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.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Taking a look around

That old red bench grinder was staring at me this morning. It stood out from all else as I worked, and I don't know why.

It has some history. Grandpa Joe's brother Bill (the one who tore the bumper off Joe's Packard) was a mechanic in Jacksonville, Illinois. He had his own garage. Uncle Bill had bought that grinder new in 1928. Joe bought it from him somewhere in the mid-1940s and its been in the old barn ever since.

The work bench it sits on for that matter did not start out as a workbench. It was a counter in a restaurant which sat across the street from St. Dominic's, Joe's church. When the restaurant owner remodeled Joe bought the old counter and put it in his first welding shop in 1945. The counter was ideal both for its long top surface and the shelving underneath. Bus trays and whatnot had been stored there in its earlier incarnation. Joe used it to store parts and tools.

We have a five foot high crescent wrench leaning against a wall, Lord knows why. I don't recall ever using it. Along another wall is an iron, five foot long what Joe called a 'breaker bar'. That we did use. It made one wonderful prying tool when you needed it; it offered a lot of leverage.

There's more. More than I remember this minute and more than I spied this morning. But it demonstrates that there's some history in the old barn, and even some of it inexplicable (a five foot wrench?). But maybe I'll use it someday.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Want family style dinner? Eat at home

Buca di Beppo. The name sounds like a rejected moniker for a long forgotten Marx brother. Beppo Marx; think about it. In reality, it's the name of the restaurant I ate in recently. You know, one of those different things you try just to do something different. To experience 'atmosphere', whatever that's supposed to mean. The trouble is, I hate different. I don't want to try new things. Especially trendy, 'fun' things, because, while trendy, they tend not to be fun.

The food is served, I think they call it family style, where you order large dishes and share them. That's supposed to be the fun part. But what's the fun of dinner being ordered by committee? If I had wanted that, I'd have voted for the progressives and let them tell me what to eat like they want to tell me everything else that I need these days.

So as with acts of Congress, it took an insane amount of time to get anything done. It took forever to order because everyone had to debate which salad, which sides, which entree, and which style of plates and silverware to use. All right, maybe not that last part, but still. I don't necessarily want to eat what the person next to me wants, I want to eat what I want when I'm in a restaurant. This is America, by gum, and I can order my own damn food when I'm out. If I want to have dinner family style I'll do the obvious thing and stay at home with my family for it.

Then the food finally comes and everyone gets their first helping. After another fifteen minutes, that is. Passing plates among ten people squeezed around a tiny restaurant table is more confusing and frustrating than getting home to the suburbs during rush hour. You need an air traffic controller to keep the flying dishes in order. And the food isn't cold by the time you finally get to eat, oh no, sure. Then, since it's served the way it is, there's always those last two pieces of chicken which everyone is being too kind to take in case someone else may want one, when the truth is everyone at the table wants one because they haven't had enough to eat. The remaining veggies remain alone, pleading for attention, but who wants them? It's family style eating without the family style portions, that's what it is. At home, where the real family style is, there's always enough for everyone.

I think that the next time I'm invited to such a place, I'll politely decline and eat at home , even if I'm just nuking last night pizza.. The drinks will be cold, the food hot, and all the atmosphere I need will be supplied by the ball game on the tube. Any new experience will be limited to who the Tigers play next. That's about all the diversity I care for.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

For Mom on Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all the Moms out there. Happy Mother's Day too to all of you whose Mothers had you. They deserve the credit, and you owe them everything. Don't waste the chance they gave you. Start by thanking them.

I know she won't see this, but I feel bad that I don't talk about my own mother here anywhere near the degree to which I talk about Pops or even Grandpa Joe. She's been a great Mom, a bit headstrong, maybe, but with her moments. One of those wasn't that long ago.

When she had a pacemaker two and a half years ago at 80 the doctor was explaining after the surgery that it had a ten year battery. "But I need twenty," she immediately told him, as though obvious.

It is a good attitude, right?

Happy Mother's Day Mom.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Vertigo ain't fun

There are things we don't appreciate (if appreciate is the right word for some things) until we experience them. I always thought pneumonia was nothing but a particularly bad cold...until I contracted it. Believe me, it's much more than that. I likewise never thought of exactly how bad dizziness could be. Then I developed vertigo, and I have a definite respect (if that is the right word for such as thing) for it.

Having a room spin and blur for several seconds when you lay down or sit up is perhaps the worst non-physically painful sensations I've encountered. It's a feeling of total helplessness. Everything spins, everything blurs, and then you come out of it slowly and awkwardly. Your head and/or body even wobble. You lay there and just think, 'Oh my'. I've probably dealt with it before, but never sober. You do not forget it.

