Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Forever Young

I would ask your indulgence as I tell one more reunion story.  When the reunion committee first put up the website with all of the details, one page was devoted to the memory of fallen classmates, those who had died since graduation.  Reading that list was a shock.  Some I had known about, either because they had died very young while there was still a loose network of high school connections, or others because they lived locally and their obituaries had been in the newspaper.  But there were many I didn't know about, some I had been friends with, some I had just shared classes with and some I didn't remember at all.  It was like a kick in the gut; I'm here, they should be, too.

At the reunion they had the board you see above, containing the Senior pictures of all of those who the committee knew had died.  I'm sure there are more that we don't know about.  I took a few minutes to stand by myself in front of that board.  I looked at every picture and read every name.  There was Sandy, who used to come over to ice skate at a farm pond behind our house.  Lillian, just a nice, sweet girl.  Larry, a good guy who always had a smile and grew up to be Superintendent of a local school district.  Roger, who was our only classmate to die in Vietnam.  Harry, who would go on to own a chain of electronics stores.  Neil, at whose house we played a lot of pool and drank a lot of beer.  Kerry, who was best friends with my Senior year girlfriend.  Barb, my lab partner in Chemistry.  Terry, who died just three days before the reunion.  And of course, my best friend Ron, who I remembered HERE.

Looking at those pictures and remembering those lives was somehow sad and calming.  At the next reunion the board will be bigger.  One day I'll be on it.  It's how things work.  I saw a lot of people looking at that board over the course of the evening.  I'm sure it affected everyone differently.  I choose to remember them just as they are on that board.  Forever 18.  Forever young.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Pete And I

I knew Pete Rose long before the world knew him.  Long before he was a Major Leaguer.  Long before he became the Hit King.  Long before he was banished from baseball.  I was still in elementary school when I first became aware of Pete.  He played football and baseball for Western Hills, the high school I would attend in a few years.  My dad and I went to a lot of West Hi football games and Pete was the star running back.  Honestly, in those days he was probably considered better at football.  In addition, Pete's older sister, Carol, worked in my father's small dry cleaning business for a couple years.  Everybody on the West side of Cincinnati knew who Pete was.

My first personal interaction with Pete occurred when I was in the 7th grade.  Pete's high school baseball coach, Paul "Pappy" Nohr, was my gym teacher.  One day in the fall of 1959, Pete was back home after finishing his minor league season and had dropped by the school to visit his old coach.  He showed up in my gym class as we were being taught to vault side saddle over the pommel horse.  Just luck that I was the next kid in line when Pete showed up.  So Mr. Nohr had Pete use me to demonstrate the proper technique, a skill I have used often over the years.

It wasn't until four years later that Pete made his debut with the Reds.  By then I was a sophomore in high school and Pete's rise to the local team was a big deal.  That was our boy.  Everybody was proud of him and we all followed the Reds and kept track of Pete's stats.

Fast forward to the early 80's and Pete had been traded to the Phillies.  As part of my job I was headed to Chicago in February for the annual National Sporting Goods Assoc. show.  I had a friend who just hated Pete.  I found out that he would be signing autographs at the Mizuno booth and decided to get her an autograph as a gag gift.   I waited in line and as I got near the front I could see that he was signing post card sized pictures with him in his crouch at third base and the Mizuno logo.  I also noticed that regardless of what those in line said to him, he never looked up.  Just signed the next card and pushed it forward.  I decided I would get him to look up.  So when my turn came I said "I bet we're the only ones from Western Hills in the building."  Pete, without missing a beat and without even so much as a glance up at me, says "I'll bet we're not."  I could have been a classmate, an old friend or neighbor, or even a former teacher.  He didn't care.

Now jump to 2005.  My step-son was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas.  One afternoon Mrs. Grumpy and I headed down for our first look at the Strip.  What you never see in the TV shots of Vegas is all of the small, schlocky shops situated on the sidewalk in front of the huge hotels/casinos.  Sitting at a card table in front of a sports memorabilia shop is none other than the Hit King himself, signing autographs for $20 a pop.  By sheer coincidence I was wearing a shirt that had "Western Hills Mustangs" embroidered across the front.  I purposely positioned myself where Pete couldn't miss me.  You would think the guy would say hello, question if we were from his hometown, maybe ask did I go to his high school.  Nope, not Pete.  He didn't care.  Just ignored me.

