Saturday, December 26, 2009

Be-Bopping Baby Boomers

I'm now listening to and enjoying music never intended for people my age. You know the drill. We're supposed to hate the crap young people listen to today. Isn't that the way it's always been?

Even with an MP3 player I still listen to the radio. For most of the last twelve years I've bounced between two local radio stations, mostly for weather and traffic information. Lately I'm turning the dial to a third option that provides neither weather nor traffic. The newest entry in the Athens radio market features 50 minutes of decidedly dance-oriented current hits every hour.

I love it! My favorite song right now is Tik Tok by Ke$ha. As they used to say on American Bandstand--it's got catchy lyrics, a great beat and is easy to dance to--I give it a 10. I'm a huge fan of Lady GaGa. I'm also big on Britney's new song (3), a catchy tune by Pitbull (I Know You Want Me) and half a dozen others on the play list.

As a middle-aged man, I'm supposed to hate this music. Instead, I'm dancing in my seat at traffic lights. My head is bobbing and nodding to the beat as I sing my own version of the lyrics. I'm sure it's quite a sight to those on the road around me.

But that's not the worst of it. In the privacy of my bathroom I dance with reckless abandon every morning. I'm dusting off and updating dance moves I haven't used since the 80s. If I could just find something Gaga-inspired to wear, I'd go out clubbing to show off all my new moves.

I'd do it, I swear I would...if I could only stay awake late enough to go clubbing. It's probably just as well. There isn't a club in the world ready for the dancing fool that is...

The Crotchety Old Man.


Friday, December 25, 2009

The Bounty of Christmas Past

Growing up, Christmas was the one day of the year you could count on our family being home. Any other day we could be anywhere. But Christmas we were home.

Mom's presents were wrapped and under the tree well before Christmas, with gifts from Santa securely hidden nearby. Dad usually did most of his shopping in the days before Christmas Eve. He'd come home, drag bags down the back steps and spend the rest of the day wrapping presents in the basement.

I got everybody up Christmas morning. Well, not directly. But I did coerce my sister into asking my parents if we could get up. Most of the time it was still too early. We'd go back to bed and ask again 15 minutes later. I did sleep until 7 one year, but was in my 20s at the time.

Santa artfully arranged gifts for me and my sister on either side of the tree. Everything was fully assembled and ready for action. When we were little the displays rivaled anything seen in department store windows. To my knowledge, no pictures were ever taken.

After gifts from Santa had been admired it was time to open the rest of the presents. The shear volume made taking turns impractical. Instead, we all tore in with abandon. It was all over in 30-minutes or less.

Then we had a couple of hours to enjoy the Christmas bounty before guests arrived for dinner. You never put stuff up because everyone coming over wanted to see the gifts. This practice started when we were young and continued out of habit well beyond the time anyone cared what we got.

By the time guests arrived we were cleaned up, wearing new clothes and reeking of new soaps, shampoos and colognes. Grannie and some of our relatives from Dad's side of the family hit our house for early dinner, and my Aunt Doris's house for a late dinner. Mom's family tended to drop by after dinner for an evening of the latest board games.

Dinner was always the same, give or take a side. Turkey, country ham, dressing, mashed potatoes, scalloped oysters, sweet potatoes, green beans, corn pudding, gravy, Waldorf salad, cranberry sauce, and brown-n-serve rolls. Grannie usually brought chocolate meringue pies and tons of her homemade candy and fudge.

After dinner we spent the day playing with new toys and games. Board games were a constant, with favorites changing as we got older and as new games came along. Sometimes somebody even took the time to read the rules, but mostly we just made it up as we went along. Good times were had by all.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Screening Facebook Status Updates and Stuff

My addiction to Facebook continues. The inner me requires that I read each and every status post of every one of my 250+ friends. It's beyond exhausting.

Some of you thanked me for tips about hiding applications like Farmville, Yoville and Mafia Wars in an earlier posts. Eliminating all the extraneous crap still leaves an overwhelming volume of posts to read. More drastic measures were needed.

For the most part, I'm interested. I enjoy seeing pictures of my friends' parents, kids, grandkids and pets even if we're unlikely to ever meet. I enjoy reading status updates and look forward to the next post for most of my Facebook friends.

Most, but not all. Repeatedly post comments, links, and/or pictures that offend or annoy me and sooner or later I'm going to click "hide". Here are a few of the reasons I hide friends on Facebook:

* Your profile picture is a bird. I'm not talking the feathery kind, either. While the obscene gesture may be fine for your friends, it's not appropriate for mine. Click.

* You posted a crude link, comment or photo. I'm all about some naughty. But nasty is inappropriate. Click.

* You post the results of quizzes about your sex life or sex organs. I don't care and suspect your friends don't either. I'd also guess you haven't had sex in ages. Still waters run deep. Click.

* You try to advance your absurd political agenda. I'm all for freedom of speech. I've even had some great debates with FB friends with views different from my own. But start talking about missing birth certificates or the intellectual attributes of Sarah Palin and I'm done. Click.

* You think I rely on you for information about something other than you, your family and your local sports teams. I don't. Click.

* You won't shut up about your faith. Yeah I're shouting from the rooftops. I'm more impressed with a quiet faith. All that noise gets on my nerves. Click.

No doubt, some of my friends have hidden my posts, too. I'd guess it's because there are too many of them and/or they're tired of hearing about our silly little dogs. Oh well. You can't please everyone. Trying is what keeps me...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Late-Blooming Dog Lover

If you are born one way or the other, I'm pretty sure I was meant to be a dog lover. As with most things it took me a while to figure this out. Allow me to explain.

I had tropical fish and hamsters growing up. I would have enjoyed both more had they not been banished to the darkest corner of the basement. The fish were interesting, and I've had aquariums on and off ever since. Hamsters were too prone to escape, and in the end, not all that cuddly and more than a little smelly.

Soon after I moved out I wanted a dog of my own. But my third floor apartment and the fact pets were prohibited made dog ownership problematic. A coworker had kittens, so I got a cat. In fact over the next 15 or 20 years I got several cats: Damien, Mehitabel, Penelope, Damien II (The Sequel), and Sadie. All had their good points but Penelope was the best of the bunch.

Now we have little chihuahuas, Tico (15 months/7 pounds) and Toodles (8 months/4 pounds). They are infinitely more demanding than any of the pets I've had before. But worth it.

Tico is a sweet, well-behaved little dog and a very positive role model for his younger half-sister. He's very friendly and gets along with most dogs and all people. He's also smart. He knows all his toys by name and is quick to learn new tricks.

Toodles gets sweeter all the time. She's a talker with an extensive variety of sounds. She can express frustration a dozen different ways. She won't let me out of her sight, and stays at my feet, by my side or in my lap as much as possible. I'd take her with me everywhere if I could get by with it.

The two of them together are a constant source of entertainment. They wrestle, play keep away, fetch and tug of war, and chase each other in mad circles around the house. Whatever the game they follow a set of complex rules only they understand. Adorable.

Never say never, but I really don't see me ever getting another cat. The dogs wouldn't approve. And I'm pretty sure I'll always have a dog. Why wouldn't I? I'm a born dog lover and...

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, December 11, 2009

I Heart Wendy Williams

I think I'm falling in love with Wendy Williams. She's beautiful, chocked full of common sense and happy to share her opinion on any and all topics. She's like crack. One time and I was hooked.

She's been on the radio for a long time. I didn't notice her until I caught her new television talk show. The Wendy Williams Show originates on BET but appears on lots of different stations. If you haven't seen the show, you really need to check her out.

Wendy looks like a cross between Rupaul and Barbie. She's 5'11" in stocking feet (size 11) and is rarely out of five inch heels. Picture a a tall, African-American Dolly Parton with butt-length hair instead of Dolly's signature bouffant.

Wendy's breasts deserve a paragraph of their own. They are magnificent! We're talking a very perky 40DD. She loves to wear tight-fitting dresses to emphasize her 40-30-40 figure. Her girls leap out at you like barely contained basketballs. Kim from Real Housewives of Atlanta looks flat-chested next to Wendy.

Wendy makes a grand entrance at the start of every show. You can tell by her beaming face she is absolutely thrilled to have an audience. People send in videos of little girls in long, straight wigs imitating Wendy's tag line and theme song: How YOU doing?

The addictive factor is Wendy's audacity. Whether gossiping about celebrities in her Hot Topics segment, chatting up her guests, or answering audience questions, Wendy tells it like it is. She'll say anything. She makes me laugh. That's quite a feat considering I am...

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Last Square....

We're used to seeing sizes shrink so the producer can avoid a price increase. A pound of coffee becomes 13 ounces, a box contains a few ounces less cereal than before, and a half-gallon of ice cream is now only 1 1/2 quarts.

The price stays the same, but we're getting less for our money. Producers figure we don't mind paying more per pound (or ounce or whatever) as long as we don't have to pay more at the cash register. Makes sense. Or maybe they think we won't notice.

