Ya buy ’em books…

An elementary school I drive by daily is emblazoned with signs announcing their ongoing book fair, and I will admit to a bit of nostalgia.  An only child, books were my constant companions, and book fair time at Horace Mann Elementary in Minneapolis meant my usually-not-overly-indulgent parents were willing to drop a few bucks at my behest.

Good stuff, Maynard.

I tried to indulge my own kids to an extent every time a bookfair rolled around, but those were different affairs – much more than books available for purchase.  Now, as a New Orleans teacher for the past nine years, I have encountered even more of the whole Scholastic book-selling-cases-on-wheels operation. A few years back, I was working at a K-12 charter school.  One afternoon, the delivered carts and cases full of books and related paraphernalia was pretty well in place in our school library, and I got to browse a bit. Many of the young adult titles and series looked familiar, and it was nice to see that many of the various series I remember from their younger days are still around, with new some titles in the series, to boot. (The gang from Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type are still going hilariously strong – bless ‘em.) There was also an admirable selection of classics.

As I roamed our makeshift Barnes and Ignoble, one of the selections on the ‘Adult Bestsellers and Cookbooks’ table caught my eye. It was a cookbook entitled “9 x 13:  The Perfect-Fit Dish – More than 180 family favorites to fit America’s most popular pan.” For the record, had I been asked ‘name America’s favorite pan’ I would have answered, “Sauce”.

Only in America: a cookbook predicated on a specific size of pan.

Sorry, but I couldn’t see this in the same vein as crock-pot cookery, or Dutch oven cooking like we did in Boy Scout days. This is something else entirely. The phrase ‘lame gimmick’ came to mind.

The blurbs on the back cover of the book are intended to be, one supposes, enlightening. To wit:

“A 9×13 pan can do everything from roasting a chicken to baking brownies!”

Really?

But there was more…

“Feast on comfort foods you grew up with, including Beef Stroganoff Casserole and Tuna Noodle Casserole.”

Sure, let’s recycle the gastronomic 1950’s – only in the correct sized pan! Let’s also salvage the word ‘casserole’ from the culinary dust heap. (Personal, two-part aside: 1. I hail from the Midwest, where the term ‘hot dish’ reins supreme over ‘casserole.’ 2. I know of very few people who would make a hot dish in a 9 x 13 pan.  That is what ‘casserole’ dishes are for, Chucklebunnies.)

So continueth the back cover hype:

“Revel in new flavor twists such as Cajun Mac and Cheese and Chocolate Chipotle Brownies.”

Chipotle brownies? Last guy I knew who put spicy herbs in brownies ended up getting two years probation.

But there was additional hype – and we haven’t even left the cover of the book yet:

“Dig into potluck pleasers such as Smokin’ Tetrazzini and Herbed Chicken and Orzo.”

‘Smokin’ Tetrazzini’ falls somewhere between ‘Cajun blackened’ and ‘left under the broiler too long’ while Chicken and Orzo is shorthand for ‘chicken-and-schizophrenic-starch.’  Is it pasta? is it rice? Is it crawling around your plate?

Then there are the recipes – no! Wait! The cookbook opens with a helpful ‘Pan Comparison’ page in which they compare 9×13 pans, covering various and sundry pluses and minuses.

‘Glass or Stoneware’ 9x13s have more pluses than ‘Metal’ 9x13s – but also more minuses; ‘breakable, cannot withstand sudden temperature change’ among them. (Pyrex or Corning Ware anybody?) Chief plusses include ‘Clear glass makes it easy to monitor browning’ and ‘Shows off beauty of gelatin or layered salads’ (except for stoneware, I guess) and then my personal favorite glass-or-stoneware ‘plus’:

“Some pans come with lids.”

Golly, what will they think of next? And why haven’t those pesky metal 9×13 manufacturers gotten on this ‘lid’ bandwagon? They don’t have it listed as a metal ‘plus,’ so one wonders.

And we can’t forget our third category of 9×13 pan, the ever popular…

plastic?

Plastic pans? Containers, maybe. Vessel, receptacle, canister, holder are all reasonable possibilities. But plastic pans? As we like to say in our household, “I don’t think so, Tim.”

The authors state that while plastic 9x13s are ‘good for no-bake recipes, refrigerator salads and freezer desserts’ they do allow in the minus column that they ‘may not be used for baking.’

That’s news you can really use, though there is not a word said about lids and plastic nine-by-thirteens. The authors need a Tupperware intervention, stat!

A bargain at $16.99, even without reading the actual recipes.

Just out of curiosity, I wondered what the book sold for elsewhere, and clicked over to Amazon, where I found not only the edition of the cookbook that we will be selling, but also this rather curious entry:

9 X 13: The Perfect-Fit Dish (In Memoriam Volume III Exclusive Edition) In memoriam?
Volume III?
That is a lot of commemorating.

I kid you not -new and used editions available…but that’s all on-line. Curiously, no mention of just who is being commemorated via cake pan.

Though $16.99 for a 9×13 pan cookbook seems pennywise, but pan foolish.

Hey, it’s all for books for the kids, right?

Listing, while shopping

New Orleans offers ample opportunity for St. Patrick’s Day weekend revelry – no big surprise: any given Thursday here offers the same. But for those of us of the middle age persuasion who no longer fit the ‘party animal’ designation, there are other, quite viable (and cheaper) options via which to get our ‘party on’.

cartsLike grocery shopping.

Today I was out and about, and I needed to swing into the grocery store for a few items, so I swung into a Rouses Market I don’t normally frequent, simply because it was handy, and I was there. As usual, I entered through produce, and had to go through the liquor/beer/wine department on my way to frozen foods. While I was making my innocent swing through libation land I was accosted by the sampling women.

‘Accosted’ might be a bit strong.

Attractive, personable women with the souls of carnival barkers made up the sampling force, their small tables were strategically stationed along main aisles and offering-up regulation shot glass size samples (none of this thimble/communion wine sip-size) of Bushmill’s Irish whiskey, three types of Guinness beer and ale, and Bailey’s Irish Cream – all of which are on special this weekend, of course. So much for my five-minute quick in/quick out – it’s like getting off the interstate and taking a scenic drive.  But instead of a panoramic view from an overlook, I became engaged in a couple of amiable product-virtues conversations with the aforementioned sample ladies.

