Sunday, July 31, 2011

What, are you nuts or sumptin'?

I told myself that I wasn't going to do this.

I was not going to play golf this summer when the temperature was in the 90s or higher. I used to do that when I was younger and dumber, but not anymore. Not since I'm a wise old graybeard now.

As things turn out, being in the 90s is how hot it's been most of the summer, or so it seems. Even the evenings have been unbearable. Everything seems to have slowed down to molasses time. Everything seems to be like a Salvador Dali painting of melting clocks and watches. I know where he got his inspiration now.

Anyway, Wednesday night I got an unexpected phone call from my friend Lee.

"Do you want to play golf tomorrow?" he asked.

My brain froze. The question didn't quite register. Golf? Tomorrow? Didn't I just hear it was supposed to be like 98 degrees?

"Isn't it supposed to be like 98 degrees?" I asked, repeating what my mind was telling me because when it's this hot, it's too much work to think. I was beginning to annoy myself.

"Don't worry," said Lee. "We'll tee off early and beat the heat."

Well, that's different.

"OK," I said. "See you in the morning."

What, am I nuts or something?

Understand that I love to play golf. I even thought that when I retired, I'd be playing golf all the time, but the reality is that it just hasn't happened. The last time I played golf was with Lee — last year. Almost to the day.

So I was kind of looking forward to this. And dreading it. What if I can't hit the ball anymore?

I got to the course by 8:30, unloaded my clubs and met the other guys in our foursome. I took a couple of practice swings to limber up — my first swings with a club in nearly a year — and then teed off. Amazingly, I kept the ball in the fairway, maybe 200 yards. Ended up with a bogey, which I'll take every time.

But I was already drenched in sweat.

"Well," I said to nobody in particular. "One down. Only 17 more to go."

We got through the round in decent shape. We all drank plenty of water, and I wore my wide-brimmed straw hat to cover my bald head. One of the odd things about this round was that I actually played pretty well despite my sabbatical from the game. This is a phenomenon I've noticed before. If I let a certain length of time go by between rounds — say a couple months or so — I seem to play well when I do go back out on the course again.

We played a kind of match play, so Lee and I — two righties — defeated the two other guys, both lefties — one up. We had them dormie by the 15th hole. I even sank a 20-foot putt for birdie at one point.

It took us just a little more than four hours to play the round. It was 79 degrees when we first teed off, and 94 degrees when we ended.

"That was fun," I said as we shook hands, hoping I'd never have to do this again. Maybe we can do this again in three months. It'll be October then.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Plaids and stripes forever

My wife and I were driving home from running some errand the other day when she suddenly blurted out, "Wow. Lookit that."

She was pointing to an elderly gentleman (at least, I think he was elderly. He could have been wallowing in that appropriately gray area between middle age and elderlyness) on the sidewalk who was wearing stylish plaid shorts, which he had keenly accented with a vertically striped shirt.

In the lexicon of my computer, OMG.

I've got to tread lightly here. My intention is not to make fun of this individual. I don't know his circumstances. I, myself, usually don't go to great lengths to achieve anything resembling Gentlemen's Quarterly. I'm perfectly content to wear my T-shirts untucked. Occasionally, I wear socks (albeit footies) with my Crocs. I can be so uncool.

But, jeez, plaid on stripes? If it's true that clothes make the man, then what man makes that decision in the morning? Is there no partner for him to turn for advice? Good Lord, is there no mirror?

But it got me to thinking — there for the grace of God... I mean, will there be a point in my life when a synapse in my brain misfires and plaid with stripes is suddenly the meaning-of-life answer for which I've been searching?

There's a close derivative to this dress code. If the time comes when plaid or madras shorts makes perfect sense to me, then what color should my knee socks be? White? Black? I guess it all depends on my sandals.

I've actually seen this sartorial statement on my early morning walks. There's a gentleman (there's always a gentleman) on the walking trail who wears baggy black shorts that reach down to the top of his knees. That's complemented by the white knee socks that rise up and leave his only his patellas exposed and not much else.

My question is, what's the point of wearing shorts and knee socks if you're basically covering everything else anyway? Especially on a sweltering summer day. Where is the comfort factor?