The doctor told me to get up and lie down slowly. But I can't seem to do either slowly enough. Oh, it's getting better, now that I'm taking an antibiotic (the cause of my vertigo is an inner ear infection). But still, it's kinda traumatic when the spinning happens. And it startles me occasionally when I, say, take a step back and feel as though I'm going to keep falling backwards whenever I feel it coming on. It isn't fun.

They famously say that don't appreciate someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. I didn't fully appreciate dizziness or a loss of balance before the last few days. I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Them darn cats

We all have things happen to us which we simply do not understand. For me, a few such things have happened over the last few days.

I was visiting my son and his family this past weekend. Out of the blue their cat Mika, who spends most of her days hiding from their dog, decided I was her best friend forever. Each time I sat down (whenever the dog wasn't nearby anyway) she would rush from her hiding spot and leap onto my lap. I mean she would come out in no time flat. I would pet her until she tired of it; even then she would simply settle into my lap and purr. At least until Gaspode, the dog, appeared. Then she was off to burrow somewhere where he couldn't get near her.

Now Luna, my son in law's cat who is living with us along with my daughter and said son in law, has decided that she must be in my lap whenever I deign to sit down. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to type out a blog post with a tabby across your lap? Yes, I'm managing it, but still.

The thing is I'm really not a pet person. I like pets along the lines of jokes about grandchildren: spend a little time with them then send them home (all right, I do like my grandchild a bit better than pets). Why Mika and Luna have decided I'm all that is puzzling. Oh, I try to treat pets well, but why I apparently put out an aura of adoring them escapes me.

I'm sure it will pass. Not all of my admirers adore me for eternity. And I don't know why that is either.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

My brother, Joe's truck, and the fog

Grandpa Joe done a lot of things. Some were understandable, and some were not. One of the things which was not understandable was that he liked to, every now and then, pour a quart of motor oil into the gas tanks of his cars and trucks. I believe he thought it would help keep the engine valves and pistons moving freely. But I have no idea why he thought that and it still doesn't makes sense to me. All I could see was that it made the vehicles belch out thick blue smoke for days afterwards.

Needless to say that produced fun memories.

For his welder rental business Joe had large flatbed trucks for deliveries and pickups. These trucks had manual transmissions, stick shifts. When my brother Phil was brought in to work, Grandpa saw that Phil needed to learn to drive a stick. Joe would teach him the only way he knew how: by tossing Phil the keys and have him back the truck up and down the alley outside his shop, to learn in a baptism of fire how to get the old flatbed in gear. Naturally this was right after Joe had tossed a quart of oil in the tank.

Like many first trying to learn to handle a stick, Phil tended to race the engine far more than necessary to engage the clutch. This put out copious amounts of smoke, until the alley was covered in a cloud of blue as though a very, very dense fog.

He had begun at the far end of the alley, either creeping or lurching towards the Shop as he tried to find first gear. The cloud developed and followed him, intensifying as he drew near the Shop. Soon enough you could not see to the end of the alley. When close enough to the old barn he would stop, and seek reverse gear to back up and start the process again. Slowly Phil would ease backwards and the cloud would gently swallow him and truck both until they could be seen but not heard.

A few minutes later there'd be grinding gears and a racing engine and that old Chevy flatbed would explode out of the cloud, sending wafts of smoke in all directions. This of course intensified the fog. It seemed that the entire block was becoming shrouded in blue; you couldn't see the garages which lined that alleyway.

This went on for about an hour, as me and one of Joe's other employees (I'll call him Cloyce just to give him a name) stood by the large truck doors in the Shop and watched, laughing our heads off every time Phil exploded through the fog. To this day I don't know why someone didn't call the cops or the fire department. I've never seen so much smoke without a fire. But Phil learned to drive a stick, and Joe never thought twice about putting more oil in more gas tanks.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Schooling grandparents

This is Charles Martin Cosgriff reporting from Newark, Ohio.

The annual Grandparents day at Blessed Sacrament School went off without a hitch yesterday. Grandchildren accompanied grandparents through Mass and then lunch without issue and indeed with great jocularity. This intrepid reporter was astounded at the number of old people in attendance, having to remind himself constantly that he too was an attendee and should be mindful of his comments.

Despite the day long rain and cold all was well. The only near incident involved a granddaughter (who shall remain nameless) balking at eating her celery sticks even after the offer of using ranch dressing as a dipping sauce. This caused one irascible grandparent (who shall too remain anonymous) to lament the sad state of American youth who would not eat their veggies.

This is Charles Martin Cosgriff reporting from Newark, Ohio.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Who actually is hung up?

