Thursday, November 29, 2007

Poll Cat

It is widely thought that I am a little strange. Not in a bad way, but in an amusing, friendly way. Let it never be said that I am not in touch with who I am.

Much has been made of the fact that the sense of smell is extremely powerful in its ability to evoke memory and emotion. That said, I hope you will read the entire piece before you dismiss me as completely nuts, especially in light of my next statement.

I am not averse to the occasional scent of skunk. You could even stretch it a little and say that I actually kind of like it. In small doses. Yeah, and now here I go, trying to justify my assertion.

When I was in fourth, fifth and sixth grades, our school building apparently attracted skunks when the weather would turn cool. They would get in under the building and either mark their territory a little bit, or get aggravated by the rats protecting their home. We would come to school in the morning, sometimes with a faint “bouquet d’Mustelidae” in the air. The school day would progress as usual, with no frantic calls to parents to evacuate because of a dangerous chemical release. Students and teachers alike would marinate all day in the perfume. There were no ill effects recorded. Olfactory fatigue was designed by our Creator for just such occasions.

Sometimes, a polecat would amble through the yard at our house, maybe startle and squirt a little, and then keep moving. One time my dad was forced to dispatch one with my .22 pellet gun, because it apparently got drunk and came in looking for trouble. I held the flashlight for the operation. We had a cat, and didn’t like the idea of her wearing eau de LePew for a week or more.

GranMommy’s house had her share of polecat visits as well. Most were only the passing odor of a shopper. But there was the implied excitement of the chance of Mike Barnett chasing it across the front yard with a broom. That only actually happened once, but the possibility of a repeat was always anticipated whenever we smelled that smell.

My cousin had a dog that would routinely challenge skunks, and would thus be banished for two weeks only to be able to return to the back porch pending a family review.

But overall, I suppose the scent of a skunk reminds me of the simpler times when it was possible for wildlife to interact with “civilized folks”, and when the worst thing that could happen was that you would forget some inconsequential factoid about Massachusetts on a Geography test.

So, true to the title, I am taking a poll. In the comments, please confess whether you are mortally offended by the smell of a skunk, or does it spark nostalgia. Those of you concerned with your credibility and “image” need not use your usual names…

If anyone else owns up, I’ll post an update.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Thanksgiving Play-by-Play

Sorry for the dearth of Thanksgiving posts at the height of the season. I didn’t want to have some half-baked standard post about Thanksgiving. I wanted to, ah, digest the whole experience.

Thursday dawned sometime at sunrise, and with it, the fevered preparation of “The Beans”. My wife always has “bean duty” at the major holidays. I am not sure if this was pre-determined or if she volunteers. But she does make some mean green beans. Usually more than fifteen people can reasonably eat, but she always thinks too much is still not quite enough.

There were three pies to bake; peach, cherry and pecan. No, not from scratch. But they still needed baking. There was also a ham that was to be heated and glazed. Sounds simple, and I can usually handle something like that. Usually. For some reason, I mis-read the timer and erroneously began the packaged glaze mix to boiling earlier than the instructions indicated. It worked up to a fine texture, but having started too soon, it rapidly took on the consistency of blown glass. Long brittle strings of it would trail from the spoon I was working it with, and before long it became a hard candy-like mass. It looked as though the only thing that was going to get glazed was the pan.

Finally, the ham reached the glazing point, and after a little bit of water and a frenzy of stirring, I broke loose a large percentage of the reconstituted glaze and drizzled it on the waiting spiral-cut ham.

After packing it all into the family hollowpoint bullet van, everyone was ready to go to the sister-in-law’s house for the family feast.

She had a gloriously baked turkey, signature sweet potatoes with gigantic-overflowing-toasty-melty marshmallows, macaroni casserole, and other enticing dishes all ready to be pounced upon by the waiting, drooling hordes. Well, I don’t know if anyone else was drooling, I certainly was. Her father-in-law and mother-in-law were there, along with her husband’s brother, his wife and daughter. Then my mother-in-law, my wife and trio of daughters. Then of course, the other residents of the house; Russell, her husband, the Aggie daughter and Junior-in-high-school son. I KNOW he was hungry. What seventeen year-old boy isn’t?

The meats, sides and salads were all excellent. As expected. The desserts were, as usual, a huge temptation. I was planning on stopping when I was satisfied, which I initially accomplished, to a certain extent. Then Russell’s dad goaded me into a contest involving lemon squares. We both won, just by playing, but since I ate more, I think I took Pops in the final count. Then the olives called me away from the inordinate amount of lemon-flavored sugar that I had just inhaled. I had scarcely recovered from that, when the pudding pie was unveiled. How could I let mere teenagers consume so elegant an offering?

I couldn’t.

