Saturday, April 27, 2013

Garden, not gonna do it

“Bless my heart”

    If my existence depended on physical exertion I would’ve missed the last 15 Christmases. I just don’t have the stamina to do any work outdoors that require lifting, lugging or stooping for any duration.

After 15, maybe 20 minutes I start questioning the value of the project. Any project. -- “But, we can’t afford to have it done. It’s up to you, Sweatpea. You must do it!” – That was my impersonation of Kay, guilting me into a project.

I’m past the “you-call-yourself-a-man” guilt. Way past. Kay no longer has a hook to hang that hat on. Yet, every spring she comes up with projects. Too many of them involve me. I’ve said it many times and many ways – I’m not big on projects. 

Kay still hasn’t gotten past the compulsion for a vegetable garden. I don’t know what image she keeps drawing up in her Edenesque delusion, but it’s in no way tied to reality. Tell her that. No, I mean, YOU tell her that.

    Still, she studies tomato plants every time we go to the garden shop. I’ve told her, “Sweetie, you can look all you want, but if any of plastic pots make it home, I’ll torch ‘em.”

Yes, it sounds cruel. But if you dug up just one yard of soil in my shoes, you’d be weeping with me. Go into the storage room over there and see if you find a tiller. There is none. I’ve yet to buy, borrow or steal a tiller. I’d come closer to buying a bread oven.

Tillers – like chainsaws – work for other people. Not me. Dennis let me experiment with his once, and the thing just walked across the yard. Did a number on a lawn ornament, but did nothing to break the soil.

No, if a garden gets tilled in this yard it gets tilled by Mark with a shovel. The mere image burns. I’m considering a movie deal.

Kay tries to help – bless her heart – but she carries on like she’s digging a dam in Idaho. (I put the “bless her heart” in just to save my rear.) So, I dig, I get the area all ready for planting, then I plant… with Kay instructing me about how I’m doing it all wrong. Not deep enough, too deep, too close, too rough with the roots… Ten minutes of that and you try to go gentle with the roots. It’s impossible.

After the planting, Kay pretty much forgets about “her” vegetable garden. I water, weed and watch for varmints. In our last garden I discovered deer had feasted just before the plants bloomed. I engineered a nighttime enclosure around the lush area using sawhorses, old window screens, garbage cans, and the wedding album. -- Bless her heart.

Every evening right after the news, Kay would hear – “Oops, I forgot to put up the garden fort.” -- I’d go out and construct the stupid barricade.  Two nights before my three-tomato bounty was to be harvested, a rabbit walked/hopped through the gap between a sawhorse and garbage can and destroyed everything within the confines of Fort Hopeless. Could’ve been a gang of raccoons. They were masked.

They didn’t care too much for the bell peppers. Just enough to trounce ‘em. Loved the tomatoes. Who doesn’t? Kay was heart broken. “We need to build a big tall fence around it next time.” We, Kimosabe? Build a fence?

Have you ever seen me dig postholes and stretch wire? It’s not pretty. I once had a lady walk over from across the street and spell me. “Son, you’re doin’ it all with your back. That’ll kill ya. Here watch this…” -- Granny Foster. I loved that old woman.

Even if I were able to put up a fence, there’s no way I’d spend $100 for materials to protect a harvest of half dozen tomatoes? I’d come closer to spending money on a polo mallet.

This spring I stuck to my guns. No garden. However, I did buy and haul 24 bags of black mulch to spread in the flowerbeds around the hose. Do you know what black mulch is? It’s black. Says so right on the bag. And, it’s guaranteed to stay black for a year. After that—How should I know?

Kay wanted 22 bags of black and two of red. I don’t even ask. -- Odd they don’t market weed-colored mulch. It looks like you have weeds, but you really don’t! Get it?  Or camo-mulch. No one will know you mulch!

    Anyway, I ended up spreading 20 bags of mulch, before I had to quit. Of course, Kay helped – bless her heart. I may have finished had the mulch not aggravated an old foot rash of mine. I was wearing the camo-Croc sandals that Kay got me. Not made for mulching they were.I got pine chips in my socks and inside my crocs. My white athletic socks will be black for at least a year.