We are told that conservatives are hung up on issues of sexual morality. But isn't it the liberals who are in fact tied in knots over such questions?

The right wing, it is also said, is hung up on matters of sex because of religious qualms. Yet how many liberals would not steal, murder, or dishonor their parents? They agree with religious sentiment except when it comes to sex. So again, who is really all too concerned about the matter?

The left does not attack religion over ideals it believes in. Indeed, say the phrases 'social justice' or 'health care' and you will hear all sorts of appeals to religious sentiment. This is a rather convenient sense of justice, considering that the moral relativists of the left tend to be more (and more diversely) sexually active.

The question, then, is: do their actions follow their beliefs, or do their beliefs follow their actions? Do they act they way they do out of real and honest conviction, or because it is how they wish to act, and then attempt a justification for it?

Just asking.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

How to study for a test

When our oldest son Charlie was in I believe Fourth Grade they began to give the students final exams on individual subjects. Being good parents who wanted our kids to do well in school, my wife and I would ask him the night before what tests he was having the next day. One night he said it would be math and science, so we took his notes and drilled him on that subject matter. The next day he had social studies and religion; that evening we likewise asked him questions about those subjects. You get the drift.

The third night I approached him and asked what the following day's test would be. "English", he said, so I told him to bring me his study notes. He then explained, "Sister's going to have us read a story we never read before and answer questions about it." Realizing that I couldn't help him with that I gave him permission to go about his business.

About an hour later I wandered into the living room. Charlie was sitting on the couch with a book across his lap. "What are you up to? I asked.

"Just studying for my English test," he answered easily.

Confused, I said, "How can you do that?"

Looking up at me as though the answer was obvious he replied, "I'm reading a story I never read before".

That's dedication.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Potlikkers

I had been holding 30 lengths of drain snake cable for a certain guy because he said he needed them. But when he arrived at the old barn he only took 16. The potlikker, I thought.

It's a mild insult which I picked up from me Pops. Whenever someone didn't do what he said he was going to do, Dad would later refer to him as 'the potlikker'. He might pluralize it to 'potlikkers' if it involved more than one person.

The only thing is, I can't find where the term is even a vague insult. My online search has come up with 'pot liquor', or how you can make liquor in a pot, or 'potlikker' which is apparently some kind of southern United States soup delicacy. Either way, I can't see where it's particularly degrading.

Yet I've added the term to my repertoire. Why not? It was good enough for Pops and doesn't appear to be actually hurtful. So put that in your pipes and smoke it, you potlikkers out there.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Catholic humor

You gotta hand it to the Catholics. They have a sense of humor about themselves. Of course, so do conservatives in general, but that is an issue we'll take on another time.

What brings this up is the discovery of a funny little website called Eye on the Tiber. It promises to deliver all Catholic news as it happens, when it happens, and before it happens. And it does a very good job of it. Check it our for yourself: http://www.eyeofthetiber.com/

You don't have to be Catholic to find Eye of the Tiber hilarious. That might help at times, yes, such as the article which tells us that Irish bishops are lengthening opportunities for Confession into 8 hour blocks due to 'gargantuan' demand, a manner which neatly lampoons supposed Church authoritarianism and Irish guilt at the same time. Then there's the piece about the Mars Rover discovering a Jesuit seminary...but we digress. The point here is that serious Catholics can joke about themselves. Let's face it: they aren't expected to by the world at large. Catholics are supposed to be staid, stolid types.

But there are greater points than that at work. Perhaps first on that list is how the site demonstrates how little the media know or understand Catholics and Catholicism. How often in recent months have we heard the media chirp that Pope Francis is leading the Church in a new direction, into the 'modern' world, away from all that mythology and God stuff. He isn't, of course, and EOTT cleverly mocks that attitude. There's a recent article, if that's the right term for it, which gleefully reports that Francis has split with the past in announcing that gravity is true. This comes on the heels of media assertions that the Church had traditionally opposed evolution when the Holy Father said that it was compatible with Catholic doctrine. Yet Pius XII said so in 1950; what's up wit dat?

Simply that the media and the population at large don't understand Catholics and Catholicism. In fact, it's probably safe to say that they don't care to understand religion beyond their own straw men which they use to knock it. To actually take religion seriously would require a feat which they would not find humorous at all, because it might challenge their lifestyle choices. It might make them have to become introspective. They don't want to have to answer the questions that that might entail.

Yet the people who try to answer those questions honestly about themselves are the ones with a comic streak about something very dear to them. We believe that that tells us all we need to know about the secular world, and that it should instruct the secular world on the real Church.