Then the peach pie, after the “oh look, olives!” to battle the pudding pie. Ugh. I had been doing so well, and now I wished Walmart was open so I could go buy some BIG coveralls. Or elastic waistband sweatpants. Or a tarp.

I finally stopped somehow, and then the “girls” divided up the buffet for transport to other refrigerators. On one of the three trips to the van to load up the cargo bay, I realized that we were quite possibly bringing back more food than we brung.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

UDATE: Swap Day

Swap Day was a resounding success. If you don't count my inablilty to convert fractions to decimals (Math) or my lack of singing prowess (GIRLS Choir). Language Arts was good. There were words involved, and I can use them with a fair amount of facility.

Athletics was the best, though. All the parents of the kids in athletics were in the gym, and after some perfunctory stretching the coaches announced that we were going to be playing "Doctor". After the puzzled looks of all the old-timers, they clarified...DODGEBALL! NOW you're talkin', Coach! Unfortunately, when the room got divided into teams, most of the guys were on the other side of the line. My side had three men and about 40 women.

When the whislte blew, I lumbered out to the center line to grab some ammunition, along with all the other members of the over 35 set. I was ready, though, the men on the "bad guys" team started whipping the projectiles like they were trying to impress Nolan Ryan. Mixed in with the balls fired from aging arms were the lobs that could easily bean you with a marshmallow "pouf". Didn't matter, you were just as out.

I did get to sting one of the fellow geezers from "across the center line", and I caught one of the younger dads' offering. However, after being out with one clean hit from an old guy, I got out again when I tried to catch a soft-lobbed fluff ball launched by an older woman. I bobbled it. Dang, the indignity.

Overall though, the Swap day was a good thing. All of my daughter's teachers recognized the Swedish last name and instantly knew whose Dad I was. Every one of them commented on what a good student and a nice person my little gal is, and she is a joy to have in class. I just hope her math skills aren't as abysmal as mine, nor her singing as mal-toned as my croaking!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Swap Day

Allright, Tuesday is "Swap Day" at Alvin Jr. High, and since I have a student there, and I'm off from work, I get to go to the school. And there are rumours of tests. And Choir. Heaven help us all.

And in return, my seventh grade daughter has written a post for the blog. Swap indeed.

Sick As A Dog
On a beautiful Friday afternoon I was supposed to be at school. Instead I was cooped up at home home with a fever and cough. Now, my idea of staying home sick is laying in your bed or on the living room couch, but it was different that day.

I had just awakened from a nap and I was kind of hungry, so I decided to make myself some Ramen noodles. I had made my noodles and settled myself with a blanket on our recliner, when suddenly I heard my dog make a funny noise, then slightly after I heard her start making a smacking noise, but I ignored it because when she does that, she's usually cleaning herself.

After I had finished my bowl of soup, I slowly stood up and started for the sink but I stopped in disgust to find that the smacking sound that my dog had been making was actually the sound of her eating her own puke! I frantically put my bowl in the sink, and while doing so, I was yelling at her to stop, although I knew she wouldn't, I still hollered and ran to grab my cell phone. Quickly dialing my mom's number, I tried to avoid looking at the yellowish oatmeal looking gag, splatted on the carpet, and I blurted out quickly to my mom what the dog had done.

My mom sat laughing at me, because every time I would look at the puke I gagged. I had been on the verge of throwing up myself, so the thought of cleaning it up just about sent me over the edge. So to try to avoid it for awhile I sent the dog outside, grabbed what seemed to be thirty paper towels and set them over the vomit.

A few hours later my older sister came home from school, and asked me why there were paper towels were lying on the ground, I told her the whole story and right after the story she went and let the dog in. Duchess pranced her fluffy little self into the house and as Katie and I started talking about how our day went, little Duchess went and cleaned up the rest of the mess up herself. Katie stood up and walked over to the spot where Duchess was, and picked up the paper towels and the remainder of the vomit, I threw up a little in my mouth and came to the conclusion that I would have rather gone to school that day!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Camp Coffee

I made coffee this afternoon, not because I like it, because I needed it. I went down the hall to the industrial coffee maker and was just getting ready to load up the basket with crushed coffee fruit, when one of my fellow employees happened in. She is a young little sprite, hardly bigger than a mayfly, and very quiet. True to my nature, I engaged her in a little playful banter.

I held up the coffee bin and asked her, “How many scoops do we put in here? Nine?” Her shocked expression was priceless, so I perpetuated the hoax, “I going to make strong camp coffee, you know, the kind you have to strain through your moustache to drink, you’ll need to grow one real quick if you want a cup!”

She sidled out as inconspicuously as she could; it’s a small room and she knew that I had seen her, since I spoke directly to her. “Ha ha…” was her wide-eyed, half-smiled reply.

