January 2002


As hard as it may be to believe, the Indian Springs Elementary Talent Show has come and gone again; it’s only been a year since my last report on it. That means that I’ve been boring you with my reports on it for at least two years and actually saving the reports in my weblog for a year. God willing, I’ll be boring you for some years to come.

This year, the lineup was even more extensive (ACK!) than before, bringing the agenda to about 3 hours of non-stop attempts at entertainment. Although it is a huge money maker for the PTA, it has become something to be endured rather than enjoyed unless you view it as a social event where you can get together with others, chew the fat, and watch your own children strut their stuff on the stage in the spotlight. The spotlight by the way, is a new thing borrowed for the purpose from the Elks Lodge. I’m wondering what the Elks Lodge needs a stage spotlight for but I forgot to ask.

Anyway, this year the PTA responded to last year’s complaints that those in the back (and those spilling out into the hallway) couldn’t see or hear anything. (And they were complaining?) So, this year, believe it or not, we had video! Two televisions hung from the ceiling (the school put those up last year), and two cameras (provided and operated by yours truly and another Dad.) Somebody from the school system came out and cabled everything up and reserved us seats. We had gaffer’s tape! Our cables were stuck to the floor in best trip-proof fashion just like at a real event! Plus, I had a real cardboard sign that said “Reserved for Video Crew”. Hoo Boy!

A three hour show meant that taping the whole thing would have been a bit much so I just taped Erin’s part. Melissa was inundated with requests for copies of the tape so perhaps that wasn’t a good decision but I knew who would have to make all the copies so I held my ground.

Being in that sort of environment leads a guy like me to have some serious bouts of camera envy. My camera is among the oldest but, in its defense, the quality of the picture was just as high as any of the others. Plus, I had a tripod so the images weren’t jumpy.

The show itself saw a noticeable improvement in the quality of the talent this year; probably because this year, they actually had auditions. Still, they let the kid through who only hula hooped. Mel and I agree that she should get the hook next year. But by far the strangest “talent” was the 3 minute seminar on decorating a living room. No kidding, some kid got up there and described to us how to re-decorate our living room; complete with adult “stage hands” moving chairs, end tables, lamps, and other accessories around.

It was surreal.

There was a pretty good magic show, a series of piano performances (Erin was one), a large number of vocal performances (some could sing, some could not), a couple of cheerleading sorts of things, lots of dance numbers, and a couple of group performances. Sadly, there was no clogging this year. Last year’s cloggers have graduated to middle school. Too bad; they were always sure to get the crowd clapping.

My own personal favorite (after Erin’s superlative piano performance that is) was the kid with the electric guitar. He had obviously practiced his fingering, tuning, and picking. He had not apparently practiced his rhythm but who’s noticing?

The grand finale was a kid who sang “God Bless America” and who had special guests. She had arranged for an army sergeant, a navy CPO, a fireman, and a police officer with dog to join her on stage. You know, the “real” American heroes thing. She gets extra points for going to all the trouble of finding all those people.

The dog was none too happy about being in the spotlight; apparently this looked a lot like a riot to him. He was OK although he barked a lot.

Why is it that you never encounter a police dog named “Fluffy”? They’re always named “Magnum” or “Bullet”. Nobody ever has the guts to be original and name the dog “Princess” or “Scruffy” or something like that. But, I digress.

It was a late night. Everyone went home happy and convinced their own little darlings were the stars of the show. And that’s how they were presented.

The next day started early due to a scouting fundraiser during which we sold breakfast at a local pinewood derby. French toast, bacon, milk/juice/coffee – $3.50. We raked in about $230. CHA_CHING BABY! Evan had the enviable job of taking the money. No hot grease, no cleanup, just raking in the cash.

That’s not so bad but Evan wanted to take one of his buddies to play laser tag also that day. Well, you can’t take one kid without the other. So, I was recruited to play alongside Erin until she learned the ropes. I had never played laser tag before and I highly recommend it. All those lasers firing in the dark look pretty cool. Plus, you get all the rapid fire fun of shooting people just like paintball but without the stinging pellets. We were worn out.

