Sunday, April 15, 2018

Spring cleaning

For the past 10 days or so, I've found myself in spring cleaning mode.

Thank goodness this happens just once a year. Usually around spring.

It starts with weeding our vast garden areas, which somehow become more vast with each year that I get older.

The weeding is necessary, however, since what I am really doing is preparing our gardens for the layer of hardwood mulch that I throw on them.

The backyard garden area is unending. It's a scalloped garden that runs on both sides of my yard, which I figure is about 30 yards deep, from my back porch to the alley. It's a lot of garden area. I take my trusty mattock and run through fields of dandelions, wild (Indian) strawberries, poison ivy, ground ivy, crabgrass and other weeds I can't identify, digging up most anything that has no eye appeal. I am a dangerous man with a mattock.

It also means raking up all the leaves that I didn't collect last October.

The garden in front of our house is what I call our "English cottage garden", although I doubt it resembles anything English at all. But Kim has tulips, snapdragons, columbine, black-eyed susans and things that grow tall and green (not weeds) that fill our beds, which are usually lined with impatiens or begonias (when in season). It looks great.

Anyway, after the weeding comes the mulch. We usually order four Bobcat scoops of mulch that gets delivered and dumped in a rather large pile in our garden area next to the alley (the dump truck pile somehow gets larger with each year I get older).

I distribute the mulch by shoveling loads into a wheel barrow, then throwing the mulch out by hand. But I recently learned a valuable lesson. I was told that it was a lot easier to load the wheel barrow by using a pitchfork. Ha, I said. That makes no sense. The tines of the fork are about two inches apart; the mulch will simply slip through the tines, I figure logically.

But, no. The pitchfork was a Godsend. I decided that the pitchfork is not the devil's tool after all – the shovel is (at least for moving mulch). The pitchfork has saved my aching back. It only took me 67 years to learn this.

There's also indoor spring cleaning involved.

We were having friends over to the house, but before Kim would allow anyone through the front door, we had to clean the place up. My job (even though I've been mulching) was to dust and vacuum. I usually do the dusting and vacuuming anyway to keep the house-chore load off Kim, but my idea of dusting and vacuuming is surface centered. I clean what I can see.

Kim's idea is more detailed, requiring me to get down on my hands and knees to clean under sofas and chairs, under end tables and secretaries, and into corners and crevices to get rid of the cobwebs and spider dirt.

Oh. That kind of spring cleaning.

Anyway, we got the place clean. It looks great and will probably look great for another couple of hours before real life and more dust settles in.

Then we can do it all over again.

Next spring.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Masters plan

I love this day in golf – the final round of The Masters.

While some people fail to see the drama that can arise from hitting a little white ball with a crooked stick into a gopher hole, the day almost always brings me to the edge of my seat.

Part of the reason, I think, is because of the golf course itself. Augusta National, as golf courses go, is nothing less than a glorious work of art, carved out of the Fruitland azalea nursery in the 1930s by none other than Bobby Jones his own self.

I've had the great privilege to attend two Masters practice rounds in my life, thus twice fulfilling an item on my bucket list when once would have been amazing enough (Other bucket list check marks: I've played at Pinehurst No. 2 twice; I've flown in a World War II era B-24; I've hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and I sang "Rocky Mountain High" while actually crossing the Rockies. I once swam with barracuda in the Florida Keys, but that was more of an accident of crossing paths with fish with sharp teeth while I was snorkeling than a bucket list quest of mine. It'll do, though).

Anyway, Augusta National without golfers on it would be thrilling enough. Now throw in world class professionals and you enter the realm of legend: rallies, comebacks, epic collapses, epic shots – it's all there.

Another reason I love this day is because I usually pick somebody I want to win, and so it becomes a little more personal. I usually get serious about this after the cut, when it' a little clearer who's leading the field or has a reasonable chance for victory.

For example, I've never been a big Sergio Garcia fan, but I pulled for him to win The Masters last year and was happy enough when he finally put on his green jacket.

The usual suspects also tend to come into play here: Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson. I can pull for any of those guys if they're in contention. But if they're up against the dreaded best player never to have won a major, I generally pull for the guy seeking his first title.

