09 December 2009

An Open Letter to the Makers of LitterMaid

Dear LitterMaid,

I thought I'd write today to tell you how enthusiastic I was the day I brought home the special edition LitterMaid I purchased at PetCo about a year ago. I bought an extra package of waste receptacles and the litter to go along with them. I simply knew that upon the recommendation of a friend, and the marketing propaganda I'd read in the past, that this automated cat litter box was a magical device. It was going to change our lives, both mine and Edith's (the cat).

As soon as I arrived at home I began making the transition from the Booda Clean Step (which up until then had been the best covered litter box I'd owned in more than twenty years in spite of the fact that it was a big, cumbersome bitch to clean) to the new LitterMaid. Following the sometimes tedious instructions, it was relatively easy to assemble. I set the digital clock but not a "sleep" time because I knew my cat would use the thing while the rest of the house was asleep.

The next morning, I immediately began to find cat litter strewn all about the house. Vacuuming constantly I vowed to change the litter to something that wouldn't track as badly. When it came time to purchase more litter, I cleaned out the box and started all over again with Fresh Step clumping litter. It didn't track as badly, but clumps adhered to the box like superglue, rendering the rake and the box itself useless. The motor would cycle continually in an attempt to rid itself of clumps to no avail before finally shutting down.

That noise you hear isn't the box running constantly. It's me groaning with aggravation in another room because that means I have to drop whatever I'm doing and remove the offending obstruction. The promise of having to deal with the cat box 1 or 2 times a week had been dashed at this point. Hell, I was cleaning the catbox more times per day than I ever had. It seemingly had become my reason to wake up every morning. Otherwise, the stupid thing would run constantly and clean nothing.

So again, I was faced with looking for another litter choice. I've tried corn. I've switched between two different clays. I've tried wheat. I've even tried using Fresh Step crystals. I thought I'd had a "Eureka!" moment until the first fill of these magic chunks reached their saturation point a day or so later. And, when they're done absorbing, they're done. Period. The LitterMaid became a disgusting smelly mess within hours that needed to be emptied completely and cleaned with Nature's Miracle and dried before it could be refilled, starting the ordeal all over again.

We've been using Arm & Hammer Essentials for about two weeks now. It's wrought with it's own set of problems, but it's livable until I decide I've just had enough and throw the whole damned mess in the trash. I have decided that the money I spent on the LitterMaid was the biggest waste ever. I will make sure I let anyone who is considering a LitterMaid purchase about the problems I've had and encourage them to get a Booda Clean Step.

Yours very truly,


02 December 2009

Finally, A Post

I received a SiteMeter report in email yesterday that showed that my few reader numbers were just about flat. Lately, I've been thinking often about what I might write and have just been coming up blank. I had three unfinished posts started.

One draft began: "The Queen" is finally in the DVD player after it sat on the shelf for more than a month. I'm not getting my money's worth out of Netflix if I don't watch it and send it back, or just send it back without watching it. Sitting on the shelf just as long is some lesbian flick, "All Over Me." I must've been interested in seeing it at some point or I wouldn't have put it on my queue. Supposedly, tonight, I watch them. Regardless, they're hitting the mailbox tomorrow.

I ended up watching "The Queen." It was ok. Helen Mirren was great. I didn't watch "All Over Me." They were both mailed back the next day.

Another draft began: "My last post was October 1, if you can call it a post. It was more like parroting. Or regurgitating." Or in another case, assumption that "the writing was on the wall." I am freelancing again after leaving my 10 year position at CS2 advertising. October 15 was my last day there. I have my Federal tax identification number and have posted a website: I have been working on logos for various companies and am working on plans for some other things. It's been very exciting, sometimes overwhelming, but always empowering.

Yet another draft was titled, "Accidental Conspicuous Omission." It began, "More than a year has passed since I committed to quit drinking." During that year I spent much of my time reading, researching, seeing a therapist and learning about the challenges of growing as an adult child of an alcoholic. I have been amazed, surprised and ultimately changed by the experience and will continue to work toward being a better person. The biggest revelation, though is dealing with this thing called self-loathing. I have always been told that I'm too hard on myself, but I just didn't understand the implications of such thinking. I'm learning to give myself a break.

As I ponder how my life has changed I consider the people I have chosen to leave behind. I no longer have time for the dishonest, deceitful, or self-absorbed. Some friendships have been exposed as the toxic situations they have been and I can't be pulled down by them anymore. For this I'm grateful, but very often I think of these people and wish the situation were different. Because in spite of the bad I really have cared for them. My motivation may have been warped, seeking approval from people I admired for one reason or another, but I can't afford to give up my well-being in order to be liked by someone who's not worthy of my care, affection or love.

There are others in my life who deserve more of my attention. Because Cameron was going to be flying over the holidays, I planned to spend Thanksgiving with my sister who is house-bound, recovering from back surgery. I left here around 9 AM, Tuesday morning, with my favorite cooking utensils packed, TripTik in hand, and Billie and Georgia comfortably positioned on their cedar-filled bed atop the folded down back seat.

As I drove south on MS-49 toward Hattiesburg, listening to the Martha Stewart Thanksgiving call-in shows, I witnessed a horrible accident. As I approached the car that had been impaled by pine timbers on a flat-bed truck, I dialed 911. I found a young man unconscious at the wheel. Others stopped and helped. A man with leather work gloves was able to break out what was left of the windshield, switch off the car and get the door open. We put the boy on the grass, elevated his feet and head, covered him with a blanket from my first aid kit. A woman kept direct pressure on the gash on his right cheekbone while an off-duty Air Force medic asked him questions to determine how badly in shock he was. The young man was lucky to be alive. Another responder got the boy's family phone number and called his mother. We reassured him that he was going to be fine. His mother sent instructions to take him to Forrest General and asked that he be told "your mother says she loves you." As the paramedics put him in the ambulance, I realized I had witnessed a miracle.

It wasn't a miracle in the way Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside burst into Mame Dennis' apartment, phone book in hand, exclaiming "it's a Christmas miracle" upon finding the right Dennis. It was a real miracle, one that I believe I was meant to witness. It made the the thought of how our lives can change in the blink of an eye very real to me.

So, it's with faith I sit at this desk contemplating my next move. I pray that my mind stays open to possibilities and that I remember that what's meant to happen will. The Christmas holidays are upon us and that, in and of itself, is reason to celebrate. With that, it's back to work because I have a lot to accomplish today.

01 October 2009

In This Case, "S & G" Do Not Stand for What May First Come to Mind

Assess Yourself

Here's another checklist to help you assess your current employment situation. Check the statements that apply to you (and ignore for now the letter after each statement):

1. I look forward to going to work most every day. (S)
2. My employer treats me fairly and with respect. (S)
3. I live for the weekend, or any days away from work. (G)
4. I feel valued and appreciated for my professional contributions. (S)
5. My workplace feels "toxic." (G)

6. I can be myself at work and not have to worry about being judged. (S)
7. I am included in my company's "information loop." (S)
8. My employer discusses with me and provides opportunities for advancement and professional development. (S)
9. I am commended for the extra effort I perform. (S)
10. I am stimulated intellectually and creatively by my work. (S)

11. I feel that I am making a positive contribution to society. (S)
12. I am compensated well for my work. (S)
13. I find myself daydreaming frequently about a new career. (G)
14. I feel that my work is a natural extension of who I am as a human being. (S)
15. I see myself as successful. (S)

16. I feel trapped and stuck in my current position. (G)
17. I feel in control of my career destiny. (S)
18. I am working at the level of my full potential. (S)
19. My current career negatively impacts those close to me. (G)
20. I have a desire to try something new and different. (G)

Now, count the number of "S" and "G" responses you have. "S" means "Stay" and "G" means "Go." This checklist is a reliable indicator of whether or not your present job is a good fit for you. Clearly, the more "G" ("Go") responses you checked, the more critical it is for you to start thinking about new opportunities.

