Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Generic Middle Age White Guy look

My eldest daughter called me today and left a phone message to tell me that she spied someone who looked just like me. The guy was wearing sandals so it was a give-away that it wasn't me. My darling wife reported seeing the spitting image of me recently somewhere in town complete with leather jacket and baseball cap. Her best friend reported seeing a guy on TV who looked exactly like me. I can only assume that I have the Generic Middle Age White Guy look. After all, the chances of seeing doppelgangers of me some 3,000 miles apart are pretty slim so instead it must be the GMAWGL syndrome. Unstylish grey hair, eyeglasses, a 70s mustache, rumpled clothes and dorky hiking boots - yep definitely a GMAWG.

I remember when I had my own MAWG moment with my dad when I was a kid. He used to take me on his Saturday morning shopping rounds which was always the treat of the week. We went to mysterious places and did unfathomable things and sometimes he'd buy me some little trinket or toy which made the experience even better. We were in a store and I stopped to look at something. When I looked up he was gone. I frantically ran down the isle to the next and to the next. No sign of him. I looked towards the front of the store and saw a guy with the brown fedora and leather jacket going out the door. It was my dad! (Yep, he had the style before Indiana Jones) I ran after him yelling for him to wait for me. I caught up to him and grabbed his hand. He turned to me and...oh, no, wrong guy! Another MAWG! I backed away and ran back into the store, smack into my dad. He demanded to know where I had been. When I told him what happened he thought it was the funniest thing he had heard all day. Sometimes he had a warped sense of humor.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Return of the Grouch

Hello fellow Grouchians! I hope you haven't been worried that I haven't posted an update in about a week - you did notice didn't you? Truth be told, not much has transpired of interest in my life recently but I can't go more than a week without writing something so here goes....

As some may know California is still experiencing a drought and we are all expected to do our part to conserve water. The other morning I was contemplating the shower that was running while I was waiting for the water temperature to go from ice cold to hot and thinking about all the water going down the drain. The proverbial light bulb illuminated in my brain and gave me an idea. I placed a small bucket in the shower to capture the warm up water and ended up with the bucket about a third full which I poured on a rose bush when I went outside to raise the flag and bring in the paper. Mary has embraced the bucket and works hard to capture even more water. Now we have another thing to talk about and to be competitive over: how much water did you get in the bucket this morning? Hah! is that all? I got half a bucket! You can see what it is like when a couple has been together more than 30 years. The rose bushes appreciate it.

This past Monday it was over 100F; today we were lucky if we made it to 60F and the brisk winds have made it feel even colder. I was hoping to start using the pool soon but with this cold/windy weather only the polar bears will feel like swimming in our pool.

Last night Craig and I watched 'Red Dawn' the early 80s John Milius fantasy of the small town high school boys who take on the Red Army in the Colorado Rockies. I love watching 'old' movies with my kids, even if I don't think of them as old. Any movie that I saw in a first run theater is not old to me. At the beginning Craig commented that the movie was really cheesy but soon he was engrossed and by the climax he was chewing his nails over the tension. Who will live and who will die? When it was over he said that it was too sad to watch it again. Jennifer Gray, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen and a young Patrick Swaze are in it along with Powers Boothe, Harry Dean Stanton and Ben Johnson. Music by Basil Poledouris. Tonight we will have another Vogeley classic to watch. What will it be? Earth v. Flying Saucers perhaps?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Happy Birthday!

I had a very happy birthday yesterday and not because of the presents (they were all wonderful and more on them later) but because once again I had the love from my Wife and children and my granddaughter (well OK, all the dogs too) on my special day. And not to forget my Mother and Father in law, my brother and sisters, my brothers and sisters in law, my friends (this is like a thank you speech at the Oscars). Anyway, I have three favorite holidays: Christmas, the 4th of July and a birthday - anybody's birthday. I guess I will always be a kid in adult's clothing but a birthday combines everything: the excitement of a special day, being the center of attention (OK I said it - it is fun!) the love of those special to me, some material gratification, good food and desert (yummy cake) and increasingly for me these days some nostalgia of birthday's past. The only downside for the birthday celebration yesterday was Craig's absence since he is on a Boy Scout trip to the desert to launch model rockets. This is the number one event of the season for Craig so I wanted him to go and have a great time and hopefully he has (he isn't back yet). The upside is that we will have some post birthday celebration today when he gets back. Out to dinner (again) and some more cake and ice cream. But since this is a momentous milestone in the birthday universe (55) I get yet another special day on Monday: a day off from work - yea!! And can you believe it, yet another special day on Tuesday! My co workers will have a carrot cake for me. It is a good excuse for a cake. We all chip in for the price of the cake for each other's birthday.

