Monday, December 28, 2015

I Guess it Wasn't Such a Bad Year After All

I was sitting here this morning, wondering about how I would classify the year I just had.  My first thoughts were that it was kinda bleah… but then I realized that my view was being overly colored by recent events, like the Steelers losing to the Ratbirds and probably missing the playoffs, and the Penguins looking generally terrible all year.

I’ve also had kidney stones return and a rotten cold that’s just finishing up.  I’ve spent the year free from romantic entanglements (and action) and my internet service is down to about 1MB every two minutes.  (I think Verizon is trying to squeeze me out of my grandfathered Unlimited Data Plan.  But the only thing they’re going to force me to do is jump to another provider.)

But really, all those things are pretty minor.  I actually had a pretty good year.  I mean, despite some emergency practice and a false start, I got to throw out the first pitch at a major league baseball game!  Holy shit; that was a dream come true.  (Almost as good as that Tina Fey dream I keep having, but I don’t like the odds of realizing that one.)

Speaking of Tina Fey, if you like her and Amy Poehler, go see “Sisters.”  Never mind what the critics say, the movie is just plain funny.  I especially liked getting to watch these two cut loose in an R-rated environment, without the heavy hand of network Standards and Practices interfering.  The ballerina music box scene is worth the price of admission by itself.  But I digress…

Early in the year, I got to Pittsburgh twice… once with my brother and nephew for Pens and Steelers games, (right after the Buckeyes won the National Championship!) and once with Sitcom Kelly and her Sitcom Sister, for a March Penguins game.

After watching my brother do all kinds of things with his smartphone, I finally joined this decade by purchasing my own iPhone and creating the iPhone Pledge.  And I’ve been boring you on social media with my comings and goings ever since.

This summer, I went to 21 Orioles games (O’s were 13-8 when I was there).  Eight of those, Sitcom Kelly went with me. (O’s were 6-2 when she went.  The Orioles ought to comp her some season tickets, to guarantee a playoff run.)  I went to a Social Media Event featuring Q and A from closer Zach Britton and acquired yet another orange tee shirt.  (I’m up to 10 so far, not including BGSU shirts.)

I also saw baseball games in Pittsburgh (at my Mom’s family reunion), Philly (with my buddy the CFO and his son, and a minor league game in Toledo

I got to play host to the CFO and his giant son in August.  They came out for a couple of Tigers games and the aforementioned one in Philly.  But we did a bunch more stuff too, like visiting the CFO’s old Navy post (in dry dock), the National Aquarium, the Maryland Science Center, and stuffed ourselves with meat at Fogo de Chao.

A month before that, they were the hosts as I went out for my annual visit to Northwest Ohio, where I took a campus tour with my muse, the CFO’s daughter, saw a Mudhens game, ate a pile of grilled stuff, AND chowed on the best pizza in the world.

Try not to drool on your smartphone.

I had to get a new car in February, but that could go either way.  I mean, “New car… Yay!” or “Aw crap; four years of car payments I wasn’t expecting.”  At least I didn’t smash into anything when my old car suddenly quit workingwhile I was driving it.

It was a good year in music, even if only for Joan Jett getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and seeing Billy Joel again.

OK, it wasn’t all fun and games in 2015.  First of all, Baltimore went straight to hell in a handbasket.  Later that year, someone stole the side mirror from my car.  And we lost my Grandpa, the Patriarch.  But still wasn’t all that bad, considering he was 99 and died in his sleep, surrounded by loved ones, with nothing sticking into him.  Grandpa won big, at the game of life.

There was some work stuff as well.  In June, my company relocated its office building, down to the ritzy part of town, on the waterfront.  The trade up is a beautiful, modern building.  The trade down is an open seating format.  My kingdom for a cube wall!

Also, the long-awaited sale of my company to its largest competitor was finalized in November. Now, we can begin to consolidate operations.  At the moment, I’m cautiously optimistic, but I should have a clearer look at my future by this time next year.

This is the first full year that I’ve done the “one post per week” schedule.  Somehow, I’m ending up with 53 posts.  I’m not sure how that happened… maybe it has something to do with it almost being leap year.

