Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On Christmas Trees, Lost and Found - repost from Dec 2010

Stories like this one, are hard to believe, but you have my word that the things in this blog are entirely true.  It does beg the question though, why do I have so many of these things and stories happen to me?  I believe the answer is that God wanted my blog to be more interesting, so he continues to surround me with interesting people and events, and I haven't even told 10% of the good ones yet. Have I ever told you about the time I danced on Broadway?......

I lost a Christmas tree one year.  Go ahead, shake your head and scold me, I can already hear you.." Yarger, I can understand losing the remote, but seriously a Christmas tree?"  It wasn't like that though.  In my defense, that tree never even saw the inside of our house.... 

     Isn't life hard enough without starting harder traditions than your family passed on? Yes, but that's our nature in this family.  As far as I can recall my mom and dad never rounded the kids up and went off in the woods to cut down our own Christmas tree.  Now, that's not to say my siblings might not have done this with them, but by the time I started remembering things, I don't recall a single foray into the woods with my folks.  I have some vague recollections of picking one up at St. Mary's or from the Boy Scouts, but you can't prove it by me, that I was ever involved in an actual tree hunt.  Why then did Char and I start the tradition of bundling toddlers and all up and hiking through the tree farms to find the perfect tree that we all like and can agree upon?  Because we are stupid, that's why.
You can't see us, we are way, way, in the back
My family is at least consistent in this task.  We will hike the entire tree farm, no matter whose it is, or where it is, and always find our "perfect" tree at the furthest possible spot from where we started and will require the absolute most amount of dragging of the tree.  I think the kids do it on purpose because I make them do chores, it's payback.  One year we dropped our tree into a few feet of snow, tied a rope around it and tugged, and I didn't even shift it.  That was a fun next hour moving inch by inch to get way back to the farmhouse.  For the last few years we have gone to Darlings Tree Farm in Seneca Castle.  They have hot cider, they have the shaky thing that gets the dead needles off, the netty thing that wraps them up and they ship dozens of trees off to US soldiers abroad with the Trees for Troops program.  I highly recommend them.  This story, however, goes back about 20 years and the tree farm involved was on Rte 64 in Bristol N.Y.

 It was a few weeks before Christmas, and Char and I had heard about a good tree farm in Bristol NY.  We bundled up Molly, who was a toddler then, and my brother Ace rode over with us to pick out a tree too.
Dan, one year guarding his choice.

It turns out the tree farm was vastly overrated, and it took the better part of an hour before all of us found 2 trees that would pass muster.  We could only fit one inside the van, so we tied the other to the top with whatever we could find inside and headed for home.  We got about 1/4 mile away before the wind got underneath it and flipped it off the van and into the road.  After a mad scramble to re-secure it, we gave it a second attempt with the same result, we were 28 miles away from home and were destined to lose the tree every quarter mile. It dawned on me that my dad's recently built house was only a few miles from there and he had a pickup, so we decided to leave the tree on the roadside and go ask dad to borrow his truck.  This was not an easy decision, as my dad raised us all to be independent, and he likely taught Ben Franklin "Neither a borrower nor a lender be", but we had no choice, so off we went.  He really didn't give us much of a hard time and in less than 10 minutes we were back standing in front of where we thought we had left the tree.  I say "thought" because the area looked identical to where we had been....except there was no tree.
Ace and I examining the scene, I'm the pretty one. 

Now CSI was 10 years from being thought up but even Grissom would have been proud of our canvassing of the area and our identification of the pine needles that were strewn about. I think Ace even rubbed some deer dung between his fingers to test his working theory of the woodland animals needing a tree, but it was 2 days old so Bambi and pals were cleared.  What was left were 2 perplexed, cold, brothers standing on the roadside missing one out of two trees, and of course when we checked, it was my tree that was missing.  One of the only things worse than spending close to an hour combing a thin tree farm for a good Christmas tree, is to do it twice in one day.  Those were the hardest 25 dollars that ever left my hands, but after we went home and after it was up and decorated, it became like every other tree we had brought home, beautiful and ours.  I really didn't give it much more thought, that was, until 7 years later eating lunch at the end of that same road.....