As a man of a certain age I've adjusted to countless of these petty little changes with little more than a grunt and a shake of the head. Yeah, shrinking packages are annoying. They don't, however, change the quality or the experience. Coffee, ice cream, and cereal taste exactly the same as before.

But now they have gone too far. Have you bought toilet paper lately? The makers of the brand we have loyally purchased for ages trimmed half an inch from the width of every roll. I know a half inch doesn't sound like much. And with most things it's not. But with this particular product, fractions of an inch matter.

This little cost-saving measure has significantly changed my experience with this product. I've lost confidence. Lack of confidence means we're spinning through twice as many rolls as before. Am I alone???

Give me the option to pay more for width--a feature I have perhaps taken for granted my entire life. Had I known this change was coming, I would have filled our entire garage with the old wide rolls. I would have, or my name isn't...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Gardening on a Budget

I wonder if there is such a thing as a frugal flower gardener. I'm thinking no, because flower gardening in and of itself is a rather frivolous activity. Frivolity is verboten among the frugal. Hence, the idea of a frugal flower gardener is an oxymoron.

On the continuum between wants and needs, flower gardening comes down somewhere much closer to a want than a need. You can debate this all you want. But when it comes down to food, flowers, or something for your flower garden, you better pick food or the state will take your kids. Honest.

Some of you will suggest the answer is a garden budget. I laugh at your garden budget! How does one budget art? My suburban landscape was a blank canvas when I moved here. After more more than a decade of additions, deletions, and countless edits the garden has become a work of art. I could never allow a lack of resources to limit my artistic vision.

The limit has been my artistic vision, or lack thereof. Experts want you to plan your garden and gradually implement your plan over several years. My style is a lot and experimental. I see something I like, buy it, find a place for it, and hope for the best. If it doesn't work, I'll move it. A flower garden evolves.

Every gardener I know is prone to excess and likely to be generous with more vigorous selections. A longtime gardening friend orders enough perennials from various catalogs every year to completely fill her garden two or three times. Another prowls small nurseries throughout northeast Georgia in search of rare and unusual plants--and anything else that's too nice to pass up. I like shopping for bargains at big box garden centers--Lowe's, Home Depot, Walmart, KMart. I'll find a place for it...somewhere.

We wouldn't be gardeners if we didn't pick up a few things at the annual sales conducted by organizations like the State Arboretum of Georgia and the UGA Horticulture Club. It wouldn't be fall without a few more packages of spring-flowering bulbs--you know--just to replace those eaten by squirrels and chipmunks. Come summer we'll need more annuals and a couple of big pots to brighten things up.

My garden spending is too often penny-wise, pound foolish. I will spend $15 for a flat of annuals without a second thought. In fact, I routinely buy 6 to 12 flats of annuals every spring and every fall. I love the instant color and the ability to change things up every year.

Getting me to spend the same amount for a shrub or tree is a different story. I won't do it. Why? Because adding trees or shrubs requires a lot more thought. I'd have to research the right plant for the spot, consider all the various cultivars and forms to identify the desired variety and then search the Internet to find THE ONE. If I choose poorly, well, it's a permanent decision!

That's right. I will spend $75 for annual flowers certain to die before the end of the year before I'll spend $15 for a more permanent plant. Think I'm crazy? Shows what you know about art!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Eye Opening

Yesterday we watched Sacha Baron Cohen's latest satire, Bruno. I know I'm late to the table on this one. Frankly nothing I'd seen or heard about this movie made me want to see it.

Terri Gross's interview with Sacha on NPR's Fresh Air changed my mind. Hearing all the behind-the-scenes drama around the making of the movie piqued my interest. Sacha explained the need for an over-the-top character who embodied what people fear most about gay people. I'd like to catch this excellent interview again now that I've seen the movie.

To say Bruno is offensive is an understatement of epic proportions. Had I not heard the Fresh Air interview, I might not have gotten past frequent graphic depictions of often unimaginable sex acts. But I did. It wasn't always easy, and I'm hardly a prude. Close your eyes and plug your ears if you must, but stick it out.  In the end it's really not about the sex.  It's about pure unadulterated hate and ignorance.

Sacha Baron Cohen is either very brave or very foolish. I've been out for more than 30 years. I have never come close to being as outrageous as the Bruno character in no small part because I don't like getting beat up. For the same reason I've avoided the situations Bruno faces in the movie. As a resident of the Deep South, I was encouraged by how far Bruno had to go to get the Alabama hunters to react. Showing up naked at someone's tent in the middle of the night is just asking for trouble.

Bruno made me think about my own experience in a different way. It won't, however, change my behavior. I will continue to carefully avoid commenting on any straight man's appearance (don't you look nice today!) unless I have known him for a very long time. You can't be too careful.

I'll continue to be very careful about commenting on photos people post of their male children (isn't he cute!). I've learned the hard way how quickly people can jump to all the wrong conclusions. Ever had someone seriously call you a child molester? I had to leave the house when my ex had his two boys over because his ex-wife was afraid of what I would do to them.

My biggest complaint about Bruno? The people who should see it, won't. If per chance they do, they won't get it. If you need to hit people with a sledgehammer to get their attention, you'll need to spell out exactly what you want them to know once you do. To me, without the Fresh Air interview that's where Bruno fails. 

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Vandals Trash Lawn & Garden

Last weekend someone vandalized my lawn and garden. I first noticed when I picked up the newspaper early Saturday morning. It looked like a rabbit or something had run circles in the dew-wet grass.

The same pattern was present Sunday morning. I didn't know what to think. After the dogs started rubbing in it I thought maybe it was some kind of animal musk.

While mowing later that day I kept smelling Round-Up. If you've ever used it you know it has a distinct odor. I also remembered noticing last year that dew looks different on grass sprayed with Round-Up.

By Wednesday the pattern in the dew had morphed into a pattern of dead grass. Unfortunately portions of the lawn were not the only casualties. The vandals also sprayed a half-dozen newly planted roses. They may also have a crepe myrtle, a deciduous magnolia, and a cleyera. The latter is evergreen so we'll know in a few weeks. I won't know about the other two until next spring.

I called the police who said they'd keep an eye out. When I mentioned it to my neighbor across the street, she said someone had dumped a box of nails in the street at the end of her driveway a few weeks earlier. She and her husband suspected kids living at the other end of our street.

When I shared this information with my partner he said he thought the kids were prime suspects. They have a yard sale almost every weekend which includes gallons of Round-Up and boxes of nails. We believe we were targeted because our houses are at the end of a cul de sac. You can see headlights coming in plenty of time to run away and hide.

The police have increased patrols. I hope to flag one down next time to tell them about our theory. I thought about saying something to the parents myself. However, with his shaved head and tattoos, the father doesn't strike me as the type to appreciate the information. Then they really would target us.

At first I was mad. Now more than anything else I'm hurt and sad.

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Planning for Technological Change--My Way

My first computer came with two 5-inch floppy drives. You put the software in the A drive and saved your work in the B drive. The monitor had green print on a black screen. We used Wordstar, PC File, and a very simple in-house e-mail system. I used a dot matrix printer for drafts and switched over to an IBM Selectric typewriter for letter-quality documents. Very cool.

In a pattern repeated many times since, about the time I got comfortable with the set up everything changed. The new computer included a hard drive, a drive for 3-inch disks, and a drive for the already obsolete 5-inch floppies The ability to install programs on the hard drive was a big improvement over the old two-drive systems. It was also the last time I had a clue about how to use my computer.

We didn't have computer support staff back then. The "Dummy" books didn't exist either. Everything came with a thick manual written by engineers who probably grew up speaking a language other than English. Over time the manuals did get better, but by then everyone had given up trying to read them. One day the manuals just disappeared, along with free telephone help lines.

For a while I was the guy everyone came to for help with computer issues. Now I know they came to me because I was the youngest person in the office. I, too, eventually turned 30 and was suddenly just as helpless as everybody else.

More than my age, I blame Windows with its dazzling array of capabilities and its allegedly user-friendly interface. Prior to Windows, I knew exactly what my computer could do and how to do it--usually with DOS commands. After Windows came out, we spent hours and hours with control panels and settings struggling valiantly to do simple things as our PCs crashed around us.

It wasn't all bad. Windows did come with a lot of new programs, including a few you might actually use. Some were revolutionary. Offices across the country were forever changed by Hearts, Solitaire and Mine Sweeper.

Things are a lot more sophisticated now. With the change we've seen in the last 30 years, imagine what we might see 10 and 20 years from now. The greatest challenge for our generation? We're going to need to keep someone 20 to 25 years old nearby for the rest of our lives. Otherwise, we'll be stuck with our own version of the VCR at our parents' house that blinks 12:00 all the time.

It's enough to make anyone...

