This Is Christmas

Just before Christmas, I stopped into the tobacco shop for some last minute supplies. Since my son is no longer a minor, I’ve enjoyed sitting and having a cigar with him occasionally. Thank God, he seems to have inherited his mother’s lack of nicotine receptors, so he doesn’t crave the tobacco. He can have a smoke once in a great while, and that’s it. Since he turned eighteen, the three of us have sat down to some small cigars on a handful of occasions, and it’s been a great time. I usually like to keep some Nat Sherman Natural Original cigarettes on hand, as my Dad will take one on some Sunday afternoons. It doesn’t even happen every week, but on the rare occasion, I like to have them around. He won’t buy his own cigarettes, because if he does, he winds up smoking a whole pack.

So, there I was at the tobacco shop, I picked up a tin of some Davidoff Mini Churchills (one of our favorite cigars), a pack of Nat Sherman Natural Originals, and two ounces of my golden Virginia pipe tobacco. “If you have two ounces there,” I noted the mostly empty jar.

“Oh, I have more under the counter,” assured the clerk.

I had not checked out yet, but milled around the shop for a bit, looking at beautiful pipes and other paraphernalia. An older man came in with a woman around my age while I browsed. They walked up to the counter and started looking at the pipe tobacco selection.

“What do you want, Dad?” she asked in a loud voice. There was impatience in her voice. She was not being unkind, but she did sound like she was wearing thin.

He picked out a few tobaccos, and the same clerk was bagging them and labeling the bags. On a lark, I went back to the clerk and said, “would you please get this gentleman two ounces of that golden Virginia that I buy, and put it on my ticket?”

“You bet,” he smiled, and bagged up the additional tobacco. I suppose they didn’t notice my interjection, because the woman confronted the clerk and told him that they hadn’t asked for that.

He continued what he was doing, nodded his head towards me, and said, “this is from him.”

They both turned and looked at me. I nodded my head back at them. The daughter made eye contact with me and said, “thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” I smiled, “Merry Christmas.”

Then, the old man shuffled over to me, “thank you, sir,” he said, extending his hand for a handshake.

I reaffirmed my reply, and took his hand. He clamped onto my hand, in the ‘I’m going to talk to you now’ shake, pulled in close, closer than I’m usually comfortable with a stranger in my personal space, locked eye contact with me, and began to speak, “so, you in the service?” he asked.

“No, sir,” I said, “I managed to avoid that somehow.”

His old eyes, going blue with slowly developing cataracts sparkled as he smiled, “well, you rascal!” And then, he continued, “I served for over twenty years. I was in Vietnam.”

I often forget how old our Vietnam vets are getting at this point. “Thank you for your service, sir.”

Still pumping my hand he said, “thank you, sir, for the tobacco.”

“It’s the least I can do. I hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas.”

Once he finally let me have my hand back, the daughter said to me, “thank you so much. You really didn’t have to do that.”

“I know I didn’t,” I said, “I hope he enjoys that. Merry Christmas.”

“Thank you,” she said again, visibly more at ease than when they entered the shop.

With that, I left. I honestly can’t tell you exactly why I decided to buy him my pipe tobacco. And no, I know full well that I didn’t need to buy tobacco for that guy, but it was totally worth the eight bucks of tobacco for that interchange alone. And, I do hope that he’s enjoyed it! The stuff that he was asking for was all English blend of one stripe or another. The golden Virginia isn’t nearly as sweet in flavor, but most pipe smokers can appreciate the difference. I suspect that dude has been smoking a pipe since before I was born.

Cell Phones Make Me Feel Old, As a 39-Year Old, at the End of 2017

I was a relatively early adopter of mobile phone technology, in the grand scheme of things. At seventeen years old, I was the first member of my immediate family to get a cell phone, which was hard-mounted in my car, and operated on prepaid minutes that were VERY EXPENSIVE by today’s standards. So much so that I didn’t give my number out, and only used the thing for emergencies. Starting around that time, give or take a couple of years, I dreamed, nay fantasized, about having a device I could put in my pocket that operated like a tiny computer, and might even connect online!

Back in the early days of the internet, I don’t think I knew anyone who actually had internet service. Sure, I knew plenty of folks that had modems, and they’d dial up to other people they knew who also had modems and “send emails” or “transfer a picture” (which took forever), or whatever. But, even before my current household had internet service, I wanted that sci-fi device that would connect to the internet that was as small, if not smaller (ghasp!) than a graphing calculator.

I bought my first handheld mobile phone in 1998. Jennifer and I had just started dating, and we kind of knew we were a a permanent thing, right off the bat. She’d just gotten her cell phone, and back in those days you could more or less pick your own phone number. So, I chose a number that was the exact same as hers, save for two digits. At the time, people thought we were crazy, “what if you break up?” they’d ask, with shock in their eyes. We got married before the end of the year. Almost twenty years later, we still have the same phone numbers.

