The Meaning of Life

When I was a child, I had a dream that I looked up at the stars, and in the stars I saw the answer. THE answer, the ultimate answer to everything. It was perfect, it was beautiful, it was complete. Suddenly, the Universe, and everything in it, made sense. Then… I woke up.

Of course the answer was gone. It evaporated the instant I opened my eyes to this reality. I could remember having the dream, and that there was an answer. I could remember how it all made perfect sense. But I could not remember, not even the slightest detail, what that answer was. It was gone.

When I was a young adult, I experimented with cognitive dreaming. This sounds more impressive than it is. It’s nothing more than the ability to recognize the fact that you are in a dream, while you are in a dream. It’s easy enough to do, you just “will” it to happen every night before you go to sleep. It may take weeks, but eventually you will wake up in a dream, so to speak.

Once you realize your current reality is a dream, you have options. You can just let it play out, and see where it goes. You can guide it, direct it, change it, push it in whatever direction you like. Or, once you’ve had enough, you can simply end it, and return to our other, less malliable reality. (Freddie Kruger will NEVER get ME.)

I’ve always felt there are answers to be found in dreams. There’s nothing necessarily mystical or supernatural about it. Dreams are a doorway into our own subconscious. And our subconsious is quite good and putting things together, working out the details, and coming up with interesting answers for us. If we just tap into these answers, they can be very informative.

Many years later, when I was a not so young adult, I came up with a plan. The next time I was dreaming, and became aware of the dream, here’s what I would do: I would find the closest telephone, dial information, and ask the operator, “What is the meaning of life?”

If she gave me any crap about only supplying phone numbers, I would gently remind her that this was MY dream, and in my dream you could call information and get ANY information you wanted. (The ability to change the rules of your current reality can be both useful and exhilarating. Really. Try this sentence on for size: “Oh yeah, I almost forgot… I can fly!”)

It took a while. There were many false starts. I didn’t realize was how hard it would be to remember to do something once you’re in a dream. In all fairness, I have a hard time remembering to do things as it is. Let’s just say I had many, many dreams where I wandered around with the nagging sensation there was something I was supposed to do, but couldn’t remember what. But I did go flying a lot – I highly recommend it.

Then one night it happened. I was in a dream. I knew I was in a dream. And, I remembered what I wanted to do. Yes! This was it! I was on my way now. I was both nervous and excited, and very pleased with myself for having finally remembered. I found a phone quickly and with little difficulty. I picked it up and dialed information, so I could finally ask my question. THE question.

Well… You know what I got?

Boop-boop-booooop. We’re sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed. Please check the number, hang up, and try again.

Silence. (The long awkward type.)

Fuck! Okay. Don’t panic. Maybe I misdialed. That’s possible, right? Sure, I never said I couldn’t misdial. You can misdial in a dream, right? Let’s try this again…

I tried again. I tried every number I know for information. Twice. I dialed the operator directly, and asked her to put me through. I made up a special number that only worked for my reality, that always, always, always connects you to information, and dialed that. It was no use. No matter what I tried, the result was always the same: A recording. THE recording. “We’re sorry, your call cannot be completed as dialed…”

Then… I woke up.

I couldn’t hear it, but I know, I just know… Somewhere, the Universe was laughing.

Danger Ball

Several years ago my wife and I lived in a small town where there wasn’t a lot to do on a Saturday night. A good friend or ours would come over to the house, and we would all sit around and drink beer and think of new ways to amuse ourselves. On occasion we would invent new sports. My favorite was a creation we called “Danger Ball”. Danger Ball was a simple game, all you needed was a baseball, a dark night, and a large backyard. It helped if you had been sitting around drinking beer before playing, but that part is optional. The game works like this: you go outside on a dark night, and toss the baseball straight up into the air as high as you can… then try to catch it. You can keep score if you like, but the fun part was simply trying not to get yourself conked in the head when you lost sight the ball. Ah, good times…

My wife sent me an email the other day, about a story she heard on radio while listening to Paul Harvey. This was the full text of her message:

“Just heard a story about a man playing ‘Danger Brick’, sounded very similar to ‘Danger Ball’… except with a brick. He was found the next morning laying unconscious in his yard.”

I could SO not be Amish

Monday night (Labor Day), a storm blew through here.  Typical Florida storm, but…  In one instant there was a bright flash, and a really LOUD boom, and all the lights went out.  It got real, real dark.

I didn’t think about it before then, but it’s been a really long time since we lost power that wasn’t during a hurricane.  And a hurricane is different because we always have people with us, and there’s lots going on, and we sit around and eat and drink and play cards and watch the flying debris outside.

This was just me and Kat at home, nothing going on, and just a piddly, boring little storm outside.  I swear to God within 10 minutes I was bored out of my mind.

I asked Kat how people did it, living with no electricity.  She said it was about 9:30, so the Amish were in bed already.  After all they had to get up at four in the morning to do farm stuff.

I could so not be Amish.

I Have Seen It All Now

I can die now. I have seen everything. There is nothing left that could possibly top what I have seen. Oh, I thought I had seen it all. I have seen a man walk on the moon. I have seen the fall of the Berlin wall. I have seen solo synchronized swimming. I have seen the president of the United States playing Elvis tunes on a saxophone. I have seen a movie called Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. I have seen Howard Stem. I thought I had seen it all, but nothing could beat what I saw on TV the other night.

