Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Elvis drove a truck



"If you ever crawl inside an old hollow log and go to sleep, and while you're in there some guys come and seal up both ends and then put it on a truck and take it to another city, boy, I don't know what to tell you."
--Jack Handy
Yes, Elvis started his career as a truck driver for an electric company. But I bet it was just apick-up truck and not a 26' U-Haul Super Mover. If it had been, I'm willing to bet the King wouldn't have even made it to 42. Because I'm telling you right now, they are a death trap on wheels.

I speak from recent experience. Tess and I spent the Memorial Day weekend moving her into my house (now our house). She sold her house and it closed last week. This ment we could finally consolidate our households. In preparation we have been jointly purging possesions and rented a very large storage unit. But even after all of this, we still needed to rent a truck to move a portion of her furniture into my house and the rest into the storage unit.

That's where the U-Haul came in. First, never try and rent a truck on Memorial Day weekend. Second, never, and I repeat never rent a 26' truck unless you've completed one of those truck driver schools they are always advertising during daytime television. If you do make the mistake of renting a 26' truck, at least find out how old the vehicle they are giving you and whether or not it has an automatic transmission. We didn't.

Lesson hopefully learned: always ask the right questions upfront. I knew I was in trouble when the U-Haul attendant brought this whale-sized truck around that looked like it had just been on a tour of combat in Iraq and told me to step into the cab so he could explain a few things about the equipment. I consider it a major red flag when anyone has to "explain" equipment to me that I will soon take out on the freeway at high speeds.

The first thing he pointed out was that the truck had five gears plus reverse. And this puppy had you shift up for reverse, down for first, up for second, down for third, up for fourth and down for fifth. This is, of course, the exact opposite of the standard shifting pattern of a passenger car or pick-up truck. Then he pointed out various lights and gauges I needed to monitor before I could actually start the truck. "You need to turn the key half way, watch that light there...once it goes on, turn the key all the way, pump that lever, flip that switch and then scratch your right armpit," he said. "It should start right up and your on your way."

I don't consider myself a stupid person. But often, put in an unfamilar and undesirable situation such as this, I draw a blank and simply nod. And that's what I did.

But when the import of the situation began to sink in and I realized that I hadn't a clue as to what the guy had said, I began to formulate a response that I think would have been something like, "Do you have anything smaller that doesn't require flight training to operate?"

But before I could stammer out a protest, the attendant was gone, presumably to help another customer purchase some styrofoam popcorn to pack some dishes. Tess stood outside the truck cab staring at me. "Do you want me to drive?" she asked. Okay, I'm a guy. There's no way I'm going to admit to my new wife that I'm scared to death of trying to start this monstrosity of motor mechanics, let alone drive it.

"No, honey," I said. "It should be no problem. Lot's of truck here, though."

Tess looked skeptical and suggested we ask for a smaller truck. I couldn't bear the thought of the attendent smirking at me as he brought around a "smaller" vehicle I could handle. I shook my head and told her to follow me in her car.

Okay, what followed can only be described as akin to riding a bucking rodeo bull on the road to hell. The truck must have been built in 1960 and only had lap belts. From the moment I turned the key and observed all of the appropriate lights and switches and fired up the engine, I thought I was on a space shuttle. I eased the dinosaur into first and jolted forward. Second was easy, but third gear took some finding. All the while, the truck was bouncing about it was having a seizure despite U-Haul's claim of:
"On select 26' and 24' models, the Air-Ride Suspension gives cargo an extra soft ride, using inflatable rubber bladders in place of stiff metal springs. The Air-Ride can even be deflated when the vehicle is parked, which lowers the floor for easier loading and unloading."
There was no way this truck had anything akin to "air-ride suspension." And I swear it was permanently stuck in the lower floor position. I've been on horseback riding outings where I bounced less than driving that piece of crap. And I had this stupid Garth Brook's song stuck in my head the entire time I was on the road:
"Well the picture in the paper showed the scene real well
Papa's rig was buried in the local motel
The desk clerk said he saw it all real clear
He never hit the brakes and he was shifting gears"

One of my major anxieties about driving big trucks is the lack of visibility. My game plan was to keep the whale in the right lane so all I would have to worry about was traffic on my left. This is easier said than done when you have about 40 miles to travel on major highways. My backup plan when I had to get into the left lane was to pray people were smart enough to steer clear from a 26' U-Haul being driven by a middle-aged man shrieking like a little girl.

I thought I was doing pretty good until we got to Tess' house and she approached the truck visibly shaken.

"You almost ran three cars off the road," she said. "I was scared to death and you were driving too fast."

Having been riding the truck from hell, I kind of thought I was the one who should have held the monopoly on being scared to death. We both tried to shake off the drive and began the loading process.

Now I don't claim to be an expert packer, but I tried to pack heavy boxes on the bottom and wedge them in tight enough to prevent moving. And I don't know why I thought the furniture I was stacking in there would be protected by the "air-ride." Maybe it was my incompetence. maybe it was the fact that the truck was too big and the load was too small. Maybe it was driving a truck that bounced around more than "Mr. Toad's wild ride." And maybe my spatial relationship skills at packing aren't as finely honed as I'd like to think, but suffice it to say, despite driving at a greatly reduced speed to our house, the load...well, let's say...shifted.

I felt terrible. Who wants to start out a marriage by trashing your wife's possessions? But all things considered, Tess took it well. We unloaded some furniture at my house and then I steered the barge down the freeway to our storage unit and unloaded everything else.

It was with great relieve that I guided that behemoth into the parking lot at the U-Haul and stepped down from the big rig for the last time. Both Tess and I agreed that, when we are through fixing up my house and sell it, we are hiring movers to move everything into where ever we end up.

Because this trucker's gear-shifting days are over.





Friday, May 27, 2005

Blue blazes...


It's a hot time in Seattle, I tell you. The thermometer is pushing into the 90s. And the people of the Pacific Northwest are not people who deal well with temperatures above 65 degrees. Shoot normally the only people who wear shorts here are the ones who work for Amazon.com (they are the same ones who can't accept that ponytails were never a particularly good look on a man). But let the temperature rise a bit here and everyone turns into Jimmy Buffet and starts dressing like we live in the tropics.

And I know it is trite to talk about the weather. But it's not like I'm running around shouting at people, "Is it hot enough for you?" I'm just trying to share with you a little bit of what is going on in my little corner of the world. So back off, okay?

Sorry, but I mainly mention the heat because it made it difficult for me to sleep last night. My bedroom is upstairs and I've been too lazy to put the air conditioner back in the window. It is sitting on my bedroom floor where I placed it when I took it out of the window last fall. This is one of my quirks. I tend to leave a lot of things exactly where they lay until I get sick of tripping over them. I imagine Tess will break me of this habit. Or I will break a leg and be a bit more aware of my surroundings.