Of course, phones come and go. Some last longer than others. In about 2001 (maybe 2002), Jennifer and I upgraded our mobile phones. The new ones were flip phones with these new-fangled LCD screens. There was an extremely low-resolution screen inside the clamshell, and an even lower-resolution screen on the outside, so you could assign a picture to display upon an incoming call, according to your contact list. Honestly, if they’d make a modern equivalent, it’d be a pretty sweet setup. This phone also had a camera built into it! Granted, it was only like a .33mp camera (if that), and it only took pictures (no video), but nobody else had camera phones at the time. We would take pictures with our phones and it would confuse bystanders.

So. This morning, I was sitting on the toilet, tracking an incoming package on USPS.com on my tablet. Sweet, I have a camera lens coming in today! I think I was using the home wifi network, but it may have been on my data plan. I’m not sure, and I don’t much care. Yeah, that device that I dreamed of earlier; the little computer that fits in my pocket? Now, I carry two of them daily. Never did I dream that each of them would have two cameras that are higher resolution than the early digital cameras that I sneered at because “digital just doesn’t have the resolution of film and will never catch on.” Face palm. Don’t get me started on touch screens.

Now, my phone is getting “kind of old,” by today’s standards. It’s a Samsung Galaxy S5 Sport. The tech specs on it blow away any PC I could have put my hands on back when I started dreaming of these things, in terms of processing speed, RAM, or storage space. And, I couldn’t put anything like that in my pocket. And, it wouldn’t work under water. I think the Galaxy S8 is out now? Even though I did not, I could have written and posted this entry from the family farm, way out in the woods. It’s such an everyday device, but it’s so much what I wanted before it was a thing, and then so much more than I ever imagined!

I mentioned above that my first cellular phone was expensive to operate. And, it only made and received phone calls. Now, I don’t think twice about queuing up Pandora on my phone, or a selection from our combined CD library that we’ve been collecting since about 1993, for a long road trip. Heck, I can’t tell you the last time I actually listened to broadcast radio (SeriusXM notwithstanding). Satellite radio is entirely another rant, by the way. And, when in the world did those two merge, anyway?* Also, being able to pull up the combined knowledge of mankind, at a whim, virtually anywhere I go. Wow. And yet, more often than not, I use it to watch political (or cat) videos, or play solitaire (which you can still do with a tangible deck of cards, oh irony of ironies), or occasionally reset my watch at time.gov. Yeah, I wear a mechanical wrist watch. For a long time, people stopped wearing watches because “they carried a phone,” and then, they started wearing a ‘smart watch’ that connected to their phone, so “they didn’t have to pull out their phone to check the time.” *eyes rolling…* I skipped that whole dumb cycle and I’m still wearing a mechanical wrist watch. Okay, enough of the tangents in this paragraph; let’s wrap this puppy up.

To you youngsters out there, hear me now: your time is coming. Sooner than you think will come a time when you’re telling tales of crap that nobody remembers anymore. You’ll look at the world around you; how it’s changed, how it’s the same; and you’ll say to yourself, “there’s no way I’ve gotten that old already. I’m not that old!” To you old-timers out there, take my words with the deference that I deliver them: I’m starting to get it. Coming into ‘middle age,’ or whatever, is opening my eyes to all the weird stuff you’ve been saying my whole life about “back in mah day…” So, please keep telling me about how you had to be home when the street lights went out, or party lines (which actually suits this post better), or whatever you like, for that matter.

There’s a lot of stuff your modern smart phone will do, either natively, or through a downloadable app. I don’t need to explain anymore about why that, in and of itself, it pretty amazing. But, most of the secondary and tertiary stuff your phone can do, can be done far better with a dedicated device. That is to say that your phone has a powerful processor, a sharp screen, and lots of memory, but most of us use a dedicated computer for serious computational tasks (although even that may be changing). The cameras in these things are getting shockingly sophisticated, but they still won’t compete with my DSLR (although, I said digital photography would never catch on, and my first camera phone took grainy, low-res pics). Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that these things sprouted out of nowhere and have come a long way since, and although they’re not a perfect replacement for everything, they’re historical improvements show us that they have a long way to go still. What do you think they’ll look like in twenty years from now?

*2008, apparently. Good grief, almost ten years ago, and I didn’t notice it happen…

R. I. P., Friend

I could hear the motor whirring on his mobility scooter as he approached, a black flag flying behind him. At a glance, it looked like a Jolly Roger. On closer inspection, it was a Dia De Los Muertos styled skull, adorned with The Legend of Zelda imagery. He didn’t pause for pleasantries, as was his custom, but went right to the point.

“I started on your pen,” he said, rocking his head side to side, as was his characteristic, signature body language.

Probably about a year before, I’d admired some hand-turned pens he was displaying for sale. They were all very nice roller balls, beautifully finished exotic woods. I asked if he did any fountain pens, and he said that he could do a fountain pen, but he’d need to order the kit. He asked me about material, and I told him that I wasn’t picky. He had a good eye for that sort of thing. I offered him some pink ivory pen blanks that I wound up with, and he encouraged me to get a pen lathe and try my hand at it instead.

