Friday, October 23, 2015

The Square Peg - Ripped From Today’s Headlines - The News Just Ain’t What It Used To Be.

The Square Peg - Ripped From Today’s Headlines - The News Just Ain’t What It Used To Be.
© S. Bradley Stoner

I’m not a big fan of news. In fact, I avoid it whenever possible. There are good reasons for this. For one thing, most of what gets reported just isn’t news. And if it is, it’s stale. I mean, with the Internet, you can almost read about things before they happen. In fact, if you visit certain sites, you actually can. Of course they pretty much focus on UFOs, religious prophecy, conspiracy theories, and financial market predictions. I try to avoid those as well since they’re, well, pretty much depressing and we have enough depressing news daily. I do like The Onion, however. If nothing else, it lightens the load... and provides an immeasurable amount of chuckles when people on social media actually think it’s real news and start ranting about whatever topic it touches on that turns their crank. Anyway, enough about my prejudices... let’s get to those headlines.

Semi-Truck Hits Tour Bus in France. Delilah Dimwit reports on the horrible accident that killed 42 somewhere in France. With a sad look on her face, she tells us that the tour bus was filled with retirees, but you can tell that Delilah, a cherub of maybe twenty two, really couldn’t care less about a bunch of old geezers sent on an early vacation to the afterlife in a country she probably can’t even find on a map. Her synopsis is a thirty second sound bite, really just the headline with fluff words filling the remaining 20 seconds allotted, before she moves on to the next topic, which obviously excites her.

Report Says 90 Percent of College Students Tired, Stressed, or Bored. Whoa... Dimwit obviously considers this a priority news item. She waxes rhapsodic about the pressures of college, “You know, tests, homework, dating...” all those little things that compete for a young persons attention that “just stress them out” and leave them feeling tired... especially for those early morning classes. It’s obvious Delilah still relates to those trying times. She should, they just ended last year. An interviewee, Gary Gamester summed up the situation for those who are bored. “Like, we had to leave our Game Stations and X-Boxes at home, ‘cause like we were afraid they’d get stolen. So like this means that all we have are our PS-2s and i-Phones and like man that’s just not the same experience... so, yeah, it’s a drag and kinda boring.” I’m left scratching my head. Three minutes devoted to the tribulations of college kids? Seriously? Then, thank heaven, a respite from Dimwit... something about the weather.

Hurricane Patricia Largest in History. Derek Duckwaddle takes this story... after all, he’s the one tagged with giving us all the news, good or bad, about our weather. “Hurricane Patricia has turned into the largest recorded hurricane... Pacific or Atlantic!” He tells us it’s like a hundred mile wide F-5 tornado. Hey! Now that’s something Texans can relate to... I mean it’s not like south Texas was ever hit with a hurricane. I suppose the Galveston storm of 1901, Carla, Audrey, Allen, Celia, Beulah, Alicia, Rita, Ike, and all those unnamed ones over the past 100 years don’t count because... well Patricia is going to hit Mexico someplace below Puerto Vallarta. But that’s not why I’m interested. Duckwaddle has been predicting up to ten inches of rain for us over today through the weekend... and that was when ol’ Derek expected Patricia to make a cat two. (“I guess we missed that one, hehe, but it is an El NiƱo year!”) Now that it’s a cat five, predicted to cross Mexico on a northeasterly path and bullseye good ol’ south and south central Texas, we’re only going to get up to five inches of the wet stuff. Okay, let me get this straight Duckwaddle... the storm has intensified, it’s carrying way more moisture, it’s tracked to hit us dead on (as a tropical storm of course), and we’re going to get less rain? It isn’t that I don’t trust Duckwaddle... but I’m making sure Bingo Bob’s boat is good to go in case we need it.

Clinton Survives Raucous Congressional Hearing. Yeah... I skipped this one, I’ve heard enough B.S. from politicians. Besides, it was time for a bathroom break... too much coffee... too little time. TMI?

Moving on, Cindy Siberfreek was next up with her upbeat segment on technological wonders new on the market. This isn’t really news, but face it, it’s hard to resist watching a bouncy blonde with a Barbie figure, chirping out the latest dope on new apps, games, and gizmos. Nothing better than cute that speaks geek, is there? What? You want to know what the new apps, etc. were? Don’t ask me, I haven’t got a clue... my attention was kind of focused on other things. In that state, everything coming out of a TV sounds a lot like, “Wah...wah... wahwahwah.. wah wah,” to me.

