What I Watched Over the Weekend

Comedy, mostly. I watched a couple of movies that I hadn't seen before: My Super Ex-Girlfriend and You, Me and Dupree. The first one was fairly entertaining, with its premise of the ordinary Joe who starts dating a mousy but neurotic woman who works at an art gallery, and then learns that she's the superhero G-Girl, who has been saving the city of New York from various disasters. When he finally can't stand her needy, jealous behavior any longer and breaks up with her, she makes his life hell. I found it amusing. As for Dupree, it was okay, but not something I'd watch again.

The most interesting thing I watched over the weekend was the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Sunday, with Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn being enshrined at Cooperstown, along with Kansas City Royals radio broadcaster Denny Mathews and St. Louis Post-Dispatch baseball writer Rick Hummel. Cal was one of my favorite baseball players, and both of the players were classy individuals who represented the best of the game. Denny Mathews was the radio broadcaster who introduced me to baseball. I started listening to games on the radio when we moved to Kansas City in 1973, and Mathews' descriptions of the game helped my interest in the game grow. I was pleased to see him honored in Cooperstown.


Darwin and the Beer Aisle

On Friday, I was talking with someone at work about beer. She mentioned that her beer of choice is Bud Lite. I told her that when I drink American beer, it's usually Samuel Adams. After work, I went shopping and stopped off at the beer aisle.

Now, unless you live in a "dry" county, you can probably buy beer and wine at your local grocery store. When you walk along the beer aisle, you can see Darwin's Theory of Evolution in action. It's the survival of the fittest, and in this case, "fittest" is defined as what the customer wants to buy. The prime shelf space at eye level will be devoted to the best selling brands.

The biggest brewing corporation in America is Anheuser-Busch, which has a market share of about 50% between its various Budweiser and Michelob brands, followed by Miller and Coors. These are the mass-produced beers, readily available from sea to shining sea. There are also regional brands like Schaefer in New England, Iron City in Pittsburgh, and Olympia and Rainier in western Washington. (When I was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington in 1984, we called Rainier Beer "Vitamin R.") And over the past couple of decades, smaller craft micro-breweries have gained in popularity among knowledgeable beer drinkers.

Just as dinosaurs suffered a catastrophe that wiped them out when the asteroid struck 65 million years ago, so also did American brewers suffer a catastrophe when Prohibition forced them to make different products (like "near-bear") from 1920-33. However, in this case, the catastrophe didn't kill off the largest brewers a la the dinosaurs. Instead, when Prohibition ended, the large brewers were in position to go right back into production, while many of the smaller breweries had been forced out of business. It took many years for them to make a comeback.

So what does all of this have to do with your local store's beer aisle? Well, the hallmark of the Theory of Evolution is that there are various ecological niches, and that if one of them is not currently filled, some organism will move into it and alter itself to fit the niche through speciation. The beer aisle also has ecological niches, or perhaps customer niches might be a better term.

For the past couple of decades, companies have put out an increasing numbers of varieties of their products, in order to reach potential customers who aren't interested in their original products. Just as Coca-Cola and Pepsi have put out many different variations on their core product (soft drinks), the beer companies have put out different variations such as light beer, alcohol-free beer, flavored malt liquors such as Mike's Hard Lemonade or the various flavored Bacardi drinks, etc. If the customers like the new varieties, they'll buy them and increase the company's market share. If they don't, they won't and the product will go the way of the mammoth in the tar pit. Survival of the fittest, baby.

One of the new varieties I spotted on Friday was Michelob Ultra with Cactus and Lime, with a picture of a prickly pear cactus on the label. Somehow, I doubt that this will ever be more than a niche product. I was curious about what it might taste like, but not six-pack curious, if you know what I mean. Nothing is worse than buying a six-pack of an unknown beer and finding that it is undrinkable. However, this might be popular among Hispanic beer drinkers. You never know. The only way to find out will be to check back in a year and see if the Cactus and Lime variety is still around. I'm sure that the Anheuser-Busch people did a lot of taste-testing prior to rolling out the product, so it must have done well enough with focus groups for them to green-light it. As with everything involved in the Darwinian struggle, only time will tell.


Hey, Where's MINE?

Seems that the House Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi have passed "contempt of Congress" citations against a couple of Bush White House officials. Well, I want to know where MINE is! I'm at least as contemptuous of the current Democrat-led Congress as anyone in the Bush White House! And I'm not alone. The latest polls show that Congress' job approval rating is 14%. Yes, you read that correctly: FOURTEEN PERCENT of Americans approve of the job that Congress is doing. I'm not one of them.

So Nancy, if you want to send me my citation, contact me at clydes -at- mindspring.com and I'll let you know where to send it. You'll have to make it through the spamblocker, of course, but for you, I'll make an exception.



The people living in San Francisco are, shall we say, a bit different than people living in other parts of the country. The city by the Bay is a Mecca for those with alternative lifestyles and unconventional political views. It is therefore no surprise that the methods used by political protesters there might be considered a bit... eccentric.

A site called zombietime catalogs some of the demonstrations that take place in San Francisco, including nude protests and nude bike rides. The latest installment was a joint topless protest (WARNING: NSFW!) by Breasts Not Bombs and Code Pink at the Hillary Clinton campaign kickoff at her San Francisco headquarters during the Democrat debate a couple of days ago. Alas, as in numerous previous nude protests that zombietime has documented, the people that you might actually want to see unclad remain clothed, while those whose nudity might traumatize the viewer are in full view.

