Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The protein craving

A friend of mine, he's a vegan. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. Vegans, vegetarians; I could care less what you eat, so long as you don't condemn what I eat.

Still, I must admit to curiosity about that culture. This lead me one day to ask my friend, 'Do you ever want to eat meat?'.

He said no, but added, "Well, I crave protein". And I said something like, ah. And I let it stand at that because I'm that type of guy. I try to be courteous towards all (yes, I fail sometimes, but that's not the point), especially when I've kinda put them on the spot.

But that is not what I thought. Might I share what I really thought?

It was something like, 'Shut. Up. No one craves protein. What the Hell does that even mean?'

People crave steaks and chops, chicken and fish, brats and Italian sausages. That's what they crave. How the Hell do you crave protein?

No one, and I mean no one, thinks, I'm going to the restaurant for a rare protein. No one asks for protein tartare. No one says I'm going to throw some protein on the grill, come on over. No one says that I'm going to stop by Mom's house and hope she makes her famous Southern Fried Protein. No. One. Does. This.

You have to do better than that to make me think I should change my eating habits. Far better indeed.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Joe's one baseball game

Grandpa Joe didn't care much about sports. I've written before about that. One of his most famous lines, one that I essentially agree with (although I struggle with its full implementation) was, "Drop the ball for all it matters." He's right, quite frankly. Sports and games really aren't particularly important. What's important are matters of real right and real wrong. When he could do something to affect such matters directly, he did.

Once me Pops, his oldest son and a big baseball fan early on, was promised by a neighbor that he'd take Dad to the Tiger game the coming Sunday. Pops was excited, as a kid and baseball fan would be. He was 10 or 11 at the time. He looked forward to Sunday, to see Tiger Stadium and watch his beloved Bengals play in person. We've all been there, all felt that rush of excitement when as kids nirvana was promised. Dad was really looking forward to that game.

Sunday came, and the neighbor backed out. He had decided that he just didn't want to go after all. Pops had approached the guy on the street that morning, who told him, basically, some other time kid. Pops was crushed. So ya know what Joe did?

He took his son to the Tiger game that day. You know why he did that? Because you don't promise something like that to a kid and then back out for no good reason. You. Do. Not.

To my knowledge, that was the only baseball game, and likely the only sporting event ever, Grandpa Joe went to. He did that because he was a bigger man than that jerk neighbor. You don't promise a kid something important to a kid and renig. You just don't. Joe knew that. And I don't doubt his son's respect for him grew from such things.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Pops at 81

Hey Pops, how are you doing today?

Well, they finally finished that 50 mile stretch of I-75 south of Toledo. That took them forever; better than three years I'm sure. But it's nice being able to tool along at 70 MPH there now. Okay, 75 with the cruise on. But now they've gone and closed the Rouge bridge in south Detroit for the next two years starting February 4. So we have to take 94 out to 275 or US 23 and down to Toledo going to the plant. If ain't one thing it's another, eh? Ah, we're on the road though. That's where we Cosgriffs belong.

Pitchers and catchers report to Lakeland in two weeks. Yep, we're coming up on baseball season. I wish I still had that little black and white transistor radio you had when I was a kid, the one I borrowed so often to listen to Ernie and Ray call Tigers games. Baseball on the radio. Sometimes I think it's better than actually being at the game. I've been listening a lot up North in Hessel, in the garage. It brings memories back for sure. Remember us listening in the Shop when Fister struck out nine in a row to set the AL record? On Charlie's old radio? We laughed at each strikeout after about the fifth one as the streak played on. That was a good day.

Mom's doing real good with that pacemaker. It's been over two years now, and she's fretting about everything like always. Did you hear what she told the doctor right after she got it? He told her it had a ten year battery; she said she needed twenty. That's so Mom, right?

The Pumper's show is coming up in a few weeks. We're going to take a lot of the equipment over and then work it. But it's not the Pumper Show anymore. It's the WWETT Show. Water and Wastewater Equipment, Treatment and Transport Show. I don't recall for sure whether they had changed it before your last show. People and their acronyms; I suppose they wanted something easily remembered, but I always remembered the Pumper show. That's what you always called it, so I imagine it stuck in your memory too. Ah well.

Okay, I gotta get up to the Shop. Gotta meet a couple guys and get a couple repairs done on a Saturday to get a head start on next week. That really is a great old barn. A lot of good memories there. The daily bread calls.

