Monday, December 26, 2016

The Square Peg - The Day After

The Square Peg - The Day After
© S. Bradley Stoner

It’s the day after... and we all survived. I think. Time will tell. Yep, the big guy in the red suit hit our neighborhood and, despite the rowdies two blocks over who tried to shoot him down with fourth of July mortar shells, he navigated his way to every house where the kiddies were snug in their beds. For the life of me, I can’t fathom how he gets all that stuff in that little sleigh. It must be magic.

The fact that he can wear that heavy suit must be magic too. I was in shorts and a T-shirt when he passed by overhead. Yep, it was a green Christmas here in south central Texas. Seventy degrees at midnight. Luckily, every house in the neighborhood has a fireplace. Lucky for him, nobody had a fire going. Down here we build fires outdoors in fire pits. Yep, we sit around them, roast hot dogs and marshmallows, and shoot the breeze. Some drink cold beer to ward off the heat. By the time bedtime rolls around they’re a pretty jolly lot.

I don’t know about you, but I think the Jolly Old Fat Man is spoiling our kids. I remember when my stocking, hung by the fireplace (or rather from our console record player) with care, was filled with nuts and fruits. Today? Today I heard tales of iPhones, Galaxies, and gift cards for “apps.” And under the tree... whoa... interactive toys like pets that talk to you, fake eggs that hatch things, not to mention the high tech stuff like Gameboys X-boxes, electric cars, and streaming drones for Pete’s sake! It’s a wonder kids can dress themselves these days. Maybe the next thing will be robots that do that for you.

When I was a kid, under the tree... a real tree, the one where the needles fell off if you forgot to put water in the bucket of sand and rock you used for a tree stand... you were likely to find, wrapped in pretty paper or, on occasion, the funny papers (depending on your parent’s budget that year) such things as new socks, school clothes, and one or two toys. One of those was usually of the educational variety... like an Erector Set or a Gilbert Chemistry set... you know for ages eight to twelve. Yes sir, if we didn’t blow up the kitchen, we learned something. Sometimes we learned something from blowing up the kitchen. The only robots we got you had to wind up and even then they just rolled around on little wheels, flashed a couple of red lights, and beeped. At least we could pull up our own socks.

I was standing in my driveway, enjoying a cup of steaming hot coffee and the pleasant 79 degree temperatures and minding my own business when Bob went screaming by on his big Christmas gift. He hit the brakes at the end of the block, spun around and came zooming back, finally coming to a screeching halt in my driveway.

“Whaddaya think?” he shouted over the drone of the 250 cc engine. He goosed it a couple of times and then shut it down.

“Nice four wheeler.... what did you do with the old one?”

“Still have it... that’s only for off-road,” he declared. “This one is street legal!”

“God help us all,” I muttered.


“Nothing,” I returned.

About that time, the sound of a big Harley shattered the quiet. Frank roared up on his big hog and pulled in beside Bob.

“Hey! Look what I got for myself for Christmas!”

“Nice,” I said.

“Yep, it’s a fully restored Harley Davidson FXB... 1982. I’m going to ride it to Sturgis.”

“Makes sense,” I replied noting the Sturgis nameplate on the front forks.

“What did you get?” Bob and Frank chorused.

“A new bed,” said I. “Bamboo fabric covered memory foam from Cariloha.”

“A bed,” Bob snorted.

I nodded. “Yep, it’s like sleeping on a cloud.”

“That’s a dumb Christmas gift,” Bob grunted.

“Well, considering a person spends about a third of his life sleeping, I think it’s a pretty darn good gift. How many hours do you figure to spend riding that butt vibrator?”

Bob grimaced. “Not that long... maybe eight, nine hours a week.”

“In other words, about the time you spend in bed every night,” I retorted.

Frank nodded. “He has a good point.”

“Maybe, but how much fun can you have in a bed?” Bob challenged.

Frank and I just looked at him, slightly aghast. Sometimes Bob says some really stupid things.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Square Peg - The Great Texas Polar Bear Club

The Square Peg - The Great Texas Polar Bear Club
© S. Bradley Stoner

I’m not sure what prompted it. Maybe it was jealousy over all those marathoners running in rainy, 45° weather a couple of weekends ago. Possibly it was the popsicle bike riders last weekend. It could have been that Blue Norther that froze all my foliage or maybe it was just happenstance. I don’t know, but Duncan approached me on my early morning walk.

