Friday, October 31, 2008

Weird? Strange? Funny? ME? Surely not....

Kathy says, " Okay, I've now tagged you to post 7 strange, weird or funny things about yourself. Have at it."

Weird? Strange? Funny? ME? Surely not....

1. When I go to buy a book, a newspaper, a magazine, or anything else like that (for that matter, a carton of cream at the store), I will NEVER take the top one. I'll dig down in the stack to find the perfect one. If it's a book or a newspaper or a magazine, it needs to be PRISTINE---no curled edges or dog-eared corners or messed-up pages. PRISTINE. Obviously, this does not apply to used books, which I just love and have no issue with any of the above if present in a used book. Correspondingly, if I get a magazine or newspaper at home, it makes me mad as hell if anybody touches it before I get it (but I'll be glad to pick up somebody ELSE'S *USED* one and thumb through it, doesn't bother me at all.)

I won't buy the dairy product in the front of the case, I dig back further in for a "really cold" one. This tends to annoy the dairy manager at the local H-E-B.

2. I can't stand for the sheets to be tucked in. Cannot stand it. The very first thing I do upon arrival at a hotel (well, second thing, see #3 below) is pull all the sheets out loose. I never tuck the sheets in on the unusual occasion of making my bed at home, either.

3. I'm allergic to feathers (well, I'm allergic to many things). All the hotels have gone to "luxurious" feather pillows, and I can't sleep with them in the room. I have to call a porter to have them taken out. I carry my own foam pillow in my suitcase with my CPAP wrapped in it. (Yes, I've tried calling in advance to have the feathers removed, but that's never worked yet.). Oh, and some "high end" hotels think goose-down duvets are the ticket. Not for me.

4. I love "I Love Lucy". It's still one of my favourite shows. I've seen them all at least 1,000,000 times (and counting). My TiVo is set to record it. I can tune in any time and still just guffaw. I watched one last night; they were leaving Hollywood, Ricky sold the car, and forgot to buy the Mertz's train tickets home. Fred Mertz bought a motorcycle with a sidecar and they were preparing to drive off on it (in full leather and goggles) when Fred got it into reverse and backed up into a wall. Hirarious.

My two dogs are "Lucy and Ethel". Go figure.

5. I was supposed to be born on February 1. I was born February 11 and have been late ever since. There is no reason. Contrary to all the psych textbooks, it's not an attempt to assert dominance. I'm just lazy and push my time limits right up TO the limit. I'm supposed to be at work at 8:00, so I head for the shower at 7:30, roll in around 8:20. Everybody tells me I'll be late to my own funeral.

I certainly hope so.

6. (i think this is a "getting old" thing, but nevertheless...) I have my little routine in the mornings and I do not like it varied AT ALL. Not even a little. It needs to be the SAME.

Alarm at 6:00. I get up, go to bathroom, head to kitchen. "Hello, dogs, hello, dogs" (they are always glad to see me), "do y'all want to go out?" (they always do). Let them out.

Make coffee (this MUST be EXACT). Coffee brand: Community (Red Label, Dark Roast, Whole Bean). Grind Coffee. While coffee is grinding, pour in water from Brita pitcher (not the damn tap! Ewww!). Put in filter, coffee, push "brew".

Head for sink. I do not like to do dishes after eating at night, so they're in there in the morning. I don't mind doing them in the A.M. so do that, cleaning up kitchen generally.

Head for dog food. Dish out dog food. Let dogs back in. "Hello, dogs, hello, dogs, are you hungry?" (they always are).

Dogs must be fed in this wise: CoCo has to go back in his "house" because he grouches everybody else. Ethel will lie down to eat hers, with one leg on each side of the bowl. Maggie will only eat if Lucy is in my lap, so she has to wait till I get situated.

Go back to back part of house, knock on Nathan's door, get a growled/moaned/face in pillow "I'm up, I'm up!" (he's not).

Back to kitchen, pour cup of coffee (5 splenda's, heavy cream, coffee), head for den/recliner. Hit recliner, invite Lucy into lap (so Maggie can eat), turn on "Morning Joe" on MSNBC.

(around this time, Nathan staggers in semi-consciously, pours his own, and plops down in the other recliner).

Once Ethel and Maggie are done, put Lucy down and let her eat. Then let CoCo out and let him eat. Mayhem ensues when CoCo and Lucy try to kill each other.

