Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday stream of potato chip consciousness

I like rippled potato chips better than regular. They're heartier; they don't leave chip dust in the bottom of the bag or bowl and I don't believe they leave so much grease on your hands. Yep. I like rippled chips.

On Thursday I bought a bag of Italian sausage flavored chips. They're okay, but I never thought of there being a difference between spicy Italian and sweet Italian. These were spicy. And it's odd to taste a flavor where you don't feel that flavor should be. Italian sausage flavor should be in Italian sausages, not chips. But it was the only bag left and it was on sale. I had to buy it.

Of course, being the last bag left at a sale price could mean one of two things. Either they are really popular or they are really not so popular. Ah, ya pays ya money, ya takes ya chances.

The Canadians were way ahead of the curve on potato chips. Years before we had them in the States they had dill pickle, ketchup, and most wonderfully of all, salt and vinegar chips. Now I see here in Michigan chips flavored 'all dressed' and purported to be the most popular flavor in Canada even though I've never seen them in Canada nor do many (if any) of my Canadian friends claim to know anything about them. Then again, I'm not exactly known for hanging out in Canadian party stores examining their potato chip emporiums.

I like rippled potato chips.

Oops, I've come full circle. Time to stop.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The big race between Pop and Tall Glass

Pop Turner lived near the Shop with his brother in law, who we called Tall Glass. Pop's real name was Frank; I don't recall what Tall Glass was actually named. Okay, some people called him Goldie because his last name was Goldsmith. We called him Tall Glass because me Grandpa Joe stuck that monitor on him. He drank from a long, tall glass, Joe always said with a smile.

Pop and Tall Glass got along well, but as with many families sometimes a little animosity would break out. Usually this was just a shouting match, and usually when they'd both been drinking. Yet it was rarely more than that.

One such rare day occurred while me Pops (not to be confused here with Pop Turner of course) and I were the only two in the Shop and were having a coffee. As it was a warm summer day we had the big truck doors open, sitting by them to catch a breeze. After a minute or two we heard the ruckus. Pop and Tall Glass were at it; the gist was that Pop wanted chicken but he wanted his brother in law to go get it. Tall Glass resolutely would not.

Soon Tall Glass appeared, staggering down the alley in drunk fashion. He was yelling, "Come on man, no. Stop it," as he stumbled along in slow motion. Next Pop appeared, likewise speed and balance challenged. He was yelling at Tall Glass to go to the store for him, and was in slo-mo function as well. Only Pop was brandishing a shovel, holding it uncertainly above his head like a bat, ready to beat Tall Glass into doing his will.

If he caught him. The guys made their way down the alley, probably the slowest, most serpentine chase scene on record anywhere. Dad and I just looked at each other and shook our heads. Eventually Tall Glass fell, allowing Pop to get with maybe 15 feet of him. He begged his brother in law for mercy.

Dad sighed, "I better go do something before one of them gets hurt." He went out and gently took the shovel from Pop, explained firmly that wanting chicken wasn't reason enough to bust a family member's head open, helped Tall Glass off the cement, and escorted the two to their respective homes, making them promise to behave.

Ah, memories.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

It's time for Rifftrax

Tonight is Rifftrax live night. If you're not familiar with Rifftrax, it's a comedy thing where three guys mock old and new, good and bad movies. On nights like tonight they broadcast live to theaters throughout the country, originating in Nashville, Tennessee. Tonight's film is a mocking of The Five Doctors movie from the Doctor Who franchise. It should be good.

Granted, their kind of humor isn't for everyone. But like a lot of good comedy many of their riffs (jokes) actually make a kind of sense. When they question sparkly vampires, as they did when lambasting the Twilight films, it actually makes sense. Why would vampires sparkle? Why, also, would werewolves eat muffins for breakfast, as they do in the Stephanie Meyer, uh, classics?

I'm just skimming the top here. Rifftrax finds and mocks all those old school short films which we were subjected to years ago. It mocks them well; if you know who Mr. B Natural is, you are on my page. Check out their website. There's something for everyone.

All right, enough of this. I'm beginning to sound like a commercial, and I'm not. I simply love Rifftrax. And you should too.

This has been from a non-compensated spokesperson I assure you.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Eating from the can

"I don't wash dishes. I wash dish," me Uncle John used to say. You see, he had a habit of eating his food right out of the can. It saved time and effort. And let's face it, an awful lot of our food can be eaten that way.

Tuna, Vienna sausages, mechanically separated chicken, most vegetables; even things such as Spam can be eaten raw (or at least unheated). But Uncle did crease the envelope a bit. He would eat soup from the can for example. I was never sure enough about that to try it. One of the more unusual things he did sell me on though was corned beef hash. I tried it myself that way, straight from the can, and it was really okay. Roast beef hash not so much, but still good.

We hit a point where we would debate what else might be good enough thus consumed. Most things are just fine eaten out of the can it turns out. About the only thing we each agreed upon heartily was beef stew. Beef stew had to be heated. It was simply too chunky and the gravy too much in globules to be enjoyed on the cheap.

So, use less water and soap my friends. Eat from the can!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Feast of the Assumption

Today in the Catholic Church is the feast of the Assumption of Mary. As the doctrine goes, The Mother of Christ was taken straight into Heaven.

Conservatives, and perhaps especially conservative Christians, are too often said to denigrate women. Yet here is an example of a woman being exalted above every man who ever was save Christ Himself. Mary is the greatest creation there is, has, and ever will be. And she is venerated above any man.

If there's a greater respect for women, I simply cannot imagine what it might be.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The neighborhood miscreant and the tar roof

The old barn, the shop I now have, was once me Grandpa Joe's. Like so many commercial buildings, it has a flat roof.

Years ago this young boy, I believe he was 8 or 9, decided that that roof was the ideal playground. He was climbing up onto it constantly, and no matter what Joe did the kid would always find his way back up there. He finally resorted to something he did not like to do, as for all his faults he hated ratting anyone out, even a brat. He went to speak the kid's folks.

"He's going to get hurt running around on my roof," Joe explained. But the dad blew him off. "Boys will be boys," was all he said. Mom said, "I can't watch him all the time." Grandpa left them, unsure what to do.

Well, as the old barn had sprung a few leaks, him and me Pops went up one morning before work and spread a layer of thin tar across the roof. Then they opened.

It wasn't long until Joe could hear the boy playing on the roof again. But this time he just went about his business.

A couple of hours later the boy's mother came around with a complaint. She was dragging along her kid, who covered head to toe in roofing tar. It was on his clothes, his skin; it was even in his hair. "And he's gotten tar all over the house. It's going to take forever to clean everything up," she emphatically explained.

"Sorry, lady, I can't watch him all the time," was all Joe said. Then he went back to work.

The boy however never climbed back on the roof.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Three days

What's the old joke? That the difference between a good haircut and a bad one is three days? Well, I'm on day one.

I got a haircut yesterday. There were six chairs in this place and it was packed. Then one chair came open, manned by an elderly gentleman whom I'd say was in his eighties. As it wasn't anywhere near my turn I found myself looking up and down the row of waiting customers. But no one would go to him. Eventually I stood up, and tentatively went and sat in his chair. I asked for a regular haircut.

Now, it wasn't the best haircut. Neither was it terrible. Once I was back home I did spend a few minutes cutting off straggling hairs as I looked in my bathroom mirror. Still, it looked all right. And I find myself a bit upset with the men who would not let the old fella cut their hair.

The old gent was only trying to make a few bucks. Why were you leaving him hanging? And it's just your hair, guys. It'll be okay after three days.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Grandpaw and any given bee

Me Grandpaw Hutchins was the most mild mannered, easiest going man I have known. Nothing seemed to bother or rankle him. He just moseyed on with his life.

Of course, using the word nothing is rarely accurate. There's always something, the famous 'they' say. And there was something with Grandpaw. If he got strung by a bee, that bee had too die. It. Had. To. Die.

Before even tending his wound, Grandpaw would grab the fly swatter hanging by his back door and he would stalk the culprit. With a stealth generally found only in the most experienced ninjas, he would make his way through his house, keeping a steady eye on the miscreant, waiting for the right opportunity. Eventually the insect would settle somewhere, to be stunned in that instant before death by the hard, fast, and true slam of Grandpaw Hutchin's swatter. Justice had been served, North Carolina style.

Then he would become again mild mannered Grandpaw Hutchins. I loved that man.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Songs stuck in your head

This is probably in at least semi-poor taste, but I'm going to write it anyway. I mean well, honest. At least, I don't really mean ill.

As I'm sure most of you know, country singer Glen Campbell passed away this week. That's sad news of course. I liked the man and I liked his music. He had charisma, and he had several easily singable tunes in his repertoire. Wichita Lineman, Summer Nights, and, of course, Rhinestone Cowboy, arguably his signature tune.

And that's the rub. I can't get Rhinestone Cowboy out of my head. I hear it constantly these last couple of days. But any song which you can't get out of your head simply becomes annoying after a while.

Believe me, I've tried to shake it. I keep trying to play some of his own other titles in my head and they just won't stick. I try to hum Summer Nights and it flips right back into Rhinestone. I try things far removed from his songs and they fold right back to Rhinestone. Paul McCartney's great ballad Yesterday even bailed on me. In my head I began it, to no use. It went something like, Yesterday...all my troubles seemed like a Rhinestone Cowboy, dat-dah, riding off on a horse...

Godspeed Mr. Campbell. I'll miss you and your music. And I mean no insult this morning good sir.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The toe tee

Some things, you just don't know how they happen.

I rose this morning to take my morning constitutional. I got dressed, got my keys, wallet and cell phone (all the standard items a guy needs these days) and was out the door. Then I thought I felt something in my shoe when I went down the front porch steps. But as soon as I was on the sidewalk everything felt fine. So I kept walking.

Nothing more happened at first. But once I was about four blocks away I definitely felt something. Leaning against a tree, I took off my shoe and, holding it upside down, shook it. Nothing.

Huh? So I felt under my foot to discover something under my toes. Taking off my sock and reaching inside I found - I am not making this up - a blue broken golf tee.

How in the world did such a thing get inside my sock? It was a fresh pair which I had rolled together after taking them out of the wash and putting them in my sock drawer a few days ago.

I got nuthin'.