     It's a good story so far, isn't it?  I agree, it lacks something, how about a surprise ending? 

     So that year I was on that road a lot.  I sold food to the local restaurants and my mom's house was there, so a couple days a week I would find myself on Rte 64 in Bristol NY.  A lot of weeks I would pick up food from Rumor's restaurant at Toomey's Corners and bring a cheeseburger to my mom and have lunch with her while I placed my morning orders.

Old gas station at Toomey's Corners (Rumors is back left)
It was during one of those times that I learned the ultimate fate of my misplaced Christmas tree.  As I was waiting at the bar, on one of these days,  just before Christmas again, I happened to start a conversation with a construction worker who was sitting next to me at the bar.  We introduced ourselves and got talking about the upcoming Holiday and whether we were prepared or not.  I, of course, told him of my trudging off into the woods the week before to get a tree, but I added "At least it wasn't as bad as the year I had to do it twice."  He curiously inquired how that happened, and I quickly told him my story of losing the tree 7 years earlier, totally convinced that I had the best Christmas story.   I was just as quickly proven wrong.  He set down his drink and asked me 4 rapid fire questions, "7 years ago?", "This Road?", "about 2 miles down?", and "on the right side of the road?"  I answered Yes to all the questions, and he laughed and said "Buddy, I think I found your tree that year".  He continued on to tell me the most fascinating story from the year that I lost my tree.  He was out of work, due to an ankle injury and times were tough.  He could still drive, but not climb ladders or do his job.  The night before his wife and him had discussed the looming holiday and decided to forgo the tree and to spend what little money they had on presents for their 3 kids.  The next morning, on the way to town in his pickup truck, he had come upon a Christmas tree laying on the side of the road.  He had assumed it had come off from a bigger truck carrying them, so he loaded it in his truck and brought it home to his family.
Nolan in front of his handiwork one year

He said that particular Christmas, to his kids, was indistinguishable from the others that they had, because of that tree.  He recovered from his injury and hadn't had a lean year since that one.  He insisted on buying both my mom's and my lunches and we shook hands, and I departed with a new found friend and a great story to tell. You see, my Christmas had been indistinguishable from my others too, I had the extra 25 dollars, and the time, so it hadn't impacted me at all, until he told me his story.  Then it impacted me, where it counts, in the heart, and not my wallet.  So I did lose a Christmas tree one year, but I got back a little of my humanity.  It was a good deal.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The night we played Bad Cop, Bad Cop.

     Like a lot of parents, we take our parenting advice from a variety of sources, friends, our own parents and other relatives, our personal experiences, and yes, even TV.  One of the more effective methods we have used is a variation of the classic "Good Cop, Bad Cop" that you see in most detective shows.  The idea is to have one parent be the belligerent, over the top, angry and unreasonable cop, and the other to be the sympathetic, caring, understanding, and cooperative cop.  We used this method for years, with me naturally gravitating to the bad cop role, and my wife naturally gravitating to the good cop role.  Like I said, we have used this successfully for years, but this story is about a time that we didn't.

