Monthly Archives: June 2010

Out Of My Element


Now Playing: South Central Rain, by R.E.M. “Did you never call? I waited for your call. These rivers of suggestion are driving me away. The trees will bend, the cities wash away, The city on the river there is a girl without a dream.”

I’ve detailed my recent adventures as a plumber – and as an employer of a local handyman service – in a previous entry. But hey, I don’t always foul up.

Saturday night we discovered the bake element – the bottom thing that gets red-hot when you cook – in our oven wasn’t getting red-hot any more. I’m not even sure it was getting red-warm. Karen noticed it while I was out buying a second can of paint at Lowe’s for Garrett’s bedroom.

She told me to call someone Monday to fix it and in the meantime we’d get by on microwave/toaster oven/crockpot.

But I said no. I’d take a shot at fixing it. (Given how I “fixed” the toilet, I think she was kinda worried, but she had the grace not to mention it.) I researched it in my handy-dandy handyman book and online, and it didn’t look like much of a repair.

So Sunday morning, once Austin got up, we pulled the oven out to the middle of the kitchen, and I took out a couple of screws in the housing attaching the element to the oven. That’s when I discovered (and to be truthful, it actually was Austin’s young eyes that discovered it) that none of the stuff I’d looked at correctly described how our element connected to our oven.

So we had to take the back of the oven off, which my research described as “The Hard Way” to replace an element. Still it was easy enough and we got the bad element out without too much trouble. Great, I thought, I’ll just take the bad one to Lowe’s and buy a replacement.

Alas, there were complications. Turns out Lowe’s doesn’t sell bake elements. Which shocked, stunned and amazed me. I get used to it having everything I need when I need it.

But the ever-helpful staff came up with three suggestions of places where I could get one. Only thing was, none were open on Sunday.

First thing, yesterday morning, I called the nearest one, which was in Monroe. Or MON-roe, as I like to call it. “Yep,” the lady who answered said, “we carry them. But I’m not sure if we have that one. You’ll have to wait for the other girl to get here, she knows more about them than me.”

So, element and model number in hand, I went to the store to see the “other girl.”

She took my element and headed to the store’s inventory, displayed on a bunch of hooks hanging on the wall. “I gotta warn you, they cost $50,” she said. I said that was fine. The first one she showed me was too small, but No. 2 was a perfect match.

Of course, I’d been this far – getting the right part – on my ill-fated toilet repair. So the real test waited. Even before I got home, I started worrying that the new one had a different type of connectors than the old one. But everything turned out fine. I installed the element, put the back back on, retightened the housing in the oven and pushed it back to the plug. Garrett and I hooked her up, and then I paused. “Garrett,” I said, “I have to tell you something before we turn this on. It says in all my instructions that there’s a chance that it will smoke the first time it’s used, so don’t panic if it does.” Garrett’s a worrier, not to mention a critic, so I knew I needed to pre-empt his concerns.

We held our breath and turned her on. Within seconds, the element turned red. A few minutes later, it preheated to 400. I didn’t have anything to cook, so I counted that as success.

Karen was proud of me when she got home. I pooh-poohed it, trying to be nonchalant. But then she said it: “You may not be an electrician, baby, but you’ve always been able to make sparks fly.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

“Electricity is really just organized lightning.” _ George Carlin

“They say that a good cook can ignite sparks by the way he kisses. The way I see, just because a guy can turn on the stove doesn’t necessarily make him a good cook.” _ Stefanie Powers

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A Momentous – and momentous – Day


Now Playing: Brazil vs. Portugal. Not sure who I want to win, but I enjoy seeing the skill these guys demonstrate.

Tuning in to the TV today would indicate that this is a Momentous Day for a lot of folks. After all, Michael Jackson is still dead, and he has been for exactly a year. For me, not so much, though it is a small-m momentous day. I’ll get to that in a minute.

