Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Square Peg - Who’s The Tallest?

The Square Peg - Who’s The Tallest?
© S. Bradley Stoner

The gang was all gathered at the park, and by gang, I mean neighborhood, not criminals, although some of the tales being told bordered on the criminal. Yes sir, it was our first annual Tell Your Story meeting. I’m pretty sure it was the last annual Tell Your Story meeting too, but time will tell.

I think what the organizers had in mind was that we’d all get together and learn about each other. You know... a kind of a mass get to know your neighbor sort of thing. It might have worked too if somebody hadn’t suggested we all bring our own favorite beverage. That right there was a recipe for disaster. There just weren’t enough burgers and hot dogs to absorb all that beer and wine. It didn’t take long for the liberal libations to do their work. Once folks were wined up, well, they began to wind up.

I don’t know if anybody else has noticed, but when groups get together, particularly neighborhood groups, a sort of natural segregation starts to take place. By that I mean the ladies tend to drift off into one group while the men drift off into another. Then little subgroups start to form. You know, the ones interested in domestic activities like cooking and gardening, those interested in talking shop (business, not mechanics), those interested in shared hobbies, the save the Earthers, and then there’s always the general bullsh*tters. Turns out, a lot of men fit into the latter category, which brings me to the real Texas part of the story.

It started out innocently enough. Duncan, Colonel Duffer, Charlie and me talking about the places we’d traveled. Then Bingo Bob had to join the group and add his two cents. Now, you have to understand the Colonel, Duncan and I have traveled extensively, the Colonel probably more than the rest of us, but we all have a pretty good track record that covers some five decades each of roving about. Charlie has done a lot of RV-ing since he retired, but he still has a long way to go to catch up to us. Bingo Bob? Well, he’s traveled from New Jersey to Texas and then pretty much just gone between San Antonio and the Gulf coast with a couple of trips to Houston and Dallas thrown in. In other words, he isn’t exactly a world traveler.

This fact, however, does not stop Bob from imparting his wisdom on coping with harrowing expeditions to Port Aransas. “Yep, I stayed in one of those old flea-bag hotels,” he boasted. “It was quite an ordeal. Smelled like three-day-old fish...”

Duncan interjected at this point. “Are you sure that wasn’t you?”

Bob ignored him. “And you wanna talk about bugs... holy crap... the room was alive with ‘em. There was a gap under the door you could throw a cat through. Worst night I ever spent. Yuck!” he ended with a little shudder.

Charlie snorted. “You want to talk bugs? We took the RV over to Lake Texoma. Skeeters were unbelievable. I’m tellin’ you, that’s where ol’ Pecos Bill musta been carried off after hammerin’ their beaks over in that iron pot his ma put over him. I swear, I had to patch holes in the RV after they got through with it.

Duffer rubbed his shiny dome. “That’s nothin’,” he said barely audibly. “You haven’t seen bugs until you’ve been in the Philippines. I took a side trip when I was stationed there and spent a night in a local inn. It might more properly have been called a local out. Man the bugs there are big...”

None of us could resist the old gag line, so we chorused, “How big were they?”

“Let’s put it this way, I went to bed in the bedroom that night and woke up the next morning in the jungle. Damn things lifted me in my bed and just carted me out.”

“That’s pretty big,” Duncan agreed, but not to be outdone, said, “Ever been around McAllen? I had to go down there to pick up a prisoner one time in the summer. Ever see the palmetto bugs down there? Things are as big as a small car and they fly straight at you. Get hit with one and you’ll wish you were wearin’ a helmet/ I heard one guy even got knocked out by one of those critters.”

Bob kind of showed his ignorance there. “What’s a palmetto bug?”

We all just stared at him.


Duncan was the first to break. “It’s a big damn cockroach is what it is. And down to McAllen they don’t scurry... they attack... from the air!”

Finally they looked at me.

“Well, aren’t you going to say anything? Yer always ready with some story that’ll top all the others,” Bob challenged.

“I’m not sure I can top those whoppers,” I replied, “but I have stayed in some pretty sketchy places in my time.”

“Tell us the worst one,” Duffer urged.

“Well, some might think it was south of the border or some exotic place, but in reality, it was right here in the good old USA. Matter of fact, it was in eastern Montana.”

