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
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