I GOT PICKED TO GO ON THE GOLGAFRINCHAM ARK FLEET SHIP B!

Why does my Keurig coffee maker sound like the Adams Family’s foghorn-ish doorbell after it brews a cup of joe? I find myself saying ‘you rang’ every morning before I take my first sip.

Why is one burner on my stove get dramatically hotter than all the others? My wife and I refer to it as ‘death burner’ because anything briefly unattended on that spot instantly becomes charred black remains.

And while I’m wondering out loud (or in print) about kitchen stuff, I have absolutely no idea how a microwave oven works. It makes no sense that every time I’m zapping leftovers, I shouldn’t be wearing an x-ray style lead apron to prevent it from boiling my brain molecules like they were in a nuclear blender?  I mean, if the only thing protecting my cells from popping like a bag of Orville Redenbacher is that little glass window on the door, why don’t the Japanese build a container out of the same stuff to put on top of that leaking nuclear power plant that has been turning people into sterile green phosphorescent glow-sticks wiggling around like those inflatable tube guys outside used car lots.

Look, I know I’m no brainiac ‘genus’ like Serge Eisenstein, Sir Fig Newton or Stevie Hawk’s Nest, but I don’t think I belong on the Golgafrincham Ark Fleet Ship B with the telephone sanitizers, tired TV producers and management consultants (too obscure?).

I’m realistic though. If the apocalypse hits tomorrow, I’m out of luck. I can’t hunt nor can I spot the difference between poisonous plants and basic berries yet I don’t have gold and canned goods stockpiled. I’m also not that great of a mechanic so I can’t MacGyver up modified tools for security and survival. I’m like a red shirt Star Trek away team member or that oblivious guy stupidly answering the door in the dark creepy house that gets his brains sucked out by a Hannibal Zombie Kruger Camp Counselor before the horror movie opening credits even start.

But none of this stops me from trying. Despite my wife’s apprehensive expression when I reach for the tool box, I actually can fix a lot of things and age has made me wise enough to not try repairs that are way over my head. Like I’ll change an electric switch or outlet but I’m not rewiring the fuse box. I can be shocking enough without 120 extra running through me.

My problem is inexperience and lack of patience causes me to make silly mistakes and since I am not embarrassed to admit to them, they stand out even more. Like when I refinished our bedroom furniture. It took several days of living out of boxes and the cars did not fit in the garage that week, but I carefully stripped off the old varnish, polished, sanded, treated and painted all the outer surfaces.  I  even replaced the drawer-pull hardware and cleanly patched the visible old holes. Everything came out great… except… I only painted the fronts of the drawers so when you open them, the occasional sloppy paint drip line shows.  It’s been over seven years and I never had it in me to go back and finish the part I didn’t even realize I had to do.

So batten down the hatches, hide the children and keep the fire department’s number handy, because this weekend I’m planning on putting on my Mr. Fixit hat again and tackling a few minor projects around the house. I am aware of the golden rule of home repair, however long you initially think the project will take, assume it will actually last three times longer.  So I plan on starting off easy with the kitchen drawer that sticks than almost falls out of its slot due to a busted sliding mechanism.

Now I have never done this particular repair before, so what I think will be easy could spiral into something ugly pretty fast. I have this mental image of the contents of all the kitchen cabinets scattered on every flat surface and me standing in the middle with a charred smoking head looking like Wyle E Coyote after one of his Acme bombs prematurely exploded in his own hands.

The truth is I don’t even know if the broken part is actually even called a ‘sliding mechanism’ but saying that with a confident authority in my voice sure makes it sound like I know what I’m talking about. That’s half the battle, right?  It’s better than saying the slidey thingamabob under the drawer is disconnected from the whoosamawatz and might be completely busticated.

Luckily if this goes bad there are lots of educational fix-it yourself videos on-line and two hardware stores very close by. And if things go really REALLY bad, well…my wife has been dropping hints about wanting to change the cabinet fronts. So at least I have a backup plan.