The Crotchety Old Man

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Georgia On My Mind

Fall has been uncommonly beautiful in Athens this year. More than 23 inches of rain since September and unseasonably mild weather are likely causes. You won't hear me complaining.

Until I moved to Athens I had no idea how much I hated cold weather. The hot and humid summers take some getting used to, but I settled in to the mild winters right away. Days like today are not unusual. If the sun is out, even in January and February we can see highs in the 60s and into the 70s. I'll take that over snow any time.

Having grown up in Kentucky, ordinary sights around Georgia are quite exotic to me. I've come to love the sight of mist rising through tall pecan orchards in the early morning light, a confederate rose in bloom (right) and the sun setting over acres of ready-to-harvest cotton. I doubt I'd miss the kudzu, but I would certainly miss the sight and smell of out-of-control wisteria in bloom.

Azaleas struggled to survive in Lexington, but I have always loved them. Here they are amazing. Some folks consider them too common and ordinary for home landscapes. Not me. I add a few more every year. I love the clear colors, the gracefully mounding habit, and the way the flowers blanket the plants. Few plants compare with a mature azalea in full bloom.

Since moving to Georgia I've come to love camellias. There's something extra special about an evergreen that, depending on the variety, blooms from late October through April. I especially like the way petals fall from spent blooms to look like puddles around the base of the plant (left). I'd miss that.

Fragrances permeate the air here almost year round. Some are intense. We had Bradford Pear trees in Kentucky, but I don't recall them stinking things up like they do here. The scent of gardenias, magnolias, jasmine, wisteria and many others settle over neighborhoods like a cloud. I can't imagine fall without tea olives.

No doubt these things are common throughout the Deep South and elsewhere in the world. Perhaps so. But it wouldn't be the same.  Without them I suspect I'd be even more...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Uncle Charles

Everyone will tell you Uncle Charles was Grannie's favorite. Whether because he was her first born, the first of her children to leave Lexington or something else was never clear. Whatever the reason, Grannie adored him.

Dad's family doesn't talk much about the past. Times were hard. Today they laugh about divvying up fried chicken at dinner time. My grandfather and Uncle Charles got a breast, the older siblings snagged the thighs and legs and the youngest siblings fought over the neck and wings. I don't think anyone held it against him. In fact, next to his many nieces and nephews, I'd say my aunts and uncles were among his most ardent admirers.

Uncle Charles was a tall, tan, relatively athletic guy with a booming voice and a larger-than-life presence. He made entrances and tended to maintain the attention of everyone in the room. His most striking feature was the family nose. It was going to be his most striking feature anyway, but the fact it had been broken once or twice sealed the deal.

Despite his humble roots, he had an eye for quality and an appreciation for the finer things. Long before the term came into common usage, Uncle Charles was a metrosexual. He wore gorgeous clothes, permed his hair, and enjoyed manicures, pedicures and designer fragrances. One of my most treasured possessions is a full-length 100 percent wool topcoat from Angelucci and Ringo he wore in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Uncle Charles moved to Ontario (outside of Los Angeles) with his first wife, Sherry, before or shortly after I was born. I was maybe five the last time I saw her. Accurate or not, in my memory she looked like a 60's pin-up girl--a beautiful, buxom platinum blonde--like Marilyn Monroe, with the volume turned way up. She left him for the next door neighbor a few years later. I never heard him talk about it.

A visit from Uncle Charles was a big event. He brought B.J., his black standard poodle with him when I was little. I'm not sure if he was the first dog I ever met, but he's the first I can remember. It was my job to take care of B.J. while Uncle Charles visited friends. B.J. stayed at our house and slept in the bed with me until Uncle Charles picked him up late that night. He made me feel special--like it was all about me, rather than simply convenient for him.

Later he drove all the way from Ontario to Lexington so we could meet Judy, his new wife. She taught English at the school where Uncle Charles coached basketball. Judy wore wigs, make-up and contact lenses. That made her exotic in the extreme to a family more accustomed to women with sensible shoes, beauty school perms and five o'clock shadows. She became a part of the family with that first visit.

The summer of my 13th year Uncle Charles flew me out all by myself to Ontario for a two-week visit. It was incredible. I ended up staying two extra weeks. We went to Disneyland, Knotts Berry Farm, and Huntington Library. We checked out the Hollywood sign, drove by the homes of movie stars, watched movies (Ben and Nicholas & Alexandra), walked on the beach, and hiked in the mountains. I had Chinese, Basque and Mexican foods for the first time. It was the very best of the many wonderful summers of my youth.

Uncle Charles hosted a Kentucky Derby Party for a number of years. On more than one occasion the event made the social page of the local paper. In the write-ups Uncle Charles was referred to in reverential tones as "The Colonel". He did serve in the military as I recall, but not any longer than required and certainly not long enough to advance to the rank of Colonel. He was, however, a Kentucky Colonel--the highest honor awarded by the Commonwealth of Kentucky in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to the community, state or the nation.

Uncle Charles had more friends than anyone I know. He stayed close to his Lexington friends until he died--before Facebook, e-mail, or cheap long distance telephone calls made staying in touch so easy. He was active in the community, made a difference for countless students and as far as I know, was genuinely liked by everyone he ever met. I'm so very glad to have known him.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Back in My Swivel Chair

After six weeks of working from home, today I returned to my newly renovated office. They painted, replaced the carpet, installed new light fixtures and redid the ceiling tiles. Everything looks a lot brighter. The absence of blinds from the two, 8 foot by 3 foot windows is only partially responsible for the extra light.

I pile-shifted for weeks in preparation for the renovation. I'm fortunate to have quite a bit of storage space in my office. Even so, I've always had to use some of the shared storage space around our building. I managed to get all my stuff neatly arranged in the big cabinets in my office for the first time ever. The newly organized storage cabinets looked so nice I had to show them off to selected, equally well-organized coworkers.

Thanks to the Internet it is no longer necessary to keep about two-thirds of the information once stored in my file cabinets. I cleaned out several drawers entirely, significantly thinned several more, and will likely pare down the rest as time permits between now and the holiday break. I'm not paper-less, but I need much less of it than was the case a decade ago.

The information from my old Rolodex is now on the computer. If not, it's fast and easy to look up phone numbers, mailing addresses or e-mail addresses online. The big stack of directories I used to keep by my phone is gone, too.

I'm not sure why I needed about a hundred pens, pencils, markers and highlighters, but I had them in my desk, along with thousands of paper clips, binder clips, rubber bands and staples. Dozens of "thank you for speaking at our conference" water bottles, staplers, flashlights and other keepsakes with assorted and sundry logos once artfully arranged on bookcase shelves and my desk top are gone, too. How many cubes of post-it notes do you really need?

Mountains of old files, directories and assorted trash accumulated over more than a decade found its way to the recycling bin or dumpster. Most of my coworkers cleared out as much or more. The weight load on our floor has been significantly reduced from end-to-end as a result.

In academia you collect awards and titles the way a boy scout collects merit badges. Instead of a sash across your chest, you arrange plaques, certificates, and photos of you with important people on one wall. Ideally, reporters photograph you standing in front of your vanity wall so everyone sees how important you are. In the last ten years my collection has spilled on to other walls. It's hard to tell at a glance how important I am. The renovation was just the excuse I needed for a vanity wall make-over.

Guess in the end the positives from the renovation outweigh the negatives. It's good to be back in my old swivel chair. And I'll look a lot better in it when my vanity wall goes back up. Until then, you can call me...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sure Signs You Are Getting Older...

You get up with the chickens because you are wide awake anyway--even on weekends and days off.

You can't remember the last time you slept through the night without having to get up to pee. 

Unless you have no choice, you won't leave the house in the morning until you have finished all your business.  

Moments before the start of the Stiletto Race you agreed to run in to raise money for charity, you suddenly realize you can't remember the last time you ran anywhere, much less in heels.

You are sore in places you didn't know you had for nearly a week after running for two minutes in a Stiletto Race for charity. 

You have enough doctors to see a different one every day for a week or more. 

You have a sweatshirt, pair of jeans and/or towels older than some of your coworkers.

You have accepted it's just not appropriate to wear clothes you find in the young men's department anywhere for any reason. 

You no longer have much choice about what to do with your hair.

You've discovered elastic waistbands in dress pants.

You can't remember the last time you wore pants that didn't have elastic in the waistband.

You know just the right viewing angle in the mirror to continue pretending your body hasn't changed much since you were 20.
You no longer read certain comic strips because the print is just too small to see.

You can't read text this size without your glasses no matter how far you hold it from your face.

You go to the grocery store wearing an outfit you wouldn't have been caught dead in 20 years ago. 

You're totally pissed because they quit making your favorite (fill in the blank).

You have to get someone younger to show you how to work practically everything. 

