Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Square Peg – Woo Hoo… The Duck Dropped!

The Square Peg – Woo Hoo… The Duck Dropped!
© S. Bradley Stoner

Time: New Year’s Eve, 2004, 23:00 Hours. Place: Havre de Grace, Maryland. Occasion: New Year’s Celebration. It’s Woo Hoo time!

The east coast. Not my favorite place to live, although I have lived there… for two years. It was a company thing. Understand, I had lived in the west most of my life. I prefer it that way. There’s just a feel to the west you don’t get in the east. Seems to me that everything moves way to fast in the east. People in a hurry. Cars in a hurry. Planes in a hurry. Trains in a hurry. Heck, even the buses are in a hurry. Who ever heard of a bus being in a hurry? I like the pace a little slower, life a little more laid back. You know… the west!

Still, I had my family with me. Yep… we actually moved there. On purpose. Sort of. So, us being us, we made the best of it. My lovely put up with my penchant for Civil War history. We toured Antietam where the Battle of Sharpsburg occurred and left the legacy of being the single most bloody day in the young history of our nation. And, like a lot of battles, it had no clear winner… and a whole lot of individual losers on both sides. Then there was Gettysburg… you really can’t get a good sense of the battle there without visiting it. Books, maps, and pictures just don’t do it justice. To understand the battle, its scope, and its horror, you have to go there. But, lest I digress too much, suffice it to say there’s history there… a lot of history. And we took in as much of it as possible in the short time we spent there. Although I often was on the road, I was home most weekends and we made the most of it. I’m glad we did,

Besides, there are lots of other things to see, and you’d probably be amazed at how rural some of these states are. Westerners might also be surprised at how small these states are. A day’s sightseeing might take us through Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey and back home before seven in the evening.  Unless it’s a holiday… then traffic sucks and you’re lucky to get to the next town by ten that night. If there’s an accident… well heck, just shut down and listen to music. You’re not going anywhere. We once spent four hours listening to music on I-95. Ever see an eight lane parking lot?

Anyway, as New Years 2005 approached, my lovely was looking for New Year’s celebration locations. Baltimore was out. Too #@!^ many people… and they had pickpockets. Not for us. So, she looked for something small town. We’ve done lots of small town celebrations. Some are fantastic. Some, not so much. This time she fixed on a little thing called the Duck Drop in Havre de Grace, which was just a few short miles from where we lived in Bel Air. Now, New York has its ball drop… everybody knows that, but why a “Duck Drop?” Well, turns out that Havre de  Grace fancies itself as the duck decoy carving capital of the world. They even have a museum of old carved decoys right up to modern master carvings. Yep, you might say they give a duck about their heritage. So, in keeping with that, they don’t drop a ball from a high pole in Havre de Grace… they drop a duck. Not a real one, of course. PETA and the SPCA would have a fit, and that just wouldn’t do for the second most liberal state in the Union.

Now having been to Havre de Grace’s 4th of July celebration, I figured, heck, this ought to be good. I mean, on the 4th they had a big carnival for the kids, tons of crafts booths… and the fireworks… oh man! They shoot them off over the bay. It sounds like cannon fire coming from line ships. You can feel it! It almost transports you back to the War of 1812 with British ships of the line bombarding the defenders at Fort McHenry. Almost. So, with that in mind, I was expecting something special. I mean after a 4th celebration of monumental proportions and laying claim to the Duck Decoy Capital of the World, how could it not be?

So, we take off early for the celebration and arrive at the site of the celebration, a school parking lot, around 11:00 P.M… and find no one else in the lot. ‘Uh oh,’ I think to myself, ‘this is going to be a bust.’ I look at the light pole and see the duck at the top. It’s a plywood outline with colored lights on it. Looks kind of like a mallard. Kind of. Yeah, I’m thinking we made a mistake. My lovely is more optimistic. She points out that we’re way early and that most of the celebrants will be locals. Everybody else near Baltimore will be crowding the waterfront, providing easy pickings for the sneak thieves. At least we’ll avoid those.

About 11:30 a parade of cars starts filling up the parking lot… and then the surrounding streets… and then the empty fields nearby. Son of a gun, there’s a good sized crowd gathering. Somebody starts a music and light show in front of the duck. It’s kind of cool… lasers dance to the beat. People are dancing, jostling one another in the crowd. We’ve copped a good spot atop a small knoll in the garden area for viewing the doomed duck as it falls from its lofty perch. A nice couple, with kids about the age of our youngest, park themselves nearby. It takes about thirty seconds for the kids to pal up and disappear, promising to be back before midnight, and we spend the twenty minutes making new friends. Sure enough, the kids materialize from the crowd about a minute before midnight.

