The Coaster (#Fridayflash)

“Hey dad, you seen my T-pass? I just had it”, said Ralph.

“Check your room”.

“I did, it’s not there”.

“If I find it, you have to clean your room.”

“What?”

“I said, if I find it….”

Ralph’s dad peeked into his son’s bedroom.  For a second, he thought the room had been ransacked. Socks, t-shirts and jeans spilled out of an open chest of drawers.  Dirty clothes had been flung about – a tube sock dangled from a lampshade.  Wadded up pieces of loose leaf, a rainbow assortment of sharpies, some with their caps missing, and a colorful collection of college brochures littered the floor.  The copy of Great Expectations he had purchased for Ralph last week peeked out from under the bed, still in the Barnes and Noble bag.  Ralph’s MacBook Pro doubled as a plate for a half-eaten hamburger wrapped in foil. Some wayward fries lounged comfortably on a beat up piano bench under his desk.  Ralph had bought the piano bench at a yard sale for 5 bucks along with some Yes albums for .50 a piece for the album cover art, not the music.  He’d never heard of the band and thought the records were giant CDs.  Album covers and vinyl  LPs decorated his bedroom walls.

“I found it”, said Ralph’s dad.

“Where?”

“On your nightstand.  Now I want this room cleaned by tomorrow.”

Ralph had used his T-pass as a coaster for a 72 ounce can of i-Energy drink. And his dad noticed something else – another coaster, a baseball card inside a plastic sleeve under a Pom Tea glass with bits of orange juice pulp dried to the sides. He picked up the card. Bryan Nolen, pitcher for the Arkansas Catfish, a AAAA affiliate of the Ozark Spelunkers.  On the back of the card it said Nolen was an ambidextrous switch hitting pitcher who had recently pitched no hitters from both sides. Height: 6’6″; Wgt: 112; (that had to be a misprint) College: Bardmore State; Home: Drayton, NY. Nickname:  The Hudson Valley Hurler.

Bryan Nolen.  The thought of an ambidextrous pitcher intrigued  Ralph’s dad, so he googled him to find out a little more. Bryan was born Bryan Walker Nolen.  He earned an academic scholarship to Bardmore State College where he majored in linguistics. He spoke a little Spanish, his mother’s mother tongue, and could understand German, but couldn’t speak it.  He had studied the morphology of dozens of endangered indigenous languages and had discovered that English and Spanish had borrowed heavily from them.  Nolen was not only gifted academically, he was quite an accomplished athlete.  He had captained the nationally ranked Bardmore ultimate frisbee team in his junior and senior years.  At a frisbee tournament in Topf, TX, a major league recruiter saw potential in Nolen’s arm.  He was so impressed by his ability to accurately toss from both sides that he offered Nolen a minor league baseball contract on the spot.

In his first year in AAAA pitching for the Catfish, he threw a no-hitter as a lefty serving up mostly knuckleballs.  In one game against the Faulkner County Hush Puppies,  he caused a bench clearing brawl when he threw a pitch over the batter’s head from the left, and then switched to the right arm for the next pitch and beaned the batter in the ribs with a fastball.  The batter charged the mound and hit Nolen in the head with an aluminum bat, knocking him out and ending his baseball career. When Nolen came to, he was in the hospital and couldn’t speak.   He wrote notes in gibberish to his friends and family until a leading polyglot neurologist realized he was writing backwards in Spanish.  “Erbmah ognet” for “I’m hungry,” and so on. One day he miraculously began speaking German fluently during the day and Spanish at night. He had apparently lost his English completely.  Some in the family feared he had been subjected to a dangerous government experiment. The neurologist said the condition was rare, but theoretically possible, given that Ralph’s mother was a native Spanish speaker and that his paternal great-grandparents were German-speaking Swiss immigrants.  The ability to write backwards in a foreign tongue, though never before documented in a head trauma victim, had been observed in several lightning strike survivors.

Bryan eventually re-learned English, though he was not always easily understood with his thick German accent.  He struggled with irregular verbs and used of lot of slang he picked up from watching 70’s sitcoms and movies – “right on”, “dynamite”, “far out”, “out of sight”, “groovy man,” and “you dig?” And sometimes when he was really tired, he’d launch into backward English with a southern accent. “ll’ay yeh”.  He also discovered another talent – he could understand cat and dog language, an ability he turned into a hit show on the Reality Channel doing pet interventions for the rich and famous.