Monday, August 7, 2017

I hate these lines

There are phrases which I hate, everyday phrases which we use all the time. Well, if you catch me using one, swat me across the side of the head with a halibut. Please.

I don't want to make you feel bad, but...

I already feel bad, with that lead in. So I think you did indeed want me to feel bad.

I don't wish to intrude...

Well, you just did. So I believe that you did mean to intrude.

I don't want to tell you what to do...

Haven't you already begun to do that?

Are you doing anything?

Well, yes. As I'm always doing something, then obviously I'm doing something just now aren't I?

I don't mean to interrupt...

Yes you do. Because you just did.

There's more to come. Just give me a minute.

And that also is a phrase I hate, because they usually need more than a minute.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Donald

I do not know what to think of him. The Donald, that is. I simply do not.

I like him as much as I liked Dutch. I loved, I love, Ronald Reagan. He was the only President I ever fervently voted for. Dutch, that is. I voted for the Donald because I didn't feel I had much other choice.

But I do not know what to think about Donald. I admire his forthriteness. He is very forward. We all know that. This is a good quality. It really is.

I do not know what to think.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Reality and TV

The grim reality of the 2010s versus the goofball racism of the 1960s. I wonder which is worse?

I'm watching the old TV show F Troop this morning and imagining how terribly offensive it must be considered today in some quarters. With its jokes based, in this case, on Red Indians and Japanese culture I'm surprised it's on free TV let alone cable. From Karate with Love is this particular episode, if you care to look it up. F Troop has also parodied Germans, French Canadians, Mexicans, Russians and, shockingly, the US Army. Horrors.

Now let's compare this to the currently popular Game of Thrones, a gore fest in the name of realism, where also an actress has publicly complained that the amount of male nudity must equal the amount of female nudity. There is a double standard here which much be addressed, we are told. And we are not expected to be upset or concerned with such flippant attitudes about propriety anyway.

I don't know about you, but I think screwball comedy mocking almost everybody and anybody without regard to feelings superior to presumed high art made for prurient interests. Give me honest lampooning over gritty reality any day. Quite frankly, it's more honest with itself.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Same difference

Chesterton believed that the farmer in India had a lot in common with the farmer in England. They each wanted rain. Can that be said of the English and Indian utopian?

I am not impressed with calls for individualism. Being an individual requires little; just don't be like Jones. That is within the power of everyone.

But being like everyone else, ah, there's the challenge. Getting up in the morning, doing your job, being nice to people; there's the challenge. Being considerate of that old hag down the street, there's a challenge. Being agreeable with the one preaching his worldview, there's a challenge. Liking the fellow who doesn't like you; there's a challenge.

Sameness is a challenge. Difference requires mere obstinacy. We are all capable of that.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Ode to pistachios

Ah, pistachios, pistachios, how do I love thee?

Seriously, how do I love thee?

I had never eaten pistachios before recently. I never had an interest in trying them. But I've tried them and I like them. Why?

Is it only because they are tasty, because they are. Very tasty. Or does psychology play a part?

One of my current favorite TV shows, I am not making this up, involves pistachios in a subplot as a running gag. And where did I try first try pistachios? When visiting my son and his fiancee in Brooklyn a few weeks ago. I can't get enough of them now. Pistachios that is. No offense to the Brooklynites.

Or is it simply that they're new to me and I'm just gorging myself? The trend may soon run itself out.

Let's hope not. Ah, pistachios.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Fun with technology

Color television (it sounds exotic to type out the entire word rather than just say TV) was relatively rare in the late 1960s. At a time when $100 a week was a decent income while color sets cost better than $300, they were something of a luxury. Still, parents then as now liked to treat themselves and their families to the newest technologies, and fads tended to spread quickly. In the Bill Cosgriff household circa 1969, as the color fad rolled on unstoppably, this meant that Pops had decided to buy a color TV for the family room.

I don't remember all the details of that old console. But it was big to a 9 year old, huge indeed, and took two hulking delivery men to carry it into the house and put it in place. Dad plugged it in and put on a channel, which happened to be showing an episode of Gilligan's Island. And the picture was black and white.

Pops began playing with the dials, the contrast button and what have you, and still no color. His frustration mounting and with nothing making a difference, as a last resort he went to the instruction manual, a thing real men don't do unless a last resort. No color, despite trying everything the manual said to try. He was ready to call the appliance store, the manufacturer, and perhaps even the President himself to rant about this travesty to a working man and his family. I don't blame him; I would have been upset. Anyone would have.

Then someone, I don't know who, produced the then current issue of TV Guide. It showed Pops clearly that yes, Gilligan's Island was on that channel at that time. It also showed that the particular episode was in black and white. The first season of Gilligan's Island had been filmed in black and white. The TV was fine.

As Dad slowly calmed down, laughing about it within a few minutes (I never thought to try another channel, he would soon joke about himself) we settled into a family night watching our new color television. And our new TV brought us many wonderful nights of entertainment for several years. Even, or perhaps especially, as we would knowingly tune into a black and white program.

Friday, July 28, 2017

As we know it

News flash: the world is going to Hell. Do what you will, think what you will, hope what you will, the world's heading straight into the fireball. It's going to happen.

But that doesn't mean today. In fact, it likely will not be today, nor anytime soon.

If I've learned anything after 57 years on God's green Earth, beyond the right to speak like an old guy (things was differnt when I was a boy I tell ya), is that we ain't perfect. Some of us is less perfect than others, all the way to being downright evil. I mean that. Because of that (outside of Divine intervention, but that's not the point here) the world will destroy itself one day. It will happen. You cannot stop it. You are not and will not be in a position to affect it. Period.

I'm not saying not to work for a better world just the same. You certainly should act within your sphere to do what you can to forestall the day of reckoning. But never mind the peripherals: fake news, President Trump, North Korean nukes, Brexit, any ism you can imagine, Obamacare, Fox News over MSNBC. You cannot affect them on a broad scale. Stop fretting.

Be nice to your neighbor. Help directly someone who needs help. Do your job well. Discuss the issues even, among friends and charitably. I personally believe giving the Almighty His due wouldn't hurt either. But stop feeding the beast. You're not then delaying the end of the world. But you just might be helping to bring it if you stoke the coals for the people actually driving the train. You might then be helping the end come before it must.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Uncle John's driving test

Okay, I'll admit up front that the title is a hook. A quite misleading one at that. But this post does involve me Uncle John, and it is about driving tests.

Back in the day many of us Cosgriffs lived and worked near Wayne State University in downtown Detroit. Now I can't speak for how they are recently but as I hear few complaints I think they're much better. But in the seventies and eighties WSU students were notorious walkers and drivers. Notorious that is for weaving in and out of traffic in their vehicles and vaulting across the street on foot trying to make their classes. Warren Avenue between Interstate 75 and Trumbull Avenue, a course about a mile and a half long, was the major roadway where all the action took place. It could be a harrowing drive if you didn't pay attention.

Uncle John noticed this as well as the rest of us. He used to quip that the road test for new drivers ought to be making it from I-75 to Trumbull along Warren without killing two people.

You caught that, didn't you? He was willing to spot you the first fatality because in that stretch of road you were going to kill somebody. And it would not be your fault.

Personally I think old Zeke had the right idea.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Silver Linings

Yesterday morning just before five o'clock I left da UP of Michigan figuring to get home in time enough to do a few hours work and make my golf league. Just after 6:30 I was sitting on the shoulder of southbound Interstate 75, north of Grayling. The pulley had decided to dislodge itself from the power steering on my van. What to do, what to do?

You look for silver linings. And In fact yesterday I saw several.

First and foremost was that we live in an advanced internet age. I took out my phone and searched for 'Grayling road service'. A tow truck was picking van and Marty up within 35 minutes. Not knowing where to take the old girl, the tow driver suggested a good local mechanic. We were there by 7:45 and, happily, they could have my van fixed in a few hours. Cool.

Of course, I hadn't planned on taking my morning walk yesterday, but by then I had the time. I hiked the almost two miles into Grayling proper to a nice little restaurant and had an Irish omelette: Corned Beef and onions. Then of all things I was able to meet up with a good friend I hadn't seen in about ten years. He happened to be in town for work, saw on facebook where I had lamented my predicament, and said he had a few minutes, let's meet and catch up. And soon enough the van was finished. I was home by five in the afternoon.

Yeah, it's a little bit flippant, but when bad things happen we do need to look for those silver linings. If we do, we'll find that sometimes they're very bright too.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The sentimentality bug

Hessel, Day Two, July 2017

This morning I put on my ‘Green Monster’ T-shirt which I bought at Fenway Park, to realize it has been almost a year since I bought it. It will be a year next Tuesday that my son and I were there. Wow.

I saw too that my other son had tied together and labelled four small US flags, ‘2017’. These are the flags which he, my daughter-in-law, my granddaughter and myself had been given which watching the Fourth of July parade in Cedarville barely 18 days ago. And I thought something more like, double wow.

I thought I had sentimentality licked. I was afraid for years that I’d be too sentimental as I got older. For the longest time I was okay with things moving on. Life happens. You move on. You handle it.

But in the last three or four years I find it ain’t so easy. Oh, I’m not living in permanent melancholy. So long as I’m occupied, so long as I’m not face to face with some stark reminder, things are okay. Yet when those reminders jump out at you, well, they remind you.

Still, I’m happy at that. Fenway Park and that recent parade do indeed tell me that all is well. Sure, the moments are past. But they were great moments, and sentiment reminds me of that. It reminds me too that the day will come when we will remember, and sentiment won’t tinge our memories at all.

Friday, July 21, 2017

What's a bike rack for?

The things you see that you never expect to see. I suppose, that you’d never possibly imagine you would see.

While sitting in the pleasant hamlet of Hessel, Michigan, reading a Father Brown mystery – I knew I’d like Father Brown after I’d read his first story, where he identified a fraudulent priest because the man had questioned reason – I looked up to see a Jeep Cherokee drive past. It had a bicycle attached to the bike rack on the rear bumper.

Are you with me so far?

Nothing unusual about that of course. What struck me as odd was the walker, fully open, strapped to the car along with the bike. You couldn’t fold it and put it in the back seat? Even if it couldn’t fold, you still couldn’t simply open a door and put there? Surely it was more trouble to attach it to the bike rack than do that.

