Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas short story


“The Sparrow, The Pelican and The Bear: A Christmas Tale”

by Mark Hayter

Piper
  
Piper was a sparrow as out of place as a sparrow could be. She was lost and alone and standing on the railing of an ice-covered pier at the edge of a frozen lake. Getting herself there had taken about all the stamina she had. She barely had any strength to shiver.
    
Taking a last look, she closed her eyes to sleep her last sleep, when she was suddenly startled by the sound of a loud "Plunk!" followed by a "Flop!" Piper looked down at the lake, tilted her head slightly and focused her gaze on a rather large and very old pelican. She thought he was dancing on the ice, but he was actually just trying to stand up.

Bogart
    The pelican finally stood long enough to ask, “Why are you here, little songwing? Can’t you see it’s long past spring? The wind’s so brisk, your skin so soft, you’re liable to freeze your tail-feathers off!”

    Piper laughed as an old memory began to surface. She hadn’t found a memory since flying headfirst into the windowpane of a house in a town that she couldn’t remember. She said, “You’re a Flybag! I remember seeing you once. It was over large water and you were flying in a bunch!” 

    The pelican, dancing again, thought hard on the words before saying, “Flying in a bunch? We usually fly in a ‘Vee,’ And, there are so many of us, I doubt one was me. By the way, I am Bogart, that is my name. If you don’t mind awfully, would you share with me the same?"

    Piper said, “My name? I don’t remember mine. I flew into a window at a house in the pines. Oh, and Mr. Bogart, could you tell me, please, why are we talking in rhyme? It’s not fun for me.”

    The words caused Bogart to slip and land on his rear with a thud. This time he just stayed seated. “You mean this is not a storybook story? We don’t have to rhyme?”

Piper informed Bogart that she had never heard of a storybook, and if she were in one, she’d just as soon leave it. Bogart was so relieved. He hated talking in verse. He had been in two stories and in one he was cursed. – Sorry. Rhyme is hard to leave.

    The pelican saw that Piper was near frozen and completely exhausted, so he suggested she jump down into the sack of his beak and let him fly her to a small enclosure that sat atop an old church building. “There are lines of lights strung all over the building and a nice scene on the ground of statute people standing around an open boxed bed,” he said.

    “There’s a small person inside the bed, and all the people and animals seem to be happy about seeing him,” Bogart said. “It’s really a nice thing. So, come on, jump down.”

    Piper wasn’t sure. “Do flybags eat songwings?” she asked. Bogart said that he never had, but he was so hungry that he probably could eat a songwing. However, he promised that he would not. Piper couldn't remember if flybags were trustworthy, but she knew it would be warm in Bogart's mouth if only for a few seconds. She smiled at her only friend and said, “It’s okay, Mr. Bogart. You can eat me, that’s all right. That way I can find out if there is anything at the end of time.”

“Don’t talk like that, Little Songwing,” the Bogart said. “Now, jump! Or drop down here and I’ll catch you.” Bogart made a great catch of Piper, and as soon as he closed his long, bagged-beak the sparrow fell asleep.

The old pelican started out in a walk across the frozen lake. The walk soon became a trot and eventually turned into an all out charge. Bogart left the ice three times before managing sustained flight. By the time he made it to the old church building he was panting just like an old pelican flying around on a frozen night.

After flying once around the building, Bogart realized that he was not going to make it to the belfry. He didn’t feel well enough to negotiate a balanced slide over the roof and a safe dismount into the small enclosure. He had so hoped to save the sparrow. His only recourse was to slide to a landing on the snowy road in front of the church.

Bogart had no idea how far he would have slid had he not hit the snow bank heaped around the town’s only public mailbox. The pelican was done in. He didn’t know how he was going to explain it to the sparrow, but he knew there was no hope for either of them.

 The jolt at the mailbox awakened Piper, and she began pushing against Bogart’s beak until he opened wide. “Are you okay, Mr. Bogart?” Piper asked. “You’re not broken or anything are you?” Bogart explained that he was not broken; he was just old and cold and too weak to save either one of them. But he asked that she let him stay with her until they both found the end of time.

The little songwing, nodded and thanked her near-savior for trying so hard and for caring so much. “By the way,” she said, “During your landing, another memory hit me. An important one, too. My name is Piper. And I know where I’m supposed to be, and I know it’s too far away to reach. But, I am happy that I get to be with you.

It’s hard to tell when a pelican is smiling or crying, but Bogart was doing both. The sparrow nuzzled against the pelican’s wing and yawned a small yawn. Bogart nudged her under his wing and closed his eyes. That’s when the roar came. Such a roar that Bogart thought it would wake the entire town.

Taber
Bears look much bigger the closer they get. This one was huge even before he was near. “What are you doing on a snowy road at night?” said the bear. “It’s way past spring; why haven’t you two taken flight?” Bogart explained to the "clapperclaw" (That's what animals call bears.) that they weren’t in a storybook, so they didn’t have to rhyme. The clapperclaw was very glad to hear it. He had been in only one story, and it was humiliating for a clapperclaw.

 Piper explained how Bogart and she both had problems that kept them from flying south. She then asked, “Mr. Clapperclaw, what are you doing awake this time of year.” The bear explained that he didn’t care to be called “Clapperclaw,” that he preferred the name humans gave him. “When humans see me, they always holler, ‘Bear!’ So, I’m a bear by the name of Taber.”

Taber said he had trouble sleeping, so decided to visit the town. He told them that he had eaten so much in preparation for hibernation, that he probably wouldn’t eat the both of them. He seemed to be joking, but Piper wasn’t sure.

When Bogart explained that they were both waiting for the last sleep, the bear said, “Nonsense! I think I can get you out of this.” He went on to explain that many humans are nice. They just get mean and thoughtless on occasion. He told Bogart and Piper to grab hold of him, that he wanted to show them something.


The bear dragged the pelican and carried the sparrow to the old churchyard, and stopped in front of the nativity scene. He said, “You two get over there next to the opened wooden box with the little person-doll in it. No matter what you see or what you hear, do not move.”

    A strange command, but neither bird cared to question
Taber. Neither  of them had ever seen a clapperclaw try to help a flyling.  Piper sat on the edge of the manger, and, on the eighth try, Bogart managed to sit atop a fake donkey. Then they waited. Taber stood in the middle of the road, drew a deep breath and then let out a roar that could be heard all the way to Willow Avenue. He waited for a moment before taking a run for the snowdrift in front of the mailbox. When he plowed into the drift, snow went flying everywhere. The last thing to hit the ground was the mailbox. Once it landed with thud, Taber started pounding on the metal contraption, all the while roaring.

    The lights in the nearby houses started coming on one by one.
Most of the humans took time to cover themselves with suitable materials before coming outside, but one man came out wearing only striped thin clot with a flap on the back which appeared open. Piper heard Bogart mumble, "This is getting curiouser and curiouser."  Several of the humans, including the one with his pink backside showing, came out with rifles. They each started shouting, “Bear! Bear!” Taber led the people into the churchyard, and ran right past the nativity scene. As he passed by the pelican and sparrow, he yelled, “I just may get sleepy after this!” The crowd never made it past the nativity scene. They stopped, looked and wondered about what they were witnessing.

    On the morning of Christmas Eve, the front page of the Timmins Daily Press, had a picture of a large pelican sitting atop a snow-covered fiberglass donkey, and a tiny sparrow resting on the edge of the manger. The town people had been made aware of the
spectacle while chasing a huge bear that was trying to demolish a mailbo
x. The story that accompanied the photo explained that the bear got away, but the old pelican and the sparrow were easily captured and placed in the back of Esmer's Western Feed and Supply on the south side of town. The two would have a warm place with plenty to eat, and they would stay there till spring

    Bogart and Piper located Taber in early spring. By that time, all the critters in the wood had heard the miraculous story of the sparrow, the pelican and the bear; and how the little toy person in the wooden half box had inspired a town to spare the bear and give two birds some much needed care. – The tale became a favorite Christmas Story for animals and children all.
Piper, Bogart and Taber were never aware that not only had they become heroes in the animal kingdom, but they had also become famous as characters in a Christmas tale -- a tale that served to instill the sense of hope, peace and goodwill for all. And the Christmas tale didn't even rhyme.  – Merry Christmas. 
End
markhayter@suddenlink.net

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

hype


                                                          Who are "They" kiddin'?


    ROOFTOP – I apologize for the sudden call for a roofsit. I do appreciate you band of brothers and sisters who came to sit with me so readily on this month or so after St. Crispin’s Day. (It gets better from this point on.)

Two things drove me up here this evening. One of ‘em was “sea salt.” When I got home from watching Dennis and Larry’s softball teams play one another for the championship, I was tired and hungry. It’s so confusing when you have to yell for both teams.

