Strangers at a bar

“So there I was, working construction, doing site cleanup work where a new office tower was going up, okay?

“And I came across this little bottle buried in the mud. Nothing special to look at. Little brown bottle with a cork in. Pretty well buried when I came across it. Who knows how long it’d been down there?”

I nodded at the rough, heavyset guy in jeans and a dirty Dallas Cowboys sweatshirt on the next barstool who’d decided, lacking any other obvious targets in the all-but-deserted bar, to honor me with his life’s story. Since he hadn’t yet tried to wheedle a drink out of me, I let it go. It could’ve been worse. I’ve known a lot of rambling drunks; he could’ve been drooling, or worse, drooling on me.

“So I pulled the cork out. Not like I expected anything to be in it, but someone’d taken pains to jam the cork in there pretty good, so I figured something had to be in there.”

I nodded, following him so far. “You weren’t worried that it might have been something bad? Poison? Something toxic?”

He glowered down at his beer. “Buddy, I wish I’d been so lucky.”

“No, what was inside was like outta one of those movies or fairy tales. Some sparkly, shiny smoke, and then a little guy about six inches tall dressed in pajamas and wearing a little helmet. Shiny little gold helmet. Little orangey-yellow guy. Damndest thing you ever saw.”

I turned and stared irritably at him, wondering where this was going. This was a bit outside your normal late-night drunken bar rambling gibberish, although to be honest, I guessed I owed him a point for originality, if nothing else. “An actual genie? Came right out of a little bottle you found in the mud?”

“I guess. Only this genie didn’t give me any three wishes or nothin’ like that. He said thank you, and he said that as a reward for freein’ him he’d give me all the talents and abilities of the next seven people to walk by on the street.”

Frowning at the strange direction this odd story had taken, I motioned him to go on.

“So he did. Only the first six guys to come by were all accountants from the same company down the street, all heading out to lunch after a hard morning doing revenue projections and audits and tax preparation and so on and so on.” He made little “blah blah” motions with one hand while gripping his beer with the other.

For a moment there he sounded like he was channeling one of those guys you meet at Rotary who hangs on your lapels wanting to talk investments and tax preparation. Not what you’d expect, looking at him. Nodding, I said “And the seventh?”

“He was a mortician.”

“A mortician?”

“Yeah. An undertaker. A funeral director. One of them guys.”

“So now…?”

“Yeah, so now I’m sitting here, never done anything but construction and demolition in my life, an’ I’ve got my head crammed full of every damn number-crunching concept invented since Adam ‘n’ Eve got kicked out of the garden, with no sort of professional documentation nohow. I know how to do all that stuff, but who’s gonna pay me to do it?”

I had to agree he had a point.

He glared back down at his beer. “But the worst part is I keep looking at people and imagining what they’d look like stretched out all naked on the embalming table.”

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The Weirdo On The Plane

As someone who spends a lot of time on aircraft (122 flights in 2016), I’ve gotten a lot of experience sitting in a semi-comfortable chair and staring blankly off into space.

I take a book along on trips and of course I’ve got my Nexus tablet, which doubles as a ebook reader, if I want to read anything I’ve downloaded. Often, though, neither gets any use. I hop on the plane, stow my backpack in the overhead, take a seat, and either go straight to sleep or I adopt a ten thousand foot stare that leaves me almost entirely unaware of what’s going on around me.

Yesterday we’d been airborne for about five minutes before I went “Oh. We took off.”

I think this behavior sort of creeps people out. You know how cats sometimes like to sit staring worriedly at something only they can see? I do that sometimes too, with much the same result on the people around me.

Friday night I found myself in seat 4B on a regional jet on the way home from Chicago to Burlington. I wasn’t at all sleepy and I didn’t really feel like reading, so for some reason I found myself staring fixedly upwards toward a light on the ceiling of the cabin, completely lost in thought.

