Friday, December 31, 2010

Resolved

Instead of easily broken and quickly forgotten resolutions, I try to identify priorities for the coming year. The emphasis shifts to sticking with a plan rather than accomplishing specific goals. For 2011 I'm reverting back to resolutions. Instead of the dozens I could and should make, I have one: to finish my book.

My four-day write-a-thon has ended. Despite devoting more than sixty hours to it, I didn't make it to the end of the story. I did, however make significant progress in that direction.

Reading what I'd written before my little hiatus was more enjoyable than expected. Previous re-reads always resulted in significant revisions with massive rewrites and completely reorganized sections. This time I corrected a few typos, made some minor edits and that was it.

After reading the draft, most people comment on my amazing memory. I've blogged about my memory before. Since then I've come to appreciate that creating the illusion of detailed memories is part of the art of writing.

I do recall some things in vivid detail. But mostly not. Things that happened often like Christmas, family reunion picnics and school dances, get all mixed up together in my mind and are difficult to tie to specific years. I piece something together from my memories that feels real to me and move on.

Most details about my early life come from stories I heard over and over and over again. Friends from every stage of my life have been very helpful and often trigger new memories by asking about something I had until that moment forgotten all about. Readers ask questions that either trigger a memory or cause me to research the answer.

The amount of research required, even for a story about me, is astounding. The Internet helps a lot. Google provides the answer to most my questions. Sometimes Wikipedia is sufficient. If not, digging a little deeper often turns up links with historical information that comes in handy.

Ancestry.com has been surprisingly useful. Information provided by relatives about the dates some people were born or died turned out to be wrong. Except for my Aunt Mary, I was easily able to locate birth and death records that cleared up any confusion.

To make whatever part I'm working on make sense, I often go back and insert paragraphs in chapters I thought were done. Finding the right spot to insert the detail can be time consuming, but adds richness and texture to the story. The reader has no idea half the paragraphs were inserted after the chapter was already "finished". Just another way the illusion is created and fostered.

Besides getting to the end of the story, there's still work to do. One of the chapters is too long, several chapters end rather abruptly and a few don't really add anything to the story. Knowing chapters have a way of changing after I thought they were done, I'll wait until I make it to the end to deal with these issues.

But now it's back to my old journals. They're very useful for turning up little tidbits of information and for the sequence of events. Mostly they bore the hell out of me. No wonder I'm...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Matters of Style

I started working on the book again today. More precisely I started reading the manuscript from page one with a pencil in my hand. Re-reading helps me to catch a lot of wrong-word problems (like right instead of rite) and typos.

I'm home alone for the next few days and am really hoping to get to the end. Given my goal to finish I'm paying a lot more attention to sentence structure and punctuation. Thanks to early drills, lots of reinforcement throughout my school years and tons of practice, my writing tends to be grammatically correct.

That I continue to write the way I was taught back in high school sometimes causes problems. Different publications use different rules. Having written in multiple universes, there are a few areas that are particularly problematic.

Do you go the park with Wendy, John, and Mary? Or did you go with Wendy, John and Mary? In my opinion, the first version with the comma after John is technically more correct. Most editors, however, prefer the version without the comma. I have it both ways in my manuscript.

I often beg to differ with editors about the placement of punctuation in relation to quotation marks. With few exceptions, I place the punctuation after the quotation mark rather than before. She went to the store to buy a copy of "Lord of the Rings".

If the quotation was a complete sentence rather than a phrase, I'd include the punctuation inside the quotation marks. "She went to the store to buy a book." Most editors always want the punctuation inside the quotation marks.

If everyone did it my way the world would be a better place. That they don't is just another reason I remain...

The Crotchety Old Man

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Things I Never Learned in Driver's Ed

I see a lot of things on the road they never taught me in driver's education classes. The curriculum has likely been updated several times since I took the course nearly 40 years ago. Here's what younguns appear to be learning today.

1) To get to the McDonald's across the street from the gas station you're at now, it's perfectly acceptable to zip straight across six lanes of traffic. Safer options are too time consuming. With gas prices as they are, take the most direct route at all times.

2) When attempting to turn left from a side street or parking lot onto a busy road, roll on out into the road a little bit. Oncoming traffic will have to stop so you can make the turn. Performing this maneuver as often as possible saves hours and hours of time you'd otherwise spend waiting to make turns.

3) Leave at least two car lengths between you and the car in front of you when you stop for traffic lights and stop signs. The extra space will keep you from getting trapped in the event the vehicle in front of you breaks down. You'll also have more time to react should the person in front of you throw their vehicle into reverse for no apparent reason.

4) Instead of just nosing out when making a left turn onto a busy street in heavy traffic, pull all the way out. It's perfectly acceptable to block all the lanes between you and the lane you desire while you wait for an opening. Nobody minds. Those horns you hear are applause.

5) It's perfectly acceptable to wait to make a hopeless left turn out of a parking lot onto a busy road in 5:00 traffic from the only exit. Turning right makes no sense if that's not where you want to go. Patience is a virtue--just keep waiting.

6) You can change your mind about where you want to go. The fact you're in the right lane should never prevent you from hooking left across five lanes of traffic to hit Krispy Kreme while the red light is on. Anyone who's had a hot one will understand.

7) Turn signals are optional and nearly obsolete. Unless you're eating or putting on make-up, everyone knows you need one hand for the steering wheel and one for your cell phone. Besides, it's really nobody's business where I'm going.

8) On a traffic light, green means go and yellow means floor it. Red means stop, unless of course you've been waiting forever and should have had a turn a long time ago. Blinking lights of any color mean every man for himself.

9) At four-way stops, whoever has the biggest cahones goes first. If in doubt, it's safe to assume it's not you. Wait until you grow a set to move forward.

10) You can do whatever you want in a parking lot. Directional arrows on the pavement are just decorations. Unless you can pull through, always back into your parking space.

These are just a few of the tricks I've learned. Now I'm ready to offer offensive driving lessons. If you're interested, contact...

The Crotchety Old Man

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Strange Gifts

Yesterday I went through the drive-thru at Zaxby's for my regular grilled house salad with honey mustard dressing (two packs) and iced tea, half sweet and half unsweet. My waist would prefer unsweet with a splash of sweet but I figure that's asking a bit much. A wise man avoids pissing off the folks who feed him.

I pulled out my wallet and proceeded to the window. The friendly drive-thru guy handed me my food and told me to keep my money. All this week lunch is free for regulars. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Thanks!

A team of medical professionals keeps the Crotchety Old Man on this side of the grass. In a concurrence of appointments that happens even less often than this weeks' lunar eclipse, I had to see all but my proctologist this month. Talk about a pain in the ass.

First I saw the dermatologist. Poison ivy is one of the few things that doesn't irritate my skin. She refilled my prescriptions and wrote a new one for a foot cream that dissolves callouses. Two weeks later my feet feel like I just came from a pedicure. Thanks!

The next appointment was with my rotund regular doctor. I want to fire him but am having trouble finding a replacement I haven't already fired. The ice cold blood in my heartless body shrinks my veins and makes me hard to stick. I was thrilled the technician got the blood for lab work on the first stick. The results were good, too. Yay!

A dental crown popped off over the weekend. The dentist squeezed me in Monday afternoon to put it back on. His assistant talking about having bought gift cards at Kroger for the gas discount reminded me I had purchased enough for the discount and needed gas. My crown went back in without any problems and he didn't charge me for a visit. Thanks!

On the way home I stopped for gas. My Kroger purchases resulted in 40 cents off a gallon. Woo hoo! Driving over to the next county for gas only saves me 20 cents a gallon, so I was thrilled. Thanks!

Today I saw the retina specialist. I was hoping not to need another eye injection. I had to have one, but that my vision has improved significantly since my first appointment a few months ago made it easier to take. Vision is a great gift. Thanks!

I've got a reputation to uphold. All these strange gifts take some of the crotchety out of my sails. This time of year it's not easy being...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ring Cellphones Ring

When I was younger most my holiday shopping took place in the week before Christmas. Last minute shopping reduced the chances I'd spill the beans before the big day, but only so much. Keeping secrets has never been my forte.

In those days everyone on my gift list lived in Lexington. Now they're spread out across several states. Waiting until the last minute is no longer an option.

Except for a few items, I'm pretty sure I finished my shopping last week. To spare myself a day of wrapping hell, I've been wrapping as I go. The inability to remember what I bought forced me out into the last-minute frenzy.

I can go from zero to crotchety in a heartbeat. Any other time of the year, the traffic, crowded aisles, long check-out lines and absence of anything even vaguely resembling service would push all my buttons. Not this time of year. The Christmas spirit takes over and I'm the very picture of patience and goodwill.

Don't believe me? I don't blame you. So here's proof:

The slutty girl on the cellphone didn't bother me a bit. Her boyfriend REALLY screwed up this time. Hooking up with strangers is one thing, but sleeping with her room-mate was just trashy. I'd say it was almost as trashy as talking about it on your cellphone in the middle of a busy Target.

The girl that nearly ran me over in the Kroger parking lot didn't piss me off either. Yeah, I noticed she was talking on her cellphone and drinking a coke as she drove. I picked up my prescription and saw her trying to select a home pregnancy test. Merry Christmas honey.