    So I finally make it home where I start looking for something to snack on before supper. Atop the fridge I spy a partially eaten bag of HEB Central Market Multigrain Chips. (It’s the chips that were atop the fridge, not me.) I bought the chips a couple of weeks back because the bag was so attractive. You can’t judge green peas by the can, but you can judge chips by the bag. Been my experience.

    Not only did the bag look cool, it had something printed on it that was a big selling factor… for someone. I just bought it because of the nice-looking bag. At the bottom of the bag in large print were the words “Sea Salt.” That didn’t bother me at the time, but a little while ago it touched a nerve.

    How on earth did the origin of salt become a buying incentive? Am I supposed to think – “Not salt from a mine or desert, but salt from the ocean! It has the taste of salt! It’s the best salt money can buy.”

Apparently, it’s not even close to being the best. An acquaintance of mine has one container of salt in the house. It’s called Himalayan Pink Salt. Himalayan pink costs more than other salt because it contains 84 different minerals. And -- get this -- it’s advertised as the PUREST form of salt on the planet. Not only does it have salt in it, but it also has 84 other minerals. Leaving one to wonder, how many minerals are found in less-pure salt? And, how on earth is there any room for salt in the salt?

    Oh, and pink salt is hand gathered from ancient sea salt deposits. It’s an older salt. You add all this stuff up and you’ve got an expensive small chunk of salt. And, people buy it, ‘cause they trust the one who came up with all this info.

    I don’t have a great deal to base this on, but I believe that salt is salt. It comes in one flavor, and three portions. The flavor is “salty.” The portions are: too much, not enough, and about right. Anything other salt “fact” is beyond my Zone of Concern.

Nor do I care to get all wound-up about what is supposed to be the most widely consumed drug in the world  -- Caffeine. Some coffee drinkers purchase only decaf coffee, because they fear caffeine. Truth is, decaf coffee also has caffeine in it. Only uncaffeinated coffee has no caffeine, and there’s no such thing as uncaffeinated coffee. Prunes are an example of an uncaffeinated substance. You don’t have to worry about prunes giving you the shakes. It will likely give you something else, just not the shakes. 

    The FDA does not require companies to list the amount of caffeine in decaf coffee. What they have done is announce that decaf coffee should be 97 percent caffeine free. To eliminate that much caffeine from a coffee bean costs a great deal of money. That’s apparently why the FDA doesn’t require coffee companies to label how much caffeine is in their decaf. 

    Like I said, I don’t choose to worry about the caffeine in my coffee. About three years ago, I read that three to four cups of coffee a day does not hurt the normal person. Look at me. I’m as close to normal as you can get without opening your mouth. After reading the good-coffee-report, I haven’t read anything else on the topic. I refuse to read anything else.

    The only one in our family who drinks decaf is Dennis. If I choose to invite the family over, I must have some decaf on hand… for Dennis. Unfortunately, there has been a time or two when I didn’t care to buy decaf just… for Dennis, so I poured him the real stuff. He didn’t notice. He trusted that it was just good-tasting decaf.

Was I concerned for my brother’s health? Somewhat. From a moral standpoint, I had no concern for my big brother, because over the years, that guy has tricked me a million times. Remember the Fanner Fifty holster? The cardboard football helmet? The oiled baseball glove? Well, a couple of you might. Dennis swindled, hoodwinked and flimflammed me so many times when we were kids.  

He was able to do that because I trusted my big brother more than anyone on the planet… except for Elsie. If Dennis recommended I do something, I did it. A smart person sees that as vulnerability. He was able to swindle me so many times, because I was a trusting dumb person.

Yep, in youth and in adulthood, we make many decisions based on faith. Occasionally, our faith is misplaced. (D’uh.)  Is sea salt better than ordinary ol’ salt? Is Himalayan pink God’s gift to Saltdom? Is coffee slowly killing me?

    More importantly, did we really need to sit on this roof to better address life’s complexities? Some would think not. But, who are you gonna believe? Me, or a person who not only looks, but also sounds normal? – Uh, strike that last part. – Next time.
                                                                                          end
mark@rooftopwriter.com


Sundays

 Old Church and Sunday Glooms

    For most of my life, Sunday was my least favorite day of the week. Mom considered the day sacred as all get out, to the point where we had to go to church twice that day. It was a practice that was never explained to me, at least not to my satisfaction… as if anyone cared about the fifth child of seven being satisfied.

The argument for a morning and evening service on Sundays had to do with the rule that you’re supposed to attend church any time the doors are open. Truth is, the doors were never left wide open at the church building. So, technically, I should’ve been able to say, “Oops, the doors are shut, Mother. That means we must go home and watch Walt Disney World.”

    I could’ve argued that point as accurately as the guy who decided we had to go to church twice in one day, but kids didn’t argue all that much back then. When Jesus said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me…” He meant we had to really SUFFER before we could come to Him. That was pretty much the implication of the message as it related to us.

    Back then, Sunday was known as the day of rest. God rested on the seventh day, so we were supposed to rest on the first day of the week. Another one of those things that confused the daylights out of kids. Well, at least it did to me.

    In Texas, as in many states back in The Day, to rest on Sunday meant that stores should not be opened. Laws were passed to make it a crime for certain stores to remain open on Sundays. They were called Blue Laws. The laws were called “Blue” because… I have no idea. (Even scholars can’t agree on the reasoning.)

    The blue laws evolved over the years. Man didn’t evolve, but his laws did. After awhile, stores could open, but they could only sell certain essentials. They could sell bread, but not toothbrushes. Hammers, but no nails. An ear of corn, but not a pot to cook it in. Most stores just stayed closed on Sundays, ‘cause it got too complicated to figure out what was lawful to sell.

Nowadays you can sell just about anything on a Sunday, except beer from a liquor store, or a car from an auto dealership that was open on Saturday. If you sell cars, you must pick either Saturday or Sunday to be open, but not both… in Texas. I don’t know what they do in the normal world.

Today, stores that close on Sunday are the exception, not the rule. “Chick Fil A” and “Hobby Lobby” come to mind. The owners of those establishments are well respected among religious groups all over the country for their decision to close on Sundays.

However, when churches let out around noonish on Sunday, people leave the parking lot and head for Luby’s or Whataburger or Golden Corral. We may respect the daylights out of Chick Fil A, but, at the same time, we are a reasonable people. Eating out Sunday is part of the church-going experience.

    This is just some of the stuff that gets people upset with religion. People might agree on “faith,” but we will never all agree on the methods for expressing our faith. With that in mind, I have likely upset many readers by giving my view on faith vs religion. The topic is not only controversial, it’s way too serious for me. Last week I wrote about “Shoes” and this week I’m writing about religion. So, before closing, I’m going to take the religion out of Sunday, and tell you the main reason for my dread of Sundays past.

    There was a time when I always had to do schoolwork on a Sunday night. I was not among the few, the chosen that finished their homework Friday night, so they’d have the rest of the weekend free. That was pretty much lunacy to me.

It took me 12 years to get a high school diploma and seven years to get a couple of degrees. I mention that as a way of bragging and as a way of expressing that for 19 years worth of Sundays, I worried about schoolwork that was due on Monday. On each one of those non-summer Sunday nights, I started my homework at around 7:30, but I dreaded it the entire day. I carried dread around like a refrigerator full of hammers.

After my school days, guess what? I became a teacher. That gave me 26 more years worth of Sundays where I had to prepare lessons, grade papers, study up on the Electoral College and Marbury vs Madison and the Federalist Papers, just so I could give the impression to some teenagers that I knew what I was talking about. I was a good actor.

Magically, when  I retired, Sundays became the best of days. I actually enjoy going to church now that I don’t have to. And, Kay and I usually go out to eat after church. How good is that?

During Sunday afternoon I’ll watch football in season and non-sports stuff when football is over.  At some point I’ll take a nap. And, get this -- There’s seldom anything I really need to do to prepare for Monday.

So, my dread of Sundays has vanished with age. My age. I’m dreadless, yet, full of guilt. Guilt for having it so good. That’s a part of my religious upbringing. It ties into that “Suffer the children…” thing. That’s hard to get out of your mind, you know that?
end
mark@rooftopwriter.com   

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Crossfit

Thank you, Oprah

Over the last few years, Kay and I have had 2614 conversations about exercising. We’re both for it. We just don’t want to do it. In fact, the only sensible way to get me to exercise is to hire a drill instructor with a sawed-off baseball bat.

Well, I’m here to tell you, that last week Kay found something that would actually succeed in getting us to exercise. It is called crossfit training. I had to look it up. Here is one of 276 definitions that I found with Google.

