreciating ‘em big time.

I believe I’ve mentioned an incident once or twice that occurred during a televised college football game. It was the Rose Bowl a few decades back. USC’s coach John McKay was giving instructions to his quarterback for a final play. He had a microphone on him so the entire country could hear the play. They wisely don’t do that nowadays.

It all hinged on this one last play. The quarterback (I can’t remember who it was.) received his instructions and turned to run back onto the field. McKay yelled the player’s name. The quarterback stopped to receive one last order from his coach. McKay calmly said, “Hey, enjoy the moment.”

Last play of the game; you’re in charge; the crowd is screaming; you win or lose based on what you’re getting ready to do. -- Enjoy the moment? – My focus would be on trying not to mess up. “Enjoying the moment” would be the farthest thing from my mind. Yet, what better thing could you possibly tell someone? (By the way, USC won the game on that play.)

How many people do you see who appear to hate the moment? Kay was sitting at the dining room table when I entered the room the other day. She said, “Are you okay?” I told her I was, and asked why she asked. She said, “Well you just groaned.” I had no idea. I even questioned her about it. Here I am walking around groaning without even knowing why.

A day or two later, she asked me what was wrong. I said, “Nothing.” She said, “Well, you just said, ‘Shoot!’ like you were upset about something.” I’m sure I was, but I have no idea what it was that disturbed me, nor do I remember saying anything. Enjoying the moment? Apparently not.

Too often I’ve got a horrible focus. And, I don’t think I’m alone in this. Think of all the fun moments we lost through bad focusing. One day they’ll show up in our memories as fun, but just not at the moment. Makes no sense.

So, at what time in our lives do we take a moment to recognize the moment? I tell you what let’s do it as soon as we finish this article. And, this Thanksgiving, whether are not we have the “what are you thankful for” discussion, let’s all concentrate on enjoying the now. It might require some serious focus, but I’ll do it if you will.

You’ll be grateful to know that there will be no collection plate passed after this sermon. And, that’s good, ‘cause right now, Big Al has his palm over his mouth and he’s making a tooting noise. Hey, it’s what he does. – Regardless, from my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving. Sappy sounding or not, I love you guys.


Friday, November 19, 2010

November 19 Rooftop article

“The roof at noon”

ROOFTOP -- Do you think it would be helpful to clean your satellite dish? Maybe a little Windex, Krud Kutter, Mop and Glo? Would that be a good thing?

I was sitting here wondering that right before you showed. The dish doesn’t appear dirty, but I did notice a spider web hanging from the protrusion dilly. The little sticking-out part. See? Let me, uh… there the web is gone… ding dong the web is gone.

Did that improve my TV reception? I wonder. I don’t come close to understanding satellite dishes and all the rays that are bombarding us, sound, light, radar, gamma…

I watched Modern Marvels on the History Channel last week. They talked about the 10 greatest innovations of our time. They didn’t bother with the wheel or fire or the bread slicer. Just technical stuff.

One of the top innovations dealt with the television. It covered several items. I just remember the parts about DVRs and movies-on-demand. They actually explained how specific movies come to your house through the air.

Do you have any idea how many movies are bouncing all over the place right now? Nobody does. We’re covered with ‘em. Did you see “Pig Hunt”? I didn’t either. It’s about a giant pig that’s really angry. I don’t care to see it, yet that thing is bouncing off me at this very moment. Giant pig rays. There is nothing about that I like.

The spider that made that web on the dish must be full of movies. If my dish wasn’t so smart, I’d be paying for all of ‘em, too. But, when they arrive, the Dish checks ‘em out. – Hey, he didn’t order “Spring Break Massacre.” I’m not letting you girls in.” I imagine that’s how it works.

Before the Modern Marvels program ended I was practically in tears. Just made me feel completely useless. I know nothing. By the way, the top innovation was the Internet. I was blown away… by the obviousness of it.

If you watch the explanation of how the Internet works, it will give you the brain blurs. A dizzy, lost-in-a-fog sensation. It even made me lose some time. I started watching the explanation Friday evening and the next thing I know it’s Saturday morning. Kay comes down the stairs and says, “Thanks for not waking me up last night when you came to bed.” – “Uh, right. By the way, what year is it?”

But, enough of all that technical stuffs. It’s a beautiful day up here and we need to take full advantage of it. Not a cloud in the sky, just a bit of a breeze and a temperature that’s sitting on warm but leaning towards cool. It’s near noon and it’s pleasant on the roof. You can’t beat a deal like that.