Nathan kindly fixes breakfast. I eat. Let ALL dogs out again (to run and bark) and head for bathroom to get ready (it's now 7:30 and I'm late again).

When on the road, I replicate this as closely as possible, right down to taking my own coffee and coffee maker if I'm in the car.

7. I make a mean bloody mary, but these days I tend toward plain old Dewars and water.

The Fourth

Ok, KBeau tagged me, so I'll play. This should be a snap, right? Just post the 4th picture in the 4th album and tell about it. What could be more simple?

Yeah, well, ok.

I have this thing about photography. I love pictures. I love taking them and I love looking at both mine and those of other people.

I also have two computers, home and work. I also have two external hard drives at home. They are supposed to be mirrored (but they aren't...). Additionally, I have two different Picasa Web Albums (it's a long story and very boring...) and a Photobucket account with a "main" album and many sub-albums.

So, like Kathy, I'll just post them ALL.

Work computer (the one from which I'm posting now):

This is probably the most interesting out of the whole bunch. I took this with my Blackberry in downtown Detroit, Michigan when I was there last (some time in September, 2008). Our company has a big Detroit operation, so there is a sizeable Detroit contingent in the Corporate Office in Houston. One of them is a good friend of mine. I told him, when I go to a city, I like to go to something that really captures the "feel" of the city. I've been to Detroit many times while working for U. S. Concrete (I seem to have more problems up there than in NYC, LA, or Dallas), but most of the time, I stay out in the burbs* and eat at the J. Alexander's on 7 Mile across 275 from the hotel.

I like J. Alexander's just fine, but there's one down Westheimer from my house in Houston that is almost identical to the one at Perimeter Mall in Atlanta which is almost identical to the one in Addison which is almost identical to the one in Century City which is almost identical to the one in Brentwood, TN---well, you get the point.

Anyway, I asked my buddy Tom (a native of Grosse Pointe), "Where would you send me to get the "Ultimate Detroit Experience"? And this is where he sent me---Lafayette's Coney Island. Not the other place next door---Lafayette's. He also told me exactly what to order---3 Coney Dogs with chili, cheese, and onion (I tended to think the term "Coney" came from Coney Island, where Nathan's invented the Hot Dog, but Detroit claims it for their own). Each of these two crazy little hole-in-the-wall places has its own passionate fans, and before a Red Wings game the place is supposed to be insane. I went after work on a Tuesday and it was deserted. Still, a slice of Detroit (which is different from the south....).

*NOBODY is "from" Detroit. If you ask any of them where they are from, it's ALWAYS "I'm from Farmington Hills" "I'm from Grosse Pointe" "I'm from Auburn Hills" "I'm from NOVI"**
"I'm from Livonia". NOBODY says, "Detroit". When somebody asks me where I'm from, I just say, "Houston", not "Westchase" or "West Houston" or "the Energy Corridor" (all of which apply). They don't want to be associated with Detroit at all.

**NOVI (pronounced Nov-eye) was the 6th stop on the train from downtown Detroit---No. VI. It's now a "chic" burb.

Home Computer:

Home Sweet Home. I went out and took a bunch of pictures the day before Hurricane Ike hit (in case I needed to prove anything to the insurance company). I'm sure glad this nice shot of the front was the 4th picture, I took pictures of everything inside including the closets. No need for everybody in the world to see my messy closet (or to know that Imelda Marcos has nothin' on me in the shoe department).

External Hard Drive Number 1:

Dad, at Aunt Shorty's, with her "dog". That is not much of a "dog"; JR Marlow would refer to it as "snake food". Nevertheless, there it is. The dog's name is "Punkin". ALL of Aunt Shorty's dogs for the last 20 years have been "Punkin". This is either Punkin III or Punkin IV, I'm not sure which.

External Hard Drive #2:

If you don't know where this is, there is a sign in the middle of the upper deck (on the front of what was the old pressbox before there WAS an upper deck) that will give you a clue.


Last spring, I signed up for an industry conference that was going to be held at Walt Disney World the last week in September/First week of October. I thought, since I already had MY trip paid for, it would be fun to take Nathan (who is a WDW freak) along as a tour guide.

Well, after we got all the plans made, the company pulled the plug on the trip (and all other non-essential travel; the economy sucks). I had really gotten myself all fired up and ready to go, and Nathan wanted to go too, so we just took a week vacation and went to Walt Disney World. I LOVED it and would recommend it to anyone (I was surprised, really; I thought I was "over" that sort of thing but I guess not).