I didn't bite the head off the old lady with too much make-up and a lop-sided wig, either. She blocked the aisle as she dug through a gianormous purse to find her ringing cellphone. After she finally found it, she reported on her gift selections for a seemingly endless stream of progeny and was totally oblivious to the gridlock she had created.

Without my glasses, I see better with a little distance. Women on cellphones came and stood between me and the display I was scoping out not less than half a dozen times. They didn't even acknowledge me. I didn't bitch-slap a single one.

I doubt I'll get a thank you note. I don't care. If that's not the Christmas spirit, then I'm not...

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, December 17, 2010

Top Ten for 2010

Having spent much of the past week working on annual reports, I'm in a reflective mode. Year-end wrap-ups are in. Here are the 2010 top ten for me.

1) Last year we decided to spend the money redecorating instead of buying each other Christmas presents. Hated it. My disappointment with the holiday did, however, spur us to paint four rooms and resulted in a lot of presents under the tree this year.

2) I spent $85 for a watch battery. It's a long story. You can read about it here.

3) I started enforcing some boundaries. After finding out more than I wanted to know about some coworkers, I spent a weekend un-friending about 200 Facebook friends. Most of them know each other, which likely explains why only one or two have since sent friend requests.

4) Writing posts about my salad days was a blast. One post turned into two, and in no time I had written more than 30 (see Trauma Car Tales, the Prequel and the Elite Fleet). Since then I've been writing a book--something I never thought I could do.

5) My years-long craving for a supreme pizza from Sir Pizza was satisfied with an even better meat-lover's pizza during a whirlwind trip to Lexington. Reconnecting with friends I didn't know I had or hadn't seen for years was the highlight of the summer. For better and worse, people really don't change.

6) A year ago I didn't know a thing about my great grandparents. Since then I've spent countless hours clicking leaves to research my family tree. The records I'm examining now date back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Interesting stuff.

7) I bought some cool stuff. The rechargeable blower and trimmer/edger (two devices) are the greatest power tools I've ever owned. I also upgraded to a smartphone. Technology can be your friend.

8) The universe withstood my visit to church. It wasn't the right church for me, which I of course knew before going. Don't take it personally but I can promise your church is not the one for me either.

9) After a decades-long relationship, my news magazine dumped me. More honestly it's going out of print and will only be available online. Sorry, I'm not taking my laptop to the bathroom. The smartphone, well, that's a different story.

10) Even without Farmville, Cityville, Mafia Wars and the rest, I'm totally addicted to Facebook. Being in touch with people from every era of my life on a near daily basis is great. Thanks for being my constant companions.

I also went another year without punching anyone for saying Facebook wastes too much time. But don't push me. It's not nice to mess with...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Changes and Challenges

If technology was my thing, this blog would look a lot nicer than it does. I'd change the appearance now and then and throw in a few bells and whistles to make the site more interesting. You probably wouldn't notice, but fooling around with the settings would be interesting to me.

Observant readers may notice a few minor changes. A button within every post enables you to share it via Twitter, Facebook and other options. I have no idea how or if it works but figured somebody might use it.

Friends will see The Adventures of Tico and Toodles is no longer listed on my blog list. The pups will continue to make random appearances in this blog but are simply too busy to maintain a blog of their own. Chihuahuas are a very busy breed.

Instead, I've added links to A Little Time with Me and Children Teaching Mama. The writers read my blogs before starting blogs of their own. No doubt they were inspired by me. Never mind that both blogs are far more successful than mine has ever been.

I've also added a link to Crotchety Old Man Yells at Cars because it's time he found out about me. I've known about Yells@Cars since my first post. He hadn't posted in so long I figured he was either in a nursing home without Internet access or dead.

Though I'm glad he's still kicking, it's unlikely that me and Yells@Cars will be friends. He says youse, where I'm more of a y'all guy. Besides, he's got a Yorkie and his blog posts keep showing up ahead of mine in Google searches.

Yell at cars all you want. But watch your back. I'm going to take that top spot on Google searches because I am...

THE Crotchety Old Man

Monday, December 13, 2010

My Holiday Epiphany

Have you seen the commercial for Hallmark's new service? Upload your family photos and design your custom card online. Hallmark will stamp, address and mail your cards for you.

Are you kidding me? The very idea pissed me off so much I nearly threw my eggnog at the television. I didn't because eggnog is one thing I still like about the holidays.

If it's the thought that counts, then it follows one must spend a lot of time getting ready for the holidays. Every aspect must be carefully over-thought and planned down to the last detail. It's Christmas...it's supposed to be overwhelming.

One should spend hours thinking about and shopping for the right purchase. Time is the greatest gift of all, right? Dodging traffic and the hunt for a parking place via the Internet just isn't fair.

Buying gift cards is not one of my favorite things. That I decide which gift cards to buy helps, even if it doesn't allow a lot of room for creativity. That you can buy about any gift card you could want from the grocery store makes it even worse.

If we're going to bake cookies then instead of ready-made dough I expect to see sugar, flour and eggs. I can have cake from a box any time. For Christmas I want a lovely homemade applesauce or jam cake with caramel icing and a slice of chocolate meringue pie. I did say it was Christmas, didn't I?

Same with decorations. We have a beautiful artificial tree. Putting it together and taking it down requires some effort. It's cheaper over the long run, easier on the environment and not nearly as messy as a live tree.

Still, it's just not the same. Trekking through rows of recently cut evergreens in search of the perfect specimen, trying to make it stand up straight in the stand and then finding the best side are part of the holidays, too. Candles and sprays can't replace the fragrance of a live tree, either.

For gifts it's OK to use the gift wrapping service available at nicer department stores, especially if you upgrade from the free option. Otherwise each gift should be beautifully wrapped and artfully embellished at home. See Martha Stewart's web site for suggestions.

I detest the annual form letter included with many holiday greeting cards. I know they're efficient. I feel the same way about mailing labels. You wouldn't use them on a wedding invitation. Why is it OK to use them with Christmas cards?

I reflected on my anger over a bowl of peppermint ice cream--another holiday tradition I very much enjoy. The truth hit me like a brain freeze. Anything intended to make it easier to get ready for Christmas pisses me off.

Getting ready for Christmas isn't supposed to be easy. If it doesn't hurt at least a little, you're not doing it right. Where I got that message I'll never know. Add it to the list of things that make me...

The Crotchety Old Man

Saturday, December 11, 2010

All You Can Eat

A statewide organization I belong to coordinates a professional development day once a year. The annual professional development day revolves around a different event every year. Mostly it's an opportunity to have fun with colleagues from elsewhere in the state.

For no particular reason I haven't participated in the professional development day for a couple of years. A month or so ago they announced the 2010 day would be a walking food tour in downtown Athens. Since it was close I decided to sign up.

The day of the event I had second thoughts. The temperature was a chilly 40 degrees. As it was too late to back out, I told myself at least the sun was out and headed out to the University of Georgia Arches to meet up with the group.

Our tour guide originated the Athens Walking Food Tours. She also runs a dog sitting service and teaches several spin classes. For her real job she works at the State Botanical Garden. Did I mention she's only 24? This kid is clearly going places.

The walking tour started at 11:00. Over the next three hours we hit six different locally-owned establishments for tastings. I worried about getting enough to eat.

We started off at Jittery Joe's with coffee samples and an interesting coffee-roasting demonstration. Our coffeemaker at home uses whole beans (Eight O'Clock in the brown bag because it's cheap and Consumer Reports says it's the best). I'm going back to Jittery Joe's soon to start the process of identifying my own favorite.

Our second stop was Whiplash Cafe on the ground floor of a new high-rise. We had pizza (artichoke and asparagus) and a nice Caesar bow-tie pasta salad. I'd never even heard of this place but definitely plan on going back.

The third and fourth stops were familiar to me. We had a salad and two pasta dishes at La Dolce Vita--all better than what I recalled from an earlier visit shortly after they opened. I want to go back for more of the penne and sausage. Yum!

At Casa Mia we had a glass of Sangria (available in red or white) and pigged out on a variety of tapas. I've been to Casa Mia several times. The food is good but the dishes are hard to share--the key reason for going to a tapas restaurant.

Clocked (no web page) was the fifth stop on our tour. Though primarily vegan, the burgers have been voted Athens' Best more years than not. They served a fourth of a burger (topped with peanut butter and bacon), their famous sweet potato fries and a blueberry milkshake.

The last stop on our tour was Yoguri Ice Cream (no web site). I've heard great things but unfortunately, was too stuffed to even think about dessert. In fact, I skipped it, waddled back to my car and didn't eat again until lunch the next day.

There are several different tours available here in Athens. I definitely want to check out some of the tours for parts of Athens outside of downtown. It was fun and the time flew by.

Walking food tours are popping up all over the country. If they have one where you live, check it out. If not, come to Athens and take ours. I highly recommend it.

Though fat and happy, I'm still...

The Crotchety Old Man

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Inspired Gift Selections

Shopping for Christmas presents has never bothered me. Getting out in the shopping madness is as much a part of the season as greeting cards, decorations and baking. When sufficiently inspired, Christmas shopping is even fun.

Most the time I have no idea what to buy for anyone on my list. Inspiration comes from many sources. I end up putting a lot of thought into a few selections and buy something on impulse for everyone else.