Let me thank you for coming along for the ride.  I may well still write if no one was reading, but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.  I appreciate your encouraging my behavior.

Best wishes to you and your family for a rockin’ 2016. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Odd Bits - The Morning Surprise Edition

So, it’s Saturday morning and I’ve just had a lovely sleep.  I had a few beers Friday evening, so after hauling my tired body out of bed, taking a leak was my first priority. 

There’s nothing like that first morning pee!  It’s such a sweet release, especially if you’ve been lying in bed awhile, too warm and cozy to get up.  So I’m standing there and suddenly it was like the fountain turned off.

You know how sometimes when you’re draining the water in the sink, and the stopper falls in and goes right to the drain and seals it up tight? That’s what it was like, for a moment or two.

And in those moments, all I could think was “WTF?” and gave a little extra push.  Immediately, the logjam broke free and I was able to finish my mission.  But I was puzzled… I had no idea what just happened, nor could I determine the nature of the blockage.

I hadn’t put my contacts in yet, so I was blind as a bat and flying without the sonar.  All I could see was a big mass of bubbles. 

It took me a couple of minutes to put my “eyes” in, which gave the bubbles enough time to dissipate.  Once I could see, I went and took a peek, and sonofabitch, there it was.

A kidney stone.  I’d finally passed one of those goddamned kidney stones and lo and behold, it was completely painless, albeit a bit unnerving. 

I had been laid up with kidney stone pain during Thanksgiving week, and again about 2 months before that.  And I went to the hospital for my first stone, as you may remember, way back in 2013.  But I’d never actually passed anything, as far as I could tell.  (And believe me, I could tell.)

Obviously, I needed to retrieve the stone, a process to which I was NOT looking forward.  Luckily, I had some rubber cleaning gloves in the kitchen, which proved to be just the thing.  No muss, no fuss.  (Well, maybe a little fuss, which sounded like a lot like “Ew ew ew ew.”)

So now, I am able to bring to you, in full Technicolor glory:

Tada!  A 5-mm kidney stone.  (What?  Of course I measured it.)

If my 2013 x-rays were correct, this means I still have a 7-mm stone and another 5-mm one rattling around in the bladder.  I guess I’ll have to remain vigilant and be careful where I point this thing, lest I put somebody’s eye out.

The Marketing Awakens
Did anybody notice this new movie that came out Thursday night?  Something about some kind of astral skirmish?

Yeah, even the Amish were going, “OK, we get it.  The new Star Wars is coming out.”

I’ve never seen such a pervasive marketing campaign.  Every other commercial had a Star Wars tie-in, even if neither the product nor the theme of the commercial was applicable.

It made me wonder how necessary all of that really is.  I mean, this is one of the most highly anticipated movies I can ever recall.  They probably could have saved a truckload of money and just ran a few trailers.

Or maybe the advertisers were paying Lucasfilm for the rights to use Star Wars in their commercials.  Advertising all the way to the bank.

I also wonder if the toys are going to be as popular as they used to be.  Remember, in the 70s and 80s, kids still played with molded plastic toys that didn’t light up, beep or interact with other toys.  (Of course, maybe the new toys do that now, I don’t know.)  Or, maybe all the Star Wars fans from the originals will buy up all the toys just to save for another 30 years and sell to a new generation of nerds.

I’ve never been a Star Wars fanatic, but I do like the films.  I wanted to make sure I saw it early on, just to avoid encountering spoilers, so I decided to see it last Friday as a matinee.  I was off from work, so I figured it would be the best time.  Most people were still at work and school was still in session.  I didn’t see the need to buy the tickets in advance. 

I began desperately rethinking that decision once I hit the movie theater parking lot.  It was jammed!  I had to park way back in the outskirts of the lot.  I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to hang around for two more hours for the next showing.

Fortunately, my fears were short-lived.  There was no one in line and there were still plenty of seats in the theater.  (I had to sit on the side, though, but that was no big deal.)  I figured all the cars in the lot were from holiday shoppers, not movie-goers.

