August 2002


The Boy Scout program rolls on! We rolled on to western Oklahoma this past weekend for about six hours to the alabaster caverns state park to do a bit of caving. Or “spelunking” as some refer to it. From Greg’s dictionary of common language:

Spelunking: Slipping and sliding around like a dork in the dark and muck of a cave .

Our trip took us through Enid which, according to a billboard, is home to “simply the best flat roofing system around.” Who would have thought it? Flat land/flat roofs. Hmmm… They have several nice filling stations too which is about all we ever see of any town. The drivers can fill up on gas and the boys can fill up on beef jerky and candy. The Boy Scouts have a definite series of priorities on camping trips with safety being number one. Nutrition is pretty far down on the list; hence the beef jerky and candy. Evan approached the cash register with candy that feature a plastic nose with a reservoir of green goo at the back. You squeezed the tube and the green snot oozed through the nostril. I drew the line there: no way was he spending his money on that. I do have standards although at times they are pretty low.

These caverns are not the stalag(m/t)ited variety of Carlsbad fame; rather, they are just holes in a mesa with lots of boulders to climb over and under. There are even a few bats. This area of western Oklahoma could pass for west Texas with it’s arid, desert-like vegetation and mesas all around. Indeed there is a nearby state park named the “Little Sahara”. There were some very nice hikes to be had along and down into the nearby canyon where some of the caves were.

We were told: bring clothes that you won’t mind throwing away because you’ll be crawling on your belly in cave mud. Woo Hoo! The boys loved it. I personally didn’t get as dirty as some but I nevertheless had some personal hygiene to attend to upon completion. Actually, since it was some 95 degrees outside, the rolling sweat did a fair job of dealing with the mud. After crawling out of the cave exhausted, I spent a fair amount of time pouring water on my head to cool off. The good part was we got to wear hard hats with those little head lights on them. Very cool. Mine said “CAT” on it and, on the back, “Braden Winch – a division of PACCAR”. Apparently, Tulsa is some sort of worldwide winch center of excellence. Others said “PSO” (the electric company) or “GTE” (the old phone company). I guess there are very few logo-less hard hats in the world.

I and most of the others chose not to crawl through the 40 feet of mud and water; preferring instead to return and go around to another cave called “The Kneecrusher” that joined up with the main cave past the mud and water. It was little more than a naturally occuring culvert pipe which required lots of belly crawling. It does in fact crush your knees. I was the “trailer” and Evan was two boys in front of me; it was nice of him to periodically call back to check on me. It’s a good thing I’m not claustrophobic – if you have even a little bit of it, the kneecrusher will bring it out of you.

When it’s so hot, it’s pretty difficult to sleep. The tickle of sweat as it trickles down my back and/or forehead tends to keep me awake but we got lucky Saturday night as a front came through and brought the temp down to about 70 and so whether it was due to the temperature or the exhaustion, we all turned in about 9:00 pm and slept like babies. The boy scout troop camped next to us came over to invite us to share their cobbler and there was nobody awake but I and one other dad.

On the way back, we fell in behind the ultimate redneck pickup which I’ll have to send photos of. It has to be seen to be believed but I will say at this point that rust, string, and bailing wire plays a big part of its look. He was pulling out in front of anyone and everyone because with a truck like that, you don’t have a care in the world as far as fender-benders are concerned.

We also stopped at the Glass Mountains on the way back. Our assistant scoutmaster has a master’s degree in geology and so is handy to have around when climbing about on rocks. Interesting conversational note: when you’re in the presence of a geologist, you’re going to hear about the difference between lignite and anthracite no matter what. It just happens – so be ready for it. Anyway, he got some pretty good mileage out of an old geologist’s joke.

Kid: “Hey Mr. D, what kind of rock is this?”

Mr D: “That’s leaverite.”

Kid: “Leaverite?”

Mr D: “Yeah, leaverite there where you found it!”

Me: “Yuck, yuck!”

The glass mountains were actually mesas, one of which had a combination trail/stairway up to the top which made for a fascinating hike. There is great scenery to be experienced from the top of a mesa. I voiced the opinion that it would be cool to camp up there but Evan, in an impressive flash of commune sense said “Yeah but we’d have to haul all our stuff up here.” Good point. There’s a reason there aren’t a lot of campgrounds on the tops of mesas.

Once again, the most popular vehicle was not the most utilitarian but the most elegant: a Lincoln navigator with TV and VCR. There really should be a law against such things on campouts. It was full and left the rest of us in pickups with some extra elbow room. The particular pickup I was in had an interesting experience when the driver’s side mirror just fell out and shattered on the freeway. I’ve always wondered where those little shards of mirror came from that you occasionally see on the roads and, based upon my experience, they come from GMC pickup trucks with 125,000 miles on them. It just fell out – for no particular reason. Hmmm….