“I s’pose you’re going to tell us it had bigger bugs that we got right here in Texas,” Duncan shot with an expression of disbelief on his face.

“Nope, but they were older. I stayed in this old motel... that was when I worked for the State and their per diem just doesn’t pay for much in the way of decent accommodations. Guess they just figure everybody is tougher up there. Anyway, this place was so old my room had Kid Curry’s initials carved in the doorway.”

“Who’s Kid Curry?” Bob should really learn to keep his mouth shut and how to use Google. He wouldn’t look like such an ignoramus.

Duncan, Charlie and Duffer all said at the same time, “Outlaw who rode with the Wild Bunch. Shut up, Bob!”

“Yep. You talk about gaps under the door? This place had gaps in the door. Windows? Heck, they might as well not have been there. If I hadn’t left that single bare bulb burning, the bats would have taken up residence in the morning.”

“Geez, wouldn’t that attract bugs?” Charlie asked.

“Yeah, I suppose so, but I wasn’t too worried about that.”

“Why not?”

“Well, like I said, the place was old. So were the bugs. I saw a cricket with a long gray beard, a grounded mosquito with a cane, and there was an Alzheimer’s ward set up in one corner of the bathroom for the cockroaches, but they kept wandering off and couldn’t find their way back. Kind of sad actually.”

Somehow we didn’t notice Patti Peersall had sneaked up to eavesdrop on us. “Men!” she snorted.

Duncan eyed her balefully. “What’s that crawlin’ up your skirt, there, Patti?”

Patti started to make a retort, but looked down and saw the rather robust Praying Mantis slowly making its way toward her waist, let out a scream, and ran off, frantically flailing at the beast.

“You know,” Duffer said, “I got a feeling Patti’s going to take the tall tale prize next year.”

“Well,” Duncan returned, “she does subscribe to that old cowboy adage.”

Jersey Bob allowed his ignorance to show once again. “What adage?”

“You wanna tell ‘im or should I?” Duncan said.

I took the honors. “Never let the truth get in the way of a good tale.”

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Square Peg -Keep Your Cool

The Square Peg -Keep Your Cool
© S. Bradley Stoner

Alrighty then. Summer’s here. Yep, the weathermen are telling us what the heat index is on a daily basis. You’ve got to understand that when the actual temperature doesn’t reach 100° F here in South-Central Texas, the news channels don’t feel they’ve done their job properly. They aren’t happy if the temps are in the 90’s. No siree... that might violate that unwritten code about Texas being the biggest and baddest state in the lower forty eight (remember, we lost #1 status when that silly Congress added Alaska as a state. Most Texans agree that they should have counted the population of people and left it a territory. We’re pretty sure they included the moose population in the voting base or it wouldn’t have made it. Congress was controlled by the Dems at the time and they figured, ‘what the heck... more votes for us. Then they got Sarah Palin). But I digress.

The point is, it is heating up and I noticed the air conditioning in my Explorer is taking longer to cool down the old buggy. Well, shoot, you can’t have that. We need our cool, otherwise road rage starts to set in... or so I’m told. Bingo Bob says it’s caused by baked brain syndrome, but what does he know? Personally, I just sweat a lot when my AC isn’t working right, and that makes me downright unpleasant to be around. People avoid me. I know that because a little girl approached me in the grocery store, suddenly wrinkled up her face, shouted, “EWWWW,” made a U-turn and called for her mama. And all I had done was drive six blocks. That was it. I needed to get the AC back up to snuff.

Working on cars is something I used to love. I rebuilt engines and everything. Not any more. When they got rid of carburetors and replaced them with fuel injection controlled by a computer, stuck stupid sensors in every tire, and made it so you had to be some sort of electronics expert to even open the hood, I pretty much gave up on working on my own cars. Still, I’d seen those ads... you know, the ones that ask you why you’re paying hundreds of dollars to have a mechanic fix your AC when you can DO IT YOURSELF. Yep, any fool can do it, and I’m not a fool... at least I don’t think I am.

Well, I checked the Internet to find the best product. I read all of the reviews. I looked it up on I even watched fifteen or twenty YouTube videos showing exactly how to do it... at least fifteen different ways. (Admittedly, it was kind of a slow day and I did have a big glass of iced tea). Long story short (oh, shut up), I went out and bought one of those DIY AC kits and pulled Lizzy into the garage when I got back.

