WELCOME - Let's Look At Life and Rant About It!!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Today At The Office ...

Sundays for me are always a lazy, slow-paced time. I usually have chores and errands to accomplish, but I put them off as long as possible. OK ... til the last possible minute! "Sunday" for me means a strong pot of coffee and at least three newspapers to peruse.

As a trained journalist, I spend lots of time enjoying various columns and even analyzing the language and imagery used in advertisements. So I couldn't have been more surprised when my reading was interrupted ... halted actually ... by a challenge in the local "weekender" insert. Seems a culinary contributor was suggesting that anyone with holiday baking to do should find a favorite cookie recipe and "jazz it up" by adding 1/2 cup of more of crushed pretzels ... any brand ... to the list of ingredients. The verbally-smirking baker felt that anyone who did so would be amazed at how different and revitalized their cookies would be.

What the hell, I mused and but down my paper to retrieve a notepad and pen. I'm not much of a baker or cookie maestro, but I was heading to the store anyway so I decided to put on the oven mitts/boxing gloves and take up the challenge. Whose "cookies" didn't need an occasional nip and tuck?

In a green plastic recipe box, I have handwritten gems from both my mother and my grandmother ... champion-level cooks in their time on earth. I considered my Grandma's classic peanut butter cookie recipe and my Mom's awesome oatmeal raisin bars, but opted for a 3C cookie ... Chocolate Chunk Chip. I jotted down the needed items and a few necessities of my own.

A few hours later, I had about four dozen cooling cookies that looked a bit more coarse than I remembered. Breaking one in half, I popped a portion into my mouth and almost had to grab the counter for physical support. The cookie morsel was warm and so dense and chewy. And the chocolate ... accented by the extra salt from the pretzels ... was so much more rich. It seemed to vibrate in my mouth, sending little shocks throughout my lymbic system. Within five minutes, six golden cookies were deceased. I found a nice airtight contained and sealed the tempting treats away to share with co-workers the next day.

So today ... around 8:30 a.m. ... I entered my department's break room and opened up the cookie equivalent of Pandora's box. Within seconds, the peers who sometimes offer me advice and constantly provide me with professional criticism were offering me other things ... kidneys, movie passes, their children, etc. ... for more cookies on Tuesday. I didn't like the looks in their eyes as they devoured the 3Cs in their sticky little hands, so I smiled weakly and retreated to my office. For a brief moment, I considered moving my credenza to block the door like in every zombie movie I'd ever seen. Of course, I left the cookies behind ... I was fleeing for my safety and they only would have encouraged pursuit. But I was kind of pissed that I didn't even get one to have with my morning java.

POINT OF RANT: Crushed pretzels ... I dare you!!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Today With A Heavy Heart ...

Actor and modern-day slapstick genius Leslie Nielsen left us ... his fans ... today at the age of 84 from complications from pneumonia.

Nielsen, the son on a Royal Canadian "Mountie" and a Welsh housewife, trained in radio and broadcast arts because of his distinct and resonant voice. Anyone you ask will remember him for his various film and TV antics over the years, but I will remember him the most as the handsome Commander John Adams from "Forbidden Planet," a groundbreaking sci-fi film from 1956 that introduced audiences to newly-developed special effects and the iconic Robby the Robot. And of course, I officially started my Nielsen "bromance" with "Airplane!" and his deadpan performance as Dr. Rumack.

When I heard the news about the silver-haired celebrity's death, I started researching his career and realized that he and my entertainment needs have intersected more times than I ever would have guessed.

His motion picture career is vast and varied from flicks like "Tammy and the Bachelor" (opposite Debbie Reynolds) and "The Poseidon Adventure" to the funny and familiar farces of "The Naked Gun" films, "Mr. Magoo," two installments of the "Scary Movie" franchise, "Superhero Movie," "Soul Man," and "The Patriot" ... just to name a few.

And television ... the man was everywhere. He was big on all the hit action dramas of the late '60s and early '70s like "Bonanza," "Hawaii Five-O," "Columbo," "M*A*S*H," and "The Streets of San Francisco." I also remember him fondly from re-runs of "Murder, She Wrote" and "Who's The Boss." And damn if Mr. Leslie Nielsen didn't marry Dorothy and break up the fabulous foursome known as "The Golden Girls."

I also went on the Internet to see what other fans were saying and one individual summed up what was in my heart much more succinctly than I ever could. This man commented that "Nielsen had the courage to take on roles that some might have seen as goofy or trivial and made them shine like diamonds. His kind of talent is a rarity."

POINT OF RANT: I can never hear the name "Shirley" without thinking of you, Leslie! Godspeed.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Today On The Laptop Screen ...

I have a friend named Jon. He doesn't think so, but he's probably one of the most worldly guys I know. He taught school, shaping young minds. He's traveled and can talk a blue streak (great roller coaster, by the way) about anything from art to Eastern religion. And he's an accomplished musician and composer on the side.

But one of Jon's best qualities is his quick wit. He comes up with words and phrases that make me laugh, but also stop and think.

I was down the other day ... letting one of my many insecurities creep to my forebrain ... and he told me matter-of-factly, "you need to change your inlook." I corrected him, querying "you mean my outlook?"

"No," he said emphatically, "I said what I meant."

