Monday, June 28, 2010

Diagnosis, Please

Nobody at our place contracted World Cup fever, exactly, but it's still fun to wake up where we live and think there's already a score to check, then to ponder its meaning. How is it, for instance, that some of the world's most populous countries don't amount to much when it comes to soccer? Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan - all W.C. no-shows. Both finalists from four years ago (Italy and France) are flops this year. What's up with that? And what do they put in the water in some countries, small ones like Uruguay or Ghana, that enables them to outperform their proper fifteen minutes of fame? And why only one Muslim nation, the forgettable Algeria? North Korea may not have looked very good, but they had to beat someone to qualify, right?
Anyway, it's fun to throw around terms like "group of death" and "own goal" while they're still relevant. It'll all be over soon enough. If anyone cares, my picks have an edge over the Mrs.' She has the Dutch and Spain, while I have South American heavies Brazil and Argentina, backed by the Deutsch, I mean, Germany. We both had some non-achievers, too.

My ecclesiastical duties take me each month to a home dominated by unwed moms, though none are teens anymore. The product of one dubious union is a three year-old boy named Draven (Who thinks these up?) who doesn't talk much, though he seems to be a happy enough kid. He naturally has only a fuzzy idea of what "Daddy" is, and I couldn't really make predictions about his future. He's happy and healthy, so it could be worse.
I found out something about him last week that really surprised me. He's really good at...assembling puzzles. I saw him put together one with about 50 pieces, all about the size of my thumbnail, featuring Mickey Mouse and pals. I was told he helped put together one behemoth puzzle of about a thousand pieces, something I could never do at a comparable age.
So, here's my question. Is there a name for this kind of kid, and what is it? Has anyone famous ever answered to this description? Is he doomed to sorting parts in the Service Department of a local car dealer, or could he aspire to becoming an engineer who still doesn't say much, but provides answers that help things go smoother? Perhaps there's no clinical name for this kind of little boy at just yet. Nevertheless, I'm asking for a diagnosis, please.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Serve Somebody

I have heard it said that women, for reasons going back to the Stone Age, are better than men at that oh-so-hip skill we call "multitasking". All I know is, I was observing the Mrs. a few nights ago. In her left hand was one of those fruity drinks, from which she would occasionally sip while she employed her right hand in a game of computer solitaire. At the same time she listened to a prerecorded book through an ear plug. If that weren't enough, classical music was coming through the computer speakers. Romantic piano, I think it was. And no, she didn't seem stressed at all. No wonder they like her so much at work, where she has now rolled up five years of service.

Today's title is taken from a Bob Dylan song. Let's look at a couple of examples of just who is serving whom. You might have seen or read about Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who, we have to say, bungled his fifteen minutes of fame last week. At a congressional hearing Mr. Barton apologized to BP for the "shakedown" by the government on the company (setting aside $20 billion for damages to people and businesses in or near the Gulf) as it tries to stop the big oil leak continuing there. It's true that the company has been one of Mr. Barton's biggest campaign donors, but technically he represents ALL the people of his district, not BP itself. His lame attempt to apologize for the apology fell flat. We see here a congressman for who he really is - someone bought and paid for by a rich and powerful entity whose corporate mission statement could be summed up in the words "Can we do it cheaper?" The answer is "Perhaps, but buying a congressman is so ridiculously cheap now, why even try?"

Then there's the story of Manute Bol, the tallest man to ever play in the NBA, at 7'7". The onetime "Sudanese Swatter", another of those awful made up nicknames, passed away at age 47 from complications of a skin disease.
At this point we should pause and try to get a little perspective on just what it's like to be over seven feet tall. I'm sure it's often unpleasant to try to fold up your body into a space meant for someone two feet shorter. And it's not as though you can pass in a crowd unnoticed, which I'm sure can get annoying. Wilt Chamberlain, normally a friendly enough guy, heard someone ask "How's the weather up there?" once too often and answered by leaning over and spitting on the questioner with the reply "It's raining."
Sudan has more than its share of tall people, but Bol had no choice to be anything but famous there. In the last few years he became a humanitarian, using his celebrity to bring things like schools to a country with little or no natural assets. All this the big guy took on with a smile. He enjoyed the good life as much as anyone, I'm sure, but not so much that he forgot what it was like to have nothing. I don't know about his religious background, but I salute him for following the advice of Jesus - "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Summer, Summer, Summer!

There was an ugly moment at the local tennis courts last week. A guy was yelling at his doubles partner over something with no meaning beyond the moment itself. No swearing, but it was loud enough to be disturbing. The most disturbing part is that it was me doing the yelling, which was worse than any I had actually heard there in almost five years of playing at the park. I managed a half sincere apology, but only really suffered when the other guy's play improved during the week and he beat me with another partner.

The KIA Soul is kind of an odd-looking vehicle, and so it can't be sold in the usual way. For some reason, the ad agency handling the TV ads has a group of hip hop, people-size rodents (Rats? Maybe.) showing off the Soul while posing a rapper's choice: "You can go with this "(the Soul) " or you can go with that" (a toaster on wheels). I can't just say why, but it's so over-the-top that it's pretty funny. Funny enough to consider buying the car? Well, funny enough to make you read read about the commercials, anyway.

