Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Today in My Garden

Much cooler weather has slowed things down in the garden. Three-plus inches of rain over the weekend washed blossoms from plants that were blooming last week. Consequently, there's not a lot going on.

Camellia season is drawing to a close, at least in my garden. I've had better years. The unusually cold weather in December took out most the buds on my biggest tree. 'Victory White' (below) is still blooming.

All over Athens the earliest azaleas are already blooming. Mine are just getting started. Here you can see the blossoms of this Kurume hybrid just starting to open. I have a red one, too but it's still too small to make much of an impression.

Dogwoods are at peak bloom all over Athens, too. I lost a couple of mature dogwoods during the drought years. I need to start watching more closely for the seedlings.

The queen of the garden this week is my tree peony. Unlike the peonies you are familiar with, tree peonies don't die back to the ground over the winter. The flowers are huge!

With the weather warming and all the rain we've had, things should really take off over the next few days. I'll keep you posted, right here on...

The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, March 28, 2011

Alien Nation Right Here at Home

Last Tuesday something horrible happened in Athens. Two police officers were shot as they responded to a carjacking. Senior Police Office Elmer Christian, a 33 year-old father of two (ages two and five), was killed and another officer was seriously wounded.

Jamie Hood was quickly identified as the perpetrator and a massive manhunt was launched. The media reported Mr. Hood had been released from prison two years ago after serving a 12-year sentence for armed robbery. He held up a pizza delivery driver and got three dollars.

While he was in prison, his 22-year-old brother was shot and killed by Athens police. If his weapon hadn't jammed, the brother would have been a cop killer, too. My heart breaks for the poor mother.

After a three day search, Mr. Hood was determined to be holed up in an apartment with ten hostages. The hostages were friends and family members he intended to use as human shields. Negotiations went on all day.

A search for "Jamie Hood" on Twitter during the negotiations turned up hundreds of comments. Believe it or not, the vast majority with an opinion believed Mr. Hood was the victim of racism. Many hoped he would come out with guns a blazing and take out still more police officers.

After a long stand-off and a lot of cocaine, Jamie Hood turned himself in on Friday. Knowing police don't take kindly to cop killers and afraid for his safety, he demanded his surrender be televised live on an Atlanta television station. The police complied, bringing an end to a very scary time here in Athens.

Yesterday, as officer Christian was laid to rest, a fan page for Jamie Hood sprung up on Facebook. After a mention on Atlanta's Fox News channel, the number of people who "like" the page jumped into the thousands. The overwhelming majority see cop killer Jamie Hood as a hero.

Ignorance is a factor. As an educator and a writer, the absolute absence of proper spelling and grammar is appalling. The sentiment behind the comments is frankly terrifying.

On both Twitter and Facebook, the racist comments--from both sides--are among the most offensive I've ever seen anywhere. They reflect a world that is foreign and unfamiliar to me. I'm shocked and horrified.

Race isn't the issue--it's an excuse. The real issue is poverty. The poorest Americans live in a world that doesn't resemble mine in any shape, form, or fashion.

Poverty is the single-largest problem facing this country. You'd never know it. Listening to our politicians talk you'd think that abortion, gay marriage and Muslim terrorists were the biggest threats to our society.

Just another reason I am...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Crotchety on Twitter: Part Two

My last post was about following people and other entities on Twitter. I'm only following 176 entities and could spend all day every day keeping up with the Tweets. With Facebook I usually manage to read all the status updates and posts from friends I haven't hidden or unfriended. With Twitter I don't even try.

Selecting Twitter accounts to follow is easy enough. Once I was following enough people, Twitter started recommending other accounts to follow. Getting folks to follow me has been a lot more challenging.

I hear a good way to get followers is to post (frequently) on trending topics. The more brilliant the post, the more likely it will be to result in a new follower or two. Talk about pressure...

Right now I have 28 followers. Of those, eleven (including two porn sites) appear to be businesses hoping I'll return the favor by following them. Another thirteen (all women but one)look like they're probably real people. Four are people I know.

Whenever possible I've been posting links to my blog. If the trending topic hits something I wrote about in the past, I'll post that link, too. According to Google Analytics, this strategy has so far attracted four people to the blog.

Twitter isn't nearly as much fun as Facebook. In fact, building a presence on Twitter is hard work. I'll stick with it for a while, but extra work really wasn't on the wish list for...

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, March 25, 2011

Crotchety on Twitter: Part One

Today marks the end of my first week on Twitter. Frankly I don't know what to think. It's a lot to take in.

