Just call me Johnny Astro.

When I was a kid, this was one of my favorite toys:

Basically it was a ducted fan with a throttle and a joystick that allowed you to fly a weighted balloon around in a column of air. If you're familiar with the Bernoulli effect, you know how it works. It's basically the same way an airplane gets off the ground.

I know it sounds really boring compared to the toys kids have today, but back then it was almost like magic. You could actually fly it around in circles, out to about five feet, and then by dropping the throttle speed you could bring it back in for a landing. There were two flat "planets" (sold separately) that I didn't have, but really wanted. Somewhere, I have a picture of me playing with this toy. Here's the commercial that suckered me in - hook, line and sinker.

This Christmas, I decided to get myself a little gift, and I have a vintage Johnny Astro on its way to my house as we speak. They were pretty hard to control, but I have faith that if the six-year-old me could get it to fly around, then I'll still have the knack. (I hope it works out better than the japanese flute I bought. I still can't get that thing to make a noise that doesn't sound like geese sex. I'm clearly doing it wrong.)

Thinking about this toy led me on a toy hunt of sorts, and I started googling every toy I had as a kid. The first mechanical toy I have clear memories of playing with was called "Clancy the Great." He was a roller-skating chimpanzee, and he stood almost as high as I did:

I was probably only two years old at the time, and Clancy scared the living shit out of me. There were two ways to get Clancy to do his thing -- either grab his hand and push a button on his palm, which was supposed to make him skate beside you, or put his hat in his hand and then drop a coin into it, which would close the contact between the two metal studs and start him skating on his own. He had a creepy, sliding gait and his right arm and his head moved back and forth, while his hat arm stood perfectly still.

I'd sneak up on him from behind, throw the coin in his hat and then run away screaming like the hounds of hell were chasing me. I was certain that Clancy was right on my tail. I wouldn't go near him again until he ran into a wall and stopped. It was the best and most horrible toy I had. I wanted him to be my friend so we could do things together, but I was also scared he would kill me in my sleep.

During the day, he looked friendly, but there was something about him at night:

At night, he looked like he knew something you didn't. He'd just stand in the corner of my room, silently staring at me until I made my mother throw a blanket over him. It didn't help.

More toys tomorrow. I have a feeling I'm going to go broke on e-bay.

This never even crossed my mind before today.

It's like my magazine rack is a pervert.


A Simple Flowchart.

About a year ago, I created this for the loud, annoying guy in a cube near mine who has no "inside voice." I had forgotten all about it until I was doing a search on my hard drive for a particular graphic file.

I figure I'm probably not the only one with a need for something like this, so I thought I'd share. I never actually used it, because I moved to a different cube to avoid going postal. Your mileage may vary. Don't get face-punched is all I'm saying.


I wish cowboy boots were back in style.

Once upon a time, back in the early 80's, cowboy boots were in style. I alternately loved and hated this, for a few reasons. Let me start by telling you that I wore cowboy boots pretty much exclusively from 7th grade until I was a senior in high school. For four long years, I took a lot of shit for wearing them, because nobody else did. I didn't tell anyone why, but they probably figured it out anyway. It was my answer to being short.

The cowboy boots gave you an extra two or three inches in height, and once platform shoes went out of style in the late 70's the western footwear was my only option that didn't involve me slow dancing with my face buried in my girlfriend's boobs. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, however it did make hugging her mom pretty awkward.

When the Urban Cowboy movie hit in 1980, suddenly everyone was wearing cowboy boots, and my days of artificial heightening were over. I was back to being short on the relative scale, but on the bright side, at least nobody was making fun of me for wearing cowboy boots anymore.

You're probably asking yourself why I'm telling you this. The answer: Socks. It all has to do with socks. Because I wore high cowboy boots for so long, I got used to wearing high socks. You can't wear short socks inside cowboy boots because it just feels weird. Eventually the entire sock will end up as a sweaty cotton lump crammed into the toe of your boot and this is obviously not comfortable. So I would buy those over-the-calf gym socks that went almost up to my knees because they never fell down.

So that brings us to today. I still wear high socks. Yes, I'm a geek. To be fair, I don't wear them to the gym, and I only wear them with long pants. I just cannot wear short socks. They drive me nuts. I can't stand the way they feel, like they're always bagging up on me and threatening to fall down. I swear, I should just get a pair of these:

As a result, my wife is always on the hunt for what they call "full length" gym socks instead of what they commonly refer to as "calf-length" which makes no fucking sense whatsoever, because, as far as I know, your calves normally go all the way up to your knees whereas these piece of shit socks do not. They should call them "half-calf socks that fall down every 30 seconds so you have to stop whatever you're doing and pull them up again" but then nobody would buy them.

She's come home with dozens of different brands over the years. Some start off with potential, but then they turn out to be a letdown. The elastic goes, they're just a bit too short, or something is wrong in the toe area. (She once brought home socks that had rectangular toes. They were basically tubes that were sewed straight across on one end.) Then these rejects sit in one of my drawers collecting (or is that making?) lint.

Sometimes when we need to do laundry, I'll be forced to dig into the drawer of hideous cast-offs because there are no other socks, and today was one of those days.

Today, I was reminded that not only has she come home with rejects that were too short, but also these, which I am wearing as I type this:

They are practically support hose. Ridiculous. I have to fold them in half just so I can bend my legs. They do make me feel kinda sexy though.


I'm going to share this last item with you because it made me laugh. If my boss is reading this, it seriously took me about 60 seconds to do, so don't dock my pay. It turns out I'm practically Eminem.

I'm on a team at work that has the acronym of EME, or Electronic Messaging & Engineering. We currently use an old version of Lotus Notes, and are planning on upgrading soon. This morning, one of the guys on my team who is in charge of this upgrade wrote an e-mail message to everyone this morning because he was going to be a little late. It looked like this:

I am running late be in by 8.

I couldn't just let that go. So, obviously, I did what anyone would do and immediately sent him this reply:

Don't hate
Just because I deviate
from the arbitrary time
of Mr. Slate
The man
who pays my rate
while I create
the orderly state
of EME while my
peeps wait
for the date
they get Notes 8.


He didn't answer my email. I think it's because he's a lot younger than me and might not know who Mr. Slate is. At least that's my theory.

P.S. - Thank you to everyone who has bought the book so far. It's doing pretty well, considering I don't know what the hell I'm doing in regards to promotion. And thanks for the typo lists. I'll be fixing them in the print version in a week or so. The Kindle version should already be fixed.


I need professional help.

OK, maybe just regular help. With three things, actually.

A bunch of you bought the book. (Thank you!!) I'm assuming some of you may have even read it by now. First, if you liked it (or even if you thought it didn't suck) please leave a review on Amazon if you can.

Second, if you see any typos, let me know. I've only gotten feedback from one person about one typo they've noticed so far. (Apparently, I managed to spell the word dynamics as "dymanics," which is just stupid. It's not stupid that I reversed the letters, it's stupid that I didn't see the obvious red underline that my spell checker used in a vain attempt to get me to notice my blunder. It reminded me of this.)

I can't read the book accurately any more because I've seen it too many times. But with new eyes (yours) I can fix any typos and get new files uploaded. To fix them on the Kindle version is easy, as the original just stays for sale until the new one is out there. The printed book is a little harder, in that it takes the book out of commission for a week or so, and I don't want to do that until after Christmas. So I guess you could call the versions that I've sold so far "collector's editions" if you want to be generous, or "screw ups" if you want to be truthful. I'll refer to it as the "Dymanic Edition."

