Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Did you ever go into some place and think, "This is exactly what people joke about!"  I know my friends, the priest, the rabbi, and I felt like that when we walked into a bar the other night.  But I digress...

But seriously, I was just reminded of such a place when talking to friends of mine about jury duty.  While describing the...ahem...unusual people there, one of them said, "It's like a trip to the DMV."  Well that was enough for me.  I have my new blog topic.  Thanks Lauretta for going to jury duty, and thanks Jeanie for mentioning the DMV.  I was almost going to have to write, in excruciating detail, some nonsense about a minute aspect of my life...which is totally different from what I am doing now.

It seems that I was in the mood to release a little pent up "I CANNOT BELIEVE THEY LET YOU DO THAT AND STILL GET PAID" anger while describing a trip to the doctor yesterday.  I suppose there was just a bit more pressure built up, so DMV lady...you're next!

The DMV, for people in other countries or states, is California's Department of Motor Vehicles.  If you wish to drive legally in California you need to have dealings with them.  It's not as if there is any competition for their services either.  They have a corner on the vehicle market...and there are certain people who know this, and act like it.  Before I begin, I should mention that I have encountered many wonderful people actually working at the DMV.  They were helpful, kind, and expedient,  I have actually had people get supervisors to waive certain fees when I plead my case and explained why they shouldn't apply in my particular case.  But that is not always the case.  In fact, there are comedians who make a living joking about the unmotivated who occupy the DMV.  The regulations, the fees, the handbook that is printed in twenty seven languages even though the road signs are all printed in one, but most often, and most related to my story is the utter apathy that forces certain employees to work at arthritic snail's pace.  And that is where our story begins.

Sylvia and I were lucky enough to be able to purchase a new trailer some time ago.  We are both teachers so we have the summers to take the kids traveling all over this great country of ours.  Our old trailer had been giving us trouble and, as much as we loved it, we needed to upgrade to a newer model.  In case you are wondering if it is time for you to replace your trailer.  If things start falling off while you are driving down the highway...you're nearly ready.  If your sewer tank starts leaking on the campsite while your camping neighbors are outside eating breakfast...pull the trigger.  It just so happened that we were in Oregon when it became very obvious that it was time to replace.  We found a reputable dealer, a wonderful trailer, and a fair price.  One day of bargaining, one of transferring everything over from old to new, and we were new trailer owners.  The dealership did all of the paperwork needed to register the camper in California and gave us a stack of papers to give to the DMV.  Then they warned us, when you cross the border, stop at the first DMV you see and register it.  California can give you a ticket if you aren't fully registered.  I joked, "Surely you jest."  He said, "I could tell you horror stories...and stop calling me Shirley."

Sylvia and I, rebels to the core, decided to risk it and traveled the ten hours through our litigious state without even attempting to find a DMV.  When we got home, parked it in front of our house, and pried my hands from the steering wheel of the truck, I went to the DMV.  I carried in my stack of papers and the check that had been carefully calculated for us in Oregon.  To visit the DMV in our state we now need to make reservations .  It seems that people have been taking entire days off work to handle DMV problems and still managing to fail at their tasks.  I, again the rebel, decided to make a stealth attack.  I walked in the front door, grabbed my little take a number tag, and waited until someone called me to a window.  I thought that I could do this at one window since the paperwork was already completed in Oregon.  I was young and foolish.  Well I was foolish anyway.  When I finally got called to a window I presented my completed paperwork with an air of, your job has been done for you...please give me my license plates.  She took one look at my stack and said, "Where is the trailer?"

"At my house."

"I need to see it."

"Come by any time.  We're just cleaning it out from our trip.  Are you looking to buy one yourself?"


"I need to see it, to prove that it exists."

"Oh it exists all right.  It is large, white and blue, and at the moment a little cluttered. We could use some help cleaning it out if you are free."

**cricket**cricket**cricket**(DMV workers are not known for their sense of humor)
"I need to verify that it exists."

I gave up trying to be funny and then asked.  "Is this a big problem in the state of California?  People coming down to the DMV and volunteering to pay thousands of dollars for imaginary vehicles as a joke?  Besides the fact that it is thirty feet long and being pulled by a fifteen foot truck.  I had trouble finding a place to put our nine foot minivan.  Where exactly am I supposed to put it?"  (Given the general mood at the DMV there were several rude answers to this question...general apathy and malaise won out and I was spared a smart-aleck response)

"Bring it down.  Park it in the driveway over there.  Come to the counter."

"So you're saying I should just block 90% of the roadway?"

"Bring it down.  Park it in the driveway over there.  Come to the counter. Press the buzzer outside and we'll let you in."

I left, dejected, my dreams of the fastest trip to the DMV on record dashed on the jagged rocks of bureaucracy, and I got the trailer.  I, unbelievably, pulled into the driveway and proceeded to park it in the one straight area large enough for something this large, the driveway.  Sixteen-year-olds trying to take their driver's tests be darned!  I have to prove I exist!  I walked up to the door and they buzzed me in.  I half expected to be yelled at for taking up most of their available space but apparently lots of people have had to prove they weren't registering imaginary vehicles in the past.  A woman grabbed a clipboard from the counter, asked where it was (Seriously?...it's the big white thing that everyone is honking at right outside the big wall of windows), and began to shuffle off toward the trailer.  I began to follow her...sort of.  I took three steps and had left her three steps behind.  I stopped, waiting for her to catch up.