But I am a Pisces and Pisces tend to have their head in the clouds a great deal of the time anyway. Einstein was a Pisces and most of us have heard the stories about how he could be very forgetful. For example, I've heard he would sometimes forget to go to the bathroom and just drop a load in his pants. So I guess geniuses and some of the people who use public transit have something in common.

Not that I think I am a genius. But I do tend to make it to the bathroom more often than not. Which is another bummer about having an upstairs bedroom and a downstair bathroom. Sometimes it is quite the challenge at 3 a.m. to maneuver in the dark past the air conditioner sitting on the floor to the stairs, avoid stepping on the cat who likes to sleep next to the heat vent built into the stairs (unless it is hot and then she likes to sleep on my head) and make it to the bathroom.

Our next house will have a bathroom on the same floor as the bedroom. I'm not getting any younger.

Though when I was a boy, I thought it would be cool to live in a house that had an upstairs. The house I grew up in had the main floor and a partial basement. Eventually my mom turned the basement into a bedroom for my two older brothers. The basement originally had an outside entrance, so it was kind of like giving them their own apartment. But it didn't have a bathroom. Eventually I got the basement when they moved out. Then I had to deal with the hundred yard dash upstairs through the cold to the toilet. Then mom added on to the house with the money she got from selling my grandmother's house for a stinking $6,000. The addition included making the entrance to the basement inside. Still there were stairs.

So this deal with having to navigate stairs to make it to the bathroom has pretty much been an issue for my most of my life. Even when I was in college and lived in the dorm, I was in the room farthest from the men's room. But I had a sink and a window, so there were late night options.

Did I mention it is hot in Seattle today?




Thursday, May 26, 2005

I am juror number 3

Lot’s of people tell me that they have never been called for jury duty but think it would be interesting. I used to think that. I just wrapped up a tour of jury duty. This was my fourth time being called for jury duty. My curiosity has been satisfied.

First, you report to what I like to call the juror-to-be holding pen. This tour of jury duty was in Superior Court. The holding pen was very large. You had to go through a very long line where they scanned your juror ID barcode and gave you a bio form to fill out. Then you were told to be seated and wait. Generally jury duty requires a lot of that.

Having been called three times before, I came prepared with my iPod and Blackberry to amuse me. But before I could amuse myself, television monitors scattered throughout the holding pen came to life and a video, explaining what it means to be a juror began playing. This is the same video they have played every time I’ve been a juror. It is narrated by Raymond Burr. Raymond Burr was the actor who played Perry Mason (a famous fictional lawyer that started out in mystery novels and worked his way into early black and white television). Raymond Burr also played Ironsides, a detective in a wheelchair. Raymond Burr has been dead for very many years.

When Raymond Burr began explaining the history of the American justice system, a fellow juror-to-be seated nearby called out, “Look, it’s Aaron Burr.” She seemed puzzled when I explained to her that Aaron Burr was the man who shot Alexander Hamilton and began questioning me as to why a murderer was narrating the juror video. I put on my iPod.

You see, there is a common denominator for most people who actually show up for jury duty. They are either retired, stupid or both. It is widely accepted that, if you are reasonably intelligent, you will figure out a way to get out of jury duty. I go out of a twisted sense of social responsibility and to get out of going to work for a few days.

As I settled into my chair to listen to my iPod, one of the herders of the jurors-to-be began giving instructions as to what our lives would be like for the next few days. She then announced that she would begin calling out names followed by a number, and that if your name was called, you should write the number on your bio form and hand it to one of the clerks. There would be 50 names called per courtroom and trial. I figured I was safe.

I was number three.

We were herded into elevators and up to the courtroom where I was immediately seated in the juror’s box as Juror Number 3. The judge seemed like a nice enough guy. He was a cross between Harry Anderson from Night Court and an age progressed Doogie Howser. He introduced the proceedings. This was to be a civil trial which meant we weren’t dealing with criminals, just citizens who disagreed over something.

To put the case in a nutshell, it was a guy suing another guy for damages sustained in a car accident back in 2000. The plaintiff (the guy filing the lawsuit) had torn the meniscus in his knee and had a gouge taken out of his articular cartilage after his car was struck and knocked off the road by the defendent's car. The defendent accepted responsibility for the accident. He just wasn't ready to take responsibility for the injuries, mainly because the plaintiff had waited so long to say he had them.

The trial basically involved much tedious testimony intended to show that the plaintiff's knee had indeed been injuried in the accident and prevented him from running, squatting, twisting and jumping. This was complicated more because, although the plaintiff was in his mid-60s (and wouldn't normally be expected to be doing much running, squatting, twisting and jumping anyway) he was an avid outdoors man and had done a great deal of hunting, hiking and fishing since the accident.

The plaintiff's attorneys spent a lot of time showing us family photos of the guy running, squatting, twisting and jumping before the accident and one shot of him after the accident just standing there. The defense attorney spent a lot of time asking about the plaintiff's hunting trips into the tundra of Alaska hunting caribou. There was even a few accusations that spending 11 days camping in Alaska while you shot big game would eventually necessitate squatting (unless you were pretty severely constipated).

The testimony finally ended and the final arguements wrapped up. Then came my least favorite part of being on a jury: deliberating. This is where you find that the Marine Corp-looking dude you thought wouldn't give a settlement to Mother Theresa let alone sympathize with a 60-something year old man with a bum knee wants to award him the maximum. And the pleasant retired grandmother wants to give him five years in the slammer even when you explain to her that this is not a criminal case and it is not one of the options.

Pretty soon we've divided up into our respective camps, those of us who sympathize with the man with the bad knee and those who don't like the fact that he drives an SUV and believe he doesn't need the money. Now being a career bureacrat skilled in the art of committees and meetings, I watch in mild amusement as these amateurs trip over each other trying to make their opinions heard above the din of the other bickering jurors. I'm not the lead juror, but I begin herding the cats towards coming to consensus.

What finally brings us to agreement is the bailiff's announcement that we will need to return another day if we haven't arrived at a decision by 4 p.m. Both camps give ground and we award him the medical expenses he's asked for plus an arbitrary $27,450 for the impact on his quality of life (don't ask me how we arrived at $27,450). With that we buzz the bailiff and thirty minutes later are ushered back into the courtroom to announce our verdict. Neither side seems impressed at the settlement. The plaintiff's attorneys have won, but their piece of the pie will be pretty pitiful compared to what they'd suggested their client's suffering was worth. The defense attorney hasn't changed her expression since the trial began and the verdict doesn't phase her.

The judge thanks us, gives us a "good citizen" certificate and we are ushered out. My fourth tour of jury duty is concluded without a bang, but a whisper.

And no, it's nothing like it seems on television.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The jury is out...

