Sunday, December 30, 2012

Slip Slidin' Away

I grew up way Up North in Michigan, and snow was a major feature of my entire childhood.  In a typical year, the first snow came around the beginning of November, and it was usually right around Thanksgiving that the snow stayed on the ground, and didn't melt away in the next day's sunlight.  By Christmas, we typically had a foot or more on the ground, and all through January and February, the snow cover averaged around one-and-a-half to two feet.  The sidewalks were little miniature canyons, and the piles of snow left after the streets were plowed often rendered the street invisible from the sidewalk, and vice-versa.  One year (I think it was January of '71), we had a pair of freak lake-effect blizzards in the same week that dumped 42 inches on us, which, because of drifting, etc, necessitated digging tunnels to the entrances of the high school.

So, yeah. . . snow.  Which meant that snow-fun, such as sledding, was a main staple of wintertime recreation (we also enjoyed skating; our town was a hotbed of speedskating in my childhood, in the aftermath of Terry McDermott's Olympic medals; nowadays, they're more into hockey).

When our family first moved Up North, in the fall of '63, I went to a 'rural' school, since we lived on the lakeshore, 7-8 miles out of town.  The school grounds were expansive.  There was a small, blacktopped 'playground' close to the school building, with the requisite four-square and hop-scotch courts painted onto the blacktop, the standard swingsets and monkey-bars.  And there was a large, open field, surrounded by woods.  The woods were actually on school property; somewhere 50 yards or so into the woods, there was a wire fence marking the limit of the school grounds.  At the boundary between the large open field and the woods, there was a five-or-six-foot rise.  So we would cross the field, climb a little ridge, and be in the woods.  It's hard to convey how incredibly cool recess was at that school. . .

When the snow fell, the six-foot ridge was laboriously converted into a long row of ice-slides.  At the first recess after a big snow, dozens of kids would run out across the field to the ridge, form little teams of 5-10 kids, and begin stomping up and down the ridge, packing the snow down, and ultimately polishing it into an icy glare.  By the end of the day, there would be 10 or 15 icy chutes distributed along the ridge, and for the rest of the winter, we'd spend recess sliding down the ice-slides in every configuration we could think of - face-up, face-down, standing (surfing, if you will), two of us one-on-top-of-the-other, etc, etc, etc.  It was pure wonderfulness.

Even on the blacktopped playground, kids would stomp back and forth, creating a 30-foot-long frozen slip-n-slide.  So when recess came, we'd line up, get a running start, and slide on our bellies across the ice.  Or, some of the baseball players would practice sliding into second base.  We weren't supposed to slide standing up, but we always did, when we thought the playground-teacher wasn't looking.  And every once in a while, somebody would slip and whack their head on the ice-covered blacktop, and win a trip to the school nurse, and a few punitive lost recesses.  But, to my knowledge, no-one ever died, or suffered permanent brain damage (but hey, this was the early 60s; we still rode in the backs of pickup trucks, and seatbelts were just appearing for the first time).


The best, most excellent sledding action to be found in our area was at a place called Manning Hill, which was maybe 15-20 miles west of town.  I'm sure that Manning Hill has grown in my memory over the years, to where it is, by now, on a par with Pike's Peak.  But I've been by Manning Hill in the last 10 years, and it's still a pretty impressive bump; maybe a couple hundred vertical feet from base to top.  We'd pull off the main highway into a parking lot, grab our sleds and commence the long uphill trek to the top of the hill.  On a good sledding day (a sunny day in the 20s, so the snow wouldn't get soft and slushy), there would be a hundred or more kids on Manning Hill.  Roughly half of their parents would just bring a newspaper and sit in the car; the hardier half would accompany their kids up the hill, and occasionally grab a seat on a down-bound toboggan.  My folks were generally of the climb-the-hill-with-the-kids persuasion, although they didn't slide downhill much.

In linear terms, the sledding run down the front of the hill was somewhere between a quarter-mile and a half-mile.  If the snow was soft and fluffy, you might go most of the way down the run before you came to a stop.  If it was hard and slick, you might make it all the way down to the parking lot; there was a steep upturn at the bottom of the hill, so no-one would ever end up sliding into the parking lot ('cuz, you know, that just wouldn't be good. . .)  When your downhill run finally slid to a halt, you'd get up off your sled and begin the long trudge back to the top of the hill.  You might spend 3-4 hours at Manning Hill, and make 10 or 12 downhill runs.  Each run would last a minute or so; if you really managed to milk it, you might get two minutes of adrenaline rush.  Then it would take 10 or 15 minutes to climb back to the top of the hill (it only seemed like two days).

There were toboggans, which were cool, because you could get four or five people on the same ride, and you were (generally) sitting upright.  There were a few saucers (aluminum ones, not the plastic ones you see today).  Some kids just brought an old cardboard box with 'em, and I was always impressed at how much fun there was to be had from a simple cardboard box sliding downhill.

But by far, the preferred sleds were the vaunted old Radio Flyers - the steel runners with a wooden-slat surface on which to ride, and the wooden cross-bar to steer with.  The preferred configuration was to lie on your belly and steer with your hands, but some kids would sit upright and steer with their feet.  And of course, tandem pairs of kids would lie one-on-top-of-the-other.  The added weight meant you could go faster, but every bump and divot in the sliding surface meant that the kid on the bottom got the wind knocked out of him as the kid on top slammed down on him.


One year, I think when I was in junior-high or high school, we had an absolutely perfect sledding day - it was bright and sunny, with temperatures in the upper 20s.  So, as long as we stayed active, we weren't going to get frozen, and the snow would be hard, but the bright sun would make for a slick crust on the top of the snow surface.  Oh, the sledding was fast that day.  The first time I went down the hill, I flew.  I felt like I was an airplane coming in for a landing as I zipped down the hill at half the speed of sound; I could feel the pressure waves building up in front of me, I was going so fast.  I had to look far down the hill ahead of myself to plan my steering moves, and hope that no kids at the bottom of the hill decided to wander across the main sledding lane.  I didn't come to rest until I rocked up onto the incline at the edge of the parking lot.  It was incredible!

Our whole family was there, and my brother and I were quickly engaged in various contests and races.  It was the greatest day of sledding in my whole life.  I don't know how many hours were actually spent there, but I'd have been willing to keep going by starlight, if they'd let me.

At one point, in the later afternoon, my brother and I were standing on the top of the hill, catching our breath after our most-recent uphill trek, and preparing for our next high-speed descent.  As we huffed and puffed, we looked around, taking in the scenery from the top of the hill, from whence we could see a surprising distance over the surrounding countryside.  At one point, we were facing away from the front of the hill, where everybody was sledding, when we noticed, for the first time, the back side of the hill.  It was steep at the top, just like the front, but about halfway down, the slope became more gradual, and it continued on for a long way - MUCH farther than we could go on the normal run on the front side.  There were even a few sled-tracks running down the back side, so it wasn't like you couldn't sled back there.

My brother and I looked at each other, an unspoken 'You wanna?' passing between us.  We didn't say a word, just set our sleds on the brow of the hill, pointing down the back run.  This was gonna be cool. . .

We pushed off, and instantly, we were flying!  My brother would pull ahead of me by a foot or so, then I'd catch back up and nudge ahead, and we just kept going.  It was the most incredible run either of us had ever had.  At some point, I was aware that, if we'd been on the front side of the hill, our run would be over, but we were still flying, the wind peeling our cheeks back, adrenaline still pumping through our veins.

Our speed dropped off, just a bit, as we continued onto the more gradual slope halfway down, but at that point, it became a contest just to see who could keep going the longest, and run the farthest down the hill, more than simply who could go the fastest.  Even so, my brother and I were eyeing each other, one of us, and then the other, nudging ahead by a few inches as we continued downward.

After a certain point, I looked ahead, and saw a fence.  When we were at the top of the hill, the fence had seemed ridiculously far away, that we could never go that far.  But now, it seemed quite possible that the fence would come into play before our run was over.  I looked along the fence, and saw a gap, maybe ten feet wide, with two large maple trees marking the edges of the gap.  The fence went up to the maple tree on either side, and whoever had built the fence had decided not to fill in the gap with an extra ten feet of fencing.  So I began to steer myself toward the gap in the fence, just in case I still had some speed left when I got there.

My brother saw what I was doing, and quickly ascertained that he should steer toward the gap, as well.  And we continued sliding down the hill.  We were still going fast enough, though, that our 'steering margin of error' was still pretty comparable to the width of the gap, and I began to get nervous as to whether I would be able to actually hit the gap or not.  My brother's sled moved closer to mine, and we began to bump each other sideways with the realization that it was gonna be a pretty close thing for both of us to shoot the gap together.

Finally, we were in the last few yards, still moving at a rapid clip, and I smiled to myself as I realized that, yes, by golly, I was indeed going to hit the center of the gap.  I sailed on through, between the two huge trees, and found myself cruising across virgin snow at the back of some farmer's field, and I only made it 20 or 30 yards into the field before I slid to a halt.

But where was my brother?  I looked around, and then I saw him, lying face-up in the gap between the trees, but I couldn't see his sled.  I grabbed the lanyard on my own sled, and trudged back to where he was laying.  As I approached, he looked up at me.

"Are you OK?" I asked.


"What happened?"

"I had to bail."

"Where's your sled?"

He rolled over, looking toward the tree that had been on the left side of the gap as we approached.  There was his sled, a small dimple in the metal framework at the front of his sled.

"I was gonna hit the tree," he said, "so I had to bail.  The sled hit the tree.  I hope it still works."

We picked it up and gave it a quick inspection.  It looked like it might be slightly bent, so we torqued on it, to try and un-bend it.  Then we set it back upright.  It seemed to sit flat on the surface, so we pronounced it OK.

Then, we turned and looked back toward the hill, which was much farther away than we'd ever seen it, having never been down the back side before.  It was gonna be at least a half-hour trudge back to the top.