Happy Birthday Dad. Until Next Time,

Marty.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The impish jokester

My oldest son is a veteran, and I am very proud of him for that. And his service has also given me a pulling the leg on people opportunity which I get a lot of miles on.

You see, he was a prison guard. That meant of course that he spent over a year stationed at Fort Leavenworth, site of the US military's largest prison. Most folks think only of that when they think of the place.

So the joke is this. Friends would come up to me and say, "So I hear you're son's in the Army."

"Yep," I'd answer plainly.

"Where's he at?"

I would simply say, "Leavenworth."

This would always be followed by a pause as they processed the information. Eventually they would ask, sheepishly, "Leavenworth?" And I would answer, "Yep. Couldn't be more proud of the boy."

There would be another pause as they tried to think what to say next. But after letting them hang for a few seconds I would say, "He's a prison guard. He's on the right side of the bars." It's funny how much relief they showed when I would finally admit whole story. Many of them would audibly sigh when I let the cat out of the bag.

Have I properly thanked you son, for feeding my impish sense of humor?

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Thursday's stream of consciousness

Starbucks or Tim Horton's?

Tim Horton's of course. That isn't even a fair question.

You ever notice how many people call conservatives out on religious principle on subjects such as health care, poverty, and immigration but expect us to check our religious sentiment at the door on issues such as abortion and euthanasia?

Winter hasn't been too bad thus far. Only the one big snowfall, and except for a week or two it hasn't been that cold. And we're only about five weeks from being past the worst which winter has to offer. I'm liking this.

I'm curling tonight. I just thought you might like to know.

Yeah, Tim Horton's. Not even close.

Detroit Tiger pitchers and catchers report to Lakeland, Florida on Monday, February 13. Spring is almost here; Ernie's ready to read from the Song of Solomon. If you've never heard him recite from that book of the Bible, look it up. I'm sure it's on You Tube.

I gotta go pick up a jetter from a Sunbelt Rental in Sterling Heights. I thought you might like to know that too.

Oh yes, of course Tim Horton's. Why did I even bother to bring it up?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The myth of the exploding arc welder

As a rule, Dad didn't let things bother him. He was very good at tuning out at the end of the day. He always said he could sleep soundly and easily because he had a clear conscience. Mom in reply asserted that what he had was a short memory.

Whatever the real cause, Pops rarely let things bother him. But he did, like all of us I believe, have his pet peeves.

As I've said many times, me Grandpa Joe rented welding equipment and Pops worked for him literally since he was about 10. Grandpa rented almost exclusively Hobart Welders. He bought more new Hobart welders in 1953 than anyone else in the country except Ford and Chrysler, so it was quite a good business back in the day. He bought so many machines that the Hobart company invited Joe to send someone to their facility in Troy, Ohio for a six week course on repairing their equipment. Grandpa sent his son, and Dad did so well that Hobart sent Joe a very complimentary letter about his boy's intellect and industry. Pops and Joe were both proud of that.

So then of course Pops became the go to guy to repair Joe's welders, both in their shop and in the field. He didn't mind the service calls; it was nice to get away from the shop on a regular basis. He had become friends with many of the ironworkers and millwrights over the years as well, and liked to get out and see them too. Yet herein also came one of Dad's pet peeves.

When someone would call for service Dad always tried to get an idea of the trouble. It helped him to know what tools and parts to take along. Most of the time the guys gave him decent answers when dad asked: the battery was dead, the motor would turn over but not start, or it was overheating, things like that. But a few guys were no help at all. When Pops would ask them what was wrong, they would tell him that the machine had 'blowed up'.

"What do you mean?" he'd ask in reply.

"It just blowed up," they'd repeat.

Dad would impatiently respond, "So when I get there, there'll just be parts and debris scattered all around where the welder used to be?"

"Well, no, no, it's just not running."

All right then, he'd continue, what exactly is your problem, and go from there. But it truly rankled him to be told a welder had blowed up.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The lost gas tank

We all know enough about cars to know that they break down. The starter gets fried, the transmission goes out, and we have to from time to time deal with nuisances such as flat tires. But sometimes truly unusual things happen to our vehicles.

Back in the Seventies we had a tan Chevy Suburban. With Mom and Dad and seven of us kids, you had to have a car large enough to transport everyone around, and Suburbans fit the bill. One day, I was 13 or 14, Mom and I were going to or coming back from somewhere and were just tooling along the street. Suddenly there was a loud and emphatic 'ker-thump!" and a terrible dragging sound. Mom eased the car to the curb. "Get out and see what's wrong," she instructed me.

