Saturday, May 22, 2010

Leachy NUTS!

In the Midwest one of the favorite Spring and Summer pastimes is to put in a canoe or raft and take a float trip down a river. Now these trips can be as short or long as you desire and enjoyed upon popular touristy rivers or backwoods ‘Deliverance-type’ waterways. No matter what though, they are REAL rivers with real wildlife all around.

One of my first personal experiences with float trips was as the youngest adventurer of 4 with two jon boats mounted on the back of an old pick-up. Since the bench seat was occupied with adults, I got to surf the wind on those boats around curvy dark roads to where we would ‘put-in’ on the river. Fishing was fun but I was younger and easily distracted, so I always took a handful of rocks from the bank to skip on the quiet waters, as I floated the river with my Grandpa.

Fishing was slow and my Dad and Uncle were in the other boat a couple of hundred yards ahead, when I saw a snake swimming away from our boat 50 or 60 feet to the starboard. I seized on the opportunity to free my pocket of a few of those perfectly weighted and throw-worthy stones. I chucked a first rock at the snake and he did not seem to notice, so I threw another which apparently caught his attention. That sneaky snake reversed direction and started swimming BACK AT our boat at full speed. We were just floating off the opposing bank, in a slow moving eddy current, trying to avoid overhanging trees with our casts.

Well seeing the impending convergence of a black snake and my slow boat to China, just about sent me into a twelve year old panic. I immediately stood up wanting to run but there was nowhere to go. My Grandfather, not knowing that I had antagonized a poisonous Cotton Mouth, a notorious aggressive viper, told me to sit down and not ‘rock the boat’ literally. But I was having none of it and the boat got more and more tipsy by the minute as I kept dancing and getting hit in the face with cob webs and tree limbs. Once I conveyed my problem to my Grandfather, he slapped his paddle in the water and we put some distance between us and the snake as we splashed and churned half the river back on our soon dissuaded pursuer.

On another trip, my daughter had gone with friends on a float trip with a large rubber raft. This was a much more popular tourist river so there were many boats and a whole host of folks floating on anything that held their body weight for a few miles of river relaxation. About half-way down, my kid took a dip in the river to cool off before getting back aboard the large raft. Once aboard she was snacking on some carrots when she noticed a black stick or leaf stuck to her foot.

Closer inspection revealed that it was a river LEACH that had taken residence on her foot. She started to squirm and scream all the while sucking in carrot mash and shaking her foot wildly to detach her little blood-sucking stowaway. Other people on the river started laughing as they thought she was dancing or intoxicated and being generally goofy. Finally she cleared her windpipe of carrots and yelled “LEACH!!!” Her friends helped her get it off, but suddenly everyone in a tube or swimming in the water suddenly wanted OUT and safe passage aboard the big rubber raft for the rest of the river trip. Gee, I always wondered why Missouri’s visitors bureau won’t hire me to write tourist brochures – maybe because when it comes to wildlife, I’m just nuts?

Pen Envy

You know what would be a really GREAT invention – a PEN that writes when you need it! Is this task too hard to perfect, or has there been some unspoken terrorist plot to eliminate all hand written and inked communication? Since I was young, I can hardly ever remember a typewriter or computer keyboard failing to perform the meager demands that I place upon them. But evil PENS, regardless of size, shape, creed, or religion – have so often failed me, that it is clear that I’m an UN-marked man.

Recently my wife received a brand new pen from an exercise trainer that had a spring for a barrel. I already knew I was in trouble when I picked this thing up because it moves around on the outside while somehow the real pen parts are supposed to remain stationary and functional inside. Oddly however, that was not the issue, as the pen seemed to engage and disengage perfectly. But it was the MORE CRITICAL pen ink that seemed sluggish to deliver, and then that ball felt ‘scratchy’ as I tried to write. I went to the kitchen catch-all drawer and picked out a nice click pen and gave it shot – NOTHING. Next, I pulled out a cheap stick pen and it WORKED … for about 10 seconds. This is clearly maddening, so how about a pencil?