“It’s not that hard, and the lathes are cheap,” he said, “but, I’ll still make one for you. I’ll make it special.”

So here, a year later, I responded, “Oh yeah?

“I just didn’t want you to think that I’ve forgotten about you. Yeah,” he said, “you’re getting antler.”

I exclaimed, “oh, cool!”

He started explaining, “it’s taking some time because I had to rough cut the material and resin impregnate it…”

I interrupted, “because it’s so porous. That stuff is like bone sponge.”

“Exactly,” he nodded.

That was the weekend that my last thirteen posts have addressed. I’m pretty sure it was Sunday, April 30, because the lights were on in the building at the fairgrounds. It may have been that awful Friday though. The time stream kind of blurs in there. And, that was the last weekend we saw him.

Michael Logan was the kind of man that didn’t know a stranger. He would talk your ear off, and just when you thought you couldn’t take any more, he’d buzz off on his scooter, other people to talk up, other things to do. We were friends from the first time we met. I usually distrust people who are so friendly on first meeting, and I’ve been working on that. The back of my mind asks “what’s your angle; what are you trying to get from me?” I’ve since come to learn that some people just really are that friendly. Michael didn’t know a stranger. He was a cancer survivor, and despite his broken body, he would show up to the party anywhere his mobility scooter would allow. He was a very special person, and more alive than most people I’ve known ambulating on their own two legs. He would send me a message every now and then, at random, reading, “Good Lord, man! Go back to bed!” Most of the time, this had absolutely no context, night or day, but became a beloved surprise when he sent it. I’m sad that I’ll be receiving no more of those.

I met Michael through the Oklahoma Retro Gamers Society. Whoever says that video games have no redemptive quality has clearly never met in a room with like minded folks to communally enjoy the fandom. I feel loved by these people, and I love them in return. They’ve seen me at my worst, and maybe near my best, but they have always accepted me. If it weren’t for video games, I would have probably never met him.

I kind of always knew that I’d outlive him, but I could never be prepared. I found out last night via FaceBook that he had passed from this mortal coil. I was shocked. Numb. Of course, I was sad, but I couldn’t even fully feel that, if that makes any sense at all. He’ll be missed by many. He’ll be missed by me. The mutual friend who shared the news asked if we had any pictures of the two of them getting into “wheel chair races.” Regrettably, we do not. He actually wrote up a piece about Michael on his own blog here, which is quite touching. Said friend is not relegated to a wheel chair, but there was one available, and he likes to clown around like that. Michael was the kind of guy that saw the good time in such shenanigans. I’d love to have some pictures of that kind of silliness. Please do go and read Jennifer’s write up, if you haven’t already.

I don’t know what finally took him, but his health was poor, so I don’t even care to make conjecture. Still, I don’t even get my damned pen. My Michael Logan, antler, fountain pen. Not that the pen itself matters at all, but he was making it special for me. I guess I’ll have to pick up a pen lathe after all. As a tribute. R. I. P., friend.

The Day My Life Changed – Part 11: Don’t Look at Your Own Head Scan Without a Pro

If you missed my experience with the MRI on Friday, it’s right here in Part 10.

So obviously, when we got home with the disk, we threw it in a laptop drive to see what we could see, like The Bear that Went Over the Mountain. The software to read the scan files was on the disk along with all of the scan files. Convenient. So, we looked at my brain. It looked like a brain. But, paranoia drew my eyes to the asymmetry.

“There’s this cavity on both sides of my brain, but it’s slightly larger on the left than the right! What does it mean? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?!?”

“…” Jennifer, “maybe it means your brain is broken and you’re insane.”

“That’s not really up for question, though, is it?”

When Jennifer drove me in for my EEG, I was obviously getting tired of tests, but trying to be a good sport and find the entertainment value. They’d told me that I had to get up at 6:00, no coffee, fast, and go in with clean hair, because they were going to stick a bunch of probes on my head. I did them one better and shaved my head the night before. The waiting room was small. Everything felt small. I felt small. There was another couple in the waiting room. He had one of those old lady walkers with the seat, and he was on an oxygen bottle. There was also a plant in the waiting room. I’m pretty sure there were magazines, but nothing that I wanted to read. After what seemed like an eternity waiting, I got called in. The tech/nurse/professional (I don’t even know what to call these people anymore) was a cute little black gal. She led the two of us to the testing room and directed me to a chair. Before she started wiring me up, she told Jennifer that she’d have to go back to the waiting room.

She started attaching the little sticky probe pads to my head, “clean shaved, making my day!”

“Well,” I said, “I usually keep it shaved. I was getting a little fuzzy, and I thought this might make your job easier.”