It seemed impolite simply to chug-and-run.

It isn’t just at the locally-based Rouses that I have encountered this holiday weekend phenomenon, as Winn-Dixie offers the same holiday-themed samplingsampling opportunities. The days before Christmas were a bonanza of egg nog and flavored rum variations.

It occurred to me that I had written of such a similar experience as this one and I had, in a Facebook post last summer:

“I just got done with the pre-July 4th family grocery shopping excursion and must say it was quite busy and…festive. Got most everything on the list and enjoyed most of the samples. The margarita mix was good as was the tequila. Tried five of the eight available wines; one of the reds was particularly boring. Of the two rums, the citrus was very tasty. Also tried both vodkas, which took a little longer as there was a chatty woman with a product survey, but she valued my feedback and asked for more detail. For the record, the cherry vodka was very good, the sweet tea vodka…not so much.

With any luck, Amy will discover she forgot to have me get something and I may have to go back to Winn-Dixie to get it.”  bag

So if you are ever in our town over a holiday – any holiday – party on. And don’t forget the milk and eggs. Or you’ll have to go back to get ’em. Maybe even in separate trips. To different stores.

It’s just something else to love about New Orleans: you can go grocery shopping and be half in-the-bag long before anybody gets a chance to ask, “Paper, or plastic”?

Conversing

This week we celebrated, with typical American aplomb and over-the-top fanfare, Groundhogs Day (GHD).  This event is commemorated in many locales, in many different levels of silliness, though folks in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania take top honors year-in, year-out with their top-hatted men rousting a poor, large rodent by the name of Phil from ghd2his hibernating slumber.

This is known, in celebrity circles, as ‘Sleep Photo-opnea’.

The routine is rather macabre, as, in front of a large crowd, assembled news cameras and various reporters, the portly (winter weight, hibernation burn not complete) Phil from his cozy den by the nape of the neck, and thrust him skyward for all to see.  Think:  the birth of Simba in  The Lion King – minus the animals cheering him on.

Oh yeah, and we commit this public mugging of a defenseless animal ostensibly to ‘predict’ whether or not we will have six more weeks of winter or if spring is here.

Sure.

There are greeting cards you can purchase to commemorate GHD. Of course, we also have greeting cards that congratulate people on their divorce, celebrate a promotion at work, or even a lottery win. (FYI – don’t send one of those. Seems too much like you want a cut. So I am told.)

Contemporary Americans, though, celebrate all things notable (and less so) with an Internet meme. These greeting cards for the twenty-first century are posted on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Facetime. Or, if you are really old school, you email emailsomeone your meme.

(Dude, if you emailed a Groundhog Day meme, you have been in technology hibernation. I digress.)

People simply do not know what to do when their casual, “How’s it going” merits a casual but heartfelt, ‘’Pretty good. Oh, happy Groundhogs day.”

“Ummmm…thanks?”

There are, of course, variations – when combined with physical salaams (fist bump, alternate shoulder hug, full on hug, hand jive handshake) can make for some delightful, purposely awkward encounters.  Start with the hand shake, pull-you-in, bro shoulder hug and it goes something like this.
epaselect USA GROUNDHOG DAY
“Yo, man! Wazzup?”

“Dude! Groundhogs day! You on it?”

“Ummm, I guess, man….”

I have discovered that when you welcome people with GHD greetings, you disrupt the normal, suggestive, expected flow of personal discourse and the brain of the person on the receiving end of the greeting has a little brain hiccup, resulting in a mumbled, vocal ellipsis.

As amusing as this past GHD was, it is an event that only rolls around once a year.  Ah, it then occurred to me that there are ample applications for incongruous holiday greetings in regular conversation over the next few months.

For example, Arbor Day is coming up…a lot (check local listings). People aren’t used to diving right into tree talk, so this one has potential.

tree2“What’s up, birch?”  is an eye-opener; you receive a startled look in response before adding. “Happy Arbor Day!”

Or you could try responding to “Hey man, how’s it going?” with something like, “I’m kick-ash, man! Happy Arbor Day!”

Then again, maybe I have been hanging around my urban high school students a bit too much.

There are other celebratory opportunities of conversational note coming up soon – though tread lightly in some cases.

National Organ Donor Day is February the fourteenth – Valentine’s Day.  I am absolutely behind organ donation (as my driver license will attest) but seriously?  Valentine’s Day? I guess I can see the alleged symmetry, but I would think there is definitely some mixed-messaging going on with ‘giving your heart’ to someone and ‘giving your HEART (or liver, or kidneys)’ to someone. Be cautious with any greeting having to do with human tissue.

Then again…

February is also An Affair to Remember Month where we celebrate a romantic movie made in 1957.  Approach this one with care as well – saying ‘hi’ connected in any way to the word ‘affair’ leaves way too much open to (mis)interpretation.

And not to muddy the waters further, but at the same time you get to play tidily-winks flirtwith your heart, know that the week of February 12 – 18 is International Flirting Week. I am not sure if this means this means the entire world revels in this particular pastime (though in France and Italy, this is less a holiday, more like, umm, Tuesdays) or if it means you should broaden your personal circle and flirt with someone from a different culture.  Who knows, ‘flirt with an immigrant’ could easily become a ‘thing’ here in America, because that’s what American’s do in this post-industrial age. We no longer make things, but we make somethings ‘things’…

Maybe hauling cranky rodents out of bed to demand prognostications isn’t the worst of ideas.

Climate change your mind, skeptic

People who doubt that mankind has had an effect on the climate of the earth puzzle me. I am a person of faith, and not a scientist, but I do believe in the scientific method, and scientific-methodwhen well over ninety percent of the world’s scientists agree on something, I think it is foolish to doubt their logic, their methods, or their conclusions. I believe strongly in the scientific method (question, pose hypothesis, experiment, analyze results, form a conclusion). But aside from simply accepting the claims of others, there is something I have in my own home that using in simple, accidental, experimentation convinced me that the theories behind greenhouse gasses and climate change are legit.

It’s bacon.