Debra Davenport, PhD, is a Master Professional Mentor career counselor, and the president of DavenportFolio, a licensed firm that mentors entrepreneurs and professionals. She is the creator of the Certified Professional Mentor designation and certification program. Reach her at or (480) 348-7875.

28 September 2009

Reuters: Gay Couples are as fit to adopt as Straight

Gay couples as fit to adopt as heterosexuals: study

Reuters, Fri Sep 25, 2009 10:40am EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Gay or straight, the sexual orientation of adoptive parents does not have an impact on the emotional development of their children, according to a new study. But researchers said that if parents were satisfied with the adoption process, had a stable income and functioned well as a family the risk of emotional problems in children were reduced.

"We found that sexual orientation of the adoptive parents was not a significant predictor of emotional problems," Paige Averett, an assistant professor of social work at East Carolina University, said in a statement.

"We did find, however, that age and pre-adoptive sexual abuse were," she added.
Averett, Blace Nalavany, also of East Carolina University, and Scott Ryan, dean of the University of Texas School of Social Work, questioned nearly 1,400 couples in the United States, including 155 gay and lesbian parents.

They used information from Florida's public child welfare system and data from gay and lesbian couples throughout the U.S. for the study.

Each couple was questioned about themselves and their children, the family composition and dynamics, and the history of the child before the adoption.

The researchers said the findings, which are reported in the journal Adoption Quarterly, are important because it compared gay and lesbian and heterosexual couples.

"There are implications for social work educators, adoption professionals, and policy makers in this and other recent studies," said Averett.

"We must pay attention to the data indicating that gay and lesbian parents are as fit as heterosexual parents to adopt," Averett added, "because at least 130,000 children are depending on us to act as informed advocates on their behalf."

The American Civil Liberties Union has said that laws and adoption agency policies have created obstacles for gay and lesbian couple who want to adopt children.

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney, editing by Paul Casciato)

03 September 2009

So You Don't Think We Need Healthcare Reform?

I tried posting this through signing up and using permissions and links on the AP website, but ended up with a hideous scrolling box thing. This is what I copied and pasted from the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle online.

Pfizer to pay record $2.3B penalty for drug promos

Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal prosecutors hit Pfizer Inc. with a record-breaking $2.3 billion in fines Wednesday and called the world's largest drugmaker a repeating corporate cheat for illegal drug promotions that plied doctors with free golf, massages, and resort junkets.

Announcing the penalty as a warning to all drug manufacturers, Justice Department officials said the overall settlement is the largest ever paid by a drug company for alleged violations of federal drug rules, and the $1.2 billion criminal fine is the largest ever in any U.S. criminal case. The total includes $1 billion in civil penalties and a $100 million criminal forfeiture.

Authorities called Pfizer a repeat offender, noting it is the company's fourth such settlement of government charges in the last decade. The allegations surround the marketing of 13 different drugs, including big sellers such as Viagra, Zoloft, and Lipitor.

As part of its illegal marketing, Pfizer invited doctors to consultant meetings at resort locations, paying their expenses and providing perks, prosecutors said.

"They were entertained with golf, massages, and other activities," said Mike Loucks, the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts.

Loucks said that even as Pfizer was negotiating deals on past misconduct, they were continuing to violate the very same laws with other drugs.

To prevent backsliding this time, Pfizer's conduct will be specially monitored by the Health and Human Service Department inspector general for five years.

In an unusual twist, the head of the Justice Department, Attorney General Eric Holder, did not participate in the record settlement, because he had represented Pfizer on these issues while in private practice.

Associate Attorney General Thomas Perrelli said the settlement illustrates ways the Justice Department "can help the American public at a time when budgets are tight and health care costs are rising."

Perrelli announced the settlement terms at a news conference with federal prosecutors and FBI, and Health and Human Services Department officials.

The settlement ends an investigation that also resulted in guilty pleas from two former Pfizer sales managers.

Officials said the U.S. industry has paid out more than $11 billion in such settlements over the past decade, but one consumer advocate voiced hope that Wednesday's penalty was so big it would curb the abuses.

"There's so much money in selling pills, that there's a tremendous temptation to cheat," said Bill Vaughan, an analyst at Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.

"There's a kind of mentality in this sector that (settlements) are the cost of doing business and we can cheat. This penalty is so huge I think consumers can have some hope that maybe these guys will tighten up and run a better ship."

The government said the company promoted four prescription drugs, including the pain killer Bextra, as treatments for medical conditions different from those the drugs had been approved for by federal regulators. Authorities said Pfizer's salesmen and women created phony doctor requests for medical information in order to send unsolicited information to doctors about unapproved uses and dosages.

Use of drugs for so-called "off-label" medical conditions is not uncommon, but drug manufacturers are prohibited from marketing drugs for uses that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. They said the junkets and other company-paid perks were designed to promote Bextra and other drugs, to doctors for unapproved uses and dosages, backed by false and misleading claims about safety and effectiveness.

Bextra, for instance, was approved for arthritis, but Pfizer promoted it for acute pain and surgical pain, and in dosages above the approved maximum. In 2005, Bextra, one of a class of painkillers known as Cox-2 inhibitors, was pulled from the U.S. market amid mounting evidence it raised the risk of heart attack, stroke and death.

A Pfizer subsidiary, Pharmacia and Upjohn Inc., which was acquired in 2003, has entered an agreement to plead guilty to one count of felony misbranding. The criminal case applied only to Bextra.

The $1 billion in civil penalties was related to Bextra and a number of other medicines.

A portion of the civil penalty will be distributed to 49 states and the District of Columbia, according to agreements with each state's Medicaid program.

Pfizer's top lawyer, Amy Schulman, said the settlements "bring final closure to significant legal matters and help to enhance our focus on what we do best - discovering, developing and delivering innovative medicines."

In her statement, Schulman said: "We regret certain actions taken in the past, but are proud of the action we've taken to strengthen our internal controls and pioneer new procedures."

In financial filings in January, the company had indicated that it would pay $2.3 billion over the allegations.

The civil settlement announced Wednesday covered Pfizer's promotions of Bextra, blockbuster nerve pain and epilepsy treatment Lyrica, schizophrenia medicine Geodon, antibiotic Zyvox and nine other medicines. The agreement with the Justice Department resolves the investigation into promotion of all those drugs, Pfizer said.

The government said Pfizer also paid kickbacks to market a host of big-name drugs: Aricept, Celebrex, Lipitor, Norvasc, Relpax, Viagra, Zithromax, Zoloft, and Zyrtec.

The allegations came to light thanks largely to five Pfizer employees and one Pennsylvania doctor, who will now share $102 million of the settlement money.

FBI Assistant Director Kevin Perkins praised the whistleblowers who decided to "speak out against a corporate giant that was blatantly violating the law and misleading the public through false marketing claims."

To rein in the abuses, the government's five-year monitoring will force Pfizer to notify doctors about Wednesday's agreement, encourage them to report any similar behavior, and publicly post any payments or perks it gives to doctors.

Under terms of the settlement, Pfizer must pay $1 billion to compensate Medicaid, Medicare, and other federal health care programs. Some of that money will be shared among the states: New York, for example, will receive $66 million, according to the state's attorney general, Andrew Cuomo.

When Pfizer originally disclosed the settlement figure, it also announced plans to acquire rival Wyeth for $68 billion. That deal, which would bolster Pfizer's position as the world's top drugmaker by revenue, is expected to close before year's end.

Shares of Pfizer dropped 14 cents to $16.24 in midday trading.


AP Business Writer Linda A. Johnson in Trenton, N.J., contributed to this report.

© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Copyright 2008 Associated Press

02 September 2009

New Now Next Music on Logo

I'm sitting here watching New Now Next PopLab on Logo and I've seen two videos that are at least new to me. The first, Colton Ford's cover of R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion," I found on YouTube. After clicking "share," I filled in the appropriate fields only to come here and find that the post didn't happen. It may still, but then again, it may still, twice.