I knew that they’d put probes on my head. I do have Google, after all. But, I was thinking like six to eight probes. It took her a good twenty minutes to wire me up, because she stuck no fewer than a bajillion of those little sticker probes all over my head, my face, my neck, my chest… Why are you probing my nipples to scan my brain? the first part of the test was clearly to get me relaxed. She turned the lights off and told me to close my eyes. Get your brain out of the gutter. She did NOT light candles NOR put on romantic music. Next, I was instructed to hyperventilate. This also made sense. Brain, sleep deprived, no caffeine, relaxing, oxygenated. Sure, if they’re going to induce a seizure-like state so they can scan my brainwaves through my nipples, then all else they’d need is flashing lights, right? Oh. So, that was the next step. She had me close my eyes again and there was a strobe in my face that went at various intervals. The pattern got to the point that I knew what interval was coming next. Although my eyes were closed, the strobe was intense enough to see through my eyelids. Once the test was finally done, Jennifer drove me home.

I talked to Doc Neuro. He had The Disk in his computer in the examination room. We may or may not have copied said disk. Hey, we paid a lot of money for that disk! Spinning his mouse wheel, he noted, “yeah, your brain looks normal. It looks fine. And, these images are sharp! I can see you’ve got some sinus congestion, but you live in Oklahoma, and most of us have sinus congestion this time of year. I can prescribe something for that, if you’d like.”

To see what happened next, come back tomorrow for Part 12.

The Day My Life Changed – Part 2: That Morning

If you missed yesterday’s post, with the backdrop to this crazy story, you can find it here.

Fast forward through the week. On Thursday, April 27, Jennifer and I intended to get to bed early, as we were planning to get up entirely earlier than we ever do, unless we intend to harvest venison. We didn’t get to bed early. I don’t even remember why. But, one way or another, shiny happened, and we stayed up later than intended. So, Friday morning, on April 28, 2017, the alarm went off at 4:30 or some God-awful time that I didn’t know they even made an “a.m.” for. We zombied our way out of bed, dressed our corpses, made coffee, and motored over to the storage unit. I’m pretty sure we got there at 5:30. Nobody else was there. So, we sat in the car with the windows down, enjoying the cool breeze, still trying to wake up, waiting for our young compatriots to join us. When 6:00 rolled around, we were still the only ones there. I started making phone calls and social media messages. I got a message back from the other RGS founding member.

“Um, the storage place doesn’t even open until 7:00. You might go grab breakfast,” his message read.

Well, crap. There was a McDonald’s about a half-mile down the street. When we got to the drive-through, Jennifer requested her regular Egg McMuffin with hash browns and coffee. I ordered a large Coke.

Jennifer asked, “you aren’t going to order food?”

“My stomach isn’t awake this early,” I answered, “I need more caffeine.”

So, Jennifer started munching on her food, and I started sipping on my drink, “my taste buds must not be awake either; this Coke tastes funny.” But, I kept drinking it.

By 7:00, other volunteers started rolling in, along with the rental truck. When I say “rental truck,” I don’t mean the half-ton you can get by the hour at Home Depot, or even the full-size box truck you can rent from Uhaul. I’m talking about a commercial Isuzu NPR. I don’t know what size engine it had, but I’m pretty sure it was the 5.2L. Big. Truck. As the sun rose, we loaded the truck with arcade cabinets, display cases, shelves, rubber balls, and miscellaneous stuff. I took some time lapse video of us loading the truck. I was starting to feel a little more awake; less numb, less tired. It actually felt good to get the door closed and latched on the truck. The first aforementioned founding RGS member approached me again.

“So,” he said, “all of us came in cars individually.”

“uhuh,” I said. I had a feeling I knew where this was going.

“So, I wondered,” he requested, “if you could drive the truck to the Fairgrounds… Because you’re the only ones who came in a car as a group…”

Crap. That’s where I thought this was going. I’d never driven anything as big as that stupid truck. For a time, I drove a one-ton diesel box truck a hundred miles, twice a day. I got cut off by Mini Coopers in that thing. They were nearly crushed like bugs. When I was a teenager, I drove a 1978 Lincoln Mark V. 6500-lbs, 18-ft long, 6.5-ft wide, 460 V8. I put SEVEN THOUSAND MILES on a Ford E350 Super Duty in TWO WEEKS. What I’m trying to say is that I’m not at all unfamiliar with large vehicles. But, that NPR was notably bigger than anything I’d been behind the wheel of. I was uncomfortable.

“I don’t really want to…” I looked at Jennifer.

She threw her hands in the air, “don’t look at me!” she said.

He said, “we really need you do do this.”

I was still sleepy enough that I couldn’t think of any good excuses, or simply say something to the effect of, “eff no.”

“You lead in the car,” I told Jennifer, “take the interstate, but stick to the right lane, and let’s not top 45mph. Please.”

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about the hilarious and harrowing trip in the giant truck in Part 3.

The Day My Life Changed – Part 1: Background

I’ve been actively taking first responder training for my whole life. I was in first-aid classes as a child. in my adult life, I’ve taken classes in CPR, AED, etc… For that matter, I know how to properly apply a tourniquet or chest seal. I’ve been taught how to respond to someone having a seizure. Jennifer and I have had opportunity to respond to other individuals seizing on two separate occasions. Thinking back, we could have responded better, but to my knowledge, both individuals made through it just fine. Any landing you can walk away from is a good one, right? So, I’ve seen seizures, but I had no idea what recovery was like.