Moral of the story:  Pete Rose is an asshole.

Friday, August 28, 2015

"It's Just Math"

In the Republican post mortem following the 2012 presidential election, which they fully expected to win, one of their primary targets was to build bridges and make inroads in the Hispanic/Latino community.  Think there's some hand ringing at the RNC when their leading candidate is pushing mass deportation and repeal of birthright citizenship, while at the same time calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists?  If you're concerned about Donald Trump and his huge lead in Republican polls, here are some numbers behind the headlines and hype.

1.  Trump's approximate 30% of likely Republican voters translates to a little more than 10% of the general electorate.   If he gets nominated, a big "IF", mainstream, moderate Republicans will likely sit out the general election.

2.  Even if the Republican presidential candidate gets 60% of the white vote in the general election,  he or she will need between 42%-47% of the Hispanic vote to win.  Given their rhetoric and lack of action on immigration reform, tell me how any of the prospective candidates gets to that percentage.   Mitt Romney got 20%.  Think that number will more than double?

3.  The Democratic candidate, regardless of who it is, will win the election if they get 65% of the Hispanic vote.  Obama got 71% in 2012.  What's changed?

4.  "Every year you need a little more of the Latino vote.  It's just math."  This from Matt Barreto, a Political Science professor at UCLA.
 5.  The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll shows Trump with a 13% favorable rating among   likely Hispanic voters.  His negative rating is 81%.

In other words, sit back and enjoy the show.  The Republicans have already screwed themselves.  File this post away for November, 2016.  Remember, "It's just math."  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Well Regulated

By The Big Guy
Senior Contributor

I just wanted to write about something easy. I wanted to correct a baseball inequity. If things continue as they are for five more weeks, the regular season will end with three of the four best teams in all of baseball residing in one division of one league. Thanks to the Bud Selig parting gift – the one game wild card playoff – a single nine inning contest will send the team with either the third or fourth best record in the majors home for the winter while the teams with only the fifth through eighth best finishes will all continue on to the post season and the opportunity to win the World Series. That is unjust. That’s what I wanted to write about today, but I couldn’t.

We went to the movies about a week ago. Mrs. Big Guy and I love to go to the movies and always wish we did it more often. We went on a Sunday to see the latest Mission Impossible movie in its second weekend of release. (Yes for two hours every four or five years we can put aside our feelings about the film star’s personal life). The theater was a lot fuller than on weekdays when we usually go. Suddenly I had this feeling. Maybe it was the size of the crowd. Maybe it was the nature of the movie. Maybe it was because I knew there would be several very loud action sequences during the next few hours in the dark. For the first time I found myself looking around the theater differently than I ever had before – suspiciously, nervously. Where were the exits? Where did the staircase go? Why were those people sitting by themselves? Who were the people in hoodies? I hated that I felt that way and it distracted me to the point that the escapism from everyday life that the movie was to provide me was gone.

Then there was Wednesday. Nothing like a televised double murder in the morning to get you weeping into your Cheerios. Yesterday morning a crazed coward with a gun approached his two unarmed victims as they stood with their backs to him just doing their job, conducting a live interview for the local news. As Roanoke, Virginia residents unsuspectingly watched, gunfire and screams filled the scene as the camera dropped to the ground before it was taken off the air. The coward and his gun drove off with plans to make his ambush of these two young people into a national event. He was dead by that same gun before he succeeded.

In another day, maybe two, this will all drift away and we’ll move on, which is half of the problem. In the second amendment, just a twenty-seven word sentence, you will find the words “well regulated” and I think that’s the other half of the problem. With so many people shot and killed in this country each and every day, we may have regulation but it certainly is not well. Maybe now would be a good time to fix things.