It should be noted that if there actually was a truth-in-advertising requirement for political agitators, then the group would be have to be renamed Bellies Not Bombs. Three of the four women who bared their breasts at the protest definitely had a waistline that was larger than their bust, and the fourth (organizer Sherry Glaser) also had a hefty belly; only her heavy hangers saved her from joining the other group.

And the one who got away? Well, I would have liked to have seen more of the perky brunette in the white blouse and blue jeans about halfway down the page, who was holding the right side of the pink sign saying "HILLARY WARMONGER OR PEACEMAKER." Other than a little bit of crazy around the eyes, she was kind of cute. But the others... *shudder*

Let's just say that they wouldn't be judged kindly at FlashYourRack.com.


I'm Shocked, Shocked!

Breaking news: Lindsay Lohan busted overnight in Santa Monica, California, for DUI. Again. (Update: And cocaine possession as well, according to Fox News Channel.)

Gee, who would have ever seen that one coming? I mean, she's so squeaky-clean and wholesome... Oh, wait, that was ten years ago, before all of the wild partying and the no-panties incidents and the stint in rehab, which apparently didn't take. Hopefully they'll leave a light on in Paris Hilton's old cell for Lindsay.

A Silver Lining

Lately, it seems that every time you flip to the sports section in your local newspaper or turn on ESPN, you hear about another sports scandal: An accused crooked basketball referee, an indicted quarterback accused of organizing cruel dogfights on his property, a baseball slugger with a possibly steroid-tainted career home run record-breaking performance in the offing. It's bad news every time you turn around...

And yet, last night in Cleveland, a young left-handed pitcher named Jon Lester made his first start of the season for the Boston Red Sox, his first major league start in about eleven months. Why is this news? Because Lester has been recovering from a battle with lymphoma that interrupted his rookie season in 2006. Now he seems to be fully recovered and cancer-free, and he pitched well last night for the Red Sox, who gave him plenty of early run support in a 6-2 win. The game was on ESPN2, and his parents had come all the way from Seattle and were in the stands cheering him on.

It's a feel-good story at a time when the sports world could really use one. Just being able to come back from cancer to compete at the major league level is a difficult challenge, one that it appears that Lester has met. Hopefully he can do for baseball what Lance Armstrong did as a cancer survivor for cycling.


Going For the Gold Medal

After working somewhere for sixteen years, you usually think that you have seen the whole range of possible stupidity. You'd think that it wouldn't be possible for them to spring some new level of world-class stupidity on you.

You'd be wrong.

For the past few weeks, management has been in a frenzy of preparation for an upcoming audit of the facility. Every day, we get new instructions, some of which usually contradict the instructions given on the previous day. There has been an orgy of relabeling of the DPS racks which we use to run the mail and of the dispatch GPCs which are sent to the stations every day. They want labeled trays placed on a GPC for each of the four reject stackers at the end of the machine, even though no mail is ever put in three of them, and many people don't put anything in the trays at all. Little penny-ante stuff. Most of us find this extremely annoying; all we want is for them to leave us the hell alone and let us do our jobs, which we are quite experienced at doing.

As I said, I thought I'd seen all of the myriad types of stupidity over the years, but what I saw last night was world-class, Olympic Gold Medal-level stupidity. As noted above, the DPS racks stay in the building. The dispatch GPCs get sent to the stations, which means that they leave the building. Well, some genius decided to BOLT one of the dispatch GPCs onto the end of the last DPS rack on several of the machines! This made it impossible to move the rack around, since the GPC's front wheels are locked and when the two are attached to each other, it's impossible to steer the rack! Not only that, but they bolted together a piece of equipment that MUST LEAVE the building to another piece of equipment that MUST STAY in the building! Obviously the person who came up with this brilliant idea had never run a piece of mail on a Delivery Barcode Sorter in his life. It's also obvious that this person didn't bother to ask anyone who DOES run the mail whether it was a good idea or not, because after the laughter had subsided, the answer would have been not just "No!" but "Hell no!"

We all had a good laugh about it last night, that's for sure, although the people with the bolted-together monstrosities were also fairly pissed off. Fortunately, I was not one of them.


Incremental Change

We live in the here and now. And although your "here" and my "here" may vary, we share the same "now." Nothing remains the same, however. We are all moving forward through time at a steady rate, and while today is not much different from yesterday, and tomorrow will be very similar to today, the sum total of incremental changes over thousands and thousands of days is very great.

I was thinking about this the other night driving to work, about how the climate and the flora and fauna are pretty much the same from one mile of road to the next, but when you drive a hundred miles along the same road, the gradual incremental change is much greater. There are thousands upon thousands of places in this country, each a little different from its neighbors but sharing more in common with them than with other places more distant. When driving between them, the change is subtle. When flying to a distant city, the change is far more obvious. If I had driven up I-75 to Detroit, I would have gradually seen the palm trees and the palmetto scrub disappear. Flying there, I just got off the plane and they were gone!