I do not prefer to write in regular pencil and never have liked it. I remember in First Grade, the teacher brought around giant dirty brown paper with blue dashed lines. You might remember this horrible newsprint stuff with real unprocessed wood chunks and splinters still visible right on the paper’s surface. The teacher further frustrated me and gave me a black pencil about the thickness of a thumb. My Dad was an artist so I was well aware of what REAL pencils and paper were supposed to look and feel like, and this pencil was too portly and the paper was too flaccid. The teacher did not appreciate my giant blocky alphabet, and complained about my lack of precision in penmanship? Uh you think … you gave me a pencil that is the size of a horse’s leg lady?

Eventually by High School, I had better penmanship with mechanical pencils but I still preferred ink whenever possible. Back then the pens seemed to work better but not by much. I even tried to go retro and use those modernized fountain pens with an ink cartridge. Nobody called me a nerd because they didn’t have to – the giant ink blot stains on my pocket easily gave me away. So apparently I am doomed to wander the earth in search of the true holy grail - a breakthrough invention … the DECENT pen. Oh yeah, would it be too much to ask that this super pen write upside down too … and maybe right the write homonyms too? I’m not too picky, I just need this perfect pen to help me with my spelling, punctuation and instant Post Office abbreviations for States? NOW ALL THAT would certainly be a pen worthy of my NV!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Back to NORMAL?

You know when my kid got back from her first year of college I really did not know what to expect. There is always that irrational fear that the people you really know in your lives, will suddenly just change on you – but never for the better. I am not as dense as my posts sometimes seem, so I knew of course that our daughter likely felt the exact same way. She secretly wonders “Yeah they USED to treat me ok … but now – who knows?”

To exacerbate the issue, on both ends of the relationship, the University provides a lot of data and cautions on how to handle this perceived widening gulf between parents and their college kids. The propaganda reads something akin to, ‘after their first taste of independence, all collegiates want to stay out all night and shun their ‘old fashioned’ folks and their stuffy ways’. Parents too, now free of their daily laundry duty and role as chief homework wardens, are suspect of their summer-returning children and their TRUE intentions. "She looks the same but NORMAL - I don't know?"

So I have been on the lookout for signs of unrest and distrust on both sides from the very first week back. Magically we all seem to have returned to our pre-college dispositions and expectations. There are differences now however. Our laundry methods are apparently not gentle enough so our daughter now PREFERS caring for her own clothes cleaning. I take no offense at her independence – in fact I have been doing the laundry badly for years in hopes someone would call me out on it and take over completely! Our kid’s next task back was not to conquer a dance club, but instead, a myriad of job and scholarship applications. No pushy adults required as it seems oddly, our kid has kind of transformed into one of those herself in nary a year?

So yeah, all those dire predictions of parental / college kid duress have not yet proven true. I still get a few reminders of my old role as clean-up batter once in awhile though. The kid is impossibly athletic so she uses some special Adidas super deodorant that she insists she needs. Isn’t that a personal care item I should not be involved with at all by college age? Anyway, she absent-mindedly has no idea where this stuff came from or where to buy it, so now it is MY problem. I run to four normal stores with no luck and finally ask a Pharmacist for help. All they have is some super clinical voodoo stick which has nearly of the same chemical composition as my daughter’s Adidas brand, but it is $9 for a couple of ounces? Hmmm, how long will she continue to buy this pricey 'stink stick' when she starts working all week for a meager paycheck? Further today, I received an anxious call that ‘baby spiders’ must have been in her purse and she somehow has inadvertently released them into my wife’s car while driving. Of course the kid has now abandoned the spider infested car in a parking lot while onlookers watch her twitch and squirm like a Tourettes cheerleader. Yep folks, I’m happy to report that there’s no unusual changes here – my kid's back from college and life is INDEED back to normal!