I am about to fail to describe how absolutely slowly this woman moved.  Speedy Gonzales she was not.  I am not exaggerating when I say that neither of her feet ever completely left the ground.  Sssshht ssshht ssshht ssshht Her feet scraped the ground!  I am not built for speed.  I have been told, at least three times a week, that I have the patience of a saint.  This woman was making me feel like running around her like a springer spaniel bouncing for her attention and trying to get her to throw the ball.  I could have moseyed, hands in my pockets, all the way around the parking lot before she got off the curb.  Sssshht ssshht ssshht ssshht  She kept plugging along.  Now don't think that I am making fun of someone who was impaired in some way.  From all indications this woman was 100% healthy and capable of walking.  She was not 117 years old.  She was about the same age as I was and while she looked like she hadn't missed a lot of meals (much like me), she was certainly not grossly out of shape.  And it continued.  Sssshht ssshht ssshht ssshht  A snail passed her.  ssshht  A glacier passed her.  ssshht  I looked at the hour hand on my watch...it looked like a propeller!  ssshht  The seasons changed, calendar pages started flying off the wall, my kids got married, had kids, and retired.  ssshht  And then their kids retired. ssshht

It would have been comical if she was trying to be funny.  She really worked and walked this slowly.  I was dumbfounded.  It was as if she were trying to make up for years of missed coffee breaks by working at one tenth the speed of the average octogenarian.  And she made no apologies or attempts to improve.  "I can do this and I dare the world to tell me different!"  It wasn't bad enough that we had to get to the trailer, she had a checklist!  Let's see: tires, check, lights, check, license plate, check, are there any reasons why this trailer should not be in California (You mean other than if I didn't own it I would never have to deal with the DMV again?  No!)  Then she pulled the trigger and made this unbelievable experience turn into a surreal nightmare.  I need to see the Vehicle Identification Number...

I screamed, "Noooooooooooo!!!"  You see with our first trailer I needed to find the VIN once before.  It was fifteen minutes of crawling, searching, scraping, flashlight holding, and scavenger hunting.  And that was with a person who operated at normal speed.  (I refuse to tell you that we finally found it stamped, in two in tall numbers, on the most accessible portion of the trailer.  Now I had to do it with the slowest human being on the planet.  I checked the same place as the first trailer...I'm not that lucky.  She came Sssshht ssshht ssshht ssshhting around the back.  I frantically searched and searched.  There was no way I would allow myself to be held hostage any longer.  After a few quick guesses I found it written on a sticker in the door...that meant she was only seventeen feet away.  I couldn't wait.  I started yelling out 1HN23!!  She was content with that and looked down at her clipboard.  76345L "mmmHmmmm"  C9807  That placated her and she started shuffling back toward the building.  I ran ahead and held the door for her.  I glanced at the other workers, people who were actually doing their work, and expected to see disapproving glares at their lackadaisical coworker...There were none.  Apparently this was a common occurrence and they had all been accustomed to her and her less than stellar work habits.  I was mortified.

To make a short story long, I proved that the trailer existed, I paid them the thousands of dollars that they felt we owed them, and we are now the registered owners of a new trailer.  I have often wondered why someone would work and walk so slowly.  There are many different reasons but the one I suspect is this.  If the world is ever overrun by zombies she will be safe.  When the zombies are shuffling off to attack...she will just fall in step and blend in...Sssshht ssshht ssshht ssshht

Saturday, January 28, 2012

It's not a TooMohr (said like Arnold in Kindergarten Cop)

It's 24 hours later and I am doing just fine, thank you very much!

I wanted to start out with the last line today lest any of my loyal readers, either one of you, worry about my well being while I describe my ordeal.  I also wanted to have a chance to use the word "lest" lest a publisher was reading and wanted to know if I could use big important words properly!

The reason I was not doing fine in the first place, and it seems to be becoming an annual event, is that I have once again come down with shingles.  Well, let me say that I have most of the typical symptoms of shingles.  My skin burns like mad.  It feels like I have an internal sunburn that is sending shooting nerve pain up and down one side of my body...but the doctor didn't call it shingles.

Allow me to back up a bit.  About three weeks ago I started having a bit of pain in my arm.  I thought that I had hurt it somehow.  But then it just kept hurting and kept hurting.  I kept telling Sylvia that I thought I had shingles again.  I was in denial for a while but secretly I waited for the blisters to come.  They didn't.  I finally couldn't take it any longer and called my doctor to see about taking the anti-viral medications.  Through her associate, on a phone appointment, I heard, "If you don't have the blisters it's not shingles."

