Monday, December 25, 2017


The movie "White Christmas" is one of my faves. In it, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye et al sing and dance their way into our hearts with the ultimate goal (spoiler alert) of saving the day for their former WW2 commanding officer who now owns an inn in Vermont and there are no guests because there's no snow on the ground.


One scene from the movie is designed to capture our hearts and turn our attitudes toward the concept of snow from negative ones ("jeez I'm sure sick of shoveling this crap") to positive ones ("snow, snow, beautiful snow").

We in the Pacific Northwest are more used to a "wet Christmas" than a "white Christmas"; rain being the norm for this time of year. Thus, it was a great surprise to wake up to three inches of fresh snow on Christmas Day.

We took our wonderful dog for a walk in the snow. All the way we were greeted by people outdoors enjoying a beautiful white Christmas. It was a scene straight out of Currier and Ives - kids throwing snowballs, building snowmen, adults going for a walk.

Until now, I could not imagine a more perfect Christmas.

Then, as I tuned in to this afternoon's football game covered by NBC, I saw that Cris Collinsworth is NOT announcing the game.

Like I said, I cannot imagine a more perfect Christmas.

Readers, enjoy your Christmas day.

Friday, December 8, 2017


Some years ago I was an enthusiastic fan of greyhound dog racing. In a nutshell, if horse racing is the "sport of kings", dog racing is the "sport of slobs". Yes, readers, dog racing people are my kind of folks - hot dog in one hand, beer in the other and daily race lineups tucked in their armpits. These folks have an enthusiasm for the spectacle of dog racing which puts that of the Kentucky Derby to shame. Admittedly, dog racing fans lack the elegance of the horse racing crowd as there is nary a showy hat or a mint julep drink to be seen. Rather, the scene is more along the lines of John Deere hats worn backwards and 24-ounce plastic cups of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

My enthusiasm for dog racing was brought to a sudden halt one memorable August night. In one of the races, the pack of dogs was racing speedily toward the finish line cheered on by the beer-soaked crowd of ticket holders. There was an unfortunate pileup just after the finish line from which most of the animals escaped unscathed. There was one animal, however, which remained still long after the other dogs had wandered off to their respective handlers. A wheeled cart was brought out to tend to the injured animal and when the handler lifted the dog from the track it was plain to see that its body was lifeless. Unceremoniously, the deceased dog was placed on the cart and taken away.

The results of the race were posted on the tote board and there were shouts of enthusiasm from some of those in the crowd proclaiming the good fortunes of the lucky few who won some additional cash. Amidst the excitement of the winnings there was little attention paid to how the tote board described the deceased animal. It was listed as DNF - "did not finish." I pondered that for a long time and it accentuated the point that these animals were but economic assets to their owners. This particular animal had been given a new name.

It was DNF.

Along with the animal in question, my interest in greyhound dog racing died that August evening.

Fast forwarding to last Monday night. I was watching a football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cincinnati Bengals. A Steelers linebacker, Ryan Shazier, sustained what appeared to be a serious back injury. Much like the dog racing incident, a cart was wheeled out onto the field and he was taken away.

The game resumed.

The announcers and commentators were quick to point out that this is "part of the game" and we should all send "thoughts and prayers" for the injured player. Later on, the same comments flooded the lines of the many sports talk shows in between the comments about the fantastic game and the good, aggressive play of both teams. Three days later there was a minor mention on the sports page as to the fate of the young man who sustained the back injury. In short, it was a severe injury.

Like many NFL players who get carried off the field in a cart, this player's career could be over. But, from the team owner's perspective, there are backup players to take his place. After all, the team must look forward, not backward. Because these things, injuries and all, are part of the game.

And the injured player's future? The team owner may quietly rename him while importantly keeping the man in his thoughts and prayers. He will now be privately known as DNF.

Readers, enjoy your day.

Monday, August 21, 2017


A piece of America is being lost. In case you've not heard, Radio Shack is closing down many of its stores. Will all of them close? That remains to be seen.

