Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"Last Day on the Job" Dept

My friend Roy sends me several last-day-on-the-job photographs, all amusing (though all, in this Photoshop world, of dubious veracity), but mostly not appropriate for a family blog. I can post the following one, though:

This reminds me of a true story, though I will not incriminate the person who played the starring role by mentioning his name. Many years ago he had a free ride at Texas A&M, but he lasted only one semester before transferring to the University of Texas. This was back in the seriously Mickey-Mouse era at A&M, the male-only days of universal hazing and even more insanity than A&M currently displays. There was a particular form of, shall we euphemistically (because this is a family blog) say, solitary amusement, that was frowned upon by the Aggie powers-that-be of the time. If one were caught indulging in this pastime, one found oneself compelled to wear, everywhere one went on campus for the next few days, a single white glove, I believe on the right hand only.

The young and high-spirited gentleman of my acquaintance, having found everything about A&M unspeakably objectionable, and having concluded that it was far better to pay his father's good money to go to U.T. than to spend four years going to A&M for free, departed College Station at the end of the first semester, no doubt to his and the university's mutual great relief. But in the wee hours of the morning before his train departed, a bucket of white paint somehow paid a surreptitious visit to the statue of founder of A&M university, and when the sun rose its beams fell upon said statue's unmistakably pure white right hand.

Back from the abyssal silences

If only temporarily...

I'm in Fairmont, West Virginia, wherein one finds the wi-fi-enabled coffee shop that represents the publicly available high-speed internet access closest to Clarksburg, a half hour to the south. Since Book and Bean was closed for Christmas Eve and Christmas, and our family of ten has been traveling across the country from Texas to West Virginia via Oklahoma City since Thursday morning, this represents my first chance to get on-line in five days. Oy, the e-mail backlog!

No snow yet because West Virginia is having an unseasonably warm winter. This is a cruel disappointment to the kids, and, let it honestly be said, to their father, whose many reasons to hate living in Katy include the utter absence of anything that a reasonable person could refer to as "winter."

Before I go any further: Merry Christmas to my Christian friends, с новым годом to the Russians and Kazakhs, happy holidays to everybody else who isn't fiercely anti-religion, and happy end-of-year vacation to militant atheist buddies.

My cell phone is finally operational; so if you've being trying to reach me on it in vain you now have hope. I had switched to a new phone bought on e-bay, but Sprint couldn't get it activated. It turns out that the previous owner had left an unpaid balance on it and Sprint's software wouldn't release it from the old number to assign it to my number, until the previous guy had paid up. I suppose if any of you are thinking of buying a Sprint phone on e-bay, you should learn from my experience and get a guarantee from the seller that he's paid his bill. Two weeks without a cell phone was a bloody killer, I'm tellin' you. I knew I depended on that thing but I had no idea how much.

I wish you could see how well my eight children get along with my parents, including (perhaps especially, this year) Anya and Kinya. And I wish you could have seen the look on Anya's and Kinya's faces...well, let me just share some dialogue with you, after we have ridden up the side of my parents' mountain property in the back of their little 4x4 pick-up truck. I habitually refer to that property as "their farm," but it's really my dad's playground -- certainly no crops are being raised there. So Anya and Kinya, on the way out, asked me curiously (in Russian as always but I'll just translate): "Papa, is Granddaddy's farm really a farm?"

"No," I answered with a smile, "it's where Granddaddy and Grandmother go to play, especially Granddaddy."

"To play?" Obviously this made no sense to them.

I grinned. "You'll understand when we get there."

So we get there, and we pile out of the van and into the back of the pickup (well, I confess that I seized the opportunity to truck-surf from a position of standing on the bumper, but I made the kids sit safely down in the back). Granddaddy rockets up the side of the mountain, muddy after a couple of days of rain; he deliberately fish-tails around the corners in a successful attempt to elicit screams from the feminine contingent. Rusty, to the surprise of none, "accidentally" loses his grip on the rope and rolls around the truck bed like a bowling ball. We reach the giant toolshed / miniature barn that's three hundred yards or so up the slope and Granddaddy stops the pickup, gets out, and expresses disappointment that he didn't manage to throw mud on anybody with the tires. Anya and Kinya's eyes and grins are equally wide, their faces flushed from exhileration and mock terror; Sally and Rusty are bouncing up and down on the muddy hillside in uncontrollable excitement; even Sean and Kegan are grinning, while Merry and Kasia wear the broad but demure smiles of old hands who've seen it all before but still choose to enjoy it.

Anya and Kinya look around and giggle with delight, and Kinya asks whether she really has to go back home to Texas when the rest of us do. (This is actually a serious question; we are allowing Kasia to take a break from the brutal and IMHO largely unnecessary and unproductive stress of the Katy high schools to go spend a semester with her grandmother in Fredericksburg -- to the envy of all the rest of us who are still going to have to live in Katy. And Anya and Kinya both terribly miss winter and both miss the hills that surround Osakarovka, and like everybody else in our family except Dessie would move to West Virginia in less than a heartbeat if I could find a decent job here. So Kinya would like to spend at least a couple of months up here in West Virginia with my parents -- and if my parents decide they would like for her to do so, then I'll talk it over very seriously with Dessie, because there actually would be some major advantages to having Kinya go spend a couple of months where nobody at all speaks even the tiniest bit of Russian, and where she has to function without depending so heavily on Anya. But of course there are arguments against it...and this digression has gotten far too long. That's too bad for you guys because I don't have time to do anything but post a first and unrevised draft of this post.)