As for Michael Jackson, I didn’t care when he died and I still don’t. To me, he was a talented but way overhyped musician who parlayed vapid at best dance music into a superstar career. Come on, I mean Beat It, Black or White, Man in the Mirror and the really worst of them all, Bad (I can’t think of anything so incongruous as Michael Jackson singing “I’m bad, I’m bad”). They were popular but stupid songs, and I’d be happy never hearing any of them again.

And that’s not even getting into his creepy personal life, whatever the truth of it was.

I will say that I’m glad he found peace, because he didn’t seem to have much of it in life. I also must mention that the young Michael, as front man for the J-5, did do some good stuff. Always really liked I Want You Back. But the more or less adult Michael, not so much.

As to why it’s a small-m momentous day, I’m continuing at considerable risk. Karen’s already warned me not to write this or I’ll be sleeping on the lawn tonight.

Today is my old friend, co-worker and protegĂ© Beth’s birthday. How do I remember? Because it’s exactly one week before my birthday. Which means she’s exactly 9 years and 51 months younger than me.

I haven’t communicated with Beth in nearly 17 years. But we once were good friends – I considered her my little sister (she’d gone to Carolina, too, and was an avid Tar Heel fan) – and sometimes enemies. Particularly in the Jacksonville Daily News newsroom. I can remember shouting matches on many occasions. “Put a period on it, Beth!” I often screamed when she was busting a deadline, which she usually was. (And by the way, she’s another member of the Daily News Hall of Fame.)

Outside the office, we did much better. We’d drink together, go to movies and the beach together, ride bikes, watch football at her parents’ house and that kind of stuff.

But eventually, we moved Beth in our Swansboro office, where she covered Swansboro and Carteret County.

It probably kept us both sane. Even better, it led to Beth meeting a Coast Guardsman, Brandt, whom she would eventually marry. He was a really nice guy, and I’m guessing he still is. They made a great couple, I thought. According to Beth’s Facebook page (and she’s one of those Facebook friends who rarely posts), they have two kids and live in Louisiana. Like many of us J-school grads, she’s left the industry. She’s now a special ed teacher, and I’ll bet she’s a great one.

I wish my old friend (emphasis on friend, not old) the absolute best in everything.

And I hope it doesn’t rain on me tonight on the lawn, if my wise, wonderful and beautiful wife whom I love very much follows through on her threat.

“Friendship isn’t a big thing – it’s a million little things.” _ Anonymous

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This, That and The Other Thing


Yep. Today’s title is from one of my favorite Gilligan’s Island episodes, called The Little Dictator. It’s the one where Nehemiah Persoff plays a South American dictator who, after being overthrown, is exiled to — you guessed it — Gilligan’s Island. He sets himself up as dictator of the island, then after being deposed tries to persuade Gilligan into being his puppet ruler. When Gilligan, in a dream sequence, addresses the people of his country, he asks the former El Presidente what to tell them.

That’s when he’s told the eternal secret of politics: Promise them This, That and The Other Thing.

Which is pretty much what politicians do. Whether it’s getting out of Afghanistan and Iraq, promoting green energy, closing borders, cutting taxes, the promises are all just This, That and The Other Thing. All you need to do is watch Elaine Marshall and Cal Cunningham kissing up to one another now that the Democratic primary’s over. And damn, even with that hypocrisy they’re better than Richard Burr.

And when did it get written that you have to be a crackpot to run for the U.S. House? Or if not that, a dimwit. Or not stand for anything but getting elected – Heath Shuler, I’m talking about you here, in case you didn’t know.

The state level isn’t any better. You know I’m an animal lover, but all the time and attention paid to the animal cruelty law this session has me baffled.

Shouldn’t legislators be figuring out how to pass a budget without firing teachers or emasculating this state’s great university system?

And where is the education leadership on this one? Erskine, I’m calling you out. Don’t let this crap happen to the UNC system!

Gilligan’s dictator dream ends with a really creepy sequence: El Presidente pulling the strings on his Gilligan puppet. The episode ends, of course, with the dictator being reinstated by the Loyalists. The ones hoping to cash in on This, That and The Other Thing. (Of course, he’s deposed again after claiming he met the seven castaways on an uncharted desert isle, meaning he can’t send help to Gilligan, et al. And to answer your question. Mary Ann.)