Third, If any of you reading this has a blog, a facebook page, or a telephone pole you like to nail shit to, I'd be eternally grateful if you could possibly mention my book and link to it on Amazon.

OK, I'm done begging now. Thanks!

ps - I was #4 on Amazon's "Hot New Releases" list today in the "Parenting and Family Humor" category. I think there may be some angry soccer moms writing to me in a few weeks.


The way my mind works.

The other night, I was sitting in front of the television eating dinner and watching Two-and-a-Half Men. You cannot escape that show. It's ALWAYS ON. While I actually sort of liked it in the early days, it seems as though it (as all sitcoms eventually do) has become a parody of itself, and probably should have been canceled by now.

In the intro of the newer run of shows, they do this freaky morphing thing when the three of them are singing the theme song and the kid Jake goes from being about six years old to 16, or whatever he's supposed to be now. As I sat there watching something I knew was going to be painful, for no good reason other than I was too lazy to look for something else to watch, I had the following thoughts:

(1) Damn, how much longer can this show stay on the air?
(2) What if this trash stays on the air for another 30 years?
(3) By that time, they'd probably have to change the show's name to "One Men."
(4) They'd have to work on that morph, too.


The Republic of Bananas

I opened my wife's Banana Republic bill yesterday, and I saw this printed on it:

I'm not sure what that's supposed to be.

Is it supposed to be a very round lipstick kiss? A bow on a present? What?

I know what it looks like, but I'm pretty sure that's not what they were going for. I think this week there's probably going to be a staff meeting at Banana Republic, and the Director of Marketing is going to ask, "Who thought it would be a good idea to send a picture of a cat's asshole to 120,000 of our customers?"

Someone will not be getting a bonus this year.

Now I'm afraid to open my Gap bill. What if it's scratch-n-sniff?


I Live......Again.......

Update: Now available at Amazon, too. Those guys like to under promise and over deliver.

For all you people that like to hold actual paper in your hot little hands, here's the real deal.

The printed version of the book is now available in my CreateSpace store and from Amazon.com. The Amazon option has free shipping if you spend over $25.

Honestly, I get a bigger piece of the pie ($6 vs. $3) when you buy directly from Createspace, but it's completely up to you.

I've also ordered a small quantity to have on hand in case anyone wants me to write something ridiculous in their copy. I'm not sure how soon I'll have them though. Perhaps in time for Christmas, or perhaps not. I hope so.

This version has at least one less typo than the Kindle version because a few people who bought the Kindle version gave me a heads up and I fixed it. I'm OCD like that. Also, it was in the Introduction. I might be able to live with a typo 200 pages in, but seriously, the second page? No way I could let that sit there and nibble chunks out of my soul every day. The downside is, I'll have about 25 copies of what I call "the very expensive mistake - typo edition" sitting on my porch sometime this week.

I've decided to have a contest to give some of these away. It could be fun. But then again, at one point I also decided to type the word "I'll" instead of the word "I'm" so I can't really be trusted in matters such as these.

I was going to have a contest to see who could find the most mistakes, but then I figured that would just depress me. But I'll think of something.

Enjoy! And thanks again for your support!


Look what I just bought.

No, not the Kindle. Look at what's on it.

Yes, my first customer was me. I clicked a single button, and through the magic of modern radio tube technology, I bought my own book. Also, I can't believe there's no way for you to reliably test out your book without actually buying a copy.

So for all three of you guys who use the Kindle, you can get my book right now for the amazing low, low price of only $4.95 by going here. I bow to the sub-$5 price point. Also, don't forget that you can give Kindle content as a gift now. So spring it on someone you love. Or hate. I don't care.

However, before you spend your hard-earned cash, let me tell you what's in it. People who have been hanging around in my doorway for the last five years have heard most of these stories before, since they came from my blog. They've been tightened up and added to, and there are also a couple of new stories, and a new introduction for each section. And I don't want to over-sell this, but you also get original artwork. Think of it this way: If you drink Starbucks coffee, you'll pay that much for a double-shot venti soy mocha. This book should give you at least that much bang for the buck. Also in it: Typos. Those are free.

Feel free to review it after you're done. Even if you hate it. On second thought, scratch that. I don't want your crappy reviews spoiling things when the print version becomes available. That would be like standing outside of the carnival sideshow tent like this:

Personally, I think you should hold off for the printed version. The cover looks better.


Nest of Junk Mail.

Our mailman is a giant pain in my ass. For some reason, he can't just place our mail gently in our gigantic, cavernous rural mailbox. He has to wind up like a major league pitcher and throw it in. This means I can't pull up to the mailbox in my car and grab the mail, because I don't have the arms of Mr. Fantastic. All my mail is cowering against the back wall of the box like it's afraid of light. I have to get out of my car, which makes me cranky, especially if it's raining or snowing.

This is the same mailman who is so lazy he won't drive up to the house to leave an over-sized package on the porch. I realize I'm calling him lazy when I don't even want to get out of my car to get the mail, but he's a special case. Instead of putting the package on the porch, he'll open the mailbox, balance the package on the open door, and wrap a rubber band around it. Doesn't matter if it's raining or snowing -- I'll just find it there when I get home. He actually left boxes in the snowbank last year because the plow had gone by and blocked our mailbox with snow. He also somehow manages to get actual important mail stuck inside the mail order catalogs. I think he does it on purpose because we get too many boxes that make him have to walk to the porch. It's no wonder the post office is hemorrhaging money.

This time of year, we get about 10 pounds of mail-order catalogs every day. I have no idea why these companies are continuing to do this. I think they should figure out which households have internet connections, and then just stop sending direct mail there. I suppose they keep doing it because they pick up a lot of bathroom browsers.

As I was shaking out our daily load of catalogs, looking for incidental things like bills that have to be paid on time, I stumbled on this picture:

A nest of nativity, if you will. In the second I glanced at it I noticed that something seemed off to me. It's not that they're all the shape of bowling pins, although that's part of it. I think it's that the order is wrong. First, everybody piles in Donkey Joseph. That has to be uncomfortable. And baby Jesus should be in Mary, not two levels down, sitting inside of a shepherd that looks like Tom Welling, if Tom Welling could grow a beard. The wise man wearing the football helmet and holding the Scooby Doo lunchbox has to hold Tom and the baby Jesus, and then jump inside Mary, and that's just no good for anyone.

My considered opinion: The Nativity scene is not optimal for interpretation via Nesting.


Double time, with feeling.

A couple of weeks ago, I got out of bed and went downstairs to shower and get ready for work. While I was standing there in the bathroom, I suddenly felt light-headed and a little sweaty and sick to my stomach. I also realized my heart was beating like a mad mofo and my pulse rate was upwards of 120 or so. I sat down and it passed, but I still didn't feel great. I decided to work from home, except there was one catch -- I had left my work laptop at work, so if I wanted to work from home, I'd have to go get it.

By the time I got out of the shower, I felt pretty good. I got in the car, drove to work, told my boss I was going to head home and work from there just in case it happened again and I needed to go to the ER or something. l packed up my computer and headed home. About half-way there, it happened again, only this time I couldn't put my head between my legs because I was driving in fairly heavy traffic and doing about 75 mph, and that would have been slightly difficult. I figured I probably should get off the road before I passed out and wrecked someone's day.

