Wednesday, March 22, 2017

THREE WEEKS OF HELL

Dovetailing on my previous sermon about Home Improvement, I'm now 3 weeks into installing a new shower in our house. The demolition was a breeze. Of course, that's the fun stuff - hand a chimpanzee a sledge hammer and stand back. Twelve hours later and you're ready to start the construction.

I won't bore both of my readers with the specifics of the construction phase. It's more boring than listening to how Oprah lost 43 pounds (for the 43rd time).

What I WOULD like to tell you is the result of the construction. No, the construction is nothing to shout about. In fact, it looks a lot like if I had taken the sledge hammer away from the chimpanzee who did the demo and handed him 600 3"x6" subway tiles and said "go for it".

Instead, I'd like to focus on the ULTIMATE result of the construction. At the end of each day of the project, I'd drag my aging body down the stairs to the arms of my loving wife. Each day I looked progressively more like a survivor of Navy Seals "hell week".

Today, the wife (upon seeing me at the end of the day looking like death itself) felt sorry for me and proclaimed: "This is it! This will be the LAST project you are going to do this year! Now, sit down and let me bring you a glass of beer."

So, to all you guys out there whose wives have projects for them lined up for the next 12 months, just do ONE big project and look miserable at the end of each day.

It works. Trust me.

Readers, enjoy your day.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

HOME IMPROVEMENT

I've always enjoyed the challenge of taking on jobs with which I have no experience and about which I know nothing. Hmmm, maybe I should run for President...but I digress.

My latest challenge is a bathroom shower demolition and renovation. To this end I have crammed a lifetime of new knowledge into but a few short weeks. My source of this knowledge is that wonderful fountain of wisdom known as YouTube.

On YouTube confusion reigns supreme regarding construction in general and plumbing in particular. For every master plumber who chimes in with his/her opinion, there are 5 others who say that he/she (in the plumbing vernacular) is full of crap. Thus, one must carefully sift through the rubble of opinions and pick the information that is the least likely to create a biblical flood in one's house.

Now, having watched hundreds of two-minute videos and being a quasi- journeyman plumber, I ventured to my nearest big box home improvement store to gather the materials needed for the project.

The experience was memorable.

I will never mention the name of the store where I bought my materials. This information will go to the grave with me. I mention this solely because I believe in being fair to the store involved. The store in question (which shall remain nameless) is the store that promises the LOWESt prices.

Upon entering this home improvement bastion I was shocked at how few customers were shopping, given the fact that it was a weekend afternoon. Interestingly, employees were similarly scarce. To the one worker that I finally corralled, I posed a question. Unsatisfied with the response, I proceeded to find another employee....and again and again.

Without boring you with the specific question that I posed, the responses were telling. Here's a rundown of what I was told.:

"I don't usually work in this department."
"I'm new here."
"It's time for my break. I'll be back in about 30 minutes."
"Could you spell that?"

This represented the start of this project. How do I feel about it? It's the LOWESt point in my life, LOWEr than you can imagine.

Despite the headaches of purchasing materials, taking on this new challenge is enjoyable. If anyone is so inclined, feel free to ask me any project-related questions over the next few weeks.

Just don't ask me the name of the store.

My lips are sealed.

Readers, enjoy your day.

Friday, February 10, 2017

DREAM

I'm bored senseless when I hear someone talk about dreams that they have had. You know, the dreams that go on forever including Uncle Fred, Henry Kissinger, cousin Margie and the Boston Bruins hockey team.

Which is why I'm going to write about a dream I had last night.

There was a house party. In the corner of the round-shaped room was a tall man with a beautiful and calming voice. People were drawn to him and his lovely wife. He didn't speak much about himself, preferring to speak about the people around him. He attracted a sizable crowd who enjoyed his company and engaging personality.

I was captivated by this man and wished that I could get to know more about him and enjoy more of his delightful stories.

He had a humorous side as well. His approach at humor was always a positive and inclusive one which was careful not to offend anyone. He joked about himself several times which those at the party clearly enjoyed.

Before I could get around to speaking to him in person, he and his wife bid the party farewell. People asked him to stay, not wanting their experience with him to end. He told us that he had other places to go and, with regrets, must leave.