So, we adjusted our mittens and our stocking-hats, grabbed the lanyards to our sleds and began our wintry trek back up the hill.

"Coolest. . . run. . . ever. . ." my brother smiled.

"Yeah," I said, "and I won. . ."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

I love this ancient hymn.  I don't know that it was written specifically as a Christmas hymn, but it sure seems to fit. . .


From the 4th-century Liturgy of St. James
(translated from Greek into English by Gerard Moultrie):

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And in fear and trembling stand.
Ponder nothing earthly-minded,
For with blessing in His hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood.
Lord of lords in human vesture,
In the body and the blood.
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of Heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of Hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six-winged seraph;
Cherubim with sleepless eye
Veil their faces to the Presence
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Theotokos and Me. . .

It being Christmas time, and all (I know it's still Advent for a couple more days, but Advent does point toward Christmas, after all), and Christmas marking, at its most basic level, the Incarnation of the Word of God (OK, that would technically be the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25th, but work with me here. . .), several thoughts, of a Theological nature are swirling around in my head.  Perhaps you'll find one or two of them interesting (or, you know, perhaps not. . .)

'Theotokos' is a Greek word meaning, literally, 'God-bearer', and it refers to the Blessed Virgin Mary; in Catholic circles, it's almost always rendered as 'Mother of God' (I'm not sure how my Greek Orthodox friends render it into English; for all I know, they just say 'theotokos', and figure they know what it means).

Theotokos is a 'theological' word, born out of the Christological controversies of the 4th/5th centuries AD; the idea is to be utterly clear that Jesus, the 'fruit of Mary's womb', was the bearer of a divine nature, along with the human one he shares with us.  There were those who preferred the term 'Christotokos' - 'mother of Christ' - but that came to be regarded as tantamount to a denial of Christ's divinity (back in the 4th-century Byzantine Empire, they took their theology seriously).

It's hard not to have a certain sympathy for the folks who would have some reservations about a term like 'Mother of God'.  I mean, Mary, this teenaged Jewish girl, could hardly be said to have any kind of 'ontological priority' over the Creator and Sustainer of All Things.  God, who is Before All Things, can hardly be said to have come into being in Mary's womb.  And yet, Jesus, who was 'born of a woman' (and, more to the point, this particular woman), was certainly God, incarnate in human flesh, and in that sense, 'Mother of God' is precisely what she was.


OK, enough woolly theology, at least for now.  I have been through my own journey relative to the Blessed Virgin, in the course of my Christian life (I gave an account of my spiritual journey here, more than six years ago).  I didn't grow up Catholic, so 'Marian stuff' isn't 'in my bones' the way it is for 'cradle Catholics'.  In general, my Evangelical/charismatic teenaged self was as suspicious of Marian piety as most Protestants are.  Basically, "what's up with the 'Mary stuff'?  Isn't Jesus enough for you?"  And I was exposed to all the more hard-edged stuff about pagan goddesses and fertility rites, etc, etc, etc.

When I undertook to be received into the Catholic Church myself, Mary was probably the biggest obstacle that I had to overcome on my way through the door.  I just didn't get what the 'Big Deal' was.  Honestly, at least at first, I more-or-less 'punted' on the whole 'Mary question'.  I had no problem with the Catholic Church as such, and so, if the Catholic Church told me I had to accept those doctrines, well, then, I would, if only as an act of trust in the Church herself, even if I didn't really understand them.  And I prayed that, as I 'lived through' my newfound Catholic faith in the coming years, that God would give me understanding.  And even some of my Protestant friends would point out that Scripture itself calls her 'blessed'.

And for several years, that's where I stood, relative to the Blessed Virgin, the Theotokos. . .


For several years, starting around the time I turned 30, I wrote annual meditations on Christmas, Advent and/or the Incarnation.  In the course of one of those, on the Incarnation, it dawned on me: Jesus was The Word Made Flesh, God Himself in Human Flesh.  "For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with us in our weakness, but one who has been tempted in every way as we have been, yet without sin." (Hebrews 4:15)  Jesus' humanity makes possible for us an incredibly intimate and sympathetic relationship with the God of the Universe.  And the human nature that Jesus took on, he got from Mary.  She is, if you will, the Vessel of the Incarnation.  And suddenly, I understood a little better.

Much is made of Mary's example of saying 'yes' to God (or, as Scripture would have it, "be it done to me according to your word"), even when she couldn't possibly have understood what-all was hanging on her answer.  And amen, I should be so ready to obey the promptings of the Holy Spirit in my own life.

But sometimes I smile.  Being adopted, for many years I had no idea where, in human terms, I had come from.  The shape of my nose, the color and texture of my hair, the general shape and size of my body, the wacky way my fourth toe curls under my third - how did all these things come to me?  And when I met my birth-parents, I knew.

So, sometimes, I think of Jesus and Mary, and I think, "Oh, he got his divinity from His Father's side; his humanity comes from His mother."  And that makes sense. . .

Monday, December 17, 2012

For Your Consideration. . .

I came across this today.  Coming, as it does, in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, and in the wake of yesterday's post, it resonates with some of our experience.  We've never feared for our lives with any of our kids, but we do understand what it's like to wonder what your kid is gonna do next, and what's gonna set him off this time?  And to feel utterly helpless to do anything about it.

Friends of ours have dealt with something even closer to what Ms. Long describes - a grown son (brilliant, by the way; can't a few of these guys be dolts?) who would fly into rages and berate the stupidity of his parents, and any other authority figure at hand, and vandalize their house.  He physically attacked his father (than whom he is considerably bigger) at least once, but thankfully, not with a weapon.  But it's not a given that he never would.

I also understand the isolation that Ms. Long describes.  I know another family whose mentally-ill son brought them unsolicited comments from 'friends', telling them what terrible parents they were, and that their son's deeds (which were suitably awful) were chargeable directly to their parental account.  Thankfully, no-one has ever been quite so brash with us (frankly, it's doubtful anyone would say anything to us that we haven't already said to ourselves), and our children's misdeeds haven't landed them (or us) in the headlines (at least, not so far).  But we have experienced some of our friendships becoming more 'distant' as doubts about our parental competence came to seem more plausible.  (One of our friends did think it might be helpful to point out to us that "some people tell their children what to do, and they do it."  Just, you know, in case we were wondering.)

As I've often said before, Jen and I have not been perfect parents (and if any of you have been, feel free to go ahead and chuck the first stone our way).  But we've tried to do the best we could, and even so, our hearts have been broken.  I think that might be one of the reasons that Newtown is hitting me so hard; I have some distant, dim idea of what it might have been like to be Adam Lanza's parents. . .

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pardon the Interruption. . .

. . . but this essay captures my thinking very well, and I would commend it to the attention of my friends, if only to understand where I'm coming from (feel free to go ahead and read it; I'll wait. . .).  But, you might even find it worthwhile yourselves. . . (and, just because I know you'll wonder, because I did - as far as I can tell, Elizabeth Scalia is not closely related to US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.)

I almost studiously avoid political topics on this humble little blog of mine, mostly because I find the 'Politicization of Everything', so rampant in present-day culture, to be pretty severly cramped, in terms of its contribution to human life and flourishing.  Politics is good for what it's good for, but the tendency these days (and really, since my youth) has been to invest it with something approaching Ultimate Significance, and it just doesn't work that way.

So, then. . . I know that, the electoral season having just recently ended for a week or two, before the next cycle starts back up again, many of you are weary beyond telling of anything that smells remotely of politics.  Me, too.  But, if we can train ourselves to see our neighbors as Human Beings, made in the Image and Likeness of God (regardless of how vehemently we may disagree with them). . .

Well, what kind of a world might that be?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The King Shall Come

This is one of my favorite Advent hymns.  Our family has performed a version of it a few times, together.  If I were really ambitious, I might make an audio file and embed it here, but really, it works pretty well just as a poem. . .


The King Shall Come
(translated from Greek by John Brownlie)

The King shall come when morning dawns,
And light triumphant breaks.
When beauty gilds the eastern hills,
And Life to Joy awakes.

Not, as of old, a little child,
To bear and fight and die,
But crowned with glory as the sun
That lights the morning sky!

O brighter than that glorious morn
Shall dawn upon our race,
The day when Christ in glory comes,
And we shall see His face.

The King Shall come when morning dawns,
And light and beauty brings.
Hail, Christ the Lord! Thy people pray,
Come quickly, King of Kings!


"Even so; come, Lord Jesus!"

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Briefly. . .

Today, the temperature is hovering right around freezing, and there's a wet mix of snow and rain intermittently falling from the sky.  Besides which, I don't feel very well (too much rich holiday food; or maybe a really mild flu).  So, I won't be out on my bike today, the first weekend since February that I haven't been.

I took a vacation day this past Tuesday, to get some medical tests done, and it turned out to be such a nice day that I went out for 24 miles in the afternoon, bringing my total for the year to 1821 miles.  I sure didn't see that coming.

There are still a couple weeks left in Calendar Year 2012, so that number could possibly crawl a bit higher.  But even if not, my legs, to say nothing of my heart and lungs (or my butt), can be happy with a job well done for this year. . .

Sunday, December 2, 2012


I don't want to distract anyone from the main body of the post, so I'll just mention ahead of time that yesterday was nice enough (mid-40s, no precipitation) that I got out for another 24 miles.  So I got December miles (yeah, I know it was only December 1st, but hey, it's December) for the second straight year, meaning that I've gotten actual on-the-road miles for the last 21 consecutive months.  And my total for the year is at 1797.  It shouldn't be too hard to find three miles somewhere between now and the end of the month, but we shall see. . .


On to the Main Event. . .

In recent years, in solidarity with my friend Suldog and his Thanksgiving Comes First campaign, I've re-posted a piece on Advent that I originally ran six years ago.  This year, I offer it to you once again, lightly edited. . .