A trip or two to a few big retailers starts the process. Unlike the rest of the year, the heavy traffic doesn't bother me. The crowds don't faze me either. Both are critical elements for inspiring gift ideas.

Shopping is not my favorite activity. Since I rarely hit the stores the rest of the year, the decorations you've seen since September are new to me. The Christmas music is still festive rather than irritating.

A particular specialty of mine is the themed gift box. My niece and nephew are the primary beneficiaries of my most creative themed gift ideas. They will tell you I give the best presents in the world. Others on my list would beg to differ.

Frankly, I've run out of ideas for the regulars on my shopping list. People on the list for a while have received more than their fair share of "interesting" impulse purchases. That I'm now buying gift cards is widely perceived as a good thing.

I have to admit they've got a point. The days of wasting money on something nobody wants or needs are over. Just another reason I remain...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Things Jerry Springer Taught Me

Teeth are optional.
Homemade tattoos are cool.
Rednecks are in every state.
Hair extensions rip out easy.
Love triangles are everywhere.
Drunk people will screw anyone.
Anyone can get laid at least once.
Love is completely and totally blind.
The world revolves around strip clubs.
Hair-pulling should be a sport, like boxing.
Fist-fighting with your mother is just wrong.
Girls mess around when the boyfriend is in jail.
Wearing a wedding dress is a disadvantage in a fight.
When girls fight, whoever pulls out the most hair wins.
Strippers and prostitutes go for guys with anger issues.
Never underestimate the fighting ability of a drag queen.
A surprising amount of fornication takes place in trailer parks.
Some people have no idea they've been boinking a transsexual.
A table of food and a few angry people always ends in a food fight.
Forcefully removing the wig changes the appearance of most women.
Revealing an intimate secret on national television never turns out well.
Girls will flash their boobs on national television for cheap plastic beads.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Man With A Plan

I'm taking an extended break from working on the book. Between the holidays and end-of-year deadlines at work, time is in short supply. I'll have plenty of time for writing after Christmas. Besides, the last break from the book did me a world of good.

Earlier this year I met someone we'll call Mr. Ego. After we met he had his people send me his self-published autobiography. I found it in the bottom of the box that arrived in my office along with a t-shirt, custom-made chocolate chip cookies and a baseball cap--all bearing his personal logo.

Considering he's probably the best-looking man I've ever met in person, I was interested in his story. Even with the cookies, the book was a bit more Mr. Ego than I could stomach. The pages quickly grew too heavy to turn.

Mr. Ego's book weighs heavy on my mind lately. A dozen readers (including several of you) have graciously volunteered to read an unfinished draft. In some cases, that's volunteered with air quotes around it. I literally can't wait to hear from them.

I fear the worst. Is the manuscript so boring that reading it is a chore rather than a pleasure? That anyone might perceive my book the way I saw Mr. Ego's book keeps me awake at night.

Writing a memoir is certainly the most self-indulgent thing I've ever done. I can't think of a topic that interests me more than myself. Writing about me is fun and exceedingly interesting. The trick is to make it interesting to other people.

Seeing Mr. Ego's book and reacting to it as I did definitely influenced my approach. Tooting my own horn is not allowed. The book isn't about me so much as my experience growing up gay before it was cool to even have gay friends.

Early feedback has been positive. The first person in the book to read it keeps bugging me for additional chapters--and I love him for it. Though somewhat biased, my biggest fan and supporter loves it, too. So far, so good. I just need to be patient.

If you're still looking for gift ideas, author and Yale Theology Professor Carlos Eire has been on the radio lately talking about his new book, "Learning to Die in Miami". He won the 2003 National Book Award for nonfiction for his memoir, "Waiting for Snow in Havana." The new book is a sequel.

What? I thought writing one memoir was self-serving. It never even occurred to me a person could write two memoirs. Now that it has, I'm intrigued!

Shoot, why stop at a sequel? I'm young enough for a trilogy. The first volume would be Glass Houses. I just need to figure out how to end it. The second has to be Shattered Glasses. The third would be a broader reflection on my life as a whole. Guess I'd have to call it The Making of...

The Crotchety Old Man

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Catching the Christmas Spirit

Last weekend I started my Christmas shopping list. Sorry Cathy, you're out. The rest of you won't be getting those panties from the Snazzy Drawer Outlet, either. The economy and an absence of credit card debt have caused me to curtail my usual largess.

Although tough choices had to be made, deciding who to put on the list was relatively easy. Deciding what to buy was a bit more of a challenge. It always is. To some extent, isn't rising to the challenge what Christmas is about?

My ability to catch the Christmas spirit varies from one year to the next. Last year it eluded me completely. I blame gift cards. Yeah, getting them is great but buying them takes all the fun out of giving.

In recent years Internet purchases have accounted for more than half my holiday purchases. Not this year. I only ordered one hard-to-find item and a couple of gifts for out-of-towners on my list.

I reluctantly accepted that gift cards were the best choice for practically everyone else on my list. While this is likely good news for the recipients, buying gift cards makes me crotchety. My Christmas spirit meter was stuck at zero.

In a last ditch effort to get some ideas and to catch some holiday spirit I ran out to browse our one and only shopping mall. A random stop on my way inspired a great gift idea. Putting it together has been a blast. My Christmas spirit soared.

I didn't buy a thing at the mall, unless you count the long-sleeved Polo shirts in colors I've wanted that were nearly half off at Macy's. Nobody would know. Merry Christmas to me! My Christmas spirit meter hit "joyful".

As I was paying the busybody salesclerk asked if the shirts were for me. "Mind your own business, bitch" immediately sprung to mind. Instead I handed her my money, smiled and replied with a polite "yes ma'am."

Even I was surprised. Were it not for the Christmas spirit I caught on that random stop, the outcome might have been dramatically different. After all, I am...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dumped

We started seeing each other back in college. After meeting in class we often got together to prepare for exams. Before long we were seeing each other during the summer and on holidays.

After graduation we continued to see each other. As my interests expanded my affection grew. I thought we'd be together forever. But no...forever wasn't in the cards for us.

Our relationship continued for more than 25 years. Sometimes I hung on every word. There were also times I barely paid attention. You know how it sometimes goes with two who spend a lot of time together.

The trouble started back in 2008. Instead of hooking up every week, we dropped back to every other week. Within a few months we were down to once a month. I should have seen the writing on the wall.

No telling how much time we've spent alone together in the bathroom. What will I do now? Toilet paper origami?

We had something special. Dumping me the way you did after all this time really hurts. It's like you never cared at all.

Goodbye U.S. News and World Report. I'd already decided I wasn't going to renew when my subscription ran out. Things just haven't been the same since you went to the monthly format.

My bowels are in an uproar. Did you really think you could buy me off with 3.2 copies of MONEY for every paid copy remaining in my subscription? Then you don't know...

The Crotchety Old Man

Saturday, November 27, 2010

List-less Over the Holidays

About a month ago I gave myself a pat on the back for thinking about all the stuff to be done before Christmas. Despite not giving my holiday preparations another thought since then, I'm amazed to find myself suddenly so far behind. How did this happen?

By now I've usually settled on what I want for each person on my shopping list. Not this year. I don't even have a shopping list.

Normally I have settled on a theme for my annual over-the-top gifts for my niece (practically 11) and nephew (nearly 13). This year I'm stumped. Over-the-top was easier before they reached double-digit ages.

Yesterday I thought about running out to the mall for inspiration. Then I remembered it was Black Friday. Fighting traffic and the crowds without a list and a plan is just crazy.

Most Thanksgiving weekends I get a good start on my holiday greeting cards. This year I haven't bought the cards yet. Until my card list is done I won't know how many cards to get.

Once I get the card list and my shopping list done, I can start putting together the master "to do" list. The master list tells me what I have to do by when and includes shipping deadlines and other details. The goal is to avoid waiting in line at the same place more than once.

It's all very complicated. Just keeping up with all the lists is a full time job. Being without lists so late in the holiday season is enough to make anyone...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

When the Shoe Fits...

Grateful and crotchety are rarely used in the same sentence. Googling "grateful crotchety" turned up zero hits. I dedicate this post to that void.

I am grateful for Google. Sure, it totally pisses me off when my partner responds "Google it" to one of my endless queries. Don't tell me what to do and quit reminding me how easy it is to find information. But I digress. Google is an amazing tool.

Several definitions for "crotchety" turned up during my search. Believe it or not, I'd never bothered to look the word up before today. Didn't need to. I knew what it meant. Or thought I did.

I had the gist of it right but was surprised by some of the particulars. Definitions from various sources included phrases like subject to whims, crankiness or ill temper; cantankerous; having a difficult and contrary disposition; cranky, disagreeable, or stubborn, especially if prone to odd whims or fancies; and capriciously stubborn or eccentric and perverse.

It's like they know me or something. Cranky and ill-tempered? Ha! Have you met me?

A difficult and contrary disposition? Busted. I got more moods than colors in a paint store and am capable of running through a rainbow every few hours. It's not nearly as pretty as it sounds, either.

Capriciously stubborn? Sometimes...when I'm in the mood. Rather than stubborn, I prefer to think of myself as committed.

