Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Square Peg -Gentlemen... Start Your Blowers!

The Square Peg -Gentlemen... Start Your Blowers!
© S. Bradley Stoner

It’s that time of year again. It seems to start earlier and earlier. You know what I’m talking about... holiday decorations (dare I say Christmas decorations... yep, I believe I will). It started on Thanksgiving day. Heck, Bingo Bob and Duncan Donutz didn’t even let the turkey dinner settle. They’re going to pay for that, I’m sure. I couldn’t believe it! Well, I could, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to watch the Macy’s parade and a couple of football games before I tackled tangled strings of lights.

This year, though, we have some new neighbors in the hood (okay, burbs... don’t want to rile up anybody. Well, I do, but I won’t... at least not yet). What this means is that there seems to be an all out decoration war. I don’t know who declared it, but there you have it. Bingo Bob fired the first salvo by hiring some guy to string LED lights all over his house. Not to be outdone, Duncan returned fire by getting out his ladder and stringing his own lights. That a pretty neat trick. He has a two story house and it sits on a hill. That extension ladder looks like it could reach the moon.

While those two were fighting it out over the eave illumination, my new neighbor, Hot Rod Harry and his wife are deploying illuminated wire deer and pine trees, placing them meticulously on the front lawn. They even impaled a row of toy soldiers (well, they might be nutcrackers) all along their front sidewalk. Judging by the partially assembled things in their garage, I have a feeling they aren’t anywhere close to being done. Duncan almost fell off his ladder. Bob’s eyes bugged out. I could see the wheels turning, and I have a feeling Walmart’s decorations department is going to get a big boost this year.

All over the neighborhood people are in a holiday mood that even the recent clashes over the November election can’t tarnish. Hillary Hardbody went all out. I saw her puttering around in the yard and half expected to see the lights strung on her palm trees like she does every year, but after lunch I went back outside to find she had put a blow up snowman (I presume it was Frosty on account of the black stovepipe hat), a Santa’s sleigh, and one of those new-fangled laser projectors on her front lawn. Hillary waved at me and flashed a smile that would make a toothpaste manufacturer proud.

I ran into Bob last evening. He was still out working on his Christmas masterpiece. I wasn’t sure what it was going to look like. There were piles of nylon fabric all over his lawn just waiting to take shape when the blowers started up. I had to guess it was going to be pretty impressive, though.

“Boy, Bob, that’s a lot of stuff on your lawn. Bet that set you back a pretty penny.”

“Money’s no object,” Bob returned quickly. “I’m gonna win that decoration contest this year.”

“Contest?” I queried, slightly puzzled.

“Yep. There’s one for the subdivision and a big one for the city... and I plan on taking top prize in both.”

I looked dubious. “I don’t know, Bob, there’s some pretty stiff competition out there.”

“Yeah... well wait ‘til you see what I’ve got set up... it’s going to be quite a show. It’s computerized and everything.”

I looked at the massive strings of lights on his house. They didn’t look like much in the daylight, but once night fell... who knows? I hated to throw a damper on his festive, competitive mood, but I reminded him that we were in a light restriction zone. We’re in the flight path for military medivac helicopters on training missions. They fly with night vision goggles and bright lights will render them blind.

“Doesn’t apply to Christmas decorations,” Bob said confidently. “I’m gonna have a terrific laser light show bouncing off my walls. Just wait ‘til you see it!”

“Bob telling you how he’s going to win the decorating contests?” Duncan surprised me sneaking up behind me.

“Geez, Duncan!” I hadn’t noticed the sudden silence from his garage where he had been building something.

“Sorry. Anyway, I’m here to tell you Bob isn’t going to get near that first place prize.”

“Oh yeah?” Bob spat.

“Yeah,” Duncan replied.

“I s’pose you think you’re gonna win it!”

“Nope,” Duncan said thoughtfully, “but at least my lawn decorations aren’t store-bought. I’ve been working on them for months and I think they look pretty good.” He turned to me. “What about you? Are you going to put up more than that string of lights you usually put up?”

“Yep. I’m going to put up two.”