I had just popped the hood when I saw Bob and Duncan coming up the driveway. ‘Oh goody,’ I thought. “Hi guys.”

“Gonna work on the old rattletrap?” Bob asked gleefully.

“Just going to add some refrigerant to my AC,” I replied. “I’ll be done in a minute and I’ll join you then.”

“Hey, you gonna use that stuff they advertise on TV?” Duncan asked.


Despite my attempt to get them to wait outside the garage, both of them crowded in. Now you have to understand what with my shop and storage in the garage, there isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room in there. The old “two’s company, three’s a crowd” rule definitely applies. I told them so.

“Oh, we won’t take up a lot of room,” Bob said cheerily.

“You would be the ‘three’s a crowd,” Bob,” I returned.

“That’s not very hospitable,” he whined.

“I’m not in a hospitable mood,” said I.

“Just back the Explorer up a little,” Duncan said, “it’ll make more room and, heck fire, you don’t need the whole car in here.”

Somehow they didn’t get the message that I neither wanted, nor needed their assistance. Rather than get into a verbal fencing match, however, it was just easier to climb into the cab, turn over the engine, and back up Lizzy a few feet.

“See there,” Bob chirped, “plenty of room.”

“Better turn off the motor,” Duncan called.

“You have to leave it on to add refrigerant,” I replied.

“Oh. Never mind then.”

As I closed the driver’s side door and headed for the front of the car, I noticed Bob edging closer to my roll-about tool chests. “Stay away from those tools, Bob.”

“I just wanted to see what new things you have,” he said defensively. “Hey, when did you get that new drill?”

“Right after you returned my old reliable one with the trigger busted,” I growled.

“Hey, it was old. It just broke. What can I say? I offered you five bucks.”

I ignored him. Five bucks didn’t begin to cover what it would cost to replace my favorite Skil half inch chuck drill. One of these days I’ll get around to fixing it, if it isn’t too far gone after Bob got through with it.

After reading the instructions, with lots of unhelpful hints from the two all-thumbs-would-be-assistants, I cleared the fill tube of air, hooked up the fitting to the low side of the compressor and pressed the trigger. I had to watch the gauge carefully so I didn’t overfill it with refrigerant, so I had to ignore the noises coming from behind me as Bob opened and closed every door on my tool chest. Finally, the gauge read properly in the green. It only took half of one can. I wondered how long the remainder would last in storage. Oh well, deal with that later. I unhooked the coupling, replaced the low side cap and stepped back, bumping into Bob.

Bob jumped about a foot. “Geez... you coulda warned a guy,” he squeaked.

I looked Bob up and down. His pockets seemed a little fuller than they had been when he walked in. I saw a screwdriver handle peeking out of his back pocket and was pretty sure the bulge in his front pocket looked like an open end wrench. “Bob...”


“Step over the work bench and empty your pockets.”

“What for?” he asked, edging toward the door.

“Duncan... you want to cut off his retreat?”

Duncan grinned maliciously. “My pleasure.”

Bob had nowhere to go.

“You heard the man. Empty ‘em,” Duncan said.

“Geez, I was just borrowing them,” Bob said, proceeding to place three screwdrivers, four open end wrenches, two box wrenches, and my 1/4” ratchet and a couple of sockets on the bench.

Duncan’s eyes widened just a little. “Wow, Bob, you’ve got some light fingers there.”

“But... but... I was just...”

“Bob...” I said.


“You know the rules,” I said, fitting a new corundum bit into my new drill.

“You wouldn’t!”

“You want to plug this in?” I said to Duncan, handing him the drill cord.

Bob saw his chance as Duncan leaned over the bench with the plug. He pushed past him and made a beeline for the open door. “You’re crazy,” he screamed as he ran for home.

“You really wouldn’t have done that, would you?”
“I guess we’ll never know, but I bet old five-fingered-discount won’t try to borrow any of my tools again any time soon,” I said as I carefully placed all those tools back in the chest.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Square Peg - S. H. I. T.

The Square Peg - S. H. I. T.
© S. Bradley Stoner

That’s right, folks. Now that I’ve got your attention, it’s So Here It’s Thursday again. Recycle pickup day in our neighborhood. This brings me to the latest wrinkle in the program. On July seventh I received a notice in the mail that, starting July sixth, the powers that be in our fine city were going to start imposing a $25.00 fine on anybody who had the temerity to put garbage in their recycle bin. It isn’t enough that we pay for this service through an imposed city-wide tax, they apparently need more to pay their make-work employees that might have to pull a little garbage out of the garbage they are recycling.