The scoutmaster had unfortunately been called away on business Thursday so this campout featured back-up leadership and somewhat relaxed standards. For example, one of the younger fellows was allowed to sleep in his mom’s tent and Saturday afternoon was unstructured. In other words the boys raced off to the woods and climbed trees. They all came back with reports of great fun so you’ve got to wonder if free time isn’t worth more than we give it credit for. The adults stayed up in the shade and fought a losing battle against sleep. It was pretty comical with us trying to keep up a conversation and one or the other of us always nodding off uncontrollably.

The spiders around there have evidently developed a knowledge of how great it would be to set up camp (so to speak) inside a tent since as soon as I opened my flap they would come running like it was new years eve. Much swatting ensued and the flap stayed shut most of the time.

We certainly ate well. The boys planned the menu and as a result, we ate the sorts of things that don’t require a lot of K.P. The kids always like meals served out of foil pouches for that reason. Our menus featured tons of red meat and little else. For me, that was a little slice of heaven. Also, the boys like to make oatmeal by pouring it into a Ziploc bag, pouring in the water, and biting off the corner and sucking it out. No cleanup there either.

So, the boys got to explore a cave, crawl in mud, climb trees, buy soda and beef jerky at a truck stop and suck oatmeal through a hole in a Ziploc bag. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Advertisements

This will be the second episode of my TV show. It will be about a simple woodworking project: the construction of a music stand. This is the first part of the show.

It would go like this (some details to be filled in later): This week I’m going to show you how to make a music stand. Why would you want to do this? Well, because it’s fun. Remember, with woodworking, it’s the journey, not the destination. You can pick up a music stand at any music store for $15 so don’t get the idea you’re going to save any money. It’s that way with just about any woodworking project. But what you will get is the pleasure of building something. Something besides a cutting board that is. Check it out! This looks sweet! And you can tell people you made it and they’ll think you’re cool. I don’t know if I’d try to pick up women or anything with it but it’s good to talk about when people come over.

So, what’s the matter with the $15 music stand? It’s flimsy – look how easy it is to topple it over. (knocks over the flimsy one) I’m going to build one with a little more stability and, of course, a lot more class. If all goes according to plan it’s gonna look way better. If it doesn’t turn out perfect then it has “character” or “patina” or whatever. Either way, you win!

I’m making this one out of maple. Maple is great stuff, nice and hard and won’t warp as much as other stuff. It’s a little plain-looking unless you put a bit of color on it so I’ll show you how to do that too. But they don’t call it “rock” maple or “hard” maple for nothing. Better sharpen up your tools before you start. And several times in mid-project. Take your time – this projects gonna be in the family for a long time. Anything this tough is gonna last for generations. Better hope the wife likes it or you’ll have to stand guard over it whenever she has a garage sale.

Now the great plaid one (bow toward Boston) say always wear safety glasses and taps his spectacles. BBZZZZTTT! Wrong Normie! Even though you may have spectacles made out of “safety glass” that only means that if something hits them they won’t shatter and fill your eyes little razor-sharp bits. But most wood chips are fairly light and the breeze will carry them right around those lenses and into your eyes so you have to wear the dork goggles. Just do it and don’t sweat it – nobody’s watching you anyway. You’ll thank me later.

Anyway, it would go something like that.

Every Sunday, we all repeat together the words “Lead me not into temptation…” as part of the Lord’s prayer but I’ve come to observe lately that it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t include the phrase “lead us not into the presence of strange or annoying people”.

I think this because I’m not like a lot of people; I’m often quite happy to walk among strangers all day and not interact with any of them. I would make a pretty fair hermit. I don’t feel the need to be talking all the time and so I walk into the convenience stores with my Indiana Jones hat pulled low, trying to look ruggedly cool and aloof. Apparently I am not successful and instead I wear a look that says “all weird people talk to me.”

What is it about my look that would encourage a young lady who was a total stranger (or simply strange – you be the judge) to talk to me out of the blue at the QUIK TRIP coffee machine?

Total Stranger: “Good Evening, Sir”

Well, I thought it was an employee.

Me: “Evening.”

Total Stranger: “Do you have kids?”

WARNING! WARNING! INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT! PERSONAL SPACE HAS BEEN VIOLATED!

I looked up. It wasn’t an employee.

Me: “Yeah…two.”

Total Stranger: “Do they like the Harry Potter books?”

RED FLAG! POSSIBLE RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALIST PRESENT! ARM THE PHASERS!

No time to be polite any more. What was this all about? Time to nip this in the bud and go on the offensive. I aimed my hat at her, made eye contact like Clint Eastwood might and said:

“Yes, we’ve read them all. You don’t have a problem with that do you?