Wanting to meet him personally, I followed him and his wife from the party. I introduced myself to him and his wife and asked them their names. He replied simply "Barack and Michelle" then smiled and waved goodbye.

When I returned to the party, the only voice that could be heard was a loud old guy at the bar who had had way too much to drink.

Wow, what a weird dream.

Readers, enjoy your day.

Monday, December 26, 2016

GREAT LESSONS IN LIFE

In my various posts I've occasionally alluded to my father's influences upon me. indeed, he was a great teacher. I still remember the day that he taught me how to tie my shoes as well as his many other lessons in life. Mixing concrete, fixing a car, building a fire, and using tools were all parts of the many things he taught me.

But the best thing he ever taught me was a skill that I still carry with me to this day. He taught me how to make great mashed potatoes.

Here's how it came about:

Like most families, we often had potatoes with our dinners. The possibilities were baked, mashed or boiled. Mashed were the best, baked weren't bad and boiled were not worth eating. Now, the difference between boiled and mashed lied only in my father's willingness to mash them as my mother despised the task. Unfortunately, after a hard day's work, my father would often times rather do anything than mash potatoes.

Here's where I came into the story. When I realized that it was incumbent upon me to save my family from the misery of boiled potatoes, I begged my father to teach me how to make them like he did. To that end he gave me some basic instructions which were overheard by my overly-attentive mother. Here's how the conversation went:

Pa: "Mash them as fine as you can get them, add milk and mash them some more. Now add some pepper..."

[My mother now interrupts]

Ma: "Not too much! I hear pepper isn't good for you."

Pa: "Then you add some salt..."

[My mother interrupts again]

Ma: "Not too much! I hear salt isn't good for you."

Pa: "Then you add some butter..."

[My mother interrupts again]

Ma: "Not too much! I hear butter isn't good for you."

And so it went. I became the go-to potato masher of the family. There was one problem however. Even though I followed my parents' instructions, my result was embarrassingly terrible.

After many unsuccessful attempts to create great mashers I asked my father (while out of earshot of my mother) what his secret was.

Ensuring that no one else could hear, he whispered to me:

"Lots of salt, lots of pepper, lots of butter, don't tell your mother."

From that day she always raved about my mashed potatoes...

...and she never suspected a thing.

Readers, enjoy your day.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

HAPPINESS

Having bought another guitar yesterday, I wondered how many I have bought and sold over the years. It took me the better part of the four-mile walk to figure it out. Not that it was hard to figure; I'm kind of A.D.D. and I was distracted along the way. (You know, the usual highly distracting things - seagulls eating from a dumpster, the clock on the county building chiming, clouds overhead, etc.) Alas, I came up with a total of 22 guitars. Truth be known, the total includes 2 banjos, which are a variety of guitar played mostly by Republicans.

I thought for a long while as to why I have bought so many guitars over the years. Truthfully, there's something unique about guitars. Let's face it - how many pianists have bought 22 pianos in a lifetime? Even Liberace probably bought only a couple. Furthermore, think about other instruments - bassoons, clarinets, trombones - how many do you think that their owners have bought in a lifetime? I'll venture a bet that it's less than 22 and probably less that 3.

Then what is it about guitars?

As I approached the end of my walk, I pretty much had it figured out: guitars make me happy. There's something about the sound and feel of a guitar that brings me comfort and peace. To that end, I encourage others to learn the guitar and find the inner peace that I have found.

To help you to better understand this phenomenon, you may also want to know my playing routine. Here it is:

Around 4 p.m. I'll pour myself a beer and run through my scales as a daily refresher. Then I'll pour myself another beer and rip through some David Gilmour style leads. The next beer will find me learning a new arrangement of a Muddy Waters or B.B. King tune. Ray Charles has done a great version of the blues tune "Sinner's Prayer"; playing that tune usually requires a beer or two.

Yes, playing guitar makes me very happy.