Ah, finally, the traffic report. My favorite part of the morning news. Did I mention our traffic girls are hawt?! You only get to see them for a few seconds on each report, but the wait is worth it. The other reason I watch the traffic report is for entertainment. It’s the Texas road follies. Texans don’t really know how to drive in any kind of weather but calm, hot, sunny days. The rest of the time they’re at a loss. Get the roads a little wet, it’s bumper cars time on our highways. A little wind... they’re off the road. There’s the occasional serious accident, but most are fender benders where everybody walks away unhurt or with minor injuries. Well... they’re minor until one of the Texas lawyers gets hold of them and turns it into a catastrophe with settlements of $100,000.00 “in you’re pocket.” Did I mention I hate ambulance chasing lawyers? I digress.

Anyway, let a little drizzle hit the roadway and it’s like a Slip ‘n’ Slide out there. Last night’s foible was a five car pile up about half a mile from where I live. Seems a car traveling south on the main highway lost control crossed the median and wound up smacking head on into an northbound car. This was followed up by two other cars and a minivan crashing into them and each other “trying to avoid the initial crash.” I don’t think they tried all that hard myself. I’ve avoided crashes at least a dozen times. It takes a combination of prudent speed, not following too close, and keeping your options open. Now that we have flash floods likely on the way, we’ll have the idiots that think because they have a pick up or an SUV, they can ford the minor Mississippis that flow across our roads at every low spot imaginable. They think that “Turn Around Don’t Drown” thing applies to everybody but them. You see the results of that on the nightly news... if you happen to watch it. On ice? Forget about it. That’s entertainment for northerners... they devote whole TV programs to it.

Well, I’ve finished my toast and another cup of coffee. So enough of this nonsense... I mean news. On to more productive things like counting the nuts and bolts in my shop. We’ll do it again tomorrow, unless they start putting Tom and Jerry back on early morning cartoons.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Square Peg - Bingo Bob’s Cousin from Hell

The Square Peg - Bingo Bob’s Cousin from Hell
© S. Bradley Stoner

Just the other day I noticed an older motorhome parked in front of Bingo Bob’s house. I think it was an early Winnebago, but it was hard to tell. The side panels had been patched so many times the logo was no longer visible. I saw Bob on my daily walk (I left later to avoid meeting the skunk again... why tempt fate?). I thought he had a beer in his hand and asked if he didn’t think it was a little early to get started on the brewskis, but he said he was just picking up after his guest.
“Oh? Old friend?” I asked.

“Naw,” Bob replied. “It’s my cousin from Jersey.”

"Been long since you’ve seen him?”

“Not long enough,” Bob responded miserably.

I was about to ask why when the wind shifted and I caught the strange mixture of smells coming from the motor home. It smelled like fruit gone bad mixed with bacon grease and gun oil. To say the least, it wasn’t pleasant. I backed off a few steps.

“He’s an inventor,” Bob offered. “He sells his stuff at those craft shows and flea markets.”

About that time Bob’s cousin opened the door and popped out of the old motor home. What a vision. The guy was about five foot six and weighed around two hundred pounds. He was wearing a loud Hawaiian shirt from the fifties, a pair of plaid Bermuda shorts, long paisley socks, and wingtip shoes. In his hand he had a plate of bacon, sausage, and scrambled eggs... at least that’s what I thought they were. They were a shade on the green side. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, rubbed it off on his shorts and approached me with his hand extended.

“Hi there... I’m Sylvester, but everybody just calls me Slick.”

With more than a little trepidation, I took his hand and shook it. Now one expects a firm handshake from another guy, but Slick’s was as limp as a wet rag. Frankly, it was kind of off-putting. The little cloud of fruit flies circling him didn’t help much. I was tempted to run home, but Slick displayed a row of perfectly white teeth, accented by a big gold central incisor that caught the sun and damn near blinded me. When he spoke, he sounded like one of those announcers that hawks things like the Pocket Fisherman or Gansu Knives. The words came out fast and furious.

“Hang on a minute, I wanna show you some of my inventions... got patents on them and everything... don’t go away, I’ll be right back!” He disappeared into the decrepit old motor home.

“Bob, I’d like to stay, but I have things to do,” I said, taking a step towards home.

“You might as well stick around,” Bob said with a forlorn look on his face, “he’ll just track you down and you’ll play hell getting rid of him. Trust me, I know.”

“He’s that persistent?”

“You have no idea.”

True to his word, Slick was gone only for a moment before returning with a medium sized box jammed with all kinds of things. “Told you I’d be right back,” he bubbled. “Now then, check this out! It’s the world’s greatest mousetrap... perfectly humane and guaranteed to end your mouse problems.”

“I don’t have any mouse problems...”

“Yes sir, just take a peek at this little wonder!”