It’s interesting to note the nicknames people give themselves to appear on the scoreboard. They’re all pretty much of a similar pattern: Turbo-this or dragon-that. You have to get there early to get near the front of the line in order to get “Terminator”. Evan and his friend: U.P. Freely and Anita Bath. Like we haven’t all heard those a million times before. Erin: QT Pi. That one is courtesy of Melissa (who has always been really good with clever wordplay like that.)

My name was “Mozilla”. There are those of you who will understand the reference and those same people will also appreciate that none of the Tulsa crowd understood it. At least not the teenager in charge of data entry because he misspelled it. Oh well.

Anyway, I sure have a lot more respect for those camera guys at the Super Bowl now. It’s hard enough to hold a camera still and get your subject in the center of the picture without having to stand/sit there and do it for three solid hours. My hat’s off to them.

How boring is it? Erin would tell you it is right up there with high school graduations – boring enough to make you want to get down on the floor and roll around moaning. Well, it’s not that bad.

I speak from experience. Part of one of the merit badges (one of the required ones by the way) is to visit a local city council meeting. It’s a common thing; apparently the city council chambers are usually half-full of boy scouts occupying the back rows. Last night was no different.

I was expecting it to be (in the words of a co-worker’s daughter) “as boring as an old dead frog” but it wasn’t that bad for me although Erin thought it was. Evan fell somewhere in the middle; he didn’t ask if we could go home for at least 45 minutes.

We got to hear the head of the local cable TV outfit come and update us on the status of the system’s “rebuild”. It turns out that our cable TV system is the oldest and most technically obsolete in living memory and this was coming from the company song-and-dance man himself. Luckily, they’re about done with the upgrades. And after all the descriptions of massive upgrades, the inevitable question from the peanut gallery: “why does my picture stink?” Once again, a complete and accurate technical explanation goes over the heads of the unwashed masses.

Still, that’s a fair question: why indeed is it that our system has to change so much? Now, we have a single cable coming into the house. Life is simple. In the coming months, we will have to have that replaced, and a set-top box installed (and a cable modem if you want internet access). Life will become more complex with yet another remote control. It’s interesting to see a professional spin-doctor at work explaining that sort of thing in such a way that

“It makes our lives easier and more profitable”

morphs into

“It enhances the customer’s overall entertainment experience.”

Then a complaint about a neighbor who parked, on average, three pickups in his front yard. He didn’t say what was parked in the driveway. Result: there are no city ordinances against that. GASP! Sorry Charlie.

Finally, the zoning change requests. On the agenda, they look something like:

BAZ01 on map grid 17 upgrade from level 3 to level 4.

Whoa! We’re partying now!

Actually, during the meeting, somebody was supposed to show up and explain exactly what that meant. Cool; we got to hear about what great new stores and restaurants are coming to town. None, it turns out (this month anyway) but someone is going to build a Bed & Breakfast. Plus a golf driving range. Not together on the same property, mind you. Although, that might be kind of fun. You could sit in a hot tub on a balcony and watch guys trying to hit golf balls and swearing. Maybe not so fun.

So, I got some reliable gossip on where the local public disturbances were last month; although you can get that from the Broken Arrow Ledger (circulation in the dozens) since they eat that stuff up. I also got to find out where the next WalMart is going to be. Evan got to see a bit of small-town America at work and Erin…well, Erin got a few pages of her latest book read. Not what I would call a waste of time. Plus, we got one of the most boring (for a kid) merit badges completed.

Melissa? She was over at a friend’s house playing Bunco. One must prioritize after all.

This happened a couple of years back.

Our office went on an outing last Friday that I like to call the “Little Touch of Sodom and Gomorrah Float Trip” down the Illinois river in northeastern Oklahoma. This was actually the second such trip (version 2.0 in programmer’s terms), the first occurring about two years ago. Two years because the excesses of the event needed to fade from the management’s memory before we repeated them. During the first trip, bus service was provided which seemed to encourage certain excesses of behavior. This year, we were required to drive ourselves because of costs but which also prevented quite as many from getting too drunk to get home. I must state right here that I engaged in no such extreme behavior.

Just for the record.

This is a popular weekend thing for a lot of Okies but the alcohol consumption has grown to the extent that legends are told (actually newspaper stories have been written also) about the almost unbelievable idiocy that has occurred while under the influence. There have been deaths. There are now police patrolling the waters on weekends to cut down on that sort of thing.