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Summer Reading

So what have I been reading this summer, you ask even though you most likely did not?  There is no rhyme and little reason to my list. Let’s see.  Well, my daughter has a big collection of V.S. Naipaul, an author she researched heavily for a senior paper.  She is not what I would call a big fan, nor am I, but I do like his writing style and find his explorations and opinions of the world intriguing.  So I’ve been reading Naipul.  I started with a book on India, then Islam and am currently reading a collection of essays on his travels:  The Writer and the World.  Next, I plan to read some of Naipaul’s fiction.  I have three on deck:  Magic Seeds, A Bend in the River and Half a Life, a book my daughter particularly enjoyed.  I’m reading Trout Fishing in America again, by Richard Brautigan.  I go back to it from time to time for inspiration.  I’m also reading a free e-book on my cellphone: A Hazard of New Fortunes by William Dean Howells.  It’s a bit of a trip reading a novel on my phone, especially one written in the 1890’s.

Late August Red Sox Blues

The Red Sox are 7 games behind the division leading Yankees (sound familiar), 5.5 back of the Devil Rays for the Wild Card. It’s late August.  Not many games left and I’m not too optimistic. It’s been a depressing season for Sox fans.

Big Papi got off to a rough start, and just when the team began to come together, the injury bug hit.  Ellsbury, Pedroia, JD Drew, Beltran, Youkilis, Beckett, Martinez, Varitek, have all been out for long stretches of time.  Ellsbury was one of the biggest disappointments.  Without his base stealing and run scoring potential, the Sox have not been an offensive threat.  With Ellsubury and Pedroia both on the DL, the Sox have lost their spirit, heart and soul.  Clay Bucholz has been about the only shining light for the team posting a 14-5 record and 2.31 ERA to date and maybe Bard too; Clay, Bard and the new guys – ok, add Beltre in there too.  The new guys – guys I’ve never heard of have have made huge contributions.  Hall, McDonald, Kalish, Navaro and Hermida really stepped up this season to keep the Sox within range.

Oh my, big Papi just hit a triple.  Unbelievable.  There may be hope yet!

Vinyl Hunt (#fridayflash)

Another restless night for Jed – the third in a row since his vacation began.  That Amana AC in his bedroom window awakened him numerous times the last few nights.  The thing was alive and evil, especially on energy saver mode.  Quiet for a while with that soothing white noise and then out of nowhere, a violent hiccup followed by a gagging, gurgling sound.  The AC snored.  It did.  And he couldn’t live without it on these humid New England nights with dew-points in the 70′s.  The Amana wasn’t the only thing that disturbed his sleep.  In the middle of his third or fourth mini-dream, his Samsung Instinct alarm sounded.  It was 5:45, when Jed would normally get up to go to work and he had forgotten once again to deactivate the alarm the night before.  He was on vacation after all.  But it wouldn’t have mattered.  He couldn’t deactivate Ella the cat.  She walked on his back at the first sign of light, licked his arm, purred in his ear and then crashed her head hard into his ribs demanding to be petted.  And she wanted her water bowl filled with fresh Poland Springs from the bottle on the night stand.  She jumped down off the bed and strolled to the water bowl and moved it adroitly with her paw to prove it was empty.  She doesn’t meow – ever.   She eats downstairs in the kitchen and will only drink water upstairs in Jed’s bedroom, and only Poland Springs.  She’d rather dehydrate than touch tap water.  A finicky one that cat.

Jed now out of bed felt light-headed.  He needed a cup of coffee but had run out the day before, leaving him no choice but to rush out for a cup at the local coffee shop.  When he got there, he ordered an extra-large with milk and no sugar.  The coffee served in a styrofoam cup burned his tongue upon first sip and was a little bitter, as if the coffee had been on the burner for a few hours.

Back in the car, Jed noticed he’d left his new Canon PowerShot on the front seat and he had an idea.  He had this urge to go hunting, or fishing.  He had been hunting a few times, but had only shot at  some ducks and scared them away.  He hadn’t killed anything except some beer cans and bottles.  He loved to fish but hadn’t in years and had no gear.  But he was armed with a camera and decided to go hunting in the arboretum just a few miles away.

To the Arb.  What’s that, a yard sale?  It’s early, too early.  Should I stop?  I wonder if they have any records?  Probably not.  Maybe?  I’ll stop.  No, they’re still setting up.  I don’t want to scare them.  Records.  I don’t see any.  I’m slowing down.  Crap, they’re looking at me like I’m a drive by shooter.  I can’t stop now.

Looks like rain.  What’s on the radio? Sports talk.  Oh no they’re talking hockey.  Where’s my Oldies station?  Somebody’s been messing with the presets.  Scan.  This is too complicated.  Alright, plan B – CD.  Some twang from a Nashville guitar, maybe it’s a lap steel, it almost sounds Hawaiian.  Let’s crank this up.  What if I roll down the windows and drive back to the yard sale?  They’d probably call the cops.   But I want some records or rare books.  They just might have a signed first edition Faulkner or some sonically superior seldom played classical or jazz pressing – maybe some Duke Ellington or Miles or an eclectic collection of Stravinsky.

