Thursday, July 28, 2005

Dumpster Diving

I’m a trash picker from way back.

My mother was always out to get a good bargain. As well as being a thrift shop habituĂ©, she wasn’t above rooting through people’s trash if she saw something interesting. One time when I was a kid, we’d just left my aunt’s house, when my mother spotted an old upholstered chair in the neighbor’s trash. She had my father to stop the car and grab it. Though the upholstery was torn, she saw possibilities, and ended up having it reupholstered. The chair still is in the family, now in my brother’s home.

By the time I headed off to college, I’d learned that people throw away all sorts of useful items, some nearly new. I regularly checked the dumpsters around my apartment complex, as the population was highly transient. I’d put on a pair of my rattiest jeans when going “dumpster diving” and climb right in….I didn’t care what other people might think.

Many students moving out ditched a lot of good stuff, so they’d not have to bother with moving it. I ended up with lots of clothes, usually neatly bagged so that other trash wouldn’t foul it, plates, silverware, a couch, and some chairs.

A few years later, when living in Texas, I regularly went dumpster diving with a lover, who knew all the “good dumpsters” in town, usually in affluent neighborhoods. We usually checked the Salvation Army and Goodwill drop boxes as well, because the law stated that items placed around the box, but not inside, were fair game. We’d regularly come home with a good haul, either to keep or to sell at the flea market.

I’ve not done any trash picking in years, but when I was out he other night, I kept passing this house that had several pieces of furniture put out for the trash. I was especially interested in a bookcase and a couple of kitchen chairs. I wasn't able to stop then, but made plans to come pick it up later. Unfortunately, once I returned, someone else had already gotten to it.


Monday, July 25, 2005

God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It! Yeah....Right!

The other night, I was discussing the new Harry Potter book with another guy at work. At that point, neither of us had finished it, and we were each speculating how we thought it would end.

It wasn't long before the two resident fundamentalists butted into our conversation. One said that that the books were eeeeeeeevil and the other asserted that "Harry Potter promotes Satanism".

I turned to the second and asked, "Have you read the books?" He said that he hadn't, but he didn't need to read them to know that, because his pastor had already told him they were evil.

Rolling my eyes heavenward, I said, "If you haven't read them yourself, then you don't have a valid opinion." The other guy tried to persuade them, but I told him not to bother, as you can't deal with willful ignorance.

To the other fundamentalist, I said, "Do you have so little faith in your own faith that you believe it would be destroyed simply by being exposed to different ideas?" Needless to say, he didn't have an answer for me.


Sunday, July 24, 2005


Next to sex, my favorite activity is reading. My parents read to my regularly as a child, and I began to read at age four, probably by osmosis. At least, I don't remember actually being taught to read. At four, I was reading my own Dr Seuss books...I now can read it in a box, I now can read it with a fox. Let me read it on a train, let me read it in the rain...

At that time, The Flintstones was my favorite TV show, and I can remember checking the TV section in the newspaper to see what time it came on. I had to lay the paper on the kitchen table, as I was too little to sit in a chair and hold all of it up.

By the time I started first grade, I was already reading Hardy Boy mysteries. For every B and A I got on my report card, my parents would buy me a new book. For most meals, I brought a book with me to the table. My siblings had the 1959 version of the Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedia and I remember going through these volumes one by one, randomly reading articles that interested me.

There were also several older books in the house: a book of bedtime stories from 1918 that had several Art Nouveau illustrations and a school reader from 1939, with corresponding Art Deco ones.

As an adult, I have a fairly respectable vocabulary, which I attribute directly to my reading habits. I can remember when encountering an unfamiliar word as a child, I usually could figure out the meaning from context. I didn't always figure out the proper pronunciation that way, though! For the longest time, I thought the pronunciation of the word "misled", was "mizzled"!

My love of writing came fairly early on as well, no doubt triggered by all the reading I'd done. As with reading, my ability to write, came seemingly by osmosis -- I'd absorbed writing techniques by the sheer volume of reading matter I'd consumed. I can remember being about ten years old and writing my own little newspaper, which was a lot of fun.