They aren’t there during the week however and this was on a Friday.

We had one of our vendors help sponsor the event and so a couple of reps were present to enjoy the day. I steered the canoe of one of them – voluntarily. It is a really beautiful place to go canoeing and I was able to appreciate it by increasing the distance between my canoe and the rubber rafts of my reveling co-workers. Our vendor rep; however, wanted to be fairly close to the raft with all the coolers of beer so we compromised in the same way I usually compromise: I let him have his way.

At about the three mile point, we rounded a bend and got a taste of some of the excesses that the river is known for; there was a couple sitting in a lawn chair that was partially submerged in the water. The young lady was sitting on the lap of the young gentleman (HA!) and they were engaged in the sort of activity that made me think “In about five minutes, that guy’s gonna get lucky.” The guy gave us a stupid grin and said “Hi” but the young lady’s motor was running and she was not to be distracted. We floated on around the next bend – barely noticed by the amorous couple. Sure enough, a few minutes later we heard loud hooting from behind us. I was told at the next stop that the main group of rubber-rafting revellers rounded the bend and got an eyeful of something that most people have to pay money and drive to the bad part of town to see.

Just my luck.

To make matters more awkward, our vendor rep was apparently put in mind of better times. He began to share some alcohol-fogged reminisces about his younger days and how good it felt to have his arms around a skinny woman, how much weight his wife had put on, etc and all manner of things that gave me an acute case of the willies. I have nothing against sex but I don’t typically want to discuss it with half-drunk strangers. I kept my mouth shut.

It could have been worse though. I heard no gunshots, saw no ambulances, and didn’t have to rescue anybody. The only exciting moment was when we encountered a snag and the canoe turned over. This isn’t what you would call “white water” but there is enough current to pull you along in places. The canoe tipped me out on the downstream side and the canoe then pushed me up against the snag and momentarily trapped my leg. No big deal but just for a second, my heart beat pretty fast. I’m not sure I’d want to do any “real” white water work until I can build some swimming skills. I can swim but apparently I forget to when tangled in a partially submerged bush.

Water guns were present.

Super soakers. Oh Yeah!

They’re OK until your target realizes he can get back at you by simply putting his paddle in the water and flipping 10 times as much water on you as you just squirted him with. Water guns have superior range however. I saw one of the spouses take one and undergo a startling Jekyll & Hyde transformation. She was normally very quiet and shrank back from anybody with a water gun. But, during a rest stop she picked up an unused super-soaker. She gave a tentative squirt at a tree. I heard her say “cool” to herself and she casually squirted her partner. After an initial squeal, she suddenly stuck our her lower jaw and realized she was a babe packin’ heat. She walked into the crowd with her gun going full blast; hosing everyone within range like Arnold Schwarzenegger taking out a regiment of bad guys. Kind of scary.

Super soakers, by the way, look really cool but I saw some kids playing with them in our neighborhood once and noticed that while one kid was busy pumping his super soaker, his little brother was blasting him with a continuous (and much higher volume) stream from a simple water hose. You’ve got to wonder if the super soaker is just hype.

Anyway, during these stops, it was interesting to wade about in the water and observe the fish and the occasional can of “adult beverage” that came floating by from upstream capsizings. I gathered all these like a good scout picking up trash and threw them into a cooler. There was the occasional can of soda thank goodness. Interesting note for the rocket scientists out there: Dr. Pepper cans have almost neutral buoyancy. They don’t float to the top nor do they sink. It’s kind of hard to retrieve them if they’re floating pretty deep. Beer floats on the surface.

As excessive as this sounds, the trip of two years previous makes this one look like a church social. Think “Animal House” without the youthful energy. Our office had some drinkers that re-wrote the record books for bad behavior. The charter bus driver actually stopped on the freeway on the return trip and threatened to quit then and there. Those of us “normal” people offered to put the drunkards off into the ditch but the driver agreed to continue if they would stop singing and blowing the police whistles. Singing is not really the right term to use here. Bellowing is perhaps a more accurate word. Now there’s a bus driver out there somewhere who thinks that programmers from Sabre are the scum of the earth which is sad; most of those guys have quit now. I haven’t mentioned the “anatomically correct” inflatable sheep that was brought along; labeled the “I love ewe.”