Monday, October 26, 2009


Grannie was my only grandparent. Mom's parents died before I was born. I vaguely recall Grandpa Buck, a widower and farm laborer who married Grannie in no small part to help raise his two children (now deceased). They raised eight more kids (all still living but one) for a total of ten. He was really old when I was born and died a few years later.

To say that Grannie was a hard worker is a gross understatement. She planted, tended, and harvested a big vegetable garden every summer. She mowed her own yard, kept her house spotless, and painted every fall up to the year she died (at 86). She walked two blocks to the Kroger store for any groceries she needed. One year she got a pet rabbit. Or at least, I thought it was a pet... until she fried him up for supper one night.

Grannie always looked the same. She got her hair permed up at the beauty school once a month and often wore a hairnet. Her homemade dresses had seams removed in strategic locations, for ventilation or comfort. Her navy blue boat shoes were similarly adapted. She was never without hose, usually knotted tightly just above the knee, with sometimes huge runs here and there.

My earliest memories are of big family dinners prepared by Grannie at the house she lived in until she died. The grown-ups ate in the dining room, and the kids at a table in the kitchen. The menu was almost always the same: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, sliced tomatoes, corn, yeast rolls, and dessert. It was all wonderful and most of it fresh from her garden.

Dessert could be chocolate meringue pie, jam or applesauce cake with caramel icing, or fried apple pies. Around the holidays she made peanut butter pinwheels, fudge, divinity and turtles. When you got to Grannie's house you ran straight to the kitchen and looked on the little table next to the stove to see what was for dessert. When we were older she would hide dessert on the dresser in the back bedroom and act like she didn't make any. Nobody ever believed her.

Grannie put up a lot of stuff herself. She was always canning something. She made jams, jellies, preserves, pickles, and my favorite of all, green tomato catsup. She used whatever kind of jar she could put her hands on, and often sealed them with wax.  Between the lard in everything she made and her home canning techniques, it's a wonder she didn't kill us all.

I stopped to see Grannie on my way home from work when I worked and lived near campus. She would be sitting on the glider on her big front porch reading the afternoon newspaper and keeping an eye on things in the neighborhood. She took plates of food to every little old man on her street and to anyone within walking distance who was sick or otherwise in need of a hot meal. She knew everything about everyone.

Any time I stopped by she'd ask if I was hungry. Most of the time the answer was yes. In moments she could produce a meal seemingly from thin air you'd have to see to believe--without a microwave. Other than a spoiled turkey one Christmas, I can't recall a single thing she ever cooked that wasn't absolutely delicious.

Grannie never missed a funeral no matter how remote her connection to the deceased. She wore her prettiest new suit, run-less hose, sensible shoes and a hat and perched herself somewhere in the front few rows at the funeral home or church. She sat the same way she sat in the glider on her front porch--so she could see everything going on in any direction around her. She didn't miss a thing.

It didn't take long to wear out your welcome at Grannies. She was happy to see you come, and just as happy to see you go. Once she found out you were ok and any news you had to share, other people needed her attention. After a half hour or so, she'd run you out the door.

What I wouldn't give for another piece of her fried chicken, a jar of her green tomato catsup, a slice of her chocolate meringue pie, or a tin of her homemade candy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Rainy Season

After several years of drought, we had enough rain this spring for things to really start looking up. As lakes and reservoirs began to refill, watering restrictions were lifted and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. By May things looked so good the Governor proclaimed the drought was over.

Ending a drought is apparently not up to the Governor. The rain stopped. June, July, August and into September we barely had enough rain to keep the grass alive. This picture was taken in July.

Since the middle of September we've had several big and small rain events. We had more than five inches of rain in our gauge, twice. Instead of being several inches below normal precipitation for the year, we're now more than four inches above with as much as two more inches of rain forecast for this weekend.

Rain fell steadily over several days the first time. Everything was so dry I saw very little ponding anywhere. When another big rain came just a few days later, the water didn't have anywhere to go. My entire back yard filled up. These are pictures of the area shown above during the second big rain.


We needed the rain. All the lakes and reservoirs are now at full pool for the first time in several years. The water table is up enough for basements to flood again. The ground is thoroughly soaked, and with cooler temperatures and fairly frequent showers has stayed that way for weeks.

It's been a great time to move plants around in the garden. Elephant ears given up for dead long ago have sprung up. A castor bean plant returned from seed. That tells me the ground has not been this damp for at least five years when I last had castor beans in the garden.

I'm not going to call a press conference to announce it. But I think it's safe to say the drought is over. And I'm thinking maybe God is a Democrat with a sense of humor...

The Crotchety Old Man   

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Born to Write

I started writing almost before I could talk. Mom says I would fill page after page with uniform little circles in neat rows. I vaguely recall drawing the circles and suspect I was writing. Having kept a journal for most of my life I know the kinds of things I write about. Would love to know now what I had to say then.

Mrs. Scully, my ninth grade English teacher, was the first person I remember commenting about my writing. She gave me an A on a term paper that was more than a few pages short of the required minimum because it was well-written and complete. This high praise is one of the few things I remember about junior high.

In high school English classes we often picked our assignment from several options. Given the choice I always went with the creative option. I wrote a Canterbury Tale in faux Middle-English dialect about bomb scares at our school.  Mrs. Highland read it to our class and to students in her Literary Tempers class for years afterward.  It was the first time my writing entertained others that I can recall.

The professor of a college creative writing course selected one of my stories as the best of the semester. She didn't say who wrote it, just started reading it to the class.  It was a tall tale loosely based on a real disagreement between the lead dancers in the dream ballet sequence of a high school presentation of the musical Oklahoma!  I was horrified!  I remember turning deep red and sinking down into my seat.  But everyone laughed and in the end, applauded.  Re-enforcement.

I enjoy the physical act of writing. I'm fastidious about penmanship, word choice, spelling, punctuation, and grammar. My aunt, a retired high school English teacher, says my letters to her are beautifully written and technically perfect.  Growing up I begged her to read my letters with red pen in hand and send them back to me.  To her credit she never did!

Technical writing is part of my job.  Practice makes perfect.  Do the same thing for a couple of decades and you can become quite good at it.  Creativity creeps in now and then, but for the most part this stuff is dry and straightforward.  Even so, my colleagues tell me I write very well.

About thirteen months ago I started this blog.  Since then I've published 139 posts on numerous and sundry topics.  Some are good, some are bad, and some are just ugly. I learned a lot about blogging and a lot about my strengths and weaknesses as a writer. 

Initially I was very careful to protect my identity.  Without a clear identity for The Crotchety Old Man, the blog never attracted much of a following.  I did get a few hits from posting to other blogs and random hits from google searches.  Few if any check back.  You regular readers knew me before there was ever a blog.

The Adventures of Tico and Toodles incorporates everything I've learned. It's focused, has a point of view, and comes from my own observations and experiences.  The only marketing has been occasional postings on Facebook and word of mouth.  People love it and they come back for more.  I'm having a blast with it, too.

There will be some changes to this blog.  I'm going to try to stick to what I know which should really cut down on political rants.  One thing for sure, as long as things piss me off I will remain...

The Crotchety Old Man 

Friday, October 9, 2009

Home-Grown Tomatoes

Everyone knows there is nothing like a home-grown tomato. When I was a kid we used to walk through Uncle Don's tomato patch on hot sunny days with a salt shaker eating tomatoes off the vine. Yum! You don't get that kind of flavor from store-bought tomatoes. I'll do without before I'll eat one of those hard, tasteless things.

Practically everyone I knew grew tomatoes back in Kentucky. Bragging rights went to the person with the first vine-ripened tomato of the season and anyone with ripe tomatoes for the Fourth of July. By August the problem was finding somebody who didn't already have tomatoes on every counter-top in the kitchen to take your surplus.

You would think with the heat and longer growing season that tomatoes would be easier to grow in Georgia than they are in Kentucky. Not for me. I did have a decent crop the first year or two I was here. One thing or another has foiled any and all attempts to grow my own tomatoes ever since.

Disease wiped out the crop one year. Tomato plants are highly susceptible to everything but swine flu. For best results I read you need to start your own plants from seed. I did. We had gorgeous tomato plants...tall, lush, healthy plants covered with flowers...until the deer munched every single one down to the ground.

After that we had a drought. As the drought intensified the city ordered watering restrictions and finally a total ban on outdoor watering. Ever try growing tomatoes without water? The universe was telling me to quit. So I did, certain I could rely on the kindness of neighbors and coworkers to provide me with at least a few home-grown tomatoes every summer.

None of my neighbors grow tomatoes or any kind of vegetables for that matter. Very few of my coworkers grow tomatoes. If they do everyone they know wants any extras they have. I've begged, told sad stories about my tomato-free existence, and worked my big, sad, puppy-dog brown eyes for all they are worth to no avail.

This year I found the Farmer's Market. When I was a kid you went to the Farmer's Market to get super fresh produce for half of what you'd pay at the grocery store. Now you pay twice as much for vegetables grown organically on sustainable, boutique farms run by new-age yuppies and hippies.