And if we can’t get some proper gun laws on the books perhaps we could get somebody to outlaw hoodies.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hero Of The Week

Army Capt. Michael Y. Tarlavsky
Age:  30
1st Battalion
5th Special Forces Group
Died 12 August, 2004
Najaf, Iraq

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Binging Is Fun

Remember when I binge watched Breaking Bad?  Like all 64 episodes in two weeks?  I just did the same with Recitfy, which because it's on the Sundance Channel, may make it the least watched great show on TV.  I got tipped on it by some guys on a forum on which I participate and it only took one episode to get me hooked.  Great story and great acting by a cast that doesn't include any big names but has some faces you will recognize from their previous character work.

I watched Seasons 1&2 on Netflix, but they don't yet have Season 3.  So I went to the Sundance website and if your TV supplier carries their channel (mine does) you can log in and watch Season 3.  The first and third seasons were only 6 episodes each while the second season was 10 episodes.  I watched all three seasons in under a week, actually watching all of Season 3 in one evening.  It's that good and compelling.  Of course Netflix doesn't have commercials; the Sundance website streams the series with four commercial blocks of about 4 minutes each during each episode.  It's only annoying in that it's the same commercials during every block.

Most shows that I DVR I try to watch the next day.  If not I would fall hopelessly behind.  But every once in awhile a show comes along that I just have to watch straight through, especially when I'm already 2-3 seasons behind.  The only problem with binge watching is that once I've completed the season or the entire series there is a feeling of depression; there won't be a new episode next week.  It will likely be months.

I highly recommend Rectify.  You don't have to be a glutton like me and watch it all in a few days.  Take your time and enjoy.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Ties That Bind

It turns out The Big Guy was right.  So was commenter Gayle.  Between the two of them they convinced me that I should attend the 50th Reunion of my high school class.  I skipped the casual gathering on Friday night, opting instead to go to the school tour on Saturday (it's a 2 minute drive) and the dinner on Saturday night being held at the Horseshoe Casino.

The school tour was interesting.  The principal told those assembled about the school today, how it operates and the mission of he and his staff.  He introduced a group of students known as the Western Hills Ambassadors.  They have to meet strict academic and extra curricular guidelines as well as pass an interview to join the group.  They each introduced themselves and talked a little about their interests and future plans.  An impressive group of young people; I'm proud to have them representing my school.  We then broke into small groups and were led on a tour of the building by the Ambassadors.  The last time I was in the building, many years ago, I was horrified at the physical condition.  Peeling paint, sagging ceilings, old, drab and out of date.  A couple years ago the school underwent a complete renovation.  It is beautiful, clean, inviting and now even air conditioned.

The event Saturday night was interesting.  A little background.  When we were in school the building housed grades 7-12.  Each year the 7th grade was made up of kids coming from about six different elementary schools.  We were melded into a class that would be together for six years.  Our sophomore year we were joined by a group from a junior high school that became part of our class.  Many of us had been together since kindergarten or in my case, since 1st grade.  The kids who joined us in 7th grade had now been merged with us for three years.  Suddenly, in 10th grade, we had an influx of a large group of mostly unknown people.  I think there was only one person from that junior high that I became close friends with over the next three years.  I'm not saying there was hostility or friction, but there was always a clear demarcation between the Western Hills group and the Gamble Jr. High group.  Everybody knew which was which.

Most of my interaction on Saturday night was with the people I knew best, the ones from my elementary school and those who joined us in 7th grade.  It was enjoyable seeing them again after so many years.  Some of them I have known since I was six years old.  We traveled a lot of miles together, shared many experiences, good and bad.  These are the people who were there from childhood through adolescence and into young adulthood.  Other than our spouses, most likely the people who know us best.

We shared a time and place together.  A time that was formative, educational and happy.  We are forever linked by our shared experience.    Renewing those ties, if only for an evening, was exhilarating and energizing.  I'm glad I went and I wish we could do it again.

We were Western Hills Mustangs.  We will always be Western Hills Mustangs.

Friday, August 21, 2015

A Look At Cuba

I've recently started watching a new show on Discovery called Cuban Chrome.  As you can probably guess from the title, the show centers on the plethora of classic American cars on the island.  But when you get into it, it's really about the people.  There is plenty of American iron to see, but the owners are the real story.