The contraption reminded me of booby traps I’d seen in another lifetime. It was basically an open ended box with a set of triggers and a piece of metal that fit into a slot with a metal spring attached. On closer inspection, I could see that the metal in the slot was a single edged razor blade. I started to say something, but Slick cut me off.

“You see... the little mouse pokes his head in here going after the bait... it can be anything grain, cheese, peanut butter... whatever you have. Mice aren’t picky eaters. Anyway when he stretches to take the bait he hits these little wire triggers, releasing the spring block, and WHOOSH! down comes the razor and lops the little rascal’s head right off... they don’t escape!”

“Geez, that’s a little messy,” I offered.

“But very effective. How many would you like?”

“Like I said, I don’t have a mouse problem, so I’m really not interested.”

“Okay, moving on...” Slick offered up a cockroach trap. It operated on the same principle only it was a little smaller. “Now don’t tell me you don’t have cockroaches,” he said. they’re everywhere down here.”

Well, that part is true, but they’re American Cockroaches and they pretty much are outdoor critters and, since I spray an organic bug spray both on the outside and inside perimeters of my house on a quarterly basis, they don’t live long if they do make it in the house on the rare occasion. I so informed Slick.

Slick frowned briefly, but moved on. He had a moth trap with a little bright battery operated light at one end. It operated on the same principle as the mouse and cockroach trap. I told him I had geckos that did an adequate job on the moths. I made a joke about a mosquito trap, but he said he couldn’t find the proper combination of materials... those bugs were just too light to trip the spring, so he’d had to abandon the idea. Now all this time, Slick was in pretty close proximity to me and those flies were really starting to annoy me. I had a notion it had to do with that apple smell that emanated from Slick.

“Just out of curiosity, Slick, why do you smell like three day old apples?”

“Aha! My best invention yet! Natural deodorant!”

Before I had a chance to object, Slick stripped off his shirt, exposing a very hairy chest and belly, and held up the shirt so I could see his handiwork. Yep... sewed into the arm holes of the shirt were little mesh pouches that held small apple slices.

“See there! All natural ingredients... a truly green product. I’m going to make a fortune with this one!”

I waved the flies away as they closed in on me. “Somehow, I don’t think so, Slick. I gotta go...” and muttered under my breath, “and take a shower with lots of good old fashioned soap.”

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Square Peg - On Patrol and the Stinky Affair

The Square Peg - On Patrol and the Stinky Affair
© S. Bradley Stoner

Zero dark thirty. I was out on patrol... okay, I was out for my walk, but that doesn’t sound nearly as cool and being out on patrol... not that I could see anything at that time of morning. This is why I hate daylight savings time in the fall. It’s just stupid. Those nice dawn walks I like to take before all the kids gather for the school bus aren’t anywhere near dawn in the fall. Its just dark... inky dark... and you can’t see if there are any clouds in the sky that might dump rain on you before you get home. I hate it when that happens.

At zero dark thirty it’s also very quiet out. Not much for traffic noise, no birds chirping, no squirrels chattering... just an eerie city silence. I say “city silence” because it’s never truly silent in the city... not like it was in rural Montana... now that was silent! I mean deep down, hole-in-the-ground silent. Heck, even the livestock was quiet at that hour. But it’s about as quiet as it gets in a city. Don’t get me wrong, I like quiet, but the scrunch of my shoes on the sidewalk drives me nuts... and I wear sneakers. Sneakers... yeah, right. A fellow couldn’t sneak up on a sleeping rock, if you know what I mean.

I tried walking on the lawns to be a little more quiet, but like I said it’s dark now when I walk... and my night vision isn’t quite what it used to be. Despite that, I like to walk fast. Translation, I didn’t see that tree until it was too late. Then I had to explain to my lovely why my nose was scratched up and sort of crooked. That’s embarrassing. If Bingo Bob asks, I’m going to tell him I fought off an angry coyote. He’ll buy it... we can hear them howling and yipping at night not two blocks away in the bottom of the old creek bed that runs along the southern edge of our neighborhood. Bob isn’t fond of coyotes, he’s worried that they’ll eat his wife’s Teacup Yorkie. I wish they would sometimes... when Bob forgets when he lets him out, the thing yaps incessantly. It’s annoying. It isn’t the dog’s fault... it’s the owner’s. Maybe we ought to feed Bob to the coyotes.