Today is the First Sunday of Advent - the beginning of the Christian season of spiritual preparation for Christmas, and the beginning of a new liturgical year (so hey, Happy New Year!). Over the years, I've really come to love Advent, imperfectly though I may observe it. In rough terms, Advent is to Christmas what Lent is to Easter, with a bit less of a 'penitential' emphasis. Rightly done, Advent is a time of contemplation, a time to step back from the normal frenzy of daily life, take a few deep breaths, and anticipate the coming joy of Christmas. One of the old traditional Advent hymns bids us

Make your house fair, as you are able,

in preparation to receive God in human flesh four weeks hence.  So, Advent is pretty much the polar opposite of 'consumer Christmas'. Pausing for contemplation is not a thing we Americans are terribly inclined to do (perhaps I should rather say it's a thing that we're inclined to do terribly).

In the larger American culture, the 'Christmas season' runs from the Friday after Thanksgiving until Christmas Day, but in traditional Christian circles, the Christmas season begins on Christmas Day and runs until Epiphany (January 6) - thus, the 'Twelve Days of Christmas' - and Advent is marked out by the four Sundays immediately preceeding Christmas. So, when most of our neighbors are finished with Christmas (sometime in the late afternoon or evening of December 25th), we're just getting started. It always perplexes me just a bit to see all the Christmas trees out on the curb on the 26th; when Jen was a kid, Catholics didn't even put their Christmas trees up until Christmas Eve. And, just as I'm getting pumped to finally be singing 'Joy to the World' and 'O Come, All Ye Faithful', most of my neighbors are sick of the whole 'Christmas thing'.

Maybe I should blame it on the Magi - they started the whole giving-gifts-at-Christmas thing. I doubt they had any clue how far it would get out-of-hand, though.

When it comes right down to it, though, I've got to admit that my spiritual preparation for Christmas is my own responsibility. It's not up to American culture to get me spiritually prepared. It might be nice if the culture were more supportive (or even just less disruptive) of what I'm trying to accomplish, but it is what it is.

So, our family is setting out on Advent. If, over the next few weeks, I seem a little reticent and low-key about Christmas, you'll understand, won't you? And then, if I'm getting all Christmas-y just when you're getting tired of it all, you'd be very kind to indulge me. In the meantime, I'll be over here, singing 'O Come, O Come Emmanuel', in a minor key. . .

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

This is mostly a re-post of something I wrote six years ago on my old blog, polished up and expanded just a bit.  Hope you enjoy it. . .


Over the years, the conviction has grown within me that gratitude is, on a very fundamental level, the most appropriate response we can make for pretty much everything in our lives. There is very little that we have in our lives that wasn't, ultimately, in one way or another, given to us by someone else. 

Existence itself is a gratuitous gift, for which there is no appropriate response except gratitude.  The Creator and Ruler of the Universe has called all things into being, and I myself, along with the rest of it.  There is no fundamental reason why I should exist rather than not exist, and yet I do, through nothing that I did on my own initiative.

Most fundamentally, we owe gratitude to God, "in whom we live and move and have our being", and in whose Image and Likeness we are made. And in knowing whom and loving whom we find our purpose.  "You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You."

On a more mundane level, we owe gratitude for our connections to other people - to our parents and grandparents; to our teachers, coaches, and mentors; to our brothers and sisters, our wives and husbands, and our friends, whose love and care make our lives rich and meaningful.

Love itself, and the earthy joys of bodily life; food, clothing, and shelter; music, truth and beauty; all the mundane, daily circumstances that, individually and collectively, bring joy to our lives.  Even my Tigers, and my Spartans, most of the time.

Every one of us has his/her own set of things to be thankful for, and 'givers' to whom we owe thanks. On this day of Thanksgiving, I encourage all my friends in Blog-space (for whom and to whom I am also grateful) to pause, however briefly, and give some thought to what you're grateful for, and to whom. . .

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fun With Units

It might surprise you to know that, as an engineer, I have spent virtually my entire career working in metric units.  When I go to the supermarket, I'm used to buying food by the pound or ounce, and I still think miles per hour when I'm driving my car (but there is something fun about those 'Speed Limit 120' signs on Canadian freeways, isn't there?).  I'm not sure what it says that soft drinks by the liter are pretty universally accepted - but when our local dairy tried to introduce 4-liter jugs of milk, it flopped spectacularly.

But when I go to work, it's all millimeters, and kilograms, and Newtons and Megapascals, and all that happy stuff, and if someone tries to talk pounds, or inches, or psi, I mentally convert them back to metrics to get back in my 'comfort zone'.

Anyway, being an engineer, when I see stuff like what you'll see below, it probably amuses me out of all proportion.  This is what happens when engineers try to have fun, I guess. . .

1 unit of suspense in a mystery novel = 1 whod unit
1 milli-Helen = amount of face that will launch one ship
10^12 microphones = 1 megaphone
10^6 bicycles = 2 megacycles
500 millinaries = 1 seminary
453.6 graham crackers = 1 pound cake
10^12 pins = 1 terrapin
10^21 piccolos = 1 gigolo
10 rations = 1 decoration = 1/10 C-ration
10 millipedes = 1 centipede
3-1/3 tridents = 1 decadent
5 holocausts = 1 Pentecost
10 monologues = 5 dialogues = 1 decalogue
2 monograms = 1 diagram
8 nickels = 2 paradigms
2 snake eyes = 1 paradise
2 wharves = 1 paradox
2000 mockingbirds = Two Kilomockingbirds

'Til next time. . .

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Just Shoot Me. . .

My friend Lime has been posting in recent days/weeks about the joys of her quest for a new job.  On one of her recent posts, Daryl left a comment that reminded me, yet again, of a story from my own young life (which actually happened enough years ago as to call into question the actual, factual youth of said life of mine, but whatchagonnado?). . .


Way back when I worked for my previous employer, who was also my first 'real' employer, I was an eager young engineer, fresh out of college.  Our company was, in those days, something of a pioneer in bringing the new-fangled Computer-Aided Design (CAD) stuff into regular use in the wheel industry (our motto: 'Re-Inventing the Wheel Daily') (Yes, I know I used that joke in another post, just recently; sue me).  That fancy-schmancy CAD stuff had originated in the Aircraft industry, and was fairly new in the Auto industry, but li'l ol' wheel companies like us hadn't much gotten around to it yet, in those days.  So it was a kinda cool time to be working there, and my boss got to go on all sorts of boondoggles trips explaining how a mid-size company like ours was using CAD, and more to the point, how we justified spending that kind of money.

As it turned out, we settled into a bit of an unusual mix of hardware and software, but it worked well for us.  Before long, our CAD system had grown to the point that it was beyond the modest abilities of us engineers to maintain it (besides which, we really wanted to be working on 'engineering stuff', not taking care of a bunch of computer hardware and software), so we decided to hire a 'computer guy' to take care of our CAD system for us.  We talked to the IT department (which, in those days, was called 'Data Processing'), to see if they had anyone they could assign to us, who could run our quirky little mix of stuff.  They didn't have anyone to fit our needs, so we set about looking for someone who could.

Now, we used to go to all the various and sundry 'User's Conferences' for the hardware and software we were using (which, I suppose, is why they were called 'User's Conferences'), and we would meet other folks who were using the same stuff we were, and we'd get new ideas for how to do things differently/better than we were.  It was at one of these User's Conferences that we were talking to a young fellow (even younger than me, and that was back when I was still young) who worked for a company that used the exact same quirky mix of hardware and software that we did, so we could talk to each other with a high degree of familiarity with what each other were doing.  At one conference, he told us that he was a bit disillusioned with his employer, and inquired as to whether or not we might have a position for him, since he was already familiar with what we were doing.

Well, that just seemed too good to be true.  We had just decided to look for someone who could tend our oddball little CAD system, and here was perhaps the one guy in the United States (or the world, for that matter) who could just walk through our door and do the job, from Day One.  So we scheduled a set of interviews for him, barely containing our glee at having found the single, best, perfect guy, before we really even started looking.

So, we brought him in and had him talk to our engineering bosses, and everyone agreed that he was perfect for us, almost like the heavens had opened and dropped him in our laps.

The final interview of the day was with our Data Processing guys, mainly as a courtesy, since his job would actually be a 'computer job', even though he'd be working for Engineering.  He spoke with the DP guys, then we all went out to dinner, looking ahead to when he could start working for us, and all the ways he'd help us do stuff better, faster, etc, etc.  We all shook hands, and he got back on his plane to head home and wait for our offer.

The next day, all the interviewers got together to discuss the interviews, and come to a consensus on what kind of offer to make him.  All of the engineering guys were beaming at the way the perfect guy had just fallen so serendipitously into our laps, but the DP guys were strangely silent.  When we asked them what they thought, they said, "He doesn't know COBOL."  (At this late date, how many of the elderly among you even remember what COBOL was?)

"So what?" we said.  "The job doesn't have anything to do with COBOL.  He's a perfect fit for what we need.  What's COBOL got to do with anything?"

"Well, we have a corporate hiring policy that all DP employees have to know COBOL.  And he'll be a DP employee.  He doesn't know COBOL, so we can't hire him."

"But he'll be working in Engineering!  We'll do his performance reviews, and all his work will be accountable to us!"

"Doesn't matter.  He'll be under our organization, and we can't hire anybody who doesn't know COBOL.  If he ever wants to transfer away from Engineering, we'll be stuck with him."

"He can take a COBOL class, if he needs to know COBOL."

"But he doesn't know it now, so we can't hire him."

And so it went, back and forth, around and around, for over an hour.  We tried to insist that his job shouldn't be under the DP 'umbrella', and that he should be a direct employee of Engineering, but the DP Manager and his VP insisted that anybody who actually touched a computer was part of the DP organization, and at some point, the Director of Engineering and the Engineering VP gave in on that point, and then the battle was lost.