For big-brained Jon, inlook is the opposite of "outlook." Instead of a macroview of how I see the world, he was suggesting I look at how I saw myself fitting into my environment and various relationships. And Jon meant doing so in a realistic manner ... taking a hard look at my self-image, not the "perceived image" that marketers and manufacturers shove down our throats so we buy bigger cars and smaller cell phones.

Well, my funk cleared and I wanted to "honor" Jon in a quirky manner that bespoke of my ... well, quirkiness. And I immediately thought of urbandictionary.com. For those of you unfamiliar with this awesome Web site, UB is a vast collection of rural euphemisms, scary sexual terms, and hip slang that I use almost hourly in my personal and professional life. How else would I have ever learned about "Castroing a meeting" (taking over and replacing the original intent or agenda) or the growing wave of "Romosexuality" (male fans with deep feelings of adoration for Dallas Cowboy's quarterback Tony Romo) in Amercia?

So I went to urbandictionary.com to register my friend's clever creation and ... DAMN!! ... discovered that someone else had beat me to the punch. But their definition of "inlook" was a poor attempt. Hell, it didn't even make sense. The originator felt the concept was like intuition or a gut feeling about something. And then they spouted something about fighting against the constraints of parents and church values. I decided I could honor my friend and right a grievous wrong with just a few clicks. I await confirmation before telling Jon that he is a new father of a squealing little word baby!!

POINT OF RANT: Friends are cool!!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Today In My Checkbook ...

Like most Americans, I am a few paychecks away from destitution. On any given pay period, I cut things close ... sometimes too close. This particular two-week stretch, I have paid my bills, but a little (i.e. miniscule amount) into savings, stocked up on groceries, and have "spending money" in my wallet. My checkbook cushion is $6.50. That's scary.

Once my financial documents were balanced, I then made the mistake of turning on the TV ... cable bill is paid, of course ... and cruising around the plethora of channels to learn just how much income is being literally handed over to politicians, actors, singers, and professional athletes. And my blood came very close to boiling.

I probably would have found an old movie or a vintage cartoon to soothe my anger ... bless you, Wile E. Coyote ... but I hit upon a holiday message about a professional athlete who had given $10,000 to a food bank in his hometown. I'm not going to mention the slightly aging football legend by name, but I did a small amount of research and learned that he makes nearly $8 million a year before any endorsements are even figured in. Now my breathing took on a ragged quality and my eyes glazed over. My teeth worked their way out from behing my lip and I may have even snarled slightly. To be more more precise, I was pissed!!

Why is it when the "celebs" of the world ... the Beyonces, the Clooneys, the Peytons, the Kanyes, the Will and Jaydas, the David and Victorias, the Brad and Angelinas, and the Oprahs ... give a mere fraction of their riches to a charity I am supposed to fall to my knees and embrace them as false idols?

Being from Ohio, I'm going to use Cavalier-turned-Heat basketball superstar LeBron James as an example. Earlier this past July, this athlete turned the collective heads of the sports world when he parlayed his "free agent" status into a controversial $15 million annual salary and a move to the warmer climes of Miami. But throughout the media circus that enshrouded his decision to leave Cleveland, James repeatedly claimed "it's not about the money!" Riiiiiggggghhhhhhtttt!!

Anyway, now that I've calmed the savage beast, here's my thought. Let's say James was the guy I mentioned who gave $10,000 to the food bank. But instead what if he ... and all the celebrities who seem to genuinely revel in their supposed philanthropic superiority ... were to simply lend themselves to the charities of this needy nation. For instance, what if James agreed to do a 20-city tour and attend any number of events in those cities. Things like high school spirit rallies, sports clinics, meet-and-greets at rehabilitation medical practices, and maybe even a "grilling demonstration" at a church social or a variety show at an outlying rural hospital. Hell, the possibilities for venues with a sincere need for "Benjamins" is endless. And furthermore, what if James covered his own travel expenses. And what if he charged absolutely no fees for his appearances AND demanded that all the profits raised went directly into the charities' various coffers. And what if the 30 or 40 most popular performers and athletes in the country did the same. Maybe I'm just a simplistic fool, but I believe the funds generated would be staggering. And I'll even donate my fee for thinking up the whole thing!

And maybe ... just maybe ... the giving spirit in Americans would be revitalized and those of us who don't have much in the way of discretionary income would see the amazing "alternative" benefits of instead donating our time and energy to area organization and causes.

POINT OF RANT: When you make millions, why can't you be the ones that give until it hurts?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Today In The Cookbook ...

I was just looking up the basic cooking times for roasting a turkey. Not even sure I'm gonna need the information. This year's Thanksgiving festivities are gonna be a little "different" for me. I'm currently in a mortal combat-style feud with two of my three siblings so I'm boycotting the family meal. And I had plans to share the day with a good friend and her immediate family but their gathering shifted to an out-of-town venue. So I'm just gonna enjoy some type of turkey meal all by my lonesome and get out a few of my favorite dvds. I may just enjoy my "bird" while watching the "Bourne" trilogy or all the "Die Hard" flicks.

I might even shake things up with turkey burgers with avocado or turkey sausage chili or a humongous turkey and cranberry omelet with bacon and pepper jack cheese. Who says I have to have "traditional" fare.