I don’t always take the same route. First, it gets boring and second I don’t want to have a set pattern. Call it an old habit. Anyway, not taking the same route when it’s light out is fundamentally different than altering your path when it’s dark. Oh, did I mention we are in a light restriction zone? Yep, we can’t have too many lights because we just happen to be on the flight route for military Medivac helicopters, what we used to call mercy eagles. flying night training missions. Too much light an night vision goggles don’t mix too well. And the last thing anybody wants is a Blackhawk crashing in their back yard. I know I don’t. So, ours is darker than your average neighborhood. And I don’t carry a flashlight. First, the batteries are usually dead from sitting unused in a drawer. Second, I don’t want to carry my windup LED emergency flashlight because, well, it’s for emergencies. Besides, it sounds like a cat in heat when you wind it up, and tom cats are prowling at this hour in the morning.

This, of course, means I don’t always know exactly where I am and I wind up on streets I’m unfamiliar with. A couple of days ago, I decided I’d take the gravel path below the powerline right-of-way up to the community park. If I go that way, I can get in precisely two miles on the round trip. I figure I manage the other mile wandering around the house, yard, shop, and the Home Depot during the rest of the day. I’m going to have to start going to Lowe’s or Ace Hardware soon or they’re going to think I’m casing the Home Depot for a heist. Granted there is a really nice Bosch compound miter saw that I drool over daily, but I wouldn’t swipe it. Damn it! Tool digression. Back to the subject at hand.

Scrunching my way up the gravel trail is no simple task. First, it’s uphill both ways... or at least it feels like that sometimes. Second, it’s habitat haven for a number of critters, and you never know when you’re going to meet one of them. It seems most of the wild critters, at least the four footed ones, are nocturnal... as I had to explain to Bob, that means they’re active at night, Anyhoo, my scrunching scared up four rabbits, two deer, a fox, and Stinky. Stinky has shiny black hair with two white stripes and a plumy tail. Yep... Stinky is a skunk, Mephitis mephitis. From past experience, I think Linnaeus got the name wrong... I think Mephistopheles mephistopheles would be more appropriate for these evil little critters. Okay, they’re not evil... they just spray an evil smelling oily concoction at you when upset.

Stinky was headed down hill (see, for him the trail goes uphill one way and downhill the other) while I was headed up the trail. I smelled him before I saw him. Being experienced in the ways of the polecat, I froze. When confronted Stinky and his kind will often bounce on their front paws and hiss and spit at you. Sometimes they even growl a little. You don’t want to try to scare them off. That results in a lightning quick 180° pivot and a good chance of old Stinky’s squirt gun going off... and trust me on this, you can’t outrun it. Your best bet is not to move. At all. Unless, that is, you don’t mind being locked out of your own house for a week and taking daily baths in tomato juice and vinegar. Anyway, after about three minutes of a Mexican standoff, Stinky decided not to waste any ammunition on me and turned and disappeared into the brush on the side of the trail.

With the Stinky affair over, I continued with my daily walk, returning to my house about a half hour later. It was still dark. When you think about it, that’s sort of depressing. In a couple of weeks daylight savings time will expire for a few months, and even though my walks will still begin in the dark, at least I can walk home to the sound of birds as dawn breaks and maybe even catch the first rays of sun as it peeks above the horizon. And since it’s supposed to rain Wednesday through Saturday, I may take the time to draft legislation to submit to my legislators to abolish daylight savings time. It sucks and besides, it really doesn’t save time at all.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Square Peg - Paula Pettingzoo and Gail Greenup Save the World

The Square Peg - Paula Pettingzoo and Gail Greenup Save the World
© S. Bradley Stoner

A group of us Texas men were standing around talking about hunting at a small neighborhood function the other day. We’ve all been hunting at one time or another, but mostly now all we shoot is the bull about what we used to shoot. On occasion we’ll get together and go blow the heck out of paper targets. Not only is that good practice for the coming Zombie Apocalypse, it’s a terrific stress reliever. And it’s relatively harmless, although I did admit to nailing a moth that had the temerity to land on my pig silhouette a hundred yards downrange. I couldn’t help it... in my 10 power scope he looked like a pterodactyl. Besides, nobody could prove moth murder... a .300 magnum doesn’t leave much evidence there was ever a moth on the target. One of my buddies suggested that I should move the scope a couple of clicks to the right since I missed the bullseye by about four inches. I just smiled and put the next round right through the little dot in the center of the target.

Anyway, one of the guys brought up hunting big game in Montana (gee, I wonder who that was), and mentioned the annual buffalo hunt they hold outside of Yellowstone to prevent the buffalo from transmitting brucellosis to the domestic herds. Well, Paula Pettingzoo overheard that, marched up, and verbally assaulted us for even talking about hunting... especially hunting buffalo. She assailed us with the tale of the buffalo’s demise at the hands of the hide hunters in the 1800s and ran down the history of the difficult journey those poor animals had coming back from the edge of extinction and then lectured us on the ethics of shooting animals.