 

 

at-hublot

DAN LEARNING TO FIX THINGS

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PA-RAID THROUGH THE PAST

 

I don’t love a parade… magazine. Anybody out there old enough to remember Parade, the lame magazine insert shoved in almost every local Sunday paper since World War Two? Parade magazine is the Goofus and Gallant of the news world and is about as hard hitting and newsworthy tough as the old TV Guide Crossword puzzle (Gilligan’s_______ or The ____ Tyler More Show).

Yes, I know Parade has not gone the way of  Life, Crawdaddy, Omni and Look; they still publish the thing weekly. But the reality is you still have to be over a certain age to know that because only older folks continue to read non-digital printed-word physical newspapers. Young people look at them with the same useless curiosity as a butter churn, telephone table or VCR. It’s also become pretty obvious who is still reading the paper by the advertising content which has slowly switched from family products and services to old people stuff like hearing aids, assisted living communities, no exam term life insurance, adult diapers and various innuendo-ed erectile dysfunction miracle stiffy-ness solutions.

For the record, I do get the newspaper delivered, though I like to think of myself as still on the cusp of geezer-dom. Although I’m pretty sure most 17 year-olds would have a vastly different opinion. Try as I might to keep somewhat relevant, I know I’m slowly turning into the modern equivalent of the horned rim glasses, stuffed shirt square, Lawrence Welk lovin’, unhip ‘turn down that racket noise you call music’ grandpas that I dealt with as a kid. I do hold out hope that somehow newspapers will make a retro cool comeback like vinyl records or art-deco vintage jewelry. Then without doing a damn thing I could be considered hip and trendy instead of old man farty.

But why is Parade on my mind? Well I was thinking back to Sunday mornings when I was young, passing around sections of the paper to read with the longest wait consistently being for the funnies. Parade was the near useless time killer you read while waiting for a real part to make its way around to you.

Parade always had a very fluffy cover story devoid of real news, one constantly unfunny comic about an oversized dog named Howard Huge and an inane reader question/answer section inside the front cover that no one really ever believed were sent in by real people. It never seemed possible that a curios man in Sheboygan just happened to coincidentally ask something like ‘if Andy Williams was up to anything new’, the week before his new mellow moods album was coming out. I always thought maybe the names of the question submitters were arbitrarily picked out a phone-book and someday mine would show up or were they just the names of the press agent or promo person working for the star the question pertained to.

I guess I do have a touch of old farty-fogy-ness in me because I feel nostalgic about silly things like Parade. Even though years ago, I made the conscious decision to stop reading it because Parade is to the newspaper what those ‘Housewives Of…’ shows are to television… mindless repetitious dreck.  So even though when the paper arrives it has joined the stack of advertising circulars as ‘direct to the recycle bin’ fodder, it is an odd little connection to my past that I like knowing still exists. I guess it is normal to feel that way. It’s the same as having a sense of loss when a restaurant you frequented as a kid but have not been to in years, closes or when that cool old movie house you never bothered to drive out of the way to, is converted to a Dollar Store.

25 years ago, when I spent a lot of time in Atlanta, I didn’t really understand when my buddy T-Bone would get all high-horse peachy upset that the old Mom and Pop locally owned businesses that populated his up and coming neighborhood were getting bulldozed and replaced with cookie-cutter chain drug stores and indistinguishable fast food joints.

I’d laugh to myself at how riled up he got at what I perceived as progress, but I get it now. It is much more than that.  He mourned the loss of the disappearing unique individualness and hated that Anytown USA was all becoming the same bland corporate identical looking street. I see now that ‘out with the old’ has other ramifications connected to it and cause a disconnect  to the world you are comfortable with.

I understand change is good and healthy but not always the best thing. With a tap on my phone I can get the latest breaking news but holding the newsprint in my hands does more than just give me somewhat current events. It connects me to my past.

But  if I am really being 100% honest with you and myself, there is one more very important thing. Despite the comfort and nostalgia, I know in my most secret heart of hearts that I am so canceling that newspaper subscription the minute they finally add the comics and crossword puzzles currently unavailable on the digital versions of the paper.  And you know what else, I like having that CVS and Walgreens nearby; I never went to most of those old over-priced Mom and Pop places they leveled because they did not cater to my needs. So nar nar, I might have a soft spot for Parade Magazine but I think this might actually mean I’m still ever so slightly not 100% old farty …yet.