Also, I’ve been healthy my entire life. I’m 39. I once had a baby tooth extracted, but I’ve never had surgery. I had a green stick fracture in a finger as a small child, when my finger got slammed in the back side of a door at church, but I’ve never broken a bone. I’ve had cuts and scrapes, but I’ve never had stitches. I’m not on any medications, and I have no significant allergies. Any time I’ve filled out a medical screening, it’s been “no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no….”

I’m redacting and/or changing names here, as I’ve asked no permissions, with the exception of my lovely wife, with whom I’ve been discussing this post for quite some time. Also, I won’t swear that any of this is perfectly accurate, but my memory and perception of events.

About four years ago, our teenage son asked about “vintage or retro video games, you know, the old ones…” So, Jennifer and I dug through our parents’ attics and got out our Atari 2600s, her original Nintendo NES, my original XBOX, and whatever other goodies we could find. The three of us got to playing the oldies. I went on a mission to the junk shops and garage sales, and wound up expanding the collection of stuff. It was good times. Jennifer forwarded me an email from work, in which they mentioned Super! BitCon, an upstart, local video game convention. Ticket prices were cheap, and they advertised an emphasis on older video games. We had to go. We spent entirely too much money. If memory serves me correctly, the first SNES game I ever purchased was “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past,” in 2014. It was wonderful. After the event, I did a little social digging and we wound up involved with the Okc chapter of Retro Gamer’s Society (which is the original chapter, IIRC).

By the second year of Super! BitCon, Jennifer and I were the official leads of the Photography Team for the convention. That first (second) year, I didn’t have my own DSLR, so I borrowed my Dad’s first or second generation Canon Rebel with its kit lenses. The building was dark, and I felt totally outclassed, watching other photographers with their bleeding-edge Nikon and Canon gear. Regardless, I worked the aging gear and captured some beautiful and compelling images. There was already a spark telling me that I needed to pursue professional imagery work. This pretty well ignited the fire that pushed me down that rabbit hole.

So, for the last three years of Super! BitCon, we have been not only Photography Lead, but regular, workhorse volunteers for the convention. Fast forward to Saturday, April 22, 2017. We attended the final preparation meeting for the con. We had assembled our photography team. We were pensively ready. I was confident in the members of our team, but we were rag-tag. There were people that I wanted to get for the (fully volunteer) team that couldn’t make it, and one or two that I hadn’t initially counted on that jumped into the fray. We were good to go, though. As the other volunteers were shuffling out of the conference room to enjoy what was left of their Saturday, one of the club’s founding members caught my attention.

“What are you doing at six in the morning on Friday?” he asked me.

I laughed, “sleeping. That was my plan, anyway. Why? What do you have in mind?”

He tipped his head and said, “I wouldn’t not want you to be at the storage unit to help load the truck.”

“Hmmm…” I sighed, “I think we can probably work that out.”

Please do come back tomorrow, and I’ll tell you about how that morning played out, in Part 2.

Interesting Times. But, Let’s Not Talk Politics.

It seems that cycling has become a more popular hobby of late, in my hometown anyway, but I suspect the local is not a completely unique sample section. Sure, I have memories from childhood of the group of Sunday cyclers who would clog local roadways in their tour around town, but it seems that more and more regular people are making a more regular habit of donning their cycling uniforms and taking to the streets on their bikes. A friend of my parents, who is a local restaurant owner, regularly bikes fifty or so miles around the metro area. My brother recently purchased himself a new bicycle that he rides around the University campus from class to class. I still have my Grandpa’s old Peugeot that I’d like to restore; I just wouldn’t mind spending some time on two wheels again, as it’s been since my teens that I last really rode a bike on a regular basis.

They are fascinating devices. Today’s carbon fiber wonders with intricate gearing mechanisms make my childhood Huffy look like a dinosaur. The Oklahoma Museum of Science has a small but interesting exhibit of historical bicycles. Although it almost seems there is more lore about the origins of the bicycle than history, it is widely accepted that the first one was invented in 1817 in Germany by Charles, Baron Von Drais. Unlike the modern bicycles that we know, this early example had no drive mechanism, but did sport a padded seat and a steerable front wheel. To all you cyclists out there, did you realize that your hobby turns 200 next year?

Back when foundational garments for women included girdles, these now archaic garments were being made from rubber up until the material was in a shortage due to the efforts in World War II. In response to the rubber shortage, Dr. Joseph Shivers, PhD, working for DuPont, began research to develop a new material that could be used as a replacement for rubber in clothing. Through much effort and perseverance, and over a decade later, he and his team invented “Fiber K,” which was renamed “Lycra.” This fiber stretches up to 600% and returns to its original length, in a slimmer, lighter, and more breathable package than its rubber predecessor. Over the course of the next few decades, Lycra, or Spandex, found its way into specialized garments and textiles in applications so varied and vast that I doubt Dr. Shivers himself could have imagined the impact.

