Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Miss Ida & Old Man Dickinson

Our neighborhood kids, or "the kids" as we call them, clearly prefer Ida to me. It's not like I yell at them to get off the lawn or to turn that racket down or to stay out of the flower beds. I'm just not very warm towards them, cautious.

When Ida's home they can usually expect some sort of treat, perhaps gum or popcorn; a glass of water or milk; and occasionally she lets them play video games on the PlayStation. When she takes Boo for a walk, the kids sometimes follow her on their bikes or scooters. They all call her Miss Ida.

Enter me. Last week the kids came bounding up the stairs and rang the doorbell. Neither one of us wanted to deal, so we didn't answer the door. The doorbell rang again. Then they knocked on the door. Then they started ringing the doorbell in rapid succession. I went to the door, yanked it open, and before they could finish asking, "Can we play with Boo?", I said "Not today." They're kids; I figured I didn't need to give them an explanation. "Sorry, not today." They looked at me rather stunned-like and then ran down the stairs and across the yard. I felt good.

The other day I was mowing the front lawn, and when I stopped to empty the bag, I hear someone yell "Is Boo home?" I told them he was but that I was kind of busy at the moment. I started the mower up and soon they were on the lawn, so I stopped the mower. "Is Miss Ida home?" No, and I'm not sure she'll have time when she does get home. Start the mower again. A kid comes to my side; I shut the mower off again. "Can we play in the front (meaning on the driveway)?" Fine. I start blowing leaves and grass when a kid comes towards me. I try to ignore him, but have to shut the blower off. "Can we play with the rockets?" Rockets? What rockets? I don't know what your talking about. Kid leaves and comes back with a squash racket. "You mean racket." Fine, I tell him, but don't lose the ball.

I finish with the front and tell them we can now go in the back to play with Boo. The kids go running towards the back door. Don't open the door, I tell them, I'll get it. They try opening the door. One of them tries to go in through the dog door. Don't go in the house, I repeat; I'll get Boo. They back off while I open the door and close it behind me to get Boo.

Then I was watering the area where I'm trying to grow some grass. The kids tell me they're thirsty and want to go inside for a glass of water. I tell them they can drink out of the hose. They say they want glasses. I tell them they can drink out of the hose. They line up and I let them drink out of the hose. One kid tells me it was the best water he ever tasted. One kid says he has to go to the bathroom. I ignore him.

Later, they're sitting in the chairs on the deck and want to know if they can play video games. I say no. One kids tells me Miss Ida lets them, and I'll tell him she's nicer than I am. He doesn't argue. Then he says he has to go to the bathroom. I give him that 'Yeah, right" stare, and he says, "No, really." I say fine but they're using the bathroom and that's it. I leave the backdoor open. We're back outside. One kid says he hears a car, that Miss Ida is home. Thank God. They run to her. I return to the yard.

Nowadays it's not wise for a man to be alone in a house with neighbor kids, and so I don't put myself in that position. That's why I left the door open. It's OK for Miss Ida to give them candy and cake since she's a woman. How would it look if they told their parents I was giving them candy and cake when Miss Ida wasn't home? You have to think about these things. So, it's not so much that I'm a grumpy old man as it is I'm protecting myself. But if those kids keep throwing rocks at my new fence, Miss Ida will soon be protecting them from the wrath of Old Man Dickinson!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Got credit?

You know those commercials that portray people with credit card debt as victims of unscrupulous and mean credit card companies? The one's that imply it's not your fault for being in debt? Well, I once got a credit card statement that ran something like this:

Baseline Liquor
Baseline Liquor
Baseline Liquor
Baseline Liquor
Boulder Yellow Cab
Baseline Liquor
Baseline Liquor
Boulder Yellow Cab
Baseline Liquor
Baseline Liquor

It went on like that for at least one page (consistency is my trademark). True story. It was my first credit card and with it came a $500 credit limit, giving me a freedom I'd never known before. I told my roommates I wouldn't max it out and they laughed at me. To my credit (pun intended), I never maxed it out...but I took it to $495. After many years of brewing lattes for Boulder's pseudo-hippies, emptying bus tubs, cleaning deep friers, and eeking out tips, I paid that card off.

Here are a few things I would like to tell those who complain about credit card fees, interest rates, and creditors:

1) It's not your money and it never was; you borrowed it. In fact, you applied for a line of credit and said you were good for it.
2) When you borrow money, you're supposed to pay it back. That's how it works. Ever seen an episode of The Sopranos?
3) If you don't like the fees or the interest rates, then, well, perhaps you shouldn't have applied for the credit card.
4) If you were irresponsible enough to get into debt to the point where you can't pay it back without cutting back, then, again, maybe you shouldn't have applied for the credit in the first place.
5) Did you even read the terms of agreement?