Google and WebMD.  I searched "shingles without blisters."  There were "about 700,000" results.  This can only mean one thing.  My doctors do not have internet access!  How sorry for them.  I learned that it is actually quite common to have shingles without the rash or blisters.  I didn't know that personally since the first time I had it, I had the blisters.  The second time, it was on my esophagus...so I didn't see any.  I called the doctor back and was offered another appointment...over the phone.  "pass"    Try again!  I talked them into an actual doctor visit and went in.  This is when the fun began.

I'll just skip over the fact that, even though I didn't have shingles (in their opinion), they told me to wear a mask to check in since shingles can be contagious (but you don't have shingles).  I know it is circular illogical reasoning but I try not to understand...fewer headaches.  I got my mask, marched in looking and feeling like a fool, and was taken immediately to a room.  (As an aside, I am wearing a mask to all future appointments)  I couldn't have been in the room for twenty seconds when the doctor on duty, not my regular doctor, came in.  She was looking at the notes the nurse had written, then looked at my arm, and all in one motion announced, "This is not shingles."  The door hadn't even closed yet and she was done.  Case closed.  Next patient. Dr. House has nothin' on me!

 Great!  Thanks for the diagnosis.  You can keep my co-pay.  Do you validate?

Lucky for me I wasn't born a doormat.  I said, "Can I tell you what I am feeling?"

I went on to explain that I had experience with shingles before and that it was something that you do not forget.  She had the nerve to say again, "This is not shingles."  I forged ahead and told her that I felt like I have had a bad nerve infested sunburn for weeks and I was waiting for the blisters so I could get the medicine.  I am 99% sure this is shingles.  I'm not really a complainer but if I can make this pain stop I want to...the sooner the better.  

Wait for it..."This is not shingles.  This is dry skin and it is irritated.  That is what this is."

"No, I have had this same dry skin my whole life and it only feels like this when I have shingles."

"People who get shingles more than once are immuno-suppressed. This is not shingles." And it is hard to describe but she asked me about where I had shingles before in a very condescending manner.  It was a mixture of disbelief and testing to see if I knew what I was talking about.  When I motioned to my left side around my body and under my arm, she sort of nodded and went, "hm" as if to say, I guess he might have had it once.

"Well, I've had it more than once and it is usually brought on by stress."

"No, this is not shingles.  It is not brought on by stress."  (Google results for "shingles brought on by stress"...103,000)

"Well that is what the other doctors have said.  I am pretty sure that they...."

"This is not shingles.  People don't get it more than once."  (Google results for "Shingles more than once"...1,480,000)

"Well I actually had something pretty serious last year, related to stress, that I was told was shingles-like on my esophagus."

She made a face like she was smelling something bad, "People don't get shingles on their esophagus.  Did you have an endoscopy?"  (oozing sarcasm)

(Through gritted teeth) "Yes, and a biopsy, which is how they proved it.  It was right around Halloween last year.  You can look it up.  It'll say that I was in the ER with an anxiety attack.  I have never had an anxiety attack.  The biopsy came after I kept calling, and calling, and telling them that something was making it so everything I swallowed was like swallowing broken glass with a lighter fluid chaser."

To the computer.  "Hmm.  Well shingles on the esophagus is really rare."

"Well that's me.  Really rare esophagus guy.  I have a chronic esophageal condition also, (I pronounced all eleven syllables of it for her) Really rarely make stuff up too."

Then she stopped saying, "This is not shingles."  over and over, and started saying, "Phantom pain." in its place.  She changed her story and said that shingles lasts about 3 to 5 days (HA!) and then there was the "phantom pain" that could last a while longer.  At this point I would like to point out, again, that I have had shingles.  I know several people who have also had it.  There is nothing 'phantom' about the pain, and the effort required to keep from screaming at her after the sixth time I heard her say, "phantom pain" should at least be rewarded by someone giving me the key to the city...or at least a case of Dr Pepper.  I have talked to a friend who had shingles, and brain surgery.  Shingles was worse.  Hands down.

So she wrote out a prescription for the medication needed to treat shingles but never gave me the satisfaction of actually saying, "Ok, I guess you do have shingles."

I really didn't want to spend the whole blog complaining.  I also don't want to use this forum to typically single out people to complain about.  I am not going to tell you the doctor's name.  It is possible that the people I write about may be readers and see themselves in here.  I can't afford to chase anyone away.  But I don't think I need to worry about this doctor though...She's too busy trying to figure out how to make a coat out of a hundred and one black and white spotted puppies!

It's 24 hours later, on the meds, and I am doing just fine, thank you very much!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Good From Sad

This weekend I attended a memorial service for someone I used to go to church with.  I, unfortunately, can't say that we were close because, as her sister put it, she reserved that honor for a very select and lucky few.  We were in the same church youth group when we were in high school and she was closer to my older sister than she was to me.  I could spend my entire time here telling you about what a caring, giving, generous, loving, thoughtful, creative, hard-working person she was.  I could also explain that she was taken far too young and that while I believe it is part of God's plan, it hurts when someone leaves us this young.  I could explain that it seems there are at least three or four people, somewhere, who are going to need to pick up the pace, do a little bit extra, and love a little more, to make up for what the world is missing in Gayle's passing.  I could do all of these things, and they would all be true, but the family did a beautiful job of that at the service, so today I would like to try to take a piece of good from the sad.