So while I was perusing the culinary guidebooks, I thought about how many different ways we use the word turkey. In respect to the upcoming holiday, turkey refers to the domesticated breeds of Meleagris gallopavo, or wild turkey. Originally bred by the ancient Aztecs as a source of meat, wild turkeys flourish in the forests of North America and have been linked to legends surrounding the "first Thanksgiving" meal shared by early settlers and certain Native American tribes. Today, turkey farming is a thriving poultry practice, using a variety of techniques to produce birds with heavier musculature and larger breasts.

As is typical with may types of birds, the males tend to be larger and more colorful. Turkeys are also known for the unique "gobbling" sounds they produce. There is a myth that turkeys are flightless birds ... all turkeys can fly but it is an ability that, in this breed particularly, is proportionate to weight. Simply put, the big, fat turkeys we buy in the store couldn't fly because they were bred to be big and fat.

Turkey also commonly refers to the Republic of Turkey, a country in western Asia and home to more than 73 million people. Turkey sits amid some of today's global hotspots such as Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Greece. The country also enjoys a lucrative tourist trade because of its adjacency to both the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. Each year, the nation's largest cities of Ankara (also the country's capital) and Istanbul draw in millions of vacationers from around the world.

Back in the day, I guess turkey was used to describe someone who was sort of a jerk or an idiot. It was also implied that this type of "turkey" often spoke with great authority about topics they knew nothing about. Occasionally I see an old sit-com where someone gets called a "jive turkey," and if the laugh track is any indication then I guess it was a really hysterical and well-received slur to employ.

And I would never ... ever ... use the word turkey like this, but I was at the mall the other day and these girls ... about 12 or 13 and dressed like they were 21 and heading into a club ... were sniping about some woman being a turkey and calling her a "mean turkey lady." I really thought they were utilizing my previous definition (i.e. idiot or dunce) ... which is bad enough ... but when I followed their glances, I spied an older female shopkeeper with a pronounced wattle. Not a waddle ... wattle, or excess skin around her neck similar to that of the common turkey. The woman did appear to be a dour individual but it's not like she chose to lose skin elasticity as she aged. Teenage girls can be such bitches!!

two parties meet to discuss a business proposal, they often engage in initial pleasantries ... asking about family and leisure activities like vacations and the progress being made on a golf swing ... but when deliberations turn serious, it is often termed "talking turkey."

for any of us with friends or family members who are ex-smokers, we have probably witnessed the explosive tempers and listless moods of someone attempting to quit an ingrained habit like tobacco "cold turkey."
Oh, and there's a turkey in bowling ... three consecutive strikes in a single game. Some people call it a "gobbler," but the turkeyesque theme still remains.

POINT OF RANT: All this turkey talk is making me hungry ... I'd give my right "giblet" for some good old-fashioned stuffing instead of the stove-top crap!!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Today On The Drawing Board ...

I love "coffee table" books ... you know, the big photography books based around themes like modern art or churches or Madonna's early erotic forays or babies made to look like fruits and vegetables. I had an older aunt who had a stack of these hard-and-hefty tomes stacked under her very sterile glass and chrome coffee table.

My newest scheme is to quit my job, find a financial backer who recognizes my true genius, and create a scintillating series of "art books." My first project would be a book featuring all the courthouses of Ohio. I've travelled throughout a good portion of the state and the heavy-handed designs and materials of the older structures are truly awesome. Even some of the newer "replacement" buildings are impressive with their odd-and-unique mixture of modern elements and rural "sensibilities."

The state of Ohio became the 17th such designated entity on March 1, 1803. Carved from the Northwest Territory, Ohio derives its name from an Iroquois word ... "ohi-yo" ... meaning "great river." Indeed, Ohio is bounded on the south by the mighty waters of the Ohio River. But the state is better known for other reasons. Politically, Ohio represents a juicy morsel with 20 electoral votes and strong Democratic leanings. The "Buckeye State" has also produced seven U.S. presidents.

Ohio is often referred to as a "gateway state," meaning it links the Northeast to the Midwest. In fact, Ohio has a quantifiable uniqueness ... it is situated within a one-day drive of nearly half the U.S. population and about 70 percent of it's manufacturing and industrial resources. That is some powerful geography!!

But my interest lies in the scenery ... 44,825 square miles divided up into 88 counties. And each one seems to have a legal hub complete with slabs or granite, marble, and sandstone ... or newer angled facades with brick and chrome and glass block. Some are welcoming while others exude a foreboding feeling that is downright Gothic.

I think buildings can have such warmth and strength and even majesty while made of hard materials and cold surfaces. My book would also feature some interior photos of each courthouse as well as any early sketches or blueprints. And every featured building would have a close-up inset of the cornerstone. I really want to encourage people to take roadtrips and see the elegant edifices in person.

OF RANT: I would never eat a salad or side dish served by Anne Geddes without thoroughly running my fork through it looking for rattles and "binkies!"

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Today In My Buddy's Basement ...

A good friend of mine ... Dean ... bought his parents' home when they retired and moved to Arizona. I figured he'd make some major changes to the extremely dated split-level structure, but all he did was purchase a few "necessities" ... big flat-screen TV, a snack frig, and a king-size bed ... and just went on living his 21st century life in a 1970s home.

Recently, Dean called in a favor ... he had helped me move a few months ago and now he needed assistance tearing down some old wood paneling in the basement "rec room." So on a bleak and drizzly Saturday morning, I arrived to help demo the room in question so another buddy could put up drywall later in the week.