The basic idea is to find people (or entities) you want to follow. When you follow someone, his or her tweets show up on your timeline (like your wall on Facebook). As of this moment I'm following 107 including a bunch of different news outlets, quite a few celebrities, the literary agent of my dreams, a few friends, and several others related to my various hobbies and interests.

The trend list is one of the more interesting parts of Twitter. It shows the top eight to ten topics currently showing up in Tweets. You can check trends worldwide, by country, or pick from a list of the largest U.S. cities. Click on the topic to find out what people are saying.

Some of the trends are marked with a hash tag (#, what people my age call a pound sign). Many of these on the trend list are hash tag games. Right now #100FactsAboutMe (to use the proper Twitter terminology) is trending. Some of the games are downright offensive.

I definitely see things on Twitter before they show up other places--including television news, the blogs I follow, and Facebook. Elizabeth Taylor showed up on the trend list Wednesday morning. Before the news showed up anyplace else I found out she had died, that the Westboro Bigot Church planned to protest at her funeral, that she was 15 minutes late for her funeral, and that the Westboro Bigots didn't show up.

I didn't get on Twitter to be able to follow Dolly Partin and the like. My real purpose in joining Twitter is to get people to follow me. Next time I'll tell you how that's working for...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Flower of the Week

Today I took my camera with me on a short road trip hoping to see some big stands of wisteria. These photos were snapped from my car so they're not the best. Still, I think you'll get the idea.

Wisteria is definitely the most spectacular early spring bloomer here in Athens. Before moving south I'd seen a wisteria "tree"--a vine trained to have a trunk so it grows like a small tree. If the tree-form is all you've seen, then you've really never seen wisteria.

Wisteria spreads like wildfire. Frankly, I'm afraid to grow the stuff. You have to cut the vines back hard every year or it will take over. In some parts of town, the entire tree canopy is blanketed with lovely lavender wisteria blooms. They smell good, too.

Despite its rampant growth, other than when it's blooming wisteria is largely invisible. The blooms appear on bare vines--the foliage appears later. If you know where it is growing and you look hard enough, in the summer you can see the foliage.

Wisteria typically blooms before most the stuff blooming now. This year everything else was so early I thought maybe the wisteria wasn't going to bloom. I'm glad it did. Spring without wisteria would not be good for...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Today's Anti-Gay News

Remember Victoria Jackson? She was the dumb blond on Saturday Night Live ages ago. Today she's all over the news thumping her Bible, blasting Glee for the big gay kiss, and lamenting that her teenage daughter has nothing to watch on television.

Reports surfaced indicating Chick-Fil-A provided more than $1 million of support to anti-gay groups. I've met Stuart Cathey and because of all the work he does with orphans, frequented his restaurants. Having found out my money was subsequently used against me, there will be no more Chick-Fil-A for me.

Republican presidential-wannabes Mike Huckaby and Tim Pawlenty say if elected, they'll reinstate Don't Ask Don't Tell. Huckaby is the torch-bearer for religious conservatives. Both men are opposed to same-sex marriage--for religious reasons.

Today Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, denounced a proposed U.N. resolution supporting gay rights--for religious reasons. He's particularly concerned that adopting the language of the resolution will make it harder for states to reject same-sex marriage. I'm guessing he doesn't want to see priests leaving the church.

Various religious groups are organizing conferences and other forums to talk about the success gay activists have had in labeling them as haters. The groups have names like Focus on the Family, Americans for Truth, the Liberty Council and the Westboro Baptist Church. They whine about the power of gay activists, claim to be oppressed, and work diligently to make sure gay people remain second class citizens without the rights of our straight friends and neighbors.

Fortunately, I have many religious friends I admire and respect. If they agree with all the anti-gay rhetoric, they haven't said so around me. I'm inclined to believe they support my rights as an individual and would come to my wedding.

We have freedom of religion in this country which means you can believe whatever you want. So can I, and what I'd like more than anything is freedom from religion. I'm sick and tired of the hate-based rhetoric and the ignorance behind it. Your right to believe what you want stops when it interferes with my ability to live as...

The Gay Crotchety Old Man

Monday, March 21, 2011

My Affair with Facebook

In late March or early April I celebrate my two-year anniversary on Facebook. I bet Hallmark or somebody makes a greeting card. Save your money--I'm not planning any parties or special events to mark the occasion.

Facebook has been a lot of fun. I've reconnected with old friends, become friends with old acquaintances, and made new friends who have no connection to my past. Facebook has brought me closer to some of my extended family, too. Not bad for a free service.