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HITTIN’ IT REAL REAL OLD SCHOOL WIT ‘BABY GOT BACK-ACHES’ by SIR WHINES-A-LOT

I should apologize. I spend a lot of time here in the digital pages of my blog whining. Waaaah I’m older, waaaah I’m achey, waaaah my life has traumas, waaaah I have to walk across the room to get the opener before I can drink my bottle of beer… wwwwaaaa waaaah  waaaaah. When did happy-go-lucky Dan get body snatched by Sir Whines A Lot?

The answer… never.

I’ve always been as whiny as a Woody Allen character crashing a Kentucky Klu Klux Klan rally (“the last time I saw this many sheets was at a Macys 5th Ave white sale. We Jews protest differently, instead of burning crosses we keep the anger inside until we have burning ulcers. The only time I saw the Jews in my Brooklyn neighborhood this angry was when Shlomo’s Deli put too much schmaltz in the chopped liver…”)

Any impression of me being a Devil-May-Care Dan has always been an illusion or myth I very poorly tried to propagate. I’m mentally wound tighter than Itzhak Perlman’s sheep gut D string.  Laid-Back Lewbel is a dream that I have never attained as my brain constantly hyper obsesses on every little idiotic nuance of my existence. It is a ton of useless extra stress I burden myself with and I get nothing out of it.

That time-wasting tenseness mixed with my cluelessness of how to balance my ‘life’s too short’ self-indulgent side, my baby boomer drive to be visibly financially secure and good-old traditional Jewish guilt, has puréed my brain cells into the sloppy slurry sloshing around in my skull controlling my every move like the current political comedy show’s impressions of Steve Bannon manipulating a mini President Trump ventriloquist’s dummy. I dream of a mythical ‘carefreedom’ but I am, in fact, a beaten-down slave to my brain’s twisted unnecessary motivations.

In my twenties, I was constantly asked what my life plans were. I always flippantly answered “master the guitar, learn to fluently speak Spanish and the rest I’ll play by ear.” I can recall saying that to my parent’s already retired friends and seeing their ‘looks like your son will be eating dented-can discounted generic cat food three meals a day when he’s our age’ expression.  I was projecting a Millennial spirit before the word even existed but as much as I always dreamed of just bumming around Europe or being a mostly jobless faux-artist bohemian beach bum with a hippie-chick girlfriend and a half dozen commune spirited roommates, my fierce independence and fear of not knowing where my next meal was coming from would never let it happen.

Balancing the Dan I wanted to be and actual Dan, has been a constant life struggle. I know people that have taken buckets of heavy meds or spent decades in intense psycho-sicko-therapy trying to connect those two but I keep waiting to just wake up one day and suddenly be comfortable in my skin.

But recent occurrences have been loud reminders that life is too short to make things even more unnecessarily difficult on myself. Sometimes you do run out of tomorrows if you keep putting things off and worrying about what the world thinks will never advance your dreams.I am jealous of those occasional characters that come into my world who just are who they are with no pretense, filters or cares about what other’s think. Oh, those folks will always end up driving you crazy but I respect the hell out of them.

So can my lifetime of pesty whining and worrying really just be written off as a cry out for the ultimate chill pill? Because if I look backwards things really do not look so bad. It is easy for me to get caught in the trap of focusing on what I don’t have or have not accomplished instead of enjoying all that I have experienced and all that I do have. It’s far easier to complain than to solve.

I might still not know WHAT I want to be when I grow up but I think I am finally learning WHO I want to be. So, it looks like I still have a lot of work to do. Hell, all these years later, I still have not come close to mastering the guitar or fluently speaking Spanish. But I’m working on it. (Pero estoy trabajando en ello blah blah blah)

dan-84

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DON’T CALL THE HANDY-DAN

“Go down to the basement and see if Daddy needs help.”  Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaa. I dreaded when Mom said that. The only thing worse was ‘go clean up your room’ since there was never any space left under the bed to quickly shove and hide all my crap. My problem wasn’t that she was ever interrupting anything important. As a little kid, there was about a 0% chance I was actually doing something worthwhile like learning how to play a musical instrument, reading a book, practicing a sport or rehearsing my valedictorian speech from Harvard. I was a bored little obnoxious brat with virtually no real hobbies besides pestering my sister, listening to records or blankly staring at the TV until my brains turned into liquid mush and dribbled out of my ears.