Before I stopped spreading, I saved just enough energy to clean up my mess. There’s a lot of mess gets perpetrated during a major mulching. If you finish a project, and don’t account for the energy necessary to clean up after yourself… well, bless your heart. –You can get away with saying anything if you do a heart blessing. The Babylonians invented it. They were big gardeners.


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Sunday, April 21, 2013

Rugby: For gentlemen only

My nephew Ethan, bearded guy at bottom of pile
“An organized brawl played by gentlemen”

Before last week, I figured Rugby to be like football without the pads and with a fatter ball. You ran until you got manhandled to the ground where all but about three guys jumped on top of you until someone dislodged the ball and took off running with it.

That’s what I figured. Come to find out, I was partly right. But, only partly. I found out a lot more about the sport when I traveled to Clear Lake to watch the Bay Area Rugby Club (the red team) play the San Antonio Alamo Club (blue team). I went to the game because Jill’s boy, Ethan, plays for the red team. You’ve just got to support family.

I liked the red team, ‘cause the players were a bigger, meaner-looking and had pizzazz. Pizzazz is important in every sport… except the one where you use a broom to sweep the ice in front of that flat, heavy object.

The game of rugby is full of pizzazz. If you go to just one game in your life, you’ll remember it for as long as you can remember where your hearing aids go. That’s like almost a lifetime.

There are fifteen players on a rugby team. That makes for 30 guys running around on a field that’s 100 meters long by 70 meters wide. The object is to carry the weird-looking ball from your side of the field into the end zone at the far side. You can’t pass the ball, but you can toss it to anyone behind or beside you. Oh, and you can kick it any time you’re able. If you’re about to get smashed by ten other guys, be advised to kick.

The game is made up of two 40-minute periods with one five to ten minute intermission. The clock never stops… unless an ambulance drives onto the field. So, for eighty minutes, two teams run around and knock the daylights out of each other.
A lineout and a nuclear wedgy
What you call a scrum.

It’s obvious I don’t know the rules of the game, but fortunately the ref does. Thirty guys running all over an area significantly larger than a football field, and only one ref to maintain order. There are two line-judges, but they just stand on the side and wave flags now and again. 

A few observations: When a ball goes out of bounds, a player stands on the sideline and tries to toss the ball over a guy who has been lifted up by two other guys. They’ve got him by the legs, the shorts, the… anything they can grab. Behind these three guys is a player from the in-bounding team who is hoisted into the air by two of his own teammates. The spectacle is called a lineout. You should go to a game to watch this, if nothing else.

There is no blocking in rugby. You’re on your own. When you have the ball, as soon as you know you’re in trouble, you toss the ball to someone behind you; or you run over the person(s) in your path. Keep in mind, no helmet and no pads. And, don’t forget, if you can think fast enough, you can also kick the ball down the field. Or out of bounds. I like it when the ball goes out of bounds, ‘cause I get to watch the guys get tossed into the air.

One very important facet of rugby is the scrum. Weirdest looking thing. A scrum is where players from both teams stoop down and grab each other in a big wad of humanity, and start pushing. At one point the ball is tossed into the middle of this… uh, push-of-war. Eventually the ball comes shooting out, and a player grabs it and takes off. It’s a blast.

    I saw a lot of hitting, some serious ball finesse and the greatest sportsmanship imaginable. During one of the major pileups, one player was trying to extract himself from the mayhem. Just as he was almost free, a blue guy just hauled off and slugged him. The ref didn’t blow his whistle; the guy didn’t pick himself up and go chasing after the guy who hit him. He just picked himself up, got his bearings and took off running for the next pile.

    In football or basketball the benches would’ve cleared and a massive brawl would’ve ensued. A replay of the actual punch would be slowed down for effect and shown on national news that night. I asked Ian, an ex-player who didn’t mind explaining stuff to me, I asked him why they didn’t fight each other over stuff like that. And, why weren’t they all yelling at the ref who was really missing some major mayhem.

Ian told me that both teams were going to get on a bus and visit a pub or two or three after the game. Anyone who threw a punch during the game was honor-bound to buy any and everyone he slugged a beer. So, when you get punched, you know you just earned a beer.