     I was traveling and at dinner with a client when the call came.  It was my daughter Molly with "big news" that she wanted to share.  We were just finishing our meals and it didn't look like the client wanted to hang around for after dinner drinks, so I picked up the call and told Molly that I'd call her back, in a bit, when
Sometimes I think my kids look like this when they call me
reached my hotel.  It did go longer than expected, so it was probably an hour later that I called her back to listen to her big news.  I made sure to shut my laptop so that I could give her my undivided attention.  I'm not sure all my kids are good enough to do this for me, as frequently during conversations, they seem to be multi-tasking, but I digress, for this call, I was all ears.  She started out by telling me that she had secured a good job.  As the semester prior had ended, she was dealing with a lot of change. She was changing schools, majors, apartments, and to top it off her boyfriend was having surgery, so she got a little behind on the job searching.  It had been weighing heavily on her and she was frustrated that she wasn't working yet. I wasn't worried as her work ethic was never in question and I know she
interviews well.  So I wasn't surprised that she did hook up with a job so quickly, however, I was surprised at what she chose to characterize as a "good job".  She explained that she would be working with independent brain injured people for long hours each day.  She had to provide transportation for these people in her own car and she also could be sent anywhere in the Buffalo area.   The starting wage was near our state's minimum.  To top it off, since most of them were pretty independent, there wasn't a lot that she was allowed to do, and I know she had quit jobs earlier that didn't give her enough to do.  She went on with more description, but honestly I was already soured on this job.  She explained also how they hired her immediately, and she exclaimed "Most of the people that work there don't even have cars !", so she would be guaranteed a lot of work.  OY !  I waited patiently for her to finish, and I contemplated whether the timing was right for me to express my opinion, but in the end, I hoped that she could still decline the job, so I started to give it to her, both barrels.   I started by saying something like,  "It sounds less like a job and more that they are taking advantage of you", and it got worse after that.  I rebutted point
Nice job, Dad.
for point derisively, what she had gushed out to me so proud and passionately, only moments before.  I wouldn't have gone on as long as I did, if I had heard her crying on the other end, but I didn't hear her, that is, until the soft crying had become full blown sobbing.  I tried to recant, but she sobbed that she had to go, and hung up.  You can guess how I felt at that moment, you don't get into parenting, to make your children cry, but somehow there are times that you find yourself in exactly that position.  It was late, so I went to bed, and figured I would bring her Mom into the mix, the first thing in the am.  My daughter was going to need the good cop.

     The next morning, I awoke early, and dialed my wife to confess my sin.  I launched right into my tale of making our daughter cry, and when I finished, there was some silence on the other end, and then "Oh Dear".
My wife went on to explain that she had talked to our daughter, earlier in the evening, and her reaction had been almost equal to mine.  She had not been happy about the job either, immediately recognizing the perils in it, and had vehemently expressed her opinion to our daughter, as well.  So much for Good Cop, Bad Cop, this time it was Bad Cop, Bad Cop.  In my defense, I was unaware that it was my turn to play Good Cop, that call comes so infrequently in my house. We commiserated for a while discussing possible remedies, but if there is one thing we know about our girl, it's that it's tough to tell her things and that she usually has to discover them for herself.  The communication from her was short and pointed for a while after that, but finally she started to tell us about her job.  This time, we just shut up and listened.  We both still felt that it was a bad fit for her, but we stopped trying to interject our opinions, it's her life and her choice after all.  We suffered in silence for a few months, but have to admit we were elated when she called one day to tell us, she was leaving that job.  She had good cause, and we agreed, and
Not my girl, but like her. 
 we were even more excited when she called us a week later to tell us about a better job that she had.  This time it was working at an assisted living facility where she would be helping the residents in their daily tasks.  There was plenty to do, and the pay was better too.  In fact, she is already up for a promotion, which again does not surprise either her Mom or me.  We had dinner in Buffalo as a family last weekend, and related our side of this tale to her.  I don't think she'll mind me sharing it, as she thought it was pretty funny.  So did I, but I have an odd sense of humor, we Bad Cops are like that,  just ask my wife. 



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The internet IS controlled by Cats

     I am a creature of habit, and this includes my internet surfing.  When I sit down at the computer each morning, I have my regular list of sites which I visit.  They include Facebook, my family's website, a couple of conservative news sites, a few blogs that I follow, my bank, the world debt clock, and finally my guilty pleasure, TMZ, the celebrity gossip site.  I treat the last one like dessert, if I finish all my others, then I get to check out TMZ that morning.  A few mornings ago, they ran a short video interviewing Ray William Johnson (the comedian who reviews videos on YouTube), and something he said sent shivers down my spine.  He was joking about the popularity of his videos that include cats, and he suggested, tongue in cheek, that cats have some sort of influence on the content of the internet.  I went to sleep that night with that thought still on my mind, and sometime during that 6 hours, I had my epiphany when all the thoughts gelled....  The internet IS controlled by cats.