The earth has been hanging around for millions of years, and aside from the natural life cycles of natural pollutants like forest fires, volcanic eruptions, and flatulating cows, it is not unreasonable to believe that a couple of centuries of an industrial revolution pumping all the junk we do into the atmosphere of the planet has had an undesirable effect.

Bacon is a perfect example. Judge for yourself.

Grab a pound of bacon, throw it in a basic, twelve-inch frying pan, put it on the stove and turn the burner on beneath the pan.  Cook the bacon and then don’t stop cooking the bacon. Let the bacon fry to a crispy brown and then let it simmer to a crispy, charcoal-black shade. Cook the bacon until the bacon no longer is visually identifiable as bacon and scientific-method-editthen keep cooking the bacon until every smoke alarm in the house has triggered in tandem.  Then, turn off the stove, shut off the smoke detectors, let the pan cool down, throw out the bacon char (and probably the pan, too).

Then look up at the ceiling of your kitchen.

That sooty, greasy, glop you see?  It’s not going away. It will be there, timeless in its heaviness. Ample proof that global warming is indeed caused, at least in part, by mankind. Obviously, one pan of bacon is not absolute proof of anything, but if you replicate this experiment, which, according to National Safety Council statistics is done at a steadily increasing rate on a daily basis in America (with statistically alarming spikes on Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day) and extrapolate the results outward mathematically, manmade global warming is easily believable.

Oh, and, if you have a textured ceiling in your kitchen, you will also have more faith in the theory that dinosaurs became extinct by being choked en masse not by gasses produced by a huge asteroid strike or volcanic eruption, but by the smoke and grease from billions of wild boars who were barbequed by the conflagration triggered by the aforementioned asteroid.

Try this experimentation yourself, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. As a wise old man once bacon1told me, “Don’t ask a question if you aren’t ready for the answer.” Global warming is real.

The proof is in the bacon. And on the ceiling.

Signs of…

We spent our two weeks of Christmas break on the road, traveling from New Orleans to visit family in Minnesota and then back. A wonderful time was had, but we put in over 3800 miles of windshield time, with plenty of stops; ample opportunities for “Umm….?” moments.

This first one actually resulted in my coining a new phrase.

Driving through northern Missouri, I saw a billboard for a real estate guy; (First name) ‘Hoodie’ Hood. asterisk1I teach in an urban high school, I know nicknames and monikers. I know American culture, and I know hoodies. I see a guy who calls himself ‘Hoodie’ I’m thinking someone who is hip.

Happening, with it. Yo!  Ya know?

‘Hoodie’ should be pretty much anything other than a middle-aged, white bread, white guy, yet there he was, smiling (sort of), in his sportcoat and open neck shirt on a big ol’ highway billboard: ‘Hoodie’ Hood.

‘Hoodie’ is what I now call a ‘badassterisk’ – someone who thinks they are a badass*

*…but they really aren’t.

Feel free to use the phrase, badassterisk*. I think it has a fair number of applications. If someone is trying to look or act tougher than they could ever hope to be, or just posturing in a ridiculous way for whatever reason, simply comment, “Oh yeah, that guy is a real badassterisk*.”

Trust me. You’ll be using that one.

blackfridayAnother double-take-inducer was this sticker I noticed in the drive-through window at a Minneapolis area fast-food outlet.

Black Friday hours? Seriously? Black Friday is now an official enough holiday to warrant its own fast food drive through hours? As a promotion or public service?

Really? Breakfast for Black Friday?

“Emperor Nero, please phone your office.”

But the true pièce de résistance comes this masterpiece of modern culture from Memphis, Tennessee.

We stopped at a really small gas MemphisPosterstation/convenience store to get gas and use the restroom. While waiting in line for the restroom key, I noticed the poster at left posted on the store’s limited wall space. Next to the (fairly large, for a small store) beer cooler, I might add.

The poster’s wording itself was jarring enough: ‘Give Responsibly. Lottery Tickets Aren’t Child’s Play’ was one thing; the visual of the gift boxes (which I took to represent Toys for Tots or some other such donation setting) really pushed this one into a whole new realm.

Then I really started to think about it.

Wouldn’t you love to have been a fly on the wall of the meeting where this whole concept came to fruition? “Folks…we have a major issue here with kids being given lottery tickets for Christmas gifts. People are even putting them in donation boxes for charity toy drives! I think we need an ad campaign to tell people ‘this is really not okay.’ We’ll hang ’em up everyplace we sell lottery tickets. Preferably by the beer coolers.”

What I wonder is, what prompted the revelation that this was a problem? Dickensian waifs oliver1showing up to claim their winnings? Family shout-outs on Facebook? (“Happy ninth birthday, Johnny! So glad you enjoyed the scratch-offs! Hope you win big!”)  Maybe it was kids themselves, gleefully Instagraming themselves holding wads of scratch-offs.  

“Folks, we have a problem here…”

Yeah, that particular lottery department meeting and subsequent creative session would have been something to behold.

Bet the person who pitched this ad campaign is a real badassterisk.*

“You’ll bob yer eye out, kid!” A Christmas Party Tale

Some twenty-plus years ago, when I was thirtyish and divorced, a co-worker and I decided to become roommates and we rented a small home in the Minneapolis suburb of Robbinsdale.

Emphasis here on ‘small’.

John Lloyd, my new roommate, had one prized possession that had to be a part of the new set up: a full-sized, 1960’s vintage pool table he had inherited from his grandparents. What better edifice for a hip bachelor pad than a pool table? One problem: the pool table occupied our entire dining room and still jutted a solid foot-and-half into the living room. Even then, when shooting from wall-side of the table, or the dining room wall end, you had to hold your cue at an 81-degree angle in order to shoot.

John 'Minnesota No-Trans-Fats' Lloyd, circa 1990
John ‘Minnesota No-Trans-Fats’ Lloyd, circa 1990

We quickly learned to improvise; our expertise at ‘nose pool’ (using your nose as your cue) became legendary.

Having moved in late that summer and thrown a swingin’ house-warming party that co-workers and friends were still rehashing, we logically decided a Christmas party was the next ‘must’ for the first holiday season in our cozy abode.