Hey, there’s my personal arboretum parking space.  I need another coffee.  Where is it?  I just had it.  Dag, I left it on the roof of the car back at the coffee shop.  It’s too late now.    I’m already here and I’m not going back.  Onward to the conifer trail.   I’m hunting for color – anything interesting.  Maybe I’ll spot a ivory-billed woodpecker.  Green.  Everything is green.  No color contrast.  Got to get off the conifer trail.

Off in the distance.  Something is moving.  Looks poisonous.  A coral snake maybe. Drat, it’s only a slightly decomposed Skittles wrapper.  I’ll still shoot it.  Need a snake stick to pin its head so I can have closer look, but better not get too close – it might be a venom spitting Skittle snake with a rainbow colored rattle.  I’m off the beaten path and onto the sidewalk near the bus 51 stop.  And something has caught my eye again.  This could be the big one, the one I won’t let get away.  I’m going to real it in.  Newport.  I could never smoke menthols, I just couldn’t.  My dad smoked Kools, the king of menthol.  Kool burn.  Crushed empty box of Newport 100′s , with droplets of moisture inside the cellophane.  Faded aqua like a memory from my first Newport Jazz concert – sweet jazz in the air mixed with the smell of sulfur and brine like a fine wine just starting to open up.

Records.  Wonder if they have any jazz?  Don’t want CD’s.  If they have CD’s, I’ll walk away.  I will.  I want cheap, rare vinyl.  The splendor of spinning plastic. Snap, skip, scratch – POP.  I need a coffee and a smoke.  Wait, I don’t smoke.  I’m going to that yard sale, if that’s what it is.  Could be a garage, carport, or rummage sale.  Or maybe they’re just moving and it’s not a sale at all.  Need to find the conifer path.  Wow, a Red-winged blackbird.  Such a beautiful bird in flight, black with a blur of red.  Looks like a fighter plane as it goes into a dive.  I follow the sweet melodic call of the Black-capped Chickadee, an elusive bird I’ve only ever seen in the Sibley guide.  I think this is it.  Yes, there’s the Larch tree waving branches of alert spidery needles. I’m back on track.

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Double Boiler Home Heating

Our boiler died.  We have, or I should say had one of those heating systems that heats and provides domestic hot water all in one package.  So when I began shopping on-line for a price quote on a new one, I had forgotten the name and wasn’t sure what search terms to put in.  What do you call it a broiler, no, no a boiler – wait, is it a furnace? – I typed furnance (because I had finance on the mind).  Maybe it’s a brazier? I plugged in combo boiler and the search returned combi boiler.  No, that’s not it.   So, I plugged in double boiler, thinking that’d take me in the right direction.  Great!  Home Depot has them on sale for U.S. 34.99.  And I was thinking, a combination boiler couldn’t be that cheap.  And they look remarkably similar to saucepans.  And indeed they are – one fits right into the other.  Could this clever device melt cheese and heat my home?

Solution to your heating problems

Near, not at Ground Zero

I was watching the CBS Early show this morning.  One of the stories they led with was President Obama’s comments on the mosque controversy at Ground Zero and top democrat Harry Reid’s break with the President on the issue.  Bay Buchanan was one of the guests and argued that Ground Zero is hallowed ground and that most Americans don’t want a mall or a casino built there.   She really said that.

What’s being lost in the discussion  is that this planned Islamic cultural center is actually not at Ground Zero, but near it.  It couldn’t be at Ground Zero anyway because the 911 Memorial and Museum is currently under construction there.

The last I checked, the first amendment to the U.S. constitution guarantees Americans freedom of religion.  But the controversy is not really about religion, it is about fear, and misplaced blame and at its extreme, discrimination and racism.  And it is being politicized on both sides – Harry Reid on the left and the Republicans who have weighed in and will try to make it a divisive cultural issue.  And the birthers will use Obama’s support of the proposal as proof that he is a Muslim.

911 was a tragic event.  The national psyche was damaged and has not yet healed and may never.  And while I am not blaming anyone, I am surprised that it has taken so long to build a proper 911 memorial at Ground Zero.  I think had one been built already, there wouldn’t be much of a controversy over a development project such as the Islamic cultural center.

I Don’t Think Cats Blink

Woke up early this morning.  Pitch black in the house.  Tripped over my cat.  Turned on the light looking right at her.  I squinted but she did not.  Her eyes wide open.  No blink, no squint.  As if she didn’t notice any difference in the light.  I was a little freaked out by it.

Do cats have eyelids?  Do they blink?  I don’t think they do.  They can steadily open and close their eyes, but they don’t blink or squint.  They can see in the dark and see and hear things we humans can’t.  They might live in a parallel universe – or in the 5th dimension.   I’d like to go there on my next vacation.

