Wednesday, August 29, 2018


“Capturing a nincompoop”

            BACKYARD – It would be nice if we had a ceiling fan on the back porch. It’s not going to happen, though, because Kay said that the wasps and spiders would take it over. I told her I doubt that because wasps and spiders don’t like to live near one another. -- Ah. That’s what she said. “Ah.” That’s short for “I hate it when you do that.”

            Kay is standing by the flower garden, pulling and poking at stuff. A few seconds ago she mentioned how the flowers in her hanging basket, close up at night. I asked her what they were, and she mumbled, “Port Lavaca.” I know that’s not what she said, but I’ve quit asking her to repeat stuff. I wish she’d show me the same courtesy.

            I am at the stage where I refuse to believe I’m hard of hearing. Everyone else just mumbles. It’s mostly cashiers, waiters and the children who take your order at fast-food places. Yep, everybody is trying to make me look like a nincompoop.

            Unfortunately, I recently helped ‘em do it. Actually, Kay did. She’s the one who helped build a case for my nimcompooedness, by giving me my first lesson in watercolors. Let’s flashback a month. Remember me telling you about Kay taking an art class taught by Conroe High’s art teacher, Jaime Landry? After the four-day session, Kay came home with a sheet of art paper that expressed three different phases of her life. She painted portraits of herself as a child, as middle-aged and as nowaday-aged.

            The largest of the portraits doesn’t have much detail and is more of an impressionistic piece. She first sketched herself from a photo without looking at the paper on which she was drawing. If I may borrow the words of a Sicilian character in a Fairy Tale -- “That’s inconceivable!”  Yet, in the finished portrait, I can definitely discern some of Kay’s features, but more than her looks, she managed to capture her personality. If you don’t know Kay, you’ll think it a bad likeness. I see the character of Kay. She’s a doll.

            About three weeks after the art class, I told Kay that I wanted to draw a portrait of me without looking at what I was drawing. She left my study and came back 45 minutes later. “I’m ready,” she said. I followed her into the dining room to see an assortment of paints, brushes and drawing paper atop the table. The girl had gone to way too much trouble for what I had in mind.

            I told her I didn’t want to draw from a photograph, I wanted merely to look at my face in a mirror and draw my likeness without looking at the paper. You’re not going to believe it, but when I finished my sketch it looked scary. My chin was actually to the right of the rest of my face. I couldn’t even find my nose or eyes. I told Kay that I didn’t know what I was supposed to learn from the experience, but it pretty well ruined me for art.

            So, I grabbed another sheet of paper and sketched my portrait while looking at what I was doing. For the most part, it was laughable, but you could still see some features of Mark in it. If you’ve got a beard and a big nose, it’s easier to draw yourself. Wait, not easy, just less hard. The watercolor part is inconceivable.

            I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but when you stick a paint brush into a dab of colored water, and touch it to the paper the color runs all over the place. Where the brush first meets paper, the color runs. It is darkest at the point of contact, but with every move of the brush it gets lighter. You have to continually go back and make the color look even. Sometimes you don’t want it to look even. You just make some random splotches on different parts of the paper. Here is where you really need some artistic talent.

            At one point Kay told me that I was drowning the cat. I thought it was another instance where I misheard what she said. As a joke, I repeated the words as I had heart them. “Right, no cat drowning,” I said. She told me that leaving your brush in the water is referred to as “Drowning the cat.” It does something to the brush.  I chose not to listen to the explanation, because it was about cats.

            I was not at all impressed with my finished product. However, Kay was thrilled with the painting. Right now it’s framed and sitting on a table in the living room. I’ll include a picture of the painting on my blog, so you can judge for yourself. If you don’t know me, you’ll think the portrait hideous. If you truly know me, you’ll see that I pretty well captured the real me. Inside and out, I’m a nincompoop. Kay says I’m her nincompoop. Isn’t that sweet?

Mark can be contacted at Visit for a chronological read of past articles. You may visit Amazon Books to order Mark’s novel, “The Summer of 1976.”

property taxes

"Hokey Smokes! New property taxes!"