Always considered the doormat of electronics among high-end stereo freaks for its schlocky stereo equipment, Radio Shack has survived these many years by being the sole provider of electric "stuff". (I call it that because I don't know the names of any of the little do-dads that they sell.)

But, I (and you) don't have to know these names because the folks at Radio Shack DO know them.

When you walk into a Radio Shack you are immediately sized up by the workers there. For instance, when I walked in they likely nicknamed me "the guy who doesn't know shit about electronics".

When I'd approach a Radio Shack employee I would confirm to them their suspicions by saying "hi, I'm Mark and I don't know shit about electronics". The one I'm speaking to would flash an all-knowing grin to his partner, communicating an unspoken code known only to electronics geeks which says "yup, here's another one".

The next challenge is for the electronics moron (me) to describe what it is I need. This is always frustrating for both parties and likely takes up most of the time of a Radio Shack employee. I can almost hear the conversation when a Radio Shack employee comes home to his wife at the end of the day. "Hi, dear. What did you do today?" "I listened to idiots who knew nothing about electronics describing what they wanted in incoherent sentences."

Ultimately, through something resembling osmosis, the needs of electronics numb skulls are figured out by the always patient Radio Shack employees.

Thus it was with a high degree of sadness that I found out that our local Radio Shack is closing. I went there because I needed a small electronic device that emits a high-pitched warning. Why Radio Shack? Because folks on the internet have unanimously said that "Radio Shack has them".

The sign on the door said it all. I don't remember what the specific words were because the tears streaming down my face blinded me to most of the letters.

"No more electrical do-dads" was the ultimate meaning of the sign on the door.

An era has passed. There will never be another Radio Shack.

I miss them.


Readers, enjoy your day.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017


Please ignore for a minute the title of this entry. I'll get to it in due time.

Canadians have a wonderful snack food that they hold near and dear to their hearts. In sharp contrast to Canadians' normally likeable nature, they won't share their favorite snack with their neighbors to the south. Between this and our not being able to delight in a purely Canadian Tim Horton's donut in the U.S., I'm a bit perturbed with Canada. The object of my discontent is Canadian "Cheezies", a junk food so junky that it should be banned in civilized countries. For those not in the know, Cheezies are similar to Cheetos but with more fat, salt and cheese...and other "stuff".

In short, they're an irresistible delicacy.

O.K, let's get to the subject at hand - SMUGGLING. As we left Canada a few days ago, we entered the black hole known as U.S. Customs and Immigration. The customs agent asked us the usual questions, including "are you bringing any food items into the U.S.?" Feeling somewhat like we were in confession we declared that we were crossing into the U.S. with a considerable load of Cheezies. The look on the agent's face said it all: humor, disgust, revulsion, disbelief, among others. The agent, feeling that we were Cheezies virgins, lectured us on the evils of this Canadian delicacy, stamped our passports and sent us on our way.

It occurred to us that the agent brushed us off rather rapidly, not wishing to further delve into other Canadian products that we may be carrying which might offend his sense of haute cuisine.

Which leads (mercifully) to the point of today's sermon:

If you wish to smuggle illegal items from Canada to the U.S., declare a large quantity of Cheezies.

They're the ultimate diversion.

Readers, enjoy your day.

Monday, August 7, 2017


Having returned from a fantastic weekend in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, I cannot help but think that our good neighbors to the north have the right formula. While we in the U.S. seem to negatively focus on the differences among us Americans, Canadians accept and embrace those differences.

Evidence of this was abundant this past weekend at the Heritage Festival in Edmonton. This event featured food, music and dance from no less than 70 different ethnicities that comprise the Edmonton population.

The food - where does one start? In the course of the day we ate jerked chicken (Jamaica), egg rolls (Singapore), lemon bitters (Australia), lefse hot dogs (Scandinavia), elephant ears (Romania), watermelon (Iran), potato on a stick (Lebanon), pretzels (Germany), and on and on.

Equally wonderful were the music, native dances and colorful clothing worn by the many different Edmonton citizens.

It was a wonderful weekend to observe what can and should be done to create inclusiveness within a highly diverse population. What a festival!