My narrative, before I went all Tristam Shandy on y'all, had reached the point where Anya and Kinya had started to catch their breath and return to mere ordinary excitement rather than shrieking exhileration. And then their Granddaddy slid open the door to the shed...and they saw the tractor.

That is, they saw the miniature Kubota bulldozer/front-end loader combination with which my father blissfully recreates those long-ago days when he was putting himself through college working on highway-building construction crews in the summertime...back when he could blade a roadbed as smooth as glass by steering the blade with his buttocks. (That is, since the blade goes up in the air whenever the wheels do, and down whenever the wheels do, and since the blade's going up and down puts waves in the road, you need to lower the blade as the wheels come up and lift it as they go down. But you can't see the ground in front of your wheels. So when you feel the seat start to push up against your butt you lower the blade, and when you feel the seat start to drop away from your but you raise the blade. And after a couple of passes, if you're good at your job, there are no bumps left in your perfect roadway.)

They looked at that little Kubota and their eyes widened right back out to maximum expansion, much to my and Kasia's amusement. Then Anya wheeled around to face me. "Papa, does that tractor really belong to Granddaddy?"

"Yes," I laughed, "it's really his. He bought it and he owns it. And now you understand what I mean when I say that Granddaddy comes out here to play."

Everybody, including Sally, got to drive the tractor, and while one kid was driving three others would be riding in the upraised blade, screaming in roller-coaster pretend terror as the tractor wavered back and forth from one side of the little roadway to the other. I got cellphone videotape of Kinya in her first time behind the wheel of the tractor, and then in my incompetence promptly deleted it irrecoverably. The videotape of Anya's first tractor-driving attempt survives but is of course largely unwatchable since I was walking backwards down a rocky and muddy West Virginia hillside in front of the tractor, and it's not exactly smooth tracking. Not much use as video but some decent still shots came out of it -- if I can just figure out how to download them onto my computer.

At any rate, a very merry Christmas indeed has been had by all, so far as I can tell, other than Dessie's having a migraine. Also Dessie composed and delivered a "reading" -- really a mini-homily, five minutes or so -- for the Christmas Eve service, and it was outstanding. But oh my Lord what a tough crowd...smiles but no laughs, despite some quite laugh-worthy lines. Still she delivered it well in spite of the lack of encouragement. I'll have to try to get her to let me post it here.

We did the trip from Oklahoma City to Clarksbug in a single go, by the way. I did all the driving and stopped in the wee hours to catch about an hour and a half of sleep, and counting stops for restroom breaks and meals and shopping for left-at-home necessities (I had left a computer power cord at home, while Kinya had brought no shoes other than flip-flops) we did the trip in 22 1/2 hours. Well, we did it, and the kids did a remarkably good job of staying even-tempered throughout. But still I think when you tack on the extra few hours of driving involved in Clarksburg-to-Houston rather than Oklahoma-City-to-Clarksburg, it's too much to ask the family to do in a single go, on the way home. So we'll leave West Virginia a day before we had planned and stop at a hotel halfway home.

One final Christmastime vignette. (You must understand, by the way, that I have been for the last couple of months trying to brush up on my neglected calculus skills, using my twenty-year-old college calculus textbook that is on the point of complete disintegration. Kasia and the other kids tried to pool their allowances to get me a new calculus book for my November birthday, but calculus textbooks are of course obscenely expensive and they couldn't get enough money together in time, much to Kasia's disappointment.)

My mother calls me to ask a question about what Dessie would like for Christmas. Now, I am one of the world's very worst gift-givers; gifts are completely unimportant to me and I have a terrible time figuring out what other people would like to receive. But Kasia is something of a gift person. So I take Kasia out to the front porch, explain to her what the conversation is about, switch to speakerphone, and tell my mom, "Here's Kasia, who should have a much better idea than I."

Kasia and my mom discuss Dessie's present and come to agreement on what would work well. Then my mom says, "Now, Kasia, your mom told me how you kids had tried to buy your dad a calculus book for his birthday. So I bought your dad a calculus book for Christmas, and if you kids would like me to I'll put your names on it along with mine."

Since my mother is very big on do-not-open-until-Christmas policies, I realized there had been a misunderstanding that I had best straighten out immediately. So I said hurriedly, "Um, Mom, you do realize that you're on speaker-phone and I'm standing here listening, right?"

I don't remember which Baptist-acceptable expletive my mother used, but what it lacked in natural expressive force was more than made up for by the richly disgusted frustration my mother poured into its utterance.

