Batter-Up!!

December 20th, 2014

November 13, 1967 (sometime after midnight).

Lovie nudged me.
“What’s that noise?”
“What noise?”
“Turn on the light…there is a noise in here!”

I tossed back the covers of our bed, steam rose from the birthday suit in which I am accustomed to sleep.
Our second-floor rented bedroom was an estimated 40-degrees inside. Landlady, “Apple Annie” (as we had grown to call her) dialed down her thermostat each night. When the rising heat hit that gauge, it shut off the radiators. It never reached us upstairs. Ergo, body steam in the literal sense. No problem usually, we were newlyweds.

Just home after a 376-mile drive from an overnight stay in Center Harbor, NH, we had quickly emptied a few suitcases and Lovie’s “train case” sat open and empty on the slat bench beneath the bedroom window.
Amid the steam and cold air engulfing me, I came to my senses and also heard the fluttering sound. I reached for the pull-chain and 75-watts of illumination from the bare ceiling bulb filled the room. My pupils constricted so fast, I could almost hear them slam shut.

“It’s a BAT!!” I yelled.
Lovie screamed and pulled the covers over her head.

What to do? Naked, steaming and now scared, (the bat and I were on equal terms) what’s this neophyte to do? This was not covered in our premarital counseling with Pastor Schrum.
I ran into the corner of the kitchen and grabbed the straw broom. Back in the bedroom I began swinging wildly at this critter that was now just as upset as me.
“Crazed naked man, swinging a broom” could have been an award-winning painting by Ivan Albright or a scene from a Sam Peckinpah film.
First casualty was the four-foot high split-leaf philodendron plant that adorned the corner of the room.
“WHACK!!”
Lovie screamed!
I emulated a master class’ final performance in the profane.
My unsuccessful swings, were like a hung-over Mickey Mantle on a bad day at Yankee Stadium, and just like the Mick, I filled the air with highly audible unmentionable words of despair that were never taught in Sunday School.

The bat began attack runs at me like Zeros over Pearl Harbor in ‘41. Bats in the hair? Rabies? Myths or realities? – No time for that kind of pondering. I wanted desperately to join Lovie under the protection of the covers. But I am the (new) MAN of the house and from what I learned in the remedial class of Man School, that was not an option.

I swung the broom once again over the bed. My wild follow-through broom-whacked my dear cowering Lovie under her blankets. “Oops!” or something less printable was yelled.
Then another swing.
“Crash!!”
“Shit!!”
The room went instantly dark and shards of paper-thin glass from the bulb spewed over the bed and across the floor, around my bare feet.
The bat made another dive-bomb run. I tried to not move a bit for fear of ending up in the ER with the overnight intern picking shards from my bleeding feet.

Alas and alack, I got lucky.
Contact!! I finally made contact!! It was literally a shot in the dark. I’d swung not so wildly and whacked the bat – to where, I didn’t know but it got quiet and that was good enough for me. Cold sweat dripping, feet afraid to move, I gingerly tiptoed to another light and saw where I could step. I gathered up the blanket and swept up the glass. I searched around the room. Where was Mr. Bat? I found him dead or stunned in the train case. I flipped the lid and felt triumphant.
A hole-in-one!
Man – 1, Nature – 0.
Case closed.

Just Like a Woman… just like a man

December 20th, 2014

Scenario: In the din of mind, body and early morning light. Coffee is gurgling toward serving time, Lovie and Jackie shufwaddle (a masterful interpretation combining a shuffle and waddle) into the living room, sit facing the window and stare out at the yard, lightly covered in snow.

Act I, Scene 1

(Long pause)
Lovie: My alarm went off this morning.
Jackie: When?
Lovie: Seven

(She gets up from her chair, walks across the room and back to her chair, sits again)

Lovie: I read the article.
Jackie: What article?
L: The one about (muffled, sounds like) Juice Medallions.
J: Juice Medallions??
L: (Laughs) No! Jazz Ensembles – the one you said I should read.
J: (Laughs along with the usual adventure of his high frequency hearing loss): Oh.