My favourites (you'll be surprised): Soarin, The Carousel of Progress, It's a Small World, and the Rockin RollerCoaster.

Soarin' is absolutely one of the most fun things I've ever done, and I wanted to just stay there and go again and again and again. Nathan was accomodating and we must've ridden that thing 25-30 times while there. It's an amazing ride; you strap into an airline-like seat; the hoist cantilevers you up into the middle of a half-sphere IMAX 360 screen, where you then "Soar" (hang glide) over California. It's just plain amazing. I couldn't get enough.

Carousel of Progress and It's a Small World were rides "imagineered" by Walt Disney himself, for the 1964 World's Fair. Both were just charming.

The Rockin' RollerCoaster--0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds (same as an F-14), then immediately into an upside-down in-the-dark loop while Aerosmith screams in the background. 'Nuff said.

(And I did take the picture; it was one of the first I took; the fourth, in fact...).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Travels with my CPAP

First, let's get this established: a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device is the coolest thing since sliced bread (ok, even I at my advanced age really don't remember UN-sliced bread, but I digress). I call it the "Magic Sleep Machine".

In 2006, I thought I was at the end of my rope. I could not lie down in the bed at all. My airflow would be cut off and I would panic. I had multiple panic attacks per night. This, if you've never had one, is a bad thing.

Because I wasn't sleeping, I couldn't perform many of the normal functions of life. I had progressed from sleeping in the bed (like a normal person) to sleeping on the couch, to sleeping on the couch propped up on many pillows, to sleeping in the recliner, to sleeping in the recliner straight-up, to just plain not sleeping. I was in a stupor most of the time.

I finally broke down and let the doctor run a sleep study; it changed my life. I woke up from it feeling WONDERFUL. Why? It was the first time I'd actually SLEPT in over TWO YEARS.

The day I got out of my sleep study was October 31, 2006. I went to the medical supply place and picked up my CPAP machine, and I have spent less than 5 nights without it since (those 5 nights being when I had forgotten it).

Which brings us to the topic: Travels with my CPAP, or, my Magic Sleep Machine.

First, forgetting it is a really bad thing. I literally will turn around and drive back home for it if I am within *100* miles of home and realize it is not in the car. It's that important.

Now, try to take a CPAP on an AIRPLANE----well, all hell breaks loose.

First, it's a rather ungainly device, pictured here. There's this long hose with a mask attached, and (one of my pet peeves about everything electronic) why, oh why must the adapter be the size of a small loaf of bread!??!

Since the thing costs over $1,000, you wouldn't dare check it; you have to carry it on.

When I travel, it's on business. I've got my little plastic baggie (thanks, Homeland Security, I feel all safe now....) full of tiny sizes of deodorant, toothpaste, and other essentials which cost the same as the giant econo-sized versions I have at home; I have my briefcase, with laptop (and adaptor, and air card, and phone charger (wall and car) and all the man-purse stuff I carry like my inhaler and dental floss and tic-tac (spearmint, if you must know). Plus, I'm superstitious enough about the airlines losing my bag that I carry on a change of underwear and one clean shirt.

This leaves me just enough room for the CPAP.

Ok, so i get to the security area, show my ID and boarding pass (to a very suspicious TSA rentacop! He done gradiated the 6th grade, like Jethro Bodine, and he's responsible for my SAFETY!), and get to the staging area.

America is still a wide and varied land. You think the airports are all standardized, but trust me, they are not. Some (like Houston Hobby) have these nice, long tables for your undressing ease. Others, like LAX, have these incredibly tiny little staging areas.

The CPAP has to go in its own little tub. No sharing, nosirree!

When you get the CPAP in its tub, the laptop in its tub, the personal articles including belt and shoes in their own tub, the real fun begins.

A wild-eyed TSA rentacop shouts (at the absolute top of their lungs) "WHOSE CPAP IS THIS!?!?!!?!?!?!?!?!" "Mine", I mutter meekly (You will be assimilated; resistance is futile). "SIR, I'M GOING TO HAVE TO CHECK THIS "DEVICE" OUT, PLEASE FOLLOW ME!!!" (I'm standing right here, you don't have to shout it to the entire airport; besides (here it comes, but don't tell anybody) I've traveled before.