The slow incremental changes from day to day are pretty much invisible. It's only later that we look back and ask, "When did that change?" Because, ultimately, everything changes: Clothing and hairstyles, the types of music and films that are popular, automobile design, household furnishings, the food and drink in the refrigerator, the cultural artifacts that are all around us. Human nature doesn't change, so people remain pretty much the same, but all of the things that surround them and define them are in a constant state of flux. I think that is why I find those vintage photographs so fascinating, because they open a window into the way people lived in the past. As L.P. Hartley noted,"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." And even if it is a foreign country where you used to live, you can't go back again...



It sounds like something from a Monty Python sketch, but apparently it's really happening, according to this news story from Norway's Aftenposten: Meat smuggling breaks record
Police are seizing more smuggled meat than ever before, and border patrols suspect organized smuggling gangs that are supplying a market keen on dodging Norway's high meat prices.

Customs authorities have seized 34 tons of meat smuggled into Norway so far this year. That's three times the amount seized in the same period last year.
There were a couple of other related articles on Aftenposten's English language site: Study confirms high prices, which notes that Norway's meat prices are 82% higher than the average price in Europe, and Irritation grows over taxes, which notes that Norwegians are among the most heavily taxed people in the world, which of course makes the prices of all commodities higher.

Invariably, wherever there is a high differential in prices between one area and another nearby due to differences in taxation, there will be smugglers looking to make a profit by buying the commodity in a low-tax area and smuggling it into a high-tax area. One example is when tobacco smugglers in the United States buy cigarettes in a low-tax state like North Carolina and then sell them in a high-tax state like New York. A truckload of cigarettes can make a big profit for the smugglers. In this case, it's meat being smuggled from Sweden into Norway.

Note that the truck shown doesn't appear to be a refrigerated truck. I know it's always kind of chilly in Scandinavia, but wouldn't you be a bit worried about the meat spoiling before it got to market?

Customs inspector: [sniffs] I smell something! Are you smuggling meat?

Driver: No, no, that's just Sven. He hasn't bathed for a couple of days. He always smells like that...

Customs inspector: Oh, okay then. Drive on!


Have They Really Thought This Through?

I'm an aficionado of the Odd News stories, since they usually provide wonderful examples of all of the quirks and foibles of mankind. Today, I found a foreign story about something that seems like a really bad idea to me:

Betel nut-flavoured condoms come out tops in India
NEW DELHI (Reuters) - An Indian firm has launched a paan-flavoured condom designed to evoke the pungent taste of the betel nut and tobacco concoction chewed and then spat out by millions of South Asians, newspapers reported on Tuesday.


The company ran taste tests with sex workers, including prototypes with chocolate, banana and strawberry flavours, but the paan flavour came out tops.

"The community loved it as most of the sex workers chew paan," Sanjeev Gaikwad was quoted as saying at the launch in Mumbai. Gaikwad is a director at Family Health International, a public health organisation that helped develop the condom.

Paan is a mildly intoxicating preparation wrapped in a leaf, usually containing tobacco, betel nut and flavourings, and is hugely popular across South Asia. It is chewed to a mouth-staining red pulp before being spat out.
Does it really seem like a good idea to make a flavored condom that tastes like something that people are accustomed to chewing? Hint to American condom makers: Ixnay on the ubble-gumbay flavor idea, too!


Using My Foreign Language Skills

While I was never fluent in German, I spoke enough to get by during my years in Germany. Yesterday, that foreign language skill came in handy when I found this Reuters article online:

"Too sexy for my bus," woman told
BERLIN (Reuters) - A German bus driver threatened to throw a 20-year-old sales clerk off his bus in the southern town of Lindau because he said she was too sexy, a newspaper reported Monday.

"Suddenly he stopped the bus," the woman named Debora C. told Bild newspaper. "He opened the door and shouted at me 'Your cleavage is distracting me every time I look into my mirror and I can't concentrate on the traffic. If you don't sit somewhere else, I'm going to have to throw you off the bus.'"

The woman, pictured in Bild wearing her snug-fitting summer clothes with the plunging neckline, said she moved to another seat but was humiliated by the bus driver.
Now, I was rather irked by the fact that Reuters didn't have a picture of the fetching fraulein with the plunging neckline. However, they at least told me where I could look. Bild is a tabloid, with all of the entertainment value that entails. A quick search of their site found the German-language article, complete with a picture of the delightful Debora:

Debora zu sexy für den Bus

Ironically, the picture shows far less of her cleavage than the "Shopping" ad does of its model. And this being a European tabloid, you know that it doesn't stop there! Oh no, my friends! There was a set of 11 pictures of the Montagsmädchen (Monday girl): Miriam, schöne Schuhverkäuferin (pretty shoe saleslady). Debora was positively dowdy by comparison to the topless Miriam. Herr Autobusfahrer would have been absolutely driven to distraction!

On today's front page, Bild has a picture of Paris Hilton having a wardrobe malfunction with the German caption: Jetzt ist auch ihr Busen frei! (Now her bosom is also free!) Gotta love it!



The treasure trove has arrived! And, naturally, the iPod is in my locker at work, since it didn't need to be recharged today. That's okay, I'll bring it home tomorrow and load all of the new music onto it. I've already ripped it to iTunes, which is half the battle. Now I'm going to find all of the cover art so that I'll be all set for tomorrow.