The crowd grows hushed as the music stops and the announcer booms over the P.A., “IS EVERYBODY READY?” “Yes!” replies the crowd in a single voice, but not as loud as the announcer expected. “I SAID…. IS EVERYBODY READY?!” This time the crowd matches volume for volume… “YESSSSS!!!” The duck starts to inch its way down the pole, wobbling a little bit at the end of the cable. Then the countdown begins. “Ten… nine… eight…” You get the idea. When the count hits zero and the duck is down, the sky erupts and Auld Lang Syne blares from the giant speakers. Among the voices singing along with the music, the oohs and aahs punctuate every burst of brilliant mortar shells… mine among them. I love fireworks… the bigger the bang, the better, and this show had a lot of big bangs. I don’t know who funded this thing, but I’ll wager it rivaled Baltimore’s. It lasted almost a half an hour and ended spectacularly.

“Wow! What a show,” I said as we drove home than night. “What a great way to ring in the New Year.”

My lovely leaned close and poked me in the ribs. “Told ya,” she smiled.

So, here’s hoping y’all have all your ducks in a row for New Years… and may good duck drop in your lap!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Square Peg – I Got Socks

The Square Peg – I Got Socks
© S. Bradley Stoner

Well, another Christmas come and gone. It was a special one for us. Our oldest came home for the holidays. And he brought a friend. No, he doesn’t have a new girlfriend… he has a new four footed friend. Her name is Montana on account of the fact that she was found in a rural area outside of town where people apparently go to dump pets they don’t want. Yep… she’s a rescue dog. She was just a puppy… maybe a couple of months old when oldest adopted her from the local shelter.

Now, y’all have heard me grumble about yappy dogs… they drive me nuts, especially when their owners leave them outside for hours on end and they never shut up. It’s enough to drive a person to distraction… or worse. So, I was a little concerned, because I knew Montana was not a big dog. Turns out, she wasn’t a little yappy one either. Small, yes, yappy no. She has the build of a Jack Russell terrier and the disposition of a Cocker Spaniel, but I’m not sure what mix she might be. She was a little shy at first, but I took care of that with a snicker doodle. Yep, I was her new bestest friend, unless it looked like her master was going somewhere without her. Then she abandoned me like last year’s calendar.

Since they arrived Christmas Eve, we did our traditional dinner… no, not turkey; that’s reserved for Christmas… subs. I don’t even remember when the tradition started, but it had to be the Christmas after the goose incident. We quit hosting family Christmas dinners after that and just hosted Christmas with snacks. It was more affordable (translation: I wasn’t allowed to go shopping for holiday dinners anymore). Turns out that worked well since most of my relatives wanted to be at home for most of that day. I did our traditional Christmas turkey on Christmas day. Did I mention how much I like turkey? I’m worse than that father on Christmas Story.

We waited until Christmas morning to open gifts. We used to open one gift on Christmas Eve until the boys grew up, but quit doing that when they moved out to be on their own. Of course, we had visions of gathering the clan every Christmas, but life kind of got in the way of that. So, when we do have the opportunity, it’s kind of special. In any case, we waited. We still manage to surprise the boys, but now instead of “Wows” and “Oh boys” we get, “Hey, I needed that. In fact I was planning on buying it.” It’s okay. It just shows how well we know them. I’m glad that hasn’t slipped away yet. That can wait until my memory is shot… then it won’t matter.

Now I know mentioned it before, but there’s not a whole lot you need at our age. Usually it’s something for the house or a new tool… and I don’t have any room left in my shop for a new tool. On the other hand, there might be things you want or even things you don’t know you want. For example I know my lovely likes scented candles and, while she usually buys them herself, I decided to step in this Christmas. Yep, got a big pine scented candle – hey, ‘tis the season, isn’t it – and a sugared pecan scented candle. Okay, she might have mentioned that one. It’s not sugar cookie, but it’s nice. I also know she likes those Dove soap gift packages and books, so I got her one each of those. Not very original, is it? But you have to understand, my lovely doesn’t wear jewelry except for her wedding and engagement rings. I found that out the first year we were married. She had mentioned she liked a pendant watch we saw. I thought. ‘Aha!’ I bought her this pretty little diamond studded gold watch pendant and my smug little self thought, ‘She’ll never take it off!’ I was so proud of myself. She still has it… packed away in the little leather bag it came in. She looks at it once in a while, though.

You might say, I learned a lesson that day. It’s called pay attention all of the time, not just as the holidays approach. You know what she likes? Scrimshaw, amber with little bugs in it, fossils, and oriental urns, plates and such. Oh, and reminders of our trips… but we usually get those when we’re there. She also has the second largest magnet collection in the world… at least that’s what I think… but they have to be from places one or both of us or our kids have visited. Oh, and I forgot… our annual Christmas ornament, but we usually get that before Christmas.