Compelling story lines don't hurt, either. Rory Mcllroy can complete his career Grand Slam (Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, PGA Championship) if he wins today. It'll mean Patrick Reed, another solid golfer I like, will have to choke on his three-stroke lead, a development which could become something of Masters legend a la Greg Norman, if that happens.

I also like Jordan Spieth because his mom went to Moravian College and his dad went to Lehigh University, which are landmarks within my old stomping grounds when I was a kid growing up in Bethlehem, PA. So there's that. It's part of my six degrees of separation from Jordan Spieth.

This year's leaderboard looks pretty interesting going into the final round. I'm ready to settle in, immerse myself in sandy white bunkers and smell the azaleas.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Cable guy

For about a week – eight consecutive days – our house was something akin to a third world country: we had no Internet; we had no email; we had no landline telephone service; and, oddly enough, while we did have access to most of our cable TV stations, we did not have access to some of the upper tier stations for which we were paying.

That's some bundle.

I went into panic mode, which is usually my basic go-to option when things go wrong. My first impulse, of course, was to curse out Spectrum, our cable provider.

The cable service went out a week ago Wednesday, after the mini snow storm we had that didn't even shut down the school systems. When my cable acts up, I usually reboot the modem/router, and everything comes back to life. But this time, nothing happened.

On Thursday morning, I began the first of what turned out to be a flurry of trips to the Spectrum office on Caldcleugh Road, near the community college.

We had to wait until Saturday before a technician came out. He had this handy iPad that tells him where the hot cable lines are, whether individual routers and modems are up, and neat stuff like that. He determined that there was nothing wrong in our house, that it must be in the lines, so he called maintenance. A van arrived shortly, a cable guy got out, fiddled with some wires on a pole, and left.

Still no service.

So I talked with my neighbor on Sunday, an employee of Spectrum who is out on medical leave. He, too, was without service, although he had his own hot spot, thanks to his iPhone. We don't have an iPhone – we still use a flip phone. We're dinosaurs. In fact, I guess we're the kind of dinosaurs that die in meteor strikes and turn into future tar pits or gas reserves.

At any rate, my neighbor called for a maintenance guy, who arrived shortly, climbed a different pole, fiddled with a couple wires, and left.

But still no service.

I saw my neighbor again on Wednesday, who was shocked to learn that I was still down. That was weird, because his line was now up and running. So he came to my house with his iPad. Yep. We were down. In fact, he showed me that we were about the only house in the service node (about 1,000 devices, I guess) that was down. Great. Wehrle luck. So he put in another call.

This time, the cable guy who came out located the tap to our house, which was on a pole across the street and about a half block up the road. He climbed up, cut off a piece of cable line, replaced it, and came down.

"That should do it," he said, showing me the four-foot piece of cable he'd chopped off. It looked like it had been in a knife fight. "Squirrels," he said, showing me numerous gnawings in the line, including one area that exposed the copper wire, which tends to disrupt service when the elements hit it.

But we were back online.

Well, almost.

Our printer still wasn't working. The Spectrum guy, who took 15 minutes to get us online, spent a half hour trying to figure out how to get our printer connected. He left in frustration.

But I had an ace. I called my friend and former colleague at The Dispatch, who is something of an IT whiz in his spare time. He came over Friday morning and spent at least 90 minutes trying to outsmart the system, evade my cat, and not bump his head on our low stairway overhead to the second floor. But he was up to the challenge and the printer was miraculously working when he left.

So we're finally online, our lives back to normal as we rejoin the technological revolution. At least, until the next squirrel attack.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Brackets schmackets

I probably shouldn't admit to this, being the old sports writer that I am/was, but for the first time in memory (well, in my memory), I didn't participate in an NCAA brackets pool.

At least, not voluntarily.

As the tournament approached, I received the usual requests for my pool participation. I'd been playing NCAA pools for probably the entire 40 years I've lived in Lexington, and in all those years, I only won once.

That was in 1983. It happened like this: We had the usual brackets pool at The Dispatch, where I worked, but then we had a Sweet 16 pool, where you drew the name of a team out of a hat at $5 a pop. I wasn't there for the drawing (I think I was actually out on assignment), but a colleague of mine drew for me, pulling N.C. State.

