Monthly Archives: December 2010

An Office Party Pain in the Neck, and I Don’t Mean ‘Fred’


Now Playing: Just Breathe, by Pearl Jam. “Did I say that I need you?  Did I say that I want you? Oh, if I didn’t I’m a fool you see, No one knows this more than me.”

This one’s about office Christmas parties. Well, kinda. In an Arthur sort of way.

No, there won’t be a long recounting of Christmas parties past. That’s because I don’t exactly remember the best ones, if you know what I mean.

What brings all this to mind is a gathering yesterday of my former colleagues at Business North Carolina. I’d planned to go. (If you don’t know, I’ll say it again. I’ve never had any hard feelings about the business decision to lay me off. Plus, David and Ben Kinney have thrown me many lifelines in the past year, and I appreciate them and respect everything they’ve done to help.)

Anyway, it turns out that the gathering at a restaurant in Charlotte was a pain in the neck. No, nobody was mean to me there. Even my former colleague, “Fred,” not his real name, whom I’ve written about before. In previous mentions of “Fred,” I’ve described his aversion to quotes and offered my version of how he’d edit my favorite writer, Raymond Chandler, and the bad karma he brought my neighborhood when he moved into it.

I didn’t make it to the gathering. That’s where the pain in the neck comes in.

It started Friday. I could feel a little bump on the back of my neck. Probably an embedded hair, I figured. I get ’em sometimes, particularly after haircuts. And while I hadn’t had a haircut recently, I didn’t think anything of it. Even when it got worse throughout the day.

By Saturday morning, it was ugly and painful, but I still wasn’t too concerned. Until it kept getting worse. Monday morning, when I could call my doctor’s office again, it was better, so I figured it was just an annoyance.

I was wrong. It was terrible Tuesday, swollen to at least half golf-ball size, and ultra painful. Problem was, I had a business trip scheduled that I had to make. So I did. And when I got back home Tuesday night, I could barely hold my head up, the pain was so bad.

So I called my doctor’s practice Wednesday. My doc was gone, but Dr. Dichoso-Wood was there, and I like her. Too much, Karen might say. Anyway, she could see me at 3. She was horrified by The Thing on my neck – I think there was an “Ewwwwww!” in there – and said she was referring me to surgeons in Monroe. She got me in immediately. Which says something again about how bad it was.

When I got there, Dr. Johnson called my neck growth an abcess and said he’d drain it. By that, I mean he made an 1.5 inch long, 1.5 inch deep incision. It didn’t hurt then – he’d numbed it pretty well, but he warned that it would, so he gave me scripts for antibiotics. But first I had to drop off a culture at the hospital lab. Where they had to see my insurance card, etc., all over again.

Anyway, by the time I got out of there, the numbness had all but worn off. It was about 5:30, the same time the guys from the office were getting together in Charlotte. And I was hurting, and still hadn’t filled my prescriptions yet. So I had to stop at Target, bloody gauze poking out from the bandage on my neck. It wasn’t as cool as having an eyepatch, but its darn close. Once I got home, I popped a couple of Vicodins and settled down for a night of barely consciousness.

So I’d missed the party, which I regretted. All because of a pain in the neck.

I’m much better today, and I haven’t taken a Vicodin since 10 o’clock last night.

It was probably the first time that ‘Fred’ didn’t have something to do with a pain in the neck related to the office. (Seriously, I wish ‘Fred’ and his wife, ‘Kimberley,’ not her real name, a wonderful Christmas with their new baby. And I appreciate ‘Fred’s sense of humor. Since he is, as I’ve mentioned, twice as big as I am – but not in girth.)

In fact, if I don’t write again before Saturday, and I doubt that I will, Happy Holidays to all.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past, Part II


Now Playing: See How We Are, by X. “Now that highway’s coming through, So you all gotta move. This bottom rung ain’t no fun at all. No fires and rockhouses and grape-flavored rat poison, They are the new trinity, For this so-called community. See how we are. Gotta keep bars on all of our windows. See how we are. We only sing about it once in every twenty years. See how we are. Oh see how we are.”