The second video I found on the John Fordham's website. Fordham is the Director of Photography for the sexy video. The song is a bit monotonous and a bit shallow, but it's fun and I liked it well enough to post it. Here it is:

31 August 2009

Monday · 31 August

It's been a long time since I've done a "Luncheonette" post. I suppose I just felt like today would be as good as any for one. Conflicted with the taste for something Asian, I figured my options were either Vietnamese from Pho Saigon or sushi take-out from The Fresh Market.

Given that I was in Cameron's Eos and that it's a beautiful outside, by the time I got to Pho Saigon I decided to skip combination vermicelli and spring rolls for continuing the top-down drive to Eastgate. Even as nerve-wrecking as navigating traffic through the "Poplar Horridor" can be, the sun-shiny break away from my desk was therapeutic.

The deli at The Fresh Market is a large rectangle surrounding a kitchen. One side is where shoppers will find a large, atypical selection of meats and cheeses sliced to order. Continuing to the next side, one will find a smorgasbord of ready-to-eat main courses and side dishes next to grab-and-go sandwiches and salads. The next side is where the small sushi station is located next to fresh pasta and prepared sauces to take home, heat and eat. The last side is a huge display of prepackaged cheeses, specialty meats and hors d'oeuvre type spreads such as Boursini and hummus.

As I approached the Japanese section of the deli where the two sweet, gracious girls who run it keep seaweed and fried calamari salads, spring rolls, assorted sushi rolls and Nigiri neatly on display, I found a dumpy, confrontational, disrespectful blonde occupying all of the space in front of the sushi with an inconsiderate big-ass-in-stretch pants/cart combination. She was shoving a sushi box up toward the faces of the girls asking "what type of fish is this? Because the box isn't marked." She reminded me of the clichés I usually see at this store. Let's let it suffice to say that money can't buy class, taste or respect for others.

With their answer, Dumpy Stretchpants dropped the box of assorted nigiri with tuna, salmon, eel and shrimp back into the display and moved away. The girls glanced toward her, then to me, quietly giggling at the idiot. I couldn't resist rolling my eyes in a half-assed show of support and gratitude for their grace.

My clearly marked boxes, like all of the others in the display, were filled with spicy, crunchy shrimp tempura roll and a vegetable roll were delicious as I enjoyed them at my desk.

11 August 2009

"Kids, Get in the Car!"

It's amazing to me how stumbling across the photos of the car and the thermal jug brought this to mind. This post was much longer in the beginning, but some of the history was omitted because it's much more personal.

I can't remember where we had been, but one Saturday afternoon, my mother, sisters, brother and I returned home to find that Daddy had destroyed the house. He had ripped the phone out of the wall, threw the black and white Admiral television, the kind that swiveled on four, brass-tipped, pointy legs, out the back door into the garage where it amazingly stayed intact after hitting the ground. He opened the Frigidaire and slung its contents all over the counters, the walls and the kitchen floor. There was a distinct elbow shape in the front glass of the empty 50-gallon aquarium. The dead angelfish, goldfish and guppies lay strewn amongst Christopher's toys, which had been dumped out of their toy box onto the living room floor. He shredded my mother's clothes, unsuccessfully tried to burn them, then turned on every faucet in the house in a lame attempt to keep it from burning to the ground. I remember seeing water running from the back of the house onto the patio and into the yard that afternoon. Mommy said, "Go next door and ask to use the phone." I ran to the next door neighbor's house to call Plain Grandma and the State Police. They found Daddy naked in my parents' bed, woke him up and instructed him to put on some underwear before they handcuffed him, put him in back of the sheriff's cruiser and hauled him off to jail. I was eleven.

This 1970 Ford LTD Country Squire looks identical to ours except for the wheel covers. To me, these were leftovers from previous models.

Sometimes a place to hide from him meant staying away until the wee hours of the morning. This could be a visit to the drive-in theater or a late-night trip to White Castle. One hot, humid, Kentuckiana summer evening, Lou and her boys, Eddie and Richie, were with us for a trip to South Park drive-in. Shortly after we drove past the huge neon arch where Speedee toted his sign that no longer said 15¢, Lou exclaimed, "that's misery!" She was referring to the morbidly obese woman walking alongside Dixie Highway in the sweltering heat wearing a cotton peasant blouse and too-short shorts. Her companion, a much smaller person, made her seem enormous. Like a side show attraction. While the car filled with laughter at the expense of the unfortunate soul, I imagined it was Lou's way of elevating the mood, and recognizing that everybody has a cross to bear.

Other escapes meant traveling for hours to campsites like Barren River, or Nolin Lake. We'd arrive under the cloak of darkness and set up camp using the headlamps until we unpacked and lit a Coleman lantern. One such evening landed us closer to home at Deem Lake, near Borden. And for some reason that I can't recall, Lou was with us again. After we had been there a while the familiar sound of our old Volkswagen approaching drowned out the forest's evening song. Its headlights lit the dust from the gravel as its driver stopped at the end of the road leading to our campsite. It saddened me to see the car I'd adored for so long, battered and tired after a trip at my dad's hands through a thicket in Floyds Knobs one icy night. What made me even sadder, and even fearful, was to see it there at that moment. Lou's husband, Dan, was with Daddy. It was plain that they had both been drinking. Dan barely could stand well enough to pee in the bushes on the side of the road, and to this day that's the way I remember him -- perpetually stumbling, drunk. As we kids stood in the background, the two wives approached the car, talked briefly with their husbands, but stood their ground. The intruders eventually left us to pursue a night's respite from the hell at our respective homes.

Day trips to Deem Lake became as regular as Saturdays. We'd fill up the Coleman thermal jug with Kool-Aid or Pillsbury Funny Face drink mix. Over time this concoction became fruit drink with instant tea mixed in. The anticipation of having Choo-Choo Cherry was dashed with the addition of Nestea. I wasn't a big fan of this blend that Tina annoyingly dubbed "drink." To me it was unnatural and tasted odd. Adding insult to injury, her name for this brew became amplified once it was evident that I hated it.

After filling the matching red Coleman chest cooler with cold-cuts and condiments, we'd load the Country Squire with portable radio and beach towels, then head out to the lake. At first these these excursions were exciting, fun excuses to be away from home. After a while, though, they became boring and tedious, at least to me. I sense my mother understood this and began allowing us to bring a friend, squelching the familiar refrain, "is it time to go?" Sometimes Lisa would bring Sherry. Sometimes Thom would come with me. Sometimes Doug, Brian and Kim would come along. As creative children are prone to do, we found ways to entertain ourselves once the novelty of doing flips from the diving dock faded.

Thom extolled the virtues of numerous trips to the snack bar. One day I learned why. Ducking into the men's locker room might reward him with a glimpse of the lifeguards changing clothes. Upon seeing those men for a split second the one time I went with Thom, I couldn't reconcile the curiosity or excitement I felt with the gut instinct that I shouldn't be there. So, I stuck to other more juvenile diversions, like swimming with Christopher over to the edge of the swimming area where we'd try to balance on the float ropes delineating safe from unsafe waters until we'd hear a screeching lifeguard's whistle followed by the transistor sound of a megaphone from shore: "get off the rope, please!" The demand sounded ridiculous. We laughed for days, mocking the poor girl to one another.

29 July 2009

Save Overton Square

Photo Credit: girlcalledheaven on flickr.

You should care about what happens to Overton Square. Please say something about it here.

There are examples of successful gentrification of blighted urban/residential retail areas all over this country, and of them Overton Square could be a shining star. The possibilities for the Square are endless, but it takes many people with a singular vision and a common goal to make this happen. This discussion is a great way to start. Please tell everyone about this site and encourage them to get involved.

"Part of the Square's draw is its heritage. Another is its architecture. Frankly an ugly, brick and fake stucco mega-retailer would erase one of the city's few remaining cultural gems.

