February 2010


Erin’s boyfriend has lately informed her that his parents bought a parrot.  Erin’s response was “Uh… random!”  It does seem a bit odd.  I asked her if they realized that those birds lived to be about 100 years old and required interaction. 

“You mean they’re ‘needy’?”  was her response.  She was aghast.

I then told her some parrot stories.  It’s remarkable that I have any at all but I actually have several. 

When I was a kid, there was a pet store in Camden whose name escapes me at the moment.  I may have never known its name because if you’re the only one in town then everybody just calls it “the pet shop.”  The owner had a talking bird which was technically not a parrot but it would talk so it will fit into this story.  It was in fact a Mynah bird.  He was not for sale but simply there as the owner’s pet and for atmosphere.  He would talk quite a bit but it was funny to me that his most common phrase was “Can you talk?” with an Arkansas accent.  That’s obviously what most people asked him and so that’s what he said.  He would also chuckle exactly like the store owner did.  My friend Travis picked up on this and used to stand next to the bird and whisper “You’re full of sh^t” in the hopes that the bird would repeat it and shock little old ladies but he never had any luck with that plan.  I liked that bird and always enjoyed it when I went in there to buy tropical fish.

That bird reminded me of a scene from one of David Attenborough’s films about the bird of paradise which attracts a mate in part by showing off how many other birds it can imitate.  With the encroachment of man, the bird ends up also imitating the sounds of cameras clicking (complete with motor drive) and chainsaws.

Much later, while in graduate school, one of my fellow grad students (Russ) ended up babysitting a friend’s Macaw.  This was a large bright blue bird and was interesting in its way but it would squawk at such a volume as to make your ears ring.  These birds are also quite gregarious and so Russ was told by the owner that the bird must be interacted with; otherwise it would systematically yank out its own feathers from boredom.  Russ was not thrilled with this high-maintenance bird but friends are friends and he took the job.  Apparently Russ fell down on the job of talking to it though; he just could not think of anything to say that he would want repeated back to him ad infinitum so he simply left the TV on.  This was enough noise for the bird to keep from getting bored but he never repeated any phrases from it.  He did however start imitating the sound of the clothes dryer.  So Russ would enter the apartment and be greeted by a huge bird swaying back and forth making the sound of clothes drying.

His friend also said he wanted the bird to be taken for rides in the car for the visual stimulation.  I think Russ was pretty good about this until the bird got into the habit of wolf-whistling at people in traffic.  Russ’s car did not have good air conditioning so he would drive with the windows down and the bird would perch on the seat back next to Russ.  After one particularly awkward moment at a traffic light, there were no more car rides.  Russ told us about how a young woman was in the car next to his and the bird let out his typical loud wolf-whistle whereupon he then hopped down into the seat.  The girl whipped her head around in his direction with a look of shock and irritation and saw only Russ.  Russ tried to gesture at the bird and say “It wasn’t me, it was this parrot!”  Not unexpectedly, the woman flipped Russ the bird which is strangely appropriate in a way.

My mother had a friend who lived about two blocks away who had a parakeet.  I did not know parakeets could be taught to repeat sounds and it appears that it is rare but upon occasion they will pick up a word or two.  This woman had tried for a long time to get the bird to repeat the phrase “Hello” with no luck.  Then one day the bird jumped down to the bottom of the cage to get at the gravel paper that birds use for their digestion.  Mom’s friend apparently thought it was eating its own poop and said “Don’t eat that doo doo!” whereupon the bird immediately said “Hello Doo Doo!”  From them on, that’s all the bird would say.  Much to the chagrin of the old lady I imagine.

The lesson I took away from all this is: don’t ever own a talking bird.  They’re interesting enough if you can go visit a friend’s bird but it’s a bit too much responsibility to have one yourself.

I’ve always enjoyed dining out but I’ve not often gone to the finest establishments.  Perhaps if I’d go to a five star restaurant once in awhile, I’d develop an appreciation for what’s to be experienced there but I’ve always been a bit intimidated by too much luxury.  There’s too much homework up front to learn the vocabulary.  Still, I probably should work on it a bit more because I’ve visited quite a few establishments at the opposite end of the dining spectrum.

South Arkansas is always a good place to look for literal hole-in-the-wall places.  Once, when visiting my sister in El Dorado, I said I wanted some fried catfish.  That was something that didn’t exist where I was living at the time so she took us to Bo’s Hut somewhere near Smackover.  Bo’s Hut was not one but several huts.  The main one was where you ordered and picked up your paper tray of fried catfish, hushpuppies (also fried), and coleslaw (not fried).  Then you went to one of the other huts to eat. 

Apparently Bo (for I assume that there was somebody named Bo involved somewhere) had either found a discount on small storage buildings or perhaps had once had such a business and needed something to do with his inventory for these were literally the sort of storage barns that most people put in their back yards to store lawnmowers in.  There were three or four arranged quite randomly on the lot and connected by rickety wooden sidewalks elevated above the grass (which got swampy after a rain – like most lawns in Smackover).  The point to dining in the huts was to avoid the flies and to enjoy the air conditioning.  The place employed many ziplock bags of water hanging from all the awnings that were alleged to keep the flies away but it was this singular visit to Bo’s Hut that taught me that those bags of water do not keep the flies away.  If they had any effect at all, I shudder to think how many flies would have been there in an otherwise unbagged facility.