I wasn't sure what she thought I would know to look for, but fortunately the trouble was obvious. When I got to the back of the Suburban, I saw the gas tank plain as day laying on the asphalt. It was held on by only the gas line.

I went back and said to Mom, "The gas tank fell off."

"Oh, come on," she responded. The tone in her voice and the look on her face told me she didn't believe that could possibly be the case.

"Ma, it's laying on the ground," I replied, incredulous myself really.

She got out, walked around the car, the looked at me and laughed. "You're right, the gas tank's fell off," she concurred. Thanks for the vote of confidence Mother.

Back then there weren't cell phones but pay phones were still all over. We found one only a block away and we weren't far from home either. So me Pops and me Uncle John came, disconnected the tank, and towed us home. The straps holding the tank in place had rusted through, and it turned out an easy fix. And though I'm sure the story is out there, I've yet to hear a car trouble tale quite so bizarre as dropping the gas tank.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

January 22, 2017

On this, the anniversary of one of the most heinous Supreme Court decisions in our history (it's right up there with if not more awful than Dred Scott) we must take a moment and consider what our nation has become since then. Do we really support life when we give of our money and time to soup kitchens and homeless shelters yet will not protect people at their most defenseless?

We do not. What the liberals who have approached me over the abortion question always seem to fall back on is that I need to put all 'life' issues on the same plain. I need to find a balance, of which, they assert, abortion is only one issue.

It may well be only one issue, yet if it is it is the issue. It is based on the dignity of human life, which is what drives any respect for humanity in general. Why should the poor be helped? Because of their dignity as human beings. Why should people not be murdered or stolen from or raped or kidnapped? Because of their dignity as human beings. Where does this dignity begin?

It begins in the womb. Simple Reason tell us as much: human beings have human children.

If you won't support life at its beginning, when it can do nothing for itself, how can I trust that you really will support human dignity later? How can I even trust what you call human dignity? If I can't trust you on that, then, quite frankly, your opinion on education and the environment and our role is world affairs must be held suspect as well. If the dignity of the human person isn't first in your thoughts right from its very conception, then I have difficulty believing in your sincerity on lesser causes.

End abortion now. Work for and vote for the repeal of Roe v. Wade. Then we might discuss, with some promise, what to do about ancillary questions.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Day after Donald

I didn't watch much of the speeches and parades and paper signings yesterday. Quite frankly, I had things to do such as work. To be sure, I took time last night to read President Trump's Inaugural Address and did not find anything horrifying about it. Other than that, I paid the festivities scant attention.

I've done essentially the same thing with every inaugural since 1985. It's simply not that important, folks. President Trump is neither an ogre nor a savior. Neither it must be admitted was President Obama. History ebbs and flows. The most important thing yesterday was the relatively peaceful transfer of power. But we've seen that many times before. True, it is a hallmark of the American republic. It should be appreciated but it should not get in the way of our daily bread.

I must admit that I shake my head at the way many of my liberal progressive friends obsessed over it. I'm really not trying to be provocative here, but I have to believe that in 2009 and 2013 I felt similarly to how they felt yesterday yet I don't recall churning the facts over and over in mind, among my friends, or on facebook. My guy didn't win. So it goes. I wasn't pleased, but I got on with things.

My point simply is this. There ain't much you or I can do to directly affect the direction of the nation or the world. Cast your vote, write letters or blogs, talk among friends, peacefully protest, live well yourself as an example to others. I think that last point the most salient. Because at the risk of provoking right after I just said I didn't want to provoke, the rest of that too often devolves into mere petulance. I just don't think that's productive at all.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Too well taught?

My brother Phil is a nice guy. Why, once he took a couple of young nephews to lunch simply to give them something to do and give their mother a break I suppose. But Phil is also, and rightly, a stickler for not wasting anything, especially food. And the nephews, 9 and 12 respectively at the time, were notorious for doing just that.

So Uncle Phil laid it on with a trowel: I will buy you whatever you want, he told the boys, but you absolutely must eat everything you order. Period.

The boys took the lesson to heart and dutifully ate their entire meals. Yet as it was, Phil finished his before they were done; he is kind of a fast eater. As he had finished his Coke too, he turned up the glass and took a couple of pieces of ice in his mouth and began crunching them.

The youngest boy's eyes grew wide and his jaw dropped. "We gotta eat the ice?" he asked his Uncle Phil incredulously.