The tough part is going to be clearing off space for 7 CDs worth of music. The first one is easy: The Best of Warren Zevon: A Quiet Normal Life comes off, since it will all be redundant, because I have all of the source CDs now! After that... Tough decisions, tough decisions...

"Aaah-ooo! Werewolves of London..."

"There Will Always Be An England." Right?

Maybe not.

Perhaps you heard about this story:

Schools told to dump Churchill and Hitler from history lessons

Secondary schools will strip back the traditional curriculum in favour of lessons on debt management, the environment and healthy eating, ministers revealed.

Even Winston Churchill no longer merits a mention after a drastic slimming-down of the syllabus to create more space for "modern" issues.

Along with Hitler, Gandhi, Stalin and Martin Luther King, the former prime minister has been dropped from a list of key figures to be mentioned in history teaching.

This means pupils may no longer hear about his stirring speeches during the Second World War, when he told Parliament that defeating Hitler would be Britain's "finest hour".

The only individuals now named in guidance accompanying the curriculum are anti-slavery campaigners Olaudah Equiano and William Wilberforce.


Key subjects such as history and science will be cut back to allow teachers to spend a quarter of the day helping pupils who struggle with literacy and numeracy.

At the same time, staff will be expected to introduce topics such as personal finance and Urdu aimed at preparing youngsters for life in the 21st century.
Urdu?!?! That paragraph speaks volumes about the future of the United Kingdom. Rather than learning about what made their nation great, British children will be learning the languages of what were once subjects of the Empire. Dead White Men are now in disfavor, unless they were involved in the antislavery movement. And while I think slavery was a bad thing and that those who fought for its abolition are worthy of being remembered, it's ridiculous to strip the curriculum of people like Churchill, without whom the children would be learning in German, not Urdu.

While it's not a bad thing to learn foreign languages, it should be a requirement that foreigners immigrating to a country should learn the native language. In Britain, as in America, that language is English. If Urdu is necessary for life in 21st Century Britain, then they are in deep, dark trouble. And if they have no memory of their nation's glorious past, then they face an inglorious future. George Santayana's words have never been truer.


More Worlds Than Known

It's been a slow news cycle the last few days, and the front page news in my local paper on Friday and Saturday included stories about the rare ghost orchid that was spotted at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. People have been coming from around the country to see the unusual and endangered plant. I guess you'd have to be a hardcore orchid fancier to drive (or even fly) hundreds of miles just to see an orchid. For them, this is a big deal. For the rest of us, yeah, it's pretty, but what's the fuss about? Unless you're a member of the niche group that grows, buys and sells orchids, you just don't understand the excitement.

I think this is just one example of numerous niche groups that exist just under the radar in our society, groups whose members share expertise about an activity like birdwatching or about collecting items like coins or stamps or old glass bottles. For that matter, fans of certain musical artists and styles and particular writers and literary genres are also members of niche groups. And there are so many of them that it's impossible to become familiar with them all.

I think that our society has become more niche-oriented over the past few decades than it used to be, simply because there are so many more choices available than there were back then and so many more ways to find out about them. Between the internet and cable/satellite television packages that offer hundreds of channel choices, there is no paucity of information about anything and everything. We've gone from broadcasting three channels to narrowcasting hundreds of them. No matter what kind of oddity you may collect, chances are that it is for sale on eBay. You may not find the Holy Grail there, but you have a pretty good chance of finding almost anything else. There are more worlds out there than we know, all existing side by side and almost oblivious to the existence of each other.


Filling Some Gaps

I ended up ordering more Warren Zevon music than I'd originally planned. I put in an order with Amazon for six of his early CDs: Warren Zevon, Excitable Boy, The Envoy, Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School, Preludes and Stand In the Fire. Even with shipping, it still came in under $80 (barely). One CD that I considered getting but didn't was the digitally remastered version of Transverse City. Frankly, it sounds good enough on the iPod, and there's only one bonus track, a demo version of one of the songs on the CD, "Networking." I may choose to get it eventually. Preludes is actually a compilation of demo tracks and interviews that his son Jordan found in the attic after Warren's death. Stand In the Fire is a live concert CD from 1981 at the Roxy in Los Angeles, and comes highly recommended. I should have this new treasure trove by the middle of next week.


Finishing Touches

I finished I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, the Warren Zevon biography, yesterday. I knew how it was going to end, of course, but it still made me sad. The book was an unvarnished look at his life, warts and all, and for someone like me who loved his music, it was a fascinating peek behind the scenes at how some of the songs were written and where some of the song titles came from. He wasn't a saint, but he sure was interesting and he sure could make music. One of my biggest regrets is that I never managed to see him in concert.

I listened to all of my Warren Zevon music (104 songs on 9 CDs) over the past several days, in something resembling chronological order, although there was some skipping back and forth. However, on Monday night at work, as I was getting close to the end of the book, I realized that I didn't have his final CD, The Wind, on my iPod. I had ripped it to iTunes, but had taken it off the iPod during one of my purges of music that had never been played after several months. The Wind makes me feel more melancholy than I really want to be while at work, but I had to listen to it to complete the cycle, so I put it back on the iPod yesterday morning and listened to it last night.

