Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Blog has Moved

Please see the blog here now, and update links and Bookmarks/Favorites as needed:


If you are just now finding this out, then the first entry you see at the new site will be many days beyond where this one left off.

To read all of the Bessie Story (which is where this version of my blog ended), go here:



Monday, November 21, 2005

Bessie Crashed and Crunched

Hey, I’ve been looking for that, was the first thought that ran through my head. All the cassette tapes that had been under my seat had rushed forward to rest under my feet. A homemade copy of Led Zeppelin III had re-appeared after weeks on the MIA list. I never risked playing original tapes in that $29 deck I had bought at Rex.

Dad’s going to kill me was my next thought, and those are the words I was saying as I got out of the car and walked to the front to assess the damage. “Oh man, oh man, oh man. This is bad. This is bad.”

One of the two young ladies who had climbed out of the Camaro walked over to me. “So, are YOU okay?” she asked, with a tone of sarcasm in her voice.

“Oh, yeah, I think. I’m sorry. Are you?”

This is when I was pretty sure I recognized one of them. Yep. She had been one of my babysitters years before. That certainly added to the embarrassment.

In an odd bit of timing, a police car pulled up and stopped at the end of the road the Camaro lady had intended to take.

After declaring Bessie a disaster area, and thanking myself for always wearing my seatbelt, I checked out the Camaro. It didn’t seem too bad to me. It was probably about two or three years old, and besides a little pushing in of the rear bumper, there was just a wrinkle above the doors. Apparently that last part is where it got nasty. The Camaro lady’s insurance company said it was totaled. Ouch.

In addition, I got ticketed for following too close, and was not helped by a witness who said I was “fiddling with the radio.” Dad’s insurance company would not like that one bit. I was not following too close. And I wasn’t messing with the radio, I was... oh, nevermind.

While the wrecker driver hooked Bessie up to his rig, I was reminded of another misadventure.

My first (undocumented) moving violation came behind the wheel of Bessie, before I even had a driver’s license. What’s the statute of limitations on this, anyway?

One day, after my buddy Travis and I had been listening to music, riding our three-wheelers, and probably playing a few games on our Atari 2600, I let my brother know that Travis could use a ride home.

“Why don’t you just drive him home. It’s not very far, and it’s mostly on backroads,” my brother said. He probably was watching some sort of football game or other event, and back in those days we didn’t have a way to pause TV as we watched it. I’m sure being of driving age and hauling around your younger brother and his friends gets old. I was 14 or 15 at that point, and I had driven quite a bit with Dad riding shotgun.

Although part of me told me not to do it, I took my brother up on the offer. It wasn’t the first time I had made a bad decision in this arena; I had driven my dad’s Suburban (unbeknownst to him) to friends’ houses in the past. On the way there, Travis and I decided I would drop him off at the end of his driveway so that his parents would not see who drove him home. They would just think that my brother had driven him, as long as neither of us did anything stupid.

It was that last part that got me.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Bessie's True Colors

At one point when I lived in Fort Smith, Arkansas, when I was a new kid in town trying to prove himself, I did something rather stupid. I couldn’t have just painted my face. Okay, painted my face again. Sheesh. Get off me. This time, under cover of darkness, I went out to the street, where Bessie was parked, minding her own business. In my hand I held a container of dark brown shoe polish, the kind with the sponge applicator tip. Her hood was a light tan color -- the perfect canvas for my planned artwork.

It was the week of the big football game against the crosstown archrival Northside Grizzlies, so I thought it would be cool to draw a large bear paw print on the hood, with a circle around it and a slash through it. Effectively, I was saying, “No Grizzlies.” Pure genious. I was up very late making it look just right. I would drive to school displaying my school pride and park it in the lot for all to see. We had an open campus policy for lunchtime, so I could get some exposure then, too.

About halfway through second period the next day, I started thinking that 1) I now was a target for angry opposing team fans, and 2) brown shoe polish was made to stay on. That last revelation resulted from a rather brusk comment a friend made in first period. “That was stupid” is pretty close to a direct quote. I asked to be excused, borrowed Windex and paper towels from the band hall, and headed out to try to undo my fiasco. CTRL-Z was not an option. Already I was formulating a story of vandals drawing graffiti on my car. My apologies to anyone who heard that version.

I ripped paper towels from the roll, one after the other, as I rubbed, scrubbed, sprayed, cussed, and did it all over again. I made a muddy brown mess, but finally managed to get the last vestige of the polish off the hood. I grabbed all the used paper towels and the Windex and stood back to see how it looked.

Faintly, as if under the surface, my artwork still shone through. I hadn’t read Macbeth yet, so I didn’t know to say, “Out, out, damn spot!” In retrospect, had I known the line, I’m sure I would have used it. From that day forward, Bessie bore the stain of my impetuous youth.

That is, until I mangled her beyond recognition.

I was innocently driving down the road after school one day, headed to my dad’s office. Just before entering a curve I had navigated hundreds of times, I noticed a bug on the outside of the windshield. I was going to shoo the bug using the wipers.

Before you start laughing, stay with me.

The windshield wiper control on Bessie was not conveniently placed on a stick protruding from the steering column. Instead, it was on a knob on the lower left side of the dashboard. I had to tilt my head down to see what I was doing.

After rounding the curve with my head down, I looked up to see if the wipers had knocked off the bug.

Camaro. Left turn signal. Brake lights.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bessie was a Good Girl

Bessie was loyal. She never fought me when I pushed her to her limit. Sure, she had her bad days, but what old lady doesn’t? She was there for my grandfather, my brother, me, and then my first cousin. I have no idea where she is now.

Bessie was my first car, a 1976 Dodge Aspen Sedan, and in 1987 I bought her from my dad for $900. In the two years before I got her, Bessie had been my brother’s first car. My grandfather bought her off the lot back in the 1970’s. As I recall, a high school buddy of mine named her Bessie at a time when I just called her “Rawhide,” in reference to her leather-look hard top.

Ah yes, on the open road in a car that got me second looks, but not the kind most teenage boys wanted.

Dodge Aspen was a car line that started out strong, and was Motor Trend’s Car of the Year in 1976, but then dropped until Chrysler pulled it and its Plymouth counterpart in 1980. Evidently it had numerous problems. It had rusting front fenders, as well as recalls on seemingly everything but the vaunted drivetrain.

If you’re old like me, you might remember the commercial jingle of the Aspen’s sister car, the Plymouth Volare. That corny song still rings in my ears. “Volare, oh oh OH oooh.”

My Bessie sported a 225 Slant Six engine that had a kick. I never tried to burn rubber from a dead stop, probably because I usually ran her on dangerously worn tires. She rode smooth, with soft shocks that made it feel like I was riding on waves. She didn’t exactly corner on rails, though.

Later in my two years behind Bessie’s wheel, any time I slowed below about 20 mph, I had to put her in neutral and rev her engine to keep her from dying. This made for some fun shifting in and out of tight curves, and got some strange looks from people stopped alongside me at intersections. I must have seemed like some crazed adolescent daring them in a car that had little business on the road, much less in a race.

She had spunk, though, and I think I would have had the advantage for about the first 10 or 20 feet. That’s how long it would take the opposing driver to overcome his or her amazement that Bessie had not fallen into pieces.

The one time I did race her, it was up a 4-mile stretch of steep, curvy mountain highway. We had two lanes so we could “safely” pass each other if needed. The other guy, a friend in a ragtop Jeep of some kind, probably was lucky he didn’t tip over. He ended up barely beating me because I just couldn’t bring myself to take that last curve fast enough to pass him.

Once, heading down that same mountain with my brother driving, I saw something silver out of the corner of my right eye. My brother saw it and we both realized it was one of Bessie's hubcaps. It had popped off the wheel and was rolling up the hillside on our right. It almost seemed to accelerate up the hill as we laughed ourselves breathless.

This next part, I’ve never told anyone the truth about since the day it happened. I can't detail it here right now. Tune in Monday.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Tornadoes, Shmornadoes

My mobile phone rang as I swigged motel orange juice from a tiny foam cup. The storms had let up a little from the night before, but the motel lobby TV still showed tornado watches and warnings in the area. I figured the pilot was calling to say the flight had been delayed. I pulled the phone from my belt clip and flipped it open. Somehow, that never makes me feel as cool as Captain Kirk looked when I was a kid. With good reason that morning, it seemed.

“This is Mark.”

“Are you joining us today?” the man on the other end asked.

“Yes, at 7:30, right?”

He replied, politely, “No, it’s at 7:00.”

“Oh, jeez. Yes, I’m just at the Super 8. I’m on my way.” I glanced at my watch. 7:09.

Ignoring the fact that I said, “Oh, jeez,” I grabbed my things and ran to the waiting Chevy Malibu rental, wind-blown rain spitting on me all the way. I drove through the small town as quickly as I could without attracting unwanted attention, to the small airport in the middle of cattle pastures. I parked under the covered loading area at 7:16.

“So, we’re okay for today?” I asked the pilot who had just taken my luggage.

“It will be a little rough on the climb out,” he said. Then, to the other pilot, who sat in the cockpit. “Hey, you have the keys?”

Clearly in a rush, the pilot in the cockpit stood and leaned out far enough to toss the keys through the small doorway. The keys went past the luggage pilot’s hurried hands and hit the ground.

“Sorry I’ve put everybody in such a rush,” I offered, somewhat lamely.

Another man emerged from the hangar and walked quickly toward the plane. “Is the window of opportunity closing?” he asked, clearly privy to information I did not have.

The cockpit pilot said, “Yes, it’s getting close.”

”That would be our window for takeoff?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s the one,” Cockpit said.

“There’s a storm surge moving in,” said Hangar Guy as he climbed the few steps into the cabin and walked past me to take a seat.

Luggage pilot joined us and, as he pulled up the steps behind him and secured the door, said, “Guys, we’ll have a bumpy ride for about the first five minutes, and then it will be smooth sailing.”

Yeah, it’s the first five minutes that get you. I couldn’t believe it. After all that worrying last night, now I had made us late and possibly complicated things.