Will we ever learn? Or must we always be seduced by TTaTOT.

“Democracy gives every man the right to be his own oppressor.” _ James Russell Lowell

“Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.” _ H.L. Mencken

“Every government is a parliament of whores. The trouble is, in a democracy, the whores are us.” _ P.J. O’Rourke

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Hot Times and Cold Play


Now Playing: 4 + 20, by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. “Four and Twenty years ago, I come into this life, Son of a woman And a man who lived in strife. He was tired of being poor, But he wasn’t into selling door to door. And he worked like a devil to be more.”

Austin was griping the other day because the car he was taking driver’s ed in had no AC. Which I must admit didn’t seem like a good thing to me. But it got me thinking about growing up in Southside Va. As Harper Lee says in To Kill a Mockingbird, “it was hotter then.” And when I was growing up in the ’60s, we had no AC. And I’m not talking about in the cars  (though we didn’t have it in them, either). I’m talking about the house.

We moved in that house in 1963. I can remember it being built, and we’d go to see the progress once in awhile. One time I got licked by a cow. Big time. I like to think that’s why my hair goes every which way – blame it on the cowlick.

Anyway, we’d put all the windows up, and use a window fan to blow out to create a breeze. That’s how we’d sleep at night. In the cars, we’d roll the windows down.

And while i remember it being hot – really hot – during those summers, it was never terrible. Contrast that with this morning, when I nearly had a heat stroke just going out to get the mail.

I remember the winters being colder, too. It always snowed a couple of times, it seemed like. We’d go out in the woods and find a Christmas tree most years. They weren’t our trees, but somehow it didn’t seem wrong to go cut them and haul them back to the house. When it did snow, we’d go on the neighbor’s property – OK, it was a cow pasture back in the woods – and find a hill for our sleds. We’d sled for hours on the neighbor’s property. They never complained. We’d make snow ice cream, just taking for granted that the snow was clean. It was quite a treat.

Back to summer. For many years I worked in tobacco during the summers. Until I got old enough to do something … anything … else, which turned out to be working in a clothing store. But even on the hottest days of summer, my friend Mike and I played basketball every day at the school. Literally every day. Sometimes we’d play during our lunch breaks from working in tobacco. If not then, we’d go after work. (You’d think I would have gotten better at it. Alas, my height – or lack thereof – and eyes conspired to keep me in the stands. Mike, meanwhile, was a good athlete and played on the local high school team, which was pretty damn good. We went to the Va. Final Four three straight years while I was in school, losing twice to Mose Malone and once to a Richmond school that had two ACC players.) There were water fountains outside the school, but the water was usually hot. There were some inside, too, if you knew how to get in. I’m not saying we did, but the inside water was always cooler. And it tasted better.

And these days I can’t get the mail without nearly dying. And can’t the kids outside to do much of anything (short of going to Carowinds). And can’t sleep without the AC and the fan going (and sometimes not even then).

I remember when we finally got a wall unit. It kept one room cool, our den. For sleeping, we still depended on the fans blowing out and the bedroom windows being down. Finally we got another unit, more powerful than the first, which we still used. And we got cars wtih AC, as nearly every Southerner does these days. The last time I lived without AC was at Carolina. I suppose even that’s changed now.

The summers were hotter then. But we were cooler. In more ways than one.

People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy. _ Anton Chekhov

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A Father’s Day Treat


Now Playing: Dancing Days, by Led Zeppelin. “I told your mamma I’d get you home but I didn’t tell her I had no car. I saw a lion he was standing alone with a tadpole in a jar.” (And someday I’ll tell the story of that first line.)

No, I’m not talking about the gifts I got, which were much appreciated – and what I asked for (OK, I didn’t ask for the shirt, but I loved it). And no, I’m not talking about the Father’s Day Feast – the ribs, corn, baked beans, slaw and raspberry-blueberry cobbler, all of which were fantastic.