One thing that surprised me while reading the book was that his music didn't sell more than it did. I mean, I bought all of the CDs, so I figured that everyone else with an appreciation of witty, sardonic music would have bought them, too. Alas, that wasn't the case. Most people have heard of "Werewolves of London," from the beginning of Warren's career, and they might remember the VH1 coverage of his passing in 2003, and some of the songs off The Wind like "Disorder In the House" and "Keep Me In Your Heart." But the average Joe has probably never heard the great music that he made in between those years. That's the average Joe's loss. I consider those other Warren Zevon CDs to be essential listening on my iPod, and they're there in their entirety, not just selected tracks like I do with some other artists.

Now I have to fill in the gaps in my collection, so my next Amazon purchase will probably include Stand In the Fire and Bad Luck In Dancing School, if I can find them. I'll have to check the Rhino compilation Genius to see if there's anything on it that I don't already have.



Here are some pictures from my Michigan trip:

That's Kurt, Karl and me at Mom's condo.

Here's a go-cart racing pic, featuring Kurt in the Viagra car, Karl in the Miller Lite car and Rachel in the background.

Finally, here's a picture of the wedding. Front: Rachel (maid of honor), Mom, Lary, John (best man); back, Father Bruce (from Mom's Episcopal Church) and Rev. James (from the Presbyterian Church where the wedding was held).


Quick Summer Trip, Part Three: Sunday

Sunday morning came bright and early. Kurt drove us all to the airport in his car. Karl had the first flight out at 6:30, Rachel had a flight at 7:00 going to Dallas for a five-day yearbook convention, and I was the one with time to kill, since my flight didn't leave until 10:00. I decided that all I was going to do was change clothes, and then shower when I got home. We slept in a bit later than planned, but still managed to leave for the airport at 5:00 a.m.

Once we got to the terminal, we said our goodbyes and split up. I had a lot of free time on my hands, so I decided to look around the Northwest Airlines terminal to see what my breakfast options were. The Northwest terminal is huge. When I'd arrived, I'd walked down the slidewalks to the baggage claim, not realizing how far it was. It turned out that it would have been quicker and easier just to take the red tram bullet train from the North station to the Central station and get off there. Well, this time I rode the tram down to the North station, only to realize that my best option for breakfast was Burger King, back at the Central station, so back I went.

One oddity about the Northwest terminal is that its signs are bilingual: English and Japanese. I was kind of surprised, but I did see a large number of Japanese-looking people on the day I arrived. Mom explained that some of the Japanese companies had joint ventures with the Detroit auto makers, and a lot of Japanese worked here and more of their countrymen came to visit them.

As I ate my breakfast at Burger King, I thought about how odd it would be to have a job where you had to go through airport security every day to get to work.

I spent an hour or so watching CNN on the big screen TV in a seat at the gate across from the gate from which my plane was due to leave. When it started to get repetitious, I went across the aisle to my own gate, turned on the Zevon music and read until it was time to catch my flight.

It turned out that the plane was overbooked and they asked for volunteers to be bumped. As if! Nope, not me, folks. I had noticed when I ordered my ticket that it was fairly expensive, but in order to get the times I wanted to fly, and nonstop flights, I had to take the combination I did. Well, the reason it was so expensive was that the return flight was in First Class. This time, I was due to be in 03 B, the aisle seat, but when I started to sit down, the lady in the window seat asked if I would mind switching with her husband, who was in the window seat in front of her. Well, I didn't have a problem with that, so I did.

It was nice having a wider seat, and flying First Class is flying the way it used to be, before all of the cost-cutting measures that airlines have taken. I had lunch included with my ticket, and had a nice fruit salad: strawberries, blueberries, mandarin oranges, pineapple and slivered almonds on a bed of lettuce. There was also some kind of cold oaty stuff with corn and beans, that I had about two bites of and then passed on, cheese and crackers, a roll with butter, and a little cup of Cherry Garcia ice cream. Mmmmm, ice cream!

I read some more and listened to more Zevon tunes, as I watched the crinkled mountain landscape roll by below me. It wasn't long until I watched the Gulf Coast of Florida passing below, Tampa Bay, then Charlotte County, then Cape Coral and Fort Myers. We circled around and came in for a landing at the airport. I disembarked at the same gate from which I had left, made a beeline for the restroom to answer Nature's call, then went to the baggage claim to wait for my suitcase to arrive.

Eventually my suitcase arrived. I went outside and got on the long-term parking shuttle. Found my car with no problem. $30 for three days. What a racket! Drove home; two blocks away, it starts to sprinkle. "Just five minutes," I asked the Rain Gods. "Just give me five minutes, that's all I'm asking." The sprinkles stopped. Got home, unloaded my gear, went inside to check the critters' food and water. There was still plenty left. Ten minutes later, it rained cats and dogs. My lucky timing had held.

Epilogue: Last night, it was back to work. I had recharged my iPod and took it to work with me. Only one problem: I'd forgotten to grab the earbuds out of the camera case. Oops. I just laughed and shook my head. Looks like my luck had run out.

Quick Summer Trip, Part Two: Saturday

I woke up around 4:45 a.m. on Saturday morning, after around five hours of sleep. The problem I had was that the couch on which I was sleeping was right next to the grandfather clock, which chimed every fifteen minutes and bonged on the hour. I was wiped out long enough to sleep through the clangor for a while, but eventually, it woke me up and I couldn't get back to sleep. When five o'clock rolled around (BONG! BONG! BONG! BONG! BONG!), I gave up and hit the shower.

