Saturday, November 24, 2012


    Three weeks ago, Kay got me an electric smoker for my birthday. My birthday was back in August. It came at a time when I had no idea what I wanted for my birthday. It took till late October to figure it out. I really hate asking for the wrong thing.

    The purchase of the smoker is an interesting story in that it demonstrates some of the communication problems in life… problems between husbands and wives. (Add the word “beer” into that sentence, and I may have the beginning of a song.)

The smoker story took shape right about the time the phone rang while I was fast-forwarding through a football game. I was so sure the call was for Kay that I didn’t even pretend to reach for the phone. I’ve got a fairly convincing pretend-reach.

Turns out, the call really was for Kay. Try to figure. A couple of minutes after she pressed “End Call,” I became aware that she was talking to me. I actually had to freeze-frame the game to focus on what she was saying. Priorities are a bear sometimes.

    Kay explained that her friend called to tell her that “the smoker” was on sale at QVC. I needed to respond, but I had nothing. Kay hates it when I make up stuff, so I just stared. “Remember, you said you wanted a smoker? Well, I told Kathy about it and she said that the one you should get is on sale at QVC.”

    Ah, THAT smoker. Now all I had to do was figure out what a QVC was. Sounded more like plastic pipe than a retail store. Again I had nothing. Kay finally pointed in a northwest direction and said, “You know, QVC!” -- I said, “You mean, CVS? They have smokers?”  -- She said, “No!” Again she points northwest. – “It’s on sale in Waco?” I said. At some point you just have to put sarcasm in play.

    After giving me her “I’m-talking-to-a-sack-of-sand” look, she told me that QVC is not a store. It’s a shopping network on TV. She was pointing at the TV… a TV that sits northwest of her recliner.

    Now I’m sensing that Kay is focused on my long-term care policy, and trying to determine which home would be best for me. I sometimes get paranoid.

To show how sweet Kay is, she eventually confessed that she would have explained that QVC was a shopping network, but couldn’t think of the words. All she could think to do was point to the TV. Confession is so good when it comes from someone else. 

    And, where is this heading? It’s heading out back to my new electric smoker. It’s a bit of a wonderment. Electric grills get their smoke from the dripping fat in the meat and from a small pan of water-soaked wood chips. Chips the size of corn flakes. I’m not supposed to use over a cup of chips at a time.

    There is not much smoke in a cup of chips (See 1983 Wood Chip study, Tulane University). I found that out when I low-smoked a rack of ribs. Smoked those buddies for eight hours, just like the guy on the BBQ Website recommended. The guy must’ve smoked a really thick batch of ribs, ‘cause mine were way past done. They were black like I like, but the smoke taste was too faint.

    That was just my first try, though. I’m getting serious with my second effort. A lot is riding on it. Seems Kay and I are responsible for bringing the turkey and dressing for Thanksgiving. And, guess what. I’m gonna smoke the turkey. It’ll be the best we ever had. Possible exception, the time Al fried the turkey and about burned down Jill’s garage. I really like charred turkey. Prefer it, even.

    Kay’s not nearly as excited me experimenting at such a crucial time. When I suggested that we prepare two turkeys -- one oven-baked and the other Mark-smoked, -- she beamed. She’s going to be so let down when she sees how everyone prefers my smoked bird.

    Yeah, about one hour into Thanksgiving, the brothers are going to want a smoker just like mine. I’ll tell ‘em that Kay found mine somewhere in the direction of Waco. They won’t even ask. The Hayter boys are on the same page when it comes to matters of the wives. – Wow. I think I’ve stepped on another verse to my song.


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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

“Unknown name/Unknown number

    ROOFTOP – Our phone usually rings right about now. Each morning, we’ve been getting a call from “Unknown Name/Unknown Number.” Fortunately, the mystery person no longer wants us.

Like you, we’ve also received a bunch of other calls from unspecified individuals, but their calls are less scheduled. You can set your watch by the morning caller.

    I’m assuming that most of the calls were election related, some dealing with Presidential polling. I do not remember ever participating in a political poll. Caller I.D. has helped me a bunch in that respect.

    I’m not the only one screens calls am I? Surely not. Makes me wonder whom the people are who participate in polling. Who bothers to answer the phone when Unknown Name calls?