I’m talking about my favorite of our three cats, Squeaker, and what he did to amuse and amaze me last night at the table.

I’ve written about Squeaker before, particularly about his attempt to establish Take a Cat to Work Day at the magazine. He’s a very needy orange tabby, friendly but sometimes annoying – so we share those qualities. Anyway he’s my buddy, by far my favorite of our three cats.

It happened while Karen, the boys and I were eating supper. Let me say here that I don’t endorse allowing the animals to eat people food. I don’t think it’s good for them, and I know. I’m the one who scoops the poops at this house. And cleans the hairballs. And the … well, you get the point. I pay the consequences for upset cat stomachs in this casa. So I try to talk the other folks who inhabit this house to follow this policy. (And here I must also add that the cats, Squeaker in particular, can be aggressive about trying stuff. Squeaker has had bites of doughnut (he prefers Krispy Kreme, as do I) and likes to share fruit popsicles with me. (It freaks the kids out that I’ll lick after him.) Socks likes eggs. They will all eat chicken if they can get it.

But for the most part, they only eat cat food. Anyway, last night, as we were nearing the end of the FDF, Karen dropped a kernel of corn on the floor by accident. We didn’t think much of it. Surely the cats wouldn’t touch it. (We’ve often wished that, for meal times only, they were dogs and would eat anything dropped on the floor.)

We were wrong. Squeaker gobbled it like it was coated in catnip.

Which gave Karen an idea. She held her cob down to the floor. And I swear I’m not making this up. Squeaker started eating corn on the cob. Smokey came over and checked it out, but I’m not sure he ever took a bite.

Full as I was of ribs, corn, beans and slaw, I couldn’t help but laugh at my cat children.

Which was pretty much the cherry of a great Father’s Day.

“Fathers are biological necessities but social accidents.” _ Margaret Mead

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The Quiet Man


I’ve written often about my mom on this blog, not so much about my dad. But in honor of Father’s Day Sunday, I wanted to share my thoughts today about The Quiet Man, who died about 20 years ago.

His given name was Frank Merritt Murray, but his family – I’ve mentioned before, I think, that they never called anyone their given name – always referred to him as Man. We called him Deddy.

He was good-natured – I’m not sure I ever saw him really upset, even after I wrecked his car – but really quiet. Friendly but really guarded (which sort of described me, too, up until I started writing this blog and revealing a few of my experiences and thoughts).

He grew up in rural Southside Virginia, just across the border from North Carolina. In fact, he went to school in Roxboro. He wasn’t much of a student – he repeated first grade. That was mainly because he was needed on the family farm, where he was one of I never even counted how many siblings. Once he finished with school, he went into the Army during World War II. I think I mentioned once that he wouldn’t talk much about his experience, unless he was around another World War II vet. I guess that was pretty common among those who served then.

Here’s what I do know. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, drove a tank, served under Patton and loved him. And grieved the loss of his brother (the one I’m named after) in the Pacific, I think at Peleliu. Brought home a pistol, which was stolen during a break-in at our house. And that’s just about it.

He and two army buddies opened a garage, and that’s where he worked for most of his life. He painted cars, and he was damned good at it.

Eventually, the business fell apart. He got a construction job at the Hyco Dam. Retired briefly, then went to work driving a delivery truck for an auto-parts store. I don’t think the store needed him, they just liked having him around.

Most everybody did. He was easy with a laugh, loyal to his friends and quick to help anyone who needed it.

I never saw him take a drink, but I knew he had one or two every month or two. Even if you couldn’t smell it on him, he got more garrulous then (while my mother got quieter – in truth, she seethed during these occasions).

He loved to tease my brother and sister and me. But he made sure we had everything we needed. All three of us went to college. And I know that he always made sure I had a little money in my pocket, even when I didn’t ask.

It was on his birthday that the swelling started in his jaw. I was working in Jacksonville by then and didn’t make it home all that often.