Total Stranger: “Oh no! I like them too.”

Me: “Well, there’s some people in this town that do have a problem with them and think they’re ‘evil’ or some nonsense and I’m not in the mood to talk about it.”

Total Stranger: “No, I’m not one of those, I just think they’re good books.”

Now, there was a time in my life when a young lady speaking to me out of the blue would have been an answer to my prayers but that never happened then and I don’t think it happens now either. Either way, it’s too late now so I always put my guard up when something like this happens. I excused myself – I actually tipped my hat – and left with my decaf.

If that had been an isolated incident, I might be inclined to ignore it but it reminded me of another similar experience in which one of my co-workers decided to share with me that she was a witch.

Not one of your old-fashioned broom riding consorts of the devil mind you. This is a more modern version which, she informs me, is also called “Wiccan” which is more of a ecologically responsible new age astrologer who stays up all night partying on the evenings of the equinoxes and solstices. Regardless of the details, it was an awkward moment.

Why was she telling me this? Was she just dying to tell someone – anyone – and she figured that I was the least likely to laugh? There are many possible answers. Often the best defense is a dumb look. Rather than trying to come up with an intellectual retort, I responded with:

“Yeah? AND?…..”

Good huh? Lob that ball back into her court and make her take the initiative again.

It seems she needed some wood shavings.

Are we getting weird enough yet?

Actually, it turned out to be pretty innocent. She explained that she needed some wood shavings to mix up with wax and spices to make a form of incense to use at the next solsticial shin-dig and was afraid to ask any anyone else for fear of being made fun of or worse. She also wanted some advice on setting up a web site for the local group of like-minded wiccans (coven).

PHEW!

Still, one has reason to worry. A Catholic friend offered the opinion that by assisting such a person, I had definitely crossed a line and would be held severely accountable for it in the afterlife. I’m hoping that being polite has some redeeming value here.

It used to happen also when I was working at “Fred’s” while in high school. Ah, Fred’s! Before there was Dollar General and Big Lots, there was Fred’s. I saw my first knife scar on a human there as well as my first bullet wound and my first stumbling wino. There was an older fellow who rode a bike around town who rode up one day. In southern Arkansas in 1977 no adult was ever seen riding a bike for any reason. “Why, heavenly days! That’s for kids!” went the philosophy. Anyway, he rode up to Fred’s and came in. Out of all the other four employees, he decided I was the one to ask for Clorox. That was an easy one and I pointed as usual. My job was to wield a broom for the most part so I felt secure in simply pointing. He responded with:

“Ya know, that’s the best thing in the world for crickets!”

As much as I wanted to know more about the connection between crickets and Clorox, I kept mum. “Please don’t talk to me”, I thought. No dice – he kept talking. I’m not sure why I’m afraid of people who just play by a different set of behavioral rules – I suppose I’m like many others in that I’m afraid that if he’s not on the same page as I mentally, he might just fly into a murderous rage if I don’t answer him correctly. At any rate, he kept on. He began to talk so fast that I couldn’t understand what he was saying. The manager saved me from that one by bringing the man a gallon of Clorox. Crisis averted. The manager later told me:

“Did you know he’s an archeologist?”

Me: “No.”

Manager: “He says he is anyway. He says he has a museum in his house.”

Me: “OK.”

I guess this will keep on until I get my “look” right.

I’m working on my “look” though – pulling the brim of my hat a bit lower and standing straighter (which is made a bit easier by one of those middle-aged “bad back” things). Ironic isn’t it? One works on ones look as a teenager to attract attention – I modify my look at middle age to detract attention.

We went to watch the local minor-league team, The Tulsa Drillers, play on Friday night. I’m not a big fan of baseball and I can’t really hold my interest for longer than five innings but I enjoy going to these games anyway. For what it’s worth, I do actually stay the entire game. I might also add that the kids can usually only maintain an interest for three innings so I’ve got them beat there.

But it’s such a pleasant excursion compared to major league games. I’ve attended a few of the Texas Ranger’s games (the team for whom the Drillers are a farm team) and the experience is much different. I can remember everything in Texas being much more expensive, pretentious, and frantic. It began in the parking lot with attendants leaning in demanding $5.00 and taking the attitude that we were privileged to even be there and we should be lucky to only having to pay $5 and now get moving you’re holding up the line. We were frantically waved into our spots by other attendants who clearly thought that this was as important as a space shuttle launch. And the $5 amount was 15 years ago!

Inside it was little different: expensive concessions and all sorts of people who took the whole thing to such a religious fervor that you began to wonder what they did with the rest of their lives.

