Friday, December 30, 2011

The Single Man’s Guide to being sick—they still shoot horses, don’t they?

 

I can remember a couple years back when Deb (one of my former coworkers) was at her wit’s end.  She had just gotten off the phone with her husband, who was at home in bed, sick with the flu.   Apparently he wasn’t too happy that she had chosen to go to work while he lay there suffering, and wanted to prepare her for the likelihood of coming home and finding his corpse in their bed. 

Some other women quickly chimed in, sharing some of THEIR past experiences with ill boyfriends or husbands, and the consensus was that us guys were absolute wusses the minute we got the sniffles, and would probably be better off if we were just put out of our misery instead. 

(I protested, but being one of only two guys in our group, all I got was a couple blank stares before they continued their death-wish on all sick men.) 

I’m reminded of that now, because for the last few days I’ve been home sick with the flu.  It actually started Christmas Day; I was at my sister Shawn’s house for the holidays and the four of us—Shawn, her husband Jim, my niece Sophia & myself were gathered at the dining room table playing “Wheel of Fortune” while I kept attempting to “swallow away” a sore throat.  At first I just chalked it up to the drier air there (my apartment is muggy year ‘round) or from all the late night Christmas Eve jabber (I was doing most of the jabbering).  But after my eyeballs got hot, my spidey sense began tingling and I announced that I was coming down with something, so I’d best head home.  (It didn’t really hit me for another day or so, but by Tuesday night I was knocking at Death’s door.)

I admit I was unprepared for what was coming—but other than Wednesday night (when my fever broke and soaked my bed, I woke up shaking so hard my teeth were rattling & I may have whimpered for my mom, I dunno) I think I’ve “manned up” just fine.  Here’s some examples:

No medicine:   It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten a bug, and I know this because the Tylenol ‘Cold & Flu Gelcaps’ in my medicine cabinet have BEST IF USED BY MAR 2006 on the box.  (I had an expired bottle of cherry flavored Cepacol Sore Throat Spray in there too, but I tried some and it tasted like old pennies.)   So what!  That stuff isn’t fixing anything anyway, all it does is mask the symptoms for a couple hours—as for my sore throat, I gargled with Listerine-Mint & let a little trickle down my gullet; it did the job just fine!

No cold juice or hot soup:  Okay, some juice would’ve been nice but I DID have a couple Popsicles in the freezer left over from this summer—and while there’s no soup in my cupboards, I did find a couple packets of chicken gravy mix.  Add some hot water & grab a spoon!

No Kleenex:  This one’s a no-brainer, who needs a fancy box of Kleenex when you have 4 ROLLS of the stuff right under your bathroom sink?  Okay it’s Scott toilet tissue and got a little rough on my nose, but anything better & I would’ve felt spoiled.  Hmph!

.         .         .

And finally, who needs someone hovering over you when you have TV to keep you company?  This morning I watched “A History of the Space Suit” on the Science Channel and was surprised to learn that when NASA put out the call for someone to design a moonsuit, who beat out the giants like Goodrich & the military?  The good folks at Playtex, who designed bras & rubber undergarments for women!

Kinda makes me wish I had one of these a week or so ago... then maybe I wouldn’t be sitting at home alone with the flu

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Letters to Santa: we didn’t have email, but we had Paul Shannon



Earlier today when I was at Kuhn’s Market, I overheard two women talking about their holiday plans, and one of them was telling a story about her 7 year old son Toby. She had both the other woman (and me) in stitches.

She’s been after her boy to write a letter to Santa, to give her some ideas on what he wants for Christmas; she said that when she picked him up from her mother’s house the other night, Toby informed her that she can stop pestering him, he sent a letter to Santa on the computer.

She called her mother and asked her if she’d helped him, she said no but her neighbor’s daughter had been over and was helping Toby send an email. The whereabouts of this missing letter was still unknown & Toby’s mom says she’ll be bald before Christmas gets here.

It got me to thinking about writing letters to Santa when I was a kid; we didn’t have email but we DID have a rocket!  Well, courtesy of WTAE-TV & “Paul Shannon’s Adventure Time”.  In the 1960s, when we still lived in town, I used to race home from school to catch this local kid’s show.  Mr. Shannon was a tall, soft spoken man who showed cartoons like “Kimba the White Lion” & “Space Angel”, and always had a studio audience of Cub Scouts or Brownies.  (Oh how I wanted to be one of those kids!)

 

I’m surprised how little I can find about Paul Shannon online—but this is just how I remember him

But come December (from 1965-1970), he would tell all the kids at home to send their “Letters to Santa” in care of the tv station, and he’d send them to the North Pole-- on Channel 4’s very own moon rocket!

(You have to remember, this was the 1960s—hippies, Vietnam & civil rights may have been on the news every night, but so was the excitement of astronauts and rockets.)

The shows (in those weeks leading to Christmas) would end with Mr. Shannon and a “rocket hatch”; we’d see bags of letters already inside the compartment, and Paul would still be holding a few, reading off the names and addresses of the senders before tossing them in with the others. We’d then be treated to some stock footage of one of the Apollo moon rockets blasting off from Cape Canaveral—I mean Pittsburgh, cough—on it’s way to Santa. And I swear to God, as a kid in the first, second & third grades, I didn’t doubt where that missile was heading for a second.

What I lived for though was the “transmissions from the North Pole”. We’d see Santa in front of his workshop, waving hello and telling Paul Shannon, yes, the latest batch of letters arrived safely. He’d then read off a couple of ‘em, remarking on the fine penmanship or telling the writer how proud he was of them for helping their mom around the house.

George Heid, 1902-1973: He not only played Santa on Adventure Time, but donated his time to work with hundreds of handicapped kids in the Pittsburgh area

I can’t find any clips of him online, but I can still hear his voice; always loving & genuine, I didn’t doubt he was the real deal for a minute either. I can still remember one year panicking over my letter not being read on the air & asking my mom “what if mine got lost somewhere on the way there?” and her telling me “It didn’t Doug, your dad talked to him.” Thank God!

Well, this Santa may not have read any of my letters, but thanks to some very generous parents (and one very attentive mom), I know SOMEONE certainly did.