The light wasn’t on — the cabin had been darkened for evening travel and most people weren’t using their individual reading lamps. The light was in no way remarkable. But I stared right at it, like a cobra trying to hypnotize its prey, for so long that eventually it freaked out the flight attendant. He came back and somewhat timidly asked me if there was some problem with the cabin ceiling; he even poked the panel with the light in case it was loose or something.

I replied “No, no, I was just staring off into space.” Then went right back to looking at the ceiling.

He stood there and looked worried for a moment, then turned and went back to his jumpseat, glancing back over his shoulder at me a couple times in case I gathered myself to spring (or something).

I don’t know exactly what that scores on the “Weirdo On The Plane” index, but I bet it’s pretty good.

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Bidding Farewell to the Circus

Parenthetically, I won’t miss the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey circus.

I believe I last went to a circus in Blacksburg in 1978 or so. I have the vague idea that they set up behind Gables Shopping Center, but won’t swear to it.

In any event, despite the tradition of the circus, I’m much more interested in animal protection… myopically, since I still continue to eat at McDonald’s now and then and don’t take pains to investigate the source of the groceries and clothing I buy.

I guess there’s always Circ du Soleil when you want acrobats and trapeze artists and so on. On the other hand, I don’t see a huge tragedy in the elimination of clowns as a national menace. Silver lining in every cloud, and all that.

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Clearwater Beach, August 24

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Fiftieth Birthday/Twentieth Wedding Anniversary

2017 marks two landmark dates in my life: my 50th birthday on September 20, and Carole and my 20th wedding anniversary a week earlier on September 13. (I was determined to get married before I turned 30. I managed it with a week to spare.)

Carole and I are taking an early 20th anniversary trip to Hawaii next month — we’re taking a Norwegian Cruise Lines seven day cruise around the Hawaiian islands, starting in Oahu and spending two days each in Maui, the Big Island, and Kauai before returning to Oahu. We’ll also be hanging out on Waikiki Beach for a few days before and after the cruise. This’ll be my 50th state, incidentally — I’ve been to the other 49, and not in the “I changed planes in an airport there” sense.

I know everyone else has already been to Hawaii, but we just never got around to it before. Hopefully no typhoons or cane toad infestations will ruin things for us.

As for my birthday — I don’t normally make any big deal out of my birthday. Most years I don’t ask for or receive any presents, but since you only turn 50 once (in most cases), I thought I’d mention that anyone who does want to get me something is welcome to pick most anything from the following website:

Send me an email if you want my shipping address. I’d set up a profile and wish list there, but alas, they haven’t configured the site to make that possible. I know September is a long way off, but I want to give people plenty of advance notice. Great tragedies only come around so often, you know.


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Call The Governor of Tennessee…

Carole and I took an extended trip to Canada’s Maritime provinces (well, all except Newfoundland) in 2003. For the most part, we had a good time, although the mosquitoes in coastal New Brunswick were something we could have easily done without.

The high point of our trip was our stopover in Cavendish, Prince Edward Island. Cavendish is known for a few things:

  1. Potatoes
  2. Every single church running a nightly “Lobster supper” to raise funds
  3. “Anne of Green Gables”
  4. Tackiness

Cavendish is a waterfront community on the Gulf of St Lawrence. There’s a Canadian national park there with campgrounds and some surprisingly nice sandy beaches. You can visit the house where “Anne of Green Gables” lived — albeit in a notional sense, since Anne is a fictional character. You can eat lobster until you burst — every single church in the area runs a lobster supper in their fellowship hall. If you want, you can take home huge bags of potatoes; they raise a lot of potatoes in the area.

But our overwhelming impression of Cavendish was that it was Canada’s answer to American tackiness. Imagine a hodgepodge of the worst American tourist dives you’ve ever seen — places whose sole purpose is to appeal to the part of the human brain that treasures cheap plastic souvenirs and t-shirts with lamely funny art and slogans — mixed in with Canadian politeness and wholesomeness. Evidently our neighbors in the Great White North had not wanted to be outdone when it came to letting stupid people behave stupidly. Every store advertised their “unique gifts”… all of which were exactly like the “unique gifts” sold at the store next door.

