Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Trashy guy hungering for a litter free neighborhood

I apologize in advance for what I’m about to write because I know it’s bound to sound really, really elitist and we all know how evil elitists are -- at least until we need a couple of them to clean up an incomprehensible $700 billion market collapse.

That being said, here goes:

McDonald’s Restaurants attract trash.

That may sound harsh, but I can prove it. I know because this summer I reached a breaking point about litter in my neighborhood and by my neighborhood, I mean anywhere that’s roughly the width of a sidewalk of where I’m walking.

I do a lot of strolling. Always have. I don’t believe in the no pain/no gain method of exercising. In fact, if something’s even the least bit painful, I stop right away and head to the nearest tavern for soothing refreshment.

I know too many middle aged people like me who suffer painful accidents trying to stay in shape. I have no intention of snapping my Achilles tendon playing basketball, getting shin splints playing tennis, or pulling a muscle while jogging.

I’m so careful I forfeit any activity that’s likely to result in armpit sweat stains.

So for exercise, I walk. I amble. I saunter. I sidle. I tromp. I ramble. I hoof. I gambol. It’s perfectly pleasant and it exercises the mind as much as the midsection. I wave to the old people sitting on the porches, admire the changing seasons and generally commune with my little corner of the world.

But if you walk anyplace in this overcrowded world these days, you’re likely to trip over trash. This happens to me a lot. It never fails to amaze me how many people will simply drop a cup, cigarette pack or Biggie Sized french fry container on the ground rather than walk a few yards to a nearby trash container.

It’s not like there’s a shortage of them either. Heck, you could argue that the world’s practically littered with litter receptacles, too.

Being an observant sort, I couldn’t help but notice how much litter I literally had to step over.

On the way to the grocery store with my daughter, I counted three pieces of idle trash directly between our parked car and the front door. Had I stumbled along in a drunken weave the number would have risen to about eight.

No more, I thought. I bent to pick up each one that was in my way. Josie, who at the age of 8 is already beginning to sense what a torturous embarrassment I’m going to be to her in about two years, asked why I was picking up trash that wasn’t mine.

“It’s not my trash. But it’s my neighborhood. It’s my planet. We all do little things to keep our homes clean. Why shouldn’t we do little things to keep our town clean?”

This made perfect sense, but little did I realize the danger of my logic. I began taking a plastic bag on my walks and picking up any trash in my way. I’ve become sort of a hobby garbageman. I do all the duties noble garbagemen do -- pick up and dispose of trash -- but I do them for free.

And I wonder how many off-duty garbagemen pick up trash in their spare time. Or are they like professional golfers who can’t stand the thought of playing golf on vacation? I’d like to know.

And that brings me to McDonald’s. I tell you, the place is a trash magnet.

The Pond, the friendly tavern above which I work, has very clean parking lots. That’s a credit to the owner, his employees and customers, and to all the parents who raised them.

McDonald’s is another matter entirely. The place is practically surrounded by ugly brown trash cans stationed there like North Korean soldiers standing guard duty over the De-Militarized Zone, but you can practically wade through the trash there. And trash bearing the McDonald’s logo stretches for a mile in both directions.

I stoop down and pick it all up.

What is it about McDonald’s trash that it can’t make its way into the trash cans so near and needy? Is it McDonald’s customers who themselves are trashy? Were they raised by ravenous wolves? Is there something in the special sauce that makes McDonald's customers so careless about simple civic matters? Who knows?

I thought about this during a long walk this morning and all I know is this.

I’ve suddenly got a hankering for a Big Mac and fries.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Out on a limb for free firewood

I was thrilled, as I always am, when a stranger e-mailed me this morning asking about how he could get some free firewood.

As anyone who’s ever seen the homepage of knows, I’m the world’s leading purveyor of free firewood. No joke. I’ll send anyone, anywhere in North America, free firewood.

With home fuel and heating prices skyrocketing, can anyone name a better deal?

Of course, you can’t.