“Hey!” he shouted, trotting in my direction, “wanna join the Great Texas Polar Bear Club?”

I must admit I was a bit perplexed. “It’s a little far south for a Polar Bear Club, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not like this is Minnesota or Michigan.”

Duncan snorted. “Did you come outside at all last week?”

Now the fact is that I go outside regularly, regardless of the weather, to indulge in a bad habit. Yep... I smoke. Not much, mind you, but I do. You’re likely to find me out on my back porch rain or shine, calm or windy, hot or cold, not to mention that you’re also likely to find me outside working on one of my many projects no matter what Mother Nature is up to. I just looked at Duncan like, ‘Are you kidding me?’

He got the message. “Okay, I get it. You are from Montana originally, aren’t you?”

“Yep... cold isn’t new to me, if you can call what we had last week cold.”

I’ll have to admit, I’ve gone a bit soft since I moved to Texas. Thirty degrees here is like a refrigerator and that 28° night actually froze the water in my fountains. Heck, I couldn’t run them for two days. But frankly, cold just doesn’t stick around here in San Antonio, even though folks don coats more suitable for the arctic and do the penguin walk getting from their car to the safety of a temperature controlled environment. I think I even shivered once when I went out in my shirt sleeves, and I haven’t done that since the winter of 1989. Yep... I’m getting soft.

“Whatever,” Duncan continued, “anyway, we’re starting a club.”

“Sounds like one of Bingo Bob’s ideas,” I returned skeptically.”

Duncan feigned a hurt look. “Well it wasn’t. My nephew, Clyde, came up with it.”

I nodded. I’d met Clyde only once. He seemed like a nice enough young fellow, but to be honest with you, he was kind of low wattage. Clyde lives in the Hill Country about forty miles outside of San Antonio on an old homestead his grandpa left him. He once told me that it had been handed down from his grandpa’s great grandpa, or some such thing. Originally it had been part of a land grant back in 1830... that was before Texas independence... so it’s been in the family for a long time. Clyde is a true Texan and damn proud of it.
“So you’re all going to get together and do what? Jump in Lake Medina or Canyon Lake when it gets cold again?”

“Are you nuts?” Duncan returned. “Have you seen what’s in those lakes? A person could get tangled in the fishing line and tree stumps and drown.”

Now I was really puzzled. All of the Polar Bear Clubs I knew of went out, punched a big hole in the ice of a frozen lake, and jumped in for a brief swim. “So what’s the plan?”

“Look,” he said, “just come over to my place about eight tonight and you’ll see.”

I told him I’d be there; after all, my curiosity was piqued just a tad. We parted company and I headed home.

Time almost got away from me. It does that when you’re retired. Still, about ten of eight, I pulled on my boots, wandered over to Duncan’s, and rang the doorbell. Duncan’s wife answered the door.

“Oh,” she sighed, “the boys are all in the back.”

She ushered me through to the back door and it suddenly all made sense. I hadn’t been in Duncan’s back yard for over a year. He’d made some improvements since then. For one thing, he now had a huge deck, and on that deck, or rather in it, was a big hot tub. Steam was rolling off it in the cool air. Duncan, Frank, Bob, Clyde, and a couple of guys I didn’t know were all lounging on deck chairs. There was a big cooler filled with ice and beer and a bottle of Jack was on the table. And, yep, there was a big sign hanging off the railing that declared in bold, routed letters, “Texas Polar Bear Club.”