We arrived in Cavendish on Canada Day (July 1), 2003. We put up our tent at the national park campground at Cavendish Beach and went looking for a place to eat. Rather than partake of one of the church suppers — Carole was doubtful about lobster cooked in a basement kitchen by some half-trained former lumberjack named Beau — we wound up at a sprawling local restaurant. I say “sprawling” because fully half of its footprint was dedicated to a sizeable gift shop that had everything you could possibly not need: day-glo flip-flops, shot glasses with double entrendres printed on the side, weird hats, weirder shirts, ashtrays made from large shells with patches of glitter and sand hastily glued down here and there. They were leaving no stone unturned; in fact, all the stones had been painted to look like frogs, with googly eyes attached.

And lobster hats. Did I mention the lobster hats?

In fact, if you wanted to outfit your house with an entire suite of lobster-enhanced artwork of dubious taste and merit and fill your closet with lobster socks, shirts, sunglasses, swimsuits, bras, panties, flip-flops, thongs, you would not have needed to look any further. “I’ll simply back my car up to the door,” you’d say. “Throw it all in the back. If it’s got a lobster, googly eyes, or glitter on it, I want it. My neighbors at the trailer park may as well give up competing for the Most Beautiful award when they see me come home with all this.”

We stood there surveying the god-awful Grand Guignol decadence as our eyes adjusted to the dim light indoors. Dumfounded, I leaned over to Carole and quietly hissed “Carole — call the Governor of Tennessee. Ask him to check and see if Gatlinburg is missing.”

Carole dissolved in laughter. It was quite some time before she recovered enough to try to explain the joke to the perplexed shopkeepers. As it happens, they never did understand; they’d lived, surrounded by all that stuff, so long that it had become normal.


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Splitting Firewood

Sometimes I miss splitting firewood.

When I was a kid Dad (Keith Furr) attempted to heat our house in the mountains of Virginia with a wood stove and blower system. (It didn’t work that well from my point of view; my bedroom was at the opposite corner of the house and in the winter it was not uncommon to get up and find that my bedroom thermometer read 58°.)

Our house outside Blacksburg was surrounded by woods; some oak, some pine, some poplar, other stuff too. Dad spent weekend days out in the woods with his chainsaw and we kids spent our weekend days hauling it up to the house. At a certain point in my teenage years, it was explained to me that I was perfectly capable of wielding a sledgehammer, axe, and wedges, and splitting the larger logs.

At first I didn’t much like it. I had the knack for wedging our two available wedges deep into a partially split log and then having to use the axe head as a third wedge to get the other two back out. But I eventually got the hang of it, and depending on the density and grain wood in question, I could usually account for a decent pile of split logs in the matter of an hour or two after school.

It was a small accomplishment for a kid who had nothing else to brag about: my grades were awful because I never did homework, I washed out of concert and marching band due to an abysmal lack of musical talent, and if I wasn’t at the absolute bottom of the “guys I’d like to date list” for the average girl my age, I was certainly close enough that I could ask the guy who was to pass the Clearasil.

My house in Richmond, Vermont doesn’t have a fireplace. We have an oil furnace and a ductless high efficiency heat pump (recently added). In other words, there’s no need for me to wander out back and spend an hour or two working up a sweat by a pile of logs. Sometimes, though, I miss it. I have to think it did some good to release tension and stress. And in any event, it was nice to have something I could avoid failing at.

It’s been pointed out to me that I could go get some logs, split them, and donate them to someone who needs them. The thought’s occurred to me, but I don’t own a pickup truck and thus I wouldn’t be able to get that many logs… not enough to make much of a difference. And in any event… due to my work schedule, I’m never around. I enjoy traveling for work as much as I do, but it basically costs me the opportunity to contribute via volunteering and charitable works. But, if I traveled less so I could pitch in locally, I’d lose the job satisfaction of traveling and doing my job well. I don’t know if it’s precisely a Catch-22, but it’s certainly frustrating.

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