It all started about 15 years ago. Val and I had a lovely little house with a cozy fireplace. I pity those of you who live in places like Arizona or Florida that suffer from year-round sunshine. You’ll never know the pleasure of cuddling up with a loved one in front of a warming fire, charming fire place implements at our side, while the wind’s blowing blizzards and trash cans across the desolate lawn.

Go ahead, feel free to pity me right back this February when cabin fever has us all so crazy we’re ready to use those charming fire place instruments to bash each other’s brains in.

But to enjoy the fire, you need the one essential ingredient -- and I’m not talking about dry matches.

You need wood. Lots of it. And for that you need an authentic woodsman.

I’d been warned that most woodsmen, around here at least, are among the most boring carbon-based life forms on the planet. I was told they spend long days out there among the oaks, maples and pines, and that they must spend most of that lonely time trying to converse with the bark.

This I found to be true. The woodsmen I’d hired to bring me a cord or two each fall universally seemed -- and pardon the pun -- "stumped" whenever I’d speak back.

Plus, they seemed to be a bit -- and here I go again -- "shady" in their woodsmen ethics. They’d bring less than promised or lettuce green wood that just insolently hissed at me rather than combust.

That I didn’t mind. What I could not tolerate was that not a one of them ever got my firewood joke. And, damn it, it’s funny. I’d spring it on them each time when we’d finished stacking.

I’d say, “Well, friend, how much do I owe you for this ‘ere wood?”

“I reckon (many woodsmen are reckoners) you owe me $125.”

At this point, no matter what the price, I’d feign shock. “Gee, $125! That’s a lot of money. I guess firewood doesn’t grow on trees!”

Silence. Nothing.

See, it’s funny because firewood is actually one of the few products you can buy that actually does grow on trees.

Had I ever found one bearded woodsman who’d have slapped his torn jeans and said, “Ha! That’s a good one! Firewood don't grow on trees! Ha! Ha!” I would have invited him inside for a beer and signed a 25-year contract for annual delivery.

But the reaction was always the same: dumbfounded silence.

So I decided to hell with the whole sorry bunch of them and ran out and bought my own chainsaw. Each year now I head into the woods and harvest my own timber, something that marginally makes me, a guy who talks and types for a living, feel at least a little bit like a manly dude.

And each year as I kneel down and light the first warming fire of the fall, my wife expresses her gratitude and support by saying something like, “I’m amazed you’ve made it another year without chopping off one of your limbs or being crushed to death by a falling tree.”

So if you’ve never done so, please take a minute to visit and be sure to let me know if you need any free firewood.

And to my new friend, Dave S. in Glenview, Illinois, you can expect your shipment to arrive in the next week. Look for it in your mailbox.

It’ll be free. It’ll be wood. And it’ll burn. If properly lit under mild wind conditions, there ought to be enough to set the delivery envelope ablaze. I suggest you put some paper and twigs around it if you want to kindle a bigger fire.

But first you’d better find an honest local woodsmen. And good luck with that.

Those guys don’t exactly grow on trees either.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Timber! HDTV escapes crashing poplar

Val called in a panic. A majestic nearly 100-foot tulip poplar had come crashing down in the front yard. The urgency in her voice left me confused about the damage.

“Is the house okay?

“Everyone’s fine,” she said.

“Good, but what about the house?”

“It just missed taking out the whole front corner by a couple of feet,” she said.

I breathed a sigh of relief. When she told me the tree had fallen I immediately imagined the worst.

I was fearful the tree had taken out the 48-inch big screen HDTV. That would have been tragic.

Sure, the kids getting nicked would have been bad. However, ever since they were old enough to crawl and crash down the stairs, I’ve drilled it into them that life ain’t for sissies. None of us is going to escape without scars.

They know that to get though this life you got to be quick and practically bulletproof. I’d trust their cat-like instincts to dodge any crashing tree trunks.

But the poor, majestic TV is utterly defenseless. Had that mighty poplar tumbled down into the southeast corner of our little cottage in the woods, it surely would have taken out the large screen HDTV days before a huge sports weekend.

And that would have left me numb and mumbling in grief.