As far as not yelling at the ref, Ian acted as if I’d just fallen off a double-decker bus. “One guy trying to keep order on a huge field with 30 players running around? It’s rude to yell at somebody who has that tough a job. Where’s your dignity, Mark?” 

An organized brawl played by gentlemen. Could something like this ever catch on among chest-pounding, me-first American athletes?  Well, on a beautiful, brisk Saturday afternoon, I watched a bunch of rough and tumble Texas boys display the best of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen. Can’t speak for what happened in the pubs afterward.

Oh, the red team won, by the way. As I was leaving, Ian informed me that The Woodlands has a rugby club. “Definitely worth watching,” he said. --Now we know.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

A great ending!

“A loss of eight days”

    If a story doesn’t have a happy ending, you’re going to pretty well have to force me to sit through it. That makes me a sheltered person who misses out on a lot of great sad stories.

    That being said, have I got a good story for you! A true one, too. It all started the afternoon of March 21. It’s not completely over as of this writing, but all of the scary parts are behind us.

    The story involves our best friend Virginia Pliler. Virginia had been suffering from a nagging earache for a couple of weeks. The prescribed antibiotics turned out to be snack food for the infection. Antibiotics are tricky little devils. You can never be too certain what they’re gonna do. Kind of like Robin Williams on a talk show. Any talk show.

    Virginia’s infection eventually entered her non-infected ear. After that, it got serious. On Thursday evening Virginia’s mind left the building. By the time the ambulance arrived, Freeman was explaining to her why a broom is shaggy on one end.

    Several hours and two hospitals later, Virginia was in a coma at Memorial Hermann in Houston. The diagnosis was bacterial meningitis. The head doctor told Freeman that it was the worst case anyone could have. “Your wife is one sick girl, Mr. Pliler.” That’s what she told Freeman. What she didn’t say, but later confessed was that she didn’t believe Virginia was going to make it. 

Kay and I instantly notified our family and friends to make sure that God was continually hearing Virginia’s name mentioned. -- “Yes, this is God. Yes, I know she’s sick. I know EVERYTHING. You realize that, don’t you? But, yes, your prayer means a lot. – Hello? Yes, this is your Heavenly Father. It’s about Virginia, isn’t it?” -- That’s pretty much a caricature of how I hoped the volley of prayers would transpire.

The next ten or so days got weird. The doctors at one point noticed an improvement and agreed that Virginia was likely to make it, but they were fairly sure she would end up with some permanent and severe brain damage. And, she might also end up blind or deaf.

The main doctor said that during the swelling inside Virginia’s skull, a piece of her brain was pushed into her inner ear. In other words, her brain was trying to come out her ears. I’ve seen enough Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy and House episodes to know that that can’t be good.

Virginia was in a coma for a total of eight days. She is currently conscious and suffering no bad side effects.

When she was lucid enough to talk and to recognize me, I asked if she had a chance to see the bright light. She didn’t. Did she have an “Eight Days in Heaven” experience? She didn’t? How about eight days in purgatory?  Nothing. Well, then what did she remember about her time in a coma?

She said, “Mark, I don’t remember anything. I completely lost eight days. One minute everything goes blank, the next thing I know I’m in a hospital bed listening to your ridiculous questions.” -- She was back.

As soon as I thought she could handle the news, I told her that I had forgotten everything she told me about how she wanted her funeral. Truth is I didn’t forget anything, ‘cause I wasn’t paying attention during the instructions. Oddly enough she took the news well. Told me to do better next time. 

As of this writing, Virginia is still at Memorial Hermann trying to win back some energy and trying to lose a blood clot that formed in her leg due to too much bedtime. At one point she was hooked up to a couple dozen I Vs. Now she’s down to two.

That’s what I call a happy ending. Some would call it happenstance. I don’t believe that to be the case, but I have no evidence that would satisfy an agnostic or believer in fate. Nor do I have an answer for those who have prayed and prayed for loved ones, but whose stories did not end well at all.

I’m reminded of a quote from a “Daily Walk” from one of Dr. Mark Denison of First Baptist in Conroe submitted to The Courier. Denison quoted missionary Helen Roseveare as having asked a question from God’s perspective: --“Can you trust Me with this experience, even if I never tell you why?”