I was conveniently close to a rest stop, so I called my wife and told her where I was, and also casually added that she might want to call 911, as crazy as that sounds. I knew that most of the time, the "rub my left arm, then grab my chest" heart attacks didn't usually happen without warning signs, unless you're on TV. I knew enough to know that a heart attack can take many forms, and that the most common symptoms are just indigestion and some chest pressure, which seems like a pretty ridiculous reason to go to the hospital.

By the time the EMT's got there with the ambulance, I was fine again, and standing next to my car waiting for them. They pulled up and the guy says, "Um....are we here for you?" I confirmed that they were, and I jumped in the truck. The EMT had to go at least 350 pounds, and he was probably 5' 6" at most. I have no idea how he worked inside that little truck all day. He had me take off my shirt and lie down, then he hooked me up to the EKG. My pulse was a little higher than normal, but not 120 like it was before. I had him go back to my car to get my computer, and he noticed all the hiking gear in the back. When he came back, he mentioned it and then told me he has to get more exercise. He asked me if I ate breakfast, and when I tell him I did, he asked me what I had. When I said fruit, oatmeal and egg whites he just shook his head and looked at me like I was some kind of weird new species of mammal he'd never seen before. I think he may have muttered "fuck you" under his breath.

I then enjoyed a very long and bumpy ride to the hospital. I was really surprised that the ambulance didn't have a smoother ride. I can't imagine trying to keep severely injured people stabilized in this thing. It was like riding in the back bed of a double axle Ford F-150.

We got to the hospital and I wanted to walk in, but they wouldn't let me, so I got wheeled in on the stretcher. They chucked me in a room, and after a nurse took my blood pressure and hooked me up to yet another EKG, I sat and waited for the doctor.

While I was waiting, I could hear just about everything going on in the ER. Some guy outside my curtain was getting checked in and I overheard the following conversation:

"Steve Andrews."
"Phone number?"
"And your social?"
"I have a few friends, yeah."

I thought the nurse was going to piss herself trying to keep a straight face. I didn't bother. I just laughed out loud.

After some attendant sucked about six vials of blood out of my arm, the doctor came in and asked me a bunch of questions, and then told me the wonderful news that they were going to admit me for an overnight stay, just to keep an eye on me and do some additional blood tests every six hours to make sure I didn't have a heart attack.

Thus began the period of waiting for a bed. My wife and I sat there from about 11 a.m. to five p.m. while absolutely nothing happened. The blood pressure cuff would inflate, threaten to pop my arm off at the elbow, then deflate. I amused myself by noting that no two blood pressure measurements were ever the same. Quality equipment. Or quality blood pressure, perhaps. But I'm fairly certain it wasn't me.

They came in and asked me if I had eaten, and I said no, so they told me they'd bring me a turkey sandwich. I was expecting this:

What I got, while technically a "turkey sandwich," consisted of exactly one slice of cheap deli turkey between two slices of stale bread. That's it. I ate it because I was really hungry and figured I might as well, since it probably cost me $75.

They finally found a room for me, and the first thing I saw when they wheeled me in was some old dude's newly bandaged stump. He had just had his leg amputated at the knee, and holy shit he was a talker. Didn't matter if there happened to be a listener or not. He would just talk. He'd talk at the TV. He'd hum, whistle, sing with the headphones on, sing with the headphones off, talk to me even though I was clearly listening intently to my ipod and typing madly on my computer. I'm pretty sure he was as crazy as a shithouse rat. He was also half-deaf, so when his wife came to play bridge with him, between the two of them and their television, I was ready to just check myself out and drive home.

The doctor eventually visited me, and asked me a bunch of other questions, then they wheeled me out for a CAT scan with contrast. The guy doing it was named Manuel and he had a self-inflicted gang tattoo between his thumb and finger. He said he was going to flush out the IV and when he did it, he also injected me with about a quarter-inch of air. All I could think of was how in the movies they kill someone by injecting air into their veins. I said, "Uh, hey, there was a lot of air in that." He smiled a little stone cold smile and said, "It would take at least two of these syringes full of air to kill you." I didn't ask him how he knew that, but I swear he almost added a "Pendejo" to the end. He then injected something radioactive into me that I think was probably some sort of ionic iodine. He told me it was for contrast, but felt like it was expressly designed to warm my o-ring.

So I didn't die from the air bubble, and the test showed that I didn't have any sort of aneurysm, so that was good. The first blood tests came back too, and they were fine. So far it was looking like something electrical. They wheeled me back to my room and in the time it took for me to get out of the chair and into my bed I learned from the old dude that he had diabetes, had been here for nine weeks, and he was hoping to go home for Thanksgiving, but it wasn't looking good. No wonder he was stir crazy.

I quickly jammed my earbuds back in and waited for dinner. I was in the cardiac ward, which is technically monitored by intensive care. They have a special "heart patient" diet, which they signed me up for. It appeared to be a deep fried hot pocket stuffed with broccoli and cheese, with a side of coffee, and more broccoli, so I'm pretty sure "heart patient diet" is code for "let's see how many beds we can free up by morning." It was horrible at any rate, and my wife went to the cafeteria and got me two sliced of equally horrible pizza. While I was eating, I could hear the guy next to me eating. He sounded like a pig rooting in a trough, and he was making all these sounds like, "Mmmmmm.... ohhhhhh..... unnnnnnnnh... slurpppp...and grunting in between. I looked at my wife and she whispered, "Is he eating it or screwing it?" I didn't have the nerve to look.

The funny thing about hospitals is that they have to do all this different stuff to you all night. They have to check your blood pressure, take your temperature, take blood samples, give you medication, and probe you anally.* Instead of coming in once and doing it all, they time it so each person comes in to do a different thing every hour or so. Their goal, as far as I can tell, is to evenly distribute these activities so they coincide with the exact second you actually fall asleep. Add the buzz saw snoring coming from the one-legged annoyance machine in next bed and I got zero sleep.

The next morning, the doctor told me I could go free, but I had to wait until they finished processing me. He got the details on my cardiologist appointment, and said he'd send over the paperwork. As he was leaving, stumpy Joe told him to call a nurse because he "felt like he had to go." This did not mean that the nurses got him out of bed and brought him to our shared bathroom. This meant they brought the bathroom to him. They had something that looked like a walker with a toilet seat on it, and under the seat was a plastic pan. Luckily, I was in a position to get up and leave, so I stood in the hallway until the deed was done.

I told the nurse it was to give him some privacy but it was really because I just ate breakfast and I didn't want to see it again. After they aired the room out, I went back to waiting to be discharged. I decided I wanted to brush my teeth after I ate breakfast, so I walked into the bathroom, only to be hit in the face with the stench of a thousand cesspools. Apparently, the nurse didn't empty the bucket -- she just left it sitting there in the bathroom to marinate. I hate hospitals.

I actually walked down the hallway and used the public bathroom, and then thankfully got the hell out of there. A day or so later, I went to the cardiologist, and he also asked me a bunch of questions. After I answered them, he said, and I quote, "I want you to stop drinking coffee and alcohol." I said, "Why not just kick me in the nuts, too?" No, I didn't. What I actually said was, "I hate you so much right now," and he didn't even crack a smile. He was as serious as a...well...yeah.