You know he ate those ducks, right?
     Nothing else makes sense, after you think it through.  The amount of cat content on the internet far outweighs their social significance. I'm a cat lover, new this year, but even I am amazed at how much bandwidth gets devoted to these creatures week in and week out, and it's almost on every site.  Take Facebook, for example.  How many of your friends posted pictures of their cat yesterday (I have a niece that almost does it hourly, hey Angie)?  Pictures of cats, peeking out of tight spaces, with wet faces with cute sayings posted beneath them, sleeping in curled up balls, and doing a host of other things.  It's astounding.  There must be a graph somewhere that connects, length of time on the x axis, and you posting a video of your cat chasing a laser pointer on the y axis and I suspect they meet quite early on.  Don't we all have a friend or two from High School that won't post their own profile picture, but will put one up of their cat?  Sure we do. Why?
I think the cats killed them and took over their accounts, that's why.  It would explain the weird status updates from them like "I slept all day, today" or "I'd take a bath but my tongue is too tired", point is, you should query these friends with trick status updates like " the dog did the cutest thing today " and see if they "like" them, just to be sure they are still alive.  YouTube is even worse. Videos of cats playing keyboards, with rolls of toilet paper, playing peek-a-boo, watching tennis matches, wrestling with each other, all abound with millions of hits, but are they really that funny?  Nope, but they are everywhere.  The whole process must be controlled by cats.   Why are there so many cute cat videos and pictures up on the internet, but the only ones of dogs "being cute" inevitably involve dogs sniffing each others butts?  If this isn't cat propaganda, I don't know what is.

     So how do they do it?   I haven't got it all worked out but it has something to do with the hours on end that cats disappear each day.  Did you ever notice that, you look everywhere and can't find your cat?
Hidden snapshot of cats on duty
I think they go to secret cat lairs and power the internet on treadmills and upload some of these pictures and videos.  Don't you always eventually find them sleeping under a chair or something?  It only makes sense if they were out exercising, but why hide it?  Exactly.   They don't want us to know.  There must be a division that implants subliminal messages in these pictures and videos too.  I know I've shared some of these with friends, only to go back later, and think "Why did I do that?"  The cat, that's why.  Hell, I even blogged about cats prior to this (See - There's a cat in my house ).  Did I want to? No, but I did, sneaky cats. 

     I need to finish up now, as my cat Nibbler keeps walking by and seems to be checking out what I am writing.  Over this next week, take a look at the internet, your Facebook, YouTube, and then tell me there isn't something going on.  Nothing else explains it.  I'm headed out on a trip, which is the only reason I've got the guts to post this theory.  You think it is coincidence that every time they find a dead body in a home, there are cats around?  Exactly. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The famous flaming deodorant story.

     Everyone has their favorite family stories, and I've never met a family that didn't have at least one funny recounting of a time when they were younger.  Not everyone, however, has a story that pushes the boundary between a family owning it and it becoming Urban Legend, but my family does.  It's the story of how my brother Ace almost set his room on fire with a flaming roll-on deodorant.  I would wager that this tale has been told equally by as many non-family, as family members.   Apologies up front for any distorted facts or circumstances, but I think I got it mostly right, and that's what happens with Urban Legends, after all.

     It all started with a nice gesture by my brother Ace to his twin sister, Meter Maid.  It was circa 1978 and my brother had attended a pep rally or a school bonfire, after a dance.  Meter Maid was ill and could not attend.  Ace saw some other students that were there, light sticks of roll-on deodorant and use them like torches, held high above their greasy, pimpled faces (Hey, it was high school, everyone had greasy pimpled faces).  We'd all seen this done at concerts with Bic lighters, but this was a new twist.  He thought it was so cool that the next day he called his twin into his bedroom to try and repeat the trick.  It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the show would quickly turn into a fiasco of epic proportions. 

This guy became an Olympian
     You will need to know the layout of the upstairs of our house, to really get the feel of how this went down. At the time this story took place, there were 6 bedrooms and one bathroom on that story of the house.  Ace and his brother Aquaman occupied the bedroom in the Southeast corner of the house, which also happened to be the furthest bedroom from the small bathroom.  In order to reach the bathroom, you had to exit the room, go straight for 6 feet, turn right, go straight for 25 feet along the stairway, turn right and continue another 10 feet into the bathroom.  It was not the best bedroom for a bed-wetter to be in (Wait, wait, I did not say that either Ace or Aquaman were bed-wetters, only that logistically they were placed in the worst room, if you were one) It was a good bedroom to hang your sheets out to dry after you wet the bed though ala Michael Landon in the Loneliest Runner, as it was in the back of the house, so Ace's friends wouldn't see them.  Incidentally it would be wrong for the reader to link the upcoming pyromania of my brother to bed-wetting too, as the scientific basis for that is shaky even if seeming to be proven regularly by anecdotal stories, but I digress, on with this tale...