After paying $5 per pound for admittedly delicious tomatoes for several weeks, the presence of mature tomato plants in pots at my local garden center in August got my attention. At $15 I only needed to get a few tomatoes to make it a better deal than the $5 per pound I was paying at the Farmer's Market. Besides, everything tastes better when you grow it yourself. So I bought one.

Re-potted it into a bigger pot ($5 more) with nice dirt ($3) and slow-release fertilizer (came free in the mail) and discovered white flies. Sprayed the plant with the crap that kills white flies ($15). Watered it in between the torrential rains we had in September. The water isn't free, but I'll throw it in.

Squirrels sampled the first two before we could. The next one split open from all the rain. There are still three little green tomatoes we might be able to fry up in a few weeks if they grow larger than grapes.

That makes this little guy my harvest for the year. I'll sell it to you...for $40, which would make my tomatoes about $160 per pound. Guess $5 per pound isn't so bad after all. Dammit.

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On Working from Home

The ability to work from home on occasion is a tremendous fringe benefit. Occasionally I need to be at a particular place at a specific time. Otherwise, I can carry out most of the functions of my job from just about anywhere on the planet. As long as I have a working telephone and Internet access, I'm good to go.

Over the years I have developed the habit of working from home a day or two a week. It's the only way I can move forward on anything requiring the least amount of concentration. Especially when writing is involved, I can get more done in a day at home than is possible with a week in the office. A few months ago things got so busy I started working from home as many as three days a week.

Here, too, I'm lucky. Many of my coworkers can't work at home. I'll admit things were less distracting before we got the dogs. Compared with small children, however, Tico and Toodles are no distraction at all.

Then the powers-that-be announced our building was to be renovated. We were asked if we preferred to relocate to another office temporarily or work from home. With visions of all the writing I could get done, unfinished projects I could wrap up, and back-burner things I would at last have time to address I leaped at the chance to work from home.

Now, two days into my third week of working from home, I hate it. Electing to stay in your pajamas to work on a project at home is one thing. Working at home because your office is a disaster area and you have no choice is an entirely different thing.

I miss my coworkers. I miss the ability to pop into an office to ask a quick question. Now I have to send an e-mail message and wait for a response. It's a little thing, I know. But the cumulative effect of all the little things over the last two weeks and two days is significant.

I've often wished I could work from home all the time. Just another case of being careful about your wishes, and another reason I remain...

The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, September 28, 2009

Just a Bunch of Chicken Hawks

Keeping up with the present leaves precious little time for the past. Staying in touch with former coworkers, classmates, friends and neighbors is one of those intentions that too often falls by the wayside. Out of sight, out of mind. The intention to write, call or e-mail remains as days turn into weeks and weeks turn into years.

Enter Facebook (and other social networking sites). I've written about how great it is to connect with so many friends from so many different periods in my life and how difficult it can be to keep up with the day-to-day activities of 200+ friends. Why do I do it? Because the social scientist in me is fascinated!

It's interesting to see what people want to share and what they believe others want to know. On a personal level the status updates, comments, photos, and shared links can be quite revealing. Some of the quiz results I've seen should not be shared with anyone. I really don't care which sexual position or body part best describes you. I don't think anyone else wants to know either but that would just be a guess.

You can also learn a lot about social trends. I'm astounded by the number of men my age (over 50) with very small children or children on the way. Most, but not all, are first time parents. I haven't seen anything about this in the literature and wonder if this trend in my "sample" extends to the general population. Probably.

I'm saddened by the number of divorced women my age. I only hear one side of the story, but it seems most have been replaced by women half their age. I'd throw more stones here but my own partner is 20+ years younger than me. I know every case is unique but taken together, the male gender comes off looking like a bunch of chicken hawks.


The Crotchety Old Man

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Early Fall Garden Update

More than eight inches of much needed rain ushered Fall in this year. Some parts of the state had much more, especially west of Atlanta. Here in Athens it rained at a slow but steady rate for several days--the kind of rain every gardener likes to see.

Before the rain I managed to pull weeds, cut back old growth, and otherwise spruce up several areas. I also added some rust-colored mums (bottom right in photo) to go with the blue ageratums (bottom center) and goldenrod (top left) already in bloom. Knowing rain was coming, I also broadcast fertilizer (10-10-10) across all the flower beds. All the work paid off as everything really looks nice.

The tea olives have been absolutely outstanding. The foot-tall shrubs we planted a few years ago now reach the roof and provide a solid wall of evergreen foliage. For the last few weeks they've been covered with thousands of sweetly fragrant tiny white flowers. Some describe the fragrance as that of a ripe apricot. It's one of the few flower fragrances that never overwhelms.

The whiskey barrel water feature has also done nicely this year. Water lettuce covers the top, with anacharis blooms popping up around them. The dracaena-like stuff planted in the filter medium has done well, too, without overpowering the rest. You can still see little guppies if you look hard enough, but I haven't seen the goldfish since the frog moved in a few weeks ago.

The grasses have been spectacular this season. Zebra grass is featured in the background of the top photo. Elsewhere Miscanthus sinensus (below) blooms with helianthus and lantana.

Lots of work to do before spring. That's OK. Working in the garden is good exercise, even if it does make me....

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, September 18, 2009

What Would Your Momma Say?

The guys sitting behind us at the Georgia/South Carolina football game weren't fans so much as critics. Two in particular seemed to think they could swap places with any of the coaches or players and do a better job. They certainly didn't hesitate to loudly offer suggestions for players, coaches, officials, and in one instance, a majorette.

About halfway through the first quarter two of them started to get a little obnoxious. We'll call them Curly and Ahole. They clearly disliked several players and best I could tell, all the coaches.

Curly started dropping F-bombs right and left in a very loud voice. Finally, I turned around and requested that he watch is language as there were children and ladies present. Curly responded that it was his expletive right to expletive say whatever the expletive he expletive felt like saying whenever the expletive he expletive pleased, or something like that. You get the idea.

My high school pal turned to Curly and told him she, too was offended. He went off on her as well. That's when I turned and said: "What would your momma say?" He yelled some more but his friends jumped in and told him to chill out.

My partner says Curly called his Momma on his cellphone. I don't know. I just know about fifteen minutes later, Curly tapped me on the shoulder. When I turned around, he hugged me and told me he was sorry. His friends said I had made a friend for life.

I thought it was a fluke until I saw Jay Leno ask Kanye West the same thing. The man with the most over-sized ego on the planet sat in stunned silence, fighting back tears. I realized that me and Jay were on to something.

The next time I'm in situations where I feel the need to comment on rude behavior, instead of worrying about getting my ass kicked I'm just going to say, "What would your Momma say?".

It works! Besides. It's what you would expect from...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Football Fan is Born

After high school I went to the University of Kentucky. The football team lost so often it was frankly hard to be a fan. By the fourth quarter of most games only the fans of our victorious opponents remained in the stands. Everyone else left after the half-time show to beat the traffic.

Fast forward 30 years. By the time I moved to Athens I had lost all interest in college football. As a new UGA employee, I had the opportunity to get in the queue for season tickets. I tossed my order form in the trash without another thought.

A year or two later, a gardener friend invited me to come over to talk gardening and keep him company while his partner watched football. It wasn't long at all before I was hooked. What a difference it makes to root for a team that wins! Go Dawgs! Sic'em! Woof! Woof! Woof!

My partner got in the queue for season tickets when he started working at UGA. Given his lack of interest in watching the games on television, I was surprised but decided to go along. I'm nice like that sometimes. He didn't make the cut last year, but this year he did. Damn. So much for piling up with the dogs on the sofa in front of the wide screen in the comfort of our air-conditioned home.

The first home game was yesterday. Fortunately, kick-off was at 7:00. A high school pal that graduated from UGA drove over from Charleston to go to the game with us. We headed to campus around 3 with no plan and no idea of where we might park.

Everything worked out great. We parked at Hodgson's Pharmacy in Five Points, and ended up walking from there all the way to Speakeasy's downtown. It was HOT!!! After some good food and a couple of adult beverages, we headed for the stadium.

The atmosphere around the stadium is absolutely electric with anticipation and excitement. Our seats are in the end zone, directly across from the replay screen and a comfortable distance away from the Redcoat Marching Band. I learned about 'squeezing' from my far-more-experienced friend from Charleston and was delighted to see how well it worked!

The game was a nail-biter up to the very last seconds. It was an ugly win for us, but a win nonetheless. It was also a very long game--more than 4 1/2 hours. We didn't get home until nearly midnight.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Yeah, I got hot, and when I get hot I sweat like Niagara Falls. In person it was harder to follow what was going on, and I really wish those yellow lines you see on television showed up on the field. Still, going to the game was an incredible experience and I find myself looking forward to the next. I just hope it, too, will be a night game. Anything else is likely to make me once again...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Late Summer Television Update

The biggest train wreck of the summer--Dance Your Ass Off--proved that people are willing to do just about anything in front of a live audience for a chance at $100,000. You'd have to pay me a hell of a lot more than $100,000 to get my fat ass in any of those costumes. It was the facial expressions of the dancers that made the show what it was. This is the show everyone was afraid of when Biggest Loser first came on.