Sometime in the 1970s, purpose-made cycling clothing was made from Spandex blends for competitive cycling. Over the subsequent decades, these clingy garments have trickled from the race track to the aforementioned town cruisers. As I wrote in the original paragraph above, regular people will put on their cycling uniform to pedal the local streets. So essentially, for well over 150-years, people managed to enjoy cycling without junk-hugging Spandex. But, my how times have changed! Now we live in a world where it’s hard to go into a coffee shop without seeing some folks nonchalantly meandering about in their skin-tight bike outfits. That stuff leaves nothing to the imagination!

I kid, of course. At least these people are generally in better shape than your average Walmart shopper. As much as I like to rail on people for fashion (not pants!), I honestly don’t care what people choose to wear. Apparently, there are good reasons to go Spandex if you’re biking the long haul well beyond looks or aerodynamics. Heck, maybe I need to get Grandpa’s Peugeot up and running so I too can justify wandering into the bagel shop clad in nothing but skin-tight Spandex and a pair of Oakleys. I think Grandpa would roll over in his grave.

Local Police – But Let’s Not Talk Politics

I was really looking forward to this election cycle; not looking forward to the results, mind you, as I’m pretty sure the results will be disastrous one way or another. But, the cycle itself, campaigning and drama, it really seemed like it would be great blog fodder. But then, there was just too much material. We all knew campaigning for the general election would get juicy, but this is like trying to drink from a fire hose! I was freaking overwhelmed. So, as to politics, we now have to decide if we’re going to vote for the old, rich, corrupt narcissist, trying to put on a show for the common man, or the old, corrupt narcissist, trying to put on a show for the common man. Or, you could go third party and vote for the pothead, calling himself a libertarian, whose ideals are anything but libertarian. Except for the pot. And oddly, I don’t feel that any of the preceding is all that controversial. But, I said I wouldn’t get into politics, and so I digress…

There have been some palpable changes in our local police department over the last few years. A few years ago, they replaced all the motorcycles in my hometown with these souped up BMWs that have some kind of biometric lock that secures their short barreled ARs to the back fender. How a rifle makes any kind of tactical sense when you’re on a motorcycle is completely beyond me, but they look cool, and I haven’t heard of any hi jinx associated therewith, so I suppose it’s all good. I tried to get an in, to go take pics and blog about the new bikes, because they’re cool, but the receptionist simply took my name and number, and I never heard back from them. *Eek!* That probably means I’m on some list somewhere, of citizens who are just a little too curious about the cops and their motorcycles with mounted SBRs. In the past I’ve had contacts with the local PD that made me nervous, but those are stories for another time. More recently, in fact the last two contacts that I’ve had, however, have been nothing short of exemplary. Put that eyebrow down. One was when I rolled over grass in the median to get in the turn lane (there was no curb at the intersection) and the other was for a burned out tail light bulb. It’s not like I’ve been smoking my tires or drifting through intersections. These were two different officers, and I wish I’d gotten their names so I could publicly laud them, because they were both the shining example of how an official contact should go. They were both appropriately respectful, professional, enthusiastic, and downright understanding. The latter (for the tail light) even went so far as to say, “thank you for carrying a gun. Good people like you, carrying, only make my job easier, so please keep that up.” Yeah. It’s little things like this that make endear me to my hometown.

We don’t watch much TV; heck, we don’t even get broadcast television in our home. Pretty much all we watch is on YouTube, Netflix, or Amazon Prime Video. However, I’ll catch a news broadcast every once in a great while at the house of a family member, or in a public space. Anytime there’s a local event that calls the local media to ask for a statement from the police, it seems like two personalities show up over and over again. There’s a female officer whose name escapes me, but she stands out because of her looks and screen presence. She just has the happiest, most pleasant-looking face you could imagine. She’s got the semi-circle, anime eyes, and bright smile. She really looks like a live-action anime girl stuffed into a police uniform. And, she’s always bright and bubbly on screen. Even when they’ve called upon her to talk about something unpleasant, she manages to deliver in a pleasant manner, still paying due gravity to the situation at hand. You wouldn’t mind getting pulled over by her. When she asked for your license and insurance verification, you’d say, “d’awwww! Yes, ma’am.” I tried to ID her on a Google search, but to no avail. Suffice it to say, it’s pretty obvious why the PD throws her in front of the camera over and over when the media comes a-knockin’.