Don’t get me wrong, I have always supported recycling efforts, at least some parts of it, but let’s face it, except for metals, it’s a losing proposition from financial standpoint and just plain stupid from and environmental one. Take paper and cardboard recycling, for instance. That process creates a bunch of toxic wastes ranging from acids to chlorine bleaches, not to mention the air emissions. If you ever had to do environmental reporting to the EPA on those, you’d probably gain a quick dislike for paper recycling operations too. It’s cheaper and more environmentally friendly to make new paper. There are tons of renewable tree farms dedicated to growing nothing but trees for paper pulp. It’s a profitable business. Government sponsored recycling is not. It runs in the red everywhere. That’s why they tax us. If you don’t mind collecting your metals and transporting them to a scrap yard, you’d at least make a little money. Unfortunately, you’d still get taxed, but at least its an off-set.

I don’t want to rant here, but if you are interested, read some professional papers on the costs and benefits of recycling from an economic and environmental standpoint. Stay away from the save-the-Earth sites. They’re interested in promoting the “feel good” side of the issue. That really has very little to do with the scientific facts. I know. I had a career as an environmental scientist. Heck, I even designed recycling programs mandated for federal agencies by a series of executive orders. In my experience, an ounce of pollution prevention is worth tons of recycling.

Be that as it may, I ran into Duncan, Bob, and Charlie when I went to retrieve my recycle bin this morning. As usual, Bingo Bob was on the fight. “You see that notice the city sent out?” he yelled.

None of us was sure whom he was addressing, so we answered together, “Yep,” and started wheeling our blue bins back behind our fences. That’s an HOA thing... everybody has garbage and recycle bins here, but the HOA will fine you if you leave them where they can be seen.

“Wait just a damn minute,” Bob yelled. “We need to talk about this.”

Duncan sighed. Charlie nodded resignedly, and I groaned. We all knew this was going to be painful. It always is when Bob wants to take on city hall. Personally, I quit signing Bob’s petitions. Apparently most other folks in the neighborhood did too, not that it stops him. Frankly, between the beer drinking, sports TV and fishing trips, I don’t know where he gets the time. 

“They’re tryin’ to turn us into California,” Bob huffed, drawing near. I don’t know if it was the heat or his all-too-common nightly beer fests, but something was stealing his air.

We waited a minute for him to catch his breath. Well, I did. I wish I hadn’t.

“Cripes, Bob, just don’t put garbage in your recycle bin.”

“With all them beer bottles and cans, I don’t see where he’d have room,” Charlie added.

“Yeah? Well what about if some neighbor shoves his garbage in your bin when yer not lookin’? Huh? You think they’ll fine him?’

“Well,” Duncan drawled, “I don’t reckon anybody will do that to me, but you, on the other hand... well you have pissed off a lot of your neighbors.”

“No more that you, you overstuffed flatfoot,” Bob shot back.

“They won’t get much of a chance with me,” I interjected before this had a chance to escalate. “My bin only goes out about once every third week.”

That kind of backfired. Bob turned on me. “Yeah, what’s up with that?! Is Mr. Environmental Consultant too good to recycle?”

“Nope, I just don’t generate a lot. It takes me that long to accumulate enough to take it out.”

“How do you do that?” Charlie asked.

“Simple. I don’t buy a lot of prepackaged stuff.”

“What about all them books your wife gets sent to her? Aren’t you recycling that packaging?”

I was surprised Charlie had noticed that, but apparently he keeps an eye on the UPS and Fed-Ex trucks that deliver the pre-release books publishers send my wife. “Can’t,” I replied. “They’ve got all kinds of that glue gunk on them and the recycle guide says they’re trash. I don’t want to get fined.”

I thought Bob was going to stamp his foot. “Yeah, well all of that is beside the point. This fining business is just plain wrong. All’s they’re doin’ is trying to drum up more revenue to keep the skid row bums and short bus people employed. It’s just another form of welfare.”

“That’s kind of harsh,” Charlie said.

“Not to mention kind of prejudiced,” Duncan added.