“Crossfit: A fitness program that combines a wide variety of functional movements into a timed or scored workout. It involves pull-ups, squats, push-ups, weightlifting, gymnastics, running, rowing, and a host of other movements.”
Oh yeah! I can see me doing this. 

Six of those movements have unhappy words in them -- Pull, squat, push, lift, nastics, and run. The rowing part sounds fun. The worst part of the definition reads “A host of other movements?” That’s scary as all get out. And, more frightening still is the part that mentions being “timed and scored.” In other words, it involves humiliation.

If I don’t humiliate myself at least once a day, it means I never got out of bed. With crossfit training, my humiliation will be posted on a board so that all can see my name at the bottom of the list. “Hey, Frank, how did Ol’ Dragass do this week?”

YET, get this, I was still willing to go along with Kay’s idea… up until Oprah Winfrey was featured on one of the national news channels.

Every national news program has a segment on health, while all their commercials are ads for drug companies. But, their health segments are usually about mammograms. Occasionally, they’ll have a segment on obesity. On this particular broadcast, they used Oprah as an example of someone who lost a lot of weight, but gained it back.

Oprah? She’s the richest and most influential entertainer/financier in the country. The woman can afford to find a chef able to make rice cakes that have the taste and texture of bacon, and who could make a hot fudge sundae out of salmon berries.

Oprah could hire six guys to exercise for her. All she would have to do is lie there on the weight-bench while they rapidly moved all of her appropriate body parts. She could tell the exercise guys, “No matter how cruelly I beg you, no matter how terribly I may scream, do not stop for, oh, 40 minutes.” (Portion borrowed from ‘Young Frankenstein.’)
.
Oprah changed my whole attitude on dieting and fitness. If Oprah can’t stay fit, what makes me think I can? Let’s face it, staying healthy is a lifetime commitment. You can’t just reach a goal and think it’s all over. Oprah reached her goal. She wheeled out a red wagon filled with 60 pounds of fat to show how much she lost. Now, even with Spanx Power Skinny Britches Open Bust Mid-thigh Bodysuit she can’t re-position all of her regained weight.

And, I don’t fault her for that. In fact I thank her. Thanks, Oprah, for the inspiration that allowed me to accept an almost reasonable weight loss prgram. I call it, “my new long-haul weight loss and exercise program.”

As of last week, I’ve been trying to stay away from an overabundance of carbohydrates. I’m not doing without. I’m just doing with less. Eat a little less, and cut down on nighttime snacking. Don’t completely cut out late snacks at night. Just keep cutting back, until, after a year or two, I’m only eating one peanut M&M.

I’m also tempted to quit taking my restless-leg pills. I don’t know what my feet do when I’m sleeping, but when I’m awake, they become dancing feet. I just can’t sit still. You can elbow me, pinch me, put a gun to my head, but it won’t matter. I know, because Kay’s tried ‘em all.  

I think my rapid leg movement is sufficient exercise for a person my age and weight. And, by cutting back on food, I’m a success waiting to happen. As for Oprah, she just bought 10 percent ownership in Weight Watchers. She said she’s a large fan.

I can just see her attending one of those celebrity banquets where they’re serving steak and lobster. Oprah, will say, “No thank you. If you’ll kindly find a microwave, I’ll be having this Mini Salisbury Steak Wrap.”

Apparently, if it were easy to stay healthy, we’d all look and feel great. Truth is, I think it’s mostly genetic. Some people have a gene that makes them appreciate exercise and moderate eating. Me? I have the gene that causes dancing feet. And, I can’t even dance.

End
Markhayter@suddenlink.net

Sunday, October 25, 2015

neutrinos

A wonderment of science

I’ve always enjoyed science. I was the only Hayter kid to ever ask Santa for a microscope, telescope and chemistry set. Santa doled ‘em out to me over a period of about eight Christmases.

With the chemistry set, I learned to turn water blue. That’s about it. The telescope had trouble locating the moon. The microscope had three separate lenses. Only the lowest power lens worked. It was great, too. The things I found crawling around on grass and twigs and leaves would scare you to death. No telling how many tiny worms I ingested in my childhood.

Oh yeah, back to bragging --I was also the only Hayter kid to ever make a barometer. I’ll try to work that piece of information into the article’s ending. Barometer. Not sure it’s possible.

Regardless, with my obvious interest in science, one would think I would now be a scientist. Well, life is a rocky road, my friend. Too soon, I discovered that it takes more than an interest in science to pass physics. It wasn’t that I was dumb. I was smart as a nail. Unfortunately, in order to pass chemistry and physics you have to know a lot of math. I’m good at adding and multiplying; stuff like that, but there is some other stuff in math that is really complicated.

At any rate, I never lost interest in science. In fact I recently read an entire article about two guys who won the Nobel Prize in Physics. It was a long article, too. The winners were Takaaki Kajita of Poland and Arthur McDonald from Canada. -- Take that back. Takaaki is from Japan. McDonald is still a Canadian.

The gentlemen managed to prove something of which I knew nothing. So surprising. Instead of just coming out and telling you what they discovered, let me milk this a bit. I don’t know if you’re aware, but every second we are bombarded by trillions of neutrinos. Duck! Here comes another 10 trillion.

When a neutrinos hit you, they don’t stick around to fester. In fact, the things go right through you, and then continue on their way through the earth. They’re able to penetrate stuff, because they’re pretty much nothing. At least that’s what scientists thought before the Canadian and Pole came along. I mean Canadian and Japanese physicists.

McDonald and Kajita got the Nobel Prize in Physics because they discovered that neutrinos are more than nothing. They proved that neutrinos actually have mass... substance. Big whoop. That’s what I said when I read it. “Big whoop!” But, it is big because of what neutrinos are. Hold onto your socks.

Neutrinos are what are leftover when energy is spent. After an atomic bomb explosion, or while electricity is turning your fan blade, or lighting your room. Or the energy expended each time your heart beats, or your car engine is running. The biggest source of neutrinos anywhere around here is – drum roll – THE SUN. The sun burns hydrogen at a massive rate, so it’s sending the earth a manure load of neutrinos every second.
This is a picture of the sun taken through the earth
using "neutrino light" with the cameraq lens opened for about a year and a half.
Now, that's scary!

The thing that makes this such a big whoop, is the fact that we now have proof that energy doesn’t disappear when it’s through energizing. Its power becomes neutralized. It’s still a particle. I just has not power.

That’s where it got its name. Remember Enrico Fermi? Well, some of his grandkids do. He was an Italian physicist who worked on splitting atoms. When he mathematically proved the existence of neutrinos, he named them neutrinos, which is Italian for “Little Neutral Ones.” Isn’t that cute?

And do you know what else the Canadian and Japanese physicists proved? There are three types of neutrinos, and the guys discovered that each type of neutrino can switch back and forth to each of the other types. That means absolutely nothing to me, but I’ll bet there are people in this world who can take that info and do something with it. Like make an invisible man or shape-shifter, or a band aid that will actually stay stuck to your finger.

All of this is going to lead to something. Einstein and a few other smart people theorized, that all of the mass and energy in the universe has not increased or depleted one iota since creation. Mac and Kaj PROVED that energy has substance even after its power is sapped… and according to Einstein, mass can make energy. So, as energy burns up, mass still exists to make more energy. (Wow. For a second I almost understood that.)

Isn’t science a wonderment? I think if I had had just bit more encouragement in school, I could’ve become a scientist. In the fourth grade, we were assigned a science project. While other kids parents were making volcanoes and simulating earthquakes, I made a barometer out of a milk bottle, a balloon and a straw. And, get this, I didn’t even know what a barometer was. Not just anybody can do that. (There for a minute I didn’t think I could stick the barometer back into this thing. What did I tell you? Smart as a nail.)

end

Butterfly exlosion

Exiled to the roof
Netted basket filled with green chrysalises

ROOFTOP – What a day it’s been. And, you wanna know something? It’s not over. Not by a long shot.

You might notice that there are no exclamation marks in that intro. That’s ‘cause we’re supposed to be quiet up here this evening, while the birthing process takes place in the house. I was getting way too demonstrative to suit Kay. Her word – demonstrative. I don’t even think it’s the right word.

You may know me well enough to realize I’m not talking about birthing a real baby. That usually happens on the carport. No, it’s butterfly hatching that’s going on inside the house. Kay gets way too protective of her butterfly collection. She received the current collection of caterpillars from the same girl who gave us our first monarch caterpillar. Shannon. On this occasion, Shannon gave Kay 16 caterpillars. Shannon thought she could spare them, ‘cause she still has over fifty… inside her house! (Opps. I raised my voice.)