I am on jury duty this week. This is the fourth time I've been called for jury duty. I am just one lucky fellow. This means I get to do my civic duty for the fourth time and pass judgment on my fellow citizens.

Judge not lest ye be judged.

But that aside, it is an interesting process that unfortunately I am not allowed to talk about until the current trial I am on is over. Once it is, you can bet it will become fodder for my blog cannon.

I just wanted to say that in way of explanation to those two or three people who actually read my blog why I haven't been prolific this week.

But trust me, justice is being served:

Do you want fries with that settlement?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Over the river and through the woods…



Actually it was over the fence and through the door to grandmother’s house I’d go. Much to the chagrin of my mother, my grandmother (her mother-in-law) lived right next door to us when I was growing up. This was no accident. My grandparents had given my father the property our house was built on as a wedding gift. It was a way to keep their baby boy close by.

You see, my father was an only child. At least we thought he was an only child. It turned out he was actually adopted. But we didn’t know this until grandma died and my father was 59. But that is (and was) another blog.

My father lived with his parents until he was 35 years old. That’s when he married my mother. She was 25. I used to think it was odd that he waited until he was 35 to get married. That was until I got married at 47. Life is funny like that.

Anyway, rather than buy a new house for his bride, my father took the property his parents gave him (what used to be a fruit orchard and chicken farm) and built our family home. It was a modest two-bedroom rambler with a partial basement. My mother still lives there, though she has added on to it over the years.

Living next door to your grandmother has its perks as a kid. But for my mother, living next door to her mother-in-law was more like purgatory. Grandma had a nasty habit of just showing up and walking in. This was until my mother started locking the doors and having us hide behind the couch until my grandma went away.

I never really knew my grandfather. He died when I was four. I just remember this quiet old man with a hat sitting out in his backyard under a tree, watching me fish out of an old wash bucket grandma had. We’d fill it with water and I’d throw in some old washers. Then I’d try to fish them out with a paperclip hook, string and a stick. Amazing how easily entertained I was as a kid.

I don’t remember my grandfather ever talking. My mother said it was because he couldn’t get a word in edgewise being married to may grandmother. Because grandma was a talker. But that was okay. I was always a good listener.

As long as I can remember, grandma’s house was an extension of my own. There was a wire fence between our yards. Dad put a wooden box by it so all I had to do was vault over it to visit. And visiting grandma was like going back in time. The house had been built about 1908 or so. Everything in it was stuff my grandparents had brought with them when they’d moved to Boise from Portland around 1920. She never owned a television. She had this old radio from the 1940s that she’d sit and listen to. She also had an old Victrola record player that I loved to crank and play old 78 rpm records…Barney Google with the Goo Goo Googly Eyes and Eddy Cantor.

All of her furniture was this old Mission style oak stuff. I still have some of it in my home. I think that’s where I grew to love antiques. I’d stand on a chair and wind this old pendulum clock. Or we’d take the tablecloth off her old pedestal oak table and play dominoes. Sometimes we’d bake cookies. Or she’d simply let me mix mysterious spices from old spice cans together in a science experiment I would create.

So grandma’s house was a playground for me. But, as with all old houses, it had its frightening aspects as well. I was fine if I was in the bright dining room, kitchen or living room, but the rest of the house freaked me out. My dad’s old room was a dark, gloomy space with brown wallpaper. The bed was covered with the old souvenir pillows he’d sent home when he was in the Navy in World War II and it reeked of mothballs.

But it was the closet in dad’s old room that terrified, yet at the same time, fascinated me. It was a walk-in closet and huge by today’s standards. Sometimes, just to scare myself, I’d fling open the door and frantically reach for the string that would turn on a single light bulb in the closet, hoping I could get the light on before the monsters in the closet could drag me in.

The monsters were winter clothes and coats in garment bags, hanging like bodies on each side of the closet. With the light on, I could dash between them to the back of the closet where a mysterious steamer trunk waited. I’d run in, touch it and run out. I used to fantasize that it contained dead bodies or at the very least, a treasure. After my grandma died, we discovered it contained neither. Just old photos and papers (which are a treasure in a way). The trunk itself became my treasure and has followed me around since I left Boise. Now it houses my old photos and papers.

But as scary as the closet was, it was my grandma’s basement that fed my nightmares. The stairs to it were just off her sun porch. They were steep and very narrow. It reminded me of steps that may have been chiseled into an Egyptian tomb and I could picture Howard Carter (the archaeologist that discovered King Tut’s tomb) descending into the basement with a lantern held high to cut back the murky shadows.

The basement itself was a dark, gloomy space with essentially three rooms and dirty concrete floors. The entryway housed an old wringer washer with a sump hole next to it where water drained. My young mind would conjure slimy hands reaching out of the sump hole and pulling me in. And I was afraid of the washer’s wringer attachment because my grandma had warned me that it was hungry for young hands.

But it was the furnace that truly haunted the basement. It was the original coal burning behemoth from when the house was built and it looked like a prop right out of hell. Numerous asbestos wrapped heat ducts branched out from it’s body to pump its hot breath reeking of coal into the various rooms of the house. Unlike the more modern coal furnace in my own house that had a feeder that automatically stoked it, this monster needed to be fed by hand. I can still picture my grandma with a coal shovel opening up the maw of that beast and shoveling black nuggets of coal into its hungry fire. Even with the door closed, you could see the evil glow of the furnaces flickering eyes watching you and casting demonic shadows in the gloom.

The coal bin housed god knows what kind of monsters beneath the piles of fuel. I was convinced that the minute the light went out, they emerged and mucked about in the basement creating the mysterious sounds I’d sometimes hear coming up through the heat vents.

Needless to say, I rarely went down in the basement alone. But when I was in sixth grade, I used to invite some of my friends to sleep over on a Friday night. Ironically we took our sleeping bags over to grandma’s house and slept in the basement in a room with a door that separated us from the killer washing machine and furnace. I remember that, in between telling dirty jokes, talking about girls and telling ghost stories, we didn’t get much sleep. My grandma had provided us with a chamber pot that we placed outside the door in the main part of the basement opposite the furnace. But a shared, yet unspoken dread kept any of us from using it. In the morning we’d run past the furnace, up the stairs and over to my house to wait in line for the bathroom.

The evil sidekick to my grandma’s basement was the root cellar in her backyard. It was essentially a roof covering a pit carved out of the earth that had been used to store garden perishables at one time. By the time I was a kid, the root cellar was mainly used to store gasoline for my dad’s lawnmower. God, I hated having to go down into it to get the gas can when I was old enough to mow lawns. I’d whip open the door and bolt down, grab the can and then dash out.

It was the sound of things scurrying around down there that wigged me out the most. And for what seemed like years there were these corpses of June Bugs in the corners of the root cellar that really gave me the willies. A June Bug or Beetle is this big orange insect that reminds me of an Egyptian scarab. They are as big as a fist (or at least that’s how I remember them). They also have what looks like nasty looking pinchers coming out of their mouths. And they could fly. At night, they’d bang into the window screens of the bathroom when I was taking a bath and freak me out.