So this trip was much more pleasant. We finished up the trip with an excellent BarBQ dinner. Then the Karaoke machine came out; time for me to go. I don’t know how that worked out and I didn’t want to know. I’ve always had an aversion to Karaoke; from the moment I first learned of the concept, I knew that I would have no part of it. It was therefore time for me to go.

It was one of those “good and bad” experiences but it makes a pretty good story.

This week in the “Something You Don’t See Everyday” category I offer our weekend at the Methodist Men’s retreat. Evan is going through the age-old Methodist “confirmation” process which of course means he’s getting some formal training in the definitions of all those religious terms. But part of the process includes a father/son retreat at the local camp (there we go; camping again). This event was designed by guys for guys and no mistake. The agenda was as follows (and I’m not making this up):

Introduction
Seminar
Small Groups
Feeding Frenzy (junk food only)
Wrestling

Needless to say, Evan had a good time. The feeding frenzy in particular was done in best manly fashion; the food was literally thrown from a central bar-like place. It was actually the registration table but the men got behind it and used as a food bar and would literally yell “who wants beef jerky?” and all the little hands would shoot up and he would toss food to them like he was feeding a bunch of animals at the zoo. In a way, it was probably appropriate. No utensils, no napkins, and no manners. There was at least a pickup-load of jerky, chocolate, snack cakes, peanuts, gum and all manner of things that I didn’t even get a chance to see. Plus one can of SPAM – unopened.

There were no complaints.

In order to work off all that poor nutrition and the associated hyperactivity, the mattresses were removed from all the bunks and thrown down onto the floor in the common room. One of the men showed up wearing a referee outfit and whistle and proceeded to orchestrate the wrestling matches. Until 1:00am, those boys wrestled. There were even a couple of adults who went at it. Yours truly was not among them.

Both nutrition and behavior were remarkably improved for Saturday’s agenda. Like the cub scouts, they had mucho ritual and ceremony which seems to appeal to little boys. Way too touchy-feely for me but I’m probably unique in that. I was never much of a butt-slapper either.

Evan had a question about the rented reverend that they had brought in to lead the seminars:

“Why is he lifting his hands like that when we’re praying?”

Good question. I don’t know. I’ve always wondered that myself. For me, it has always been a warning sign that I may have accidently stopped at the wrong church but since we knew everybody there, that obviously wasn’t it. Maybe it was a form of Tai Chi. Perhaps he was high-fiving Jesus.  I’ve spent my life seeking answers to the questions of how the universe works but I’ve never devoted too much time to figuring out human behavior. Perhaps one of you can shed some light on the “raising of hands” thing. I’ll pass it along.

So there were lots of guitars, junk food, wrestling, and souvenirs (in the form of a pocket-sized New Testament and a ring) so what’s not to like? (If you’re a kid that is). I even found a fellow woodworker to pal around with and compare tools with. I don’t know what sorts of stereotypical things the girls are going to do during the women’s retreat but I wouldn’t be surprised if it involved shopping and a bunch of interpersonal relationship stuff and in-general talking everything to death. No offense but we all know what I’m talking about now don’t we?

It was a fun time but I only personally saw the promised land when I got home and went to the local woodworking show. The convention center was filled with rodeo attendees so for a moment there I had another “am I in the wrong place?” moment but sure enough, tucked away into a corner was the Woodworking Show. I have seen the promised land and it is in central Texas where they have a woodworking school where they teach you working with hand tools. I stood there for two hours awestruck watching these two guys make dovetailed drawers and other complex joints without ever actually measuring anything and with only about three hand tools. It’s very unlike me to ignore all the high tech gadgetry but I’m ready to plunk down my tuition and head south to Elm Mott (near Waco) and become a medieval apprentice. There’s something perversely amusing about a guy with a Ph.D. in physics wanting to learn woodworking with hand tools like some Benjamin Franklin era tradesman but there it is.

Maybe some day.