I have always suspected that television was indeed a vast wasteland, but I didn’t know how bad it had become. When I was a child there were only three channels on the tube, and quite often there was nothing on to watch. But we were quite happy watching our three channels of nothing. Then along came cable, and suddenly our entertainment options exploded. We now had thirteen channels of nothing to watch. Some of them even had nothing on 24 hours a day. We marveled at this electronic miracle. Then VCR’s were invented, so that if nothing was on, we could tape it and watch it later. Plus they had those nifty little digital clocks on the front of them. We didn’t even mind that turning on the vacuum cleaner and the air conditioner at the same time would cause a micro-second flicker that instantly reset the clock to a flashing 12:00. Then cable grew, soon there were 30, or even 60 channels of even less interesting stuff to watch. If that wasn’t enough, along came home satellite systems. Now you could watch nothing in a foreign language, like Canadian. And it is an even wider variety of nothing. Never again will you miss you favorite lose weight and get rich through psychic 1-900 counseling infomercial, they run 24 hours a day. There are exciting sports like harness racing, cricket, and Scandinavian women’s full contact volleyball. (Well, not really, but I wish there was.)

And the movies are great too, classics like Meatballs 3, the memorable Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, and, of course, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death. (I swear I didn’t make that up. It is a touching version of that old traditional love story: boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl eats boy in a sacred ritual to please the pagan gods of the mighty avocado.) Now they say that soon there will be 500 channels on cable. It boggles the mind. I hope somebody makes a remote control with turbo so I can keep up. The way I figure, it should break down something like this: In addition to the 60 or so channels of nothing we already have, there will be at least 100 channels of non-stop infomercials, another 100 or so home shopping channels, roughly 100 channels of religious programming, probably about 100 channels showing nothing but reruns of Cheers and/or Simon and Simon, at least one all-Elvis channel, and 39 channels of Guatemalan rules flag football.

One night I was channel surfing through the electronic ocean, and I saw it, the sight to end all sights. It is etched into my mind; it is indelibly stamped into my very being, I will carry this image with me to the day I die. I saw Robin Leach eating Spam on a Twinkie. I swear this is true; even my mind cannot invent something as twisted as this. Right there on the Television Food Network, in living color and full stereo sound, was Mr. Lifestyles himself choking down a Spam covered Twinkie. Any more questions about TV being a wasteland?

How does something like this happen? Well to start with, you need a food channel And, yes indeed, there is a food channel. There is a channel for everything, there are channels about other channels, there are channels about channeling, there are channels about the English channel, there are channels about Chanel no.5, and in the midst of it all, there is a food channel. As it turns out, Robin Leach has his own show on the food channel; it’s called Food That Might Possibly Be Eaten By People Who Think They Are Rich And Famous, or something like that. This particular night he had two items on his agenda. One, showing the correct way to open a bottle of champagne, and two, talking to a woman who had written a book about Spam. I don’t know which is more disturbing, the fact that someone has written an entire book about Spam, or that there are people out there who will pay good money to read it. Or the fact that this Spam person was being interviewed on national television. Or the fact that Ms. Spam was so seemingly important that she was being interviewed by phone. Or the fact that I was actually watching this. Take your pick of disturbing images, at least I didn’t buy the book. Actually the Spam lady’s book was about all different types of junk food, not just the slimy pink kind that comes in a tin can.

Robin Leach lost it. Somewhere between talking about that strange glaze-like jelly at the top of the Spam can and talking about where the cream in the Twinkie comes from, and how it gets there, he simply lost it. Perhaps he had been practicing on opening the champagne bottles earlier, I don’t know, but in any case he completely lost it. He had a package of Twinkles and a can of Spam in front of him. He cracked open the Spam, scooped out a nice healthy chunk with his fork, and tossed it down. The stage crew audibly grimaced, if such a thing is possible. Robin didn’t seem to like the Spam very much. Looking back, I don’t think he really cared much for the Spam lady either. Then he broke out the Twinkies. He seemed to like those better. Then he popped open a Coca-Cola and washed it all down. He seemed to like that too, although not as much as, say, champagne. Then the perverse side of Robin Leach came out, he began mixing and matching. He grabbed another Twinkie in one hand, then a forkful of Spam in another. The crew began to grimace again. They urged him not to do it, but he was out of control. He spread the Spam on top of the Twinkie like it was cheese on a cracker, only it wasn’t. And as God is my witness he ate it.