Over about the last year I've noticed a significant decline in the number of people who comment on posts. Because I tend to believe the entire world revolves around me, at first I took the absence of comments on my posts personally. I assumed my friends had hidden my posts because they were tired of hearing from me so much.

While some probably did hide my posts, I recently discovered the problem is more likely the result of a change to Facebook. They're always changing something. I don't know about you, but I liked the version we used two years ago a lot more than the Facebook of today.

There's an obscure "edit options" button at the bottom of the news feed. The default setting is "show posts from friends and pages you interact with most." Unless you change it to "show posts from all your friends and pages", you're probably missing posts from people you'd like to hear from.

To make matters worse, it's unclear exactly what Facebook means by "interact with the most." Since several of my regular chat buddies weren't seeing my feeds, chats must not count as interactions. Looks like commenting on each others' walls or posts is the only thing that counts.

I could set up a schedule and rotate my comments through all my friends. Even for me that seems a bit obsessive. For the last two weeks I've barely commented at all.

My affair with Facebook has about run its course. I'll continue to send birthday greetings to my friends and will keep an eye on the status updates that still show up on my wall. I may even comment now and then. But the thrill of using Facebook is gone for...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Today in My Garden

Thanks to deer, drought and other challenges, for the last few years my garden goal has been to maintain the status quo. Fixing the sinkholes boosted my spirits and forced me to change things up. Now I'm making major changes throughout the garden.

The rush is on to get everything moved. Without at least a month to settle in, new plants don't stand a chance of surviving summer. By then it's too hot to do much work outside, too. I'm excited about the changes and will point them out in future pictures. Until then, take a look at what's blooming today in my garden.

Old-fashioned Bleeding Hearts would definitely be on my top ten list of the most beautiful flowers. Only one of the five I had last year returned so the flowers are especially precious this year. Not sure what happened...I'll get more.

I selected this variety of Flowering Quince for the apricot flowers. They bloom a bit later than the red but aren't nearly as showy. Mine are still young...we'll see if they get any showier as they age.

I love star flowers. Mine drifted over from my neighbor's yard. I meant to divide them last fall. Maybe I'll remember this fall.

Lungworts are pretty little plants for shade. I like the silver splashes on the foliage all year. The tiny flowers started blooming last week and will continue for another four to six weeks.

Hope you enjoyed today's stroll through the garden of...

The Crotchety Old Man

Stepping Up My Game

Mom finished Glass Houses yesterday. No yelling or screaming was involved. We had a nice conversation after she'd read about half the book and again after she finished. All in all she handled the story better than I expected. To say I'm relieved would be a huge understatement.

She said she enjoyed the book. Parts were hard for her to take. Some I anticipated, a few shouldn't have surprised me but did. I was especially impressed with Mom's nearly always successful effort to be upbeat and positive about the book even with her many concerns. Now she's afraid something in the book will be the reason I get passed up for some big political appointment.

In more book news, last night I attended my first meeting of the local writer's group. The other participants--three with a fourth joining toward the end--are obviously far more knowledgeable than I about both writing and the writing profession. They're very nice and made me feel like part of the group right away.

Even though I didn't submit anything for discussion, we talked about my book and the challenges of breaking into the memoir market. I learned more about getting published in ten minutes than I knew before the meeting. The feedback was so good I'm now looking forward to them reading and discussing Glass Houses at future meetings.

One message I got loud and clear is that success comes down to marketing and self-promotion. I need to get my name out there. It's time to step up my game.

Sharing links to this blog on Facebook has been fun. However, it hasn't helped me to attract new readers. I ain't saying it's your job or anything, but sharing links to my better posts with your friends would sure be helpful!

You may recall I'm picky about who I will and will not friend on Facebook. Remember the big unfriending? To accept all friend requests now would just add insult to injury.

Now I'm on Twitter--it was really the only option. You can follow me @CrotchetyMan. Thanks to some crotchety wannabe, my nom de plum wasn't available. I don't care. I'm still...

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, March 18, 2011

Instant Research

I wrote my first term paper in ninth grade--on acupuncture. We spent several class periods in the school library researching our topic. Acupuncture wasn't in any of the available encyclopedias. I spent weeks tracking down magazines from listings in the most recent Current Periodicals Directory to find enough articles to hit the required minimum.

Fast forward four decades. No matter the number, finding the required number of sources today would be a piece of cake. Google produces a list of more than 78 million links for the word "acupuncture" in 0.14 seconds. Welcome to the Information Age!