My part in it notwithstanding, I figured they wouldn’t need me for a while. I pulled out my music player, inserted the earbuds, and pushed play. Eddie Grant’s “Electric Avenue” took us down the runway and up into the clouds. When the first big bump hit, I leaned my head back and closed my eyes.

It was rough. The plane once dropped enough for my seatbelt to dig into my hips. We bumped and bounced through the storm, and then the bumpy ascent was over almost as soon as it started. Eddie Grant turned my ears over to The Who, and the opening bars of “Who Are You” played as we leveled off above the clouds. Storm clouds are a striking sight from above.

I pulled out my laptop to start this post while it was fresh in my mind. Joe Satriani accompanies me as I type. We’re getting closer to the clouds. We were at cruising altitude less than 45 minutes.

I always think of my wife and son when I’m flying. The movie Spanglish, which I watched last night in my motel room, again reminded me to appreciate what we have. Now, heading back down into storm clouds on our descent, I close my eyes as Sister Hazel plays “The Best I’ll Ever Be.”
I miss you.
I miss being overwhelmed by you.
And I need rescue.
I think I’m fading away.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Stormy Flight

I had the sensation that the plane's rear end was fishtailing in the clouds, and it made a series of unplanned drops. I wanted the descent to be over, to stop the 9-passenger jet's shaking and bumping, but I didn't want it to end any sooner than the pilots had planned. I cranked up the volume on my Rio mp3 player, the sounds of No Doubt's "Don't Let Me Down" drowning out all others.
Laughing so hard
I got tears in my eyes
Walk in the park
Under sapphire skies
Just when things had smoothed out during our final turn toward the runway, it got rough again as we got down to about 200 feet.
Oh, I can't believe that you're still around
Almost forgot how you let me down
There was still a slight tilt to our attitude as we touched down, and I never had been happier to be on the ground.

I'm supposed to fly out on the same kind of plane Tuesday morning. The forecast calls for high wind and severe storms in the area, and storms at my destination. This morning's approach already had me a bit shaken, so I'm not looking forward to flying out again. I now wish I had looked at the forecast earlier so I could have driven back. I'm expected back at work by 8:30 in the morning, which leaves me little choice.

I've never been afraid of flying, and I know that driving is more dangerous statistically. Never while driving have I felt the way I did on that approach. Being up there among only strangers, at the mercy of nature's power, made me want to play the odds on the road.

The TV meteorologist just said that the atmosphere here is "all jacked up," and detailed the tornado watches and warnings. I'm waiting anxiously to see whether he says the system is moving faster than originally expected, and will be gone by morning. One way or another, I will.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I Don't Wait Tables Anymore

Ten years ago this year, I started something that can’t end soon enough. It’s something that most people I know do, and the few who say they enjoy it are under suspicion of lying like dogs. I would say I’m indifferent about it, but the better word is ambivalent. There are moments I like it, because I always enjoy a feeling of accomplishment. Most moments, however, it gives me a hollow feeling.

I’m writing, of course, about working in an office job, the sole purpose of which is to help make somebody richer. If you do not do it and never have, then I hope that you are working as a stay-at-home parent, or enjoying fresh air somewhere while you earn a living. I’ve held other kinds of jobs, and I can think of nothing that compares to being stuck at a desk, staring like a drone at a computer screen, typing and clicking in random rhythms in an effort to please the company. I didn’t say nothing worse; I said nothing comparable. The occasional meeting breaks me out of the familiar, but breeds an ennui all its own. Although the company I work for is one of the best, it still has all the trappings of the corporate world and its bureaucracy.

Don’t get me wrong; it isn’t work itself that I dislike. When my efforts result in some sort of positive achievement, I feel satisfied. That last part is where the rub lies. Positive in relation to what? Teaching the starved to grow crops? Thriving on hostile takeovers?

Here’s where I assure you I’m not trying to put myself on a pedestal. I love my electronic gadgets and am in other ways just as materialistic as most people I meet. And, although I do drive a rental-blue Ford Contour with 150,000 miles on it, it is not by choice.

Put simply, I would like my motivation at work to be something more than money. Whether it be expressing myself artistically or helping others, I know that I have more to give than a small bump in the bottom line. If increasing the company’s profits or trading personal or family time for a higher salary is what makes someone happy, then I cannot judge that. It just doesn’t fulfill me. There are some very close to me who I’m sure cannot understand that, and that’s fine.

That said, I know that there is more to a career than just supporting oneself while of working age. There’s preparing for retirement, in which I do not want to be a financial burden to anyone. I also know that there are other ways to make a difference, and I take part in some of those.

I am not the only one who wants something more intrinsically rewarding on the job. One long-time friend earned an art degree, and briefly struggled before becoming a computer helpdesk technician. Now he’s in an architecure program. More than 10 years after graduating college, perhaps finally he will be able to create for a living. Someone else, whom I met recently, would love to be an anthropologist or a writer, but like me is in the computer industry. Another close friend from decades back pursued his dream right from the start, and is in a well-paying recording studio job I often fantasize that I could do well and enjoy. The only catch? He lived with his mother until his late 20’s. Everybody’s situation is unique, but I’m fairly certain neither of my parents would have accommodated me. They gave me everything I needed and more in my childhood.

Certainly, there are hobbies, but time for them has dwindled greatly since my wife and I started a family. That last thing, by the way, is the best thing I’ve ever done. Being a father is more rewarding than a wordsmith of my meager talent could hope to convey.

I’m sure that part of my professional discontent stems from my lack of friendships at work. The first man I tried to make friends with spent exactly 3.2 minutes on pleasantries, then launched into gossip about various men in our company. I don’t care to know who cheats on his wife. That’s one part of my childhood innocence I think there’s no harm keeping. Once his usual lunch crowd arrived, they all absently ingested their pack lunches, and then passed out photocopies of that day’s New York Times Crossword. “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” one of the ladies said. I can think of more enjoyable ways of keeping my mind tuned up than gang-tackling a crossword puzzle. Other available personalities obsess over sports, dating, cars, hunting, and other things that hold little to no interest for me.

There are two people with whom I can hold a mutually interesting conversation.

One is a very cool 50-year-old man who likes much of the same music I like. His sense of humor is similar to mine. He would be the perfect office buddy, except that his job description includes the pesky detail of being my boss. In one regard, I’m more fortunate than many -- he’s arguably the best boss I’ve had, and I can’t count them all on my fingers.

The other “guy” I buddy up with at work happens to be a woman. Though I suspected it within .05 seconds of meeting her, she and I did not breach that most personal aspect of her lifestyle until I was three months into the job. She is one of the nicest people I know, and if she harbors any of the stereotypical ill-will toward men in general, then she hides it well.

I have friends outside work, so making them at the office is not a priority for me. I suspect that as choosy as I am, having a different type of job would make little difference. When I start thinking like that, however, I remember the proven adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Never building bridges is just as harmful to a career as burning them.

I keep coming back to that deeper meaning, that meaningful individuality -- the desire to have a job that yields different results depending who does it. Data does not care who manipulates it. It all comes out as bits. The company will go on and my presence or absence will be transparent to the customer. On some level, I know that I also have a somewhat selfish need to be noticed.

I’m not sure how to make a change, but I know that I don’t need to do it right now. We need some stability for a while.

Each time my son names out loud a fire engine or a firefighter, he says, “help people.”

I like that he knows that, and I hope that if he doesn’t now, he will grow to understand just what it means. I smile and reply, “Yes, that’s right. They help people.”

Monday, November 07, 2005

IKEA The Hot Dog Store

And I quote:
IKEA is a fully immersive, 3D environmental adventure that allows you to role-play the character of someone who gives a shit about home furnishings.” - Matthew Baldwin, self-proclaimed non-expert and columnist for online magazine The Morning News.
Something strange happened tonight. Shannon told me when I got home that she wanted to look at Garden Ridge's barstools. We have an island in our kitchen, and just enough of the countertop juts out to make it look like something’s missing.

I wasn’t crazy about the idea of going to Garden Ridge, so with all manner of manliness, I looked her right in the eye and said, “Let’s go to IKEA.”

*Tires screeching*


I had driven by the massive new furniture store on my way to and from a class, and obviously the deep blue walls and bright yellow letters affected my brain. Maybe the combination somehow reminded me of things nautical. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a fever. Whatever made me say it in the first place, I certainly didn’t have to tell Shannon again. We put some hoof-covers on Ben and took off.

We pulled into the parking lot saying, “Look, Ben, it’s IKEA. I-K-E-A.”

“I kee uh,” he said.

It was a new experience. Like other furniture stores, much of the space features complete rooms with matching or complementary pieces. Unlike most, however, it also leaves lots of room for kids to walk around, with play areas here and there. Also different from most stores is that most of the pieces are just that -- pieces. It seemed that only the toys did not require self-assembly. Ben went bonkers in a section of rocking animals and children’s chairs. Throughout the store, he ran from chairs to couches, determined to sit on all of them.
Question: Hey Nonexpert, my girlfriend drags me to IKEA almost every weekend and it’s driving me crazy. What should I tell her? –Brent Flagg

Answer: There is no known treatment for IKEA addiction. The best you can do is learn to survive. - Matthew Baldwin
The coolest thing I got from our trip? All four wheels of the shopping cart turned, making for some great cornering. I didn’t touch the cart until the home stretch toward the checkout, and was a little miffed that Shannon had held out on me.

I almost made it without putting my foot in my mouth.

When a woman pushing her wheelchair-bound, emphyzemic husband commented that the carts were neat, I said, "Yes, but it makes me want to ride in it, which I guess is why most stores don't have them."

He's in a wheelchair, idiot. He'd probably like to walk.

After checking out for an amazing total of just under $10 and no barstool, we dined on the IKEA Bistro's delicious 50-cent hot dogs and 75-cent fountain sodas, except that Ben had water. Because he had done such a great job of hanging in there a little past his bedtime, I grabbed a piece of gummy candy out of a free sample jar and handed it to a grateful Ben as I said, “Here, you get one piece of candy, because you did so great tonight.”

On the way out, Ben repeated over and over as we walked to the car, “One candy. One candy.” Shannon and I again read off the letters that spell the store’s name, and Ben said, “I kee uh.” Then reverted back to, “One candy.”