Madmen is the first TV show to keep me up past 10:00 p.m. for a very long time. Intriguing characters, intelligent dialogue, and interesting plot twists keep me glued to the screen and eager for the next episode week after week. It's the best thing on television. If you haven't seen it, you really need to go all the way back to the first episode to know what's going on. It's well worth the time.

The new season of Real Housewives of Atlanta is in full swing. Any two get along fine, but throw in a third and there is trouble every time. The Atlanta Magazine recently called them the trashionistas in an article I've yet to read described as mean-spirited. Seems to me they mostly had it coming. Kandi is a nice addition. She's the only one making an honest living and she made me wonder how many baby momma's would be OK with me(none). I really wanted to see Sheree kick Kim's ass. Who didn't?

Tool Academy Two has started off with a bang. The tools are even more adorable this season than last. Aw come on. Everybody loves a bad boy, especially as hot as nearly all of these guys. The big surprise is that the girlfriends are shocked, just shocked that the tools have been unfaithful. Imagine!

Tuned in to watch the last few episodes of Top Chef Masters--once they stayed with the same group it got interesting. Looks like the gang assembled for Top Chef Las Vegas is among the most talented ever. I think Jennifer, Kevin and Michael V. will be in the final three.

I watch entirely too much television. I admit it. There are lots of things I could and should be doing instead. But with so many excellent viewing options... well... what can I say?

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pedophiles, Gays, and Boy Scouts of America

My scoutmaster was a pedophile. We didn't know for a long time. He wasn't married and spent every penny he had on the troop. We went camping once a month year round, and twice a month in summer. We had the best equipment you could get and ate like kings. We camped in beautiful state parks all over Kentucky in summer and at nearby Camp McKee the rest of the year.

The troop was brand new and met less than a mile from my home in a new church. I already had my Tenderfoot from another troop, but had difficulty making it across town to monthly meetings. I jumped at the chance to join a troop closer to home. Since I already had my Tenderfoot and everyone else was a beginner, I was elected Senior Patrol Leader.

Everything was normal at first. Things changed very slowly as he gained our trust and got to know us better. He'd play a dirty tape (hot nuts) in his car for the "select" group that got to ride with him. We laughed whether we got the jokes or not. He smoked, and had no problems with us smoking. Later he'd bring beer along, though only a select few knew about it. You know, boy stuff--and boys will be boys. As far as I know drugs were never involved.

He invited me and the rest of the troop leaders to spend the night at his house the day before a big event so we could get an early start. Somehow I was the only one that came. He made a move, I cried, he stopped immediately, acted like nothing had happened, and neither of us ever mentioned it again. That night marked the end of my time in the select group.

After that he took the select group to cabins for fishing and hunting trips. Then it was hotel rooms, and the invitation list grew ever shorter. Eventually some of us older guys (we were like 14) talked with each other about encounters with him. We agreed not to say anything to anyone else because we didn't want to see the camping trips come to an abrupt end. Besides, it wasn't really hurting anyone, was it?

One of our younger boys hung himself. We went to the funeral home. I saw him laid out in the coffin and lost it. I was so upset that his mother had to comfort me. The guys I came with walked me back to the car. We sat in the parking lot of the funeral home and cried for a long time. I have often wondered if our scoutmaster had anything to do with it.

After my Eagle I got a job and became too busy for scouts. One of the parents called years later, when I was 20. A boy told his Mom about an incident, she called other Moms, more stories came out...the camping trips came to an abrupt end. I have no idea what happened to him but am pretty sure they told him to leave town or they'd call the cops. That was the last I ever heard about our scoutmaster.

The parents wanted me to take the troop to Camp McKee for a week. The boys had been looking forward to and preparing for it for months. That was the first and only time I ever participated in a real scout camp. The first morning the campsite inspectors arrived to find me and most of the 12 boys under my supervision sound asleep in sleeping bags in the midst of a camp site easily mistaken for a disaster area. By the end of the week, we won awards for earning the most merit badges and for the most improved camp site. I ended up staying on as a counselor for several weeks.

I have not burned my Eagle. Participation in boy scouts was good for me. Until very late in my scouting career I was blissfully unaware that our scoutmaster was anything less than an ideal role model. I was not molested, and for those of you who might be curious, had no sexual experiences of any kind with anyone on any of those camping trips. I was too naive to pick up on and/or too fearful to follow through with any opportunities I may have had.

I'm disappointed that BSA sees banning gays as the solution to the problem. Our scoutmaster wasn't gay. He was a pedophile. I can forgive you for thinking they are one in the same, because I once thought the same thing. That's a big part of the reason it took me so long to figure out and accept that I was gay.

My mother came to my defense for the first time when a friend told her to tell me to keep my hands out of her toddler sons pants. Had she called me a dirty fag Mom probably would have agreed. But that someone could think I would ever molest a child infuriated her. It was a break through moment for both of us.

The boy scouts are right to be concerned about sexual predators, but wrong in the assumption that gay men are pedophiles. The gay men I know want a REAL man, thank you very much, not a child. An out gay man doesn't have to sneak around. The ones you need to worry about hide behind marriages of convenience and otherwise pretend to be something they are not. It's just another one of those things that makes me....

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, August 28, 2009

From the Closet to the Abyss

In my 20th year I worked second shift full-time at a local hospital. I had benefits, the money was good, and it was always possible to pick up an extra shift for time-and-a-half pay. I moved out, went to parties with the nurses after work and was frankly too busy to be bothered with anything as mundane as school.

The shift rotation was such that I was off one weekend out of three. You wanted friends on the same rotation so you had someone to do things with when your day off fell on a weekday. Lynne was on my rotation. We'd gone to high school together and had a lot of mutual friends. On a Monday night in September of my 21st year, we were off work and wanted to go dancing. We went to every club in town, but being a Monday night they were all dead.

Desperate to have fun on our only night off, Lynne suggested we go to the gay bar because the dance floor was always hopping. I absolutely did not want to go. But Lynne begged and pleaded and promised we would leave if I felt the least bit uncomfortable. So we went.

It never occurred to me that I might be gay. Gay people were either pedophiles (my scoutmaster, the manager at the movie theater where I worked in high school and his cronies) or flaming queens that liked to dress up as women. Perverts. That was not me, therefore, I was not gay. Besides, I always had a girlfriend. Made perfect sense to me.

The gay bar was called Johnny Angel's and at that time was more popular than any time before or since. The name changed several times but the place had been a gay bar since at least the sixties. Everyone referred to the place the same way no matter what the sign over the door said, so they finally just changed the name to The Bar. As far as I know, it still operates under that name today.

We presented our IDs, paid the cover charge and headed for the huge spiral staircase that lead to the disco. The thump of the base hit your ears long before you heard the music. Large photographs of breasts, legs and other body parts (sans faces) carried the eye upward to the brick archway at the top of the stairs. Through the arch you could see flashing lights, and reflected in the mirror behind the bar, more brick arches and the obvious source of the music. My heart was in my throat.

We walked through the arch past the wall-length, mirror-backed bar and through another brick arch to the dance floor. Everywhere I looked there were guys my age dancing with each other. Not a dirty-old-man in the bunch. There were a couple of drag queens, and some other straight people, but the overwhelming majority were guys around my age and more or less just like me. More than a couple were downright cute! I danced like I had never danced before.

I knew at that moment I was gay. By the weekend I'd fallen in with a group of gay friends that were closer to me than my own family during those first few years. It's a good thing. Lexington was a small town for its size, especially when you have as many aunts, uncles, and cousins in the city as I did at the time. The aunts were talking with Mom about my trips to the gay bar within days.

Telling someone his decision to be gay means he will burn in hell rarely gets the desired result. I figured since I was going to burn anyway, might as well get as much sinning under my belt as I could. I did everything I was big enough to do and then some. At least I'd have fun memories to carry me through eternity. Except I don't remember all that much. The rest of my twenties are a blur. Either way, I'm still...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, August 23, 2009

What Were We Thinking?

We usually take a trip around August 25th, the birthday of my partner. This year we decided to skip our annual vacation. Money played a role, but the dogs and his return to school were bigger factors. With summer rapidly drawing to a close, rather than going without any vacation we decided to spend a weekend in the mountains. It seemed like a great idea at the time.

We reserved a pet-friendly cabin for this weekend at Unicoi State Park near Helen, Georgia. We thought it would be a nice little getaway and a good test of traveling with two chihuahuas. I imagined us enjoying a spectacular view in comfy chairs on the wrap-around deck of a quaint, secluded A-frame cabin perched on the side of a mountain. No television, no Internet, no noisy neighbors. Nice.