Phil stifled a laugh and said no, you don't have to eat the ice. But he did stamp that day, lesson learned. At least when Uncle Phil is buying.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Nuts and bolts

Yesterday I needed a tube of threadlocker blue, a liquid which is used on small bolts to help 'lock' them in place as it dries. It's sort of a specialty glue really. I also needed a couple electrical switches. And as I was close to Big Box Mart in my travels, I stopped for them.

The switches were easy to find: right in the aisle with hundreds of electrical components, exactly as you'd expect. Finding what I needed there, I thought it made sense for the threadlocker to be in the aisle with nuts and bolts. So I go to the front of the building and study the signs at the ends of the aisles to find the one with nuts and bolts, found it, and marched down it.

No threadlocker. I combed the aisle for a few minutes, searching intently and not finding the stuff. I then violated the guy code, broke down, and asked an employee where threadlocker might be. He takes me straight to the place where it supposedly had been for years. But it wasn't there last night. The guy complains that Big Box Mart likes to change how its stores are arranged from time to time, often without letting everyone know the new stocking order, but gets out his walkie talkie and asks someone where the threadlocker was moved to. "Aisle Four, just about halfway up," I hear a voice say. So it's off to aisle four.

There was still no threadlocker to be found, not around the middle, either end, or parts in between. I finally gave up and went to the paint counter at the end of the aisle. The man there said to try the next aisle over, aisle three, about halfway down.

I looped around onto aisle three, and immediately saw it was the aisle with the electrical switches. And on the opposite side of the aisle, barely ten feet from where I had picked up the switches I wanted, was the threadlocker. I had wasted 20 minutes for an item virtually next to where I had started.

Sheesh. I simply don't understand that shelving scheme at all.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The neurologically challenged mechanic

Grandpa Joe rented arc welders, some of which were powered by six cylinder gasoline engines. He had a mechanic, I'll call him Cloyce just to give him a name, who worked for him part time. Cloyce was a very good mechanic, to give him his due. He also didn't drive. He also drank profoundly. One day when a welder was on the fritz in Rochester, about 30 miles north of Detroit, and no one else was available, Joe had me drive Cloyce out to fix it.

We loaded some tools and a box of commonly used repair parts into a pickup truck and off we went. I was a rather naive young lad of 16 and had only been driving for a couple of months. Consequently I was slow to read the signals that something was going seriously wrong.

At first it wasn't much. Cloyce had begun, well, not quite slurring his words but drawing them out. When he would speak to me he would start sentences with, Mawr-ty, and then say whatever he had to say. It didn't matter to me. I was just doing my job. Then he said with an odd emphasis, "Mawrty", almost like a command. I turned and said, "Yeah, Cloyce?". He was pointing his cigarette lighter, which looked like a pistol, at me. He made the sound of a gunshot - pschew - as he pulled the trigger, lighting a flame at me. "Funny, Cloyce", I said. But at the time I needed more than a simple clue that things were amiss. I needed to be hit with a pile of bricks.

The bricks fell on me when we were almost to our destination. "Mawrty," I heard, "Could you pull over to that pawrty store so I can get some Coke to mix with this?" I looked over to see him displaying a half drained fifth of vodka.

"Put that away Cloyce! Do you know how much trouble that could get us into?" I half screamed. By us, I meant me. I was the driver who knew what the law said about open intoxicants. And then I remembered, I don't anything about fixing engines. He's got to get that welder running.

What to do, what to do? All I could think was to get him to the job and hope for the best. So that's what I did.

We arrived, and I made Cloyce stay in the pickup while I found the foreman. He came out of his trailer office and directed me to where the machine sat. It was on the other side of an eight foot berm. Great.

I drove over to it, got the tools and parts over to the welder and then got Cloyce and hobbled him over the berm next. He commenced to stumble around the machine, doing this and that and I don't know what while I prayed he would somehow get us out of the mess we faced. I faced. In a few minutes the foreman came along to check on our progress. He couldn't help notice the state Cloyce was in. He leaned towards me and whispered, "Is he okay?"

"Oh, yeah," I answered. "He's just got a neurological disorder." It was all I could think of.

The foreman looked at me with a skeptical raised eyebrow. But right then we heard the roar of an engine. Cloyce had gotten that welder running, Lord knows how.

The foreman pursed his lips and patted my head as if to say, all right, we're good, problem solved. He walked away. I got Cloyce and the tools and parts back over the berm and started home gratefully. But the next time I took Cloyce to a job, I made certain there were no hidden bottles in the truck.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

First World decadence

At one time in my life I would bristle at the accusation that we Yanks were decadent. I no longer do, chiefly because, in too many ways, we are.