It doesn’t really matter I suppose. But I do wonder.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Name that arc welder

As many of you know, Grandpa Joe rented arc welders. What you may not know is that each and every one of them, almost 250 at the height of his business, had Joe Cosgriff names. Each was JC 1, JC 2, and so on. As a side note they each had serial numbers from the manufacturer, and Pops knew every serial number by heart. We'd test him often as kids. While dutifully standing beside a machine we'd ask, JC 135? Dad would immediately reply "5CW11276". It worked every time; we witnessed the proof. I've always been impressed by that.

Anyway, many of the welders had what amounted to nicknames. There was Old Number One, Joe's first welder, the one he started the business with. Nokomis was named after Nokomis, Illinois, the town where Joe bought it. He also had MichCon, acquired from the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company, and Gray Trailer, purchased from Gray's Rentals. I don't remember where that place was though.

There were two called long underslung, JC 27 and JC 33 respectively. Their carriages were made so that the welding machines themselves sat low into the whole unit. I believe it was an attempt to create a lower center of gravity on four wheeled trailers. Four wheeled welders were notoriously bad to tow. It wasn't unusual for them to veer all over the place behind a vehicle once you hit about 40 miles per hour. A lower center of gravity helped them tow straighter at higher speeds. I can say through personal experience that 27 and 33 towed much better than the average welder.

He had two Lincoln 600 amp electric welders which looked like large bombs. We called them A-bombs of course. 'Where's that A-bomb going Joe?' was a question which likely startled many a passers-by. There was snub nose, a snub nosed Hobart. Imagine that.

There's more but memory escapes me just now. I'll bring everyone up to speed soon though.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Potted meat and liver mush

I do not have what I consider unusual tastes in food. Yet that does not mean that there aren't odd foods which I like.

My wife returned from shopping today with a couple cans of potted meat. I should not like it: meat which spreads like butter doesn't sound appealing on that ground alone. Yet it's good: way too salty, perhaps, but I like salty things. There is one rule to follow, though, with stuff like potted meat. Do not, under any circumstances, read the ingredients. Just eat and enjoy. Nothing that tastes good could actually be bad for you, right?

Now you really, truly do not want to read the ingredients in liver mush. Yes, liver mush. It comes in little grayish one pound cakes and is available all over my other home state, North Carolina. I think it's called scrapple on the east coast. Either way, it's mondo good with onion and mayo on plain old white bread. You simply slice a bit of it off the cake and hey presto, instant culinary delight. Just always remember the rule.

Vienna Sausages are worthwhile too, though I suppose they aren't really all that odd. I think of them as baby food for grown ups, just like the Gerber custard pudding that rocks so well on the palate. But once more, don't read the label on the can. I am eternally curious about what exactly constitutes mechanically separated chicken though.

So anyway, at least every now and then take a chance, set aside health issues, and eat something that's probably not good for you. You'll thank for me it, and I promise to visit you in the ER if there's any unfortunate aftereffects.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Suess was an idiot

I am not a fan of Dr. Seuss. His unusual approach to teaching kids to read, using imaginary creatures and made up words, is widely credited as a good way to reach kids through fantasy. Yet his books really aren't very good for any purpose.

For starters, the best way to learn to read is phonetically. Teaching kids to read by rhyme, and indeed with the use of nonsense words, actually limits vocabulary and the development of reading proficiency.

Then, too, his imagination was not the imagination of a Tolkien or C. S. Lewis. They developed worlds where the interaction of the characters told compelling stories. Seuss just made up things which matched his writing scheme. "What would you do if you met a Jibboo?" or whatever that creature was, cannot really inspire anyone, even a kid. It's nonsense.

But perhaps the way in which his writing was most awful was in the lessons it presumed to teach. Take 'The Cat in the Hat' for example. Basically, this cat half destroys a house while the children's mother is out, miraculously cleans it up, then the tale ends encouraging kids to be dishonest with their parents. That's not a lesson we ought to be teaching our young, especially in this age of moral relativity.

Or The Butter Battle Book, written during the Cold War, which essentially equated the United States and the Soviet Union by demonstrating our relationship as an absurdity: they simply butter their bread on the other side, you see? That's nothing short of simplistic, mindless hogwash.

That Dr. Seuss has had such a profound effect on our reading habits is not a good thing. It is high time to remove his books from our shelves, and give kids better reads. At that, they may actually learn.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Whither Ties?

Why can't we have ties? Why can't a game end with each team having the same score? Why must there be a winner and a loser? And aren't some ties in fact really good games?

The National Hockey League has held for several seasons now 'shootouts' to break ties. Soccer has had championship matches decided in like fashion. If there's a dumber way to break a tie I cannot imagine what it is. Such a process cheapens, indeed I would argue that it mocks, a victory anyhow. Winning on luck is nothing to be proud about.

There is fear, now that the National Football League has cut overtime periods to 10 minutes, there will be more ties in football this coming season. But so what? If teams played to a draw, it's a draw. Let it stand.

Even in championship games, why can't there be co-champions if the result is a tie? They're only games after all; entertainments; diversions. They aren't really that important.

Let ties stand. If it buggers your standings or your ratings, or especially if it buggers your demand that someone must win and someone else lose, I don't think you're particularly sportsmanlike at all.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The blue green ceramic tiger bank

It's about a foot long, 5 inches high and 3 inches deep. The plug is so dry rotted that I hate to remove it. The entire thing is painted blue-green rather than orange with black stripes, so that the stripes don't stand out. Its eyelids are gray, Lord knows why. It holds a red flower in its tail. I've had it for 50 years now. It's a ceramic tiger bank and I have no idea why it caught my seven year old eyes back in 1967.

There was a sale of some kind going on at old St. Dominic's Grade School. Everything available was on display inside a glass case outside the principal's office. I saw that tiger bank and I wanted it. It was two dollars and seventy five cents, a fortune to a little kid back then. For whatever reason, Mom was kind enough to give me the money for it.

It sat on her knick-knack shelf in the living room for years, but I used it as intended. I put my change in it, taking some out from time to time, oh, I don't know, when the ice cream truck was near or something. Soon after I got married it came down the street to my new house. It sat on a bookshelf next to my bed ever since and I'd kind of forgotten about it.

Until this morning. It caught my eye for the first time in ages, and it struck me how long I'd had it. I brought it down, brushed it off, and sat it next to the computer for blog inspiration; he's going right back upstairs when I'm done. I'm not ashamed to admit I have a tear in my eye as I hammer this out.

I guess this is my way of telling my kids, although I hope that they are hoping along with me that that day is a long way off yet, that one of them better take the stupid ceramic tiger bank for safekeeping. Someone needs to protect their Nana's investment.

If it's any extra incentive, there are still a few coins rattling around in it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Discount prices?

Why? Why do new guys, guys I've never seen before, think they can work me down on price?

Can you do that at Meijer? Can you do it at Home Depot or Kroger, or your neighborhood hardware store? Would you expect that, when told your tab was $220 at any of those places, they'd just round it down to $200 for you? You wouldn't even ask, would you?

Then why do you feel like you can ask me?

Yes, I'm in sales. Yes, I've admitted here that I don't mind a bit of negotiation, if there's volume. But for anybody to believe that a $220 dollar sale calls for me just giving you 11% or thereabouts off, what planet are you from?

Okay, I have a chip on my shoulder right this minute. Can you imagine why?

Monday, July 10, 2017

The last shot

He always bought every shot. Every beer.

Uncle Frank. My Uncle Frank. To his family, to my children, he was Oggie, or Oggs, for whatever reason. To me, Uncle Frank.

He retired to da UP, to Hessel, in the Les Cheneaux Islands. We visited there often. We still do.

We drank a few beers together, mostly Old Milwaukee. We had a few shots, mostly the house whiskey.

He always bought.

One day, back in 1996, in July as we visited, he asked me to help him take the trash to the dump. I did so. He asked me afterwards if I might like a shot and a beer. I said yes, I might like that.

We made a side trip to his haunt. We had a shot and a beer. They seemed that day to last a long while that day. We talked a while, as though we had known each other a lifetime.

Our drinks were almost spent. He asked if I might like another, and I said yes, I would. He ordered. I said, Oggs, you always pay. Let me pay for these.

He stared at me for a very long moment. Then he just said, okay. I paid. We clinked shot glasses and downed our shots. We sipped at our beers. For another hour we talked just like old friends. I drove him home.

He passed away that night. I had bought him his last shot and beer. I am proud to have done so.

Watch and Tommy

Me Grandpa Hutchins had a couple of pets over the years which, for whatever reason, stand out in my mind. I guess they simply impressed me somehow.

One he called Watch. Watch was the largest collie I have ever seen. He looked like Lassie on steroids. Lots of steroids. He weighed, the vet told Grandpa, 135 pounds. That's a lot of collie.

Watch was a playful animal though. That's not bad until you take his weight into account. He'd knock you down without any evil intent. He was just being man's best friend.

Grandpa had another little beagle named Tommy. I liked old Tommy; maybe that's why I gravitate towards beagles, so much as I might gravitate towards any dog.

What I remember most about Tommy was that he lost his voice when he was about 14 (84 in people years). He would start to bay as beagles do but only the first 'wrope' would come out. Yet his mouth kept silently opening and closing for several seconds, as though he had to complete the rest of the barking anyway.

Watch and Tommy. Two pretty good old dogs.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The genius of Joe Cosgriff

I've told you before about Grandpa Joe. He could be cantankerous, sublime, sympathetic, and even religious. He could also be clever.

When he was about 80 (I don't remember exactly when this happened) he drove with Pops down to Nashville, Tennessee where Dad was working a trade show. They got to the hotel; Dad got his luggage from the trunk and Joe drove on. He was going to visit some friends in Alabama while Pops did the show.

Returning to Nashville a few days later, Joe got completely turned around and had no idea how to get to Opryland, where his son was staying. Now bear in mind that this was before any sort of GPS or cell phones. He could not simply plug an address into a small computer. He couldn't just call Dad (who would probably not have known how to help him anyway) while asking for directions is always an iffy proposition. It could become rather confusing no matter how well meant. But Joe had an inspiration that day. He hailed a cab.

Not that he was going to ride it of course; he still had his car to consider. But he explained his predicament to the cabbie, told him where he wanted to go, and asked if he could follow the cab there, whence Joe would pay him as though a regular fare.