The show follows 3 or 4 families and their daily struggle to make a living and keep their old cars running.  Due to the American embargo, just recently lifted, new parts that we can get at the corner parts store haven't been available in Cuba since the revolution in 1959.  In Havana many Cubans with old American cars make a living by using them as taxis.  The owners with nice, fully restored cars can get a license to transport tourists.  Those with junkers have to settle for providing taxi service to locals, a much less lucrative venture.

The main focus of the series is Demetrio and his two sons, desperately trying to bring their '53 Oldsmobile up to the standard necessary to taxi tourists.  It's fascinating how they keep these cars running.  Parts are scrounged, fabricated and traded.  Rubber is hard if not impossible to come by, so they use cardboard to fashion gaskets.  While the family struggles to restore the old Olds, they must sell personal items to buy parts, all while working against a deadline.

I have also learned little nuggets about Cuba.  They spend 10% of the nation's budget on education, #1 in the world.  The literacy rate is 99.8% and the divorce rate is near 70%.  There is no doubt that the American embargo plus the fall of the Soviet Union has had a devastating effect on the Cuban economy.  Even taking into account that Discovery might be showing only what the Cuban government allows them to show, it still is a fascinating look at a country to which most Americans have had little exposure.  What you see are resourceful, hard working people trying to make their lives better for themselves and their children and grandchildren, not unlike most of us.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


By The Big Guy
Senior Contributor

People’s Exhibit One: That thing in the picture there. Tiki mug. Ceramic. Approximately 5 inches tall. Adorned on the rear with the name of a college fraternity, name of a scheduled event, year of event. Value unknown.

Ah, there’s the problem. Value unknown. Could be a buck. Could be priceless. It depends on a number of factors. Which factors? Well that’s in the eye of the beholder. There’s real value, the current going price for a used ceramic tiki mug. There’s the value of collectability, as in what comparable items are bringing on eBay. There’s sentimental value, and sentimentality is who knows what?

We all have stuff. If the amount of stuff you have would be looked upon as psychotic by the general population then you are a hoarder. You also know you are a hoarder if it takes more than ten seconds for you to go from your dining room table out your front door. Finally, if the amount of square footage in your storage locker or lockers is more than the square footage in your house you need to take a good long look at the hoarder in your bathroom mirror.

I am not a hoarder, but I openly admit that I am hanging on to a bunch of stuff that would charitably be called crap. The storage space I rent costs me ten times what it did when I first signed up twelve years ago and that’s not all due to inflation. So in an effort to eliminate (hahahahahahahahahaha) or at least reduce the amount of money I’m throwing away, the little lady and I have begun the arduous task of culling the crap down to maybe just the “good” crap.

Let me tell you a thing or two about culling. Everybody starts with the old pictures. Don’t start with the pictures. Wait…everyone remembers pictures, right? You sit down with a box of old pictures and next thing you know the vernal equinox has passed and you’ve thrown out six of them. By the way, all six are scenics, buildings, vistas or sunsets. Keep that in mind when you’re taking pictures. Unless you plan to immediately enlarge these pictures, frame them and hang them on a wall in your home don’t even bother taking them because you’re just wasting hard drive space until they are deleted. The other key thing about culling is that if you are married, culling is a two person project. It’s got a lot to do with that sentimental value mentioned earlier. Need I say more?

This gets me back to the ceramic tiki mug. It reminds me that sometimes stuff travels with you by accident, over a great number of years. In the case of the mug I am ashamed to say it has been just shy of fifty years. That’s crazy. It’s not even like it signifies anything special to me. It was a party. It was a lot of fun. That’s it. There’s no reason I wouldn’t have tossed it a week or two or even a year or two after I got it. For some reason it got dropped in a box and forgotten and now here it is all these years later, and here I sit almost afraid to get rid of it just because it survived.

Maybe I am a hoarder. Certainly psychotic.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Hero Of The Week

Marine LCpl. Mark E. Engel
Age:  21
2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion
2nd Marine Division
II Marine Expeditionary Force
Died 21 July, 2004
Anbar Province, Iraq

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

The above is a direct quote from the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  It is very clear in its intention that any person born or naturalized on US soil or any of its protectorates or territories is automatically a citizen of the United States.  It is called birthright citizenship.  It was added as an amendment to the Constitution on July 9, 1868.  For 147 years it has been part of US law.

