Kenny Smith | blog

Monday, July 31, 2006

The good people at ICDSoft -- with whom I'm starting my third year of business this week -- have just increased all of their customer's server space significantly. And by significantly I mean "This will take a long time to fill up."

If you're on the market for a web host, by the way, ICDSoft has been great to me with stability, tech support, speed and bang for the buck.

Previously the challenge had been to put as much stuff on the site as possible. Now there'll be archiving and uploading writ large.

That being said, I present the first of an irregular series of dances with your ears. The Mambo Podcast is developed exclusively for this site with big plans, music and concepts in store. Now we just need ideas. This one, for example, is a short story, a true-to-life anecdote that is better told than written. All in the dialect, you understand. Anyway, this first podcast (it may be too brief for even that name) was recorded at the end of a long day, but I have high hopes for the concept overall.

So, with nothing else to see here, go over to the Audio/Video page to hear the first ever Mambo Podcast.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Pretty low-key day, not bad for a sleepy summer Sunday. Had a noonish breakfast at Cracker Barrel, where we've now learned the valuable lesson: Just because you wait on my table doesn't give you the right to touch me.

The waitress comes to take the order and I've so wisely decided to put my right hand alongside my face, where she sees the pretty and shiny class ring. She playfully decides she wants to take it off and have it for her own, being that it is her birthstone. She doesn't want to look at it, or even share it, but to have it.

You know, in the right light, she might have resembled Gollum.

Anyway, I ordered the Maine blueberry pancakes with Maine blueberry syrup. It was packaged, of course, in California. Right there on the label. They could open a P.O. box in Bangor, just for the illusion, but no one even tries.

The guy that sat at the next table over was a friend of a friend in high school. Just moved back to the area that very week. Hadn't changed a bit, except for the four-year-old that was way too cute to be his. Nice guy, glad to see he's back and close to family once again. His daughter had the macaroni and cheese.

There was rain somewhere in the afternoon, just enough to be noticed as an afterthought. Less than three tenths of an inch, the National Weather Service says. Sure enough, things were a bit damp outdoors in the late afternoon.

We went for Mexican, taking Brooke and Wads to see the mariachi, where I caught the perfect moment between them. That look and her movement just made it the instant classic. She's smacking him around, playfully, but he probably deserved it.

When the mariachi made their way to us someone suggested The Devil Went Down to Georgia. As soon as you request this particular number at least three of the guys roll their eyes. They must prefer Rocky Top. The guy that sings the Charlie Daniel's favorite doesn't sing much else -- I'm certain now that whomever knows the most English words to the requested song sings, and he gets at least most of thes right -- you can hear the song in his clipped style.

The instrumentation is really the best part of the clip, bear in mind that the singer isn't amplied, he's just standing near my recorder. The instrumentation of every song they play typically overwhelms the vocals.

If you're more than two or three tables away you never hear the singing anyway, which just makes the trumpets a happy little chorus.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Somewhere there are pictures of me performing really poor dives and it may take a great deal of blackmail money to keep those from circulating. Taylor issued invites last night to the coolest place in a three-year-old's summer world, the local pool! There they have the coolest thing for marginally realistic adventurers, a one-meter board!

The Yankee, a gymnast and diver through college, showed off with neat flippy dives. I practiced making the board as springy as possible and jumping as hard and high as I could, before turning into over-rotated dives. My toes, however, stayed pointed. No one got hurt, but my feet are stiffening up already.

I tried to talk Taylor into jumping off the diving board with me, but she would not. She's a smart girl. Brian says he's still working on getting her to jump off the side. She also would not go down the slide, but when she is grown up and has goggles, she says, she's there.

A big storm moving in from the northwest chased us out of the pool. We headed south, reaching the interstate just before the rain, which wrapped around from the west and caught us just outside of town as we went from north to south. The storm stayed close, an inanimate stalker. If you stare at dark clouds in a rear view mirror long enough, you could come to that conclusion. That must be what cats and dogs think when the vacuum seems to go everywhere they go.

Ended up at Blockbuster to rent a DVD, but they're having a sale. For $20 bucks I got Anchorman, Batman Begins, Team America and the two disc collector's edition Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Got a good steak for even less. Suddenly I don't have to rent movies for a while.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Fridays, usually, have a built in window of downtime for me. If I'm not travelling, there's four hours to fill before people come together for Pie Day. Today that time built itself up, got sucked into the clouds and rained back out onto the city.

(It's official, we're in a drought: The news wires are running photos of this afternoon's rain.)

Took the Auburn pennant to Hobby Lobby for framing. You apparently can't be out of there quickly at all. That or I have exacting, demanding and unusual requests. Maybe this all works to explain why my last work order is now a week overdue. Good thing they do good work, that helps keeps the brand loyalty and goodwill dutifully high.

These guys are becoming friends, though. May as well, I'm spending enough time there. I know one has two children, but he seems impossibly young. Another has a thing for hockey and the habit of leaving his windows down just before it will rain. That happened to him today.

Maybe I'm wrong here, but if that happens to you once it doesn't happen to you a second time.

Since the rains came -- and that's been rare enough to bring everything in the store to a halt to marvel at the wetness of it all -- I got out of there at 4:45, which puts me there for an hour or more. Hobby Lobby is rapidly taking the place of Waffle House as being the place where time moves at a different speed from the rest of the world. That's what you get for building on holy ground, or over a wormhole, or whatever causes this.

We once ate at a Waffle House and left two hours later. One person at the table ordered a steak -- Three words I said that night, mad cow disease. -- but that was the most sophisticated dish. Shortly thereafter the Waffle House at Christmastime tradition was born; that reduced the number of visits and extending the length of my life, in more ways than one.

Anyway, I'd figured on swinging by a nearby antique store to hunt for more campaign buttons, but they were closed. Next week then. So Plan B is the bookstore, where I mentally groped for the desired author's name. Pride gave way to practicality, finally forcing me to ask the clerk. Making my request in a humbled and quiet voice, I braced for the snobbish smirk, but then realized that at the big chain, one out of every six people can't recall Mitch Albom's name.

So I finished The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I'd left off mid-way through the segment with his wife, which will remain my favorite. I was surprised a bit by the fifth person, but it didn't prompt the same reaction as many readers experienced. And, finally, the lesson to be learned was declared early in the story. The dedication, humble, unassuming and appropriately listed at the end, was the best part.

Stopped off at a big warehouse electronics store, and then another, unimpressed by the time wasting distractions they could offer. Decided to go to the barbeque joint for Pie Day early. Beat the rush, get your table early and avoid standing around for 20 minutes. Or, in our case, bypass the hostess entirely and let your favorite waiter seat you. In the right suit I could look conspicuous in a Fredo Corleone sort of way.

Naturally I get the seat outside under a slate gray sky. The rain remains my afternoon theme. I explain that rain on the whole group will not make me a hero, despite preventing them from having to stand in line. Ward assures me that he has a table picked out for me inside just in case. This is the kind of stroke I have in the barbeque place.

For the record, tonight Ward let my drink go dry tonight for the first time in memory. It only took having being outdoors while he worked all over the store, peering into the darkness through a tinted window and a styrofoam cup. That guy's slacking.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Nothing at all happened today. I came home and fell asleep on the sofa sometime during a Tony Snow briefing from the Press Room on C-SPAN.

Since the thermostat is turned way up, I woke up sweating at 10 p.m. and 79 degrees. I'd been sleeping on my arm. Hard. For a long time. My hand was buzzing, but it hurt so badly that my elbow didn't want to move. I'd cut off the circulation well enough that my hand was cold. Impressive, no?

I've watched Daily Show and Colbert Report and am flipping through the channels, so now I'm thinking of going to sleep properly.

Told you nothing had happened today.

If that goes well I'll have had 11 hours or so of sleep through the evening and the night. Wonder when that happened last?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Woke up to a staggering morning of meteorological proportions. Pumped my gas at the nearest Cheap, But Inconvenient Truck Stop and watched the sun burst through the clouds and over the trees.

My next stop was at the World's Largest, Yet Slowest 6 a.m. Retailer to pick up breakfast and lunch supplies. To the east the sun was stretching off the night and to the west the wet clouds were trying to decide what to do with their day. The result was that the parking lot held, for a few moments, a double rainbow. The whole rainbow wasn't there, no arches, no keystones of colored hues, just the two legs. It was as if the moisture were late for work and, dashing out the door, had left something important.

It did not rain the rest of the day.