"Hey," Dean asked as we yawned over cups of dark and bitter and excellent coffee. "Before we start tearing the place to hell, would you mind helping me move some things to the garage? I'm gonna donate them or have a garage sale or something." So we toted a few seriously heavy and over-packed cardboard boxes up the zigzagging stairs to the large garage/workshop area ... Dean's dad was a nut for building really intricate scale replica vintage cars and trucks so the garage area had excellent lighting and some nice workbenches. There was lots of junk already stacked in various locations ... no actual room for any vehicles ... but what caught my attention was the old ping-pong table tucked away in the corner, unlatched in the middle and stored in a sloppy A-shaped configuration.

"Dude, you're not selling the PPT are you?" My voice sounded a bit shrill, almost panicked.

Dean just smiled a Cheshire cat grin. "Buddy ... would I do that to you?! It's staying put because I know how much you enjoy losing to me and our friends!!"
See ... I do love ping-pong. Or table tennis ... whichever term you prefer. I was never very good at playing and my family never had a table while I was growing up, but someone in the neighborhood always did. One kid ... Derek ... had a really sweet regulation table that his family kept on their huge covered, cement-slab back porch. I clearly remember how crisp the white lines and net were against the powder blue surface and the sleek oak game cabinet they had with paddles, extra balls, and some special cleaner for the table. Everyone in Derek's family even had leather tennis gloves they used for ping-pong.

In our neighborhood from about early April to early November, if the heat got bad or it was raining or the wind was too brisk for frisbee or football, every kid in the neighborhood was at Derek's house playing ping-pong and pleading with his mom to make more lemonade or hot cocoa ... depending on the season.

Derek's dad would sometimes organize these elaborate tournaments with brackets for us kids, our older siblings, and even some of the parents. The contests would go well into the evening and Derek's backyard would be aglow with the hanging yellow fluorescent lights from the porch area occasionally punctuated by blue sparks from the bug zappers at each end. A few of the kids would open lawn chairs and watch the action, giggling at the bawdy ping-pong "smack talk." The more active ones of us played hide 'n' seek in and around a thick stand of pines and an old tool shed. And the really daring ones of us played with an old set or "Jarts" ... lawn darts that years ago had sharp metal tips and a reputation for causing serious and not-so-serious injuries. Basically, colorful metal spears being thrown around in the dark is what we were doing.

Anyway, table tennis originated in England in the 1800s as an after-dinner "game" among high society. At the time, books were stood in the center of a long table to act as the "net" and players used additional books as "rackets" to bounce a golf ball back and forth, observing the same one-bounce scoring techniques used today. The game evolved with the ball becoming a shaped piece of cork and paddles made from items like cigar box lids and parchment stretched across a simple wooden frame. Soon people started calling the game wiff-waff because of the sound created during play. Ping-pong was another term used frequently to denote table tennis and it ended up catching on.

Over several decades, innovations were made to the game such as celluloid balls to offer air resistance challenges and more modern paddles with the common rubber/sponge layering to allow players to put more spin on the ball and increase the speed of play. Regulation table standards were initiated, suggesting a 9 foot X 5 foot table treated with a low-friction paint or coating (preferably green or blue) bisected by a 6 inch net. Clubs and associations for ping-pong enthusiasts began springing up and tournaments were being organized. The International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) was founded in 1926 with the first official world championship games held in London the same year. Ping-pong has been an Olympic sport since 1988, with aggressive representation from Europe, U.S., and several Asian nations. Today, the ITTF is parent to 210 member associations across the globe. Sporting good manufacturers offer top-of-the line table tennis gear, utilizing high-profile athletes for high-figure endorsements.

I can sympathize with those first table tennis or wiff-waff players. When I was in college, some of my dorm mates found a piece of plywood which we transformed into a makeshift ping-pong table. Being an art major, I was in charge of painting the guide lines and touching them up from time to time. We used two cushy lounge chairs facing each other as the supports and wood clamps and extra-long shoelaces as a net. Someone who dropped a class and had "parents-don't-know-money" from returning a pricey textbook sprang for paddles and balls. I think that crappy "table" was more fun than any regulation surface.

After college, I also frequented a local hometown bar that sat up two ping-pong tables in an outdoor area during the summer months. I know my skills were poor so I never played, but it was incredibly entertaining to watch grown men ... usually inebriated grown men ... play ping-pong like it was the U.S. Open or the Super Bowl!!

Back in the present, Dean and I eventually got to the task of ripping up his basement walls. Several times I became fatigued and wondered if my debt had been payed. Sensing this, Dean kept promising that when we were done he'd order a pizza ... sausage and mushroom ... and set up the ping-pong table.

POINT OF RANT: My friends know me too well!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Today Passing The Pharmacy ...

I'm sick ... and when I don't feel well I turn into a total baby. All I want is to be comforted like when I was a little kid. I blame my adult behaviors on my idyllic childhood. Growing up, I had several "luxuries" like the fact that I was the "baby" of four children so I did get special treatment ... there world, I admit it! Hah!! Also, my mother worked a part-time job that was more for her personal development than financial necessity so if I or one of my siblings took ill, she was able to be there with soothing words and a hot bowl of "chicken and stars."