Each caterpillar in Kay’s collection entered the chrysalis stage about 10 days ago. Today, six of ‘em hatched. Not a boy among ‘em. I helped Kay take the first one outside. That’s when I apparently got too “demonstrative” for her. She can’t tolerate excessive demonstrativeness.

I’ve christened each of the newborns. Thus far, we’ve had Bookey, Cuepie, Dolchifina, Elsie, Fatima and Gertrude. All but Fatima are Protestants. I only got to see phone photos of them, ‘cause of my behavior… as if my being “demonstrative” is going to ruin the lives of a half dozen butterflies.

The remaining nine chrysalises (chrysali?) are getting darker, so they may hatch tomorrow. All but two of ‘em are camped inside an upside-down webbed basket. (That is the first appearance of that sentence in any language.) Two of the nine caterpillars escaped the netting. One formed a chrysalis on the underside of a shelf. The other roosted on the underside of one of the mini-blinds. What an idiot! It may well be our only boy.

For the purpose of shaming me, Kay enlisted the help of Michael, the kid next door, to help her release the last hatched. She told me that Michael was very gentle with the newborn. Like Michael is better than me. Why don’t you just knee me in the nards? -- Scratch that. Kay does not favor my use of testicular slang.  That’s what she said, “I do not favor…” La tee dah.

So, after that blow by blow account, you’ve probably guessed that I’ve been on the roof a good while. Butterflies don’t just appear and then fly off, you know. They’ve got to hang around until their butterfly-hearts pump enough butterfly-blood to their wings inorder to give them rigidities. (I’m pretty sure that’s a word, ‘cause spell-check let it slide. Rigidities.)

Kay took Beverly out too early. The poor thing slowly crawled from Kay’s finger to a milkweed plant. It was my idea for the early release. I was eager to get the show on the road. It was shortly after that I decided to hide up here. Can’t get into any trouble up here with you guys.

So, here we sit. Instead of witnessing the wonders of butterfly birth, we’re sitting up here on this metal roof somewhere between a kitchen vent and the satellite dish.

Speaking of which, what do you do with a satellite dish after you quit using it? DISH network never brought the subject up when we cancelled our service. It may have been an oversight… making me fear to remove the thing, I’ll probably get visited by two guys with black suits and dark sunglasses. “Okay, Mac, we can do this the hard way, or you can just tell us what you did with the dish.” The word “torture” would be thrown around a time or two.

Truth is, I’d have to give Kay up. I just do not do well under torture. Even the thought of torture. – “Oh, yeah, it was my wife. I begged her not to do it. But nooooo. She told me to get out of her way and quit being demonstrative.”

I don’t know if we’re sophisticated enough to possess a satellite dish. I have seen houses that still have those gigantic dishes, like the ones used around Hanger 51. The kind that can receive signals from the Zeta Prostatis Galaxy. The big dishes won’t receive TV signals anymore. Probably. But, they are great leaf catchers. Surely there’s some parts of the monstrosities that can be salvaged.

But then, what do I know about salvage? I can’t even salvage my image as head-of-the-house. I’m up here on the roof with you guys, ‘cause I apparently know nothing about birthing butterflies. I’ll have her know that I was the midwife of Annette, our firstborn monarch. Where was Kay during that birthing process? Out of town! (Oops. We’re yelling again. Hold it down, would you?)

I hope you realize I’m joking about not being the man of the house. Pretty much joking. Somewhat joking. I’m in charge, all right. But, I’ve found it best to pick my battles. I don’t mind giving in on this one, ‘cause the battle coming up involves the possible cancellation of HBO.

Kay thinks it’s ridiculous for us to pay $20 a month just so I can watch six episodes of “Game of Thrones” each year. I hate it when she uses logic against me. It boggles the mind how much this girl has advanced under my tutelage. Just makes me want to weep.

end
Mark@rooftopwriter.com

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Acting mean

I'm not a lecherous old man, and Al's not a preacher, but we play 'em in "Palliate."

I’m sure you would agree that I’m a really nice guy. I can see many of you nodding in
agreement at this very moment. “Nice” is the third best image to project. “Nice and buff” is the best.

Acting nice has come easy for me, because I’ve had such a sheltered life. When I was growing up, Mom dragged us to church twice on Sundays and once every Wednesday night. Yes, that caused me to miss the most epic TV programming ever, but it did make me to appear nice.

The Hayter kids were raised by a hard-working dad and a mother who stayed home caring for us. Part of the “caring” involved a lot of yelling and spanking. If we had been the only neighborhood kids who got spanked, we would’ve turned out so less nice.

At no time did I consider smoking, drinking, carousing or cussing. I think I frolicked once. I might’ve done that. Regardless, I was such a clean-cut person that while working my way through college at a factory, I was teased for being so square… so innocent. It was my first encounter with “raunchy” adults.

I absolutely hated the job. The only thing that made it bearable was the camaraderie with those raunchy men. Their teasing was good-natured, their work ethic admirable, and their thoughtfulness genuine. I didn’t pick up any of their bad language, but I did laugh at some of their crude jokes. There are some jokes, the humor of which, supersede all bounds of propriety. I’m not sure what that means, but it just might justify my reaction to the bawdy jokes.

The work experience left me a tad less naive. I did maintain my niceness, though. That’s very important. In fact, I can think of only two areas where being nice is not helpful. That is in writing and acting.

While writing fiction, I’ve always made my main characters out to be prime examples of morality; and the bad people to be really bad, without cursing. They can murder, pillage and plunder as long as they don’t curse. In other words, I have trouble making my characters real.

The same with acting. I don’t want a role where I have to cuss a lot. I would gladly play a mobster or a serial killer, but I don’t want to be a bad guy who cusses. While it’s only acceptable to be a murderer in a film if you don’t curse while you’re killing someone. That’s because, if you play a character who cusses, the actor must cuss. Easy to separate an actor from the role of murderer, but much harder to separate the actor from a character who swears.

With that in mind, I recently accepted a role as a lecherous, selfish, beer drinking old man who swears a lot. The theme is a good one, though. Something about the plight of caregivers who must take care of cantankerous parents. The director and writer of the script is someone I’ve worked with before. That being said, I’m sure I wasn’t his first choice for the role.

In order to preserve the semblance of niceness, I refused to say any of the “major” curse words. Regardless, my character was a real jerk, who possessed no redeeming quality. At first, it was difficult for me to deliver my lines in convincing manner. But, as time wore on, I got into character and it became less difficult.

And, speaking of beer, I’ve always hated the stuff. The smell was almost as bad as the taste. But, by the time scene 24 ended, I didn’t hate it anymore. I didn’t like it, but I managed to drink it without making a face. In total, I swallowed about a half can of lite beer. I got so tipsy.

My kid brother also had a part in the film. It was Al’s second role as a preacher. I’ve never visualized him as a preacher, but at least two casting directors have.

In his scene, Al was supposed to deliver a short fire-and-brimstone sermon. He was playing the stereotypical, hypocritical preacher who sermonized everyone straight to hell. Well, Al ended up writing his own sermon, and he changed it a bit. He stood in front of the congregation and talked about grace and love and seeking help from God. He even had tears in his eyes at one point.

One of the actors, sitting near me during the sermon, was supposed to appear angered at the preacher. However, after the scene, she told me that she started listening to Al and almost lost sight of the scene. The director even liked Al’s delivery. You see, my kid brother took the opportunity to change his character in a way that, I believe, improved the scene. Mom would’ve given him a big ol’ hug… and she would’ve spanked me.

I grew some as an actor as a result of playing such a jerk. And, I shed a little more of my naivete. Regardless, the filming is complete. All that’s left is the editing. The director hopes to enter “Palliate” at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin.

Realizing that you can make nearly anything sound justifiable, let me say that in scripture we read about some vile occurrences caused by both evil and godly people. God, being God, used honesty in the conveyance of His message. While my character was far removed from morality, he was crucial to the message of the film. That means something to me… but it would in no way keep Mom from giving me a spankin’. It was nearly impossible to justify bad behavior to Elsie.

end
mark@rooftopwriter.com

Friday, October 2, 2015

Jill's bicycle

It's a start -- Whatta start! -- Here's your ears!..  

Last time Jill visited she told me she wanted to buy a bicycle. “One of those three wheelers,” she said.  A three wheeler bicycle would be safer and it has big basket for carrying neat stuff.

 Right from the get-go I got on her bad side. I informed her that a three-wheeler is a tricycle not a bicycle; and that the difference can be determined by the numerical prefix.  Jill called me Mr. Smartypants, and then asked me what you call a bicycle with training wheels. I took that as a sign to get off the topic of wheels.