Wal-Mart is an odd place in the 5 and 6 a.m. hours. Cynics, decrying the lines and narrow aisles, would say the place is as soulless as the empty buildings that used to house their mom and pop competitors. I've found the place to have a spirit at that time of morning. A sleepy one, but it's there. Groggy and slow, like that early morning trip to the kitchen for a sip of water. I'm certain I've been the only customer in there before. And I know I've heard old empty church buildings sigh and creak louder than the Wal-Mart gets at 5:45 in the morning. Not so much right now though. They're remodeling -- possibly to accommodate the new name I gave them two paragraphs ago -- so things are even slower and noisier.

I went antiquing at a big mega antique mall. Yes, want to meet the younger ladies, go to a grocery store in a college town. Want to meet the older ladies, hang out around the blue china. Can't go wrong. So I hear.

Since we're renaming things, that place would be more appropriately named The Store With a Few Antiques and Lots of Crap and Toys Subdivided by Lattice Panelling. Maybe they couldn't get all of that on the big sign out front. Maybe they should think to bring out some of that lattice and hang the new sign from there.

Or perhaps just a few small poles boldly thrusting the lattice work into the air. Throw a glowing neon sign up on the freeway, lobby the state tourism people to mention you in their next publication and sit back for the tourists, because they'd come. Oh, how they'd swarm.

People will come, Ray. They'll come to Gardendale for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn into the grey parking lot, not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. "Of course, we won't mind if you have a look around," you'll say. "It's only twenty dollars per person." They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it; for it is money they have and peace they lack.

Or, pieces of history. I don't know why this made me think of Field of Dreams, maybe I'm still dizzy from the lattice. Dizzy! I blame the creosote. They're probably doing all sort of things with it up there. All kinds of craziness goes on in Gardendale from what I hear.

I could not find any new political campaign buttons. Not true, there was one Wallace for Governor pin, but they were selling the old styrofoam boater's hat with it, and altogether it wasn't worth $10. There was an Adlai Stevenson button I may have to go back for. It was in a locked glass case and there was no one to open it.

I'm not doing this collection online, it would be easier, but not as fun. I just fouynd an auction for three Wallace buttons for three bucks that is very tempting, but the prowling aspect is the best part. The feeling of needing to scrub your hands really well as soon as you leave. Feels like going through the attic for toys at the grandparents. That's the best part of the activity of hunting the buttons. Hanging them in shadowboxes will be nice too, but the hunt is an entertaining diversion. That was the problem with this place today, I left and didn't feel like I needed a shower.

I drove up the road a half mile and found the actual intended store. "Closed because of the temperature" the sign said. Peering into the windows I could tell that this fall there will be a lot of musty prowling to be done.

OK, I caved. I bought the Wallace buttons.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

This weekend Birmingham had about three inches of rain. That brings us in line with the annual totals, but doesn't end the drought. Too much of it at one time just promotes runoff, so that's a wasted effort. Much better to have the same amount over time. Curiously, this is not an uncommon problem here. Agricultural people from other regions could look at the rainfall data for the state and say, "Oh my, you can grow anything there!" However, one must only look to the seasonal averages to know that the place is always out of whack in terms of when we get that luscious life-giving rain.

In 2001 I was working in a newsroom here when the city enacted fines for being irresponsibly using water during a drought (much, much worse than what we have as of this writing). The police scanners blew up. Everyone could not wait to rat out their neighbors. It was hilarious. The police had to come out and formally say, "Don't dial 911 for this, that's for emergencies. That you're monkey grass is burning up while your neighbors have their sprinklers on is not the sort of emergency we are interested in. Stop huffing the nitrogen pellets!"

That they can't quell violence -- and this has been a violent year thus far for Birmingham proper -- makes one ponder the sort of emergency they really are passionate about. (Initially I had a doughnut joke all lined up for this space, but Mac Thomason has pointed out the latest initiative.)

Wouldn't it be great, though, if people could come out and say that? Not just "We kindly ask that you keep the 911 lines free," but if the police chief swaggered out and said, "Look folks, this isn't going to work. Put down the phone and slowly back away from the doughnuts. Those are mine, and your watering worries are not! That's why we hire dog catchers or some such. I will NOT sic the bike cops on your neighbor's garden hose. No questions!" and then hitched up the belt and swaggered away from the microphone. That'd be great, and C-SPAN would have a huge hit on their hands. We'd soak that up like bad Tuesday night cable access programming.

The Smithsonian Magazine has arrived. Tonight I ventured out to Zaxby's for the ceremonial cajun club sandwich and reading of the magazine. Lately the publication has turned to more ecological concerns, which is fine, but one can get that most anywhere. Give me history and Americana. One of those is increasingly difficult to find -- sure, The History Channel puts out a magazine, but the inaccuracies fairly well glow in the slick pages -- and no one understands Americana like Smithsonian. Except maybe P.T. Barnum, and he's not writing a lot these days.

Winston Groom has a new book out, Patriotic Fire which details Andrew Jackson and the mysterious and cantankerous Jean Laffite during the Battle of New Orleans. I'm never sure why this period hasn't earned more historical gravity. Perhaps because it was in the South. Maybe because Jackson was able to deftly turn back the British in the one action, with that decisiveness (2,100 casualties for the British, eight dead Americans) being viewed as unimportance. Hardly so; had Jean Laffite and his men not fought for the cause the British would have swam up the Mississippi and the War of 1812 drastically changes the world. One does wonder if the treaty, already signed but unbeknownest to the players in the field, would have been honored if the results had differed.

But few care. It merely exists, the museum exhibit to be glossed over on the way to other telling pieces, like the Louisiana Purchase, or the advent of Mardi Gras.

Groom has likely written a fine book. The excerpt was very readable, if it did seem too annotated for any gripping and gritty details. I'm sure I'll have to add it to the list of books waiting to be read. Perhaps I should make some progress on the list of books to be read.

There's also a very nice spread in this edition of the magazine. Reader submitted photographs to marvel at and only slightly jealous about.

The sun was falling out of the sky as I headed out for dinner. I watched it following me briefly as it burned a treeline bright red before slipping behind it and beneath a cluttered little pleasure.

I should have stopped to take a photograph, I'd found the perfect place and the perfect angle to watch that great ball of combustion slide right through the pine and bath an old shed with the last gasp of the day's light, but I was hungry and in a hurry. Later, I made the mistake of driving home the same way. I'd by then sat in a restaurant and read for about an hour, the sun was long an afterthought and the stars were twinkling through the hazy night sky.

Growing just as steadily was the regret I had for not stopping for that picture. That moment comes most every day, if you time it just right, to capture the scene, but that moment slipped beneath the horizon and will get clogged in someone else's camera and lost to me before the sun blinds us from the east.

That isn't meant to sound melancholy, not at all, but rather the opposite. I lately have the good fortune to recognize it. That's not a burden, but an appreciation. You're pretty fortunate to recognize any of the good and fleeting things as they happen. Too often they exist only in memory, of which mine isn't that great. I think that's why there's usually so much to read here.

Related to nothing: Terry over at Possumblog chimes in on the Auburn pennant story. He's also an Auburn man and a history buff so I knew my find would be of interest to him. We did some research -- OK, he did some research and I read his links -- which he has helpfully compiled into a post on the name usage at Auburn. He's traced the University being referred to Auburn to at least the turn of the 20th Century, when it was still very much API, so that's very interesting. Go over and see what Terry uncovered, which enlightened the both of us on our alma mater.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Spent most of today catching up on things that would be of little interest to share. Some weeks start slow, but they always pick up.

The biggest highlight of the day isn't even worth writing about. Not to say that the day was bad, there's little joys everywhere of course, but it just wasn't a day that will stand out upon later review.

Some days have to move without moving you. It allows the chance for introspection.

Apropos of nothing, I ran across a college friend online the other day who's off living a life of adventure and good deeds. Fascinating, really. I admire people like that, who have a growing young career and put it on hold for a whim or a dream or a calling. I find that to be very courageous. The world is full of them and they often play critical and overlooked roles.

Meantime I live in my comfortable little world, filled with dozens of little simple joys, revel in life's ease and count my daily blessings. And have ribs for lunch on a Monday, talk to friends, compose letters, check my email a few more dozen times and stay up to late.

Not bad for a Monday.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Celebrated a three-year-old's birthday yesterday and held a five-day-old today. This has become a weekend of children and babies, and that's fine, except none of them did anything gross. So they come off as charming rather than as a cautionary tale.