The quote appears nonsensical to many. As do all things of the spirit, when reasoned through the minds of those in a world of earth and air. But, to those who have chosen to believe, it is the evidence of things unseen.

I would like to close with this passage that also helps me trust in what I can’t see. It’s from I Corinthians 13:12 – “For we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, as I have been fully known.” 
Thank God for happy endings.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My day of being a chili judge.

“Judging chili”

    The only reason Bob thought to choose me to judge the chili contest was because of my friendship with food critic Brad Meyer. Brad’s coattails have carried me into many an eating venture. Of course, I always tried to add to my credibility by pretending to know stuff like what wine to have while eating iguana eggs.

    Regardless how I got there, there I was -- in a room with three other judges. There were supposed to be seven. After a couple of minutes of careful computation, I determined that three judges had dropped out. At this point I was getting the least bit leery.

“This is going to be a blind judging,” Bob told us. I thought he meant we wouldn’t know whose chili we were eating. I had no idea he was referring to the ocular condition I’d develop while in the room.

The other three judges were wisely selected. Mike is a big guy who drives a big rig. He’s a sweetheart. -- Let me change that. -- He’s a really nice truck driver, who has consumed some of the best and worst chili in the country.

Then there’s Roger. Roger is the smartest person I know. He’s got a doctorate in math… or maybe one of the sciences. Roger is the person Stephen Hawking calls when he gets stumped.

Finally we have local attorney Scott Golemon. Scott knows more about BBQ, chili and outdoor cooking than anyone in the world. Possibly. Scott has prepared food for more charity events than anyone I know. He dragged me kicking and screaming to help out a time or two. I only did it because… well, he dragged me kicking and screaming.

So, there you have us. I’m thinking -- four judges with maybe ten samples to assess – we’ll be outta there in 20 minutes. Turned out there were 22 chili’s to sample, each given a coded number between one and 100. I’m now realizing that I have stepped into something really bad.

The 22 samples were divided into two groups – Eight were classified as “Real Texas Chili.” The other 14 were classified “Alternative to Real Texas.” Apparently, alternative chili is anything that has beans or other foreign matter in it. Who knew? Everyone except Mark.

Fortunately, the chili was served up in small cups, and we were given tiny spoons. I heaped my spoon with the first chili. It took about two, maybe three seconds before I went to my knees. My first bottle of water was drained in a nanosecond.

I could barely comprehend what Christi, our judging supervisor, was saying. Sounded like “Never farm a school flag pole.” After my fourth “What?” I determined she was screaming, “That was number 82, Mark Farkle! So, score it from one to five with five being the best!”

Eight Texas chili’s to assess and we’re using five numbers. It made no sense, but, at that very moment, little made sense. Through swollen, watery eyes, I searched for my left shoe.

“Okay, now here’s the second one. It’s number 37, and you need to—“ Christi’s voice trailed off. Forty minutes later, the “Texas Chili” samples were gone. I had the top of my shirt in my mouth and was holding a sheet of paper with a bunch of ones on it.

The next thing I hear is Scott saying, “Okay, guys, let’s discuss each of these. I hate to just add up some numbers without a discussion.”

I worked my way out of the fetal position in the corner and said, “Scott, I love you like a brother, but I don’t give two hoots to hear what you, Roger Einstein or Breaker 1-9 over here think about what we just ate. Christi, tally the numbers!” – The part of my brain that deals with tact had obviously been seared.

I was so sure Scott was going to take back my special lawyer discount. I never know when I’ll need a good lawyer, so I put Scott on speed dial. Instead of getting upset with me, Scott said, “Okay, Mr. Fussy Pants, let’s just tally the thing.” I had never heard him utter the words Fussy and Pants in or out of a courtroom. It just seemed so unprofessional.

The Best Texas Chili award went to— I don’t remember. Nor do I care. What I do remember is looking at 14 new cups of alternative chili. The cups appeared so much larger.

I can’t tell you much about what happened after that. I see images of me stealing Roger’s bottled water and him going all Quantum Physics on me. I think I may have slugged Mike’s fist with my face. It was all a blur.