Readers, enjoy your day.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

COFFEE HOUSES

Part of the fabric of the 1960's was the existence of coffee houses. If you are not familiar with these, forget Starbucks as a point of reference. As a matter of fact, I can think of nothing in this day and age that serves as an effective comparison to the coffee houses of the '60's. Imagine a small room, filled with smoke with old, tattered furniture crammed together. A small stage was at the back of the venue. Sometimes the stage was not a stage at all and just a few boards elevated slightly higher than the rest of the place. Coffee was the drink du jour in addition to hot spiced cider and a little ditty that the women liked called a "granitina". It was pomegranate juice mixed with 7-Up. (Pardon me, but isn't that the same thing as a Shirley Temple?)

The music was highly varied from offerings by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez as well as local, lesser-known artists. The tone was one of general dissatisfaction with society, politics, war, cops, education, parking tickets and virtually anything else that people could bitch about. While coffee houses were generally venues of readily forgettable peaceful protest, occasionally an artist would come along with a message that truly rattled our collective consciousness.

I will always remember one such singer.

He had just returned from a "love-in" in San Francisco. (Imagine 10,000 people smoking dope in Golden Gate Park, wearing dashikis and staring at the clouds. Groovy, baby.) He related a story to the audience that shook us to our very core, changing the way that we would think and live the rest of our lives. He told of a young woman sitting next to him at the love-in who was holding a balloon. The balloon slipped away from her and drifted off, high into the sky. As it disappeared into the heavens, she asked "is there a heaven for balloons?"

The singer then told the audience that this experience prompted him to write a song and, of course, he played and sang the song for us. I still remember the chorus lyrics:

Is there a heaven for balloons, my friend?
Is there a place to where they go?
Or do they just fly away?
I think that I shall never know.

In all of my days I have never seen such a reaction to a song from any audience. There was a 5-minute standing ovation and a collective pleading from the crowd to play it again. In all, I think the guy played it 4 times, or maybe it was 5. No matter. We all went away that evening with the memory of something special, beautiful and unforgettable.

This experience broadened my perspective in life, spurring me to think more about the great beyond, to learn more about the creation of the earth and its people, to become more involved in music, to study the sciences in college, to learn and appreciate the performing arts, to read Shakespeare, to love the simple things in life, to read The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, and to better understand my fellow humans.

Still though, despite these changes, my life remains empty, as understanding one of life's great mysteries continues to elude me. To this day I have not answered the question:

Is there a heaven for balloons?

Although I will never stop searching for an answer, alas, I think that I shall never know.

Readers, enjoy your day.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

RUSTLERS

My senses were awoken yesterday when I was making my twice-a-day trip to the local hardware store. I was in the most wonderful aisle in the store - the one that has all the nuts and bolts (zinc, stainless steel, galvanized and chrome). Just when I was sinking into a delightful hardware-induced coma, along came two rustlers who ended up botching my otherwise pleasant trip to the my favorite aisle in the store.

Oh, you don't know who rustlers are?

My apologies.

Let's rewind a minute to a previous sermon in which I sung the praises of our local hardware store. Key to these praises was the fact that our hardware store features free bags of fresh popcorn. Among those who partake of the free corn is the occasional rustler. These schmucks are easy to spot, much like Republicans at a rap concert.

Rather than simply consuming their free bag of corn, rustlers incessantly shake the bag around, thus creating (what I consider to be) an annoying ruckus.

Why this noise bothers me I cannot say. Perhaps buried in my subconscious is an incident from my childhood. Maybe I was taken hostage against my will by a strange cult whose only source of food was popcorn and whose only source of entertainment was enjoying the sound of popcorn being shaken about.

Yes, I'm sure that must be it.

Some time ago I told the wife about this strange aversion that I have to the sound created by rustlers. The look on her face told me that she thought that I was being overly intolerant. Then came the day when we were in a movie theater, seated directly in front of a particularly active rustler. His rustling went on well into the film. He must have ordered the jumbo trash can size bag. Thankfully, there were some empty seats in the theater, otherwise the wife would have pelted the guy with a barrage of Milk Duds.

In the days of yesteryear, rustlers (of the cattle and horse variety) were dealt with in the most severe way. Hangings were not out of the question. That is not to imply that I'm in favor of public hangings for popcorn rustlers. Rather, as always, I believe that the punishment should fit the crime.

A good pelting with Milk Duds makes much more sense.

Readers, enjoy your day.