So on the 7th I have a stress test, but he thinks it's going to come up clean since I told him I did 14 miles with a 60 lb pack on my back a few weeks ago and didn't have an issue. He says he's just doing it to be thorough. In the meantime, I'm wired up with a monitor that beeps and records my heart rate if I so much as walk up the stairs fast. I have two extraneous nipples that I apply every morning and then attach wires to. I call them my bionic nubbins.


In other news, we saw John Waite in a small 300-seat theater a couple of weeks ago, playing an acoustic show. Just him, a fantastic acoustic guitar player and a bass player. He did rearranged versions of Babys songs from back in the day, as well as some Bad English and a bunch of new and old solo stuff. Even covered a few Dylan tunes. He sounded great. Apparently he has a new record coming out in February. The only depressing thing? Babys fans are fucking old. I felt like I was at an AARP meeting. I tried to take a picture to show you just how old they were, but the flash kept reflecting off glasses and shiny bald heads, so it didn't come out.

Afterward, he stuck around to sign some autographs and do a little meet and greet. Nice guy. Here's Mrs. JV with John:

Lastly, I'm waiting on some final comments/edits from a buddy of mine, and then the book is D.O.N.E. Or at least as far as I'm concerned. If there are still typos and grammatical problems, I'll have to live with them. The Kindle version is also looking good. The last step is to determine pricing, and I'm sort of stuck on it. I'm thinking $12.95 for the print version and $6.95 for the Kindle version. Any thoughts? Too much? Too little?

* What? They aren't supposed to do that? Don't tell me that now.


Please help me.

My wife is out of control. You guys see this?

That's just the most recent purchases. My entire house is being overrun by yarn and wool. I half-expect to come home from work one day and find an alpaca in the living room. My wife has been doing nothing but sitting on the couch and crocheting for the last month. She doesn't sleep, she doesn't eat -- she even crochets on the treadmill. I have to blend her dinner into a liquid so she can drink it with a straw without stopping. I don't even wanna know how she's working the bathroom thing. She's sold almost 100 hats and scarves in the last month, and is ramping up for Christmas. Baby hats, headbands and brooches, too. She walks around the house muttering, "Gotta have stock. Gotta have stock" under her breath.

So do me a favor -- check out her stuff at anniesoriginals.com and buy some Christmas gifts for god's sake. Help me get out from under this mountain of yarn. After Christmas, I'm hoping she'll slow down for a while. It's bad enough that I already know I 'm not great in bed, but when I have to stop and hand her a different color skein of yarn right in the middle, it really doesn't do much for my self-confidence.

Just to make me feel better, she said that if you tell her I sent you, she'll throw in a free crocheted flower pin. And a picture of me wearing one of her hats and nothing else. Wait, what? No, that last thing isn't happening. Not for free, anyway.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Busy, Busy.

I spent a nice night in the hospital last week due to my heart deciding to play the drum solo to YYZ while I was driving home. So now I have to wear a monitor for a while to see if I can catch it in the act. Hospital food sucks, btw.

On the "good news" side of things -- It's a boy.

Of course, I have one more go-round of edits, but I'm hoping to make my self-imposed deadline of December 1st. I'm also trying to get a Kindle version ready to go before Christmas.

I'll be back to tell you of my adventures in the wonderland that is the New York State health care system sometime this week, if I can.


Common Cents.

My wife buys fitness magazines for women sometimes, and the main articles always revolve around "5 simple secrets" or "one workout that will change your life" or "in only 10 minutes a day." Most of the time, the articles boil down to common sense.

In fact, I can sum up 90% of the contents of most women's magazines by simply saying if you want to lose weight and get in better shape, (1) eat less and exercise more, and (2) burn more calories than you consume. There, I've just saved you about $300 a year at the newsstands.

I recently saw this one lying on our coffee table, and it made me laugh.

Two days? Without reading this article, I immediately passed judgement on it. I did it because I know there is only one way to get a better body in two days.

I've outlined the things you'll need:

Day 1:
1. A tranquilizer gun or stun gun
2. Gag and handcuffs
3. Soundproof van
4. Map to Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Alba or other hot celebrity of your choice.

Day 2:
1. Time machine
2. Hacksaw


Also, I saw a picture of Elliott Yamin yesterday:

Is it just me, or does anyone else think he looks like he might have the body of a goat?



On Friday I stopped at our local nursery to pick up a few pumpkins and I saw one of these creepy little "kid crossing" stand-up signs that they have now:

I'm not sure what it is about those things, but they creep me right the hell out. Maybe it's the round head with the beady single eye, or possibly the cloven hooves.

Just look at it - it even has a freaky little eyelid for god's sake.

For some reason, every time I see one of these, I expect it to slowly blink at me. I can easily picture an entire army of them, coming at me relentlessly, making some sort of squeaky noise that sounds like two pieces of styrofoam rubbing together.

It wasn't until I got home and downloaded the picture from the camera that I noticed the horrific thing behind him.

What the fuck is that? When I was a kid, I had an irrational fear of Uncle Wiggily, and now I know why. Maybe it wasn't irrational. Maybe he was a minion of the devil all this time. Now I'm afraid I'm going to wake up in the middle of the night because I smell pipe tobacco, then look across the room and see the glowing red eyes of this thing as it rocks slowly back and forth, back and forth...puffing its pipe and smiling its yellow, rat-toothed smile.

In other news, while eating breakfast this morning I was browsing a catalog that sold reproductions of old cast-iron banks. This one caught my eye and made me laugh.

It looks like The Count from Sesame Street is about to get a lap dance from Eddie Munster.

Happy belated Halloween, everyone. Hope you scored lots of Reeses.

Here's how ours turned out:

Vidna, you didn't even try, man. Yours looks like it should be made in China and have a plastic handle on it.


Mercury Falls is Here!

Well, not here on my blog, but here at Amazon. Most of you know Diesel (aka Rob Kroese) and his blog mattresspolice.com We have quite a bit of overlap in readership, so most of you probably know all about the book already, but I'm going to give you a brief review anyway. Any fan of Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series or Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide books should love this. Fun characters, great obscure references and lots of funny-as-hell dialogue. Everything I have to say about this book has already been said by all the 5-star reviews it's earned. Add this one to the pile, I guess.

For the three people reading this who don't have any idea what I'm talking about, check out the Amazon link up there and do yourself a favor and pick up the book. I read his original self-published version (with the better cover, in my opinion) while I was on vacation in Mexico and I have to say that at least a few times, my wife had to make me put down the book.

I even had to shell out my hard-earned cash to do this, because no matter how much I begged, no matter how much I pleaded, he wouldn't give me a free copy. Cheap bastard.

I'm buying a few copies to give to my friends as Christmas presents, and that has to tell you something. Mostly that I, too, am notoriously cheap, but that's neither here nor there. I can't wait for the sequel.

Congrats, Rob!


Hike on Hunter Mountain

My vacation time is rapidly coming to a close, and my recent month of working three days and taking four off will be sadly missed. Here's a couple of pics from my last outing (as always, click for the big version):

I've been madly editing and proofreading the alleged book all week, and I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I've got another post about half written, so if things go well, I'll be back tonight with a tale from long ago, when our parents took The Snitch, Houdini and me to Seaside Heights, NJ.