As evidenced by the above confession, I wasn't exactly born a financial advisor. Before that first card, I knew nothing about interest rates, finance charges, or credit histories. I routinely skipped payments and often paid less than the minimum when I did decide to pay. I knew I had to pay the money back, but I was ignorant of the details. Two things saved me from Credit Card Hell: knowledge and lifestyle. My roommate, John, explained to me how it all worked. To this day, I still heed his advice: at the very least, always pay the minimum plus the finance charge. The second thing to save me was how I lived back then: I strove on every level and in everything that I did to "simplify, simplify, simplify". Most of my clothes came from friends' Goodwill piles, I didn't own a car, and prior to 2002 the single biggest purchase of my life had been a bicycle, around $500. Instead of nice things, I bought good times: Mexican food, pitchers of beers, pizza, hours of pool, concert tickets, shots, and, apparently, many twelve packs and cab rides. Memories, even when blurred and slurred, were cheaper than things, so I have a lot of memories and not a lot of things.

I wouldn't be where I am now if not for a credit card. What separates me from the "victims" of credit card companies, however, is that I never played the victim. Every charge on that balance statement I incurred and I did so for my own or someone else's amusement or benefit. Debt happens; it's the "I'm the victim" attitude that bothers me. You're not entitled to someone else's money, and when you signed that credit card application, you said you would pay it back. So, how about you quit complaining and pay it back.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Earth Day Suggestion

So, Earth Day is upon us. I like the fact that there is a designated Earth Day and that it gets more and more attention each year. But sadly, like Easter, once it's over people forget about it until next April.

There are many ways to make every day Earth Day, and one is being aware of and choosy about the seafood you buy and eat. The oceans are being ravaged - and I don't use that term lightly - by overfishing. Don't just take my word for it (I was born and raised in a land-locked state) and take a look at or read this special report by The Economist (don't miss the the sections under "In this special report").

The Monterey Bay Aquarium also has good information, including handy little seafood buying guides. Boycotting Red Lobster is a start.

Be a conscious consumer of seafood and make Earth Day last beyond April 22.

Oh, and while I have you here: support these restaurants and grocery stores in boycotting Canadian seafood until the Canadian government ends the seal hunts.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

You Throw Like a Girl

The other day four neighborhood kids came over to play with Boo, and eventually we got to throwing and catching a softball (or a tennis ball when Boo wasn't running away with the softball in his mouth). Two of the boys, brothers, had evidently never been taught how to throw a ball; they threw girls. They were having a lot of fun, but I felt sorry for them. You see, there are just some things in life that a boy needs to know how to do and one is knowing how to throw a a boy.

Family lore tells of a very young Thad pinning several older kids against the side of a house with an arm cocked and ready to hurl a dirty, metal Tonka truck at any one of them. As I grew older I was told time and again I had a "great arm" and was a "dead shot" with a ball, rock or snowball. If that was indeed the case, I don't know where it came from. Being fatherless from age four, I had to learn a lot about being a boy on my own. For example, I taught myself how to throw a curve ball from Collier's Encyclopedia (what else!) and my mom had to replace a lot of broken windows. No one, parent or child, questioned my ability to throw. Perhaps it was my one "God-given talent" that I never developed and, thus, now live a life of not-so-quite desperation as a librarian. I'll never know.

But I do know this: there's no greater insult, no greater playground taunt than for a boy to be told he throws like a girl. Other kids may call him four-eyes or a geek; make fun of his momma; give him wedgies; point out how fat he is; pull his sister's hair; or even say his dog is ugly and dumb. All very hurtful things to say, even to an adult. But to a boy they are all like water over a stone compared to being told he throws like a girl. For a boy the ability or inability to throw impacts his confidence in gym class; how high or low he gets picked when teams are being chosen, whether he plays in the grassy areas or sandy part of the playground. It impacts his social standing: boys and girls alike will snicker.

Of course, you could send him to one of those schools that banned games such as dodge ball (or bombardment) and don't allow kids to even high-five each other (see the latest Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel) and really set him up for a life of misery.