I love you, Mom & Dad 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Can Nana walk in Heaven? I sure hope so, Sophia

 

This past Friday night, my sister Shawn & her husband Jim took my 7 year old niece to a Christmas “Open House” in Waynesburg, where Sophia witnessed a caricature artist & asked (more like pleaded) to have her likeness done too. 

My sister sent it on to me that night with a note of dismay (which made me laugh) & I promptly posted it on Facebook & wrote:

“My 7 year old niece got her caricature done at Waynesburg’s Christmas Open House—she loves it, thinks it makes her look like a teenager.  My sister doesn’t like it, thinks it makes her look like a teenager.”

(It got some nice feedback.  Personally, I think it does look like that little glamour-gal, right down to her strong jawbone and pronounced chin.) 

So last night around midnight, I had just finished e-mailing with my sister & shut things down and crawled into bed when my phone rang—who’s calling me at this hour?  It was my sister Shawn of course, her husband at her side, and they were trying to determine if one of those “Amazon sellers” were legit.  (They were looking at karaoke machines for Sophie for Christmas but not liking what they saw.)   And the next thing I know, Jim is asleep and Shawn and I have been on the phone for 3 hours.  

We spent the time talking about gift ideas and Sophie’s love of technology, among other things.  Gadgets like ipads and Wii’s and smartphones don’t faze this kid in the slightest, she’s seen it all and wants to know when she’s getting her share.  I remarked how Sophie seems ‘wiser beyond her years’, especially in comparison to us at her age.  (But then again we grew up with younger parents and a house filled with brothers and sisters, where a ‘color tv’ was about as newfangled as things got.)  And privately I worried a little that Sophie was growing up too soon, too fast.

Then my sister told me something which broke my heart, but set things right.  Shawn said  “Doug the other night, Sophie came to me and said ‘Mom I need to ask you something important.’  She asked ‘Can Nana walk in Heaven?’  It was really important to her to know if Mom was able to walk about in Heaven on her own two feet.  All I could tell her was that I didn’t know, but that Nana was there for sure.”   

Sophie never got to know her Nana; Mom left us when Sophie was barely 2 months old, so Sophie only knows her thru pictures and memories we’ve shared with her. 

But the thing is, her heartfelt question was a sweet reminder that this may be the 21st century, and she may be more comfortable with technology than her fifty year old uncle, but the innocence isn’t lost.  I hope she continues to believe in Santa Claus & the Tooth Fairy and that her Nana is with Jesus for as long as she’s able.

One last thing--Sophie is getting an operation in a few days, for an ‘inguinal hernia’ which doesn’t really bother her now, but if left untreated, will get worse down the road.  She’s scared of course (who wouldn’t be?) but last week, Shawn was telling someone about it with my niece in tow, and afterward Sophie said “Mom just tell them it’s a hernia, ok?”  (She didn’t think anyone needed to know about her lady parts, and I couldn’t agree more.) 

I may not be a praying man, but for this little soul I will gladly make an exception.

Merry Christmas Sophia

 

 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Angels and ministers of grace defend us—or me, at least

 

A couple days ago (the day before Thanksgiving), I had just gotten home from work & was changing my clothes to run some errands.  I wanted to do a little grocery shopping, get a full tank of gas & pick up the pecan pie I ordered from Lincoln Bakery to take with me to my sister Shawn’s house for Thanksgiving.

I was sitting on the edge of my bed, tying my shoes when I heard a soft thump in the other room, like something had fallen.  When I came into the livingroom I saw nothing out of the ordinary, so I grabbed my jacket and opened my front door—and this was on my welcome mat.  (Oh good, it’s in large-print too.) 

I looked up and down the hallway to see if anyone else had gotten one of these on their doorsteps; nope, I was the only one.  (And I happen to know three of my neighbors--Rich, Vanessa & Jean—weren’t home to retrieve anything.)  So I wondered, what the hell did I do to warrant getting this ‘divine message’?  (Oops, perhaps I just answered my own question.)  The thing is, I suppose it bothered me that someone wanted to toss some religion my way, but didn’t have the time or courage to ask if I wanted it first.

I’ve never hidden my feelings (rather, lack of) about religion, but then again I’ve never come out in opposition to it either.  A few years back I wrote a blog titled “Why Is it So Hard to Believe” but wound up deleting it because I saw myself in ‘both camps’.  I questioned why atheists are so insistent there’s nothing beyond the here n’ now, while people of faith have to see the unknown as holy or divine.  Can’t there be a middle ground?  I’m parked somewhere in there. 

 

Vacation Bible School, 1973—that’s me & Shawn in the back, Steve and Donda in front.  Why can’t things be as simple now as they were then?

I guess I’m just feeling a little... something right now because it seems like lately, God has been coming out of the woodwork.  Tuesday night I was leaving the office and feeling a bit dispirited about things in general, when a young African American woman got on my elevator at the 16th floor; she had a name-badge that read “Angel”. 

We stopped on the 15th floor, another woman got on & saw the young lady’s badge and said “Is that short for Angela?”  and Angel said “No, my mother said I when I was born I looked like an angel” (she still does) and the other woman said “we can’t have too many angels can we” and nodded & smiled at me, and for some reason it gave me a goosebump or two.

So when I got off the elevator and out the building and hurried to my bus stop, worn out and anxious and soaked with rain, I guess I did think “Wouldn’t that be nice if someone up there really was looking out for us…”   Cut to Wednesday and a Book of Psalms mysteriously plops at my feet when I open my front door.  Go figure.

I know, I know—it’s just a coincidence of course.  But I couldn’t help but shake my head a little on Wednesday after I set that holy book down, grabbed my keys and went to pick up that pie for Thanksgiving.  Lincoln Bakery has got some logo there.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone

Lincoln Bakery

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanks to Stephen King, I no longer need to change the past—he’s done it for me

 

In the 1980s, this pretty much became my mantra:  “Regrets, I’ve had a few.”  It began when I had a fight with my parents & moved out on my own at 17, to working a succession of minimum wage jobs and dropping out of college after a year.   By the age of 25, I was uneducated, unemployed & homeless.

I often fantasized at the time, “what if I could go back in time, just ten years or so, and warn my 15-16 year old self “Do this, not THAT.  And don’t do this, do THIS instead.”  