He seemed to enjoy it, sort of like Jack Nicholson seemed to enjoy smashing things up in that Steven King movie. Some of the crew excused themselves and ran towards the bathroom. He didn’t stop there. Since Coke and Twinkies go together, and he forced the Spam and Twinkies together, he thought he would give Coke and Spam a try. He poured the Coke into the Spam can, making what may be the world first Coca-Cola and Spam float. Little pieces of that jelly-like stuff started floating to the top. It turned a very strange color, one you don’t find occurring in nature. Then Robin Leach drank his Spam float. I was stunned. The crew was gone. Robin Leach grimaced. Robin Leach turned a very strange color, one you don’t find occurring in nature. This seemed to snap him back to his senses. He hung up on the Spam lady, tossed the whole Spam/Twinkie/Coke mess into the trash, and moved over to work on opening those champagne bottles. He seemed to be in a bit of a hurry. He opened one of the bottles, not at all the correct way, and poured himself a tall one. The crew was slowly beginning to return. He mumbled something about never having Spam on the show again, tossed back his champagne glass, and went to a commercial. Hopefully, he’s learned his lesson. If there is anything to be seen that can top this I’m not sure I want to see it. I’m pretty sure I didn’t want to see the Spam incident, but it’s too late now.

Last Days in Cincinnati

I have some very useless things lying around my house. The most obvious are our two cats. My wife would disagree with me on this point. Not that I have anything against cats, I like cats, but it’s just that our cats simply don’t do anything. They just lay around the house being, well, useless. I wouldn’t mind so much if every once in a while they would wash the car, or take out the trash, or maybe mow the lawn. You know, if they won’t go out and get a job, the least they could do is try to pull their weight at home. I have spoken to the cats about this on a few occasions. The ignore me. They are very good at that. It takes millions of years of evolution and breeding to produce an animal this capable at the art of ignoring. But this isn’t about or cats; but rather about another useless thing I found laying around the house. (You can make up your own joke here, if you like.)

While wandering around looking for useless things, I found a coupon for a free pizza. This is a good thing. One large pizza with two toppings, free. This is a very good thing. It is redeemable at any location in the Greater Cincinnati area. This is not such a good thing anymore. I do not live anywhere near anything that remotely resembles Cincinnati. This is a good thing if you consider the difference in the amount of snow there and here in Florida. (Cincinnati – entirely too much, I’m not going out there, it’s too darn cold vs Florida – none in this decade.) This is also a good thing if you consider the distance to the closest beach. (Florida – a 15 minute drive vs Cincinnati – what’s a beach? Oh, you mean with sand and water and stuff like that. I think they have one in Cleveland.) But, I was not considering the snow or the beach, I was considering my free pizza, which was in Cincinnati, over a thousand miles away from me, and my coupon, and they don’t deliver. This is a bad thing. My hopes of feasting on free pizza would not be realized tonight.

You may ask why I had a coupon for a free pizza from a pizzeria in Cincinnati, Ohio. If you did, I would tell you that is a very good question. After all, most people in Florida do not normally have a coupon for a free food from another state. You might then ask how I got this coupon. If so, I would tell you it’s all because of the Flintstones and/or Ross Perot. You would probably fail to see the connection; which is understandable. To be perfectly honest, Mr. Perot personally had very little to do with my free pizza. The company he founded, however did. They are the ones who moved me from Florida to Cincinnati in the first place. No, let me correct that. They gave me a job and an expense report. A Ryder truck moved me to Cincinnati. I’ll explain the Fred and Barney connection in a minute.

About six months after that company moved me into Cincinnati, they moved me out again. I was going to Dallas for a ten week temporary assignment. Afterwards, they would send me somewhere else, though they didn’t know exactly where yet. These unusual circumstances resulted in a three way split. I would go to Dallas, my wife Kathy would go to Tampa, and our furniture would go to a warehouse somewhere in the midwest. Chicago, I think. The three of us would then be reunited ten weeks later in an entirely different city. (The whole thing looked kind of silly when this new city turned out to be Dallas.) It would be three years before my wife and I found our way back to Florida. Sadly, some of the furniture passed away before then, and did not return with us.

My wife left Cincinnati first. Shelly, her best friend (at the time), flew up from Tampa to help her drive back. Shelly had never been out of Florida before in her life, (Valdosta doesn’t really count.) She had never seen mountains, or snow, or any of those things you don’t normally find in Florida. Shelly was very exited about seeing all these things on the way back. The cats were going with them too. They were not very excited about the trip back; after all, they had seen all the sights on the drive up six months ago. Plus, they didn’t really care about mountains, and they were completely unhappy about this snow substance. Not to worry, they would meow a little at first, but they would settle down after a couple hundred miles.

To say cats do not travel very well is like saying dogs don’t do quantum physics very well. Our cats can no more relax in a car than a dog could work out the theory of relativity on a cocktail napkin while sipping a gin and tonic, making passes at the cocker spaniel at the end of the bar. In light of this, we thought perhaps the cats might travel better if they were sedated. Yes, we gave our cats drugs. We wanted to do it right though. Rather than just fill their milk bowl with Jack Daniel’s, we went to a vet who gave them some kitty quaaludes to help them relax. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn’t. The cats started tripping. Then, the apartments across the street caught on fire. (I swear, I had nothing to do with it.) Fortunately, there was nobody home at the time. All the noise and commotion and flashing lights and sirens did nothing to help the cats’ state of mind. The vet said that the cats should be given about six hours to fall asleep before traveling. But after all the excitement, what with a fire and all, Kathy and Shelly were wide awake. They decided to leave then, rather than wait until morning. This was probably a mistake, because the cats were also wide awake, and very high, when we loaded them in the car. I think it is safe to say that the cats had never been for a ride when they were high before. From what I heard later, I don’t think they enjoyed the experience very much. Probably the kitty equivalent to a bad trip at a Hendrix concert, only without the music.