My credentials in some guy categories are admittedly sketchy. I don’t belong to any fantasy sports leagues. I’d rather kill time than a 12-point buck. And all I know about cars is how to drive ‘em and wash ‘em -- and I don’t wash ‘em.

But in one important area, I’m solidly in the all-guy camp. I’m crazy in love with my big screen TV.

It’s 48-inches of 1080p pixelated wonder. Ever since we got it last year, I’ve found myself watching things like the Food Network and The Weather Channel the way I used to watch, say, the Godfather trilogy.

“Notice the vibrancy of the colors. Marvelous! See how they enhance the drama inherent in the storyline?”

One of these days, probably when I’m about 50, I’m intending to become an avid pot smoker and when I do I plan on tuning into the weather channel for hours of mindless viewing. It’s just so perfectly soothing.

I feel sheepish admitting it, but despite their destructive capacity, I find myself watching hopefully for when the announcer will gravely intone that those lava lamp-like satellite pictures indicate the latest tropical depression has been upgraded to a “Cat 2” hurricane.

I felt this way even as Hurricane Ike roared into Galveston, a city where I know one of the three confirmed and regular readers of “8Days2Amish” resides. In fact, it’s her job to persuade people to travel to and enjoy Galveston (although I’m sure she didn’t extend any such gracious invitations to Ike).

Maybe I just like hearing meteorologists say, “Cat 2!”

Then, of course, there are the sports. Just this weekend, we have some great NFL action, foremost being the Steelers playing the Philadelphia Eagles. Then there’s the Ryder Cup with the team of pampered pretty boys from the USA again making it difficult for me to root for them over the beer-swilling pranksters from Europe. Throw in some major league baseball pennant races and the last game in Yankee Stadium history and I could conceivably cocoon myself for nearly 48 hours of great sports viewing, all in glorious high definition.

Previous to HDTV, this was the pivotal news season I’d normally devote hours and hours to election coverage and the shrill debates over whether the Democratic or the Republican candidate is telling the bigger fibs.

But I’ve really cut back on watching the news. It’s just so depressing. The financial crisis is among the worst in history. Wars are raging on two continents. Food and gas prices remain high. I’m sure all the newscasts are saying things are looking pretty bleak.

Maybe so.

But from where I’m sitting, things have never looked better.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

When stakes get higher than the mountain, it's time to lower Everest

If you’re like me, you enjoy reading books about terrible things happening to despicable people. And I’m not talking about the indigestion experienced by people in the Bush administration when the latest Bob Woodward book comes out or when the people who run the Pittsburgh Pirates have to read Bob Smizik in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Sure, those are people of pure evil, especially the men who run the Pirates, but nothing bad’s really happening to them. The criticism and ridicule may make them feel uncomfortable, but none of them is going to lose any fingers or toes to frostbite and their bowels won’t erupt in embarrassing situations,

That’s why I’d like ship the whole loathsome bunch of them to the Himalayas next spring in time to attempt to scale Mount Everest.

Then I could sit back and wait for the entertaining book about their horrific miseries.

I’m convinced there are no worse self-inflicted wounds in the world than those endured by egotistical amateurs who endeavor to summit the world’s tallest mountain.

And it’s only going to get worse. Mark my words, we’re approaching a day when soon dozens and dozens of people will die on Everest. Sure, most of the arrogant showoffs will have it coming, but because some innocents might expire in the process I have a solution.

It’s time to lower Everest. At more than 29,000 feet It’s way too high. What’s worse, as far climbing challenges go it’s just too damn easy. Expert climbers scoff at those who brag about climbing Everest because they equate it to an Alpine stroll, albeit one that takes place on the wing of a cruising 747 tooling along the jet stream.

I just finished reading a terrific book by Michael Kodas, “High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed.” It tells about how he, an amateur climber and a reporter with the Hartford Courant, became involved with a Connecticut team determined to summit the mountain. What started out as a chummy affair dissolved into bitter acrimony with everyone fearing for their lives.