View from under the bed
     Ace closed the door of his room, and took the top of of his rarely used bottle of Brut roll-on deodorant. 
Ironically, Aquaman was not present at the time when his brother most needed a master of the seven seas (Some of you are trying to tie this back into bed-wetting aren't you?)  He lit it, and sure enough it produced a nice blue flame as the alcohol in it burned off.  It was during one of his ballet style swings of his arm that Ace got his first lesson in the expansion of things when they are heated, and unfortunately the top of the roll-on deodorant expanded faster than the ball, which allowed it to tumble out of it's receptacle onto the floor.
To paint a clearer picture, think of twin 16 year olds, gawking at a flaming ball of alcohol rolling around on a hardwood floor.  Do you know what is worse than one flaming ball of alcohol rolling around on a hardwood floor?  The answer is, many pieces of a flaming ball scattered around the floor, which is exactly what Ace ended up with, after he instinctively tried to stomp out the ball, and it shattered.  I'm told that the ones under the bed were the prettiest, but there is a minority who enjoyed the ones that shot under the curtains.  With a room full of flaming bits, the only thing preventing my brother from being a bed-wetter at that particular moment was .... location. 

An approximation of the long hallway
     Ace sprang into action and raced to the bathroom.  He cupped his small hands under the water, collected some and ran back the 40-some combined feet and went to throw the water on the fire, but all the bouncing, corner taking, leaking (out of the hands), had done an effective job of drying them on route.  I exited my bedroom, which he had to pass on the way to and from the bathroom, and watched him make two more consecutive trips, with similar results.  In my version of the story, it was me who came up with the idea of using the toilet brush holder to effectively carry some water back to extinguish the flames.  Truth be told, the alcohol burned itself out mostly by that time, but I don't get to be a hero often, like my brother, Aquaman, so let me have this one, OK?   Though the fire was now out, the calamity was not, as all the commotion, running, screaming, and the word FIRE, had caused my mother to start to climb the stairway to investigate.  Shit, meet fan. 

What Ace should have gotten
What Ace did get
    My brother only had seconds to think of a story to explain the charred bits and wet patches, and the story he told is what launched this tale into Urban Legend territory.  "Mom", he exclaimed " You wouldn't believe it... the sun came in through the window and hit my open bottle of deodorant, and ignited it".  He continued explaining how it was only his quick thinking of knocking it to the floor, stomping on it, and extinguishing it with water from the toilet brush holder that had stopped us from having to change addresses (Another irony was that, the true hero in this story, the toilet brush holder, would die in a fire, in that very same bathroom just a few years later, and yes it's true, I can't make this kind of stuff up).  My mother, jaded as she was from raising 12 kids, did believe it and bought the story, hook, line and sinker.  She always did have a soft spot for Ace, as the story goes she might have dropped him down the stairs accidentally, when he was much younger. To my recollection, there was no punishment for Ace, and in fact his heroics may have even earned him a cake for his efforts.  I've often wondered if my Dad bought the story like my Mom did, or was he just polite enough to her, to not argue the point, when she related it to him later that night.  After all, he didn't drop Ace down the stairs.

       This story has a great ending already, wouldn't you agree? That's not how it did end though.  My mother was a stay at home Mom, with a little time on her hands, excellent writing skills and with a mission to save other Mother's kids.  Ace should not have been shocked, when a week later, she told him how she had written the Brut company a scathing letter, outlining our experience, and chiding them for not including a warning on the roll-on about direct exposure to sunlight.  I wonder how the cake tasted then.  It was a few months later, when we noticed an actual warning label appear on that product.  We will never know if that was the direct result of my sister missing the bonfire, or not.   Feel free to share this story, after all, it's an Urban Legend now. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Does it start with the shoes ?