My furniture left Cincinnati next. Movers came the next day and packed up all our worldly possessions and stuffed them in a truck. As far as I know none of the furniture was given any medication. When they were done, I saw what was essentially my whole life (materially speaking) packed into the back of the truck. My life didn’t take up that much room. There was space in the truck for three or four other lives at least. By that night, my bed was about half way to Chicago, along with the rest of my belongings. I decided to spend the night in a motel. They have beds there. The next morning I would go into work for the last time, pack up the last few things, say good-bye to everyone, and goof off for a few hours. After which I would jump in my car and ride off towards Texas, which was conveniently located in the general direction of the sunset. I always thought it would be neat to ride off into the sunset; I didn’t think about the fact that the sun would be shining in my eyes and I wouldn’t be able to see anything. I didn’t think about that fact because it rained the whole way to Dallas.

That morning, as I was getting ready for my last working hours in Cincinnati, I was listening to the radio. Pay attention, this is where the Flintstones and the free pizza all come together. Every morning, the radio station had a trivia question. First caller with the correct answer would win, guess what, a free pizza. I had never called in because they rarely asked a question to which I knew the answer. If they did, I was in my car, nowhere near a phone. I wasn’t about to invest a couple hundred in a carphone just on the hopes of winning a free pizza. The question this particular morning was “On the Flintstones, what was the name of the lodge that Fred and Barney belonged to?” Easy, they were Water Buffalo’s. They wore those funny blue hats with the horns on them and did the secret Water Buffalo handshake. Then I realized that since I was still in the motel room, I was near a phone. It had finally happened. I knew the answer and I was near a phone. Just my luck, it was my last day in town and I knew there was no way I would be able to cash in on a free pizza even if I did manage to call in first.

I decided I would not call in. I figured that while I was debating about fifteen people would be on the line with the correct answer. Besides, I never win at these kind of things anyway. So I sat down and listened to the radio, waiting to thear what lucky sap would win my pizza. First caller – no clue. Second caller – Elks lodge…get real. Third caller – Shriners…come on. Maybe I should call in. Naw, any minute now someone will get it. Fourth caller – Racoon lodge…no, no, no, that was the Honeymooners you moron. Then I had the sudden realization that the Flintstones and the Honeymooners were really the same show. This had never occurred to me before. Same show just a different historical setting. It was like a vision. I was so taken by this that I completely missed what the fifth caller said. Whatever it was, they were wrong. Sixth caller – Elks lodge…no, somebody already said that, pay attention. On and on it went, nine or ten callers, all wrong answers, none of them even close. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to call in and give them the correct answer. So what if I couldn’t use the pizza, at least I would be the one who answered the question. I dialed. Busy. Damn. I decided to call now and someone else is going to beat me to it. I dialed again. Ringing. Cool. I was almost there, no one had given the answer yet. The DJ answered. He asked me if I had the answer. “Yup, Water Buffalo” I said extremely confidently. Then he through me a curve. “What was the FULL name of the lodge?” Boy, these guys were tough. I didn’t even know there was a full name, I just knew that Fred and Barney were Water Buffalos. You know, they wear those funny blue hats with the horns and do that secret handshake. I was beginning to panic. I had no idea. I was beginning to see my free pizza sprout wings and fly away from me. I was running out of time, and still had no idea. So, I did what I always do when I have no idea. First, I thought about it carefully, logically, practically which always fails to come up with anything useful; so I reach back and take a wild-ass guess at it. This technique is known as the SWAG, or the scientific wild-ass guess. This particular SWAG came out something like “The Royal Order of Water Buffalo.” Boy, what a stupid answer; where did I pull that one from? I was really surprised when the DJ told me that was absolutely right.

He asked me to stay on the line so he could get my name and address. He was going to mail me a coupon for a free pizza. This presented a real dilemma. Not only did that blow my chances of getting my free pizza before I left town; but he wanted an address. I didn’t have an address anymore, I was moving. Today. I told him this. He understood, but he still had a pizza he had to give away to someone. We decided to mail it to my old address, since it would eventually be forwarded to me, and I could then mail it to one of my friends back in Cincinnati. This made sense to me at the time. When my coupon promptly arrived six weeks later, all my friends in Cincinnati, who worked for the same company I did, had all been moved out of town like me. There was no one left to mail the coupon back to, so, I kept it.

That is why I have a coupon for a free pizza that I will never use, unless I find myself back in Cincinnati. I keep it as sort of a trophy of the trivia question I successfully answered on the radio. I keep it too because it reminds me of a neat time in my life when I was living in and moving out of Cincinnati. I was only there six months, but it was a good six months. I also keep it because you never know, I may one day pass through Cincinnati again. If I do, I’m going to take my coupon and get my free pizza. Or maybe not, it looks like it’s expired.

My Collection

I am a collector. Collecting is a great hobby, if you can afford it. I can’t. So my collection is a little different. There are lots of things to collect, but I have no interest in collecting physical things, mainly because I have no where to put them. Plus I have noticed that people who collect thins tend to be a little annoying about it, unless, of course you have a genuine interest in whatever it is they have devoted their life and/or life’s savings to. The problem is, you have to look at their entire collection of baseball cards, comic books, Elvis plates, or whatever, and pretend that you really care. And the stories surrounding their collection can do the impossible, which is, they are more boring than the collection itself.