In the process, he reveals how vastly different the mountain is since the days when gallant Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norkay of Nepal first gamely scaled it back in 1953. It’s nearly impossible to conceive what a phenomenal achievement it was back then.

Heck, back then even figuring out what the tallest mountain in the world was seems to me a phenomenal achievement. There was no GPS or pinpoint satellite imaging.

How’d they do it? Did somebody have a really, really long piece of string with them?

But it was something to be admired. They did it without oxygen tanks, cellphones, laptop weather reports, fixed ropes and ladders or any of the other sissy accouterments that makes climbing Everest such a cheap stunt these days. For God’s sake, they’ve even landed a helicopter on the summit.

Everest today is a lawless land overrun with scandal. There are drugs, prostitution, theft and even accusations of outright homicide. It’s like downtown Detroit only with lots more hypoxic vomiting.

Worst of all are the affluent dreamers who think climbing Everest will make them whole or earn them lucrative speaking fees on the lecture circuits.

“High Crimes” reveals in painstaking detail how as many as 40 of these sorts of amateurs climbed over a stricken climber named David Sharpe and responded to his pleading, outreached hands, if they acknowledged him at all, with attaboy high fives.

It was appalling.

His body, frozen stiffer than petrified log, is still there today, several hundred feet from the summit.

If you lowered Everest, the mountain wouldn’t be the sort of talisman that attracts these type of people. The really difficult mountains would be intimidating enough to scare off the amateurs.

Everyone who summits should be encouraged to bring down backpacks full of souvenir rocks. In a few short years, the world’s greatest mountain would be diminished to more manageable heights.

If that doesn’t seem practical, how about tunneling into the base to build a thrill-ride elevator to the top of the world? This would have the added benefit of making it handicap accessible for those who are concerned, as am I, about those PC sorts of things.

Put up a casino and people from all over the world will flock to Everest to lay down some bucks at the world’s tallest mountain.

Don’t think people will go to Everest to gamble?

Hell, they’ve been doing that for years.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Boring seatmates and Flight 93

I’m vowing to stop casting such a critical eye on my fellow passengers as they board the plane. It’s something I’ve been doing it since way back before they started charging for things like peanuts and soda.

They’d enter the cabin and I’d make my snap judgments about every potential seatmate.

“Navy blue jacket looks like a bore. Rastafarrian probably smells like bong water. Don’t want Red Sox cap next to me. Tubby there looks like he could snore through an hour of violent turbulence.”

What I really wanted was a vacant row. I didn’t want anybody next to me. But if someone must -- and in these days of overbooked flights they must -- I wanted the perfect seatmate. She didn’t have to be pretty, but she should be attentive if and when I deemed it time to talk. I wanted her to sit there and laugh at my witty anecdotes, nod thoughtfully at my profound observations and tell me how refreshing it is to sit next to someone who’s rose-smelling sweet even at 7 a.m.

No more.

I’m not going to look and think knee-jerk derogatory thoughts about my fellow passengers.

I’m going to try and look at them all as potential American heroes.

I spent the past two days at Shanksville writing stories for Parks Magazine about the crew and passengers of Flight 93.

Everyone’s familiar with the story of how 40 perfect strangers became perfect heroes in the skies near my western Pennsylvania home. Ranging in age from 79 to 20, you couldn’t have picked a better random sampling of Americans.

There were jocks, Mexicans, gays, businessmen, veterans, Jews, toymakers, tourists, students and bureaucrats. None of them wanted to die that day, even if it meant being immortalized as heroes.

They were only human.

Flight 93 reminds us that still something to celebrate.

I’m going to try and remember that the next time I’m on a plane. I’m going to try and remember that inside of each of us are untapped reservoirs of heroism and courage and that I’ll welcome spending the next two hours with any stranger imbued with those selfless qualities.

And that goes for the obnoxious jerk in the Red Sox hat, too.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Super collider to end world -- whew!

Sometime today they’re turning on the switch at the $5 billion Large Hadron Collider and doomsday scenario believers think that could mean lights out for planet Earth.