After writing most of this, I found Baldwin’s column had the perfect pull-quotes.

I’m sticking to my story that I liked it because Ben had so much fun.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Stick It

I'm married and I have a child, but I'm just not ready for the kind of commitment required by a bumper sticker. They instantly target the bearer for quick judgment by a label-happy populace. I believe what I believe and I like what I like, but that's for me to know, and it may change tomorrow. Consequently, I rarely put it out there for everyone to see.

Just yesterday, I saw a white, early '80's-model Toyota pickup that typified the opposite school of thought -- "if you feel it, stick it." The mobile media stated (*cringes at the search engine hits this will garner*):

"Powered by Witchcraft"
"Re-defeat Bush"
"Outrageous Older Woman"
"Be Witched"

That said, I trust everyone reading this knows the difference between reporting and supporting. (In my days as a reporter, I found that some of the groups I covered assumed I was on their side, as if reporters choose where they are assigned based on their personal ideology). If not, then there must be some interesting opinions of me after Antjuan of the Pink Boots. As with Antjuan, on some level I admire the fortitude it takes to sport these phrases in the North Dallas area.

Besides religion and politics, however, there is another popular category -- parental pride.

I fear that day will come when Ben asks me to affix a bumper sticker declaring, "My kid is on the honor roll at (insert school name here)."

Although I hope he qualifies, I do not relish the thought of his walking up to me, glossy rectangular statement of his accomplishment in hand. A lot of parents don't think about things like this before they happen, and I'm not sure it helps much to do so. My answer right now is that humility should win, but the fact that this is out here for you to read shows that I don't adhere too closely to that tenet.

The dad in me says, "Where's the sticker for the other car?"

I expect my dad side will win this battle. We drive our cars until they are worth nothing, anyway, so a mess of messages on the back bumper will only add to their character for the future owner. That reminds me of a minivan my father in-law once bought for a cool grand, a price that included a pre-mounted bumper sticker urging, "Save our Mother Earth." Not that there's anything wrong with that, and not that he doesn't care about the environment. I just don't see him using bumper stickers. Unless it said something like, "Visualize Whirled Peas," because he likes literate humour.

Which category do I truly abhor? Those bearing obscenities. Now, I know "obscenity" is up for debate. To some, that simplest of stickers bearing one letter -- "W" -- is emblematic of evil that should not be spoken. Then, there are those who get mad enough to spit when they see one that reads Kerry/Edwards. In this post I can't begin to cover the depth of constant one-upmanship in the Christian Ichthus versus the Darwin "fish" with legs.

What I'm talking about are words and meanings that young children simply should not see. I would say that they are anything you wouldn't use in conversation with your grandmother, but I've heard of some pretty crass old ladies who let fly at will.

So, if you feel it, and you want the world to know, then stick it and let it shine (you can create your own online). If not, then join me in the ranks of the anonymous drivers, and hide it under a bush (where the sun don't shine).

Monday, October 31, 2005

Near Miss in the Old West

It was just Ben and me. A man and his boy. Father and son. The bond that can be neither understood nor broken. Or something like that.

Now, on to complete sentences. Well, mostly.

Ben and I headed out at about 6:00 Friday evening, and finally got to my mom and dad's at 1:15 a.m. At the time, I didn't know just how lucky I was that he fell asleep at 9 p.m. and stayed that way the rest of the trip.

Saturday we went to Dad's farm, where members of the local SASS chapter were shooting at his range. I've never participated in the shoots, but if lawlessness ever broke out, I would want these folks on my side. They've beaten FBI agents in a direct challenge.

When Ben and I arrived, the BANG-PING! BANG-PING! sound of bullets hitting metal targets filled the ear. The occasional BANG!, with no PING, meant a miss, and misses meant lower scores.

I got Ben out of the car seat and he said, "Make a noise. Make a noise." That's his standard response when he hears a sound he doesn't recognize.

"That's right, Ben, they are making noise. Let's go see what it is," I said.


I outfitted Ben with ear and eye protection (which all shooters wear at all times) before we headed down to the range so he could see what was causing all the clatter. All I could find were a pair of orange, hard-plastic noise-cancelling earmuffs and a pair of dark sunglasses. He was the complete image of gun safety, or maybe a miniature airport runway guide without the neon orange batons.

We were immersed in a wild west world. At a typical SASS range, most of the "stages" feature some sort of old west building facade -- either a saloon, a livery stable, or something else straight out of the late 1800's. It could be something as simple as an old wagon or a campfire ring. Their clothes and their guns also are from that period.

Then we were jarred back into this century.

We saw Dad's golf cart. He uses it to haul his guns and ammo to the range, or just to run other small errands without having to start up his gas-powered four-wheeler. At least, I figure that's why he uses it. Oh, I mean "figger." Almost forgot we were in the old west.

Mom suggested that Ben and I take the golf cart for a ride around some of the wooded roads (but not downrange, of course), so I set Ben in the seat. I noticed a large, white travel mug in the open left dashboard compartment. I shook it to make sure it was empty, then put it back. After taking some pics of Ben at the wheel, I took it and moved him to the passenger's seat. I wondered if hybrid cars ran as quietly as golf carts. It's so strange to hear nothing as you move. Like sailing, but without the wind and the water. Ben asked to sit in my lap. Considering it was a golf cart and we were on a grassy forest road with no other vehicles, I acquiesced.

As we headed down a small hill and started getting bumped around pretty well, I moved my foot to the brake pedal. When I pressed down, it didn't move. We kept speeding up, getting closer to where the road met another to form a "T." I pushed again, this time with both feet. Nothing. I looked down at my feet, where I saw the travel mug lodged between the brake pedal and the floor. Ben bounced on my lap as our speed picked up. I wrapped my left arm around him as I tried to kick the travel mug loose.

The woods at the top of the "T" in the road were fast approaching. Figuring my feet could match the cart's speed if I had to bail, I prepared for it.

"Hold on, little man!" I said.

I gave the travel mug one more kick and it came free. I hit the brake in time to make a controlled left turn. It was a very boring finish to an exciting few seconds. Even people into risky hobbies like skydiving, rock climbing, hanggliding -- whatever -- will tell you that boring finishes are the best kind.

We had a great visit with my folks, and dropped by to see an old friend's mom. I left missing the natural beauty of the area. Ben kept saying, "Trees," during the first few hours of the drive, perhaps because now we're surrounded by old corn fields with the occasional patch of trees. His tone didn't tell me whether he was fondly recalling a time when we saw woods every day, but I certainly was.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Swallowing Goldfish

Here's a history of how swallowing live goldfish began (at Harvard), including a back-and-forth battle between schools and the records set throughout the years. See? The highly educated can be just as stupid as everybody else. Sheesh.

No doubt most of you (that's two?) have heard that an Assembly of God Church actually included swallowing live goldfish as part of its youth ministry, ostensibly to help kids conquer their fears. The AP story on Yahoo! stresses PETA's angle, but my take is that this is ridiculous nonsense regardless of how the fish feel about it. I mean "fishers of men" and all that, but come on.

I did a little "fishing" for information, just to find any reports of injury from this kind of thing. I wouldn't want some live fish wriggling around in my stomach even for a few seconds. The link at the top of this post is the only thing I found that was not related to the church youth group story.

Have a great weekend! Not sure I'll post again before it's over.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Deep Thoughts on Aliens

A friend sent me a link to SNL's Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy, and I had to share this one, considering my previous post.

If aliens from outerspace ever come and we show them our civilization and they make fun of it, we should say we were just kidding, that this isn't really our civilization, but a gag we hoped they would like. Then we tell them to come back in 20 years to see our real civilization. After that, we start a crash program of coming up with an impressive new civilization. Either that, or just shoot down the aliens as they're waving goodbye.

What if We're All There Is?

I've been reading a lot of science fiction lately, but stay with me on this.

What if we're it? What if the creatures of Earth are the only living things in the universe? Authors and scientists long have fantasized that we are not, but we have yet to find any proof otherwise. I think.

Given time, we will use up the Earth's resources. Humans and other creatures on our planet will fade from existence. We just happen to be doing a lot of things to speed up that process, so that humans might be gone much sooner than the rest.

Now, many would like to think that there is life out there, somewhere, and some folks even like to think there are intelligent life forms. The problem they see is that we're just too far away from them for our current space travel methods to bring us together.

I'm not so sure that's a problem.

Don't we have enough awe and wonder here on Earth? I guess exploration is just in our nature. Aren't there former civilizations on Earth who wish they had never seen an explorer, and who did everything in their power to stop them from invading their territory?

Do we explore to find signs of life? Do we explore so that we will have a place to settle when Earth is no longer habitable? Can we maybe try to put that need off a little longer?

It seems the attitude of too many people is, "As long as I get what I want while I'm on this rock, I'm happy."

Would it make people feel any differently if they knew Earth was the only host to life? The only host to intelligent life?

We might be unique in this dark expanse. There might be nobody else.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Backseat Flashback

If you are a grown person and can help it, do not take an extended ride in the backseat of a Ford Explorer with another adult, a two-year-old, and a dog. By "extended ride," I mean any time whatsoever. Regardless of who's driving, your mother, brother, father in-law, best friend, just do not do it.

I'm sure the good folks at Ford Motor Company might not appreciate this, but I mention their vehicle only because it happened to be the one involved. I'm sure had it been any other SUV, the experience would have been about the same.

To save some gas money and do our part in conservation, we rode to Tulsa with the in-laws. It's about a four-hour drive.

First, we didn't take my bicycle because it could have scratched the paint if we strapped it to the luggage rack. I had planned to take my first street ride with a guy I had met online. It could have made for a good blog entry, as I met him through my somewhat misplaced tirade about people riding bicycles in inappropriate places. Kind of a "rivalry-turns-to-friendship story" straight out of Hollywood. Or, Tulsa, anyway.

On the other hand, it could have ended up a headline in the Tulsa World. Cycling Tourist Killed by Known Local Maniac. "Why anyone woulda took a ride with that whacko is beyond me. After he got out of prison, he always kind of kept to hisself and tinkered with them bikes." (Don't flame me; it's just a joke about trusting strangers. I have no reason to believe he ever broke the law or is criminally insane. But every person in Tulsa talks exactly like that.)