As the years passed, I spent less and less time at my grandma’s house. Some summer evenings, when we were outside playing flashlight tag or catching earthworms for a fishing expedition, I’d look up and I’d see my grandma’s silhouette as she sat in her rocking chair at her bedroom window, watching the darkness ascend. For some reason it would make me sad.

My grandmother died when I was 17. My mother, for some reason, had my brothers and I file by her body in her bedroom right after she died. It was the first dead body I’d ever seen. She was buried at her own request without a funeral. She was buried next to my grandfather with an extra space available for my father so once again she could always be next to her baby. My mother got the last laugh there. My father was cremated and we scattered his ashes near the Boise River where he liked to go fishing.

We did visit my grandma’s grave once as a family. I remember driving through the cemetery in my parent’s old Chevy. It was cloudy. We finally found it and stood at her grave briefly before the clouds broke and we darted for the car to avoid the downpour. But when my dad tried to start the car, it wouldn’t turn over. My mother said something about grandma not wanting us to leave and a shiver went through my body. Finally the rain stopped and the sun began to come out. My dad tried starting the car again and it fired up immediately. I’ve never been back to the grave.

The house lay empty for awhile. My parents ended up selling it to one of my mother’s co-workers for about $6,000. I was pissed. One, I thought that was ridiculous price to sell it for and two, I had looked at it as my legacy and should have stayed in the family. My mother argued that it was so old that it would cost too much to renovate. Plus, she didn’t want to deal with renters…”you never knew who you’d have living next to you,” she reasoned. By selling it to her friends, she’d always have good neighbors.

Her “friends” moved in, gutted the house and totally renovated it. They then sold it for $40,000. Renters have lived in it ever since. I’ve never set foot in it again.

I get back to Boise once or twice a year. It’s odd now to stand in my mother’s yard and look over at what used to be my grandma’s house. They’ve long since cut down the tree in the back yard where I fished for washers. The root cellar is covered up and the garage she had has been replaced by a modern structure. I’m also pretty sure the monsters in the basement have been silenced by carpet, fresh wallboard and paint. I’m not sure how they got the furnace out, but I fantasize it was carted away like Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs and is locked up somewhere where it sits waiting to be stoked.

But sometimes, I stand there at dusk and look over at what used to be my grandma’s house and I swear I can see her silhouette at her bedroom window, rocking and staring at the coming darkness.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Field of dreams...


"When I wake up early in the morning,
Lift my head, I'm still yawning
When I'm in the middle of a dream
Stay in bed, float up stream

Please don't wake me, no
don't shake me
Leave me where I am
I'm only sleeping"

--John Lennon, I'm only sleeping

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

- William Shakespeare, "The Tempest"

Everyone and everything seems to dream.

Anyone who has ever had a pet, knows that animals dream. We conjecture that the dog's jerking leg actions are a sign that he is perhaps chasing a rabbit in his dream. Tess' cat Keliki makes odd sounds when he sleeps. Since he is from Jakarta and weighs in at about 25 pounds since he moved to the U.S., I conjecture that he is dreaming about food or perhaps stalking lizards back in Indonesia.

Regardless, we accept that most creatures dream. And we accept it, but none of use really understands what a dream is.

Oh, the scientists like to attribute dreams to the equivalent of a brain fart. They say it is just the brains way of digesting what happened during the day and doing a data dump as you sleep. Okay, I don't know about you, but if all I did was dream about what happened during the day, I'd really go bats. It's bad enough sitting in meetings when you are awake, but I couldn't deal with reliving them in my dreams.

So what are dreams? Science fiction writers have played with the concept that dreams are simply another reality we enter during our sleep state. Every creative writing student at one time or another have written a story where the lead character discovered that their dreams were reality and their reality was a dream. Human beings love paradoxes.

Years ago, I read all of the Carlos Castaneda books about Don Juan, the Yaqui sorcery that taught Castaneda about magic and the other world. Don Juan really played up the concept of lucid dreaming...becoming aware during a dream and eventually being able to control the dream. He referred to it as the "art of dreaming."

I always thought that this was a pretty cool concept. But it isn't as easy as it sounds. Don Juan suggests that one way to know you are dreaming is to force yourself to look at your hands in your dreams. It is because your hands will always be there. The trick is taking control of the dream at that point and becoming awake in it without waking up in the "real" world.

If this sounds far out, it is because it is. I'm pretty much simplifying what Castaneda took umpteen books to explain. And though I've read them all, I confess that his books weren't presumably intended to make sense unless you were sitting on a rock in the desert whacked out on Peyote. His rambling, repetitive and often nonsensical style of writing always left me thinking I was trying to grasp a dream.

But I'll be damned if on a couple of rare occasions I didn't actually experience a lucid dream that I briefly controlled. The most memorable was finding myself outside at night next to a house I didn't recognize with a perfectly manicured lawn (so we know it wasn't my house). I looked down at my hand and saw it vividly. But it pulsated with color. I reached down and stroked the grass and could actually feel the dew on it and smell that wet-grass smell. But then I woke up.

I know it doesn't sound like much, but I actually felt I was awake in a dream and briefly controlled it. Imagine the possibilities. Because I don't know about you, but I can have some pretty elaborate dreams that sometimes rival a George Lucas Star Wars script in fantasy and detail. Now if I could actually control the plot of my dream and manipulate the characters, that would be entertainment.

But instead I find myself trapped in dreams of working at the Boise Public Library. The computer is down and we are checking out books by hand, writing down the individual bar codes. A line of people waiting to check out books stretches into the distance and they are all pissed at me because the computer is down. This is one of those dreams I was talking about that is actually based on what used to happen on a regular basis when I worked there as a teenager.

I also have lots of dreams about guerrilla warfare and escaping from roving bands of marauding soldiers. Often these dreams include hiding in foxholes and waiting for a bayonet thrust. Past life dreams, perhaps?

Many of my dreams thrust me back into my childhood home in Boise. Those dreams also incorporate my grandmother's house (she lived next door when I was growing up). Her house was built in 1905 or something like that and had the scariest basement I'd ever seen. It had this coal burning furnace that literally looked like something Freddie Kruger would be stoking. So dreams about her house still freak me out.

And I have dreams that I'm back in college and have neglected to go to a particular class (usually math) the entire semester and suddenly realized that I needed it to graduate.

I never really fly in dreams. I swim a lot and slog about in canals a bit. Maybe that's the Pisces thing. Come to think of it, I don't drive much in dreams either. Maybe that's the public transit thing.