And they don’t mean we’ll all have trouble turning on things like toasters and blenders tomorrow. They mean lights out, as in the end of the world. Respectable scientists are fearful that the launch of this eensie-weensie -- and those are scientific terms -- particle collider could create an Earth-devouring black hole.

The mind boggles.

It’s fun to imagine distant and perhaps hostile life forms studying earth and be amazed that we’ve instantly turned ourselves into a black hole to exist no more.

E.T. #1: “Earthlings are smarter than we imagined.”

E.T. #2: “How so?”

E.T. #1: “They just developed the technology to create massive black holes and they did it right there on earth.”

E.T. #2: “Ha! Suckers!”

The atom-smasher is a 17-mile circle tunneled 300 feet beneath parts of Switzerland and France. It will use powerful magnets to accelerate protons head-on at 99.99 percent the speed of light in conditions that could mimic the original Big Bang. Scientists say if -- cross your fingers -- we survive the impact the results will help us unlock the secrets of our universe.

That’ll possibly help involved scientists if they’re ever on “Deal or No Deal!” Just how it’ll help the rest of us remains unclear.

Personally, I can see an upside to the end of the world right now because right now I owe absolutely everybody. I have a couple of big magazines and corporate accounts that have been for months deadbeating me on some sizable sums. It’s so bad I’ve had to tap into some retirement savings accounts for essentials like beer money and football pools.

I’ve always said I want die the instant my last check bounces and, by God, thanks to LHC I just might have a chance to do it.

Plus, I’ve always been curious about where the stuff goes when it goes into a black hole. Who knows, maybe it’ll be a fun place like Disney World, but without the long lines and ridiculously expensive admission fees.

I’ve always loved history and would enjoy an opportunity to be a part of it. And no one should underestimate how truly historic it would be to be alive on the planet the moment we -- oops! -- happen to destroy it.

It’s just a shame we’ll all be history right along with it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mamma Mia! I'm liking chick flicks!

Like most golfers, I’ve tried to train my brain to adhere to a stringent set of commands I try to recite as I get ready to smack the ball.

“Keep your head down . . . make a full turn . . . keep the left arm straight . . . finish with the belt buckle pointing toward the hole.”

Instead for the last two weeks, every single time I draw the club back the words screaming through my mind are the lushly orchestrated lyrics, “You are the Dancing Queen! Young and sweet! Only 17! Ohhhh, yeahhhh!!!”

Now, to be clear for any of you who’ve never seen me or my picture, my brain is mistaken on all counts. I’m not the Dancing Queen. I’m not young. I’m not sweet. I’m not 17.

Oh, no.

What I am is a middle-aged father who recently got dragged by his 7-year-old daughter to see “Mamma Mia,” the Meryl Streep/Pierce Brosnan movie full of the virulently infectious Abba songs (and is Abba the world’s shortest and most alphabetically prominent palindrome? Probably).

Dragged is a little harsh, I guess. I was thrilled to go. I love to see movies with my family, especially the great Pixars like “Finding Nemo,” “The Incredibles,” or “Ratatouille.” I recommend them for even people who don’t have their own or just plain hate kids. They’re wonderfully entertaining.

To me, seeing a matinee with my daughter draped across my lap is a tiny bit of heaven, especially if I’m suffering from a mild hangover. It’s like taking a nap with my eyes open.

If I’m hungover and not at the movie, I’ll be under the watchful eyes of my sober-minded wife and my own insinuating conscience that says I really ought to be cleaning out the basement or doing something productive other than laying on the couch, barely alive, using Three Stooges reruns to help me cope with the nausea.

But “Mamma Mia” was the first time Josie wanted me to go with her to see a more adult movie. She and her Mommy had loved it.

And, yes, I did, too. The story was lively, the cast engaging and the scenary breathtaking, especially when it focused on the vivacious star Amanda Seyfried, an Allentown, Pennsylvania, native about whom I’ll always think tender thoughts whenever I hear the depressing Billy Joel song about that Rust Belt town.