As an adult, I rarely can go into the library or a bookstore without helping other people find books. Just last week, I was in the used bookstore looking for some light reading when I heard a woman ask the clerk if he knew of any novels that took place in our state. The clerk didn't, but I jumped in and gave her several suggestions. The woman was also searching for books for her husband, mentioning some authors he liked. I was able to recommend a similar author and she ended up leaving with an armload of books, after telling me that I ought to do this for a living. That would be nice, if such jobs did not insist upon paying the minimum wage.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Stress Relievers

Not feeling terribly inspired today, so I thought I'd do the meme that John Sherck so kindly did not tag anyone with:

Things you enjoy, not because you HAVE to but because you WANT to, even when no one around you want to go out and play. What lowers your stress/blood pressure/anxiety level? Make a list, post it to your journal. And then tag 5 friends and ask them to post it to theirs.

My list was rather similar to John's, but here goes.

  • Having wild, passionate animal sex. But, then, you expected me to include that, hmm?
  • Petting, playing with my cats. I especially like when they'll sleep with me, plastered up against my back, purring madly
  • Listening to the hum of the fan or air conditioner, or the sound of crickets or a passing train while lying in bed waiting to fall asleep
  • Visiting a flea market or bookstore and discovering something I've long looked for.
  • Eating a good meal in the company of friends or lovers, especially "comfort food".
  • Having a long, meaningful conversation
  • Hauling ass on the interstate with the windows down, listening to music with a hard, driving beat cranked up loud.
  • Taking a hot shower or bath, either alone or with a lover. In the dark.
  • Writing, especially when the words just pour out of me.
  • Reading, either for entertainment or for research
  • Surfing the net

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Twisted Priorities

Shortly before I moved away from Texas in 1985, there was a story in the newspaper that raised quite a bit of controversy.

A young mother had taken a trip to the grocery store with her baby. After loading her groceries onto the back seat, the door swung back and closed, locking her out and the baby into the car. She quickly went back into the store to get some help opening the door.

One of the employees, a young man, came out to help her. He tried the old coat hanger trick several times, all to no avail. Finally, he ended up smashing the window in, as it was a hot summer day, and the baby was showing signs of distress.

Was this woman grateful that he'd freed her baby from the hot car?

She was not.

She called the police, wanting the man arrested for "vandalizing" her property. When the police arrived, she told them that she'd told the young man that she'd call her husband to bring another set of keys and that they should wait.

Thing was, though, the husband worked on the other end of Dallas and, even under the best highway conditions, it would have taken him at least forty-five minutes to get there.

Obviously this woman was more concerned about the car window than her baby's safety.

The cops told her that she should be thanking the young man for saving her baby's life and she was lucky that they didn't arrest her for endangering her child's safety.

Some people in this world are so fucked up.


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Don't Let This Happen to You

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To women who love to lay out in the sun and spend time in tanning beds, a word to the wise.

The next time you think of spending hours baking in the sun or schedule an extra long session at the tanning bed, think of this unfortunate woman. I'm actually surprised she didn't die of skin cancer long ago.

I have a cousin who is an extreme sun worshipper. She is two years older than me, but looks old enough to be my mother. She doesn't look as bad as this woman, but if she keeps on, she will before too long.

Sit in the shade, slather yourself with a high SPF sunblock. Enjoy the sun wisely.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A Memory From 1968

In 1968, I was ten years old. It was arguably the most turbulent year of a decade that saw major societal changes. Both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated that spring, only weeks apart.

When Kennedy died, it was announced that his body would lie in state at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and that the public would be allowed view his casket to pay their respects. On the spur of the moment, my mother decided that we all should go. I don’t think my father was especially keen on the idea, but he went along with it.

We lived in South Jersey at the time, with NYC being ninety miles away, so we all piled into the car and set off.

After we’d arrived and found a place to park, we discovered that the line waiting to get inside the church extended for blocks. We found the end of the line and settled in to wait. The line moved at a glacial pace, which soon became intolerable for the ten year old I was.

For a long time, I amused myself by talking to other people in line and looking in shop windows. Every store we passed had posted a large photo of Kennedy in the window with the years of his birth and death below his face.

Several hours later, we’d still not gotten inside. I’d stood as long as I could, but I finally ran out of gas. I was hot, tired, hungry, and my feet hurt. Around midnight or so, my father took me to a greasy spoon diner to get something to eat, while my mother and siblings continued to wait in line. Afterwards, my father and I returned to the car, where we both fell asleep; him in the front seat, me in the back.

Once they’d gotten inside and filed by Kennedy’s casket, my mother and siblings returned to the car. I remember that I was frustrated that I’d not been able to stay up long enough to see it through.

Thinking back, I can’t help but wonder how this country would have been different had Kennedy not been assassinated. He’d no doubt have gotten the Democratic nomination for President over Hubert Humphrey, and likely would have beaten Nixon in November.