Even after I got my head on straight at the age of 27 and began making some right decisions, I still dwelled on the past:  “If I had just said ‘not interested’ to that girl on the bus...if I’d just turned down that cigarette from that waitress at the Pancake House…where would I be now?”  (For all I know, even worse off.)

So perhaps it’s those younger fantasies of fixing the past (and love of history, and outright adoration of ALL THINGS STEPHEN KING) that has me in amore right now with his latest novel, “11/22/63”.  I am reviewing an 850 page book, of which I am currently only 179 pages through.  It’s THAT good & I don’t need a fortune teller to tell me how I’m going to feel when I finish reading this terrific story.

Jake Epping is a 35 year old schoolteacher and just starting summer vacation when he’s asked by the owner of a local diner (whom Jake frequents almost daily) to pay him a visit.  Our schoolteacher does, and is surprised to encounter Al (who owns the diner) looking much thinner (and much older) than just the day before.  

 And from there, the magic happens:  Al carefully explains to Jake that sometime back, he discovered an exit of sorts, in the back of his diner’s storeroom.  And if you approach it from just the right angle, you’ll find yourself in a grassy area behind a textile plant in September 1958.  (It’s where the diner now sits in 2011.)   It’s always the same date & time when you arrive—September 11, 11:58 am.  And no matter how long you choose to remain there, for a 10 minute visit at the local malt shop or to plunk down roots and re-live the 1960s, if you return to 2011, only 2 minutes has passed from the time you left. 

It turns out that Al the diner owner had been living in the past for several years, only to be diagnosed with terminal lung cancer by a doctor in Dallas in 1962.  He had no choice but to return to 2011 (considerably older looking, given the 4 years he lived there with his disease) & find someone who will carry out his carefully laid out plan to kill Lee Harvey Oswald before he can kill President Kennedy. 

Of course Jake has plenty of questions—are you off your rocker (then again, he just saw Al yesterday and he looks very different today) and if all of this is true, can you change the past?   Yes—Al explains he carved his initials and ‘2011’ on a tree in ‘58, returned to the present & located the tree—with some 50 year old carvings now in it’s trunk.  The future (or present) has been changed.   And the only way Al can convince Jake things are on the up-and-up is to have the teacher step through & take a look-see himself.

”Who’s that man in the odd looking clothes?”

Jake does, of course—who wouldn’t?  And like Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future”, finds things very different.  The air is stinky with pollution from a nearby factory that’s been shut down in his time since the 1970s, but the local townsfolk are all well dressed and well mannered; the root beer he gets at a local drugstore is like nothing he’s ever had before and everyone smokes—everywhere. 

And while enjoying looking at the cars and fashions of the day, Jake remembers an essay he read a couple years back, in his Adult English class—written by Harry Dunning, the friendly janitor at his school about “The Day That Changed My Life”.  It was a story of a young boy who watched his mom, baby sister & brothers all get bludgeoned to death with a hammer by a drunken father on an October night in 1958.   And in this time, that’s only weeks away.

So yes, he will return to 2011 and tell Al he’ll take out Kennedy’s assassin;  but he’s going to take care of Harry Dunning’s murderous dad too.  

Without giving any more of the story away, King weaves a careful, marvelous tale.  While I love ALL his works (okay, I wasn’t crazy about “insomnia”) If you’re an amateur time travel enthusiast like me & have lots of questions (about the ‘Butterfly Effect’ for starters), trust me—the man answers all of them. 

And if the notion of reading science fiction or fantasy (or horror) makes you uneasy—not to worry, you’ll get none of that here.  Get this book and enjoy the ride!

1958 Ford Fairlane

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tomorrow morning... it’s back to the old salt mine

  

Tomorrow is Monday, and I have to go to work.  I’ll probably wake up around 5:29 with a start and grab my alarm clock right before it’s set to go off.  I’ll then collapse back on my pillow, tired and a little annoyed with myself for not going to bed earlier the night before. 

Yes, I know—things could be a lot worse.

I usually turn on the TV for the weather report & wind up watching ten minutes of the local news before showering; I live alone and don’t have to worry about getting any kids up for school, or for my turn to use the bathroom.  (If there are perks to being single, mornings would probably top the list.)   It’s a brisk 5-10 minute walk to the bus stop, and I’m downtown in thirty minutes more or less.  

Two things never cease to amaze me—the number of people I have to get past on my way to the elevators in the US Steel Tower (where I work) and the number of emails waiting for me when I finally get to my desk.  I just cleaned my mailbox before going home on Friday, why are there 79 new messages?  Someone may point out that it’s begun raining, and it will remind me that we have a new cafeteria on the 24th floor.  (It’s very nice with it’s selection of hot foods and deli and salad bar, I had a baked potato topped with chili there last week.)   I’ll probably get a phone call (or IM) from someone in Pricing & grumble to no one in particular that I’m not a morning person, and haven’t even gotten a cup of coffee yet.

On my way back from the mini-kitchen with coffee in hand, I’ll probably stop at one of my coworkers desks to say good morning, and someone may comment about the ‘Occupy Pittsburgh’ protest still going on in the small park across the street.  There’s been an assortment of jobless people, students (and now veterans) living in pup tents & brandishing cardboard signs demanding justice for “The 99%” for several weeks now.

I admired them more in the beginning, when they were focused on the greed of big banks and Wall Street; since then it’s become stomping grounds for a growing list of causes   

I’m just thankful I don’t have a reason (or the desire) to be down there with them.

Did I mention that I have a nice desk?  Everything is new, from my ergonomic chair to my flat-panel, widescreen computer monitor.   I’m near the windows, so I always have lots of natural light too.   Everyone has access to the Internet, and I enjoy checking out what my coworkers are up to on Facebook when I get the chance.  

I work with a great group of people, whom I both like and respect.  

I have 12 more years of this before I’m at the minimum age to retire.  And sometimes, especially Mondays, I wonder if I’m going to make it. 

hamster in wheel

Friday, November 4, 2011

It’s time to face the beast within, but he’s somewhere under all this blubber

 

This isn’t a Halloween-themed blog, but in honor of the recent holiday I snapped this photo of myself (to show my niece Sophia my new monster t-shirt) and quite honestly was surprised how chubby I looked in the picture.  Okay, fat.