They may not make steel anymore in Allentown, but if they keep making ‘em like her, wow, to hell with wage-producing industries.
It was all campy good fun. I’d pay all night to watch Brosnan try to sing. He’s terrible, knows it, doesn’t try to hide it and when he sings is as laugh-out-loud funny as anything Moe, Curly and Larry ever filmed.

But now I can’t get any of the damned songs out of my head, and not just because Josie asked me to download a bunch of them.

There’s “S.O.S.,” “Does Your Mother Know?” “Super Trouper” and a half dozen others. Right now, I’m trying to sanitize my mind by blasting through a playlist with Tom Petty, The Stones, Steve Earle, The Who and James McMurtry.

It’s no good. Those four pale Swedes in leisure suits are still kicking all their rock ‘n’ roll asses.

Mamma Mia! I’ve reached a muscial Waterloo. I’m sending out an S.O.S and wondering . . . how can I . . . . even try . . . to go on?

Here’s my Top 10 list of other chick flicks I’m man enough to admit liking and reasons why any guy should:

10. “Waitress,” 2006, Adrienne Shelly’s poignant swan song features a hilariously sarcastic Andy Griffith.

9. “The Devil Wears Prada,” 2006, Anne Hathaway’s such a babe.

8. “Terms of Endearment,” 1983, Jack Nicholson’s absolutely hilarious.

7. “Gone with the Wind,” 1939, I was surprised to see this on Chick Flick lists. A chick flick? It’s Clark Gable’s movie. A classic movie and one damn fine introduction to celluloid profanity.

6. -- 1. . . . I’m still thinking . . . still I’m thinking . . .

Friday, September 5, 2008

I want to see Palin naked!

I keep waiting for the announcement that Playboy has offered Sarah Palin $1 million to pose nude in time for their November election issues. That’s what they do with these instant sorts of celebrities isn’t it?

Me, I’m a knee-jerk liberal whose knee jerks most liberally whenever it's near a conservative’s crotch. It’s been twitching like crazy every time I see news of the Republican National Convention.

Until selecting Palin, John McCain had done absolutely nothing to fire up the senselessly rabid far right he’ll need to have even a chance of becoming president. It’s what I predicted in spring as he, one by one, he began dispatching the feckless bunch of Republican primary contenders, namely Mitt Romney, Rudy Guiliani, Fred Thompson and Mike Huckabee.

Of those, only Huckabee had a chance of energizing his base while still engaging swing voters. He’s funny, thoughtful, experienced and as he likes to say, “he’s a conservative who’s not mad at anybody.”

That’s something that appeals to guys like me. It drives me crazy to see a party build an entire campaign based on hate. George W. Bush and Karl Rove were masters at it.

They hated the media. They hated liberals. They hated gays. They hated Mexicans. They hated negotiation. They hated human rights. They hated the environment. They hated anyone who thought there should be sensible restrictions on guns.

I’m basically at peace with all those things so they left me no choice but to hate ‘em right back.

But after eight years of it, I’m tired of hating. My biggest problem with Bush has been that, at a time when every American was yearning to be united, he cast anyone who thought differently from him as an American enemy, a supporter of Al-Quada. Go ahead and search, you won’t find any “Go bin Laden!” posters hanging in my office.

That’s why I thought the Obama/McCain election was going to bring about a refreshing blast of sanity. It seemed like they were going to argue about each other’s positions, experience and potential. Sure, there’d be some sharp jabs, but they seemed to respect each other as patriotically motivated men with different solutions.

Now pretty, sexy Sarah comes out and it’s all about hate again. She hates me and we’ve never even met. It’s us against them all over again, only it’s really us against us.

McCain’s risky pick endangers us all. Her fanatical enthusiasts -- the ones you saw weeping on the convention floor -- aren’t for her because of her experience or her grit. They’re for her because she’s for killing things like polar bears and preserving things like babies no matter what the circumstance. Personally, I admire her motherhood and her decisions to my core. I just don’t want her or anyone else telling my wife or daughters what they should do in that same sad situation. And with all our problems, do we really want to decide yet another election over abortion?