Saturday, July 9, 2005

Good Samaritan

Yesterday my son amazed me.

He told me that he’d been driving down a busy street, heavy with traffic, when he spotted a young kitten standing on the double yellow lines. The cat had the sense to stop, recognizing the danger, but it was now afraid to move.

Knowing that the kitten would inevitably get killed if something wasn’t done, he whipped his car around and quickly parked on the shoulder. After carefully making his way to where the kitten was standing, he found that it was so frightened that it wouldn’t allow him to pick it up. He then stepped out and stopped traffic on one side, so he could chase the kitten out of the road.

Once he’d gotten the kitten safely off the road, he chased it a good ways into a field and away from the road, hoping it would continue on. He tried again to catch the cat to bring it to a more safe place, but it was sufficiently spooked that this wasn’t possible.

I was proud of him -- I guess I raised him right, after all.

Tuesday, July 5, 2005

Summer Rant

I hate summer with a passion.

I've not always felt this way, however. As a kid, growing up in the northeast, I loved summer. Summer meant no school and no schedules, not having to get up early. I spent most days doing whatever I wanted: climbing trees, riding my bike, playing games, roaming through the woods, etc.

Best of all were the days we went to the beach. I'd always come home pleasantly tired from the sun and surf, and would fall asleep easily, lulled by the sound of crickets outside my open bedroom window. Living close to the Narragansett Bay, we didn't need air conditioning at night, as breezes from the bay would always cool us.

As a kid, though, I didn't seem to feel the heat (or cold, for that matter) as intensely as I do now.

The summers of my youth are a pleasant memory of long, lazy days and relaxed nights, when the living was easy, as the song goes.

Once I started my responsible adult life, I no longer liked summer, especially after I moved to the South, where the relentless summer heat is like a blast furnace. It gets so hot down here that it takes your breath away, covering you in a miasma-like thickness.

And there's nothing more miserable that having to go to work, no matter how hot it gets, feeling wilted and sweaty all day long. Some days it's so hot that I find myself looking around for the guy wearing a red suit and carrying a pitchfork...

I stay inside as much as possible during the summer, avoiding the sun and bright sunlight like a vampire. I've got two fully mature maple trees in my front yard, which entirely covers the yard in blessed shade.

Working evenings also helps quite a bit. But at the zenith of summer, when it's 90 degrees at midnight, working late hours isn't much of a respite.

Did I forget to mention that "summer" (70 degrees and above, shorts weather) lasts three-quarters of the year here? It's always slow to leave us in the fall and quick to arrive in the spring.

All I can do is dream of November, when summer finally goes away.


Monday, July 4, 2005


Today, as Americans observe the 229th anniversary of Independence Day, I think back to the social climate of the late 18th century, which shaped how the founders conceived of and laid the blueprints for the future of the new American nation.

The latter part of the 18th century was a time when rational thought was overtaking old superstitions and a worldview based on piety. Philosophers of the time debated the rights of men, and the seeds of abolitionism and feminism were planted at this time, though these ideas were not to flower until many years later. It was a time that had much more in common with the 1960s, than it did with the 1950s.

Our nation’s founders did not have the hindsight of 200 years of future history to work with, thus did not guarantee all Americans equal rights at the very beginning. However, they laid down a government that would allow its basic principles to expand as society evolved. They gave us a government that looked forward, instead of backwards with tradition.

The majority of our nation’s founders were Deists, who established the separation of church and state as a core foundation of our government. They understood that government and religion both work best when they operate independently of one another.

I am certain that the founding fathers would be alarmed at the growing theocratic influence the religious right has had on our government in recent years and would fear that our nation was losing its way.

Rather than adhering to a jingoistic, “My country, right or wrong” philosophy, our patriotism would be better served by honoring the original intentions of our nation's founders.


Saturday, July 2, 2005

A Couple of Inane Expressions

A couple of inane expressions that set my teeth on edge are:

Gotta Love It

No, I don't. Ultimately, I don't "have to" do anything but die when my time comes. Telling me I "gotta" do something brings out my perverse contrary nature and I'll be determined NOT to do whatever it is that I "gotta" do.

Just For You

This phrase is one I commonly see in advertisements. "Savings Just For You", "A New Burger Just For You", etc. A local department store has a jingle that goes, "Everything We Do At Belk's is All For You."

Really? If I dropped off the face of the Earth, would you go out of business?

I think not.