Thursday, January 31, 2008

The leaden brain

A newspaper article from last Sunday at least partially answered a question I've had for several years: If lead is bad for the human brain, then what about all of lead in gasoline that we were exposed to for many years? It wasn't until 30 years ago or so that lead disappeared from fuel, but until then we were all exposed in the form of exhaust and air pollution.

This article points out that studies show that yes, we have been affected; that lead speeds up mental decline, and advances our age by up to five years. Which means even if my body isn't chronologically eligible for retirement, my brain is.

Seriously, though, if you extrapolate on this article, how many of the people in nursing homes right now are there at least partly because of exposure to gasoline fumes? Maybe hundreds of thousands…maybe those of us from the baby boomer generation will be bulging out the walls of the Alzheimer's nursing homes, just like we bulged out the walls of schools. The situation may make the Chinese manufactured toy recalls of the past year seem miniscule if the costs of having lead in gasoline for decades are ever successfully totaled.


Thanks to those of you who gave me some sympathy about my toothache. It was the worst one I've ever had, thanks to an infection in my jaw. I spent an hour in the dentist's chair on Monday getting drilled. A root canal has eased the pain; antibiotics are helping the infection, the cold air outside and constant bombardment of winter weather aren't. Even if I wasn't able to retire from my job due to a prematurely aging brain I'd want out just because of the weather.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Toothache food


I don't get many of those, but I've had this one since Friday night. I've been lying around with a heating pad on my face, alternating Advil and Tylenol, and thinking about calling the emergency dentist. Sucks to not have dental coverage.

Since I can't eat real food I did the next best thing. I fixed myself something I thought I could eat. Here's my recipe for toothache food:

Take two slices of white bread. Tear up and throw in bowl.

Pour in ½ c. 1% milk.

Mash bread until a gooey consistency, then sprinkle on some powdered cinnamon to give it some sort of flavor and look.

Try to keep the food from falling on the counter while eating.

When you find that even near-liquified bread hurts when biting down, take out bottle of two-year-old Lortabs, prescribed during convalescence from broken sternum caused by car wreck, and take one when finished.

Next time, eat yogurt or soup that doesn't have anything chewy in it.

Talk to you when I'm better.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Baby, it's old outside

Every day in this freezing weather makes me more and more aware of advancing age. Moan. Groan.

But, everyone gets old. Well, except for my coworker who died last week. He was two years younger than me. He won't be getting old. He keeled over from a heart attack.

My other coworkers and I spend a lot of time talking about health and doctor visits, especially when someone our age dies. This is what people do when they get old. They go to doctors and worry about their health. They should worry, anyway. One of the guys in my department is a diabetic, two are pre-diabetic. One of the pre-diabetics is doing something about it, the other one is spitting in the reaper's eye, saying, "Come and get me, Big Guy." Which, of course he will, but then, he'll get all us all in the end.

Even Superman gets old.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


And here I thought I had a good item for a blog entry. Sally is reading Gene Wilder's 2005 autobiography, Kiss Me Like A Stranger. She ran across the information that the reason the horses whinny every time they hear the name of Frau Blucher, the old caretaker of the castle in Young Frankenstein, is because the word "blucher" is German for glue. Wrong, says, the website that debunks such stories. The word is not German for glue, but merely a common German surname.

Wilder got the name for the script from writings of Freud. Apparently even he thinks the name means "glue," or at least he did when he wrote his book.

Well, that wouldn't be the first time reality crowded out a good story.

I've written before of two coworkers from my early 1970s stint in a dried food company, Jerry and Howard. They went to see Young Frankenstein, thinking it was a serious horror film. They were indignant that it was a comedy. I guess those two were the only two people in the whole world who thought they were going to see a horror film when they went to see it, but that's what happens when you're drunk 24 hours a day, seven days a week. What Howard and Jerry did get out of it was the word "schwanstugel," used by Teri Garr as Inga, when she describes how huge the monster will be. "A man that size would have an enormous schwanstugel!" Jerry and Howard used that word until the day Howard died in a rollover crash. A joke is funny once or twice, but a hundred times every day, no.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Young, blonde and beautiful

A beautiful young blonde woman boards a plane to LA with a ticket for the coach section. She looks at the seats in coach and then looks ahead to the first class seats. Seeing that the first class seats appear to be much larger and more comfortable, she moves forward to the last empty one.