John and I were co-workers at a small radio station in another Minneapolis suburb. ‘Small’ again comes into play; the station was by no means a player in the Twin Cities market. What the station lacked in basic amenities, technical quality and signal strength, it more than made up for in ownership and managerial dysfunction and sheer comic relief.

What kept the place functioning and an enjoyably quirky place to work was that we also had a very talented, close-knit and fun-loving staff: a dandy core-group for a top-notch party, as we had proved with our summertime housewarming.

KANO radio  boasted a truly eclectic mix of old-school broadcast veterans winding down their careers, and twenty-something guppies straight out of broadcasting school with dreams of stardom via underdeveloped reality checks, and a recently laid-off, then retrained, forty-something, mid-life career change newbie finally living his dream.

A typical week of management and oppertional chaos at KANO made WKRP seem like a weekend in cloisters.

This was no wine-spritzer and brie crowd; radio people genetically predisposed to being allergic to the mundane. Add in their assorted significant others, and a few folks from other parts of our various lives, John and I had invited quite the eclectic and enthusiastic crowd. They wanted, and now expected John and me to deliver, plenty of party action.

Thus was born the centerpiece event of our epic Christmas House Party: Bobbing for Pine Cones.

We had started planning this extravaganza not long after the summer soiree. Somewhere around Halloween, when bobbing for apples was en vogue (Anoka, where our station was located,  proclaims itself ‘The Halloween Capitol of the World, so we had a lot of experience with such things) the idea occurred to us that this whole bobbing thing had some definite Christmastime applications – with a few holiday modifications. The first tweak we made was to replace the autumnal apples with the more festive, holiday-oriented, easier-to- grip-with-yer-lips pine cones. Secondly, we knew boring old, not-all-that-competitive (or interesting) water also needed replacing.

eggnog_09_400With eggnog.

Pure genius, it was. What, we agreed, would say – shout, even –  ‘holiday party fun!’ more than bobbing for pine cones in turkey roasters filed with eggnog?

Don’t strain yourself trying to answer that question.

The night of the party came, and with it, all the high expectations for a rockin’ around the Christmas tree good time. We were truly able to deliver, due in large part to a factor we didn’t have for the house warming party: his name was Jim Holt.

Jim was a fairly recent addition to the station, fresh out of Brown Institute of Broadcasting (the alma mater of both John and I, and a number of other colleagues) but more worldly than most. Jim was a married guy in his early forties, and being a disc jockey had been a dream of his for many years. He had been working in the construction business, and when the company he worked for went belly up, he used the opportunity to go back to school and be retrained as a broadcaster, of all things, eventually winding up on our doorstep at KANO where he used his business acumen in sales during the week, and picked up weekend and evening shifts as a part-time announcer.

He was having a kid-in-a-candy-store blast and we were glad to have him.

Jim was neither fish nor fowl, so to speak. He was certainly a radio neophyte, which we seldom let him forget, with a wide array of on-air pranks and booby traps pulled on the guy, but he was much farther along the chronological and maturity scale than most of the rest of us.

At least, in some regards.

Okay, he was older than most of the rest of us. He reveled in the role of rookie/old dude; for Jim, it was 1969 all over again – only done better this time around.

pinecones3We had set up the Bobbing for Pinecones as an eight competitor, three-round tournament – poster board tourney bracket taped to the dining room wall to document the fun. Jim arrived fairly early with his wife Kathy, and signed up eagerly for the bobbing. Kathy, as she was during the whole mid-life career shift for her husband, could best be described as…warily supportive.

The party zipped along quite nicely for a couple of hours; food, libations, and laughs in abundance: at one point, John counted over 30 people in attendance. Sardines-in-a-can analogies ran rampant and getting from one point of the house to another meant holding your food and/or beverage high above your head, lest you find it smashed into your chest. About ten o’clock, we got folks quieted down and announced that it was time for the big event; Bobbing for Pine Cones.

We asked those that had signed up to step forward (most actually did) while friends helped us spread out plastic all over the living room floor. Then we brought out the aluminum turkey roasters and the pine cones, placing them on top of the plastic, as we explained the rules: contestants were to kneel in front of their roaster, hands behind their backs, and using only their mouths, were to bend over at the waist, and pluck as many pine cones as they could in one minute from the roaster, dropping them onto the plastic next to their tubs, then repeating the process until we said “times up!” A good sense of balance was crucial. We had an ample supply of pine cones, and would continue to add them to each roaster as play continued, should someone pluck their entire supply of pine cones. (Nobody did, though Jim came close in round one.)

I’m not really sure if people didn’t read the sign-up sheet closely, or maybe we even forgot to put it on the poster – who can remember? I was pretty sure that we had told people, and maybe they just forgot, about switching out the water for egg nog, but when we brought out the nog and started filling the roasters, there was definite surprise and apprehension from some of the participants and a noticeable uptick in the level of crowd anticipation.

Of the eight bobbers, there were a few I didn’t know; dates of various guests who decided to sign up on a whim and were never seen again dating those coworkers. (Go figure.) Our station engineer Dan Zimmerman made it through round one, if I remember correctly (Dan was hard to forget; competitive eggnog bobbers should probably crop their beards/goatees before a eggnogwithnutmegcompetitive event) but the true break out star of the night was Jim Holt.

We got the first two competitors lined up on the floor, gave a countdown and said “Go!” to instant shouts of encouragement and exclamations of “Ewwww” “gross” and “nasty” from onlookers. Things quickly got a little…umm….messy.

But hilarious.

Once the competition started, we realized a few things very quickly; it is one thing to dunk your head in water, and inadvertently suck some in, then come up for air. It is a whole different thing when you accidentally inhale stuff the consistency of rich, creamy, dairy-fresh holiday eggnog – It is a much different sort of gasping for breath.

We also learned that a human face hitting a tub of eggnog with any velocity makes more of a ‘bluorp’ sound than a splashing noise.

The first round went pretty quickly, as most of the competitors had little natural ability at the sport, or were just laughing too hard to effective bob/grab/drop.  Not so, our pal Jim. He took to jim-h-bobbing-1-19881bobbing in eggnog like a young penguin takes to belly sliding on ice. Truly a natural.