Eccentric? I'm thinking a Yankee wrote that definition. I'm just southern and perhaps a little colorful.

Subject to whims? You betcha. I started this here bloggy thing on a whim and pulled The Crotchety Old Man out of my ass for a name. Just another example of my higher power working in my life.

For that and all you who give me a reason to keep writing new posts, I'm grateful. And on that note I'll close...before someone pisses me off and I return to my normal self...

The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, November 22, 2010

From Callow to Crotchety

You can tell how much progress I'm making on the book by the number of blog posts per week. Lots of posts means I'm either stuck or taking a break. In this particular instance, I'm a little bit stuck and halfway taking a break.

The last time I was stuck the problems revolved around the structure of the book and drawing lines around the story. Thoughtful comments from several readers clarified the issues for me. I tackled the revisions with a newly found clarity of purpose and cranked out another 150 or so pages on top of what I'd already written.

For me, feedback is an essential part of the writing process. Reactions are helpful for lots of different reasons. The current draft is now in the hands of several gracious readers. I'm taking a break from writing to allow time for them to get through the tome over the long Thanksgiving weekend. If you're interested in reading let me know and I'll add you to my list for the next "release".

To refresh my memory, before adding another word I absolutely must read through my old journals. I've mentioned that my journals go all the way back to 1982 and that I've kept them more or less consistently ever since. This is the first time I've ever had reason to read back through them.

Turns out, there's a reason I've never gone back to read them. With few exceptions the entries are highly repetitive, profoundly dull and rarely useful. Having now read through 1988, frankly I don't know how much more I can take.

By then I was 30 years old and had mostly settled down. Aside from anything that might happen in the future, the worst years of my life were behind me. Compared with most of the previous decade anyway, there just wasn't much to write about.

This fact, however, did not deter me. Writing in my journal was often a way to kill time. I apparently had plenty of time as some of the entries are quite long.

Now I'm reading about the early years with my first partner. Most entries go on and on about how deeply in love we were, how we were going to be together forever and how I trusted him. Reading it today makes me throw up in my mouth a little bit.

We were together for more than a decade. It's going to take a while to make it through all those weekly entries. I'd skip, but every now and then I find a little gem that sparks a memory of something for the book.

The things we do for our art. Suffering through the meandering ramblings of a callow and delusional 30-something is enough to make anyone...

The Crotchety Old Man

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The End of Air Travel...at Least for Me

In the late 1980s my job included a generous travel budget. Flying made it easy and convenient to attend two or three conferences every year. You could even smoke.

Those were the good old days. Since then, the quality of the flying experience has declined...dramatically. The seats keep getting smaller with less distance between rows. Instead of hot meals, they served cold soggy sandwiches with an apple and a cookie and finally, nothing at all.

I'm a big guy--just over six foot tall and more than 200 pounds. My seatmates were often my size or larger. As the airlines crammed more and more seats onto the planes, my comfort level decreased.

Then came 9/11 and the long waits at airports that came with all the security changes. I learned to wear slip-on shoes and to keep my watch, belt and keys in my briefcase until I cleared security. Throw in a tendency to end up with a flu or sinus infection whenever I flew, and flying lost much of its appeal.

My partner and I flew to California two summers in a row a few years ago. The return flight on the last trip was filled to capacity. A psychotic asshole insisted on reclining his seat into my partner's face. When the stewardess intervened, psycho said he had his rights and refused to put his seat back.

It was a long, uncomfortable flight. So much so I vowed it would be my last. I find no enjoyment in paying tons of money to be herded like livestock onto flying boxcars.

That was before TSA cracked down on liquids and airlines started adding charges for everything under the sun. Now I hear they're feeling people up or otherwise humiliating them before they board. No thanks.

If I can't get there by car, I ain't going. You can't make me, either. That's one of the few privileges that come with being...

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, November 19, 2010

And Your Mangy Little Dog, Too

The people up the street have a little dog they must not like very much. He's small...me and the folks at Animal Control call him "the little chihuahua-terrier mix." He runs wild through the neighborhood all the time.

I didn't complain until the little son of a bitch started stalking us on our walks. He creeps around behind us, dashing from shrub to shrub like he's dodging sniper fire. It's unsettling.

Animal Control said they'd been fielding complaints about him for months but didn't know where he lived. I did, and gave them the address. They said they would give them a warning, but couldn't do anything else unless I signed a complaint.

They'd been warned. Now they know better. That should solve the problem. And it did. For like a month.

Now I call whenever he's out. Animal Control says the owners have been warned and now they really need someone to sign a complaint. I declined. It's hard telling what someone who'd let a little dog run loose all the time is capable of doing.

Mostly he stays within two or three houses of his neglectful owner. Or he did. Yesterday he was in our yard--a good ten houses down the block.

Last night a neighbor came around asking us to sign a letter of complaint about the landlord who's renters at the head of our street flagrantly disregard all covenants and city ordinances. I was glad to see the neighborhood association taking action and happily signed the letter. Then I mentioned the little chihuahua mix.

She lives two doors down from the dog, has called Animal Control numerous times herself and frequently has to chase him out of her garage. She's talked with the owners and left notes on the door. I asked if she'd sign a complaint with me. She said she would.

Today he was out again. This time, two teen-aged girls were getting into a car in the driveway of the house where he lives. I told them if I saw him in my yard again I was signing a complaint.

She told me she didn't like the little dog anyway, and would pass the word along to her mother. Then she and her friend got into the car. I said if they wanted to go off and leave him out, I'd call Animal Control right now to pick him up.

They got back out and tried to chase him down as they gave me dirty looks. I assume they were successful. He wasn't out when we came back by.

But he will be. When I see him I'm calling Animal Control and this time, will sign the complaint. They've been warned. Now they'll find out what happens when you mess with...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Brother I Never Had

I wasn't even two years old when he was born. Even then, we were as different as night and day. It was like Oscar and Felix right out of the womb.

Knowing me, I was likely disappointed he wouldn't play with me right away. When he could, having to share my toys with him probably pissed me off. Even as a child I was sometimes just the teeniest little bit crotchety.

As a kid he was always high octane and bounced off the walls--like a normal little boy. I, on the other hand, was a repressed homosexual. He took karate lessons and got boxing gloves for Christmas. I got upset when he treated my GI Joe like a war toy.

Our moms both had a boatload of siblings. We more or less assumed we were cousins until grade school when we found out the truth. We were closer than blood kin--our mothers were best friends.

We took baths together when we were little. I remember sword fights with pee streams over the toilet. When we got a little older we graduated to farting contests and a little towel-snapping. We'd lay in bed in the dark and tell jokes and try to scare each other without getting yelled at by one of the moms.

The frequency of our interactions decreased through junior high and high school. By the time we graduated we hardly ever saw each other, but were kept up-to-date on any significant developments via the moms.

Over time even the moms drifted apart. We moved in different circles and our paths never crossed. That was more than thirty years ago. Since then I've often wondered where he was and how he was doing.

When I heard his mom passed away, my heart broke for him. But I never wrote or called. I didn't know where he was or how to reach him.

A couple of months ago he turned up on Facebook. I love him like a brother and am just so damn glad he's back in my life. I had no idea how much I missed him...

Believe it or not, we're still as different as night and day. You know who I am. He is...

A Crotchety Old Republican!!!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Keeping My Religion

I went to church this morning for the first time in a very long time. My partner is back in school and needed to visit a church other than his own for a class project. I was raised Catholic and agreed to go with him to mass so I could answer any questions he might have later.

On more than one occasion religious folk have told me I was doomed to spend an eternity in hell for sleeping with men. In an abundance of caution I decided to warn my Facebook friends of possible cataclysmic events resulting from my entrance into any place of worship. I'm thoughtful that way.

Much to my surprise, the comments from my FB pals expressed joy at my decision to return to church. I mentioned this to my partner who promptly posted a comment thanking me for my willingness to go with him for the assignment. The uplifting comments continued.

Going to church was an emotional experience. Catholic services have changed very little in the last 30 years. I was amazed at how often I could recite from memory the parts of the mass.

The most striking difference was an astounding number of unruly children. Kids screamed, talked and bounced off the walls throughout even the most sacred parts of the service. It was more than a little distracting and in and of itself, enough to keep me from going back. They don't call me crotchety for nothing.

The Latino priest preached a message from what I assume to be the liberation theology I've heard about. He talked about worker's rights with an almost Marxist zeal. The sermon was interesting and thought provoking.

An old school Irish priest spent a good ten minutes warming up the crowd for a special collection to finance the construction of a new church, school and parking lot across town. The overall message I got was work hard because we're going to need your money for a very long time to come.

In my darkest hour I turned to religion and was kicked to the curb. The message from the Bible of my youth was to deny who I was or to hate the sin that in the end, was me. What kind of choice is that?

I turned my back on religion and came face-to-face with God. He told me He loved me and showed me the way to love myself. My spirit soared.

You have your beliefs and I have mine. My beliefs preclude me from participating in any religion that at its core, condemns the essence of who I am. Yeah, I know you don't agree with your church all the time. That's your choice, not mine.

Today I didn't find Jesus or fall down on the ground and start talking in tongues. There was no spiritual awakening. Believe it or not, I was already awake.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Touchscreen Smartphones Mighty Handy

I've had my touchscreen smartphone for more than a month now. The biggest surprise has been the usefulness of the device. I'm telling you it's downright handy.