Life is but a dream
It's what you make it
Always try to give
Don't ever take it
Life has it's music
Life has it's songs of love

Life is but a dream
And I dream of you
Strange as it seems
All night I see you
I'm trying to tell you
Just what you mean to me

--The Harptones

Unfortunately, once I passed puberty, I stopped having many erotic dreams (though I still have fond memories of one I had when I was 14 that involved the actress who played the mother on My Three Sons just before the series went off the air). Oh, I also had a dream that I was Madonna's boy toy. Pity I don't like Madonna. Even when I was having the dream I kept telling myself I needed to wear a condom because I knew she'd been around a bit.

But I digress.

When it comes down to it, I enjoy dreaming. I can't imagine what it would be like not to dream...even when I am awake.
To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,

--William Shakespeare, Hamlet



Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Blue guitar



The Man With the Blue Guitar

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."

-- Wallace Stevens

I always kind of related to that poem. I don't necessarily completely understand it, but I relate to it. Because at times I feel I'm sitting there playing a blue guitar while the world passes by and not a lot of people are pitching coins into my hat. It's as if they don't recognize the tune.

I think I see things clearly. And I hear that beat of the different drum they are always talking about. But it makes me feel so different sometimes. And different isn't always considered a good thing.

Of course, being considered eccentric does help you get away with things, like not ever cleaning my desk at work until things threaten to fall over on me. It allows me the freedom to violate corporate standards and keep odd things around me like the monkey playing cymbals and coconuts (long story).

At one point in my career, when I was a lowly copywriter, I used to have a complete Elvis shrine at my desk and tons of random crap that seemed to gravitate into my cubicle. One day I looked up and an entire middle school class was filing by on a field trip. The person hosting the field trip had made a special trip to my floor just so the class could see my office. As the kids filed by gawking at me like I was a geek in a carnival ready to bite off chicken heads, I had an Epiphany as to why gorillas in cages fling feces at people who stand outside the bars making faces at them.
It was all I could do not to stand up a scream in a lisping voice, "I'm a man, not an animal."

But I doubt any of them had ever heard of the Elephant Man.

It's just that, when I was growing up, I caught on to the Catch 22 of being "creative." Teachers were always encouraging us to think out of the box and be creative problem solvers. Great inventors like Thomas Edison and George Washington Carver were always paraded in front of us as examples of what creative thinking could achieve. But damned if the same teachers didn't make us walk around single-file with our arms crossed ready to whack us in the head if we talked without raising our hands. And all hell would break out if you colored outside the lines.

But I learned that people aren't really comfortable with "out of the box" thinking that actually steps outside the box. People like their boxes. This is why they freak out when you don't mow your lawn or make your bed. God forbid if you dance naked on your roof with a dead chicken and a feather duster...not that I've ever done that...more than that one time.

But I digress.

Anyway, I guess I've arrived at a fairly happy medium in my life and can walk the line that allows me to play the blue guitar and occasionally throw in a few standards that people can hum to. It pays the bills and keeps me employed.

But I still refuse to make the bed.

Monday, May 16, 2005

eBay or not eBay...

As Tess and I merge households and I clean out accumulated clutter from the house I've lived in for 18 years, I've come face to face with a side of myself that is not pretty. Since I was a kid, I've held on to things out of a misguided cross between sentiment and a self-delusionary hope that one day it will be worth a fortune. This has created space issues that Tess is helping me resolve with a few tough love techniques.

I'm quickly being forced to examine why I have so much crap. And I'm learning that purging one's self of useless but interesting stuff is good for the soul (and the relationship). We spent much of weekend packing up my excess and hauling it to Value Village where much of it originated. I am trying to look at it all in a Buddhist fashion that way. And it does make me question the value system I had when I acquired most of the crap.

For instance, I went through an extended phase of collecting old, mismatched dinnerware from the 50s and 60s. My cupboards were overflowing with enough place settings to run a good sized restaurant, yet I don't entertain. I could have got by with two plates and a few cups. Instead I had hundreds. Out the door.

With them went the skies and poles from when I was high school (which is about the last time I skied). The boots went walking years ago. And the various maniquins that decorated my family room fit nicely into Tess' trunk to their new home at the "Village." All of my ratty old rattan furniture followed. And about 100 t-shirts that I've saved since grade school. Add to the stack my collection of Vegas and Reno memorabilia...at least the stuff I could part with. Gone is the "Lost my ass" coffee mugs and playing cards. Gone are the 14 or so ashtrays I'd "ended up" with as souveniers of casinos that ended up with my money in exchange.

Goodbye hockey gloves. I never played hockey anyway. Goodbye shop class project wine rack. Goodbye buddhist shrine, candles and chanting stool. I chant no more. Goodbye endless number of souvenier drink cups from New Orleans, defunct cruise lines and bars that exist no more. Goodbye four wall hanging guitars with broken strings. Goodbye green accordian that was broken and I couldn't play anyway.

But there is still more crap. So I frantically turn to eBay. Save me eBay. You were part of the problem. You forced me to buy more crap. Now take it back. So I list part of my cocktail shaker collection and my glasses and swizzle sticks from Playboy clubs. I list my McCoy cookie jar and my four enamelware camp plates with grizzly bears, salmon and deer images on them.

And I'm terrified that no one will bid. So once again I'll pack up the truck and haul even more of my maddness to the Village to feed someone else's obsessive cumpulsive behaviour. But maybe it is for the better. Letting go of crap is a very spiritual thing. I do find that the older I get, the less I need "things" to ground me.

But in the meantime, go to eBay and bid on my stuff, okay?

Friday, May 13, 2005

Does a bear blog in the woods?


This is of course, not a real bear. We were on an Alaska cruise and this was a lifesized stuffed bear in a gift shop. Had it been a real bear, Tess would likely have not had time to snap the photo and I might have been a bit more animated.

I did encounter a real bear years ago on a backpacking trip in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho. I was with my oldest brother. We rounded a bend in the trail and caught sight of the south end of a northbound bear. As with most bears, it really didn't want to encounter us anymore than we wanted to encounter it.

But as usual, I digress.

The photo, which I have cleverly turned into a drawing via the magic of Photoshop, is a perfect example of creative posing. I do this a great deal because I am rarely comfortable with people taking my photo (though after 14 cruises you would think I'd be used to it by now).



Case in point, the above image is me in front of a totem pole. I was using restraint. Normally I would pose pointing at the object I am standing next to.

And here I am posing with Poppy:



Actually I was sitting on Poppy. I believe this was in Belize. Poppy had one ear that appeared to have been chewed partially off by another horse. He seemed okay with that, though and I didn't dwell on it.

And here is Snappy:


Snappy was a baby alligator at a tourist trap in the Everglades that you could hold and pose with for $3. Of course, you could also then buy a shirt that said, "I held Snappy" for another $20. I declined. Snappy seemed very resigned to his lot in life. I think he was just taking it all in, waiting for the day that he was six foot long and could extract payback for the indignity of it all.

