January 2007

No, not the Patriots. I’m talking about a simple marketing ploy that some overanxious public servant mistook for a threat.

“It had a very sinister appearance,” Coakley told reporters. “It had a battery behind it, and wires.”


Yessiree, Bob. That’s sinister enough to scare the bejeezus outta me. The Urlacher of Lite Brites, it is. 🙄

This meme got passed on to me from my wife. Most of these things are funny in hindsight, albeit not so much at the time they happened.

1. I’ve always hated carrots. I know this because my Mom has an old 8mm movie of me bawling my eyes out while my godmother tries to shove more carrot mush into my gaping, wailing mouth. The Einstein at Gerber’s who thought up mashed, steamed veggies for kids should be strung up by his thumbs. And my Mom never wastes an opportunity to show that film, now nicely preserved on videotape, to everyone unlucky enough to know me.

2. During my tour of duty with the US Army in Germany, we had a chance to learn to ski. It was called “adventure training.” Because it took place while we were on duty, we had to wear our normal camouflage fatigues. Needless to say, we stuck out like sore thumbs. Now Germany has far fewer chair lifts per mountain than US slopes. The favorite means of conveyance up the hill in Europe is the T-bar. The T-bar is just what it sounds like; an upside-down, T-shaped bar suspended from a moving cable. You stand on your skis and hook the bar behind your butt. You don’t actually sit on the bar; you just sort of lean back against it and let it pull you along. You can do this with two people, but it takes some practice. We were doing it solo. Now the bar isn’t attached directly to the overhead cable. In order to avoid yanking you off your feet, the T-bar is actually attached to a spring-loaded, winch-like apparatus, sort of like a window shade roller. As the T-bar takes your weight, the line feeds out a bit and then, after a brief pause, retracts and pulls you along slowly at first. Then there’s another brief pause while the roller reels in a bit of line, after which it pulls you again. You go through maybe three such pull/pause iterations before you start moving at a steady speed uphill. The trick is to be prepared for each pull and to keep the bar in place during the pauses. I say “trick,” because if you let your attention wander…well, it ain’t pretty. During one of our early outings, I was starting out on a T-bar run. The initial stretch was across flat, open ground and skiers would ski across between folks going uphill. All perfectly safe and acceptable. I had just started my first pull when a very attractive young lady skied across in front of me and gave me a big smile. (Considering what I was wearing, it was probably more of a laugh, but I digress.) Being a dumb American, I let my attention slide while I watched this lovely distraction ski on by. While I was ogling, the first pull ended and during the brief pause, I foolishly let the T-bar slip down from my butt to the backs of my knees. I realized my error just as the bar pulled again. Sure enough, it yanked me right off my feet. But because I fell backwards and ended up sort of sitting/laying on my skis, I couldn’t get my feet out from under me. So there I was, getting hauled up the slope knees first like a laundry bag full of last week’s dirty clothes.

3. I refuse to fly charters because of one very long charter flight back from Germany. The flight was from Munich to Boston, normally an 8 hour flight. Mine took more than 20, not counting the three hour delay in getting on the plane in the first place. The first leg of the flight went from Munich to Athens, Greece. Just slightly out of the way. We arrived in Athens around 2AM local time and those of us not staying in Greece were herded into a secure holding area. Being 2AM, there wasn’t a thing open and there were very few places to sit. After an hour and a half we were told to go back out to the tarmac and board a shuttle bus to the plane. The bus was far too small to hold all of us and I could see there were people hanging out of the doors. The plane was only a few hundred yards across the tarmac, so five of us decided to just walk over. Now this was just a few months after a TWA flight from Athens had had a bomb go off in flight, killing one passenger. That thought didn’t dawn on me at the moment we five walkers headed out toward the plane. As I said, the plane was out on the tarmac a few hundred yards away from the terminal building and surrounded by floodlights. Just as the five of us came walking out of the dark towards the plane, I saw lots of soldier-looking guys come running towards us. My confusion turned to terror when they formed a circle around us and leveled their weapons at us. It was at that moment that it struck how stupid we were for having done what we did. Scenes from the movie Midnight Express started running through my head. We all started babbling at the man in charge of security that we were just walking because the bus was full, but he didn’t looked very convinced. In the end, a flight steward vouched for us and the security honcho reluctantly let us go. I wanted to kiss the flight steward. He settled for a handshake.