What makes it particularly disheartening is that last Friday was the final weigh-in at the office for myself & some of my coworkers—we started a ‘Weight Race’ 3-4 months ago, and my final weight was 4 pounds more than when we began!  My heart wasn’t in it.  In fact, I rebelled & spent this past summer picking up a tub of ‘banana split’ ice cream every time I went to the market, and got into the habit of snacking on stuff like Ore-Ida Gourmet Onion Rings (what makes them gourmet is that they’re made with real onions—hmph) along with other fun fare like “State Fair Corn Dogs” and Tyson’s Buffalo Chicken Wings—in the Family size bag.

And then there’s “real food”; after years of asking my mom or my sister Shawn to fix my favorite meal (pot roast) on my visits home, I finally perfected my own version of the recipe—an unfortunately all too simple meal to throw together (oh it’s really yummy when you bake it in a mixture of cream of mushroom & onion soup mix).  This is one I made last weekend; it would normally serve 3-4… normal people.  I had it eaten in 2 days.

So what’s the answer here?  I just turned 50 this past Monday & God help me, I don’t want to be this round on my next birthday.  But diets are useless (my metabolism knows all my tricks and adjusts accordingly) and the current way of thinking (don’t diet, change your eating habits for life) just makes me panicky & depressed and craving stuff like candy bars, which I normally don’t eat anyway. 

At the same time, I can no longer take solace in the fact that 2/3 of the population is seriously overweight or obese, and I’m just a face in that crowd.  I’ve been over 200 pounds for over a decade now, and over 225 since my niece Sophia was born 7 years ago.  That kid has never seen me as a thin person!  

 

Speaking of Sophie, here she is at last weekend’s Halloween party, dressed as Dorothy Gale from ‘the Wizard of Oz’

 

I’d love for her to see her Uncle Doug in the 1990s; I was cleaning out my bedroom closet a couple weekends ago, and behind a couple old winter coats were 3-4 heavy hangers with a half dozen dress pants (from the days when I wore a shirt and tie to the office).  I held one pair of pants up against me and both marveled & grimaced at their size.  The waist was six inches smaller than what I wear now, and they don’t even have a hidden expanding waistband! 

I need to come up with a game plan here, and after some real thought I’m going to do 2 things right away:

  1. STEER CLEAR OF THE FROZEN FOODS AISLE AT THE MARKET—well, avoid the corndogs & chicken wings at least.  And no more Hungry Man dinners!
  2. POST MY WEIGHT ON A WEEKLY BASIS FOR EVERYONE TO SEE.  If you look at the right hand side of this page, where it says ‘Labels’, I’m adding a new one—where I’m going to post my weight every Friday & hopefully embarrass myself into dropping 25 pounds! 

To be honest, I really debated writing about this—not because I’m embarrassed about my jelly belly, but when someone asks “Hey Doug what’s up” & I reply “Well, since you asked...”  all I want to hear back is “ok, have a good one” or “Well, I like chubby guys”.  What I usually get is lots of unwanted advice (drink water, eat 6 mini-meals daily, walk more) from peeps that are either bigger than me or 15 years younger & don’t understand that I knew about the benefits of skinless chicken & brown rice when they were still chowing down on mother’s milk.  Thanks, but no thanks.  

I have the answers, I just need to find the initiative! 

January 1979

Saturday, October 22, 2011

My Ghost Story: if there was ever a time to tell it...

    

If you had asked me 10 years ago if I believed in ghosts, I would probably be giving you the same look you’re giving this blog right now.  I’d freely admit to enjoying bloodsucking vampires from Salem’s Lot, American werewolves in London and anything the Doctors Frankenstein or Jekyll could cook up.  I’d add that while zombies are lame and mummies aren’t wrapped too tight, that crafty witch who lived in the Blair Woods & terrorized those young filmmakers did a real number on me.  But ghosts?  Nothing to ‘em. 

The older I get though, the more I wonder if that  quote from ‘The Others’ could be the real deal:  “The world of the living sometimes gets mixed up with the world of the dead”.

Listen, I know I’m just following a trend.  Cable channels run rampant with all of those so-called paranormal shows like “Ghost Adventures”, “Paranormal State” & “My Ghost Story” and yes I’m a sucker for most of them.  They make me examine my own surroundings a bit more suspiciously--ghosts in my apartment building?  Why not?  This may not be Lizzie Borden’s house or a 1930s mental hospital, but in the 15 years I’ve lived here I’ve seen six or seven apartments come up for rent from former tenants who didn’t exactly move across town, if you get my drift. 

And in that time, I’ve experienced a few occurrences here that gave me pause.  One late night while folding laundry in the basement, I distinctly felt the presence of someone standing behind me—yet when I turned around, no one was there.  And last winter while ‘camping’ on my sofa one evening, I had my back to the room & felt someone’s fingers below my neck, between my shoulder blades.  I’m not making this up!  

But perhaps the strangest experience was something that occurred almost a decade ago; it still gives me the chills when I think about it.

 The Mystery of Mrs. Kenney & Her  Must See Television

When I moved in this building in the fall of ‘95, one of the first people that introduced themselves to me was my neighbor in #404, Mrs. Kenney.  She told me she had lived here since the place was built in 1972, and had been retired for several years.  I knew she didn’t go out much, as I always heard her tv when I passed her door in the morning on my way to work or at night when coming home; and sometimes I could hear it faintly if I went to bed early, muffled by the firewall that separated her livingroom from my bedroom.

It was sometime in early 2001 when her apartment went silent, and I thought nothing of it until one day when I was getting my mail and another neighbor asked me if I had heard about Mrs. Kenney.  She had suffered a stroke or heart attack (or both) and was staying with her daughter and son-in-law until she got better.  Oh how awful, okay.  And for the next couple weeks, I heard nothing more.

Then one Sunday night after climbing into bed I heard her tv again.  It was louder than usual, and while I was glad she was well enough to come home, I wondered if the stroke had affected her hearing.  I was tempted to get out of bed, walk down the hall & remind her that some of us still had to get up for work in the morning, but I didn’t; eventually I fell asleep.  The following day after work, I was on the bus when my other neighbor Sue (who also worked downtown) approached me and asked if I heard about Mrs. Kenney.  I said “yes yes, I know; she’s home, she had her tv cranked up pretty loud last night.” 