Sometimes I pose with famous people:


This was taken in Las Vegas at a public transit convention. To be honest with you, I don't think they were the real Marilyn and Elvis. Marilyn told me that Elvis' real name was Tim, just like mine. I told her we weren't related. I'm a silver tongued devil.

Here I am posing with Jim Hendrix:


Well, actually it is his memorial at a cemetery in Renton, Washington. It was a very nice memorial. Several Japanese tourists were there snapping photographs. I told them that I was Richard Gere. Somewhere in Japan I think my photo is up on someone's wall.


Here I am posing with a trash can in Disneyland:



I have a whole series of these with different trash cans in each of Disneyland's "lands" and in California Adventure. But I'll save those for another blog.

And here's a rare photo of me simply standing in front of the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego. We stayed there a couple of years ago.

It is supposed to be haunted. We didn't see any ghosts, but it is a very cool old Victorian hotel. It was where they filmed Some like it hot with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. This is particularly interesting since I had met Marilyn in Las Vegas (see earlier photo).

And finally, here is a photo of me posing on caboose on the aforementioned Alaska cruise.


I thought it was an appropriate way to end this blog entry since, if you've been patient enough to endure these random images, you've probably been wondering if there was a caboose to this train of thought I'm riding on.

This is it.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Rolling Stones are gathering moss


About 24 years ago the Rolling Stones played a concert in Seattle in the King Dome (which has since been imploded to make way for Qwest Field). I was a journalism major and writing a humor column for the college newspaper. All anyone could talk about was the rare opportunity to "SEE THE STONES, MAN!" So I wrote a column about non-conformists and in it I proudly declared that I wasn't going to the Stones concert. AND, I added, I don't even like the Rolling Stones.

You would have thought I'd spit on Mother Theresa. But it was true. I don't like the Rolling Stones. Oh, some of there older stuff was okay and when I was in high school I kind of liked the song "Angie," because it made me think of this girl I had a crush on at the time (though her name was Robin, so I'm not sure what the connection was). I don't get the hype about Mick Jagger. I swear he and Don Knotts are the same person.
Don Knots (left) Mick Jagger (right)
Anyway, you can imagine my annoyance yesterday morning when I see a broadcast of a press conference being held to announce the Rolling Stones are once again going on tour and they will be playing Seattle.

Give me a break. These guys are in their 60s. Can't they just age gracefully and sit in a mansion somewhere with their platinum records on the wall? Must we endure a geriatric Mick Jagger strutting around the stage like a rooster in heat while Keith Richards has a flashback staring at the bright lights and trys to remember what year it is?

It's bad enough that Cher won't stop touring and Neil Diamond is on the road again. And I know Paul McCartney is touring again, but at least the Beatles never sold out and reunited (granted only two of them are left). Can't the Stones simply be content with being part of history.

What's worse is that they are releasing a new album. Jagger is quoted as saying the band will "dig into the catalogue" for this tour and also play songs from its upcoming album. This means we'll have to endure a promo blitz of radio stations playing some crap single they are releasing. It will probably be a duet with Brittany Spears or other crap pop artist to help the band appeal to a "younger" audience.

Not that the younger audience can afford going to their concert. I went online out of curiousity to see how much tickets to their concerts were running. In San Francisco, tickets range from a low of $150 apiece to front row seats at...get this...$5800 each. For $5800 I'd expect to see someone pass a stone, not just four aging Rolling Stones.

I suppose it is human nature to want to continue to hold on to our fleeting youth. Heck, I'd be thrilled if people would fork over $5800 to watch me shuffle across a stage mumbling "Start it up." But one look in the mirror tells me that will never happen.

I've heard some comments that the Stones will keep touring until they are dead. Has someone checked Keith Richards pulse lately?




So, it has all come full circle. Twenty-four years after I wrote it first, I have to say it again. I'm not going to the Rolling Stones concert when they come to Seattle even if someone gave me tickets because I DON'T LIKE THE ROLLING STONES.


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

deluge Antifungal Foot Cream

Catchy title, eh? It's actually the subject line of a spam e-mail I received at work this morning offering me access to Viagra without a prescription.

Now being a marketing professional, I have to at first question the logic of a headline that simply reads "deluge Antifungal Foot Cream" when trying to get me to buy non-prescription Viagra. Appealing as "deluge Antifungal Foot Cream" sounds, I would never associate it with Viagra.

I mean, if I saw a bus go by with an ad on the side that read, "deluge Antifungal Foot Cream," I wouldn't immediately get an uncontrollable urge to buy non-prescription Viagra. I would more likely think about my feet or wonder if Rob Thomas had released a new CD.

Now before my nephew or other IT types e-mail me that this is just spammers ways of short circuiting spam blocking software, I'll admit that I had already kind of figured that out. But please. Even if it gets through the spam blockers and someone does read it, what kind of moron would respond to it. How can there be a single person left out there with access to a computer that doesn't know enough not to respond to spam? Oh, I forget...people do still use AOL.com, too.

Anyway, being a person who can't seem to simply delete endless spam without occasionally making an attempt to spam-inate them back, I've taken to using online "insult generators" to create appropriate nonsensical responses to their blathering subject lines. There are plenty of "insult generators" out there. Just Google. My favorite is the "Arabian-random-insult-generator." Here are some of the better insults from that generator to pass on to your favorite spammer (particularily the Nigerian lottery ones...they usually read their mail):

May one million dead late night talk show hosts flash Froot Loops in an evil parallel universe of your local Starbucks.

May 8 sad dead baboons use Taco Bell starving Gorditas as lubricant to get brains out of air fresheners while standing on your moistened dinner salad.

May a handful of aroused trolls tell "Yo Mamma's So Fat" jokes to air fresheners after consuming your delicious Waffle-chap stick.

May a megabyte of bi-sexual plumbers with butt-crack-itis dance the Macarana with cancerous growths after shoving glass shards into your huge willie.

May 1,024 evil people who use this arabian-random-insult-generator brutally beat Doogie Howser while having a bowel movement on your diseased eye socket.

May an imaginary number of bad tempered Enron executives give a little bit of a "How's your father" to weasels over your petrified Bud Light.

May many lice infested Oompa Loompas take a single dump on drawers of sliced meat after consuming your dog's pile of dirty underwear.

May 16 beer drinking Space Ghosts shout "I like to stick toe jam down my pants" to chex mix using only your moldy pontoon boat.

May one too many mutant Space Ghosts swing a Nerf Crotch-Bat at cigarettes while licking your ingrown sugar cane crops.

May an imaginary number of outrageously huge truck drivers plead the 5th to party poopers while getting it on with your crappy brass monkey.

May 7 funny Hare Krishnas wish they didn't catch the secret lover, Roseanne Barr virus from icecube trays above your silicone enhanced little yappy dog.