            The past week was a busy one for me. I don’t like busy. I didn’t retire for the purpose of staying busy. I retired for one reason and one reason only. – Because I could.

            I now find myself at the age where I don’t like to post stuff on my calendar. It means I have committed myself to be somewhere at a particular time in order to do something that I don’t normally do. I have been blessed to live long enough to accept the fact that anything I don’t normally do is something that I’d rather not do.

            The first thing scribbled on last week’s calendar was “Tax office - 1:30.” It had to do with Kay scheduling a meeting with the County Appraisal Panel to protest our property taxes. I would rather spend the night in our recycle bin than stand in front of a panel of professionals to protest something. Yet, it had to be done.

            Our new house is located a mile and half away from our old house, and it is situated inside the Conroe city limits. That’s cool. I’ve got city water, sewage and garbage pickup. It costs us a lot more than at our old house, but I like it better than our old aerobic septic system. Our old place was separated from Conroe by the width of a street. Our tax bill came to 3.3 percent of our fixed income. That was good.

            Our new place has a smaller lot and a smaller house and the property taxes are 12 % of our fixed income. I knew it was going up, but I thought that the homestead exemption and our over 65 exemption would take care of a chunk of that. I am such an idiot.

            Our protest was scheduled about two weeks in advance, so I had plenty of time to dread the event. I have always handled jobs or projects based on the anticipation of the worst-case-scenario. When you adopt that philosophy, there is nothing that can disappoint you.

            Well, the time of the meeting came, and Kay and I walked out without standing in front of the panel of handpicked citizens who are appointed to arbitrate appraisal issues. Kay was told by friends that a more polite and charming group you will not find. That gave me hope and caused me to approach the meeting with wit and cuteness. But, like I say, it didn’t happen.

            After an hour wait we were called up front to meet with a single appraisal guy who was our go-between with the panel. He was there to answer any questions about our appraisal. After that, we’d stand before the panel ONLY if we were unsatisfied with the explanation. The appraisal guy was nice as he could be. By the time the man finished, I had trouble understanding the concept, but only because I was trying to apply common sense. Kay figured everything out at the get go. The appraisal guy found a something that would bring our appraisal down a half of a percentage point.

            Before leaving this alone, I must tell you that I am not opposed to taxation. It’s gotta be done. And whether you choose to believe it or not, Texans are taxed less than in most states. We pay higher fees than in most states, but that’s okay, because fees are fees and taxes are taxes. See?

            I will stick my neck out and say this: Ready? If we could lose property taxes, I would gladly accept a State income tax, knowing that it would be much less than 11.5 % of my fixed income. While I understand the need for taxation, I am at odds with what it is the State chooses to tax. With all the Municipal Utility Districts, hospital districts, school districts, college districts… I fear we may be taxed out of house and home.

            Too much about taxes. I only have time and space left in this column for last Saturday’s scheduled church safety meeting. If you are in any way involved in teaching or serving in any capacity inside the church building you were asked to attend a three-hour meeting.

            The lecture covered stuff like what do we do in case of a a tornado or fire? What if someone collapses in class or has a seizure or stroke? What should we do before EMT arrives? What if a pew collapses and people fall and we end up with massive tailbone fractures? (We were asked to brainstorm possible scenarios, and that one just came to me.)

            Of course, what about someone coming in and opening up with an automatic rifle. Nowadays, it is prudent to anticipate the worst case scenario. I do that in church during some of the sermons. -- What if someone marched down the aisle with a fist clutching some automatic weaponry? After screaming like a child, what would I do to save the day? I’ve been thinking stuff like that since I was a kid.

            In our congregation there are police officers, nurses, firemen, a 911 director… people well versed in safety. And, a plan has been developed to handle situations that some call “The New Normal.” True, there are no guarantees in life. But, it’s best to have a plan; to anticipate.

            Obviously, none of this is new to me. I’ve been anticipating bad stuff forever. It’s what I do.

Mark can be contacted at Visit Amazon Books to order Mark’s novel, “The Summer of 1976.”