Last week, I blogged about my all-time favorite Christmas gifts. Then on Facebook, I posted a couple of times about my all-time favorite Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street, and how it makes me cry every time I see it. The same is also true for It’s A Wonderful Life, my second favorite of all time.

So today, I’ll address the convergence of nearly favorite Christmas presents with nearly favorite Christmas movies.

I’m speaking, of course, about the movie A Christmas Story and the Daisy BB gun I once got for Christmas. A Christmas Story isn’t my favorite holiday movie, but I do laugh at several scenes, most involving the great Darren McGavin. I watch it at least once, and sometimes more, every year. An aside: I never realized until watching the movie that other kids also thought they’d go blind to teach their parents a lesson. Similarly, the BB gun wasn’t my favorite present, but I used it often, whenever I had BBs. (I actually preferred my brother’s, though. It had a really cool pump action that you had to do between shots.)

When I posted the teaser this morning, my friend and neighbor Debbie Dyer Lawson warned me about shooting my eye out.

Well, once again, this is an occasion where art meets Arthur’s life.

I didn’t shoot my eye out, of course. Nor did I shoot anyone’s eye out with my BB gun. Nor, even before reading Atticus Finch’s admonishment, did I ever shoot at birds, particularly mockingbirds.

But, as you probably have guessed by now, I did shoot someone. With his own BB gun. In the eye.

It was my friend Mike Lipford. Mike lived about a quarter of a mile or so away from me on the same business U.S. 501. But we were great friends, particularly in elementary school, and often walked back and fourth between houses to play. We’d play wiffle ball, ride bikes or sometimes just go exploring, including to the rock quarry where we actually were forbidden to play. I don’t remember the hole for the quarry, but I do remember the giant mounds of gravel we’d often climb.

We also walked to the elementary school and played basketball nearly every day, and we’d even walk to the swimming pool where we both belonged. One or the other of our mothers usually would pick us up. Mike’s mother drove an old Ford with a push-button automatic transmission. My mom drove a 1957 pink Chevy Bel Air.

But on this day, we were playing at Mike’s house, which we often did. His mom was less stern than mine, and his house was slightly closer to the places we often walked too. We were playing in the back yard with the BB gun, and we’d gotten tired of shooting at cans. So Mike had a plan. I’d shoot at him, and he’d dodge the bullet (BB).

Well, to my credit, I wanted no part of this plan. (Even then I wasn’t crazy about guns. I don’t think I’ve ever fired a real one, though it’s possible I did shoot my brother’s shotgun. Once.) So I decided I’d aim at Mike and then shoot down at the ground. Which would have been a solid plan. Except we lived in red clay country. And the clay was studded with rock. My BB apparently found a rock. And ricocheted. Right at Mike.

It hit him in the eye, scaring the s-dash-dash-dash (an homage to A Christmas Story) out of both of us. I was scared for Mike and, I’m sorry to say, terrified of the trouble I’d get into with my mom. We ran in the house, where we initially told Mike’s mom that he’d fallen down and hit a rock.

Which was a pretty good cover story on short notice. Except, that while Mike and his mom were poking at his eyebrow, where the BB actually hit, the pellet popped out and bounced in the bathroom sink.

We were busted. We told Mike’s mom what had really happened. She understood that we were just goofing around, and she was so relieved Mike wouldn’t have to become a pirate that she told me she wouldn’t tell my mom. And she never did.

“Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas.” _ Dale Evans (the one Lyle Lovett couldn’t bring himself to marry if he’d been Roy Rogers (If I Had a Boat)

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The Ghost of Christmas Past


Now Playing: If I Were You, by Kasey Chambers. “If I was good, I’d tell everyone I know. If I was free, I wouldn’t be so keen to go. If I was wrong, I would take it like a man. If I was smart, I would get out while I can.”