After successfully plucking a pine cone with his mouth, he quickly dropped it on the plastic and went back for another. It was never a contest; the competition was just not up to matching Jim cone-for-cone during a round, beer-for-beer between rounds. Plus, he was one of those athletes whose natural charisma just showed through, which got the crowd quickly on his side. Jim would come up for air at the end of a round, shaking like a wet St. Bernard – his sopping, floppy moustache spraying the crowded-around onlookers with ‘nog. It was a glorious thing to watch.

From as far afar as you could get in a house that small. You don’t sit in the front row of the Shamu show at Sea World and expect to stay dry. Same principle applies for pine cone bobbing in eggnog.

After the first two rounds, we were ready for the championship. Jim and the other finalist had another beer, as we prepped the tubs with fresh eggnog for the finals; nothing but the best for our competitors. We also had a slight competition ‘tweak’ for the finals; just like the World Series, or the Super Bowl, any great sporting event needs a little ‘sumptin’ sumptin’ for its championship round.

nutmegWe had nutmeg.

The nutmeg was meant to spice things up, of course. Which it did in unexpected ways. What, after all, is eggnog without a sprinkle of nutmeg on top? It is traditional serving method and we felt it only fitting that the finals of our little event should be…showcased a bit. Plus, it added a touch of holiday class.

And, unwittingly, a sneeze factor.

Once the final round started (two minutes, not the typical one – twice the fun for the finals!) We learned very quickly that inhaling large quantities of nutmeg makes one sneeze, and that adult males sneezing into tubs of nutmeg-laced eggnog makes something akin to eggnog ‘depth charges’ as little geysers of eggsnot were flying up from the living room floor with each sneeze. (Spreading the heavy plastic over the living floor was a very smart move on our part).

Jim of course, won going away. It was quite a show.

Fortunately, our friends and other guests were agreeable to helping us clean up the mess – so the party could continue, if nothing else. At the end of the night, a sticky, haggard Jim proudly clutched his oil filter and trophy as designated-driver/wife Kathy walked him out to their car, shaking her head in awe. Or disbelief. It was hard to tell.

End of the party, not end of the story.

As was related to us later by a still incredulous Kathy: At about 2:30 in the morning, Jim wakes up screaming that he can’t open his eyes. Kathy gets up with him, and realizing that her husband indeed, cannot open EggNogGrouphis eyelids fully, takes him to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital. There, the attending E.R. doc determines the problem; Jim had forgotten to remove his contacts before the festivities, and some traces of eggnog and nutmeg had apparently dried on them, essentially gluing them to his eyelids.

I do not know the correct medical terminology for this condition.

As Kathy related the story later, the doc and the nurses just shook their heads and tried not to giggle while they repeatedly flushed Jim’s eyes with saline solution before sending him home with a bottle of Visine and a suggestion to take up other forms of holiday recreation.

Who knew.

So this year, as always, I will indulge my own passion, quaffing a tasty mug or two of cold eggnog, toasting along the way the competitive spirit of bobbing, friendships forever (and eyelids temporarily) bonded. Here’s to John; best roommate I ever had. Here’s to my old KANO pals; “Good times, gooood times, my old friends”.

Oh, and here’s to you, Jim, wherever you may be today.

pinecones4

A little free advice, should you want to enliven your holiday gathering with a BFP event. Bobbing for Pinecones is an exciting, competitive, engaging spectator sport with broad appeal and very accessible in strategy and performance to a wide range of ages and talent levels. Just go easy on the nutmeg, and don’t forget to have competitors read and sign the ‘wearing contacts’ waiver.

Just sayin’.

 

Middle-aged, and sticking it

calf-strainIt has been a while since I have feted you with a pogo update.

The last two weeks have been shorter workouts due to weather issues and a pulled left-calf. Fine for the most part, mid-pogoing, it tightens up once done. It is also a bit twingy on the dismounts – but improving. Not debilitating enough to keep me on the pogo sideline.

There have been some more interesting street encounters while on the stick. (Keep in mind I always stop pogoing and stand to the side when traffic is on the block.)

One day last week, a young police officer pulled up, rolled down the passenger window, said to me quite sternly, “That thing looks very dangerous!”

The SuperPogo 2 was leaning up against my chest, so with outstretched hands, I pleaded my case: “Ahh, but not in the hands of a pogo6qualified, with-it user!”

The cop laughed and we chatted for a few minutes; I ran through the Reader’s Digest version of the story – always wanted one, got it for Christmas, longest stretch I’ve stuck with an exercise routine in decades, etc. He seemed mildly impressed.

“I tried a friend’s pogo stick out when I was a kid. Hit some gravel, wiped out. Hit a hole, fell on my face in a puddle. That was it for me.” He shook his head, smiling ruefully.

“Again” I stated, arms outstretched, palms up, pointer fingers aimed back. “Skilled, responsible practitioner.” He laughed heartily, told me to keep it up, and to be safe, I wished him the same good fortune.

Two nights ago, longest workout in a while, breaking a nice sweat and had a strong rhythm – except for the traffic interruptions: a young couple walking a schnauzer that I apparently scared the hell out of, and two young moms pushing toddlers in baby strollers. One child was fascinated enough to stop sucking on her bottle, the other one…not so much; he kept working his pacifier. The moms glanced at me awkwardly, looking up from their texting briefly enough to do so.

pogo2A middle-aged guy on a pogo-stick may strike some as odd, but moms pushing kids in strollers down the middle of a street, talking to each other while also texting on smartphones balanced on the trays of their strollers, brings a whole new twist to ‘distracted driving.’

Just sayin’.

I was just winding down my workout when the guy across the street came home from work. I don’t know him, but he is usually pretty amiable, waving and saying hello and such. He is about my age and works out fairly regularly – or is just in really great shape. I think he hits the gym on a regular basis, while his wife, Mary, is an avid runner.

Per street-pogo protocol, I hopped off, stood to the side as he pulled up. He got out, waved and said, “Now THAT looks like quite the workout!” in a tone that suggested ‘impressive stuff, dude’!

“Is that something new?” He, too, then got the Reader’s Digest version of Mark’s Pogo Saga.

“Well, that’s great!” (same, ‘impressive, dude’ tone) “Keep it up and have a good one!”

With that, he waved, went inside his house, I worked a couple more med-range runs of 30-40 in and called it a night.