Sue gave me a funny look and said I must be mistaken.  She told me Mrs. Kenney had died over the weekend, in her daughter’s house.  I said that couldn’t be; I was tired and cranky from a poor night’s sleep because of that damn tv.  Sue said “I’ll bet you have a new neighbor, probably another old lady who’s hard of hearing.”   Aw no. 

I wasn’t going to say anything further about it, but when we got home our maintenance man Mike was in the lobby, washing the front windows.  I asked him if he’d heard about Mrs. Kenney (yes) and was there a new tenant (not yet).  I said “Well, someone was in her place last night, watching tv.  LOUD.”  He said “Doug that can’t be.”  I told him it wasn’t my imagination, and he said “Come with me.”  We came upstairs and he opened Mrs. Kenney’s door.  And aside from some stains on the carpet & a roll of paper towels on the kitchen counter, the entire apartment was empty.  I said “Wait, when did everything get moved out?”   Mike said “Doug, they moved everything out of here over a week ago, her daughter said she wasn’t coming back.”

.          .          .

Like I said earlier, that was almost a decade ago but I remember it like it was yesterday; I was never able to figure out where that tv was coming from.  And a month or so later, someone did move into that apartment, a creepy psychologist who painted the walls dark brown and lives here still; he stands in the back parking lot and chain smokes beside his car every night for a half hour before coming inside.  (As for a television, I don’t think he even owns one.)

I’ve been tempted sometimes to ask if he’s ever noticed anything peculiar over there, but I’m sure he deals with enough cuckoos already.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The old man had it right all along—I’m taking the pledge today

   

Last night on the news I heard an alarming statistic:  “We have not seen unemployment rates this high, or this consistent, since the Great Depression.”  Of course that’s no surprise to anyone in this Information Age (let alone the frightening number of people out there desperate for work) but it still made me sit up and take notice. 

I had just gotten home from work, feeling grumpy because the city has half of Rt.65 torn up & my bus route now includes a LONG detour. 

Poor me, I had to sit in traffic an extra 20-30 minutes... I was reminded of how fortunate I am that I was on that bus in the first place.

I’ll be honest here, I’m not fond of discussing current events on the teepee.  It’s not that I don’t care about Greece’s failing economy, the flooding in Florida or Jennifer Aniston’s latest heartbreak, I just feel it’s a waste of time to rehash that stuff here unless I’m able to put a personal spin on it.   But lately I’ve been really caught up with the nightly news, in particular ‘ABC News with Diane Sawyer’.  They’re not just reporting national or global events, they’re using their platform to MAKE the news. 

It all started a few months ago when they jokingly reported that in our nations capital, the Smithsonian Museum’s souvenir shop (funded with taxpayer money) didn’t sell a single item that was made in America.   When the museum was asked why, they didn’t go into a defensive posture—they admitted it was true, apologized and made a pledge to sell ‘Made in America’ merchandise. 

Diane Sawyer

Diane Sawyer pushes ‘Made in America’;  what’s not to love about this woman?

And that was just for starters—since then, ABC News has gone after retail giants, college catalogs & construction companies, and showed them that for every item they import from China, there is a comparable (or better quality) product made right here in America, and usually for the same price or less.  They reported that if home construction companies used just 5% more materials manufactured in America, it would add a staggering QUARTER MILLION “liveable wage” jobs to our economy.  They’re even distributing detailed lists of American suppliers ready to help these construction companies with all their material needs, everything from nails to kitchen sinks!   And all made right here in the “good ol’ USA”. 

I wish my dad was alive to see this, as this was his mantra for as long as I can remember, long before it became “the thing to do”.  In the early-mid 80’s, when I worked in the lumber & Home Improvements department at our local Murphy’s Mart, my dad often came in for supplies to take advantage of my 15% Employee Discount. 

My dad in the early 1980s, on a plastering job

Besides working in coal shaft construction or playing music, he hung drywall, did plastering & other home construction or repair.  (With 6 kids and the mines on strike half the time, he and Mom still had a lot of mouths to feed.)

Anyway, I’ll never forget one particular exchange in the store that got the attention of a group of other customers.

  • DAD:  I’m going to need 10 sheets of that sheet rock, a pound of shank nails & a drywall hammer.  You better grab me a new trowel while you’re at it.
  • ME (after getting everything):  Okay Dad, anything else?
  • DAD (holding up the hammer):  Where’d you get this?
  • ME:  Um, right over there in aisle 3. 
  • DAD:  Boy I didn’t mean IN THE STORE—where’d this come from?  This sticker says “Made in Malaysia”. 
  • ME:  Those are all we have—they’re just as good & I bet they’re cheaper too.
  • DAD:  I don’t care if you’re GIVING them away.  Go find me one that says “Made in the USA” or I’ll take my business elsewhere.
  • ME:   Dad, these aren’t regular hammers—c’mon, you’re embarrassing me.
  • DAD:  You SHOULD be!

Luckily my manager Jim Carney was nearby, overheard the exchange, called the hardware store in town & located a drywall hammer for my dad--he even drove up there and picked it up.  Afterwards when I apologized to my boss for my dad’s stubbornness, he said “Doug, I think your dad was right.”  I really appreciated Mr. Carney for that, and ultimately respected my old man more for it too.

So Dad, good for you—and for the record, I plan to start looking at the label first the next time I buy something.  I mean it. 

flagteepee

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Here’s why I love my new smartphone (take that, George Clooney)

 

This is the new phone I got recently; I’ve been pretty pleased with it, it’s not just smart, it’s smart looking.  The receiver shows the date & time, and it can be programmed to work as an alarm clock.  Oh and the base isn’t just an answering machine, it’s a speakerphone too. 

(It even came with a spare phone & charger that I can set anywhere in my house because only the main unit needs plugged into a phone jack.)   But I think my favorite feature is the ‘no texting’ function—you have to talk into it.

Y’see, last week a little secret of mine was exposed, and since then I’ve gotten my share of teasing remarks about it.  I was going to let the matter drop, but then yesterday I eagerly read an interview with George Clooney (and I only say eagerly as we’re both in the ‘61 Club and this is George & mine’s year for hitting the big 5-0).  He has a few months on me, so what life experiences or pearls of wisdom was he ready to share that can help me prepare for this half-century milestone?