They both snorted. Heck, I don’t plan on winning anything but a smile from my lovely, and two strings of lights just ought to do it. Besides, I got my tree up before anybody else... I had it up the week before Thanksgiving since the boys were coming home and neither would make it for Christmas. So, we celebrated Thanksmas!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Square Peg - Well, S.H.I.T... Again.

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

That’s right folks, So Here It’s Thursday... again. Where did the week go? Matter of fact, where did the last two weeks go? No, I don’t have old-timers disease. I know where it went, but damn it went fast. Before y’all whup some admonitions on me for failing to amuse you on a more regular basis, let me explain.

To conjure up those dicey dollops of suburban silliness, I have to go outside. And I haven’t. Well, not much at least. How can I write about Bingo Bob, Duncan Donutz, Patti Peeksalot, and all those other loveable characters when I’ve been living like a troglodyte? That’s right, I can’t.

So why have I been living like a troglodyte, you might ask. Work. The dirtiest of all the four letter words. Yes sir, it mires you in metaphors and drowns you in detail. Well, maybe not in your work, but it does in mine. And we’re not even talking fiction here. Nope. It’s the real McCoy.

Now, before you go and think I’m grousing, let me assure you that I’m not. In fact, I enjoy what I’ve been doing for the last couple of weeks. In fact, I love it. It kind of gives me a global reach, and who can’t use that? Let me explain. I began mentoring two young colleagues I met on LinkedIn a couple of years ago... or maybe three... who’s counting? English is a second language for both of them, so they struggle writing reports that have to be in English. That’s where I come in.

It all started with a simple request or two. Could I take a look at a grant application? That one from my colleague in Uganda. Could I share some environmental information? That from my colleague in New Guinea. See what I mean about global reach. Of course, I was happy to pitch in on both counts. Hey, I got to help the careers of two bright young men and make a contribution to environmental science all at the same time. And I got to do it in two critical areas for biodiversity. Not everybody gets a chance to do that.

So, week before last, I was reviewing, editing, and making suggestions for improvement to a faunal survey in New Guinea. That was a trip. I know more about things like native and invasive fish species in a foreign land than I thought possible. It took me three days to get through that report and help prepare it for universal publication, but the end product will pass peer review anywhere, and it’s a tough audience out there. By the way, my colleague just got promoted to Environmental Supervisor of the company by whom he is employed . Bravo young sir!

This week, it was a booklet explaining Cooperative Forest Management in Uganda, and proposing a path forward that will help in reforestation and forest defragmentation. The goals are lofty, but the path is difficult and woefully underfunded, not to mention having to cope with corrupt local officials. This one was a bit more difficult. Sentences and whole paragraphs that make sense in my colleague’s native language come out garbled when put in English. On top of that, I had to do this one in the King’s English... and I are an American. Sigh.

Nevertheless, I managed to make sense of the texts in both of these documents, rewrote parts, made suggestions for improvement to others, and generally polish them. Polish as in make them better, not... oh never mind. I’m not sure I’m done with the CFM document. Quite often I get back second drafts from Uganda for further review. That’s okay... writing is an iterative process. In any case, I hope this helps my Ugandan colleague obtain more assistance from grant organizations and private contributors.

So, there you have it. My lame excuses for not entertaining you as often as I would like. Get over it... I plan on walking a lot next week. I’m getting butt heavy from sitting in front of the computer.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Square Peg - The Silence is Deafening

The Square Peg - The Silence is Deafening
© S. Bradley Stoner

I thought it was hangovers from early Wednesday celebrations or drowning the sorrows binges. Either would be understandable in Texas. What I can tell you is that the neighborhood is eerily silent. And it’s late Thursday. Given the friendly, and sometimes not so friendly battles between two of our most colorful residents I expected fireworks... or at least some noise. Nope. Not a peep. No cries of woe emanating from the House of Bob. No “Yee haws!” or other sounds of joy... no echoes of gloating what-so-ever from the Castle of Duncan. Silence. Everywhere. It’s like we turned into a ghost town overnight.