What type of luxuries have we demanded in recent years? Things such as seat warmers in our cars. Seat warmers? The seat is the first thing that warms up when you get in your car, in a span of maybe five seconds. This is before we even get to remote starters; how much money do you have that you can burn gasoline simply so that your car is toasty warm the instant you get in it? This at a time when, I'll say it even at the risk of appearing liberal, there are too many people in the world without enough to eat, and even too many in our country without proper access to housing and medical care.

I am not naive. I realize that there is no direct correlation between add-ons to cars and someone in Haiti lacking good food. I will even readily concede that these luxuries do have the positive side benefit of keeping people in jobs. Further, I recognize that the problems elsewhere are not, as a rule, our fault. As P. J. O'Rourke for example explains so very well in his funny and enlightening book All the Trouble in the World, many of those problems are caused by the local government in question and not American selfishness. Still, I have to ask whether this sort of consumerism is what we ought to be promoting when there are folks who lack basic necessities. On their own merit, I have to wonder whether they are worthwhile uses of our time, effort, and cash.

In short, that something is doable doesn't mean that it's worth doing. That we can buy something doesn't mean it's worth the purchase. What we consider basic creature comforts may be little more than modern forms of let them eat cake. I believe we would do our souls well to mull that over when we make certain purchases or demands on our productive forces.

Who knows? We may actually find that what we want isn't what we need.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The mug brush

I saw it on a shelf in a closet as we went through the house we had just bought. It was a boar's hair shaving brush with a orange brown handle and hair which had a black stripe near the tips. At that very moment I knew we'd be good friends. But I closed the door and left it to sit that day.

A few years later I was in a drug store and stumbled upon some cakes of shaving soap. I remembered that mug brush, bought two of those soaps, and came home. My wife gave me a coffee cup with a broken handle, of which the cakes fit into perfectly. From that day on I was fully old school. I have shaved with a mug and brush since.

I think I get a closer shave that way. My face feels better too. Wally, my old barber, said it was because of the oils in the shaving soap. I believe him; that's how he shaved customers. I'm at the point now that shaving with cream makes me feel like I just had a pie smacked onto my face. Even when I travel I just use soap for shaving.

We had a great relationship, that brush and I. Then the hairs popped out of the handle one day last week. I was beside myself wondering what to do. I didn't want to buy another brush: we had become too close, me and the old one. But fortunately the hairs came our in one big clump (I suppose I should have expected that) and my wife had some waterproof glue which she used to re-attach the bristles to the handle.

Now all is well. I still have my old friend, and I still have the best kind of close shaves.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The beyond the call of duty repair job

We've all had truly bizarre things happen to us I'm sure. For me, the weirdest was when I had a customer bring back a machine I had repaired, insisting the unit wasn't his. Why? Because all the switches and the handle were new and he knew I wouldn't do all that work without charging him (I replaced the power cord and that's all, and consequently that's all I charged him for).

He insists it wasn't his machine, and that if I didn't do all that extra work then someone else did it behind my back. Yet it's only my brother and I in the business. I worked on the machine myself (Phil did not touch it) and we only had it in our possession about 3 hours. Well, then, someone came while my back was turned and did it.

Really, Mr. Customer, you really think that? Besides the fact that the whole idea is simply insane (how many of you know what a Spartan 1065 is or how it's wired, let alone which switches or handle are required? Yet any one of you might have just walked in off the street and into my repair shop and did all that) the job would have taken about 30-45 minutes; how would I have missed that, seeing as I was there the whole time the machine was and our shop has a small, wide open interior?

Well, I hate to do it, Marty, but my machine was stolen and I'm going to have to file a police report and take you to court, I was told as he left. Okay, then, do what you have to do, but even Detroit cops ought to laugh you out of the precinct with a story like that.

I'm mystified. I actually found myself hoping the guy's okay, because you gotta be nuts to think like that.

Okay, as my curling buddy Paul Ramey would tell me, 'Breathe, Marty'. It feels like I just lived a backward Dead Parrot skit...

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The war is over!

The war is over! At least, the Revolutionary War is over. Today. Or, at least, today is recognized by many historians as the end of it.

The Internet is so cool. I had no idea what I was going to say today so I began surfing the net and lo and behold, I discover that on January 14, 1784 the Continental Congress accepted the Treaty of Paris, drawing the conflict into a final close. Who knew? I didn't, and I taught history for 23 years.