4. On my last flight back from Germany in late ’89, I had brought with me some very expensive bottles of wine for my best friends, who had just celebrated the birth of their daughter. There was no way I was going to pack the bottles in my checked baggage, so I put them in my carryon and surrounded them with socks, t-shirts, and (clean) underwear. All right, I wasn’t too bright back then. In any case, I made it all the way to JFK in NYC with no problems. Then our shuttle flight from JFK to Boston got delayed for mechanical reasons, so they told us all to come back in an hour. An hour later, it was still not fixed, so they sent us back to wait another hour. Again, the problem continued, so they told us to listen to the PA system for our flight announcement. So I went back to the main lobby area and found a seat in a bar. About an hour and half later, I caught the tail end of an announcement and thought I heard my flight number, so I paid my bill and hurried out. I was shocked to see a huge line at security. Now, all the previous times I had zipped right through security, which in those days meant a quick scan of your carryon. But this time I had to wait in line and now, on my fourth time through the same scanner, the woman decided she needed to inspect the bottles of wine. So I unzipped my bag, pulled out some clothes, and showed her the bottles. Finally she was satisfied they were sealed and let me go. But in my haste I got the zipper jammed on a sock and couldn’t close my carryon at all. I just stuffed everything in as best I could and ran to the gate. The lady at the gate was holding open the door just for me with a look of exasperation on her face. I hustled through the door and down some steps to the tarmac, only to see a small propeller driven plane sitting there with a stewardess waving me over. This plane had one row of seats up each side and the only seat left was way at the front. The door was near the rear. So I climbed on and headed up to my seat catching nasty looks from all the other passengers. When I got to the front, the stewardess started calling me back to the rear of the plane to stow my carryon. As I started down the gauntlet of dirty looks again, my carryon snagged on something and one of the handles slipped from my hand. I managed to prevent the wine from falling out, but my underwear scattered like leaves in the wind. It was everywhere. So there I was, on my hands and knees, picking my socks and underwear from around people’s feet and trying valiantly but hopelessly to stuff it all back into my bag. Is it any wonder I hate flying?

5. A few years ago Sarah and I went to London for a conference and vacation. She had been telling me about this Lebanese restaurant she had been to on a previous trip. We made it there for dinner one night and had a good meal. But there were two oddities. First, the salad was chunky style in the extreme. As in, whole raw vegetables in a bowl. I wasn’t sure if we were supposed to eat it or paint a still life of it. And at the end of the meal I thought I’d be Joe-Worldly-Dude and order a Lebanese coffee. I figured, “I’ve had espresso, how bad can it be?” It came as I expected, in a small cup. I foolishly took a sizable sip and nearly died. First, it was nuclear hot. And second, it was so strong it brought tears to my eyes. Between the heat and the strength, I was sure the Lebanese waiter had decided to screw with the ugly American and gave me a cup of battery acid. I’ll never forget that pain. Nonetheless, I avoided spraying my coffee all over creation and actually swallowed it. It was the last thing I tasted for a month. Next time we’ll stick to Starbucks.

This morning I threw out some corn ears for the deer and squirrels. Usually we only see the end result, which is a bunch of bare cobs in our yard. Sometimes we see a squirrel valiantly try to take the ear off to some distant food cache, but they usually don’t make it far. Then today I looked out and saw a corn ear high up in a tree sitting in the saddle between a branch and the tree trunk. Before I could get a shot of it, some squirrel had moved it. Then I noticed it further on across the yard in another tree. Some squirrel is determined to take this thing home. 🙂

Corn in tree


Now that we’re back to our regularly scheduled winter, I’ve been thinking about the warm breezes and crystal clear water of the tropics. Christmas of ’05 we were in Florida and visited Blue Spring. One of the most inviting places I’ve ever seen. Is this nice or what?

Blue Spring

Divers gathering

Diver heading over the spring.

Diver heading in.

I’ve never given any significance to the start of a new calendar year. To me, it’s just another day, another month. My birthday, which is fast approaching, holds more significance, especially as I approach the Big 50. It is then, more than any other time, that I tend to look at where I’ve been and what I’ve done and measure those *ahem* accomplishments against my ideas of where I should be at this stage in my life. I’ve done a lot of things in my time, traveled quite a bit, lived in Germany for a while, changed job fields several times, and known lots and lots of people, both good and not so good. I’m generally pretty happy with my life now, but there’s always a feeling in the back of my mind that I should be doing better. What exactly “better” is, I don’t know.

Twenty years ago computers meant nothing to me, now they’re a major part of my life and my career. Twenty years ago I bought a really nice pair of fur-lined leather gloves at the military clothing sales store in Fürth, Germany. I still wear those gloves every winter. Some things change, some don’t. Twenty years ago I owned a problematic BMW (read:lemon) that I enjoyed driving too much to get rid of. Today I own a problematic BMW that I enjoy driving too much to get rid of. Some lessons are never learned. Twenty years ago I left Germany for the States to start working on my bachelor’s degree at U Mass. This month I start working on my Master’s degree at Eastern Illinois. Some lessons never end. Twenty years ago I had a lot less, um…girth. Today I have a lot less hair on my head. Ain’t life grand?:roll: Twenty years ago my wife, Sarah, was focusing on her high school studies. Today she’s the focus of my life. Ain’t life grand? 🙂

But in the spirit of the day, I’ll go ahead and list, in no particular order, my hopes for the New Year.

1. I hope we manage to find a path to peace in the Middle East.

2. I hope a cure for cancer is found. I despise that disease.

3. I hope the Red Sox find their $103 million pitching investment was worth it.

4. I hope the Democrats in Congress do better than their predecessors.

5. I hope CNN returns to its roots and loses the Celebrity News Network theme.

6. I hope I still find reasons (and time) to post in this blog.

7. I hope Mel Gibson retires to the Outback.

8. I hope the Colts lose in the first round.

9. I hope to still be driving my car, as opposed to it driving me into bankruptcy.

10. I hope this blog post didn’t bore you to tears. 😉