Turkey Shoot

As a young boy my father taught me to shoot. He was a superb Marksman in the Army. It’s maybe not something you talk about today, but when I was a kid, shooting was still thought of as an honorable skill, even if you were not going into law enforcement. It was no big deal really as my Dad was taught to shoot by my Grandfather and so on. I remember at the same time I was getting Ranger Rick conservation magazines in the mail, I also got stickers as a member of the National Rifle Association. In that era, guns were not scary – they were tools to be used for the specific purpose of motivating lead toward tin cans and paper targets.

Like any tool, rifles and sidearms were to be treated with respect. I shot guns for fun but we never had FUN with guns – there is a difference and the line was made very clear. All my life I have lived in rather large cities, so it has been fairly impractical to practice target shooting at home. No matter how progressive your neighbors are, they do not look kindly on random gunshots mixing with the sounds of their kids bouncing basketballs and gardeners blowing leaves off driveways.

Happily that problem was easily solved with a nice Daisy BB gun rifle. I could set up targets in the back yard and shoot as much as I wanted. I really loved shooting that gun. Eventually my Father was confident in my aim enough to take me down and enter in a Turkey shooting contest at the local police gun range. I did enjoy the target competition and did well. Sadly however I did not win the frozen turkey first prize and blamed it on the rifle's weak power at 50 yards. Though un-frozen birds might have been a little more exciting to introduce to my Daisy, my parents insisted that moving targets were not allowed. Oddly however, that rule somehow did not apply to my own father. Yes, just like the stories you read about in papers, he thought my BB gun wasn’t loaded (strange since it rattled with BB’s when it was). As I ran and cavorted between backyard tree trunks, he put a bead on me at better than 75 yards and SHOT ME in the hip while I was moving.

First, I could not believe that my own Dad shot me?! I finally understood how Issac must have felt when ol’ daddy Abraham was ready to slip him a shiv – why couldn’t a stupid Ram have taken that BB for me instead? Secondly, despite my injured flank, I was appreciative that my gun had a good enough set of fixed sights to shoot that straight. Further, prone fire at a stationary target takes practice, but for my Dad to lead a fleeting target, between obstacles and while standing – well honestly, that was a pretty impressive shot. Yeah my father felt bad and profusely apologized between his poorly suppressed giddiness and shame. To this day he swears it was an innocent mistake and he didn’t mean it. I still think it was a little education for blowing the shooting contest - the rifle seemed to perform JUST FINE? Yes, that rifle had finally bagged a plump turkey, but suspiciously, this one wasn’t frozen!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Brown Bananas & Teenagers

Bananas are great because they are cheap sources of starch and potassium. For most of us also, they are fairly cheap at well under a dollar per pound. Consider that against strawberries at around $4 per pound and other berries at nearly twice that price. My only problem is that unlike other fruit, once in your market, bananas really only have a shelf life of about 5 - 7 days before they get uncomfortably sweet, mushy and covered in brown spots.

By the start of the second week if you have not cut that banana up into your cereal or passed it along to your pet monkey, the only remaining uses will be in banana bread, shakes, and thickener for off-brand hair gel. Most people prefer slightly ‘un-ripened’ bananas with a full yellow skin, green tip, and few spots. The brown spots are simply the carbohydrates converting to sugar and are a good relative marker for sweetness of the fruit. Don’t you wish other fruit (or children) were as kind to tell you when they are going to be REALLY SWEET? How many times have you purchased a perfectly good looking watermelon or cantaloupe that passed the ‘thump’ test but was still really flavorless inside?

For about 8 years when I lived in a warmer climate, I grew dwarf bananas for fun. They are just like full sized bananas and taste the same but they are about half the size. I loved those trees because they mostly took care of themselves and always looked leafy and tropical green even when not producing fruit. But when the bananas started to show up, then we were in a mad dash to get rid of hands upon hands of bananas to everyone we knew. They were ‘fingers’ energy for fast snacks and sack lunches but they ripened very quickly and reproduced even faster.