And that's how the perfect guy CAME TO US, looking for a job, but we didn't hire him, over a policy point that had NOTHING to do with, you know, the actual job (to say nothing of the fact that COBOL was already well on its way into obsolescence by then, and had been for a few years).

Looking back, it had way more to do with corporate politics and internal empire-building, and who had the 'cheese' to tell the other one how things were gonna go, than anything else.  I'm sure that, by the time the decision was communicated to our erstwhile would-be employee, he was just as happy not to have come to work for us.  Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that, at that point, the company had maybe ten years left in its viable lifetime. . .


Yesterday was a beautiful day around here, what they used to call Indian Summer when I was growing up - it was 65F in the afternoon, just before sunset.  I was planning to ride 25-30 miles, but about 5 miles in, I decided that it was so nice that I'd stretch it to 36 (and, you know, you don't get many opportunities to be out in shorts in November, so when they come along, you gotta make the most of 'em).  Along with the 25 I rode last weekend, and the 24 I rode on Election Day (which my company very helpfully gave us off), that brought me to 1702 for the year. Oh, yes, I knew exactly how many miles I needed to pass the next milestone; at this time of the year, better to take the miles when you can get them, because you never know when the cold and snow will call the riding season to a screeching halt.  I'd have been really frustrated to finish yesterday's ride in the 1690s, and have it snow 6 inches before I could get the last few miles in.  And there is snow in the forecast for Monday/Tuesday (it's still pretty rare for it to stay this early, but you never know).  So, woo-hoo! and all that.  It's been a good year of riding.  I don't think 1800 is very likely, but I'll just keep riding, and we'll see where it ends up. . .

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Flow It, Show It, Long as I Can Grow It. . .

My friend Flutterby posted, not too long ago, about the history of her hair, which got me to thinking that there was probably a story or two for me to tell, along similar lines. . .


I grew up in the 60s (which really lasted into the early 70s, but that's a different topic for a different time). My senior year of high school and freshman year of college, I, uh, grew my hair long.

Before that, my dad and my coaches generally conspired together to keep said growth in abeyance.  It is difficult to describe to folks who weren't there for the fun, but the years of my adolescence were marked by seemingly endless conflict between young men and their fathers over the length of their hair (the sons' hair, not the fathers').  It almost seems comical now, but even the 1964-vintage Beatles haircuts could inspire men of my dad's generation to something close to apoplexy (and hey, how could I pass up an opportunity to embed a Beatles photo in my blog?).

Dad used to grumble, when he saw a 'long-haired' young man on the street, "You can't even tell he's not a girl, if you see him from behind."  If I pointed out that his butt was not nearly wide or round enough to be a girl's, Dad would get on my case for looking at girls' butts too closely.  It was seriously no-win.

My senior year, though, Dad took a new job in a city 500 miles away, and during the six months or so before the family moved to join him in the new city, he only saw me on weekends, during which he was pretty much sleep-deprived, and had other things to deal with than keeping track of the length of my hair.  And Mom was a bit mellower about it.  Through a rather convoluted set of circumstances, I also didn't play football that fall, so my football coaches also  lost such traction as they'd ever had on my fashion sense as pertaining to the length of my hair.  And, to be perfectly, brutally candid, if they all hadn't made such a fuss about the length of my hair, I quite probably wouldn't have felt the appeal of growing it long ('cuz, yeah, I'm just that kind of contrary, when I put my mind to it, although I was generally quite compliant toward the authorities in my life; but when that authority was no longer in force, well, then, woo-hoo!).  I promised myself that I would never fight with my kids over their hair the way my dad had fought with me (*sigh*; mohawks and piercings hadn't occurred to anyone yet. . .)

In the fullness of time, at its longest, my hair eventually reached almost to my shoulders, thick and wavy, and parted down the middle. Once, one of the ladies at church grabbed me and asked, "Who does your hair?"  When I told her that it just grew that way, and all I did to it was wash it, she made a sour face, and muttered, "I would KILL for hair like that, and you just get it for free. . ."  Well, didn't I just feel so blessed. . .

At its longest, I could just pull it together into a pony-tail.  Which, in the long, hot summer of '73, working as I did at a manual-labor-type job, was something of a practical necessity.  Sometime during the fall term at college, I got a girl I knew to cut it back to something more like jaw-length.  Between how hot it was, and how long it took to dry after I washed it (to say nothing of shampoo expenses; those 59-cent bottles of cheap shampoo could really add up), I decided to scale back on the sheer bulk of my hair, to something just a tad more manageable (at least by mid-70s standards; it was still long enough to keep my ears warm in the winter, without having to resort to a hat).   By the time I finished college, I had returned to parting my hair on the side, and even though it was still fairly long and thick by today's standards (the 70s were famously renowned for 'helmet-hair'), I was a much more conventional-looking young man by then (here is a photo from our wedding, in the summer of 1980).  And it wasn't many years after that, before I became engaged in a stubborn (and, alas, probably ultimately futile) holding-action against follicular attrition.


When 1F was somewhere around 6 or so (thus dating the event to the late 80s, when I'd have been in my early 30s), she was poking around in my desk one day, and found my old freshman ID card from college (reproduced here for your edification and enjoyment; the photo was taken roughly 3-4 months before max-length).

She checked it out for a minute, and couldn't quite wrap her young mind around what it seemed to be saying, that this was, by golly, a photo of her dear ol' dad.  She brought it to me, asking, "Is this a picture of you, Dad?"  When I confirmed that I had, in fact, looked like that in an earlier lifetime, she fell on the floor laughing, and said, "You look like a mommy!"

"Yeah," I answered, sighing, "that's what my dad said, too. . ."

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

It's Official. . .

Yeef; I am NOT an every-day poster.  I'm not even sure that, back on my old blog, when I posted quite a bit more frequently than I do lately, that I ever posted three days in a row (or five times in a week).  But, you know, stuff keeps happening. . .


This morning, on my drive in to work, I encountered the first snow of the season.  And it wasn't that thin, wet, almost-rain stuff that you can only tell it's snow 'cuz it makes a little *splat* on your windshield.  These were big flakes, coming down in earnest (and almost horizontally), even accumulating a little on the grass.  Together with the 50-mph wind, it made for a truly, um, interesting driving experience.

Back when I was growing up, Up North, it was actually fairly typical for the first snow to fall within a few days of Halloween, and I recall numerous times as a kid, trick-or-treating in the snow.  But down here in south-central Michigan, where I've spent the last, jeez, almost 40 years, October snow is pretty rare.

I took a glance at the weather map, and it seems that Super-storm Sandy (or Mega-storm, or Storm-of-the-week, or whatever they're calling her) is extending her baleful reach all the way into Michigan.  Some weather-guys were talking about 20-foot waves on Lake Huron; one forecast I saw said 20-to-33-feet.  I kept imagining what that might look like at the breakwater in Lexington, which is maybe five miles from where Jen grew up, and where we've taken the kids swimming on numerous occasions.  I'm guessing a leisurely stroll out to the end of the breakwater is out of the question. . .

That thought reminds me of a story a buddy of mine told me, about the time he was driving home after visiting family in the Upper Peninsula, on the night the Edmund Fitzgerald went down.  He ended up staying the night in St. Ignace, because the waves were breaking over the north causeway of the Mackinac Bridge.

As I write this, things outside are quite a bit less intense than they were earlier this morning.  The rain/snow has stopped, and the wind has abated to only 25-mph or so.  Hope all my blog-friends in Sandy's path are high and dry, or failing that, at least hunkered down someplace dry, and with a good roof. . .

Monday, October 29, 2012

Well, That Was Quick. . .


The World Series is over, and for the second time in the last six years, my Tigers are left wondering what the hell hit them.  The Giants played the whole Series with lightning bolts shooting out of their eyes, and my Tigers. . . didn't.  They just kicked our asses every way they could possibly be kicked, and hats off to 'em.  Not much doubt as to who was the better team for those four games. . .

I won't belabor the things you can read elsewhere.  Our best pitcher got rocked, and our best hitters (especially young Mr. Fielder) struggled.  Frankly, all season long, our hitters, aside from Cabrera and Fielder and Jackson, were disappointing, and prone to long, frustrating slumps.  It was bad timing for them to fall into another of their familiar funks in the World Series, but whatchagonnado?

Our pitching actually wasn't that bad.  Fister and Sanchez were very good, and deserved better from their bat-wielding teammates.  Not to take anything away from the Giant pitchers, but when you hit .159 for the Series, you're not gonna win much.

I don't really mean this as the lame excuse that it's gonna come off as, but, one of these years, I'd like to play one of these things without having to sit for a week before we get there.  It's tough to come back from a week off and jump in against a team. . . well, you know, that lightning-bolt thing. . .


Anyway, we'll have a couple weeks of post-season awards, and Tigers have a decent shot to win a couple of 'em.  Then we start the process of looking forward to next year, and wondering if we'll be better or worse, or if we can make the playoffs again.  For a World Series team, we've really got quite a few holes in our roster, and it would be nice if a few of the more glaring ones could be upgraded.  But, overall, we've got enough talent to have realistic hopes of being back in the post-season with some moderate regularity.  Perhaps.  And once we get there, who knows?

But for now, baseball season is over, and we will return to our regularly-scheduled programming with the next post. . .

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A New PR. . .

All the leaves are down,
And the sky is gray. . .

OK, not quite all of the leaves are down, but about 90% of 'em are, and the ones that are left are mostly all brown and shriveled.  But the sky today was a friendly bright blue, with a few puffy white clouds scattered about.  The temperature topped out just below 50F, so I broke out the sweats for my ride yesterday.

I did 32 miles, bringing my total for the year to 1617, a full eight miles more than I did two years ago.  And still roughly a month left in the riding season, before the snow and ice and cold of winter set in in earnest.  So there's still a decent chance that I could go above 1700 miles for the season, and wouldn't that be cool?