(NO, I didn’t dress in costume and I didn’t see anyone else dressed up either.  Maybe they only come out at night.)

Anyway, I loved the movie.  There were a number of times I got chills, like the first time you see Han Solo and Chewie get onboard the Millennium Falcon, and then the first time Han and Leia see each other.

I saw it in 3D and I recommend you do so as well.  It seemed worth the extra couple bucks.  There was one incredible shot I remember, where one of those large, wedgie, triangular starships came onscreen, and the tip of the ship seemed to hang out halfway over the audience.

It’s no secret that there are two more movies to follow, in addition to three spinoffs, so I wasn’t surprised when the ending came with a giant cliffhanger.  (OK, maybe not literally, but you’re dying to see what comes next.)

So if you like the franchise, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in this edition.  And if you don’t, then go see “Sisters,” with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (like I will next weekend.)

Saw this on Facebook and couldn’t decide how to debunk it… long version or short version. 

Short version: Just like a significant number of Christians.

But I still have some room here, so let me expand.

Who was it that campaigned tirelessly to continue bans on same-sex marriage, urge clerks to ignore Supreme Court rulings and maintain the marginalization of gays?  Evangelical Christians, Mormons, and Baptists.

Who would prefer a Muslim president over an atheist president?  The majority of Americans, (who happen to be 70% Christian), as per a recent poll.

Who is it that is fear-mongering right now over non-Christians and trying to institute a religious litmus test for immigrants, thus setting aside Article Six of the Constitution?  Christians.

Christians love to talk about religious freedom, as long as that religion is their own.  Anybody else?  Screw’em.

And who is it circulating memes like this to try to take a bite out of liberals?  Christians.  Or Republicans.  Whichever.

One can also make a secondary parry to this thrust by noting that it’s not mainstream Muslims (contrary to what Fox “News” so frequently reports) who are trying to wipe out anything that doesn’t conform to their standards.  It’s the radical terrorist wing-nuts who are doing that.

So, much like judging all musicians by looking at Ted Nugent, I can’t judge all Christians by the wing-nuts who are battling LGBT, Feminists, Atheists, Socialists, etc., nor can anyone else judge the billions of Muslims on the planet by the fanaticism of these ISIS bastards.

So the next time these meme-makers want to make a point about keeping out the Muslims, I suggest they just own their racism and xenophobia and stop trying to get cute with semantics in place of a coherent rationale.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Gonna Take an Ornamental Journey...

Last week, I showed you a full-size picture of this year’s Christmas tree.  Today, I want to give you a closer look.

I’ve written before about my parent’s tradition for us kids, that every year since we were toddlers, they got us a special ornament.  Those were the ones we’d put on the tree ourselves, and pack up afterward.  And then when we grew up and moved out, we’d have ourselves our special ornaments for our new places and new lives.  And as it turns out, we’re still getting ornaments every year.  Never gets old, though.

That’s why I’ll never have a “theme” tree… I have too many disparate ornaments to support a unifying theme, and I have no intention of getting rid of any of them. (And no, I’m not putting up a second tree.)

So while I don’t have the theme tree, there are a couple of sub-themes, the most prominent of which are birds.  I have a LOT of bird ornaments.  I mean, what better than birds to display in trees?  And I tend to group them together.
 These are a couple with real feathers, which clip onto the branches.  Back when I was married, the tail feather on the red one drove the cat crazy.  We couldn’t keep in on the tree, or else he’d be up there going after it.

My parents send me a gold Danbury Mint ornament every year and they often save the birds for me.  So I have a couple of gold ones like this.  They’re very intricate.

They’ve also been sending me a porcelain bird each of the last 3 years.  This is the one from 2013.  They’ve very detailed and quite heavy, so I have to make sure they’re on a firm branch.

This one is made with real feathers and there’s a strip that you can pull out, which makes the bird chirp. (If I really wanted to provoke the cat.)  I love the look on his face, like, “You talkin’ to me?  Whadda YOU lookin' at?

These little chickies have the same attitude.  They’re made out of husks or something, so they’re very light.  I always sit them together on a branch.  The goldfinch on the right is porcelain, though, but he fits right in.