One happy occurrence that always accompanies a memorial service is that people who don't normally get to see each other are drawn together in a sort of bittersweet reunion.  I always feel a little guilty about being happy at a memorial and this was no exception.  I was greeted by people I haven't seen in months, years, and in one instance...(sorry Brenda)...decades!  Not only is it impossible to not be at least a little happy about seeing old friends but, as Gayle's sister put it, "Gayle said it made her sad to see everyone cry."

As the service concluded and I walked over to the group my sister was talking to I saw someone who looked familiar.  She smiled as I walked over and I said a tentative, "Brenda?"  Nod.  Hug.  The usual.  Brenda was a friend of my sister's and I considered changing her name for the blog's sake but then I couldn't tell you the nickname that Sue had given her, "Brenda Boo."  I am almost certain that Sue was the only person that has ever called her that, but that is how I remember her.  Brenda was a friend of Sue's that elevated herself to a little higher status in my mind because of my one criteria...she was nice to Sue's dorky little brother.

After we got done with the typical, "How are you?" "I'm fine." "I wish we weren't seeing each other under these circumstances." "What are you doing now?" "Weren't you a lot shorter when you were junior high?" and "You have kids that are how old?!" conversation, my dorkiness reared its ugly head.

I said, as seriously as I could, "You know Brenda, I always told myself that if ever I saw you again I would ask you this question.  Here it is, years later, and you are here.  I need to ask you."

She got very solemn.  "What is it?"

"Did you ever replace the side rubber bumper guard on the front of your car?"

Baffled silence.  Quizzical look.

Brenda had a sedan, I think it was late 70's Honda back when cars still used a little bit of chrome for the bumpers.  On either side of the straight square chrome bumper was a hard rubber piece that covered the end and curved around to hug the car.  Except in Brenda's case.  Three quarters of her bumper guards were in place and there was one stub...right front if I remember correctly (I do) and I used to tease her about it every Sunday after church.

"Your car.  The front bumper had a guard on the side.  Your's sheared off and it just stayed off for years!  Please tell me you replaced it!"

She started to laugh that someone would remember something so mundane from way back when.

I continued, "I mean you bought the replacement piece and everything.  It was just two bolts.  It could have been replaced in fifteen minutes.  Please, please, tell me that you replaced it!"

Brenda understood that I was teasing her again, and started to laugh.

My sister, who is my best blog promoter (even though she hasn't promoted me to any publishers who then decided to give me their standard "Rich-and-Famous" contract), said, "You're goin' in the blog!"  In order to not make my sister a liar, I decided that I better put Brenda in here.

After a while I started saying my good-byes and started heading home to get ready for company that was coming I walked back by Brenda and my sister.  She leaned in and laughed, "You know...I don't think I ever did replace that thing!"

So, dear readers, this is very important.  If you happened to buy a Honda from the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm guessing sometime around the mid 80's, and that car had a rubber piece missing off the side of the bumper, but the girl who sold it to you told you that the piece was in the trunk and she just hadn't had a chance to put it on...please send me a picture to show me that it has been taken care of!  Symmetry is important you know!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Whirr Whirr Clunk

If you have ever worked in a print shop, you know that there is a rhythm to it.  If you haven't, it's a great way to decide to go back to college and become a teacher.  In my many, many, jobs that I have had over the years, I have taken something away from all of them but the funny stories are what comes to mind first.

I was working in a print shop in Hayward, a few cities over, and I was more or less in charge of the back end of the shop.  The front was for the typesetting and designing.  The middle was where the camera and the presses were.  The back is where the business cards got cut, orders got packaged, and deliveries were scheduled and sent.  Because there needed to be enough quiet for the typesetters to think, they had their own office that could be shut off from the noise and machinery in the rest of the shop.  That left me with the printers.

I don't know what it was about printers.  They moved around to different shops a lot.  We were constantly in flux, looking for printers, trying to move one onto the next shop, having me pretend to be a printer when we were in-between the two.  If we had one and hired another, they would know each other.  If we had none and needed two, we could probably find two who worked as a team.  There always seemed to be something a little off about the printers.  My thinking is that the ink printers use gets into their pores and makes them...ahem...quirky.

Another thing that all printers (press operators need not apply...too snooty) have in common is that they all take risks!  Various safety devices were disabled depending on which printer was working at the time.  Some wanted the guards taken off so you could see the inside while the press was running.  Some undid the two handed start mechanism.  And some seemed like they would be very comfortable if the press were on fire and they needed to operate it with their teeth, hanging upside down, while wearing a straight-jacket.  I was always on the extreme caution side of the equation.  All rules were followed.  All safety switches were engaged.  All hands and feet were inside the car until the ride came to a full and complete stop.  I was also slower than molasses.  That is why we needed to keep hiring these characters, also known as printers.