I kept waiting for Jill to solicit my advice about a bike purchase, but she never did. She kept going on and on about how a new bicycle might be the answer she was looking for. That’s when asked her what the question was that the bicycle might answer. In other words, “Why do you want a bicycle?”

Jill told that she was at a place in her life where she was so bored and lonely. She thought a bicycle might chase away her blues. In other words, she was seeking psychological help from something with a seat and handlebars.

That’s the moment I decided to tell my kid sister the fourth stupidest thing you can ever tell a lonely and bored person. I said, “Jill, loneliness and boredom are not where you are; it’s who you are.” (That’s coming from a guy who could write a book about being bored and lonely.)

Jill came very close to telling me, not WHO I was; but WHAT I was. Boy, did I deserve it. I tried to smooth things over by telling her that I was just trying to get her not to place a great deal of faith in a bicycle being a cure-all.

The good thing about Jill and me is that we don’t hold a grudge for over a week or two. It was right at a week later that Jill called to tell me about her new bicycle. My advice meant nothing to her. In fact, I think it drove her right into the front door of the bicycle store.

As of that moment, I can now say with all confidence that there is no one on this planet who gives two hoots about my advice. Kay still listens to my advice, but she wouldn’t take it if I paid her to. Al won’t even listen to my advice. Virginia would try to make gravy in a coke bottle if I advised her not to.

But, Jill? Jill used to ask me for advice all the time. Not about important stuff, you understand. Stuff like when to change the air filter on your air conditioner; and how you’re not supposed to buy the air conditioner filters made of fiberglass that are so porous you can stick a Popsicle stick through the gaps. And, how you’re supposed to hit the bottom of the pickle jar before trying to open it. Things like that.

But, she will no longer seek my advice. She says she just wants me to be a listener. If she wants to do something I don’t need to make suggestions. If she gets depressed, I don’t need to try to build her up. Don’t talk; just listen.

Ouch. That’s what I’ve been relegated to – the role of silent listener. What a kick in the tenders. That’s what it felt like when I first realized no one wanted to seek my advice. But, in a very short while – about three days – I discovered the relief associated with not being responsible for advice given. It’s like not having to roll up the hose. (Not really, but that came to mind.)

Now, when someone starts telling me about a problem, all I have to do is act like I’m listening.  And, as I get older, I won’t even have to act. Old people can get away with rudeness. – “Look, Shirtstain, your quest for someone who gives a hoot is not yet complete.”

I’m finally at peace with myself. Not with other people. People drive me nuts. But, I have inner peace, ‘cause my advice counts for bat guano.  People can marry the wrong spouse, spoil their kids rotten, open a jar of pickles all wrong… Doesn’t affect me ‘cause I’ve been decommissioned.

To tell the truth, I’m glad Jill bought a bicycle. She e-mailed me a picture of the thing, and it looks cool. Fortunately, it’s a two-wheeler, but only because the big tricycle cost a fortune. Oh, and her bike is baby-blue, with blue rims, a blue and white plaid seat, blue handle bars, yellow spokes, and a blue reed basket. Oh, and it’s a girl’s bike… a real dude magnet.

 Jill told me that when she was riding at the park, a kid yelled at her, “Hey! That’s a girl’s bike!” Jill smiled and nodded. Had she not been in a good mood, she would’ve ridden over and pushed the little snot down. That’s a sign that the bicycle might be improving Jill’s outlook.

The only bad thing I can see in all this is the fact that, now, Kay wants a bicycle. Or as I call it, “a garden hose holder with a seat.” And, do you think she has even pretended to care about my thoughts on the subject? -- You should be shaking your head right now. – Next time.
End
Mark@rooftopwriter.com

September roofsit


An epiphany... I think.


ROOFTOP – Did any of you notice how clean the siding of the house is? Well, by the time we’re through here, it’ll be too dark for you to see it, so climb down and take a look now. -- Yes, I’m joking. Sit back down. Don’t get me wrong, the siding looks great, but it’s not worth a double descent. Some of you haven’t fully recovered from your climb up here.

  Okay, back to the siding. Monday, a guy who works for a pressure-washing company came out and sprayed the daylights out of this place. Used an Eco-friendly brown oily stuff. In fact, I think that was the name of it. With oily stuff, algae is supposed to stay off the siding for seven years. And, the spray won’t kill the grass, the flowers or harm the neighbor’s cats. Shoot.

I signed up for a $100 spray job, but ended up paying more for Eco-friendliness and window spraying and porch-post-mildew-killing and for telephone line sagging. It’s the ol’ bait and switch thing. For what the job ended up costing me, I could have purchased my own spray washer and had Kay do the job.

But, let’s forget that. I’m sorry you even brought it up. We’re up here tonight to ponder, not to gripe. Some of you may have to remind me of that a time or two, ‘cause I tend to wander when I ponder. – What?

What’s been monopolizing my brain of late is something quite aggravating. But, I’m not griping about it, you understand? It’s just the thought that if I could remember half of the stuff I know, I’d be the smartest person up here.

Every single day I pack in a bunch of information. I’ve seen dozens… billions of documentaries about space, nature, history, math, uh… stuff. But, I can’t remember a fraction of what I know. It’s up there, all right; I just don’t know the password to bring it down. It’s like a joke. I’ll it hear it one minute and forget it the next. Just chaps my chapables.

A couple of you may recall an article I wrote about a conversation I had with Kay’s brother, Mike, a couple of years back. Actually, it was more of a lecture than a conversation. Mike was pontificating about the universe. The guy has a Masters Degree in Physics and Math. And, he’s blind! He has to keep all of the equations and theorems in his mind, ‘cause he can’t see ‘em written out.  He’s the smartest guy I know. I could just slap him.

Anyway, Mike was sitting across the kitchen table from me talking about the possibilities of us having more than just five senses. Say, 18. And we’re living in a place with 30 different dimensions. I was making all kinds faces at Mike while he was explaining this to me, because he was talking way over my head. And, because he couldn’t see me doing it. By the way, he’s got a great sense of humor.

But, at one point I quit making faces and started listening. That’s when I had an epiphany. You know, something that, uh, hits you that, uh…? Well, I don’t know what it is, but I had one. I latched onto that thought for about two seconds. Then it was gone.

But, for a moment, I understood the mysteries of faith, hope, fear, life, and spirituality. All the important stuff. And, I wasn’t on drugs. I was taking medication for gout, but I don’t think it had anything to do with the vanishing epiphany. The pills don’t even have much to do with my gout.

 Regardless, the brief realization that captured my mind is somewhere in my brain just waiting to be called to memory. The only way it’s going to resurface is when I’m falling off a cliff and seeing my life flash before my eyes. I have every confidence that’ll meet the ground just before the epiphany shows itself.

  So, that’s why I’m up here cogitating. Just trying to get a grip on things. Not a gripe; a grip. But, I’m also up here so I can apologize to monarch butterflies everywhere. I don’t see any at the moment, but they’re probably listening. Some of you may remember an article where I insulted monarch butterflies for being too selective in what they eat? They only eat milkweed. I hinted that that was the reason they’re numbers are down.

Well, I saw one of those nature shows yesterday, and learned that milkweed contains a toxin that doesn’t hurt monarch caterpillars, but it makes them taste terrible to predators. Sickening, even. Lizards, birds and snakes won’t eat monarchs. Polar bears can take ‘em or leave ‘em.

What I considered to be a factor in the near-eradication of monarchs, is actually something that’s kept them alive for centuries. If mama monarchs laid their eggs on the leaves of just any plant, the caterpillars would taste better and geckos would eat ‘em up. Vile-looking creatures, you ask me.

So, I now apologize to monarch butterflies for insulting them, and I apologize to their Maker for questioning His reasons for milkweed. I still don’t understand the purpose of lovebugs, but their place in the food chain is likely responsible for the preservation of orcas. --  I’m pretty sure all of that was covered in my epiphany… not that it’s doing me any good.  -- Next time.


end 
mark@rooftopwriter.com

Maybe Lost Maples

“Trip Planning”


Kay and I are going on a trip this fall, and it doesn’t matter what I say. That’s a good indication that at some point this fall I will be spending a couple nights in a bed other than my own.

I can deal with that. I HAVE dealt with that. I’ve slept in many a bed not my own. (I’ll revisit that statement later and probably edit it out.) Back in 1970, Fred Musgrove and I once spent the night in $6-a-night hotel in downtown Winnfield, Louisiana. We would’ve gotten separate rooms, but were too scared to room alone.

When we checked in, we were checked over by about 15 guys in the lobby who had 38 teeth among ‘em. I think they were curious by the fact that we were both wearing shirts. Truth is, we were doing some forestry research for SFA, and had spent all but $10 of our daily per diem on meals.