My daughter once did a study on the gas production given off by bananas. During ripening, they exude minute quantities of ethylene gas (a fruit hormone) which if in close proximity to other bananas encourages faster maturing. Professional growers actually induce ethylene into a high humidity environment to get bananas to ripen all at the same time. This makes shipping easier and the consumer receives better tasting and more consistent quality fruit. This is true of other fruit as well so generally, if you want to keep your bananas and fruit from ripening, browning, and growing old too quickly, separate them and keep them away the sun and each other. See now, you never knew how much you could learn about parenting from a greasy brown banana. Just keep your hormonal teens away from each other and the sun so they will stay young longer and age tan-less and spot- free!

Phonetic HOME

Well once again my wife’s car needed care and feeding at the car shop. I swear that car thinks that it is a little baby, so if it whines enough it will garner attention. Yeah that worked out well with our kid too – as soon as she would cry we gave her to her Nanny to ‘fix’ her. In the end, both the car and the kid seem to work fine, but I am always waiting for that next interesting tactic to manipulate me into submission.

Anyway when the car is finished, the mechanic shop will always call me and send a car if I want one. I usually decline and walk the 3.5 miles since I’m nothing if I’m not green. No I’m not a Martian but walking is more interesting and obviously the better choice if you have the time and it is not hailing cats and dogs. The hike takes about an hour unless I am really trying to make time. Especially on the hills, my mind wanders to keep myself from remembering I CHOSE to skip a nice air-conditioned chauffeured ride. But soon, I become distracted by the hundreds of cars buzzing by all with license plates.

These plates intrigue me because they are 6 to 7 digits long in most states and difficult to memorize in a fleeting glance as they pass me by. It always seems in police dramas or crime shows that someone is victim to a speeding car but they cannot ‘remember’ the license plate number. Well that is where the phonetic alphabet comes in. You’ve already heard it – it’s that ‘cop talk’ that defines an unmistakable word in place of a letter on a license plate? Pilots too use the phonetic alphabet all the time to identify aircraft so letters like ‘F’ and ‘S’ don’t get confused over sketchy radio communications. It is also easier to remember “Foxtrot Sierra” rather than ‘F S’ when you are trying to quickly scan and REMEMBER license plates.

So try it yourself or teach your kids the phonetic alphabet and have them practice memorizing random license numbers or any letter combination at home. Say the letters out loud and repeat the phonetic combinations so they become second nature to use rather than the old fashioned way. Your kids will feel like they are in a real Spy Kids movie and if you’re lucky some of that training will register deep in their brains for when they may need it. Just think how far ahead they will be if they grow up to be rich movie star cops, pilots, or even car mechanics. Yeah my car guy told me to bring lots of money or else I won’t be driving my wife’s stupid car ‘Hotel – Oscar – Mike – Echo’ tonight. Oh well, there’s always walking?

A = alpha B = bravo C = charlie D = delta E = echo
F = foxtrot G = golf H = hotel I = india J = juliet K = kilo
L = lima M = mike N = november O = oscar P = papa
Q = quebec R= romeo S = sierra T = tango U = uniform
V = victor W = whiskey X = xray Y = yankee Z = zulu

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Shoe Fly

Shoes are practically an obsession with some women. They have a shoe for every occasion of all heights, styles, colors, and textures. I have heard of a few fashionista men that have hundreds of pairs of shoes but I have never met one yet. On a scale of Bohemian males, my shoe prowess is about as low as it can go. I have a basic tennis shoe that I wear all the time, a pair of brown wingtips for meetings, and a pair of spit-shiny black patent leather shoes for weddings, funerals, and dinners with heads of state.

Since my family is in good health and comfortably loveless, plus I’ve prefer turkey breast not heads for supper, I rarely have need for fancy footwear. So of course that one pair of tennis shoes gets quite a workout in an average month. I rarely think about it, but once in awhile I will get self-conscious that my shoes look a little worn and green around the gills. Some of that is my misplaced pride of course, but also it could be that my formerly white shoes are stained green from cutting the lawn.