The flight attendant checks her ticket and tells the woman that her seat is in coach. The blonde replies, "I'm young, blonde and beautiful, and I'm going to sit here all the way to LA." Flustered, the flight attendant goes to the cockpit and informs the captain of the blond problem.

The captain goes back and tells the woman that her assigned seat is in coach. Again, the blonde replies, "I'm young, blonde and beautiful, and I'm going to sit here all the way to LA." The captain doesn't want to cause a commotion, and so returns to the cockpit to discuss the blonde with the co-pilot.

The co-pilot says that he has a blonde girlfriend, and that he can take care of the problem. He then goes back and briefly whispers something into the blonde's ear. She immediately gets up, says, "Thank you so much," hugs the co-pilot, and rushes back to her seat in the coach section.

The pilot and flight attendant, who were watching with rapt attention, together ask the co-pilot what he had said to the woman. He replies, "I just told her that the first class section isn't going to LA."


In case you couldn't tell, that was a joke. This is not a joke: my friend Eddie Hunter has just published the 1500th blog in his Chicken Fat series. Eddie's blogs, about his family tree, hometown of Marietta, Georgia, national politics, his dog, Willow, his visits to the cardiologist, and even what ribs joints in his town are great, are always entertaining. I don't mean to stereotype, but when I read Eddie's stories, I can just "hear" him talking, telling his tales and giving observations in the tradition of great Southern storytelling. Eddie and I met via the Internet--the old Prodigy Classic, DOS-based message boards--in the early 1990s, and he was entertaining me back then, too. Thanks for lots of good reading, Ed. May you have another 1500!

Monday, January 21, 2008

I need a snowblower

Today we woke up to snow. Lots of snow! Copious amounts of snow. Tons, gobs; we were whomped. Sally and I went out about 9:00 and shoveled our driveway and sidewalk. We came in and went back out a couple of hours later only to find it had snowed yet another couple of inches, so we bent our backs over the shovels again.

I need a snowblower, but we have only a carport, and no place to keep a snowblower. The picture above is another kind of snowblower.

When we were finished shoveling Sally got out a yardstick and measured. We had 13" of the white stuff on our park strip, about 12" on the lawn. This isn't all that unusual for us, really. We get one or two storms of this type every year.

We live right off the main road to ski resorts Snowbird and Alta. When it snows like it did this morning the canyons where the resorts are usually have to be closed for a time, both to clear the roads and to shoot down avalanches. Some people have been killed this year in avalanches, more than the usual number. It isn't a way I'd like to die. Skiers tend to be adventurous, thrill-seeking, don't you think? Roaring down a hill on a couple of wooden slats, or on a snowboard, takes a certain type of individual. I'm the type of guy who always hangs on to the handrail when I go down stairs. I'm very, very careful. So others enjoy skiing, even risking avalanches, but not me.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Service with a snarl

Friday I stopped at a bakery on my route. I don't often stop there, only about once every two months. I love their lemon scones, and sometimes temptation overtakes me. When I walked into Pierre's Country Bakery the young woman behind the counter scowled at me.

Don't get me wrong…I understand that people are sometimes natural scowlers, or I might remind them of someone they hate. I try not to let it bother me too much. I knew I'd never seen her before and hadn't offended her. She asked me, "What do you want?" rather than, "May I help you?" I overlooked it. I said, "I'd like a lemon scone and coffee, please."

She told me the price and when I handed her a $20 bill she shot me another look of annoyance. Instead of counting out the change, or even handing it to me in a polite manner, she shoved a wad of bills and coins into my hand. "Sixteen or twenty ounce?" she asked. I asked her to repeat herself--I'm hard of hearing--and this time she shouted, "Sixteen or twenty ounces?!"

"Sixteen," I replied, still being as pleasant as possible. She went to the air pot that held the hot coffee and as she held down the top to draw the coffee she gave me her most glaring look yet. "Room for cream?"

"Beg your pardon?"

"I said, room for cream?!"

Yeah, sure.

When I left I felt the heat from her flaming eyeballs in the back of my head. What did I do to her, I thought.

The next school on my route has a couple of friendly secretaries, so I told them my story. One of them, Cris, told me, "You should have asked to see the manager and reported her." Ah, as I explained to Cris, I don't report people. I let other people report people. It was poor customer service, but not the worst I've ever gotten, and maybe she'd piss off someone who was more inclined to tell her boss.