In other war related news, Eli Whitney was granted a government contract for 10,000 muskets on this day in 1799. And General Sherman began his famous (or infamous) March to the Sea in the American Civil War in 1864. On more calm grounds, today in 1914 Henry Ford got the first Model T assembly line rolling. For my Canadian friends, Hap Day scored the first hat trick (three goals in one hockey game for you Yanks) for the Toronto Maple Leafs on January 14, 1927. I understand they're still waiting for the second one.

Hey, hey, just going for the joke. But it seems there'a a lot of stuff that's happened worldwide on virtually every day of the year, from politics and war to entertainment. Elvis' Aloha from Hawaii concert was today in 1973 for an example of that. And the clarinet was invented in Germany today in 1690. We'll explore such things again the next day I have a total brain freeze.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Cosmic traffic justice

I'm not a speed demon by any stretch of the imagination. But I do find myself driving faster than I once did. At one time I kept strictly to the posted limits. Now I crease the envelope a bit. When you drive a lot for your job I suppose it's natural to be in more of a hurry. I'm not justifying it, only explaining it.

Just the same, I have come to resent when folks pass me when I'm already speeding myself. Really? I'm going too fast myself towards a destination where arrival time isn't actually an issue but you're going somewhere where you still need to get past me? Maybe it's a passive type of road rage but still, it irritates. That's why what happened yesterday made me all happy inside.

I was motoring along a street almost 10 miles per hour over the speed limit. Yet for this nimrod coming up behind me that wasn't fast enough. He had to pass me. On the right, in the parking lane. He's not only passing me but doing something doubly illegal. I mildly mentally cursed his impertinence but was ready to let it go.

And I did let that feeling go. But I smiled openly when the next four traffic lights caught him, and I caught up to him each time. So you had to pass me, did ya? But now you ain't getting where you're going any more quickly, are ya?

I felt that a certain justice had been done. Cosmic traffic justice, if you will. And I am far too pleased with my attitude towards it.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The way to express an opinion

My dad and my Grandpa Joe got along well, despite the fact that Grandpa could be difficult to deal with (something which I will attest to from years of personal experience, and I really loved the old coot). Dad explained to me once that both he and his father had poor tempers, something I would never have accused Dad of having, but as Joe was here first, Pops had made up his mind early on that he would be the one to hold his tongue whenever he didn't see eye to eye with his old man. However, that didn't mean he couldn't get his point across when necessary.

Joe rented welding equipment and Pops worked for him. This was back in 1940s through the 1980s, before prefabrication, when a lot of fabrication had to be done right on construction sites. So Grandpa had for rent arc welders, torches, and things which I think were called buzz boxes. As that's good enough for the point of this tale, we'll leave it at that.

These buzz boxes were intended to make instant welds. As I recall, you would hold the thing up to a rivet on a steel girder and it was supposed to make three quick welds to secure the rivet in place. Supposed is the operative word here. The boxes were notoriously finicky, and it was Dad's job to go out to work sites to repair the them when they didn't work.

Pops hated them. They were as difficult to repair as they were to operate. Over a few years Dad learned to fully and completely despise them.

One day as he came in from a particularly tough repair on one of the buzz boxes, Joe could see that his son was not in a good mood. Pops could tell his father thought that maybe he could lighten things. He remarked with a slight chuckle, apparently trying to make a joke of it, "Those buzz boxes are tough to deal with, eh?"

As Dad told it, he replied quietly, firmly, and without looking up at his pops, "Old man, when you die, I'm selling those buzz boxes. Then I'll bury you." It's an old line, but used rightly, an effective one. Perhaps Dad had been holding it back, waiting for the teachable moment.

Joe laughed at it, but kind of nervously. The next day he began selling the buzz boxes.

Pops could let Joe know what he felt when he had to, and without the arguments Joe often had with others. And I think they respected each other because of it.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The peril of tearin' up jack

I remember Amos. He was one of Grandpa Joe's best friends, and lived just up the street. Often he would walk down to visit Joe and if one of us kids were out, he'd stop to shake our hand and say hi. I always thought that was pretty cool of him.

He had a phrase for when he was going some place in a hurry. He'd say he was "tearin' up jack". One day his tearin up jack cost him an extra ten minutes.

