Thursday, September 18, 2008

Smooth Criminal

My aching head mirrored the ache in my knee nicely. Downing the better part of a six pack while playing kickball seemed like a good idea, but now, looking back . . . not so much.

I was cruising along nicely into the fourth inning when I kicked a perfect line drive up towards right center field. As I dashed towards first base, I started planning my run into second. It would be my first double of the season. Glory would be mine!

So of course I tripped over first base and rolled head over heels twice before coming to a stop. While staring into the sky, all I could think was that not only did my knee hurt, it was embarrassing as hell. I laid on the cool grass, staring into the sky, giggling at the absurdity of it all.

C'est la vie. Another beer on the sidelines and I was good as new. I even pitched us to our first win of the season.

But as I was driving home, the shakes hit. I realized . . . I hadn't had any caffeine that day, and as the beer wore off, my knee and head started competing for my attentions. Fortunately, I found salvation at the nearby QT, where I saw this exchange:


"That'll be $3.50 sir."
"Okay - here." The gentleman in front of me hands the cashier a $50.
She stares at it for several seconds, straightens it out, stare at it more intently, and hands it to the other cashier, who repeats.
"I'm sorry sir, but we can't take this bill." says cashier number two.
"That's fine," says the customer. And walks out with the fake $50.


I worked in retail for nearly ten years. I've seen more attempted scams and lame shoplifting attempts than I care to remember, and one thing that always came to mind was how indignant people became when they were caught. Not this guy. He just upped and moved on - straight towards the next gas station on the street. It was only a matter of time before he found some cashier who was thinking of getting off work, going home, or just getting out from behind the register for a few short hours.

I'm sure it wasn't going to be a long wait.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Next, You Drop the Film Canister Into the Cavity

 . . . but keep it sealed tightly, unless you want it covered in sauce. Apparently Julia Child was a spy.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Thievery

I don't have a green thumb; in fact, I'm pretty sure plants shudder inwardly when they discover I'm tending to them (if they were capable of it, that is). Throughout the past six years, I've waged a losing war against the weeds in my yard, and I don't want to talk about the trees.

However, this changed a bit last year when Darcy convinced me to plant several cherry tomato plants. I watched them grow all summer, and enjoyed fresh tomatoes all summer.

Shortly after we returned from Jamaica, we decided to expand the garden. I tilled out the old garden area and dug out more yard for it, and we planted away. Now we're starting to see some produce, and I was getting excited.

Tomato sauce, sandwiches, tomato soup - they all danced around my head as I checked on the garden every day. I eagerly watched the biggest, juiciest tomato start to ripen the other day, and I was ready to get to the picking.

Until yesterday.

I walked out and checked on the garden, only to see that the big tomato was gone. I found it a few feet away, about a third of it chewed off. Apparently, we have critters.

Actually, I'm not worried about squirrels - they largely left the garden alone last year. I'm more concerned about opossums or raccoons, and I'm not really sure what to do with them. Back in the day, I could have left my -ahem- trusty watchdog to protect my produce, but that's not an option. Poison? Not around the fruit, thanks. Traps? What the hell would I do if we actually caught one? Sitting outside all night with an air rifle and a flashlight? Intriguing, but I might get bored and start shooting at the neighborhood kids while they ride their bikes in the alley, and apparently people frown on that. Plus, Darcy didn't like the idea of me sitting outside all night with a rifle - something about that disturbed her.

That leaves us with one other option - fencing off the garden and seeing if the critters stay out. Hopefully it'll work; otherwise, I'm going to have to start laying mines in the backyard - making lawn mowing that much more difficult.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Bobby

Awhile back, I read a fascinating account of how, on the night of Martin Luther King's assassination, riots broke out in virtually every US city. Every city except for Indianapolis. That night, in front of a crowd that was largely black - and extremely pissed off - Robert Kennedy gave an impromptu speech that calmed the crowd and helped lock him in the country's imagination forever.

As the train carrying Kennedy's remains traveled across the country, two million people lined the tracks to say goodbye. The last time something like that happened, the train was carrying Lincoln's body.

Thurston Clarke's The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America attempts to explain who Kennedy was in the light of his brief presidential campaign - and how it had such a powerful influence over the United States.

One of the sadder aspects of the book is the specter of death looming over the campaign. Everyone - Kennedy included - expected a hail of bullets at any moment:

"Yes, of course he has the stuff to go all the way," John Lindsay replied. "But he's not going to go all the way. The reason is that somebody is going to shoot him. I know it and you know it. Just as sure as we're sitting here is somebody going to shoot him. He's out there now waiting for him . . . And please God, I don't think we'll have a country after it."