So that's how Joe got to the hotel to pick up Pops. I for one think it a work of minor genius.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The hipsters in Hessel

Hessel Grocery, which had been in the conveniently named village of Hessel, Michigan for quite some years, is no more. It is now called NibbleLungen. It promises a full line of groceries as did its predecessor, but its deli will now give you lunch and dinner options with a Mediterranean flavor.

But what the hell's nibblelungen anyway? And a Mediterranean flavor? The new owners do know that they're in the middle of small town, rural, traditional Michigan don't they? They promise something for 'even the most finicky' taste buds. I should have thought they'd have realized they were in deer camp and ice fishing country, which is not exactly known for its discriminating tastes in food.

I for one never vacationed in Hessel for any Mediterranean flair. I'm not calling it wrong, I'm just calling it out: the invasion of the Upper Peninsula is begun! The hipsters are everywhere. They've even taken the old hardware store in town and converted it into a distillery. A distillery!

Hmmm. A distillery. All right, maybe the hipsters aren't all bad.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Four of a kind, twice

I'm not much on casino gambling. I get the urge to play once every few years, but as soon as I've lost twenty bucks or so I find myself thinking 'this is stupid' and walk away. The winners didn't build the casinos, Pops used to say.

Be that as it is, and it certainly is true, I did venture into a small casino over the weekend. And wouldn't you know, I left it ahead. That makes twice in a row where I've left a casino with more cash than I had brought in.

It wasn't an impressive amount but I have come out eighty bucks ahead the past two trips against the one armed bandits. The time before this, I was dealt four sevens on the first hand and won. I stared at the machine, thinking perhaps that I should play it out. It was free money, right? But then common sense took over: it was my free money. I cashed out and went home.

This past Sunday was my first return to a gambling parlor since that day. I did have to play a few hands that time before getting three jacks, with the fourth coming on the re-deal. Either way, I found myself the winner of another eighty dollars. I cashed out.

Oh, I'm not naive. I know that even with my limited casino experience they're still well ahead of me. Yet the last two times I came out ahead of them, and you can't take that away from me.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Big city, small town

If you think what a difference a day makes, think what a difference a week does.

Last Saturday I was in one of the biggest cities in the world, going to Church at one of the largest cathedrals in the United States. Yesterday I was in a tiny little hamlet in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and went to Mass at a small local church. I went from people everywhere to being in a newly opened shop where three dozen made a crowd. Believe me, in that tiny little store 36 folk was a packed house.

Talk about the sublime to the ridiculous. From New York City to Hessel, Michigan in five days. From where I stand right now there isn't anyone within several hundred feet. Last Saturday on Manhattan I was amid several hundred people within a few feet.

Interestingly I'm not sure which place I like best. It's great that I can be with family in each spot. So I suppose I should be thankful they're both on my radar.

A car just drive by. My personal space has been violated.

Let's see where I might be next Sunday. Will Detroit count as halfway between these two extremes?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

O Canada on her 150th Birthday

Today is Canada Day. It celebrates the anniversary of Canada being granted dominionship (we hope that is a word) within the British Empire on July 1, 1867. Called Dominion Day until 1982 when Canada earned full independence, it is essentially Canada's Independence Day. This year is its 150th, the sesquicentennial, if I have it right.

It is one of those subtle ironies of history that such great friends as Canadians and Americans celebrate their anniversaries so closely together. Particularly in border cities as here between Detroit and Windsor, where we are able to enjoy the relatively free interchange of people, ideas, and goods with our northern allies, we ought to be somewhat awestruck by the kinship between our nations. There are few nations who truly have the sort of bond which we have, and we in Michigan are able to partake of that friendship every day in almost every way.

Though technically a newer nation than the United States, Canada is in many ways older and more distinct, more nuanced than we are. It gives Canada a depth which the US lacks in certain areas, as it allows her a better connection to the Old World (such a quaint yet endearing term nowadays!) than ourselves while living fully in the New.

Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario, true sister cities bound by proximity and shared interests, keenly aware and appreciative of one another even though in separate countries, share many events during these days. There are of course the massive fireworks, while each city supports various other events: the Windsor Summer Days in Ontario and Detroit River Days. It is something of a shame that they are no longer called the International Freedom Festival, as they were until 2007. It seems to break the unity of the celebrations. Still, their common history marks the anniversaries of each nation's independence similarly and faithfully. The parties remind us of our bond.

We should count ourselves fortunate indeed to have such tremendous associates, such stouthearted and true friends so nearby. It gives us a perspective the rest of the United States may not have, and shows us profoundly what true friendship must mean.

Happy Canada Day, Canada!

Friday, June 30, 2017

The evil that I do

It was childish all right. But I did it. We stay young by keeping a childlike wonder in our lives, am I right?

They put new sidewalks in on our block this week. Several sections in front of my house, and in fact three leading right up to my door, were replaced. Nice, fresh concrete. Nice and fresh.

I waited for the workers to finish and move on. Then I went outside (you know where this is going, don't you?) checked both up and down the road, and found a relatively soft spot in the new cement. I signed my name in it.

It looks like a little kid's writing. But I was being a little kid in doing it anyway. And you know what?

I'm still giggling at it.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Don't be rude at work (even if you think it would be funny)

Sometimes I really want to be a smart aleck. That's okay too, among family and friends in playful situations. But generally when working, you have to choke down that urge.

I called a customer yesterday morning to tell him that his machine had me stumped (yes, some things are beyond even old Marty). I told him I tried everything I knew to try but to no avail. I suggested he pick it up and take it to an electrician, as the motor simply would not run. I even suggested a place for him to take it to, someone I've known for years who is honest and does good work in a timely manner.

He came into the Shop within the hour. As he wheeled his unit towards the door he asked, "So what do you think I should I do?".

This is where not being a smart aleck is important. I said, as though I had said nothing sixty minutes ago, to take it to the electric motor shop.

Yet that is not what I wanted to say.

I wanted to say, perhaps, I have no idea what to do, simply to see if he'd remind me I had recommended someone. Because he would, you know, even though he just seemed himself ignorant of what I had said on the phone.

Or, it occurred to me, I might have led him through an entirely new process. I might have explained the situation in snide detail.

I might have started with: Okay, here's the deal. Try to keep up.

I sell and repair drain snakes. It's what I do to make a living.

Are you with me so far? Good.

I wanted to call and tell you that I could fix your machine for this very reasonable price in this perfect time frame, because I sell and repair snakes. I wanted to be able to repair your snake, not send you away.

Still with me?

Now, all that being said, don't you think that if I had had any solid idea what to do I would have done it? Why might I have you pick it up to take somewhere else otherwise?

Got that?

Good. Because I was afraid I might have to repeat it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The yin and yang of New York City

Random thoughts on NYC...

It certainly is vibrant; at least, the areas I saw were. Lots of people, lots of small businesses, and lots of activity. I know of nothing like it in Detroit. I'm not saying there aren't parts of the city where similar traits exist. Even if there are though, they don't exist to the degree they do in New York.

Yankee Stadium is lovely. It is one great baseball park. I still prefer the classic stadiums such as Fenway in Boston (nothing personal, Yankees fans, and I'm not trying to trip your triggers either) but the new Yankees park is well built. You're reasonably close to the field wherever you are, and the sight lines are fantastic. After seeing it and PNC Park in Pittsburgh, you really understand that Detroit messed up badly with Comerica. I don't quite get why they played 'New York, New York' after a Yankees loss though.

St. Patrick's Cathedral is a gem. I'm glad we went there for Mass.

Times Square was pretty crowded. It was a summer Saturday evening when we walked through it though. I can't imagine what it must be like on December 31st. I don't think I want to know either.

The Oculus is awful; four billion dollars for what amounts to a shopping mall. It looks like a massive skeleton which has been bleached white by desert heat. I read that it's supposed to be a dove extending its wings. A hideously oversized, very dead dove maybe. Plus it's entirely incongruent to downtown Manhattan, where it's part of the World Trade Center. I don't see it as anything more than a monument to hubris quite frankly.

The prices weren't all that bad. Other than the shops which were clearly aimed at the more affluent, and you find those everywhere, I thought that the grocery, restaurant, and cost on general amenities comparable to what I find in Michigan and its surrounds. I do gather that housing and parking can get expensive. Fortunately, that did not affect me.

I don't know if I could live there. There are just too many people, the metropolitan area is so spread out, and the sensory overload of the town can be staggering. But I definitely like New York City. I look forward to my next visit.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What was and what will be

I have them today: the post trip blues. Having just gotten back from a nice long weekend in New York City, I'm dealing with that bit of depression which most all of us deal with after a long anticipated event is past.

The worst thing about it I believe is the feeling that it didn't actually happen. It did of course. But upon the return home there's a sensation that it in fact did not. It's not like it's simply gone. It's as if it was never there.

Part of that is wistfulness tinged with a vague melancholy speaking. Then too it reflects the natural human desire that the good things keep going. But as I told my son Sunday night when it was too obvious that we both needed to get some sleep, we have to recognize when the party's over. You have to know when you have to move on.

It's the right way to approach such things. Because humanity is imperfect we must earn our daily bread. We have to take the breaks as we get them, and see to our more regular needs the rest of the way. For after all, it's the seeing to those needs which make the vacations possible, right?

So I'm home to earn more time off with family.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Mulberry Season 2017

Funny, isn’t it, how we sometimes identify people with certain times, places, or things.

In the alley behind our old family repair shop there is a row of mulberry bushes which have been there for years. My grandfather would, in the late spring or early summer when they were in season, always stop and treat himself to a few of the little fruits as he went to and from work.

Little? Well, mulberries are small compared to most fruits. In context, they’re like raspberries who have spent a lot of time in the gym; a scant few are a handful. They’re juicy and sweet, and Grandpa Joe liked them. I remember vividly his picking and popping them into his mouth as he made his way down the alley, as though he were a kid again.

Time passes, and so, sadly, did Grandpa Joe. Yet the mulberries still grew, and I couldn’t help over the years but develop a liking to them myself. As I hike to and from work nowadays I’ll stop and have a few. As it were, my daughter also came to know and like the mulberries too. Often we’ll take bowls and go fill them with the little purple black fruits, snacking as we pick, and my wife will make pies out of those which make it back home. I like the idea that three generations of a family have been able to enjoy those berries ripening on the same bushes.