Of course the first three links are paid ads for acupuncture services available in the surrounding area. The Wikipedia entry for acupuncture is next--we'll save my true feelings about using Wikipedia as a resource for a future post. For now I'll just say, don't.

Finding information is easy. The greater challenge is determining the quality of the information you find. There's a lot of crap out there--and industries devoted to producing more of it(a major issue with Wikipedia). As a result, a fair number of people believe crap that simply isn't true.

The stakes are particularly high when the facts aren't on your side. If you happen to have a lot of resources and easy access to a major media outlet or two, the facts don't matter. Public opinion can be bought and will eventually trump the facts every time.

People quickly reject ideas different from what they already believe to be true. Skepticism is a good thing, but it needs to be applied equally to everything you see and hear. Believing something is true with all your heart or simply repeating it over and over doesn't make it true.

I know. Believing myself to be a much younger man to the point I look 25 years younger in the mirror doesn't change anything. I'm still...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Would Your Momma Say, Revisited

Well...I finally did it. I got a copy of Glass Houses printed and in the mail to my mother. She should get it by Friday--Monday at the latest.

For reasons obvious to anyone who's read the first 50 pages, I've been dragging my feet about sending Mom a copy. We've talked about most everything in the book at one time or another--but never all at once. Laying things out the way I have won't be easy for her to read.

Some people write memoirs they won't share with anyone until certain people they know have died. I can certainly understand this line of reasoning. Had my book been about someone guilty of unspeakable crimes against children or anything equally heinous, I would want to wait, too.

Nobody in my book was guilty of anything more than being human. Most people do the best they know how to do. People are neither all good nor all bad. Even good people sometimes make bad decisions.

Some who have read Glass Houses say it is a tribute to my aunts and uncles--especially Toodles. While that wasn't my intention, I have to admit the fact it's true makes me feel even better about the book. Writing about the deceased is definitely a lot easier. Even with my reverential descriptions, not having to worry about how the deceased would react was liberating. Aunt Dee would NOT be pleased!

Mom is still a young woman who I hope will be with us for a long time. She has to read the book sooner or later--or at least, have the option to read it or not. I've had enough feedback from readers, some who know her and some who don't, assuring me I didn't throw Mom under the bus to be ready to share it with her.

I know she won't agree. She'll probably get a little angry, too. With more than five decades of experience dealing with her on those fronts, I can cope.

No matter how old I get, she'll always be Mom to me. Making her mad amuses me more than frightens me these days. I would never want to hurt her, even if I am...

The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, March 14, 2011

Aging Like A Fine Wine

We crotchety old men are a lot like white wine. Pop the cork and the longer we sit around the worse we get. Even the best white wines eventually turn to vinegar.

I'm not bitter, I'm pissed. Bitter comes from within and is focused on the past. Pissed is based more on current events. I wouldn't have anger issues if people would quit pissing me off. Let's look at some current events that have set me off.

The Weather Channel pisses me off. It really chaps my ass when they run "Local on the 8's" on the 7's. Having to wait ten more minutes for the next local forecast gets my day off to a great start first thing in the morning.

Red Lobster is advertising seafood specials like crazy. Clearly the television adds ten pounds. The dish I'm served is like a miniature of the dish I saw on television. For this I drive all the way across town? Captain D's is at least as good and a lot cheaper.

I'm pissed that Biggest Loser, Celebrity Apprentice, and American Idol are two-hours long. The length of the program wouldn't bother me nearly so much if they didn't repeat the same crap and clips three and four times a show. Dragging things out the way they do makes my butt pucker.

Biggest Loser and Celebrity Apprentice are available OnDemand, but you can't fast forward through the commercials. No thanks. I'm not sacrificing two hours of my life for 45 minutes of entertainment and 75 minutes of commercials.

Commercials are just one big pain in the ass. According to Wikipedia (so it's just as true as the Bible) the typical hour show has shrunk from 51 minutes to 42 minutes. On some networks--and I'm sure you've watched one or two, the standard is 36 minutes.

I pay handsomely for basic cable. Paying for an hour of television that includes as little as 36 minutes of program ain't right. Paying to watch the cable company's commercials is just another way I feed...

The Crotchety Old Man

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Going Crotchety on the Flower Thief

A few days ago I noticed about half a dozen pink hyacinth blooms were gone. Upon closer inspection, the stems had obviously been removed with scissors or some other sharp device. I was pissed.

This morning we found a couple of daffodil blossoms on the ground. Again, they had obviously been cut with something sharp. I was beyond pissed. Someone was apparently helping themselves to my flowers.