    Remember the Presidential Election of 1948? Of course, you don’t. I wasn’t born yet, but I remember. In ’48, Thomas Dewey was supposed to win the election by a landslide. That’s the way the pollsters called it.

However, it seems the pollsters depended too much on the telephone for their data, not realizing that too few Democrats owned phones.Truman won big.

Apparently, in 2012, too few Republicans in swing states had caller I.D. Either that or they were oddly attracted to Unknown Caller. Me, I have nothing to say to the person.

Now that I think of it, I have come close to participating in polls on-line sponsored by different retailers. However, when I’m asked for my birth date I always end the contact. I don’t mind telling people how old I am, but I’m not crazy about giving out my birthday. I fear it provides someone with one more bit of crucial info for identity theft. Next thing I know, someone has a credit card in my name from Gotcha Bank.

Trust? I only have about half bucket left of the stuff. Don’t get me wrong, I trust you. If I didn’t, would I let you sit on my roof like this? I think not. No, it’s just a few of those other bozos out there that really—Beg your pardon? Too negative? Right. We don’t wanna use the rooftop to talk trash. What was I thinking? So, what you got?

Thanksgiving? Okay, we can do that. Is everyone coming over to your place for Thanksgiving or to Memaws? Are you the Memaw? By the way, “memaw” is a derivative of the French-Canadian word grandmother -- meme. I must’ve read that somewhere, ‘cause I’m not nearly that smart.

So, again, where are you having Thanksgiving? —At Denny’s? I wasn’t looking for that. That’s just sad in so many ways. But, I can see where it might be a blessing for some. Everyone knows what time to show up. Everyone leaves at the same time. Few stick around to take a nap under the table. I’m speaking from experience here. Yeah, I could see where a Denny’s Turkey Day might be appealing.

Speaking of turkey and dressing, that’s what I ordered yesterday at a non-Denny’s eatery. Kay and I took her kid-brother, Tracy, out for lunch. After I ordered, Tracy jumped all over me. Not literally. That’d be stupid. –  No, he said, “Mark, why are you ordering turkey and dressing just a few days before Thanksgiving?”

“Because I like it.” That’s what I told him. I think two occasions a year is not nearly enough for turkey and dressing. I think the stuff should be a daily feature on most menu’s. Maybe not at Chinese places. Or Italian and Mexican. And, not BBQ eateries, and fast-food joints. But, everywhere else needs to provide access to turkey and dressing on a regular basis. And, were I President, they would.

Remember what Romney said he’d do on his first day of office? He’d do away with “Obama Care” and he’d start punishing the Chinese for unfair trade practices? Well, were I elected, I’d find out what the State Department really knows about UFOs and make the info public, and I’d issue an executive order for restaurants to provide turkey and dressing on a daily basis

I may not win an election, but I sure bet I’d poll well. What phone answering person could possibly be opposed to something like that?
    And, yes, the turkey and dressing idea is stupid. But, that UFO idea is the real deal. I don’t care if it’s aliens or swamp gas or old Nazi scientists, I’d find out and make it public.

I’d probably make a national statement from atop the White House. As soon as the opposition party saw me sitting on the roof, they’d be scrambling around for copy of the 25th Amendment. That’s the one that tells you how to replace a President gone nuts. Oh, I’d be out of there all right.


To view Mark and Brad's Juan and Lefty's restaurant review, click on pic.


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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Life aboard super carrier USS Enterprise

“Feature – Skyler Mullis: In the Navy”

Skyler Mullis (24) returned home last week after his fourth deployment aboard the world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier the USS Enterprise. Shortly after the super carrier docked at Norfolk, Virginia, Mullis was given a 10-day leave to visit his family and friends in The Woodlands.

Skyler Mullis aboard The Enterprise

    Upon his arrival at Intercontinental, he was greeted by a host of fans, among them the daughter he had never met. Skyler’s wife, Sarah, gave birth to Elizabeth Grace three months into her husband’s most recent deployment.

Elizabeth Grace is one of those wide-eyed kids, who just seems glad to be on the planet. During her first meeting with Dad, she didn’t act the least bit uptight. She went straight to his arms. No tears. The same cannot be said for Dad.