“By the time you hit 50, you know who your friends are.”  (Er…okay, that makes sense.)

“I began subscribing to AARP magazine and it’s surprising to see some of the people I know.”   (George I’ve been on the fence about this!  Okay, what else??)

George is 50“I still love a good prank.  My friends used to change my outgoing phone message all the time. This was the old days, when you had a phone machine. They would change the message to something horrible and there was nothing I could do to change it back. That was always brilliant."   

“The old days”?   You mean before cellphones and voice mail?  George I’ll have you know I’m not a total Dodo bird just yet, I have a cellphone too!  I just don’t like carrying it around with me 24-7.  And truth be told, I’m a lot more inclined to check my messages when I come home from work and see that flashing red light on my machine—that damn cellphone could be hiding anywhere!

Anyway, getting back to my secret--it began last Friday at the office; we had a major system installation planned for the weekend and one of my coworkers suggested that the project manager send a text message to everyone’s cellphone when they were ready for us analysts to report for duty.   So a ‘test-text’ was sent out & what followed was a flurry of email responses:

Erin:  Got it.

Steve: Got it, thanks!

Candace:  Got it too. 

Mia: Got it! 

Jamie: Got it. 

Kathy: Holla, got it. 

Gwen:  Thanks, got it.

Me:  um...I don’t have my cellphone. 

(Silence)

Me:  It’s at home, I think I left it in the glove compartment of my car.

(Silence)

Me:  Or on my dresser.  I don’t think it can send or get texts anyway. 

(Silence)

Me:  OKAY, I don’t know how to text!  Shoot me, I’m an old man!

Kathy:  Doug, you’re funny.

And that’s my big secret—I HAVE NEVER SENT A TEXT MESSAGE.  I’M NOT ABOUT TO EITHER, I TYPE ENOUGH ALREADY!  I know that recent polls show 40% of us prefer texting over talking, but what secrets of the universe need to be shared so immediately that they can’t wait to be read in an email?   Look, if someone needs to talk to me THAT badly, then they’ll have to do just that—talk! 

sitting on the basement steps to talk on the phone...

Now if you really want to talk about phones in the ‘old days’, here’s me in 1979 trying to get some privacy on the basement stairs; that damn cord only stretched so far!

Okay, I know this is much ado about nothing, but from what I gather it’s no worse than half of the text-messages flying over my head right now as I type this:  “WHT R U UP 2”  “NOTHNG, WHT ABT U”  “NOTHNG”

I will say one thing about the whole texting phenomenon that I find fascinating; my 6 year old niece Sophie has been practicing her ‘text typing’ since the age of 4, as if it was part of the natural process, like learning to walk.  Last summer I watched her holding a Hanna Montana makeup compact with both hands and deftly tapping it’s lid with her thumbs--when I said “Honey what are you doing?”  she said “Uncle Doug let me finish this thought first.”  (I’m not joking!)  .        .        .

When I showed Sophie my cellphone (with it’s little hideaway keyboard) and confided to her I’ve never texted anyone and didn’t even know how, she looked at me like she’d just seen a ghost.   When (& if) I’m ready to learn, I’m sure she’ll show me how.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Just got my draft notice from the AARP (well, that’s what it feels like)

 

Do you remember that scene in “Superman: The Movie” where Clark Kent & his mother have just buried Pa Kent, and Clark informs his now widowed Ma that he has to leave (to go to Metropolis & become Superman)?   All his poor mother can say is “I knew this day would come.”   

Well, that’s pretty much what I thought when I got my mail recently, and saw this fat white envelope with that infamous red logo—my induction into the AARP.  Yes I knew this day would come, but I thought I still had a couple months before Big Brother let me know I was officially an old man.  So I open the envelope, and there’s an application, a temporary AARP card until my official one arrives, A SWEEPSTAKES ENTRY FORM FOR A CHANCE TO WIN A SIT-DOWN WITH BETTY WHITE (I’m not joking, visit their site right here)  and finally, a warm & fuzzy letter welcoming me into the fold & reminding me that life doesn’t end at fifty—“for many people, this is when the real living begins.”  Woo-hoo!  Seriously, I could go for some real living.  

“Betty White invites you to join the AARP now!”  Y’know, I love Betty as much as the next person, but I’d rather have Helen Mirren inviting me; now THAT’S a silver fox! 

(Oh dammit, Helen’s not American.  Ok Betty, bring it...)

When I informed my friend Candace I got my induction notice, she said “Doug now you can get a discount at IHOP!”  Well, I haven’t been to one since 2008 when my younger sister lived in West Virginia, but I suppose that’s something to consider.   When I googled “what can AARP membership do for me”, I got a hundred discussion forums with people saying “an AARP card will get you hotel discounts” and another hundred people saying “you’ll get a better discount if you show your AAA card instead”.  So what else, besides a mailbox full of junk mail for AARP-endorsed insurance plans and Life Alert services?

The official AARP Magazine!

As much as I like Dustin Hoffman & Michelle Obama, I wasn’t sold until I saw Sally Field on the cover—she can still kick it.  Waitaminute, there’s an article on the AARP site of words and expressions you should stop using after you turn fifty:

Words to Ax After You’re 50 according to AARP:

  • Panties
  • Smashed, overserved, or hammered
  • “That’s sick!”
  • ”Whatever...”
  • “I’m like...” 
  • Hot  (except when referring to the weather or habaneros)
  • Kick it  (marginal even for those 50+ in a rock band)

Whatever!  It also recommends that after fifty, you stop wearing skinny jeans, gold chains & novelty t-shirts—oh fudge, this couldn’t have come at a worse time.  I recently found a place that sells cool t-shirts on the cheap & I’m in the process of updating my casual wardrobe.   (C’mon, I’m gonna be fifty years old--I’m not about to let anyone tell me what I can & cannot wear now!)  

Walgreen’s & IHOP discounts be damned, I’ve just decided I’m not ready to join the ranks of this senior crowd just yet.  Betty White, come back and see me in ten years.  Or better yet, send Sally.  

