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Blasts from the past ...

Here I plan to run some of my older columns -- personal favorites, reader favorites and the ever-important Mom favorites. If you have a suggestion, let me know -- bearing in mind, please, that I don't own the rights to the columns I wrote for the Indianapolis Star Former Newspaper.

THIS, TRULY, IS FOR THE BIRDS 

I fear I am turning into my mother.

Wait. I don’t like the way that looks. Let me back up and try again. Here goes:

It appears that certain aspects of my personality (yes, this is much better) are beginning to resemble those of my mother.

The proof is right outside my window, at the bird feeders.

I don’t know where this came from. One day my tree branches were bare, as befits a flowering crabapple or dogwood in winter; the next thing I knew, I was hanging feeders of all sizes and descriptions, and filling them up with bird seed or, as it is also known, Squirrel Chow.

I think I must have gone into some sort of trance and bought them by mistake while Christmas shopping. I’m known to do things like that. One day I left work intending to pick up some bread and milk on the way home, and wound up buying a Pontiac instead. And believe me, it was a mistake. What a rotten car. But I digress.

The other possibility is I just picked them up and thought, “Hey, these might be kind of cool.”

Which, of course, they are not. Fun, yes. Interesting, certainly. But cool? Please. My mother has bird feeders numbering in the dozens. She has an old swingset frame that hangs six or eight feeders, each offering a different kind of food intended to attract a different kind of bird. Her yard is the bird version of an MCL cafeteria.

 If bird feeders were cool, my mother would be the hippest chick in the 260 Area Code. Which she isn’t. Trust me on that one.

I called Mom as soon as I got the feeders up.

“Have you gotten any birds yet?” she asked.

“Just sparrows.”

“Ha!”

I guess I should explain that my mother has something of a competitive streak where birds are concerned. She likes nothing better than to see a variety of bird at her feeder that has not been at, say, one of her sisters’ feeders. And Mom gets really snippy when some fancy bird dines in a yard other than hers. She still hasn’t forgiven me for the time an exhausted rose-breasted grosbeak, obviously lost, landed on my backyard fence to ask directions. To use the vernacular, my mother is a cross between a Common Loon and an American Coot.

And she’s a snob. To birders like Mom, sparrows are entry-level birds at best. She’s after more colorful, more interesting and less-common visitors at her feeders – you know, like Baltimore Orioles and American Goldfinches and Everlasting Gobstoppers.

And after I talked to her, I began thinking the same way. That’s what I meant when I said I was taking on aspects of her personality. I never said they were GOOD ones. I found myself turning into a bird snob and thinking snobbish things about the sparrows were plowing through 10 pounds of birdseed at a sitting.

Then I snapped out of it. So what if every sparrow in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Area is now at my feeder? So what if replenishing the feeders is now known as “feeding the pigs”? Sparrows have to eat, too, and if Mom thinks they’re common, well, so be it. There’s such a thing as being too competitive, you know.

Besides, I got the rose-breasted grosbeak. She didn’t.

(First appeared Jan. 2005)

Betty's In There Pitching 

So there I was, doing my bit to keep the engines of commerce humming with a cart full of necessities - you know, things like birdseed and razor blades and malted milk balls - at the department store.

Among my potential purchases was a white porcelain pitcher, two-quart size. Lemonade season is just around the corner, and I thought it would be nice to serve it out of this pitcher instead of just drinking it straight from the carton as I usually do. Besides, it was on sale.

The checkout lady, whom I shall call "Betty," ran the scanner over the bottom of the pitcher, got the beep of confirmation as it read the bar code, put the pitcher in a plastic bag, set it on the counter ... and then knocked it directly to the floor.

The resulting crash echoed all over the store. I'm not kidding. It was like a sound effect from a cartoon - a loud KA-RAASH, followed by a tinkle-tinkle-tinkle as pitcher particles bounced along the floor.

"Oh, MY!" said a woman seven cash registers to my right. But Betty? She didn't notice. Went right on ringing up the rest of my stuff.

An assistant manager came over and started cleaning up the mess. She radioed for another pitcher and was told that Betty had just smithereened the last one in the store

This is when Betty caught on. Well, I say caught on, but that's not exactly right. Was brought up to speed is more like it.

"Uh, Betty?" said the assistant manager.

"What?" said ol' Bets.

"You broke this man's pitcher," said the assistant manager.

"Oh," said Betty, who went back to ringing up my other purchases. Then she stopped, looked at me for a second, and asked the question which will enshrine her forever in my Good Grief What A Moron Hall of Fame:

"Do you want me to take it off the total?"