In my last post about the phone, I bitched about difficulty getting the password entered fast enough. Using the keyboard instead of the touchscreen solved that little problem. I know...I'm slow.

Since then my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. Yeah, the Facebook app for Android is missing a key feature or two. Or maybe I've not yet figured out how to access them. Still, the benefits far exceed any grievances. Circumstances have helped me to appreciate the device even more.

My appointments with the retina specialist last at least an hour and as long as three hours. One friend drops me off and when I'm done, I call another to pick me up. I forgot to put his number into my phone but was able to go online via the browser on my phone to find it. Yay!

Last week I went to a conference in middle Georgia. Except for the last few miles, the route was familiar to me. I printed off directions from Mapquest just in case but didn't bother using my GPS.

I was doing great until I hit one of those little towns where all roads come together and circle the courthouse. After three trips around the circle I pulled over, accessed the navigation app and followed the nice lady's voice prompts to get back on track. Yay!

My tolerance for meetings is admittedly low, and this was a long one. Rather than growing ever more crotchety, I stayed busy. My work e-mail doesn't go to my phone automatically, but I can still access it via the smartphone. The teeny tiny text isn't an issue because I just keep widening my fingers on the touchscreen until it's readable. Handy.

I downloaded the solitaire app and played Freecell to pass the time. Between games I checked all my e-mail accounts and posted status updates on Facebook. Not only did the time go by fast, but my crotchety level stayed well below red, orange and even yellow alert levels. We're talking levels not seen since my Xanax prescription ran out.

Even out of the danger zones, my crotchety level remains very high. I don't think you need to worry about me changing too much. I suspect I shall always be...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Time Change Just Ain't Natural

Few things piss me off more than the twice-yearly time change. I'm a creature of habit. Falling back and springing forward mess me up for months.

I've worked 8 to 5 Monday through Friday for about 30 years. I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at almost exactly the same time every day. Except for Sunday nights when Madmen is on, I'm usually sound asleep by 10.

My body no longer knows or even seems to care if it's a work day or a weekend. Either way I'm up at 5:30. Unless the time changes.

No matter how much I might want to sleep in, staying in bed is not an option. Between the regular hours and the fiber supplement I started taking after a colon-cancer scare a few years ago, I'm literally as regular as clockwork. Honest--you can set your watch by it.

Sorry for going there, but my regularity is a big part of the reason I hate time changes. Missing out on an extra hour of sleep is bad enough. But I'll be up at 4:30 for at least the next few weeks. Some clocks are harder to reset than others.

But that's not the only reason I hate the time change. Until then, I know the days are getting shorter. But the change is so gradual I don't especially notice.

Assume the sun sets a minute earlier every evening. The time change is like fast-forwarding through two months of gradual change. It's a huge shock to my system and my psyche.

I hate it. By the time I adjust to falling back it will be time to spring forward. I'm pretty sure THIS is the reason everyone calls me...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Catching Up

No doubt some of you expect to hear something from me about the election. No comment. Sorry to disappoint but I ain't going there. You'd think I'd be happier considering it was such a great year for crotchety old white men.

You'll be glad to know I have now confirmed that everyone in my family tree is indeed somehow related to me. Now I'm working my way through the duplicates. In the process I made a rather startling discovery. I'm related to the same person through two different relatives!

Bartlett Haggard (my 5th great grandfather) was born in Virginia in 1764. He married Martha Dawson in 1785 and moved with her to Clark County, Kentucky where they had three girls: Mildred, Mary and Sara. Mildred and Mary are BOTH my 4th great grandmothers!

My paternal grandfather is Mildred's great great grandson. He married Mary's great great granddaughter. I'm pretty sure nobody knows this but me, and now you. Judging by the number of duplicates remaining on the family tree roster, it looks like I'll probably find another double relationship before I'm done. Is thinking that is super romantic just a Kentucky thing?

Progress on the book comes in fits and starts, due mostly to challenges with my memory. I know I came out in September or October 1979. My journals start with May of 1982. Piecing together what happened in 1980 and 1981 has involved digging through college transcripts and old tax returns for clues and hints.

I wouldn't bother, but the year or two after I came out are fairly critical to the overall story. Fortunately, this far into writing the book I've learned not to be a slave to the truth. I've taken a lot of liberties for the sake of clarity and to keep the story moving.

The book started with the Trauma Car Tales posted here in April and May of this year. I dumped all the blog posts into a file and since July, have been working to craft them into a book. It may have been easier to start over, but working with the blog posts meant I was well on my way before I really even started.

Having worked through the big blank (1980-1981), I'm moving forward again with only a few more posts to work into the book. Once I reach the end of the blog posts, I expect the writing to go a lot more quickly. Unless I hit a wall, it's a lot easier to write from scratch than to work in something I wrote months ago before I had any idea there would be a book.

I like it. Up until this last revision, I didn't, so that's saying something. Maybe I should use a nomme de plume. I could always go with...

The Crotchety Old Man

Thursday, October 28, 2010

None of the Above

It's election time again. And once again, except for a race here and there I find myself forced to pick the lesser of two or more evils. Woo hoo!

Mostly what I see in both the Democrat and Republican parties is a bunch of old white men who should have retired a decade or two ago. They feign interest in you and me, but all they really care about is getting re-elected and keeping the gravy train rolling.

Throwing the Tea Party into the mix has definitely spiced things up. I get the anger and can appreciate concerns about big government. However, the Tea Party platform about refusing to compromise is not only an untenable position, it's downright un-American.

I'm automatically suspicious of anyone who'd run for office. You have to be at least a little crooked to succeed in politics. If you're not crooked, you'd have to be crazy to subject yourself to what passes for campaigning in this country.

The amount of anonymous money funding attack ads is sickening. The lies, misrepresentations and distortions serve no constructive purpose. I guess the silver lining is the impact of all that spending on the economy.

We have early voting in Georgia. I voted last week. Standing in the voting booth I found myself yet again wishing for a "none of the above" option. Wouldn't that be great? Talk about sending a message...

That's one option we'll never have. If it was available, it would win every time because it's so much easier to simply reject all the choices. May as well not vote at all.

Unfortunately, that's the choice the majority of voters will make this Tuesday. They won't vote at all. And Wednesday morning, however the chips fall, the winners will claim a mandate that simply doesn't exist.

At least the campaigning will stop. Except it won't. We're quite likely to have a run-off election for Governor and at least another race or two.

Just another reason I remain...

The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, October 25, 2010

Absolutely No Short Cuts Allowed...and I Really Mean It!

Karma has once again bitten me on the butt. You may recall I used a shortcut on ancestry.com to prevent new green leaves for me to click from showing up. Instead of the tree view, I used the list view.

I clicked thousands of leaves. The process added hundreds of people to my family tree. There are kings and queens and Indian chiefs dating back beyond the Mayflower to the 4th and 5th centuries.

Ancestry.com added a new feature a couple of weeks ago. On the screen for individuals, you can now click a button and a new box appears detailing the exact relationship to me. For example, it will say John Doe is your 8th great grandfather and list the names of the direct descendants between us. It's very cool.

Because I used the list view instead of the family tree view, I traced people back to the beginning of time who are not related to me in any shape, form or fashion. I added hundreds of people to my tree who are not related to me. It happens...don't judge me. All that time...sigh.

My new endless task is working my way through the list view to verify each person is indeed related to me. Most aren't. There is definitely at least one queen and an Indian chief still in my family tree. A lot of the rest turn out to be related to someone else.

Fortunately, verifying we're related is a fairly mindless task--like crotchet or knitting. I just repeat the same process over and over again, adding a few steps to delete those who turn out to have no relationship to me. I make a lot of progress while watching college football games and reality shows on television.

In the process I've discovered duplicates and triplicates--people with the same vital statistics (birth date, birth location, death date and location) who are somehow each related to me differently. Some dude back in England in the 1500s is my 8th, 9th and 10th great grandfather. Either there's an error somewhere or he's guilty of stuff I don't even want to think about.

When I started at the beginning of the alphabet, there were nearly 2000 people on the list. I've made it through K and have knocked 600 people off the list. By the end of the football season I should make it the rest the way through the alphabet.

Meanwhile, every time I click on an individual a new green leaf appears. For now I'm ignoring them. I've spent enough time clicking leaves. Before I click any more I need to figure out what's going on with all the duplicates.

It's enough to make anyone...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hitting a Wall

Writing a book is hard! When I get overwhelmed, confused or hit a wall, I save a draft as a PDF and send it to a friend or two for feedback. Since the PDF created in late August (the seventh since July), I've hit a wall.

Being stuck was bad enough. Hating what I'd written so far was worse. I wanted to trash months of writing and start all over again.

I'm grateful for everyone who took the time to plow through the draft. The last version was 164 pages. Just reading something that long was high praise. The encouragement and support of those readers and others helps me to keep believing in myself when I feel like giving up.

The feedback has been very consistent. The comments for every draft revolve around whether I was writing a family history or something else, and about the need to really think about my audience. I understood, but couldn't figure out how to address the problems. Hence, the wall.