The restroom for the entire third floor of the hotel was about five doors down..  Speaking of doors, ours would not shut nor lock. Musgrove managed to wedge a chair against it. It was about 90 degrees in the fanless room, and we slept fully clothed atop the bedspread. Other than the heat and the smell, the only other disturbance came at around 3:00 a.m. when the ghost of Huey P. Long appeared in the corner of the room. I lost a lot of respect for Governor Long that night.

I brought up this story because it was related to sleeping in a different locale. It had nothing to do with the notion that Kay and I might visit Winnfield, Lousiana this fall. That’s not happening no matter what Kay says.

Point is, we don’t know where we’re going. Kay keeps mentioning a trip to Lost Maples State Natural Area. I thought it was a State Park, but it’s officially called a “Natural Area.” I’m assuming they changed the name after managing to clear out all of the unnatural stuff from the Park.

The Lost Maples aren’t really lost, you understand? They’re about eight miles north of Vanderpool. The only thing lost out there is the area north of Lost Maples. You’ll see next to nothing for the next 200 miles to Abilene.

To stay over night in the area of Lost Maples, I think you have to either camp out or rent a cabin near Vanderpool that has beds made out of cow horns. You ask me, “rustic” is not much of a draw. I was born and raised in rustic. And, I experienced the epitome of rustic while in Winnfield, LA. (See above.)

Lost Maples may be the best place for us. I just don’t know. Kay and I have been all over Texas. Other than the misplaced maples, I doubt there’s anything we haven’t seen in this state. I take that back. This evening we met some friends for a burger at JAX over on College Park. During our—What? Yes it was a good burger. May I continue?

During our two-hour visit, our friends mentioned the Five Painted Churches of Schulenburg. (The town name has several pronunciations. The most accurate I’ve found is “Shoe-limb-bursitis.” The very reason I didn’t take German in High School.) Kay and I have passed through Schulenberg more than once. We never spent a great deal of time looking at painted church buildings, though, ‘cause we just assumed ALL of them were painted. You see one painted church, you’ve seen ‘em all.

When we got home from the good burger place, I googled “Painted Churches.” (That’s a crime in most states.) Anyway, I discovered that practically all of the church buildings in Shoe Town are painted. It’s just that five of them are spectacularly ornate. Definitely worth seeing. So, there’s a chance we could visit both the Painted Churches and the Lost Maples in one trip. That way we’ll circumvent Winnfield, LA altogether.

You wanna know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy. Jill is also taking a Texas vacation this fall, and she’s going by herself. She enjoys travelling alone. Jill can stop anywhere she wants. She doesn’t have to argue over where to eat or what to see. And, she can get lost without yelling at herself. In fact, Jill told me that getting lost is part of the fun of a trip. Is it any wonder I love my sister?

Jill has had her route mapped out since February. Among her stops will be Cedar Creek, where she’ll see Ms. Pearl the Giant Squirrel. She’ll go to Elroy to see the giant smiley-face water tower. She plans to see a giant spider sculpture in Austin and an eight-acre corn maze in Rocky Creek. They even have a corn cannon. I’ve never seen a corn cannon. And, I’m sure I’ll be able to repeat that fact on my deathbed.

I used to plan trips pretty much the way Jill does. Somewhere down the line, I discovered that the actual trip never measured up to the planning. To keep from any further disappointment, I let Kay plan our trips. So far, she doesn’t know when we’re going or exactly where we’re going… just that we’re going. Lost Maples, Schulemberg, Pancake, Texas (Population 11)…

I’m leaning toward Pancake on a Friday night. I’m curious to see their high school marching band. – Next time.

end 
mark@rooftopwriter.com

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Ping!

Making the ping sound
Al in process of clobbering the ball


On the way home from China Delight last week, I noticed Big Al’s truck parked at the driving range. It seemed like a great evening to spend some time with my kid brother, so I dropped Kay off at the house and headed back for Golf World.

The area had about six guys hitting balls. As I walked down the path, I passed two guys leaving. One must’ve been a pro, ‘cause he was telling the other guy how to improve his golf swing.

Have you ever had someone try to improve your golf swing? You just want to slap ‘em. “Keep your elbow straight. Not that one! Quit slouching! Look how you’re holding that club?” Dad was one whale of teacher… and I was one lousy student.

But, let’s get back to Big Al… who happened to be sitting on a foldout chair under an awning. There was a guy walking in front of me carrying a leather golf bag full of clubs of all denominations. Anything over five clubs is just showing off, you ask me.

Al escorted the guy with the big bag into the office and got him squared away with a wire-basket of balls. Oh, I forgot to tell you that Al wasn’t at Golf World to golf. He occasionally manages the place for the owner. Al is related to the owner by marriage. I don’t mean he’s married to the owner, you understand? He just… O’ forget it.

Me? I’m not related to the owner, so Al would probably make me pay for my own bucket of balls. Fortunately, I didn’t care to hit any balls that evening. I got my share of hitting during my last visit. That’s when Al let me use one of those drivers with the huge club-head. The head of this club was as big my cereal bowl. And, it was made of titanium.

No one knows what titanium really is, but it’s used to make everything from bulletproof vests to non-stick Jello molds… oh, and golf clubs. It’s really good with golf clubs. I never hit a ball so far in all my life. And, each time I hit one, it went “PING!” What a great sound. “PING!” Unfortunately, I only got to hear about 10 pings, ‘cause I wore myself out fast. The club is so light that it makes you want to really bear down and swing. If I had to hit a whole bucket of balls, I’d have a cardiac.

But, I didn’t hit any balls on this particular evening. Instead, Al and I sat out there till dusk and talked about important stuff. Mostly, Al answered questions. – “Al, how is the acting going? How many auditions did you have last month? Where are you going on your next trip? If I borrowed your camping trailer, would you haul it for me?” -- Stuff like that.

Al had nursed his cigar down to about an inch and a half by nightfall. Al gets everything out of a cigar there is to get. And, as luck would have it, the only golfer remaining was getting every minute of golfing time he could. It was a couple of minutes before closing, when the guy asked for another bucket of balls.
A picture of the balls; not the machine that
picked 'em up. That's top secret.

I don’t know how you determine the official closing time at a golfing range. If someone asks for another bucket of balls just before closing time, does that mean he gets to stay until he hits them all?

Apparently, that’s what Al thought the rule was, ‘cause he let the guy stay. However, he did ask the guy to hit at the far end, so that we could pick up balls while he finished off his bucket. – That meant that I was going to get to ride with Al on the ball-vacuum machine.

Do you know how the machine picks up balls? It’s got these big roller things with grooves that run over the balls and somehow chunks ‘em into a one of about five baskets. I’m sure that one of the parts of the machine was made of titanium. Chinese titanium.

It is so neat to be riding at night on a golf ball-sucking tractor, across a well-mowed, field. I asked Al how fun it was to drive the tractor. He said, “Do you wanna drive this thing?” -- I asked him if he’d let me. He nodded and said, “No.”

At one point, I hopped off the tractor and grabbed a pitching wedge and started knocking the hard-to-reach balls onto the middle of the field so the tractor could get to ‘em. The way I was swinging the club, it would’ve taken me three days to get all those balls in the right place. So, I started picking ‘em up and throwing ‘em in the middle of the field.

A little while later, Al parked the tractor, grabbed a seven iron and joined me. At one point I looked over at him and said, “Al, when we were kids, did you ever imagine we’d be together on a driving range picking up golf balls? He thought for a moment and said, “No, I didn’t see this in our future.”

Neither did I. But, had I imagined it, I must say it turned out to be a lot more fun than I would’ve dreamed. For some reason weird stuff makes for the best memories. You ever notice that? – Next time.
end

mark@rooftopwriter.com

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Followup

“And that’s the rest of the story” 

“Closure” is a word that has been overused for, oh, 30 or so years. Since the time of Henry II, closure had been used in reference to something that shuts. Unfortunately, in 1986, Rayan Collins wondered if it could be used to explain why people go nuts. -- They've got no closure!

Along those lines, I get calls and e-mails all the time from people demanding closure on my articles. “Why do you start something without telling the reader how it ends? What kind of a jerk does that?” I usually give my pat answer – “Oh, yeah? Well, so are you.”

However, this morning I shall pretend to be an adult by providing closure on a couple of stories. I shall start with the caterpillar story. I ended the article right after the chrysalis was formed. I stopped there because the stupid cocoon just hung there past my deadline.

Oh, I could’ve made an ending about a butterfly that appeared and spelled out “Thank you” in butterfly spit. But, nooo. I’m not going to make up something. Except maybe that story about Rayan Collins in 1986.