My issue was no matter how much I loved my Dad, no good ever came from me going downstairs to assist him. It was a recipe for disaster. Like if Trump appointed Jerry Lewis as his press secretary or the kid from Home Alone was put on the New England Patriots offensive line to defend Tom Brady’s blind side during the Superbowl.

Dad was amazing in those days; he could fix everything. I mean, when your feeding five kids on a salary meant more for two, he didn’t really have a choice. You fixed it yourself or it stayed broke. Luckily, he has always had a feel for those things. He might have spent an entire Sunday miserably sprawled on the kitchen floor with his head contorted under the dishwasher with an explosion of parts and cogs and tools scattered around him, but by Monday morning it was always working again.

The car, the kitchen clock, toasters, telephones, plumbing problems, wonky wiring, remodeling woes… all were no match, he could conquer all that battled him with their brokenness. Of course, enough #@^%$#&% vulgarities were yelled during the repairs to make an ex-gang-banger two tour of duty Marine blush like an 18-year-old virgin on her wedding night but everything eventually got fixed.  Unfortunately, as good as Dad was at making things work again, he was as bad at teaching those skills.

He repaired by feel, disassembling and assessing. My older brother Neil had the same intuitiveness so he made a good assistant.  Not me. I didn’t share that natural curiosity about how things worked so I asked obviously meaningless questions to feign interest and was completely incompetent when he asked me to hand him the thingamajig or whooza-ma-whats. I just created more headaches. So soon after Mom told me to go downstairs, Dad usually was sending me right back up to fetch him some iced tea, which I believe was their code for get this noisy klutz-o pest the hell out of my way.

I didn’t get it as a child, but as an adult I grew to really respect my Dad’s abilities. I even thought maybe I inherited and could channel his ‘can do’ fix-it skills. When something would break, I assumed I too could take it apart and figure it out… that does not mean I actually did, I just assumed that I could. It has been a repeated theme in my life that if you don’t really try something, the dream of being a zen-master ninja natural prodigy at that skill stays intact. Fail and I knew this would take some work, dedication and cut into my mind dribbling out of my ears TV watching time.

Over the years I might have switched out a hose and battery or filled some low fluid in my car but I have never even considered changing the oil or a spark plug myself. I’m not afraid to peek inside a broken appliance or piece of electronics to see if something is obviously wrong but my success rate in making them work again is not great. But I have always approached the job assuming I could repair it. Does knowing when to give up before making it worse count as partially fixing something?

My friend Mike Sherry is master of the ‘rig’ to make something function again. I’m sure he can do excellent real repairs too but he is a genius at the quick-fix. He calls it the Sherry Rigging (which is nicer than what you are likely thinking right now). It might not be formally fixed forever but his temporary mends tend to last for a while. A raw piece of spaghetti to replace a missing sunglasses hinge screw was about the most ingenious on-the-fly temp repair I’ve ever witnessed.

Now I can do the rig too, I just don’t have as good a name for it. Like the crisper cover in my refrigerator has had a series of Dan Rigs on it. It’s stayed on most of the past five years, although currently it is sitting on the floor after my most recent glue-tastic fix fell apart again.

A number of years ago, when my cheapo washing machine broke down, I took it apart, saw what was broken and ordered the replacement part on-line… twice.  The first one was wrong. But after I finally got it all together over a week later it still did not work. After my vain attempts to fix the second problem, my wife came to the rescue and with the help of a newly purchased solder gun and electrical tape she got the connection to circuit board to work. Kinda.  It was more of a rig that eventually had to be re and then later re-re-rigged.

Of course, at that point we might have spent enough time and money to have paid someone to have it fixed it correctly or at least significantly contribute to the price of buying a new one like we did a year later when we moved.  The point is though, when it broke I was willing to jump in head first to fix it. I’m just not sure that’s a good thing.