And things are not going well for my Tigers.  Their ace aside, they've pitched well enough.  Actually, they've pitched REALLY well.  But their bats have utterly deserted them, especially in clutch situations, like bases-loaded, one out.  In a 3-0 hole, it will take a comeback verging on the miraculous (yes, Suldog, I know about your '04 Red Sox; but that's one in how many hundred 7-game series?).  This could be over tomorrow, if we don't start getting a few timely hits.


At least my Spartans won. . .

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Random Thoughts on Game 1. . .

I really hadn't planned on doing game-by-game commentary on the World Series (and I still don't), but a few thoughts are oozing out of my perfervid brain this morning. . .

First, I feel like I should apologize to my Giant-fan friends - that was not the real Justin Verlander you saw last night.  I think it's safe to say that a week off didn't do happy things for his sharpness.  Truthfully, though, even The Best Pitcher in Baseball has his off-nights; it's just that Game 1 of the World Series is a god-awful time to have one.  His record this season was 17-8.  Sometimes, his hitters didn't hit behind him; sometimes his bullpen left him with a no-decision in a game he should have won.  But he did have a couple games this year (unlike 2011) where he got rocked around a bit.  I'm not old enough, though, to remember the last time he left after four innings.  He has occasionally been prone to getting 'over-geeked' and overthrowing when things go against him.  I think that Pagan's freakish little double with two out in the third flustered him, just a bit (and Scutaro's single was just the dictionary definition of 'clutch').  Then he started trying to throw the ball through the wall, and when he does that, it never goes well for him.  The fourth inning, he was all over the place, and when Zito got the RBI single. . . well, you just throw your hands up and realize it's not gonna be your night. . .

And Pablo Sandoval. . . what can I say?  Did somebody give him an injection of blood from Babe Freakin' Ruth?  This guy hit 12 homers this year?  With 63 RBIs?  No freakin' way!  And his second homer off Verlander was a low-and-away fastball; not exactly a fat pitch.  So now, including the All-Star game, Sandoval's batting line against The Best Pitcher in Baseball is - three plate appearances, two homers and a triple, six RBI.  That's a slugging percentage of 3.667.  I'm sure even Sandy Koufax had guys who were inexplicably hard for him to get out, but that's ridiculous.  I can only echo Verlander himself and say, "Wow!"

But then, it's only one game.  And my Tigers made a whole season out of grinding their way back out of a hole of their own digging.  I'm sure it's already forgotten, and their minds are on tonight's game (at least, they'd better be).  I was a little annoyed at the way so many of the national commentators were saying that it was all over if the Giants beat Verlander in Game 1.  It's not like our other starters are dogmeat; I can believe that they might not exactly be household names around the National League, but Fister, Sanchez and Scherzer are pretty darn good in their own right.  So I'm not remotely conceding defeat.

Besides, I think the Giants are falling into their own trap, jumping out to an early lead in the Series.  They're never gonna get enough elimination games for themselves if they keep playing like this. . .

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

It's On!

The World Series starts tonight, Game 1 in San Francisco as my Detroit Tigers go against the San Francisco Giants, much beloved of Uncle Skip and others.

We'll see if the six days off between dispatching the (stunningly hapless) New York Yankees and the beginning of the next round translates into 'rusty' or 'well-rested'.  The same thing happened in 2006, and it didn't work to my Tigers' advantage.

We've got the Best Pitcher in Baseball on the mound for us tonight, and the Best Hitter in Baseball (who just happened to win the Triple Crown this year) playing third base for us.  And a few other decent players, besides - our first baseman and center-fielder are pretty darned good, and our other three starting pitchers (NOT named Verlander) are pretty good, too.

That said, the Tigers are far from a perfect team; they're not the '84 Tigers, just cruising through the playoffs on their way to coronation.  Beyond the three guys I just mentioned, our hitting has been, uh, sporadic for most of the season, tho a couple guys have decided to get hot at the best possible time; hopefully, they can keep that going for a few more games.  Our defense isn't very good, either, but when Verlander and Scherzer are striking guys out by the bushel, that might possibly be less of an issue.  And our bullpen has struggled for much of the year; it's a good thing our starters have been so amazing in the post-season, because there's not a lot to inspire confidence once they leave the game.

So we will see.  I don't know that much about the Giants, beyond the fact that their pitching might be just as good as ours (Verlander aside).  I'm told that young Mr. Posey is quite a ballplayer, and of course, there's the matter of that bases-loaded triple that Mr. Sandoval hit off Verlander in the All-Star game.  So I take nothing for granted.

But it's baseball; it's the World Series, and it's the Tigers.  I do intend to enjoy the ride. . .

Friday, October 19, 2012

World Series Bound (Again)

Once again, for the eleventh time in history, and the fourth time in my young life (and the second time in my bloggerly existence), my Tigers are headed to the World Series.  Woo, as they say, Hoo!

I don't know if I can handle this properly, or not; the Tigers, in my lifetime, have been pretty much of a once-every-twenty-years-or-so team, when it comes to the World Series.  For them to make a third post-season appearance (to say nothing of that Game-163 thing in '09), and a second World Series, in six years, just seems sorta, I dunno, extravagant.  I mean, is it our turn again already?  Not, mind you, that I'm complaining. . .

As things turned out, it was the Tigers' unpleasant duty to bring an end to the Oakland A's Feel-Good-Story-of-the-Year in the first round, but not before getting to the winner-take-all 5th game.  But then, Justin Verlander (known in these parts as The Best Pitcher in Baseball, or TBPiB, for short) just kinda squeezed all the life out of the poor A's in the deciding game.  Somewhere along the way, we started noticing that, hey, ALL our starting pitchers are pitching REALLY well; not just Verlander, but Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez, were just stifling the opposing bats to a pretty incredible degree.  Against the A's, our four starters had a combined Earned-Run-Average (ERA) of 1.30, and only allowed 21 hits in 34-2/3 innings; the A's hit a combined .176 against them.  For those of you who don't follow baseball, or for whom baseball statistics are drooling-stupor-inducing, I'll just say that those are just mind-bogglingly good numbers, and all the moreso against a team that was good enough to make the playoffs, and had won 9 of its last 11 games, and 33 of its last 46, before the playoffs.

After dispatching the A's, we moved on to face the dreaded New York Yankees in the League Championship Series, and our pitching got even better (altho, to hear the New York media tell it, the Yankees were a bunch of mentally-defective degenerates, so the Tigers could hardly help sweeping them away; but those degenerates somehow managed to win 95 games this season).  The Yankees only scored six runs total in four games against the Tigers, and four of those were in a single, epic melt-down of an inning, against our erstwhile one-time closer, who has struggled all year, but most especially in the playoffs.  In 27-1/3 innings, our starters allowed two runs and 13 hits; those are simply ridiculous numbers.

Honestly, it feels a little odd to be sitting here, waiting for the World Series to start, after the season we had this year.  Virtually everyone expected the Tigers to run away with the Central Division this year, especially after signing Prince Fielder to augment what was already a pretty potent offense.  But the team seemed to be playing in molasses all year.  Doug Fister, who had pitched so well for us in 2011, spent the first half or more of the season on and off of the injury list, and Max Scherzer got off to a horrible start.  Our hitting was inconsistent, and maddeningly un-clutch; I can't think of how many times a runner on third base with no outs failed to score, or how many times we hit into double-plays with the bases loaded and one out.  Plus, when our starters pitched well, our bullpen would blow the games at the end.  58 games into the season, the Tigers' record was 26-32, and they were six games behind the division-leading Chicago White Sox.

Eventually, they started to play better, but all season long, it was three steps forward, two steps back.  They'd go on a 13-2 run, and follow it with a 2-6 stretch, followed by a 6-0 run, then 1-5.  As late as September 17, they lost a critical game against the White Sox that left them three games behind with 16 to play.  And on the 23rd, they lost both ends of a doubleheader against the Twins (the freakin' TWINS!), when winning even one of them would have pulled them into a tie for first.  As a fan, it was continuously, maddeningly frustrating.

But the Tigers won eight of their final ten games and surged past the White Sox , who were stumbling just as we were hitting our stride.  At the same time, Miguel Cabrera went on a personal tear of his own, that ended with him winning the Triple Crown, the first hitter since 1967 to accomplish that feat.  We ended up winning the division by three games.

And I recalled thinking that, if we could just make it into the post-season, our pitching was good enough to possibly carry us pretty far.  Little did I know. . .

At the moment, it looks likely that we'll be facing the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, for the fourth time (unless Uncle Skip's Giants can pull off another three-game, come-from-behind miracle).  The Cardinals beat us the last time we were in the Series, in 2006, so there's a certain sentiment in these parts that wants to see the rematch.  But, really, we just want to play the Series against whoever shows up, and, hopefully, win.

It's funny - the first two times I watched the Tigers in the World Series, in '68 and '84, they just kicked ass all season long, and carried it over into the playoffs.  I'm not used to this sneaking-in the last couple days thing.

But - good times to be a Tiger fan.  Good, good times. . .

Go Tigers!!!


It's actually kinda nice, in a way, that the World Series doesn't start until next Wednesday.  My Spartans play their annual Rivalry Game against our Sister School from down the road this weekend, and it's nice to have a brief break from the Tigers, so we can concentrate all of our passion and energy on the football game for the weekend.  My Spartans have won the last four in a row against the maize-and-blue (well, they call it maize; we call it corn), but this season hasn't gone quite as well for the ol' alma mater.  Not that the Wolver-persons are all that and a bag of chips, but for us to extend our winning streak against them would be a bit of an upset.  We'll see. . .

Go Green!  Go White!  Go Spartans!