Another sub-theme is Steelers stuff, of course.  I addition to about a half-dozen bulbs, I have these two molded figures.

The detail is exquisite.  There’s Ben, The Bus, and Polamalu up top, and Troy again, by himself.

Back when my Grandma D passed, each of us kids got to pick one of her ornaments, to remember her at Christmas.  This was my pick.

I always loved this Rudolf ornament.  I always position it in a clearing, so it looks like he’s flying by.

I also ended up with these dapper elves, from Grandma’s collection.  They’re made of extremely thin glass and are quite fragile.  It’s a miracle I haven’t broken them yet.

This is another of my parent’s “specials,” a hand-blown glass star.  I always put it right in front of a light bulb, for extra twinkle.

This is another “special,” and comes with a story.

When I was in 9th grade, we had a class project to write a story, type it out, and bind it into a book.  Mom had told me a story before, which I’m now sure she lifted from a Mel Brooks bit but didn’t know it at the time, about the “real” story of the Three Kings.  In her version, they were named Balthasar, Melchior, and Murray.  I’ll spare you the details of the story, but Murray was apparently quite a card.  I took the main points of Mom’s story, fluffed it up with a beginning, middle and end, and presented the book to her for Christmas.  Or Mother’s Day… I don’t remember.

So that’s Murray, up above, (being photobombed by Suspicious Bird).

Obviously, I’m not much one for religious imagery, but I have room for this cherub.  This was a table favor at my late buddy Brill’s wedding, back in 1996.  I’ll always have this one on the tree.

We used to make ornaments as kids, so I still have a couple of those monstrosities.

This was from a paint-by-numbers partridge and pears ornament kit.  I was probably in 3rd or 4th grade when I made these.

I love how just about anything can be an ornament, like this mini Gentleman Jack bottle

And this peach, from my old record store, Peaches.

That goes along with these.

I have no idea how I ended up with these… Must have been when we changed our name and had to get rid of everything that said “Peaches.”

Last year, I saw this cool Darth Vader ornament at Target but was put off by the price.  I went back the day after Christmas, hoping to pick it up on sale, but it was long gone by then.  So I got this instead.

All year long, I fussed at myself for not getting the Darth ornament, so this year, I corrected my previous inaction.

Little known fact: Darth Vader was an All-American linebacker at Empire U.

Anyway, that’s the highlights.  There are still about 40-50 more, either specials or ornaments made by various crafting-gene relatives. (I probably have a dozen from my Aunt Linda alone.)  Working at the craft store back in the 90s, I was able to pick up a number of cool ornaments, many of which were music-themed.  (I forgot, that’s another sub-section.)

So yeah, it’s a lot of work every year, pulling all this stuff out, but once I get started, I just get caught up in the memories and the next thing I know, I’m done.

Now tell me, is your tree up?  What kind of stories does it tell?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Odd Bits - The Bulking Up Edition

I saw an article in the paper last week about how there’s a shortage of Flu Mist shots; you know, the flu shots they spray up your nose?  It said they have plenty of regular flu injection-type shots, but very little of the spray.

What really caught my eye, and subsequently pissed me off was how the article went on to say how some parents were preferring to let their kids go without flu inoculation rather than subjecting their little angels to an actual shot.

I know that no one likes getting jabbed with needles, least of all kids, but to let them risk getting the flu just to avoid a few minutes of unpleasantness?  Talk about misplaced priorities.

Listen, I got my share of shots as a kid, and I wasn’t given a choice about it. And yes, the first time or two, when I was 5 or 6, I screamed my little head off, too.  But then my parents did a little “parenting,” and solved the problem.  My mom bribed me into taking the shot like a big boy. 

Mom promised me that if I didn’t cry, she would give me a little tchotchke I’d been wanting.  I think it was a little squeezy thing to keep coins in.  I’d had one but lost it. Mom offered me a new one if I didn’t scream and cry and carry on.