Phone search

"Someone in this house stole my phone"
            Most of the things I’ve witnessed in the last 30 years, I never saw
coming. Technological and social trends have always surprised the daylights out of me. That’s a big reason I quit making predictions. I’m a man of no vision.

            Zombies? I never considered they’d catch on as a major world nemesis. A TV network that features only NFL programming during both on and off season? Impossible.

            The list goes on. Automobiles that will tell you when your spare tire is low; computers that you can talk to in English, and will print your message in Chinese. If I were to pick up my cell phone  right now and ask it, “What are the school colors for Huto High School?” Within eight seconds, the computerized voice would say, “The school colors for the Huto High School Hippos in Huto, Texas, are orange and white.” Just flabbergasts me! I thought they were purple and grey. 

            By the way, I’m not going to ask my phone the hippo question because it disappeared. The phone, not the hippo. This is the second cell phone that has evaded my detection.  The phone is somewhere in this house, but I can’t find it. I’m fairly sure it’s within 50 feet of me, and I’m fairly sure it was stolen by our house gnome. In every house in which we’ve lived, there has been a fantasyland creature whose goal in life is to aggravate the daylights out of me. I figure it’s a gnome. It usually steals small things; a single sock, my coffee mug, reading glasses, Sam’s card… stuff like that. But now it’s taken my phone. Again.

             I’ve used Kay’s phone to call me, but my phone does not respond. It doesn’t even make the annoying” toot ta toot” when I text it. Either the battery is dead or the house pest buried it under a large mound of dirt in the backyard.

            Kay and I have looked in every drawer, cabinet, garbage can, warehouse, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse. I investigated every book shelf, pants pocket, shirt pocket and shoe. Under, over and around every coffee table, chair and couch; between every cushion; behind every three dimensional object in the house; under the mattress, and inside every closet.

            I’ve even looked in the weird places. -- What? I thought you said something. --  I’ve looked in the freezer, the dryer, the washing machine, on top of the fridge, under the sink, and in the front and back yards. Kay and I have checked both cars twice. I even looked in the compartment where the spare tire sits. Nothing.

            I discovered the thing missing last Sunday week. Jill came up to visit during the weekend, so I called her to ask if she remembered seeing my phone in an odd place. She said she remembered seeing the phone in plain sight. I didn’t ask her if it might’ve ended up in her suitcase or purse, because I thought she might be offended. Well, just a few minutes ago, I texted Jill and asked if she’d look in her stuff, just in case I accidentally put it in her purse or suit case. I’m still waiting for her reply.

            One of you may be wondering if perhaps I left the phone some place in town. After all, I’ve done that before. However, in this case I did not take it into town. I know that because Kay bought me a leather holster in which to carry my phone. The thing hooks onto my belt, and when my shirttail is out, it looks like I’m armed and dangerous. Or a nerd. Regardless, I don’t leave the house with my phone unless it’s in its holster. The case is still in the house.

            I used Kay’s phone to text some of the family to let them know the reason I haven’t been returning calls or responding to texts. That was a bit presumptuous of me, because seldom do any of them try to contact me. Col. Don, Susan’s husband, texted back, “I hope your phone was password protected, so the gnome won’t have access to all your info.”

            Password protected? Of course, it’s not password protected. I don’t even know what that means. That’s the very reason I am not responsible enough to own a cell phone. Fortunately, Kay went on-line and ordered me a used cell phone. It’s supposed to get here by the end of the week. As soon as it arrives, my lost phone will show up on the dining room table. That’s a big joke among most gnomes. Weird how they become more active the older I get.

Mark can be contacted at An archive of Hayter’s articles can be found at

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Hobby Lobby

            I broke tradition this year and bought Kay a birthday gift. I had guilted myself into a corner, by talking to several husbands near my age who said they always get their wives something. Acted like I was nuts for asking the question. What a bunch of losers.

            Kay and I got past the gift giving thing, when I kept getting her stuff she didn’t want, and she kept getting me stuff I could use, but didn’t want to. So, we agreed to just stop the silliness. Up until this year when my friends persuaded me that I was an old goat.