I got dressed and went outside. It was still dark, but starting to get light. It was a bit cooler than I was used to in the mornings and much less humid. It felt good. I went back inside and got my camera to get some pictures of sunrise over the lake and of the water birds amid the reeds, which were over ten feet tall. After a half-hour or so, I decided to go back inside and read until the others woke up. Karl was up first, and went out for a walk of his own. Kurt and Rachel slept in until about 8:00 a.m. Of course, they were still used to Central Time.

Once everyone was up and showered, we went out to breakfast at a nearby diner. I had scrambled eggs, country fried steak with sausage gravy, hash browns and toast. The others didn't seem quite as hungry as I was, and I joked "What, was I the only one who brought an appetite?" After breakfast, we headed out for the morning's scheduled amusements: Go-cart racing and miniature golf. We got there about fifteen minutes before they opened, so we threw the Frisbee around in the parking lot. Rachel seemed to have a gift for throwing the Frisbee into the bushes that bordered the parking lot.

Once the Go-carts opened for business, the brothers and Rachel hit the track. I decided I'd rather be the official photographer. I switched back and forth between my camera and Karl's snapping lots of pictures. It's not easy to take a picture of a moving target, so a lot of them were "deletes." Fortunately, with a digital camera, it's not a problem. Back in the day, you'd snap with film and not know what you got until the pictures were developed. Digital cameras: Much better. In the end, Rachel finished first. Kurt and Karl complained that she'd had a faster car, and weighed a lot less than they did, besides. We thought it was ironic that on the same day that Al Gore and Co. were putting on their Save-the-Earth concert, they were out gratuitously burning fossil fuels and making more carbon dioxide.

Next, we all played miniature golf, on a course where all of the holes were Par 2. I selected a black ball and a black putter. Karl took a lavender ball, Kurt a dark blue one, Rachel a light blue. I didn't play well; I was out of practice, and the black ball was unlucky. Karl, on the other hand, played very well, except for one hole. He had three hole-in-ones, a bunch of pars, one 3 and one 5. He ended up one over par at 37. One of the hole-in-ones was just a spectacular shot: Having watched how Kurt and I misplayed the hole, he hit it fairly hard, banked it and then it hit the lip of the cup hard, spun around about five times and then dropped in the cup. Meanwhile, I had nearly lost the black ball when it had jumped the rail and rolled downhill into some low bushes. Do you know how hard it is to find a black golf ball in shadows? Kurt finally spotted it, but I swore an oath that I would never use a black golf ball again. It's bad mojo.

After we finished our miniature golf game, we went to Wal-Mart to try to find a DVD of So I Married An Axe Murderer, which Kurt wanted to give to Mom and Lary because of Mike Myers' Scottish character in the movie. We had no luck whatsoever. Maybe he can order it for them on Amazon or something.

When the fruitless search of the DVD bargain bin was complete, we went back to Mom's condo so the brothers and Rachel could hit the pool. I didn't bring a swim suit, and I really didn't want to go out and get sweaty and have to take another shower. Instead, I watched some of the Live Earth concert from London. I got the amount of preachiness I expected. Oh, boy. Duran Duran. Red Hot Chili Peppers. Wow. I ended up scrolling through the other stuff that was on until I came to the music channels, and then quickly gravitated to the Americana channel. After a while, the brothers and Rachel came back in and it was time to start getting ready for the wedding dinner, which was taking place before the wedding at 4:30. We all got dressed up in our suits, and Rachel brought her dress with her to change into at the church.

The wedding dinner was okay, but since it was a cash bar, the drink prices were ridiculous. I ended up paying $3.50 for a virgin strawberry lemonade, and the beers that the brothers were quaffing were $7.00 apiece. I told Kurt that I could have bought a whole six-pack of the same beer for that amount. I had a steak and baked potato; I skipped the salad bar, noting that I'd had two salads the day before.

Mom and Lary were fashionably late. Once they arrived, Lary went around the tables and introduced everyone... Except for his own 91-year-old father, Clifford, who he forgot until the very end. After dinner, we all went to the church. At that point, chaos set in. First of all, a number of people had already arrived and seated themselves. Second, Lary had the wedding programs and he hadn't yet arrived. When he finally did arrive and give them to us to pass out, we went into the sanctuary and gave everyone one, then went back out as a human wave arrived. There was no way we could escort everyone to a particular seat, or the wedding wouldn't have started until 8:00. So we stood at the front-side door where everyone was entering (rather than the back of the church where everyone was supposed to enter) and gave everyone a program and let them seat themselves. In the end, nobody was dissatisfied with this arrangement. Then we had to have boutonnières put on our jackets at the last minute, and we went and sat in the front row for the wedding itself.

It was a beautiful ceremony. Mom was absolutely radiant in a yellow dress. Lary was in full Scottish kit, as was John, his best man. Rachel wore a very pretty blue dress. They said their vows and exchanged rings, kissed and then followed the bagpiper down the center aisle of the church and then around and back up the side aisle to the front-side door. Then we all went downstairs for hors d'oeuvres and wedding cake.