This is in stark contrast to the Tulsa Drillers. Like many minor league teams these days, they have cleaned up their presentation and really try to gather in the families. Friday night was free admission night and the stadium may have been half full. They were also giving away notebooks for the kids – back to school season you know. I went down to the concession stand to buy something for everybody and the entire family of four got something and I paid a total of $10.50. Not bad – that might have bought two drinks down in Arlington.

Parking is also free. They share a parking lot with the fairgrounds and the local horse racing track so you might be sharing the lot with baseball fans, horse-racing fans, people showing horses in one of the barns, the state fair, or the department of health offices. It’s an eclectic crowd.

So we tromped from our dirt parking space, passing up the free ride on a tractor-pulled wagon, to our free seats along the third base line and met up with some friends – one of whom was with the church choir that was presenting the national anthem.

It’s almost as entertaining to watch all the other people in the stadium as it is to watch the game. I particularly like the drink vendors in the stands. One guy was a hit with the kids since he was wearing a cowboy hat of his own making – it had been constructed out of the cardboard of a Budweiser 24-pack box. He had a booming bass voice and was calling out “Iiiiiiiiice Cooooooooooold Beeeeeeeeeeeer!” The kids liked the hat.

I had to go over it all again: why I don’t drink beer when everybody else does. Sheesh! I don’t see teetotaling as an “alternative lifestyle” and resent having to explain it. Perhaps it is an alternative lifestyle.

Evan was there with one of his buddies. They were sitting in front of us and eventually, the two little girls next to them began looking at them and giggling. My first reaction was to say “Hey, are you making fun of my boy!?” but Mel kept me from it. She seemed to think there was some other chemistry at work but either way I didn’t like it.

But, everybody had a good time. The giggling gaggle of girls left early leaving us to our sweating. Tulsa won 9-5 over the Wichita Wranglers.

Spring has sprung here in northeastern Oklahoma. I noticed it carefully this year; it happened last Saturday. Every year, it seems to take me by surprise. One day, suddenly, the trees have leaves on them and the landscape has a faint greenish tinge. I always wondered that I was so unobservant (or sleepy) on the way to work that I didn’t notice this so this year, I paid careful attention. I found out that leaves just burst out very quickly. One day they’re not there, the next day they are. And they are there now, at least around here. Things are looking really pretty now. It makes me want to get out and fly a kite. Or play golf.

Erin really loves the golf; she likes to go with me to the driving range. She has never played “for real” since she doesn’t have her own set of clubs but all that will change this summer. She and Evan are signed up with the parks department to learn golf and they get a starter set of clubs in the bargain. Until then, we will just go buy the wash-tub sized bucket of balls and hit them towards the little fake bunkers.

Using my previously-mentioned HP calculator (before the batteries expired), I have made the following observations about film based photography:

  1. I use about seven rolls of film whenever I go on vacation.
  2. These are usually 24 exposure rolls.
  3. I spend about $2.75 per roll (I think)
  4. It costs about $7 to have it processed
  5. I like to have the photos scanned and put on CD which pushes the total cost to about $15 per roll

That means a vacation costs me almost $125 in terms of photo-indulgence.

I really like the digital versions of pictures since I can make a screensaver out of my vacation photos and enjoy them daily. I also like to build web-sites with them. I rarely look at the paper versions after the vacation.

To figure the cost per year, I should add one roll of film each to take care of two birthdays, two events at school, three photo-worthy holidays, and two more just for miscellaneous. That’s 9 rolls for another $160. So, that comes to about $290 per year in photo expenses. That means if I didn’t do that, I could justify a $500 digital camera in about 2 years.

And yet, one must not necessarily have a financial justification for everything. Just look at the number of people who subscribe to HBO for an example of indulgence that results in dubious returns. Or, closer to home, my own spending on tools (not all of which are powered, mind you). Besides, when I think of those people who decide to live without the trappings of modern life and its associated gadgets, i.e., the Unabomber, I’m not impressed. Who wants to live like that? For me, simplifying my life means living with only two computers in the house that are not networked.

And so, once again, I have succumbed to the siren song of high technology once again and ignored an investment in my children’s future education by clicking on the proper button to aquire a new digital camera. (I can already hear my sister saying to her computer: “You wrote all this crap just to tell me that?”)

A great many people never take any photos at all and seem to live perfectly happy, normal lives. But not me. I am imaging-technology co-dependent.

I feel a bit silly since I still live in the past to some extent. I remember the near-poverty of graduate school and so I still kind of get the shakes whenever I spend over $100 on anything. Of course these days, $100 is pretty much pocket change but I still have to use a crowbar to get that much out of my wallet so this camera thing almost made me ill. Still, I’m not so affected that I don’t still spend the money.

Expect more pictures soon.