(silent time, stares out the window, then she gets up, pours coffee and brings it to J in his recliner, sits again)
J: Thanks

(Long pause)

(L gets up and repeats her voyage across the room, she turns on the Christmas lights amid the garland on the fireplace mantle and lights the IKEA paper star in front of the picture window, returns to her seat)

L: I don’t want to get rid of these shoes. I really like them.
J: Then keep them.
L: But they hurt my feet! Look how nice they look!
J: Are they new?
L: Kind of…
J: What do you mean, “kind of”?
L: I’ve only worn them about 3 times since I bought them.
J: When was that?
L: Back when we lived in Illinois. (fifteen years ago, at least). Only one of them hurts – the one where my bunion is not too bad.
J: Then wear only the good one.

(Long silence)

L: That’s so typical of what you would say. If YOU had this problem, you’d think differently about it.
J: I never get to that point, you don’t let me. My favorite T-shirts? You toss them out before I even know about it.
L: But they are looking raggy around the neck.
J: My navy blue ones? I wear those the most! I gotta get some more.
L: Not those huge Duluth ones!
J: No, they’re Schmidt from the Tractor Supply store, they have good ones and they’re cheap.

(Long pause staring again, the outside light is getting brighter)

L: What was it I said I wanted to get at Kohls?
J: Something for the kitchen.
L: Oh, yes. Those gloves – oven mitts. Silicone.

L: (Gets up from her chair and goes into the bathroom)

J: (Gets up and walks into the kitchen) I’m going downstairs!
L: (from the distance and through the closed bathroom door) OK!

J: Our 49th year of consecrated cohabitation. I gotta write some of this down.

End of scene

I Need a New Planner

December 16th, 2014

As we approach another new calendar year, there are certain things with which we need to deal; organizing our days to come and Auld Lang Syne (whatever that means) are two that spring to mind. The time thing is what this is about. Calendars.

I like to have a weekly planning calendar book. The best one fits into my shirt pocket.
It’s not that I am so important I need to organize my days and hours. The demand for my time and the appeal of my company is of little consequence. Yet with dwindling capacity to organize my life, it is nice to have a little crutch or two. One of mine is a little planner book.
I refuse to join the smart-phone crowd and stare incessantly into that little device. I like to keep my head up to watch out for Boy Scouts offering to help me cross a street or sudden unadvertised senior specials at the drugstore. (We always seem to run out of Miralax on Thursdays).
For decades during my working years, I kept a planner; a new one each year.
It was a bit repetitive. Monday – go to work. Tuesday – go to work. Wednesday – go to work. You get the point. But during those years at least half of each day was different to the point it needed to be organized a little. There was a lot of stuff I had to do – or else.
These years of my retirement are mostly “make it up as you go along each and every hour of each and every day.” I love it. I was born for retirement!
But alas and alack, some days things get pretty well laid out for me, such as Monday, pick up my underwear from the floor; Tuesday, put it into the laundry hamper. It’s very demanding! I need a planner. There are days actually planned in advance.
Even though life is the most free it has ever been since before I started kindergarten, I need to have a planner.
In those pre-kindergarten days, my planner in 1948 might have read:
8:00 a.m. get up and pee (if I hadn’t already done so in bed).
9:00 a.m. eat and play
10:00 a.m. play some more.
11:00 a.m. drop a load in my pants if it is too inconvenient to find a bathroom. (It was a good attention-getter). Get changed.
12:00 noon lunchtime. Eat.
1:00 p.m. Naptime.
The afternoon was like morning except at 6:00 p.m. it was watch Howdy Doody then play some more before going to bed at 7:30.
Now that I’m retired, it is all pretty much the same except Howdy Doody is no longer on the air.
But I need a planner, nonetheless.
So Lovie and I went out on a mission to get our 2015 planners. Staples Office Supply store has a plethora of them. They range from leather-bound, gold-leafed volumes that started at $75 (for really important people) all the way to little pocked-sized ones that go for as little as $14. In the past I have always bit the bullet and shelled-out whatever bucks it took to get the one I like – usually about $20. “It lasts for a whole year…” I justify to myself “…just pennies a day”.
But this year, I got smarter. After one false attempt at a $13.99 job I got at Office Max where I quickly discovered after I got it home and wrote in it, I could no longer read the tiny print that make up its organizational borders. I decided to forget the whole deal.
But then the grey clouds of December parted just a little. A ray of sunlight shone down and an ethereal voice from somewhere in space said, “The Dollar Store!”
I thanked Lovie for her suggestion and we drove down the strip mall to the Dollar Store. I waited in the car as all good senior citizen husbands do, and she came out with a small bag. In it was a weekly planner. Cost? One stinkin’ dollar. That’s all!
Done deal. I got my planner for 2015. Happy New Year for ME!