(add, 22 Oct)


Well, my Spartans couldn't extend their winning streak over their in-state rivals this past weekend, losing 12-10 on a last-second field goal.  The game was right there for them to win it, but it's just been that kind of season for 'em.  Ah, well; I suppose we have to let 'em win every five years or so, or they won't want to play with us anymore. . .

But hey, maybe there'll be some kind of karmic balance, and it'll bode well for my Tigers in the World Series.  We still don't know who we're gonna play come Wednesday night; Uncle Skip's Giants came back from the brink, and play a deciding Game 7 tonight, the winner of which will be our World Series opponent. . .

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Technology and Me

A little while ago, my friend Suldog posted about the first arrival of HIS WIFE'S cell phone within the previously cell-phone-free walls of their house, which provoked a memory or two from my own young life (which is not quite as young as Suldog's, but whatchagonnado?), with which I shall now proceed to regale you all, to the best of my meager ability. . .


Just to set the introductory levels for this post: my first job out of college, with my freshly-minted engineering degree (the minty-fresh smell of my diploma was an unexpected bonus), was for a wheel company, since I live in Michigan, and here in Michigan, 376% of the state economy is related to automobiles, and automobiles need wheels. When I told folks that I worked as an engineer for a wheel company, they would invariably look at me oddly, and ask something along the lines of, "Really? How much engineering is there in a WHEEL? You make 'em round, right?" Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha. How very droll.  Such touching, unsophisticated simplicity. Of course, we made them round.  Any idiot (hell, any sufficiently clever caveman) knows you make 'em round.  The trick is to make them round in stylish and interesting ways; and to make them light and strong at the same time.  But yes, just to forestall it coming up in comment-space, our engineering department took as our informal, in-house motto: "Re-Inventing the Wheel Daily." Just sayin'.

Ever since we got married in 1980, Jen and I have never been techno-gadget trend-setters.  Coincidentally enough, 1980 was also the year of my own personal first exposure to a VCR (even before we got married; not sure if it was VHS or Beta); a buddy of mine recorded the 'Miracle on Ice' hockey game, and a group of us, who hadn't seen the 'original' broadcast, got together to watch his tape.  Which was very cool.  Even as we were sitting there watching, the awareness was creeping through the far back corners of our brains that this could change everything, when it came to how we watched sports on TV.

And speaking of TV, our first TV as a married couple was a 12-inch black-and-white set, for which we still had to walk across the room and turn a dial to change the channel.  When one of our friends was upgrading their own TV, we swapped in their old 13-inch color set, which no longer had a rotary dial to change the channels, but had preset buttons for all the channels, both VHF and UHF, that were available in our area.

We got our first microwave, as well as our first VCR, sometime in the 90s (and not the early 90s, either). It was around the same time that it became hard to find replacement needles for our turntable, forcing us to finally make the transition from 12-inch black-vinyl record albums to casette tapes, just as CDs were arriving in the marketplace to drive out the casettes (but hey, at least we missed 8-tracks).  And we finally made the switch to a cordless land-line phone when our kids kept clothes-lining themselves on the 25-foot cord we got, so Jen could effectively talk on the phone from anywhere on the main floor (and even so, we still kept an old cord-style phone around for things like power outages, which has paid off for us several times).  You want to give these new-fangled technologies time to work the bugs out. . .

I got my first cell phone on a special deal from my car insurance company, back in the 90s (I guess we figured that we should at least get caught up with the waning milennium's gadgetry, before it left), when I started commuting more than 10 minutes (and more than 40 miles one-way) to work. It seemed like a good idea to have some way of calling for help, in case I got stranded by the side of the road, 30 miles from home.  The phone itself was maybe half again as big as a deck of cards, and weighed nearly a pound.  For the first 5 years I owned it, I made about three calls a year on it, only if I had a roadside emergency, which was why I got it in the first place. And I was pretty happy with that.  Calling home to chat?  Why would I want to do that?

Maybe 8 years ago, one of our kids talked us into getting a cell phone 'family plan'. Since, you know, that way we could always be in touch with each other. By that time, Jen and I had lived through enough grief trying to track down our kids, that we found the idea quite appealing.  What s/he didn't say was that nothing FORCED a teen to actually, you know, answer a call from Mom or Dad, especially if, say, they weren't where they told us they'd be on, say, a Friday night.  We also quickly became aware that our teen having a cell phone gave them ready access to more people than just their parents; and it gave other people than their parents ready access to them.  In fact, their ready accessibility to the parental units was actually quite far down their list of priorities.  One morning, one of our kids came to the breakfast table dragging his butt behind him in a wheelbarrow (in case anyone is in doubt, the whole 'wheelbarrow' thing is figurative speech).  When we asked him why he was so tired and dragged-out, he told us that a girl from school had called him at 3AM.  What on earth did she want to talk about at 3AM??  "She said she was horny, and asked me if I wanted to come over to her house."  As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up (and I'll confess that there was also a part of me that wondered where the hell those girls were when I was in school).  We were at least gratified to know that he had declined her offer.  After that, we instituted a policy of collecting the kids' cell phones at bedtime.

The company I work for has legitimate concerns relating to 'industrial espionage', and for many years, we were forbidden to bring into the office any cell phone which included a camera.  Which, in the fullness of time, made it a bit difficult for me, when I became eligible for an 'update' of my cell phone.  I basically had to walk into the phone store and say, I need a phone that doesn't have a camera.  Which would elicit a pained expression on the face of the salesperson, following which, they would commence searching in various obscure cabinets and drawers, to see if they still had any such phones in the building.  Then, a couple years ago, the company came through and removed all our desk phones, issuing us cell phones to replace them.  Cell phones with cameras in them.  When I asked my boss about the incongruity of issuing us camera phones while forbidding us to bring our own camera phones into the office, he smiled and shrugged and said that the company couldn't get non-camera phones anymore, and that the policy had been changed.  So the next time I'm due for a new phone, I'll have a few more available options.

Working, as I do, in an engineering office, a non-trivial number of my co-workers are bona-fide techno-geeks.  I still can't get used to the phenomenon of walking down the hall and encountering someone animatedly talking to him/herself, only to discover, as I draw nearer, that they're talking on their bluetooth.  There just seems to be something vaguely inhuman about that. . .

By now, we've mostly adapted to our cell phones, and in many ways, we'd have a hard time living without them now (it actually turns out that confiscating a recalcitrant teen's cell phone can be a very effective disciplinary measure).  Our kids have mostly trained us that IMing them generally works better than, you know, actually calling them.  I'm not sure exactly what that portends; I have a vague suspicion that it's somehow pernicious in the long run, but it's what works for now.  Perhaps in the future, we'll all just have micro-chips imbedded in our scalps, and we'll only need to think at our kids, dispensing with any need for actual verbal conversation whatsoever.  But I sure as hell hope not. . .

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Regrets. . .

That I never took a photo of the situation I'm about to describe to you here (which, alas, no longer exists) . . .


In Our Town, there used to be a large Planned Parenthood clinic at the edge of an even larger open-air mall.  It's sort of a giant strip mall, on the 'plan' of those huge outlet malls, with shops all around the perimeter, and a massive parking lot in the middle.  The PP clinic was in one of the 'strip' buildings that formed the southern edge of the rectangle, and was actually on the 'outside' of the mall (ie, on the side facing away from the huge central parking lot).  Right next to the PP clinic, to the east (ie, to its right as you faced the common front) was a much smaller veterinary clinic.

Thus (and it was especially prominent after dark), an observer would see a large, brightly-lit 'Planned Parenthood' sign, leading the eye smoothly and naturally to the vet clinic's sign, which was considerably smaller, but no less brightly-lit, saying, 'Spay/Neuter Surgery'.

You can't make this stuff up. . .

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Go Get 'Em, Tigers!

OK, I know that there are not so many avid baseball fans among my readership, but you'll indulge me for one short post, won't you?  'Rejoice with those who rejoice,' and all that, right?

My beloved Detroit Tigers are division champions again this year.  Taken together with their division championship from last year, it's the first time that they've made the post-season in consecutive years since 1934-35, in the years of Hank Greenberg and Charlie Gehringer and Mickey Cochrane, and lots of other guys whose playing careers were over many years before I was born.  Honestly, the whole 'post-season' thing is a little bit lame; up through 1968 (coincidentally, the Tigers won the World Series that year, transporting my 12-year-old soul on clouds of bliss), only one team from each league qualified for the 'post-season', which in those days was simply called the World Series.  From '69 thru '93, the American and National Leagues were both split into two divisions, and each league had a 'Championship Series' between its divison winners, and that winner moved on to the World Series; so there were two rounds of 'post-season' in those years.  From '95 to the present day, four teams from each league qualify for three rounds of post-season playoffs.  So, whereas in 1968, two of 20 major-league teams qualified for the 'post-season', now eight of 30 do.  So, qualifying for the 'post-season' isn't quite as hard to do as it once was.  But then, the only way to get to the World Series is to make the post-season first, so there you go. . .

At this stage, my own feeling about the season is more one of relief than exultation.  From the time the team signed Prince Fielder to a contract last winter, the expectation was more or less that the team, which had run away from the division in 2011, had just gotten significantly better, and 2012 would be something of a cakewalk to the division title.  It, uh, didn't quite work out that way.  Lots of the guys who'd had good years in 2011 didn't come close to duplicating them in 2012.  The team's hitting, which had been expected to be an over-arching strength, struggled for most of the season, especially when it came to the kind of timely, clutch hitting that contributes to scoring runs.  The pitching staff was disrupted by numerous injuries, and the bullpen, which had been amazingly solid in 2011, was considerably shakier this year; they lost way too many games in which they had a lead in the late innings, because the relief pitchers couldn't hold them.  And the team's fielding, which hadn't exactly been stellar before, became very shaky indeed, with the addition of Fielder at first base, which necessitated Miguel Cabrera (of whom, more later) moving to third base.  So lots of batted balls which last year's team would have fielded, wound up getting through the infield for base hits.