I have to hit the pause button here for a moment. The issue of shorts — and buying them — can get me riled. While I enjoy my cache of cargo shorts, I'm finding it more and more difficult to find men's shorts that are cut above the knee. Shorts that drop to mid-calf seem to defeat the purpose, and I'm not really into the gangsta rapper look anyway. Maybe Old Navy is not for me.

I seem to be noticing a phenomenon where men's shorts are getting longer (big issue with me, plus, I'm showing my age) while women's shorts seemingly are getting shorter (no complaint here, plus, that's an ageless expectation).

I blame the men's thing on Michael Jordan. I think the long, baggy shorts date back to his basketball days when he would catch his breath on the foul line and stretching his shorts legs to his knees. Be like Mike took over when I still wanted to be like me. Who saw that coming?

Anyway, I have to wonder if I'm approaching a time in my life when women will point at me and say "Lookit that." I might be the one wearing the plaid shorts with the paisley shirt.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's friggin' hot

One of the attractions of North Carolina for me, 35 years ago, was that it was located in a marginally warmer climate than the one I was living in in eastern Pennsylvania.

I'm sure I thought that thought during the winter months. Be that as it may, I found a job in the Tar Heel state and moved south for keeps. I was clearly a carpet-bagging Damn Yankee, as I've been told. Repeatedly. I married a local girl. I stole the silverware.

I was 25 years old when I made that momentous move and, presumably, I became acclimated to the local weather over the ensuing years. Yes, it was mild in the winters. But it was also incredibly hot and humid in the summers.

It's nuts when it's 80 degrees at 6 a.m.
But never mind. I adapted. I regularly played church-league softball in the heat of July ( I wore "00" on my shirt, a number, I think, reserved exclusively for Yankees) back in those days. I actually thought I was having fun.

Then I discovered golf. I played for years, and could hardly wait for summers to arrive because, when the temperature climbed into the 90s, I virtually had the entire course to myself. It was great. I'd walk the course, carrying my bag over my sweaty back, happily climbing hills, fording streams, chasing my GPS-guided hooks and slices into poison-ivied woods. Life was good.

It's a wonder I survived, looking back on it. I wonder how close — and how many times — I came to heat stroke?

I don't play golf in bake ovens anymore (or if I do, I ride in a golf cart), and this might be a reluctant concession to my age (60). I'm constantly being warned to stay indoors and slow down when the heat index rises. But I use this information selectively. If the grass needs mowing, say, I'll gladly stay indoors instead. Otherwise, I'll still chance the heat if I have an excuse to be outside.

For example, I still go for my walks early in the morning. This might seem like a good time to go in the middle of an oppressive heat wave, but I have to tell you, it's still ridiculous, even at 5:30 a.m. I usually wear sweat pants and a short-sleeved sweat shirt (why is it so difficult to find short-sleeved sweat shirts these days?), but it can get to 80 degrees by 6 a.m. That's nuts.

At home, I try to keep the thermostat from bankrupting us. I have it set around 77, which is about five degrees higher than I'd like. But it's manageable, if not comfortable. It just requires more adapting, I guess.

In the end, there's not much any of us an do about the heat except endure. Or complain.

Stay cool.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Epicureans in the family

Sunday saw our annual family reunion up in Yadkinville.

By way of preface, let me point out that this is my wife's extended family, a curious collection of aunts, uncles and cousins, most of whom we get to see only once a year. It's always held in July, which means it's usually the hottest day of the year. Consequently — and traditionally —  we gather in the cool basement of the host cousin, cramming about 30-40 of us around the furnace, water heater, insulated plumbing and crowded shelves of canned tomatoes and other assorted pickled vegetables, not to mention all the stored Christmas ornaments.

Nobody seems to have considered holding this thing in September or October.

We don't have a Wehrle family reunion since most of us Wehrles are dead. And if we did have a reunion with those few Wehrles still breathing, it would require traveling vast distances. I have one brother in Iowa and another in Alaska, and while I'd love to reunite with them (it's been years since we've seen each other), I don't know if traveling these great distances justifies the bringing of a banana pudding or a potato salad. Although Kim does make a wonderfully delicious hash brown casserole. Better even than Cracker Barrel, I think.