Now, I’m not all that naive; I know that Joe Cosgriff was ornery and arbitrary, with a hair trigger temper. I know it from the tales my Dad and his siblings have told, and from the personal experience of having worked with him for a good 15 or 18 years. I know too that there was a part of him which was somehow kind and appreciative, and that there were moments when these came out despite, perhaps, himself. There were good times and trying ones, and lasting impressions. I find as I grow older that, in the end, it is the good times which matter more than the difficult, even if it seems there were more tough days than easy. I believe too that the smallest, almost innocuous memories can also be the greatest insights into the honest character of someone.

What prompts me to write this? It’s June, and the mulberries are in. And I’m thinking about you, Joe.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Saturday in New York

Hey Pops, how are you today?

I'm in New York City, would you believe? Frank and I went to Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. It is a gorgeous, impressive Church. I can see why you liked it. It seemed to come out of nowhere too. We were walking among all those skyscrapers and all of sudden, it seemed to me, there was a Church. As big as it is, it still seemed dwarfed by the other buildings. And it is big, as you know.

We also took in a ballgame. We went into that den of iniquity, Yankee Stadium. But I gotta tell you Pops, it's a great baseball venue. You're close to the field all the way around, and the sight lines are fantastic. You'd have liked it. You could actually follow the ball, not just watch the fielders react as you do from so many seats in Comerica. Just a good, solid baseball park.

The Yankees have this rookie right fielder, Aaron Judge, and he's a monster. Six foot seven and close to three hundred pounds. He's hit 26 home runs already, including one yesterday into the Rangers' bullpen (the Yanks were playing Texas) which I'm guessing went 420 feet. It crossed at the 399 mark in left field, so I think I'm close. It was a magnificent shot.

That was the only highlight for the home side though. Texas won 8-1. I actually felt bad that the Yanks didn't win.

I know. Fawning over the New York Yankees, their park, and their star player. I'm going to Hell, aren't I?

Maybe from your view though, you might put in a good word for me with the Almighty just the same?

Until next time,

Marty

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The streets of New York

It's raining in New York this morning. I supposed there's worse fates.

What I really don't like about that though is that it's supposed to get up to 88 today. Rain in the morning followed by sun usually means hot, sticky weather. I like it better when it rains late.

New York City is interesting. I don't know that I could ever live here; there's just too many people, and that coming from someone who considers himself a people person. But there's definitely stuff I like. The neighborhoods, well, the one I'm staying in anyway, does seem vibrant and alive. I doubt there's a comparable one in Detroit, and I do find that a little sad.

Stores and businesses abound; there certainly is variety. And the traffic isn't really that bad. Again, at least not where I am; I'm not trying desperately to get to a home an hour or two away. It isn't particularly noisy either. I had expected noise.

We're going to the Yankees game this afternoon. They play the Texas Rangers. It is, in a certain manner, my favorite kind of baseball game. I don't particularly care about the outcome. Interestingly, that makes it easier for me to watch any given sport: not actually caring who wins.

But tomorrow I'll let you know what happens anyway.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Hobo Joe

I'm not to going to complain about Amtrak today. Oh, it'll get its day under the Marty microscope. But not this day. I'm on a short vacation here in New York City and will keep things properly light.

Me Grandpa Joe rode the rails back in the 1920s. He hopped freights whenever the spirit moved him. Consequently, he lived all over the United States in his late teens and early twenties. I have to admit there's a part of me who admires that roaming lifestyle. Go where you decide when you decide. It was certainly easier to do that a century ago, to stay off the grid and just live your life. Ah well.

He wasn't a bum, though, as many folks think of those who traipsed around the nation as he did back then. He was a hobo. Hoboes worked their way around. When Joe got off a train somewhere, he looked for a few weeks' work. Even hoboes needed a couple bucks.

Consequently he worked on many farms and in factories, and even a couple stints on ranches, once in Montana and once in North Dakota. Part of his job in Montana, oddly, interestingly enough, was taking the ranch owner's wife to Church. Joe was a serious Catholic and went wherever he landed; in that case the rancher wasn't and didn't attend Church, but his wife was and did. So when Joe was there he drove woman to Church. He was going anyway and at the time it saved the boss the trouble. It didn't hurt that he apparently made a couple extra dollars on an off day doing what he would have done anyway.

But to the real point. Hoboes worked (well, okay, other than with the stolen train rides) while bums just wanted a handout. Hoboes looked down on bums. Joe was a hobo. Don't call nuthin' but that.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

De train! De train!

I-a fixin' to go to New York to visit my son. We're going to take in a Yankees game Saturday. I never thought I'd look forward to seeing the Yanks, but so it goes.

I'm taking the train there. I have to drive to Toledo to catch it as there's no Amtrak service from Detroit to New York except through Chicago. That would add about 6 hours each way to my trip and better than a hundred bucks in cost. For a C-note and a half day's time, I'll drive to and from Toledo.

My first thought at discovering that was, gee, no train between Detroit and Toledo? That's when I had to remind myself that the trains don't exist for Marty's convenience. Indeed it set me to wondering whether passenger rail is necessary at all these days, especially when underwritten by the Feds. Yet that is perhaps another issue this moment.

As it is, I like the train. I've taken a couple train rides before. It has been and will no doubt be nice to travel without watching the road, to be able to cat nap or read or, who knows, post a blog as I ride the rails. If Amtrak isn't running late (and it is notoriously tardy) I may even say something nice about it.

But don't presume too much. I am becoming a curmudgeon, you remember.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

For the conspiracy theorists

For many years now a rather strange thing has happened with haunting regularity right outside of the place where I work. An alley runs immediately alongside our shop, and every time it rains a circle of about five feet in diameter dries out, in the exact same place, well ahead of the the remainder of the alleyway.

When it snows, the snow will melt faster, sometimes quite amazingly fast. So fast that there will still be several inches of powder running smack up to the circle, leaving the edge of the snow with the appearance something like surface tension on an almost overfilled glass. Consequently, in the winter we often have the unusual sight of perfectly dry cement on extremely cold days.

I have long wondered about that spot. I would love to know what causes it; is it caused by some alien object buried along ago, unnoticed until the alley was run over it about 100 years back? Are there rays from the sun who have decided it was their duty to keep the circle dry and safe for all its life? Might there be some supernatural explanation? Could I have, right outside my own back door, the equivalent of the mysterious crop circles which appear around the globe?

I don't believe any of that, not for a minute. There has to be some perfectly natural reason for the regular appearance of the dry spot in the alley. Perhaps there are electric lines under it, although I can't imagine electric lines creating enough heat outside of a problem we would have found by now. There certainly cannot be heating ducts there, can there? If they ever rip out the cement, I would dearly love to be there to see what the might find in the dirt below. The bottom line is, there must be a rational explanation for it, right? But that wouldn't be much fun, would it? Would it?

Conspiracy theorists, I may just have something for you.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Extremes in sales

In sales, you just never know what will happen. Chicken one day, feathers the next, Pops used to say. There's a lot of truth to that.

I remember on June 1, 2015, I had 65 lengths of main drain cables in stock. That's a decent amount, and an amount I should sell in a month.

I didn't that month. I didn't sell a single cable in June. But July would be better, right?

Right. Didn't sell any of those cables then either. I was beginning to wonder if I was doing something wrong, if I had lost my touch.

August 4 was the first Tuesday of the month that year. Out of nowhere that day, spread over 7 or 8 customers, I sold all 65 of those cables in 90 minutes.

In sales, you just never know.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Humor on Father's Day

Happy Father's Day.

Fathers tend to be the subject of jokes, and that's okay. They joke too, and most that I know can also take them. There's a lesson there, one of many which our dads have taught us. It might be their most important lesson: have a sense of humor.

Many things in this world are important and need to be taken seriously. Yet we aren't going to save the world. Indeed, we often must simply take a step back and regroup. Humor helps us do that.

So have joke with old man today. If he's gone, think about his jokes and laugh along anyway. Yes, even the ones he told dozens of times. If he liked them, why shouldn't you?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Don't know, don't care

A car, me old Grandpa Joe always said, is good for one thing and one thing only: to get you from point A to point B. That's all it's good for; there ain't no style points.

To be sure, as those of you who knew him will attest, he took the idea to an extreme. He drove vehicles which he probably should have not. Yet I think his basic idea is well and true. It taught me, rightly, I will assert, not to care too much for what I drive.

Consequently I tend to have cars with quirks. Take my current van, for example. If you hit the gas too hard when you pull away from the curb or a traffic light, it rumbles before smoothing out and going on. But when I accelerate easily, it does just fine. Why? Don't know, don't care. It gets me from A to B and that's it's job.

The door ajar and check engine lights stay on constantly. Why? Don't know, don't care. The old girl starts every time and that's all I need her to do.

Sometimes when I roll the driver's window down it won't roll back up. But when I restart the engine it rolls back up. Why? Don't know, don't care. It rolls back up. That's good enough.

Joe's right. It's just a car. And it does what I need it to does. That's good enough for me. If it ain't good enough for you, I can live with that.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Ram parts

One of the many neat tools you can buy from Electric Eel is a little cylindrical unit called a Kinetic Water Ram. It has a pump with which you can build up air pressure, and a trigger whereby you release it. You stick it over a drain opening, build up the pressure, and wham! A burst of air opens the line. Neat, huh?

But like anything else it requires service from time to time. After a lot of use the washers inside the unit wear so that it won't hold pressure, for example. There's a repair kit available for when this happens.

One day a customer called and explained his trouble and I said he needed that kit. He asked if I'd order it and call him when it arrived. Fair enough; we do that regularly. I told him sure.

When the Ram repair kit came a day or two later I called the guy to let him know it was in. Thanks, he said, but he was by then in the middle of a large plumbing job and couldn't get to my Shop for a couple days. No problem, I replied, we'd hold it for him.

As I hung up the phone I sat and I looked at the kit. O'er the Ram parts we watch, I thought.

Good eh?

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Perking coffee

You've had your morning joe, haven't you? I've had mine. But what's more, I make mine differently than most of you I'm sure. I perk it.

Yeppers, I'm old school with my coffee. I've heard, though whether I believe it or not, that the drip method is better. Not that I can taste. I've also been told that the French Press method is the best way of making your brew. Maybe so, maybe no. Yet that just sounds weird. Borderline disturbing in fact. Naw, give my perked pot of Chase & Sanborn any day.