We went to Ontario, California--home of my Aunt Judy--in the Los Angeles area for our first vacation. She spent a week showing us all the sights. She put us up in the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood for a night and took us to a resort hotel in Laguna Beach. It was a fabulous vacation.

The next year Aunt Judy drove up to meet us in San Francisco. After a few days in the city, we drove to Fresno for a quick visit with a high school pal. Then we drove to Monterey/Carmel for a few days at the beach before returning to Aunt Judys' house in the L.A. area. Another incredible vacation.

We've gone to Myrtle Beach the last few years. South Carolina is not California. But it's close--we can be on the beach before noon by car. There's tons of stuff to do, lots of great places to eat, and it's not terribly crowded. Last year we went twice.

Friday afternoon we piled into the car with the dogs and headed for Unicoi. We picked up the keys (after paying $155 per night PLUS a $40 PER DOG pet fee) and went to find our alpine retreat. Smith Creek One turns out to be one of maybe eight dark little shacks piled on top of each other in the middle of the forest. No comfy chairs, no wrap-around deck, no scenic view, no privacy, no television, no Internet. No way.

We attempt to convince each other that we'll have a good time, though neither of us believes it. We unpack, put food and water down for the dogs, and settle in. When we returned from taking the dogs for a short walk, we noticed the food bowl was empty but couldn't recall either of the dogs eating. We put more food out. I got up to take Toodles out around 3 a.m. and noticed that the bowl was almost empty again. The next morning the bowl contained nothing but about a dozen pellets of mouse poop.

I've never been so glad to see a bowl of mouse poop in my life. It was just the excuse we needed to cut and run. We checked out--they even credited $155 back on my credit card. The entire fiasco only cost us $240 for one night in the cabin. Food mishaps added another $100 or so to the cost, but that's another story.

Next year I think we'll go back to Myrtle Beach. Until then, I'm still...

The Crotchety Old Man

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Who Needs Springer?

For the first ten years The Jerry Springer Show was on, I refused to watch it. I immediately change channels if I stumbled across it. It was entirely too trashy for a refined viewer such as yours truly. Besides, there was too much beeping going on to figure out what all the fighting was about.

Turns out, if you tune in for the start of the show you get the fully story--certainly all you need to know to follow the cussing and fighting that follows. I was hooked. Watching Jerry Springer became my dirty little secret.

The show relies on a steady stream of low-income, high school drop-outs with poor decision-making skills and a dirty little secret. They're boinking somebody other than the Nominal Significant Other, and/or were born a different gender than the NSO had been lead to believe. One of them has recently done time, with the philandering often taking place during the unfortunate incarceration.

The secret is revealed, the mob taunts, cussing and fighting ensue, the boinkee comes onstage for still more fighting, and then the mob gets to take shots at them. All the while girls are flashing their boobs for beads and demonstrating stripper pole moves while a legless dude runs around the stage on his hands and a clown on stilts juggles bowling pins.

What's not to like?

As a middle-aged, middle-class, professional living in the burbs of a college town, my exposure to the kinds of people you tend to see on Springer is limited. If they are around me (and they have to be--it IS Georgia), the context keeps them from revealing the dirty secret they might love to reveal on Springer. Thank God for boundaries. I hope it stays that way.

Watching Springer is a way to see how the other half lives. Crazy priorities. Good sex trumps everything else. Pimping, prostituting, and stripping are the primary occupations. No matter how many times he's cheated on her, she always takes him back. Whoever hits the hardest, wins.

I no longer have to watch Jerry Springer to get my fill of crazy thinking and ignorant, ill-informed mobs. I can turn on Fox News Channel any time to see that. Or go to a town hall meeting...

The big difference is that instead of pimps, ho's and strippers it's old, racist white men who fear death panels, socialism, anything-that-isn't-Christian, and gun control. Just a bunch of crotchety old white men. It's enough to make me want to change my name...

The Crotchety Old Gay Man

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summers Impossible Now

Summer was always my favorite time of year growing up. I left the house by 9 most mornings and would return around 5, usually just in time for supper. I'd snag lunch at the home of one of the many kids in the neighborhood my age, give or take a year or two. Then we'd be back to our adventure-of-the-day.

The street was new. There was always at least one house under construction--a child's delight at at every stage. We had a blast climbing up and sliding back down huge mounds of dirt from newly excavated basements. We swung from bare rafters, jumped through window frames, and climbed on the brick layers' scaffolding. After the dry wall went up we played hide and seek. Staying ever vigilant for parents, construction workers, and prospective buyers just made it that much more exciting.

I distinctly recall six different tree houses, each more impressive than the last, assembled from pilfered construction materials in huge trees on land we didn't own. There were also several caves--big holes covered with a piece of plywood in various locations in a big pasture at the end of our street. After they sold the farm, we took over a one-room shack left behind by a road crew. It was so far out that you could see anyone coming long before they would arrive.

The tree houses, caves and the construction shack were places to hang out. At least for me--I suspect some of the older kids had other uses for them. The fun part was identifying the need for a new place to hang out, scoping out possible locations, designing an appropriate space, pilfering the necessary tools and materials to build it and then working together to achieve the vision. The completed project never quite measured up to the vision--especially the unventilated caves and the windowless shack.

If it wasn't a school night, we'd rush through a silent supper (Dad always read the afternoon paper at the dinner table and conversation was forbidden) to rejoin our friends outside. Initially we had to come home when the street lights came on. When we got a little older, my parents turned the porch light on when it was time to come in.

We'd play in an empty house, hang out at or work on our newest digs, and otherwise occupy our time waiting for the sun to go down. Then we'd gather under the street light in the cul de sac at the end of the street to play kick the can. We'd designate an "it" who stacked the cans (we liked four with a coffee can base and a tomato paste can on top) then counted to 100 while we hid in the backyard of one of the seven houses on the cul de sac.

Being "it" was awful. With seven yards to hide in, you had to go behind houses to find people, leaving the cans vulnerable. You could catch a dozen or more people but someone almost always kicked the cans, setting everyone free. We played until eleven of twelve almost every night.

The childhood I had is just not an option for most kids today. We did things...lots of things on our own with no supervision from any parent or other adult. Can you imagine that happening today? Hardly. Makes me sad.

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, August 7, 2009

Getting There is Half the Battle

I have absolutely no sense of direction. None. When there is a fork in the road, I'll make the wrong choice every time. I don't get lost so much as end up someplace I never intended to go. I do it all the time. You could say that's the story of my life.

When I worked in Kentucky (before the Internet, Mapquest or GPS), someone at the other end mailed or faxed me directions. These directions always got me where I needed to be. Well, almost always...there was that one time I couldn't even find the town, much less the building. But that's another story.

Enter Mapquest, Google maps and their competitors. I prefer Mapquest. I'm not saying it's better. I've just used it a lot more so I'm familiar with its peculiarities. In some ways these automated electronic directions are better than those I once received via fax and snail mail. But I've lost count of the number of times the directions fell short at getting me where I needed to be.

Now I use a navigation service through my cell phone. I really like it, and have used it more than I thought I would. It has some of the same limitations as Mapquest, and then some. The big advantage is you can change your plans. The navigation system will react and guide you to your destination. If it wants to be helpful.

Yesterday, Statesboro--some 170 miles southeast of Athens--was my destination. Rather than going east to Augusta then South to Statesboro as suggested by Mapquest and my phone, I wanted a more scenic option along a more southeasterly course. There may be a way to communicate this wish to my cell phone. It does a lot of things that I guess I'll find out about when I get stronger reading glasses.

I decided to take one of the many southeasterly routes available to me and trust that my navigation system would read my mind. Recalculating route. A minute or two later: please make a u-turn. Each time I ignore the request: Recalculating route. Is it my imagination or does she really sound more aggravated this time? I tell myself she does. My GPS is getting mad at me.

When frantic requests to make a U-turn and to otherwise double-back are continuously ignored, she finally shuts up. I swap my sunglasses for my reading glasses first chance I get and see a written message asking me if she should give up or recalculate. I figured that meant I won. Recalculate route, baby.

As I merged on to I-20 toward Augusta nearly an hour later, it was painfully obvious that I had been bested by my GPS after all. Accepting that any resistance was futile, I gave up and followed along. An hour later, she dumped me in a pasture just outside of Statesboro several miles from any possible destination.

Fortunately, folks down around Statesboro are friendly. I had no problem getting directions from the locals--all four times I stopped to ask. In the end the problem was a lack of signage on the desired road. Shoot, everybody knows that's Langston Chapel Road...don't need no sign.