On the way up, I started out in the front seat, and Ben was difficult until we stopped to get some toys from his bag. (That wasn't so easy on the trip back.) About halfway through I switched with my mother in-law. In the backseat we now had: me at 5'11" (about 2 meters, for those who see things that way), my wife at 5'7" with long legs, Ben in his carseat, and our cocker spaniel at 28 lbs. (12.7 kilos). I added that last detail because the dog had to be in a lap for this trip.

The backseat proved to be okay -- at first. Anybody with moderately long legs will notice within five minutes that the floorboard on an SUV is raised, I guess for more clearance than cars. Funny, because most SUV's see no more offroad action than a compact car. My knees were uphill from my hips, so my feet took all the weight.

That's not so bad until you put a cocker spaniel on your lap.

My left foot (a great movie), already unhappy with the heel spur brought on by planter fascists -- I mean plantar fasciitis, got pissed. I'm just glad my knees aren't arthritic -- yet.

Getting out felt good, and the weekend went well. I saw Serenity for a second time, confirming my belief that it truly is a good movie. If it's still on in theaters in your area, treat yourself to at least a matinee. Then watch the series "Firefly" for more time with these characters and their adventures. It's currently on Sci-Fi channel on Friday nights, and available on DVD. Ben had a blast seeing family. He and his mommy and daddy skipped Oktoberfest to find a Halloween costume. We came up dry, but the nuclear family time was good, much better than nucular family time.

On the return trip, I was in the backseat all the way. My poor wife had no break from the backseat either direction. I took lap-dog duty, because my better half was handling most of the Ben management. My feet did fine, I guess because they hadn't just been on a hard office floor all day.

Ben was quite tired by the time we left and, whereas he normally would fall asleep in his carseat, he wanted to stay awake with his mommy and daddy. Anybody who has been around kids knows that even a mild-mannered child will do things completely out of character when tired. Wait, maybe that's adults. Anyway...

A toy car in each hand, Ben hit various passengers and did his loud grunt-growl. Here's how that sounded:

Ben's car on his mommy's hand: Whap!
Ben's mommy: Ben, no, do not hit. I'm going to take that car away if you hit again.
Ben's car on his daddy's arm: Whap!
Ben's daddy: No, Ben, I'm taking your car away because you are hitting with it.
Ben: Want it a coa! Want it a coa!
Ben's daddy: Whining won't get your car back.
Ben: Want it a coa! (grunt-growl)

Most of the Rice Krispies Ben had in a Solo cup ended up in his carseat, so I at first had a time keeping the dog from turning that direction. The hardback book Read to me, Grandma held Ben's attention for a few minutes, but mostly served as a surface to roll his cars. About two hours into the trip, just as I was about to pull out the secret weapon (my laptop with its DVD player), he fell asleep. To our delight, he stayed that way and the rest of the trip was uneventful.

Let me revise my first sentence. Do not ride in the backseat with a cranky two-year-old, period. Sorry, Ben, but that's essentially where this catharsis has led me.

Friday, October 21, 2005

All Over the World

Go to a science fiction convention, have your words and deeds spread to every continent.

Now, I'm not new to the Internet. I got my first dialup account and made my first meager Web page in 1995 (the one I have still is pretty meager). Viewership of my online content was few and far between, rarely extending outside family and a few friends.

Another first in my life changed all that.

The first expansion of my tiny readership came when I started reading the blognovel Simon of Space, published in serial format, the author writing it on-the-fly. Readers could (and boy did we) comment at any time on our thoughts about the story's progress, the characters foibles and hopes, or on the weird word verifications we were getting when posting comments. We formed an online community, although admittedly it had help from the folks who already had formed one around Darth Side: Memoirs of a Monster. Some of us now read each other's blogs, and eagerly await the book's "dead-tree" version, coming soon.

Fast-forward to October 16, 2005, when for the first time I attended a science fiction-related convention. It was not a Star Trek convention, nor was it for any specific entertainment franchise. It was the Dallas Comic Con, a gathering of comic book artists, sci-fi and horror movie stars, and -- this is the part you can't believe until you see it -- lots of people in costumes. A Klingon had us form a line that didn't block traffic. We did exactly what he said. Here's more detail on the convention itself, if you want.

Attending this event was an actor whose movie was still in theaters. Still is as I write this. It is called Serenity, and it's one heck of a flick, based on a great TV series called "Firefly." Like so many quality programs on TV these days, it was cancelled after its first season back in 2002. The movie was second at the box office on its opening weekend, behind Jodie Foster's Flight Plan.

The actor's name is Adam Baldwin (no relation), and he plays a hilarious character who speaks precious few lines in the movie. Such is the way of movies versus television. He appeared in an open Q&A session at the convention. Anybody who paid their $5 for that day, or who had special passes for more money, could raise their hand and ask that burning question that had been plaguing their mind since the first time they saw "Firefly" on TV. "Did you really have a crush on Inara?" was one such mind-boggling query.

I never saw a rule prohibiting video cameras, so I toted my trusty miniDV Handycam along with me. I taped some of Baldwin's session, mainly just to show I was there, but also to test my video camera's capabilities. After it was all over and I got home, I decided to edit the video a little and create a web page linking to my pictures, video, and blog post of the event. I posted a link on the dallascomiccon.com message board and left it at that.

Shortly after, all manner of heck broke loose. I was getting hits from all over the world, and when I looked at my sitemeter.com stats, I saw that they were coming from other forums of which I had never heard, and from other fans' own blogs. On that first day I got about 1200 hits. By the next day, that number exploded to more than 9,000. They downloaded the 12MB video more than 1300 times, and the shorter clips more than 1600 times combined. My photos on Fotki got their fair share of views, too.

Visitors came from countries including Germany, France, Australia, Malaysia, USA (just about every state), Canada, New Zealand, Russia, Italy, England, Spain, Africa, and many others. I don't drop these names to impress anyone -- just to share my amazement at how communication has changed in the past 10 years. Before the Internet, the average individual would rarely reach a group that large, much less that widespread.

Now, for any major Web site, this number of hits is no big deal. For me, though, it has been a wild ride. The last time I've had that many people see or read anything I produced was when I worked as a reporter/photographer. It was nice to be "out there" again. The hits have slowed considerably now that the link is no longer in those sites' latest entries. Good thing, too, as I got halfway to my bandwidth limit in two days.

Just today, I found another site that had posted a link to my site on October 18. One of the members asked if anybody had contact information for the guy who shot the video of Adam Baldwin. I contacted them and now I have another acquaintance.

This weekend? I'm going cycling with a guy I met online when I posted a comment that rubbed him the wrong way. Tune in later to see how that went.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Antjuan of the Pink Boots

There was no way I was buying a magazine.

His name was Antjuan, an African-American young man who told me he was 19 and had lived in a Syntaxis Youth Home. He wore a denim jacket over a long-sleeved pink shirt. His jeans matched his jacket, and the tops of his pink boots were folded down to reveal white fur. The hands on his neon green wristwatch pointed to Roman numerals.

Antjuan (spelled that way on his ID) was a good-looking kid with a fast-paced, very effeminate talking style. Considering that coupled with his outfit, I could only imagine the responses he was getting going door-to-door in the North Dallas area. He had an engaging personality, though, and I was bored, so I listened to his pitch.

He spoke in phrases like "live positively" and “investing in America’s youth," and when he asked, "So would you like to take an interest in me today?" he meant, "How many magazines do you want to buy?"

Antjuan said he wanted to go to Juliard to learn to be an actor and to dance. I barely kept myself from telling him that they would furnish him the pink boots if he got the part.

He gave me a somewhat disappointed look after I asked what was the cheapest magazine he offered. “Hey, if I buy anything from you, it’s better than if I turn you away.”

He replied without missing a beat.

“Like my grandmother used to say, ‘Oatmeal is better than no meal.’"

He asked me for advice for a rising young man looking for success. Take off the pink boots. I said something my brother once told me: "Work hard and always do a little more than what is asked of you." Now that I think back, my brother actually said something more like, "Do everything that's asked of you and a little more," but it was close enough. I'm pretty sure my father told me this, too, but at a time when I was less receptive to sage advice.

I wanted to find out a little about Antjuan, besides the fact that he smelled like women's perfume, and help curb my suspicions that his backstory was a line to sell more magazines. "So, who was your favorite person at the Youth Home? There must have been some great people working in a place like that."

"Well, sir, I had a bad time at that home, so nobody really."

That was either the truth, or a very bad dodge. I let it slide.

It was 85 degrees and sunny.

"So, where are you from?" I asked.

"Columbus, Ohio."

"It gets cold up there."

"Yes sir, why do you think I'm wearing all these warm clothes?"

Later, we saw another young man walking along our neighborhood sidewalk with a folded packet of magazine order forms similar to Antjuan's. His back was to us as he headed down the street.

"So, are you selling magazines?" I called out.

"Yes sir," he said as he turned to face me, continuing his progress by walking backward.

"Do you know Antjuan? He already found us," I said.

"Did you take an interest in him?" the young man asked, still walking backward.

Did I take an interest in a girly teenage boy who smelled like my Aunt and looked like a Vegas dancer? "Yes, we did. We got Nick JR." Hey, he doesn't watch Nick, but it will give Ben something to look forward to when he goes to the mailbox with his mommy.

As I finished strapping Ben into his car seat, the young magazine peddler smiled and asked, "How did you like his boots?"

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Comic Con October 2005

Adam Baldwin talks to fans in the main auditorium.

First, here is the page that has my pics and videos of the event.

I did it. Although I do not own any clothing or costumes resembling famous sci-fi characters in movies or TV, I went to the Dallas Comic Con this weekend. I went only Sunday, but my buddy Alvis and I had a good time.

When we got there at about 11:30, we had to wait in line to pay. We saw Marc Singer, who played Beastmaster and the lead guy in the "V" miniseries. Hands stamped for proof we were nerds just like everybody else, we went back outside to wait in line for the start time. The line extended across the street to the east parking lot, until a Klingon directed us to swing the line over to the sidewalk.