(Sidebar, here: at the start of the new year, I took a teaching job at the same school my wife has been teaching at for the last five years, so we now get to commute together, which is pretty cool, but was very funny the morning following my encounter with the guy across the street.)

pogo1

The next morning, Amy and I are headed out to go to work at the same time that Mary, our neighbor across the street is doing the same.

The next morning, Amy and I are headed out to go to work at the same time that Mary, our neighbor across the street is doing the same. The three of us greet each other with waves, and then Mary (the avid runner) says, “My husband said you were out here last night jumping on a pogo stick!”

“I was indeed. It’s my new workout regimen.”

“That’s awesome!” I could hear my wife sigh.

I gave Mary the R-D version of the story, adding, “And it works! Dropped two pounds and two belt notches since I started!”

“Oh, wow. That’s great! Be careful and keep at it!”

“Oh, I will. “

With that, she got into her car; I climbed into the driver’s seat of the van. Amy had already taken up residence in the passenger seat. She was shaking her head, and then, with a rueful smile, she sighed. “Yeah….” We started driving away. “The neighborhood must all think we’re nuts.”

“Funny how they all express concern about my safety.”

“Yeah, well, you probably look a little…wild out there. They ARE entertained by you. “She shook her head.

The situation reminded me of a previous street pogo-encounter. “I’m guessing their conversation was something like that jogging-guy who was staying with his parents I met a few weeks ago; ‘Hey, mom! Some old kid down the block let me use his new pogo stick!’”

“Yeahhhhhh, I’mmmmm sure it was something like that.” We had turned two corners, were heading for work. Amy was still shaking her head. “You. Are. Something.”

“What can I tell you?”

“Pogo on, I guess?” she offered, with another sigh.

“Pogo on!” I confirmed.

What more is there to say?

pogo13

 

Leaps and bounds

This past year, gift wise, I got the Christmas I should have had when I was twelve: a pogo stick, and a guitar.

I am fifty-six years old.

The guitar has gotten little use as yet – I am awaiting getting a friend to get it tuned properly, and the book/CD set I ordered on ‘how to teach yourself to play the guitar’ turns out to no longer be available.

Groucho1There is, however, I similar book available via Kindle that references YouTube videos. We’ll see how THAT goes.

The pogo stick, on the other hand, has become my sticking-with-it-in-spades workout regimen.

And pogoing has turned into a real head turner in my New Orleans neighborhood.

Full disclosure: the SuperPogo 2 that my wife and son got me for Christmas is the first pogo stick I have ever owned – only the second, maybe third I have ever been one; this is NOT Citizen Lucker’s ‘Rosebud’.

I have just always wanted a pogo stick.

When I first started out, I figured it would take me a while to get the balance part down, but figured since I still ride a bike from time to time, there should be nothing vertigo-inducing – so far, so good on that count.  I also figured that since I was going to feature pogoing (pogo sticking? pogo-stick-jumping seems redundant, but I can find no grammatical consensus, so I stick with pogoing) I was going to have to work into getting my legs – specifically hamstrings, calves and knees – back into more functional order.

I never considered my thighs to be the most pogo-abused part of my anatomy.

For the most part, no issues with the legs themselves. Being a teacher, and spending all day on my feet in front of a classroom, I think is a huge plus in that area.  But the thighs – oh man. As my workouts have intensified in length POGOand rigor, the old upper legs have had to get up to speed.

On the plus side, the old gluteous has fared pretty well. Aside from one big spill on day two, and one a few weeks later, I have mostly avoided major spills. In fact, the clean, land-on-feet dismount was the first thing I mastered. Though I have yet to get anything above a 6.1 from the East German judges.

Oh, and I have discovered that pogo is great DIY-chiro: after a stressful day in class, nothing loosens up the neck, shoulders and lower back better.  Who knew?

Sitting here on the verge of February, I have stuck with this exercise regimen farther into the new year than any other attempt I can remember. In fact, I think I have developed a bit of an addiction. There are times at school where I have made note of how long it was til the end of the day, and mentally started plotting out in my head the schedule for picking my son p at school, getting home…and should I start dinner, then go pogo, or pogo and then start dinner.

I am hooked.  And getting much better – regularly stringing together sixty, and seventy pogo sequences. I can break a good sweat and get the old ticker rate up there with a solid fifteen minute workout.  Which brings me to that ‘head turning’ bit I mentioned earlier.

By the time we get home, and I get changed and get out to the street in front of my house, it is usually around four-thirty in the afternoon.  We live on a nice residential street that doesn’t see a ton of traffic – until my neighbors start arriving home from work.  There have been some rather, eh, interesting encounters to date.

One afternoon, just as I got started, our thirtyish neighbor arrived home with her daughter. They are always friendly, she waved ‘hi’ and hollered from a house away, “So – you got a new toy?”
“Always wanted one. First workout regimen I’ve stuck with this far into the new year!”
She nodded. “My father loves to pogo. My cousin got a pogo stick for Christmas and my father basically stole it from him. You can’t get him off the thing.”
“If I may ask, how old is your father?”
“Oh, I want to say…sixty six.”
“He’s got ten years on me!” Catching my breath, I added, “If I do say, your father is a great man!”
She laughed. Her kindergartenish daughter looked perplexed. They waved, went inside. I went back to work.

A week or so later, I had a rather intense, broke-a-decent-sweat, multicultural twenty minutes of neighborly encounters.

Well, fifteen or so, anyway. I must have killed five minutes chatting with…

A white guy in his late twenties, maybe thirty, named Ben who had been jogging through the neighborhood stopped by on his third lap, said “hey, man – that is cool. Is that one of those that they do backflips and stuff with?” I laughed and said, “No, I don’t think so. This is one of the stripped down, basic models.”

Admiringly he said, “It’s cool. Do you have a record set yet?”
“Yeah, eleven.”
SP2-1“Why pogo?”
“I’ve always wanted a pogo stick, so for Christmas, my wife and son sprung for one.”  You want to give it a try?”

“Sure!”