Even my walk was a lonely affair. I saw nobody. No dog walkers. No walking club. No Walking Club and no Hillary Hardbody. I didn’t even see Paula Peeksalot’s venetian blind slats part and Paula Pettingzoo was nowhere to be seen, It was weird. Even the recycle truck that comes around every Thursday morning seemed to be pussy-footing through the neighborhood. No loud clanging. No crashing of dropped recycle bins. Even the atmosphere, although overcast, was strangely quiet. No sizzling flashes of lightening. No crashes of thunder. It was like the inside of a mortuary and one had to wonder, ‘Who died?” That old Simon and Garfunkel song kept playing over and over in my mind... “Hello darkness my old friend...”

I turned on the old computer when I got back. I pulled up Yahoo news. The stories were stale. Posted Wednesday. It’s like even they were stunned into silence. Facebook... a couple of gloats and a couple of ‘Woe is me’s’ from my foreign posters, but not much else about the recent election. Frankly, I was elated. My FB account was no longer cluttered with nasty grams from each side or long-time friends unfriending each other. I could enjoy posts about science and technology. Thumb through the cute dog and cat pictures. Peruse posts on archaeology. Dally over DIY instructions. Linger over library offerings. You know... things I like. It was a refreshing change. Google+ not so much. Controversy still bubbles there. Maybe that will die down too.

Me? I’m just glad it’s over, in case you hadn’t guessed that already. And I’m ready for the country and neighborhood to get back to normal. If it doesn’t, then what the H E double hockey sticks am I going to write about? The good news? Thanksgiving is just around the corner. If that doesn’t bring out the turkeys, what will?

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Square Peg - Oh Whoop-de-do

The Square Peg - Oh Whoop-de-do
© S. Bradley Stoner

Well, tomorrow’s the big day. Except for me. I voted early. The lines are long, the talking heads said. You may have to wait two hours or more to cast your all important vote, they said. I must lead a charmed life... either that or the talking heads were feeding us a line of bull. I was in and out of the polling place in less than ten minutes. I’m not going to say how I voted... that’s none of your bee’s wax, frankly. I will say, however, that this is one of the crummiest national elections I have seen in a dog’s age... maybe more. We have a main menu choice between fluff and puff. We could have done better, but this is what we’ve come to.

Be that as it may, I’m going to start my bitchin’ right now. You know what’s going to happen over the next couple of days... or maybe more? I’ll tell you what’s going to happen. Tuesday night and all day Wednesday, at the very least, is going to ruin TV. Yep, all those talking heads with their exit polls are going to tell us who’s going to win before the election is half over. And then they’re either going to gloat or lament the result... for hours on end. They’ll analyze, they’ll pontificate... they’ll blow until we’re blue in the face. They will tell us, the dumb masses who have been stripped of any meaningful voice in politics, exactly what they think because, well... they’re on TV and that makes their voice important. And I’m going to miss NCIS because of those bozos. If it bleeds into Thursday, I’m going to miss Thursday night football... maybe not, I got the NFL package so I don’t miss any Bronco or Texan games that aren’t carried on regular TV. Don’t get all huffy... I got it free when I switched to the new ATT carrier. And I don’t stay glued to it all day Sunday. I have better things to do.

Before I voted, my phone was ringing every hour with this candidate or that’s canned message pleading for my vote. I’m sure they told me why they were deserving of my vote and what they were going to do for little ole me and America, but, honestly, I didn’t let them get past that first introduction, whether they approved the message or not. Nope. I simply hung up the phone. I wouldn’t have answered at all, but the constant ringing was giving me a headache. I seriously thought about disconnecting the phone, but you never know when you might get an important call. Just for the record, I got one important call over the last two months. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that. The day I voted, those calls stopped dead. Don’t tell me they don’t have a way to track who’s voted and who hasn’t. Kind of makes you wonder how secret your secret ballot is.

After more than six decades on this planet, I have come to the conclusion that politics is one giant toilet bowl and I have a choice. I can get pissed off or I can flat ignore it and get on with my life. I choose the latter. Oh, like everybody else, I have to put up with annoyances like taxes and stupid rules and regulations meant to control the masses, but I’ve also come to the conclusion that if everybody ignored the stupid rules we could put petty bureaucrats out of business. I mean, even if they knew all the stupid rules and regulations that are on the books, they don’t have enough cops, courts, and judges to enforce them. Even if they did, they don’t have enough jail space for everybody. So, why not just hit the flush handle on that potty every now and then?