I mentioned the material side of the birthday ritual. My Wife and my children and little Laura know me well and got me things that mesh so well with the enthusiasms in my life. A large cooler for camping and off road trips, a National Forest pass to let me hike and drive in the Angeles forest, gift certificates to a book shop and for iTunes (who knew I would turn into such a music addict - I never suspected it of me), shooting stuff, and a favorite over all the years, gummi bears!! When we lived in Germany the gummi bear factory was about an hour's drive away from our town. The sweet smell from making all those gummi products was almost overpowering as we approached the complex. The factory had an outlet shop which sold gummi products in an array the likes of which I have not seen since. I became a gummi bear connoisseur because of my experiences there and have a discriminating palate for the German version, the U.S. version and the (yuck!) knock-offs. Speaking of nostalgia I remember going to the Hostess bakery outlet when I was a kid with my Dad. They sold products that were 'day old' and as far as we could tell were just as good as fresh. My father called it the 'used bread store.' Of course being a kid when he took me there for the first time I loudly asked in my best penetrating kid voice 'Hey Dad, where's the used bread? You said this is the used bread store!' I remember him hushing me and the glare from the lady who manned the counter. Kids - you just can't take them anywhere.

So, regarding the actual birthday I squeezed in a trip to the shooting range (what a surprise eh?) and when I returned I discovered probably the best present of all - Mary cut the grass for me! That was a wonderful gift because I had been thinking that I needed to handle this chore when I got back. I got a free movie at Blockbuster since it was after all my birthday. We picked Australia which Kurt had seen in the theater and pronounced it the absolute worst film of all time. I however found it fun and enjoyable. I want to live where they did (I'll take the after version of the estate please) but Mary demurred. Too remote, no quilt shop and no electricity. Killjoy. Dinner out was great and I got to hear military anecdotes from Kurt and Marla. Then the cake and ice cream. Mary didn't want to scorch the ceiling with excessive candles so she used her mad teaching skills to designate one candle with the value of 50 and the other lonely candle the value of 5 which started a debate from Marla and Kurt over other combinations of values to reach 55. I guess that means my kids are smart.

What a wonderful day. Oh and the weather was (and is) beautiful. reached 92F and a light wind. Perfect.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The 3 a.m. Wake Up Call

Why do so many unpleasant things happen at 3 a.m.? The child throwing up all over the bed, the dog that suddenly and urgently demands to go out right now! or it will be too late, Hilary Clinton calling President my case it was a throbbing, pounding tooth ache. Everything is worse at that time of the night and this was no exception. It felt like tiny little bongo drum players were hiding in my gum pounding out a rhythm that was guaranteed to keep me awake. Some Tylenol brought the pain down enough that I finally went to sleep about 4:45. My alarm went off at 5. The dentist managed to squeeze me in at the end of his day so I pedaled over to his office from the train station - smack into the middle of a tea party protest! These were enthusiastic protesters, waving flags and signs and getting lots of honks from the passing motorists. I fought my way through the crowd and to the dentist's office. The good news was that the tooth was not infected. The dentist decided the best course of action was to scrape smooth the base of the tooth below the gums in order to relieve the inflammation. Let me just say that if I knew any secrets I would have divulged them about half way through that procedure. Then I was done and sent on my way. Surprisingly enough the treatment seems to have dramatically reduced the swelling and the pain. As I said to the dentist before he started "sometimes you have to take the pain to get the gain". I made that up on the spot.

Just for those who may be interested, I will qualify for the senior menu at Denny's once I celebrate this birthday.