So, my wife and I were at dinner the other night and she made a comment in front of everybody about me not being the handiest of handy men. True, my recent patch jobs to the wall cracks are a little lumpy, the bathroom tub caulk lines I did a couple of months ago looked about as straight as a wiggling worm on a fishing hook, in the old house I cracked two toilets after fixing leaks and the wood waiting to be stained and attached to the backyard fence cover has been sitting out in the yard untouched for months. And that’s not mentioning my currently craped-out crisper cover rig. But I had never heard someone put down my home repair skills before. She was right, but I had still never heard it verbalized before.

I’ve long known I don’t have the patience to be a master craftsman or the natural ability of my Dad to magically make machines purr again but am I really just a rig-master. Because of my Father’s example I assumed every manly man could fix stuff but maybe I need to face reality and realize beyond the occasional rig, my best course of action is finding the phone to call a guy… as long as the phone’s not busted.m

geek-dad

YOUNG DORKY DAN AND DAD IN THE BASEMENT WORK SHOP

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POKING THE FUTURE IN THE EYE WITH A LONG STICK (NO THIMBLE NEEDED)

I had been bracing myself, this was supposed to be one of those mega head trippy weekends. No I was not going to a shady shaman’s Peruvian Ayahuasca ‘R’ Us hut. Although I must admit hallucinations and puke buckets in South America would have been a good way to take my mind off the stressful family issues that have lately made my brain spin and flip like a steroided Russian gymnast doing Arabian double fronts.

You see this past weekend was dedicated to me finally facing the fact that during the past few months my Parents and my Mother-in-Law have both independently had to move because of age and declining health issues. It happens. I get it. (It’s okay to start humming ‘Circle Of Life’.)  Humans are not like Velveeta, they don’t last unchanged forever. You can deny it, fight it, run from it or even shroud yourself in the shadows, but like that persistent zombie in those cheesy horror movies busting through the boarded door you were hiding behind, age will eventually find you, attack your body and try to consume your brain. And that sucks.

So after months of mentally running from it (insert the image here of a human brain with legs, sneakers, a sweat band and those 1980s double red ringed long tube socks on) this was the weekend where all this upheaval was supposed to shift in Dan’s head from theoretical to in your face reality. Its true that finally letting myself confront the realities of my loved ones moving from the places so closely identified with them is stressful for me but, duh, I completely understand it is a whole helluva lot worse for those who have had their comfortable routined worlds turned upside down. I might have to deal with it too, but this is all about them. They are the ones that sooner than later will be playing the ‘who will blink first’ game with mortality.

So obviously, we have established they have it worse than me but… well… if I can be blunt… they can write their own damn blogs about it.  No one is stopping my Father from penning ‘Dan’s Dad’s Dynamic Diary Describing his Debates on Garage Ramp Dimensions’. This damn blog is about my life. I understand and empathize but this is supposed to be a witty window into my world.  So let me spin the spotlight off of them, where it really should be, and shine it squarely where it does not belong… on me.

All of us kids (and I use the term extraordinarily loosely) in both my Wife’s and my family, have stepped up to the plate to help with our parent’s life transitions. To try and make this part of their life as easy as possible. Okay, some stepped more than others… and most much more than me. I’m not sure how much longer I can play my ‘baby of the family’ card?  I know all weekend I should have been focusing all my energies on my elder’s difficulties but instead I found myself selfishly seeing the forced changes in their lives as ‘Coming Attractions’ in my own world. My mind became clogged with thoughts of the later years prior to Dan’s deadly demise.

I don’t have kids to point out when I should stop driving or to get me to the doctor or to protect the last of my savings from being stolen by some sleazy scam artist. Or worse who will guide my Wife and I to safety if our wits are failing and disease warps my mental faculties to the point that I’m hanging with Sancho Panza trying to slay windmills. Of course, some have said I’m pretty delusional already, so maybe no one will notice.

I have always been fiercely independent, a trait I now see I learned from my parents. I see them struggle with that issue and I wonder what will become of me when I eventually follow in their footsteps. Fearing the uncertainties of my future, my brain started recalling examples of elderly folks I knew as a kid and wondered which one will I most closely resemble.

My Great Aunt Selma took care of her husband Moe as his memory disappeared. One night when my family was visiting, as we all sat for dinner Selma, as always, dutifully called upon confused Moe in to join us.   As he straggled in from the front room where he always napped, he looked at my Mom, his very own niece, and matter-of-factually said “I don’t know who you are, but you gained weight!” Selma dutifully took over the task of breadwinner and Moe remained lovingly cared for as his mental marbles slowly rolled farther away.