At the adult side of the birthday party last night I was playing with a kid's xylophone and hammered out perhaps my first real musical creation: Frere Jacque. And in just a hair under 30 years, all of the musically gifted people I know will be so proud to hear this news.

Robert Quinn, the baby from today -- will one day be inclined to list Bobby as an alias, or perhaps put it in quote marks if he runs for office -- is a handsome little guy. He has a good name, unlike one of the campaign signs in his neighborhood, where a man who had the misfortune of being saddled with the last name Crooks had the ambition to run for the local Board of Education. Plank Number One in his platform: Less paperwork for official name changes.

Eight pounds and change is tiny and I could hold him all day. His parents, of course, still have him all swaddled up and he's a tiny squirming burrito. (Welcome to Moes!) He would start to fuss and cry, but I have learned a trick over the years about crying babies, and it works well enough to look like a suave baby handler. All the women in the room swoon, this is the power of my trick.

Bobby's left hand kept coming free of the swaddle while I was holding him, which was his biggest concern, but I discovered that if you hold his little hand he'd get quiet and show off his handsome little eyes. Bobby has a three-year-old brother. Blond hair, blue eyes, a playful little ham that's cute as can be. This house will be crawling with girls in a couple of years.

Bobby fell asleep on me, not a care in the world.

A side note: The preponderance of baby mentions on the blog the past two days is in no way to be construed as a hint about anything. I've merely been hanging out in the suburbian landscape with suburban friends doing suburban things.

And, since one needs to maintain the proper distance from such warm and fuzzy feelings, I'm considering Chuck E. Cheese for dinner.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Take 20 preschoolers, tell them they are going to a birthday party. Take them to a place with huge inflatable structures. Watch pure joy.

Today was the celebration of Sydney's third birthday.

Pump It Up is a pretty happening place. They give the kids a safety video, 90 minutes in the inflatable room (this one had four massive inflatables) and then 30 minutes in a separate room for cake and ice cream. Then all the kids leave giddy and exhausted. You don't have to clean your home. (Syd's parents liked that.)

The kids had a blast, all of them. It was worth it.

The adults had fun too.

Wonder who needed the post-party naps more?

Friday, July 21, 2006

During an extremely warm noon hour I decided it would be a good idea to get the oil changed. One of the service guys walks out to clean the windshield. After dousing the class he flips the washer over to use the squeegee. Before he can drag the little rubber strip across the windshield the sun has evaporated the cleaner. He tries again. And a third time. Finally after I pull into the shade, which isn't much cooler, he is able to complete his task. He was dedicated, but sometimes no amount of cleaner will wipe out the smudges.

I'm wiping my brow by then and another guy comes along and invites me to enjoy their air conditioned lobby. I had plans to go to Reed Books anyway, so I pass up the air conditioned lobby for the lightly fanned attic of a curious prowler's dreams.

Mr. Reed calls it The Museum of Fond Memories, which is an apt name. As you open the door you're greeted with tall stairs, an immense sense of old pulp and delightful clutter. The stairs are so tall he's put out Burma Shave -style signs sympathizing with your gasping for air, but encouraging you that "You're almost there."

I don't need to make it all the way up. What I want should be right there in the stairwell. And it's still there, likely unnoticed in the surrounding clutter. It's all emotionally torn on what it ultimately wants. On the one hand these books and posters and epherma are in a comfortable place they've known for a long while, on the other hand, there are better homes.

This particular piece has called out to me before. Once I even bothered to ask how much Mr. Reed wanted for it. The answer, about $60 if memory serves, was too much. That's why the piece is still hanging on the wall. Today, though, I'm taking it home.

Make it up the rest of the stairs, overhear Mr. Reed telling another customer that he'll be moving within a year or two. Imagine taking all your relatives and neighbors' attic clutter and putting it in one relatively organized place and then moving it several blocks across town. This will be a nightmare. I want to suggest a huge fire sale, but when he comes by to talk to me I ask him about my prize.

He doesn't know, but his colleague does. So I go ask him. "We have one? Uhh, five bucks."

He didn't get the 'S' out before I said I'll take it.

So for five bucks I picked up an Auburn pennant that he'd originally wanted for about $60.

Look again. There's something ancient and special about it. The pennant says Auburn, but it shows the old API seal. They changed that in 1959 a few months after the name changed officially to Auburn University. (Here's the modern seal, if you're curious.) So I'll estimate the pennant at 47 years old. I need someone to tell me when people started using the name Auburn, because that might indicate an even earlier date.

I bought that for five bucks, and soon it'll be matted and framed and on display. Everyone at work that's knowledgeable on the subject is now extremely jealous.

I also bought a Reagan-Bush 1980 campaign button to add to my collection. One buck. It was a good day.

Go see Mr. Reed, he's feeling generous.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

People at work are talking all about their latest video game habits. I'm about two consoles behind with no real ambition to catch up, but they keep mentioning Crimson Skies, which is a fun little alternative history airplane shooter game. The best of all the science fiction worlds. And the planes are flyable. Nice game all the way around.

Since I don't have Crimson Skies I have to make do with my poor little Playstation and Star Trek: Invasion. Despite my love of Star Trek and shooter games, I'm terrible at this one. Life and its many humbling ironies, as best as I can figure.

Being terrible at the game, I look up the cheat codes. Not terribly proud of this, but it is just a video game, and it clearly had to be done. How else could I roast Romulans in the hazy upper atmosphere of some planet that's probably not in the Star Trek universe. Internet! I have summoned your power!

And now I know my ship never explodes and one hit means one kill. So long as I don't shoot the wrong ship, I'll be a legendary Starfleet officer one day too.

Hey, even Kirk reprogrammed the simulator.

That should pretty much meet the site's quota of Trek/Shatner/Kobayashi Maru content for the week.

Dinner with the Wadsworths. Brooke made a delicious cheesey chicken light pasta dish. A fine summer meal. After dinner Brooke showed off her latest success story. On her last visit to The Gnu's Room she stumbled across sheet music to the original War Eagle. Because of copyright and legal issues this is extremely rare, up there in the Ain't Supposed to Happen range. Having been in the band Brooke new what she found, took it to the University's band director who was equally stunned. She's now framed it and hangs it on the wall.

Now I have to have my own unique artifact. I have a plan, but that's for tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Serious pyrotechnics at work today. We watched an air conditioner unit on the roof of the building across the street spark and blow. Sheet metal was flung into the air over there by the wind. About the time it fluttered back to the rooftop the rain really started coming down so hard that we couldn't see across our parking lot, let alone the street. No man is an island, but the Biscuit Buidling was covered in a shroud of preternatural gauze that does not belong in mid-July.

On the radar there'd been nothing. This was one of those cells for which we are famous. Something shifts up abobe us and we only realize it when our shoes get wet. And then we wonder about car windows.

This storm had hail. There was an impressive array of lightning. It also had rain, which has become such an oddity to us that pretty much the entire office gathered by the large windows to watch the monsoon. It's lightning kids! Come press your face against the glass!

That, by the way, would be a bad decision.

Someone joked of there being no grass cutting today. That is my joke, and I'm a little embarrassed that I tell it so much that it can now be told back to me. I'm embarrassed on the repetitive joke, not the nature of my yard, which is burned to a nice chex mix brown, thereby rendering needless any further precision trimming. Since we're in a drought I'm doing my part by not watering. I'm pretty conscientious about this particular method of conservation.

Brooke and Stephen came over tonight. He to borrow my printer, she to borrow my phone books. Where would they be without me? They wouldn't have financial aid forms and a list of potential hair stylists, for one.

This will now always remind me of the day last month when they moved in and one of the parents said "Get Kenny to help you with a garden hose." The instance response, of course, was They are long, green and hollow and you hook one end up to the house and water comes out the other end.

So very helpful.

Anyway, Stephen owes me a dollar. We printed on the good stock. Sixteen pages. They're treating me to dinner tomorrow night.

Fun links: The next Shatner? David Hasselhoff. What parts of that video strike you as ... odd?

If you're looking, here's a great TiVo deal.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Oh, but is it hot. Triple digit hot. Make your skin hurt hot. My face, this afternoon, was hurting. The heat was hurting the skin on my face, says the guy who isn't really impressed with heat until it gets up to 98. Says the guy who once remarked It was warm out there today, before doing the math and realizing he'd been playing golf with the heat index at 134.

It was not that today, but it was enough. One of the big sign thermometers blushed at 107. The official recorded high was 98. When you figure in the dew point the heat index is tempting 110, hence my face hurting.