Got to thinking the other day about my favorite Christmas presents of all time. It’s a pretty short list. My family scrimped and saved through most of my childhood. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have Christmas or get more than we should have given my parents’ situation.

But, and it pains me to say it, I usually was kinda disappointed on Christmas morning. It wasn’t that I didn’t get what I asked for, I just didn’t get what I wanted (which I usually kept to myself).

What made it doubly bad was that we had a two-pronged Christmas. We’d open presents from one another in the family on Christmas Eve, then get Santa stuff the next morning.

Those Christmas Eves were murder. We couldn’t open gifts until everyone had finished eating. Which meant waiting on my sister, Becky, to finish. It wasn’t that she ate so much, she just ate so slowly. I’d help clear the table once she finished, then she and my mom would do the dishes, and finally we’d settle into the living room – Christmas was the only time we ever used it – to hand out the presents and open them. It truly was torture waiting for it.

The next morning, we’d get stuff from Santa – this went on long after there were children in the house. And we’d get a box with oranges, tangerines, apples, nuts and candy. It was one of the best parts of the deal. The bad thing was, after we examined the Santa stuff, we’d immediately head to my grandmother’s (my father’s mother). I was never close to her, she was 900 years old when I was a little kid and she dipped snuff and kept the heat on greenhouse levels. And I resented never getting to play much with my stuff till all the visiting was done.

But anyway, I got stuff – lots of it through the years. But much of it was never the cool brand or exactly the right thing. I remember asking for a stereo system one year. I got it, but it was little different from the record player we already had. (And yes, I know how petty this sounds – but it’s the truth.)

Still, three presents stood out as my all-time favorites.

One was a rocket that worked with water pressure. I must have launched that thing 500 or more times. I absolutely loved it. It was a Gemini model, and the solid rocket boosters came off, which left the manned part to float to the ground by parachute. It was a blast – pun intended.

Then there was my Thingmaker – quite possibly one of the most dangerous toys ever made. I had the Creepy Crawlers version, and it was great fun until the Plastigoop ran out. I had no idea how to get more, and it wasn’t like there was a toy store in SoBo. There was Rose’s, Newberry’s and Western Auto. Other than that, your toy-buying ventures depended on a trip to the Kmart in Danville – in those days a much-desired trip. Back to the danger: Combine one part blast furnace heat with liquid plastic, mix with one part kid’s impatience at waiting for the molds to cool, and you’ve got a recipe for at least second-degree burns. But great fun, nonetheless.

My all-time favorite toy, though, was my official James Bond Attache Case. Just like the one 007 used in From Russia With Love. It had so many great features. It opened by a combination code. Mess up and you’d get shot with a plastic bullet. If someone from SMERSH or SPECTRE snuck up on you in SoBo, there was rubber knife hidden in the frame. Inside there was a codebook, passport and currency. Not to mention the pistol that you could turn into a rifle. With loads of plastic bullets. I had great fun with it for probably far too many years.

I got other great stuff, too, including a BB gun. And I never shot my eye out. But as for my childhood friend Mike Lipford, that’s a story for another day.

Shalom.

“My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that?” _ Bob Hope

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I Found a Loophole … And Other Stuff


Now Playing: Misty Mountain Hop, by Led Zeppelin. “Walkin’ in the park just the other day, baby,  What do you, what do you think I saw? Crowds of people sittin’ on the grass with flowers in their hair said,  “Hey, Boy, do you wanna score?”  And you know how it is. I really don’t know what time it was, So I asked them if I could stay a while.”

I declared in Tuesday’s blog that I wouldn’t watch the Tar Heels play against Evansville last night. The reason: I hadn’t watched Saturday, and they won a big game against Kentucky. So superstition dictated that I wouldn’t watch again until they lost.