I proceeded to make the coffee correctly, four scoops. Not the tar that one of the secretaries that retired recently used to make.

When the water finished running through the basket and the brew was complete, I poured some into my cup. I couldn’t help noticing the grounds immediately. They were floating where only coffee and sugar were supposed to be. In a furtive and embarrassed sneak, I stole a glance into the basket. There, I spied the problem; the filter had fainted down from the side and allowed the grounds to escape down the hole and into the waiting carafe.

So, I had unwittingly fulfilled my own “prophesy”. There was a full 12 cup pot of coffee that Gabby Hayes would be proud to serve the cowpunchers around the chuck wagon.

This is NOT a picture of me. It's George "Gabby" Hayes, the crusty old camp cook from Roy Rogers movies.

I wear glasses.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Late For Work

I LIKE getting to work at least fifteen minutes before everything starts to spin up to speed. Back when it was just me, every day I was there a half hour early. But now that I take my daughter to school, I usually slide in at the last second, unless something goes wrong. Then my timetable is toast.

Nearly every day, it's one thing or another. One of the toughest jobs is to pry my daughter away from the flat iron to make her hair notoriously perfect in the morning. Not to mention how much explosive it takes prior to that just to roust her out of her overnight nest.

This morning was no different; we left the house after seven. Of course, the optimal time for leaving to get me to work a few minutes early is on or before 6:56 a.m. Almost never happens. Unless she has to go to tutoring or the early swim practice. Early swim practice commences at 0600. Tutoring at least by 0645. When she takes off for early class, I am free to get to work on time. It almost makes me giddy.

Today, being the garden variety c’mon-let’s-go-you’re-going-to-make-me-late-AGAIN-Daddy-leave-me
. The tensions eased a bit as we got on the road and looked at the beautiful fog and mist swirling along the fields and open spaces between the neighborhoods. The park beside the college looked like a watercolor.

All was well when, in a sudden blush of remembrance, she remembered that she left her orange wristband. Why was that a big deal? It was the “ticket” that allowed her to wear jeans this day and she was already dressed in denim. She got it for perfect attendance last week. It has her name on it and today’s date and everything.


Right then, I resigned myself to going back home, retrieving the permit, bringing it back, and then slithering into the office a half-hour late.

All because I didn't happen to have a school uniform to fit her there in the car, shame on me for my lack of preparedness. The things we do for our kids. When I finally arrived with the wristband, my girl was contrite and thankful. That helped.

Thus is the lot of dads; you get the chicken necks and backs, burnt pancakes and the run-back-home-to-get-something task.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Second Hand Smoke

Autumn is full of smells and sounds that spark the memories of a geezer, and any one of them can come up and be gone in less time than it takes to describe the recollection.

This was exactly the case when that truck locked up its brakes stopping at Preston and the Beltway feeder the other morning. Sitting at the light, I was enveloped in the white smoke that came off his tires. A familiar, frightening smell. But I like it. But it scares me. Mostly. Partly.

Perhaps it's just coupled with the crescendo of the squall that indicates lost traction on dry pavement multiplied by eight giant tires. The fenders acted as megaphones projecting the sound forward to the intersection where I sat perpendicular to the direction of the truck.

The volume and particular frequency elicit a fear response that is likely hard-wired in people. Like the sound of a great beast bellowing its disapproval for some puny human activity such as breathing.

This particular truck was bearing down on the light that I was waiting for to turn green. He finally decided (thankfully) that he couldn’t make the stale yellow light. The inconsequential car in next lane was stopping too, but didn’t have the inertia of 100,000 pounds behind him.

I became aware of all the action when I heard the brakes first lock. Faint and then building to the panic-inducing volume quick enough to let you know that you could be in trouble. By the time I actually turned my head, the smoke was beginning to pour off of the tires and I watched as he slid for about fifty feet to a stop. JUST behind the line. As the smoke swirled past the cab, the other cars and eventually my vehicle, the driver wore an expression of mild boredom. Happens every day. For all I know, it may happen at every intersection with this driver.

The acrid smoke filled my car (I had been driving with the windows down to enjoy the cool fall air) and reminded me all at once of every dump truck and tanker in Texas City when I worked during the summers of my college years. Looking back, there were a LOT of trucks locking up their brakes in that town in the late 1970s! And while I cannot count or remember specific incidents, I do know that I relived them all in just a few moments.

So don’t ever let anyone tell you that second hand smoke can’t kill you. It all depends on what is smoking, I guess. A small shot of adrenaline is always better than a cup of coffee to wake you up at the start of the day.

Friday, November 02, 2007


The first bite of a Whataburger is one of the unbeatable lunch sensations out there. Along with a big ol’ Dr Pepper, it is one of the simple pleasures that geezers have to savor and appreciate.