Amos was coming down the Lodge Freeway here in Detroit, hurrying to get home. Now, I don't know if other parts of these United States have such things, but on Detroit freeways many exits have turn around lanes at the top of the ramps which allowed you to make a U-turn without making a left turn onto the street where you exited. Maybe you wanted the street a couple blocks back, say, so this way you could loop around to it without making two left turns. It was thought to help traffic flow, I've always guessed.

But anyway, there was often an entrance to the freeway on the far service drive after the turnaround lane. If the street merited an exit it merited an entrance too, right? In this case, Amos was exiting at Forest Avenue but wanted to double back to Warren, which was two streets north. So he intended to take the turnaround lane at Forest and double back to Warren.

"Here I am headin' south on the Lodge tearin' up jack', Amos explained, "And I fly up the ramp and take the turnaround tearin' up jack, and I get on the far service drive and run right down the entrance ramp onto the northbound Lodge." Yep. In his hurry to get home, Amos had become for an instant absent minded and tore up jack right back onto the freeway.

That's the peril of tearin' up jack. You can forget where you're supposed to go.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Grandpaw liked his coffee

Grandpaw Hutchins liked his coffee strong. So strong in fact that he thought instant coffee one of the greatest innovations ever, because he could brew a strong pot of Maxwell House and then add a teaspoon of instant granules to his cup to give it that much more horsepower. He must have drank two, three pots of coffee a day: no lie. He also was a quiet man who rarely if ever raised his voice. He let his actions speak for him. One day coffee, his manner, and Grandmaw Hutchin's will all came together in a profound, sublime way.

It was one of those typically hot, sticky North Carolina summer days which are well known in the south. At the time, though, all they had for cooking was a wood stove. Keeping that stove going on such days made the kitchen, indeed the whole house, tremendously uncomfortable. Finally Grandma had had enough of it. When breakfast was over, she announced that from that day forward until the weather began to cool, the stove also would be allowed to cool during the day. When the breakfast embers died, the stove would not be fired up again until it was time to make supper.

Grandpa didn't say a thing. He simply slid back from the table, grabbed his hat, and walked out the front door. About 45 minutes later he returned with an electric hot plate. He had walked the mile to the nearest store (he didn't drive), bought that hot plate, and came home. A cool stove meant no hot coffee. He couldn't have that. Yet demanding the stove be kept burning against Grandma's orders, well, he couldn't have that either. So he improvised a conclusion which was satisfactory for all.

I think he handled the situation just right. Don't you?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Gram's Rosary

I often visited my grandparents' home. It was conveniently located next door to the house I grew up in. The logistics were not an issue.

I'd sit with my back to the rear entrance while Joe, my grandpappy, sat to my right in a fanciful dining room chair. Grams sat directly across from me. Joe's was the only such chair in the kitchen. And it was his.

Him and Grandma's bedroom was right off the kitchen. Joe and I would talk occasionally; for long periods we'd just sit in silence. I miss that silence.

Anyway, Gram would excuse herself soonly, to say her daily Rosary. Then me and Joe would just sit there.

Oh, occasionally we would talk. We mostly sat in silence. He'd puff on a cigarette, Charltons if you must know, and we'd sit.

Then he'd suddenly order me to hush, and a quiet would descend upon the room.

We would wait. Then we would hear a snore. Me Grams' snore.

"She's saying her Rosary", Joe would remark with a giggle.

They loved each other, they did.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Nobody told me about ball hitches

When you try to write every day, you need inspiration. Sometimes it comes easy and sometimes it doesn't come at all. And sometimes it comes from unexpected sources.

One of the Christmas gifts I received last week was a book about a pivotal time in the history of Detroit. I began reading it last night. Chapter One among other things spoke about the Ford Rouge plant, an industrial complex which was the largest in the world at the time the book takes place, the early 1960s. It turns out that I know a bit about the Rouge, having had first hand experience with it. Why, in fact, it describes how I almost dropped one of Grandpa Joe's welders into the canal slip between the steel mill and the frame plant there.

The Rouge, you see, had I think 11 different plants in its complex. I know the frame plant, Dearborn Assembly, the steel mill, and the glass plant. This is just to offer you a taste of how ol' Henry Ford tried to put the entire assembly process in one spot. The canal slip was a long artificial river dredged deep enough that large ocean going freighters could moor within it for loading and unloading. On the day in question, I remember quite definitely, The Benson Ford was docked right near the incident I intend to describe.

Grandpa Joe rented arc welding machines. Many of them could be towed to a job site. You likely saw them and thought they were air compressors. He rented many of them to Henry's minions. He assigned them each of a number of his own. He made the mistake of one day sending my 16 year old self to pick one up after its services were no longer required.