My collection is different; I collect trivia. I have found this to be almost the perfect hobby. It costs no money, takes up no space in my house, and occupies very little of my time; all attributes that appeal to me. It is not entirely perfect, however. I have found that it is possible to annoy others with my collection. I have been threatened with bodily harm if I didn’t shut up. (The actual words they use are usually more colorful than just “shut up.”) And forget about playing Trivial Pursuit. Like Monopoly, it is a game that can bring out some very ugly emotions from the most stable of people. I am convinced that my wife and I would not be together if we attempted to play Monopoly together more than once every five years. An even then it’s a little touchy.

Lately, I have been working on a particular collection of trivia, specifically the full names of everyone from that hallmark of modern culture, Gilligan’s Island. Hey, I’m a child of the early seventies, what do you expect. Oh sure, Thurston Howell III and his lovely wife Lovey are easy. But how about Mrs. Howell’s maiden name. A little tougher than you thought, huh? Sure, everyone thinks it’s easy, but this trivia business is definitely not for weenies. I doubt that more than one person in a thousand know the professor’s name, or the skipper’s. And even rarer is the person who knows Gilligan’s full name. If you ever meet such a person, do not be afraid, they are mostly harmless. Please do not stare at them, as you will make them uncomfortable, and they may scamper back into the woods. Be careful, they may bite if cornered.

Here then for your approval is the complete list of passengers and crew that set sail that fateful day for a three hour tour. Yes, I know, if it was only a three hour tour, why did they take their luggage. My sister-in-law can explain it, but it involves Camelot, and John F. Kennedy, and is very bizarre. It is a little beyond the realm of my comprehension, although to hear her tell it, it makes perfect sense. That is until you sit down and try to sort it out for yourself. Enough about that, here then is the list: In addition to the Howell’s you may already know the full names of Ginger Grant and Mary Ann Summers. Those are the easy ones. By the way, Lovey’s maiden name was Wentworth. Give yourself extra credit if you remember that episode. The professor’s real name was Roy Hinkley. It was mentioned less often than Wentworth, which is to say it was mentioned once. Likewise only revealed once was the skipper’s name, Jonas Grumby. You really had to be paying attention to catch those.

At last we come to the holy grail of seven stranded castaways trivia. Gilligan’s full name. If you don’t remember it from the reruns, don’t feel bad, it was never mentioned. (Although they did mention a brother named Peter.) The question of Gilligan’s name has been a great kept secret from the masses for all these many years. A question left to only the most serious of trivia collectors. Gilligan was named by, Sherwood Schwartz, the creative genius behind the Island. (Okay, maybe genius isn’t the right word.) For many years, not even Bob Denver, Gilligan himself, knew his character’s full name. After growing tired of not being able to answer this seemingly simple question, Bob went to Sherwood to find the answer to this, the mother of all trivia questions. I saw Bob reveal the answer to this last piece in my collection tody on TV. It was truly a momentous occasion. At last, my Gilligan collection would be complete. Maybe now I would be able to sleep at night. As the great Bob Denver spoke the words, I felt a heavy weight lift from my shoulders. His full name was…Willy Gilligan. I feel much better now.

Spring Lock Coupling Disconnect Tool

There used to be a time when working on a car was simple. At least a little simpler than rocket science or brain surgery. I can remember when I could open the hood of a car, look inside, and immediately identify everything I saw. It wasn’t that hard, because there wasn’t that much there to be identified. It was mostly empty space surround a nice, simple, easy to reach without scraping your hands, engine. That’s not true anymore, I open a hood now and see all kinds of things I don’t recognize. It looks a lot like what I would imagine should be under the hood of Luke Skywalker’s X-wing fighter. I know there is an engine in there somewhere underneath all those hoses and wires and strange little black boxes and stuff. It’s like my own butt; I know its there, I just cant see it. What really worries me is that I don’t know what all that extra stuff does, no matter how long I stare at it. Every time I work on my car I swear to myself that I will never buy another car that was built after 1974.

It’s not just that the cars were simpler then; the tools yon needed were simpler too. Give me a ’69 Chevy, a couple of wrenches, and a pair of vice-grips and I could do anything. Now, like anything else, the trend is specialization. Every time I open a hood to do more than check the oil, I inevitably spend the better part of an afternoon searching the parts stores in quest of yet another specialized tool. Try finding a spring lock coupling disconnect tool some Sunday afternoon, that or maybe something easier, like the Holy Grail, and you will start to see the picture. I don’t normally believe in conspiracies, but I’m pretty sure there is a conspiracy between the auto makers and the toolmakers. It goes something like this: The toolmakers, having nothing better to do, invent a new tool. They ask the car makers to make at least one part on their cars with a service life of less than 30,000 miles that can only be removed by the new tool. The toolmakers make a fortune selling the new tool to all us poor shmucks who spend a couple of hours trying to pull the damn thing off with our bare hands. Then they split the money with the car makers. When they have sold all of the new tool that they can; they do it all over again. Same tool, but a different size. They do this two or three times until we are so frustrated we are ready to buy the whole set of the tools in assorted sizes. I think this all started with the metric system. When they slowly started converting over to metric size bolts they realized they had a gold mine. That’s why today we have things like spring lock coupling disconnect tools.