Oh, great, I thought, thinking that's $5 I'll never see again. Until N.C. State won. Oh, great! I thought, and promptly bought myself a Members Only jacket with my $80 in winnings.

But every year since then, I've been a poor loser. It usually cost me $5 to fill out three brackets, but even with my supposedly sports writer insider knowledge, I'd only occasionally get tantalizingly close to winning the $120 pots. Usually, the winner was someone who picked their teams based on school colors or how they liked the team nicknames. Very prescient of them, but probably as good a system as any.

So this year, I just said the hell with it. I just didn't want to play any more. It was a dead-end street. Money out the window. And with that decision not to fill out my brackets, I felt decidedly liberated. No longer did I have to suffer agonizing bracket-buster upsets. I could just sit back and enjoy the games. In fact, I didn't even have to watch the games, if I didn't want to. I was free. Free to change the channel. Free to go outside in the middle of a game. Free.

Until Thursday morning, when my wife called. There was an ESPN pool her office was participating in. One of her colleagues would fill out our bracket if I just picked the Final Four teams. Sigh. OK. Easy enough. And it didn't cost anything to enter. So I picked Virginia, Xavier, Villanova and Michigan State, with Villanova to win the title (Villanova is a Philadelphia school. I might still have to ride those Super Bowl coattails).

But I didn't have to fill out a bracket. Somebody else in Kim's office volunteered to do that based on my final four teams.

I kind of like this surrogate selector idea. Going into today's games, our bracket is currently tied for first place, even surviving Virginia's stunning upset to the UM-Baltimore County Retrievers (a great team nickname, I think, right up there with the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slugs).

I'm still not clear what happens if we win the pool. Not sure if money is involved or not. Could end up being a pat on the back. Suits me. I'm still free.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Auto correct

I wasn't really in the market for a new car (well, actually a used car, but new to me), because the one I had was still doing OK. Yes, the one I had was 10 years old and it was approaching 100,000 miles, which is kind of like a demarcation line for trade-ins. Everybody's antennae seems to go up at 100,000 miles.

But the power train on my daily driver was still in excellent condition. There had never been an issue with the engine or the transmission. And after 10 years of faithful service, stuff was deteriorating. We don't have a garage, so there was some sun damage on anything that was plastic. And because cars are essentially computers on wheels (even 10-year-old cars), there were some annoying electronic problems with remote door locks and express windows.

Even my sound system was getting a little staticky, and foam padding from the driver's seat was slipping out of the seams.

So while I wasn't really in need of a new(er) vehicle, that didn't stop me from looking. Sometimes, over the past year or so, we'd go to car lots on Sundays just to see what's what.

Then Kim, playing on the MacBook a month or so ago, found a one-year-old car with just 700 miles on it at a dealership in Burlington. I wasn't nuts about the idea of going to Burlington to look at a car, but then, we'd gone to Aiken, SC, two years ago to buy Kim's car – which she happened to find on the Internet.

So why not?

Anyway, we went to check out the car yesterday. One of the things I dread in life is buying a car, but this particular experience turned out to be doable. Our sales person was laid back and friendly, and we never felt pressured to buy. My ace card was that I didn't need a car and could walk away at any time. We'd already done that once at another dealership. They just didn't have to know that I might want a new car.

We did learn the car had only 700 miles on it because the original buyer, a woman, bought the car, kept it for like 14 days, then traded it in for an SUV because she felt the sedan was too small.

OK. That makes sense. Lucky me.

To make a long story short, the dealership had already knocked $4,500 off its asking price. After test driving the car, we decided to bite the bullet and buy it. After a round or two of negotiating, we'd gotten another $1,000 knocked off. We also got a reasonable interest rate. And there's still about 95 per cent of the factory warranty remaining.

The car is also loaded with more bells and whistles than a traveling circus, so there's more to driving it than just hitting the start button with the remote in your pocket. I figure there's a ton of reading to do and maybe watching a couple of YouTube tutorials about this car before I accidentally press the ejection seat button.

The only real stress of the day was that the whole experience, from first arriving on the lot to signing the final plethora of papers, took about five hours.

So, even today, I'm exhausted.

It's a nice day. Maybe we'll go for a nice, relaxing drive somewhere...