I mentioned the missing flowers to my partner on the off-chance that he'd maybe taken some to work. Nope...it wasn't him. We both had a pretty good idea who had done the dastardly deed. We just needed proof.

Later I saw my neighbors out and asked if they had noticed anyone cutting flowers in my yard. They had not but had a pretty good idea who the flower thief probably was--the lady with the little black dog. They had the same idea as me and my partner.

She's the mom of the dyad we like to call the parents of the year. I've blogged about them before. Judging from my good neighbors, I'd say their reputation has not improved since that post.

If it was anyone else but them, all they'd need to do is ask if they could cut some flowers. From someone else I'd consider it a compliment and be happy to share. But these people piss me off.

She knows I don't like her. Up to now I haven't gone off on her. I just glare when she and her mangy little dog walk by the house--just waiting for her to walk off and leave a pile. She knows I'm watching, too.

I'm sure she is the flower thief. I can't prove it, but everyone in the neighborhood agrees it was probably her. I'm sure enough that the next time I see her, we're going to have a little one-sided discussion about it.

I haven't had a really good reason to go off on someone for a very long time. Now I'm looking forward to running into her. When I'm done she'll know that under no circumstance is it ever OK for her, her husband, her kid, her dog or anyone she might know to ever set foot in the yard of...

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, March 11, 2011

Try, Try, Again

More than a week has passed since the rejection e-mail turned up in my in-box from the agent of my dreams. Rather than the disappointment you would expect, I'm humbled. There's a lot more to this writing thing than just writing a good book.

I did not take the rejection personally. The 'no' didn't have a thing to do with Glass Houses. The simple truth: I got rejected because of my amateurish query and synopsis.

There's no point in trying to submit Glass Houses anywhere until the issues with my synopsis and query are resolved. It only took about six months to write the book--a remarkably short time. I've rushed into a thousand different things only to discover too late I was in way over my head. I'm OK with the delay. Failure is just not an option.

Take the synopsis (please!). I wrote a one-page Cliff's Notes version of the book. I didn't realize the synopsis is for the inside cover of a hardback book or the back of paperback to entice you to read more. My synopsis is so complete you don't need to read the book. Now that I know I can fix it.

Improving the query is a bigger challenge. Online resources are just too generic to be very helpful. The only way to move forward is to get individualized help from someone more knowledgeable than me.

A few friends have suggested finding a local writer's group. So I Googled "Athens Writer's Groups" to investigate my options. I e-mailed the convener of the only group I could find about my dilemma and attached Glass Houses. He replied a few days later with positive comments about his "quick glance" at the manuscript, a brief note about the group, and an invitation to attend the next meeting. I was in.

The group meets next weekend. The convener invited me to submit part of Glass Houses for discussion. I thought submitting anything without having attended a meeting or two would be rude and declined.

Yesterday I received an e-mail message with submissions for discussion from three members of the group who are ready for feedback. I've already read all three. One is the beginning of what could be a very interesting memoir, the second is several chapters from the middle of a vampire novel, and the third is part three of a fantasy novel.

I had no trouble finding something to like about all three pieces. Even coming into the middle, both novels were interesting. I was especially impressed with all the dialogue in the novels. Having written Glass Houses I had a much greater appreciation for the work involved. I look forward to sharing my opinions with the writers when we get together and hope my comments will be helpful.

It might take a few months for me to get some feedback on Glass Houses. I don't mind. In fact, a little time between the rejection e-mail and my next submission is a good thing.

I figure that first query and synopsis were forgettable. In fact, I'm counting on it. I'm trying again with a new query and synopsis. The agent of my dreams hasn't heard the last of...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Help Wanted: Personal Trainer

A few days ago I foolishly blogged about having made it through the winter without gaining any weight. Guess I counted my chickens before the eggs hatched. Since then, out of nowhere seven pounds just appeared on my person.

Apparently I'm retaining carbs. I blame all the lunches I had to attend with candidates we're interviewing for several different positions. I know it's true because I've done the math: Seven lunches = seven pounds. I'm sure of it.

My birthday was not a factor. Everyone knows sweets given as gifts don't have any calories. This is SCIENCE and you can't argue with science. Because they were gifts the birthday cake, half gallon of ice cream, and several boxes of girl scout cookies I've eaten over the last couple of days did not contribute to the weight gain. To suggest otherwise would be unbirthday-like.

Eating less would make a difference. It would help if I exercised. Wanting to exercise would be even more helpful.