Yep, I’m going to leave the anger, depression and elation, depending on which candidate wins, to their rabid supporters. Personally, I don’t think it will make a nickel’s worth of difference who gets elected. Eventually this behemoth we call government will collapse of its own weight and we can start all over again. I doubt I’ll be around for that, so all y’all who will, enjoy the ride. In the meantime, I plan on doing a little fishing, a little writing, a little traveling, a little woodworking, and a little gardening. You know, the important stuff in life. I suspect a lot of folks will do something similar... after all, politics really doesn’t govern your life unless you let it. So if you’re planning on hitting me with your ecstasy over your winning candidate or your agony over the defeated one, I have just one thing to say... Oh whoop-de-do.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Square Peg - Bongo Bob

The Square Peg - Bongo Bob
© S. Bradley Stoner

Well, it’s been quite a week so far, with Halloween and all... and there are still three days to go, so it still could get real interesting. Out for my daily walk and on my way home this morning, I saw Bob sitting in an easy chair with his leg propped up out in his garage, watching some reality show on TV. Heck, I didn’t even know they had reality shows on at this hour. You learn something new every day. Oh, the wonders of cable and satellite TV. Now I was planning on just waving at Bob and bopping on my way. No such luck. As I drew abreast of his driveway, Bob hailed me from his throne.

“Yo, Brad! Come up and visit for a spell,” he hollered. It sounded like a mix of Jersey and Duck Dynasty.

I sighed. I really wanted to head home, but I was raised not to be overly rude, so I stopped, turned, and trudged up his driveway. “How’s the leg, Bob?”

“Better. Doesn’t bother me too much what with the pain killers the Doc got me.” Bob reached for a beer. “Want one?”

“It’s a little early for me. Should you be drinking alcohol with those pain killers?” I asked.

Bob looked hurt. “It’s just beer. It’s not like it’s hard liquor. Besides, I’m not drivin’ or operatin’ heavy machinery.”

‘Thank God,” I thought to myself. “Why are you out in the garage? Wouldn’t you be more comfortable in the house? It’s going to get damp later today.”

Bob picked up a remote. “I’ll just shut the garage door. ‘sides, it’s kinda nice out right now.”

I knew Bob. The garage and big screen TV were pretty much reserved for sports nights when he had his buddies over. The rest of the time, things were shifted so his wife could park her car in there. “You get booted out of the house?” I inquired.

“Kind of,” Bob admitted. “Our cousin is crashed on the couch and I couldn’t make any noise.”

About that time, a lanky, disheveled nineteen or twenty something kid wandered out in t-shirt, shorts, and sandals, yawning and scratching his butt. How’s that for a pretty picture?

Bob glanced up. “Well praise the Lord! The dead are risen! Brad, meet Bob.”

Oh no... not another one!

“I know what yer thinkin’,” Bob said, “and stop it. He’s family.”

I nodded. “I can tell.”

Young Bob grunted and grabbed a beer out of the cooler before flopping down on the other easy chair.

“So, what brings you to Texas? “ I asked innocently.

“Nowhere else to be.”

That was terse. “How long are you going to be here?”

“Hard to tell.” He took a long pull on the beer, let out a loud belch, and tried to smooth the rat’s nest on his head.

Then it hit me. “Are you Sylvester’s boy?”

“Nobody calls Slick ‘Sylvester.’ and who you callin’ boy?” he growled.

“Mind yer manners,” Bob shot at him.

“Mind yer own,” the kid shot back.

Bob shrugged and groaned, “He really got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”

Young Bob returned, “Like that’s possible on a couch... there’s only one side to get up from.”

I could tell this was going to go downhill if it continued. “So, what do you do?” I asked the lad.

“I’m a percussionist.”

That was really the first spark of life I’d noticed in the kid. “Ah, the drums...”

“Not persactly,” he managed between gulps.

“Tympani?” I asked hopefully.

He screwed up his face and shook his head ‘no’ vehemently. “Garbage cans.”

I blinked. “Garbage cans?”

“Yeah... and bongos.”

“Don’t say it,” Bob said.

But you know I did, don’t you? Yep... “Oh, that works. Bingo Bob and Bongo Bob.”

“Get out.”

“I thought you’d never ask!”