But that was then ... and today I am considering drastic measures. I can't decide if what I am experiencing is my temperamental sinuses combating the wacky Ohio weather ... temperatures fluctuating from 45 degrees one day to 70 degrees the next with accompanying changes in air pressure ... or the more serious "flu" that seems to be hitting many of my friends and co-workers with body aches and semi-debilitating ennui.

But I'm considering buying one of those "neti pot" things I've seen on TV. They look like little teapots made from glass or clay, but I've also seen other designs that look more like an Aladdin's lamp or a powder horn for arming a muzzleloader. Hell, there are even more aggressive models resembling enlarged plastic syringes with bulbs that apply added pressure. Regardless of the shape, a neti pot uses a saline solution (sometimes with added sodium bicarbonate for extra gentleness) to flush the nasal passages. This type of treatment has proven very effective when combating hay fever, common environmental allergies to dust and mold, and sinusitis.

Yogis have been using similar nasal irrigation techniques for thousands of years. And more and more, people are turning to this rather than becoming dependent on costly antibiotics and steroid-infused nasal decongestant sprays.

And the process seems easy enough: prepare a solution of 8 ounces of warm water and 1/4 teaspoon iodized salt (or purchase pre-mixed nasal "rinse"), tilt your head to the side, insert the nozzle into the "upper" nostril, and let gravity do its job while you relax and breath through your mouth slowly and evenly. The rinse flushes away any accumulated mucus, as well as pollen and other debris that can aggravate the sinuses or even provide a breeding ground for bacteria.

I've now passed one Rite-Aid and two CVS establishments and the foot on my brake pedal has not even wobbled. Two things have stopped me. The first is an episode of ABC's Cougar Town, where simplistic golf pro and "Penny Can" creator Bobby Cobb (portrayed brilliantly by Brian Van Holt) nearly drowned from attempting a neti pot dousing. The second is the damn Internet itself. I looked up neti pots ... sometimes called "netty kettles" and "nettie reservoirs" ... and made the mistake of reading an article that utilized the term "nasal douche." Nothing ... and I mean NOTHING ... called a douche is going up my nose!!

POINT OF RANT: Nasal spray ain't so bad! And Kleenex boxes are kind of pretty these days ... like modern art!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Today At The Park ...

I don't wear a cape or tights (God forbid anyone is forced to witness something heinous like that!) or leap tall buildings ... short ones, for that matter ... but I do possess the super power of sensing when any type of bread or rolls or package of buns is just minutes away from molding. And then I buy them!

I swear, I could buy a loaf of rich, buttery wheat bread or that dark and zesty rye from my favorite deli as it's coming out of the oven and it will be green and fuzzy and a HAZ-MAT situation by the time I get the damn stuff out of the shopping bag and onto my ugly kitchen counter.

In the past, I felt like I might as well just take a portion of my grocery money and set it on fire. But, like a true hero, I have figured out a way to turn a bad situation into something positive and beneficial for less fortunate citizens. Well, not people actually ... ducks ... or geese ... maybe both, I'm not really sure how to tell the difference.

A few blocks from my apartment is a tremendously cool community park. The place is huge with walking and bike paths, pavilion areas, fields for softball and soccer, a well-maintained swimming pool, some lighted tennis courts, and one of those gigantic playground structures that looks like something out of a sci-fi show ... all bright colors, weird angles, and ropes and slides ... and bridges and little play "bubbles" everywhere. And like any park worth its "salt," this community oasis has several lakes, ponds, and streams to add to the natural splendor. And where you have water, you have ducks ... or geese. I'm going to use the collective term gucks for the remainder of this post.

This time of year, Ohio is rapidly cooling down ... trees are mostly bare and the air is definitely chilled like a fine wine. Colors are taking on that thinner, more stark quality. And, of course, all the down jackets are moving to the front of people's closets. Better then any calendar, I am reminded of the general season every morning as I drift closer to consciousness waiting for the blare of my alarm clock. As I wrestle to keep a chokehold on my slumber, I am treated to a symphony of honks and squawks as formations of gucks fly over my building to land and "refuel" somewhere on the park's still lush grounds.

Both ducks and geese belong to the bird family Anatidae. Sometimes the name is applied to other similar-looking birds called shelducks. Regardless, scientists estimate that ducks and geese have been around in one form or another for close to 10 million years. These avians are monogamous, living as "married couples." They are very territorial during their nesting time but otherwise migrate wildly in pursuit of food and warmer temperatures. And they apparently love their starchy carbohydrates.

I have become the self-imposed champion of the local guck population. Each week or so I allot about $6 or $7 and visit a "second hand" bakery to purchase as many loaves of inexpensive bread as my funds will allow. I then strut onto the park grounds with confidence, hoping my feathered friends will welcome my altruistic persona. But alas ... in a fashion painfully similar to the video I've attached, they mock my efforts and display only the minimal amount of manners as they wolf down the proffered victuals.

But while I dislike their disdain, I must admit I do enjoy watching a "herd" of cantankerous gucks going after a small child while their nearby parent of guardian just reads from a tattered paperback or texts furiously on their cell phone, completely unaware of the impending doom. Or I can't help but chuckle a little when a couple out for a leisurely stroll is ambushed by a small army of plumed plunderers.