I have not quite progressed to the level yet where Velcro strap shoes instead of laces are the norm but I know that day is coming. I rarely tie my shoes now and prefer to leave them a tad loose so I can simply slip the shoes on and off at will. This works great most of the time however when recently subbing on my wife’s softball team my shoes came off when I was backing up to try and catch a ball. Even Charlie Brown could not match my sports skill deficiencies and flat-footed failure to grab that fly ball.

So I was thinking, I need a better way to keep my shoes on tightly but still a kick them off faster than unlacing. Beyond the goal to avoid the arthritic ‘geezer image’ as long as possible, Velcro just plain irritates me. That prickly stuff picks up seed pods, thread, grass, and lint faster than a bellybutton rubbing under a new flannel shirt. No, what I need is a ZIPPER or better yet those Hefty brand Zip-Loc press n’ seal type closures to keep my sneakers from flying off my feet during softball. Those things don’t collect lint and by today’s standards are kind of cool and rebellious like me – a male Fashionista with HEFTY feet.

30 years of “CANOEconomics”

One of our earliest big-kid acquisitions when my wife and I were still in college, was an inflatable and back-packable canoe. Now that may seem like a totally irresponsible thing to buy while we were still significantly short of cash, space, and common sense. The truth is, the idea was probably goofy and did not make economic sense. However we have never regretted the purchase, and amazingly still own and use that boat today.

Now this is not a testimonial into being rash or throwing caution to the wind. No, we thought about this purchase carefully as it was a fairly expensive given our limited recreation budget at the time. No doubt, we knew that this ‘fun’ purchase would cost income and opportunity (the foundation of basic economics) and therefore necessitate a reduction in our demand of other recreational pursuits. However we surmised, we lived close enough to the ocean and led an active enough lifestyle so that a portable canoe might increase, not limit, our recreational opportunities at a lower overall cost.

As convoluted as it all sounds, it worked out. No longer did we have to rent a small fishing dinghy to fish in the bay or tour the marinas. We could set-up that inflatable canoe in less than 15 minutes and put-in any time of day or night. There is something absolutely eerily exciting about silently gliding a marina, a foot above the water in a thin layer of moonlit fog. You only speak in hushed tones and pretend you are an international covert operative up to no good. That same little vessel has paddled on so many insignificant rivers with so many stories, my life is immeasurably richer for the meager initial investment.

We took this canoe into pitch black wet caves on the island of Kauai and deep up the Waimea river beyond where the tour boats chug with paying passengers. Locals and tourists alike would wave us on with encouragement. We’ve paddled the coast along Oahu and tried to catch waves along side seasoned surfers. We never were the envy of any of them but we also never sank so we were prideful all the same. We’ve cruised the quiet back waterways of Lake Powell and the ocean of fresh water known as Lake Tahoe. That 11 foot inflatable canoe will celebrate its 30th birthday soon and other than a patch or two, it is ready for another 30 more years of memories. I’d say with all things considered, in “canoeconomics” - we got our money’s worth!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Food Packet Liquidity

You know something that always intrigues me is those tiny food packets at fast food places. I mean just about anything you can think of is now packaged in those easy-tear foil and plastic packaging. I love these little packets and the fun variety they can add to meals. I think that that if these things are so perfect for stuff like catsup , mayo, and jelly – why not for real food too?

I guess Burger King and McDonalds would feel like it is cutting into their business if they offered ‘trial- sized’ squishy packets of french fries or hamburgers along with the salt and pepper. If nothing else, these famous fast food joints could offer NASA astronauts unique treats like ‘ liquid McNuggets’ or a ‘suckable Whoppers’. We probably should work on some better names but you get the idea. Regardless, I think such foods would make astronauts delighted along with their standard dehydrated ice cream, space food sticks, and Tang that we know they all eat and tire of quickly.