Mind you, I was still scared to death, but apparently greed held greater sway over me than fear.  So with my little lip quivering, I let the doctor give me my shot without making a peep.  And I found out that it really wasn’t that bad.  I mean, it didn’t tickle, but I’d had worse by just bumping into things, like the pointed-edged coffee table in our living room.  (Child-proofing hadn’t been invented yet, other than by yelling, “Hey, watch out for that table.”)

The important thing was that I learned that shots were doable, and I knew I could take them.  Being considered a Big Boy was important to me.  (Then.  Now, not so much.)  But this was a skill that I’d need because, in due time, I had to get an allergy shot every Sunday, after church, administered by Dr. Dad.  (Who, believe me, tolerated zero crying or carrying on.)

Eventually, we went on to having a whole different kind of post-church shot, but that wasn’t until about 10 years later.

Anyway, I think it does a disservice to kids to keep them from getting actual shots.  They’re going to have to get some eventually.  The last thing you want is for your grown children to be terrified of needles.  The screaming and crying get much less understandable.  The earlier they learn to cope with a little discomfort in service of the greater good, the better off they’ll be.

Also, they won’t go around spreading infectious diseases to everyone else.

And yes, I know, you think I’d feel differently if I actually had kids of my own, which is why I always characterize this kind of opinion as, “Advice from Another Childless Douche.”

Oh Christmas Tree
Speaking of, this weekend I was really wishing I had kids of my own… or at least knew where I could rent some.  I put up my Christmas tree on Friday and I probably did about 7000 deep knee-bends to decorate the bottom third of the tree.  So on Saturday and Sunday, my legs felt like they’d been on a Stairmaster for a straight week.

The result came out pretty well, though…
I plan to say more about the tree decorating process in the next post… unless I think of something better.

Example #709 of Why I Hate Maryland Drivers
Pulling up to a red light at a T-shaped intersection this weekend, I saw this numb-nut demonstrating a painfully familiar dick move.
The guy in the SUV is making a left, but he’s planted smack-dab in the middle of the road.  There is plenty of room for two cars, side-by-side so that one can make a right if he wants.  But this asshole makes is making sure no one else can get by until he makes his left.

As you can see, I’m making a left as well, but I’m hugging the center line, so someone else can make a right if they need to.  If I was making the right, I probably would have given him the horn and maybe dramatic gesture.  (Think Carlton Fisk in Game 6 of the 1970-something World Series.)

I don’t know if it’s ignorance, indifference, or incompetence, but it’s all too common around here.

Bulking up
Last month, I got an offer for a free 90-day trial membership to BJ’s Wholesale and decided to give it a shot.

I’d always avoided wholesale clubs because really, I’m just a one-man operation.  I just don’t need that much of any one thing, and don’t have much room to put it.  But since it was free, I thought I’d check it out.

I’ve made two trips so far, and it’s pretty much what I thought.  Some good deals, others not so good… you really have to check.  But it’s been interesting.  But best of all, I saw something that made me crack up right in the giant aisle.

Some jokes just write themselves.

If you’re laughing, you’re probably a Monty Python fan and get the reference.  (If not, you might as well skip to the next segment.)

Right there in the store, I put the shot on Facebook, with the caption: #BloodyVikings.

I also had a thought that I should stick a can of baked beans in the middle, but then again, I was at BJ’s, so they only had them in cases.

And if you’re still wondering what I’m talking about, here’s the source material:

In Other News…
I saw this headline last month:

And I didn’t know they had any hoes in the first place, let alone need to reacquire them.  Guess it’s going to be an interesting season next year.  Can’t wait to see the new promotions.  The front office is going, “Maybe we can’t sign Chris Davis, but we can give them some hoes!

A Gift Idea Whose Time has Come
Remember when I wrote about the salami-warmer Christmas ornament my Dad puts on the tree every year?  Looks like the idea has caught on.  I saw this in one of the gift catalogs that come flooding in this time of year. 

It cracks me up that it’s placed right beside the Peanuts tumbler set.  It fits, though.

Also… “Non-returnable.”  LOL… Yeah, I’d say that’s a “given.”  If underwear is generally non-returnable, the Peter Heater definitely is.