POINT OF RANT: If gucks can find web-footed wedded bliss, why is it so hard for the rest of us?!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Today On A Placemat ...

Usually, Fridays are the day at work where a few of us "splurge" and go out for lunch. But today, myself and three other co-workers were lamenting over particularly rough weekends ... some physical, some emotional ... and we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the Golden Phoenix, my favorite Chinese restaurant in the whole metropolitan area.

It's not much to look at ... a brick storefront among other brick storefronts. And the only parking is down a side street two blocks away. But they make a garlic shrimp with snowpeas and carrots that must be on the menu in Heaven!

Anyway, we were seated and each of us was telling our weekend war stories. My mind drifted a bit and I perused the paper placemat under my plate. I'd read the little paragraphs about the various Chinese zodiac characters dozens of time ... I eat here A LOT!! But this time I looked with a bit of skepticism because I had recently learned a bit more about the nature of the Eastern philosophy behind it.

In a nutshell ... and apologies to any readers who think I am oversimplifying things ... Buddha, or the "awakened one," lived around 560 BC to 480 BC in India. He was a very serious man and often concerned with the nature of the human condition. So Buddha set out on various quests to learn and experience life firsthand. His teachings eventually became the foundation of several Eastern religions and predominant schools of thought.

Anyway, the story goes that Buddha was preparing to leave the earthly plane and he invited all the animals to attend a banquet. One interpretation says that out of all the creatures on the planet only 12 showed up. Another version explains that Buddha's domain was separated by the surrounding countryside by a mighty river and only 12 animals had the strength or courage or ingenuity to successfully cross the rapid current. In their honor, Buddha named a year for each of their spirits and incorporated their attributes into the population.

Thus ... in order of their arrival ... the Chinese name a year for the Rat, the Ox, the Tiger, the Hare (or Rabbit), the Dragon, the Snake, the Horse, the Sheep (or Ram), the Monkey, the Rooster (or Cock), the Dog, and the Pig. When a person is born, their time of birth brings them under the influence of certain animal spirits. The lunar animal is associated with the actual birth year ... not the "solar" or calendar year we're familiar with, but the Chinese lunar year which runs basically early February to late January. That's why those placemat predictions are so sketchy ... many people born in January like myself have a misguided idea of their over-riding spirit. Anyway, our lunar animal affects us most as we grow up and shapes how we present ourselves to the world at large. This spirit is also how many people perceive us in general terms.

Each individual also has an inner animal which corresponds to a set number of days within the year. The attributes we gain from this animal spirit are believed by the majority of Eastern philosophers and astrologers to be our true defining nature. The inner animal manifests when we are adults and is very difficult to be altered or swayed.

And then there is a primary secret animal linked to us by the hours of the day in which we were born. Secret animals give us subtle characteristics that most people only recognize once they've known us for a while. But these forces play a key role in how we develop friendships and deeper attachments.

Each animal also brings with it a focal point of yin yang (or masculinity vs femininity), the earthly elements for which we feel an affinity toward (fire, water, metal, earth, etc.), and membership in groupings called trines that further strengthen our personalities.

I myself, dear readers, was birthed in the Year of the Monkey. My lunar spirit ... Shenshi ... helps me be inventive, artistic, quick-witted, and sociable at the best of times. Monkeys thirst for knowledge and ask loads of questions. Monkeys set goals and make lists. They have keen memories and thrive in environments where things change quickly.

But Monkeys walk a fine line most of their adult lives. They enjoy being the center of attention and often seek the spotlight. In some cultures, the Monkey is also called "the Prankster," using his own humor and cleverness to gain favor with others. But Monkeys often go overboard and offend those around them or unintentionally hurt the feelings of friends, family, and co-workers.

Monkeys also have a unique "handicap" of being creatures with tons of ideas but not the best verbal skills. They often can't articulate the things in their heads and end up looking confused or unprepared. Individuals born in the Year of the Monkey often have trouble shutting down their creativity and enjoying a good night's sleep.

At their lowest, Monkeys are selfish, suspicious of others motives, and often immature.

I couldn't be any more of a Monkey if I was swinging from a vine and throwing around my fecal matter!!

My inner animal spirit ... Youshi the Rooster ... grants me superior problemsolving skills and the drive to stay organized. But the Rooster is a prideful spirit ... sometimes overconfident. He takes on lots of tasks but doesn't always have the resources to complete them adequately. And that turns the Rooster into a cuckoo!! The Rooster can easily become critical of himself and others, presenting a very abrasive facade. Roosters are truthful but blunt ... seldom a crowd pleaser. And when a Rooster sees the accomplishments of others ... things that appear to have been completed with relative ease ... he is instantly colored with jealousy.

Personally, the Monkey/Rooster double whammy is trouble. Both spirits seek the limelight ... in actions and ideas. This can cause extreme behaviors and even a sort of "spiritual war" within.

Now comes my secret animal lumbering in ... Choushi the Ox. Dependable and determined are two of this spirits greatest gifts. Oxen are very logical. We have a strong work ethic but sometimes view those who don't rather harshly. We Oxen can be stubborn and sometimes overlook good alternatives because we feel our own ideas are always best. Oxen seek several long-term friends over lots of casual acquaintances.