I need a really good personal trainer--someone who can move mountains. It has to be a guy, and he has to be really cute. A glimpse of his washboard abs or perky pecs might be just the carrot to get this mountain moving. Call it sick if you want...desperate times call for desperate measures.

Besides being hot he's going to need to be smart, determined, and committed to see this through to the end. The commitment part is especially important. As I understand it, one of us has to have it...and I sure don't.

He's going to need to be very creative too. I've spent most the last thirty years trying not to sweat. Breaking this well-established habit is going to take some serious motivational skills.

I shouldn't need any more motivation. My 35th class reunion is coming up in October. I looked great at the last reunion. I need to get on the stick. Can't have people wondering what the hell happened to...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Today in My Garden

Mild weather has persisted here in Northeast Georgia for the last few weeks. Pear and cherry trees have exploded into bloom with spireas, forsythia and several kinds of magnolias. Spring is definitely on the move.

My star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) is in full bloom. On windy days you might miss the delicate fragrance. On calmer days I catch glimpses of the sent all over the yard.

I ordered Magnolia loebneri from a picture-less catalog based on the description several years ago. In truth, I thought it was an evergreen magnolia with pink flowers. Doh. Check out the beautiful blossoms.

Depending on the variety, camellias bloom from October to May. I keep planting more varieties hoping to have one in bloom throughout the season. In the foreground is 'Candycane' which this year has dark pink blooms on the east side of the plant and light pink blooms on the west side. In the background, 'Victory White' has been beautiful for more than a week.

Last weekend I finally got to spend a some time cleaning up flower beds. Pictures don't do this area justice. To really appreciate it you need the sun behind you as you stroll down (in the morning) or up (in the afternoon) the path.

The wisteria should start blooming any day now. You won't find a prettier sight than a mass plantings of wisteria in full bloom. Hopefully some good pictures for all y'all up yonder will turn up right here on...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Nanu Nano

My loving partner got me an iPod Nano and an iTunes gift certificate for my birthday. He told me he was going to do it. Frankly I didn't know what he was talking about and just nodded my head. I do that a lot when I don't know what's going on.

Unwrapped, the device looked like a nice lapel pin in a clear plastic ring box. I slowly turned the box around, admiring it from every possible angle. Really I was trying to figure out how the damn thing opened. I was glad when my partner finally asked if he could open the box for me. We're both tired of the disappointment that comes from me breaking stuff trying to get it out of the packaging.

The tiny little device includes an FM radio, a pedometer with several functions, and of course, music. You can even watch DVDs though doing so requires much better vision than mine. The wafer-thin touchscreen is maybe 1 1/2 inches square and amazingly easy to use. Trust me...I mastered the device in seconds and I'm a slower learner.

Setting up the iTunes account was a little more complicated, mostly because I have the patience of a gnat. My partner set up the account and even copied a bunch of albums from his collection to mine--he's sweet like that all the time. I was set.

Had it not been raining yesterday, I would have put my earplugs in and headed out to the yard to get some weeding done. Instead, I spent the morning shopping at the iTunes store. I focused my search on upbeat music from the late 70s and early 80s. Before long I'd purchased 19 golden oldies including a few rare treasures I hadn't heard for decades.

I had the house to myself while my partner ran some errands. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to connect the Nano to our stereo system (a problem since rectified). I just plugged in the earphones, cranked the volume all the way up and returned to 1980.

For the next hour I shook my money maker and sang at the top of my lungs. Both dogs freaked out...Toodles wasn't herself for several hours. Me singing full-on is hard on the ears. It couldn't possibly have been the dancing.

Today the sun came out. I popped in my earplugs and spent several hours pulling weeds. I sang along, of course, and on the good parts stood up and danced like I was back at Johnny Angel's. I'm sure the neighbors were impressed.

With my luck, one of them probably caught it on video and posted it on YouTube. If so I have no idea how you'd find it. Maybe you just search for dancing and...

The Crotchety Old Man

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Life Begins at 50 for Dummies

Aunt Toodles always said life begins at 50. Rather than dreading the inevitable, her positive attitude kept me looking forward to the big five-oh. I couldn't wait!

A bunch of medical issues surfaced shortly after my 50th birthday. I had gum surgery, started taking statins to lower my cholesterol, realized my vision was failing, and endured several procedures and surgeries too embarrassing to mention. Turning 50 was a real pain in the ass.

Since that awful birthday I've worked through or learned to live with the health issues. I still eat what I damn well please and refuse to exercise...but am getting better about both a little at a time. I made it through the winter without gaining any weight for the first time in decades...possibly ever.