There were a few characters who were loners and it rapidly became apparent why.  There was the one who was from Austria and apparently learned his language from drunken sailors, and his people skills from O.J. Simpson.  He just sort of disappeared from work one day.  There wasn't a great effort made in trying to find him.  There was the chain-smoker who was constantly outside while work was piling up inside.  And there was the one I want to talk about today.  I cannot remember his name but he stood out.

When I say he stood out, I am not talking about his sparkling personality and how he was the guy everyone talked to.  No, he stood out because in a crowded room of strangers, if the police came in and shouted, "All right where is he!?"  Everyone would have turned and pointed at him.  And he would have just stood there...staring off into space...even as they cuffed him.  He sort of reminded me of the big chief in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."  Not threatening really, not a communicator at all, just a part of the machine that spit out business cards.

On this one day in particular it was just me and Big Chief in the back of the shop.  I had all the drivers out doing deliveries and I was operating the slicer...a very quiet machine when compared to the whirr whirr whirr whirr of the presses and the heater that dried and carried the jobs to me.  It was a normal day and everything was chugging along when I heard whirr whirr clunk....and then silence.  Silence wasn't a sound often heard during work hours and "clunk" is never good to hear.  So I turned to look.  Big Chief had his back to me and he was holding his arms close to his body as if he was a six year old trying to keep me from taking his cookie.   And he just stood there...so I walked over.  "You OK?"  He half turned and showed me that he was holding his right hand close to his chest with his left hand.  I assumed that the "clunk" I had just heard was somehow related to a press trying to eat his hand.  I said, (foolishly, as I look back), "What happened?"

Big Chief said some of the few words that I had ever heard him say, "I went like this.  And I hit this."  except he didn't just say those things.  He reached the non-squished hand into the press to show me where he was trying to clean.  And when he said, "And I hit this." he didn't just say it...he actually hit it, again!!  This time there was only half a "whirr" and then another "clunk."  Yes, he had "showed" me what he did by injuring his other hand in the exact same way.  No yelling.  No jumping up and down.  He just stood there with his now two hands pressed up against his chest and he gave me a look like, "How am I going to run the press now?"  I went up to the front, told my boss, Jean, what had happened, and she suggested that I take Robert to the hospital.  "Robert?  Who's Robert? ...  Oh him!  He never speaks, I forgot his name!"

I helped him into the car, buckled him in, and took him over to the industrial accident hospital in Hayward.  I knew exactly where it was, not because I needed to get stitches or anything from doing something stupid myself...don't try to distract me with these side notes!  After a couple hours Robert came out looking either like a human Q-tip or a giant walking lamb ready for the oven.  Both of his hands had been covered with balls of bandages and I drove him back to the shop praying that he didn't say another few words that would have ruined my whole year... "I have to pee."

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Too Long

There are several things that might indicate that it has been too long since you last went on a bike ride.  Being a teacher, I have developed a test to see if it has been too long between bike rides.

You know it has been too long since your last bike ride when:

a) Your bike creaks and moans when you load your Christmas cookie laden body on it.
b) Your thighs feel like they are being burned by torches and you can still see the house.
c) You want to ride toward that comforting bright light.
d) Contrary to the popular saying, not only did you forget how to ride it, you can't remember what color it is.
e) Both a and b
f) all of the above

Jake has been asking to go for a ride the last couple of days, so yesterday he and I rode to the lake.  I know that for people in other parts of the country, or other countries for that matter, 'rode to the lake' might bring up images of climbing winding mountain trails for hours under a canopy of trees.  It's not quite that romantic here in our city.  

Our city lake is a couple miles from our house and the only canopy we encounter are the clouds of bus exhaust.  The only hills I encounter are the wheelchair access ramps on the city sidewalks.  Well those should have been the only hills.  I allowed Jake to lead the way yesterday.  Note to self; When Jake smirks and says, "Do you want to try this way?" just say no.  There is one man-made hill between us and the lake and the police station sits atop it.  Jake's 'special way' to go to the lake was to ride next to the police station, all the way up the hill, then speed all the way down.  I am no stranger to hills.  My bike, ancient by today's standards, has twenty one speeds.  Additionally, I know how to use them!  Shift low for climbing, high for flat and downhill.  I got this.

Earlier in our ride though, when I tried to shift higher, the derailer worked perfectly!  It derailed the chain.  I fixed that but decided to play around a little.  When I tried to shift down, I could hear it trying to work.  It was giving it the college try.  But it never quite made it.  So now I am faced with the dilemma of trying to ride up a hill that would require being in the lowest gear possible and my twenty one speed has turned into a seven speed.  When I finally got to the top of the hill, huffing and puffing (but in no condition to try to blow down even a little piggy's house...not even the straw one) Jake started laughing!  He said, "I can't believe you tried it!"  Then he pointed down to the left.  "There is the flat path around the hill!"

"Oh--- yeah----- Jake."  huuuh huhhh  "Real---- funny."  Pheww huhhhhh  "Do me a favor----call 911."  ahhhhh haaaaaa  "Tell Mom and Kristiana---- that I love them."  I hope this is one of those stories that he tells about me later in life when he is talking about what a great guy I was.