Gee, let me think, Betty. Should I pay for something you broke, or have you take it off the total? Hmm. That IS a tough one. Ooh, I hate having to make decisions like this.

I guess the look on my face must have said all she needed to know, because Betty took it off without asking any more questions.

I keep hearing all about how this is a service economy. You could have fooled me. My experience at the department store - or at the drug store where a girl talked to a friend on her cell phone while she rang up my purchases, or at the movie theater where there were four people standing around behind the counter breathing through their mouths while the lines for popcorn and jujubes stretched from the two open registers to the parking lot - indicates we have a lot to learn about the meaning of "service." And this isn't a problem that can be "solved" with outsourcing.

Or, put another way, I wonder how long the engines of commerce will be able to run on this kind of spark plugs.

March, 2006

"Adios, Templeton. Sorry about your luck."

And with that, I brought the 3-iron sharply to the back of his neck and sent my houseguest on to the next phase of his existence.

Yup.

I killed a rat.

It goes with living in an old house in a downtown neighborhood of a big city. You can close up all the places where you think they get in, you can remove all the temptations to which you think they are attracted, you can set traps and glue boards and baits all over the cellar, and it may not do a bit of good. If a rat wants to move in with you, a rat will move in with you.

At which point, if you are I, you go to the golf bag, root around for the appropriate weapon, and go Rat Golfing.

This is the second rat I've seen in this house since I moved in a number of years ago. I came to know the first one two years ago, when the termite man was giving the house the annual once-over. From the cellar I heard a scream - a scream, I tell you. Then I saw a white-faced termite man scrambling back upstairs.

"Rat," he said, breathing hard.

"Did you kill it?" I asked.

"Well," he gulped, "I hit it with some bug spray, but I think it just made him mad."

I called the city rat control folks, who took care of that particular rodent interloper, and that was that. Or so I thought.

Then came the other night when I saw my big orange cat, Diz, sitting in front of the stove. For about an hour. Since nothing of interest to cats was baking at the moment, I knew Diz was telling me somebody had made a home behind the range.

I pulled the stove from the wall and there was Templeton.

The name Templeton, of course, refers to the rat in E.B. White's classic book, Charlotte's Web. I think White pretty much captured the essence of all rats when he described Templeton: "The rat had no morals, no conscience, no consideration, no decency, no milk of rodent kindness, no compunctions, no higher feelings, no friendliness, no anything. He would kill a gosling if he could get away with it - the goose knew that. Everybody knew it."

Not to mention Templeton probably carried a bunch of diseases. White forgot to include that.

I don't mind sharing my house with animals. I have a dog, Cookie, and three cats - the aforementioned Diz, plus Bess and Olive. But I draw the line at varmints. Especially those with no morals, no conscience, no consideration and no decency.

Templeton - my house's Templeton, not the book's Templeton - was getting behind the stove courtesy of whoever renovated my kitchen a number of years ago. In the wall where the gas pipe comes to the stove, they cut a hole in the sheetrock. A 5-by-10 inch hole. To a rat that can squeeze through an opening the size of a quarter or even smaller, a 5-by-10 inch hole in the wall is an open door.

It is that hole through which Templeton was poking his head when I pulled back the stove at the request of Diz the Cat. The rat seemed not to notice. I went to the golf bag and grabbed the club, figuring the rodent would be gone when I returned. He was not. His mistake.

I clubbed him.

It was a good shot and did the job immediately. I am glad of that. I don't like anything to suffer a slow and painful death, not even a rat, if there's another way to get the job done.

Not that Diz was happy about it. I think he wanted to do the job himself, cat-style. I had to keep pushing him out of the way. And my dog, Cookie, had gotten into the act as well. Cookie fancies herself protector of the house, and I think she was telling me that I was out of my jurisdiction. Too bad. I wanted the job done quietly and neatly if possible, and neither cats nor dogs are particularly quiet or neat in a case like this.

I patched the hole in the wall and took the rat's mortal remains out to the dumpster in the alley, where we had a brief funeral ("So long, Templeton"). I then washed my 3-Iron and returned to the house, pleased with what I had done. Quite pleased, to tell the truth.

Usually I am not that accurate with a 3-iron.

© 2003. Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.

Dad Jeans -- A True Wedgie Issue

Here I sit in my Dad Jeans.

You’ve heard about these, haven’t you? First there was the “Mom Jeans” phenomenon, which poked fun at the supposedly ugly jeans favored by the Female American Suburbanite after she has reached the 30,000-mile mark on her odometer and has begun to show the inexorable effects of (a.) gravity and (b.) the average American diet.