I kind of look forward to Kim's family, though. These are mostly solid, down-to-earth tobacco/soy bean farmers who wear their Roaring River sensibilities on their sleeves. They mangle the King's English when they ease into their southern idioms and inflections, yet one of them is a published author, another earns his benefits from Duke Power and still others successfully compete in an increasingly digital and mainframe world. Furthermore, I think they all can draw a genetic connection to Junior Johnson, a foothills country boy if ever there was one but someone you'd best never underestimate. So this is my wife's family.

But the main point of this reunion, no matter what anybody says, is the food. The fellowship is secondary.

There is some superb cooking going on here, which I think dates back to ancient family recipes. As the bloodlines arrive individually or in family units, the food gradually accumulates on the serving table. Some put great effort into this, bringing several tempting items. The single guys usually bring the obligatory bucket of KFC or Bojangles, but that's OK, too. It gets et, as they say.

One of the cousins makes the best lemonade I've ever had. Not too sweet, not too tart. It's the only time of the year I drink lemonade. I gladly drive an hour to Yadkinville for a sip of that holy nectar.

Some of the outdoors guys bring venison, prepared either as steaks, burgers or as a barbecue. This year, though, we didn't see any. That doesn't mean we didn't have any, though. Kim and I carefully try to avoid the brown meats, but you never know.

Invariably, the conversation did turn to gamesmanship, so to speak.

"Did you ever have rabbit?" popped one question from out of the basement ozone.

"A long time ago. Did you ever have squirrel?" came the reply. I could see this was becoming one-upmanship gamesmanship.

I was standing off to the side, near the furnace, my ears cocking back and forth like a cat's trying to take in the exchange and hoping not to miss any of it. At my age, that's not a sure thing anymore.

"Yeah, Aunt Elsie used to cook squirrel all the time. She used to put it in a pie and it was gooood."

I glanced at this year's serving table with a skeptical eye. Then it came, inexorably, like an 18-wheeler out of the morning fog:

"Did you ever eat a ground hog?"

Oh my god. This is one question I never though I'd hear in my entire life. I thought that after I heard the question. Then one of the cousins replied:

"You know, there been times when I've been real hungry, but I don't believe I've ever been hungry enough to eat a ground hog."

Amen to that, brother.

"Did anybody see the mud turtle in the road coming up here," came another question. Now we're into road kill, I thought. "It was about the size of a cowboy hat. Don't know where it was going."

Whew. Not road kill yet. But that didn't stop the obvious next question:

"Did you ever have turtle?"

"I did, onct. Turtle is purty greezy, you know."

Purty sure I didn't know that. I suspect turtle is considered a delicacy in certain parts of the world and perhaps even a staple in others. The thing is, this entire conversation occurred before the blessing. Grace was said, I stepped in line at the serving table, spooning out for myself some mac and cheese, hash brown casserole, potato salad and chicken pie.

At least, I thought it was chicken pie.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Animal name game

While walking with a friend early this morning, he mentioned to me that he had once seen a poster that described how multitudes of animals are grouped.

"You know," he clarified, "like a covey of quail or a herd of cattle. It was really a neat poster. There was one for ravens that was really unique, too. Umm, I can't think of what they were called now. Wait a minute, it'll come to me. Umm. Umm."

Well, great. He never did think of it, which suddenly created this huge information void in my life. I had to know what a collection of ravens was called, and I was pretty sure it wasn't a poe of ravens. So when I got home, I hurried to my computer, where I googled "A covey of quail" and was presented with this site (see here), apparently sponsored by the United States Geological Survey, which somehow lends it a measure of credence.

It was awesome.

I quickly found out that a group of ravens was called an "Unkindness of ravens." Whoa. Who thought of that one? So I googled that and mostly found any number of bands that named themselves that. Or maybe it's the same band, I don't know. I'm still stuck on the Beatles. But I couldn't find the derivation of those unkind ravens.