I'm not saying he has to have a great, Tonka truck throwing arm. He doesn't have to be the pitcher or the quarterback - I certainly never was. Most likely he won't make his way in life off his ability to throw, which is why he should spend far more time on academics or theater or music or other sports. Nonetheless the ability to throw a ball is a lifelong skill that will serve him well at company picnics, on the intramural softball team, as his daughter's t-ball coach, and in a park when a ball comes rolling up to him and someone yells "A little help, please!"

Teaching your son how to throw a ball may just be the single greatest thing you can do for him. As for the neighborhood kids, I guess it's time we practice throwing. Better board up the windows, Ida.

Taxes & Tea Parties

Few things get my blood pressure boiling as much as people who complain about taxes. I don't mind paying taxes because I know that without taxes so much of what we take for granted would not exist. So, if you think paying taxes is un-American, fine, then don't pay them. But then you don't deserve and cannot use or enjoy the following: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schools, the interstate highway system, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, habeus corpus, national parks, clean water, clean air, the right to vote in national elections, Pell Grants, homeland security, the military, and so on and so forth. Without taxes you don't have a nation. It's called looking beyond your own selfish interests and supporting the greater good.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Act of God

An "Act of God" split one of our trees in the front yard yesterday and sent it crashing to within mere inches of our neighbor's house. Another one of God's acts brought a huge limb crashing down onto our new fence. Seems to me that if God wanted my attention, He could've done it in a much subtler fashion. As it is, we're $500 poorer, our neighbors have no electricity, and I'm none the wiser.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Yes, PETA's European cohort did suggest to the Pet Shop Boys that they change their name to "Rescue Shelter Boys." The band didn't, of course, but they apparently added something to their website in support of PETA Europe (I don't know for sure because I can't do it, I can't bring myself to visit the Pet Shop Boys' website!). Knowing my PETA sympathies a friend asked me about it and I responded: PETA is crazy.

I was once a proud, card-carrying PETA supporter. I still support the idea of PETA, and I'm willing to bet that the majority of those in this country do support the ethical treatment of animals. PETA's undercover work exposing inhumane and often barbaric treatment of animals is excellent and I hope it continues. What I wish wouldn't continue are these ridiculous marketing/awareness campaigns. They simply go too far. Instead of bringing more people to the fold I'm convinced they actually do the opposite and push potential supporters away. PETA comes across as extremist (and they are) and instead of making people aware of really valid issues involving animal cruelty, they end up looking foolish. Rush Limbaugh and is ilk call PETA and other animal rights organizations "terrorists", which they clearly are not, no more than the NRA, at least. But PETA just gives him more and more reason to say such things and people believe him.

PETA is only preaching to the choir with their antics. Far-left, vegan activists love that stuff. If PETA wants to make real progress, however, they need to tone it down. Instead of shock and awe, try awareness programs that schools can actually enage in; work with local animal shelters, not against them; market to the middle, not the left (you already have their support); and quit doing and saying things that make fools of themselves and people and organizations that having nothing to do with PETA but because they care about the same things are vilified by association.

PETA has my moral support and that's about it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Today is Easter. When we were kids, we'd wake up to a living room visited by the Easter Bunny. Candy on window sills, in plants, tucked inside vases. Chocolate eggs and bunnies littered the floor. Unlike Santa who placed gifts in one spot - under a tree - this rabbit saw fit to scatter the evidence of his visit. To this day, my favorite candy is the little bird's nests: chocolate-covered nests made of coconut with three jelly beans as eggs.

Of course, Easter was also about going to church. Just as with Christmas, we were hauled away to Episcopalian and Catholic services. I understood why we went to church; I may not have got past Noah's Ark in Bible School but I knew enough about why we were there to show adequate reverence. Going to church wasn't an option. I couldn't say that I'd rather stay home and organize my candy. Attendance was mandatory. Easter and Christmas really were the only days of the year that we went to church.

I distrust people who only go to church on Easter and Christmas. True believers either go - religiously - or they choose not to go at all. I am of the latter group: I choose not to attend, even on the most important days in the Christian calendar. My reasons are two-fold: 1) attending church is not, I believe, needed for my salvation, and 2) going to worship only twice a year makes a mockery of God. If you're going to say you're a "good" Christian, then you should go to church every Sunday, at least. If you don't and still claim to be a good Christian and then go to church on Easter and Christmas, you're basically telling God that you'll do what you're supposed to do when it's convenient for you. And then you ask for salvation, to win the lottery, and judge me for not going to church at all. Fair weather Christians indeed. I think you will be judged more harshly then those of us who are at least honest with ourselves and our God(s).

I'm going to go mow the lawn now and paint birdhouses. That's how I observe Easter.