“You know,” she concluded, “it’s just like that guy down here who thought he was shooting a buffalo, but accidently shot his wife because he saw something big moving in the brush! Serves him right for killing animals... he deserves to be miserable the rest of his life. I hope they send him to jail.”

“Get that off the Internet?” I asked innocently.

“Yes! A friend of mine posted it and I shared it!”

“You know it’s a hoax, right?” I asked. “You can’t believe everything you see on the net.”

“That’s ridiculous, there was a picture and everything” Paula snapped, but she pulled out her i-Phone and tapped furiously on the screen. I think she was going to prove me wrong and give me a come-uppance. A couple of minutes later, her eyes went wide. “I’m going to kill her...”


“My friend who posted the story... she should have checked it out!”

“Two points. First, isn’t killing a friend worse than hunting? I mean, one is legal and one isn’t.” I figured she should have been bright enough to figure out which was which, but on reflection I’m not so sure. “And second... shouldn’t you have checked out the story before sharing it?

Just about that time, a big wolf spider came sauntering across the lawn toward us. Poor Paula let out a shriek and ran, screaming, “Kill it! KILL IT!”

“But it’s a poor innocent animal,” I shouted at her retreating figure. “Besides, I didn’t bring my rifle!”

As she ran off, the local nesting Mockingbird started dive-bombing her. More shrieks. Apparently the local wildlife population just doesn’t appreciate poor Paula.

Somewhere along the line, the conversation turned to power bills and power usage in the neighborhood. Our bills aren’t extraordinarily high, considering we live in South-Central Texas and, well, it gets hot down here. If you don’t have foot thick adobe walls or massive stone walls, you need a central air conditioning unit. That takes power. On average, homes in our neighborhood use 2,500 kilo Watt hours (kWh) a month. Ours is a fairly new subdivision and the homes are well insulated. Unfortunately, most of the homes lack trees of any size, so shade that would lower bills is a bit of a problem. As we were discussing this, Gail Greenup, the local solar power dealer, “...just happened to overhear our conversation.” Gail doesn’t miss a beat... or an opportunity to hawk her goods.

“You know,” Gail said brightly, “y’all could save half your energy bills if you installed grid-in solar panels on your roofs.” Not to be unkind, but Gail’s attempt at a south Texas accent falls a little flat. She’s from New Jersey and everybody knows it.

So Gail launches into her spiel about the advantages of solar. She extols the benefits of using the sun, the greatest free energy source on Earth. “And just look at what you will be doing for the environment,” she coos, “just think of the reduction in carbon emissions.” Yes sir, for the paltry sum of ten and a half grand, we, too, could enjoy the benefits of solar, lower our power bills by half, and, by George, we’d be helping to save the Earth.

Of course she didn’t mention that the ten and a half grand system has an output of 875 kWh, which is more like 35% of the average home’s power requirements, or that the life of the system is about ten years, which means you’ll be putting out over ten grand every ten years to keep it on-line. Oh, and that doesn’t include installation. You don’t want to know what that costs down here. I did some quick mental calculations and came up with an average annual savings of $450 over the life of the grid in system. That averages out to be about $37 a month. Hardly worth the aggravation in my opinion. I pointed that out to her.

This caused some consternation to Gail, nevertheless, she continued her pitch. “Well, just think, you’ll be helping to reduce greenhouse gases, and nobody can say that’s not important. We all need to contribute to saving the planet.”

“Ah,” I returned, “the refuge of the environmental argument... global warming. You know that climate change is constant, right? It’s part of a geologic cycle and we just happen to be in the final stages of an interglacial period, which historically is marked by a warm up.” I wasn’t going to point out the fact that the U.N. report had been written largely by undergrad students and had not gone through any sort of scientific review before it was released. Yep, that hockey stick report was written by a bunch of hockey pucks. Oh well.

“Well, man isn’t helping it,” she snapped, and for a moment I thought she might stamp her foot.

“Well, considering the resources these new electronics, including solar, require, I wouldn’t be casting stones. When you look at the life-cycle of the solar power industry, you’ll find that it doesn’t fare all that well on the carbon balance thing either, not to mention the massive mining activities required to recover those rare earths that are the staple of the electronics revolution.”

This pissed off Gail. She wasn’t about to let somebody get away with criticizing her environmentally friendly industry. “Where’d you get that?!” she demanded. “Off the Internet?!” And she stomped off.

“Man, you managed to make two women mad in the same day,” Duncan said, nudging me. “That takes talent. Now what?”

“I dunno,” I replied. “I have the sudden urge to go shoot something.”