In many ways this wonderful Heritage Days festival defines what it is to be Canadian.

Let's not let ourselves be defined by Charlottesville.

Readers, enjoy your day.

Saturday, July 22, 2017


Have you ever lived in a tourist town? No? Consider yourself lucky. Imagine your town taken over by hoards of people, notably 75 year-old men wearing tank tops, sandals and knee-high socks; unsupervised children running madly through the streets; fourteen year-old girls whose attention is devoted to their smart phones.

These are but minor annoyances compared with that of a particularly sinister group of schmucks who invade tourist towns from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

There's a name for these people who will likely become the next key demographic group. They are called:


Just walk down the main street of any tourist town. On every block of sidewalk appears a group or more of Elbownians. They're easy to spot. They stand in the middle of the sidewalk gazing at points of interest with their hands on their considerable hips, elbows extended, thereby blocking other pedestrians from passing.

I've always wondered what happens to Elbownians once Labor Day arrives and they magically disappear. Perhaps they undergo a metamorphosis, spinning a cocoon around themselves and emerging a week later as an even more sinister force:

New England Patriots fans.

Readers, enjoy your day.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017


Our dog Scooter can never be accused of rushing into anything. On our twice-a-day walks he's not to be hurried. When he finds something by the side of the road that excites his olfactory senses, he'll make sure that every square inch of each fragrant mass of garbage gets worked over by his considerable proboscus.

For years I have engaged in the frustrating practice of trying to hurry him along, tugging on his leash to get him moving. I've tried bribes, coercion, treats, threats, trips to the vet and prison terms, all to no avail.

In short, he's not to be rushed.

After lo these many years I've come to the painful realization that my dog may be on to something. Think about it - why am I in such a rush to have him finish his sniffing and get back home? It's not as if I have a stack of appointments to attend to or a long "to do" list. Accordingly I've decided that I'm going to let him take his time strolling through the weeds looking for and appreciating the scent of the occasional fragrant piece of discarded garbage.

There's a lesson here for all of us. Let's start taking our time to appreciate the many wonderful things around us. Look up and appreciate the blue sky. Peer ahead at the mountains and trees. Enjoy the fragrance of the salt air by the seashore.

And let's make sure we take time to smell some garbage.

Readers, enjoy your day.


On previous West of Denver entries I've alluded to the fact that, on the spectrum from "Miser" to "Diamond Jim Brady" I lie somewhere near "Cheapskate" or "Skinflint". Luckily, I have lots of company.

Let's face it, most of us rarely pass up a bargain and, furthermore we're incapable of turning down most anything that's free. Even the great cartoonist Gary Larson of "The Far Side" got into the act with the following entry:

If you are one who cannot turn down free (and you probably are) - take heart. I've heard that it's a genetically inherited characteristic. Accordingly, blame your parents.

Which brings me to the point of today's sermon. While driving around our small town I've seen signs by the side of the road for free items. Some of these have included...

Free Manure
Free Puppies
Free Lumber
Free Baby chicks
Free Firewood
Free Rocks

...among many other things. In these cases I always ponder "Hmmm, a free truck tire. How can I put that to good use?" or "there's a free toilet seat...should I replace the one we already have?"

Here's where the reality ("I don't need it") meets the  rationale ("but it's free.")

Recently I faced a dilemma of massive proportions. Our downtown merchants were giving free tattoos to anyone over age 18. This was to celebrate the start of the Race To Alaska (R2AK) for those in the know. Yes, one could receive an R2AK tattoo free of charge. Admittedly, the logo is pretty cool:

Please be sure that I'm not a fan of tattoos - but they're free. I hate pain - but they're free. My friends would laugh at me - but they're free. The wife would never look at me the same - but they're free.

After much ponderance including selecting the spot on my aged body upon which said tattoo would be inscribed, I decided against taking advantage of this free offer.

While driving home that evening I experienced a case of cheapskate's remorse and decided that next year I would take advantage of the offer and will have the R2AK logo tattooed on my right shoulder blade.

But only if they're still free.

Readers, enjoy your day.

For more information about Race to Alaska visit

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


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


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


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.