Hear that? No, not the dog. That igmo has been barking since daylight. It’s the jet. I can’t see it, but I can sure hear it. We’re not near enough to an airport for a big jet to be making that much noise. Y’all keep a lookout.

Reminds me of that rocket that went off somewhere in California last week. Had a vapor trail that shot up over the water and headed to the Wherevers. At one point you could see the reflection of the object in flight. However, the military knew nothing about it. No idea. Nothing showed on radar, no reports of a launch, but they weren’t worried. Swamp gas.

They didn’t really mention swamp gas, but that used to be the common excuse. “You say it was cigar shaped, hovered over that building and then lit-out at Mach 8 straight up. Yeah, that sounds like swamp gas.”

It’s enough that we know that the powers that be are not worried about a missile that shot up from nowhere and was invisible to radar. However, they’re patting down 10 percent of all airplane passengers, and subjecting the others to a mystical disrobing ray in search of a pair of Boom of the Looms.

Speaking of flying objects, did you see that grasshopper? Some of you did. That bubba flew straight into the eave. Thump! And then glided in a stagger to the ground. Grasshoppers have big eyes don’t they? Huge things. Yet, that one rams itself right into the roof. I expect that of a June Bug. But, a grasshopper?

Maybe those huge bug eyes on a grasshopper are really its nose. It’s got a dual nose thing working for it. Can’t see squat but smells the daylights out of stuff. Kind of like frogs being able to taste with their feet. I just made that up, ‘cause I couldn’t think of a real animalistic example. Seals bark with their flippers? That one’s too obvious.

Oh, speaking of seals, when we climb down from here we all have to go play on the Jungle Gym. You’ll likely not get many more chances. Kay tells me that this is the year I’m bringing that bubba down. I was supposed to back in ’03, ‘06 and ‘07, but I just wasn’t up to it. This time it’s going to happen. Says Kay. It’s old, it’s big, and it’s dangerous. So, let’s play on it while we can.
The Jungle Gym with my cool niece Maxi on board

Hey, I didn’t say now. I said… Oh, well, it is getting late. All right. Let’s the rest of us climb down and—Well, I see Bob has already hurt himself on the Jungle Gym. Kay is not going to like that. Looks like we’ll have to play King of the Jungle Gym to see who has to take him home. First one who hits the ground has to take care of Bob. – No, wait for it. Wait! Okay, charge!!


Saturday, November 13, 2010

What? No turkey leg!

“Renaissance Festival First”

Up until last Sunday afternoon, I had never been to the Texas Renaissance Festival. And you wanna know something? I didn’t feel all that bad about it.

I’ve heard the stories. A lot of oddly dressed people, a lot of weird food and a lot of silly people who shake the porta-potty while you’re in there. I don’t care for stuff like that. I don’t need stuff like that.

For years no one cared one way or the other about my snub of The Festival… not until there was Brad. Whatta goob. For whatever reason, Montgomery County food critic Brad Meyer took my non-fan Ren Fes as a challenge. He was bound and determined to drag my buns through history, all the way back to a really bad time. Said we could critique the food. That there were no porta-potties during the Renaissance, nor were there any at the Festival. They had real restrooms. He had me at no-porta.

So, Sunday afternoon I find myself entering the media office at the RF. Brad’s got his press pass and an expensive camera around his neck. All I have is Brad. He told the lady that I was there to carry his camera while he was enjoying the rides. She thought it sweet.

I got an official visitor’s pass (saved me 20 bucks) and free program. Unfortunately, I lost the program somewhere during the walk across the 53-acre theme park. I think a wench lifted it from me during an accidental head-on. One of us wasn’t watching where he was going. Entirely too much cleavage out there.

Turns out I didn’t need a program. Brad knows everything that is Renaissance. We first caught Ded Bob’s program. No typo. He’s really Ded. He’s a skeleton puppet carried and operated by a guy named Smuj who had his face covered. If you put a bag over my head, I, too, could be a ventriloquist. As long as the puppet’s mouth didn’t have to match my words. That might be tough.