So after we made it to the top of the hill, we were looking at the lake, and we started down.  I used to say that I had earned the hill.  When I worked my way up to the top of something large, I had earned the right to go speeding down.  I always liked it when I had earned hills and I used to be pretty good, back in the day.  I would ride my bike to the top of the mountain we have in town, speed all the way down, then ride fifteen miles to go visit friends all over the place.  Friends who lived on top of hills!  I used to do this!  Now, I am having to consider if I should choose a) or b)!

I was looking forward to the backside of this hill I had just earned!  Jake went down like a shot.  Not to be outdone, I went down like a slightly more cautious shot...and my bike developed a wobble.  First to one side, then the other, I slowed, I stopped.  I know that feeling.  It can only mean one thing.  Slow leak.  My back tire had started to go flat and we were about as far away as we had planned to go.  I thought about doing a quick road-side repair until I remembered that Jake's new basketball needed to be pumped up and my bike pump was the best for the job.  It was resting comfortably in the kitchen after completing its mission.  I considered calling for back-up.  Sylvia could bring the truck, we would load the bikes, problem solved.  That didn't sound like a bike ride.  I tried to see if the bike would make it one time around the lake before we had to go home.  No such luck.  I would be walking this thing in no time.  We talked it over, we were disappointed that we couldn't go around but we decided that it would be best to start heading home.  Jake had a student council meeting to get to so we were on a time crunch.

We made it home.  I didn't have the energy to tackle the bike problem since I had to nurse my burning legs back to health.  I will get to it soon.  I want to add an alternate answer to the test question above.  Soon I would like to be able to mark,

g) What do you mean too long?  I rode it to work this morning!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Alpha Dog

I am the alpha!  That means that what I say goes.  If I want something, I get it.  I decide where we go, what we do, and how long we stay before we come home!  I have ultimate and supreme power and any attempts to bypass my role is met with a form of re-education!  Just so we're understand each other!!  Got it?!

I make no assumption that I am the alpha human.  I am talking about dogs...wasn't I clear?

When Fudge was a pup I told the kids that we would need to train him and that I needed to be the boss of the dog.  "If I am not the boss of the dog there could be trouble and he might try to bite, so let me be the boss of the dog.  Watch."  I then proceeded to take his food away while he was eating.  Grrrrr.  "NO!"  I put my hand in his food dish.  Grrrrr.  "NO!"  I put my face near the bowl when he was eating.  Grrrrr.  "NO!"  I had Sylvia, then Kristiana, then Jake put their hands near his food and eventually take it away.  Grrrrr.  "NO! NO! NO!"  It went very well.  Fudge was very happy to know his role in the family and I didn't wield my power cruelly, I just wanted everyone to be safe.

Every once in a while, at the beginning, he would try to see if I was really going to stay consistent about being in charge.  When that happened I would assert my authority by wrestling him to the floor and put my face on his neck like I was going to bite him.  Fudge didn't like this but the kids would laugh their heads off!  To this day if someone is having a little trouble with their unruly dog, the kids will yell, "Wrestle him to the ground and bite his neck!  That's what my dad did!"  I'll take looking silly over getting the kids stitches for doggie nips anyday!

Fudge has settled into his role nicely and he accepts that I am the head honcho.  He is definitely my dog and will follow me around the house when I am home.  He listens to me when I say that it is time to go outside.  Something that happens a little more often ever since he chewed through our door on New Years.  We weren't home and let's just say that he does not like fireworks!

Fudge in front of his handiwork
Since this obviously resulted in me installing a new door, a modern door that is white and has raised panels on it, it actually was not a huge problem.  Since this new paneled door is something that Sylvia really wanted it does make me curious, and even a little suspicious, about why there would be barbecue sauce smeared all over the door.  Hmmm.  I guess I'll never know what really happened.

It's a good gig being the alpha.  I am always greeted with a huge happy welcome.  There is someone who follows my directions (which is nice especially after I come home from a disobedient day in the classroom).  And I have a loyal companion.  Last year when I was so sick that it involved calls to 911, ambulance rides, and more EKG stickers than they used in the entire 8 seasons of HOUSE, Fudge was by my side, literally.  Sylvia tells me that when I was in bed and could do nothing more than sleep, Fudge refused to leave my bedside.  I don't take that lightly!

There is one more "perk" that comes with being the alpha dog.  All other dogs want to smell like you!  While Fudge does appear to be very typical in his desire to go sniff and then roll in all manner of smelly things, he also wants to search for and then roll on things that I have worn.  I could be insulted that the dog who chooses to roll on a dead squirrel will also roll on a pair of my socks.  I'll leave the comparisons to people brave enough to comment.  No, I choose to avoid feeling insulted or even embarrassed.  In fact, I choose to be flattered!  I just wish that his favorite item of mine to roll on wasn't my pillow!