I know Skyler Mullis through Diane, his mom. Diane is a person who spends every spare hour volunteering for stuff. About makes me sick. When she mentioned that her son was coming home from a deployment, I decided to invite myself to his Welcome Home party just so I could ask him about life aboard ship. I wanted to know if it was as bad as I had imagined.

 Skyler has been in the navy for three years now. Before that he was an emergency medical technician working in Montgomery County. One day, out of the blue, he just decided that he wanted to be a medic for the Marines. That’s how he ended up joining the Navy.

Oddly enough, the Marines have no corpsmen (medics).  There are no corpsmen in the Corps. I don’t even know if Skyler knew why. For whatever reason, Marines use Navy medics.  

Skyler was okay with joining the Navy to be a medic for the Marines. Unfortunately, at signing time, he was told that there were no more openings for corpsmen. How would he like to work with computers? 

So, that’s what he ended up doing. Skyler’s position and rank is that of. Information Technician, Third Class. (IT-3) Military personnel speak in acronyms. They’ve got codes for life jackets, meals and teeth brushing. After awhile, I got tired of asking.

Skyler is quite proud of his time aboard the Enterprise. He told me that, next to the USS Constitution (Old Ironsides), Enterprise is the oldest commissioned vessel in the Navy. It was first launched in ‘61, a couple of years before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

When deployed, the Enterprise carries a crew of 5500, give or take. It’s like living on a floating city that has a giant airport for a roof.

I was shocked by the fact that Skyler had been allowed on the landing-deck only one time. You can step out on the deck when the ship is in port, but not during operations at sea.

“Jets are constantly taking off and landing, so there is a lot of red tape and special gear required before non-flight personnel are allowed on deck,” he said. In case you were wondering, all of the red tape and gear have acronymic names.

As an IT-3, Skyler spends most of his time in front of a computer in a room with 40 other people. However, he’s occasionally required to visit other areas of the ship to straighten out computer snafus. “I’ve been over approximately 75 percent of the Enterprise,” he said. “That requires me to have both Secret and Top Secret clearance.” The difference between “Secret and Top Secret” is unknown to civilians. I can live with that.

    When the Enterprise is at sea, Skyler works 12-hour days, seven days a week. “There is not a lot to do during my time off,” he said. “So, I don’t really mind the long hours.”

The ship has two gyms, a handful of TV lounges and one laundromat… for 5500 people. Each sailor is responsible for washing his own personal items – T-shirts, recreational shorts, underwear, socks… “Days when you have to go to the washateria are the worst,” Skyler said.

“We used to have to wash our own uniforms, but, too many of them were getting ruined in the machines. Likely more human error than mechanical problems,” he said. Apparently, lack of washing machine skills is not a deal breaker for prospective Navy enlistees.

The area where Skyler sleeps contains 88 bunks, stacked three high, with two feet clearance between each.  His “berthing” area is situated two levels below the flight deck. “There is never, not any noise aboard ship,” Mullis said. -- He used the double negative for emphasis. Not never, is as seldom as it gets.

“There is the constant noise of jet engines, and planes hitting deck and taking off. The weird thing is, I’m used to it.”

“All of my possessions fit inside a standup locker, the size of a school locker and one coffin locker,” he said. And, yes, I asked. A coffin locker is named for its capacity, not so much it’s looks.

And, what of food? Skyler is not all that fond of it. I’m not surprised. I’ve never heard of anyone joining the military because of the fine food. It would be like someone checking into the hospital for the lemon Jell-O. 

“Saturday we get pizza and wings, so we sort of look forward to that,” Skyler said. “Sunday is steak and shrimp. It’s not nearly as good as it sounds. But, let’s face it, they’re preparing steaks for over 5000 people.”

There have been some notable visitors aboard the Enterprise. “Occasionally we’ll get a call to general quarters and they’ll have a few famous people talk to us.” When pressed, Skyler could remember only the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders and one tall baseball pitcher. When I suggested it might’ve been Randy Johnson, he agreed that it probably was.

Of course, the most famous people aboard ship are the fighter pilots. They carry themselves well. “Oh, they’re cocky all right,” Mullis said. “But, I doubt it’s intentional.”  Truth is, I don’t think you could be a fighter pilot without developing a swagger.