One of my High School friends had an elderly grandfather who stayed with them whenever he got into trouble for overindulging in drink at his little beach apartment. Whenever he was at their place he always got up before the rest of the family and watered all the cars in the driveway with a hose… even if the windows were down. No one knew why he did this but every morning at the crack of dawn he uncoiled the hose, even if it was purposely hidden, and sprayed down the family cars like they were thirsty trees in a desert. It did not matter how many times they told him that the family station wagon driver’s side window was broken and stuck ajar an inch, he still watered the car everyday forcing them to leave a stack of towels on the seat. I always wondered if he knew exactly what he was doing and was just passively aggressively seeking revenge for taking him from his apartment and liquor.

In High School while most of my friends worked at McDonald’s or bagged groceries at Winn Dixie, I had a part time job at Overholt’s jewelry store. The store was owned by Frank Overholt Junior and Frank Overholt Senior.  To avoid confusion, we called the younger one Junior, even though he was in his upper 60s. The elder Overholt was up in his 90s.  Senior still worked every day and although he shuffled around like a soft-shoe dancing turtle, he was quick as a whip mentality. He had been the only one that ever set up that store’s front window display for decades. The work kept him alive and I don’t know if the two were connected but he passed away not long after the store closed a few years later.

I guess it’s easy to say I want to be like Old Man Overholt but I might end up a Moe. I don’t think I get a lot of choice in the matter. What I can control is what happens in my life between now and then. I think the lesson to be learned from this past weekend is instead of worrying about what I can’t control, deal with what I can. Share my love, energy and strength with those whose lives are currently changing and find ways to enjoy my ride through the next few decades. No matter what becomes of me, I hope I can make it a hell of a fun ride.

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DAN GOT NUTS

I’m trying to figure out what the modern day digital world equivalent is to trying to separate two pages of a newspaper stuck together. Oh you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes when reading a non-kindle real-life magazine or newspaper you try to flip to the next page but it feels like its magically bonded with the one after it. Getting them apart is like attempting to open those vexing grocery store produce department plastic bags. In an effort to release the two sides from one and other you end up frantically rubbing your index finger and thumb together like an early sixties hipster at a beatnik coffee-bar snapping your fingers after a particularly groovy bongo-accompanied beat-generation poem performance.

The only more current equivalent to that annoyance I can think of is doing the repeated mouse click while a graphic laden web-page, you regret going to, ever-so-slowly attempts to load. As I uselessly re-click a zillion times trying to make something / anything happen, I imagine that little spiny wheel in the center of the screen is barking back at me in a wee-little computer version of a New Yawk accent rudely calling out “I’M LOADIN’ HERE”.

I have always heard, as technology changes it is supposed to make our lives easier. And it is true I’m not churning butter, my house has electricity  and all that stuff but even though my phone is not permanently connected to the wall anymore, I now have new headaches like constantly misplacing it.  You might not know this but to guys, calling yourself to hear where the ring is coming from is the modern-day equivalent of stopping to ask for directions.

See, every advance brings its own set of new annoying catches. I never have to move my flabby ass off the sofa because I have a half dozen remote controls on my coffee table but it’s also crazy frustrating that since I moved last fall I still have a big Zip-lock bag full of remote controls over on the TV stand that I am afraid to throw out even though I have no clue what they turn on and off. Even my beloved zillion pound suddenly trendy again wall of vinyl record albums that I bitterly curse every time I move, can theoretically be replaced with the click of a button on Spotify or I-Tunes. But then you get into the geekie arguments with audiophiles about quality and tactile feel and blah blah blah…

Yet with all these conveniences, frustrating annoyances always seem to also exist. Rather than spending billions of dollars looking for the next BIG thing, science should work on the little things that would make life better. If Mankind’s advances are so great why can’t they invent socks that stay pulled up and underwear that does not slip down?  My smarty-phone is an utterly amazing life changer but I always have to re-charge the damn thing at the least convenient time.  I’m not even going to mention that it is impossible to melt cheese in a microwave without it getting that funky rubbery taste that no one ever admits to. And what about those not so easy to open airlines peanut packages?