Politicians over the years have tried, in order to advance their own narrow agendas, to legislate birthright citizenship out of US law.  Even Sen. Harry Reid proposed such legislation.  There is controversy over whether the law can be changed without a Constitutional Amendment.

Over the weekend, presidential candidate and noted buffoon Donald Trump put forth his immigration reform plan and sure enough it calls for an end to birthright citizenship.  Scott Walker, maybe the dumbest of the Republican candidates, couldn't get to a microphone fast enough to also call for an end to the law.

Here's a thought.  My paternal grandparents came to this country as immigrants along with an infant daughter, later to be my aunt.  She, not being born here, was not a US citizen.  My father and the rest of his siblings were born in this country and thus automatically became citizens at birth.  If not for this provision of the 14th Amendment neither my father nor any of his siblings would have been citizens. If my mother was not a citizen either, then I wouldn't be a citizen.  Repeal of birthright citizenship would affect many, many people.

The crazies proposing the end to birthright citizenship want you to believe that this is aimed at Mexican and other Hispanic immigrants, because they are the latest bogeyman for the tin foil hat wearing base of their party.  But this would effect all immigrants and their children, regardless of country of originDo we want to be a country that loads people onto boats or trains and ships them out in mass deportations? 

Monday, August 17, 2015

I Fought The Law And I Won

True story.  In the summer of 2004 I signed up for the NFL Sunday Ticket on Directv.  My reason, my only motivation, was that Miami's own Ben Roethlisberger had been drafted by the Steelers the previous April.  Pittsburgh had an established QB in Tommy Maddox and everyone knew that Ben would do nothing except carry a clipboard his first year.  The week before the 2004 NFL season began Miami played at Michigan.  There was an alumni pregame picnic and Ben was there.  Mrs. Grumpy and I were there with two other couples and the three guys had our picture taken with Ben.  After the pic was taken and we shook hands, I said to Ben "I didn't pay for the Sunday Ticket to watch you hold a clipboard."  He laughed, I laughed and we went on our way.  Two weeks later Tommy Maddox hurt his elbow against the Ravens and the rest is history.  Having Sunday Ticket suddenly became critical.

I've had Sunday Ticket since 2004 and every year I hear of people negotiating discounts and deals on the service.  Twice in that span I called and by threatening cancellation was able to get a discount and some deals on premium channels.  This year I saw some guys on an online forum talking about getting the Sunday Ticket for free.  I was pissed; they already give it away to new subscribers.  Now they were giving it away to people who had been subscribers for a much shorter time than we had.

So I called prepared to stick to my guns until I got the Sunday Ticket for free.  I knew the first person I talked to wasn't going to have the juice to give me what I wanted, but I patiently laid out my argument.  Length of time with Directv (14 years), sticking with them even though we missed shows to rain and snow storms interfering with the signal, paying full price for Sunday Ticket while people all around me were getting deals etc.  I could hear her typing all this and then she said she would transfer me to someone who could help me.  I knew this would be a representative in "customer retention".  I laid out all the same arguments to her.  She puts me on hold and comes back to offer me the new Sunday Ticket Max (extra features I have no interest in) for free.  I said no, I wanted the Ticket for free.  On hold again; she comes back with a offer to give me the Ticket for half price.  No, I said, not when people who have been subscribers for 3 years are getting it for free.  Then I called her bluff.  If I didn't get the Sunday Ticket for free I was going to cancel Directv altogether, bring in Time Warner Cable and watch the Steelers at a bar with other fans.  On hold again.  This time she comes back and offers me the Sunday Ticket for free along with the Max package for free.  Winner!

Next summer I can do it all over again.

Friday, August 14, 2015

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

A little background.  Our next door neighbor had rotator cuff surgery some weeks ago and her doctor seems to have her on the slow heal plan.  It's been well over a month since the surgery and she is still in a sling and the rehab pace seems awfully slow.  But I'm not a doctor, so what do I know?  Anyway, she called me yesterday morning and asked if I was home.  She needed a favor.  She had trapped a mouse in one of her cupboards and said she couldn't dispose of it with one functional arm.