When someone has a bad experience at a business they are most likely not to say anything, but they will not go back. They are also more likely to tell several friends, whereas if they have a good experience they are unlikely to tell anyone. It's human nature to talk about injustices, not everyday niceties. But it's those niceties that keep us coming back. So I'm reporting this to you. If you find yourself in Salt Lake City, Utah on 3300 South Street, right below Wasatch Boulevard, and see Pierre's Country Bakery sitting in a little strip mall, remember your old pal Postino's bad experience.

However, I know as sure as you're reading this--and if you've gotten this far then congratulations for putting up with my gasbagging--I will go back to Pierre's one day. The lure of the lemon scone is strong, even stronger than a memory of bad customer service.

Just a half hour earlier than my bad experience at Pierre's I was in a school talking with a principal who lives in Park City, Utah, where the Sundance Film Festival is currently happening. I asked her what it was like in her town right now, and she said it was awful. Maybe it's great for the stars and celebs, but it's terrible for the townfolk. She said she and her husband were on Main Street, so choked by people that, as she put it, "If someone had a heart attack they'd die because no one could get to them."

She also told me that last year she was standing in a line at her bank, patiently waiting her turn when a woman in a floor-length fur coat breezed in and went straight to the teller. The teller said, "The line is over there, ma'am, and you'll have to wait." The woman retorted, "I don't wait in lines."

When the teller caved in and helped the woman, a man standing behind the principal said, "God, I hate Sundance." Another tale of bad customer service, this time indirectly.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Short Stories

Thursday night Sally and I watched a show about Rachael Ray on E! cable network. Ray is a TV personality with an uptempo style that can get tiring. But I like biographies, whether I like the subject or not. What was interesting to me is how Ray met her husband, John Cusimano. She said they were at a party, the room was full of tall people, and she spotted Cusimano, the only other short person in the room.

Pictures of Ray with her husband show he is a shorty, so more power to you, mate.

I looked up an online short people support group, and saw the heights of famous people who are also challenged in the vertical inches achieved category. I find people as famous as the artist Thomas Hart Benton and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie were both 5 feet tall.

The most decorated soldier of World War II, Audie Murphy, who went on to make movies until he died, was 5' 5".

Sharing the lineup at 5' 4" are Houdini, Picasso, movie director Martin Scorcese, and even two of the three stooges, Moe and Larry. Curly towered over his buddies at 5' 5".

What I want to know is, how do these short people support group folks know those were actual heights? In some cases they have to be estimates. They obviously couldn't put a tape measure to the notorious Marquis de Sade to find out he was 5' 3".

I'd think that celebrities would wear lifts in their shoes, or otherwise try to obscure the fact that they are shorter than average. I can't imagine a worse thing if I were famous, having someone come up to me at an airport and say, "You're a lot shorter than you look on screen." Mae West is reputed to have been 5' tall, but you wouldn't be able to tell that from this photo.

Short people have a problem in a tall people world. Cupboards are too tall, grocery store shelves are too tall, people standing in front of them at a parade are too tall. All of that has nothing to do with Rachael Ray, though. In a tall person world, even at her height, she looms large.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Hey, Canada! Take back your cold!

Man, it has been cold lately. It's about 12 degrees F. this morning. I guess you northerners, folks in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Canada, where the cold air is coming from, would be basking in warmth at 12 degrees. Next week it's going to get cold again, down around single digits. You'll all be dressed in t-shirts and shorts, no doubt.

Every year I hear the same thing…big trough of high pressure settled over my state, sending the jet stream into Canada, and the Canucks retaliate by sending their cold air down to us.

Well, knock it off. We aren't a bunch of Sergeant Prestons of the Yukon down here. We're all sissies who can't stand the low temperatures. I don't think my furnace has shut off for a week, and whatever blower you're using Up There to send your chill Down Here, shut it off, dammit.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

I Hate Wal-Mart

I hate Wal-Mart. I really do. I hate that the goods they sell are cheaper than anyplace else around so I more-or-less feel obligated to save money by buying there. If I shop at Wal-Mart I find an item for $4.00 that costs $8.00 at another grocery store. My theory is that Wal-Mart will one day run every one of its competitors out of business and then we'll all live in the United States of Wal-Mart. Not only that, by buying its cheap goods from China, they are propping up their economy to a point where Wal-Mart may be the de facto government of that country before long. The People's Republic Of Wal-Mart.