I recall the last time I was flying Southwest Airlines they gave me one of those little bags of peanuts.  I could not open it. No really, I felt like Superman trying to juggle kryptonite.  You would think at this point in humanity’s evolution, a simple to open bag would exist. The  little semi-perforated tear line only mocked me as I at first tried to gently tear  it right where it indicated I should. I wondered if Southwest make them so hard to open on purpose to give you something to pass the time while trapped on their planes?

I tried ripping and tugging all four sides, the corners and even doing the pull apart method which 75% of the time results in the bag’s contents going flying in all directions. Nothing. No nuts. I could almost feel the other nearby passengers watching me. I peeked to see if it was in my imagination. It wasn’t.  They were.  No one even did the polite look away when I caught them watching me agonizing over the sealed sac. It just made me work harder. A little kid two seats over gave me an extra smug look as he shoved the contents of his second bag into his grubby little kid mouth.

Like a grown man chasing a ping pong ball, there is absolutely no way to look smooth and cool battling a bag of nuts. It became a quest, a crusade, a prize fight…. Dan the Baldy Bruiser Versus Bag ‘0’ Nuts in a steel cage battle royal to the finish. At that point I knew there was likely less than a dozen busted up peanut pieces in that bag, barely enough for a mouthful, yet it became a thing. No matter who was watching, no matter how long it took, no matter what means were necessary, I was getting that damn bag open. I felt like Wile E Coyote using an array of backfiring Acme products for all to see. I tried tearing it open with my teeth, grasping the bag with the un-tucked tail of my shirt and poking it with my keys and pen. Still nothing. No nuts.

The flight attendants were already coming down the aisle in clean-up mode when it finally happened. A slight tear, a little rip, the proverbial chink in the armor. The bag finally gave up the fight and piece tore off the top creating a little tiny opening. I tried working the nuts through the gap like I was squeezing the last drop of toothpaste out of the back end of the tube.

Unfortunately, the slit in the bag was not big enough for the smallest nut to slide through. I tried to shove my pinky in it but it would not open any more. With the same sense of pride as the first monkey to discover using a stick or rock as a tool, I finally shoved my pen into the opening and ripped back the top of the bag. Huzzah!  A few nuts went flying and I might have smeared ink on some others but I did not care. I was a winner and the fruits of my victory were a couple of dry legumes of love. Mission accomplished; send out a press release and call the media.  Slap the Headline on the paper with the pages stuck together that reads ‘DAN GOT NUTS!’

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THERE’S NO BASEMENT AT THE ALAMO or WHO’S DOWN FOR A HOEDOWN?

Trying to walk after just awaking from anesthesia in a canoe on a sea of Jell-O while being bungeed to a two by four is kind of what it feels like when stepping out of a car after an all-day road trip. I am way too familiar with that feeling and I recognized it this past weekend when my Wife’s Aunt and Uncle got out of their packed vehicle while passing through Dallas on their way south to a tiny Texas town time share.

A missing purse snapped them out of that disoriented stiffness as a panicky inner-auto search ensued. No matter how perfectly arranged a car might be at the beginning of a cross country drive, within miles after departure a distinct disorganized mess always seems to develop. Somehow car seats shift and swallow your neatly stowed stuff making whatever you are looking for just beyond your fingertip’s reach. The momentary fear that her purse might be laying on the ground by the bucket of nasty squeegee water at some random roadside gas station several States north of here quickly passed when the hiding handbag was found behind some under-seat impedimenta. I felt bad for them; no one is at their best seconds after stopping during a road trip.

I had not seen this Aunt and Uncle since my wedding and I wondered if I looked as different to them as they did to me?  I know I had hair last time I saw them… not a lot… but some. I recall him being thinner and her being taller but that could be my mind transferring years of stories and perceived personality traits to their actual physical appearance. Of course, while coasting through middle age, 15 years of growth is somewhat noticeable but during both the earlier and later years of a lifetime 15 years causes some dramatic changes in height, weight and facial features. First as a child you unshrivel, grow and eventually become  a proportional human than if you live long enough the opposite starts to happen.