I go over and she tells me it's in the bottom cupboard, caught in the trap by its' tail.  I start clearing stuff from the cupboard and there is no sign of the mouse or trap.  I realize that if it's only caught by it's tail then it can probably drag the trap with it.  Once I got down on my side on the floor I can see that the mouse is halfway into a space between her bottom cupboards and the baseboard.  He's not going anywhere because the trap isn't going to fit through the hole.  The trap is exactly like the one pictured above.  I pulled the hanging trap out and the mouse came with it, hanging by his little tail.  The rest of him looked none the worse for wear.

After getting the mouse and trap out I asked her what she wanted done with him.  She said she wanted it killed.  I said I wasn't doing that; if she insisted it die she would have to do it herself.  I offered to release it far enough from her home that it probably wouldn't find its way back.  She agreed to that.  I decided an empty field across the street would be the perfect place.  As I'm standing at the curb waiting for traffic so I can cross, the little fucker manages to bend his body into a U and bite the tip of my thumb.  I finally get across the street, spring him from the trap and watch as he takes off.

I look down and there is a single drop of blood on my thumb.  My immediate thoughts are hantavirus, rabies and waking in the middle of the night bleeding from every orifice in my body.  Thoughts all quickly put to rest by my doctor's office; they said a tetanus shot would do.  They even suggested I go to the clinic at Walgreen's.  Within an hour I had done just that and so I guess I'll be fine.

Mrs. Grumpy's reaction when I came home and told her I had been bitten by a field mouse, "Why didn't you wear gloves."  Because I'm a dumbass, obviously.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Just Another Haphazard Day

By The Big Guy
Señor Contributor

>Let’s start with the hot news item: Columbia House, known to many generations as either the Columbia Record Club or the Columbia Music Club (when they added albums on cassette) or even the Columbia Video Club (when they got into movies on VHS tapes) has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Back in the boomer days they would sell you 15 LPs (that you chose from a list of a couple hundred) for just one penny! Wow. Of course the fine print said that you had to buy eight additional LPs from them, usually over a two-year period, for a retail price of something in the neighborhood of twelve to fifteen bucks each, at a time that most hit LPs were selling for $2.99 or $3.99 in the record stores. No it was not a good deal. It was all about instant gratification. We spent lots of time trying to figure out how to get out of the back end of the deal but Columbia House had the monthly negative option card to keep us from succeeding. But now they are gone. Toast. In fact, they’ll sell you fifteen slices of toast for a penny if you’re willing to buy eight loaves of bread for twenty bucks apiece.

>Protesters need a new chant. "What do we want? (Fill in the blank)! When do we want it? Now!" is both boring and passé. It's also way too generic. The blank can be filled by important words like freedom, justice or equality. It can also be filled with words like brisket, recess or Funyuns. That's a problem.


>Riddle me this: Why do gasoline companies advertise? I’m not talking about that corporate crap where they say things like, “We treat the environment like we treat our kids” and “Ducks seldom drown in our massive oil spills.” I’m talking about the service station stuff where they say, “Our gas keeps your engine clean and happy” and “Stop by our place and pick up a Slurpee and some condoms while you’re fillin’ up.” Didn't the Arab oil embargo of '73 teach us anything? If that's too long ago for you, how about the various energy crises of the decade of the aughts when the price of a barrel of oil went from 30 to 150 bucks? We were supposed to learn that gas is gas – that 87 octane is 87 octane and you just buy the cheapest stuff you can find. I guess somebody thinks we didn’t learn that.

>Well it's back to school time, which is probably why Costco’s brought out the pallets with the Halloween stuff.

>There will come a time, if it hasn’t come for you already, when things that happened sixty years ago happened during your lifetime. What's more, you remember them. Frequently these are pleasant memories. Sometimes they are not. In the grand scheme of things there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

I guess that’s it for today. From all of us here at Costco, Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Hero Of The Week

Marine Sgt. Alan D. Sherman
Age:  36
6th Force Support Battalion
4th Force Service Support Group
Marine Corps Reserve
Died 29 June, 2004
Baghdad, Iraq