The other regular Okc TV spokesman that comes to mind is Captain Steve McCool. Don’t bother to image search him, just read his name again. Out loud. Captain Steve McCool. Captain McCool is always… well… cool. And to the point. Whenever he comes on the screen though, Jennifer and I will say in unison, “Captain Steve McCool!” with great emphasis. I can just imagine little seven-year-old Stephen (Steven?) McCool, riding down the street on his bicycle, thinking to himself, “self, with a name like yours, you’re destine for greatness! Someday, I’m going to make Captain in the police department.” I mean, seriously! With that title and name, he sounds bigger than life! Captain Steve McCool sounds like he should be the main character in a spy movie, as a cartoon cat! He sounds like he should be the captain of some great airship, blowing villains out of the sky with cannon fire. I’m just saying the guy has a cool name. I’ll bet he still got made fun of for his name when he was a kid though. If you never got made fun of for your name growing up, please tell me about it in the comments section. Kids can be such little jerks.

The first car I bought after Jennifer and I got married was a 1983 Honda Civic Wagon. That was my second ’83 Civic Wagon, after I totaled my first, which was my first car. That’s a story unto itself. I cranked, wrenched, and painted on that second Wagon until she was cherry. We loved that car. I had her just about perfect when this sixteen-year-old girl in a Ford Expedition meandered into my lane through a curve and crunched the front fender and the edge of the hood. Subsequently, a friend gave me an ’82 Civic hatchback to use for spare parts. The hatchback was a complete car, and I drove it home. It seemed like a shame to strip the hatch for parts, so I sourced sheet metal to patch up the Wagon separately, and made the hatch into a toy. At first, I stiffened up the valvetrain on the original 1.5-liter engine, opened up the intake and exhaust, and stripped the interior and air conditioning, as well as some other tweaks here and there. The engine would redline at around 7,000-RPM, and would spin the front tires from 60-mph. The real trouble was, running it that hard, I couldn’t keep it in head gaskets; as in, every 5,000 or so miles, I’d change the oil and head gasket. So, I yanked the 1.8-liter engine out of a 1979 Accord and shoehorned it in. I truncated the exhaust from there and added a Weber carburetor and a cowl induction hood scoop. I know that’s a lot of lead up to the actual story, but please try to bear with me.

I’d been tinkering on the hatchback (we called her Medusa) one day, tweaking and adjusting this and that, and I wanted to see how my efforts would pan out in real life. So, I wheeled her out to the little road behind our neighborhood. I looked carefully to make sure that there were no other cars or pedestrians. And then, I romped on it. And, I upshifted and floored the throttle again. And then, I saw the cop car behind the trees. I immediately started to decelerate, and the red and blues pulled in behind me. “Yup, he got me,” I thought to myself, as I pulled over and shut off the rowdy four-cylinder. The officer who came to the window was an older gentleman with a pleasant demeanor. It was almost like he’d just walked off the set of the Andy Griffith Show.

“Good afternoon,” he said cheerfully, “I suppose you know why I’ve pulled you over today.”

“I have an idea,” I replied, handing him my license and insurance.

“I was sitting here, watching for drivers in violation of seat belt laws, so I wasn’t watching my radar,” he politely fished for admission, “so I don’t know how fast you were going, but the way you were accelerating, I’m pretty sure you had to be speeding.”

I smiled coolly, and admitted to nothing.

“Well,” he smiled back, handing me my license and insurance, “slow it down, and please be careful.”

“Yes sir,” I said.

In today’s day and age, the police are taking a brutal and unwarranted political beating. The vast majority of the police that I see in action are doing a fantastic job, too, both local and abroad. Of the interactions I’ve had with the police, only a small fraction of them have been negative in the least, and I’ve never been in fear for my own safety. I know I’m preaching to the choir for anyone who ever comes to my website, but I just had to put this out there. These men and women are doing a job that I, frankly, wouldn’t want to. Often times, when I see our local officers around town, doing their thing, I’ll give them a smile and wave. This is my little way of participating in Robert Peel’s Principles. “Hey, you, thanks for doing what you’re doing! Keep up the good work!” I know I said I was going to keep it unpolitical, and I’ve probably skirted politics a little too much by now, but whatever. To my friends in law enforcement, for those of you who I’m pretty sure will read this, as well as those of you that probably wont, thank you. There are plenty of us out here that won’t make the news that approve and appreciate you. Because we don’t block traffic or break windows, we are the silent majority. But, we are the majority, and we very much appreciate what you do. And, at the risk of getting too mushy, I’m just going to leave it at that.

Kilted to Kick Cancer 2015

Most of y’all already know that September means wearing a kilt. I wear a kilt to raise awareness and funding for male specific cancers. Yes, all September. Here I am at the liquor store:

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Why yes, I am carrying a .45 in that photo. The shop’s proprietor, “Mom,” asks me every year why I’m wearing a skirt in her hard Korean accent. I’ve tried to explain, but English is not her strongest understanding. This is just part of the job. Over the next thirty days, I hope you’ll support my efforts in this endeavor. There will be challenges and promotions. I’ll do stupid things to earn your sponsorship. Please be gentle. Go here: link. Donate and tag my name to your donation. It’s a great cause and we’ll have fun.