The catfish was good though.  At least as good as the food at the RoadRunner.

The Roadrunner was closer to her house on the Magnolia highway.  This may or may not have been the name (I’ve long since forgotten) but it was one of those gas station convenience stores that had had a small restaurant grafted onto one side.  They had a few naugahyde booths for dining in and sold fried chicken, catfish, and barbecue.  It was good too – and cheap.  This was our primary reason for going there.

My uncle Wayne had a similar little grill in one of his stores.  Uncle Wayne had built up a small empire of small independent convenience stores in the Camden area over the years.  He usually only operated one of them at a time by himself and sold the older ones.  One of them at one point had a grill inside and he had located an ancient black woman who was an expert at fried chicken and such.  It was not so much his restaurant as it was hers and her reputation brought in a good bit of traffic.  Melissa and I went there several times to visit and eat.  We usually timed the two to coincide since in her elder years, my mother was less and less inclined to cook.  Wayne even ventured to say to me “Go ahead and eat – you know you won’t get anything to eat at your mama’s”, a comment that offended my mother tremendously even though it was totally true.  In response, she gave us some money and sent to dine at the Hush Puppy one night – a place that again sold fried catfish although this place had atmosphere and tables with tablecloths. 

There was yet another place called “Wood’s Place” that had this same menu.  It was quite plush in its dining room since it occupied an old Tastee Freez drive-in but was less pretentious than the hushpuppy.

When living in Fort Worth, I ended up working at General Dynamics which was subsequently sold to Lockheed Martin.  It was a giant factory facility that had been built during World War II to build B-24 bombers and had been busy since that time building one sort of airplane or another.  It was built adjacent to the former Carswell Air Force Base on the shores of Lake Worth.  It was this sort of environment with lots of men with short lunch breaks that gave rise to Jobe’s El Campo.  (Pronounced Joebee’s.) Jobe’s was a classic greasy spoon that sold hamburgers and a few other random items.

It was just off the property right on the lake and had obviously started out as one size and had grown several times with amateurishly built additions.  As far as I could tell, it was just outside the city limits and thus building codes were either non-existent or unenforced.  The floors were not level as you went from one part to another.  Part of it was on stilts out over the water.  If you were lucky, you’d get one of the waitresses that had all her teeth.

The only questions were:  “hamburger or cheeseburger?” and “Tea, pop, or beer to drink?”  They came with fries – no questions asked.  The only reason we went there is that it was so much trouble to go anywhere else and the food was at least as good as the food in the on-site cafeteria.  One guy brought his wife once day and she asked if they had salads – the waitress looked at her as if she was from Mars.  “We got taco salad” was the response.  The fact that it had more lettuce than meat meant it was a salad.  Everything about the place – both General Dynamics and Jobe’s looked like it was from WW-II because it was.  Jobe’s still had a glass-topped counter where you paid for lunch with gum and mints for sale underneath and crappy cigars for sale on a wire rack by the register.  They also sold Rolaids which was ironic but also necessary.  It had been written up in the local paper once and that article was displayed proudly on the wall in a frame behind the register even though the write-up had described it as a “dirty, squalid little restaurant.”  We wondered if the owners had ever read it all the way through.

I also used to take Evan to a place in Choteau once a year on our way home from the Dad and Lad campout outside Tahlequah when he was in cub scouts.  I have no idea of its name – it just had a sign outside that you could see from the turnpike:  “EAT.”  On the Sunday mornings when the campout finished up there was always a crowd and long lines at breakfast so we followed another Dad and his son to this place which was really popular with truck drivers.  They had all the classic breakfast things like eggs cooked any way you wanted, sausage, biscuits and gravy, strong coffee, etc.  It was the sort of place where nobody took their hat off when they came in.  Even the cinnamon rolls were greasy but they were homemade and really good.  Evan always had a bit of a touchy stomach where grease was concerned and so these never agreed with him but we could usually make it back home before he had to run into the bathroom before he exploded. 

It’s difficult to think of south Arkansas restaurants without remembering the Taco Bell in Camden.  This is a standout in my mind because in all the times we ever ate there (and there weren’t really all that many), they never once got the order right.  It became a bit of a game when we went to visit Mom and Dad to see just what they would get wrong.  I stopped checking the bag when we picked it up at the window – I preferred to just take it home and open it like a Christmas present to see what the surprise was.  We didn’t eat there much but we went there over a space of several years and the situation never changed.  We kept returning because, as bad as this service was, it was better than the service at the Burger King across the street.  That’s the place that once told me that “We ain’t got no meat. We got chicken though.” This is why I prefer the Mon-n-Pop greasy spoons.

I never had any problems with any of this greasy stuff.  But now that I read back through this, I’m realizing that I need to change where I eat.  Some of those places seem kinda creepy.