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Gibson gala

One of the things you might have picked up from local troubadour Scott Gibson (who passed away in December) is just how much the native Lexingtonian loved his town.

Much of his original work was inspired by candy stores, statues on the square, furniture factories and the people who worked in them.

Last night, at High Rock Outfitters (which often served as Scott's performance headquarters), it was Lexington's turn to repay the love. About 80 people showed up to listen to 18 performers, either live or on video (one video came from St. Petersburg, Russia; another, from Texas) reminisce about Scott and to play some covers of his work.

The walls of HRO served as a photo gallery of Scott, with some wonderful images of him created by several local photographers.

The tribute was organized by Scott's daughter, Lindsay Goins, who worked tirelessly to put this gala together. Tirelessly? It showed. Even though the program lasted more than three hours, it flowed flawlessly, with each artist handing off a share of the program to the next performer.

Including me. I can't sing, I can't dance, I can't play a musical instrument. But when Lindsay asked me if I wanted to be a part of the program, I couldn't say no.

So I wrote a poem. It seemed somehow fitting, because I once read some of my original poetry during an open mic night at HRO. Nearly all of my poems were written more than 40 years ago when I was still in college. But Scott was in the audience, and afterwards, he asked me why I wasn't currently writing poetry, and maybe I should get back into it. A patron of the arts, Scott was always lighting a fire under someone else's muse.

A candid photo of Scott Gibson, by his friend Donnie Roberts (click to enlarge)

So I wrote a poem. It was inspired by this image (above) taken by my friend, Donnie Roberts. The statue, in fact, was also an inspiration for Scott, who wrote a song about the soldier on the square titled "The Watcher."

My poem is called "Elegy for a Troubadour"

I saw you sitting with The Watcher the other day –
Legs crossed, head lowered, lost in thought.
You were earnestly taking notes.
Being the minstrel that you are, I wondered if they were musical notes.
Or soon would be.
I imagined the guitar on your back. I imagined the words you were writing were a poem, soon to be lyrics.
That the poem would become a song, with the guitar picking out minor chords and major themes.
I could see you taking your new song to the people,
wearing your craggy, folksong face; your perfect fedora; your earthy voice telling us the truth as you saw it.
Then it occurred to me:
You were The Watcher.
You were singing about us. You were always singing about us.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Careful what you say

Sometimes you just can't win for losing.

The other day, Kim and I were getting ready to hop in the car and run a few errands.

But my first errand was to take a couple of containers to our recycle bin, which sits up against the fence halfway down our lengthy driveway. As I walked to the bin, Kim waited for me at the end of the driveway.

I got rid of my recyclables, turned, and headed back to the car, which was probably 30-40 yards away.

And there was Kim, waiting patiently.

I just had to stop and look. And admire. There's still no clue that being married to me for 37 years has worn her down. She can make wearing a casual top, sneakers and blue jeans look like a runway fashion statement. Her strawberry blond hair gloriously cascades to her shoulders, seemingly adding youth to her being as opposed to age. Her clear blue eyes still crinkle when she smiles. To me, she's an absolute vision, just as she was when she walked down the aisle all those years ago.

(Here it comes. Wait for it. Waiiit forrrrr iiiit)

I just couldn't contain myself. I was suddenly filled with emotion. I was overflowing with compliments.

"Hey," I said to her loud enough so she could hear.  "You really look good from a distance."


I'm not sure if the very loud noise I heard next was only in my head or not, but what I heard sounded something like the earth screeching to a halt while standing hard on the brakes, like they do at Daytona just before a wreck. I knew I'd stepped in it before I finished the last syllable in "distance."

I couldn't think of anything fast enough to recover, so I simply smiled. It was probably an exaggerated smile. Not sure it helped. Maybe, though.

But there was no retreat from this. If I took it back, was I also taking back how good she looks? "Hey, I didn't mean that," doesn't quite work here.

So I steeled myself for her response. It was gentle. "Back at you," she said with a wry smile.

OK, I think I just dodged a missile. The earth put itself back in gear. Rotation was imminent. Kim just revealed to me another dimension (as she often has to in my case) of her inner beauty.

She looks pretty good up close, too.