Sam Walton, wherever you are now I'll bet you're proud of yourself.

Today we had a short list of items to buy so we headed for, you guessed it, Wal-Mart. The problem is that Wal-Mart is a block from my home, and every other store is more than a mile. With gasoline at $3.00/gallon I think I'm saving money and energy. How is that for rationalizing selling your soul to Satan? Anyway, we stood in a line to make our purchases. The young woman ahead of us was paying with cash, over a hundred dollars worth of groceries, and she didn't dig out the money from her purse until she got the final tally. I didn't mind so much; she was about 21, very pretty, and when she saw she was inconveniencing me she flashed me a smile which flooded testosterone through my old veins. Pretty girls know how to defuse anger, don't they? Daddy paid thousands for her perfect teeth, and she made sure I saw every one of them from between those red, perfect lips.

The person who annoyed the hell out of me was behind me; a woman, not as young as the 21-year-old in front of me, but old enough to know better, who kept up a continuing one-sided dialogue on her cell phone. She never shut up. We heard about her personal problems for the whole time we stood in front of her. Not only that, she had a rasping, irritating voice that carried, so everyone within range could hear her and her personal stories. I want to warn everyone, SHUT UP IN CHECKOUT LINES! I do not want to hear about your new haircut, your car problems, your boyfriend problems, your PMS, your bowling score, your boss's affair with his secretary…I don't want to hear any of that. What I want to do in the checkout line is look at the covers of People and Us and see the headlines about Britney Spears. I don't know Britney, don't care about Britney, but a whole lot of people are sure interested in her problems, aren't they? She probably wouldn't have so many problems if people weren't there causing her to melt down in the first place.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Avid Photog

My wife, Sally, spent yesterday with her friend Kris in a late--way late--Christmas celebration. When Kris and Sally get together I know I won't see Sally for about 10 to 12 hours. They only see each other a few times a year, for birthdays and Christmas, and they spend a lot of time catching up. We've all known each other a long time. Kris, Sally and I went to high school together, graduating the same year.

Kris is an avid photographer, spending a lot of time with her digital camera. She gave Sally some prints of pictures she'd taken at Farmington Bay Waterfowl Refuge, on the Great Salt Lake. The first one, the snowy egret standing in the water, was from a trip out there in the autumn, but the two others, the barn owl in flight and Northern Harrier on the broken tree were taken recently on a snowy, winter day. Click on the pictures for full-size images.

Kris is not just avid about pictures, she's obsessed. She told Sally she developed the pictures at Sam's Club. The store closes at 10:00 p.m., but Kris stayed at the photo machine until midnight, without the store employees still in the building knowing it. When she went to leave she startled the manager, who had no idea she was still in the store. He had to unlock the door to let her out.

As Sally and I would say, "That's just Kris."

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year

It's 2008 already. Weren't we just worrying about Y2K and the crash of civilizations when computers went bonkers on January 1, 2000? That turned out OK. Otherwise, why do we make a big deal out of New Year's Eve and New Year's Day anyhow? They're just days on the calendar, but have significance far beyond being number one in yet another sequence of 365 days…or 366 in 2008.

As a new year treat, I've been saving up some weird photos for some occasion. I've never gotten around to figuring out a context for them, so I'll just throw them in.

First up, something I'll bet David Caruso, "Horatio Caine" of CSI: Miami, wishes he had back:In the first couple of 1981 episodes of the cop show, Hill Street Blues, he had a bit part as Shamrock, leader of an Irish street gang. He got to wear a really silly looking Irish hat and a vest with a shamrock and the embroidered name, Shamrock. Hill Street Blues was a good show, and groundbreaking for its time, but this sort of character was a throwback to a sillier time in TV.

Here are some more pictures of people with tattoos. How about Buffalo Bill, here, existing on the "fringe" or society?Or Skeletor? How'd you like to give this lad a job interview?
Watch where you're pointing your monkey, fella…
These are pictures from the website listed at the bottom of each photo. The idea is for Photoshop users to take mouths and turn them into eyes. These are four of my favorites, but visit the site for more. Any of you with Photoshop talent, have fun and join in.