I was walking from one end of the store yesterday looking for Mel when I passed a middle-aged man and a teenaged girl.  He had apparently just mentioned that he was wondering how to locate the younger brother.  The girl shouted:

“MARCO!”

The man shushed her quickly but a small voice was heard from the back corner:

“POLO!”

“Found him.” Said the girl.

I spent last Thursday at the hospital.  Just like old times.  Only this time, Mel’s mom wasn’t there with me.

Mel had been complaining of some random pains in the upper body that moved around from one spot to another.  After a couple of months, she decided to see a doctor about it who told her she had gall stones.  Plural.  Really big ones.   Well, they had to come out.

She had endured these pains for a couple of months in silence – not wanting to spoil everyone’s day with yet another medical problem.  After her own bout with breast cancer five years ago and her mother’s unfortunate demise last year, she didn’t want any more medical issues to cloud the air.  Indeed, she refused to tell anybody outside of me and the kids.  (This blog does not count – nobody reads it anyway except for possibly one friend – Hey Daniel!)  Unfortunately, these things will not be wished away.  So off we went to the Natalie Ambulatory Surgical Center or whatever it’s called now.

The removal of a gall bladder is something you walk away from and is considered minor surgery.  Still, one cannot simply be complacent.  I sat by myself in the palatial waiting area and tried to read.  I’m a big reader and yet have never read any Jane Austen which is Mel’s favorite author.  I thought it appropriate somehow that I read one of those novels and we could talk about it.  Long sentences and big words do not frighten me although stories of women spending all their waking hours talking of marriage is not something I find riveting.  Still… it got me through the surgical wait. 

The surgeon came out afterwards in his ridiculous multi-colored do-rag that they all seem to wear on their heads and told me that everything went perfectly.  I had previously observed that the surgeon was a bit robotic in his personality but it occurred to me that this is exactly what you want in a surgeon – a matter of fact, detail-oriented way of working.  After it was done, and things had gone according to plan, he showed a bit more emotion so I guess he’s human after all.  She was sent home with an ice pack and a couple of prescriptions.  For the rest of the day and Friday, I stayed home with her even though she could very well have done without me.  I did fix a few meals, did the laundry, and did all the ironing – all of which I hate but that’s what you do when you are needed.  Even so, all this activity took me three days to accomplish what with all the procrastinating. 

And so here we are three days later.  She feels better but not perfect.  I guess that’s to be expected but I wish she would arrive at the point at which she actually feels good and stay there for awhile.  She’s about to run out of optional organs that can be removed.   Here’s hoping that she’ll be well for awhile now.

Clerk: “Did you find everything?”

Man in line: “Yes Ma’am.”

Clerk:  “I guess I need to get a haircut – people keep calling me ma’am!”

Oops.

Recently, Erin and I were driving along and an AC/DC song came on:  “Shoot To Thrill”.  Let me remind the reader of a subset of the lyrics…

“Too many women, too many pills.”

That’s a bit awkward with one’s daughter around.

Another good example is a song by Aerosmith:  “Big 10 inch”. 

Dads, go clean out your playlists.  Things that seemed funny when you first heard them take on different meanings in new contexts.

We visited OSU Saturday.  Erin is sold and is making plans on who to room with.  It would be nice if we would visit some other campuses before she made up her mind but she made up her own mind long ago.

It was “Dean’s Day” for potential engineering students.  We had gone to a visit several years ago with Evan at which there were literally thousands of kids who were interested in all majors.  It wasn’t all that useful to us because of those huge numbers.  This one was much smaller.  The dean himself was actually there too.

I’m not a schmoozer at all but somehow found myself standing next to the dean who started a conversation with me.  It turns out that he and the former owner of my company are friends who were in grad school together so we had something to talk about. 

Erin was totally taken with the aerospace engineering department when she was shown the wind tunnel and some other labs. 

She made up her mind long ago that she wants to attend there based on the fact that they have a good engineering department and that a few of her friends are going to attend so she’ll have some acquaintances when she arrives.  We’d like to visit some other universities to make sure that this is the right place but she seems uninterested in any of that.  I guess there’s no bad decision in this regard.

When we visited with Evan, it was a football game day and the place was hopping.  Saturday, for some reason, the place was deserted.  The weather was dreary and cold and there were no sporting events on campus other than a women’s basketball game that night so the campus had ever appearance of being unoccupied.  This did not bother us since that meant parking places were in abundance. 

One thing I dislike about OSU is their publication of their costs.  When looking at costs, we all are trained to look at tuition and we tend to assume (or I do at least) that “fees” are a minor addition.  That is the case at Arkansas.  In the case of OSU, their fees are almost as much as the tuition is and so one can be quoted a scholarship package and thing that you’re getting a free ride only to get a bill for several thousand dollars in fees.  This is misleading at best.  This probably won’t affect our decision much since we are aware of it (having been warned by other parents who already have kids there) but it’s just one more example of how the costs of higher education have spiraled out of control in the past 30 years.  I’m not sure what to do about it – one can’t boycott one’s own education.

It’s gonna be weird having a cowboy mascot in the family.  I guess it’s no stranger than having a razorback hog though.

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