Which put us inside just in time to watch Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) walk right past us for a smoke break. I have a pic of his private moment here. I couldn't help it. It just hit me funny.

Our first activity was a great Q&A session by Adam Baldwin, of "Firefly" and Serenity fame. He's been in other things you might have seen, too, such as Full Metal Jacket, "Angel," The Patriot, and others. I've seen a total of about two of those things he's been in, but that was years before I knew who he was.

(Serenity spoiler alert)
Baldwin was funny and gave some memorable comments about working on the series and the movie. He admitted somewhat reluctantly that he was "pissed" that Wash died in Serenity. First he said that, for him, any future involvement in the franchise would strictly be in movie form, but later said that if the offer and the treatment were right, he would do it on TV again. He also mentioned that he disagreed with one comment that there was too much western flavor in the series, and that he wished there were more horses.

Lady in the crowd: Do you have any advice for someone aspiring to be an actress but who doesn't know where to start?

Baldwin: Stay in school.

Overall, he seemed much smarter and more grounded than the stars who usually make the talkshow rounds. It takes guts to do an open Q&A with no question screening.

After Baldwin, Alvis and I wandered into the main autograph room. Jonathan Frakes (and his wife), Erin Gray, Kenny Baker (R2-D2), Peter Mayhew, Marc Singer, Adam Baldwin, and a few whose names I can't recall, were in there, gladly taking $25 to autograph basically anything a fan put in front of them. We politely declined. When Kenny Baker came back to the room after a short break (sorry about the pun), he brushed against Alvis's knee.

There were lots of people dressed like Jedi, stormtroopers of various types, sandpeople, Darth Vader -- and a notable dearth of beautiful women. I don't say this because it made any difference to me. I only noticed it as someone with a minor in sociology. In the Dallas metroplex, if a gathering of any size lacks beautiful women, you know there's something nerdly going down. I don't think that's the way Durkheim or Weber would have put it, but it was only my minor.

When I stopped at the booth for Feeping Creatures, the artist commented that he liked my shirt. I had picked it out because it was the only thing I owned with a nerdly theme. The front of it reads, "I'd like to change the world, but I can't find the source code."

Note to the technical people at the Plano Centre: Test your sound system in the main auditorium before handing the microphone to the celebrities. Feedback is not a feature.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Strange Dreams

In the past month or so, I have had at least 10 dreams featuring the same people. The content of the dreams is nothing unusual, which is very unusual for me. I rarely ever dream of actual people or places in my life, and the subject matter is just shy of “too strange to describe in words.” In these dreams I’m with the popular kids from my high school, some of whom I saw at my 10-year reunion, but most of whom I haven’t seen in 16 years. We’re mostly just hanging out.

Now, in a school like mine at that time, where the senior class numbered 99, you might not think there was a lot of room for cliques. When we were in the fifth and sixth grades, this still was true for the most part. Although this changed a bit starting in seventh grade, in high school we all knew each other and on some level we were friends during school hours. However, when it came time to get together in the evenings or on weekends, the lines of separation became clearer. Understand that I’m not talking about race here. The entire county I grew up in was populated by white folk, with a few Hispanics and Asians in the mix. Most of the minority children still were in elementary school at that time, so the skin color of faces in my high school rarely varied unless there were freckles (and I was among the latter).

I never aspired to be like the popular kids, and I never felt a need to look up to them. I didn’t dislike them, either, and had no delusions of being intellectually superior. Academically, we generally ran about even, and were in the same classes. They mostly were nice kids with social interests that did not interest me.

That is not to say I have no history with these people. I do have childhood memories of their coming to my house for birthday parties, and of my going to theirs. We played soccer together on the playground. We kissed the same girls on the playground. Then things like sports, band, and drinking parties started driving wedges between us.

This is where it gets confusing. It makes sense that in these dreams we are not adults, because I never knew them as adults. However, we’re not the same age as when we used to play together. We are in high school again. There was one weird scene in which one of the guys, the star athlete who played quarterback in football, center in basketball, and won a lot in track, lived with me for a while. He has lots of baseball caps and has trouble fitting them in the small section of closet I was able to spare.

Neither my wife nor any of my family makes an appearance in these dreams, but there’s no romance, either.

Breaking the normalcy was one dream in which snow fell in the middle of a hot summer day, while about five or six of us enjoyed a lunch at a local diner. I was familiar with the location, but the diner itself was a construct of my subconscious imagination. Or something like that. The snow did not seem out of place to me during the dream, which follows my normal pattern.

In the past, I’ve had other dreams featuring these people, but very seldom. Am I having them more often now because I just moved to a new state even farther from my roots? Because I am a father?

I just got an e-mail after telling a friend about these dreams. It reads:

"That is really weird because I was telling my wife this past Monday I had a dream about (your brother) and then the next night a dream about you... same deal just hanging out... although (your brother) was shopping for a bow tie!"

So, it’s good to know I’m not alone in these dreams. Anybody else?

American Movie (Un)Classics

Playing tonight on American Movie Classics (AMC):

Pet Sematary 2

Oh my. What has this channel come to? Has Turner Classic Movies (TCM) really cornered the market so much that AMC can't show a decent flick anymore? I remember when AMC had the great Hitchcock festival, in which they showed the restored, letterbox versions of some of the filmmaker's best movies. It introduced me to many of the lesser-known but great works in his body of work.

No more quality movies will come from this channel, I guess. Good thing I recorded almost every movie during that Hitchcock fest.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Pumpkin Farm Fun and Swerving for Cyclists

Pumpkin Farm Fun

As we waited in our minivan for a cop directing traffic so a group of cyclists could get through, Ben said, "Mowcycle." Motorcycle

"That's good, Ben, but those are bicycles. See?" I pointed to a few pedalers passing in the opposite direction.

He looked at them, then looked the other direction and said, "Yeyyo mowcycle." Yellow motorcycle

We were about 10 or 15 cars back from the traffic light, and when I looked again I barely saw a yellow cruiser bike leaving the intersection headed to the right.

My wife and I both chimed in, "That's right, Ben, yellow motorcycle. Very good."

"I told you, if he says it, you know it's gotta be there somewhere," my wife said.

She was right. Ben has this uncanny ability to spot things we didn't even know were there, even after looking for them. I guess all young eyes, coupled with young brains, can do this, but I haven't been around other kids very much. Yet another perk of being a father is being around children and their amazing view of the world.

At the Big Orange Pumpkin Farm, Ben got to feed goats, cows, and sheep. He called out their names and gave them a "moo" and a "baaa" where appropriate, but they didn't seem to notice that he had learned their respective languages. My favorite was "Cock-a-dooo" for a rooster. Ben smiled each time a goat pushed its snout into the paper cup of feed, but laughed out loud when one goat would butt another for eating rights.

"Goats a sunny," Ben said.

"Yes, Ben those goats are funny," we replied. Still working on that F sound.

Now, I grew up with a best friend who lived on a farm, and this place was lacking one distinctive smell. Unless you've experienced it, then you will not be able to appreciate it just from my words. It is the rank stench of a billy goat's beard. Evidently these animals urinate on their own beards to make themselves more attractive to females or to warn away other males. Whatever the reason, with my considerable human nose I can only understand it working for the latter.

The hayride was uneventful, and somehow lost the charm I had hoped for when we passed two volleyball nets and saw a large building with a sign that read, "Bill Bates Cowboy Ranch." Nevertheless, Ben seemed to like it.

When a pig started squealing loud enough to get everybody's attention, a lady near us mused "maybe we're about to see what a farm is really all about." Turns out it was just an employee picking up the pig to give some patrons a closer look. That tiny pink pig made quite a scene, screaming its head off and flailing its stubby little legs. A supervisor walked over quickly and told the girl to put down the pig, as she was making guests think the pig was hurt. Clearly the girl was embarrassed by the reprimand. She cowered in one corner of the pig's cage, lifting little handfuls of its feed and letting it fall through her fingers. Then she jarred me completely out of the farm environment by calling somebody on her mobile phone. I can only imagine what she was saying.

We saw a train of sorts. It featured a John Deere lawn tractor pulling a string of about five "cars" made of cutout barrels, on their side, each just large enough for two or three little kids to sit and ride. I decided Ben needed to ride that, and bought a $2 ticket. I finally got his mom's attention as she chatted with a Mom's group member, and she decided to climb into the car with Ben. There were no safety straps, so we thought she could make sure he didn't fall out.

Stay with me.

Although my wife stands just a little over 5'7", she has fairly long legs. By the time she crammed herself into that little barrel with him, Ben was pinned against the front and had a look on his face that asked, "Now what am I supposed to do?" or maybe, "Dad, you paid two bucks for this?" Shannon likewise was unable to move, and barely managed to get out by herself, as I was busy readying the camera in the event she landed on her head.

A very nice woman behind us volunteered to let Ben ride with her two daughters, one of whom was about five and loved to help with her little sister. "She'll make sure he doesn't get out," she said. We asked Ben if that was okay with him, introduced him to the girls, and plopped him between them. He was so tired by that point that he probably wouldn't have cared if they were two bearcats. Ever the dutiful and nerdly dad, I followed along beside the train, my miniDV Handycam capturing every pontentially boring moment.

Later we let Ben pick out his own pumpkin from one of the patches. There were actual plants growing in rows of dark soil, with a few pumpkins lying near each. The stems were cut, so I'm not sure that was where they grew into the proud pumpkins they had become. The plants resembled the squash plants in my childhood garden, so I knew it was possible. Obviously caring little about their birthplace, Ben eagerly chose the first pumpkin he saw once we told him to get one. He gave a few textbook straining grunts as he tried to lift it, but neither of us knows where he got that. Probably from Grover lifting his mailbag on Sesame Street.

Before we finished our 10-minute drive home, Ben was fast asleep in his car seat. He didn't even stir when I unbuckled the straps to lift him out.

One thing that breaks my heart after outings like that? Although it will help shape who he becomes, Ben may have abolutely no conscious recollection of that day or any day prior to it. Some children claim to have memories of when they were two, but I certainly can't claim that. I guess we'll know some day whether he remembers it. We'll just have to make sure we ask him before he sees the pictures and video.