But early yesterday afternoon, I found a loophole. It was unwittingly provided by my wise and wonderful wife, who declared we were going to have cheese steaks for supper. What do cheese steaks have to do with it, you ask?

Well, it turns out that not watching the game Saturday wasn’t the only out-of-routine thing I did. I also took Garrett out to eat, and he chose the restaurant, Jersey Mike’s in Matthews. We split a cheese steak.

So the way I viewed it, it could have been the cheese steak just as easily as the not-watching-the-game that prompted the victory. So I decided to test the theory last night.

Since I watched the game and ate a cheese steak, it must have the sammy.

So I’m good to go with watching my beloved Heels again. (And it might be a good idea to buy stock in Jersey Mike’s, since I could be eating a lot of Phillies between now and the end of the season.

Here’s the … And Other Stuff.

Customer service, Part One

I posted this on Facebook after it happened, but I didn’t give the whole story. I went to buy an electronics item for a Christmas present at a local store that’s part of a chain that isn’t named Worst Purchase. It was one of those gadgets that they keep locked up – I understand the reasoning. I struggled for several minutes finding someone to help. Finally, someone who looked like a manager-type asked if I needed help. I told him yes and what I wanted. He said he was helping someone else but that he’d find someone to give me a hand.

A few minutes later, a young woman approached (I’d later find out she was also a manager type, despite her apparent youth). I told her what I needed, she opened the case and got what I thought was the item out. As seems to be the custom these days, they don’t let you handle these locked up items until you pay. But I was still OK. Then we went to the register. Turns out my 10% off coupon wouldn’t work – it was one of the exclusions on the back in the small print that I couldn’t begin to read. That was OK, too. Then she tried to sell me an extended warranty. No thanks. I’m starting to get a little bit agitated, but I’m not Hulking up. Yet. Then she rang up the item and the price was way more than I’d planned on. Turned out she’d grabbed a higher end item than I’d asked for. That was it. Arthur didn’t smash, but he did stomp out of the store that isn’t named Worst Purchase muttering under his breath.

A couple of days later, I e-mailed the company that isn’t named Worst Purchase to complain about my experience. I don’t know what I expected to happen, but it did make me feel better. I did expect an e-mail back, maybe a $5 gift certificate or something to make me feel better. What I got was, about a day-and-a-half later, a phone call. Cool, I thought. The caller from the company that isn’t named Worst Purchase told me he was sorry, asked the location of the store and thanked me for alerting them to the problem. And that was it.

Customer service, Part Deux

We decided this year to get our Christmas tree this year from one of the lots that springs up around the Indian Trail metro area. We usually buy one from a company that isn’t named High’s, that doesn’t have red as its main logo color and has its headquarters in a town that isn’t called Lessville. See, the last couple of years we’ve gone to the store that isn’t named High’s, we’ve had trouble being waited on in the Christmas tree department. Employees, once found, have only grudgingly sawed off the bottom of the tree and bagged it for us.

So we decided to go the lot route. One has been operating for a few years on the road leading to our subdivision. Another sprung up this year across the street, and the two seem to be doing gaudiness battle with one another. We decided to cross both off the list. A little further away, in uptown Indian Trail, there was a lot called Timber Ridge. We decided to give it a try.

Turns out this was the anti-Worst Purchase/High’s. Timber Ridge – which is its real name – is run by a guy from Boone named Steve and his family. He posted his prices so we could seem them from the street. He showed us the lot, pretty much told us when each of the trees we were interested in had been cut, then cleared out to let us make our decision. When we selected one, he took it out, cut the bottom off, bagged it and offered to take our check for it. Then – and I found this unbelievable – he tied it to our car with HIS rope, not ours.

Pretty sure we’ll go back there next year.

You’d better watch out …

We put the tree up Sunday, after cutting a couple more small branches off so it would fit in our latest stand. (We probably have owned more Christmas-tree stands than any house this side of the Biltmore.) So we had a little pine foliage left over.