And that’s not me or some liberal pundit talking. That’s Pat Buchanan, Charles Krauthammer and many equally befuddled conservative commentators. Did you hear Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal opinion monger and a former Ronald Reagan speechwriter? She was caught on a live mic saying, basically, who the hell is this? Why did he pick her? It’s a mistake, or as she said over the air picking Palin was “political bullshit.”

But don’t try and tell that to the convention weepers who are already doing the cold calculations as to when she might replace a cancer-damaged senior citizen who’ll be the oldest president ever if he’s elected. It’s clear, they have no enthusiasm for McCain. For them, it’s all about Palin.

I don’t understand why so many people who so loudly claim to love one savior are always so restlessly seeking another.

Me, I’m not worried. I’m suspecting another scandal or two is about to erupt and force her off the ticket.. Reporters from the hated media -- and, man, did all their press bashing motivate that rabid bunch -- are right now scouring Alaska for scoop. My money’s on that nonpartisan crackerjack team from National Enquirer to get the goods.

And who knows? Maybe she will pose for Playboy and throw her candidacy into more turmoil.

I’ll buy one.

Part of being a peace-loving, gay-defending, gun-confiscating, pot-legalizing tree hugger is an absolute duty to support the First Amendment in all its sordid glory.

Reading Playboy means I’m just being patriotic.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

R.I.P. Buster the 19-year-old cat

I was shoveling the last spade full of dirt on the dead cat’s grave when the 2-year-old said something eerily ominous.

“He’ll be back.”

Anyone familiar with Stephen King’s "Pet Sematery" knows what that means. The 1983 book, one of King’s most horrific, is about an Indian burial ground, a dead cat, a runaway truck and rampant evil so pure it kept me wide awake for hours on end.

And that basically describes our late Buster, the cat who’d have been be 19 in October. His incessant yowling probably cost me more sleep than either of my kids. Kids can be cranky, but they can also be so euphorically loving that it’ll erase hours of sleeplessness, sass and diapers foul enough to stagger veteran HazMat teams.

But a cat, even on his most sociable days, will never be anything more than a cat.

I never thought hooking up with Val would mean I’d spend the next 15 years of my life under the same roof as a cat. I barely lived with my folks that long, and them I could at least bum money off.

Standing over his freshly dug grave last night, I tried to muster some feelings of affection. Instead, I felt waves of relief. I’m not going to say I was giddy, but I remember feeling the same sensations when I’ve watched a few hillbilly moving vans pull away from the driveways next door.

I do remember one time when our first child was a baby I tried to train him how to use the toilet with a cat seat attachment the inventor sent me after I did a story for National Enquirer about it. Buster resisted with such ferocity that he rebelled by relieving in the kid’s crib, a Shakespearean sort of revenge for a cat.

The last four years were the worst. In 2004, he began having seizures. We said our goodbyes and Val tearfully rushed him to the animal hospital. Me, I settled into what I was sure would be a wonderful commemoration of the cat I never cared for by peacefully watching Tiger Woods win the British Open. A live Tiger and a dead cat seemed a fitting memorial.

But Buster revived ($800). The next day the vet cautioned, however, his demise was likely a matter of weeks, if not days.

Five more near-death experiences later, I said another final goodbye and was shocked when Val returned home with a tidy box full of Buster.

The cat who wouldn’t die finally did.

No more changing litter boxes. No more changing the sheets after another series of eye-watering accidents. No more being jolted awake by his disgusting little cat-food scented sneezes in my face. No more excruciating toe stubs in the middle of the night stumbling to respond to his otherworldly howls for food or water.

No more Buster.

Rest in peace, my smelly little feline friend.

I know I will.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Van Palin & The Monsters of Crock Tour

I thought on Saturday about getting up and dashing off an blog entry about McCain VP pick Sarah Palin. I was going to write about a slim silver lining of McCain winning would be the eventual commercial fisherman-out-of-water reality show that would soon feature her regular guy husband Todd awkwardly mingling with Washington muckety-mucks.