I don’t know if they ever made it into the hot tub. I didn’t stick around that long.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Square Peg - Gadget Wars

The Square Peg - Gadget Wars
© S. Bradley Stoner

I like gadgets. I mean, who doesn’t? Aren’t we getting a little too dependent on them though? I recall when I used to open cans with a tool that closely resembled a miniature halberd (for you youngsters who don’t know what that is... Google it!). And it was a multipurpose gadget... it came with a fold out corkscrew. If you couldn’t de-lid something, you could uncork it. Handy! The thing is, it required you to use your muscles. You know, bend your wrist, apply pressure, and all the other things one does to work a sharp little lever around a can. We thought it was pretty handy, until the keyed on came along. It had handles and everything, a squeeze and the piercer punctured the can lid, turn that butterfly looking “key” and a toothed cog pulled the cutter around the can, releasing the lid. Unless you lost your grip, of course. Then you had to reset. Oh, and this was multipurpose too. It had a bottle opener on one end. Yep, kiddies, bottle caps used to be crimped onto a rounded lip on the bottle. You had to pry ‘em off. Pop tops and twist offs hadn’t been invented then. And, OH the joy when they came out with the one you could hang on the wall that had a crank handle. Things were getting easier. And when the electric can opener came along it was bliss, pure bliss. Of course I still have one of the old key type openers. It works when the power goes off. But let’s not get stuck on can openers, interesting as they may be.

Let’s move on to tools. Got a rounded hex-head bolt that’s stubborn? No worries, there’s a vice grip crescent with serrated jaws now that will defeat the most stubborn of them. If you don’t want bruised knuckles, well heck, you can just plug in your impact drill with that fits-all socket and, brrrrrrrp, the bolt is out. And that stripped Phillips head screw? That’s right, there’s a gripper driver that will bite into it and, with a little elbow grease, it will back right on out. If you’re really lazy, there’s a screw extractor that fits right on your drill so all you have to do is flip the lever or push the button to “reverse” and pull the trigger. No muss, no fuss. Oh, and remember when you used to have to practically put your nose on the saber saw to follow that curvy line you needed to cut? We forget that. Now saber saws have a laser light that makes it easy to follow that line without ever having to bend at the waist. Yes sir, pretty soon your collection of box and open end wrenches, those socket ratchets, and your fine collection of screwdrivers will languish in the drawers of your roll away tool chest. You do have one, don’t you?

Then there are appliances. I was ecstatic when I got my first refrigerator with an ice maker and dispenser. No need to fill up those metal or plastic trays, slop them putting them in the freezer, and busting your knuckles pulling the pry bar or breaking plastic because you twisted the tray too hard trying to get those little cubes out. No sir. Now all I had to do was put my glass under the dispenser, push it against the lever and, grrrrrind, out came the cubes, dropping neatly into my glass. I could even set it for crushed ice. How convenient. The one I have now even dispenses filtered water. Neat. My eldest just told me I was living in the stone age. They’ve got refrigerators with TVs in them... and cameras you can synch to your cell phone to look inside while your shopping just so you don’t miss getting something critical. I told him I don’t watch so much TV that I need one embedded in the door of my fridge and as far as getting critical items, I write a list after checking the fridge’s contents. Besides, I gave up my cell phone when I retired. It's in a drawer now with a dead battery.

Of course, that didn’t satisfy him. He went out and bought us an Echo. It’s kind of like Siri on an iPhone. You just say her name and ask a question or make a demand and she complies... most of the time. Just don’t make the question complicated or complex. You’ll just get, “I’m sorry. I don’t understand your question. I’m pretty sure Alexa is a blond. Kids, being kids, my youngest came up with some novel questions, like, “Who’s your daddy?” And danged if she didn’t respond. “I was made by inventors at Amazon.” And that’s when I discovered Alexa is a liar. She might have been invented by engineers at Amazon, but I’ll bet dollars to donut holes she was made by little laborers in Taiwan... or put together by robots on an assembly line.

She’s good at playing music, though, even when that’s not what you wanted. Say, “Alexa, find me groovy screws.” and she comes back with, “Shuffling songs by Moody Blues.” Yep. Blond.

And finally, I found a real problem. You don’t want to have the TV on unmonitored. I had stepped away from a particularly interesting mystery on the ID channel when an ad for Amazon came on. I heard the voice on the ad say, “Alexa, order pizza.” Right away came a response, not on TV mind you, but on my Echo. “Ordering pizza.” Arrrggghhhh! “Alexa, CANCEL ORDER!

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand your question...”


Alexa and I are now at war... and she’s winning!