And now we have Dad jeans, which are similarly mocked, partly for their look (loose) and partly for their wearers, who can be described in much the same terms as the Female American Suburbanite, with the additions of (c.) beer and (d.) long weekends in front of ESPN.

The Dad Jeans I am wearing came from an L.L. Bean outlet store in Delaware. They are gray in color (I also have examples in blue, black and tan) and cut so as to allow lots of room in the waist, crotch, thighs and buttocks. How much room? Let’s just say that if I tied off the legs and stuck an airhose in the waistband, I would look like the bottom half of something that got away from a Thanksgiving Day parade.

According to the trendsetters, I’m breaking most of the Jean rules here. Mine are the wrong color, wrong style, wrong fit, and most of all on the wrong person, because I’m built like a well-fed man in his 50s. Which, coincidentally, is exactly what I am.

In other words, my jeans and I are being sneered at and made fun of by younger, hipper people. That’s “hipper” as opposed to “hippier.” “Hippier” gets us back to the generous cut in the seat and thighs, which is what started this whole Mom Jeans/Dad Jeans thing in the first place. Which, contrary to popular belief, do not make your butt look big. At a certain age your butt looks big all by itself.

Anyway, as a member on good standing of the Baby Boomers® (Our Motto: Whatever It Is, It Used To Be Better) I tried to get upset about Jeans Snobbery – How dare those punks make fun of us, just because we dress for comfort instead of fashion – but I just couldn’t, and for a very good reason:

It’s our fault.

The way I see it, this is nothing more than Youth Culture asserting itself and coming back to bite us in the … back pockets.

We Boomers® were the ones, after all, who made Youth Culture the dominant American popular culture. We were the ones who asserted our right to wear jeans whenever and wherever we wanted, to the consternation of our elders. And if the plastic surgery and hair dye sales figures are accurate, we’re the ones who want to hang on to youth even as we get ready to collect on what’s left of Social Security.

But there comes a point where comfort trumps vanity, and thus we find ourselves wearing Mom Jeans and Dad Jeans, which enable us to think we’re dressing like we always did, sort of. It’s just that in our Mom Jeans and Dad Jeans we can sit down without giving ourselves wedgies.

So I say let the kids have their fun. We deserve it for all those years of demanding that youth be served, but then refusing to get up from the table when the next generation came along. No wonder our butts got so big.

And, in my case, flat, just like my father’s.

Blame it on Dad genes.

 

When you wish upon a Tootsie Roll ...

That "thump" you heard was the sound of my oversize pie butt falling off the diet wagon.

Yes. I admit it. I cheated. I ate …

A Tootsie Roll.

And not one of the little midget ones, either.

What can I say? It was there, in an already-opened bag of candy. I was alone in the house. The trash pickup was scheduled later in the day so there wouldn’t be any evidence – no wrapper in the wastebasket. As diet crimes go, this one looked just about perfect.

I just didn’t count on having such a guilty conscience.

Then again, it might not be JUST the candy that’s causing my inner Jiminy Cricket to assert itself. I’ve been on a bit of a roll lately, and I don’t just mean Tootsie. It has been a regular diet crime wave around here.

There was the whopping slice of cheesecake on my birthday. There was the doughnut last Saturday morning (pumpkin spice, in keeping with the season). There was the slice of my sister’s legendary pumpkin pie one night last week. THEN came the Tootsie Roll.

In the span of a few days I have eaten more sweets than I ate in the entire six months previous.

And here’s the kicker:

I loved it.

I know, I know. I’m supposed to hang my head and mumble, “When it was all said and done, I would rather have had some fresh fruit,” but you know what? That’s bushwa. It was all delicious.

 Or was it? Your mind, and your taste buds, can play funny tricks on you. You deny them something for a few months – let’s say cheesecake -- and then you have it again, Now, it might have been run-of-the-mill cheesecake. It might have been good-but-not-great cheesecake. But because you’ve been in a state of cheesecake denial, you come away from dessert convinced that you have eaten the greatest cheesecake since Marilyn Monroe posed for a calendar.

It’s a take on the old saying, “Hunger makes the beans taste better,” except we’re talking about sweets, so they’d have to be jelly beans.

Of course, this is nothing new to the women in my life, all of whom are on diets and have been, more or less constantly, all their lives. In fact, as I’ve discussed this phenomenon, they’ve all been rolling their eyes at me. Denial of sweets is a fact of life they’ve lived with for a long time, and they’re well aware that the forbidden Tootsie Roll is the best Tootsie Roll of all. “Where have YOU been?” asked my sister.

You’d think that would be obvious: I’ve been having dessert.