That's a lot of 'baseball talk' (and I am grateful for those of you who are still reading, this far into the post) for saying that it was a long, frustrating summer, watching the Tigers struggle and stumble when we had expected them to win, and win easily.  As recently as September 23, they lost both games of a doubleheader to the lowly Minnesota Twins, to stay securely in second place.  Over the course of the full season, they were actually in first place for something like 40 days (and probably 30 of those were in April and early May).  But just in the nick of time, they put together a late run (and it didn't hurt that their main competition, the Chicago White Sox, went into a tailspin at the same time), and clinched the division title this past Monday.

(*heavy sigh*)

So now, they're in the playoffs, and once you're in the playoffs, anyone can win.  They face the Oakland A's in the first round of the playoffs, starting this Saturday.  The Tigers' pitching, especially their starting pitching, is solid, starting with Justin Verlander, arguably the best pitcher in the game right now, and it has been getting even stronger in recent weeks.  And strong pitching is about the most important thing a team can have in the post-season.  Our hitting is capable of putting up impressive scores, but whether it will or not remains to be seen.

But you can't win if you don't get to play, and just making the playoffs is the key first step.

So, congratulations to my Tigers.  From here on in, we will see what we will see. . .


I also need to say something about Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers' third baseman.  He is arguably the best hitter in the game right now (and gee - if we have the best hitter and the best pitcher, how is it, again, that we just barely scraped into the playoffs?).  But this season, he did something truly rare and remarkable - he led the American League in all three of the 'classical' hitting stats - Batting Average, Home Runs, and Runs Batted In - which, taken all together, are called the Triple Crown.  Winners of the Triple Crown are quite rare; the last Triple Crown winner was the Boston Red Sox' Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, 45 years ago (oddly enough, the Baltimore Orioles' Frank Robinson also won the Triple Crown the year before Yaz did).  Heck, it's noteworthy when someone leads his league in even two of the Triple Crown categories the same year (especially if one of them is Batting Average; Homers and RBI tend to go together much more often).  Since 1901, there have only been 14 Triple Crown seasons, by 12 hitters, and all of them except Cabrera (for the simple, obvious reason that he's still playing) are in the Hall of Fame.  So, this is a Big Deal, and it is our privilege here in Michigan to get to see Miguel Cabrera hit every day, during the baseball season.

As a personal aside, last night was one of the more interesting nights of following baseball that I've ever experienced.  Cabrera went into last night's games leading in all three statistical categories, but his leads in both batting average and home runs were slim enough that he could have been passed by the second-place hitters.  In home runs, the Texas Rangers' Josh Hamilton was only one behind Cabrera, so I brought up the live-game summary of the Rangers' game on my computer, to see if Hamilton hit any homers.  He didn't, so I switched to the Los Angeles Angels' game to check on Mike Trout, their young hitting phenom.  If Trout had a 4-for-4 game, he could pass Cabrera if Cabrera went 0-for-4.  So, when Trout made an out on his second plate appearance, the Triple Crown was essentially sewn up.  Shortly after that, Tigers manager Jim Leyland removed Cabrera from their game, allowing him a curtain call in front of the fans in Kansas City (and a bit of rest in an otherwise meaningless game), who showed real class, recognizing what they were seeing.  There was a bit of late heartburn when the Yankees' Curtis Granderson hit a second homer in their game with the Red Sox, leaving him tied for second in homers with the aforementioned Mr. Hamilton.  But Granderson came out of the game soon afterward, leaving Miggy's crown in place.  It was really kinda fun to watch it all unfold.

So, congratulations to Miguel Cabrera.  The likes of him don't come around very often. . .

Sunday, September 30, 2012

It Just Snapped

By now, I'm sure most of my readers are familiar with my bicycling addiction hobby.  In fact, the 35 miles I rode yesterday (a beautiful, sunny 70F-degree day, with cotton-candy cumulus clouds and the first hints of fall color) brought my total for the year to 1502 miles. It's only the second time in the last 15-or-so years that I've reached that many.  With the riding season in these parts typically lasting until Thanksgiving or so, there's a strong likelihood that I'll surpass the 1609 I rode in 2010.  Woo-hoo!

Anyway, my friend Xavier recently prodded my memory cells for a story that I was sure I'd told before, but I couldn't find it anywhere in my archives.  So, here you are. . .


I have always enjoyed cycling.  When I was growing up, I would ride my bike from one end of my hometown Up North, to the other, exploring new corners of town that I hadn't seen before, sometimes for many miles in a day, by the time I returned home at dinnertime.  My bike was my main form of transportation, in the parts of the year where the sidewalks weren't snow-covered (which, even as far north as we were, was still roughly from April until Thanksgiving) - I would ride my bike to the beach, to my ballgames (both formal and informal), and on my early-morning paper route (my dad would drive me during the winter months; he was The Man!).

When I went to college, I took my old paper-route bike with me.  It was a good, sturdy old bike, and not nearly fancy enough for anyone to want to steal it.  So, for three years of the five-plus I spent in college, I rode my bike to get around campus.  I finally lost that old bike when I lived with some buddies in a house during the summer after my junior year.  At the end of the summer, I moved back into the dorm, and left my bike in the garage, figuring I'd come back for it in a couple days.  Which I did.  But when I went back to retrieve it, the new tenants in the house had run over it with their car, leaving a twisted mess of metal and rubber on the garage floor.  At that point, I figured it was their problem, so I left it there.

Not long after Jen and I were married, I bought us both nice touring bikes (hers was a mixte-frame, a type of 'women's' bike that was only around for a few years in the early 80s), and I started riding the back-country roads around Our Town, for tens of miles at a stretch.  I quickly found that I much preferred cycling to, say, jogging, as a form of exercise, since I could go fast enough that the scenery changed often enough to be interesting, and turning the pedals was a lot less stressful on my knees and legs than running.  Particularly to the northeast of town, there were some really nice, interesting, picturesque routes, that quickly became my favorites.

As I became a more avid cyclist, I made contacts with other avid cyclists, and even convinced a few of my friends to join the ranks.  One such friend was a guy named Tony.  I convinced him to do DALMAC with me, and before long, we were riding together regularly.

One of my favorite routes goes through some rolling farmland northeast of Our Town.  It also passes through some nicely wooded stretches, and the rolling-ness of the terrain, besides being pretty, also makes the cycling interesting.  At one stretch, it passes through some low-lying wetlands, where the swampy ground comes right up alongside the roadway.

One time, Tony and I were riding through this wetland stretch, when we espied a large snapping turtle by the side of the road, his front paws on the pavement, poised to head out onto the roadway, where the imminent end of his existence, in the form of being squashed by a passing truck, certainly awaited him.  This was a BIG turtle; a typical snapper in these parts might be anywhere from 8-12 inches in shell diameter, but this guy was at least 15 inches across.

Tony and I rolled our bikes to a stop, first, just because we wanted to take a look at a truly impressive, and duly formidable-looking, critter.  And, noting how poorly-directed he was, we contemplated how we might redirect him back toward the marsh he'd crawled out of, while simultaneously maintaining the structural integrity of all our fingers, and other body parts.

I suppose that, if we'd been more experienced in dealing with snapping turtles, we might have attempted the old grab-his-tail maneuver, but that seemed fraught with peril for someone, like Tony or me, who didn't really know what he was doing.  We thought about nudging his hind-quarters with our shod feet, but that didn't seem so smart, either.

Finally, Tony hit upon an idea.  He unclipped the pump that he carried with him on his bike (in case, you know, he had to fix a flat, or anything like that), and thought that perhaps he could use the pump as a prod, to move the turtle around, and get him headed back toward the swamp.

In those days, the external tube of those frame-mounted pumps was usually aluminum, but the central piston-shaft was steel, maybe a quarter-inch in diameter; a fairly stout chunk of metal.

So Tony began prodding the critter in the area of his front shoulder, pressing on his hard shell, so as not to press into any soft flesh.  He shoved it once, twice, and again, turning it by 30 degrees or so from where it had been pointed.  He smiled - his plan was working!

About that time, the turtle decided that it had had quite enough of being jacked around by Tony's bike pump, thank-you-very-much.  BOOM! It struck out with its head, snapping the pump in two, even through the steel shaft.  Tony was left holding half a pump, looking dumbly at it, muttering, "My pump. . ."  And we looked at each other, with looks of 'man, are we glad we didn't try to use any of our actual body parts on it. . .'

Actually, I'm not sure we were quite deterred by the mangling of Tony's pump.  We looked around, finding a stick about three feet long, and an inch in diameter, and tried to repeat the pump strategy, but the turtle, figuring he'd already made his point, was in no mood to endure any more jostling, and he quickly did to the stick what he'd done to Tony's pump.  And at that point, we figured, you know, we tried, but the turtle just didn't want our help.  So we got back on our bikes and rode on.

"Stupid turtle!" Tony called over his shoulder as we rolled away.  "I hope you get run over!"  Then he turned back to me and muttered, "Damn turtle broke my pump!


I half-expected to see, the next time we passed that way, a week or two hence, the gooey squashed remains of our snappy friend.  Flattened turtle shells are not an uncommon sight along the side of the road, after all.  But we never did see anything that looked remotely like the shattered remnants of a 15-inch snapping turtle.  So, you know, maybe he didn't need our help after all. . .

Monday, September 24, 2012

Don't Tread On Me

This is a re-post of a story from my old blog, edited as appropriate.  My readership has changed pretty significantly since I first posted it six years ago, and many of you might not be aware of this episode from our life.  So, in the interest of bringing you all up to speed, and testifying to God's goodness and mercy, I offer it to you again. . .