Oh, I don't doubt that my preference is partly psychological. Me Grams always perked her coffee (okay, I suppose most everyone did before about 1970) using a glass, nine cup Pyrex percolator. I remember sitting in the kitchen and watching it work up to a boil, the hot water becoming coffee drip by drip as it brewed. She must have noticed my fascination, for our wedding gift was an exact duplicate of that large glass coffee pot.

I'm having a second cup right now, brewed from that same pot. I watched it perk the whole way too. Me Grams, she knew how to make coffee.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A little Old Glory for you

Today is Flag Day. We don't seem to hear much about it anymore.

The day traces its roots to June 14, 1777, when the Continental Congress adopted the original 13 star, 13 stripe design for our national banner. Still, Flag Day hasn't become as important as other holidays. It isn't even formally recognized except in Pennsylvania on a state level.

Oh, it would just be shoved to the nearest Monday if it were made a full holiday. So maybe it's just as well that it stays on June 14 year in and year out. Your flag should fly everyday anyway.

Still, I miss watching that large old flag which would be unfurled down the face of the old downtown Hudson's store. I think it covered 11 of the 14 floors of building. It was pretty impressive. I saw it happen live twice as a teen, with my mother after dentist's appointments. That to me was Flag Day.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Calling a sales bluff

I've been in sales for a while now, and I like to think I have an idea how the game is played. One piece involves discounts. I'm not opposed to them...if the volume is there. So, as it's said, show me the money.

One time a fellow did just that. And I still have his money.

Someone I'd never seen before came to me about buying an Electric Eel, the snakes I sell. After going through all the early process, showing him a unit and what goes with it, we came to the real nitty gritty. We began talking cost.

"I'm going to be big, Cosgriff, real big," he was preaching to me. "I'll bring you all my business. Can you help me out?"

"Whaddaya want?"

"Ten percent. I'm gonna buy a lot of stuff off you, man."

I hedged. You can usually tell when you're dealing with someone who's putting you on, painting a grand vista; playing with cow cookies. Yet this time, instead of turning him down flat I thought I'd call his bluff. "What's your initial order?" I asked.

"Five," he answered without hesitation.

"Deal," I answered in kind. At the time his total was around $6,000. I'd go ten off for that.

"Write me up Cosgriff, and I'll give you a down payment," he says, with an unwarranted degree of self assurance. "I'll pay the balance when you get the stuff." So I wrote him up.

He gave me twenty dollars.

I never even bothered to process the order. And here at least a decade later, I still have his twenty bucks.

Monday, June 12, 2017

The intermittent starting conundrum

As a repairman of sorts, one of the things I hate is when a unit works some of the time and not others. It is much easier to diagnose an issue when something simply doesn't work than when it takes spells of not working. Now my car is doing the same thing.

The first mechanic who checked it said that his diagnostic program didn't show anything wrong. So of course the car worked for about a week afterwards before becoming reticent.

Yet the next day it started all right. I took it to a second mechanic, whose diagnostics told him that the 'cam sensor' was bad. I won't even bother with the details of what such a thing is or how it works, but I do remember another van I had where that same thing went bad. When replaced, that van worked for the rest of its useful life.

Of course my Aveo worked for about a week and decided not to start again. And of further course it started immediately for that second mechanic, whom I took it back to as he had most recently dealt with it.

He's going to let me know what else he might find later. In the meanwhile, my horse, my horse, my kingdom for a horse!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Getting people in the pews

I long ago came to the conclusion that Vatican II was ill advised. I will not do what some of my traditionalist brethren have and call it a mistake; at some point Faith must direct to us that God would not lead His Church into serious error. That does not, however, mean that She will not occasionally employ less than ideal judgment.

The liberalizing effect of Vatican II has not been without noticeable waves of trouble. It does not seem coincidental that the drop in vocations began in earnest after the Council; The Dominican nun who was the counselor at my son's school has told me that the in the very first year after the changes of the Council went into effect candidates for the sisterhood in her Mother House dropped by well over three-quarters. Further, Mass attendance has slipped so far that many churches have closed. The question is, why?

Though there are other pertinent factors, I rather believe that it lies to a degree in the loss of the spiritual aspect of Catholic religious practice. We don't appear so interested in saving souls as we are in social justice (whatever that means) and just getting along. Not that justice and Christian charity are unimportant values. It's just that, social justice (if you simply must force the arguably pointless adjective social in there) without regard for the soul is an empty vessel. Feeding the hungry is one of the key callings of our faith. Yet to feed only their bellies cannot nourish them in the wonders of Heaven or necessarily set them on the road to a fruitful relationship with God. It only maintains a body which, on its own, will eventually rot, and nothing more.

I attended a Tridentine Mass for the first time awhile ago and was struck by the the mysticism of it. It was as though something magical was happening: bread and wine became the body and blood of our Lord. It wasn't just Christ sharing a meal with his friends, as some Vatican II supporters seem to feel of it. It was a true miracle in action. Similarly, there was the Divine Mercy chaplet and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament after Mass yesterday in my parish. I felt that same profound mystery as I did at the Latin Mass.

So I'm thinking we ought to get back to a greater emphasis on tradition rather than appeals to modernism and being relevant to this age (whatever that means), and I am seeing signs of just that. Latin is creeping back into our services, and Catholic prelates are calling out Catholic politicians who don't act Catholic. We are not far removed from the pontificate of St. John Paul the Great, who had encouraged a return to the old values and norms while working for meaningful dialogue among faiths and nations, an ideal Benedict XIV built upon and which Francis I, despite media insistence otherwise, supports himself. There are even indications that vocations are slowly rebounding.

The future, then, is not so bleak as it may seem to a few of my fellows. We simply must get back to the old idea that if you want people to sacrifice you've got to give them something worth the sacrifice. If you want people in the pews you must appeal to their sense of the spirit. Even if all you want is an end to hunger and have decent shelter and health care for all, you need an appeal to the eternal aimed properly at both the servants of the poor and the poor themselves. You must speak to the soul. The rest will take of itself.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Constants

Everyone has at least one. I think you have to one, too. We need a constant, that one thing which over the years keeps us anchored.

What I mean by that is, we need something which is always there. The body likes comfort food; the soul, I'll wager, wants something more sublime. Something which is, like the soul, without substance, yet sustains it along the road of life.

This idea struck me this morning as I was riding around my van doing a few chores. I had the album Mandatory Fun playing on the CD. That's when It occurred to me: I had found my constant, the one thing which speaks to my soul in a way I can understand. One thing which has been with me for better than forty years. One thing which can keep me sane. Yes, I know what my constant is.

Weird Al Yankovic.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Cloyce and my used Model C

I remember a time when I was 16 or 17 that Pops handed over to me a used Electric Eel Model C drain cleaning machine which he had taken in on trade, and told me to clean it up for sale. With it, for honestly the first time in my life, I went all out on a work project. I really put my heart into the job.

I took the motor off the frame, and washed all the grime off both. I painted the motor gray and the frame royal blue, just as they painted them at the Eel factory. I rewired it and installed new wheels. When I was finished with it that baby looked sharp. She was dressed to the nines. I was truly proud of my work. Pops was too. That made me feel very good.

A few days later a regular customer, I'll call him Cloyce just to give him a name, came by. I was busied at some project at a work bench in the middle of the Shop, the old barn where I still work. "Bill,' I heard Cloyce say to my father, "Have you got any used Models Cs?"

My heart sank right to floor. It went right through my boots.

You see, Cloyce was a great guy and a good customer. He never debated nor asked for better prices. He just bought what he wanted and said thank you. But man oh man, he was one lousy drain cleaner. He lost more cables in more sewers than you might think it possible for any one man to lose. I think he lost more snake cable in a given year than entire companies would. He abused his equipment in ways and manners worse than any person I've ever, ever known. In the museum of incompetent plumbers, yes, I mean this, is a solid gold, life size statue of Cloyce. He was simply not good at his job. It remains a wonder to me how he ever got work. Who would refer this guy?

And Pops was going to sell him my Model C.

He couldn't not not sell the man the machine. I get that. We were, are still, in the business of selling new and used drain snakes, and Cloyce's money was as good as anyone else's. Plus, his poor skills weren't our fault. He had to sell the unit. As he took Cloyce's money Pops, for the only time in his life, looked over at me with a sheepish, embarrassed, pained look which plainly said, 'I'm sorry, son'.

Cloyce wheeled that Eel out the door with a bright smile, while I was truly morose. You know those classic theater masks, the grinning one which represents comedy and the crying one which spoke tragedy? I learned that moment how tragedy felt.

Within a month Cloyce brought that Model C into the Shop for a switch or something. The front swivel caster was gone and the frame broken off so that the drive shaft had no support. The paint was scratched and grime covered my first child. I swear it looked up at me in despair and whispered pathetically, "Shoot me."

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Fun with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo

After weeks of testing and visits to the doctor, I have been told that I have Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo. That's a fancy way of saying that when I lay down on my left side, the room spins. Being a conservative, I kind of like all the obvious jokes that that invites.

Anyway, I did a string of exercises in his office yesterday, was given a new prescription, a list of exercises I can do at home, and the instruction to keep my head and shoulders aligned for the next few days. That means that I should not swivel or turn my head towards the object of my attention, but rather turn my whole upper body when called upon or as necessary.

This has already produced what I suppose should be expected reactions. Whether turning to speak with a customer, or trying to get a look at oncoming traffic when driving, even when just walking down the street, I have experienced a whole new range of looks. The incredulous looks are clearly questioning my behavior; I have gotten many what-is-your-major-malfunction return stares.

I want to yell, "I'm not a creep!" or, "I'm not trying to be creepy!" I'm just following doctor's orders as best I can. I don't intend for it to creep you out. It does lead one to wonder if all this will in fact work, or is just a way for doctors to have fun at their patients' expense.

I honestly don't believe that last part to be the case of course. But I really, really hope this is over in the next two to three days, as my doctor tells me is the norm. I'm really sure that anyone who sees me will hope so too.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Remembering D-Day

D-Day: June 6, 1944. Seventy-three years ago today began the largest amphibious landing of an armed force in world history. As Allied troops hit the beaches at Normandy in the wee hours of the morning, at points code named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword, the liberation of Europe was begun. The high point of the Greatest Generation was underway.