Ded Bob and Smuj

Ded was crude. And, funny. Not so much to me, but to everybody else in the audience. I apparently misplaced my laugh. I sometimes do that at awkward moments. Not the audience, though. You’d think they were one of those paid infomercial audiences. Really got into the presentation. They’d laugh at everything and do anything the puppet asked ‘em to. If he told people to scream “Rubber nails!” They’d scream it. Beat all I ever saw. I’d attempt a stand-up routine if I had half as good an audience.

I don’t know how much Ded and Smuj change the routine from year to year… nor am I likely to ever know.

Midway through the puppet routine we walked over to the jousting arena. I’ve always wanted to see a joust. Two guys on horseback at full gallop, trying to dislodge one another with giant spears. How could anyone survive such a spectacle? I didn’t get to find out, because we stopped between performances. The arena was already beginning to fill, but I don’t wait well. Don’t know if you knew that about me.

If you’re not watching a show, there’s plenty to do out there. They’ve got rides galore. While I was tempted to try out Leonardo's Catapult, I was too afraid that Brad might snap a picture of me. Not too many pictures out there of me crying, and I’d like to keep it that way.

The giant swings looked like fun. They’ve got the King’s Swings and Neptune’s Swing and Friar’s Frolic. That last one might involve a swing. I’m not sure. They’ve also got Pluck-A-Duck and Drench-A-Wench. I’m telling you, women get no respect at the Ren Fes.

If you don’t care for rides or the performances, you might enjoy just watching people. There are all kinds. I saw a 9-foot tall werewolf. A bunch of vampires. The towering ogre guy was there. Big ol’ Ogre. Lord of the Rings big.

You could toss a rock in any direction and likely hit a damsel or knight. Plenty of those out there. And, it was Halloween day, so there were also a lot of non-Renaissance looking people. I saw the Super Mario brothers and a Jedi Knight and maybe Daffy Duck. It was hard to tell. Brad even got a transvestite nurse to cozy up to me while I was eating my seafood platter. Snapped a picture he did. A ton of laughs this man.

Yes, I said seafood platter. I’m an idiot. Go to the Ren Fes and order the seafood. I let the price sway me. It was $6.50 for a couple of pieces of fish and some shrimp and chips. Straight from Sam’s freezer to the heat lamp. Even the seafood damsel couldn’t believe I ordered it. She just stood and stared at me for about three seconds before snapping out of it and handing me the plate.

It was really bad. And to top it off I’m sharing it with a transvestite. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. Fortunately, I also got a roastin’ ear. You can’t mess up corn. This was some good stuff. I had it all over me. And, I wasn’t sharing.

Brad got a turkey leg. He figured one of us had to. A leg goes for seven pounds. That’s what they call their dollars. Pounds. I get it. I asked Brad how the leg was and he said, “It’s a turkey leg!” And, that’s coming from our food critic.

I’ve got to tell you, though, there is an awful lot of food out there. Some desserts that could practically call your name. “Mark. Ooooh, Maaaark.” That was a pecan pie looking thing with a giant heap of ice cream on it. If it had come up with my last name, I would’ve bought it.

Oh, and did I mention the shops. Art, jewelry, clothing, headwear, axeware, swordfare, silverware… A million shops. Maybe a billion.

I’ll bet I only saw a tenth of what all they have out there. Too much stuff. But, all good things must come to an end. And, so did my visit to the Renaissance Festival. We checked out at the Media office where we got a couple of gifts. Brad got some kind of sandwich coupon for dancing a jig. Oh, the humanity. I only had to speak in a British accent to get my dessert coupon.

Brad's Turkey leg

We got home before dark. The experience wasn’t nearly as painful as I imagined. Were I a few decades younger, I would’ve probably had fun. But, all in all, I actually feel relieved to no longer be among the ranks of those who have never been to the Ren Fes. I recommend that those of you remaining on the list try to steer clear of Brad. What I’m sayin’?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Famous track star umpires Hayter brothers

“The Flying Tiger”

I watched two of the brothers, Larry and Dennis, play softball last week at a nice county ballpark right near where Pasadena and the city limits of Clear Lake touch.

I don’t think anyone but older people could play on the fields, because it would be too confusing. You see, there are two home plates on each field. That’s so there will never be a collision at home. Home is always a forced out. It’s genius. If the catcher touches his plate before the runner steps on the other plate, the runner is out.

I’ve watched several of the brothers’ games and don’t remember ever seeing anyone thrown out at home. You didn’t hear it from me, but the reason is that a lot teams don’t have enough players, so each supplies a catcher for the other team. That means each catcher belongs to the team at bats. That’s just wrong.