Mel has been at her mother’s for the past five days and I’ve been here by myself. You know what that means. Living like an animal like most guys do when they look around them and realize that they can relax a few of the usual rules. So I had a few days of leaving my tools out, leaving the dry laundry in the dryer and just using it as a sort of a round chest of drawers, taking the computer apart and leaving it strewn about all over the kitchen table, not unloading the dishwasher (refer to previous laundry comment), letting the dog have the sofa, putting a chair right in front of the TV, not making the bed, and (GASP!) leaving the toilet seats up. When I get off by myself, I really cut loose.

One begins to re-evaluate some commonly held beliefs. Many rules of etiquette that center on the preparation and eating of food are there because a group usually gathers together to eat; thus you have to put things in bowls and take turns and eat around a common table. If you start from scratch, you realize that if you’re by yourself, you can just plunk a can down directly on the burner of the stove (remove label first) and then eat it over the sink. I’m sure that Mr. Vise-Grip had that in mind when he invented his excellent pliers. Also, when nobody else is around to see, you can let the dog “pre-wash” the dishes if you know what I mean.

Still, one doesn’t lose the lessons of a lifetime as easily as all that. I behaved in a more civilized way than that – sort of. In return for being a slob however I did manage to complete some big projects throughout the house. And great was the rejoicing to have them done. Everyone now has a new door to the bedroom/closet/bathroom now and they are Oh-So stylish and not pockmarked with scooter scars and old stickers. And the doorknobs are no longer loose and rattling.

There was a good answer to all the questions that were prompted when the family came home a day earlier than expected. Such as:

“Why is the stepladder in the living room?”

Answer: Because I re-wired the entertainment center so that the DVD player would make use of the kickin’ audio system. The pod race scene from Star Wars takes on a whole new dimension when you can crank it up in stereo like that. The Matrix is much more impressive as well. True, I didn’t put the ladder away but I meant to. It wasn’t bothering me. The down side to this is that now, in order to make use of all our features, you have to use at least three remote controls simultaneously. Unless you want to stand in front of the entertainment center and twiddle with stuff like those guys in movies who are trying to make a submarine dive.

“What’s wrong with the computer?”

Answer: Nothing. I was “upgrading”. The fact that it will not boot up now is not something we want to talk about.

“What’s this check written to ‘Wholesale Tools’?”

Answer: I bought some tools, what else? You don’t often see a set of auger bits at a price like that.

“Why is Dixie hanging around the dishwasher?”

Answer: I don’t know.

There’s nothing to bring smiles to the faces of any family like results and now that everyone’s door opens smoothly and the sky is the limit as far as movie-watching volume is concerned, we are one happy family. They can even overlook the non-booting computer on the kitchen table for awhile but of course, we do have another one they can use. I do wish Dixie would stop hanging around the dishwasher with that expectant look on her face though.

Our kids are old enough now that they want to stay up and party. Luckily, they don’t yet want to go somewhere else to do it. So, we had Mel’s sister and family over and stayed up late watching our new DVD movies in order to keep ourselves awake long enough to squirt each other with silly string and wear silly hats at the stroke of midnight.

I waited until way too late to think of the potato cannon as a means to enhance the celebrations. Many people had fireworks but I could have added some real bang. I can’t believe I forgot about it. I almost pulled it off. I ran into the garage and began looking at aerosol can labels until I found one that said “Caution! Contains are extremely flammable.”

BINGO!

For your own future reference, ScotchGuard is propelled by propane apparently so you may have had a gun propellant in your home and not known it.

Anyway, I loaded, I sparked, and … no bang. My igniter’s flint had finally worn out and at 11:55 on New Year’s Eve, there’s not enough time to run to WalMart and find replacements. We had to rely on Silly String alone for our celebration.

Still, no one was complaining so it was no great loss. Indeed, the grouchy lady across the street probably would have called the authorities on me. As it was, she was out screeching at her son to get back into the house. It was advice, by the way, that he completely ignored because the folks down the street had some fireworks. No real boy will ever be able to take his eyes off of fireworks so that screeching was all for naught. She might as well have saved her energy to screech at me for shooting potato chunks over her house. And I would have too; and I’m sure she would have.

We kept the dogs in the house so they wouldn’t freak out from all the noise and they slept as late as we did the next day. And so a good time was had by all.