Until then, I’m going to kick it.  Smile

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I’d rather end the summer on a warm note

 

Doggone it, I’ve been in a real funk this week.  I’m pretty sure it began with that incident last Friday (when that crazy-ass dude threw me up against a wall & gave me that lecture about killing me) followed by all this chilly wet weather. 

(Hmm...maybe subconsciously I am somehow manipulating the jet stream to match my own blah mood-- why should I be the only one with a cloud over his head?)  Yes I know, that’s crazy-talk... it’s been going around a lot lately!  Ok enough of that--the thing is, I just didn’t want that (see previous blog) to be my last blog of the summer. 

So when my sister Shawn sent me this photo of my beautiful 6 year old niece Sophia doing her monkey bit at a playground this past Sunday (she was attending a birthday party, hence the skirt—oh wait my sister just informed me it’s a “skort”) I knew I had to share it here, and end the summer on a high note.   This trapeze artist can cheer me up without even trying!

So...for now all I have to say is that I’m looking forward to fall (my favorite time of year) and not so much looking forward to Halloween (which also happens to be my 50th birthday—cripes) and finally as long as I’m blathering away here, I’d like to give thanks to all the people in my life who always manage to make my days just a little bit sunnier—I hope you know who you are.  And also a special thank-you note to the visitors of the teepee who take the time to read my foolishness (and sometimes even respond to it). 

If you want names, I’d be happy to oblige.  Smile  

 

Smokin_Tipi

Sunday, September 4, 2011

It did not last long, but it lasted long enough

 

Friday morning I was attacked by a total stranger.  I wasn’t robbed, and no real violence on my person occurred other than being shaken up, but it’s odd that I could brush it aside so easily right after it happened, and now, two days later I keep replaying the sequence of events in my mind.

It was a typical morning much like any other Friday morning, aside from the fact that I was going to work an hour later than usual.  I was the one scheduled to work “the box” that day, the person designated for responding to system issues and various IT requests; you’re required to stay an hour later than everyone else, so you start an hour later than usual too.  

So after I hurry up the street in front of my apartment building to get to the ‘main drag’ (where the bus stops are located) I notice a man about ten steps ahead of me, wearing a light jacket & ballcap and walking a bit slower than me.  I can only see his back, but he stops a couple times and cocks his head, and I think something’s not right with him, I hope he doesn’t know I’m a few feet behind.

And so we keep walking that way (it’s still too early for any real foot traffic other than a jogger and his dog across the street from us, going in the opposite direction) and just when I think well here’s my bus stop, the guy suddenly swings around and runs up to me and pushes me up against the wall of a flower shop, his hand planted firmly in the center of my chest.  He is very strong, and I can see him very well now, he’s 3-4 inches taller than me and looks to be in his late twenties/early thirties.  His eyes are a very clear blue and his lips are pulled back in a snarl.  He gets up really close and rasps “I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING—YOU’RE LUCKY I DON’T KILL YOU!”  and his breath is very hot on my face.  

Very quickly the thoughts “schizophrenic” and “drug user” go thru my head.  One or the other, maybe both.  I say quietly “I’m going to yell for the police now.”   His face is red and full of rage.  “YOU’RE LUCKY YOU’RE STILL ALIVE!”   I turn my head to the right and yell “Police... POLICE!”   Right away the doors to the bakery next door open and two women step outside.  One says “What in the world??”  and the guy lets go and takes off running down the street.  The other woman says “Mister are you ok?”  and I shake my head, yes.   And as if on cue, my bus pulls up and I say “Um, this is mine, thank you” and climb on.

By the time I finally got downtown, 40 or so minutes had passed & I was feeling a lot calmer.  I was just anxious to get upstairs, get settled and see how many emails were waiting for me.  After catching up with things, I walked over to the other people in my group and related what happened earlier.  I wasn’t surprised at the reactions I got:  “Oh my God!”  “Doug you need to move to a better neighborhood!”  “Next time kick him in the b-lls!”  “No—you want to jab him right in his Adams’ apple, that will bring the strongest man down, I guarantee it!”   Okay…

I walked back to my desk and thought “I’m not shaken up, I’m not angry or anything.  I’m just tired.”  I called my borough’s local police.  A woman answered.  I said “I don’t know if this is worth calling in, but there’s a dangerous guy walking around there, he came up to me this morning on Main Street while I was getting ready to catch the bus downtown.”   She said “Did he demand anything?”  “No.”  “Did he make any threatening remarks?”  “Yes, he said I was lucky he didn’t kill me.”  

She continued.  “Do you know him?”  “No.”  “Was there any physical contact?”   “Yes, he pushed me up against a wall.”   “That sounds like an assault; can you give me a description of this man.”  I said I could, and I did.

When I got home from work, I called the station again, and they informed me that no one had been seen matching my description, and asked if I knew the two ladies who had seen what occurred, no, I didn’t.  They asked if I would identify the suspect if something turned up, I said yes, and would I be willing to fill out a form and press charges.  I said definitely and he said “that’s good, it doesn’t help us or you if complainants don’t follow through.”

Monsters in the streets—who needs them.   (Sorry for sharing this, I had to get it—like that wacko’s hand—off my chest.)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

My love-hate relationship with the first day of school—I can see I’m not alone

1973 September3

 

This morning I called my sister Shawn to wish her a happy birthday (Happy Birthday, Shawn!) and asked to speak to my 6 year old niece Sophia.  When she got on the phone and I asked her if she was excited about her first day of school tomorrow, she said “Yes and no Uncle Doug... I wish I had more time, there’s still some stuff I wanted to do.”

Shawn, Donda, Steve & that’s me in the back, Sept 1973

Hearing that pitiful lament suddenly reminded me of my last days of summer vacation, a feeling of excitement about starting a new school year but a sense of dread too; no more staying up late, no more sleeping in & eating cereal in your underwear while watching gameshows.  No more swimming or cookouts or family vacations, no more going days at a time without wearing shoes, no more setting up a bedsheet tent in the backyard (complete with flashlight, comic books and bologna sandwiches) for overnight camping.  No more drive-in movies, no more county fairs, no more weekday explorations of the woods behind your neighbor’s farm because you just KNEW there was something more there than meets the eye... it was all over.