My Good Deed for the Year

In past years, our son has kind of lost his mind over summer breaks between school years, and the ensuing fall has been quite a struggle. So, in the last few years, I’ve assigned him projects to complete, not to fill up his break or keep him busy, but to keep the brain active. Two years ago, I had him write a research paper on the Soviet Union. Last summer, he read The Diary of Anne Frank and worked on video editing and digital music composition. This has successfully eased him into the last few school years, so I think we’ll keep doing this until graduation. This year’s project is to learn to design video games and Android development, with the end goal of publishing a downloadable game on Google Play. This assignment came with the disclaimer that I didn’t really know how much work that would entail, and if it turned out to be an unreasonable goal, we would reevaluate and revise if necessary.

This week Teen Bot is taking a video game design class. It’s a workshop offered to local area youth for four days this week for seven hours a day. Yesterday morning, I got up, took him to the grocery store to pack him a lunch, and dropped him off at the community center. I was quite excited for him, and admittedly a little nervous to entrust him to strangers. It’s odd how we as parents do that. I know full well that he’ll soon be an autonomous adult, but I still can’t help but be a little protective. I returned to pick him up in the afternoon, and he was excited to tell me about his day. He used some kind of game design program to make two video games, one of which includes three levels of play. Of course, I’m looking forward to hearing about today’s experiences this afternoon.

As we made our way home, he asked me, “did you see that phone back there?”

“No I didn’t,” I responded, “what and where?”

“There was a smart phone lying in the street right back there,” he said.

Imagining some deprecated piece of junk phone roadkill, I humored him, “do you want me to turn around and go back for it?”

“Yeah, I do,” he said.

So, I turned the truck around, and he pointed out the device in question, lying in the street as he said. As we passed it, it appeared to be intact. I turned around again and instructed him, “I’ll pull up, and you can reach out the door and pick it up.” When he retrieved the phone, we could see that it was an AT&T HTC in a sturdy case with a screen protector. This was clearly someone’s baby, not their beater. I don’t know the HTC models very well, but from the lack of wear, I would say that it was not very old. I figured once we got to the house, I’d try to figure out who it belonged to and reunite it with its owner.

When we got back to the house, Teen Bot began to gather the phone up with his lunch bag and other stuff. I stopped him and said, “why don’t you let me take care of that phone?” I took it back to my desk to try to figure out what to do with it. I thought maybe I’d browse the contacts and see if I could get in touch with a family member of the owner. When I hit the power button, it brought up a lock screen asking for a password. Great. A quick Google search gave a few suggestions on how to hack past the lock out, using a PC and Android exploits. Red flag. I pulled the case off of it to see if there was a serial number or other identifying marking in the battery compartment. Not being familiar with HTC products, it was not immediately clear how to open the battery cover. I put the case back on the phone, wondering what to do next.

And then it rang. The caller ID came up as just a number, evidently not in the contact list. I answered the phone in my friendliest, warmest tone, but there was no reply. “Hello? Hello? I can’t hear you, if you can hear me.” But, there was nothing on the other end: no voice, no background noise, just dead silence. A few minutes later, it rang once more. This time the caller ID read “mamma.” I attempted to answer it again in the same fashion as before, with the same results. When the phone disconnected, mamma began to call it incessantly. When I tried to answer it, I still got nothing. I tried to call the local AT&T store, but I wound up in automated-message, on-hold hell, with the classic, flat, female voice informing me that all customer service representatives were currently helping other customers. There were options that she suggested, but I missed them over the cacophony of mamma calling. “Teen Bot,” I said, “let’s take this phone down to the AT&T store and let them deal with it.”

As we drove the two miles, give or take, to the store, mamma continued to ring the phone, evidently as often as was possible to connect, go to voice mail, disconnect; lather, rinse, repeat. Arriving at the store, I expected them to be very busy after my failed phone call, but they were not. As I came through the door, a sales girl, Suzie or something, diligently approached me, no doubt hoping to score SPIFFs for selling me a new iPhone 5.1sx or Galaxy S23 along with a phat new contract. Before she could say anything, I presented the HTC to her, saying, “I found this laying in the street in my neighborhood, and somebody is going to want it back. Can you make that happen? It rang a couple times, and I tried to answer it, but…” Before I could finish, mamma cut me off as the phone rang yet again.

The sales girl answered it, saying, “this is Suzie at AT&T.” *pause* “I work at the AT&T store on Blank Street.” *pause* “Yes, your phone was just turned in.” *pause* “Blank street.” *pause* “Well it’s here now, and you can come pick it up.”

I lipped “thank you” to her and left. Perhaps this will earn me some Karma points. I have to wonder what the story was on the other side. There weren’t any street rash marks on the phone or case. I can understand that stuff gets dropped by accident, but people are usually more careful with The Expensive New Toy, not that I’m being judgmental toward them. I wonder if they thought their phone had been stolen somehow, and the strange male voice coming from my end was the perpetrator of the crime. I hope not. Rather, I’d like to think that they were thankful to the anonymous stranger who went out of his way to protect their lost valuable property, and see that it was returned in a timely fashion. At the very least, I hope it made for a good story they can tell.