Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Some Signs of Spring

Spring comes each year in a predictable pattern.

The first sign that winter is over is the blooming of what I call the "pollen trees", with their white and pink blooms. The next sign is that I notice that I'm sneezing a lot more often, even though I don't have a cold. The blooming of daffodils isn't far behind once the sneezing season begins.

Next comes the rain, the wind, and the mud. In between rainstorms, many days I wake up to the less than melodious drone of lawnmowers.

I really know spring is here when local birds go on dive bombing missions with my car as the target. For a couple of weeks now, I've gone to get in the car and it's splattered from front to back with bird shit. There's no point in washing it, because the birds will just coat it again by morning. It's to the point where I'm wondering if there are red circles painted on my roof that only birds can see. The only upshot to this is that I'm at least grateful that cows can't fly.

I'm still waiting on the last sign that winter is gone for good: the yellowish-green pollen dust that will coat my car to complement the white polka dots of bird crap as a spring fashion statement.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Book Roundup

I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading lately, so I thought I’d let you know some of the books I’ve read recently and what I’m reading now.

The “Prey” series by John Sandford

While talking on Instant Messenger with Easy about a month or so back, he recommended this series of police thrillers to me. He said that the main character Lucas Davenport, was “kind of a womanizer”, and he thought I’d enjoy reading them.

He was right. The books are fast-paced with intricate plots mainly involving serial murderers. The psychological angle is played, as Sandford takes the reader inside the heads of the killers.

He was also right about the “womanizer” part; Davenport even called himself a libertine in “Mind Prey”. Unfortunately, Sandford eventually marries him off in one of the more recent installments, taking off most of the edge the character had in the earlier books.

I read all fifteen books currently available in less than month. A new one comes out in May. Can’t wait to read it.


St. Dale by Sharyn McCrumb

In the author’s note, McCrumb said, "I wanted to do a book on the canonization of a secular figure - a Canterbury Tales with a modern saint..."

She was inspired to write this book after noting the wide outpouring of grief from a variety of sources in response to the untimely death of Dale Earnhardt in 2001.

The book is the account of a memorial bus tour of various racetracks important to Earnhardt’s career. During the course of the tour, we see inside the lives of the passengers in turn, who come from all walks of life, the common thread among them being their interest in Earnhardt. The tour is led by a down-and-out racer trying to get back into racing and is less than enthusiastic about the job he has taken.

McCrumb did her research, the NASCAR trivia she sprinkled throughout the book is accurate, and she does a fair job portraying the Earnhardt fan phenomenon, saying he attracted people who admired individualism because he always did things his way.


The Casanova Complex by Peter Trachtenberg

Someone once recommended this book to me, telling me I’d see myself in its pages. While on a visit to a used bookstore awhile back, I saw the book on the shelf and said, “What the hell,” and decided to finally read it.

The book was written in the 1980s, at the height of the 12-Step self-help craze, when pop psychology books were seeing “codependency” behind every bush, asserting that ninety-six percent of all families were dysfunctional.

This book fit that mold precisely. It is a study of male libertines, whom the author called “Casanovas”, and identified himself as a “recovering Casanova”. He profiles six different types of Casanovas, whom he called hitters, drifters, romantics, nesters, jugglers, and tomcats.

The book is overly dramatic, written with a heavy hand of Freudian psychoanalytic psychobabble. Trachtenberg asserted that though the six types differed in their approaches to non monogamous sex, that they were all “sick” and had all come from dysfunctional families, outlining the form such families took in one chapter.

I got the strong impression that the author was leaning heavily on anecdotal evidence, drawing closely from his own experiences, and not any extensive research.

Though I saw bits of myself here and there in the various profiles, there wasn’t any one of the six types that was a real match. Nor did I come from a dysfunctional family -- I didn’t have an absent father, nor a shrewish mother.