This all comes to mind because yesterday, a friend of mine, well call him Steve (because that’s his name), had a similar run-in with automotive technology. His truck broke down, and I got to help him fix it. As you know, in the south, a man’s truck breaking down is a serious thing. Not quite as bad as your dog dying, but a little worse than your wife leaving you. (If my wife is reading this she should remember that I do not own a truck.) His truck broke down in a very interesting way, it began pouring gasoline out of the tailpipe. This is not a normal thing for gasoline to do, so Steve was duly concerned. He called a buddy of his who is a mechanic, to ask if he knew why gasoline would want to behave this way. Without skipping a beat, the mechanic instantly told him what the problem was. “Sure, you got a bad fuel pressure regulator” he said. Of course, the old fuel pressure regulator, I should have thought of that. I probably would have thought of that too, if I knew what a fuel pressure regulator was. Steve, of course, spent the rest of the afternoon trying to locate a new fuel pressure regulator. As expected, only one store had it, and they were clear on the other side of the town. I agreed to give him a ride there right after work, since I knew exactly where it was. I’ve played the “try to find the part” game before, and I have ended up at that same store more than once. Since the gasoline had decided to exit the vehicle via the tailpipe, it was a safe bet it was doing other mischievous things, like swimming around in the crankcase where the motor oil is supposed to be. We would need some motor oil to do an oil change. We would also need some beer. Every real amateur mechanic knows you don’t open the hood until you’ve cracked open a cold one; besides, Steve was starting to look a little intense.

Synthetic motor oil is very expensive. I imagine synthetic dinosaurs are hard to come by. We accidentally picked up five quarts of the synthetic stuff by mistake. After Steve recovered from what appeared to be a mild stroke when the cashier rang up the total, he told them in no uncertain terms he did not want the synthetic oil if it cost six dollars a quart. Of course now the cashier had to void out the sale and ring it up again. This process takes about two hours, requires the approval of two managers and a senior vice-president, and generally puts everyone in a bad mood. Steve was able to use this time to look up in a manual how to remove and replace his defective fuel pressure regulator. It’s a good thing he did too, for he discovered that to remove it you need a special tool, namely a spring lock coupling disconnect tool. Without it we would be up till midnight trying to pull it out with our bare hands. Steve was starting to look intense again. I began wondering if maybe we should have stopped for the beer first Then they told us that, although they knew what this tool was, they did not have any in stock. They were kind enough to suggest a store which they were pretty sure had some in stock. When I looked back at Steve, he seemed to be having a relapse of that mild stroke.

After stopping for beer, we began our quest for the spring lock coupling disconnect tool. Actually it went fairly well. The guy behind the desk at the next store didn’t know what it was. They had the same manual as the last place so we got it out and showed him a picture. Then he knew what it was. Fortunately, they had one left in stock. I had no idea a spring lock coupling disconnect tool were so popular. Unfortunately, it was the wrong size. And no, they did not have any in the other sizes. As we were about to leave, one of them remembered they had a packaged set of spring lock coupling tools (in assorted sizes). He said “If your gonna own a Ford, ya might as well git the whole set.” Unable to argue with logic like that, Steve purchased his first set of spring lock coupling disconnect tools, five little pieces of plastic that cost about ten dollars. I’m guessing it costs about one dollar to manufacture and distribute, so the tool company and Ford each got about $4.50 on that deal.

The little piece of plastic worked like a charm. It disconnected the spring lock coupling in a matter of seconds. That done, Steve was able to remove his fuel pressure regulator, which he promptly hurled about fifty feet across the parking lot If your wondering if we also needed a spring lock coupling connecting tool to install the new fuel pressure regulator, we didn’t. It seems connecting a spring lock coupling is done by simply pushing it together with your bare hands. That way Ford doesn’t have to buy a whole bunch of spring lock coupling connecting tools for all those guys they have building trucks on the assembly line. Are you starting to buy into the conspiracy theory yet. If not just wait. You see, that set of spring lock coupling disconnect tools that Steve bought were all sized in inches. I would bet good money that the next spring lock coupling I encounter will require a metric sized spring lock coupling disconnect tool.

Those Wacky Bobbetts

I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to do this. I swore I would not write anything about John and Lorena Bobbett and their tendency to cut off body parts. But John Bobbett appeared today as a guest on a Tampa radio station, and get this, he was selling T-shirts commemorating his ordeal. So I just couldn’t leave it alone. The best I can hope for now is to make it through the rest of this without using the word “penis.” (Whoops, I just used it, didn’t I. Oh well, so much for that.) Yes, he was really selling T-shirts. You have to admire his entrepreneurial spirit, but I can’t help thinking there must be an easier way, or at least a less painful way, to make a buck.