It didn't end well.


The weather started getting rough.

OK, I promised you guys the story that went along with all those new sailing terms I've been learning, so here goes.

A few weeks ago, I had a Friday off, so my father and I decided to take the sailboat out and get some more practice. Our first few times out had been pretty uneventful, mostly because there hadn't been much in the way of wind. The last time out, we had done some very light sailing for about the first 30 minutes, and then when we were in the middle of the lake, the wind died completely. We sat there for another 30 minutes with our sails hanging slack like a pair of old lady boobs. I've never seen it so calm on this lake -- it was eerily still, like the whole lake was waiting for something to happen. A few other sailboats were also doing their best impersonation of ghost ships, all of us waiting in vain for any sort of breeze from anywhere. We must be wimpy sailors because when we started roasting in the sun we used the electric trolling motor to get back to the marina and eat burgers and drink beer.

On this Thursday night, however, the weather report for Friday morning looked pretty good. The forecast called for sunny skies and 5-10mph winds, which is just about perfect for a couple of noobs like us.

The lake is about an hour away for my father, and probably 30 minutes for me, so I got there first. I paid my parking fee and drove down toward the lake. I wasn't really prepared for what I saw. Clearly, our weatherman had been smoking crack again, because the wind was fierce. There was no way in hell it was 5-10 mph. I had no idea how hard it was blowing, but I knew that much at least. The waves and the whitecaps were huge. I don't think I've ever seen this lake so angry while the sun was shining, and I've been going there since I was a kid.

I called my father and told him the situation, but he was already almost there. When he pulled up next to me, he looked out at the water and just said, "Wow." It was a sunny day, so we decided we'd wait it out a bit and see how it went. About 30 minutes later, the whitecaps had let up a little, but it was still blowing pretty good. It was steady at least, and not really gusty, so we had that going for us. We figured we would get the boat ready and by that time we hoped it would have mellowed out a bit.

We stood around for a while waiting, and talking to a British guy who clearly knew what he was doing. He said that it was blowing around 15-20 knots. We didn't know what that meant in human terms, so we just nodded. I didn't have a good feeling about this, and neither did my father, but we both just stood there looking out at the water, asking each other, "So...what do you think?" Neither one of us wanted to call the game. After another 30 minutes, the whitecaps looked like they had abated a bit, so we decided to go for it.

My father backed the trailer into the water, and I tried to push the boat off of it. It wasn't deep enough, so I walked a bit farther in and he backed into the water a little more. This time I succeeded, but just barely, and my plan for not getting my underwear wet went south when the first cold wave slapped me in the nuts. I held onto the boat while he pulled the trailer out of the water, barely missing my foot with the trailer wheel. On this particular lake, the water level is lower than normal this year which means the dock next to the ramp is about 3 feet above your boat when it's in the water, so it's very hard to control it from the dock when the waves are coming in hard and the wind is blowing like a bitch. I climbed out of the water and tried my best to keep the boat from bashing itself to death on the dock. That was the first problem.

My father finally returned from parking the truck, then stripped down. Off came the boots, the socks, and then the pants. He tossed them inside the cabin and climbed in the boat. I can't for the life of me figure out why the hell he can't just get undressed at his truck, or for that matter, just drive to the lake in his bathing suit. Instead, he always puts his pants on over his suit, so it looks pretty funny when he starts dropping trou right there on the dock. It's like he's doing some kind of disturbing old guy strip-tease. That might very well be considered the second problem, but I'll leave that for you to decide.

The next problem was that the wind was blowing from North to South, and this marina is at the south-most end of the lake. We only have a 47 lb thrust trolling motor. Normally it can move us along at around 6 miles per hour if there's no wind, but this time it was barely strong enough to get us out of the launch area. Before we were completely clear of the launch and into open water, we put on our life jackets, because we may be dumb, but we're not stupid. Using top speed, we were eventually able to put a little distance between us and the boat launch.

We were getting slammed around pretty good, and my father looked at me and said, "I think we're a little out of our depth here." I agreed, but we weren't going back without giving it a shot. We dropped the rudder, and then I attempted to put the sails up. I discovered it's a lot harder to climb around on the front of the boat raising sails when the boat is bobbing around like a cork. Somehow, when I was hoisting the mainsail, it got all jammed up and I had to drop it down again and start over. Of course, while I was doing that, the damned wind was trying like hell to blow us back to where we started, and mostly succeeding. So we cranked up the motor again, and put a little more distance between us and the shore and tried one more time. At this point the waves were so big, the trolling motor was coming out of the water because of the chop.

As soon as I raised the mainsail the wind grabbed it and slammed us around. "Rounding up" I think it's called. Whatever. I call it suck. Next, I raised the jib and as soon as I did that, we started moving. When the wind first caught the jib, it snapped it over so fast I thought it was going to rip it right off the boat, me along with it.

I crawled back to my seat and things started looking a little better. My father ran the tiller and I worked the sails. We were mostly in control, and we finally had a chance to raise the trolling motor and get it out of the way. We headed in a direction that was not South for a change, and the first thing we realized is that we desperately needed some weight in the front because every time we hit a wave the whole front end of the boat slammed down into the water. It sounded like someone beating the shit out of a stand-up bass with a croquet mallet. It was bad, and I even though I knew we built the boat to be strong, I kept expecting pieces to start falling off of it at any second.

We finally figured out which direction we needed to sail in to surf the waves, rather than chop through them, and we started making some progress. We were perhaps three miles away from the marina and heeling over pretty good when I noticed one of the port shrouds (the cables that hold the mast up) looked a little funny, in that it was no longer connected to the boat and was instead just sort of waving in the breeze. I yelled "HOLY SHIT!" and in answer to my father's questioning look, I pointed at the cable. At almost the same instant, we both looked up to the mast to see if it was listing to one side, knowing the sort of stresses that we were placing on it in this kind of weather.

"We have to get the sails down!" I yelled. "If a second one goes, we're screwed!" Afraid the second cable on the same side might snap, I handed the mainsail line to my father and climbed back up toward the front of the boat. As I was climbing, we got hit by a gust and the boat heeled over so quickly that my father did the only thing he could do, and that was to let go of everything and hope the boat didn't turtle. I remember slamming my knee and seeing water about 6 inches from my face, and then I scrambled back to the high side of the boat just in time to watch the entire rope slither out of the boom. The mainsail was now just swinging free, threatening to slam back and forth and it needed to come down fast. I climbed back up front, and I dropped the shit out of that sail. I was going to drop the jib too, but the damned thing didn't want to go. The bad thing about this gaff rig design is that when the sail is down, it basically falls right into the cockpit. If you've ever seen a cartoon where someone gets all tangled up in a parachute, you know what we looked like. The entire cockpit of the boat was now full of boom and sail.

When we finally bundled everything up and were no longer in danger of capsizing, I took a look at what had happened. It was the fault of that shitty hardware store cable and those cable clamps. I determined that what had happened was mostly an issue with the vinyl covered cable. The clamps were tight, but when under this sort of stress, the wire came out from inside its vinyl covering and worked its way out of the clamp.