Fortunately, it’s a gentleman’s game… one where the catcher generally misses the ball on a throw to home. It doesn’t seem to bother anybody. They’re pretty much out there having fun. I like that.

When Dennis came to the plate, he sent the ball into the gap in right center. There is one extra outfielder and one extra infielder in old guys slow pitch. Hard to find a gap, but when you do, you’re going to get some extra bases. Dennis managed to make it all the way home. Wee,wee,wee.

Dennis didn’t move all that fast, but neither did the fielders. And, their throws lacked distance and accuracy. The story of my life. When Dennis touched home plate, I was cheering like all get out. It wasn’t enough that I was the only person in the stands, but I was the only one in the area who was cheering. It was just a game to everyone else. Me, I was really drawing attention.

Suddenly the umpire looked up. The guy was just as thin as the proverbial rail. He could get lost in the shade of one of the backstop posts. He shielded his eyes from the sun and gave me a squinty look. “Whoa! Another brother!” he said. “You guys look just alike! Who’s the oldest?”

A lot of people think the four Hayter boys look alike. I don’t see it, but it doesn’t bother me. What does tend to irk is when people can’t rank us by age. Larry is 10 years older than I am, and Dennis three. “Which of you is the oldest?” Give me a break.

Oh, and Big Al, who wasn’t even there, is the youngest. I’ve got seven years on him, yet people still ask who’s the older. Don’t know what that tells you, but it tells me that after a certain age we all blend. None of us look as young as we do in our mind’s eye. I just hate that.

But, back to the umpire. He was a hoot. After he recognized me as one of “The Brothers” he started commenting every time Dennis or Larry came to the plate. “Okay, look out. We got another brother at the plate. Back up!”

The man could talk some trash. I don’t mean bad language or anything. He’d get after the pitcher sometimes. -- “Hey Herb, you’re gonna bring rain with that pitch. Bring that ball down!” -- And, to a base runner -- “Bob, I think you would’ve made it had you started to second base sooner. Say, around nine… last night.”

I really enjoyed the game. A lot of laughs, some decent hits, a couple of fairly good plays and no arguing. The weather was even pleasant. It was a softball miracle. – That’s what Jill says about good stuff. There is a sale in the can goods section of the grocery store, she’ll say, “Wow, it’s a cream corn miracle!” Our kid sister is a doober.

I wish she had been at the game with me. It was so much fun. I attribute much of that to the umpire. Whatta nice guy. Hard to argue with somebody who is doing his best to make the outing enjoyable. His name was Skillet. I thought I heard it wrong, so after the game I went down and talked to him a bit.

Sure enough, he was Skillet. He said his best friend gave him the name when he was growing up. Didn’t mention why. His friend died at the age of 14, so Lee thought he’d just keep the name. That was his real name, Lee Smith. He used to run track for Texas Southern University. He ran on the 440 and 880 relay teams back when Americans were still running yards instead of meters. He said that his team once held the record in the 440 relay. I was flabbergasted.

Larry and Dennis knew nothing about Lee Smith. I doubt any of the players did. They only knew Skillet. When I got home I Googled the guy. Son of gun. Lee Smith ran the third leg of the 440, handing the baton off to Jim Hines, a sprinter who was at one time considered the world’s fastest human. In the record-breaking relay, Lee matched Hines time. In 1967 they were called the TSU Flying Tigers. They were famous in the day. “Sports Illustrated” mentioned that Lee Smith was considered the team leader. I could see that.

Yet, the one time I got to see a Flying Tiger, he was umpiring a softball game for old guys. He was clowning around and enjoying the moment.

Don’t you treasure the times when you stumble onto true humility? Yes, Smith has some glory days, and he’ll tell you about ‘em if you ask. But, they don’t rule his life. Right now he appears content being known simply as a rather outgoing umpire. He sure made the game I watched a blast.

Oh, and you may be interested to know that in the bottom of the last inning with two outs, two men on and the score 14 to 12 against the brothers’ team, Larry stepped to the plate and hit one over the centerfielder’s head. I had no doubt he was going to round the bases. It was a pretty close play at the home. So close that if the catcher hadn’t bobbled the ball for a second, I’m pretty sure Larry would’ve been called out.

Final score 15-14. I was the only one who seemed to care. Well, me and the catcher.