"Overton Square could include upscale boutique retail, restaurants and office space, but it must have a strong anchor to make it a destination not just for the general public, but for like-minded retailers as well. I agree with Stoy's comments about the draw of Playhouse on the Square, but there needs to be more -- a draw that pulls more than the occasional visitor/tourist.

"Midtown shoppers must make compromises to shop at any of the current grocery options. We either have to deal with complacent filth, parking nightmares, or price gouging to offset poor security. We are in desperate need for a different experience. A clean, affordable food market with upscale sensibility (like Trader Joe's) would be a step in the right direction, one that would fit nicely with a forward-thinking plan to breathe life back into an Overton Square of which we can all be proud.

"More people on the Square more hours of the day -- more days of the week -- will make it sustainable."

26 July 2009

This is Only a Test

I remember being fascinated by the design of my grandmother's inexplicably-colored, green, 1962 Valiant when I was very young.

This isn't Nano's, but it's very much the same car.

The big, blue and red, split, "V" logo in a circle on the grille. Or was that Papaw's black 1963 Valiant? Anyway, Nano's Valiant had two horizontal fins above simple circular tail lamps, and a seemingly giant chrome circle bisected by the letters "V-A-L-I-A-N-T" in a black bar across the deck lid. She used to pump the hell out of the accelerator every time we got in the car, causing a giant, black cloud to waft out of the garage when she started it.

Another example of the Valiant, found somewhere online.

The single turn signal indicator, which was a green diamond in a chrome circle on the dash was always curious to me. Why weren't there two arrows? Then, oddity of all oddities, everything on the dash was push-button: the transmission, climate control and, of course, the radio.

I spent many a trip with her looking at the Civil Defense logo on the Valiant's radio dial. At the time I didn't know what the "CD" in a triangle inside a circle meant. The little symbol, along with the broadcast copy, "this is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test," is a familiar refrain from the "duck and cover" Cold War era.

The announcement is firmly implanted in my psyche, just like how her car smelled inside on hot afternoon trips to Scotty's for pork cutlet sandwiches, Jesse Schook's Beer Depot, home to a foul-mouthed Mynah bird, for Blatz beer in waxed, flip-lid cardboard cases and Charms Blo-pops.

Nano and Papaw enjoyed a few of these during airings of "The Lawrence Welk Show" and "Hee Haw" on Saturday nights.

As I ponder the many things that have taken place over the last several weeks, I keep remembering "this is only a test." And, I sometimes have wanted to climb under a desk and cover my head. Or have a fit, like I might have in the past. But, if the personal work I've been doing for the last nine months has taught me anything, it's that... if... I... just... pause... and think... I realize that whatever "this" is will pass.

Like a kidney stone.

In early May, we noticed that the water level in the pool was consistently, slowly decreasing shortly after we removed the winter cover. Upon further inspection, we found a 7-inch long crack in the liner. After discussion about whether or not the structure I placed in the center of the pool back in October to "tent" the winter cover caused this I am convinced it didn't. My tray, bell weight and PVC pole were at the very least a foot away from the breach, and I had taken extra care to research my plan and make sure there wouldn't be anything potentially damaging coming in contact with the vinyl. Nevertheless, the liner needed replacing. I drove out to Watson's on May 15 to arrange the installation of a new one. Feeling like one of those asshats I see on cell phones in checkout lanes, I called the credit union while I sat at the service counter and transferred funds from one account to another while the service department set our replacement date for the following Friday, May 29.

I figured this was a fairly elementary liner replacement and worked at making sure the pool was drained, "except for three inches," as I was told. The prospect of draining to this low level unnerved me because the installers told us eleven years ago to never let the pool get below half-filled. Unfortunately, the pump I used didn't work fast enough. When the crew arrived, they put a second pump in the water, said they'd go to West Memphis to do a job there and would return later. At 9:30 that night, they called, said it was too late and that they'd return the next day.

Saturday I waited. I called the Scheduling department asking where the guys were and was rescheduled for Sunday. I waited again. And, again, they didn't show. Then the rains came for two days and the pool walls began to pull away from the soil. In my mind, collapse was imminent. My nervous calls didn't seem to alarm Watson's service department. I was eventually rescheduled again for Friday, June 5. Upon arrival, the crew assured me that even though the pool had begun to separate from the walls of soil around it that the situation was nothing serious. However, discovering a small rust-through spot under the skimmer was. The only option offered was replacing the pool altogether.

I called Watson's to make arrangements and received the first estimate five days later because someone who had to approve the warranty coverage was out of town. The prospect of rain made every delay a nail-biting experience because there was a very real risk of the existing walls collapsing even more. The more the walls collapsed the more hand-digging would be needed to accommodate the new structure. There is no way a crew could get a Bobcat back there to reverse the impending erosion.

Even with warranty coverage the cost was more than we paid for the original pool. Included as a line item on the estimate was a savings of $300 if we removed the concrete, then demolished, removed and disposed of the old pool. During a phone conversation while he was out of town, Cameron and I decided to save the 300 bucks. I put in a vacation request to use Friday, June 12 to do this. Unfortunately, because Cameron is out of the country 75 to 80 percent of the time, he wasn't cognizant of the plans I'd made in the meantime.

He came home Tuesday, June 9. While I was at work the next day I got a call from him. He, with John's help, had decided to begin removing the concrete two days early because he didn't want me to have to deal with it. He asked if it would be okay to dump the removed concrete behind the dumpster for gradual removal when we put out the trash. My reaction was less than grateful for his effort. I had just finished weeding, planting and mulching the bed adjacent to our "dumpster park" and installed a 25-square-foot pad for said dumpster and recycling bin to reside. To me, the idea of rocks, sand and concrete being dumped on my fresh mulch for an extended period negated all the hard work I'd spent the previous two weekends finishing.

All of the ways I've learned to recognize how adult children of alcoholics react to life and the subsequent lessons about how not to be "that guy" completely escaped me. Mind you, I have made tons of progress over the last nine months. But for this moment, I failed. I overreacted. I said things that sounded completely different than what I'd intended. Rather than telling him how trapped I feel when he calls me with a problem like this while I'm at work, I referred to another project that I feel ended in a less than perfect result and it really hurt his feelings.

We didn't speak to each other for more than 24 hours.

By Thursday night I had finally figured out how to apologize for overreacting and explain my feelings. There clearly was a big lapse in communication between us. Sometimes I figure out what path to take to accomplish a goal or finish a project, but then I fail to share those plans with him, either because I just don't think about it or perhaps I expect him to follow my lead. Or, maybe even because I don't want to debate and/or potentially confuse my plans. Fail.

Cameron disconnecting the pump.

The next morning I went to rent a truck for hauling the demolished pool to the county dump. It took a couple of hours to make all of the arrangements, to confirm that the pool crew would arrive Saturday morning for the new installation and to finish draining the last few inches of water from the liner. By 10:00, Cameron, John and I started breaking concrete and hauling it one wheelbarrow at a time to the truck.

First aid for an injury from a sharp rock. Question to self: where were your work gloves?

John taking a break.

Around 1:30 we were pulling out the liner in pieces. About halfway through cutting the wall into sections and removing them we were beginning to feel the pressure of getting finished by 3:00 so I could make the 45 minute drive to the dump, empty the truck, refill it with gas and return it before closing time at 6 PM.

Out comes the walls.

How about those 1980s?


Around 3:30 John and I piled into the truck with a gravel shovel and gloves and drove out to the county dump in Millington. After clarifying that I am a resident of Shelby County with the man at the guard shack who seemed completely out of his element (read: "family"), we backed up to the ramp where four dumpsters are lined up in rows of two and began chucking concrete and pool parts out of the truck bed. It was evident that somebody lost a freezer or refrigerator and had emptied their spoiled food before we got there. The stench was at times overpowering. Finished, we started driving back to Midtown under skies that were growing rapidly dark with the radio warning of hideous storms over eastern Arkansas. About halfway-home we started getting a steady rain. Cameron called and said that if we'd let him know when we were getting near Midtown he'd meet us at Affordable Truck Rentals.