Sometimes, though, a cigar is just a cigar, and some people are “Casanovas” simply because they like frequency and variety in their sex lives, not because they had a bad childhood. Trachtenberg admits as much at the end of the book when he wrote what amounted to a disclaimer:

“I am reluctant -- really unable -- to say what kind of sexual behavior is morally appropriate…I don’t doubt that some men and women legitimately prefer to lead active sex lives with many different partners…I wouldn’t want this book used as an argument for forced chastity or monogamy or as a nostalgic manifesto for the sexual mores of the 1950s…There is no such thing as a single code of righteous conduct in matters of the heart. A sexual ethic is something that each of us must choose for himself or herself, forging it through repeated trial and error, pleasure and heartache.”


What’s the Matter With Kansas by Thomas Frank

I’m reading this book now and haven’t gotten too far into it yet. I bought the book after reading the following blurb on the flyleaf, as it addresses question I’ve always had about why some unlikely people vote Republican.

“Frank, a native Kansan and onetime Republican, seeks to answer some broader American riddles: Why do so many of us vote against our economic interests? Where’s the outrage at corporate manipulators? And whatever happened to middle-American progressivism? The questions are urgent as well as provocative. Frank answers them by examining pop conservatism—the bestsellers, the radio talk shows, the vicious political combat—and showing how our long culture wars have left us with an electorate far more concerned with their leaders’ “values” and down-home qualities than with their stands on hard questions of policy.”

It’s pretty good so far, but I’ve not read enough of it yet to write a review.


In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore

This book is a criticism of our society’s increasingly fast paced lifestyle, how we’ve gone from hectic to frantic, resulting in people enjoying life less. It sounded interesting, so it is now on my “to be read stack”.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Odd and Ends on Easter

When I was a kid, I always wondered what the word "Easter" meant and where it came from. I knew Easter didn't have anything to do with the East, though east is part of the word, as it is in German, "Oster", "ost" meaning east. I was so curious about this, that I even looked in the Bible for it. I found that the word "Easter" does not occur anywhere in the Bible, which made me even more curious.

Finally, I asked my father's brother, the preacher, about it and he didn't know. A few years later, I found it on my own. "Easter" comes from the Pagan goddess "Eostre", who is some sort of fertility goddess. who was honored at the coming of spring.

I find it quite telling that the biggest Christian holiday of the year is named after a Pagan goddess.

While out driving around, I've noticed these tacky metal signs with the ten commandments printed on them, popping up in yards all over town, like an infestation of crabgrass. They are slightly smaller than a realtor's "For Sale" sign one might see in someone's front yard.

At the same time, I've noticed more and more cars with large bowtie ribbon stickers supporting various causes, "Support Our Troops" and "God Bless America" being most common, stuck on them. And I mean stuck on the painted area of the car and not the bumper. I see these even on new cars, and I think that surely these people know that these stickers will ruin the car's paint job and lower the car's value when it comes time to trade it in?

Why do they find it necessary to advertise their beliefs by either planting tacky looking signs in the yard or by making their cars a rolling billboard? Surely one can support the troops without having to ruin their car's paint job in the process?

I read yesterday that Prince Charles is being required by the church to formally apologize to Camilla Parker Bowles' ex-husband for having an affair with her before the church will agree to marry them.

For one thing, it's none of the church's damned business how Charles and Camilla came to be together; it's a personal, private matter between those involved.

Secondly, does the church require this of every couple they marry where one or both partners committed adultery to begin the current relationship? I'm guessing not.

Having been together for so long in good times and bad, Charles and Camilla are already married in every way that counts, and the church ceremony is just a formality. It's too bad that they can't just tell the church to take a hike and be done with it.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Traffic Headache

When I was in school, most kids either rode the bus or they walked to school. And access to school grounds was designed with this reality in mind.

Nowadays, though, most kids are ferried to school by their parents, with very little of this chauffeuring being neighborhood car pools.

This means that, twice a day, at schools all over town, traffic is tied up for blocks for at least forty-five minutes. School driveways were never meant to handle such a large volume of car traffic on a daily basis.