The Greatest Generation stands now at its wane. Its members are all in their late 80s and early 90s now. The celebrations of their accomplishments are becoming fewer, smaller, and less intense. Even with improvements in medicine and diet, only a mere handful will still be around in fifteen or twenty years. Many if not most of their numbers are gone already.

It is no small compliment to call them the greatest. Has their been any other challenge successfully met by anyone else in any other time? True, we are dealing in immeasurables when we say such things. Yet it's still pretty clear that nothing anywhere close to the magnitude of World War II has occurred in all of human history. Might a greater threat and a greater harm possibly rise? Yes, of course. But to date this is it.

What can we learn from these people? We can learn perseverance, we can learn faith; we can learn to believe that, when a serious threat to home and hearth nears, humanity can rise to meet and defeat it. We can learn the humility which so many of the Greatest have displayed when speaking of their efforts in later years. We can learn that all of history teaches us to respect and remember what those who have gone before us have done for us. We can remember that our lives are here today only because of what they did with their lives, and against terrible odds under unspeakable conditions.

We can learn to respect heroism. We can learn to revere the heroes.

Never forget.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Billy Martin and the Christ

One great gift I have received in my life was Great Baseball Writing, a compendium of articles from over the years at Sports Illustrated. Not that the other gifts weren't great. Only this one spoke to my soul.

Reading about the icons of my sport, baseball, well, it's a treasure. And this book made me realize something I had not known before.

I love Billy Martin.

Yes, that Billy Martin. You baseball wonks out there, you know him. The firebrand manager who transformed teams into more than they were. His fisticuffs and carousing are more well known, but his managerial skill was nothing short of amazing. Incredible. Fantastic. Inexplicable.

In the book is an article penned by Frank Deford from June 1975. In it, Martin through Deford spoke of the best things about people. He spoke of their commitment to all the best things, things which transcend mere sports and games. He spoke of Jesus, the Christ.

Did you know that before he accepted a managerial job with the Texas Rangers, after the Detroit Tigers unceremoniously fired him, he spend two hours in Church praying to God for guidance? Do you know what he (Martin) said about that man?

He said, and I quote, "And anyway, temper is a wonderful thing, if you can control it and it doesn't control you. Jesus Christ took a whip to the money changers, right? Well, that's a temper, and that's not a bad guy to follow".

The Jesus with a temper. You might recall that He condemned the fig tree simply because He was hungry and it wouldn't give Him fruit.

Think about that. And then ask yourself, which sermon you will remember later today? This one? Or the one you actually heard in Church?

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The unknown curler

Well, now, I been goin' through a minor health issue of late, and me doctors and medical perfessionals, they been doin' me real fine. They been steadfast; they been lookin' real close at me charts and me tests and the like, and they figure I'm okay on the whole. But they still been lookin' for what 'xactly's ailing me. But one o'them, I think he found a link 'tween my ailness and me.

He says t'me today, I been giv'n a'nother patient, and he says that fella plays curlin'. What's more, he (that there patient) says he knows ya.

Well, I ain't surprised none. We curlin' folk, we're a what, a fraternitee. We're close; real close, al'mos family. So as you musta been seein' a curlin' fool, he must know me. And I musta' know him. Her. Whater' preposition you like.

He could'na remember the persons' name. But he recalled that the person curled, they threw them stones, and ferther, that that person knowed me. And I say t'him, then he threw them stones w'me, nor' he never'd not knew me.

Me physician, he did not recall that person precisely. But you, who you are you know.

Kindly tell me who you might be.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

My first MRI: on a holiday Sunday night no less!

Now that I've experience my first MRI, I can understand why Pops didn't care for them. You are in a tightly enclosed space.

I knew going in that I would be told I couldn't move my head. So I wasn't surprised that there was a mold which I laid my head into which would help keep it still. I was even okay when the technician placed a folded towel around my head as well. I did not however expect the Hannibal Lechter face mask which was fit into place on top of the mold. "Hello Clarice," I joked to the attendant, who by one of those strange coincidences in life was actually named Clarice.

Okay, that wasn't true. Not that I joked, but that her name was Clarice.

I never actually became claustrophobic, although I did follow not-Clarice's advice and keep my eyes closed during the exam. There was a lot of popping and whirring and odd mechanical sounds, as those of who who have enjoyed an MRI will know. It actually reminded me of a scene I wrote into my first book some thirty years ago. If you've read A Subtle Armageddon, you'll get what I mean. If you haven't, help me out and buy the book would you please?

Be that as it may, I got through the exam all right. I see my doctor tomorrow for the results, and then an ear, nose, and throat specialist (otorhinolaryngolist; say that three times fast, I dare you) next Tuesday. And all joking aside, I find myself at times worried about where all this will lead. I've been dealing with vertigo for several weeks now, and not knowing why becomes rather scary if I dwell on it. Here's hoping tomorrow brings good news.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day 2017

Memorial Day: the last Monday in May. The day set aside for remembering our fallen heroes. It is fitting and proper that we do this.

Forget for the moment that it like so many other holidays has been been given something of a second class citizen status. It once was held every May 30th every year. In our rush to celebrate special days more on our terms than as an honest retrospective of deserving people and ideals it has generally been on the last Monday of the month. That is so we may have three day weekends to party more so than a single, specially set aside day to actually contemplate what the day is supposed to be about. Nevertheless, it is still a great day on our calendar.

Great hardly seems the right word. It is sad that we have to have a day such as this, sadder still that willing souls have given us their all in order to make such times a need. But that is the price we pay, they paid, for living in a world where evil exists. We must be thankful for those souls who have made it possible for us to be here and reflect on their actions.

So we will stand by the word great. It takes great people for us to have a chance to solemnly remember their deeds. It takes great people for us to realize that freedom is not free and liberty not a given birthright. It takes great people to give us the chance to grill and hoist a brew and spend time with our families and friends.

It takes great people to lay down their lives for their friends. Remember them, today and every day. They've earned the honor. The very least we can do is acknowledge them.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Zeke

As we head into the Memorial Day weekend, I gotta confess something.

I don't know why Pops called Uncle John Zeke.

He did, you (now) know. Dad called his youngest brother Zeke. I still hear Dad's voice saying it. Hey Zeke, I still hear him say, as Uncle John would come in off a run. But why, I dunno.

But hey Zeke. I miss golfing with ya.

Friday, May 26, 2017

I never liked group work

Do you want to know what's wrong with American schools these days? Yes, quite a lot, and particularly with the public ones. Yet certain trends permeate the whole scheme of education in this country, and one in particular has come to mean more than most. And it can be summed up in two words.

Cooperative Learning.

This is a fancy name for group work. The kids are assembled together in small groups to do a project, often made up of smarter students along with, ah, challenged learners, and the magic happens. Everyone learns and everyone's happy.

Except that those of us who remember such group work projects remember well that that ain't the way it happens. The smarter ones drag along the rest, and the rest appreciate that they don't have to work as hard while earning (yeah, right) a better grade at our cost.

But wait! The education elite have discovered a way around that. Simply assign segments of the project to individuals within the group.

But how does that help? If it really does anything at all, it means that the better students risk not knowing the object of the project (sorry, silly Suessian slip of the tongue) in its entirety because some parts of it aren't their responsibility. Besides, hasn't that made the project individual rather than group anyway? Why bother then?

To cut straight to the chase, why is it that we expect students who presumably don't know anything about something to be able to master it on their own especially (as is often the case) when working with other students who don't care as much as they do? Why is a teacher present anyway if the pupils, or some of them, that is, are expected to do their job? Further, how much time is wasted on these projects? How much more material could be covered, and how much deeper would the understanding and appreciation of a subject be, with a traditional pedagogue at the front of a classroom keeping things moving?

The entire idea of group work is patently ridiculous. It eases the teacher's job more than anything else by blowing it off on twelve year olds. All that can do is inspire them to become teachers, where they can collect a paycheck at others' expense. All the while, we wonder where America's work ethic has gone.

It has done nothing but follow its teachers.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

One mile past, or, missed it by that much

You know, people are stupid. Really, profoundly stupid. I'm learning that more and more with each passing day.

To be sure, there has been ample evidence of it the last thirty years of my life. What does, yet should not astound me, is how I can still be amazed when it happens.

The latest examples come from my sales job. In directing a potential new customer to my store, I cautioned him not to go beyond Warren Avenue here in Detroit; he would have gone too far if he had. An hour later I get a call from the guy's cell. He was more than a mile beyond our place of business. "I saw Warren and never saw you so I kept on going," he explained to me. You saw the street which I told you was too far and KEPT GOING? It never occurred to you to circle around?

My other phone started ringing, so I hung up on him. I employed Red Foreman's favorite phrase as I did.

Another fella called to asked if he could have his snake (slang for the drain cleaning equipment we sell) repaired by us. "Probably, but tell me what you have so that I can tell you if I have access to the parts you might need," I asked.

"A snake," he responds.

"Okay," I said, trying to be patient, "But what type of machine exactly?"

"Uhh, the kind that opens sewers."

I asked, with no little exasperation, "I need a make and model number."

"Uhhhhhh, y'all worked on it 'bout five years ago..." he began.

Click.

Dang. I hung up on my only customer from 2012. That was such a good year too.

I tell you, the Harvard Business School is dead wrong. The customer isn't always right.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Marty and the humorous EKG

So I was sitting in an examination room at my Doctor's office last Friday as he listened to my heart. He held the stethoscope in one spot on my chest and listened. He moved it across my sternum and listened more closely. He asked me to breathe deeply, and listened more. He told me to hold my breath, and listened intently. He then put the stethoscope down, and went to the door. I heard him say, "Nurse, please bring the EKG cart".

On his return I asked with no small concern, "Why do you want the EKG cart?"

"Well, your pulse is a bit slow. Not dangerously slow, but enough that I'd like to do an EKG," he explained.

"Okay, fine," I replied, relieved. "But could I ask you something?

"Of course."

"Maybe next time you do that, tell me what's up before asking for the EKG machine?"

He smiled sheepishly and said, "Yes, sorry. I should have done that."

No real worries on my part. He's a great doctor and I'm very glad to have him. Good thing too that I discovered him after the Obamacare mandates, because that means I can actually keep him. It was simply a bit of a shock to hear the order for the EKG without knowing why, that's all. But I think we both saw it as the humorous inadvertence that it was, and nothing more.