I do know that it is possible to be an IT-3 and not have a swagger. Skyler is as humble a guy as you’re going to find. People kept dragging him away for hugs and photo sessions, and he was “All shucks” about it. At no time did I discern even a hint of swagger.
Elizabeth Grace waves to the World
Pride? I could see pride in his eyes. Especially when he held his daughter. “The only downside of my Naval experience has been the separation,” he said. “That’s been real—“ An unintentional head butt from Elizabeth Grace interrupted his train of thought. Or, maybe not. Regardless, he didn’t finish his sentence. 

 Before being dragged off for the last time, Skyler said, “I think that every ‘single’ able-bodied person should join some branch of the military. It’s good experience. If I had to go back, I’d do it all over again.” 

Right about now, Skyler is in Norfolk with Sarah and Elizabeth Grace. The Enterprise will stay in port until 2015 when it will be decommissioned and eventually moved to Washington State. America’s first nuclear powered carrier will be replaced by the USS Gerald R. Ford, CVN-78.

The USS Ford will set sail without Skyler Mullis aboard. Sailors are stationed for 4 years aboard ship, and then three years on base. Near the end of 2014, Skyler will have completed his four-year stint working aboard the Enterprise. He doesn’t know where he’ll be stationed next, but it’ll be on dry land.

“I’ll get to be with my family,” he said. “No more separation… for awhile, anyway.” 

Sarah and Skyler with Elizabeth Grace. 
E.G. wasn't even afraid of me.
Not crazy about me, just not scared.

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Saturday, November 10, 2012

What's bad for you -- at the moment

Or not

Enough already!

    The next person who tells me that something is bad for me is going to get a really mean look. I’m tired of it. Who isn’t?

    Coconut oil? Remember how the theatres quit using it to pop their corn, ‘cause it was supposed to kill you? We were told that coconut oil contained the worst fat there is… next to yak fat. That’s supposed to be really bad. I imagine.

    So, practically overnight, popcorn, as I knew it, became dead to me. I once smuggled some string cheese and pretzels into the theatre. Ruined the whole movie for me.

    Now they find out that coconut oil is actually good for you. I’m not making this up. The fat in coconut oil has magically become wonderful stuff.  Dr. Oz says we should eat it right out of the carton. The stuff looks like Crisco, yet people are eating it with a spoon. It’s supposed to cleanse your body. Cleanse something. I don’t know. Kay’s the one who watched the Oz episode. The guy drives me nuts.

    So that which was bad, has now become good. And that, dear friend, is why a mean look will befall the next person who tells me something is bad for me. I’ve had it with this kind of nonsense.

    That having been said, I’ve given up artificial sweeteners. Been off ‘em for about two weeks now. It was the doctor named Oz that did it to me. What a meddler! I’ve been told forever that artificial sweeteners were bad. Some of the evidence came from the mere taste of Tab. The other from tests done on rats.

Rats that were fed twice their body weight of saccharin developed diarrhea and constipation on alternate days, plus a fear of toast. (Novi Iskar University, Bulgaria. 1973) Other studies were done, but this is the one most published.

I paid little attention to the studies, ‘cause I never cared for artificial sweeteners. Diet drinks taste like sweetened bark juice. Regardless of the brand. And, don’t get me started on artificial sweetened syrup. It’s terrible. You can’t even get it to stick on stuff. The minute you pour it on a stack of pancakes, it runs off, apparently seeking the lowest level.

The only use I have for artificial sweeteners is for my coffee. An envelope of Sweet ‘n Low adds a slight sharp taste to my first quart of coffee. I like slight sharp. I don’t get it with sugar, Splenda, Stevia, or Sillicakes. (I made that last one up.)

I was pleased as naturally sweetened punch with Sweet ‘n Low, until Kay came in and told me what Oz said. I really don’t like Oz.

Oz actually gave a reason that artificial sweeteners are bad for us. It was a reason that actually resonated with me. Oz said that artificial sweeteners are not natural. They’re artificial. Get it? As such, your body doesn’t know what to do with ‘em.

Your body parts may not speak to you, but mine do. I’ve only recently been able to figure out what’s going on in there. Once Sweet ‘n Low hits my stomach, the conversation goes something like this. – “Oh no. More of this artificial #@!+. Pardon my French. Anybody figured out what it is? Anybody? Okay, I’m sending it right to the spleen. Anybody figured out what the spleen does? Anybody?”