May 4 flaming Mormons swallow flaming urinal cakes while kicking your wart covered kazoo.

May 2 bulbous world leaders play Whack-A-genitals at the yellow carnival with Ronald McDonald underneath your hairy chicken head.

May 32 bloated world leaders develop the cure for cancer from diced coffee beans after shoving glass shards into your tongue.

May three bazillion nymphomaniac transvestites march in the "Support Mental Health. Or I'll kill you." parade with Meow Mix while polishing your under-appreciated swan.

May a gross of born-again Christian door to door salesmen sing the rap song "I like big hole" to toe jam while tinkering with your least favorite false teeth.

Okay, spammers, are you ready to rumble?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Reflections

One of my favorite movies is Mystery Train by Jim Jarmusch. It is and isn't about Elvis. But in the movie, a Japanese tourist in Memphis walks around his hotel room taking pictures of everything. His girlfriend asks him why he always takes photos of the rooms they stay in and none of the tourist attractions they go to. He responds that he will easily remember seeing things like Graceland, but it is rooms that he would likely to have forgot without a photograph.

That idea kind of resonated with me. So, whenever I travel, I snap off several photos of mundane places like our cabins on cruise ships and signs. Digital photography has made this a more economical feasible thing to do and I can randomly photograph snippets of what we rarely even notice when we travel.


Of course, even the mundane can become interesting if you put it into the proper perspective. So I've taken to manipulating some of the boring images into a more interesting perspective. For example a shot of our cabin becomes a black light poster:




Or a cruise ship corridor becomes a mysterious pastel passageway:




And even lounge chairs on the balcony become art:





And for some reason I find myself snapping photos of myself in the mirror:

I've found that photos help us reflect on ourselves and our environment. Since the image in the mirror is the one I see of myself most often, I find the photos of myself in the mirror the most acceptable. Because regular photos of myself show me how other's see me. And for some reason that never seems quite right to me. So, in my mind, a photo of my reflection is a way of showing others how I see myself.

Writing is like that, too. It's a way of reflecting reality the way you perceive it.

Perhaps that's why I blog.

Just a reflection...

Friday, May 06, 2005

An apple for the teacher



I went along as a chaperone on a field trip with my wife's fourth grade class the other day. It was part of a local minor league baseball team promotion to help the kid's unwind after a marathon series of testing in Washington state schools called the WASL. There were about 2500 kid's at the game and about 50 adults. It was quite the experience for me. I learned a lot. The main thing was that teachers must have one of the hardest jobs in the world and that they are grossly underpaid.

This has never been a secret to Tess.

It's not that I didn't know that. It was just seeing her in action drove it home. I'm not sure I could do her job at any price. I barely understand and am able to supervise adults. How could I manage 25 fourth graders?

First, it took me awhile to adjust to all of the questions (are you Miss M's husband? are you Mr. H****? are you a stranger? where did Miss M go? why are you here?). Although the kids have followed along with our engagement and marriage, they haven't quite grasped (or accepted) her name change.

I don't think ever, on my busiest day at work, do I expend half the energy that Tess does teaching kids. It's not how I remembered grade school either. I remember sitting at a desk not making a sound with the teacher in the front of the room commanding our attention. Tess' kids sit at tables in teams in a kind of organized chaos that seemed to work fine without regimenting the kids into the classic rows. But I could tell it requires a lot of the teacher to manage such an arrangement.

I think the coolest thing about watching Tess with her students was the genuine affection they had for her. I watched her give out money to the kids who didn't bring any for treats at the game and telling them they could work it off picking up trash at school the following week. I don't remember any of my teachers helping kids with money when I was in grade school. And she did it in a way that didn't embarass them or draw attention to the fact that, in many cases, they didn't have money in the first place to bring to the game.

And I suppose it is a credit to their teacher that these same kids pitched in to raise more than a $1000 for Tsunami victims early this year. One girl in Tess' class brought in $20 of her own money to donate. These are fourth graders mind you. Remember how much $20 was when you were ten? Anyway, Tess asked her if she was sure she wanted to give that much and the little girl said her parents had told her it was her money to do what she wanted with and she wanted to give it to the Tsunami victims.

That's what prompted me to approach the baseball team and ask if they could provide these kids with free game tickets and they generously provided tickets for the entire fourth grade at Tess' school. And as out of place I felt surrounded by hundreds of 10-year olds shrieking gleefully at the slightest provocation, it felt good to see my new wife at work at something she obviously loves to do and does so well.

As for the baseball game, well, our team lost, but I don't think any of Tess' kids noticed or cared. But I think they'll remember the game regardless, and I'm pretty sure they'll always remember Tess.

Monday, May 02, 2005

My t-shirt slogan can beat up your t-shirt slogan

After trashing t-shirts in my rant on ugly Americans, I feel obligated to provide a caveat that I think t-shirts can be a healthy way of expressing one's self. I was merely expressing the sad implications of buying a t-shirt in Mazatlan that reads, "Official FBI (Female Body Inspector)" as a way of remembering your trip to Mexico.

In fact, I think some of our greatest literature these days is being sported on people's chests and backs. Though I'm not sure who actually writes them. I mean, is there this room somewhere in Cleveland where a guy is sitting with his computer cranking out t-shirt slogans? And is he or she doomed to die anonymously having written thousands of pithy and witty sayings that are helping people break the ice at bars across the country?

Regardless, t-shirt slogans seem to fit in a few key categories. Some rely on word play and twisting old proverbs to garner attention:

"Summer in Nags Head, Some Are Not"
"Statistics Means Never Having to Say You're Certain"
"Where Are We Going? Why Am I in This Handbasket?"
"Due to Budget Cuts, the Light at the End of the Tunnel Has Been Cut Off"
"I Wish the Buck Stopped Here – I Could Use a Few"

"Where There's a Will, I Want to Be in It"
"If You Can't Speak Softly, Just Use the Stick"
"If Idiots Could Fly, This Place Would Be an Airport"

"Diplomacy Is the Art of Saying 'Nice Doggie' Until You Can Find a Rock"
"Make It Idiot Proof, and Someone Will Make a Better Idiot"
"I Used to Have a Handle on Life, but It Broke"
"Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beer Holder"
"If All the World's a Stage, I Want Better Lighting"
"Army: Be All That You're Told to Be"
"Five Out of Four People Don't Understand Fractions"

"Yes, It's Lonely at the Top – But I Eat a Lot Better Than You"
"The Quickest Way to Double Your Money Is to Fold It in Half and Put It in Your Pocket"
"If You Can't Beat Them, Arrange to Have Them Beaten"

"The Weather Is Here – Wish You Were Beautiful!"
"I Don't Think Much – Therefore, I May Not Be"
"Frankly, Scallop, I Don't Give a Clam"
"FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION. It comes bundled with the software."
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a cash advance"
"Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana."
"Two rights do not make a wrong. They make an airplane."
"NyQuil: The stuffy, sneezy, why-the-heck-is-the-room-spinning medicine."
"Quoting one is plagiarism. Quoting many is research."