Tomorrow (Thursday) I have the sad duty of attending the funeral of Sergeant Major Paul Shirley who had been assigned to my unit in the CSMR. SGM Shirley was a long service Air Force NCO who served in Vietnam and the Gulf War. He lost a year long battle with cancer and passed away last month. He will be missed.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Off Road Adventure

(click on the pictures for a full size view)
Craig and I met a group of friends yesterday for a bit of desert to the mountains and back again travel. Or at least that was our intention. The plan was to start at the Jawbone desert recreation area outside of Mojave, drive up into and through the Sequoia National Forest and down to Lake Isabella and then return via the lowland route to Jawbone. Of course no plan survives contact with reality. It was extremely windy at the desert, probably up to 60mph gusts but very sunny and not too cool. Our 5 vehicle convoy set out and climbed up through the desert to the tree line. We noticed along the way that many of the off road trails were closed by the BLM in an effort to restrict motorized travel through the desert. At the rate of closures soon no one except the Government will be allowed access to the desert.

We climbed up into the mountains where the wind dropped off but the temperature started going down as we climbed up. We stopped for lunch at this meadow. It was a perfect combination of sun, warmth, and peace.

Peace, that is until Craig started flying a R/C helicopter. Laura Ritter is about to get bonked on the head by the wayward aircraft!
We continued to climb in altitude and encountered more and more snow and ice the higher we went. We finally ran into too much snow at 8,000 feet and couldn't make it any further. That is Craig's head poking over the rock.
Rick Axt tried to carve a trail for us with his Jeep but he started sliding sideways and there was a downhill slope in the direction he was sliding. Maturity has finally taught us when to give up and turn back which is what we did and gave up on attempting to reach Lake Isabella on this trip.
Taking another route back down we came across this abandoned homestead. There was evidence of a mining operation in connection with the cabin.
Craig and I took the opportunity to plink at pine cones with the .22 rifle.
Further along the trail we came to this abandoned charcoal converter. Craig thought it resembled the upper stage of a missile. As we were exploring fog started to roll in and we thought the time had come to head back to the desert.
Eventually the fog and mist became so thick it was very difficult to see the trail in front of us. The outside temperature dropped to near freezing and ice built up quickly on the trees and shrubs.
When we reached 6,000 feet we came out of the fog and back into the sun. Returning to the desert floor we made our (slow) way back to the highway and back home by 9 p.m. What a way to spend a Saturday!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Tortoise tales and other stories

I can't seem to leave the topic of tortoises but since I posted twice already on this subject, one more won't hurt. A couple of years ago I was on a flight across country. I was sitting in my cramped little seat between two sumo wrestlers when I felt something nudge my ankle. This was before the Senator got in trouble in the men's room for that sort of thing so I wasn't alarmed in that regard. I thought that the person behind me was pushing something under the seat with his/her foot. I felt it again. I glanced at the wrestlers but both were sitting in stony silence, arms folded. I felt it again, this time whatever it was, it was moving! What the heck is this...? I folded myself in half and managed to reach down and pick up a....turtle! There was a turtle on the loose on the plane! Fortunately it was not a snapping turtle or we may have had our very own version of 'Snakes on a Plane' only starring a vicious little terrapin wreaking havoc on the terrified passengers. This little creature seemed to be dazed and wondering if he was still in Schenectady or wherever he started from. I rang the stewardess button and after conferring with her I gingerly handed over the turtle. She made an announcement and a lady up towards the front of the plane shrieked and waved her hands over her head when she realized that the turtle was her turtle! How many turtles did she think were being carried on the plane by passengers? It took her about 5 minutes to realize that yes, the loose turtle was indeed hers.

And now for something completely different I went to see yet another doctor today, a member of the Indian Doctor Mafia. My GP is a son of the Indian subcontinent (a different way to say Indian so there is no confusion with Native American Indians - although if a person whose parents were born in India is born in the U.S., does that make him a native American Indian?) and so he refers me to docs of the same persuasion. Now, being that I am a grouch you are assuming that I am going to complain about this but you are wrong. I have never been so pleased in my life. These fellows are all young, urbane, well spoken, engaging, concerned, punctual...need I go on? They are a pleasure to work with. I leave their office feeling like I will be invited to their children's wedding when the time comes. I only wish that others in the medical field had the same package that these fine medicos have.

I met my Sweetheart tonight at the local fast food joint as I came home from my most recent medical experience. It was just like a date! Ahh, the good old days...