The traffic snarls are worse in the afternoons, as many parents arrive early to wait for school to let out, which results in parked cars in the right lane backed up for blocks from the school.

Any hapless soul driving by a school at the wrong time will end up mired in this mess, so many people try to avoid driving near a school at that time, which can be rather inconvenient. And I’m sure those who own businesses near schools are less than delighted about the twice-daily traffic mess.

Either schools need to restructure access to school grounds to reflect this new reality, with new schools built to accommodate this from the very beginning, or schools need to make an effort to make riding the bus a more attractive and practical option for students.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Dying to be Thin

In the wake of the Terri Schiavo debacle, many people have urged others to make living wills in order to avoid a similar fate. This is sound advice that I completely agree with.

But there's another lesson to be learned from this case.

Not often mentioned is the fact that Terri had an eating disorder, bulimia, which is what caused her heart to stop briefly, putting her into the state she's now in. Eating disorders can cause heart failure by causing a chemical imbalance in the body, in her case, a potassium deficiency.

In other words, in a cruel twist of fate, Terri was figuratively dying to be thin, and ending up literally doing so.

If Terri had accepted herself as she was and not been willing to adopt drastic measures in a desperate attempt to be thin, she'd not be, ironically, lying severely brain damaged in a hospital bed being starved to death.

Something to think about.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Odds and Ends

People often speak in indirect ways, many times when it’s entirely unnecessary. One question, most commonly asked of children, is “Where is your (homework, sweater, etc)?”. The questioner doesn’t really want to know where the object is, they want to know why the person being asked doesn’t have it with them. So why can’t they say what they mean?

Another common question is “What are you doing here”. Again the questioner isn’t concerned with what the other person is doing, they want to know why the person is in a particular location and the question usually implies that they’re not happy with the person being there. Again, people should say what they mean.


Police officers traditionally are not terribly fond of lawyers, even less so than the general population. The best source of lawyer jokes is frequently a police station. Here are a few corny ones I like:

Question: What’s the difference between a dead skunk in the middle of the road and a dead lawyer in the middle of the road?

Answer: There are skid marks by the skunk.

Question: California has the most lawyers of any state in the nation and New Jersey has the most toxic waste dumps. Why is this so?

Answer: New Jersey got first pick.

Did you hear about the lawyer who was so slick that he got his client’s charge reduced from sodomy to tailgating?


I’ve noticed that things cost more in poor neighborhoods. Gas prices are higher and grocery stores from the same chain will charge more in a downscale neighborhood than in ones more upscale. My town has two Wal Marts, one in the north part of town, another in the south part. I’ve noticed several price differences between the two, with the higher price always being in the less affluent neighborhood.

What’s up with this? If there’s going to be a difference in price, why isn’t it in the richer areas, where they can more easily afford it? Why are poor people penalized for being poor? It seems to me that reversing this difference would bring in a higher volume of sales from less affluent neighborhoods and that rich people would continue to buy, even at a higher price.


While reading a book the other day, I came upon this interesting quote:

“When he evades domestication, he also flees the constraints that seem to go hand in hand with marriage. He reminds wistful husbands, ensnarled in the claims of wives, children, and creditors, that the Latin root of ‘libertine’ is libertus -- a freed slave”.


Saturday, March 12, 2005

It's That Time Again

I live four doors down from a fundamentalist church. Every so often, the pastor rings my doorbell, inviting me to his church, urging me to “turn away from my life of sin” and to “get right with God”.

This morning, the doorbell rang around eleven, not long after my son had left for work. I was still in bed, but I got up and staggered to the door. It was the preacher again, figuring I was overdue for my latest brimstone barrage. I'd hastily pulled on a pair of sweats and my hair was loose and wild, so I'm sure he thought he'd caught me in the middle of a tryst. As it happened, however, I'd spent the night alone. If I had been in the middle of something, I'd not have come to the door at all.

He apparently is aware of my libertine lifestyle, though I’m not quite sure just how he learned this information. The only possibility I can think of is a busybody neighbor, who spies on everyone in the neighborhood, and has no doubt noted different women coming and going from my house at various hours.