Thirteen years ago today, I was sitting in my office at work, deeply dialed-in to whatever was on my computer screen at the time, when the phone rang. It was a friend of ours. "7M has had an accident," she said. My mind raced as she explained that he was in intensive care; I don't remember the rest of what she said. I left work and drove to the hospital, a 45-minute drive, during which I could only wonder what I'd find when I got there, or if my son was even alive.

7M was a year-and-a-half old at the time. He and some neighbor kids were playing in our front yard that afternoon. At one point, 7M was standing behind the neighbor's minivan; the neighbor came out, got into his car and backed out - right over my toddler son. The neighbor across the street saw it happen and called the ambulance immediately. 5M, who was seven at the time, might have saved 7M's life by getting the driver's attention and getting him to stop. Jen was inside the house talking with a friend who had dropped in, when one of the kids ran in and told her what had happened. At first, she didn't believe them, but her friend said, um, why don't you go out and see what's going on. The ambulance arrived within a minute or two, and then things were a blur.

By the time I arrived at the hospital, his situation was diagnosed - he had a bunch of cuts and bruises (including a detailed tire-tread-pattern bruise that ran from his thigh, all the way up his torso, and across his cheek; looking back, it was really pretty spectacular), a broken collarbone, three non-displaced skull fractures (if you absolutely have to have a broken skull, non-displaced is definitely the way to go), and bruised lungs. His eyes had no 'whites', if one was inclined to be persnickety about color; they were more like 'bright reds'.  The bruised lungs were actually the biggest concern of the ER docs (I guess if you have trouble breathing, things get bad very quickly). They had him hooked up to a machine that monitored his breathing. By the time I arrived at the hospital, his breathing was good, but they wanted to monitor him for 24-48 hours.  At that point, every minute that passed with him breathing well was a good minute, so we just waited for the 'good minutes' to keep accumulating. After 24 hours, they moved him to a less-intensive section of the ICU (if that even makes sense), and the next day, they released him, because all they were doing was chasing him around the ICU, and chasing toddlers is not what ICUs (even pediatric ICUs) are set up to do. Our boy had a clean bill of health 48 hours after being run over by a minivan (well, except for the broken-bones-and-bruises thing).

When we tried to figure out how this could have happened, the doctor said that his young age actually was in his favor, because kids that age are very flexible - their bones aren't brittle, so they've got more 'give' to them, and they don't break as severely as older folks' do. Also, the fact that the vehicle was a minivan (comparatively little weight over the rear axle), and only the rear axle ran over him, was probably fortunate, as well as the gravel driveway (the gravel had some 'give' to it that a concrete driveway wouldn't have). Even so - the back tire of the minivan ran directly OVER HIS HEAD. I couldn't have imagined that that would be survivable, much less survivable with no apparent effects. And yet, today, we have a completely normal, healthy fourteen-year-old. To be perfectly candid, he's an above-average athlete, and notably brighter than most of his peers (not that I'd want my other kids to get their heads run over, to make them smarter, or anything).

I try to be slow about making claims of miracles, but 7M being run over by a car without any discernible lasting effects, is about the most amazing thing I've seen in my life. We've told 7M that he'd better pay attention and be good, because God did something pretty amazing for him to be alive today. . .

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Mother of All Mondays

Actually, it started last night (perhaps on the Jewish schedule, by which 'tomorrow' starts at sundown), when I sat down for the bi-monthly (or is it semi-monthly? twice a month, anyway) Balancing of the Checkbook and Paying of the Bills.  In order to get current information on my bank account, I connect to the bank's website.  That also enables me to cross-talk between Jen's account and mine, so that funds will actually be in the account from which they will be drawn, in the course of managing our financial affairs.

But last night, our wireless router was, um, being un-cooperative, taking forever to make connections, and then crashing randomly, invariably at the precise moment when I just needed to check one thing before I moved on to the next item.  So, what should have been maybe an hour's work, ended up taking nearly three hours.  Of course, there was also the trip to the ATM, to deposit a large wad of cash that really needed to be in my bank account, rather than in my sock drawer, only to find, when I got there, that I had forgotten my wallet, and thus, my access card to the ATM.  So, back in the car, return home, get the wallet, and actually make the deposit on the second attempt.  And so it went.  I was completely brain-dead; one of those times when you go to another room to fetch something, then, when you get there, you forget what you were after, so you go back where you started, thus prompting yourself to remember, and in fact, to recall one other item you need from the same room, so you go back to the room, and get the first item, but forget the second one. . . iterate ad infinitum. . .

So, this morning, I left the house, bound for work, right on the edge of being late/on-time.  Given my long commute, I fill my gas-tank pretty much every other day, and this morning was one of the fill-days.  Now, the station I typically use is just before I get on the freeway, about 8 miles or so from our house, just because it's right on the way, and I don't have to go even a block out of my way to get in and out.  Plus, the 8 miles gives me that much more of a cushion for not risking running out of gas on the way to/from work; my margin for error on two days' commuting versus miles-per-tankful fluctuates between maybe 10 miles in wintertime, to maybe 50 or so in summer, depending on how much I run the A/C.  So anyway, I pulled into the station, popped open my gas-door, and reached for my wallet to grab my gas-card to slide in the self-serve pump.

And I had forgotten my wallet.  AGAIN!!

I couldn't believe it.  What part of my brain had suddenly shriveled up the previous afternoon, so that I couldn't remember to bring my wallet with me on errands for which the one thing I needed was my wallet?  My frustration was beginning to build.

I got back into the car, not even re-capping the fill spout, or closing the gas-door.  I pulled back onto the road, headed back home, now completely certain that I would arrive late to work, by the time I added an extra 20-30 minutes to my drive, going home and then back to the gas station.  I called Jen on my cell phone, to see if she could quickly locate my wallet, so I wouldn't have to spend more time looking for it when I arrived back home.  She didn't answer.  I called the house phone; still no answer.  I couldn't understand why she wasn't picking up, so I blew up her phone for a minute or two, trying to prod her into answering my urgent call.  You know, if I call you 20 times in a minute-and-a-half, that lets you know that my call is REALLY important, right?

Still no answer.  And I'm getting more frustrated with each passing second.  Suddenly, in my rear-view mirror, I see a car pulling out onto the main road, with a thin light-bar on top.  I check the speedometer; I'm going 70+ in a 55 zone.  Crap.  Then, suddenly, my blood runs cold.  I don't have my wallet!  Which means, no driver's license, either.  I mean, how good is that?  I've only got to avoid the attention of the police for about 10 minutes, until I can get to my wallet, and I couldn't even do that.

There's another car between me and the cop.  Maybe he was just pulling out onto the road routinely, and hadn't gotten a radar read on me.  I notice that, in my haste to leave the gas station and return home, I hadn't fastened my seat belt, either.  So, while slowing to a legal 55-mph, I quietly pull my seat belt out and fasten it, while I'm still obscured behind the intervening car.

As soon as I fasten my belt, the cop car speeds up and passes the car between us, then pulls in directly behind me.  Crap.  I'm toast.  Sure enough, the red-and-blue lights commence flashing, and I pull over.  I start sorting through the glovebox for my vehicle registration and proof-of-insurance, and then I sort through five out-dated copies of each, to find the current copies, which, thankfully, are present and accounted for.

The officer, a woman, approached my window.  "How are you doing today, sir?" she asks, casually, yet with a no-BS edge.

"Pretty lousy, just at the moment," I admitted, handing her the registration and insurance cards.

"I also need to see your Driver's License, sir," she says.

"Yeah," I said, "and that's my biggest problem."  I told her the whole story, how I was late for work, and needed to fill my car, then discovered when I got to the gas station that I had neglected to put my wallet into my pants this morning, and so I was returning home to retrieve my wallet, and that's where my license was, and heavy sigh, and (thinking to myself) I am such a moron. . . (and hoping that the gas cap hanging stupidly down from the side of my car might corroborate my story. . .)

"So. . ." she says, seeing if she got my story right, "you have a valid Driver's License, you just don't have it on your person?"

"That is correct, officer."

"OK; hang on.  I'm gonna check it out, and be back in a few minutes."

It probably only seemed like she was gone for three days, during which time, all manner of nightmare scenarios are roiling in my brain.  Speeding, for sure, that's why she stopped me in the first place;  that'll be $120 or so, depending on how fast she caught me going.  No license; I don't even know what I might get dinged for that.  And I still don't know whether or not she saw my surreptitious engagement of my seat belt; if she had, I could get slapped for that, too.  Dollars and violation-points danced gleefully around my head, singing, "Nyah-nyah-nyah, you're a moron!"

"Shut the hell up," I snarled at the ghostly bills, which were mockingly flapping their tiny wings.

Finally, the officer returned to my window, handing me back my registration and insurance cards, and exhaling heavily, while I tried to stifle a cringe.

"I caught you going 69 in a 55-zone," she said.  "So, it could have been a lot worse."

Could have been worse. . . Yup-yup-yup, it sure could've been, right you are, officer.

"I'm going to give you a verbal warning.  Slow down, and try to remember to carry your wallet with you, OK?"

"You got it, officer!"  I felt my whole body go numb, buzzing with an adrenaline rush.  I pulled the car back onto the road, travelling at 54.9 mph.  I got back to the house, and no-one was home.  I found my wallet with a minute's effort, tucked it into my hip pocket, and got back in the car, heading back to the gas station.

About halfway there, my cell phone rang.  It was Jen.  "What happened?!?" she asked.  "Why did you call me 20 times?  I was at daily Mass, so my phone was turned off."  Of course; that's my wife.  Sometimes she can be so annoying, being all holy an' stuff like that. . .  ;)

I told her the whole story, and she laughed, once I'd gotten to the 'warning' part.  By the time I finished telling the story, I was pulling into the gas station once more.  I signed off with the hope that the rest of the day might go a little better.

"Well," she chirped, "it's already going better - you didn't get the ticket.  And you didn't run out of gas!"

I shuddered.  Running out of gas. . . In all the excitement, I hadn't even thought of that. . .