John and I pulled into the Circle-K station, at Cleveland and Madison. I never buy gas anywhere but the mom and pop BP station at Madison and Belvedere or the Shell station at Union and Belvedere. In this case I wasn't driving my car, but a rental that I don't care about as much as I do my VW. I planned to put just enough gas in the truck to put the needle on the fuel guage where it was when I picked up the truck. Because I expected it to be a quick stop, I left the truck door open while I pumped - something else I never do. Suddenly, the rain became torrential with high winds. It was raining sideways, rendering the canopy at the station superfluous. Debris and random trash were blowing all around making me wonder what to expect from this storm. It was a bit scary.

Completely soaked I climbed back into the truck on my way to meet Cameron. We arrived at the rental store and I saw my station wagon parked there. It was still pouring rain. John leapt out of the truck and met Cameron inside. I got the shovel and gloves out of the truck, opened the tailgate and placed them in my car, and went inside to turn the truck in without much fanfare. We got into my car to drive home, I put the transmission in "R" and backed out of the space. In "D", we stopped at the edge of the street and a wall of water rolled out of the roof onto Cameron's and my head. I had left the sunroof open when I parked it early in the day. Fail.

The storm left as quickly as it had arrived. Nearing our house we noticed that none of the traffic signals were working. Oh, joy. We knew that this had the potential to be yet the fourth time in the last 17 years that we'd go without power for an extended period of time. The first was back in 1992 when during an ice storm our Sherwood Forest home was off-the-grid for thirteen days. Since then, there have been two other occasions we've been without power for longer than a week, including so-called "Hurricane Elvis" — a phrase I loathe — when straight-line winds devastated University Park among other neighborhoods citywide.

We listened on the battery powered "beach radio" to news reports of downed trees and power lines and tens of thousands of powerless Memphis Light, Gas and Water customers. Reluctantly, I agreed that we should pull the generator out of the garage even though, in some twisted way of thinking, doing so was resignation that we'd be without electricity for longer than comfortable. I grabbed three 5-gallon gas cans out of the garage and planned to drive for a while to find fuel, perhaps to Southaven like I did for ice during the last outtage. Surprisingly, just a few blocks from home, my favorite Shell station had power.

Knowing that this meant all bets were off, I expected the call I got Saturday morning from Watson's to inform us that our pool installation was being rescheduled. Naturally. The "test" in this was that rather than shifting other appointments they put us at the bottom of the schedule again. In the grand scheme I knew that the biggest problem in this was how I would handle my response given my level of frustration. After all, the estimate included all the hand-digging necessary to get the pool into the ground. So let it rain! Who cares? There was no point in being angry, I had a powerless life with which to get on.

I graciously said, thanks and we'll see you in ten days.

The installation day finally arrived and as I was advised, I expected the crew between 8 and 12. Noon came and went. I called. The hour extension I was expected to give came and went. Four men arrived around 2:30. One can imagine my frustration when I was told that they might not finish today. "Like hell you won't" is what I thought. To add insult to injury, the foreman said "it's going to cost you an additional two to three hundred dollars for the hand digging."

Again, I thought, "like hell it is." Mind you, this guy had already been here before. He knew what he was facing and had passed that information along to the estimating department. The digging was a line-item included in the estimate.

Rather than coming unglued and strangling the whole lot of them I said, "I've already paid for that. It was in the signed contract." He found his copy and verified what I'd said. Resigned that they were finally here and that they had work to do, a couple of the guys jumped into the hole and started digging.

As a gesture of goodwill, and because it was a miserably hot, humid day, I offered to go get water, soft drinks, whatever they wanted or needed. After some reluctance they admitted that they'd like to have beer. So off to Midtown Mini-Mart I went, vintage Coca-Cola cooler in tow for a case of Bud Light and a couple bags of ice. Meanwhile, the foreman called in another two-man crew from a job in West Memphis. We would have eight men on the job then, virtually guaranteeing a finished installation at the end of the day.

Returning from my errand, I decided to clean out the garage so I'd be close by if they needed anything at all. An extension cord. A spade. Seeing one of the guys struggle with the concrete-like, rock laden clay, I offered a garden fork. They were amazed at how easy the tool made their toil, commenting that they'd never thought of getting one. They planned to buy one before the next job. Later, when they were close to finishing, the foreman left his crew to tie up loose ends while he and I talked about the yard. He mentioned that he liked the pineapple I was growing. Although the sago palm looks a lot like a pineapple, I explained the difference and offered to give him one. He accepted and told me his wife would love it. As the guys finished he made sure all of the tools they'd borrowed ended up back in my hands. I told one of the crew to grab all of the Bud Light from the cooler. He hosed out their shop vac to take away the beer and ice. As I watched the two trucks drive away, I let out a sigh of relief and thought to myself, "finally, I've made it through this two-month ordeal without compromising my commitment to a year's sobriety. Spiritually the previous eight and a half months have been worth it and I feel like I'm becoming a better person. And it's over! Maybe, now, we can get on with our summer."

But, I was wrong. At least about thinking the ordeal was over.

The following Saturday -- after the pool was refilled with 14,000 gallons of water and all the chemicals necessary to make a it swimworthy -- I was finishing up a few hours' work rebuilding and adjusting the permanent deck steps that lead up to the pool's side. Cameron and I hoisted the "wedding cake steps," for inside the pool, over the wall into the water. We began moving them into position where the handrail attaches to the deck. "OUCH," he said. He'd stepped on a sharp rock under the liner which was coincidentally where the steps would sit. Remembering to remain calm (time already invested be damned) and that this was a fixable situation, I called Watson's. I was connected with Dustin in the service department who listened to my story. His completely uninterested response, which I later explained to the store manager was unacceptable: "You'll just have to move the steps."

You see, we've spent a small fortune deckbuilding and planning our yard around this pool. Dustin supposedly scheduled us for service, "sometime in the next two weeks." No promise date. No time. Not that I've been able to schedule around those promises before, but this was even worse experience than I'd had so far. The following weekend I drove out to Watson's and spoke with the manager, told him my story, showed him photos and shared my receipts. He couldn't find where we were scheduled for service at all.

I know I've gone on too much about all this. It's taken me weeks to write, edit and rewrite this post. Let it suffice to say that the manager took care of getting the problem solved, paid for our water and reimbursed us with new chemicals. The pool is in, the deck is done and I suppose, I've passed this test.

26 May 2009

An Exercise in Futility

Here is a recent e-mail comment I sent to DirecTV after switching from their Choice XTra programming to the Choice package to reduce expenses, followed by "Jennifer's" response, which makes me wonder if she comprehended my complaint at all:

My comment:

Customer (dminmem) - 05/25/2009 08:56 AM
The main reason I switched to DirecTV many years ago was to get some relief from the cable's monopoly on my entertainment options. Currently, I feel like DirecTV has become another inflexible version of cable.

I don't understand the limitations of your programming package options. Why must I receive channels I don't want, need or watch? Conversely, why are others that I do want available only through excessively priced upgrades? DirecTV is capable of providing more individually tailored options, but does not.

Today, I changed my programming, for the second time this year, in order to curb expenses. DirecTV rates have continuously, steadily increased without any added benefit. Many channels I like to watch, including Logo and National Geographic channels, are no longer part of my lineup and I find this disappointing.

DirecTV response:

Programming Limitations

Discussion Thread
Response (Jennifer A. - 100216511) - 05/25/2009 09:41 AM

Dear (dminmem),

Thanks for writing. You’ve been with us since 2000 and we recognize you as a valued and loyal customer. We want you to know we appreciate it.

I understand that wish to have an option to choose the channels you frequently watch to be included with your package instead of upgrading. Kindly be advised that our programming packages are designed to give you the best selection of channels for the money and are currently not customizable. Also, we also provide a wide variety of programming in order to appeal to the broadest audience possible. We understand that not everyone will like each program. However, our ongoing research tells us that most customers like being able to choose from so many viewing options.