Caught up with Justin and RaDonna this afternoon. Trying to talk them into a road trip. And now that I've mentioned it here they must go. You must go! RaDonna and I chatted for a long while and then Justin got home and we chatted about inane pop culture on television. I have a deep and profound respect for people possessing a great deal of trivial knowledge and a flair for the "Good and Terrible" types of entertainment. Justin is that person.

I miss them being around, but they had to "move" and "get a new job" and then "have a baby." So now I've hatched a devious plan to incorporate them into an upcoming weekend day. This may be the definition of adult. Oh sure we all have rent or mortgage or payments and lawns and bills and errands and responsibilities, but I feel confident that -- had I known them in college -- I could have said, Hey guys, we're going to Columbus! and the matter would be sealed.

Now they have to get babysitters ... and there's schedules ... and safety ... we turned around one day and recognized the responsibility, but it still does not seem to fit the face in the bathroom mirror. And if there's anything that horror movies have taught us, unrecognizable things in the bathroom mirror is never a good sign.

Never a good when you're outnumbered at the polls. More poll workers in place than voters today for the state runoffs. A few local races, the GOP lieutenant governor's race and the Republican nomination auditor round out the bland ballot. People just aren't going to show up for that, unfortunately. The counting machine said I was the 168th ballot processed at 4:30.

I've heard reports of polling places with a dozen people stopping in by mid-afternoon. The early returns look light too. We'll learn more over the next week of the actual numbers, but official estimates of turnout in the teens appears ambitious based on this anecdotal evidence.

For the record I predicted nine to 10 percent today. I wish that weren't the case, but most of the candidates didn't have to worry over a runoff, there's no pressing issue to consider and the candidates for lieutenant governor are as diluted as the office itself has become.

In related news: I voted for a Wallace today. He's losing and -- yeah, go ahead and call it, he's lost -- so the winning legacy of the family name will pretty much end with Junior. That's fine by me. I didn't have anything invested in that vote, as it was a vote against the other guy for purely personal reasons -- the bizareness of which made a vote for a Wallace as a Republican a reality.

Even casual observers of Alabama politics will appreciate that oddity. The end result is a vote for a Folsom in the fall. He's still a Democrat, and making a return to state politics after a long absence following his defeat in the gubernatorial race at the hands of Fob James who was making a return of his own at the time. James, it should be said, was running as a Republican in 1994. After having been a Democrat, a Republican advisor to Nixon and then a "born again Democrat."

Jack Williams, who was so gracious as to let me write my master's thesis on him this past spring, was the person who convinced Gov. James that he could run, and win, in 1994, but only as a Republican.

I thought all of this as I politely declined my "I voted" sticker. No one was there to see it anyway. And, besides, my face hurts.

Fun links Everyone knows Darth Vader, but have you met his brother, Chad Vader? He's a day shift manager at the supermarket. That's a great film and I hope Star Wars fans check it out. If you're more into Trek, here are some new original scripts.

Monday, July 17, 2006

I'm very popular. That's what we can take away from today. Everyone has wanted to talk to me. My step-dad. My mom. Two friends. My mom again. Another college buddy. I think I've spent all evening on the phone and part of the afternoon.

My ear hurts.

Could be worse. My head could hurt like this guy's.

Sorry there's not more here. It seems too hot lately for much than the minimum. We've definitely reached that point where you drink water where you can, because you don't know when the next sip will come from. I don't work outdoors, but I worry about those that do. There's been hotter, but this is a bit oppressive.

In other news: This is mid-July. And tomorrow should be even better.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

The third Sunday of July means homecoming at Whitehouse. I've never belonged to this church, but the singing draws me anyway. The singing draws more than 200 to a little white building in the middle of rural northwestern Alabama. This is today.

There are more people off to the sides. You can see they put folding chairs down the middle of the aisles. They also fill chairs in the two little nurseries off the front door. People stand in the foyer and more off in the annex where we eat a four-table potluck lunch.

It's an hour-and-a-half from my house, and there are more than a few that travel a greater distance. People have come from more than three states away to be a part of this, for the fellowship, to visit relative's graves and to sing. And they do sing.

The church of Christ is a capella. At singings like this song leaders from all over the region will come to lead a song. There is a roster, and between the morning singing and the actual singing itself the congregation will raise its voice for two-and-a-half hours in four part harmony.

If you've never been -- and you should go, if for nothing else than to hear it -- here are some brief chorus samples, accompanied by lyrics.

Sing and Be Happy (lyrics) - No choir. Just a song leader and sheet music for everyone. But we're just getting warmed up.

We'll Soon Be Done With Troubles and Trials (lyrics) - was written by the prolific song-writer Reverend Cleavant Derricks and is sung by pretty much ever protestant denomination as far as I can tell. Sounds the best in an old country church where troubles are humbly hidden by earnest smiles and hearty laughs. Someone, at the end of the song, says "That's good singing."

Our God, He Is Alive (lyrics) - For as long as I've been old enough to flip through the pages of a hymnal this has been my favorite song. Some are now more fun to sing, but this one sticks with me. The profound bass has always sounded so certain, and every phrase is emphatic, seeming to need an exclamation point. Prior to writing the song Dr. Aaron Dicus invented the turn signal and taught nuclear physics during the 1940s.

This is the part that amuses me every time I open a song book. Once upon a time, as a child, all the songs in the hymnal seemed so ancient. I loved the copyrights, and the mysterious names, which usually were only an initial for the first name. This song, though, often known 728B (which is no longer at 728B) was written in 1966. Even some of the truly old songs in the hymnal don't seem so old as I've grown up. That added distance of 20 years should count for something, but I suppose that's canceled out by a sense of history elsewhere.

I'll share an older song, aptly titled The New Song which is from about 1925. Just beautiful, and one of those where, as my uncle Tony says, you find a spot and hang on.

Kinda hard for me, since I don't sing with a soprano, alto, tenor or bass. I fake them all with varying degrees of convincingness. Any missed or flat notes you heard in here are likely me.

Which brings us to one of the happier sounds I know. Finding the tune after blowing into the pitch pipe. Always brings lifelong memories rushing back to the surface. Love that sound.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

There was a dive class scheduled for this afternoon. That got canceled when the teacher forgot to show up. That was pretty much the day. Everything else was nice and peaceful.

Since there was no diving class there was a milkshake instead. Ended up at Johnny Rocket's where I positively felt old, bragging about the waitress who was working on a broken foot.

The words "I know whippersnappers that could learn a lesson or two from you ... Now get me a cookies and cream milkshake."

That's really about all you need.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Slow and easy. Spent the late part of the afternoon today counting the minutes until an unexciting weekend. That, I do believe, is the best part of the week, those last 45 minutes or so before you're striding into the weekend. Not a lot on the slate, but that sounds like a fine adventure.

Came home before Pie Day, which is unusual. Typically I stay in town for the festivities, but I figured some mundane things could get accomplished at home.

Watched the ice cream man come by. A late evening swing through the neighborhood on a steamy July day just isn't fair for the parents. As soon as that music drifts into the neighborhood it becomes a race, parents hiding money and children finding them.

If you listen to that song closely you can hear the circada enjoying his day in an oak tree up the hill. He drowns out the sprinkler working over the yard across the way. The sounds of a summer evening.

Fun links: Darth Vader gets his.

My friend Greg knows the couple in this story. This guy is alternately extremely brave and extremely crazy. He's also got it made. Watch the whole video.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

This is the day when the crape myrtle begins to go unnoticed. The lesser blooms are thinning, wisps of the petals are snowing down on passersby. So constant now, they'll soon just be another tree locked in an eternal stretch for sunlight. If you stretched for that long your muscles would lock up too.

They'll last, crape myrtles are hardy things, but they're marking the peak of summer. It is opposite of our own pattern: the leaves are thickening in the crown and the white is disappearing. If only we knew their secret.

Great story in the paper today about a couple married on Friday the 13th. Today is their 50th anniversary:
On their first date they attended a fraternity dance, and they talked easily, Donna recalls. When her husband doesn't chime in on the first-date conversation, she glances across the sofa at him with an I've-got-your-number look. "You don't remember, do you?"

"I can't remember yesterday," he says, then laughs.
Those crazy kids, if they work really hard, they just might make it. I have a feeling about them.

Only 96 degrees today. Seemed like a good afternoon to walk around and photograph things. So to Bessemer I went.