Over the last few years Fudge has become quite adept at figuring out when everyone in the family is engaged and then he chooses that moment to sneak away and grab my pillows.  I tried to tuck in the blankets all around.  No problem...for him.  Wrap them in the middle, under the blankets.  Took some time, he got them. At this point I am nearly convinced that if I were to seal them inside a Rubik's Cube Fudge would be able to manipulate the sides to unlock it...even without opposable thumbs!  The problem with our increasing efforts to keep him from the pillows was that he needed to be more and more determined to get them.  This resulted in tiny little tears in the pillow.  This wouldn't be a huge problem except Sylvia and I have always been feather pillow kinds of people.  We both have the same kind of pillows but he always tears into mine!

Whenever we change the sheets and pillowcases it looks like a duck exploded in our room!  Sylvia had had enough and she decided to go out and buy me new pillows for my birthday this last November.  She said, "The other pillows are going away and Fudge won't get into these because they don't have your scent on them yet!"  I am happy to say that her plan worked beautifully...for a day.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The New Toy!

We got a new toy for the baby we are watching.
 It's a dump truck with power tools on the sides and top.
 There is a driver, a circle, a square, a triangle, and a hexagon.
 The shapes all go inside the holes on the truck.  The truck makes sounds when the shapes go in.
 The driver is dressed rather sharply...complete with a tie and a hard hat.
 The circle has a secret...
Surprise!!  It is really a bird!
 The square...wait for it...
 becomes an elephant!
 The triangle...
is really a fish!
Try not to think about why a dump truck is carrying animals.  Also, don't wonder about why there are power tools on a dump truck that is hauling animals.  It will only give you a headache and you will not have a good day.

Now then...There is a hexagon.

It has a head and two arms...

  Two legs...and what the heck is that!?

Ok, so it is probably supposed to be a turtle...but turtle isn't funny!

It's nice to have a funny family who practically writes my blog for me.  Thanks Jake!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


As I draw closer and closer to the end of my Christmas break, sorry let me pause to sob uncontrollably into my hands, I am reflecting back on 2011 and what was most striking to me is...I haven't been interviewed by a fake news agency in quite some time!  In a stunning coincidence I was contacted the International Association of Imaginary News and they said they wanted to send a correspondent right over.  I have included a transcript of the interview for your reading pleasure.

IAIN: Tell me Jeff.  When did you first want to write?

Well I have to tell you Iain, I always thought that writing would be a great thing to do.  I was not always comfortable doing it and I would get criticized (my word) by my teachers for misusing punctuation, not staying on topic, and what. was. I& talking/ about^  The very first time I thought I might be good at it was when I needed to write a story for my fifth grade class.  It was the very first time I was given carte blanche and just told to put words on paper.  Make up a story.  It was really bad, but I loved writing it.  I didn't have to come up with an outline.  I didn't have to fit into what the teacher wanted.  I just sat down and started typing the story.  It came out of my brain and onto the paper like I was pouring water out of a sponge.


Yes, every once in a while I had to squeeze a little to get the flow going again.  Especially at the end of the story when I needed a conclusion.  I never would have called it a conclusion.  I didn't really understand all of that stuff.  But I knew that since I was writing an action adventure story about a plane crash that resulted in a forest fire I couldn't very well leave all of those people stranded in the woods in a cave could I?

No, I guess you did the right thing.

And I still remember the only comment I got on the whole paper was about a bear rushing into the cave trying to get away from the fire.  My teacher wrote, "That's a bit much!"  There were no commas circled.  There were no words underlined.  I had used my mom's electric typewrite and the paper was neat and clean and I got an A!

An A!?  Wow, you must have been happy.

Happy?  I was thrilled!!  I was the youngest in my class.  I never felt at ease at school and I often times had no idea what this tall lady in the front of the room was doing or talking about.  This "A" meant a lot to me.  But there was a problem.


Well I said that I didn't have an outline or even an idea of how to end the story.


Well there was something else.  I wrote it the day before it was due.  I, of course, was given probably two weeks to work on this thing and I banged it out in a few hours in just enough time to skate in under the deadline.

You made it?

Yup.  I couldn't have gotten an A otherwise.  Points off for being late you know.  In my mind something clicked.  I can wait.  Not have a clear plan.  And get an A.  Boy, did that mess up the rest of my school career!  I wish I had the discipline that others seemed to have, but when it came to writing I was always waiting and waiting and waiting until it was the last possible moment and then clickety clickety clickety!!!

I assume you mean typing?

No, I mean I would tap dance until someone would write for me.  Of course I mean typing!!

No need to get huffy.

Huffy?  Did you say "huffy"?  What are you seventy?

No, I am 46.

Hey! Same here!  What a coincidence!

Please continue.

So this is a big secret, don't tell my kids, I wrote two chapters of my Masters thesis in one night.  In that case I had done all the research beforehand but I didn't do any actual typing until the night before it was due.

How did it turn out?

I got an A.  Again.  I am doomed to last minute writing.

Let's get back to your teachers.  You said "criticized".  What did you mean by that?

I was not the best student.  Looking back over my report cards and talking to my parents, and eventually a doctor, it turns out that I had what they would now call "a horrible raging case of ADD!"  I was the frustrating yet polite kid who was always, "Off somewhere else."  One teacher actually couldn't deal with me and in a fit of frustration pinched my cheek and lifted me out of my chair to try to get me to pay attention.  I never saw her coming.  I was looking out the window.