Pining for Thelma

November 22nd, 2014

Late on a Sunday night, the old Philco was on and between the crackling of the busted speaker, I was listening to Thelma Thorax and the Famous Drifting Tumbleweeds singing their hit, “If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it all over you.”
Sunday nights afforded the widest range of reception for the AM stations. Up in the hills of northern NJ I could tune-in station WWVA from Wheeling, West Virginia.
And there she’d be, twang and all. One night Thelma was in especially good voice – best since she’d just got out of prison having served time for taking her pickup and running over her philandering ne’er-do-well husband, Festus.
The sponsors on that station were of great interest. I could order a prayer cloth pre-dipped in holy water and personally blessed by the Reverend Billy-Bob Hargrove to “lay gently upon any area of affliction” for “complete and fast pain relief and healing.” I could also, at the drop of a postcard into the ol’ mailbox down on the corner, order C.O.D. 1000 baby chicks, “Guaranteed live delivery!”
Raising chickens sounded like fun but I’m not sure mom would’ve been thrilled with them in our already crowded basement. Since the spring thaw, it’d been overrun with frogs from a science project gone awry. I had no idea the frog eggs I’d collected at the nearby pond would hatch so quickly and trade in their tails for legs. My teacher said that fact, in itself, made my discovery one of educational significance.
I stared up at the framed picture of Thelma on my wall. There she was, before the microphone, adorned in her signature glittering sequined vest, One “T” in ten-inch 14 carat gold over each breast, gold-fringed skirt and white and gold patent-leather cowgirl boots. Her beehive hairdo, twisted and piled reaching just below the dust-crusted ceiling fan hovering over the dimly-lit, cigarette smog shrouded stage. She crooned away – sooo beautiful! A twelve-year-old boy’s vision of a fantasy in sparkling white leather, gold and flesh! She was exactly what the moralistic Boy Scout Handbook and gym teacher, Mr. Gatorskin, had warned about.
Good girl gone bad.
Thelma’d traversed the fashion world from sequins to prison garb and now, thank goodness, back again.
Her lament,
“If ah had to do-it all over again,
What ah know now,
If ah’d knew-it then,
Ah’d fire up mah truck and head yer way,
Ah’d do it-all over again.”
Oh, what sweet strains of revenge and backwoods justice!
Just at the right moment, the banjo player’d break into his solo, followed by the fiddle, then the Dobro. Lastly it’s just Junior on his acoustic bass – then each taking eight bars. They’d trade off “fours” while Thelma slugged down a gulp or two of Jack and toasted each Drifting Tumbleeed as he played. Classic.
Poor ‘ol Festus, his momentary lapse of judgement out behind the town’s grain elevator with the nubile Daisy Mellen changed lives forever, ultimately ending his.
His sacrifice was my gain for without it, there’d be no lament across the airwaves by the dear Thelma. She was the real deal.