In addition, please know that it's never an easy decision to raise prices, but we feel it is necessary due to the increasing costs we pay to carry the channels you see. Despite rising programming costs over the years, we've managed to keep our prices very competitive while still offering the best programming options.

Even with new pricing, the cost of DIRECTV service continues to be a better value than our competitors. While our prices have changed we have invested in new programming and innovative services in order to provide you the best possible entertainment experience. We will continue to invest in the quality of your viewing experience by bringing you more new features and more new programming in 2009.

Nevertheless, though we currently do not have that option yet, I have forwarded your suggestion to DIRECTV management. We are always on the look-out for ways to improve customer experience. We appreciate it when we receive feedback and we do take them seriously.

Moving on, kindly be informed that Logo and National Geographic channels are included in our CHOICE XTRA package or above. By upgrading your current base package back to CHOICE XTRA or upgrading to PREMIER, you'll get more than 30 channels that are not available in CHOICE, including the Biography Channel, History International and four Discovery Channels. Furthermore, you'll also gain access to Great American Country (GAC), Do It Yourself Network (DIY), VH1 Classic, PBS Kids, Boomerang, the FOX Movie Channel, History International, the Military Channel, the Nicktoons Network, The Science Channel, Style as well as almost 20 extra XM Satellite Radio music channels.

For complete programming and packaging information, please visit

We appreciate your patience and understanding.


Jennifer A.
Employee ID 100216511
DIRECTV Customer Service

Gee, thanks, Jennifer. Nice to know you've "got my back." Perhaps I'll shut the service off altogether.

21 May 2009

How Sweet It Is

Try as they might, the Corn Refiners Association's campaign on the virtues of High Fructose Corn Syrup have been unconvincing. There has been enough evidence and commentary to persuade me to believe that it's not the same as sugar. How can it be? It's altered, just like modified food starch, hydrogenated vegetable oil, and myriad other results of "better living through chemistry."

The association's idea of improving the quality of life seems skewed more toward the almighty dollar rather than consumer health. A site I recently joined, GoodGuide, rates and compares products based upon their impact on the planet, nutrition and social awareness, shares good, basic information here.

Ever since we watched "Super Size Me" I've been paying better attention to what I bring home from the grocery. I've try to avoid buying anything that contains HFCS. It's a difficult proposition when one considers how ubiquitous the stuff is. Look at the labels. Nearly every packaged food contains it. I made my own ketchup until I found organic Heinz. I make my own salad dressings. I bake cakes from scratch. I use fresh fruit in my pies. I'm making my own bread about 25% of the time and I expect to increase that percentage over the coming months.

If it's processed, it usually has no place in my pantry. Of course, the definition of "processed" includes words like pasteurized or frozen, but, I'm talking about processed convenience foods like dinner "kits" and junk food. there are very, very few exceptions. Like processed American cheese food (Kraft American cheese). Sometimes, I have to have a plain, old grilled cheese with Campbell's Tomato Soup. I can justify stocking these because they rarely end up on a tray for dinner. And, this stuff is a great substitute for the nights I don't feel like fussing over three or four varieties of "real" cheese, and homemade tomato soup with diced tomatoes and fresh, snipped basil.

Because unsweetened tea brewed here at home gets tiresome I sometimes buy Mexican Coke, made with cane sugar, at the Vietnamese market on Cleveland. I prefer to drink them ice cold, out of the bottle (as they were intended). But, there is often a foul, metallic odor on the glass that ruins the experience unless the bottle opening is cleaned after removing the crown. Ultimately, they taste like a real Coca-Cola, but, keeping a supply can get pricy at a buck-fifty each.

For some time, Cameron and I have been buying Jones Soda. Though they are made with pure cane sugar we still treat them as something special so we don't overindulge, but lately, they're getting difficult to find. After trip to Target the other day, "where to buy" conspicuously became "where not to buy." My expectations were that the newest bullseye in town would have everything stocked to the gills. Not so. I remembered that the butthole was also listed as a "where to buy" location. So, out of frustration I bolstered myself and pulled into Walmart. After walking the aisles and scanning the end caps I once again came up empty handed. Eventually, though, I found this. I read the label in amazement and bought a 12-pack. At home, I excitedly told Cameron what I'd found and quickly got online to find out more. I learned that not only was Pepsi producing it's cane sugar cola version, but Mountain Dew Throwback would soon appear on the shelves, too.

Since then, I've found both of these at Kroger. They taste like I remember them. The sickening, throat-coating, syrupy quality that carbonated drinks have today wasn't there. They reminded me of times when my grandmother would successfully extract us from behind the sofa, (our usual hiding place after being scolded). Her bribes most often were a longneck, glass, 16-ounce bottle of Pepsi and an ice cream cup (Meadow Gold chocolate, vanilla, or vanilla with a swirl in either chocolate or strawberry -- the kind sold ten to a bag, in plastic cups with paperboard lids and enough wooden "spoons" to go around).

The other day I heard someone mention that she thought Pepsi Throwback tasted flat. I suppose if you're a younger than 35 (and a know-it-all), sickeningly, syrupy sweet is the way you think sodas should taste. Too bad. You don't know what you're missing, or for that matter, what you're getting.

Disclaimer: I have a friend who has a great job at WalMart. I'm proud of his success. But, I can't reconcile the havoc they've wreaked on small business owners in small communities with benefits they provide.

08 May 2009

I Simply Had to Say It

Sent to the editor of The Commercial Appeal in response to this story:
To the Editor,

I am writing in response to comments made by Commissioner Wyatt Bunker, in The Commercial Appeal's story by Daniel Connolly (Wednesday, May 6), about his opposition to a proposed County Ordinance against discrimination of gay and transgendered persons:

The paper reports that Commissioner Bunker describes himself as a Christian conservative, and that he objects to the measure because the county would be interfering with local businesses, he believes homosexuality is a sin, and passing the ordinance could make it easier for the gay community to ask the county for more rights, such as benefits for same-sex couples. He continued, saying, "I don't belive people are born gay. I don't agree with discrimination against them, but I'm not going to give them a lot of protections that give legitimacy to homosexual behavior."

I applaud him for his proclamation that he is a Christian conservative. This is a right the Constitution affords Mr. Bunker, and I'm glad he feels strongly enough to do so. The same Constitution that gives him this freedom also provides for separation of Church and State, so that I am not subject to living under his church or religion's rule.

The Commissioner is entitled to his opinion, but I challenge him to do two things: First, look at the genetic research through a different lens than that of religious dogma. There have been numerous studies conducted by several researchers that indicate that homosexuality is in our DNA, much like our gender or the color of our skin. In fact with each new research initiative there is more evidence to support this theory than historical condemnation from the church can negate.

Second, don't deny me the right to live without fear of hatred, where lack of understanding has the potential to cost me my livelihood. Our ancestors left Europe a few hundred years ago to escape religious persecution. Don't resurrect it because you don't understand gay people and their pursuit of the same rights afforded you.

It is not for you to decide whether or not our lives are legitimate.



07 May 2009

Emotionally Overwhelming

This post is over a two months old. I began writing it the weekend of February 20.

At work Friday morning I wasn't alarmed but thought it unusual to get a call from Christopher. My younger brother told me that my father had been admitted to the hospital and was having triple-bypass surgery the following Monday.

We discussed whether or not I would make the trip. We both knew that when I called my father that such efforts would be discouraged. I called my sister, Lisa, who planned to leave Biloxi with her friend Gina on Sunday and arrive in Louisville that evening. As we all suspected, Daddy told me not to drive up when I called him. But I had already made up my mind. The only decision I had to make was whether to fly or drive. Cameron and I talked about it when he got home Saturday morning. Because he would be home Monday, he could care for Billie, Georgia and Edith, meaning the puppies could stay home.