Wow. Just wow.  

Yeah, it made an impression.  I am happy to say that although I have been teaching some of the most challenging students that ever walked the planet, the number I have lifted out of the seat by their cheeks is still zero!  I'm proud of that.  I have, however, been secretly working on mental blueprints for a giant catapult that would send certain students (or their parents) sailing.


Oh come on!  I teach next to the Bay...they'd be fine.

Back to the ADD.  When did you find out it was something other than "lousy studentitis"?

I was working in a classroom with special needs kids as an aide.  The psychologist was explaining to me the behavior of one of the girls and how she had ADD but "you would know all about that."  I looked at her dumbfounded.  (I am an accomplished dumbfounder)  The psychologist then said, "Oh I thought you knew.  It's obvious that you have ADD.  Read this book."  I went home and read it that night.  Well I read it... until I got distracted.  And it was like I was reading a history of someone who had followed me around school and took notes on my behaviors.  It was enlightening and creepy all at the same time.

Ooh.  I just looked at the time.  I do need to be going.  Could we continue this another time?

OK, I want to thank you for coming IAIN.  How would you like to end the interview.

You do know my name isn't IAIN right?  It's just an acronym.  I don't know how to end this.  I didn't have a plan! 

Let me give you a hand....Just then a bear rushed in!!

That's a bit much.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Dirty Word!!!

Well it's happened again!  I had a topic all ready for today, I am up early, I still have time off from teaching, and I have forgotten what I was going to write about.  I realize that most of you, if you've been reading longer than a day, have figured out that I rarely have any idea what I am writing about, but it is frustrating to know that I could have had focus today and now it is gone!

It started yesterday when I went to church.  I was a little early.  Well, I was early for the second service but I was thinking about going to the first service so I was actually quite late.  But let's not quibble over details.  I saw two friends, Richard and Mark, standing and talking between services so I walked over to say hi.  We stood around talking about movies, and New Year's, and how many people must have decided to come to the second service since the first service was empty and I said something that made Mark laugh.  Now Mark is not one to hold back his laughter so I am used to hearing him laugh, but after this story he had was bent over and was trying to get air.  (and no, the punch line wasn't really a "punch" line)  He said, "Oh that's really funny!"

Of course when I hear that I immediately think, "I could put that into the blog!"  Not everything that I say to make people laugh makes it into the blog.  There are many times that I am with people, and we are all laughing, and the mere mention of the incident will cause people involved to laugh.  But most of those times result in what a friend of mine used to call, "location jokes."  You had to be there.  It's the conversational equivalent of telling a really funny line to a movie...that no one else has ever seen.  There's not much worse than trying to reset the situations involved with a location joke and then have people wondering, aloud, about your sanity.  After the first fifteen or twenty times it starts to affect you.

I have mentioned before that I take notes in my phone in order to remind me of things that I thought were amusing and wanted to remember to write about.  It works, in theory.  I do have things on my phone like, "The sermon about the five loaves and two fish and the dessert cart."  or "The guy from New York driving without his hair."  I can remember that Mark was the one who generated the one about the dessert cart but I don't remember enough of the details to make it a story.  Except that I wrote that note in the middle of a sixteen hour car ride back from Arizona and I think we were both going to laugh at anything.  The one about the hairless New Yorker is anybody's guess.  I'm hoping that it wasn't really funny because it is lost forever.

Yesterday, even with my fancy shmancy note taking phone, I didn't write it down.  I feel it's odd to stop and fidget with the recording device on my phone in the middle of a conversation.  It makes me feel like I am trying to be important or something like I was a stock broker from a movie talking to his secretary via recorder.  "Buy Skynet at $25.  Put the Colgate merger on hold until the Crest makes a counter offer.  Move my meeting with Mother Hubbard to Wednesday.  And remind me to rotate the tires on the Rolls."  I suppose if I were getting paid to write then I would feel a little more justified by saying, "Excuse me.  Gotta earn a living."  But when I talked into my recorder it would be more like, "Buy whoopie cushion for April fools day. Sprite hurts much less than Coke when laughed through the nose.  Really...a sign that extols the virtues of ExLax.  And remind me to use the word 'kumquat' in a future blog."  You can see my dilemma.

Why don't I just call Mark and ask what it was that was so funny?  Fat chance.  Mark is a fun-loving guy.  He finds humor in almost every situation. (Is it any wonder why I tell my stories to him?)  Well, you say, Richard was there as well.  That is one location joke twice removed.  The odds are slim at best.  Of course the resulting conversation would be possible blog fodder.  I'm just not ready to take the risk.

So now you know.  I have no idea what I was going to write, but I ended up being able to bang on the keyboard anyway.  It was really maddening not being able to remember what I was going to write, but I think I handled it in a mature way.  I, of course, did resort to using my version of a swear word as a title, and that is rare...unless the person in front of me is driving fifteen miles under the speed limit in the fast lane.