And while I don’t cavort with my lovers out in the front yard, I have noticed the church van drive by a time or two when I’d be giving a passionate kiss to a lover about to get in her car to leave after being with me.

The self righteous preacher probably combined this with my busybody neighbor’s gossip and put two and two together. I’m sure I represent a challenge to him, another lost soul to guide to the straight and narrow.

Most of the time, I’m both faintly amused and irritated by the preacher. Usually, I simply tell him that I’m busy, but thank him for thinking of me, and I assure him that I’m quite happy just as I am, thank you very much.

He's barking up the wrong tree with me and his time could be much better spent elsewhere, such as running a soup kitchen or something else that actually helps people.

Monday, March 7, 2005

Malodorous Meanderings

Today, I thought I’d write about farting -- flatulence, passing gas, pooting, what have you.

When I was a kid, my brother and I had endless arguments about whether farts were brown or green. My brother always argued that they were green, as anything rancid had to be green, like fungus. I argued that they were brown, because they smelled similar to shit, so they had to be brown. We ended up just agreeing to disagree on the topic.

As the older brother, he set a fine example of grossness for me to follow. When I was a toddler, he got a lot of mileage from playing the “pull my finger” prank on me. No matter how many times he did this, we’d both crack up about it every time.

On Thanksgiving the year that I was twelve, my brother half rose from his chair at the dinner table and let a loud one rip. My mother totally lost it and told him to leave the table and go to his room. He was 25 at the time, but he knew he’d fucked up, so he went. It was all I could do to keep from rolling all over the floor laughing my ass off.

Sometimes when out in public, we all feel the need to fart. Most of us will try to find a spot well away from others, such as a deserted aisle in a store, to let one go. But I tend to have the luck that no sooner than I’ve pushed one out and the stench is all around me like bad perfume, than someone comes along and catches a whiff. If there’s no one else around, they know who did it. There’s no dog anywhere in sight to blame it on.

I can remember going to the grocery store several times with my father in the last few years of his life. He enjoyed the company and the chance to talk with me without his wife listening. One time while we were in the store, I heard a “poot-poot-poot” sound as we walked along, with no attempt to hide it or get away from others to do it. And I was the one stuck smelling it. When I commented about it, he said, “I’m old; I can get away with it now. And I don’t give a damn anymore if anyone smells it.”

One thing I really hate is having a bad cold and gas at the same time, so that every time you get into a coughing fit, you’re farting along in time with the coughs. The very worst thing is to cough, sneeze and fart at the same time. Not an experience I’d recommend. The only thing worse would be to be hiccupping at the same time as well.

I had this job about ten years ago, where one of my coworkers got off on public farting and stinking up the workplace. His usual tactic was to stand behind a group of people and let a silent one go, then quickly walk away before the stench rose to full strength. He’d even fart in front of a fan to make sure the stink distributed far and wide. His nickname around the plant was “Chief Brown Cloud”.

There’s a certain protocol when it comes to farting and lovers. With a new lover, letting one rip in front of them is definitely the kiss of death. I know I’ve stood stock still with my cheeks clamped together until the urge to fart passes, to keep from farting in their presence. With an established lover, it’s bombs away! I know I’ve reached a certain point in the relationship, when a lover and I fart freely in front of each other and even joke about it.

Enough of this. Time to go find the Lysol and give my blog a good spraying…

Sunday, March 6, 2005

Night Owl

As long as I can remember, I’ve hated to get up early. “Early to bed, early to rise” is a totally obscene sentiment to me and I’ve always referred to alarm clocks as the “morning warning”. During periods of unemployment, when I’m able to set my own hours, my typical pattern is to stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning and sleep until around noon or so. Infamous J teases me, telling me that I must be part vampire.

I was never one of those “crack of dawn” kids, except, perhaps, on Christmas morning. Otherwise, I’d happily sleep until noon.