The EKG was good by the way. I do have a functioning heart.

Monday, May 22, 2017

True faith is not unreasonable

I sell for a company located in Springfield, Ohio: Electric Eel Manufacturing, which is where to go for all your drain cleaning needs. They make the best products on the market, and I say that not simply because I sell them but because it's true. But this is about more than that. It is about the people who make up the company, but also, I hope, about a little bit more.

As I drove there this morning from Detroit, in the wee hours of the day, I was nearing a little town called North Baltimore. There is a truck stop at the exit for the town, and I often stop in for a respite, a coffee, or a snack. I was planning to do that this day but as I approached a little voice said, "Why don't you just go on?", and I thought, yeah, why not, might as well make some time. So I drove by.

Urbana, Ohio is about 30 miles from Springfield. I thought I might get a coffee, and hit my left turn signal to run into a Tim Horton's. But that same voice said, "You're so close. Just get to the factory." So I thought again, I might ought to, and I am quite close. I went on.

I parked at the plant, took a few things into the front offices, and went back out to take my van to the loading dock to pick up my order. I turned the key, and was greeted by a simple little click which I recognized immediately. My starter had went out. But rather than being upset, even though I knew the repair would be costly and that my day would be seriously delayed, I right away thought that I was glad I was there and not in North Baltimore or Urbana.

In part I knew this was fortunate because the people at Eel, good folks all, would help me, and they did. We tried a jump start and a few other things which unfortunately didn't work, and then the shop foreman called their mechanic, who took me in right away. He had me fixed up and I was back at the plant by 11 O'clock, loading and getting ready to get back to Detroit much earlier than I had feared a few hours before.

I had told several friends earlier in the day about my almost stopping but not. I related this story to another fellow right before I left. John said simply, "It was the Holy Spirit." The instant he said that I agreed, "You're right. It was."

Now we might look at this in different ways. It could be objected that if it was God trying to help me, "You still needed an expensive van repair. Why would you be thankful to Him for that?" But we all know the obvious response, don't we? My situation would have been much worse in the earlier part of the day in more isolated places.

Still, this doesn't prove that it was the Holy Spirit. It is a matter of faith, mine and John's and surely several other folks at Electric Eel and among readers, that it was. And this leads to the key trouble which people not of faith have with such an insistence. They will themselves insist that such faith is irrational.

But is it rational, irrational, or in fact beyond reason? Being beyond reason doesn't mean that faith is wrong; it doesn't actually mean that faith is irrational either. I rather believe that faith, so long as it is not genuinely irrational, is actually quite reasonable. Saying that you believe by faith that aardvarks speak English is obviously irrational, as any absurd assertion must be. As such, we can dismiss such a belief as not a true example of real faith. But the idea that an omnipotent, caring being might help us along the way is certainly not irrational. A faith in that sort of being most definitely cannot be called unreasonable.

Oh, you might argue that such a being doesn't exist. Yet we're already past that, aren't we, in our Christian argument? If A, then B. It still fulfills any demand for rationality beyond simply holding the supposed blind faith which many are accused of having.

I have faith that the Holy Spirit kept me going so that I could get easier help at my ultimate destination. I find the thought indeed eminently rational. You may not agree that that was the case. But I do think you're being unfair to say that my thoughts are therefore irrational. Even if you don't believe me, at least don't think I childishly believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

If something of faith can pass or (at least not fail) the test of rationality then there is little reason to disregard it as merely a figment of the imagination. Don't dismiss it merely because it cannot be proven empirically. Faith simply is not belief without proof. It is belief beyond proof.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

How I think you should play Texas Hold'em

I've been playing a lot of online poker the last few years. I've yet to play for money, though. The idea of actually risking anything beyond the penny ante simply doesn't appeal to me. Still, I like the game enough to play even for pretend stakes. And even then, I think it should be played seriously. Why? Because one day you might want to try playing with real cash, and if you play poorly in practice, you'll play poorly for real. Yes, that's a dad saying. But like most of what our dads have said, there's a lot of truth to it. They do get smarter as we get older.

So here's a few tips which I find useful when playing. They're from an amateur, me, and I'm sure many of the pros would not endorse them. But I feel I've done well playing Texas Hold 'em the Marty way. And I feel confident that some of the pros would endorse some of my methods anyway.

It's almost always bad to go all in on the first two cards. You should only do it with a pair of Aces, or with Jacks or better when you hold the fewest chips at the table. The game changes too much over five shared cards, and by my experience you lose better than half the time even starting with that pair of Aces. Generally speaking, don't go all in on two.

You will lose more hands than you win. That's the nature of the game. So while it's okay to be aggressive, and you do have to be a bit of a bully to play well, the cards will be against you more often than for you. Be selective with your aggressive play, and remember there's a fine line between aggressive and foolish.

If after the turn you need two cards to earn a decent hand, play conservative and be ready to fold quickly. The numbers are against you; you aren't likely to get both cards.

Bet from strength. If you have a hand which looks very difficult to beat, be aggressive. An easy example I think is when you have any two hearts and three more are on the board AND a straight flush is unlikely. Push that hand hard.

I do not like the bluff. It's too dangerous. Still, you should place small bets or make small calls often enough even with lesser hands to keep your opponents unsure of your tactics. Part of the game is creating uncertainty about your motives. That, however, does not mean betting to 'make things interesting' as a very poor player I know will often do. The game is interesting enough as is.

Beware the wild bettor. He's usually very aggressive or very stupid, and probably the latter. Don't get into raise wars with them. They're depending on luck and, I mention again, the cards are generally against you. They will win at times despite their stupidity. Let the others at the table deal with those players. They'll usually burn themselves out within a few hands; why lose your chips trying to make that happen?

Don't call a high raise unless you know you've got the cards to beat it. I know, you can never really 'know'. But a clear headed study of your hole cards against the common ones will usually give you all the information you need.

I think that's all for now, although I believe I'll share more tips later. But I can't give away too much, of course. I may play you one day.

Friday, May 19, 2017

The right to retire, or, should we depend on others for it?

A friend of my father's was talking to him once, and as is often the case in times like these the two of them were discussing the current economy. More to the point, they were thinking out loud about some of the presumed rights and wrongs which people commonly accept as givens. "But why should anyone think they have a right to retire?" my Dad's friend asked, in getting the conversation rolling.

Why indeed. Not that many of us want to work our entire lives (I certainly hope to retire someday) but it is fair to ask who is responsible for that presumed eventuality. Many workers appear to believe that the company which hires them is responsible for it. Despite the way the system, such as it is, has been set up the last several decades, I have to conclude that is the worker himself who ought to see to his old age more than the company which gives him employment.

I realize that there are more issues than that involved: legal questions, perhaps, or contract issues which guarantee retirement plans. I'm not calling any of that wrong on their own merits; but one does wonder if they are ill advised. It depends, to a degree anyway, on circumstance. But I am more concerned here on whether it is a good idea to assume that someone else should prepare for your retirement. What happens, as seems to be happening lately in some quarters, when that someone can't manage it? Who's hurt the most? We ought to be quicker to question what laws and contracts ought and ought not attempt to ensure.

Much of the problem stems from a certain arrogance on the part of many employees. They feel they're owed...something. And again, as contract or law may require, maybe they are. Still, when I hear, as I have heard from many sources over many years, workers saying stuff such as, "I gave the company the best years of my life.", my first thought is: Gave? You mean they didn't pay you?

Many lament companies outsourcing or sending jobs to other states or even overseas, as though the company, I'll say it again, owes them. I think the correct perspective to put against that question is simply asking the worker, 'Would you leave the company for a dollar an hour more?' If you answer yes, and I will suggest that you are not being wholly honest if you do not, then you need to reconsider any complaint about a company seeking a better deal for itself.

I am just scratching the surface here, but my main point is this. We need to learn to depend on ourselves for the important things in life. When we give to others, any others, responsibility for ourselves or our futures, we may be giving away more than we can afford. The best way to avoid that is to look to yourself for your well being and dignity. You cannot presume, with any moral certainty, that someone else really has your best interests in hand.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Oreo magnification hypothesis

Oh, a kid'll eat the middle of an Oreo first. Or will he, if the flavor is waffles and syrup?

Nothing appears sacred anymore. When the most popular cookie in the world feels that it has to try unusual things in order to appeal to the market, as it has recently with waffles and syrup (as well as myriad other flavors), it is easy to wonder just what's going on with the world. Sure, there's no evil in trying new tastes per se, and if that's what folks want, well, so be it. After all, waffles and syrup do seem popular with breakfast.

But why do we see all this, I don't know, innovation seems an overwrought term to use. There are lots of tasty treats out there and sugary ones are prominent. Yet waffles and syrup in cookies? Especially beloved ones such as good old Oreos? The whole idea simply strikes me as bizarre.

One easy explanation is that the makers of the famous treat, Nabisco, are merely responding to market forces. There's nothing wrong with that, again adding the caveat per se. The market tends to make things better indeed by offering choices and by making improvements on various levels and in various ways which are sometimes heretofore unimaginable. Having said that, I cannot ignore the implications of changing things simply to change them. If the markets are doing nothing more than reflecting upon that, what does that say about us?

What are we looking for, that we can't be satisfied with good old Oreo cookies? Why ought things change merely to change, merely to be different? To display our individuality? Surely when we have to do things differently solely to display our independence we are in fact the most dependent of creatures. If we must have waffles and syrup Oreos in order to be special then we aren't so special. We're merely being contrary. Our personalities and outlooks, if dependent on change (which is after all merely doing things differently) are actually rather shallow.

Yes, yes, yes, I realize the hyperbole in what I've just asserted. I know, I've already said, that there's nothing wrong with experimenting with new cookie flavors let alone habits of fashion per se (yes, I must again add that dreaded as such). I even readily concede that the flavor of an Oreo isn't substantial in any useful philosophic sense. And I certainly do not want to be the reactionary conservative who opposes simply to oppose, who sees every change as dangerous if not sinful. Those reactionaries are as wrong in their attitudes as the revolutionaries who want to alter everything. I simply want people to understand that what was once accepted can continue to be accepted without surrendering any true individuality on our parts. I want also for folks to accept the converse of eternal change: that if you must change what are mere habits, simple personal proclivities, simply to be different, you aren't particularly individual after all.