            Clothes, jewelry, perfume, and other womanly stuff was not even on my radar. No, I decided to shop at Hobby Lobby, the place where Kay gets most of her art and craft supplies. The girl paints, turns small rocks into birds, and dogs, makes jewelry… and a bunch of other stuff that appeals to me not in the least.

            So I was off  to Hobby Lobby. I call it Lobby Lobby, ‘cause I like to mess with words. I even occasionally pronounce the “w” in sword, strictly out of sympathy. The letter has been forever neglected in that word. Believe me, I know how it feels when people talk like you’re not even there.

            So, where was I? Right, Lobby Lobby. I don’t know if you realize this, but the parking lot at Lobby Lobby is the hottest place in the county for a person to sit in his car and wait for his wife.  I’ve had women stop by my parked car and threaten to dial 911. “Hello, I need to report that a wife has left her husband in the parking lot of Hobby Lobby. He says he’s been sitting in this heat for an hour. I think the heat has gotten to him, because he keeps referring to this place as ‘Lobby Lobby.’”

            Well, this time there was no waiting in the car. Kay’s gift was not going to come walking out and jump into the car. If they had a system like HEB, I could just call in and say, “I need you to pick out something for my arts and craft wife. Nothing over $20. You can find me with my engine running by the entrance at 2:00.  I’ll be in a red sweatband.”

            Hobby Lobby has yet to see the need for phone-in orders.  So I had to march my surly buns into the establishment, where I got a pleasant “Hello!” at the door. I didn’t let it slow me down, because I was going to be in and out. Unfortunately, I did stop and handle a couple of small metal buckets on my way back to the craft stuff.  Little buckets are so much more fascinating than big buckets.  I then stopped and read some of the small wall signs on display. Sweet stuff like  “Choose Kindness” – “May your journey always lead you home” and “Rawr Rawr Dinosaur!” Again with the “w.” There was a drawing of a brontosaurs in the middle of the sign, and I was quite taken aback by the weirdness of it.

            Eventually, I made it to the 82 rows of craft supplies. I didn’t know the purpose of 80 percent of the stuff. As hard as it is to believe, I have no artistic vision. I’m more into screwdrivers and pliers.

            After 40 minutes I decided to vacate the massive arts and crafts area and head for a place where stuff is already made. They’ve got shelving and bookcases and cubby-holes with baskets in ‘em. None of it was doing it for me. Just as I was about to return to the “Rawr Rawr” sign, I saw ‘em. Jigsaw puzzles. It was just the other day that Kay said how much she wanted a jigsaw puzzle. I remembered it because I always thought she hated jigsaw puzzles. What a gift! Not the puzzle, just the fact I found something. I settled on a 1000 piece puzzle. Had I gotten the 2000 piece, she would’ve taken up the entire dining room table working on it. I grabbed a scene with a house on a hill with a pasture and barn in the background. A few cows, a flower garden and wooden fence. A real sappy scene.

            I put a card and the wrapped puzzle next to her recliner. She was excited. Kay really likes me getting her something… until she sees what it is. The wrapped box was beautiful. Had a ribbon and three little rocks stuck to it. I can glue rocks, I just can’t make ‘em look like anything but what they are. Kay anxiously opened the gift, smiled big and said, “Wow, a puzzle.” Then she gave me a big smacker. It was while we were eating out that I said, “I thought you liked jigsaw puzzles.”

            She said, “No, that must’ve been your first wife.” Kay is such a hoot. It’s weird ‘cause I distinctly remember her mentioning jig saw puzzles earlier in the week. She said, “That was Virginia when we were at the Cracker Barrel last Thursday. I’m proud that you were even listening.” 

            I told her she could give Virginia the puzzle with my blessing. She said, “No, you’re going to help me put this thing together.” –  No way! That’s what I said. “No way!” Then I told her that she didn’t have to reciprocate and get me something for my birthday, if I didn’t have to help with the puzzle.

            “It’s too late for that,” she said. “I already ordered you something on line.” 
            D’oh! That’s what I said, “D’oh!” --  Next time.

Mark can be contacted at