Most people by now have read something about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but one thing I guarantee is that you haven't read anything Dick Cheney has had to say on the subject. Doesn't that seem odd? Wasn't one of Cheney's claims to fame a reputation as a one time sharpie in the oil business? We're talking about a guy who had no qualms defending torture in public. All I can conclude is that he knows someone else knows he helped open some doors for BP as vice president, and that he'd rather now walk away quietly from the whole stinking situation.

Finally, the FIFA World Cup competition has begun. In a light-hearted effort to prove we're aren't just a pair of rural American rubes, the wife and I had a draft of ten teams each to see who's the better judge of the "beautiful game" as it's played on the world's biggest stage. I won't give the whole lists for each of us, but she has her hopes on Italy, England, Spain and the Netherlands. I counter with Brazil, Germany, France, Argentina and the USA. I like my chances, though it's really just pretending to be experts that's fun. We'll never be more than outsiders in soccer, wondering how that Latin guy manages to make his "Gooooaaaallll" call last most of a minute. Hey, how does he do that?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

On the Road - Again

Why "Senior Jeopardy" will never be a hit: Contestant to the M.C., "Hold on a second, there, Alan. Wait just a dad gum minute. It's right on the tip of my tongue. It was, ah,...ah...Could you repeat the question, I mean, the answer?"

We went traveling again, this time all the way to Utah, where it's so dry that sandwiches shrivel up before you can even get them to your mouth. Still, there are things worth noting there, though in no special order of importance.
We have a two year-old granddaughter there. She isn't much bigger than one of those economy-sized geese that fly around here each year, but when she's unhappy she can let out a shriek that can just about paralyze you. She's not even crying. It has the effect of making her almost radioactive in terms of me wanting to offer comfort. If she cuts loose while I'm holding her, I may not survive, or at least wished I hadn't. No doubt she'll grow out of it, and of course she has good moments, too. Just don't confuse her mood, because that could be brutal.
One morning on our trip was given to go to the local weekend farmer's market. Because of the early date, there wasn't a much on hand that actually came from farms, but the shady location was great and the crowd wasn't overwhelming. The sellers were international in a good way: taco-istas, items from Africa, Thailand and other places. A booth featuring upscale birdhouses turned out to be operated by business students taking a course in entrepreneurship. We agreed on the need for a course that deals with crazy bosses. I asked a guitar player how much to hear his version of Hotel California only to be told he didn't know it. I kind of thought that a farmers market taking place in a community in which Republicans outnumber Democrats about 12 to 1 would be different from others somehow, but no parties were represented. Perhaps they've come to view the imbalance as so great as to be permanent. Maybe the election's just too far off. I was wise, I think, to pass on the tie-dye t-shirts. My torso's almost big enough to make them look like another planet.
Another grandchild, the first of four born to different family branches during 2004, has just learned to ride a bike. He'll be great with a little practice since he lives on a wide street with light traffic. We were careful not to mention that he has a younger cousin who's been riding for over a year. They're both far ahead of me at the same age. My father purposely bought a bike that was too big for me because he thought age eight was too early to learn. We did live on a steep hill at the time.
Finally, I've noticed over the years that expectant moms react differently to this condition. Some are noticeably slowed and experience sickness and pain in places they had never had discomfort before. Others seem so excited with the whole prospect that they seem to fairly glow. We met one of the latter category, a great niece from another branch of the wife's large extended family whose duty this year is to gestate twins through the hot Utah summer while her husband continues his medical education. If she had glowed any more intensely, we would have all had to put on sunglasses. Things could be different this time next year, of course, but let's hope all four of the family are glowing then, and that they never stop.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

In Da News

Once in awhile we do some traveling, and this often leads us to pullovers at truck stops. There you can find some of the world's ugliest t-shirts and baseball caps. They must sell or something else would be on the shelves, but why do truck drivers, good and capable people though they nay be, feel that the hats and shirts will suddenly look good on THEM?

If someone put a gun to my head and demanded that I tell everything I know about heavy metal music, I'm sure I couldn't come up with much. Guys like me just aren't the target market. In fact, if it ever came out that a certain heavy metal group was a hit with older folks, it would no doubt be the end of their existence.
What I could sputter out to the above-mentioned gun wielder would be that there is a famous heavy metal group from Des Moines, Iowa called Slipknot, who always perform wearing scary-looking masks.
You might have heard that the band lost their bassist last week, the victim of a probable suicide. The bad news, picked up by our local paper, read like a list of celebrity suicide cliches made old by Jimi Hendryx, Janis Joplin, Curt Cobain and others. What can we say? Rest in peace, Paul.
But there is a point to this, at which we have a little laugh. The article was actually dominated by a picture of the late bassist, although he was wearing one of those old-fashoined eyes-only plastic hockey goalie masks. You literally can't tell whether someone wearing such a mask is Pee Wee, Shaq or Angelina Jolie, so the picture actually serves no purpose at all.
What's even MORE odd is that whoever's behind the mask in the picture is also wearing a sportcoat, dress shirt and necktie, giving a message along the lines of "Sure, I'm demonic, but I'M NO SLOB!!"
Papers get published every day, and it's hard to say if anything in all this was deliberate, or whether we're just left with this little chuckle as a result of someone unintentionally slappping it together with a picture, weird though it may have been. To me, it's one more reason to read the daily paper in order to be up to speed with "da news".