I do save these packet foods because it helps when I have guests visit. No I still prefer buying Catsup and mustard in full sized bottles but usually we buy salad dressing in a jar not mayonnaise. So I if I have a guest who likes a bit of mayo on a sandwich, I will use one of these little packs to save the day. Picnics are a lot easier too if you throw in a few of those salt and pepper packets instead of the traditional glass shakers. Even a small honey pack or two can mix up with a straight margarine or peanut butter packet to make some really tasty bread toppings on the fly.

So make sure you pay proper reverence to those tiny food packs of salsa, relish, and horseradish sauce. Don’t just ignore them or throw them away thinking you won’t use them. They really can come in handy for bag lunches, picnics, and even parties for those oddball guests . If you want to try my idea of putting more substantial foods in liquid form, you can grind up some steak or veggies in the food processor and put it in a zip-loc bag. Sadly that is a true story for another time, when YOU get all your wisdom teeth removed – but don’t worry, I’ll remember to bring a packet of BBQ sauce to compliment that yummy liquid steak.

Robot wedding

I will always remember my wedding day as one of the true highlights of my life. Ordinarily I am not overly driven by tradition but I kind of like that I know how a typical wedding is going to unfold. You’ve got the flowers, the fancy clothes, the music – the priest. Whoa , now hold up there, who needs a priest anymore when you can have a robot preside over your big day.

Yes a real honest to goodness robot performed the nuptials at a ceremony in Japan. Makes sense since the Japanese own over 400,000 of the world’s 800,000 or so industrial robots. What’s wrong with Japan’s robo-domination of automation extending to the long established wedding industry too? I have linked the video here of the happy couple and their ‘short’ but sweet mechanical minister. Be forewarned it is a touching ceremony so have a sheet of foil handy to blow your Roomba’s nose if it happens to be watching between vacuuming.

Actually this wedding went just fine and seemed oddly traditional with Sarah Brightman’s ‘Ave Maria’ providing the background music. I liked the ceremony despite the unusual child-voiced, blinking robo-vicar literally sitting at the helm. I was a little distracted by the bot’s ‘I-Fairy’ brand name though. I don’t mean to be insensitive but is this the BEST name for ANY priest right now, even if it is a robot? I think that particular name would be much more appropriate for a pillow-packing, tooth-extracting Tinker-BOT!

So a brave new world is apparently on the horizon. If weddings are falling to the wiles of heavy machinery then you know funerals will soon follow. And let’s not forget the babies. As the gears turn, it is a natural progression that with all those robo marriages, there is bound to be a bounty of baby ‘begatting’ going on too. I’m sure these new robots can handle the midwife process technically, but we’ll have to do something about those cold, metal-feeling hands. Not the robots mind you - they use space age plastics and silicone fingers. I’m referring to human doctors and their infamous icy touch!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Clean-Vino 409

I was wandering around the house looking for some liquid soap to fill up a dispenser. During my search I was kind of amazed at the variety of stuff that we stock to keep ourselves and the place clean. The laundry area alone has cabinets filled with detergents to wash clothes and other cabinets filled with stuff to wash and clean windows, floors, countertops, tables cars and dishes.

You would think the basic component of cleaning is just SOAP? So why do I have to have a thousand different products all in various pastel shades of cleaning power. By convention the blue stuff is for windows and glass and the other colors are for just about everything else. Several times in the past I have tried to just dump all of this stuff and settle on one generic concentrated cleaner like Simple green. Invariably I will mix up a batch in a spray bottle and try it on my floors, counters etc. It generally seems to do the same thing but sometimes it streaks a bit more and I think it works better with less water than recommended.

I have tried to concoct my own cleaner as well from ammonia, vinegar and maybe a little leftover 409. It also seems to mostly work but I have to say it always mixes up to an off-putting shade of pale yellow. Even in the privacy of a bathroom, nobody wants to go spraying yellow stuff all over the walls and toilet. I also make the mistake every time I make my own cleaning sauce by not putting a label on the stuff. I cannot tell you how many times my wife will ask me six months down the road what something is in an unmarked bottle and I won’t know.