When I was in high school, classes started at the ungodly time of 7:30 am. I never got used to it, always functioning on autopilot, dragging anchor every day until around noon or so.

In college, I got as many afternoon classes as possible, as this suited both my sleeping schedule and was more convenient for my “extracurricular activities”. However, I couldn’t get them all that way, and so I ended up ditching a lot of morning classes, as I’d be worn out from the night before.

When I was on the police force, we worked swing shifts, and I always felt best when working second. I didn’t have to get up with an alarm clock, yet I got to sleep the later part of the night. Oddly enough, I didn’t like third any better than first, as the sleeping time didn’t really match my natural rhythms, either. Many times when on third, I’d get what I call “the wideawakes”, that is, no matter how tired I was, I’d lie there wide awake, anyway.

When having first shift jobs as an adult, the situation was much the same as when I was in high school. No matter how long I’d been having to get up early, I'd never get used to it and I’d drag anchor for the first half of the work day. Additionally, I tend to be a bastard on wheels early in the morning, and prefer to just work quietly on autopilot, and not having anyone mess with me until the afternoon. I did my best to avoid the chirpy morning people until afternoon, and about the time they’d start lagging, I’d be picking up.

On the weekends, I’d easily revert to my natural sleep patterns without a hitch. I’ve known many people who don’t like getting up early, but they get used to having to do it, that they even wake up early on their days off, which I can’t imagine ever happening to me.

Interestingly enough, with my lifestyle, quite a bit of my socializing is done during the day, sometimes even rather early in the morning. Of course, this is mainly for practical and logistical purposes. But there’s a big difference between being awake and being able to lounge around comfortably and do what I want, and being awake and having to rush around, get dressed, and go somewhere at that hour.

So tell me, what are you, early bird or night owl?

Saturday, March 5, 2005

Amateur or Professional

When most people hear the word “amateur”, they think of ineptness, things done in a shoddy fashion, and laughable, half-baked efforts. Conversely, when they hear the word “professional”, they think of first class workmanship with great attention to detail; in other words, the best.

Unfortunately, when making these assumptions, most people don’t think of what these words actually mean.

“Amateur” is from the same root word as “amor”, which is the Latin word for love. So, in other words, an “amateur” is one who engages in a particular activity simply for the satisfaction of doing so; it is a “labor of love”. “Professional” simply means that one gets paid for the activity, no more, no less.

Neither word implies anything whatsoever about the quality of what is being done, and the fact that one is being paid for something, does not, in and of itself, guarantee superior work.

The distinction between an amateur and a professional then, is a simple financial one. I’ve seen plenty of first rate work done by amateurs and also plenty of half-assed, shoddy work done by those being paid for it -- the professionals.

Many times, the true value of something isn’t the financial one.

Tuesday, March 1, 2005

March, the Blah Month

March first already. As I sit here in front of the computer, I can hear the wind whipping around the house; March is coming in like a lion this year.

March has always been kind of a doldrums month for me, kind of a blah, nothing month. As a kid, I'd get depressed about this time of the year. By March, it seemed as if the school year had gone on forever, but it was still quite a long way from summer vacation. The holiday season was well past and there were no fun holidays to look forward to, to break up the time until school was out for the year.

And even in New Jersey, the snow season had pretty much ended by March, so the sledding season had ended as well. March weather was usually depressing -- lots of rain, wind, and mud. And it didn't get quite warm enough to enjoy being outdoors much; not quite warm enough for baseball or biking.

Now, as an adult, March doesn't make me quite as depressed as when I was growing up, but it's still a blah month. The rain, mud, and wind are still part of this month, but now that I'm living in the south, the weather can sometimes be quite warm by the beginning of March. And because time passes a lot quicker now than when I was a kid and because I no longer get summers off, that depresses me, as I know summer is right around the corner.

Summer up north as a kid was cool, not having to go to school and getting to do what I wanted with pleasant warm days. Summer down south as an adult is miserable, having to drag myself to work in blast furnace temperatures. And it will be here a lot sooner than it would if I were still up north.