Autumn Leaves

November 17th, 2014

Not to get too picky, just trying to be helpful, I must report a jobs program that is having great success in merry old England. My friend, John Chaircaner, alerted me to this one. In the autumn of each year, around the grounds of the famed Westminster House of Commons, stepladders are posted near all the trees. Upon those stepladders stand women with arms extended and fingers at the nimble. What are they doing? Picking apples or other fall fruits? No, you silly person, they are engaged in the all-important task of preventative gardening. Their job is to pick each leaf off each tree BEFORE it disengages from the branch and crashes to the ground.
Professional leaf picker, Thelma Thorax, put it this way…
“Have you ever heard a leaf crash to the ground? It is most distressing and distracting to our lawmakers inside the Commons as they ponder how to maintain strict cuts to our renowned British dental care programs. Oak leaves are the worst!!”
Thelma continued picking for she knows the constables are on high alert…that if one – just one – leaf hits the ground, she is fined threepence. It goes up from there – doubling each time another falls. Pence to Quid, all the way to Pounds. It is a maddening existence. “But someone’s gotta do it, dearie…” she said.
“I’ve been well-trained. Timing and precision is essential.” As she extended her arm and stretched her fingertips for the last leaf on the end of the branch. She pinched it off in one deft motion; surgical precision at its finest.
That side of the tree completed, she scurried down the four rungs and deftly moved the ladder 90-degrees counterclockwise around the trunk.
Thelma continued, “When I got out of my Prep, I had no direction in life. I tried peddling various things over at Piccadilly, you know the usual apples, pencils and the like. I tried selling bootleg copies of BBC shows and fake Rolex’s. The faux Gucci purses left me starving and hopeless. Want a free purse? I got a lot of ‘em (she laughed).”
Her training? “One day I noted the tag on my teabag, there was an ad on it for the Royal Academy of Gardening, you know, just like you have on matchbooks over in the colonies. ‘Earn quick quid as a master leaf picker!’ it said. Having few alternatives, I called the toll-free number and here I am. Oh, it wasn’t instant or easy. My apprenticeship was three years – that’s a long time to live in their dorms and eat the daily rations of gruel. One cup of tea per day! It was tough but I survived. Each morning the barracks grew emptier as the weak ones packed it in but I persisted and this is my reward!”
She handed me down a stuffed canvas bag, “Pass me an empty, would you dearie?” I handed it up to her.
I took a few steps back, wanting (and needing) to visit the pub on the corner. I thought of the unemployment problems we had across the pond and began to wonder….
As I walked away, I heard that cockney voice muffled voice through the veil of her poorly concealed pride, “We’ve killed the leaf rake business.”

Voting

October 25th, 2014

The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits any United States citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex.
So, please make sure you are a consenting adult before you enter the voting booth.

Shopping at Sears

October 25th, 2014

Like to buy things but I am not nuts about shopping.
“See, grab, pay.” That is my motto for procurement of items. I might read online reviews and even consult our back issues of Consumer Reports for items of significant value so I usually don’t go into a store blindly.
But time constraints on consumer decision making are creeping into the mix.
Yesterday, we bought a microwave but returned it an hour later when we saw one we liked better at a nearby store. But that is not the issue at hand. What’s at issue is the paperwork spewed from the register during the checkout and return.
Checkout clerk, “Would you like to become a member of the Boapadon Club? If you do, you get 1400 points and ten dollars off this purchase. OMG! $10? 1400 points? That’s a lot of points…but then I wonder, what are the points worth? I know for a fact that the 12,876 points I earned over a year’s time at our local Skye-Rocket-Val-U-Grocery got me a free donut. A whole FREE donut!!
“All I need is your email address, your social security number and your checking account routing number”
I shrugged and agreed. Bells clanged, horns tooted, lights flashed!! A manager had to come over, insert his special key to the machine and present me with a membership certificate.
The checkout area immediately became like a ticker tape parade down the Avenue of the Americas. Yards of paper with bar codes began flying out of the machine as if I’d just won the big deal of the day at the casino. So now the pressure is really on because of all the wonderful offers that spewed forth!
Here is what I got:
• 12% my next purchase of power tools, lawn, garden or outdoor storage. It is good for the next seven (7) days!! On the back of the coupon, is a microprinted listing of all the exclusions, too numerous to mention.
• $16.99 Conventional Oil. Holy Toledo!! When I asked what that meant I was told it had to do with an oil change for our car. This one is good for an entire month! (I can get a cheaper oil change anytime I want a mile away at my car dealer).
• 25% off Lands’ End purchase; good for the next seven days.
• “Take $5 off shoes for the entire family!” during the coming week. Let’s see, a family of five…that would be $1 a pair. BFD!!
• $50 in points on cooking appliances for the next two weeks! (If I spend $499 or more. That is 10% – or less on items that are usually marked up exponentially. How generous! Good for two weeks.
• “Congratulations, you have $40 in surprise points on your next purchase of $200 or more!” Expires in one week.
• “$10 points for Sears paint or tools when you redeem your points” (during the coming seven days.
ALL THAT FOR SIMPLY BUYING A MICROWAVE, HAVING IT FESTER IN THE BOX IN THE CAR FOR AN HOUR AND THEN IT BEING RETURNED TO THE STORE!!