The Beandeer

 

Which gave me an idea. I like to put the windows up when it’s not too hot/cold outdoors. Problem is, the primary window won’t stay up – there’s a broken seal or something. So we’ve used a variety of things to keep it up. Rulers are nice, but they break. So for past two or three months, I’ve been using a 32-ounce can of baked beans to hold the window up.

It works great and doesn’t break, but it does look a little funny to have a can of baked beans sitting on your window sill.

But that’s not what we have now. We have a beandeer, with the photo going right here.

Hope you’re having a Murray Christmas!

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Why I Won’t Watch the Carolina game Wednesday Night


Now Playing: Grindstone, by Uncle Tupelo. “If you find yourself standing At the end of your line Looking for a piece of something, maybe a piece of mind. Fed up, lost, and run down, nowhere to hold on, tired of, take your place at the end, son. We’ll get to you one by one.”

When I posted on Facebook this morning what I’d be blogging about, a dookie friend of mine (and yes, I do have them) commented that I must be sick and that Karen should get me to the hospital. Fact is, I am sick, and not just with Carolina Fever. I’ve been fighting a cold/sore throat for days. Actually, Barbara, even the hospital wouldn’t do the trick. I’ve listened to a Carolina game from a hospital – Onslow Memorial in Jacksonville. It happened the day after I broke my arm. I had surgery that morning, where the docs inserted a pin in my wrist, and a plate, anchored by four screws, in my forearm. The pain medicine had me loopy, but I still listened as my Heels lost, I believe in overtime, at Clemson.

There was another time when I contemplated watching or listening at the hospital. It was on Jan. 5, 1995. That was the night Austin was born. It so happened that we played N.C. State that night. Karen went into labor and I was able to catch the first half at home. I tried to talk her into waiting for the game to end, but we left for Gaston Memorial at halftime. As it turned out, the birthing rooms didn’t have TVs. (The Heels lost that one, too, by the way.)

So let’s just stipulate that I haven’t missed too many Tar Heel games when I wasn’t working at one job or another.

But let’s also stipulate that I’m a bit superstitious when it comes to the Heels. How superstitious? You’re going to be sorry you asked.

In 1993, I owned two lucky pairs of Tar Heel boxers. One was a plain blue pair that Karen had monogrammed UNC on – lucky for obvious reasons. The others were blue paisley boxers. I figured out their luck when I moved to Gastonia and arranged to wear them every time the Heels played the rest of that season. Usually washing them in between games. Anyway, we didn’t lose the rest of the year, and Dean Smith ended up winning a second national championship because of them.

I’ve tried to find other lucky garments over the years, but there really hasn’t been a pattern I could discern. I wear Carolina Blue most game days, but there’s never been a real streak with any garment.

Which brings me to Saturday’s game with Kentucky. Which I missed (except for the final 50 seconds or so). And we won.

Why’d I miss the game? Because Garrett, my 12-year-old, was taking the SAT at Porter Ridge High School. It ended at about 1:15 or so (about halftime), and I’d promised to pick him up. (He was taking the SAT as part of the Talent Identification Program at, you guessed it, Duke (which I’m going to spell this way for this one time only). Anyway, after a pretty grueling test that had taken up a good part of his Saturday, we had to go pick up his new pair of glasses. Then I told him we’d go anywhere he wanted for lunch as a reward. We ended up splitting a Philly at Jersey Mike’s and then made it home for the end of the game. Which we won.

Which, I hate to say, has been pretty unusual – a win over a good team – this season and last.

So I’m chalking it up to my not watching. I won’t watch Wednesday’s game with Evansville either. If we win again, who knows?

Although, as a backup plan, I’m trying to remember which underwear I had on Saturday.

My only feeling about superstition is that it’s unlucky to be behind at the end of the game.” _ Duffy Daugherty, former Michigan State football coach

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