We couldn't really effect repair on the water because we were getting tossed around too much, so we decided to head back. I dropped the trolling motor, preparing to motor back, when I realized that we were moving much faster than the motor was capable of propelling us - because the jib was still up. Luckily the wind was blowing in the right direction, so we used the jib to sail back. Of course, even though the lake was pretty much empty, four other boats decided at that exact moment they needed to be out of the water too, and since they were power boats, they blew by us, and now we had to try to circle around and wait until they were loaded up and out. We couldn't do that with the jib flying, so that meant another monkey climb over everything to drop that.

We finally made it back in, and that was another disaster. The wind was still blowing so strongly that there were huge swells. Apparently, between swells the water was low enough so our rudder could hit bottom. Since the boat wasn't moving forward so much, instead of the rudder popping up, it hit vertically and lifted the entire rudder, tiller and rudder box off the boat. Now we had no steering because the entire steering mechanism was currently floating away.

It was still so rough that it was almost impossible to keep the front of the boat from slamming on the dock, and the entire boat kept wanting to turn sideways in the launch area. I tied a rope to the front and back, and then jumped for the dock. I barely made it, and immediately sat down and started hauling on the rope. I managed to get the boat straight again, and it was finally under some semblance of control. I brought it close to the dock so my father could get out. As he stood, ready to step to the dock, a big swell hit the boat and he lost his balance -- he reached out to the remaining shroud on the port side to steady himself and that one came apart like wet tissue paper. It was a good thing we dropped the sail when we did, and didn't try to sail back with just a single shroud. At the very least we'd probably have snapped the mast. At worst, we'd probably be renting scuba equipment to retrieve our car keys.

At least I was able to keep us from the complete embarrassment of washing ashore sideways.

We finally got the boat back on the trailer, retrieved our tiller and rudder, and called it a learning experience. The first thing I did when I got home was to order real stainless steel cable, real sailing turnbuckles and real swaging.

Sometimes you have to learn not to cheap-out the hard way, I guess. But on the flip side, what's life without adventure?

Still, I think I'll invest in some sailing lessons next year. Or at least a helmet.


A three hour tour.

For those of you just tuning in, for the last 9 years I've been building a boat with my father, and it's finally done. You can go here to see the original story of how I ended up building a sailboat when I have absolutely no idea how to sail.

Sailing people you meet at the boat launch are weird. They're a helpful and friendly bunch, but they sure like to talk about themselves a lot. I think I just haven't been indoctrinated into the club yet. So far, almost every conversation I've had at a launch began with "Well, I've been sailing for XX years, and I....blah, blah, blah..." and I have to stand there and listen to them tell stories and give advice when I really should be trying to prevent my boat from washing up on the shore and killing a dog or something.

I'm pretty sure that how long you've been doing something doesn't necessarily equate to how good you are at it, but I don't think sailors will admit this. I've been playing drums for a long time, and I reached a certain skill level that I never surpassed -- it became a limitation of both my time and talent. In reality, as much as they won't admit it, sailing is like sex. When you first start doing it, you suck at it, and your goal is to not kill or embarrass yourself. After you get the basics down, you practice up and get better and learn a few tricks and eventually you spend a decade or two at the top of your game. After that, you begin the inevitable slide down the other side of that bell curve.* Sailors deny this slide, and eventually they just end up hanging around the public boat launch wearing a strap-on and telling lies.

Take knots, for instance. Apparently, they're more than just those annoying things you get in your shoelaces at the exact moment you're trying to romantically rip your pants off -- they are also some bullshit measure of speed you are forced to use when you become a sailor. Miles per hour isn't good enough for Sailors. Noooo, they have to have their own personal unit of measurement.

In fact, in the short time I've been doing this, I've learned that almost every single aspect of sailing has its own unique terminology. The first thing you are forced to do is learn some of it, because you'll need to be familiar with those terms in order to ask intelligent questions of other sailors. For example, you might need to know the correct terminology to be able to accurately describe exactly what was happening the instant before something hit you in the back of head and a wall of water came up to meet your face.

You can't say things like "It was really windy and there were some big-ass waves, and we were sailing kind of with the wind when the cable on the left side holding the mast snapped and my father let go of the rope and the sail went whipping out at a right angle and pulled all the rope out of the boom pulleys, and when it did, we took off like a bat out of hell. Then the other rope holding the top of the sail up came loose and the rope slid up the mast and the top of the sail collapsed. It was a total clusterfuck."

Instead, you have to say, "The wind was blowing at about 15 knots due north, kicking up a fresh breeze** and 3 foot seas. We were on a broad reach when the port shroud snapped off the chainplate and my first mate released the main sheet when she started to heel, and the sheet ran out of the boom blocks, and when it did, the mainsail hit the starboard shroud and we started running. Then the peak halyard sheet uncleated and ran up the mast and the sail spilled air and started flogging. It was a total clusterfuck."

OK, some of the terminology is the same.

And that's only half the problem. When you finally figure out the correct terms required to actually phrase your question, the experienced sailing person to whom you ask this question will generally give you an answer that contains 20 new terms that you're not familiar with.

"Yeah, you're gonna need some 17x9 SS, double-swaged to a 1/8" thimble. Throw a Harken double on the peak, pick up some sea dogs, and ditch those horns and get cams. The brass horns are pretty but they don't work for shit. Better yet, just get some fairleads and run the jibsheets back to the cockpit. And pick up a fitted gooseneck and maybe think about a boom vang. Oh, and with that gaff rig, a topping lift would definitely make your life easier."

Your job as a new sailor is to simply stand there and nod your head and pretend you understand what they are telling you, even though deep in your brain stem, you feel the same panicked, naked dread that you felt the first time you saw one of those math word problems with no numbers in it on the SAT.

Then you go home and look up 37 different things on Google.

A few weeks ago, we decided to take Constant Sun out because the weather report said the winds were going to be 5-10mph and we figured it would be another easy day of practice. (You can't just say "the boat" anymore either. You have to call it "her" or by her given name or the Sailboat Police will come to your house and tell you how long they've been sailing.)

Someone once told me "It's a good trip if you come home with all the big pieces" so technically this was a good trip. I'm a little short on time this week, and this post is far too long already, so I will tell you the tale of our adventure*** in my next post.

* so I've heard.
**on the Beaufort scale.
*** or, to use the correct nautical term, Total Clusterfuck.


Three things I learned from this old postcard.

I sent this to my grandparents my first year at Boy Scout camp:

So one, I wasn't always averse to bringing a radio into the woods.

Two, I was either an entrepreneur or a crook, depending on your point of view.

Three, I was all about conveniently located retail establishments.

Man, I don't even know the young me anymore....


If a log falls in the forest and no one hears it..

I guess it's not camping season unless I find something disgusting in the woods. In the past, I've found some pretty diverse things, and this time out was no exception. Before that story, though, I have to mention something I thought was sort of cool.

Two weekends ago, when we pulled up to the parking area at one of our favorite places to canoe, it was very crowded -- perhaps the most cars I've ever seen in the parking lot. The lake itself has perhaps 8 or 9 campsites in total, and we figured our chances of getting one of our favorites was pretty slim. We were right. We were a bit worried, because it was a Friday morning, and our friends Vidna and Pootie were meeting up with us the next day. We were beginning to think we'd be waiting for them in our car because as we paddled the length of the east side of the lake, it appeared that every site was taken. Finally, as we reached the end of the lake and turned to continue our search up the opposite shore, we saw one that looked unoccupied, so we paddled in for a closer look. It was empty, and we moved in immediately. Even though it wasn't great, it was a site and that's all that mattered.