I don't want to say I have mixed feelings, because that carries with it a negative connotation, so let's say I have various feelings about the Big Orange Pumpkin Farm.

At $5 per person over two years old, which includes a hot dog, a hayride, and a paper cup full of animal feed, it is not a bad deal. Add to that drinks, chips, and a take-home pumpkin, and you're set back about $22 for a family of three to have a few hours of fun. I was surprised they charged $1 for a 16oz bottled Ozarka water (the best bottled water, right up there with Aquafina), considering how much I would pay for that at any other event in the area. I recommend it for a family outing in the fresh air. Well, fresh in a farmy, animal-dung kind of way.


Swerving for Cyclists

On the drive out to the pumpkin farm Saturday morning, we saw and had to swerve for lots of cyclists. I have no problem with that, but when cars coming the opposite direction swerve into my lane to pass a pedal pumper, I get a little nervous. We had no idea what the occasion was. Several miles down the road, two guys on bicycles were riding abreast, just like Ponch and John did in "CHiPs". As soon as I had the chance, I passed them. I said something like this:

"Can't they find a better place to ride together? I wouldn't be out here riding on a road where the speed limit is 55 mph. It's crazy. I know the law says they have the right to the lane just like a car does, but come on. I come over that next rise and there are two people riding like that, I won't see them in time. These people think they're the next Lance Armstrong or something. 'Oh, Lance isn't coming back, I have a shot.' Idiots."

Potential scoring for Deathrace 2000 notwithstanding, my wife nodded a couple times and said she agreed it was pretty risky. We were on our way, dodging bicycles the remaining five miles of our drive.

Later we found out that they were participating in the Velo Bash Bike Rally, to benefit and increase awareness of the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation of the Southwest. I felt a little smaller for having complained as loudly as I did, but I still think there has to be some safer solution for charity bicycle rides. Perhaps they were not "idiots" in the strictest sense.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A Major Milestone and Verbal Flubs

First Time Ever

I never knew just how I would feel when it finally happened. I had heard others talk about it, and had considered in passing how I would react.

Yesterday, I heard the sound of Ben's voice as I napped on the couch. That's nothing unusual. He wakes up from his nap, gets restless, and starts saying things like, "Ben, get out," or just the standard "Daddy. Daaaadeeeee." Then there's the unintelligible, low groan. Anyone who knows Ben knows that sound.

I also heard his doorknob moving. Ben likes to close doors, but cannot open them yet, so this also was not unusual. So what's the big deal? Right?

Ben still naps in his crib.

Visions of Crushed Head Faeda* dancing through my head, I rushed to find out if Ben was okay. I managed to curb my enthusiasm enough to keep from knocking him over with the door. He was fine, and only later as I changed his diaper and asked how he got out of his bed did he say, "Ben bump a head." He seemed to be relating facts more than complaining, so I guessed the bump was not too bad.

After I told my wife about it, we discussed getting a toddler bed. It just wouldn't do to have our boy tumbling from his crib each day.

I chuckled to myself a bit and imagined what he'll do on the day he first wakes up, stretches his adorable little legs, and opens his room door onto the rest of the house, his mommy and daddy sleeping obliviously on the opposite side of the split floorplan. When that day comes, I hope for our sake that my post is no more eventful than this one.

* Crushed Head Faeda is a memorable character from the soon-to-be-classic, Simon of Space. I didn't link to it, because that site will be removed before long, due to the paper publisher's contract. I'll announce here when you can pick up your own hardbound edition. It will entertain you and make you think, but not in a sad way.


Verbal Flubs

Relating a story someone else had shared about her new house's state of ill-repair, my wife said, "She's going to call the builder and tell them her house is a melon." (for all those unfamiliar with the problem here, the word should be "lemon," not "melon.") Note added later: she knew immediately that she had said it wrong -- sorry for that omission, dear.

The next day, she had another. First, let me say that it was about midnight-thirty. I had just been to see the US Marine Drum and Bugle Corp, who played a great arrangement of one of my favorite pieces -- Rimksy-Korsakov's Sheherazade, and had videotaped it for prosperity. I mean, posterity. Dang, she has me doing it, too.

I was playing the video for her and her mother when they both noticed a man standing near the field wearing bright orange pants. "Look at those pants," my wife said.

"What was he thinking?" my mother-in-law said.

My life laughed and replied, "I don't know. Those things make him stick out like an orange thumb." (hint: should have been "sore thumb.")

To her credit, she realized what she had said and laughed as I told her I was going to blog it. Here ya go, dear.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Razor Sharp Marketing

The pushers have addicted me.

For more than 12 years, I have been using the same type of razor, and probably have had to replace it two or three times. Sure, I had to buy the replacement blade cartridges, but that's all part of the evil of using manual razors. Many fancier models with an extra blade and more pivot points have come along since then, but I've remained true to the SensorExcel that has always met my needs. I've tried electric -- so no thank you to anybody about to suggest that.

On Monday morning, I picked up my trusty Gillette SensorExcel and realized I'd been shaving on that particular blade refill too long. I judge this by how much shaving cream scum has accumulated on the plastic parts. Now that's scientific.

I turned over the razor's base, where there is space for five blade cartridges to rest comfortably until I need them. Rats! The four remaining had the telltale white stains and the fifth was on the razor. I had skipped a shaving day over the weekend, so my face was kind of stubbly. I had to shave.

That's when 12-plus years of undying loyalty met its match.

In Bentonville, Arkansas, there is an atmosphere unique to the known universe. The largest company in the world has its headquarters there, and vendors of all stripes have converged on the humble community of 20,000 (but quickly growing) to court its business. In fact, Wal-Mart informed said companies not long ago that in order to do business with them, they had to have a physical presence within 30 miles of the headquarters. Since then, it's been almost like watching birds converge on a huge billboard (constructed by Wile E. Coyote) reading "free bird sed."

In such an environment, it is ridiculously simple to find sponsors for a golf tournament. What do some of these companies do to get their name out to the participants? You guessed it. Goodie bags.

In one of the three times I set foot on a golf course that year, I participated in one of said tournaments. Although I didn't score well, I got brand new stuff in plastic bags.

Back to now, where I opened the bathroom cabinet to find a razor, packaged in a transparent plastic shell that's impenetrable without a knife or scissors. Oddly, the back of the package featured a rectangular perforation that made opening it quite easy. Why can't 99.9% of manufacturers catch on to this?

After getting over the amazement of Edge gel turning to shave cream as I applied it (I'm a simple man), I gripped the razor's comfortable handle and carefully dragged the blades down my cheek, then over my chin and down my neck.

I then knew the name of my latest addiction. It is called Gillette Mach3 Turbo, and although it makes my teeth grind to type the words, it lifted me to a new level in shaving comfort. The pushers have won.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Digital Media issues

I started this as a rant on the woes of the ever-increasing space demands of digital media, but turned into a sort of primer.

Digital Photos

Do you use a digital camera? Do you scan in your film photos? If so, and you've been doing this for any length of time, then you know how much fun it is keeping photo files organized and backed up.

You're not backing up your photos? Please start now. Copy them to another hard drive, put them on a CD or a DVD. Something. Anything. You can lose pictures forever if you do not have a backup plan.

If you copy some photos to an optical disk of some kind, don't rely on that as the only copy. The CD's and DVD's you create today are not infallible. I've placed a CD in my drive, and other drives, only to find that the data on it is inaccessible. I was lucky it was only some freeware I could download again, but it could just as easily have been photos.

So, you say that storing all those photos is starting to take up too much space? The moment you copy photos from your camera onto your computer, before you've deleted them from the memory card, look through them and weed out the pictures you do not want. This should not be hard for most folks, as even the pros shoot frame upon frame to get the "right" shot. This can save an enormous amount of space. If you do not do it right away, then you probably will not do it.

Once you have weeded out the pics you don't want, make a second copy of the keepers somewhere (remember that backup I was talking about). Then, and only then, should you clear the memory card, and you should do that within the camera, not with your computer. Otherwise, you can end up with a card that the camera will not read correctly.

You can, of course, weed through the pictures in the camera, before you even copy them to the hard drive. If you have a large number of pictures, though, this can be fairly time-consuming and you cannot always tell from the small LCD whether a picture is a keeper.

Digital Video

Do you shoot digital video and then download it to your computer? If so, then all of the above apply, but deleting the parts you don't want is trickier. You can use a video editor to cut them down, and then save the final cut onto the hard drive. Windows Movie Maker 2 (freely downloadable from Microsoft) is pretty good. Otherwise, use something like Pinnacle Studio or another of the products in that range. Mac users, you have the excellent iMovie. Enough said there.

Then, if you have the capability, output your edited video to DVD. Most modern DVD players will play DVD's you make yourself, and it is a great way to share you videos. Remember, though, that your miniDV camera records an image that is higher quality than a DVD, so just paying someone to archive your tapes to DVD will result in quality loss. Many people do not know that.

I encourage you to keep the original, whether on tape or on the hard drive. If you keep every minute of all your originals on a hard drive, then you will start using up hard drive space very quickly. I recommend you keep the original tapes and just buy a new tape when you fill one. Sure, archive the best moments to avoid losing them to tape damage and/or degradation, but keep the original tapes, too. Until there is some inexpensive way of archiving the full-quality original, that seems the best way to do it.

This obviously is not meant as a comprehensive guide, but it was on my mind, and that's why I have a blog.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Serenity the Movie

We saw Serenity on opening night.

I saw it was good, and I said it was good.

Shannon, who has never seen one episode of Firefly, was bored through half of it, indifferent through the third fourth, and thought it was a'ight for the last 35-40 minutes.

I can understand a lot of that, for someone who has not watched the show at all. She did laugh out loud several times, however, at some funny parts. She also gasped pretty big at one point, but not as much as those who watch Firefly.

I thought it was very good. I won't say any more, lest I spoil something, but there were two significant surprises, and one big shocker that still bothers me (not because it was bad, but just sad). Also, do not watch the trailer or read any reviews that mention plot points before you see the movie. As usual, I wish I had not. Big time here, though, especially if you are a watcher of Firefly.