Warm enough for an Eppo Ice Cream Bar. This is another one of those likely regional products that only exists in the back of people's minds today. Months from now someone will recall it, google it and come here looking to make an order. (Purchase your tasty and delicious Eppo's Ice Cream Bar here! Same great taste! Just like you remember!) They'll be wrong, and I'll be wrong for enticing them that way. Maybe they can tell us more about the product, though, as the internet is silenty on the frosty treat.

That ad is on the side of the building that was once my mother's business. In the picture you can see where her sign covered the old painted one. That sign was taken down when she left the storefront, a lawyer (with deeply tinted windows) haunts the place now. Safe to say that everyone will understand the word lawyer in half a century, but would would they think of the signage for a 1990s computer shop?

This deputy sheriff thinks rather highly of himself. On the opposite end of this spectrum, a county employee a few years ago adorned his county car with a bumper sticker that said "Work sucks, I'm going racing." That became a mantra around the office after it became the moment of angst du jour in local politics. This guy, moreover, just comes off as slightly vain, but with the ability to lock you up if you suggest that concept.

So I quickly snapped the photograph and moved on.

The county does a fine job of remembering historical places with markers. Each marker has a number that corresponds to a list, somewhere, but not online, unfortunately. So the historic details that bind together each building have become mysterious details buried under a generation of decay. As is the case with McLellan's. I know it was once a drug store, but not much more. The internet, save this one note, is coming up short here as well.

Across the way is the old United Textiles which is now making a living as a low-traffic arts, hobbies and collectibles store. This is really the moment frozen in amber of the place. A second chance at life, redeeming the cold antiseptic green tiles hung in years past when there was still a future in textiles in this part of the world. The imposing facade that says to all who enter: This is bigger than you.

Now the building looks crippled and forgotten. One car out front, one sparse tree as a nod to peaceful shade. Wicker furniture strewn about; it looks like a moving sale. Only nothing moves on this street. In the late afternoon of a business day that tree is all that's thriving. That cursive script hangs over it all, though it feels like its slipping. It is the bad falling sequence from an action/drama movie. If you visit next week and the letters are hanging at an angle you wouldn't be surprised.

Further down that same street is the Bank and Pawn: Allowing people to make questionable choices in occasionally dire circumstances since 1898. Over the years that full motto was shortened, of course. Awfully hard to get the entire scope of the joint on one business card. The city, by the way, was incorporated in 1889, so this place has pretty much seen it all, even if it is an empty shell now.

Directly across the street sits Bessmer Cornice Works, which did a lot of the decorative work on buildings throughout the area. Mr. William Long started the company in 1887, later opening a hardware store and merged with the competition, taking the name Long-Lewis. A few years later Mr. Long got into the horseless carriage racket, becoming one of the first Ford franchises.

Mr. Long's first automobile, the one that inspired his vision of the future, was destroy after it stalled on a railroad track. Chevy fans delight. Meanwhile, in the original version of this photograph the viewer can note that material is being hauled from this now closed building with a Toyota and a GMC.

Under that covered sidewalk is a little patch of cement that had to be repoured. One corner of a square had broken off badly, and so J.S. and J.H. created their own time capsule in 1944.

Those are bold initials for 1944. Historically we look back on this as a time of trepidation, but back home life, such as it was, had to go on. Who knows when in 1944 that cement was poured, were things in Europe well in hand or was a rumored invasion still a vague and ominous concern? Were J.S. and J.H. possible candidates to be shipped off to war? Whatever became of them? Their lasting legacy is surely greated than a little corner of cement, but remains unknown to us. That's why, I think, that these cement engravings hold such a mysterious charm for me.

Here's the back of a building that has been alternately a grocery and feed store (phone number 11!) and now specializes in medical transportation equipment. In between you could take care of all your buggy needs here. Buggies seem so cordial and inviting. Razor wire does not.

The old library will, one day, become the new library again. Currently it is housed in an old movie theater that needed the rescuing. The library needs it to, there are ambitious plans, but this could be one of those see-it-when-you-believe kind of projects. The wrought iron above the front door is as welcoming as wrought iron can be.

What covers the basement windows just above the ground is a different story. The message here is clear. "Mess with the window, you get staked. We'll push one of these through your thigh. Run away then, book boy."

Very patriotic, saw a nice flag. We could use that right about now.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

If the Chinese restaurant is empty when you walk in should you be concerned? And -- is it just me? -- should I be offended that they'd like to charge for water? Further, why could I once eat Chinese regularly now but it is now strictly a once-every-three-weeks proposition?

These are vexing questions to have over an eggroll.

Got to talk to Elisabeth today. We should make her unbusy so that this is more the norm than the exception, but that's one of the greater joys of life too, the people that reappear at precisely the right time.

I met Elisabeth on a trip to Washington D.C. in 2003. She's from Alabama but was studying law at the time. She's the never-met-a-stranger type, which explains our friendship I suppose. Elisabeth can connect with people in the most profoundly simplistic and important ways in no time at all. Even the most reticent are powerless against her charms.

As I looked through the Fodor's book for D.C. and lamented I have two more days and I want to see everything except for the Postal Museum and the National Building Museum I knew I'd found a fast friend when she said, "Actually the Building Museum is really neat."

We walked through Dupont Circle as the war in Iraq started. We laughed about Tractor Man and never managed to make it to the Jefferson Memorial. We've been making lists of things to do since then. When we're 104 we'll have nursing home rooms nearby, we'll work the crossword and show each other pictures of our families. It'll be great, even if I am gumming on a frozen dinner.

It isn't all of your friendships that you can plan on enduring for 80 years, but some deserve it. Makes you take better care of yourself too.

Pretty pictures: The moon made a pretty sight on Saturday night. It fell between the trees just enough to make you pull up short, even while on the search for dinner.

Nothing like an empty row of rocking chairs to give you optimism and fill you with melancholy in the same turn. No one's rocking, but everyone could be.

The one I chose had a flat spot on the right rocker.

Ever get the feeling that someone gets lost in your neighborhood a lot? This is an old apartment building on a sleepy street on the Southside. Here your pizza is always delivered fresh, the drivers and couriers of the world could see this from a low earth orbit if they were at the right angle.

Occasionally, and always while driving, the clouds have just a moment where they hang in the air and hold themselves up like a fresh painting. This never translates to the photograph, especially when you just point the camera out of the window and hope for the best.

For mental vacations I'm now suggesting Israel Kamakawiwo'ole. Have a listen, do like me and put it on a loop. You'll understand.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The baseball game with baseball ramifications is on and in the late innings I'm falling asleep on the sofa watching the American League trying to mount a comeback. Something's wrong here, and I refuse to believe the problem is mine. One of my stenographers should fire off a memo to the Commissioner:
Dear Bud,

Speed things up. Start this earlier in the night.

Do something; even your fans are abandoning you. We can only peer through the steroids for so long.

I look forward to seeing these and other changes next year.



P.S. Thanks for doing away the gaudy fake uniforms. Nice to know you're listening.
But I'm ahead of myself.

Went to an informational session on the Executive MBA program at Alabama this evening. Everyone has really great things to say about the program. People in the know outside of that little group rave about it as well. I left thinking that perhaps I could get the work done, but knowing I can't afford it.

Basically the skinny is that your traditional MBA is over four years, this is over 17 months. Top flight program, real world insight, high touch faculty and staff. Top 10 percent among all MBA programs. Its a valuable place, and the return on your investment is reputedly immense.

See? I already talk like I have this degree.

Thing of it is that the tuition is more than I make in a year, so it is a little out of my price range at the moment. That's fine, I probably could use the break from finishing one program before going into another. Perhaps in a year or two. Liked their stats though; apparently only one percent of the nation has an MBA. Meanwhile, the Census report shows only six percent have a master's of any kind, so I'm extremely fortunate already. If I got another I'd be smugly full of myself for sure.

And then no one would know what to do with me.

Left there and cruised around downtown before finding a good spot to watch the sun dip its way into the bowl of Birmingham. The big ball of yellow turned orange with age and then blushed red before hiding behind thin tendrils of clouds. Finally it slide down the back of the western hills, bringing a soft grey sky for a warm summer night.

For my mother: Here's the closest use of my name and the University of Alabama she's ever seen.

Maybe she'll like the way that looks enough to pay for it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Wallace State does not have very good t-shirts. I collect them, small schools finest glowing advertisements on ash grey fabric, just the name only. My nod to Cosby wearing sweatshirts of historically black colleges on his television show. I have no show. I only have one HBC shirt. I only have sweatshirts from my alma mater. I have none from Wallace, simply because they all said "Community College." I'd envisioned one that simply said Wallace State in big bold blue letters, so I left the campus bookstore and the off-campus bookstore -- named The Other Bookstore -- empty handed.