At first I didn't think I had ever camped there before, but after a bit of exploration I realized something. This particular site was only about 200 feet from the trail, and back in college, my best friend Paul and I had camped there before either of us had a canoe. It was the only remote site on the lake that you could actually hike to. It was kind of cool to be back after all that time, and to be visiting that site with Vidna, who had been as close to Paul as I had. So call it fate or my crappy memory, but either way it was sort of fitting that our first camping trip together with Vidna and his wife ended up being here.

This past weekend, however, it was just my wife and I, and we decided to go to the same lake and see if we could grab one of our favorite sites instead. When we pulled up, there were only two cars in the parking lot, and the lake was pretty much deserted. We paddled out on water that was glass smooth, the sky a brilliant blue:

So yeah, it was pretty gorgeous. We paddled to our favorite site, and it was unoccupied. We jumped out of the canoe and unloaded the packs. The site was in decent shape, other than some cigarette butts here and there and a bit of garbage in the fire pit. All in all, not too bad.

In fact, I posted about this particular site last year. For those who don't want to re-read old stuff, just suffice to say there's no outhouse on this site, and the results of that are sometimes not pretty. In fact, it's generally why my wife's camping diet consists entirely of cheddar cheese and Immodium AD.

Of course, after unloading the canoe, the first thing I wanted to do was check the surroundings for any hidden disgustingness, and perhaps take a walk over to the super duper grouper pooper to see if it was still there. Unfortunately for us, it was. It was piled a little higher and a little deeper, but was essentially unchanged. And by unchanged, I mean just as disgusting. I shoveled some additional leaves on it, and headed back to the camp site. On the way back, I noticed something else tucked away in a corner of the woods.

What hidden treasure did I stumble upon, you ask?

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I will show you this little gem from the brain trust:

Yep, that's exactly what it looks like.

A 5-gallon bucket of shit.

So what's the thought process here? I'm not sure, but I took a stab at it:

"Well....there's no bathrooms at this lake, so I could do one of two things. One, I could bring this trowel or maybe pick up a camping shovel for ten bucks. OR....I could bring this 5 gallon pail. On the down side, it's way bigger than a trowel, and it'll stink and draw flies, but on the up side, I can shit in that all week and then just leave it behind for someone else to deal with. Eventually, it'll just fill up with rainwater and the soup will overflow, but by then I'll be back to throwing lit cigarette butts out of my truck window and leaving empty twelve packs on the side of the road, so I won't give a fuck. Yeah, I'll just do that."

Was this the auxiliary back up crapper? The ladies room? What? I didn't know, and I didn't want to know. I just shook my head, called the person an idiot, wished them painful hemorrhoids, held my breath, and filled up the bucket with leaves and dirt. Unbelievable.

Later that night, after the wind died down, we started the fire. It was a beautiful night, and we were one of perhaps three groups on the lake. Unfortunately, the couple across the lake had decided that what the wilderness desperately needed was a radio, and they were there to help.

At first, we were treated to a medley of oldies and then a few hours later it finally it settled down to some Japanese flute music, which, under other circumstances, I would have enjoyed. We figured they'd run out of stupid eventually, but it didn't happen.

Unfortunately, when you're out in the middle of nowhere trying to get away from it all and enjoy the silence and maybe hear a loon or two, it's still annoying. Although as I mentioned to my wife, it was probably preferable to listening to them screwing from across the lake, which is what I assume the music was meant to mask. Either that, or someone told them that hungry bears especially disliked Japanese flute.

At one point there was a shotgun blast that echoed across the lake for about 5 minutes. My wife just looked at me and said, "You're kidding me, right?" I said, "Well, look on the bright side. Maybe one of the idiots hates flute music and shot the other idiot." We didn't hear any return fire, though, and the music didn't stop, so I'm thinking the one who liked the flute music was just making sure the other one didn't mess with the CD player.

At one point, I wandered down to the shore and it felt like I was in a ninja movie and I had my own sound track. So I did this, just because I felt like it was required.

After a few more awesome ninja moves, I decided to set up my camera and tripod and take a picture of their fire:

It's kind of pretty in a stark and lonely way. As long as you can keep your imagination from hearing Grace Slick, and picturing people screwing and then wandering off in the dark to shit in a bucket.

Oops. Sorry.


Today's news. And one more pic.

Where I work, we have a security requirement that all laptops being carried to and from the premises need to be completely turned off. No sleep mode, no hibernation -- it has to be stone cold. I guess that's the only way to engage the hard disk encryption, but it also means an inordinate amount of time is spent waiting for things to boot up and/or shut down. When I sit down at my desk in the morning, there's a period of almost 15 minutes where my computer is completely useless. That's because after it actually boots, I need to leave it alone for a bit so that it can do its daily updates and backups and tracking and whatever other raping and pillaging Radia has in mind for it that day. Usually the hard drive light is just on solid, and trying to do anything at all is an exercise in frustration. Sometimes I'll get lucky, and I'll be able to open a browser window.

While I'm waiting, I'll check voicemail and then sometimes I'll take a quick peek at the cnn.com home page to get an idea of how the day is looking. Today, it was looking like it kinda went off the rails.

In no particular order, here's what caught my eye:

First, a doctor was being sued for carving the name "Ingrid" on someone's uterus, like it was some kind of tree. At first when I read the article, I thought she was walking around with a branded uterus. My thoughts were as follows:

1. That's pretty cool.
2. At least he got the name right.
3. Maybe she has a point with this lawsuit thing.

And then I realized that it had already been removed when he tagged it. So really, why the fuss? It's not like he ground it up and sold it to the chinese as an aphrodisiac, or gave it to the cafeteria staff. I mean, I could see it being a problem if she planned to display it in a jar on her desk or something, and now it's just ruined, but other than that, who gives a shit? I think they just saw a way to supplement their retirement. This is the house on the beach that my uterus built.

Next, there was this story about some 29 year old semi-attractive chick (hard to tell from a mug shot) who stripped naked and stole a cab. First of all, someone please tell me why the hell this is news. Sure, it's mildly entertaining, but really, CNN? This is the top story in your "JUSTICE" section? Must be a *really* slow news day. Or maybe this is the start of an entirely different version of cash cab.

Also a hot story today, IHOP is suing some church called the "International House of Prayer" for trademark infringement, because obviously someone might confuse those two things. And God said, "Let there be light syrup" and it was so.

Lastly, there's this helpful story in the Heath section on what to do when body parts fall off.

My favorite part is this bit:

"If your eyeball becomes dislodged, don't try to put it back," Dankner warns.

Instead, they recommend getting to the hospital as fast as you can and "The doctor will push the eye back in and give you antibiotic ointment."

You've just driven to the hospital as fast as you can, like this:

And all you get is some antibiotic ointment.

What you should get is a fucking medal for not passing out, that's what you SHOULD get.

So that's a random sampling of today's news. It's clear that the 24-hour news cycle means the death of serious journalism. Either that, or CNN is just catering to idiots like me to boost their ratings.

Oh, and one more camping pic from last weekend:

This is a stitch of 4 separate shots, covering a 180-degree field of view. (click for larger image)

That's all I've got for today, so go out there and have some fun this weekend.