Anyway, back to the chart, which really piqued my interest. Mostly, it's knowledge I'll never need, like algebra or calculus. But I was fascinated by some of the groupings nonetheless.

Like a "pace of asses", which sounds to me a whole lot like a collection of congressmen, also incorporating in the description the speed at which they move toward making legislation. "A tower of giraffes" seems logical enough, as does "a bloat of hippopotamuses" and "a crash of rhinosceroses."

"A murder of crows" puts me on edge, though.

Some bring a nice sense of alliteration, like "a cover of coots" or "a clowder of cats."

I suspect a bunch of old guys could be "a dementia of old coots."

Others are just illogical. Wouldn't "an army of herring" be better served if it were "a navy of herring?" Or "a fleet of herring?"

Some are simply wonderful. "A parliament of owls?" "An exaltation of larks?" "A convocation of eagles"? Although, I must say, I'd prefer "A regal of eagles."

This could go on, of course. But I don't want to be mistaken for a pace of... Never mind.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Gettysburg cluster bomb

Every summer for the past 21 years I've taken a week off to go to the Civil War Institute, held annually — and certainly most appropriately — on the campus of Gettysburg College.

I make the long journey with my friend, Chris, and when we arrive, we meet up with Richard, who is from Pennsylvania, and Paul, who is from Arkansas. We are dormitory roommates for the week (our tuition provides us with a room and three square meals for the length of the seminar), and have been for all those 21 years. It's great fun. I like to call it Boys Week Out.

One of the things the four of us have done the past decade or so is to hire out one of our favorite Gettysburg Licensed Battlefield Guides, Charlie Fennel. We pick a portion of the battlefield that we want to focus on and Charlie, armed with his books, maps and PhD, gives us incredible insights and minutiae about the battle for the next two hours or so, right there on the field. It can get pretty intense and pretty involved. And for Civil War buffs like us, it's a little slice of heaven on earth.

Anyway, this year Charlie suggested we go to the north slope of Little Round Top to explore a very close breakthrough of the Union lines by a Confederate brigade under William Wofford during the second day of the three-day battle. We were having lunch at the Lincoln Diner, and Charlie, who would drive his own car, said to meet him "at the four-way on the Wheatfield Road."

What is important to understand next is that between the Four of Us roommates, we've probably covered every square inch of the massive battlefield over the years. We know where stuff is located. You can drop us blindfolded onto any portion of the field, lift the veil, and we'd know immediately where we are.

Except on this day, when we all suffered from a collective brain freeze.

The critical mistake is that we didn't follow Charlie out in our car. But, you know, we knew where we were going and it didn't matter when we got separated in the short five-mile drive. So when we got to the foot of Little Round Top, at a four-way, we parked the car and got out. Only no Charlie. We didn't even know what Charlie was driving.

Chris said he had Charlie's number, so he called, only to discover that it was Charlie's home phone and consequently he ended up talking to Charlie's wife. Oops. Excuse me.

We recalled Charlie saying something about the wheatfield, so Richard, in an effort to locate our guide, took off on his own, heading to Devil's Den presumably to get to the wheatfield — probably about a mile's walk. Chris shortly took off in pursuit of Richard, I think thinking that Richard actually might be on a fool's errand and to bring him back.

I stayed back with Paul. We headed to the car, all the while Paul rewinding in his mind what Charlie had said and where he wanted us to meet. Suddenly, it occurred to Paul where we were supposed to be. We drove across Little Round Top to the north side, at the four-way there, and there we saw Charlie marching up the hill.

The troops were finally converging.

Paul said he would go find Chris and Richard, so he broke off. Now the Four of Us were scattered across the field. "You've got your cell phone, right?" Paul asked me before he left. "Yep," I said, and he drove away.

Charlie and I walked over to where he would start the tour. I reached in my pocket. No cell phone. "Nuts," I turned to Charlie. "My phone's back at the dorm recharging." Charlie chuckled as one cluster bomb after another in this mess seemed to keep falling on us.

In the end, though, we all found each other. I thought Charlie's tour, starting about 40 minutes late, ended up being one of the best he's ever given us. And I'm sure we'll certainly remember our object lesson in battlefield communications and advanced planning.