After they're done, they throw the CPAP at you and want you gone and like now. The magic happens when you get the hose (which acts like a vacuum cleaner hose) caught in the zipper of your bag and you get a hole (that right there is a new hose, $75).

While I'm on this particular subject, I've figured out what it is I hate about air travel. First, I used to LOVE air travel. I still love the sensation of flight. On our recent trip to Walt Disney World, I couldn't get enough of "Soarin". We did it 25 times or more in a week.

What I hate about modern plane travel, I've finally decided, is the shouting.

From the moment you arrive at the airport until the moment you are safely away, you are shouted at.



IF YOU HAVE A LAPTOP, YOU MUST TAKE THE LAPTOP OUT OF THE BAG. SIR!!! SIR!!!! IS THAT A LAPTOP?! (Yes, you freaking moron, I've got it out of the bag and am placing my horribly expensive computer with my irreplaceable data on it on the conveyor for you to throw around like it was a rag doll).




All this has made me tired. I think I'll go turn my Magic Sleep Machine and drift off to La-La Land.

(Malvie is traveling this weekend, and for the next two weeks, but he's going via Chrysler, which doesn't care if he has a Magic Sleep Machine or not)

One more thing

Mother loved the beach. When we were going through her things, there were boxes upon boxes of shells she'd picked up at the beach when they lived in Corpus Christi. She was crazy about the south Texas beaches---until she discovered Florida.

Navarre Beach, Florida made her happier and more content than I have ever seen her. She loved it there (we all did).

Here's a picture from the last "good" Navarre trip, before the big stroke that began the penultimate chapter of her life (2004---2008).

Speaking of going through their things, do your children a favour: get rid of ALL of it before they have to do it. We sifted through literally hundreds of boxes of Mother and Dad's things (mostly Mother's). There was the Santa Claus collection (she loved Christmas, she loved Santa, she loved Santa figurines, and there were hundreds of them). There was the bunny collection (she loved bunnies, she loved bunny figurines, and she collected thousands of them).

I have a large house, twice the size of Mother and Dad's in Malvern; my sister has a much larger house than mine. We filled ours up with those family mementos without which we couldn't live---and still there were more cartons. Hundreds. Boxes and boxes. I have 3 boxes full of pictures that I know are family---but they aren't labeled and I don't know who they are.

It's amazing what we accumulate and why. I had a huge garage sale earlier this year (over $1,000) and still have tons of junque.

I figure, it's a Rachel-David-Nathan problem.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How odd

Somehow, I had the idea that my first blog post would be uplifting, or funny, or a subtle jab at life's funny little moments.

Instead, I find myself writing from a point of wistful sadness. As I write, my mother lies strapped to a bed in a hospital in San Antonio, Texas, launched on the journey on which we all must travel---or should I say, approaching the end of the journey on which we all are traveling.

Her brain---that brain which could cause fingers to fly over a keyboard, launch a thousand wisecracks, outwit and outsmart those lesser endowed---is in an "advancing state of atrophy." This is cool medical talk for "shutting down" or, more appropriately, "dying". She will live out her last days on this earth in one of three modes: intense pain from sources as yet undiagnosed; under the influence of drugs which eliminate the pain but cause hallucinations (there are spiders on the bed, snakes on the ceiling, her gown is burning, a huge spider is sitting on her legs), or completely unconscious, feeling no pain but feeling----nothing----

The kind doctors and nurses have done their best; even now, they are working to find some combination of drugs that will enable her to be semi-conscious as she lives out her remaining few days. She's receiving excellent care; unfortunately, the doctors have been so far unsuccessful in their quest.

We elected to refuse to allow them to insert a feeding tube. We're going to spare her that little indignity.

As long as I think of the lady lying in the bed, I'm fine.

It's when I remember "My Mother" that I get into deep water.

"Tootsie" Tarkington (pronounced "toot" as in, "toot toot went the train whistle") was a freaking hoot. She had this funny, warped sense of humor and could crack wise with the best of them. She liked fast cars and football and dogs. She loved a good party. She loved to dance and was good at it. She had friends all over, never met a stranger, and could talk a blue streak with anyone and everyone. She never met a stranger.

She married my Dad when she was 16 and he was 19; they'd known each other two whole weeks (and they eloped---on Valentine's Day). Her stepfather met my Dad on the steps holding a shotgun; she walked past him with her suitcase, got on Dad's Harley, and never looked back.