Karl, the musician, made a beeline for the piano, where he played intensely for about fifteen or twenty minutes. How intensely? Well, he worked up a sweat. He didn't seem pleased with the quality of the piano, but he made it sound about as good as it was going to. Finally, Mom and Lary cut the cake, and after they shared some, then the rest of us got some, too. We stayed a while longer, then we all congratulated the newly-married couple and said our goodbyes, since we were leaving early the next morning. We then went back to the condo and to bed. I slept better since we figured out during the afternoon how to disable the grandfather clock's chimes.

Quick Summer Trip, Part One: Friday

I was on vacation last week. The first few days were fairly uneventful, just chillin' at home, having lunch with my dad on the Fourth, etc. Then, on Friday, the free-form unscripted part of my vacation was over, as I was off to Detroit to attend my mother's wedding. I'm going to break this up into three parts, since it's going to be fairly long.

Mom was widowed a couple of years ago when her husband Bob died. She and Bob were both avid sailors, and had a large circle of friends in their sailing club. When one of the other members decided that he needed to spend less time sailing and more time with his family, his sailing buddy Lary also was also left without a sailing partner. Mom and Lary ended up on a sailing trip together and really hit it off. They came down to Florida last fall to visit me and told me that they were going to get married. I was very happy for them, because I know that my mother has spent most of her life married and is happier as part of a couple, and Lary seemed like a really nice guy.

Anyway, the wedding date they chose was July 7th. They claim that it had nothing to do with the 7-7-07 thing, that they were merely trying to work around the sailing race that comes up next weekend. Perhaps they're even telling the truth. However, the wedding service was set for 7 p.m., so even if it was accidental, they seemed to be playing those 7's for all they were worth.

I was only going to be gone for a couple of days, so I put out extra food and water for the critters and left for the airport around 7 a.m. I made a point of arriving early in case there were any security lines or delays, but everything went quickly and smoothly. I'd bought a pair of cheap navy slip-on canvas shoes as my traveling shoes, so I could just slide them off at the checkpoint, and then slip them back on after I went through. I brought my digital camera, cell phone and iPod, as well as the Warren Zevon bio that I'm reading. Not surprisingly, I listened to some Zevon albums while reading the book.

My seat on the flight to Detroit was in the very back row. I had the middle seat, but man next to me, who was herding his four small children, asked if I could move to the window seat, which was fine with me. The man showed an exemplary amount of patience with the kids. They weren't too badly behaved, all things considered.

When we arrived at the terminal in Detroit, I called Mom on my cell phone to let her know I was at the very back of the plane and would be the last one off. When I got off the plane, there she was, and she gave me a big hug and told me how glad she was that I had come for the wedding. My brothers Kurt and Karl, and Kurt's 17-year-old daughter Rachel, were also there. Karl had flown in from New York, while Kurt and Rachel had driven from Kansas City, with a stop at the University of Illinois-Champaign. Rachel is going to be a senior in high school this year, and is considering UI-C because they have a very good civil engineering school, and that is what she is looking to study. Rachel also was going to be the maid of honor at the wedding.

Once I got my checked luggage from the carousel, we went out and had some lunch. Kurt had one slight problem: He'd lost his bank check card, and figured out that he'd left it at a McDonald's back in Illinois. He called and canceled it. We all went to Pizza Uno and shot the breeze while eating lunch. I had a flatbread Hawaiian pizza and salad, with a couple of Hacker-Pschorr beers (A good German beer from Munich). Kurt and Karl were discussing how packages say "Some settling may have occurred during shipment" and that it really should say "Some settling has occurred during shipment, deal with it!" Kurt was complaining about how a bag of chips he'd gotten had been mostly air, that it was almost like it was a bag of chip. We had a good chuckle over that. After that, the topic of conversation turned to Rachel, and how she was becoming an accomplished young woman, with her work on the school yearbook, robotics competition, playing on the soccer team, etc. To which I said, "So she's all that and a bag of chip!" It's a good thing that nobody was drinking anything at the time, or we might have had a true Recycled Sip moment, because everyone was laughing so hard.

After lunch, we went to Mom's condo on the lake. We were all going to be staying there, while Mom was going to be at Lary's house. We put Rachel in the master bedroom, since she was the only girl, then the brothers got the two beds in the other bedroom and I laid claim to the couch. It had a fold-out bed, but I just said, "Give me a pillow and something to roll up in and I'll be fine."

We killed a couple of hours there, just catching up on things, and then we went to the wedding rehearsal at 7 p.m. The brothers and I were slated to be the ushers, but they didn't really give us a whole lot of instruction on what we were to do, other than that the guests were supposed to be coming in through the back door of the sanctuary, and then we would have them exit out the front-side entrance at the end so that they could make their way downstairs to the reception after the wedding. We met the other members of the wedding party, including Bob and Heather, a Scottish couple who were old friends of Lary's from when he studied at a college in Scotland. Indeed, the wedding was at the local Presbyterian church and the groom and the best man both wore kilts; there was also a bagpiper who led the postlude processional at the end of the service.

After the rehearsal, we all went out to the rehearsal dinner, then back to Mom's condo for some sleep.


7-7-07: Do You Feel Lucky?

That's what this AP news article asks. This Saturday will be 7-7-07, and gamblers, prospective married couples and others looking for good luck will be trying to take advantage of the numerically auspicious day. Can't hurt; might help. I myself have obligations for the day, which I will blog about afterward.