Gotta get busy and get back to the store to save more money!
Not.
How stupid do they think we are?

Yes! There IS a Symphony in Holland, Michigan

October 3rd, 2014

Hershey’s chocolate company has a Symphony bar but Holland, Michigan has a Symphony Orchestra! Both give great pleasure but the Holland Symphony comes without the calories.
Last Saturday evening’s performance at the DeWitt Performing Arts Center in Zeeland was met with enthusiasm by all in attendance – especially the touring feature performers, Genghis Barbie. One of the visiting performers remarked to Music Director and Conductor Johannes, Mueller-Stosch, “You have a REAL symphony orchestra here!” But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That piece of the program was second on the playbill.
The Overture to Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute opened the program. Breathtaking is an apt word to describe the technical excellence, balance, precision and dynamic range expressed that evening. This was one of Mozart’s final compositions and is an iconic example of the Classical era of serious music. There seemed to be an electric current emanating from the tip of Mueller-Stosch’s baton into the fingers and soul of each musician. As a result, he got exactly what he wanted. It could not have been played better. The bar had been set high for the evening.
Guest performers, Genghis Barbie, followed. The four young women carrying their French horns walked onto stage, they were dressed in the traditional basic black but that was as traditional as it got. The bells of their “axes” were done in bright colors. Edgy. Brassy (pun intended). They combine a rock and roll attitude with traditional classical music. The visuals were the perfect precursor to their performance. In the excitement of the moment, Genghis Barbie drove the tempo of Schumann’s “Konzertstuck for Four Horns and Orchestra” at a surprising pace for the orchestra and the orchestra matched them beat for beat! Not too shabby for our local, community-based orchestra. In fact our Holland Symphony’s expertise has transcended what any of us has a right to expect – but don’t feel guilty about that. The audience is joyfully accepting that right. The Symphony’s performances and artistic development continues on the upward curve and can now be favorably compared with regional and nationally known orchestras. It has been twenty-five years in development and this is a year of well-deserved celebration.
Genghis Barbie then surprised and delighted the audience with an encore of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah!” complete with a verse expertly sung by “Velvet” Barbie.
The second half of the program featured the Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. To this reviewer, the challenging aspects of this piece involved not only the notes and tempos (which were done with flawless expertise) but also the dynamic balance with woodwinds, brass, percussion and, of course, strings. Watching the tympani player alone, was akin to watching the inner workings of a Swiss watch. The orchestra achieved the Gestalt sound so characteristic of Beethoven orchestral pieces. It is hard to describe but to the trained ear, one knows when it’s there and it was there.
As the audience left, each was handed a full-size Hershey’s Symphony bar in celebration of the orchestra’s silver anniversary. Nice treat, indeed! But the best treat of all was the music for the evening.
To be thrilled by our Holland Symphony Orchestra, you don’t need a formal gown or tuxedo, drive an upscale car or be on Medicare. The music scene in Holland stands on a legacy that began a century ago. It is vibrant and extends from youth programs to private studios, colleges, universities and onto our local concert stages. The dedication of those involved is unparalleled and those of us who tune in to it are the real beneficiaries.