She worked at the bomb factory in North Little Rock, Arkansas during the war, making bombs. She endured the death of her first child, moved to Texas with Dad, and went to work for Southwestern Bell as an operator. He had a bell-shaped locket made, inscribed "Love my telephone girl" that she wore forever. Until last Monday, when she fell and was taken to the hospital, she wore her "original" wedding ring---his high school class ring.

As of this writing, they've been married 66 years.

Church was something (we found out later) she endured for Dad's sake. She'd get up on Sunday morning and start getting ready on time, but somehow the time would slip away from her and she'd get late. It took one hour and one can of Self-Styling Adorn to get her hair ready to go; then there was all of the other paraphernalia she had to endure to get ready. Of course, she also had to fix her own mother's hair, her daughter's, and try to make sure her son was at least reasonably presentable. Dad, meanwhile, would put on the roast (this took him about 15 minutes), do his own prep work (another 15), and read the Sunday paper. He'd start checking his watch (more on this aspect in another post) about an hour prior to "drop dead" drive-out time, and would remind her (with gentle bellows from the den) of the time she had remaining. By the time we actually got in the car, we were of course late; my sister and I had likely run into "the hairbrush" (see below), and Grannie was (in her own words) "sulled up". Mother, of course, would be mad as a hornet and Dad oblivious.

The hairbrush. It was pearl-coloured, large, and really had a serious tendency to hurt when it came in contact with your posterior or whatever part of your anatomy she could reach with it. Dad preferred that she refer discipline problems to him; really, you'd prefer that she used the hairbrush and got it over with.

She had that big hairbrush because she had that beautiful hair. As long as I remember, she had a long ponytail (usually down to her waist) that she'd style up into a french twist for dress-up. She tried every hairdresser everywhere we lived, but she never found one she liked (indeed, she found many she despised), so she wound up growing it out and doing it herself. Even now, she still has that long snow white hair. It started out reddish-auburn-brown, then salt-and-pepper, then white. Mine is the same colour (I'm in the salt-and-pepper stage); in fact, it used to amuse both of us that she could comb her long hair into mine and you couldn't tell where hers started and mine stopped.

She loved dogs and was never without one except for the last couple of years (she made do with mine). "One" is an interesting number, because occasionally it really was "one" but usually was 3 or 4, however many she could talk Dad into letting her keep.

Mother loved popcorn and Coca-Cola's. On Sunday night we'd all pile up in the den and watch (in LIVING COLOR!) in order: Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, Bonanza, and Ed Sullivan. Mother would pop up a bunch of popcorn (everybody got their own bowl!) and we would get our WEEKLY (wonder what the kids would say to this now!?) "King Size" Coca-Cola.

Fast cars: she never was without one. Whatever the biggest, baddest engine Chevrolet put in an automobile, she wanted it. When she wanted to go, she wanted to GO. She'd lay a peal a block long in a Chevrolet Station Wagon (her favourite, and mine, was the 1970 Kingswood Estate with the 454 4-barrel Turbo-Jet V8) heading out with the kids in the car. Her favorite speed was "floored until I come upon something I can pass." Now, this did not extend to her SON; she wanted me to toe the straight and narrow; threatened to divorce Dad if he allowed me to go off to college in the SS 396---so he got me a VEGA---but for herself, well, hell's bells, she knew how to handle the power!

Her last car was a 2003 5.0 Mustang; we immediately dubbed her "Mustang Sally", telling her she'd "better slow that Mustang down". Her car before that was an 89 Lincoln, the "Hot Rod Lincoln", also with a 5.0. Dad gave up on the tickets.

Funny---when I got in ticket trouble (which was frequent), it was Mother I called to bail me out. She would grumble and bitch and give me the money and say, "You're lucky I don't tell your Daddy about this." And I was....

When I was 5, my father came outside in the back yard to work with his bird dog (Sheba). I, as usual, was riding on my swingset, and hollering (at the top of my lungs) my new word for the day: SHIT! "Shit shit shit, shit shit shit, shit SHIT shit shit shit!" (Jingle bells tune). Dad: "WHAT are you saying????" "Shit!" "Where did you learn that!?" (Roaring). "Um, Mother says it?"

And now she's lying there in the hospital.

I miss you, Mom.