Despite the premonitions and the pall hanging over the campaign, it pressed on, through Indiana, Nebraska, Oregon and California. At campaign stops, Kennedy defied all logic - and advice - and repeatedly told off his audiences. '"To the club members-big, heavy men, most of them well-fleshed and still occupied in shoveling in their lunch - the Senator from New York spoke of children starving, of 'American children, starving in America.' It was reverse demagoguery - he was telling them precisely the opposite of what they wanted to hear,"' wrote Tom Congdon, Jr. of the Saturday Evening Post.

Despite this - crowds were drawn to Kennedy, and Clarke does a fine job evoking the carnival atmosphere at many campaign stops, along with the crowds surging ahead, desperate to see or touch him before he left.

Clarke doesn't waste any time with speculation - something a lot of people might have done. He has no idea what a second Kennedy administration would have been like. Instead, he focuses on what it was that drew people to him - his humanity and sincerity. In an era where politicians talk down to crowds and pander to their worst instincts, Robert Kennedy spoke to their intelligence and better impulses, and he paid the ultimate price for it.

I read a lot of nonfiction - histories and the like, but I can say that so far this year, it's the best history book I've read.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Born To Kill

Shortly before US troops swarmed into Iraq, the Pentagon embedded Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright with the First Recon Marines, one of the units spearheading the invasion. Originally, Wright was not supposed to accompany the unit into combat, but after making arrangements with their commanding officer (he had to leave his satellite phone behind), he joined the Second Platoon on their run through Iraq.

After a brief round of hazing, the men in the unit began accepting and opening up to Wright, and what resulted was a series of stories in Rolling Stone, a book, Generation Kill, and ultimately, the miniseries currently airing on HBO. Since I'm not a big Rolling Stone fan and I don't get HBO, I settled in with the book recently.

Wright sums up his title early in the book:

They are the first generation of young Americans since Vietnam to be sent into open-ended conflict. Yet if the dominant mythology that war turns on a generation's loss of innocence - young men reared on Davy Crockett waking up to their government's deceits while fighting in Southeast Asian jungles; the nation falling from the grace of Camelot to the shame of Watergate - these young men entered Iraq predisposed toward the idea that the Big Lie is as central to American governance as taxation. This is, after all, the generation that first learned of the significance of the presidency not through an inspiring speech at the Berlin Wall but through a national obsession with semen stains and a White House blow job.


What can you say about a generation that was raised on the scandal du jour, gangsta rap, and Grand Theft Auto? Are they as noble as their grandfathers, charging headlong into combat against the Nazis and Japanese? In their own way, yes, and they're just as human as anyone who has put on the uniform and fought - and killed - for their country. Wright did a fine job showing both the best and the worst of this humanity in action.

Wright spends much of his time with Sergeant Brad Colbert - the Iceman, a "stone cold killer" known for his complete calm in combat who commands one of the Platoon's lead humvees. As the missions progress and they push deeper into Iraq, Colbert frequently hands out food and water to the displaced civilians; he also orders his men to dispose of undetonated artillery in the streets of Baghdad. Many of the Marines are like this - highly trained, dedicated and ruthless in combat, but also deeply concerned about their comrades and the pain and suffering they see during the invasion.

I give Wright a lot of credit for not simply showing the good sides of these soldiers -they're profane, sometimes racist, sometimes ignorant and frequently ineptly led, but they always accomplish their missions and actively try to keep from harming people caught in the crossfire. The men frequently complain about their commanding officers, orders and lot in life.

While I found this candor refreshing and eminently creditable, there was some fallout - many men did not receive promotions and Wright has come under fire for his portrayal of some of the officers. However, if you're looking for an insight into the soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a look into the terror of modern combat, Generation Kill is a great place to start.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Counting to Four

Holy crap this is funny. Feist opens Sesame Street's 39th (really? 39 seasons? That makes me how old?) teaching kids to count to, well, four.

Friday, July 11, 2008

It's Official

We are the dumbest nation on earth. This story proves it.

Heaven forbid we have journalists in this country who actually spend time studying candidates and their positions on real issues, giving us nuanced, intelligent writing about what we could expect under a McCain or Obama presidency, rather than soundbites breathlessly delivered on the moment. Instead we get dog owners saying they prefer McCain.

Jesus Christ.

This probably shouldn't surprise anyone; with newsrooms shrinking in step with circulation, papers are nearly to the point where only j-school grads are filling newsrooms. And while I'm not saying this is all bad, perhaps a little experience and perspective would help things out. Believe me - I used to be a j-school grad, and I didn't know a damn thing when I graduated. Still don't, but I probably would have thrown up in my mouth a bit when this assignment landed on my lap.

We've reverted to 1800, where people got their news from papers that were fronts and propaganda pieces from the political parties. And while we as a nation survived for 200 years, I'd like to see us maybe move forward rather than backwards.

According to the piece, only a few presidents haven't had pets of some sort, including Polk, Fillmore, and Arthur. Damn that Fillmore; I always thought he was shifty. All these presidents were one-termers; I guess we can now infer that an Obama presidency will end the same way.

At least that's what the tea leaves told me yesterday.