And no, it has nothing to do with achieving harmony through a gong ceremony!

In a Prius?!

Perhaps you saw in yesterday's news that Al Gore III, 24-year-old son of the Goracle, was busted in southern California driving a hybrid Prius at speeds of up to 100 mile per hour on the highway. When the cops stopped him, they smelled marijuana. Upon searching the car, they found a few other different drugs.

But at least it was an environmentally-friendly car, even if it wasn't being driven in an environmentally-friendly way. I had no idea that a hybrid could go that fast! I suspect that the Prius will soon become the car chase vehicle of choice in California. I look forward to seeing Prius car chases on Fox News in the very near future.

As for the younger Gore, this isn't his first brush with the law, as he has had arrests both for his driving and for drug possession. Hopefully he will get the help that he needs to straighten out and get his life together. However, I hope that he doesn't just get a slap on the wrist because of who his daddy is. If jail time is good for Paris Hilton, it's good for Al Gore III, if a judge says so.


Happy Independence Day!

It's July 4th, the day we celebrate our freedom as Americans. I was thinking earlier today that it is fortunate for people in most parts of the country that the holiday falls in summer; it would be miserable to try to barbecue or watch fireworks in February in upstate New York or Minnesota, for example. On the other hand, our weather here in Florida is usually more pleasant in February, with cooler temperatures and little chance of rain. Today has been quite rainy here in the Sunshine State.

I went out and had lunch with my dad and one of his friends at Smoky Bones. I had the combination platter with pulled pork and smoked beef brisket. I loves me some pulled pork! It's a sports-oriented kind of place, and we got there just as the Nathan's Hot Dog eating contest was finishing. Alas, poor Takeru Kobayashi! He snarfed at the end and almost did the Technicolor yawn. He was defeated by the challenger, Joey Chestnut, 66 hot dogs to 63, and his run of six straight mustard championship belts came to an end.

(Interesting note: My browser gave "technicolor" a red underline as questionable when I didn't capitalize the word, but thought it was fine when I changed it to a capital T. Very strange!)

American most grateful for his freedom today: I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, after President Bush commuted the bogus 2-1/2 year prison sentence that Libby was given for perjury and obstruction of justice. I stated at the time of the conviction that it was the criminalization of politics, that no Republican could expect to get a fair trial in overwhelmingly Democrat Washington, D.C., and that the whole thing was a political lynching/witch hunt when there was no real underlying crime being investigated. Commuting Libby's sentence was one of the very, very few things that Bush has done right of late. It certainly doesn't make up for his support of the amnesty immigration bill, which fortunately was shot down.


The F-Word Shirt

Perhaps you've read the controversy about New York Yankees infielder Alex Rodriguez's wife, Cynthia, who wore a shirt to a game on Sunday at Yankee Stadium with the phrase "F*** You" on the back. (I'm editing the word here, but her shirt was unexpurgated.) Needless to say, a lot of people thought that the shirt was offensive, especially with children present. Then, yesterday, a female reporter from the New York Post went to Yankee Stadium wearing the same shirt design, apparently to see what the reaction would be. She ended up getting tossed out of the game when someone spotted the shirt and complained about it to stadium personnel. I approve of her being asked to leave the stadium.

Some might say, "Well, what about her free speech rights?" The answer, of course, is that while "Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech or of the press," privately owned establishments are allowed to decide what is appropriate speech on their premises, and to deny service to those who breach proper decorum.

So then the question comes to mind: When is it not a breach of proper decorum to wear a T-shirt with a phrase on it that any reasonable person would be likely to find patently offensive and obscene? The answer is that there are not many occasions when such a shirt would be appropriate. Perhaps at a frat house keg party, or on the set of an adult film. That's about it.

I know about this kind of situation, because back in my married days, my ex-wife gave me a novelty T-shirt with all of the various uses for the F-word: Noun, verb, adjective, etc. I found it humorous, but it's never been worn outside of my house. Perhaps Mrs. A-Rod and the New York Post reporter should have exercised the same discretion.


Library Serendipity

I had a couple of books due at the library on Saturday, so I made the trip into town to drop them off, and then wandered the stacks looking for something new to read. I hit the new books first, then walked the aisles of the fiction section. Nothing reached out and grabbed me.

I was about ready to just say "Eh," and walk out empty-handed when I remembered that my friend Barbara had mentioned she was reading a new biography of Neil Young. I wondered if they had it, so I checked the biography section. They had a biography of Young that was written several years ago, so I didn't think it was the same book. I went back to the nearby new books section and looked in the corner where the new biographies were. No Neil Young books, but I did find what I'd been looking for all the time, even though I hadn't known it: I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon, compiled by his ex-wife, Crystal, after his death in 2003.

I'd had this one recommended to me by Amazon, and it was definitely something I wanted to read, so I snatched it up. It's not your usual biography with a single narrative. Instead, it's a compilation of anecdotes by friends, family, band members and other acquaintances, as well as Zevon's own recollections from his journals. You may or may not be familiar with his music, but he was one of my favorite musical artists. And the stories of Zevon's wild life are entertaining. As he put it, "I got to be Jim Morrison for a lot longer than he did." This one's a must-read for any Zevon fan.