 

Duke, me & Shawn in 1969, the year before we moved ‘to the country’; my brother’s shirt has the Apollo moon landing

 

But there was a good side to it too; I can still remember laying on my back in the yard those final days of summer, restless and thinking the first day of school couldn’t get here fast enough.  Going shopping with my mom & piling those large white bags from Fishers Big Wheel into the back of the station wagon, filled with new school clothes and notebooks and bookcases and lunch boxes. 

And of course, always coming home from school that first day, flushed with excitement at seeing all your old classmates again, surprised at how tall some of them had grown over the summer and seeing the girls in your class in a new light; wow, they looked like real teenagers!

Poor Duke got his head chopped off in this picture of our first day of school in 1976

I was just wondering, do people still do this?  Line their kids up and take pictures of them before their first day of school?   To be honest, I don’t even KNOW anyone that has more than one or two kids, let alone six. 

By the time my youngest sister Courtney started first grade, my older brother Duke had graduated from Pitt, and my sister Shawn & I were both attending college.

Well, since my mom went to so much trouble to document her kids’ school years, I thought I’d share a few of them here.  They bring back some good memories & are a cool reminder of the Seventies.   (Like the picture below from September 1977—I am digging Steve & Donda’s lunch pails, Happy Days and Donny & Marie!  And my sisters make quite the fashion statement in all that denim.)

September 1977,  our older brother Duke was now away at Pitt

So maybe tonight I’ll call my little niece again & tell her how sorry I am that she wasn’t able to do all the stuff she had wanted to do this summer (the poor thing!) but I just know she’s going to have an exciting school year ahead.  (Um...hello?!  This squirt attended more cookouts and trips than I have in a lifetime—and spent more time in the water than most fish!)   I will also do my best to refrain from telling her to enjoy these first days of school while they last, because before you know it, they’ll be nothing more than some mildly embarrassing photos of days (and fashions) gone by. 

Besides, she’s only starting first grade—both she (and my sister) have 12 years of these to look forward to!

Happy Birthday Shawn—and good luck tomorrow, Sophie!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fools rush in where angels fear to tread—and I can prove it

spooked_sophia

A month or so ago (after a visit back home with my sister Shawn and her family) I posted this on Facebook:

“Spent the day with my 6 year old niece Sophia running from barking dogs, eating too much raspberry ice cream, exploring a 'secret garden' & snooping around a rural high school that shut down 50 years ago.  I AM WIPED OUT.”

One of the responses I got was this:  “I want to know who would go on an adventure like that without a camera in the first place!”  I couldn’t agree more, and made a promise to take my camera along on my next visit.  And this past weekend, I did just that.   (As much as I love my little niece, I was anxious to visit that strange school again.)  So after a tasty dinner of grilled chicken & corn on the cob, off we went!

schoolthennow

The school in it’s heyday, circa 1910;  here’s that same entrance now, with my brother-in-law Jim; that black iron fire escape on the right still stands today 

Located just “a ways” up the road  from my sister’s house, the school (surprisingly large) sits alone on a quiet corner near some woods, it’s north and south entrances overgrown with vines and greenery. 

Many of the windows are boarded up, some broken, the intact ones clouded with age.   But the grounds are well kept, giving it a surreal feeling of both care and decay.  

The opposite entrance, the steps are barely seen

Ever since my first visit to the school, I’ve tried (in vain) to find out more about the place; all I know is that it was the area’s first high school, it’s been closed for approximately 50 years but made a brief comeback with some makeshift apartments before closing up for good.  

I was also intrigued when my sister informed me that our mom may have attended a school dance there, in the early 1950s.  So what were the plans for it?   Would it be torn down eventually, or would Mother Nature claim it for her own?  And why did the place give me a weird feeling, have I been watching too many ‘paranormal investigation’ shows where these people go into old abandoned buildings and make contact with old abandoned ghosts?

Apparently, yes.  Shifty

While walking about the property, I knew I had to get some interior shots.  Fortunately, there was a window at ground level with no glass and I was able to get my camera in there and take a couple pictures of the main entrance.  I couldn’t have been there for more than a minute when I heard a slight ‘shuffling’ sound from somewhere within.  I figured it was probably a bird or small animal (and prayed it wasn’t some hobo ready to bonk me over the head with his whiskey bottle) and I called out very softly “Hellooo… is anyone here?”  Nothing. 

I then heard a light creaking sound and I quickly held up my camera and snapped a picture of the stairwell in front of me.  I cursed under my breath for forgetting to turn on the flash, so I hit the auto-flash and took a second pic.  When I looked down at the tiny preview screen on the back of my camera & pressed ‘Review’, my eyes almost popped out of my head at that first picture.   An orb!

        

The first photo taken without a flash, the second with the flash on; where’s a digital voice recorder, EMF detector, ghost box & psychic when you need one!

 

Now I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for that ectoplasmic orb hovering above the steps in that first shot, RIGHT WHERE I HEARD THAT CREAKING, but it’s not a reflection of anything I’m aware of and it wasn’t a “dust particle” caught in any flash.  So I wonder what that was?  

When I showed the picture to a few friends, I got the following responses:

  • JAMIE:  Hmm...
  • JULIE:  Breaking and entering?  Fresh I am so proud of you!
  • ERIN:  Doog, that’s pooky! 
  • KATHY:  McDougal I think you have caught a ghost on your camera.
  • JEFF:  Chuckle!  (He was laughing at the re-enactment of my double-take after seeing that orb for the first time)

Happily I began doing some orb research on the internet and grew more excited as my ghost orb didn’t meet all the ‘dust orb’ requirements.   

You may be just a dust orb if you have a weak luminous center (mine didn’t), was taken with a flash (mine wasn’t), taken in a location with lots of dust (ok um), or taken with a digital camera (rats)

oh wait, now some pictures are showing up of dust orbs captured on a digital camera without a flash...

 

 

Oh hell, who am I kidding?  Mine was just a damn dust orb!

orbie          orbie          orbie

Well, it was fun while it lasted (I really thought I had something) and this doesn’t mean I’ve stopped believing in all paranormal phenomena just yet.  I suppose if I really want to do some ghost hunting someday, I’m going to need some real equipment--and probably a good partner too.  Oh, I have just the right person in mind!

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