Fortunately I am ridiculously, sterotypically absent-minded. A week later on Christmas Day I started to open my parents' present to me. It was obviously a book, and I tried to guess what book it might be. My guess -- the earlier conversation having entirely slipped my mind -- was that it was something to do with baseball. So I managed to be agreeably surprised even though my mother had inadvertently told me what she was getting me for Christmas. I suppose no character trait, however undesirable, is utterly without its occasional advantages.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Scam of the Week" Dept

My friend Roy forwards to me the following heads-up from a friend of his who shops regularly at Lowe's:

Here's a "heads up" for any of you who may be regular customers of Lowe's. Over the last month I became a victim of a clever scam while out shopping. Simply going out to get supplies has turned out to be quite traumatic. Don't be naive enough to think it couldn't happen to you.

Here's how the scam works: Two seriously good-looking 18 or 19-year-old girls come over to your car as you are packing your shopping into the trunk. They both start wiping your windshield with a cloth and Windex, with their breasts falling out of their skimpy T-shirts. It is impossible not to look.

When you thank them and offer them a tip, they say "No" and instead ask you for a ride to another Lowe's. You agree and they get in the back seat. On the way, they start making out with each other. Then one of them climbs over into the front seat and starts putting her hands all over you, while the other one steals your wallet.

I had my wallet stolen December 4th, 9th, 10th, twice on the 17th, three times just yesterday, and, very likely, again this upcoming weekend as soon as I can buy some more wallets.

Again - please beware!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The secret of longevity

Edward Chun is 83, and was one of the lucky ones who survived the Japanese strafing at Pearl Harbor. And what is his secret for longevity?

"I'll tell you a secret: When your number comes up, you're going to go. Well, every morning I get up, I change my number."

Sunday, December 03, 2006

"What a Shame, Indeed" Dept

For fifteen pop-culture-expertise points, of what stellar role model was the following quote uttered, and what was the unfortunate lapse that has marred the lady's heretofore stellar record as a person to be held up for emulation by one's daughters?

"She's a beautiful girl and now that she's single and she's having fun, I think she's just trying to express herself," said New York-based celebrity image consultant Amanda Sanders. "Unfortunately, it's the wrong message that's coming across. And the shame is she was really such a role model."

Britney Spears. Yes, that role model. And what is her unfortunate lapse in judgment? Why, according to the story, that would be "...unleashing her inner wild child, running around with party girls Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, sporting unflattering hair extensions and flashing her apparently panty-less crotch to the paparazzi."

From later comments in the article one almost has the impression, perhaps unfair, that the gossip columnist is rather more upset about the hair extensions than the exhibitionism. Reminds me of one of my favorite teen-girl-magazine article titles: "Oh No!: When Bad Makeup Happens To Good People."

Saturday, December 02, 2006

"The Mirror of Truth" Dept

There's a bar down near the Ship Channel (that's local color for other persons condemned like myself to live in Houston) with a special private room in which hangs a mirror that is very special indeed. It is the Mirror of Truth. If your heart is courageous and your mind is clear, then you may stand before the Mirror and give utterance to any of your deepest beliefs. And if you are wise and what you say is true, then the Mirror rewards you with the granting of any one of the desires of your heart. But if you are self-deceived and what you say is false...poof! You disappear forever, never to be seen in this world again.

Not many take the risk. But a few days back, three women in a row took their shots.

First was a charming little redhead brimming over with personality but, alas, not blessed with a face capable of launching an inflatable pool mattress, much less a thousand ships. Had she said, "I think I'm delightfully charming and witty," all would have been well. But instead she said, "I think I'm the most beautiful woman in the world." And instantly -- poof!

A few minutes later, up to the mirror stepped a hard-faced, chain-smoking brunette, who tragically had drawn the wrong conclusion from the fact that there was hardly a man to be found in this or any of the next three bars who had not had sex with her. "I think I'm the sexiest woman in Houston." Poof!

But the third woman...now here was something special. Five-foot six blonde, heart-stopping smile, fabulous figure, legs clear up to here, a graceful and demure but somehow indefinably inviting little something in her walk that would make a dead man recover his vigor. She stands proudly before the Mirror of Truth, flashing that supermodel smile. "I think..." Poof!

"Perhaps the Blonde Wrote This Version Herself?" Dept

On a joke site remarkable primarily for its consistent telling of perfectly good jokes in such a ploddingly incompetent manner as to render them surprisingly unfunny, one particular blond joke actually managed to make me laugh -- and not because the joke was funny, but because of the way it was told. Though in this case that's not quite as complimentary a statement as it would usually be...

It starts off like this:

"There is a blond driving through the country. She has just died her hair brown because she is sick of being made fun of..."

I suspect that the person telling this joke probably wrote it down right after she herself "died" her hair in hopes no one would be able to tell she was a blonde...

RELATED ITEM: May be found here.

UPDATE IN INTEREST OF FAIRNESS: Astraweb's version of this joke actually isn't at all bad, though there's a touch of non-Baptist language in it.

"Who Knew The Y Was For Yeshua?" Dept

As Dave Barry points out in making available this picture, Neil G. and his buddies are so going to Hell...