The wall came tumbling down thanks to the feedback Larry provided and to Terri's help thinking through the questions he raised. Granted, they both had an advantage because they knew about the problems and my inability to fix them. I still think Aunt Toodles somehow had something to do with it.

Now I'm devoting every spare minute to finishing the book. With Larry's questions answered in my head, the revisions came fast and easy. Once the problems were addressed, moving forward was easy, too.

The eight draft probably won't be the last. But it will likely be the first to make it to the end of the story. I hope to have it ready to share with a friend or two to read over the Thanksgiving holiday. I'll keep you posted, here on...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, October 17, 2010

For Vermont

Parts of Vermont got six inches of snow this week. I was glad to hear the news. That means it's now officially time to start rubbing in the mild winters we have here in Athens.

Nighttime lows are starting to drift south of 50 degrees. The days have been sunny and clear with highs in the 70s. We could use some rain, but otherwise the weather has been perfect.

My pick for the best mid-October combo is a huge planting of perennial ageratums, wild boltonia, mums and begonias backed with tall grasses. The ageratums are related to Joe Pye and Iron Weed, and spread like mint. They're even in the lawn despite having been mowed every week all summer.
Below is a better picture of them. They grow 18 to 24 inches tall. You don't really notice them until they start to bloom. If they'll grow where you live and you've got room for them to run, I recommend them.
Finally, I had to share a picture of Cousin It. He (or she) is actually a long-leaf pine. This one is three years old and about four feet tall. Pinching back side shoots maintains the shape but shortens the life of the tree. This one hasn't had a side shoot to pinch yet.
And that's what's happening this week in the garden of...
The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, October 11, 2010

Mondays

Unless it's a holiday, Monday is not my favorite day of the week. Settling back into the work routine after a weekend off has always been a little rough. Technology makes the adjustment even more challenging.

Back when I took all those Fridays off, come Monday my car wouldn't start without a jump. I thought the problem was fixed after we replaced a corroded cable. Nope. Then I got a new battery. That wasn't the problem either.

My faithful mechanics still don't know what the problem is. We rule out a few more things with each oil change. However, they have determined that leaving the car in the garage for days contributes to the problem. As long as I drive it for 15 or 20 minutes a day it's fine...for now.

When I get to the office, before turning on the lights I power up my desktop computer. Then I turn on the lights, water the plants and wait for the computer to come up. Ready to work!

Acrobat Reader and Windows have more updates. After installing them, the computer restarts. Now I'm ready to work.

Unfortunately, my desktop is still not ready. It's fully occupied by the security software the computer geeks at work require us to have. If they knew what they were doing, they wouldn't be working for us.

I go through my snail mail for the first hour of the day as my desktop runs various and sundry scans in search of extraterrestrials, illegal aliens, and international terrorists. I've learned it's best to wait until the scans finish. Trying to work while my computer is busy just leads to frustration, anger and foul language. So I wait.

Finally, some 30 to 45 minutes later, the desktop stands ready for my command. I double-click on the icon to access the Internet. Java and the browser both have updates. Dammit! I install the updates.

Restart now or later? I always pick now. Otherwise, the reminder of the need to restart pops up when I'm trying to concentrate on something else. After it comes back up, there's just enough time to respond to a few e-mails before lunch.

Throw in Monday afternoon faculty meetings instead of my Sunday afternoon nap, and it's no wonder I'm always...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Too Many Friends?

A couple of weeks ago I was in the car half-listening to an interview on NPR on the way to work. I'm guessing it was the repeat of a 2008 interview with Malcolm Gladwell. He wrote a book called "The Tipping Point."

I haven't read the book but found reviews and additional information about the topic online. From what I gather, the book is about marketing and includes something about Dunbar's Number. According to Dunbar's math, the human brain is hard-wired to maintain relationships with no more than about 150 people.

The amount of social grooming required to maintain group cohesion is related to the size of the group. Dunbar said a group of 150 people would need to devote 42 percent of their time to social grooming. That's a bit more than 10 hours a day. I don't know about you, but my affection for sleep and the need to work and do chores around the house leave nowhere near ten hours for social grooming.

I'm glad to see science confirm what I figured out back in March. Keeping up with status updates and posts for more than 400 friends on Facebook was overwhelming. I deleted about half back in March. Some of the dearly deleted still haven't gotten over it.

Relationships are about quality, not quantity. Since March I've deleted more--and yes, I prefer "deleted" over "unfriended". It's nothing personal...usually, About what you'd expect from...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Earth Angel

I have a great friend you should know. She's not one to toot her own horn and will likely be highly embarrassed to read about herself here. But I think you should know about the work she does.

She teaches high school in a small rural county in the south. The countryside is beautiful, but opportunities are few and far between. About a third of the adults in this little county passed up or missed out on the opportunity to graduate from high school or earn a GED. Nearly one in five of the 15,000 residents live below the official poverty level.

She is a gifted teacher--the kind good parents hope to see at least once before graduation. She genuinely cares about each and every student she encounters. Failure is not an option in her classroom, not because she's easy, but because she works hard to engage each and every student. She never gives up, and doesn't allow her students to quit either.

Though she's a gifted teacher, it's not her work in the classroom that impresses me the most. It's the stuff she does when she's not teaching that blows me away. Hers is a very rare gift. She has the heart of my beloved Aunt Toodles and like her, knows exactly what to say or do to make small but significant differences in the lives of the people around her.

Here's just one of many, many examples I could share about little things she's done that warm my heart. She's a passionate and talented photographer--an interest she's pursued for most of her life. On picture day at school, she stands behind the official photographer with her own camera to take pictures of the kids. Then she prints her photographs and gives them to the kids who can't afford to pay for the school package. How thoughtful is that?

She's a great mother, too. Her kids make her proud every day. They're active in a billion things and excel at more than a few. Wherever they are, whatever they're doing, you'll find her lurking in the background with her camera capturing each and every precious moment.

She's active in her church and lives by what she believes in a way that inspires me to want to be more like her. I'm sure many others are similarly impacted by her kindness, generosity and compassion. She makes being Christian look like a good thing, and for me to say so is saying something.

I'm so very proud she counts among her friends...

The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, October 4, 2010

Me and My Smartphone: Week One

I'm loving my new smart phone. The big surprise is how easy it is to use. Not that I've used all the features. Shoot. I've barely scratched the surface. But I'm not afraid to try.

My old flip phone defeated me. I spent more time figuring out how to make calls, save contact info and send text messages than I did getting to know any of my ex's. Learning to use other features required more of a commitment than I was willing to make.

With a few minor exceptions, I've had no trouble figuring out how to use the smart phone. The larger and more readable screen, intuitive menus, and the touch screen technology make it easier to find and use features. Only we don't call them features anymore. Now they are apps, and there are a blue million of them.

Some come pre-loaded on the phone, some cost money, and some are free. Some are apps and some are widgets and some are widget apps. Or something like that. Frankly I don't know the difference. The good news is my ignorance hasn't really impeded my ability to figure out how to use any I've wanted to try out.

Except for a few times. I still don't really understand what I did, but my partner made it work for me. He didn't seem to have any trouble figuring out what to do, either.

He also explained why this phone needed to be password protected when my old phone did not. Without it, find the phone and you have instant access to my Facebook and gmail accounts. Yikes! Add two more to an already over-long list of reasons I can't live without him.

Getting notifications on the phone about new e-mail messages and various types of posts on Facebook is very cool and makes boring faculty meetings pass more quickly. I could add my work e-mail but for now have decided against the idea. It's all about boundaries.

I use the smart phone a lot more than I used my old flip phone. I'm using my laptop less, too. Using the phone to check for e-mail or Facebook changes is faster than booting up the laptop.

Downsides? The smart phone spends a lot more time on the charger. I am using it more so I guess that's OK.

The password is a pain in the ass. The screen goes dark before I can type it in. Even with a shorter password I rarely get it in before the screen goes dark. Talk about frustrating...it took several hours to figure out I didn't need to start the password over from the beginning each time.

It's not my fault. I've always been a little slow. But I try, even when it makes me...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Only Myself to Blame

The Fall gardening season has officially begun here in Northeast Georgia. I know because the UGA Horticulture Club had a plant sale this weekend. Normally I'm not much of a shopper, but a good plant sale really gets me going.

The hardest part is figuring out and limiting myself to only what I need. It's not about the money. I'm out of room. No matter how pretty or fragrant or enticing, nothing comes home unless I know exactly where it will fit in the garden.

Lowe's was the first stop on my garden shopping expedition. Even before Lowe's opened a store on our side of town it was worth the trip. Knowing what they have keeps me from paying two or three times as much for the same thing elsewhere.

My next stop was the Hort Club sale. They had a lot of nice trees and shrubs, but not much in the way of annuals. I left empty handed.

The big family-owned nursery on the other side of town was my next stop. Last year they had pansies, violas, snapdragons and pinks in every imaginable color. Most years nearly all my Fall selections come from them. This year they didn't have squat.

Because it's in the 'hood, I checked Walmart. They had healthy-looking flats of violas with purple and white faces that must have come right off the truck. The odds of finding them again were slim to none so I bought three flats.