Kay told me that after about two hours Scott came out dragging me by the seat of my pants and plopped me in a chair. He said, “He’s all right, Kay. There’s still a faint pulse.” He told her to let him know when she was ready leave, and he’d drag my ornery carcass to the car. 

Kay said she didn’t recall Scott mentioning anything about a lawyer discount. – “Hey, how ‘bout helping judge a chili contest? It’ll be fun!” There’s not a big enough rope.


You can contact Mark at

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Daytime Roofsit

“Keep that bunny away from me!”
Adult kids playing of Annie Over

    ROOFTOP – When I climbed up here last week, the birds were apparently home watching cartoons. They were not stirring a bit. This evenin they’re out in force. Just singing up a storm, like someone was handing out free seed-shuckers. 

    Late evening has always been my favorite time of day. Started when I was a kid playing with the gang on Camille Street. We generally began our outdoor games in late evening.

Right now is perfect for “Annie Over.” When night falls, you can’t see the ball coming over the rooftop for anything. Makes the game more exciting, but just a tad dangerous. We’d come charging around the house trying to bean the other team members with the ball and end up running smack dab into somebody.

My worst Annie Over injury was when I stepped on a nail while running between our house and Cynthia’s. It was back when I could run barefoot without looking at the ground and picking the smooth places to step. I ran in reckless abandon mode.

Because of that roofing nail, I got my first tetanus shot. Right in my rear. Back then, everything bad happened to your bottom. Shots, spankings, pinches, kicks… That’s where the saying “He’s so klutzy he couldn’t grab his rearend with both hands.” (“Source of Stupid Sayings” by Scooter Dalburn, 1988.)

Speaking of rear ends, I’ve gotta ask, did you ever have to sit on the Easter Bunny’s lap? – “Come on now, Sweetie, Mommy want’s a picture of you with the Easter Bunny.” – Did you ever have to actually sit on that frightening hare’s lap?

If I had ever had my picture taken sitting on the lap of a Giant Bunny, my life would’ve taken a drastic turn. Once the other kids got a look at the picture, I would’ve spent the remainder of my days hunting muskrat just north of Sleetmute, Alaska. You have to be six months or younger to get past a documented bunny-sit.

Who came up with the concept of sitting on the Easter Bunny’s lap? What’s a Giant Easter Rabbit supposed to say to a kid? – “Hey, little girl, do you prefer real eggs or plastic?”

I have it on pretty good authority that there has never been a kid in the world who ever said, “Hey, Daddy, please, pleeease can I sit on that giant rabbit’s lap?” Giant rabbits are scary as all get out. You’ve gotta ask yourself, what kind of person thinks that climbing into a rabbit costume is right? I thought the Spanish Inquisition pretty well burned that notion out of society.

About a week before Easter, Jill sent me a picture taken back in 1958 of two kids sitting on the Easter Bunny’s lap. It was the most frightening thing I’ve seen since Keith Richards was taped singing “You Make me feel like Dancing” in a hotel lobby in Gisborne, New Zealand.

Instead of a fluffy rabbit head, this guy was wearing a hard plastic rabbit mask. He looked like the creep in horror movies who butchers co-eds when they back into dark rooms. Here, I'll stick the picture at the end of the article.  Please hide it from the view of little kids… say below the age of 15. They’ll freak. Not as bad as I did, but it could still mess them up.

Okay, enough with the Easter Bunny. I’m sorry you brought it up. Let’s get back to the sights and sounds of the evening. After all, we won’t be able to stay out here much longer before we’re completely covered in yellow powder.

My house, my car, my lawn chair, Kay… everything around here is covered with pollen. I have to shoo bees and hummingbirds away from my nose. My lungs are caked with the yellow dust. Come summer, my chest will be the site of a mixed forest of pine and oak, sitting on a carpet of ragweed. – I assume you get the point. There’s a lotta pollen.

And, at the moment there’s somewhat of stiff breeze. Look at Luis’s multi-colored whirligig across the street? That thing is spinning to beat the band. How many cool breezes could we possibly experience before summer? I fear, not too many. I’m glad we caught this one while on the roof.

As for the Easter Bunny talk? That’s just some of the stuff that surfaces when I’m above ground level. You’re no stranger to that. – Next time.