He went to the dentist first, who sent him to the doctor. It wasn’t good. Cancer. Of the tongue. From smoking? Probably. He’d been a heavy smoker. I’m sure the paint fumes didn’t do him any good either.

They operated at Duke but weren’t sure they got it all. They needed to do radiation. But not until they pulled his teeth. All of them.

At first things were going OK. Then one day he fell in his room at the house. He couldn’t get up.

It meant another trip to Duke. The news was devastating. The cancer had spread to his spine. He was paralyzed below the waist.

He spent his last months in a hospital bed at the house, watching game shows (which he loved), smoking (why not?) and playing scratch-off lottery tickets. And taking morphine when he absolutely had to. And not complaining.

One Friday night, I drove from Jacksonville to South Boston for a long weekend. He’d been getting a lot weaker. The cancer had spread into his brain, and he wasn’t lucid very much. I got there that night and he greeted me. It was the last word he would speak. He got weaker by the minute. I was going back to Jacksonville Monday morning, but when I got up, his breath was very shallow. I decided to stick around. A few minutes later, he was gone.

His death was quiet. As his life was. He never got to tease Karen, or Lauren or Nicki, or Austin or Garrett. He would have loved them all. And they would have loved him.

As I did. And do.

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Don’t Mean to Say I Told You So … And Other Stuff


Now Playing: Bargain, by The Who. “I’d pay any price just to win you, Surrender my good life for bad, To find you I’m gonna drown an unsung man. I’d call that a bargain, The best I ever had.”

Ever notice that when people say don’t mean to say I told you so, they say I told you so. And when they start a sentence with “No offense, but …” they offend you. Well, not to say I told you so, but I told you that Bank of America would make you pay for their decision to “help” consumers by eliminating overdraft fees. No offense intended, but BofA is robbing you – regardless of how well you manage your finances – to make up for the money it’s losing by catering to people who don’t. And you know what? Offense was intended.

What Bank is doing is eliminating most free checking, something it has wanted to do for ages. But couldn’t. Because its henchmen in the industry wouldn’t go for it.

Now they all are looking for ways to recoup those overdraft fees. Hard to imagine someone in the industry not feeding on the carcass that is you and me.

Oh, there will be ways to get around it. By getting a bank credit card (which will have a fee or an exorbitant interest rate – and let’s not forget that Bank is the nation’s second-largest credit-card company – or having a bank debit card – which likely will land you a charge for both not using enough or for using too much, etc.

Yeah, I definitely meant to offend.

Here’s the And Other Stuff.

Well, it appears South Carolina may not have the dumbest politicians in the nation after all. And it appears that the 8th Congressional District doesn’t have the dumbest candidate – including the incumbent – in North Carolina’s congressional races. (That’s the race where the state GOP chairman says the leading vote-getter in May isn’t fit for office. And his opponent is a former sportscaster stuck for an answer when asked about policy. And the incumbent is a nitwit who rode the president’s coattails in 2008 to defeat an equally pathetic Republican sitting congressman.)

No, it appears the crown of being the stupidest congressional candidate in the state – worse even than Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-Blowing Rock, an embarrassment to this fine state on many an occasion, or Rep. Sue Myrick, R-Charlotte, who sees Muslim conspiracies behind every door – goes to Bill Randall, who was the leading Republican vote-getter in the 13th Congressional District. Randall suggests that President Obama and BP conspired to cause the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.

Yeah, right. BP wanted to sabotage its share price, pay $20 billion, be the target of national scorn. The president wanted to prompt massive criticism and cause an environmental disaster. Sure.

Mind you, Randall says he has no proof of this conspiracy. He just thinks it should be investigated. Of course, he’s just parroting the loonies at Fox News, who apparently also have suggested this, and that font of wisdom, and by wisdom I mean bullshit, Rush Limbaugh.

Like I said, at this point I think we’re looking up at South Carolina. Which is not a place you want to be.

Dr. Allenby: “This won’t hurt a bit (Sticks Chance with a needle).” Chance the Gardner: “It did hurt.” _ Being There

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