He did, and ripped off a couple of fairly high five-pogo runs, then handed me the stick. “Nice workout plan.” We exchanged pleasantries about where I really feel the burn (the thighs more than hamstrings thing he found of interest. Fellow health nut) he said “Oh, I get that. Thanks again!” I asked him if he lived in the area and he told me that he was ‘staying with his parents, up the street’ for a while.

As Ben started to jog away, our Hispanic, twenty-something, neighbors drove up, started getting stuff out of their car. The husband says “Hey, Friday afternoon workout! Great!” and gives me a big thumbs up.

Pogotracker MON 01 18 16
Imagine if a FitBit could track pogo…

Then our mail carrier, great guy, African-American, early sixties, drives up, delivers to the house across the street, then starts walking to the next house, stops. He looks at me, peers over the top of his glasses and dryly offers my favorite pogo observation to date: “The minute I see YOU on one of those hoverboards . . . I’m HEADIN’ for the hills!”

Building middle-aged street cred, I am.

What I didn’t think about until long after y workout was young Ben returning to his parent’s house, and what the conversation might have been like:

MOM: “Hi, Ben. How was your jog?”
BEN: ‘Oh, nice. I met a new old kid down the street who let me try out his new pogo stick!”
MOM: “Oh. Well that’s, um….nice? I guess, dear….?”

Five bucks says there was some variation on that conversation at Ben’s temporary domicile.

But my favorite encounter (from afar) was just this past week. I have gotten pretty consistent, and have also begun IMG_20151229_222000actually pogoing in the direction I wish to go, instead of just random hopping around. This past week, I was out on the stick, pogoing toward the end of our block. The cross street, Filmore Avenue, is fairly busy, and also has a lot of pedestrian traffic. As I am boing-boing-boinging up the block, I catch a glimpse of a boy, seven, maybe eight, from a local elementary school (recognized the uniform) with a backpack that was at least the size of his diminutive torso. He was running at a fast clip, eager to get home, when he caught a glimpse of me bounding his way…

About two strides into the street, he slows, but his overloaded backpack weighs him down, forcing him into a bit of a crouch, and he slowly covers the rest of the street bent-over, looking like some demented, walking upright turtle, until he reaches the opposite curb, which he almost stumbles over. He then straightens up, keeps on walking out of my line of vision, headed for home, probably with a story to tell HIS mom.

I’m just waiting for the day when I am not out there, and someone comes to our door and asks “Can the pogo stick guy come out and play?” If that does not happen before April first, I’ll owe my wife twenty-bucks.

my dog has fleasNow that I am getting more proficient (and addicted) to my daily pogo routine, I will have to be more creative in working the guitar into the mix: MY dog HAS…has..FLEAS. Fleaaas.

This one may take a little more time.

Pogo on.

A Teachers Summer on the Road; Episode 2

Random (like the weather) thoughts.

spirographoriginal tattooTattoos are all the rage.  Personally, I have never had the urge to get one, and the more I work with inner city high school kids and with twenty-somethings adorned with them…

I really don’t care for the idea of somebody using my body as a Spirograph.

Walk into a tattoo parlor and ask the artist this: “What is the most common question you get about tattoos from new customers?”  Their response?  Almost universally, it is “What’s your most popular design?”

Ahh, America. You, you…you rugged individualists, you.

I have been spending the summer off from my New Orleans classroom in my hometown Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and have been doing a lot of temp work. It has been a few years since I have been consistently among a modern, corporate environment, and while it is enjoyable, I am ready to be back at work in a classroom setting.  Much has changed, much is very different in the decade or so since I prowled the Skyways, hallways and streets of an urban downtown as a worker bee.

filecabinetTechnology is the biggest change – no real shock there.  One thing it took me a few days to realize at the downtown Minneapolis firm I spent a week at as a temp is that file cabinets have gone the way of the De Soto.  It was my third or fourth day at this firm and I was walking from floor-to-floor of nice apportioned office space-slash-cubical farms when I realized that there was not a file cabinet to be found.

Not one. At least, not that was visible.

I discovered that each cube had one…in the small closet on the outer edge of the cube. Are those paltry two-drawers even used? Oh yeah. For storing lunch bags and purses.  And walking shoes for use during lunch breaks. And snacks, teabags, umbrellas, baseballs and Kuerig Coffee pods.  Papers?  Files? Anything officially work related? Not so much.

When I return to my classroom next month, I will look upon my old file cabinets with a new perspective.

Not that I am some sort of Luddite. On the contrary, one of the oddest thing about temping in an office is this summer is that my business casual attire of khakis, button down shirt and tie, just as in my classroom, I have had brief moments of panic and/or discomfort when I realize that I have forgotten to grab my flashdrive and I.D. lanyards.

My ‘teacher bling’ that is indispensable during the school year is not needed as an office temp.

flashdriveAs someone who worked in the corporate and for profit world for many years before moving into the classroom, I am truly a guy who straddles two communication eras. As a writer and artist, I favor good-old-fashioned paper – in files, or preferably, in ring binders. As a teacher in a contemporary classroom, I rely on technology. Virtually everything I do and work with at school is contained on the flash drives that dangle from my neck each day.  Unlike many of my older teacher colleagues, I am very at home with my younger teaching peers when it comes to sharing ideas and material with the simple “Hey, can you put that on my flash drive!”  I share as many resources and materials as I ask for, especially with younger, newer teachers that I help mentor; documents, videos, Power Points, stuff I find on the Internet that I don’t have a use for but think they might – you name it. It is very free-flowing.

But this summer, in shirt and tie? I feel naked without my flashdrives.  I will be okay, but I do remain committed to being  tolerant and forgiving of my Luddite  brethren. (cough!) Paul.

From the things that make you go “Hmmmm…” department:

My recent temp gig at a higher education institution had me working on making classroom materials accessible to students with disabilities. As a teacher, I found it interesting to get a different view of educational accommodations. And it was kind of fun. Of course, as a matter of course, proof of a disability needs to be provided to legally allow for such things as adapting copyrighted text, etc.  They school I worked at has had a rash of people claiming they need accommodations for dyslexia or other reading disorders, but when asked for the requisite documentation, many claimed to be self-diagnosed via ‘tests’ on the Internet or articles and websites they had come across and said, “Hey, that’s me!”