In case you are one of the three people in America who have been living in a cave and haven’t heard about those wacky Bobbetts and their zany antics, here’s the story so far. Lorena, who may have been a battered wife, decided she just couldn’t take it anymore. So one night she grabbed the closest available butcher knife, sneaked into their bedroom where John was sleeping, and proceeded to whack off his, uh, manhood. Ouch. Excuse me while I wince for a moment. Then to add insult to injury, she stuffed his dismembered, uh, member, into her purse, jumped into her car and went for a leisurely drive. And I thought my wife kept some strange things in her purse. At some point she realized she still had little Johnny in her purse, and, deciding maybe that wasn’t the kind of thing a lady usually keeps in her purse, she tossed the unfortunate body part out the window and into a field. Now, I have seen some strange things tossed out of cars and lying on the side of the road, but I have never seen a … Well you get the idea. Because John watched TV, he knew that in an emergency he should call 911 and William Shatner would summon the paramedics to his rescue, and soon the paramedics were out searching the field looking for the little guy. As if being a paramedic wasn’t a thankless job to begin with. Well they found it, and thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, the doctors were able to reattach the runaway puppy to his very grateful master. They say he should regain most of his functions within a year. I’m not sure exactly what they mean by most of his functions; I can only think of two functions, and they both seem pretty darn important to me, but that’s what they said. I have to think that this brings the whole concept of stitches being painful to an entirely new level. Excuse me while I wince again.

There are really only two reactions people have when hearing this story, and the reaction you have depends entirely on what sex you are. Women tend to find the whole thing amusing, if not downright hysterical, while men tend to crouch over and wince quietly. Women seem to feel a certain sisterhood with Lorena, and often say thins like “good for her,” or “serves him right,” or “you go, girl.” Men, while knowing intellectually that John must have really messed up big time to provoke that kind of reaction, can’t help but feel a deep seated empathy for his situation. Men also tend to hope and/or pray that this doesn’t give our wives and/or girlfriends any thoughts on how to use those new Ginsu knives we got them for Christmas last year. Men seriously consider hiding all the knives and forks and accept the idea of eating everything from this point on with a spoon. For the rest of our lives. It’s a small price to pay, considering. We also begin to regret buying all those nifty power tools, and think this may be a good time for a garage sale. Some men even think that maybe its time to consider an alternative lifestyle. Women seem to enjoy seeing this kind of nervous behavior in men.

On the other hand, there are actually some things about this story that I find reassuring. First, of course, is the affirmation that battered wives do not have to be helpless. They can take things into their own hands, so to speak. Although, chopping off your husband’s little buddy isn’t exactly the course of action I would recommend. Secondly, it is nice to know that if I am ever separated from, uh, Mr. Happy, there are people out there who are willing to help me go out and look for him. But I think the most reassuring thing is that if I ever find myself sitting in an emergency room with my favorite body part sitting unattached in the Igloo cooler next to me; there are doctors with the expertise and technology to reunite us. I’m beginning to get a Six Million Dollar Man flashback: “We can rebuild him, we can make him better than he was, stronger, faster…” Well, okay, maybe not faster. But I found a newfound appreciation for modern medical science. I think it’s just nifty what they can do these days.

However, miracles of modern science do not come cheap. John has evidently racked up some major medical bills from this little escapade. It seems that reattaching your manhood can cost an arm and a leg. (I have no idea how much reattaching and arm or a leg would cost.) I wonder if the Clinton health plan would cover this sort of thing. Somebody should ask. In any case, Mr. Bobbett has embarked on a media tour to raise money to help dig himself out of debt, hoping to make the most of his newfound fame before his fifteen minutes runs out. And he is selling T-shirts. I forgot what they said on the front of them, but it had the word “severed” in it. Actually, I didn’t forget. I got as far as the word “severed” when I winced again and missed the rest of it. On the back of the shirt is that famous rock-n-roll quotation “Love Hurts.” Yep. I’m not sure I would consider it “love,” but I sure can’t argue with the “hurts” part of it. I also don’t think that’s exactly what they had in mind when they wrote the song.

What happens to John and Lorena now? Who cares. Nothing that happens from this point on can be anything but anti-climactic. Oh sure, there will be some trials. John has been charged with abusing his wife, and Lorena has been charged with assault with intent to castrate, or something like that. Or maybe it was kidnapping, I don’t remember. Of course, I imagine there are a few people around suing somebody over something related to this. But however the story ends, it can’t possibly grab our attention (or John’s) like the way it began. Lorena will get the satisfaction of knowing she stood up to the man who abused her. She will probably never remarry; women with a history of slicing things off of the men in their lives tend to scare away potential suitors. John, on the other hand, will get a very unusual scar, and an interesting piece of conversation for the next few office parties. I still wonder though, why is John piddling around with radio shows and T-shirts, when everyone knows the real money is in selling the movie rights.

When Dreams Come True

I have had a dream come true. First time that’s happened to me, at least that I am aware of. It wasn’t a very good dream, nothing to do with world peace, fortune and glory, or leggy super-models. No, it was just a silly little dream that I honestly never expected would come true. There are no great ramifications of this dream coming to pass. At least not for me, although it may have destroyed the career of a promising and moderately popular Irish folk singer, but it didn’t change my life one bit.