I returned to Lowe's for three flats of solid purple pansies, two flats of powder blue pansies, and two flats of dark pink snapdragons. Because they looked nice, we're expecting a mild winter, and I love the idea of a winter vegetable garden I also picked up 9-packs of broccoli, purple cabbage and two kinds of lettuce.
What was I thinking? Before planting anything I had to pull weeds and move about a dozen burnt up hostas out of the way. The vegetables went in first. By the time I quit several hours later, only three flats had been planted.

This morning I started working through the remaining eight flats. The planting area was ready so for a while, the work went a little faster. Then my body started talking about the difference between sitting on the sofa all summer and busting ass for two days like a migrant worker. I pushed through until every last pansy, viola and snapdragon were planted.

Just to prove it takes more than a few hundred pansies to bring me down, I decided to mow the yard. I got about a third of it mowed before I hit a wall. I'm not 30 any more. Those days are long gone. Maybe one day I'll manage to remember that BEFORE dragging all those plants home.

Now I'm just sore from head to toe and...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Smartphones, Coincidences & Royal Gifts

Sunday I upgraded to a smart phone. Fearing a steep learning curve and needing all the help I could get, I actually read the user's manual. Contrary to my expectations (as is nearly always the case), the transition to the vastly improved technology has been relatively pain-free.

The book is still on hold. I'm waiting for feedback from several readers and a nice block of time to dive back in. Though I haven't written anything for a while, the outline in my head is much clearer.

Special thanks to Terri and Larry for taking time to read the tome and providing great feedback. I'm forever in your debt. Toodles, who would have been 76 yesterday, always wanted me to write a book. Terri and Larry also celebrated birthdays this week. Coincidence? I can almost smell the Tabu.

The family tree research continues. I have abandoned the wanton clicking of leaves for a more careful review of specific branches. Thinking there might be a castle somewhere in Europe with my name on it, I decided to focus on the royal lines.

Edward IV is my great something or other grandfather. He ruled from 1461 to 1483, was not well-liked by his subjects, and from all reports couldn't keep it zipped. I'm no geneticist, but suspect this libidinous behavior is hereditary.

His great, great, great grandson Edward Seymour (1561-1612) had six children, including Mary. I found information about her second marriage to Lord George Barrel, but nothing about her first marriage. The first husband may have been Samuel Scott, with whom she had a daughter, Nancy.

Nancy was born in 1615, and left England in 1635 for the Island of Providence (Nicaragua). According to the research done by others, she had a son (John Townsend) in 1640 in Accomack County, Virginia. However, she didn't marry his father (James) until 1708 when they were both 93. Poor James died the year of their marriage, no doubt felled by the family libido. Nancy lived to see her 102nd birthday.

What a beautiful story!!! Of course, as you've probably ascertained, something ain't quite right. I'm too cheap to pay extra for access to European records to research the problem. The truth probably isn't nearly as interesting. If Nancy's story as I've pieced it together isn't right, then I'm not...

The Crotchety Old Man

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

The hinge on my cellphone broke months ago. To talk I have to hold the phone together with both hands. If I ever actually got a call, the broken hinge would be a real problem.

When the hinge broke I popped in to check on the cost of a new phone. Turns out, unless you're signing up for new service or renewing your contract, cellphones are friggin expensive! I decided to wait until my contract ends.

I didn't get a cell phone until 1998. That phone looked a lot like the cordless phones available now for landlines and was nearly as large. I had to pay roaming and long distance charges and frequently found myself in areas with no signal.

The flip phone I have now was old technology when I got it. The GPS feature was a major selling point. Turns out, you have to pay extra to actually use it. I might use the camera if I could figure out how to get the pictures off the phone. The picture folder currently contains 64 dark images of the contents of my pocket.

My contract ran out in August. Here it is nearly October and I still haven't replaced my broken phone. I can't make up my mind.

At first, the dilemma was whether to stick with the familiar and barely used flip phone or to upgrade to a smart phone. Going with the flip means opting out of progress. Going with the smart phone involves other risks, especially given my tendency to go a tad overboard.

After getting input from lots of you, I've made a decision. My next phone will be a smart phone. My fear of falling hopelessly far behind the technology curve exceeds my fear of becoming addicted to something else. The bottom line: I'm afraid I'll miss something if I don't upgrade.

Now to decide on a model...and a provider...and a plan. Making these kinds of decisions drives me crazy. Too many choices make me...

The Crotchety Old Man

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Panic!

I can't logon to Facebook. The server is down or something. I'm not sure I can cope.

I thought it was just my Internet connection. I reset the cable modem and the wireless hub and tried again. Nope. G-mail still works. It's not the Internet or my laptop.

As the blood drained from my face I instant messaged a friend on Gmail to verify the horrible truth. It wasn't just me. Facebook was indeed down.

My bowels clenched. Little beads of sweat popped out on my forehead. I felt an overwhelming force deep down inside demanding I post a status update about Facebook being down.

Maybe it's back on. Nope. Still down. I turn on the television to see if Headline news is on the story. Nope.

Do I call 911? No. This is much bigger than local emergency responders can handle.

I Google "Is Facebook down?" and get 1.18 BILLION results. Yep. It's down. Surely somebody with some know-how is on this. Surely.

Maybe it's back on. YES! Order has been restored to my universe. I feel better already.

Crotchety

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

No Tolerance for Intolerance

A little girl watches her mother preparing a pot roast for dinner. Mom whacks both ends off the roast and places all three pieces into the pot. When the little girl asks why, the mother says that's how her mother taught her.

Later that week the little girl visits her grandmother. She asks why the ends of the pot roast had to be cut off before cooking. The grandmother laughs and says she quit cutting off the ends after she finally bought a bigger pot.

Funny stories make otherwise forgettable talks something students will remember. For some reason, this story has dropped off my play list. Perhaps some updating would help.

To make it relevant for today, I'd have Mom remove ten percent from each end of the pot roast. Instead of going in the pot, she tosses the ends in the rubbish bin. Grandma would say that before modern refrigeration, you cut off the ends to keep any possible contamination from spreading to the rest of the roast.

OK. Maybe it's not technically correct. But you get the point. We need to keep the ten percent on either end from messing things up for everybody else. Y'all know I tend to be at least a little left of center on most issues. If I'm the most liberal person you know, well, you really need to get out a little more among people less like yourself.

I stumbled upon Joe, My, God when I first started blogging. It was the first gay blog I found that didn't revolve around pictures of naked men or news from the world of gay porn. JMG provides gay news (and trivia!) days before anyone else picks it up along with a lot I don't see anywhere else.

Because it's such a good source of gay news, I read JMG religiously. The snide comments, name-calling, intolerance, and holier-than-thou attitude are offensive to me. Joe is bad enough. The people who comment on his blog are even worse.

For a while I posted comments about the need to avoid the kind of rhetoric and rude behavior we've often had to live with since coming out. These guys are more about an eye for an eye than turn the other cheek. It's like they have a score to settle.

Whippersnappers. I came out before most of them were even born. And I had to walk 15 miles, uphill, barefoot and in snow to do it.

Being confrontational with people about gay issues has never worked for me. Frankly, I rarely discuss gay issues with anyone but my closest gay friends. You wouldn't understand...it's a gay thing. I imagine other minorities do the same thing.

I venture to say that just being myself and living my life to the best of my ability all these years has done more to change the way the people I know see gays than any rally, demonstration, or Facebook page ever did. In your face just pisses people off. Push hard enough and the push back can get ugly.

Pay no attention to the lunatic fringe. Whether it comes from the left or from the right, from the Christians or the Muslims, intolerance is intolerance. Throwing rocks, name-calling, and the inability to compromise isn't appropriate in kindergarten, much less in state capitals and Washington, DC.

Intolerance should never be tolerated. We're not in middle school any more. People are different--all of 'em. That's all I gotta say.

The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, September 20, 2010

Power Tool Envy

Say your mower won't start. Face it. Unless it's just out of gas or you need my phone to call a mechanic, I'm not going to be much help.

Any device requiring a mix of gas and oil completely baffles me. I could never get my gas-powered string trimmer to start. I'd push buttons, pump rubber seals and yank the cord until my shoulders ached without success. It was embarrassing.

Seeing my struggle, a kindly neighbor would start it for me on the first try. I'd thank him, and after using it for a few minutes would have three feet of line painfully whipping my ankles or a useless stub. It was easier to get down on my hands and knees and trim with a pair of scissors. For years that is exactly what I did.

My electric blower sucks, too. I have to drag out miles of extension cord to blow off the street, driveway, porches and walks. The noise is deafening, and wrestling with the extension cord frustrates me to no end. Throw in blistering heat and believe it or not I start to get a little pissy.

Rolling up all that extension cord for storage doesn't help. No matter how careful I am, the cord always gets twisted. Then it starts knotting up and doubling back on itself and refusing to coil like it has a mind of its own. My mood advances from merely pissy to profoundly perturbed.

Here in Bermuda grass country, you need an electric edger to keep the runners from taking over driveways and walks. Again, I have to drag out miles of extension cord. The flying dust coats my sweat-soaked skin and clothes. Then I have to blow the trimmings off the driveway, and deal with all those damn cords. Perturbed advances to an ugly stay-the-hell-out-of-my-way kind of pissed.

The job only gets done once or twice a year because of all the hassle. Of course procrastinating just makes it that much harder to do. Throw in yanking the stuff out of flower beds and you begin to understand why I am no fan of Bermuda grass.