This particular one had a ball hitch. I had never dealt with one of those before; every other machine I had handled, we just slipped a 5/8 bolt between the the holes in the 'tongue' (a U beam with a U hook at the end) dropped through a hole in the hitch of whatever vehicle you were given at the time, mostly cars, and 'locked' two nuts against one another (you'd screw both nuts up against each other and lock them by taking two crescent wrenches, turning the top one clockwise and the other counterclockwise as hard as you could to 'lock' them into one another). Consequently, no one ever told me that with a ball hitch you must turn a handle on the tongue of a unit (with a cap being slid onto a 1-3/4 or 2 inch steel ball bolted onto your car's hitch) in order to secure it to the towing vehicle. The ball was in place of the hole where you'd have put the 5/8 bolt. I simply slipped the ball hitch over the ball and figured I was okay.

And I was okay, until I was cruising along at around 25 miles per hour on the service road next to the canal slip. Suddenly I felt my old Chevy Suburban (irony in itself) jump, as though a load had lifted off it. Old number Ninety One; I knew it by heart, I did, the number old Joe had assigned it. I instinctively looked into my rear view mirror and saw that the welder had jumped off the ball and was sliding right towards the canal slip.

I cannot accurately describe to you the panic which coursed within my young brain at the moment of that realization. I was going to drop one of Joe's welders into the canal slip at the Rouge. I was going to have to call him myself and tell him that, with the sound of emergency vehicles shouting in the background, HASMAT teams surely on their way to contain the gasoline pouring from the welder's fuel tank into the water. An explosion would certainly exclaimate the event.

Fortunately, that did not happen. The welder stopped within 18 inches of the slip, and a kindhearted soul who witnessed it all came to the aid of the ignorant young boy and helped him hitch the unit properly to his Suburban. That sorry young teen then returned it to the old barn without further incident, and to this day without his Grandpa Joe nor Pops learning of the close call.

If that youngster goes to Hell, it will not be from having dropped a Hobart Welder into the canal slip at the Ford Rouge.

Let the games commence!

Now it begins: the real winter sports season. Beginning this week, I curl in earnest.

Granted, I've curled a bit so far. I've played so-so in three tier 55 spiels (Tier 55 is the polite Canadian way of saying that old guys are curling) and all right in league play. But this week is the real start of my curling season.

We've played since October 24. Yet our season runs until April 7. So do the math: well over half of curling is still ahead of me. The gauntlet begins with a Tier 55 in Sarnia, Ontario on Wednesday, league play Thursday night, and the annual three day men's tournament at the Detroit Curling Club Friday through Sunday followed by the restart of our Monday league, appropriately enough, next Monday.

I currently have seven bonspiels scheduled for the remainder of the season and hope to squeeze in two to four more more. Yeah, I know, I'm holding back. But a guy's gotta attend to life sometimes, and the curling gods don't always work with you (my team is on the waiting list for a few spiels). Still, it's better than football. I'm participating and not merely watching.

And I'm looking forward to it all.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Day 2017

I honestly enjoy the Christmas season. But New Year's Day has a certain charm of its own, and not the least of which is that it signals the end of the Christmas season.

It's a no commitment holiday for starters. All the pomp and, admit it, aggravation and pressure of Christmas are over and you're happy for it. On New Year's, you can just enjoy the day. In my case that involves eating a big meal with the immediate family, watching as many Twilight Zone episodes on Syfy as I am able, and paying scant attention to the too many football games which have already become so many as to be meaningless. Hey, if everyone with a .500 record or better can go to a bowl game while the few playing for a supposed national championship are elected to play for it, I have to wonder if the whole process is flawed. Either way, there are too many bowl games for the majority of them to actually matter.

But I digress. New Year's also celebrates that we are about back to normalcy, and normalcy has a charm of its own. Think what you want to think, but routine has its advantages: no surprises, no overindulgence and, you'll forgive the overemphasis, less aggravation and pressure. By and large, with New Year's you are less concerned over everything being 'just right'. I think that's better than anything special which the holidays seem to demand of us; you can enjoy company simply to enjoy it.

I really don't mean to be a stick in the mud. I did enjoy the Christmas season. But I am more looking forward to 2017, and yes, hoping to cap it off well during Christmas 2017. But for today, Happy New Year to all. And let's hope we don't miss the Bill Shatner gremlin episode on Twilight Zone.