Anyway, there is a positive side to all this. Not that long ago I would have eaten several pieces of that pie, another half-slice or so of cheesecake, a half-dozen doughnuts and SEVERAL dozen Tootsie Rolls. And I wouldn’t have done a lick of exercise. And having fallen off the wagon, I would have just given up and stayed there. 

But not now. Yes, I ate some sweets. But then I got in some extra-long workouts and got back on the aforementioned tractor-pulled conveyance. That seems like progress to me. But not, I am afraid, to my conscience. Sheesh. Or rather, Jiminy Crickets.

(First apppeared 2006)

© Mike Redmond. All Rights Reserved.

You say Jetro-, I say Retro-

Well, great. I've fallen even further behind the hipness curve because I have but one description for myself ending in "-rosexual." That would be "hete-."

"-Rosexual" is the hot new suffix, you know. It's kind of like when people started using "-aholic," obviously borrowed from alcoholic, to explain their appetites. Suddenly the streets were full of shopaholics and chataholics and chocoholics and in one case I know of, a person who loves Mexican food, a guacaholic.

Well, "-rosexual" is today's "-aholic." For example, you can now be a Metrosexual - a straight guy who gets manicures and pedicures and facial treatments and other once-thought-to-be-girlie stuff. You can also be a Petrosexual, a person who takes his or her dog everywhere.

And you can be a Jetrosexual.

Jetrosexual is part of a Virgin Atlantic airlines campaign designed to make flying seem way hipper than the demeaning, uncomfortable experience it really is. I guess you have to consider the sources. This is an airline that talks about the "inflight vibe,"as in ambience. Silly me. I thought it was the way the plane shakes taking off.

Virgin says Jetrosexuals are people who "leave the terra firma behind each day to move business and culture forward." As opposed to people who just go up in the air and fly around for no reason.

Virgin is advancing the Jetrosexual agenda with what it calls the "11 Commandments of a Jetrosexual," as follows:

11. Thou shalt have thy passport ready to go at a moment's notice.

10. Thou shalt have a favorite airport and be prepared to explain why it is thy fave.

9. Thou shalt not be a Chatty Cathy with thy seatmate.

8. Thou shalt never hold up the security line.

7. Thou shalt be able to order a beer in at least six different languages. (Oh, come on. Any college student can do this. English - beer; German - bier; French - bière; Italian - birra; Dutch --  biertje; Spanish - cerveza; and, of course, Slovenian - pivo.)

6. Thou shalt respect the five-minute rule when using thy lavatory.

5. Thou shalt be able to pack a week's worth of clothes into a single carry-on bag.

4. Thou shalt not own one of those inflatable neck pillows.

3. Thou shalt have at least one passport stamp from a country that now goes by a different name.

2. Thou shalt travel economy class, on rare occasions, just to keep thyself humble.

And then there's Number 1, the bit about flying to move business and culture forward. I'm guessing that one doesn't apply if something bad happens to the engines, and business and culture will find themselves moving not forward, but rapidly downward.

Actually, I agree with Number 9, the one about not being a Chatty Cathy. I wish they would expand it to include her siblings, Drug Store Cologne Darryl, Hog The Arm Rest Larry, and Keep Pressing The Call Button To Ask When The Drinks And Pretzels Will Be Coming Around Bob.

But I can't find my passport, I always travel economy class, I check my luggage because I can never seem to find room in the overhead compartments even when I'm first on the plane, I LIKE my neck pillow, I don't drink pivo and my favorite airport is whichever one I just escaped. Therefore I can never be a Jetrosexual. My hip days are behind me.

Or are they? Maybe not. I mean, look at all the OTHER hipness I can create for myself with the "-rosexual" suffix.

I could become an ardent gambler - a Betrosexual. Or go through a midlife crisis - a Corvetterosexual. I could get three girlfriends half my age and start behaving like that randy old fossil Hugh Hefner - a Retrosexual. But something tells me that life would not suit me and I soon would be a Regretrosexual.

Hey, this is fun.

Know someone who always needs a little more time to get ready? That's a Notyetrosexual.

Can't understand today's teen hepcats and their crazy music? That makes you a Don'tgetrosexual. .

Credits cards maxxed out? Debtrosexual.

Don't tell my Mom, the basketball fan, but she's a Nothingbutnetrosexual.

I don't remember what comes next. Guess that makes me a Forgetrosexual. If it bothered me I'd be an Upsetrosexual. But since I don't really care, I'm a Nosweatrosexual.

But I am not a Jetrosexual. Which is okay by me.  To tell the truth, I'm not all that wild about flying an airline that flaunts its Jetrosexuality ... and then claims to be a Virgin.

 (First appeared June, 2006)

 

Goofiness abounds. Just go with it.


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