Well, now, I know the ending to the story of caterpillar. On the morning of the Twelfth Day of its chrysalis stage, I discovered that the beautiful, jade-colored, small chrysalis had turned black.  Immediately, I thought the worst… ‘cause that’s what I do.

Kay was away in Austin, taking care of her brother and his ailing wife. I would’ve been with her, but someone had to look after the caterpillar. I called Kay to give the news about the death of her pet. Unfortunately, she had blocked my calls. Or, her battery was dead. I’m pretty sure she blocked me, though.

I decided to read the newspaper, to get my mind off the dying or dead caterpillar. While on my way to the Keurig, I saw it… some small sticky-looking butterfly wings coming out of a transparent shell of a chrysalis

My first thought was – Coffee! – But, I quickly chased that thought away and replaced it with – Camera! – After about 20 minutes I found my cell phone and pushed the camera button. Instantly, a calendar appeared. Why do I even have the thing?

I made my way to the closet in the study and eventually came out with our real camera. The one with the low battery. I snapped about four photos. Didn’t want to waste the battery. Over a period of about an hour, that butterfly had a big set of Monarch wings. They weren’t moving though. The thing just stayed put for a good while.

The critter finally climbed to the stick I had propped up next to the bare milkweed plant. I waited as long as I cared to, before grabbing the stick and walking it outside. By the way, it was a girl. I could tell by the two dots on its wings. It didn’t have any. And the veins on the wings were wide… as veins go. Those characteristics are those of a female. That and the large breasts.

The butterfly flitted to one of the shrubs in the flowerbed. I sat on the ground to get some better pictures, when, in a nano-second that girl left the plant and flew right over my head. It took me a couple of minutes to twist, grab and fight my way up off the ground. By that time, there was nothing to see. I walked all around the house. Walked over to the neighbor’s house. Nothing. I got no gratitude from that selfish butterfly. No closure. You got closure, but all I got was heartache.

That night, Kay called, and I told her the butterfly story. She about cried. She had missed witnessing her pet’s journey into adulthood. Now she wants another caterpillar. And, I want nothing to do with it.

I went on a little too long with the butterfly story, so we’ve just got time for closure on one other story. Let’s go with the roof-leak. This is the one where I told the  story about almost falling off the roof. I was originally on the roof trying to find a leak that was making the ceiling wet in the bedroom. – The troubles in my life just keep comin’.

Well, after crawling all over the higher part of the house, I found nothing that looked leakable. Suddenly I remembered an infomercial. The one about the black spray paint that seals leaks. They supposedly use it on the bed of pickups. Like I believe that. I went to Home Depot and bought a can of something pretty much like that stuff. Except, they didn’t offer me an extra can for the mere cost of shipping.

I ended up spraying the flange on the fireplace smokestack. Then I sprayed everything that was connected to something else. Of course, I didn’t clean the metal or replace the old caulk.  The last thing I wanted to do was turn the process into a big job.

Bottom line, it rained like a bad dog last week for about thirty minutes. Afterwards, I checked the ceiling in the master bedroom. That thing was dry as a horn-toad’s armpit.

I feel so accomplished; so good about what I’d done. However, I’m going to feel even better if the ceiling remains dry after the next rain. The last time was probably just a fluke. I’ve been hurt way too many times by a positive attitude.

So, that’s it. You’ve had both butterfly and roof closures. That ouhtta kill two-thirds of all the e-mails I’ve received about not finishing stuff I start. With that in mind, you’re now getting closure on this article. Do you feel it? Feels good doesn’t it? Anybody feeling it? Well, maybe next time.

end
mark@rooftopwriter.com

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Origins of names


Origins of Rahab the Harlot's name... and others.

People of my generation have the least weird names. My siblings’ names are Lynda, Larry, Susan, Dennis, Jill and Alan. In school, my friends’ names were Johnny, Tommy, Jimmy, David, and Skipper. Skipper was as weird a name as you’d run across. And, get this, he was a Skipper before “Gilligan’s Island” ever aired.

Today’s children are named after seasons, states, cities, planets, insects, rare flowers, vegetables, and computer parts. A bunch have made-up names. “Machienzel?”

The few normal-named kids have weird name spellings. Chari for Sherry. Dafydd for David and Jarvyn for Ronald. Anything to make life miserable for school teachers.

That being said, the worst names in the history of mankind were those that were conjured up during ancient times. “Rahab the Harlot” comes to mind. Some of you may know that Rahab received notoriety as a result of Joshua sending two guys to spy out the city of Jericho. For a reason that was not made clear in scripture, the two men went straight to the business establishment of Rahab the Harlot. The business was actually owned by her husband, Peleg the Pimp. (A joke!) I assume the spies were looking for Rahab the Shoe Doctor, but got the Jerichoian spelling of “Shoe Doctor” and “Harlot” mixed up.

There were many other Biblical personalities named after their trade. Let’s see, Simon the Tanner comes to mind. What did they call Simon before he worked in leather? Simon the Carrot Hater? Simon the Clod Thrower?

If you go farther back, you’ll find Ishmael. He was prophesied to become “a wild ass of a man.” Gen 16: 12 (RSV) I’ll bet he got into a lot of fights at school. --  “Hey, Ishmael the Wild Ass! Where’s your brother Jack?” Kids can be so cruel.

Occasionally, names would get a bit complicated. Who can forget Jonah in the Whale? People would come up to him and say, “Hey, look, it’s Jonah in the Whale! I’ll bet he got tired of correcting people. “No, I’m Jonah in the Big Fish. A whale can’t swallow a man, because it’s throat is too narrow, you jackass!” – “Wait a minute. You must mistake me for Ishmael’s brother.”

In Sunday school, we used to sing about Zacchaeus the Wee Little Man. What a horrible name. They could’ve called him “Little Man” or “Short Guy.” But, “Wee Little Man” is just piling on. By the way, Zacchaeus was the tax collector who climbed a sycamore tree so he could see Jesus coming down the street. The entire story is told in Luke 19, or you can just sing the song. “Zacchaeus was a wee little man. A wee little man was he. He climbed up in a…”Naw, go ahead and read the account.

Can you imagine wearing the name James the Lesser? There was no way you were meant to excel with a name like that. From what I read, he was named The Lesser so that during conversation, people wouldn’t mistake him for James the son of Zebedee, who was consider greater than the other James. That’s just cruel.

Eventually, someone invented last names. I believe the first guy using a last name was Phillip Hunter. He was a hunter by profession. (Duh!) But, his son, Josh, wasn’t a hunter. Hated hunting. Still, Phil told people to refer to his son as Josh Hunter. The new system caught on like Double Stuff Oreo’s.

Today, if you’re last name is “Smith”, somewhere down the line, one of your grandpas’ was a blacksmith. I understand that Kroger is a derivative of the German name for “host.” Apparently, back in the day, a host actually charged people for what they ate. My Grandmother Hayter’s maiden name was Picklesiemer. One of her grandpas used to catch and pickle siemers. The name “Kellogg” referred to a killer of hogs. At breakfast time, you need to just put that one out of your mind.

The name “Hayter” goes back to a time when names referred to your address. Remember Robin of Locksley? Well, the earliest of my line of grandpas lived in Scotland atop a high hill. He was Reginald of the High Hill. Or Reginald Hayter. Had he made barrel hoops while living on the high hill, my last name would be Hayterhooper. How cool is that?

Names are crazy things. Crazy things intended for identification, not characterization. While I feel a smidgen of pride in being a member of The Hayter Clan, I had nothing to do with the selection process. Didn’t even have a vote. I feel it was in God’s hands.

Faith tells me that it was the same with the story of Rahab the Harlot. I don’t mean to get all religious on you, but in Matthew 1, the lineage of Jesus is listed through the names of His male ancestors. That’s the way it was done. However, there were three women who broke the mold and made the list. They were Mary the Mother of Jesus, Ruth the Moabite, and Rahab the Harlot… who happened to be the great, great grandmother of King David, and the multi-great grandmother of Jesus the Christ.

I realize this part is a fairy tale to many, but it’s fascinating to me, and “I’m the one driving this team of mules.” -- That’s what Daddy used to say before we went on vacation. “Everybody get in the car. I’m driving this team of mules!”

If Dad had been the first in our clan, my name would probably be Mark Muleman. I could just hear Coach Stevens, my football coach. “Muleman, you jack ass! What were you doing on that play?” Everyone would laugh at the pun. -- Like I’d never heard it before. – Aren’t names crazy? – Next time.

End
mark@rooftopwriter.com

Friday, August 14, 2015

Monarch butterfly

“Kay’s new pet” 


I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t care to have a pet. Pet owning carries with it responsibility. I don’t like responsibility any more than I like a challenge. Those are two words you toss around at a job interview, not in real life.