For me, the Monkey and the Ox wage constant battle ... social vs. loner, flirting and "getting around" vs. wanting to find a perfect, dependable mate. But interestingly enough, the Ox and the Rooster make great friends ... sharing tendencies toward materialism and jealousy ... so at least those two spirits can stop by my liver and have a beer of three while they bitch about missed opportunities in their lives!

Of my three significant spirits ... some philosophers believe there are dozens linked to certain aspects of our lives ... two (Rooster and Ox) are ruled by yin, or a more feminine, maternal, and nurturing side. Two of the three (Monkey and Rooster) have an affinity toward metal which adds an element of stability to their influence.

I mentioned trines earlier ... umbrella groupings of animal spirits. My Monkey resides within the First Trine, the most powerful and intense grouping of the Chinese zodiac pantheon. Residents share strong leadership skills as well as a tendency to get frustrated when faced with too many rules or limitations. My remaining guides (Rooster and Ox) both hang out in the Second Trine. These spirits share a fondness for being judgmental and rigid about their opinions.
Anyone who knows me well can verify that all three beasts are alive and kicking!

POINT OF RANT: We should have ordered more egg rolls ... the Ox is a real Pig!!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Today In My Bedroom ...

In other posts, I've used the motto "Be Prepared" adopted by the Boy Scouts of America, but no amount of physical or mental preparation (even Preparation H, for that matter) can override the annoyance I find with time changes associated with Daylight Saving Time (DST).

I just want to punch someone ... usually it's the perky morning talk-radio personality who for the last two weeks has been doing a little "Spring forward, Fall back" promo. I get it!! In this great country, we set clocks one hour ahead on the second Sunday each March and reduce the time by an hour on the first Sunday in November.

But why? The claims are that DST saves energy because we don't have to light our homes and businesses as much. Also, there is a belief that DST provides more hours for leisure which benefits various sports and leisure industries. I've heard that their are safety issues too ... like putting school children on buses and avoiding fog and other inclement ground weather conditions that plague much of the U.S. in the wee hours of the morning. I've even heard PSAs ... public service announcements ... that encourage people to use this twice-a-year time change as a "reminder" to do things like replace batteries in smoke detectors, check tire pressures in automobiles and bicycles, have their blood pressures taken, and even update things like address books and medical records.

For me, Daylight Saving Time means I get to be reminded that I need an engineering degree to adjust the time on my VCR/DVD player. It's also a guaranteed way for me to be late or early for Sunday morning appointments, and a surefire method for leaving me so disoriented the entire day it occurs that the following Monday is always a special little slice of Hell!

And although my computer and cell phone and alarm clock seem to update themselves just fine, I have to personally adjust the timekeeping devices in my car, microwave, and stove ... not to mention the various clocks in my house and watches on my bureau. It's just a pain in the ass!!

was introduced in the U.S. during WWI to save energy that was needed for the war-time production of various goods. In 1966, U.S. Congress standardized the process with the Uniform Time Act. This was adjusted in 2007 with the Energy Policy Act which added four weeks to the DST period. Economists predicted that this added time to DST would result in a savings of 10,000 barrels of oil each day in the U.S. ... a premonitory statement that has yet to be proven.

Much of the world has observed similar time-adjusting schemes for decades. Europe standardized their European Summer Time in 1996. Countries in the Southern Hemisphere observe DST from October to March since there summer begins in December. And nations in the lower latitudes don't even bother with DST because they have very little fluctuation in the number of sunny hours during any season.

Besides the chatty, upbeat morning radio lady, three other gentlemen deserve a smack in the chops for their involvement in the creation of DST. The first is dear old Benjamin Franklin. This well-known statesman was serving as an American envoy in France during the late 1700s. While already being known for his famous proverb "early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise," Franklin supposedly authored several suggestions for improving the French economy ... including rising earlier to make use of morning light instead of candles. The germ of an idea was planted -Strike 1.

Next came the man who is actually credited with creating the concept of DST ... George Vernon Hudson. Hudson was a bug guy ... an entomologist ... Gil Grissom in funnier clothes. Anyway, Hudson saw the merits of additional after-hours daylight for bug collecting so he presented a paper in 1895 proposing a two-hour daylight-saving time shift. His ideas were met with considerable interest. The seed was sprouting - Strike 2.

A bit later ... 1905 ... an English builder and outdoorsman named William Willett independently conceived of advancing the clock during summertime basically because he wanted people to make better use of their leisure time and he hated that dusk sometimes cut into his golf game. Well, Willett was lucky enough to have influential friends and in 1908 the first Daylight Saving Bill was introduced to England's House of Commons. The plant had flowered - Strike 3.

I do have two positive things to say about DST: 1) the initial proponents of the measure were smart enough to plan the changes to occur on weekends to affect businesses with shift changes as little as possible. And 2) it is extremely cool to be in a bar in November when "last call" isn't really last call because at 1:59:59:9 AM the "clock" jumps back to 1.

POINT OF RANT: Isn't life annoying enough without DST!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Today In My Pocket ...

When I was picking up my loose change from the kitchen counter, I spotted a "buffalo" nickel. It was one of the common ones minted in 2005 ... not the cool ones pressed in the 1930s. For a moment, I eyed it as a few tender memories flooded over me. Carefully, I set the coin aside, wishing I could think of a cool way to pay tribute to it ... maybe figure a way to make it into a necklace or a tie tack so I could keep it close at hand. I guess a blog post will have to do for now.