Salt Review

My wife and I saw SALT last night, but it wasn’t the movie I wanted to see.  I had hoped to convince her that Inception was the better flick.  I didn’t really know if that was true.  She countered that she had heard just the opposite.  The truth is she had heard from one friend and I had heard from nobody.  I had only seen the trailers and Inception just seemed more interesting.  I don’t like action thrillers all that much.  Ok, I take that back.  I like James Bond films and the Bourne trilogy of movies.   And I’d add Salt to this short list.  Heck, I’d add salt to just about anything – buttered popcorn (always more salt than I need), individual pieces of meat, tomatoes and watermelon, – try it, it’s incredible.

If you haven’t seen Salt or the trailers for it, you probably aren’t reading this review. But in case you don’t know, Salt is a CIA agent played by Angelina Jolie.  Like Jason Bourne, the character in the Bourne trilogy played by Matt Damon, Salt is a highly trained agent with supreme fighting skills.  Salt and Bourne would be one invincible team.

And  Jason Bourne and Evelyn Salt have more in common than a common employer.  They both have a German love interest.  Salt’s husband is a German arachnologist; Bourne’s love interest is Franka Potente who plays a German drifter of sorts.  Both characters play rogue agents turned hero, who show extreme loyalty to their mates.  Both speak Russian fluently.  And the two are master escape artists who have the uncanny ability to cause police car accidents and escape unscathed.

The Salt plot has many twists and turns.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on until the very end, and then needed a few minutes after the movie to process and sort out what I had seen.   The Bourne plots are more straight forward.  It’s clear who the bad guys are.  In Salt, sorting out evil from good is a complicated exercise.  The characters of Salt and Bourne are trained killers and they do quite a bit of killing on screen, and not all of it in self-defense. They are both on a violent mission to bring inner peace and domestic tranquility.  Bourne wants his identity back and Salt longs for her quiet married life.  Both had gotten in over their heads and seek redemption but want revenge first.

In Salt, the Russians are portrayed as evil as if it were filmed during the cold war.  I thought we were past the stereotypes of a Russia bent on world domination. In the Bourne films, several rogue agents in the CIA took on the villain role. Whereas, in Salt, the CIA came off not as evil, but incompetent.

I enjoyed the movie.  I know it was good because I paused a few times while eating my heavily salted and lightly buttered tub of popcorn.  Usually, I polish off the tub in seconds flat well before the movie ends.  With Salt, I never made it to the bottom of the tub.

Salt.  Good on popcorn, watermelon and on a lazy summer night in front of the big screen.  Go taste if for yourself at a cinema near you.

Fuji FinePix Final Pics

5 or 6 years ago – I bought my first digital camera. A 2 mp point and shoot. It has a LCD screen and a view finder and runs on 2 AA batteries. It has been a serviceable camera, but unfortunately no longer works. The thing has been stuck in standby mode for the past few months. I can’t use it at all. I’m sure it’s something relatively easy to fix with the right tools. I think there’s some pin or spring that needs to be replaced to allow the function knob to rotate properly. But I don’t have those tools to open the camera and I’m not inclined to buy them or to pay someone to have the camera examined. The weird thing is that I have a spare malfunctioning Fuji FinePix A205 that my daughter gave me when she got it free after purchasing a Dell computer.  She already had a camera and had no use for it.  The LCD screen stopped working after shooting a few rounds of film.  The LCD is partially blacked out revealing half the subject and much to my disappointment, the blacked out half happens to be where the function modes display, so it is impossible to know what the settings are on it when I snap.  I can still take pictures through the view finder, but in a sense, only blindly. That said, it still takes brilliant pictures, when I guess right with the settings.  I took that shot of the potentially poisonous plant above looking through the viewfinder.  It looks like a bunch of lifesavers growing on a weed like plant surrounded by dried tobacco leaves. I must have correctly set it the macro setting by chance. I probably got too close though, as the “grapes” blur at greater magnification.   And a whole bunch of shots I took on this day were blurry beyond recognition.  As some of the guys say on West Coast Customs, “I’m done with it.”

I just ordered a new digital camera.  I would have bought another Fuji but my experience with the FinePix A205 has made me think the brand is not the most durable.  So I’m getting a 12 mp Canon PowerShot A3100.  My wife and one of my daughters have Canons and love them.  They’ve had no problem with build quality and the images they’ve produced with the cameras have been outstanding.  

I’m going to hang on to the Fujis and maybe try to fix them one day.  It’s a bit of a luxury actually to have both an LCD screen and a view finder.  You don’t find that on the current crop of point and shoot digital cameras.  You don’t.