The Art of Being Human

September 29th, 2014

First day of Art Prize 2014 – Ford Museum. On this beautiful, warm, bordering on hot-in-the-sun autumn day the entire city of Grand Rapids came alive as it celebrated the “coming out” of creative abilities often hidden away in too many of us.
The electricity in the air was fueled by this amazing event called “Art Prize” with crowds drawn from all over to see and interact, each in his or her own way, with the finest of human creative achievement.
The fountain in front of the Ford Museum was a gathering place for many and for people-watching it was supreme. The jets of the fountain shot up a central spray 30 – 40 feet into the air. A very slight breeze sent a mist of cool around its perimeter.
Two young women, one pushing an empty stroller, approached. Their little boy, 14 months old or so, just beyond the controlled fall stage of learning to walk was toddling along. With little bursts of running, he was taking it all in. To a child his age, the entire world is opening before him. It can often be seen as a chaotic mass of wonder that he works very hard at organizing and understanding. His joys of discovery have not yet been tempered with the concept of fear. The energies in his young mind and body are working at full capacity.
They had just left the giant letters of “NOW” that were covered with clocks -perhaps that work is a statement of living in the moment. This little guy already has a PhD in that concept. He gets the idea without the art. For the rest of us, we need a little nudging from time to time and art helps.
Toddling along, he’d be suddenly fascinated with a pebble or cookie wrapper seen on the ground but at one point, he looked up and saw the spray of water shoot up into the air. He was instantly captivated. His eyes grew huge as he ran toward the fountain. Right up to its edge he went, jumping up and down with joy, he slapped his hands on the chest-high wall that kept him safely out of the reflecting pool.
Soon, he was delightfully distracted by something else, one of the artist/exhibitors was walking her dog nearby. He ran off to approach the dog. The three wandered off to take-in more of the day.
Just a few moments later a street person shuffle-staggered over. Through the haze of whatever was easing the pain of his life he slurred, “Please don’t be angry with me, but do you have any spare change?”
And there it was right before us in a short period of time and human experience – the full range of what life has to offer. One had the spark of living in this world just beginning to ignite while the other was desperately trying to keep it from dimming to black. Most of us live somewhere in the middle of that range and Art Prize is one of the wonderful things that draws us closer to the end of that spectrum where that little boy resides.

Saving Money

September 27th, 2014

In these days of belt tightening, it is always good to seek out great savings on our purchases. I am SO THANKFUL our friends at local retail clothing chains have received the urgent message of the consuming public.
Well-trained and carefully scripted Customer Satisfaction Associate Team Leaders (checkout clerks) excel at giving the proper corporate-speak as we dig through our wallets and purses for the right piece(s) of plastic to pay for our selections. That, in itself is a challenge with all our communication devices and bonus points cards we carry.
“One shirt $29.95” she reassuringly states as the barcode is swiped.
“One hooded sweatshirt, on sale for $42.00”
My endorphins begin to seep into my bloodstream or wherever they are supposed to go. As I have aged, they don’t seem to find their way to some places they once did. It‘d often get quite embarrassing.
Then comes the big payoff – time for the “Reveal” that the Checkout Clerk Training Film depicted in stop-action, slow-motion. The register tape rolls out of the machine. Our Customer Satisfaction Associate Team Leader turns it toward me and takes out a pen. With cheerful inflection and a pirouette of her wrist, she circles a number… “You saved $635.00 today!”
“Wowie!!” I think. “Holy Sha-mackrel!” I am overwrought with joy.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, sir.” She adds. Your shirt was originally $340.69 and your hoodie was (whatever the difference was but I have run out of toes to report the accurate number.)
“Wow! What a deal!! This must be one hell of a shirt!”
“It is the finest JC Penney has to offer.” Her tones are so affirming.
Those endorphins are now in the midst of a tidal wave throughout my system! This is the ultimate consumer Vicodin and (Medical, of course) marijuana, feel- good cocktail. Lots of buzz but no calories!
Never mind the plight of the less fortunate, the downtrodden and the chronically angry eyecandy experts on FOX News. Never mind my aching knees, those pesky back spasms and my personal heartbreak of flaky dandruff. I have saved a TON of bucks on these two items.
“Now we can really help our children!” I say, but first (I turn to Lovie) “Let’s go over to the Texas Roadhouse and grab us a steak or two!!”
“With all the trimmings…” she adds as she wraps her hands around my arm and leads me out the door to the car.