By plane I could get to Louisville in about an hour. But after booking non-rev travel I would still have to sit standby at the gate and perhaps not get a seat. Then, I'd have to book a rental car because if I didn't I'd be at the mercy of my busy family to get me around town once I arrived at Standiford Field. Coordinating all of this was more than I cared to deal with at the time. Driving, on the other hand, would mean a 6-hour drive and would ensure my freedom of movement, and to some degree my autonomy once in "the river city."

Deciding to drive gave me Sunday to finish laundry and pack. I left for Louisville early Monday morning so I'd be at the hospital when Daddy came out of surgery. I stopped at Costco for some less expensive premium gasoline and once back on I-40 was astonished at the number of state troopers on the road between Germantown and Brownsville. I remember counting eleven, complete with victims, pulled over on the shoulder. There were a more poised for pursuit in the median. Thankfully, I made it through the traps with the trusty assistance of my radar detector.

I talked to my youngest sister, Tina, a few times during the drive. She kept me updated on the senior David's status and what was going on with everyone else in the interim. Considering the implications of losing my father for 400 miles was something for which I wasn't prepared. He's five years older than his father, Otto, was when he died of a heart attack. Apparently, Daddy had gone to his doctor for an inhaler that he uses to assuage the manifestations of smoking four packs of cigarettes a day for as long as I can remember. Thankfully, his doctor decided to test my dad because he hadn't been in for a while. From what Tina tells me, they put him on a treadmill for a short time before they sat him down and told him not to move. He was admitted to the hospital with 98% blockage in three arteries. I suspected the breathing issues were a little less COPD and a lot more artery blockage.

By the time I entered the metro Louisville area I had mentally debated my route to Floyd Memorial. I could stay on I-65 North, exit Highway 62, then drive through old downtown New Albany -- which seemingly was the most direct route -- but could be time consuming with congestion and lots of traffic lights at the beginning of rush hour. Or, I could exit I-65 just before the Kennedy Bridge at Spaghetti Junction and take I-64 west over the Sherman Minton Bridge to the first New Albany exit and be within blocks of the hospital.

Either way, I had a more pressing matter to handle before I could go much further. "PLEASE REFUEL" appeared on the Passat's instrument panel and the yellow gas pump icon warned of impending momentum lost. I exited I-65 at the first exit after crossing the Kennedy and filled up at Thornton's. I re-entered I-65 only to immediately exit for Highway 62. So, through New Albany I started and stopped. Started and stopped. Started and stopped. I was relieved to finally arrive at the hospital. I called Tina, who was in the parking lot putting on makeup in her new Mini. I joined her in her car. It was there I was warned of the ensuing drama that could unfold if we were planning on meeting with the rest of the family for anything other than sitting in the waiting room. After sitting for six hours I could no longer. I excused myself to a walk around the parking lot, a cigarette and a quick call to Cameron.

With Tina finished and my call completed, we walked into the hospital and upstairs to the Cardiac ICU. While she used the white wall phone to ask for admittance, the doors opened to reveal Christopher on his way out. We talked for a few minutes before we went in to see Daddy buried under a tangle of IV tubes and monitors and a plastic blanket. He was sleeping as much as he could with the nurses buzzing around and monitoring his every vital sign. I think it startled him to hear me say, "hello, Daddy" because he choked and began coughing. We decided to leave and let the nurses get busy with calming him down.

I met Christopher at his apartment after he was done for work that evening. We discussed what to do for dinner and whether or not to try and orchestrate getting together with everyone else. He was sympathetic, knowing I was tired after the drive, anxious over the entire situation and that I hadn't eaten all day. I didn't want to make any decisions, so he decided that we'd stay in. He gave me some hummus he'd made earlier with some crackers while he started prepping vegetables for stir-fry.

The phone rang. Amidst everything else she does to take care of her family, Tina had managed to get confirmation from Lisa, Gina, Matthew, and Ally, that we'd all meet a couple blocks away from Christopher's place for pizza at Wick's. He and I walked over and got a table. Three people were gracious enough to move to a smaller one for us. After thirty or forty minutes we began to wonder if we'd prematurely asked those folks to move, but our party began to arrive and fill up the huge booth we shared. We shared four large pizzas and had a really nice time together and I'm glad that we changed our loosely cobbled together plans. After all, at least three of us traveled for hours to be there for Daddy and it would have been a shame not to spend some time relaxing together. The leftover pizzas were boxed and we exchanged hugs. Our seperate journeys took Christopher and me back to his place where we settlied in with his boxeer, Scout, to watch "W". We didn't see much of the movie before we decided it was time to call it a night.

Early the following morning I headed back to Floyd Memorial. This time I actually was able to speak with Daddy, whose first words included, "I told you not to come." My response? "Since when have I listened to you?" We had a chuckle over that. The nurses explained to us what we should expect. When it was time for Daddy to rest I left to meet everyone for lunch at Rocky's Italian Grill. This would include most everyone from the night before and my mother and bonus dad. I prefer to say bonus dad because, in my experience, "stepfather" very often implies something negative.

I headed back to Memphis from Jeffersonville at 2:00. For the first time, I skipped my usual trip to White Castle on the way out. The drive home, not without its freaks and distracted drivers, was pretty uneventful. I stopped for gas in Brownsville, then spoke with Tina for the last twenty minutes of the trip. To my astonishment I pulled into the driveway five hours and five minutes from my 2:00 departure time, breaking my previous record of 5 hours and forty minutes.

Happy Easter

I wrote this post on April 14, and just found it floating around on my desktop. There is one more that I'll be posting that I believe is about my trip to Louisville for my dad's surgery.

Last night, after a day in the yard raking, digging and mulching, I got a late start on my errands for today's Easter dinner. I knew my only shot for picking up Frisee, let alone fresh fava beans, was The Fresh Market because no matter how comprehensive they try to make their produce departments, regular grocers like Kroger or Schnuck's wouldn't have either. Leaving here at 8:30 I made a beeline to Eastgate Shopping Center. Just as I suspected I found the frisee but no fava beans. I picked up a beautiful heirloom tomato, some leeks, a couple pineapples, baby spinach and mint. I picked up a red velvet cake for Cameron because he asked me to pick up something sweet. I grabbed some country mustard, caperberries, and capers.

Five minutes before closing time I made it to a cashier who mentioned that The Fresh Market was closed for Easter and that she felt that people should be given the opportunity to celebrate the holidays with family instead of having to work. I recalled when I was a youngster, back in the 1960s, most of the businesses in Sellersburg were closed on Sunday except for maybe the bait shop and that everything was closed on holidays. I told her that I thought it should still be this way.

Because The Fresh Market can be a bit pricey, I drove from there to Mexican Kroger on Summer Avenue for the rest of my list of staples and supplies for preparing one of Martha Stewart's Easter menus. After putting my groceries in the back of the wagon, I called Exline's and ordered two 9-inch "Special" pizzas, one with anchovies and one without. I still had ten minutes' wait for my order when I arrived at the pizza parlor so I popped into Blockbuster and rented "Cadillac Records," "The Bank Job," "Doubt," and "Role Models." The latter was an impulse because the guy at the counter asked, "would you like to grab another movie? It's rent three get the fourth free." I asked him if it was as stupid as I expected it to be since it was a Seann William Scott feature.

Seann William Scott in Role Models.

By the time I got home around 10:30, Cameron and I were starving. He helped me bring in the groceries and put the perishables in the fridge between preparing trays for us. We popped "Doubt" into the DVD player and ate "the best pizza in town." We finished our pizza and the movie, then watched "Role Models" while eating the red velvet cake from The Fresh Market. As I expected, the cake was fantastic. It should have been for $16.

This morning, I checked e-mail, Facebook and eBay. The auction listing for the Grand Prix garnered 1,886 visits, 38 people watching, a couple of questions and no bidders. I had lowered the reserve from the previous week's listing from $13,500 to $12,500, the "Buy it now" price. The earlier listing didn't have the buy it now price, received 1,800 hits, had 29 watchers and one bid for the starting price of $11,300. So, for now, the Pontiac is staying with me.