     There is no way to write this blog without making myself look like a 100 year old curmudgeon, and I might lose readers early on this one, but like any good curmudgeon, I'm gonna tell it anyway, audience or not.  I was probably 6 or 7 years old the first time I remember going to the shoe store to get a new pair of shoes.  It was a Saturday, and my Dad drove us down to Davidson's Shoe Store on Main street in Canandaigua, and introduced me to the small business owner,  Mr. Hogan.
Now, heretofore, my shoes had been hand-me- downs, or I didn't remember buying them new, but this time I was getting a brand new pair and it was coming from a store rich in the smell of leather and shoe polish.  After we picked out a good quality pair that was within our budget, Mr. Hogan showed my how to untie them and put them on with a shoe horn.  He said that they would last longer that way, and not break down the heel, and so I was taught the "right" way to take my shoes and sneakers, on and off.  The lesson stuck, and I assumed everyone was taught, and used this skill, but my assumption proved very wrong recently.

     We were headed out somewhere and we were ready to go, but Nolan was lagging behind, he has a habit of doing that.  I watched him go up to his sneakers that were fully tied, and he jammed his feet into them.He spent two minutes wiggling his feet until he forced them in.  I was stunned.  I shouted, "Nolan ! Didn't anyone ever teach you how to put your shoes on? Stop being so lazy, and untie them when you take them off."  With a glance at my wife, I could tell that she was more perturbed at me than our 11 year old who couldn't put his shoes on correctly, but she at least let me have my say, and we headed off to parts unknown.  Over the next several weeks, I corrected Nolan as I watched him take his shoes on and off, but still my wife remained silent on the issue. 
Note the crushed heels
You could tell that she had chosen that this was not the parenting hill that she was going to die on.  I, on the other hand, think the small skirmishes must be fought, in order to get ready for the impending battles.  The point was there, shoes cost money (my money) and a kid should be respectful of how he treats something that costs me money.  Was I asking too much, for him to stop and tie or untie his shoes each time he took them off?  I didn't think so. 

     It was a few weeks later while attending my sister Meter Maid's Pig Roast (See - A Swine Time ), my wife made her move.  We had passed a large pile of shoes by my sister's doorway, that was made by the dozen or so urchins camped out in various rooms in her house. 
"I'm not saying you're wrong," she said " but did you notice how many of the pairs of shoes still had their laces tied?"  (I did not notice, but in my defense it took me years to notice Nolan doing it wrong, and I wasn't using the pile to prove a point, but my wife was).  I went back around the corner and checked, and sure enough, the vast majority of kids had not untied their shoes, prior to removing them.  The ratio was close to 5:1 tied to untied.  Not to to be defeated I quickly used the old stand by, "Well, if all those kids jumped off a bridge, would we want Nolan to do it? "  My Mother had taught me well, but my wife had taught me something too, and that was, parents were either not raising their kids with this lesson, or it was lost on the vast majority of them.  It was worth some further thought. 

     I did think about it all, and was going to tie this into how kids  aren't respectful of the things that we provide for them, and I think it's true that a majority of them aren't, well at least to the degree we were when we were growing up.  It may even start with the shoes.  Again, taking good care of the small things that are provided for you, may lead to taking better care of the bigger things that are provided for you (If my friend Tor wrote this, he would be sure to relate this to the Parable of the Talents, you can check his blog out daily at
http://torconsblog.blogspot.com/ )  Does this lead to kids losing or mistreating larger items, like cell phones and cars?  I can't say, but I found another difference in the two scenarios.  If you scroll to the top of this page, you'll see that my first pair of shoes came from a small, local business selling quality merchandise and I treated them well.   My son Nolan's first pair likely came from Walmart, and I doubt there was any quality or craftsmanship involved in their cobbling and he treated them less well.  So there were two lessons to be learned from my view.  The first is that, yes, kids should be taught to respect the sacrifices that parents make to provide for them, it's just the right thing to do. The second, however, might be even more important, and it is, if you expect to have your kids respect things like you were taught, then you have to work a little harder and find good quality merchandise, maybe from small family owned businesses, for them to treat well, and yes, it can start with the shoes.