Me? I got socks. I didn’t know I needed them. That is, until I found out my sweetie was planning on turning my old socks into rags or chucking them in the garbage. Ever notice how when things just get downright comfortable, somebody decides they’re too holey, faded, or out of style. Sigh. I’m not complaining, mind you, I’ve kind of gotten used to it, and I must say my wardrobe does look better, both in condition and style, than it did when I was single. Besides, these are really nice socks… cushioned sole and everything! I like ‘em! Oh, I also got a new fishing rod and reel that’s perfect for pier fishing for smaller fish. That pretty well fills out my fishing gear. Almost forgot… I got one of those 5-Motor heated massaging seat cushions for my car to replace the one my lovely bought me three years ago that I wore out. If you don’t need a new car, get one of these, but be careful with it. Too much time on the massager can make you sleepy and, at my age, that’s not a good thing. Napping while at the wheel is unadvisable… not to mention dangerous and illegal.

Here’s hoping you got everything you wanted… or in some cases, deserved. Remember, there’s only 361 shopping days until next Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Square Peg – Christmas Spirit… Don’t let the HOA steal yours!

The Square Peg – Christmas Spirit… Don’t let the HOA steal yours!
© S. Bradley Stoner

December in Texas. Lovely weather. 65 degrees for a high and 52 degrees for a low. You can’t beat that with a stick. Think I’ll call my relatives up north. Of course they’ll just hang up on me. The only drawback is, it just doesn’t look like Christmas. That makes it pretty hard to get into the Christmas spirit. Sigh. Well, at least the neighborhood is going all out to put up lights, air filled snow men, Santas and the like. At least that looks like Christmas… sort of.

Speaking of lights, there’s a house in a neighboring community that has a terrific light show… all synched with Christmas music and everything. We love it. Their neighbors love it. The management company for the Home Owners Association apparently hates it. They’re enforcing the neighborhood standards and trying to make them shut it down. What the heck?! It’s just one more reason I HATE HOAs. It’s not enough they collect an annual fee from each home owner to do practically nothing, now the buggers want to shut down Christmas. BAH HUMBUGGERS… that’s what they are.

Supposedly they are in place to maintain the value of homes. Baloney. If they were, they’d stop multiple families from living in a neighborhood zoned for single family residences. They don’t. If they were concerned about property values, they’d make all those yappy dogs people leave outside for hours on end shut the heck up or at least fine their owners. They don’t Geesh.

Oaky, enough on my pet peeve. I don’t need my Christmas spirit spoiled. I’m actually looking forward to Christmas this year. I’ve even finished all my shopping. I think. But, it’s like my neighbor Charlie said, “When you reach our age there isn’t much you want or need, except for something for the house or a new tool.” Charlie is a wise man. I mean, there’s always something that needs fixing or improving on the house, and, honestly, who couldn’t use a new tool or two? Nobody. Am I right? You know I am.

I mean, even the ladies can use new tools. They go through them so fast. I think I need to buy my sweetie a new set of screwdrivers and pry bars. For the uninitiated young husbands and husbands-to-be out there, that would be a new set of silverware to replace the bent tips on the knives and flattened fork tines. But that’s okay. I mean, you wouldn’t want them using your precious tools, now would you.

Oh, and don’t forget the barbeque lighters… you know, the ones with the long barrels on them. The ladies will need them for those candles you bought them so they don’t burn their fingers when they light them. You did buy the candles, didn’t you? If you didn’t, you’ll wind up with exotic fragrances in your house like springtime rain forest, five berry melt and such, instead of vanilla and sugar cookies. If they made a roasting turkey scent, I’d buy that for her. For now, I’ll have to stick with just roasting a turkey, which I plan to do for Christmas dinner.

Speaking of Christmas dinner, I thought about ham as an alternative, but. Frankly, ham isn’t Christmassy. It’s Eastery. It works better with those dyed eggs than turkey does. Or maybe luaus… it goes well with pineapples too. Besides, you can use the leftovers to make a homemade Hawaiian pizza. You can’t do that with a turkey. Besides, who would want to? Nobody wants to give up turkey sandwiches Certainly not me.