The place was absolutely packed, so that at 7:15 (show started at 7:25), we could not find two seats together in the middle section (except the front-most section), so we sat way over on the side, about 10 feet from a side speaker. That's saying something, because it was the largest capacity layout in the multiplex. It made dialogue hard to hear, having background sounds and music right there in our right ear.

Funniest moment (besides a few choice movie lines) was when we saw a woman picking her nose in her car, right at a very busy intersection where basically anybody could see her. She kept looking around to make sure nobody could see her (I guess), but she never looked to her left and slightly behind her, which is where we were. Wow, was she digging. First she just casually slipped her thumb in there, but then she really got serious and stuck a finger up there. She then just rubbed her finger and her thumb together, I suppose to make the spoils disappear. Yuck. The things people do in their cars. See my post about other (not disgusting) things I've seen.

It was a great date night. We ate at the Blue Goose in Plano before the movie, and had dessert at Cold Stone (ice cream place where they mix together the flavors you choose). I had peanut butter ice cream mixed with banana, and Shannon had a coffee/amaretto ice cream mix. Both very good. Better than Marble Slab Creamery, which I've mentioned in an earlier post.

After dessert, we headed over to a place called Main Event. It features, in a non-smoking environment, 34 bowling lanes, tons of pool tables, the longest shuffleboard table I've seen, and lots of video games.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Weather is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful

Wow. We hit 104 degrees here on Wednesday. A little thunderbanger blows through that night, and we get not one drop of rain. We wake up to a day with a high of 78 degrees, our first break from 100-degree heat in at least a month. It felt like San Francisco out there (only west coast city I've been to, so that's why I mentioned it), only it was a little bit warmer. A slight breeze, actual temperature variance in the shade. I half expected a Rice-a-Roni cable car to stop and wait for me to jump on board. Wouldn't give my wife the front spot this time, though (see pic). That was taken before we had a digital camera. See more of my San Francisco pics here, categorized. Muir Woods, Monterey Bay, etc.

Ben and I played outside for about an hour after I got home from work. If you're watching reruns or playing video games instead of spending time with your child, then shame on you. If you don't have a child, then stare at a screen if you want. We're not supposed to hit above 90 in the next 10 days, and lows in the 60's and 50's. Okay, enough weather geekery.

I got 27 pages into An American Tragedy, but dropped it like a brick (which it resembles at 800+ pages) when I found a borrowed copy of Ringworld. I'm getting back into sci-fi after a long hiatus. Thanks to Simon of Space and its community of commenters for rekindling my love for the genre. It's one thing to watch it on the silver screen, but quite another to read it. The movies generally sacrifice character depth for number of explosions. Oh, wait, that's not just in sci-fi. ;-)

Plus, I'm stoked about sci-fi again because Ben says "rocketship" as plain as you please. There's one on a set of his pajamas, but we don't know where he heard the word.

Probably going to see the Serenity movie this weekend. It's based on the short-lived but excellent TV series Firefly (Serenity is a Firefly-class cargo ship). I think sticking with the original name would have made it more attractive to the uninitiated than the other. Oh well. As they say on Seinfeld - Serenity now!

Have an excellent weekend, my faithul (if few) readers.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Four Car Pileup, My Book, and SCSI

I got off work right on time today, and on my way home I saw a fire truck, an ambulance, and a police car in the opposite lanes. Four cars had managed to smash into each other. Well, the guy in the front didn't do any smashing, so I guess only three. All the cars were in pretty bad shape. Funny thing is that the fourth car back had the most damage, as if it hit hardest. And no, I didn't rubberneck and slow down traffic. The guy in front of me did, so of course I looked while we were going slow.

So, I'm trying to put together in my mind how four cars end up like that on a road where the traffic was not very heavy, and when it is, it's moving very slowly. It is a very flat road, and visibility was excellent. Were three drivers paying that little attention? They had to have been looking at something else. We were between two corn fields, so I'm pretty sure they weren't gawking at a woman when it happened.

I finished reading through my book and making notes of what to move where, what to add, and what to change to a different point of view. It's tricky business, keeping track of a novel-length piece of work. If you can't take time to read it in fairly large chunks so that you don't forget any details, coherent revisions are very difficult. I might post it online in chunks. If you want to see it, then please encourage me in a comment. It will be a great motivator for me to work on this thing once and for all. I wrote it in one month about three years ago-- start, middle, end, and it's time to finish it.

Did I mention that Ben is awesome?

I went back to work at 8 p.m. to complete a couple of scheduled tasks that had to be done during downtime. They actually went off without a hitch.

(computer nerdly passage approaching)

Interesting part? I had to update the SCSI controller drivers and firmware on an IBM xSeries server running Windows 2000 Server. I think it's a 345. After I updated the driver (always do that first), I rebooted onto the ServeRAID Manager Support CD. I was pleasantly surprised to see Tux appear on the screen, and then a Linux GUI. It required only two clicks from me to flash the SCSI firmware. After it was finished doing this critical hardware-level work, it prompted me to reboot, where the server then loaded back into Windows. Oh well, I'm sure it enjoyed the brief time it spent with the penguin.

(computer nerdly passage over. post over. goodnight to me)

Monday, September 26, 2005

They're on Our Side

For the second time in the last 10 years, I went to a high school football game Friday night. I went with my wife and our son, a 26-month old redheaded spitfire (also sometimes a firebrand). My first cousin's son is the first-chair trumpet player in the Pilot Point High School band, and for the second year in a row he was up for Band Beau at Homecoming. They never had such things when I was in school.

It was a breezy night, not too hot. We had just grabbed some hamburgers and a hot dog from the band's concession stand, and Ben was devouring the Cheetos. He kept leaning on my legs to get a better look at something, effectively fingerpainting cheese coating all over my shorts. I demonstrated licking the cheese off my fingers so he might get the hint. Good thing I love him. He dropped his sippy cup, which then bounced through the Mac truck-sized gap in the bleachers and hit the dirt far below. By the time I got to it, it had been kicked repeatedly through the dirt. I headed to the Men's room to rinse it off.

Through Ben's Eyes

Ben sat in the stands for a while without getting bored. He pointed at the field at one point to say, "Paying sootball," which I think we can all translate if we try. Keep working on those "L" and "F" sounds, buddy.

I walked Ben around a little bit when he got restless. Along the journey we saw an ambulance, a fire truck, and a police car. The fireman opened the door for Ben to look inside with his wide blue eyes. That was a highlight of the night for Ben.

When the inflatable, oversized bearcat the football team uses as its "tunnel" was deflated, Ben said, "Bearcat fell down." He was scared of the mascot when we got close to it. Yeah, son, just you wait until we go somewhere with a Disney theme. Looks like he might be a shrieker.

The Fervor
I got to a point in my life that I started thinking of sporting events as just another form of entertainment. After going to a couple of them live in the same week, I have to admit they are much more than that. At a live concert or a play, the crowd certainly applauds and/or yells in approval of the performance. To an extent, this behavior is contagious. Once a few people stand up to give a standing ovation, for instance, the rest usually follow, whether or not they truly feel it is deserved.

At a sporting event, there is competition, which means the fans take sides, and that makes it alive in a much more dynamic way than other forms of entertainment. High school sports amplifies this effect.

At a high school football game, parents of players are peppered throughout the stands. Some spectators are conscious of this and make an effort not to badmouth the players; some ignore this and complain about them after every down. Regardless, the parents usually do a good job of ignoring these idiots and try to enjoy watching the opposing team knock the living spit out of their sons.

Also in attendance are former students of that school who still feel a connection to the team. They often are more rabid fans than those currently enrolled, perhaps in an effort to recapture their youth, or just in their excitement that there still is a place one can pay $5 for an evening out.

When something good happens, it's more than just a singer hitting a note, or a guitarist firing off a burning solo run. When that happens, a concergoer might lean to another and say, "These guys are amazing!" or "Dude, they are killing tonight."

In sports, though, it's "We scored!" or "I can't believe we're losing like this," followed by high-fives or hand-wringing, respectively. Cheerleaders encourage spectator participation. Some fans can admit when the other team makes a good play; some would not be caught dead saying anything complimentary of the opponent. The players feed off all these forms of energy more than anyone who's never been out on the field could ever know.

I have no doubt that sports are entertainment. They charge admission, there is a stage, and the participants dress up for their performance. The fans, however, make the difference, because sports provide a venue for them to do much more than passively be entertained. They yell and rejoice as if they can make a difference in who wins or loses. More often than not, they are right.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Simon of Space update

The author of Simon of Space has announced that he is in negotiations with a publishing company to have the book published "for real." As in, not paying to have it printed, but having an editor and a publishing company handle his work of art and present it to the world, then send him money.

There's no telling how long all this might take, but it's exciting news for him and all of us who have been following along. Not to mention those of us who also have dreamed of becoming paid published authors.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Simon of Space is over

It ended. Simon of Space, a rollicking ride around an imaginary universe, written over a fourth-month span and meted out to a loyal fan base with typos and plot holes galore (hey, he was making a lot of it up on the fly, and a story evolves), came to an end.

(begin obsolete paragraph)
The good news for those who haven't read it? You can get your own softcover copy of it. It appears in the book almost exactly like it did online, as diary entries of a man who starts life with a clean slate. If you want to buy it, you can. It's an on-demand printing service, so don't expect to pay $5 for it. Besides, it will end up being worth much more than that to you.
(end obsolete paragraph)

As of this writing, you can still read it online, guided by a handy table of contents instead of having to read the posts from the bottom up.

Read it somehow, though. If you remember that it is a 366 page book written in a linear fashion with no re-writes or revisions, and just enjoy the wonderful characters and the amazing worlds they inhabit, you will not regret spending time on this. Matthew Frederick Davis Hemming (writing here as Cheeseburger Brown) is a talent you will hear from sometime in the future.

Toothbrush and Nose Honk

Just a couple of things this morning before I start working.