The American bison (or buffalo) is part of an ancient breed of herd animal that crossed the Bering Strait some 10,000 years ago. For centuries, millions of these shaggy beasts roamed across Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. It is believed that the sheer magnitude of the early bison populations and their grazing patterns actually shaped and altered the very ecology of the entire Great Plains area of the country.

The numbers of American bison have experienced huge peaks and troughs. For centuries, many Native American tribes have hunted buffalo for their meat and hides on a regular basis, but these hunters also utilized competent population management practices, even developing unique butchering techniques to minimize waste.

In the late 1600s and early 1700s, diseases brought to this continent by European settlers began devastating Native American tribes. With fewer hunters and a reduced need for food, the buffalo herds grew like crazy. Several oral and recorded legends claim that, for several decades, herds of bison literally stretched from one horizon to the other.

But of course, modern man could not leave well enough alone. A wave of expansion westward during the 1880s brought the American bison to the brink of extinction. Hundreds of thousands of animals were reduced to only a few hundred. Settlers not only killed buffalo for food, but also to "remove the competition" for grasslands they needed to feed their own cattle and other livestock. Western influences also put firearms into the hands of Native American hunters for the first time ever, and more than 300,000 buffalo were being slaughtered annually. The railroads, too, stuck their noses into the bison "problem." It seems buffalo herds were holding up the laying or new tracks. And the migration of a large herd could actually trap a train and force it to remain motionless for days. So the rail companies hired profesional hunters to kill as many of the "nuisance beasts" as possible.

And possibly the most bizarre influence on the decline of the American buffalo population was the growth of the industrial age. With more and more factories being built in the U.S. as well as Europe, buffalo hide ... with its unique thickness and strength ... became a critical commodity because it was ideal for making the "transfer belts" that enabled manufacturers to harness the power produced by steam engines. This was all pre-electricity, mind you,

Today, through conservation methods and the dedication of animal scientists and enthusiasts, the plight of the American bison has been reversed. Depending on who you ask, buffalo number anywhere from 500,000 to 30,000. The range is so great because many naturalists discount buffalo that are raised on ranches for the specific purpose of being used as a food source.

Most buffalo ... wild or domestic ... live in states like Montana, Colorado, Utah, and the Dakotas. Very strict guidelines for breeding and hunting help maintain a strong population. However, with interbreeding with cattle ... remember the "beefalo" craze of the late '80s? ... and even buffalo from Europe and Asia, many zoologists and animal geneticists believe that there are less than 12,000 pure American bison in existence today.

My life has had several odd intersections with the modern-day bison. When I was a kid, the Columbus Zoo opened a new exhibit within the "North America" section that featured some buffalo and other Great Plains denizens. I was so excited because they were so massive looking in the books I read and I just knew that there would be "Indians" with the zoo exhibit too ... it just made sense. What I saw on that warm and smelly Saturday were several "shaggy cows" that were tired looking, extremely dusty, and appeared to have their own excrement matted all over themselves. Not really "the look" I was expecting.

During my undergrad college years, I found a local bar that was not only lax on carding its "regulars" in regards to beer guzzling, but they also had a "buffalo" pizza made with bison meat and mozzarella cheese made from buffalo milk. For those of you that have never tasted buffalo cheese, it is wonderful. Apparently, bison have different digestive systems than traditional cows ... the milk is higher in proteins and fats and retains a number of minerals that create a richer taste and denser, more creamy texture. But while I couldn't get enough of the pizza, I also could not stomach to watch any of the bartender's make their trademark "Buffalo Shot," which combined Bailey's, small amounts of several flavored liquors, bourbon ... a brand called "Buffalo Trace" naturally ... and a splash of buffalo milk. It looked like a science experiment gone horribly wrong.

But I think my most fond "brush" with the burly bovid was the Christmas before my father died. He had been sick for a while and had not been able to enjoy one of his favorite passions ... hunting. In his hay day, my Dad had bagged many species of game ... deer, antelope, pheasant, quail, duck, rabbit, squirrel, and more. About 45 minutes north of Ohio is Dundee, Michigan, home to one of the Cabela mega sports outfitter centers. This place is roughly 225,000 square feet of everything you could possible need for hunting, camping, fishing, hiking, and boating ... even accessories for your RV and pricey furniture for your rustic cabin or summer home. It's such an overwhelming experience. There are exhibits and to-scale dioramas of all types of outdoor environments and wildlife. There's a 40-foot mountain dominating the middle of the store and a 65,000 gallon walk-through aquarium with indigenous fish.

I ended of getting my Dad a bunch of stuff ... a hat and fishing lures and gloves with replaceable chemical hand-warmers. And I got him eight different kinds of jerky ... venison, turkey, elk, and, of course, buffalo. I think I got an extra pound of it for me but it was gone before I had driven halfway home. That day I spent a fortune ... but mostly on lunch. Cabela's has a cafe. Luckily, I had talked two of my buddies into going with me and we overindulged and split several sandwiches and entrees ... like elk bratwurst, buffalo burgers, an ostrich club, and even an open-faced wild boar sandwich. My one friend needed to stop a few times on the way home ... to answer nature's harsh call ... and to purchase antacids. I just kept eating my jerky!

POINT OF RANT: Most days, I really miss ny Dad!