The problem of course with the mystery bottle is that how do you find out what the stuff is – do you sniff it or drink it? Oh sure just spray it on a table or a wall and hope it does not melt or damage the surface. Maybe that is how Thunderbird and Ripple were first invented – some winemaker was cleaning up after the shift was over and left an unmarked bottle out. The next day somebody slapped a label on it and sold it cheap at corner liquor stores? Hmmm – what a great product idea! An alcohol and vinegar based product that you can cook with, clean all surfaces, wear as a perfume, and even sit on a street corner and drink to celebrate a job well done! I wonder if my wife will mind my new 180 proof 'CLEAN-VINO" liquid soap in that dispenser? I’m sure she won't – as long as it is not pastel yellow!

Nutty Management

I am a big fan of positive motivation. Oh sure you can yell and intimidate to get what you want – for awhile. But eventually that kind of management will catch up with you as employee turnover, quality problems, and lack of trust issues will increase. These poisons in turn decrease overall productivity and, for all but the most hardened Scrooge, will lead to high blood pressure and stress for yourself and your staff - who needs it?

So generally as business pressure increases, I have always considered it my job to try and find ways to turn DOWN the heat a little yet still get the work done. In all jobs, you can generally find ways in your down time to make the job atmosphere more pleasant if you will look and be creative. Now don’t get me wrong, there are situations and certain job environments which you cannot significantly manipulate artificially. Professions like emergency doctors, Air traffic controllers, cops, fire fighters etc. are in this category. As a rule, those jobs are inherently stressful but driven by external demand, not internal motivation by bossy bosses and middle managers.

Fortunately in my past work experience, I have never had a job that people’s actual lives depended upon. So if I made a mistake or I missed a deadline, nobody died - my teacher would just send me nasty notes with ‘unhappy’ faces on them. I used to handle a lot of containerized traffic for office machines, so I had a lot of warehouse people for parts and finished goods handling. I knew their jobs were relentless and hard so I depended on them greatly to keep product moving from production lines to trucks, trains, ships – you name it. So aside from visiting with them regularly and trying to make sure they knew they were appreciated as the circulatory system of the company, I would look for tangible ways to reward their effort as well.

I have preached the values of small chocolates as an effective ‘thank you’ motivator before. But with a big warehouse doing big jobs, I needed BIG chocolate - not those wimpy packages of snack size bars. So I raided a local convenience store and relieved them of their ENTIRE stock of 1 pound sized giant Mr. Goodbars. Now everyone loves that candy with loads of peanuts surrounded by fantastic Hershey’s chocolate. This was a TRUE reward to receive something that few if any of my workers would ever buy for themselves.

At break time, I took a little time and thanked everyone for their hard work and proudly handed out those nutty chocolate bars. For a very reasonable investment, I could see by their positive reactions that they were surprised, happy and felt appreciated by my personal acknowledgement of their devotion to the company. I went back to my office without a care in the world and with a little extra spring in my step . . . for a minute or two. Unbelievably, that local convenience store apparently NEVER rotated candy stock. My phone was ringing off the hook with supervisors fending off unhappy warehousemen armed with WORM INFESTED chocolate bars. So much for GOODbar intentions – that candy was clearly anything but good. Turns out this is the case with many harvested nuts and nut-based candies that are not stored properly? I re-gained the workers trust of course as I replaced the chocolates quickly. But with my bosses, it took some time to live down my reputation of trying to poison the factory’s warehouse operations with my ‘nutty’ management technique.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Stupid Burning Men

I recently related a story about my proclivities and misfortune with fire and electricity. I neglected to tell one of my more harrowing experiences with a spa heater mostly because I was an adult by then and should have known better. We had a house in California with gunite spa. It was like a big cube with seats around a 7 foot perimeter. We left it cold all of the time except for when we wanted to use it. Now ordinarily that would seem impossible with today’s standard spa heaters, but then I had a full sized gas pool heater connected to that tiny spa. It was a pretty nifty set-up, I could call-up the house from my office and turn on the heater and it would heat for about an hour and the water would be a toasty 100 degrees after dinner.