Just another reason I remain...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Brush with Celebrity

The first time I saw Bradley, he was dressed up as Frank-N-Furter. It was the premier of Rocky Horror Picture Show back in September of 1975. Every detail was perfect. I worked at the movie theater at the time and must confess that all I could do was stare. Keep in mind, this was long before the movie became a cult classic and everyone dressed up. I was a senior at the time in a largely white suburban school, which means Bradley was just a junior in high school. Talk about balls. Walking around Lexington in the daylight in 1975 in spike heels, fishnets, and full make-up was just asking for trouble. It certainly made an impression on me.

I saw Bradley again several years later. Bradley was a cocktail waitress at the local gay bar, with a strong preference for plain white, long-sleeved blouses, tight black and/or metallic skirts, nylon hose (with the line up the back) and various and sundry spiked pumps. It wasn't drag so much as stuff he found attractive or just liked to wear. He had a definite style sense of his own. He's the first aggressively androgynous person I ever encountered.

One night Bradley attended an after-hours party hosted by one of my best friends. We heard a very loud crash coming from behind the bathroom door. Cries of "help" followed, so we flung open the door. The bathroom sink was in the floor. Bradley (in his customary short skirt, hose and heels) was on his knees using his thumbs in a desperate attempt to keep water from spraying from the now broken lines coming out of the wall. He looked up and with mascara running down his face said, "Who the f*** lives here?" Apparently, he perched on the edge of the sink for some reason, pulling it from the wall. I still get tickled when I think about it.

Wasn't long before Bradley was fronting a punk rock band. I'm not sure I ever watched a performance. At the time disco was king and I was the proverbial dancing queen. The punkers were definitely cut from a different cloth.

Soon Bradley opened his own club in Lexington. I have no idea where he got the money. It was called Club Au Go-Go, and the crowd was definitely mixed. The club featured drag shows, punk concerts, and everything in between. We went a time or two, but it really catered to an edgier crowd. Even so, it was pretty clear that Bradley was going places.

A few weeks ago one of my classmates posted pictures from the glory days of Club Au Go-Go on Facebook. He played in a band that played there often with several classmates, including a few that are still in bands today. The club closed in the early 80s. I used to think about it whenever I drove by the intersection where it was. But I hadn't thought about Bradley for a very long time.

So I googled him. His full name came up on the list of suggestions almost immediately. Turns out, he's now party planner to the stars. He's planned several big Hollywood bashes, birthday parties for Elton John, and other fabulous parties. In the pic above, he's with alleged best friend Chi Chi LaRue who made her fortune producing high-quality gay porn. Or so I've heard. I wouldn't really know about the high-quality part.

Bradley always had a knack for making an impression. Looks like he found a way to make a living at it. Just another brush with celebrity for...

The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, July 27, 2009

Facebook--Taking Me Way Back

I was ecstatic the first time I wrote about Facebook and reconnecting with so many friends from the past. A month later I wrote that the thrill was gone. Now, some three months after joining the world of social networking, I have to say that I am thoroughly hooked! Facebook (and social networking in general) has to be one of the greatest innovations of our time.

I have more than 200 Facebook friends with new ones coming on board all the time. Nearly half--91 as of this moment--are friends from elementary, junior high, and/or high school. The next biggest group (at 56 now) includes coworkers from around the state. About 20 of my FB friends are colleagues that work in other states. Of the rest, ten are connected to a board I'm on, seven are kinfolk, about a half-dozen are former students and five were in my Boy Scout troop. Another dozen or so defy categorization.

The more friends you have, the longer it takes to read through all the posts that have gone up since the last time you looked. I had to pare down. I "unfriended" anyone that I don't really know and blocked several that either post too much or post crap I don't want to read. I also block all the quizzes and applications so that all that's left are posts from people I know. Still, it takes a lot of time to keep up with the day-to-day activities of some 200 friends.

I have a deep, abiding affection for all of my classmates from that era. I knew everyone in my grade in 3rd through 6th grades. We hooked up with kids from two additional elementary schools for what was then known as junior high (7th through 9th grades). I at least knew who everyone was by the end of 9th grade. Senior high mixed in kids from three other junior highs. I knew most of them by the time graduation rolled around.

It's interesting to see how much people change from the tweens and teens to the fifties. Among my classmates are a rocket scientist, a well-known political cartoonist, numerous doctors, lawyers and and professors at universities all over the United States, including Harvard. The closest thing we had to an anarchist (ok--maybe an exaggeration but you know how extreme everything was in high school) entered the military, became an MP and then a safety inspector for OSHA. I could go on. What and who people were in high school isn't much of a predictor of what they'll be doing more than 30 years later.

My affection today extends beyond those that were in my circle of friends more than 35 years ago. I've met several of my former classmates for the first time recently via Facebook. Maybe our paths never crossed, or maybe we ran in circles that would never intersect or overlap (again, remember how black and white the world was then). We've always had mutual friends but never really had the opportunity to get to know each other personally. In almost every case, I find myself wishing we had been friends way back when.

No matter what I may think about my youth and upbringing today, I had no awareness at the time that my world was any different from anyone else. That was probably true for all of us. No matter the circumstances, if that's all you have ever seen it looks normal to you. I was blissfully happy then mostly because I was too dumb to know any better. Reconnecting with friends and acquaintances from that time makes me feel good, probably because it plugs directly into those feelings from the past.

In truth, I have very little to bitch about. I've known for a long time how important my huge, extended family was and is to me. But it's only through Facebook and reconnecting with so many, many people from so long ago that I have come to appreciate how blessed I am to have had so many friends in my life. I mean it.

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cult Leader Limbaugh

Yesterday while driving back and forth to Atlanta I caught a bit of Rush Limbaugh on the radio. Call it me trying to understand why the other side is so opposed to everything. The man is definitely smart. He knows exactly what he's doing and I bet he believes very little of what he says.

He's obviously after an audience with limited critical-thinking skills. He spouts more crap than a poultry barn. That people buy his crap is just amazing to me. The point is clearly to incite rather than to inform. As I kept trying to get my head around the motivation of his followers, it dawned on me that Rush Limbaugh is really a cult leader.

So I Googled "cult characteristics" and found a great check list. You can make your own assessment and will likely find that I was overly generous. Rush and the dumb-asses that follow him meet at least 10 of the 15 criteria on the checklist. I decided they do not engage in mind-altering practices (at least as described on the check list), require members to cut family ties or live in a compound (though it probably happens all the time), and are not preoocupied with making money or recruiting new members. Like I said, I was generous.

In my opinion, the remaining criteria fit. The authors are clear that the checklist is not a diagnostic tool, but is intended for analytical purposes. And that's exactly what I was doing--analyzing my thoughts on Rush Limbaugh. My conclusion is that Limbaugh and his fans, while not exactly a cult, are detinitely cult-ish.

That gives me hope. You can draw your own conclusions about why. Ever yours...

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, July 17, 2009

Sweet Georgia Peaches

When I was growing up, if we came through Atlanta during peach season we always stopped at the farmer's market for peaches. This was nothing like the markets you see in towns all over America today. There were no crafts, musicians or over-priced organic vegetables. The Atlanta Farmer's Market in the 60s was an enormous, sprawling complex with row after row after row of stalls. Farmers backed into stalls and sold produce right off the truck at rock bottom prices.

Now is the height of peach season here in Georgia. My partner and I have nearly polished off the grocery bag full of sweet, juicy peaches I picked up at a local orchard last weekend. These were a bit smaller than my vision of the ideal peach, but tasty nonetheless--especially in the delicious cobbler my partner made.

There are lots of different kinds of peaches. Mostly they are classified by how firmly the flesh attaches to the pit (clingstone vs freestone). Commercial peaches are often clingstone varieties. Nothing will put you off of peaches more than fighting to free the hard, dry flesh from a gas-ripened cling stone peach. Blech.

Around here folks assume when you talk about peaches, you mean free stone peaches. The debate revolves around whether white or orange peaches are the better tasting peach. They are both really good, but I'll pick an orange over a white every time.

If you have never had a tree-ripened peach, you really haven't had a peach. A good peach is never hard. Peaches that crunch like an apple when you bite into them should have had a few more days on the tree. Even canned peaches are a bit firm compared with a fresh, ripe peach.

White or orange, the best peaches are so juicy you need to eat them outdoors or over a sink. My partner (a native Georgian) always peels his. He doesn't like the texture of the skin and says it tastes bitter. I prefer peaches with the skins, in part because I lack the patience to peel them but also because I want every single bite.

We have a peach tree in our yard. It came up on its own from a discarded pit. Last year we harvested a couple of bushels of white, freestone peaches. Because of the drought they were on the small side but still sweet and juicy. This year the fruit fell off almost immediately, probably because of a late cold snap.

I'm glad to live where it's possible to eat peaches all summer long. You can keep your South Carolina and California peaches. Everyone knows there ain't nothing sweeter than a Georgia peach. Even...

The Crotchety Old Man
Follow CrotchetyMan on Twitter