Just as well, I need to make room in the closet before continuing this silly accumulation.

Thought about adding to my other fledgling collection of campaign buttons, but couldn't find an antique store open between Hanceville and Cullman.

I was north of the city to visit Kelly, where we met up for our semi-irregular dinner and gabfest.

She has a convertible now, which she let me drive. Sadly I didn't photograph any of that. I was blinded by the wind in my hair and the bug in my eye. The sultry pictures with the top down will have to come next time I suppose.

The gabfest was at a place called All Steak Restaurant (Motto: Where not everything is steak, and good luck getting a refill.) We sat on the fourth floor of this building overlooking all that is the grandeur of Cullman. This is where the powerful come to plot the fate of their fair city. Perhaps the powerful can get a refill, perhaps that's what makes them powerful.

If that's the measuring stick for power, then I've got superhero skills at most restaurants, but the orange rolls are my kryptonite. Shame, really, the orange rolls were terrific.

It was during the gabfest that I realized that my life is blessed with good listeners. I just hope they're not cursed with bad things to hear about.

Rained at the end of the evening, just enough to interrupt a few nice night photographs I'd planned. Dried up just in time for the interstate, and an uneventful trip home.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

More SCUBA stuff this afternoon. This time classroom conversations about underwater navigation. I won't bore you with the classroom stuff. It will be enough to say that when we're done here I'll know enough to have a few new ideas and just be a little dangerous.

There were swimming plans, but that was a wash, so a sandwich and World Cup instead. Saw the last 30 minutes of regulation. Never did see the two goals, though I know one was on a PK.

Watching highlights.

I did see Zinadine Zidane lose it and crack this guy's sternum.

That's a shame, really, that Zidane did that. This was his last match and this is the legacy one of the truly brilliant players of a generation will leave. There's more to the story, like what prompted it, how the (well deserved) red card got used and more. I'm sure that'll all come out this coming week.

More importantly it gave the game away. Zidane practically lost the World Cup for France. As soon as he was sent off and it became 11-v-10 France had to play for PKs. When it came to that three of their top choices (Henry, Ribery and Zidane) were off the pitch and ineligible. Poor Trezeguet, who just flat out missed, may not have even taken a shot.

So the Azurri win, even as scandal rages in their professional league at home. The Americans will point to the match they had against the Italians in group play as a beacon of hope for a badly out of whack program and we'll all wait for South Africa in 2010.

If you've made it through this far despite my World Cup watching, congratulations. Since I live in the States and no one will carry a soccer match at a reasonable time of day here you won't have to read about it on the site for another four years.

College football's starting in 55 days, though.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

There's this ship called the Oriskany, she served valiantly in Korea and in Vietnam. Now she's just started her most recent, and last tour, serving as the world's largest artificial reef. I intend to dive this one day. Likely not this first season, but next spring, I'll be in the water.

To do so, however, you need an advanced certification. Since I should have done that years ago, I'm doing it now with The Yankee, who is just doing it to go swimming I think. Classes start today, where we get wet at Blue Water.

The quarry is warming up; that's the good news. The spring-fed water is cold until late July, (as noted here and here) but is currently about 72 in the warm spots. That's still pretty chilly in the cooler thermoclines, but tolerable with a wetsuit.

Advanced is basically all about navigation, which is good since I am pretty poor at that in an aquatic sense. Today we steered around with the compass. You could almost cheat in Blue Water, for a change, because the visibility was 15 to 20 feet. First The Yankee had to go out on a heading and steer us back. Then I had to go out and steer us around in a square and bring us back. Then she had to take a heading and then swim blind before correcting with the compass. We did that out to the center and then back. Each time we somehow managed to come up within a few yards of our starting point, which is ideal. How we managed to do that I don't know, my compass wasn't the most cooperative thing in the world.

We learned about lift bags, which I don't know that I'll ever have use for, but the practice was fun. You tie the bag off to the object that will be lifted from the bottom, inflate the bag with air from your tank just enough to slowly begin the lift.

As the bag rises Boyle's Law takes over, less pressure means more volume equalling more pulling power in this case. A delicate hand removes some of the air in small bursts so the bag and its cargo don't get away from you, accelrating to the surface. If you're lifting at a serious depth, or are overfilled, the bag will dolphin at the surface, flipping over and then coming back down toward your head.

Pretty simple stuff, really. Little efforts like that are fun because the dive becomes more than soaring over reefs, swimming through coral valleys and playing with fish. It becomes more of a task accomplished.

One day a Navy diver will run across this post and laugh at that. Just for you, sailor.

Later: We decided to shoot fireworks tonight. Picked a road that has some sort of light industry distribution center and nothing else. Though kids drive up the end of the road to go park now. They kept driving through, as Brooke and Wads joined us for the festivities. The location was good because there are few houses around.

We made lots of noise.

Lots of pretty colors as well.

The fan favorites were the flaming parachute, with which we almost burned down a shrub, and the killer bees. Your firearms are useless against them.

And now, the death defying, one-handed flaming cartwheel.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Fridays, lately, have turned into days of near exhaustion. Not sure why. I don't do anything abnormal on Thursdays and my week is hardly taxing. Come Friday afternoon, though, and I'm ready for the quiet of Saturday. Some Saturdays even comply with that wish.

If this sounds bad it should be said that I wouldn't change much of anything right now, except maybe add another two hours to the day for napping purposes. But, who are we kidding, there'd be something to creep in on that time. This, I think, is how we've evolved from the original calendar day to the 24-hour variety we currently live in. The Mayans are said to have a better calendar. There seems to be some dispute about that, but they did invent "Zero" which drives some people into fits of groupie fanaticism. It is this group of people of whom the question should be asked, "You lack a certain social skill, doncha?"

I'm tired, and this is how I found myself falling asleep at K-Mart. I'd left work to run some errands, balked on one of them and followed through on the other.

I need a haircut, but there's something about getting that done when I'm sleepy that makes me fussy. You know the feeling. The next thing you know the guy's jabbed you in the ear with his scissors, we're slinging around the blue comb liquid stuff and you've modified those curler things intended for perm customers into multi-colored missiles. It isn't a pretty site.

Best to get the haircut when you're hyper, in case the person wielding the sharp implements feels chatty.

Anyway, no to the haircut, but yes to the picture errand, where I do, in fact, run into the chatty guy who works with glass, tape and straight edge razors all day. To him it was important that I understand his office's politics -- which really drives home the pointlessness of most office politics, to whom do they matter? -- and his athletic allegiances. It was all really thrilling in an "I can't wait to go to K-Mart and fall asleep in their furniture section" sort of way.

So I did, only I did not. K-Mart, as a time-killing technique, still has a bit of punch behind it which is bested only by the intercom system blasting urban top 40. K-Mart's are low traffic, so lounging on the furniture isn't much of an impedment to anyone. (I know, I could use my time wisely and go for culture, but I went for the futon. It's been hot outside recently, got me some slack.) Several people have done this lately judging by the books and magazines on the furniture. Or no one has been in furniture since 1978, as evidenced by the publication date on the hunting magazine.

So that left me alone to read, for which I'd chosen the brisk, charming and light Five People You Meet in Heaven. Mitch Albom is a journalist. He's got a soft side. I've read Tuesdays of course and the first chapter of this book. Now would be the time to finish it. So for the next hour and change I do so, getting all the way up to the end of Marguerite, the fourth person. At this point in the story it is time for Pie Day, leaving Eddie Maintenance in a week's more suspense.

(No spoilers please!)

There could be a nice warm finish to the book, and I'm still trying to guess who Number Five is going to be, beyond the obvious choice or two. More fun is guessing at my own parallels.

But who has time for that when there's Pie in your immediate future?

Some people, at gatherings with friends, tell dirty jokes. We write notes to one another in crayon on cocktail napkins. Some people tell dirty jokes on the cocktail napkins. They get the instant kharma of the "English as a second language" server.

Taylor, at three, has now made the Friday --> Pie Day connection. She likes pie just like everyone else, only she eats the cream topping, leaving the pie portion for others. It works.

Pretty soon she'll be making the "I get toys on that day" connection. This time she got a Strawberry Shortcake ball, which we kicked around in the parking lot, and which I only put in the road one time. It looked like a sloppy play, or a careless move on my part, but really I was teaching her the importance of road safety. That's my rationale at least. Judging by her reaction when the ball had to be fetched from the road we must say the lesson is well-learned.