Okay, I will attempt to explain this dream. It involves Gordon Lightfoot, Gilligan’s Island, and several pints of imported ale. If you don’t see the connection between Mr. Lightfoot and the tropic island castaways, well that’s where the beer comes in. If you’ve never heard the song The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot you probably will not understand. You really need to hear the song to get the full impact of what happened. (Call up some of you old hippie friends, one of them probably has an old 45 or 8-track you can listen to. If you don’t know what a 45 or an 8-track is, you’re too young to be reading this.)

Like most things of little or no value, this dream was born of sheer boredom. My wife and I were at our friend’s house, sitting around very bored, and drinking beer. Yes that is the textbook formula for trouble. But since we are all older now, trouble doesn’t usually involve getting arrested. At some point we began singing old songs that you don’t hear on the radio. This was inspired by the discovery of an old K-tel record, a veritable time capsule of old songs so bad that even the oldies stations wont play them. At some point later we began singing the theme songs to old TV shows.  This was most likely inspired by the beer.  Did I mention we were bored.  Tremendously, stupifyingly, where no bored man has gone before, bored. We were then blessed by a divine inspiration. At least it seemed so at the time. We found that you could sing the words to the Gilligan’s Island theme to the tune of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Try it sometime, it works, just make sure no one’s listening first. Much to our surprise we found that the words to many other songs fit this tune. An amazingly adaptable piece of music, this Wreck of the Edmund FitzMinnow. The Beverly Hillbillies, The Brady Bunch, they all fit. We couldn’t find one sitcom from the 60’s that didn’t work. The Partridge Family was kind of tough though, mainly because we couldn’t remember the words. Since that moment I have had this silly little dream of standing up on stage in a bar or pub somewhere and singing out the Wreck of the Gilligan FitzIsland. Don’t ask me why, it just one of those things.

A few weeks later I had completely forgotten my dream. We were sitting in the Fox and Hound, one of our favorite pubs in the Tampa area, with some more of our friends, not at all bored, and then it happened.  The dream suddenly and miraculously did not come true. What did happen is the Irish folk singer that night began his set with guess what; yep, it was the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Correct words and all. While he played we sat at our table and happily sang the theme to Gilligan’s Island.  Once again it fit perfectly, and we were all quite pleased with ourselves. That was truly the high point of the night. It turns out the singer was not one of those bright, cheery, come-on-everybody-and-sing-along type of folk singers.  Rather he was one of those dark, depressing, always wearing black clothes type.  He started with a song that is, after all, about death, and then moved on to more depressing songs that were even more about death. Rousing songs like Bloody Well Dead, We’ll all be dead in the Morning, and Happy Birthday. His version went something like: “Happy Birthday, soon you’ll be dead.” We have since heard that he will not be returning to the Fox and Hound, so it remains one of our favorite pubs. On our way to find somewhere more cheerful, like maybe a cemetery, we saw that one of our favorite folk singers, one of the bright and cheery kind, was coming to town in two weeks. We made a point to come back and see him.

Noel Cooney is a real, honest-to-God Irish folk singer straight from Dublin, Ireland. (Well, by way of Orlando, but he’s definitely Irish, in the long-standing tradition of bright and cheery Irish folk singers.) Unlike most Saturday nights, this night our little pub was surprisingly empty, just our table, one other paying table, and a table that featured the manager and her friend, who was already a little drunk and had to leave soon. So Noel, trying not to let this get him down, spent a lot of time talking with his audience.  Both tables.  So after a few pints of the imported ale I mentioned earlier, we asked Noel if he knew a certain song. Yes in fact he did know the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, but unfortunately he did not know the words to Gilligan’s Island. (You have to remember, he’s not from this country.) That’s when it happened. Noel, being one of those come-on-and-sing-along type folk singers invited us up to sing our special little version of Gilligan’s Island, while Noel’s guitar played the mournful melody of the Edmund Fitzgerald. I have never been more proud.

Then a strange thing happened. (As if this wasn’t strange enough already.) Noel discovered, as we had, that this tune works with the words of many other songs.  With no prompting from us he launched into the Edmund Fitzgerald Hillbillies, a stirring story of a man named Jed. He then found that all those traditional sing-along Irish folk songs also fit with the tune.  In fact, he found that every song could be sung to the tune of the Edmund Fitzgerald. He called out for requests from the audience to prove it And he did. If there was any doubt, it was completely and utterly erased when he did it to the song Tequila, very difficult when you consider the song only has one word. The man is truly a master of musical juxtaposition. (Go look it up.) He had practice though. It seems that for some time he had been performing songs to the tune of Ghost Riders in the Sky. You cannot imagine what Amazing Grace sounds like when performed like that. It is, well, amazing. For several hours that night, every song was played three times. First to Edmund Fitzgerald, then to Ghost Riders, then, if the audience protested loudly enough, to it’s own tune. I think the manager threatened to physically injure Noel if he didn’t play something else. Like I said, we may have seriously damaged his career. What if he’s unable to stop playing that song. What if he can no longer find work and becomes homeless and destitute.  What if he is reduced to playing The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on street corners for pocket change from sympathetic passers-by. We hope not, we hope to see him the next time we are at the Fox and Hound.  We hope he will not be too angry with us. Just let this be a lesson to all you bored people out there. Dreams (silly ones anyway) can be a dangerous thing.