One thing that ultimately happens to artificial sweeteners is that they end up in your bladder. The bladder hates the stuff. Remember? It’s unnatural. Eventually, your bladder goes ape crud. Does a number on you. I know this, because since my Sweet ‘n Low withdrawal, I’ve been able to sleep all night without having to stagger to the restroom. It’s a miracle.

Of course, my coffee has lost its slight sharpness, but I’ve almost adapted. I use real sugar now. Sugar is natural, so my body knows what to do with it. I don’t like what it does with it, but at least it knows what it’s doing.

Bottom line, I may end up eating a cup of coconut oil every morning to try to clear everything out. I’d better decide on that quick, before Oz changes his mind about the benefits of the stuff. I tell you, the guy drives me nuts.


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Friday, November 2, 2012

Hayters and Plilers at football game

“Runner for the Bears”

    It’s been too many years since I’ve had someone to cheer for at a high school football game. The last time was in ’96 when Big Al’s boy, Clint, was playing.

The Conroe Tigers had a great football team in ’96, made even greater by wide receiver Clint Hayter. Don’t get me wrong, Andy Patrick, Rock Cartwright and a dozen or two others, helped out, but I was there to watch Number 85. Do I sound like a proud uncle?

Well, here it is 16 years later, and another nephew has come of age and developed talent enough to play football for the Montgomery Bears. Ryan is Virginia’s grandson, therefore not technically my nephew, but I claim him. Did I mention he plays football?

Ryan is a junior at Montgomery High and plays for the JV team. They play on Thursday nights. Next year he’ll be on the varsity and I’ll get to do the whole Friday night thing. Maybe even become one of those tailgaters. I’ll need to rent a truck. Or at least a tailgate.

When I played on JV team at Pasadena High, I was an okay player, but not as good as Ryan. He keeps reminding of that. Have you noticed how so few youngsters today lack confidence? Humility has all but skipped a generation.

    At least Ryan has something to brag about. In his last game against Willis, he ran for 186 yards. They put a six at the end of the yardage so it would sound like someone was actually keeping tabs. I’m not even sure he was the leading ground gainer. The Bears pretty well trounced the Wildcats.

    I don’t know if I mentioned it, but Freeman played football for Willis back in the day. Back in the day when there were 17 in the graduating class. Because of the Willis connection, Virginia invited a few Willis friends and family to the game. Only stipulation being that they agree to cheer for number 28 of Montgomery.

    Ryan had about 20 of us in the stands cheering him on. I was the loudest, which is weird, ‘cause I was sick as a dog. Had a cough that would not stop. Still do. But, for some reason, my throat ailment amplified my yelling and whistling capability. I can only assume that my vocal cords had developed calluses from all the coughing.

    I got so wound up in the game that I didn’t notice how irritating I had become to those around me. Kay kept putting her fingers in her ears, but it never registered with me as to why. I think it was ‘cause of all the medication I was taking. Allergy pills really mess my brain up. 

    Kay finally told me to tone it down or she was moving. During the second half, I barely cheered at all. I did cough a lot, though. I’ll be over the cough in a month or two.

    The game ended at about 9 p.m., at which point we all headed to IHOP. It’s a tradition. I don’t like to eat past 6:00, but I make exceptions for traditions. There’s some bad juju associated with being the one to break a tradition. According to Virginia.

    Let me tell you, IHOP came alive as soon as we walked in. It didn’t hurt that we were the only customers at the time. The waitress, Rose, was ready and waiting for news of the game. I don’t know if she likes football, but she becomes a big Bears’ fan the minute she sees the Plilers.

    Oh, speaking of Pliler, it took the announcer at the stadium a couple of games before he got Ryan’s last name right. He was calling him Piller, Piffler, Fifer and all sorts of nonsense. I told Freeman that if he would spell his name with a “Y” (Plyler) fewer people would mispronounce it.

    Freeman didn’t take me seriously, but Virginia got so mad at me that I had to assume the fetal position. Over the years, that pose has become a real lifesaver.

    By the way, when I played varsity at Pasadena High, I had little trouble with announcers mispronouncing my name. As a rule, you have to be on the field before they’ll even call your name. I didn’t get to play all that much my senior year.  Not enough talent, but I had loads of humility. Reeked of humility.


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