I experienced that today at lunch. The weather was very pleasant and I ate outside at the covered picnic table.

When I left the parking lot at the beginning of my lunch hour, I didn’t really know where I was going to end up. Nothing sounded good. You know how that goes. Then, somehow it came to me, “Go to Whataburger, it’s been a while…”. A fine idea.

The only down side to this trip was that the girl behind the counter sold me one of the “pun’kin” pies. It sounded good, and I heard the older voice-over fella in the ads in my head with his line about the “pun’kin pies…mmmmm, now there's that missin’ ‘m’ I was talkin’ about…”

So I ate my burger, as many fries as I could, and a big DP. I finished, mostly satisfied. Then, to my absolute horror, I happened a glance at the ticket taped to the outside of my bag. There, printed clearly “pumkin pie…¢99”. Dang it, there was nothing else in my bag. I was cheated out of a pun’kin pie.

You may have felt a “disturbance in the force”…probably sounded more like a stomach growl.

Thanks, Literate Readers

Well, it seems, after checking my SiteMeter, that yesterday was the hottest day in GeezerChronicles history. At least since I have had SiteMeter...

Thanks for reading. Heck, if this many people read, I don't much care if everybody comments or not. But that's not a license to "leave it to somebody else" to comment. Don't be a troll!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Also Spook Zarathustra

I saw it coming years ago. Halloween is a measured tightrope stretched between what we remember as fun and the risk of some sociopath killing us. There…I said it. Everybody else is thinking it, too.

The worst of it started in Deer Park in 1974 when that guy killed his son with cyanide in the giant pixie stix just to collect on the “giant” insurance policy he had taken out on him. Before then, we had heard of people putting razor blades in apples, but it was only urban legend cautionary tales to us. Up until that time it was a carefree night of safe (nearly), harmless (mostly) fun for kids (but not exclusively). We never used to have to tramp around with our parents riding drag, carrying four-cell flashlights and bottles of Gatorade.

Last night was the big night for all the children and would-been children. My youngest and her best friend decided to go as conjoined twins. Mine is blonde, slightly built, wears glasses, and her friend is brunette, slightly built, wears glasses. Mine wore dark slap sandals and the other twin wore white ones. Both sported gray capri sweats and they shared a single giant shirt that read “I’ve Got An Attitude”. Quite the creative solution. As a matter of fact, they got more comments last night than any other costume that we encountered in our foraging.

The other half of our little entourage consisted of my twin’s family; mother, father and year-old baby sister. The baby was in a tiny Dalmatian costume, and she was being pulled in her own custom wagon. She rode there about half of the time, the other half she was being carried by Dad, until the pain at the insertion of his bicep became unbearable. I know that pain well, as do any of the other dads who may be reading this. Sometimes it takes twenty minutes to be able to straighten your arm completely.

We waded through the tide of children dressed up like fairies and princesses and demons and storm troopers (Star Wars, not Nazi) and ninjas and werewolves and vampires and zombies and skeletons and Spiderman (men?),
regular and black, and pirates and witches and policewomen and firefighters and who-knows-what-else. As they all scrambled from one lighted and decorated porch to the next, phalanxes of parents inched their way down the streets and sidewalks clutching flashlights and younger children.

Of course, not all who were dressed up were in the pre-teen set. There were the ever-present adolescents dressed in slouchy cargo shorts and torn camo shirts stalking around looking for free treats. Of course, when they come to my house looking like that, I make them earn whatever treat they get. The doorbell rings, I open it, and slightly grinning teens simply shove their bags toward me. I just look at them, and finally ask, “What do you say…?”. “Uh, trickrtreet.” Very unconvincing. Then I make them say it with verve and pep, not like they are reading it off of a script in English class. When they comply, I give them candy.

We also encountered several “adults” who seemed to include Jack Daniels and Jim Beam in their Halloween entourage. One group of gypsies seemed pretty authentic, save for the bleached hair, cigarettes and Southeast Texas nasal twang. It appeared to me that there were some paper bags INSIDE their paper bags, if you know what I mean. They were older than me and I can only hope that they feel all right today.

The night ended fairly quickly, from my perspective. When I was little, we used to be out for HOURS, sometimes in good years, finding it necessary to make a stop at home to get a new Weingarten bag for more candy. And popcorn balls, caramel apples, oranges and yes, even raisins in the little boxes. Last night, I overheard one of the little spooks snort derisively, “Don’t go to THAT house, they’re trying to give away RAISINS!”. Greedy little candy elitists.

As we rolled toward home, I asked my co-dad what he thought Halloween would be like in twelve years, when his youngest is in junior high, like our twins are now. He replied, “She’ll probably be pulling ME in the wagon…”

Heck, I would’ve accepted a ride right then.