I was going to note that policy-wise, she’s a Dick in a dress (Cheney, that is). She’s just like him. Coincidentally, one of my all-time very favorite songs is “Lola,” by the Kinks, a catchy tune that addresses that very scenario so anytime I can use a line like “a dick in a dress,” count on it, I’ll not shy from the task.

And I was going to note that Alaskans must spend those dreadful months where the daily sun shines for about the length of your standard NFL commercial break procreating and dreaming up offbeat names for their many children. The Palin’s have Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig Paxon Van.

Serious journalists have many questions for the Palins these days, but the one I’d most like to ask is why they gave their 5-month-old son a second unnecessary middle name -- and can a second “middle” name even be considered middle? -- when they’d given him a perfectly useless one already.

I suspect the husband grew up rocking out to Van Halen and thought it would be cool to call their kid Van Palin in rocking tribute to a great band (and I’m talking about the Sammy Hagar years). I like it, but I sense the wife put the kibosh on it and let him add it as his three-quarter name.

I was going to write about all that, but my laziness got the better of me. And, besides, I thought, “nothing newsworthy’s going to happen over the next two days.”

That turned out to be a slight miscalculation on my part. Sure, I’ve made more consequential ones.

For instance, years ago I should have declared myself to be a staunch religious right conservative. Had I done that I’d be skating through life with essentially a get-out-of-jail free card. As long as you say you believe in the absolute right to life, guns and God, the reliably religious conservatives will forgive any number of your sins.

That became evident when it was revealed that the Palin’s 17-year-old daughter Bristol is 5-months pregnant with a child they’ll probably name Mesa Glacier Dokken Palin. Conservatives said this was great, galvanizing news. I wonder if the newly famous father of the baby feels the same.

Now the same crowd that went apoplectic with predictable scolds when 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears announced she was pregnant is saying this is a wonderful family situation. The movement that gave us Ken Starr and Linda Tripp says personal lives should be off limits.

This was typical of the wrong-headed thinking we’ve come to know from the political movement that was founded in America by Benedict Arnold.

It’s true. America’s most famous traitor was a religious conservative who thought America should remain a British colony and was hanged in devotion to that far-right cause. He was bitterly opposed to the Massachusetts liberals he and his hero King George considered radical extremists.

Go through the entire history of the United States, find the side the most conservative people favor and watch it be proven a complete failure. A sampler:

* Conservatives who favored everlasting slavery for 20 percent of the population left the Union and instigated the bloody Civil War because they were furious that radical liberals wanted to abolish slavery. Ditto for female suffragettes and civil rights.

* Conservatives like the disgraced Charles Lindbergh thought opposing Nazi Germany was bad for business while liberals like Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognized fascism as a tyrannical threat to the entire world.

* Sen. Joe McCarthy, a man many staunch conservatives wanted to see become president, used baseless innuendo to ruin the lives of thousands of men and women he wrongly suspected were Communist sympathizers. He died at the age of 48, a lonely, maligned alcoholic who was already beginning to sense that history would claim his name for anytime flag-waving “patriots” trample the rights of Americans who disagree with their First Amendment opinions.

* Conservatives thought escalating the war in Vietnam was a swell idea while radical liberals died at places like Kent State saying, no, it’s not.

* They thought Richard Nixon was a great president who should not have resigned in spite of mounting evidence of criminal activity, but that Bill Clinton should go because of a private indiscretion with a consenting female adult.

* Conservatives were bitterly opposed to the man they now hail as their greatest leader ever, Ronald Reagan. It was in 1987 when Howard Phillips of the Conservative Caucus called Reagan “a useful idiot for Soviet propaganda” for initiating Glasnost with Mikhail Gorbachev.

* They thought that George H.W. Bush was a war wimp while still supporting his clueless son though two calamitous terms as a historically failed president. And just think for a minute of what a bloodless, weeks-long cakewalk the conservatives ensured you the invasion of Iraq would be.

* They think the stuff that you’ve just read is stupid liberal nonsense that contains not a shred of intelligent fact.

Wrong again.