There was no deep dark family secret for why I had not seen them for so long. It’s simply that I’ve lived in Texas while they were outside Minneapolis.  Not that I have anything against walleye fishing through the ice, the play choices at the Guthrie Theater, the Snoopy themed amusement park inside the ginormous Mall Of America or the Magnetic Mine Shack at Paul Bunyan Land. Heck, I could even handle the fist-sized mosquitoes of summer and mountains of  winter snow but having been there several times already, I just haven’t considered Minnesota the place to spend my precious little vacation time. It’s the same reason I assume my sister gets more visiting company at her Florida house near the beach and Disney versus what I get here in Dallas. Or so I like to convince myself.

On the rare occasion out-of-staters do come visit us here, the wife and I have taken it upon ourselves to deliver a yippie ki-yay, yee-haw y’all’ traditional Texasy experience… at least for a few hours. Not that we are experts on the subject. In my closet the closest thing to cowboy boots and a 10-gallon hat are Hush-Puppies and a hoodie.

Growing up in New York, the school’s local history lessons were about Peter Stuyvesant not Sam Houston. I can tell you how the Dutch stood near Wall Street 400 years ago and pulled off a typical legal but somewhat shady Trump-ish style New York real estate deal when they bought Manhattan from the local Indians for $24 cash and a bucket of QVC quality junk jewelry, but I don’t know bupkis about the bloody brutal Battle of San Jacinto.  I’ve read more about David Bowie than Jim Bowie, I’ve never actually seen an entire episode of Dallas and all I really know about Davey Crockett was that he had a cool coon cap and a popular reality-less Disney kids show in the 1950s.

My wife and I did visit the Alamo a few years ago, when we were vacationing near San Antonio but rather than take the long formal tour to learn about its rich historic significance, we just walked around for 15 minutes before heading back over to the junk shops and restaurants on the touristy Riverwalk. In our defense, it was a very hot day and I think my Wife was getting really fed up with me repeatedly saying “there’s no basement at the Alamo”.

We do have a handful of restaurants we drag people to that have a sort of stereotypical home-town hoe-down (the hootenanny kind, not a stumbling prostitute) Texas-ish feel to them. I mean, what’s the point of schlepping a visitor to a Chili’s or Denny’s that they could go to in any town. We took the visiting Aunt and Uncle to Babes, a barn like joint famous for their massive portions of fried chicken, bottomless bowls of taters, beans and biscuits along with cowgirl dressed waitresses’ meal-interrupting raucous renditions of kitchy country classics like the Chicken Dance.

Unfortunately, our tour of traditional Texas experiences usually starts and ends with that. Granted we could go to Gilly’s to dodge the quick footed line dancers to watch people get tossed off the mechanical bull or drive over to the Ft. Worth Stockyards to get a sarsaparilla at the hokey tourist trap saloons down the street from the daily cattle runs, but there really is only so much faux Old West I can handle before it feels like I’m trapped inside a real-life version of Disney’s Country Bear Jamboree.

Aside from shopping and eating, pretty much the only other famous Dallas stop for our visitors is to push past the conspiracy theorists selling home-published books by the grassy knoll to get a better view of the tasteless ‘X’ painted on the ground that marks the exact spot Kennedy was shot. We also have museums, sports teams like the Cowboys and amusement parks too but I can’t really say those are really unique Texas-centric experiences.

After a couple of hours at the table catching up on our current worlds and slowing down to reminisce about the past, our relatives uncomfortably contorted themselves back into their car for the final few hours of their drive. My wife kept apologizing to me afterwards about all the ‘old times’ talk but I enjoyed it. These moments are precious and few. And though the names and places were different than those in my family’s stories, they all seemed  vaguely familiar and strangely similar.

As time flies by and I get older, I have grown to treasure those moments that connect me to the past and solidify my roots. As much as I have run, where I am from still helps define who I am now.  I’ve learned it’s important to understand both. So friends and family, if your passing through our neck of the world and want to make some new memories, stop by for a stretch and a meal. The Tex-Mex place down the street makes a mean margarita and they let you in without boots and a bolo.

no-alamo-basement

THERE’S NO BASEMENT AT THE ALAMO

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