Today I turned 53. I look around and realize I've lived in this house longer than anyplace I ever lived, been with the same employer longer than any other, and done the same work for more than 25 years. I've also been in love with my partner longer than anyone before him. It ain't bad being me.

Life happens. Each day brings new challenges. Dreams change, fade, and fall by the wayside while we work to pay the bills, keep the car running and hopefully have a little fun along the way. Taking time to look back and reflect on the past is a luxury most people are too busy to afford.

Thirty years ago I knew I wanted more. The life I'm living today seemed impossibly out-of-reach. Writing Glass Houses reminded me of leaner times and gave me a greater appreciation for how far I've come. Frankly I'm amazed.

There will always be things I don't have--you can't have everything. I'm grateful today for what I do have, and I don't mean worldly possessions. I'm grateful for my wonderful partner, each and every member of my huge extended family, a fun and caring group of friends, and two adorable chihuahuas. I'm rich beyond measure.

Toodles didn't lie to me. She might keep her mouth shut and say nothing but she would never outright lie. She just forgot about me being a slow learner. If you're like me, it might be a few years after 50 for you, too.

Thanks for giving me this platform to say what's on my mind. We've been together for quite a while now. According to blogspot, this is the 300th post on...

The Crotchety Old Man

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Pension Problem

The retirement benefits of government workers have been in the news a lot lately. I've heard more noise than substance. Today I want to talk about some of these plans and why they are a problem in need of a solution.

Retirement plans come in two flavors: defined benefit or defined contribution. To understand the problem, you need to understand the difference between the two. If you already understand the difference, skip the next two paragraphs!

With a defined contribution plan you contribute every month to a tax-deferred retirement plan--like a 401(k) or 403(b). Your employer may match some or all your contributions or otherwise contribute to the plan on your behalf. After a few years (usually seven) you are 'vested' and the employer-provided portion belongs to you. Then you keep working until you save up enough money to last until you die.

With a defined benefit plan, the employer promises to provide a salary for life. Depending on the plan, you may or may not be required to contribute a portion of your earnings. Generally you work for so many years and then receive a retirement benefit based on a formula, such as the average of your three highest years of earnings. Most plans also include annual cost of living increases.

Defined benefit plans came about at a time when most people tended to work for the same employer for life. The plans were cheap for employers because few workers lived to retirement age. Those who did live long enough to retire tended to die shortly thereafter. The dramatic increase in life expectancy over the last five decades made defined benefit plans huge liabilities for employers.

Many defined benefit plans allow workers to retire after 30 years of service. Start the job at 22 and retire 30 years later and you will easily cost the employer more in retirement than you did when you worked. When that employer is a city, county, state or federal entity, the rest of us foot the bill.

Today defined benefit plans survive primarily in the government sector and in selected industries with strong unions. A few large corporations with defined benefit plans and strong unions were forced into bankruptcy. Everybody else shifted to defined contribution plans years ago.

Solving the pension problem is tricky. Nobody wants out of a defined benefit plan. Unless other provisions are made for individuals approaching retirement, it's not fair to just pull the rug out from under older workers.

Part of the solution is to require workers under a certain age (say 30) to participate in a defined contribution plan. When it comes to saving, time is definitely on your side. Defined contribution plans offer an incentive because the more you save, the sooner you can quit working.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have both types of plans. Most my retirement income (unless my book hits the bestseller list)will come from money stashed consistently over many years in one of several tax-deferred accounts. In addition to Social Security, I have ten years of federal service from a prior job that will likely add less than a couple of hundred dollars a month to my retirement income.

I'll admit the idea of having to save up enough money for a comfortable retirement was intimidating. Having now contributed to a tax-deferred retirement plan for more than three decades, what once looked impossible is now within reach. Retirement is more than just a dream for...

The Crotchety Old Man

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Yesterday an assistant to the literary agent of my dreams sent me a polite rejection e-mail. While a teeny little bit disappointed, I wasn't really surprised. The bigger disappointment was that the boiler-plate language was so unhelpful.

"We apologize for the long delay in our response and thank you for your patience." No problem. I know the literary agent of my dreams is busy. Besides, less than three weeks seems like a pretty quick turnaround.

"Please be assured we have carefully considered your project." Carefully my ass. If that were true, the assistant would have addressed the message to Mr. Crotchety rather than to my mother--the only Ms. Crotchety I know. Or maybe Ms. was a typo. Either way, nothing about it says careful to me.