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Square Peg - Jacked Up

© S. Bradley Stoner

Brakes are good. At least I think they are even though some people haven’t learned to use them. They stop your vehicle. Gently if you’re paying attention to your driving and nothing pops up in front of you. Should your attention wane or that @#$! deer decide to jump in front of you, they’re great for bringing you to a screeching halt. They keep you from bending your fender or demolishing that Cooper that decided to cut you off. The problem is, brakes wear out over time. My Explorer is eleven years old. It’s done a lot of braking. Oh, I still have pedal left, but it will soon be time to replace them. I decided to check them, so I pulled Lizzy into the garage.

I don’t have a fancy hydraulic lift in my garage, so I had to find my hydraulic floor jack. Yep, the one I haven’t used in about five years... and you know what? Those things can go bad too. Especially on a jack that is... what? Twenty five years old? Yep, the seals in the hydraulic mechanism dried up. It won’t lift. Well crap. So, up I go on the site to check out how to rebuild a hydraulic floor jack. It turns out the kit costs over forty bucks plus shipping, not to mention the hours of labor that it takes to actually disassemble, clean, and reassemble said floor jack. I checked one of my favorite warehouse supply sites. Hey! I can buy a brand new floor jack for around $79.00 and pick it up at the local store. Sounds like a plan to me.

I pulled Lizzy into the garage. With the floor jack in place, and my two jack stands right handy, I chocked the back wheels and proceeded to jack up the front high enough to put the jack stands in place. I was still on the floor, planning to position the front wheels so I could have a look at the brakes when Bingo Bob walked in. I saw his feet from my vantage point. Bob wears a distinctive pair of shoes when he’s around home. By distinctive, I mean a blown out pair of old sneakers.

“Hello, Bob,” I called from the floor.

That startled him a bit. I could tell by the little hop those sneakers took. “Um hi,” he replied. “Workin’ on your car?”

“Nope,” I returned, “I’m bench pressing it.”

I wish I could have seen his face, but all I could see was his feet. I did hear him suck in his breath a little though. I crawled out from under the front bumper and got to my feet. Hey, that’s no easy task at my age. My joints don’t work as well as they used to, so it’s a process. Slide out, roll over onto my face, get my legs underneath me, push up with my arms, and sloooowly stand up. Creak, pop, groan. I brushed the floor dust off my hands and cocked an eyebrow at Bob.

“No... seriously, what are ya doin’?”

“Just checking my brakes for wear,” I replied.

“I know a guy who can do that for ya,” he said.

“I’m the guy in this house,” I fire back.

“Are ya sure? It don’t cost that much.”

“It isn’t the cost, Bob. I like to work on my car.”

Bob was mystified. “Why?”

“Call it self-satisfaction. I like fixing things when they need it. It’s why I have all these tools.”

“Speaking of tools...”

“Don’t start with me, Bob. I’m not a lending library for tools.”

“But all I need is a big screw driver.”

“I know where you can buy one. It’s less than a two miles from here. That way you’ll have one whenever you need it.”

Bob pulled a pouty face. That might work with his mother. It doesn’t work with me.

“But I only need it for a little while.”

“Remember the last time you needed one of my tools for ’just a little while.’ I didn’t see it for over a month.”

“I misplaced it.”

“Right,” I said. That was better than what I was thinking, which was, ‘I bet you misplaced your brain.’

“But you have a whole drawer of screwdrivers.”

For a second I wondered how he knew that, but then I remembered he was looking over my shoulder when I got into my roll away tool chest the last time he borrowed something. “And I have a use for every last one of them.”

“Look, I just need it to pry up a stuck lid...”

I looked at him with horror. “A screwdriver is not a pry bar, Bob. Go buy yourself one of those.”

“Fine,” Bob mumbled and turned to leave me to my inspection. “Yer not very neighborly.”

“Try the Home Depot... I understand they’re very neighborly,” I returned. “Besides, they have more tools than I do... and you don’t have to take them back.”

Bob shot me a dirty look and a parting remark. “I hope your brakes are broke.”

“Well, if they are, I can buy a kit and I have the tools to replace them, Bob.”

“Shut up.”