“Well it’s true! You ever been down to the center?”

This was starting to make me a little uncomfortable, and that’s pretty hard to do. “So? What’s your solution?”

“I’m startin’ a petition... and a letter writin’ campaign. I’m gonna blast those bureaucrats right out of their pompous sox. What’s your solution?”

I regarded the trio for a moment, then responded, “Well, houses in this area are in high demand... I think I’ll move back to the country.”

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Square Peg - National No WHAT Day??

The Square Peg - National No WHAT Day??
© S. Bradley Stoner

I missed it. Don’t ask me how, but I did. I usually pay more attention to such things. Maybe it was because I was focused. I had home repairs to do. No, not those pesky “honey-do” things, it was the real maintenance to the house. I don’t like being surprised by things breaking down, so I do a lot of preventive maintenance. Usually it keeps me and the house out of trouble. But I got a bit of a surprise with one of the repairs that became eminently necessary. When my house was built, the workmanship was done well for most of the structure, but I think the contractor backslid a bit on the trim.

Most houses in San Antonio don’t have gutters. They use “rain diverters” or “doorbrellas”  (and yes, that’s an actual name for those things) to keep rain away from critical areas like, well, doors. It turns out some bright workman drove nails through the diverter into the 1” X 2” fascia trim. Not only was that unnecessary, it created holes through which rain could run into the wood. And, to top it off, they sealed the bottom seam with silicone and put none on the top seam between the diverter and the wood. Yep, made a perfect seal for that wood reservoir they created. The inevitable happened. That section of fascia rotted from the inside out. So that’s what I was doing instead of paying attention to what Bingo Bob called this morning, “The really important things.

I ran into Bob, Duncan, and the recently divorced Penny Puckerpuss in an animated discussion on my way back from my walk this morning. Curiosity got the better of me, so I stopped to see what the hullabaloo was all about. I should have kept walking. Oh well.

“I didn’t know they had a day for that,” Penny said breathlessly, “but it was wonderfully liberating!”

“I’d like to liberate those,” Bob muttered to himself.

“What?” Penny said, “I didn’t hear that.”

“Oh nothin’,” Bob replied, but his focused gaze betrayed him... at least it did to Duncan and me.

“Well, I’ve got to run,” Penny said, and took off at a brisk trot.

“That shouldn’t be legal,” Bob said, watching Penny’s shapely derriere pull away from us.

“Geez, Bob, yer married,” Duncan said, shaking his head.

“A fellah can look, can’t he?” Bob asked defensively.

“So what was that all about?” I asked.

“Oh, we were just talking about the latest holiday,” Duncan offered.

I was puzzled. “What holiday? The fourth is over and we’re not due for another holiday until September.”

“Oh man, don’t tell me you missed it?” Bob was incredulous. “It was last Saturday. Where the heck were you?”

“Doing repairs on my house. What happened Saturday?”

Duncan nodded sagely. “It was National No Bra Day. How on Earth couldn’t you know? It was on all the social media. And World No Bra Day is coming up in October!”

“Best days ever for girl watching,” Bob added. “The only thing that might have made it better would have been chilly weather. Maybe it’ll be cold come October.”

“Geez, Bob!” Duncan and I chorused.

“Yeah, like you guys wouldn’t look.”

“Maybe,” Duncan said, “but I’m not crass enough to say it outright... or stare like you do.”

“Truth is truth,” Bob stated flatly. “I wish I’d gone to the beach... wonder if the girls there participated.”

“Now you are dreaming,” Duncan growled.

“Woulda been nice if Frank’s daughter had walked her dog Saturday,” Bob said dreamily.

“Do you have a death wish?” I asked. “You know Frank has a big gun collection, don’t you?”

“Not to mention a real short fuse when it comes to protecting his little girl,” Duncan added.

“She ain’t so little,” Bob offered, his eyes widening just a bit.

“Bob...” I said. “I’m going to loan your wife my big hammer.”

“You wouldn’t!”

“I bet he would,” Duncan answered for me.

Bob shrank a little bit, and pouted, “Well, mark the date on next year’s calendar. We’ll see what you have to say after that.”

I shrugged. “Hey, it’s National No Bra Day whenever my lovely gets home from work. That’s the first thing to go when she changes. I don’t need to wait.”

“I hate you,” Bob said.