"Unfortunately we don't feel the manuscript is right for us at this time." As I only sent the first 50 pages and am reasonably certain the assistant never even opened the attachments, it must have been something I said in the query letter. Or maybe it was something I didn't say. "Not right for us" could mean anything.

"Because we receive more than 200 submissions per week, it is necessary to be extremely selective on a very subjective basis." In other words, they can do whatever they want and it is pointless to argue with them. Gotcha.

"We wish you the best of luck. There are numerous excellent agents that might be the right fit for your manuscript. Don't give up!" Where we face-to-face I could no doubt find someplace where my manuscript would fit rather nicely...

The assistant just follows orders. Knowing a little more about exactly why he or she rejected my query would make this more of a learning experience. However, with more than 200 submissions a week I can understand why more specific feedback simply isn't possible.

Thanks to many of you, I know the manuscript is not the problem. Glass Houses is well-written with a story that keeps people reading to the very end. Is it a little long? Definitely. Could a professional editor cut out chapters and parts of chapters to improve the narrative? Absolutely.

The assistant never saw the manuscript. The problem is with the query. Until I can come up with a one-sentence hook that describes the book and makes people want to read it, the rejections will likely continue. Obviously I have some homework to do.

I said I wouldn't try another literary agent. I changed my mind last night and set about finding the first runner-up literary agent of my dreams. As you know, the first runner-up assumes the official duties in the event something happens to the literary agent of my dreams. Something happened...the bitch rejected me!

Within the next few weeks I hope to submit a completely revamped query and synopsis along with the first 50 pages to the new literary agent of my dreams. I'm allowed to change my mind. Call me fickle if you want, but most people call me...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Crotchety on Television

Despite promising never to do so again, recent events force me to blog about the world of television. I can't help myself. With politics and religion off the table and nothing new to report on Glass Houses, I simply have no choice.

Worst Cooks in America recently wrapped up season one. Because the absolute worst were the most fun to watch, the show started off strong and faded as each bad cook was eliminated. Joshy was the winner. Yeah. Joshy. Like Josh wasn't informal enough. Anyway, if Joshy ever opens a restaurant, don't go. He never kicked his habit of re-using his tasting spoon to stir the pot.

You're Cut Off wrapped up season two last night. A group of women competing to be the next "it" girl (a la Paris Hilton) learn in the first episode they have been cut off by their parents (or the boyfriend in one case). Outside of the Real Housewives franchise, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more unlikable group of over-indulged women. Two contestants didn't make it through the season--one announced she'd just find a new boyfriend and the other was too psychotic for anything but a padded cell. Watch for Marissa and her mother to get a spin-off show.

American Idol has kicked off season 97 or whatever. I've only watched bits and pieces but believe Steve Tyler and Jennifer Lopez were excellent replacements for Lala Abdul and Simon Scowl. Now Randy needs to go. Nobody believes he ever did anything anyway. From what I've seen the 24 finalists look like the most attractive and most talented cast yet.

Atlanta is the only Real Housewives show I'll let myself watch...and maybe a New Jersey now and then. Nene needs to move on. Maybe she'll win Celebrity Apprentice. Bwahahaha! Sheree needs to go, too. She's getting a little long in the tooth for what I gather is her only real talent. Kim is ready for a spin-off but will likely finish her career back in the line up at the Cheetah Club, the Atlanta strip club where she got her start.

The new Dancing with the Stars cast will include Wendy Williams, Kirstie Alley, Ralph Macchio, Sugar Ray Leonard and a bunch of others I really don't know. For me, I'm in until Wendy goes home. I'm pretty sure she'll outlast Kirstie.

Stick a fork in Two and a Half Men--I'm calling it done. We love Charlie Harper because he's just so adorable. The Charlie Sheen we've seen on television lately isn't very likable at all. Turns out he was acting a lot more than anyone thought.

Tabitha's Salon Makeover is always good. She finds salons in all different flavors filled with the flakiest hairdressers on the planet. No matter how dysfunctional, Tabitha cuts to the root of the problem and turns things around. If she was born in the U.S. I'd want her to run for president.

I'm watching Top Chef All Stars, too. The Top Chef franchise is the best of all the cooking shows if you ask me. Up until the last episode or two the returning cast members have all been very collegial and cooperative. I expect the drama to intensify as we wind down to finding a winner (who will surely be Richard Blais).

Yeah I know--it's all crap. Back when we only had four channels, television was better. If not, you turned it off. It may not be good, but now there's always something good enough for...

The Crotchety Old Man
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