Kay would enjoy the challenge and responsibility of owning a pet… say a dog.  And, there is little doubt that she’d be the best dog owner on the planet, next to Bob Barker. Fortunately, Kay honors my wish to own no animals. And, she will honor that up until the moment of my passing. I have every confidence that at my funeral Kay will be carrying a purse with a Yorkie in it. -- And I’m good with that.

However, until that day, I hoped to remain petless. So, you can imagine the shock I had last week when Kay yelled for me to come to the kitchen to see her new pet. She so much wanted to surprise me, knowing that I’m one of 18 people on the planet who do not enjoy surprises. I need time to prepare for stuff. Good? Bad? It doesn’t matter. Just give me a moment. A couple of days, maybe.

I didn’t hurry to the kitchen. I viewed the surprise with as much enthusiasm as I would news that there was a puddle under the fridge. When I saw Kay, she was looking over the sink at a couple of plants she had set on the windowsill. Now my dread was on the wane.

Kay pointed at one of the leaves and told me to lean over and take a look at “him”. All right. Kay had apparently adopted a pot plant for a pet. And it was a male plant. Instantly I recalled the oath I took. -- In sickness and insanity. – Yes, I would play along with her little charade.

“He’s right there on the leaf. See?” Sure enough. There he was. A worm. A little worm. I assured Kay that I was cool with her raising a worm as a pet, as long as it was an outdoor pet. Kay informed me that it wasn’t a worm. It was a caterpillar. An indoor caterpillar.

Okay, I’ll give you the short version. -- The plants in the window were milkweeds. Kay’s friend Shannon had given ‘em to her so she could eventually plant them in the yard to attract monarch butterflies.

Monarch butterflies seem to be in a bad way. The numbers are way down, and Kay wanted to join Shannon in an attempt to increase the population of the critters. Turns out one of the plants Kay brought home already had a tiny caterpillar on it. And there it was eating the milkweed before it could even take root.

That was a week or so back. Now, after eating every last bit of milkweed, the caterpillar is huge. (Two inches is huge in caterpillar length. Same with snakes.) Kay moved the remaining bare plant stems to a table in the dining room and put one of our collapsible, finely-meshed clothes baskets over it. Before you showed up, I noticed that big worm had climbed to the roof of the basket. That’s where you go after eating everything in the house.

The caterpillar will soon make a silk wrote to suspend itself  from its perch. Next stage will be the cocoon or chrysalis. About two weeks from now we should find a butterfly in that basket. And, I’ve just got to tell you, I’m going to be as excited as Kay when it happens. I’m not saying this hasn’t been a challenge. That caterpillar has pooped milkweed droppings all over the place. And, it’s been no easy task replenishing the milkweed.

Do you know who sells milkweed? China. I suppose. Shannon’s got some, but her supply has dwindled considerably. Those bubbas do nothing but eat and defecate. And, if you put ‘em on any other plant but milkweed, they’ll die. They only eat milkweed.

Milkweed? What’s the draw? Pandas live on bamboo and koalas eat only eucalyptus. Do you know why Pandas and Koalas are among the endangered species? They’re picky eaters!  Do you know why there are so many goats in this world? They’ll eat anything. Phonebooks, distributor caps, recyclable plastic bottles… a steering wheel if they can find one.

If Monarch caterpillars would just try something else, we could stop all this milkweed nonsense. Loco weed, rosebushes, ferns, clover, pine cones, oak bark… We wouldn’t have to worry about how few butterflies show up in Mexico this October, if only Monarchs would try eating a variety of food.

Those bubbas have been migrating back and forth from Canada and Mexico living only on milkweed. Don’t get me wrong, the adult butterfly gets stuff out of all kinds of flower blooms, but the female will only lay eggs on milkweed. One egg per plant, so the little baby caterpillar will have plenty to eat when it hatches. Remember the two things they do exclusively? Do you?

So, between now and fall, we need to attract more Monarchs to our yards. By “we” and “our” I’m referring to you. One of you needs to start a Monarch Butterfly Club. I would, but it’s too much of a challenge. However, if you’ll start a club, I’ll make a meeting or two. Just don’t make me responsible for anything.

I will tell you this, as soon as Kay’s project takes off, we’re not going to have indoor caterpillar pets. All the milkweed is going to be in the yard. They can eat and relieve themselves all they want out there. But, in the kitchen over the sink? – Repeat after me – “In sickness and insanity.”
12 days after Chrysalis stage


End
mark@rooftopwriter.com

Gutter saver


Rooftop Near-disaster
We're sitting on the top part. 
ROOFTOP – I realize the attendance up here is a bit less than usual. I imagine some of our fellow roofsitters bailed when they realized we were headed for the highest part of the roof.

We’re normally seated above the one-story part of the house. If the roof were to collapse where we usually sit, we would end up in a pile on the floor of the dining room. Some of you might land in the kitchen.

However, this evening we find ourselves on the roof above the second story part of the house. It’s a smaller area above the study and master bedroom.  Were the roof to collapse right now, some of us would end up in the master bedroom, with one or two of you landing in Kay’s bathtub. If you prefer the bedroom, best move a little more to the left.

Fortunately, the roof is not likely to collapse. We may well fall off this thing, but I doubt we’ll fall through it.  If you’ll look behind you, you’ll see the place where I nearly bought the proverbial farm. None of you were up here at that time, ‘cause nobody wanted to help me clean the gutter. I don’t believe in gutter guards. Don’t trust ‘em.

So, I was using my leaf blower when raindrops started hitting the metal roof. The drops were rather sparse, but each carried about a quart of water. No worry, I’m like a mountain goat… or one of those lizards with suction-cupped feet.

I only had about a foot of gutter to go when it happened. Some of you will recall the incident from an article I wrote called “Keister Krack.” The editor wisely changed it to “Tailbone Trauma.” Something like that.

 Regardless what it was called, my feet slid out from under me, causing me to land really hard on the part of the anatomy that serves as the dispatcher of all pain. It’s got a technical name. I think the Saxons called it “hellbone”, but the Normans changed it to “tailbone.”

My immediate worry had nothing to do with my fractured fanny. That’s because I didn’t remain in the fall-down place long enough to focus. I immediately started sliding past the edge of doom, directly to doom itself. Death would come as a result of me landing on the angled brick lining at the edge of the driveway. I figured my best bet would be to land on my rear, ‘cause it was already critical.

My last thought -- before it happened -- was that Kay was going to be really be ticked off once she came home. I hate to leave without being able to defend myself. During the slide, I had a firm grip on the leaf-blower. It took me forever to get the thing started, so I feared it might stop if I tossed it. Weird the thoughts you have before death.

So, my hands stayed with the leaf blower, while my legs were just going along for the ride ‘cause of all the pain my tailbone was sending them. All of a sudden I stopped sliding. Seems my left foot got trapped in the gutter. The gutter didn’t bend or break. It held on like grim death, and I loved it for it. I was saved by the very gutter I was cleaning. Is that not irony? -- No, I’m asking. Would you call that irony?

The second I realized I wasn’t going to die, every square inch of my body started throbbing. All the pain was radiating from my tailbone. It sent messages to my neck, my lungs, knees. pancreas… It took me about an hour and half to make my way off the roof. With each agonizing step, I thanked God for not letting me experience the one-second dismount.

Isn’t that fascinating?  We’re up here near the very spot where I had my near death experience. Keep in mind, I didn’t see a bright light. I saw Kay being really mad at me.  – So,  are there any questions? – Right. What are we doing up here? Yes, I realize I could’ve easily told this story at ground level.

To tell the truth, we didn’t come up here so I could tell the story. We came up here so I could find the source of a leak that is staining the ceiling in the bedroom. Kay thinks the caulked area around the chimney has a gap in it. I’ve looked, but can’t find one.

I’m getting ready to check the area around the eaves, but before doing so I wanted to share the story with you, because it may well be my last. (I always think the worst, because it’s impossible to get disappointed that way. You knew that.) – So, away with you all. Best you not see this. Or hear it. I’ve been told I scream like a girl. – I’ll give you a few minutes to clear the premises.

Coast is clear. -- Well, Father, it looks like it’s just You and me again. Please, realize that the last time it took my tailbone a year to completely heal. So, if I have to fall, I’d appreciate You letting me fall forward. And, if it’s not too much trouble, please, don’t let me overshoot the hedge. I might could crawl away from a hedge-fall.

Okay, let’s do this thing. -- Next time.  (By the way. The fact that you’re reading this is an indication that I survived to climb again. Life is good… until it’s not. Weird how that works.)
End
Mark@rooftopwriter.com