Last summer my electric edger broke. I hated it anyway and was glad to see it go. There had to be a better way.

Two months ago I bought a Black & Decker String Trimmer/Edger with a rechargeable battery. My yard has never been so beautifully edged and trimmed! Grab a battery from the charger (it came with a spare), snap it in to the edger, and off you go. Parts of my yard have been edged or trimmed for the first time in a dozen years.

A month later I bought a matching blower. The blower doesn't quite have the woosh of the the big electric one it replaced, but it gets the job done. It's light as a feather and makes much less noise, too.

A couple of weekends ago I was enjoying myself edging along the street and blasting all the weeds out of the cracks. Not one, not two, but THREE old men in big pick-up trucks stopped to admire my new power tools. It was a first for me.

I was so proud! At last I have arrived. I finally have something to talk about with...

The Crotchety Old Men

Saturday, September 18, 2010

No Short Cuts Allowed

I just finished one of my endless tasks. What an accomplishment! And it was one of those tasks I believed to be infinite. Oh happy day!

The task is related to my family tree research. When ancestry.com finds records or other information, a green leaf appears next to the name of that individual in the tree. Click on the leaf to see the hint. I've been obsessed with leaf-clicking for several months.

The leaves link to historical records, family trees put together by others, and trivia attached to various people by users of ancestry.com. The family trees are the best sources for new people (usually the parents) which generates still more leaves to click. Tapping into the research others have done saves lots of time.

Last weekend there were 478 people with leaves to click. Every spare minute has been devoted to knocking people off the list. As of this moment, there are ZERO people with leaves in my family tree. Hallelujah!

OK. I cheated. This list is accessed via a shortcut. New leaves don't show up until I view the family tree. Easy enough. I quit viewing the tree.

My family tree is a mess. And for once, I'm not talking about the 1878 people in it. Turns out you can't trust the information in family trees put together by other people. Some show people living to be more than 200 years old and children born before their parents. Ooops.

I have to examine the records for each of the 1878 individuals in the tree. I can't work from the list any longer. Turns out, when you remove someone from the tree structure they remain on the list.

Since I worked from the list, I traced back the ancestors of people who shouldn't have been in the tree as well as those who should. Hard telling how many of those 1878 have no tie to my family at all. Dammit!

The only way to clean it up is to go through the tree viewing the actual records for each individual. Viewing the tree triggers new leaves. Sigh. It's enough to turn anyone into...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Chasing Butterflies

In seventh grade biology we had to collect bugs for a class project. The luckless victims were trapped in insecticide-filled jars, crucified with straight pins and mounted on styrofoam. Hopefully the advent of digital cameras has ended what now seems to be a rather gruesome practice.

My bug collection would have been a lot more impressive had I lived in Athens. Everybody knows bugs are a defining characteristic of life in the Deep South. Even here about the gnat line we have an impressive assortment of insects.

Aside from fire ants, the first thing I noticed was the amazing variety of butterflies. Since my last post I've been chasing butterflies through the garden with my antique digital camera. The results turned out better than I expected.
I have no idea what kind they are.  My Audubon Field Guide to North American Butterflies helps, but only so much. So no guesses from me.

These are just the varieties that have cooperated. There are more illusive types that fly off before I can snap a picture. Some fly off before I get anywhere near them. Guess they don't know they have nothing to fear from...

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, September 10, 2010

Back to the Garden

Starting in June and continuing through August, the heat and humidity here in Athens make it impossible for me to enjoy working in the garden. If I wanted to sweat like that I'd go to the gym or something. I mean really...have you met me?

For the hot summer months my garden goes on auto-pilot. I might pull a weed or two or drag out the hose to water a bit. Anything requiring more care than that doesn't survive for long in my garden.

Last weekend the weather was absolutely perfect. The humidity dropped with highs ten degrees cooler than we've seen for months. I thoroughly enjoyed the hours I spent outside pulling weeds and otherwise sprucing things up.

The butterfly bushes are spectacular! I have six different varieties planted side-by-side toward the back of a long border. This afternoon I counted more than 15 different varieties of butterflies on them. Unfortunately, between the bright sunlight, the blue and purple flowers and my low quality camera I can't get a good picture so you'll just have to take my word.
I was thrilled to find a couple of river oats in the yard. They were exotic to me 12 years ago when I moved here. Now they've taken over and I'm ready to get rid of them. Still, the seed heads are beautiful, especially in a light breeze. (Click on the picture for a more see-able version!)

My boss gave me a small clump of garlic chives more than ten years ago. Most chives bloom in the spring. These are blooming now beneath a red curly willow. I'll have twice as many next year from all the seeds.

Boltonia is one of my all-time favorite plants. The wild stuff hasn't started blooming yet. This is a cultivar known as Snowbank. It's a great plant to mix in a border as it tends to flop or grow taller to fill available spaces.

I've saved the best for last. This week's Best in Show winner could have appeared before now, but I wanted to wait for the helianthus to bloom. The award goes to a mass planting of ornamental grass (Miscanthus sinenses) and lantana (Miss Huff) with helianthus (yellow daisy-like flowers) It's stunning as the sun sets behind it in the late afternoon.

It's great to be back in the garden. I need the exercise. Spending time making my world a more beautiful place makes me feel like something other than...

The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, September 6, 2010

Attention Deficits

I have attention deficit disorder. Unfortunately, drugs are not the answer. Ritalin or Adderal won't help my projects, interests and obligations to get the attention they deserve.

Nothing would please me more than to spend every waking moment working on the book. I can't work on the book for 15 or 30 minutes here and there. I need big blocks of time free of any distractions. As those opportunities are few and far between, getting to the book becomes more and more of a challenge.

Being rich would help. Hiring a housekeeper, gardener, personal assistant, and whatever else I needed would free up a lot of time. That and a ton of Starbucks is how Rachel Zoe does it. With her staff I could be done with the book.

Having tons of money would mean I could retire early and write all the time. Retired friends tell me they don't see how they ever found time to work. While not working would certainly free up time, until the book becomes a bestseller (ha!), the lifestyle would suffer rather a lot. Hence work stays high on the priority list.

Keeping the house neat and tidy is another priority. I could hire someone to come in and clean, and have. They don't do it to suit me and with one exception, leave me feeling pissed about how much I paid and how little they actually did. If you grew up in my mother's immaculate, beautifully organized home you'd feel the same way.

I rarely let more than a week or two pass without writing in my journal. I've kept it for more than thirty years. With one exception, other than the last entry or two I never look back at what I've written. That's about to change.

About nine years ago I started reading my old journals from the beginning. Finding out most my memories from that period were just wrong was a startling experience. Good thing I keep a journal.

I had to quit reading when I got to the start of a long relationship that ended badly. Reading how I felt and seeing how I rationalized issues that were obvious from the start was sickening. I just couldn't do it.

To finish the book I'm going to have to read all those old journals. Damn--another huge task added to my "to do" list. I'm sure it will be an adventure.

When I read my journals I'm instantly transported to the moment in time when I wrote the entry. Sometimes the feeling hits right away. Sometimes I have to read a page or two before it kicks in. But it always happens sooner or later.

I'm not looking forward to reliving the dark decade. No doubt there is a lot of stuff I've opted to forget. Reading about it will be bad enough. I'm just glad we didn't have cell phones with video cameras.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Climbing Mountains

My feelings about organized religion are decidedly mixed. Though going to church was never my favorite activity, I'm glad to have grown up in a (more or less) religious home. Growing up with religion taught me "good" and "bad" was much bigger than Mom and Dad.

Organized religion provides a variety of social functions. One of the more critical functions is helping people see themselves in a larger context. Religion offers a pathway to becoming a better person and a guide for finding meaning and purpose in life.

I'm all for becoming a better person. Most of us have enough flaws and imperfections to stay on the self-improvement road for a lifetime. Lord knows I do.

Organized religion abandoned me in my hour of greatest need. I'm not bitter. I consider it a blessing. My faith survived and in fact grew stronger. Walking where I walked and coming out unscathed is a miracle. Everyone who knew me then knows it, too.

With this miracle came the gift of detachment. I'm not any religion now. They are all "them" to me.

For many years all I saw was the ugly underside of religious bigotry and extremism. "Kill a queer for Christ" was the predominant image thirty years ago. In more recent years I've come to know religious people with more tolerant views whose faith and good acts inspire me. Thank God.

Others leave me shaking my head in wonder. They wear religion like a badge of honor but show little in the way of loving neighbors or compassion for the poor. They think everyone on welfare or food stamps is a drug-using, baby-making slacker who doesn't want a job. Christ.

I have a relationship with my Higher Power that wasn't possible before. We've cut out the middle man. Turns out, the middle man was twisting things around to suit his own purposes. Nasty humans.

Several religions profess to be the one true way. Follow the prescribed path or paradise will be denied for all eternity. It's our way or the highway to hell. Take your choice.

My Higher Power wants you to know there are many, many paths to the mountain top. None are easy. There are no super highways, expressways or shortcuts. There are guides but for the most part, you must blaze your own trail.

Trust me. If there was an easy way I would have found out. Just another reason I remain...

The Crotchety Old Man
 
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