Thursday, July 6, 2006

Once again I've shocked the neighbors and mowed the lawn. Three-quarters of it anyway. No one came out to gawk, so it could be that they were merely stunned as they returned home to the neighborhood for the evening. I expect polite applause the next time we all make eye contact.

My grass doesn't grow very high. First the species of grass just doesn't have that sort of ambition (of which I am thankful). Now that we're in July there's not enough rain to promote any serious weed growth. After today's trimming it will likely all be burned up by tomorrow.

There are only two small areas that scheme to create an unsightly appearance, and they both just happen to be right at the road and right where the property meets the neighboring yards. So when those two areas become noticeable the rest of the yard still looks fairly respectable. These two areas have grown and, lately, I haven't made it home with any sunlight left in the yard. The western border if guarded by several imposing oak trees. After 4 p.m. the yard is cast in shadow, while the sun will stay around until 8 p.m. Solar timing dilemmas, I've got it bad, no?

Anyway, finished the yard up, got cleaned up and went to visit Brooke and Stephen. Or just Brooke. He wasn't there. We chatted -- and I love this about Brooke as I do my grandparents -- we sat at the kitchen table and talked about things.

Before long Stephen returned home, they made me stay for dinner. Made me. I tried to leave, they wouldn't hear of it. (Despite the feigned machination, I'm going to like this friendly neighborhood kitchen crashing routine.) Stephen and I spontaneously decided to head out for a banana pudding dessert, so to Dreamland we went.

So, yeah, remind me to not complain about gas prices below three dollars, particularly if I'm willing to drive 20 minutes for pudding.

The talk of politics and football and ambition and cultural and societal norms and media effects were worth the trip. I have smart friends, sometimes they let me listen to them think out loud. Sometimes I make them suffer through the same. He suffered through for the pudding; I bought his since I'd contributed nothing to a tasty dinner.

Back on my side of town we stopped at the local grocery store to get a candy bar for Brooke. She stayed home because she doesn't like banana pudding, which has to be a red flag of some sort. Two minutes later I'm back in the same grocery store and the cashier gave me the "Haven't I seen you already today?" look.

This is confusing for a nice lady who always greets everyone like you've been best of friends for years. You're not a face in the crowd at her register, you're just stopping in since you hadn't visited in a few days. She's probably a young grandmother, and if I didn't have such wonderful grandmothers I would choose the grocery store cashier lady. Though now I've completely ruined her late-night shift, first hunting a candy bar and then moments later buying nutritious things.

There is seemingly no end to the contradiction.

Fun links: The Japanese really fooled us, here's the proof! Et, tu Bill? Shatner does Shakespeare. As a rap.

A friendly blogger -- not your friend, not my friend, but our friend -- posted a shocking (I feel shocked!) story and insisted that I post it too. Since he's got all the details I'll just point you to the incomparable Jerry Katz for the story. I suspect a follow-up story is in the works.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Not much happened today. That was by design. We'll call it the mid-week reward of laziness. Did watch the France-Portugal 1-0 game. That went about as expected, right down to the catnap late in the second half.

Pretty pictures: I mentioned the anniversary of the Eisenhower Interstate System last week. Occasionally I'll see a sign designating the roadways, but not nearly often enough, such an important and successful program should be noted more often. This is the first one I'd ever seen, surprisingly still standing after 20 years.

Speaking of interstates ... I noticed this on the freeway a week or so ago and yesterday, with little holiday traffic, was the perfect opportunity to steal a quick picture. In 2000 it was estimated that more than 555,000 pass through the downtown junction each day -- with 163,000 going this particular direction. All those people, but only one porta-potty.

In between the brief drizzles yesterday I snuck out for a few pictures. Here's a vine, because it was there.

Scans: What seems like a lifetime ago right about now, there was a stop at OK Cafe for a quick bite to eat. The schtick was decidedly throwback, the waitresses all wore their hair up in those little hats which have no doubt lost their identity today. The food was pretty good, but the lasting memory remains taking pictures of their signs outside. For some reason I walked out of the cafe with an odd little memento. The reason, now forgotten, has been replaced by the warm feeling of rediscovery today. The clean lines, the sunny disposition and the tasty contents all brought a shine to the afternoon.

Read this. Very ominous, those messages in small print on the back of packages. Care to guess what it held?

Now that your curiosity has gotten the better of you ... No! You don't say.

Tuesday, July 4, 2006

Happy Birthday America! Best one yet, and many more!

Slowest. (Work) Day. Ever.

Two of us at work by mid-morning, because we're that dedicated to our craft. We're pretty dedicated to the art too, but if I include that directly this becomes a note about Summer Camp. "Kenny is extremely dedicated to his arts and crafts!" That's the sort of sentence that will stigmatize you through high school if it falls into the wrong hands. Children are scorned and beaten up by their peers for less.

I'm just saying.

I brought and shared watermelon. We watched World Cup. I stayed late after work so I wouldn't miss the end of the Italy-Germany match, and my patience was rewarded 2-0, with both goals coming in the last two minutes of overtime. The upstart Germans are done, the Italians move to the finals over the weekend. The Americans will begin to spin it as how we were the only team in the tournament to give them a challenge. In fact no other team even scored on the Italians leading to the final match. We Americans will gloss over the fact that the lone mark sullying the Italians tournament was an own goal.

An aside: I'll just say this about the North Korean missile tests today. Normally I wouldn't comment on such here, but a local issue has brought the matter close to home.

The 604th Battalion of the 803rd Division of the 22nd Rugrats Army is conducting tests of their own near my home. Their rockets are flying for a great distance than the North Koreans. Kids. Shooting bottle rockets on steroids. In the rain.

They then went inside and ate better than the entire North Korean people, and that's the real tragedy here. How much grain did the proud people do without for this worldwide attention and coming condemnation? Otherwise, the ballistics tests aren't too impressive. Go be ronrey Kim Jong Il.

It did rain, just as I was putting charcoal in the grill. With such a manly humbling now in place -- a nice cool sprinkle delaying the fire (but not the kids' fireworks) -- we'll introduce the newest irregular feature on the site. One with perpetually unrealized potential.

And I'll say that this has been a bad television idea of mine for several years now. A half hour food show, Cooking the Bachelor Way. Each show starts with some semi-humorous method of just making the kitchen deliberately messy. We just go ahead and get that out of the way.

The show'd only have to be a half hour because the bachelor method of cooking wouldn't be so involved as some of the finer shows. The kitchen would not be complete, and needless to say, the pantry and fridge would be understocked. Playing it for laughs, the host has to still make something reasonably edible, and something that the bachelor would conceivably make himself.

So, tonight, was a T-bone over the grill. Nothing says the birth of our nation like carcinogens and undercooked beef! God Bless America!

First, we'll start with the marinade. Today I stepped out from behind the usual marinade and went with whatever I could grab. The lineup, minus the sweet water and the garlic cloves coarsely ground. Let the steak soak -- and, because of the rain, about 90 minutes longer than intended, so about six hours total.

Fire the grill. Inhale a lot of smoke and heat. Shuck, silk and re-cover the corn on the cob. Wrap in aluminum foil. Throw them on the grill for 30 minutes, turning regularly.

Throw on the steak. Get rained on. Flip steak a few times. Undercook it, and then scare it, threaten to overcook it. (I've always found that it is best to intimidate the sizzling hunk of meat preparing itself above smoldering coals.)

Remove the steak to taste, leaving the corn on to finish. Go inside and eat big chunks of beef directly from the bone.

Listen, this particular marinade wasn't even good. (Remember, the concept of the fictional television show is cooking for inept bachelors. We assume the same about their grilling technique.) This marinade was average, but if you're putting sauce on your steak you've done something wrong and you may as well go lob some missiles into the Sea of Japan.

Monday, July 3, 2006

This place is about 15 minutes shy of rigor mortis. Sure it is Monday, but July the 3rd may as well be the day after the Rapture. Traffic was non existent on the drive in. Saying there was a skeleton crew at the office would be offensive to skeletons. It was a very quiet day, and I managed to escape an hour early thanks to a generous offer from the boss.

Even the sun didn't seem to care too much for the day. "Third day of a four day weekend, brah," the big ball of fusion in the sky seemed to say.

I believe that might be the first sunrise picture with the new camera. All of its cool sophistication and swanky buttons and nobs to play with discourage hanging outside of the window while driving down the interstate. There are only so many times that you need to see the same mini-skyline in a photograph anyway.