On the way in this morning, a driver in front of me at a red light was brushing his teeth. I wasn't sure at first, because all I could see was his head moving back and forth. When he tilted his head back just enough for me to see his mouth in his rearview mirror, there it was, the toothbrush, going back and forth across his pearly whites. That was a first for me. I've seen people doing all kinds of things in their cars, but not that. I held off trying to share the song I had learned as a youngster and that we sometimes sing to Ben. "Brush your teeth, round and round. Circles small, gums and all."

The smog was particularly heavy to the south, above Dallas, and it looked like the wind had carried it our direction. Gotta love living in an urban megaplex. Not LA mega -- heck, not even Houston mega, but pretty big nonetheless. We moved Ben from the fresh air of the Ozarks to "air pollution caution level red." There, son, a gift from us.

After I got to work, I heard a co-worker blow his nose. You know how on TV and movies, when people blow their nose it makes a big honking sound, almost like a Canadian goose? Well, this was one of those. I rarely hear those in real life, so it gave me a good chuckle to start the day.

Here's hoping Hurricane Rita doesn't give anyone, much less Katrina survivors, as much trouble as some are predicting.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Have to share a dad thought (or more).

Ben loves to say new words, and often will repeat one until someone else says it in recognition. He always has had a bit of trouble with the word "placemat." We have a few that only Ben uses, because they do not soak up spills like our more decorative placemats. That's a great feature when you consider that toddlers often do not keep food within the boundaries of a dinner plate.

The word has gone through an evolution of sorts, but Ben's latest and most confidently pronounced version of the word is, as you might have guessed by the title of this post, "spacebat." It isn't muddled at all. Sitting atop his booster seat eagerly awaiting whatever we've managed to concoct for him, Ben repeats "spacebat" as clearly and crisply as a finely tuned radio announcer. More often than not, he keeps saying it even after he gets it. It's very hard for my wife and me to keep a straight face, so we are constantly turning our backs to laugh.

It's tempting to repeat back "spacebat," just as many parents repeat back mispronounced words that sound funny. It's better than just any mispronunciation, because in addition to being terrifically cute, it actually forms a real word -- well, real in a science fiction sense. Being a science fiction fan myself (as is my wife to some extent), I will hate to see "spacebat" go.

Trying our best to encourage proper speech, we just repeat it back, "Yes, placemat, that's right. You like to use your placemat," or some similar phrase that in most contexts crosses the line into corny.

Another one, which he comes by honestly, is his slight mangling of the word "magazine." Whenever he sees one of us reading any type of thin, floppy publication with color print, he proudly identifies it as a "mazagine." It has meaning for me, because I said it as a child. Again, we repeat it properly and know that the sad day will come when we'll never again read a "mazagine."

There are many times that Ben says something, and we can tell he really means it, because he will repeat back the same sound after it's clear to him we have no idea what he just said. Once we realize what we think it might be, and repeat it back in English, he gets an excited look in his eyes, nods, and says, "Yes." If we're wrong, he repeats himself until we get it right, or until it's clear that the situation is hopeless and that there are more important things to accomplish.

Things like throwing his milk cup.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Wherefore Art Thou, NFL?

First, a little translation, because I'm surprise by how many people do not know this.

"Wherefore art thou" does not mean "where are you?" It means "why are you?" Juliet said it to Romeo not to find him in the dark, but to lament the fact that he was, in fact, Romeo, a member of the rival family Montague, yet she was falling for him. So, why are you Romeo Montague, whom I am sworn to hate just by being born a Capulet? Oh, and Shakespeare didn't dream up the story. He adapted it from a poem first published two years before he was born.

On to my original topic, and why I think maybe I'm just not an NFL fan anymore.

I went to the Dallas Cowboys game last night. I first became a fan of the Cowboys back in the first grade, when Roger Staubach was still taking the snaps. Tony Dorsett was the superstar I remember best from those days, because I was only 9 when Staubach retired, yet Dorsett had his best season two years later, and I saw (on TV) his record touchdown run of 99 yards. In my second-grade picture, I am wearing a shirt that says "I'm From Cowboy Country," even though I was from Arkansas.

I know now that there were coked-up players throughout the 70's, a fact my grade-school self was oblivious to as I stared in wide-eyed wonderment at America's Team. I'm sure there also were ridiculous sums of money being paid, when adjusted for the value of the dollar. Again, I never remember the topic coming up when I watched in the 70's (or most of the 80's, for that matter).

Fast forward to the early 1990's, when millions of other fans and I watched the Cowboys suffer through a 1-15 season, then rally to win three Super Bowls in a four-year period. I was happy for the team, but I wasn't crazy about Jerry Jones, and I kind of resented the "bandwagon" fans who wear the jersey of whatever team is that year's champion. Also, I've always been a bigger fan of the humble gridiron warrior than the braggarts who seemed to be taking over. No, not Troy Aikman or Emmit Smith. They were my style. Irvin and others, great as they might have been, grated on my nerves. Abuse of substances both legal and illegal made the NFL news a lot, and some documentaries about past teams revealed that the Cowboys teams I had idealized in the past were riddled with the type of people I would never care to meet.

Once I finished college and started working in the real world, I found that time spent watching football on TV felt like time wasted. My weekend time was precious, and football got knocked down several pegs on the priority pole. In fact, it pretty much got pushed completely off. There I was, married, trying to find an affordable place to live, watching the stars sign multi-million dollar contracts and whine when they didn't get what they "deserved." Yes, I know many of them work very hard to maintain their physical condition, but we're talking about millions of dollars. Yes, I know that there are many guys on the bench making a lot less than the guys starting. Again, we're still talking about a lot of money and pretty much no financial hardship for these guys unless it's self-inflicted.

When we lived in northern Virginia for a while, and the local TV stations gave us a steady diet of the Washington Redskins, I tried again to be a football fan so I could root the Cowboys on in a hostile environment.

It didn't work.

I again dropped the NFL and stopped thinking about it for the most part. If I heard or saw a Cowboys score, that inner child would say, "yea," or "aaaugh," but then life would go on with no more than that small blip on the radar.

Several years later, I was invited to be a part of an online fantasy football league. I liked and respected the guy who asked, so I signed up and formed a team. Evidently it was a bit different from the others, in that everyone participating could have exactly the same lineup. There was a salary cap, but everybody playing could have the same running back, quarterback, etc. Also, no points were taken off for anything, and I could have a different set of players each week if needed.

I don't like to do things unless I do well, so I spent some time on this. I paid attention to the strengths and weaknesses of teams opposing my players, so that I could adjust my lineup. I was in a close second place in my group of about 15 all season long, until one week when I stuck with my same players, not realizing my running back's team had a bye. Oops.

After that season (maybe 2000 or 2001?), I again lost interest in the NFL and never really picked up again.

That is, until I moved to the Dallas area. Here I was, in a place where the local team was my childhood dream team. The local paper had huge sections devoted to them. Former players dotted the media landscape and the car dealership billboards. The nearest NFL game was less than an hour's drive away, instead of six, and it was not just any team. It was the Cowboys.

So, last Thursday when a co-worker announced via e-mail that she had an extra ticket for the upcoming Redskins game, I jumped at the chance. Not only were we playing the rival Redskins, but the "triplets" Aikman, Smith, and Irvin were being inducted into the Ring of Honor. I pictured myself truly caring about this while sitting there watching it live, at only my second Cowboys game in person. I had nothing Cowboys-related to wear (this should have been my first hint that I'm probably not a fan anymore), so I went with a generic blue-ish T-shirt.

While waiting to pick up my car after its repair Monday afternoon, I heard an interview with Troy Aikman, in which he affirmed my belief that he was a genuinely good guy, and I thought what a shame it was that these days he seemed an exception to the rule in the NFL. I'm probably not being fair to the players who don't make headlines with date-rapes and general abuse of women, but it's hard to ignore the other things I don't like about professional sports. Namely, that the players are paid ridiculous amounts of money while the average fan can barely afford to attend a game. On this topic and others, David Letterman made a fool of NFL super-agent Drew Rosenhaus. Apparently, Rosenhaus does that pretty well himself. I admit, Letterman is another entertainer getting paid tons of money. However, he charges nothing at the door.

It's getting to be work time, so I have to sum up (are any of you even still with me?), in exciting present-tense.

I can't get in touch with the guy whose wife sold me the ticket, so I drive to the game by myself. I already paid $49 for the ticket and find out when I get there that it's another $15 for parking. After walking a brisk mile to the door (this is not exaggeration) in 93-degree heat, I get in the door about 10 minutes after kickoff, where the score is 0-0. I introduce myself to my co-worker's husband, who turns out to be a very nice guy. Two ladies behind us manage to spill their beer on the seat next to him, and then his seat. Really slosh it good. I go to the concession area to buy a water, and to grab some napkins for beer cleanup. For 16.9 oz. of bottled water, I pay $3.50. Ouch.

Back in the game, it's 13-0 Cowboys in the fourth quarter. Until, that is, they start playing not to lose and give the 'Skins all the opportunity they need to score 14 unanswered points for the win.

Now, the loss notwithstanding, I didn't find myself enjoying being there, besides the camaraderie with my new acquaintance. We knew quite a bit about each other before it was all over. As far as the Ring of Honor thing? Even with my binoculars to see it better, I didn't get caught up at all. It was nice to see a couple of good guys (Troy and Emmit) join the ranks of Staubach and the other few Cowboys greats in the Ring, and I didn't mind Irvin getting in, too. I found, though, that I would have been fine just watching it on TV, and maybe even not seeing it at all.

I think my interest in professional sports died when I moved from being a child to being a man. I'm not saying that pro sports fans are not adults. I'm just saying that, for me, with my perspective and my personal interests, pro sports have lost their foothold. Despite the fact that now I really am from Cowboy Country.


On a note separate from the NFL, when I stopped to get gas on the way home, the pay-at-the-pump feature was not working, so I went inside. The cashier was just pulling a beer out of the front pocket of a would-be shoplifter, asking him why he was stealing from him. The boy didn't answer, but replied by pulling out a five-dollar bill and saying, "I'm paying for my gas." That seemed little consolation to the cashier, who said he was going to call the police. I could tell it was getting a little heated, so I took my business elsewhere. Good thing, too, because instead of $2.69/gallon, I paid "only" $2.61. Thanks for shoplifters.