27 April 2009

Yet Again, We Pay for Overvalued "Top Talent"

This morning, GM announced its restructuring plan that includes the closure of the Pontiac Motor Division. Here is the Wall Street Journal article. This makes no sense to me, considering that this chart from WSJ shows Buick, Cadillac, Hummer and Saab each selling less than Pontiac for 2008.

This illustrates the "new" math behind GM's decision to cut Pontiac.

I expected some sort of correction would happen years ago when luxury brands started selling SUVs. The different marks at GM used to make sense. When you wanted an "every man's" car or truck you bought a Chevrolet. When you wanted performance you bought a Pontiac. Ready for something more? Buy an Oldsmobile. Need sophistication without pretense? You would really rather have a Buick. Prefer luxury and innovation? You'd buy a Cadillac. As a kid, I remember hearing loyal GM followers say they'd work their way up the General Motors ladder just like one might with career or a home.

In the last few decades the leaders of GM have lost sight of what the marks meant.

The news outlets, today, are mentioning Pontiac's storied 82-year heritage. In my opinion this figure could be shaved a few years. The arrowhead may have been around for just shy of a century, but for the last several decades looking too far past that logo on the grille would reveal a bowtie. True Pontiac heritage ceased sometime in the late seventies when GM stopped production of PMD engines and began substituting Chevrolets. Since 1926, the Pontiac has been a symbol for affordable performance. If the leadership at the GM had stuck to this core value after the oil embargo, and found ways to create efficiency while maintaining what made a Chief a Chief, they might not have had to pull their proverbial heads our of their asses only to have them land on the chopping block nearly forty years later.

GM saves money by building similar sized cars on the same chassis. I get that. I understand that it would be redundant to "reinvent the wheel" when sharing some of the basic parts of automaking. But putting differently shaped body panels and interior fabrics on a Vega and calling it the "all new Astre" doesn't a Pontiac make.

A Chevy engine with differently tuned exhaust is still a Chevy. Hello, Malibu.

It's been a damned shame to watch Pontiac deteriorate to an overly-styled, funky and just plain weird brand. As I watched the ugly, bulbous, overdone blobs clad with rubbery door "refinements" and oddly-designed taillamps give way to the a cleaner, sleeker designs of the last few years I thought I was beginning to see a glimmer of the Pontiac that I remember -- one that I'd grown to love. Unfortunately, now, I'll never know if they were headed in the right direction because there simply hasn't been enough time for the transformation to be embraced. It was too little, too late.

GM has a big task in turning the what's left of the company around. And it's going to be complicated, costly and leave many out in the cold. It's sickening.

I am interested in seeing if anyone makes an attempt to keep Pontiac alive under a new umbrella. In the meantime, I can take pride in my little piece history. The Grand Prix has become a bit more special to me as it joins the ranks of fallen horses like Deusenberg, Packard, Studebaker and Oldsmobile. I'm happy that it didn't sell after two, week-long listings on eBay.

Read more GM news here. And here.

21 April 2009

Where are the Adults?

This is so sad. I don't know why situations like this can't seem to be prevented. Where were the authority figures at this child's school? Where were the parents of the attackers? I'll be watching this story. I want to see accountability.

Family says bullying led boy, 11, to hang himself

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Dekalb County school officials are mum about allegations that bullying at Dunaire Elementary School may have led 11-year-old Jaheem Herrera to commit suicide last week.

Public information officer Dale Davis said Tuesday morning that officials are legally unable to comment on student-related records, such as whether Herrera’s mother Masika Bermudez had complained to the school about possible bullying.

A photograph of Jaheem Herrera, 11, hangs above a poster on the front door of the family’s Dekalb apartment, all part of a makeshift shrine to the dead boy. Curtis Comption/

On Thursday afternoon, after returning home from school, fifth-grader Jaheem quietly went into his room and hanged himself. His 10-year-old sister, Yerralis, also a fifth-grader, discovered Jaheem’s dead body. “His sister was screaming, ‘Get him down, get him down,’” said Norman Keene, who helped raise Jaheem since the boy was two years old.

When Keene got to the room, he saw Yerralis holding her brother, trying to remove the pressure of the noose her brother had fashioned with a fabric belt.

Jaheem was bullied relentlessly, his family said. Keene said the family knew the boy was a target, but until his death they didn’t understand the scope.

“We’d ask him, ‘Jaheem, what’s wrong with you?’” Keene recalled. “He’d never tell us.”

He didn’t want his sister to tell, either. She witnessed much of the bullying, and many times rose to her brother’s defense, Keene said.

“They called him gay and a snitch,” his stepfather said. “All the time they’d call him this.”

In an interview with WSB-TV, Bermudez also said her son was being bullied at school. She said she had complained to the school.

She said she asked him about the bullying Thursday when he came home from school and he denied it. She sent him to his room to calm down. It was the last time she would see him alive.

Bermudez told WSB she talked to Jaheem’s best friend about the situation last week.

“He said, ‘Yes ma’am. He told me that he’s tired of everybody always messing with him in school. He is tired of telling the teachers and the staff, and they never do anything about the problems. So, the only way out is by killing himself,’ ” Bermudez told WSB.

Spokesman Davis said the school sent out a notice to parents alerting them to the death. A crisis team was sent to the school Friday and grief counselors are on hand to help students, he said.

Dekalb Public Schools are working to prevent issues such as bullying and to promote tolerance through a national program called “No Place for Hate,” said Jennifer Errion, assistant director of student support services, prevention-intervention.

The program, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League and begun in Dekalb schools in 2007, helps train faculty and students on accepting differences, promoting diversity and inclusion.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Errion said of Herrera’s death. “Unfortunately, prevention is not a vaccine. We have a society that is often misguided. We’ve created the idea that bullying is a rite of passage, and I don’t think it is.”

Earlier this month the suicide of a Massachusetts boy, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover — who suffered taunts that he was gay — attracted national attention.

He was also 11. His mother found him hanging from an extension cord in the family’s home.

Jaheem was excelling academically, Keene said, adapting quickly to his new home. The family moved to the Avondale Estates area less than a year ago from St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Last winter, his grandmother died from cancer. She was living with the family at the time.

His grandfather returned to St. Croix after his wife’s passing. He’s taking Jaheem’s death especially hard. “He says he has nothing to live for now,” Keene said. The family had planned a trip home in June. They’ll be returning next Monday instead to bury their 11-year-old son.

— Staff writer Katie Leslie contributed to this report.

10 April 2009

Good Friday

It's been a while since I've posted on dminmem. I guess I've become a Facebook whore, but the cache, and therefore the obsession, is wearing off I think.

While there have been lots of things going on around here I don't think I have much about which to post. A short list might include that Cameron is commuting to and flying out of Atlanta, now. Or, that I bought a new car. Or, that we bowled dismally in the St. Patrick's Invitational Tournament and for the first time in history Whatever (our bowling team) isn't in the top three in league standings. This half of the season were in the bottom three. And, after last week we're likely in last place.

I've been attempting to recount my recent trip to Louisville for my dad's quintuple bypass surgery but it's been slow going. Each time I look at the draft I end up editing it because I think it's boring which pretty much guarantees that you will, too. Of course, if I'm realistic I know that many of my posts are just that.

So, while I leave here to pull together Easter dinner plans, I'll contemplate ways to make dminmem a place that you might want to visit. Until then, good day!

02 March 2009

Welcome, Spring.

The landscape was beautiful cloaked in its white finery this weekend:

I can't express how desperate I am for Spring, especially after being teased a week ago with temperatures in the mid- to high-60s and these beauties:

The quince has bloomed, as have the camellias and the forsythia. Gene and Cindie's Cleveland Pear was in full bloom when the snow hit. I suspect that all that beauty will have disappeared once all the snow melts. After Christmas, just days after the first day of winter, it's as if I shut down, as if I'm bound and gagged.

I'm ready to get outside as soon at the temperatures are more tolerable than today's 25°. According to the weather forecast we should expect a high near 70° for Friday.

Welcome, Spring.