Just thinking out loud here: if you can take Internet tests, and read up on disorders to the extent that you can self-diagnose yourself with a ‘reading disorder’…

Do you really have a reading disorder?

I am not trying to be disrespectful. Just askin’.

heat-index-chartOne almost final note, all about perspective. Everything is relative, really. Like humidity.

A native Minnesotan, I have always liked humidity, which the upper Midwest claims to have a lot of due to all the lakes. Living in New Orleans the past six years, I have experienced humidity in new and spectacular ways. And I still prefer humidity (even ‘excessive’ humidity- which I have yet to encounter anyplace) to…not having humidity.

An unseasonably cold and brutal winter in the Midwest his given way to the other extreme; humidities in the (gasp!) 50 – 60% range with temps in the low 80‘s that pushes heat indexes into…the mid to upper 80’s.  Wowsers. Minnesotans whining and moaning about weatherhow ‘humid’ it is.

This amuses me immensely. Not once in my time in Minnesota over the past month-and-a-half have my glasses fogged up making the transition from air-conditioned house/vehicle to some other environment. There is no condensation on the windows in the morning. And my favorite…

The ‘Feels Like’ designation in on-line or newspaper weather forecasts in Minnesota have rarely differed by more than three-or-four degrees.  In New Orleans, the gap this time of year regularly triples that.

It’s all relative, though I am not related to any of them.

And finally, in keeping with our old/new, Ludditetonian theme….

AmishbuggyLast Saturday I drove the sixty miles from Rochester to Minneapolis, using a stretch of highway I have driven for years, happily noting that not much has changed. One of the familiar sites is a large business just off the highway – an Amish Furniture shop/warehouse that has been there for years.  What caught my eye and shoved one eyebrow skyward this trip, however, was the huge banner outside the establishment:  ‘BARSTOOL SALE.’

Time for one of those cheesy Facebook quizzes: ‘Just How Amish are You?’

Found but not lost; a hotel days reminiscence

“You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!”

It was certainly one of the more memorable lines of greeting from my years as a hotel bellman – also one of the more puzzling. It was a typical weekday morning in the lobby of the Holiday Inn Metrodome; my partner in crime Franklin and I had weathered the 1993whitefordmorning rush of getting all of our business travelers off to their day’s work, our university clientele to their classes, seminars or hospital visits and were enjoying a cup of coffee and conversation. That was when one of the aforementioned business guys, whom we both recognized, pulled up in front of us with a Starsky-and-Hutch like jolt, jumped from the car and got into the lobby before either Franklin or I could get to the door, looks at us and with more than a touch of panic in his voice, uttered his problem succinctly.

“You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!”

It was uncommon in our big-city hotel experience for someone to think their vehicle had been stolen (especially on a groggy Saturday or Sunday morning… but that’s another story).

This guy obviously had something different going on. He breathlessly related his tale.

After arriving at the hotel the previous night, he met some clients for dinner, came back to the hotel, parked his rental car in the ramp, came in and went to bed. That morning he got up, hit the gym, had breakfast. Then he went to the ramp, threw his briefcase in the backseat, hopped in his rental car, drove to his meeting.

Only then did he notice that he had thrown his briefcase in next to not his one box of files, but two smaller boxes labeled ‘product samples’ and a large, blue mailing tube which appeared to contain blueprints. None of it (save the briefcase) were his. Thus, his hightailing it back to the hotel in the hopes that his favorite, stalwart bellmen could help him out of his presumed grand-theft predicament.

Hmparkingramp“You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!”

Some quick sleuthing and deducing on the part of Franklin and I solved the not-a-crime. Seems when exiting the parking ramp elevator that morning, our intrepid traveler had gotten off on level two, not three, and had simply walked to what he presumed to be his rented white Ford, turned the key in the lock, got in and drove off.

With someone else’s rental car….from a different rental car company.

Franklin and I were able to quickly piece together the puzzle with any number of clues: the license number on his rental agreement wasn’t even the same state as the car he drove off in. The sticker in the corner of the windshield of the Ford he was driving said Hertz, the logo on the keys he had in his possession said National.

Ooopsie.

We were quickly able to locate his National Car rental white Ford in the ramp, right where he had parked it the night before, on level three right by the elevator.

While our guest was relieved there was no APB out on him and his pilfered ride, before we let him get back to his meeting, we needed to get his not-his-car back into the ramp, so that the person who had rightfully rented it could find it and not go into panic mode thinking their rental car (and blueprints, and whatever else) had been absconded with. We had only one set of keys to move two cars nationalkeyand the ramp was very busy, so jockeying them around was not a great option; for the sake of expedience we decided to return the phantom, accidentally stolen car to the nearest spot to where it had been taken from, and would try to catch up with the confused driver and explain at some point.

Unfortunately, the business day was in full swing, and the ramp was nearly full. The only open spot we could find was on level four, and nowhere near the elevator. But it was what we had, so we parked the car, brought the keys and the proper car to their rightful rentee and sent him merrily on his way without need of a brown paper bag or CPR.

And never heard a peep from the person whose car mysteriously moved.

As Franklin and I were in-and-out of the lobby making van runs and performing other duties, we instructed the front desk to call one of us on our radios if a guest showed up wither confused or in a panic because their rental Ford had disappeared, so we could explain the situation first-hand.

We heard nothing.

Our accidental-thief had checked out, departing town immediately after his meeting – a pre-arranged getaway. Franklin and I checked the ramp and within a couple of hours of returning the car to the ramp it was gone. Later that day, I took a luggage cart up to the ramp to assist some newly arrived guests, and there was the white Ford again, just a few spots down from its original locale on level three.

We chalked the lack of urgency up to a morning-after induced ‘hmmmm-I-don’t-remember-being-all-the-way-up-on-level-four’ shrugoff – a far more common occurrence to us than “You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!”

Things get taken from hotels all the time – inadvertently and otherwise; towels, toiletires, Gideon Bibles, lamps, phones. In ten years in the hotel business, this was the first and only instance of an accidental car theft, and one of my all-time, top-five favorite guest lines.

“You guys gotta help me! I think I stole somebody’s car!” is right up there with “Noooo…I think I’d remember if I had left an upright piano in my room.”

yellowpianoIf you ever need a good lost-yellow-piano story, just let me know.