I decided, early on today, that my ambition had left me as well. Too hot to mow the lawn went the rationalization. Later in the week it looks to be down in the 80s. Thursday seemed better somehow.

Much more fun was going to pick up fireworks. I spotted one of the temporary trailers in the neighborhood a few days ago and walked in this afternoon to an empty building filled with flammable dreams and gunpowder. One guy was working the afternoon shift. He was a very round man. Not overly overweight, but round. Round head, round face, round beard, round speech. He was symmetrical with himself, which we all hope to be by that point in life, I'm sure.

He runs the location for Crazy Bill (Yes, there is a Bill: Here's his day job). Says there's no money in fireworks if you work for yourself. "What you don't sell you eat," which is the same in any business with an inventory, working for the big boy (Crazy Bill's has something like 85 percent of the state's market) you just turn in what is left over. We're talking about the average customer, he said, dropping $200-300 dollars. That's a brisk business, even if it does only give you a few nights a year.

These little trailers spring up just before the Fourth and just before New Year's in gas station parking lots and empty fields on heavy volume roads every year. Despite the constant fear of someone exploding something indoors they are actually putting a few dollars into the trailers. This one had air conditioning and carpet. I remember them being less of a place to linger as a child. Though this one was empty this afternoon, that helps. As the actual holiday gets closer they are packed out the back, with one door being the entrance, the opposite end having the exit and the people in the middle elbowing for room.

I am a cheapskate, though. The very round man told me that they'll have a sale of whatever small things are still around on Wednesday. That after closing at midnight tonight and turning no one away Tuesday. It is this sort of attitude that I have to thank for the concussion grenades going off up and down the street into the wee hours of the fifth of July. One year I'll go out there and bore them indoors with historical facts.

Now look, I'll say, I know the bikini was introduced on the fifth and Elvis recorded "That's Alright Mama," but we don't go shooting Black Cats for those!

Though maybe we should. I'll be back on Wednesday for more to round out the weekend's pyrotechnics. We'll go find some abandoned service road away from too many houses and do Chinese experiments with modern chemistry. That's America to me.

As I left the lawn procrastination got another boost. The rain started dripping down in tantalizing little sprinkles. It had all but stopped by the time I made the three mile drive home. The thunder started about that time though, and I'm not really a big proponent of riding a largely metal thing unprotected in a lightning storm. Discretion is the better part of lawn maintenance, I always say.

Sunday, July 2, 2006

No World Cup soccer today. I must find something else to do to amuse myself in 90 minute increments. Shaded picnic oh-wow-is-it-hot-out sandwiches then.

When sitting in the shade and eating a soft bread makes you sweat, there's no escaping the fact that you're in July and the sun is a whopping 16 miles away from your face.

Hey, I love the summers and the warmth. I look forward to mowing the lawn in 95-plus (I ride) and jogging on long, flat surfaces (in the shade). I don't mind the summer weather at all, I'm merely pointing out that even clouds have rolled over in the classic "Oh what's use?" pose and no longer filter the sun, but rather provide another layer to bake us in.

The autumn is glorious, the winter is mild, the spring magnificent, the summer gives us the test drive on afterlife options. This may be the reason the South is such a churchly part of the country. We know. We know and we've had enough, thank you. We want the afterlife model that has A/C standard, thanks. The heat index punched us up just over 100 today. I'll take the spiritual anti-lock brakes as well, if I can, please.

So one of the more obvious answers for an afternoon like this would be hours spent inside a cool dark room taking in all that Hollywood magic. Superman Returns:
Good movie. Spacey is great, Routh is a serviceable Kent, shorts Superman.
Maybe I'm too old now for this to take on some iconic meaning for me. Perhaps that "When I was your age" retread is in place here. The Man of Steel, in my mind, has been in place for two decades, and is inflexible as, well, steel. Brandon Routh has a freakishly similar sound to Christopher Reeve in places, though.

Maybe my biggest beef is that the film was shot in Australia. You'll see it on the radio at the beginning and on Lois Lane's cigarettes.

The people who see this movie through a political prism will grind on about how Superman saves us from small timers and the abominable Lex Luthor rather than modern day terrorists. Jor-El said something about that in his instructions to his son -- which, using the archival Marlon Brando footage was a beautiful touch, really sewing up the movie despite typical plot holes -- and maybe that's the statement we should read into, that these are problems worthy of human attention. Naysayers will cite Superman's contribution to fighting Nazi Germany in the comic books, but they will forget that the Superman movie character fought Luthor, three Krytonian contemporaries, a computer, himself and Nuclear Man.

Think about that before you get your cape ruffled over the antagonists. And then enjoy Kevin Spacey portraying Lex Luthor.

The "truth, justice, all that stuff" is a throwaway line, given to the paper editor -- remember, those evil newspaper editors? -- and hardly worth getting worked up about. That's just commercialism.

The oddest thing was watching a universe where everyone read the newspaper. Ahh, the good old days, when The Daily Planet was the voice into the community. Meantime the section editors make ridiculously good money and the reporters have days to work on stories. Remember friends: Fiction.

I am officially tired, though, of the Jesus parallels. Of course Superman is full of them. The movie character I mean. Maybe not in III, which was listed, in part, as a comedy, but the original serious movies the overtones were obvious even for the obtuse.

[The rant that appeared here -- referencing Spiderman, Superman, Alexander the Great, the Battle of Hydaspes and identifying Oliver Stone's fundamental lack of basic scholarship -- has been removed for space, time and sanity constraints.]

So that pretty much takes us through dinner. Barbeque, it being the holiday. Ribs, it being the holiday. Dreamland, it being Dreamland. There was banana pudding too, threatening to induce a sugar coma during the second movie of the day, this time at the dollar theater, to watch an early evening showing of The Sentinel:
In the Line of Fire meets 24. Nice drama, needs Jack Bauer.
Let's be honest, if Kiefer Sutherland was reprising his role as Jack Bauer here, this movie would have been called :15.

The bad guys were never expressly named, and the sudden twist at the end was sudden and without sufficient backstory. Considering the theme of the movie, and what the bad guy on the inside aspires to do, you'd think we'd learn more than just one cryptic conversation more than three-quarters of the way in. In that way it really did show an obvious 24 influence.

And since I'll be back at work in far less than 24, I bid you adieu and hope you stand for A/C, anti-lock brakes, all that stuff.

Saturday, July 1, 2006

Its a charmed life when you set the alarm for Saturday morning, after several extra hours of sleep, to wake up for a soccer game.

I set an alarm to watch something on TV. That's a beautiful feeling: roll out of bed, rub eyes, do typical morning things, sit down to watch England and Portugal draw 0-0 before a 3-1 Portugese victory in PSO.

I have carpet burn from slide tackling in my den. England falls quietly to the wayside, perpetuating their stigma as chokers. Let the criticism begin.

Here is the best part of soccer in the States. We're so removed from it (A girl yesterday remarked that "Soccer seems to be getting a lot of interest lately." She'd observed, with no other context, that it had been on TV several times recently at her restaurant job.) that we won't have to hear four years from the hooligans about the English team. Most people here have already forgotten the United States' early exit from the tournament. Bring on the Fourth, or bring on football, depending on your region of the country.

Indeed, bring them both on. I'll celebrate our nation's birth working and watching a good Germany-Italy match. Later that night I'll try really hard to not blow my hand up with fireworks. These are career decisions, after all.

Had a salad at Zaxby's for lunch. Rare is the day that I clean my salad bowl, but they are yummy, what can I do?

Got home just in time for more soccer, watching Brazil flounder to an embarrassing 1-0 loss to France. Thierry Henry got great penetration on a service by Zinedine Zidane. That's the actual goal, and I only include this here because that's the language the commentators used, verbage usually reserved for football. No matter the call, it was a remarkable goal, seemingly indefensible, even by a very good Brazilian keeper in Dida.

Look at the expression on his face. That says it all, "I've let the most important shot of the tournament slip past my line, even as my teammates refuse to play."

Here Brazil has an amazing collection of talent, and they just refused to play together. John Harkes was right, there were a ton of wizards on the pitch in this game, and it would have been a great advertisement for the game, but Brazil just wasn't inspired to play.

They always do this when I get to watch them. As soon as that nation figures it out there will be hordes of Brazilians on my doorstep clamoring for my head.

Later: I just watched Stick It at the dollar theater:
Jaded and cynical, neo-feminism but I have a new respect for gymnasts.
Couple of laughs, it was worth the dollar, though it will corrupt young minds.

Seems like I age another decade or two each time I leave the theater these days.