Remember, it's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Then it's time to jump in the car and go get your ointment.*

*I'll bet you thought I was going to say, "Then it's just one game - Find the Eye."


Bear Chum. It's Better than Ex Lax.

You know what happens when you go on a canoe trip with friends and one of them is a photographer? No? Let me tell you. First, you let him prepare dinner, which he has affectionately (and appropriately) named "Bear Chum." It's basically hunks of chicken and pork sausage in some kind of spicy, garlic pepper sauce. After dinner, you sit by the fire and drink lots of Drambuie. When the Drambuie is gone, you drink lots of Yukon Jack -- and before you know it, it's 1 am and you have laughed your ass off for about 5 solid hours.

After the fire and the conversation die down, you stumble to your sleeping bag and close your eyes and your tent spins at exactly 45 rpm, which is fortuitous because you've got Van Morrison's Brown-eyed Girl stuck in your head, and somehow that always sounds more authentic with all the scratches and pops included. You don't actually remember falling asleep, but you close your eyes for a second to see how it tastes and the next thing you know, you're waking up because your buddy the photographer is clomping around outside your tent in the dark. Why? He's getting ready to take pictures of the friggin' sunrise, of course.

You sit up and the first thing you realize is that you still have your boots on. Then you realize that you are pretty sure you're still a little drunk and that you'd give your left nut to have slept through the headache that is now trying to escape from your skull via the back of your eyes. Your stomach revolts at the thought of breakfast, so you lie back down. 30 minutes later, you realize you have to piss like a racehorse and decide that the best course of action would probably be to get up and do so because you only brought one change of clothes.

You stumble out of your tent with your wife's point and shoot camera (just in case) and take pictures like this one over your shoulder while you look for a convenient tree:

Somehow, it almost (but not quite) seems worth it.

Here's one from someone who actually knows what they're doing.


Old rockers never die.

Well, that's not entirely true. When the hay bale of death comes for you, there's not much you can do except roll with it.

A few weekends ago, I surprised my wife with a road trip downstate to see a concert in Woodstock, NY for our anniversary. I didn't tell her where we were going or what we were doing -- I just told her to pack a bag for a quick over-nighter. I had booked a room in a B&B not too far from the Bethel Woods venue, and had paid a crazy amount of money for this package that supposedly included seats in the 3rd row, and a beer and wine party with the band beforehand. I got this "fan package" through an outfit called ILoveAllAccess.

The first thing that went wrong was that the B&B I had reserved a room with back in May somehow double-booked the room. Since we only had it for a night, and the other people had it for two nights, they won, and we got shunted to a different place, much further away and more expensive to boot. The lady who owned the first place did offer to let us hang out there on Sunday and use their kayaks (they're on a river) and offered to let us stay free at a later date. That didn't really help us out much that night, but at least she tried to make it right.

The band was REO Speedwagon. Yes, Illinois rock is alive and well, although perhaps a bit more wrinkly and arthritic.

The reason for this particular band and show? Our first date, way back when we were kids, was to an REO Speedwagon concert, and I thought it would be fun.

Before the show, we waited with a few other couples for the ILAA representative. Her name was Cory, and she escorted us to the a little pavilion outside the "administrative wing" of the Bethel Woods Center. They had some tables and chairs set up, a barrel full of beer and wine, and a few platters of sandwiches and chips. She did a few raffle giveaways of band merch, and gave us our "goodie bags" which were supposed to contain a concert T-shirt, and some other memorabilia.

It did, in fact, include a shirt, however it wasn't an actual shirt the band sold at their merch booth. Instead, it was this godawful red-sleeved baseball jersey that had some stupid ILAA logo on it, along with the band logo. I haven't worn concert T's as a general wardrobe item since I got married and my wife showed me the error of my ways, but I'm pretty sure if I offered this shirt to a homeless guy, he'd ask me if I had anything else. The other things were a keychain, and a concert logo fridge magnet that wasn't magnetized enough to support its own weight. Quality merchandise, in other words.

Next up, she explained to us how we were going to "meet the band." That's in quotes for a reason. She said it was going to be what was called a "managed experience." There was to be no hand-shaking. There was to be no autograph signing. There was to be no unauthorized pictures and definitely no hanging out and shooting the shit with various band members. I prefer to think this had less to do with the band's wishes, and more to do with the venue and ILAA not wanting to get sued into a smoking hole if some psycho went apeshit and started stomping on these frail old guys and yelling about how they sold out in '81 and how Gary Richrath got screwed.

What happened instead was this -- the band came out, and lined up against a wall. Each group of folks who had mortgaged their house for this "experience" would walk up to the band, say "Hi," stand with them for an official picture taken by an ILAA representative, and then go sit back down. Total time invested per group of people: 15 seconds. They could have accomplished the same thing with a few cardboard cut-outs of the band.

This was the first time I had done something like this, and it's probably going to be the last, although from talking to a few of the other people there who have done this before, this was not typical. These were the people carrying all the paraphernalia they were hoping to get the band to sign, so I assume they had to know what they were talking about.

In fact, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away when these guys were at the height of their popularity, we got to meet them backstage after a show, and it was a much more laid back atmosphere. The band was just sort of milling around, and I remember leaning against the wall talking to Neal Doughty (the keyboard player) for 20 minutes about the new synths he was using on stage. There was nothing "managed" about the experience, and it was fun. They were a bunch of really friendly guys, and I distinctly remember a few handshakes, too. Maybe their phalanges* are more brittle now.

The show itself was actually great. The opener was some fetus named Tyler Bryant. He and his band were actually pretty decent -- sort of a roots rock/pop thing. Good players.

REO was next on the bill. They've had the same lineup since 1990, and they still looked like they love playing live. They played the shit out of their hits, and seemed to know that's what people were there to see them do.

The energy was there too, and Kevin Cronin ran around on the stage like a 25-year-old. God bless him. He looks like animated beef jerky, but he still puts on a hell of a show. I took this shot from our seat:

Pat Benetar closed the show, and she sounded and looked good -- but I didn't like her music even when it was popular, so we only stuck around for a few songs and then hit the road back to the B&B.

All in all, probably not worth the money I spent to make it happen, but it was a fun trip down memory lane. Also, I got to see this dude romantically slow-dancing with himself, so that has to be worth something:

For your viewing pleasure (and to introduce the band to all the 20-somethings out there who never heard of REO and think Robert Plant is just some old dude who sings folk songs with Alison Krauss) --


And now, 30-odd years later:

It was good to see them play, and I'm kinda glad they're still around in one form or another. I find that I've reached an age where more and more of my childhood heroes are starting to take dirt naps.

On the way out, we did swing by the original B&B to get my deposit back and check it out, and ended up hanging out with the owner and a few guests for most of the morning. She's a really nice woman, and she has a beautiful hunk of property right on the river. Also, it's in some sort of eagle sanctuary, so we got to see an eagle devour a fish right across the water from where we were sitting.

Here's a shot I grabbed right after he finished eating:

I can tell you one thing -- eagles are a lot less regal when you watch them take a dump the size of a cocker spaniel. Hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend. I'm going to try to hit the woods a little bit this month, so I'll have some new adventures to talk about. Have fun!

Also, if you haven't seen it, this is the greatest thing ever.

*I think a good drinking game would be to watch the show Bones, and slam a shot whenever they say this word, or watch the show House and use the word Sarcoidosis.