Ah, now I’m getting back in the Christmas spirit. That’s better. Y’all have yourselves a Merry Christmas… or whatever you happen to celebrate at this time of year.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Square Peg - U Need a Nu Car

The Square Peg - U Need a Nu Car
© S. Bradley Stoner

I own my vehicle. Own it outright. Don’t owe a dime on it and haven’t for several years. For some reason, the car dealers think this is appalling. At first, they bombarded me with sales and trade-in values. I ignored them. I got letters. I got slick advertising cards... big ones with pretty pictures of the latest models on them. I got them from Ford. I got them from Chevrolet. I got them from Toyota and Mazda. I even got them from Kia and Nissan. All of them offering a “higher trade-in value” than its competitors. I recycled the letters. I recycled the advertising cards. I didn’t answer the robocalls. I am perfectly happy with my SUV. It’s a 2005 and, after ten years it still looks good and runs like a top. Besides, at a little over 100K miles, I figure it’s just broken in.

The dealerships have taken a new tack... now they “need” my car. It’s “in demand” and worth more than ever. Now the ads offer cash money if I’ll only drop by. They’ll knock $10,000.00 off my purchase of any new vehicle or they’ll buy my baby outright for “above Blue Book value.” Apparently they keep better records than the government. They even know the make, the year, and when I bought it... even the dealerships I never visited. Wow, that’s impressive. I’ll bet they figure the cost of that database into the price of every new car. They should list that along with the “dealer prep” (you know, unloading the vehicles from the truck and running them through a car-wash). They could call it “Dealer Tracking.” They could sell the info to the NSA. It’s pretty obvious they already sell it to their competitors.

Of course, I have come to realize that the car dealer business is pretty incestuous. One family here in San Antonio owns half or more of the dealerships. Another family owns close to the other half. The whole fam damily gets involved. They’re empires. Dad, Mom, Uncle Joe, Aunt Dianna, and all the kids. There’s three generations of them... and they’re using the fourth generation in the ads. I mean, who can resist an attractive young woman with a small child in her arms hawking the family business, right? It seems to be a trend... even the plumbing and heating companies are doing it, but having a couple of snot nosed boys telling you to call the Bongo Boys when you pipes are clogged or your AC is on the fritz falls just a little flat. Give ‘em an A for effort, though. I digress.

Just for the heck of it, I went on the Internet to see what these new vehicles are fetching cash-wise. As soon as the site comes up, so does a pop up... “Hi - I’m Shirley... Can I help you with anything?” It’s a damn chat box. Now, there’s a very attractive picture of Shirl in the upper left corner with a cute little headset and microphone, but I don’t do chat. I hit the little X in the right hand corner and send it to oblivion... I thought.

Anyway, I’m taking in the new models and choking on the prices before I go to the menu and choose “Quality Pre-owned Vehicles.” Now there’s a crap piece of double speak. Everything is “pre-owned;”  manufacturers owned it first, which is why they want to sell it to you. If the vehicle has more than 20 miles on it, it’s either a “demo” or it’s USED. If it has more than 140,000 miles... it’s really used and probably not worth the $22,500.00 they’re asking for it. I mean, they sure aren’t going to offer you anywhere near that when you trade your baby in. Sorry, got sidetracked. What I was aiming to say was, as soon as the “pre-owned” vehicle page popped up, another chat box appeared. This time Sheila... yep, another attractive female. “Can I help you?” Hit the X in the right hand corner again. They probably think I’m rude.

I got to thinking about those little chat boxes with the pretty, young women. I mean, I’ve been to a lot of car dealerships over the years and I don’t recall seeing more than one or two pretty, young saleswomen on the floor or the lot. Mostly the new car salespeople are young men in fake Italian suits with imitation leather shoes, trying to look urbane and cultured. Wolves in sheep’s clothing... just look at their eyes... the “lean and hungry look.” My apologies to Wil Shakespeare, but that just seemed to fit.

So where to they hide the pretty, young chattresses... whoa, I think I invented a new word. Book ripoff idea... Lady Chattress’ Lover, a modern romance filled with busty, lusty... oh never mind. Somebody probably did that already. Sigh... I don’t think I got enough sleep last night. Back to it. Maybe they hide them in a back room someplace to protect them... or is it us? I have visions of those naughty chat lines where the girls are all grandmothers just trying to make a buck in a bad economy... shudder. Hey, I saw that in a movie a while back. It could be true. How would you know?

After the fourth chat box appearance on the second web site, I gave it up. It’s probably a good thing, I was about to get obnoxious, and I’m really not that kind of person. I like to think of myself as a gentleman and I was about to do something very ungentlemanly simply because they wouldn’t quit bugging me. I mean, if I really wanted to talk to somebody, I’d give them a call or pay them a visit. I’m not much for disembodied chat boxes. Well, I guess that’s enough of a rant for today.

I’ll see ya... wait... my cell just buzzed. I got a text. Might be something important since I only text with my boys. Give me a sec... “U Need a Nu Car.” Are you freaking kidding me?!