Some play on animosity between the sexes:

"Ran Into My Ex – Put It in Reverse and Hit Him Again!"
"I've Been on So Many Blind Dates That I Should Get a Free Dog"
"Marriage Has Cured My Fear of Being Alone"
"Men and Women Are From Earth – Deal With It"

Some refer to the owners love of pets:

"Got Rid of the Kids, the Cat Was Allergic”
"My Cat Kneads Me"
"My Dog Can Lick Anyone"

Some express a view on life paths or ways of life:

"This Is Not the Life I Ordered"
"I Am the Only Hell That My Mother Ever Raised"
"I Didn't Climb to the Top of the Food Chain to Be a Vegetarian"

"Unproductive People Revolve Around the Earth at the Same Speed as Productive People"
"I Have the Body of a God. Unfortunately the God Is Buddha"
"I May Be Wrong"
"You Non-Conformists Are All Alike"
"Repent – and Sin Some More"
"Growing Old Is Mandatory – Growing Up Is Optional"
"Rehab Is for Quitters!"
"HARD WORK WILL PAY OFF LATER. LAZINESS PAYS OFF NOW!"
"When Your Dreams Turn to Dust, Vacuum"
"Procrastinate Now"

And some speak of a person's mental state:

"Out of My Mind – Will Be Back Shortly"
"I Know About Stressed – It's Desserts Spelled Backwards"

"I'd Kill for a Nobel Peace Prize"
"You're Just Jealous Because the Little Voices Are Talking to Me"
"I Live in My Own World But It's OK – They Know Me Here"
"...And You Say Psycho Like It's a Bad Thing"

"I Hear Voices – And They Don't Like You"
"I'm Not Shy – I'm Just Examining My Prey"
"Some Days It Just Doesn't Pay to Chew Through the Leather Restraint Straps"

Or ask questions:

"What Part of Eelymosynary Ratiocination Do You Not Understand?"
"What's the Difference Between In-Laws and Outlaws? Outlaws Are Wanted"
"IF THERE IS NO GOD, WHO POPS UP THE NEXT KLEENEX?"

Or educate and inform:


"Shin: A Device for Finding Furniture in the Dark"

"How Long a Minute Is Depends on Which Side of the Bathroom Door You're On"
"Stop Following Me – I'm Not a Shoplifter"
"Be Nice to Your Children – They Choose Your Nursing Home"
"Consciousness – That Annoying Time Between Naps"

"Bomb Expert – If You See Me Running, Try to Keep Up!"
"Damn Straight I'm a College Grad – Paper or Plastic?"

"I Have a Degree in Liberal Arts -- Do You Want Fries With That?"
"Heck Is Where People Go Who Don't Believe in Gosh"
"Don't Worry, It Only Seems Kinky the First Time"
“Upon the Advice of My Attorney, My Shirt Bears No Message at This Time"
"Filthy, Stinking, Rich -- Well, Two Out of Three Ain't Bad"
"The trouble with life is there's no background music."
And my personal favorite:

Beware a man who quotes t-shirts


Portrait of an Ugly American



The phrase, "Ugly American" was first coined in a bestselling book published in 1958, The Ugly American. The book contained slashing expos of American arrogance, incompetence, and corruption in Southeast Asia.

Although I was born in the same year that book was published, this particular blog entry has nothing to do with the political ugly American. It's more about Richard C. Crepeau's definition of the ugly American as "a caricature built on the reality of a boisterous, loud, uncultured, unsophisticated, arrogant, insensitive clod -- one who was prone to throwing around too much money, dressing absurdly, and acting oblivious to the subtleties of high culture."

Having been on 14 cruises, I tend to agree in principle with that definition. Americans do tend to behave badly when faced with social situations or cultures they aren't familar with.

A perfect example is silverware etiquette. According to Italian food retailer Barilla, here are the rules for table settings:

HOW TO SET THE TABLE
According to the rules governing formal table settings, the silverware should be arranged at the sides of the plate in the order in which the various pieces will be used. In order to avoid potentially embarrassing situations when faced with an imposing array of knives and forks, all you have to remember is that they are used as required, beginning with the implements furthest from the plate. As a rule of thumb, each course has its own silverware, up to a maximum of three forks and three spoons. In cases requiring more silverware, it is up to the person serving to bring more as needed.
Okay, for anyone who has seen Pretty Woman with Julie Roberts and remembers the restaurant scene, the basic rule for silverware use is start outside and work in. When I first started taking cruises, dinner was a pretty traditional formal affair with all of the silverware placed on the table at the onset. In the past few years they've given up and only bring a utensil when you need it. Why? Because Americans couldn't figure it out.

Don't get me started on our excess consumption of everything. When I take a cruise, I enjoy eating in the dining room where you can enjoy a leisurely paced meal with modest proportions. But 90 percent of the people prefer a buffet where they can pile more food on a single plate for a single meal than many third world countries consume in a week. Then they complain about the quality. It's little wonder that the people who work on cruise ships carry back to their countries the perpetuated image of Americans as fat, loud and wasteful.

And I've been guilty of this myself, but why is it most Americans think the perfect souvenier of a trip to another country is a t-shirt. Shoot, most of the t-shirts were manufactured in China or Indonesia and shipped to Mexico and the Caribbean where Americans haggle over the $3 price tag. And once we get our cheap t-shirt home and wash it once, the only one in the family who can fit in to it is the cat.

Then there is the basic attitude of most American tourists that everyone in a foreign port is out to cheat them, even the kids peddling Chicklets. I can never get this image out of my head of overfed cruisers fresh from the buffet, pouring off the ship in Caracas, Venezuala and bartering with these little homeless kids from the shanties that surround the city over the price of a keychain.

How many times have you seen Americans pour through a small town and tramp through a cathedral wearing shorts and tanktops, pausing only to snap a flash photograph during a funeral ceremony. Would you tolerate that in your home towns?

And what is it about Americans from the east coast that makes them shout all the time to make themselves understood in other countries. There's something about old fat women from New Jersey screaming at there husbands to "TELL HIM WE WANT TO GO TO THE BEACH, BUT WANT HIM TO WAIT FOR US BUT WE WILL ONLY PAY $3 U.S....SAY GO-O TO BEACH-O..." that makes you hope the drive will drop them off at a leper colony and high tail it out of there.

I suppose I'm no one to talk. I have done my share of parading around in shorts and a t-shirt, buying my obligatory overpriced Cuban cigar, snapping my photos and bargaining with cab drivers.

But at least I know which fork to use.