As you can imagine, that large burner would put out a lot of fire so it had a huge gas tube array to heat the water quickly. One day the pilot lighting system would was acting flakey. I attempted to light the pilot by hand with a long stick and a match but it would only turn on for a second and then immediately turn off again. I did this three times in hopes of finding the source of the problem with the pilot tube or the main gas supply. Lucky for me, my ultra-confident and very mechanically inclined friend showed up as I was on my knees with that dumb burner. We had invited him and his wife for dinner, and he always was up for a good mystery project anyway.

I encouraged him to ‘have a look’ at the heater and I told him to get in close as I opened the burner hatch so he could see. I lit a match for the fourth and final time as we both peered intensely at the pilot light array and gas valve. Then WOOOSH – a flood of yellow and orange heat and light overcame us both with barely enough time to close our eyes. It was all over so fast. I lay on my back against the edge of the spa about 4 feet away from the heater. My eyes felt sticky but I could see as I blinked to glimpse my friend huddled on the opposite side of the deck, face down with his head in a corner. He wasn’t moving. My first thought was not very compassionate as I wondered if my homeowners insurance would cancel me if I had killed my friend? Finally the guy turned around with a bright red face and I mocked his wimpy retreat while of course ignoring my own.

As we went in to face our wives, we decided to let a professional heater guy handle this job. Our spouses did not at first notice our faces at dinner – it was the smell. They started off with “Do you smell that?”. Then it gradually got more concerned like “I smell something burning – did we turn off the stove?” Finally we confessed to nearly blowing up the spa and ourselves when they finally looked at us dead on. The reddened chapped faces were not the immediate giveaway. The real evidence was that half of my eyebrows were now gone and my friend’s mustache hairs were all curled up skyward blocking his nostrils. No one seemed particularly surprised or concerned by this close call. However, my wife did query under her breath –“ I wonder if our homeowners insurance covers STUPIDITY?”

What were you thinking?

One of my least favorite things to do is ‘talk-up’ a TV show or movie of my youth. It is not that people today don’t understand good entertainment, but it is the fact that those shows I used to love, just don’t always age that well. Oh sure there are a few classics that everyone from critics to the ordinary popcorn popping public seem to love. But for the most part, no matter what I once thought was captivating, now will probably disappoint me and leave modern younger viewers concerned for my lucidity.

Beyond the obvious changes in music styles, hair, and clothing, shows of just 20 years ago seem so dated in technology and raw production. Of course computers and cell phones are in short supply on screen, but sets, store-fronts and corporate logos look so different too. Synthesized soundtracks were so new then that they seem somewhat overused and artificial in the overall production. Where I remember witty, hip repartee in the good ol’ days, now the dialog seems long-winded and the sound is mushy and flat.

This is not to say that modern TV and movies have reached perfection, though I am sure everyone watching their weekly favorites thinks so. No, there is only so much one can take of long brooding looks and minimalist dialog too. Now, oh so edgy filming techniques, like shaking hand cameras, split screen views, and ultra-close-ups are the norm. In a few years, those loyal current viewers will scoff at the production follies of these modern shows just as I do, to the stuff that seemed so special in my youth.

So the moral of the story is ENJOY your favorite programs now, because you probably won’t later. In the future, excitedly you’ll screen your formerly super-hip shows to your kids and grandkids and show them how ‘cool’ you really were in the day. You’ll want those impressionable youngsters to see why the good old days were actually GREAT, and how lucky they are to know you since you experienced it firsthand, and are even willing to share. But don’t be surprised if after a few minutes, those curious whispers and fingers point in your direction with a solemn query “What were you thinking?”