And lastly I added yet another Colt pistol to my burgeoning armory today. My Dad was a fan of the Colt .45 pistol and qualified as a Marksman with one during his military service. So in his memory I acquired one today and when I shoot it I will do so in his memory and honor.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Incredible Journey

Remember the Disney movie about the two dogs and a cat that travel on the space shuttle to the moon to find their family...oops wrong movie. I meant the movie where the animals travel across the country to get reunited with their family. I don't remember why they got left behind. Maybe it wasn't a mistake after all. I guess that didn't occur to the misplaced pets. I can just imagine the shock on the faces of the family when they opened the door and there are the pets that they thought they ditched a couple months ago. "Cripes - they found us!" Anyway we had our own Incredible Journey moment yesterday. Mary and Craig took the refugee tortoise to the pet shop to get the skinny about it. The pet shop man (wonder if he had been part of that rock group Pet Shop Boys but had to drop out when he grew up?) told them that it was a Russian Tortoise and that they are vegans. Why am I not surprised that tortoises in SoCal are vegans? Anyway by the cash register was a sign - "Missing: Russian Tortoise" with a phone number. What are the odds? So, Mary called and the lady on the other end of the phone was ecstatic that we had found her 'little guy'. Problem is that she lives several miles away and there are two 4 lane high speed traffic roads between us and them. The tortoise had to cover about 3 miles in 5 days. He has these stumpy little legs and a body that is definitely not streamlined. Anyway the husband of the lady we talked to showed up to examine the creature and swore that it looked just like his missing tortoise. Craig was pretty skeptical about letting it go - what if the guy was secretly running a Russian Tortoise ring - grabbing helpless little Ivans and Shashas to turn them into some dining delicacy for warped culinary fetishists? I on the other hand was moved close to tears when he mentioned that the other two tortoises at his house were sad that their buddy had broken out and left them behind. I didn't think until later: how do you know when a tortoise is sad? I handed the tortoise over to him and wished him all the best. We even supplied a shoe box for him to carry the hard-shelled little communist in. Funny though, as they left I heard this tiny little voice saying 'Help me Comrade - don't let him take me!" Wonder what that was all about?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Mighty Turtle Hunter

I miss all the fun things...I had drill today and while I was there Mary and Craig spent the day gardening. Craig cut the grass for the first time and I missed it! Kind of like missing your son riding a two wheeler without training wheels. Mary related to me that Roscoe the Australian Shepard dog (for anyone who doesn't know who Roscoe is) was rooting around in the tall grass behind the back wall. She said that he has been after something back there for a couple of days. Suddenly there was much hissing and carrying on and Roscoe triumphantly appeared with a rather large tortoise in his mouth! Fortunately the tortoise was unharmed and rather than sending it back to the wild Craig popped it in the terrarium in his room. I viewed it when I came home from my drill and for a tortoise in sudden captivity it seems pretty accepting of its new digs. Perhaps it wanted to be caught so it can get 3 hots and a cot....or at least the tortoise equivilant.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Something to be thankful for

Our modern world has benefited from many amazing advances both in science and in our social interactions with each other Many hours can be spent arguing over what bit of progress is the most significant for our lives. I won't argue but I will state that I personally find the advances in medicine and medical knowledge in the last 30 years to be breathtaking. Over and over again I reflect that medical conditions that would have been debilitating or fatal in the past are easily treated today with a complete cure the expected result. These days if someone enters a hospital and actually dies of a disease it is shocking for us. These things just don't happen anymore, at least not in the industrialized world. Several years ago my Father and I went to the cemetery in Pittsburgh where many of his relatives are buried to see if we could locate his Civil War veteran uncle. The search was fruitless but the cemetery manager let us look through the burial registration book for the turn of the century. The reason for death was recorded in the book and the number of people who died in their prime from simple illness was staggering. The easing of our lives by reducing our health issues has changed our society significantly. I am glad that I and my loved ones live in today's era of progress. Now if we could just get the civility of the 50s combined to today's advancements things would be wonderful!

For something a bit more trivial Craig and I got our monthly haircuts today. I got sheared for my monthly drill and Craig got the sheepdog look trimmed back a bit. The barber did not realize what the implications of giving Craig a hairstyle with his part in the center of his head were. As soon as we left the shop Craig shook his head and got the hair back where it belonged. You do know what it means when the hair is parted in the center don't you? Of course you had to live in the early 70s to know it.