Sunday, February 26, 2012

Accidental neighbor

There's nothing that erodes the confidence of your driving skills more than having an accident. Even a little one.

The other day my wife and I, along with her brother and his wife, were planning to change out a bedroom suit with another, plus bring a second one to our house from another location.

To do this,  I asked a friend if I could borrow her van. It's not just any van, but a Chevy Express. This is an oversized vehicle, larger than a Suburban, but it fit our needs perfectly.

So we began moving. After we moved to our present location nearly nine years ago, I resolved that I'd never lift another piece of furniture again in my life, but clearly, I couldn't make that resolution to myself last 10 years.

The job took five hours. But at the end of the day, it was mission accomplished. All I had to do was put some gas in the van and return it to my friend.

I hardly got out of my driveway. I looked both ways to make sure nothing was coming down our residential street, then slowly backed out into the road. I'd just about stopped when the vehicle suddenly halted itself. There was a muffled, metallic, sickening noise.

Oh no.

I'd backed into a little Chevy Cobalt parked across the street at my neighbor's house. I'd never seen it. I'd made several trips in the van during the day without incident, but now, tired and eager to enjoy myself at the end of an exhausting afternoon, this.

I pulled back into my driveway, got out, told my wife — who was getting ready to follow me in our car — that I thought I just backed into that car across the street.

I went over to the Cobalt and checked for damage. There was a little paint scraped off the fender above the wheel, but that was about it. Wow. I might get lucky here with minimal damage. Even better, there was no damage that I could see to the van.

Just then my neighbor and his friend — who's car I hit — came outside. They stopped at the sidewalk side of the car and stared. What? I came over.

Oh no.

Unbelievably, the accident took the tire completely off the wheel.
Apparently, the Express, with even just a minimum of momen-tum, pushed the Cobalt up against the curb, taking the tire completely off the wheel. An Express going up against a Cobalt. It might as well have been an Abrams tank going up against a bicycle.

You've got to be kidding me.

So I said we should call the police. At this point, there are four of us hovering around the car. Within minutes, the police arrive. In two police cars. One with the blue lights on. Another neighbor comes out of her house. "What happened?" she asked. This will be the first of at least 100 times in the next 24 hours that I tell the story of "What happened."

Soon, neighborhood kids are popping up like curious crocuses because police cars are here with their blue lights on. I think I see another neighbor or two standing on their front porch gazing at the scene. Great. I'm 5-foot-7 and feel like I'm 3-foot-8 — and shrinking. I'd like to shrink to invisibility, but I never quite learned what would now be a totally useful skill.

I give my statement, sign what I have to sign, exchange phone numbers. I apologize profusely, probably to the point of ad nauseum. I know I was feeling a little ill. But everybody is pleasantly civil and they tell me not to worry about it. It was an accident: That's why they're called "accidents." Nobody goes out and has a "purpose." Well, not usually, I guess.

A few days later we learn there was an estimate of less than $1000 for the damage. It could have been a lot worse.

But my feelings, and my pride, are still hurt. I wonder about my driving skills now. I'm 61, and those skills aren't going to get any sharper. This is my third lifetime accident committed by me, all of them while backing up.

I guess it's my reverse curse.

Sunday, February 19, 2012


I guess this only happens to athletes whose performance over a certain span of games becomes unbelievable.

They somehow become revered as a part of speech.

Two examples, given to us almost back-to-back, come quickly to mind. Denver quarterback Tim Tebow brought us some serious genuflection with "Tebowing" after he carried the Broncos into the playoffs following a stretch of incredible and unlikely last minute finishes for an average team.

Now we have "Linning," brought to us by Jeremy Lin, a journeyman point guard for the New York Knicks, who suddenly elevated his game when he was quickly inserted into the lineup when two other regulars could not play. The woeful Knicks recently went on a 7-game winning streak with him showing the way.

I'm not sure what I have to do to become a part of speech, or why this phenomenon appears to apply only to athletes.

I'm pretty sure my last name doesn't lend itself to being a catchy verb phrase or to general gerund usage. Wehrle (pronounced 'Whirly') doesn't roll off the tongue with any particular flourish or symmetry. I have told people, on occasion, that they've been "Whirlied" after I've written stories about them for The Dispatch, but in truth being Whirlied sounds kind of offensive and maybe a little too personal in an unappropriate way, so forget that.

A lot of people seem to think they've reached a critical level of originality when they call me "Whirlybird," like I'm a helicopter or something. I've heard that one a million times over the past 61 years and don't think twice about it anymore. I just politely smile as though I'm hearing Whirlybird for the first time and move on when somebody calls me that. Sometimes I run.

Back in my youth, I was called "Little Squirrel" by a grown neighbor back in Pennsylvania. That's because dad, who was his good friend, was Squirrel, which I think was a contraction of Squirrely, which, of course, rhymes with Wehrle. I always liked being called Little Squirrel and I think I still would. But the nickname was lost when we moved away to New Hampshire. I couldn't introduce myself to new friends as Little Squirrel — it's unconstitutional to give yourself a nickname. "Hi, I'm Bruce. But you can call me Little Squirrel." That just doesn't fly.

We do have a Wehrle-bird at our house, though.

This sparrow has been Wehrle-birding it at our house for several months.
There's a sparrow that has taken cover in a corner of our front porch for the winter. He nestles into the crook on top of the pillar, seeking protection from the windy nights, and he has done this without fail, for nearly three months. I guess we are his winter home.

Which I guess means if we take in strays or otherwise offer others solace and protection from the elements, we are Wehrle-birding. Who knew?

Yeah, OK. Wehrle-birding. I can live with that. I wonder what Squirrel would say?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The sands of time...

Sometimes you get an epiphany at unlikely moments.

My wife and I were watching television, comfortably huddling together in our toasty little den on another brooding February evening, when out of the blue she says, "You know, we probably only have about 10 more good years left together."

Pow. Epiphany. Right between the eyes.

This one came just days before our consecutive birthdays. She turns 52 today. I turn 61 tomorrow. So maybe she came by her eye-opening revelation honestly.

In truth, she might be right.

"Think about it," she said. "When you get into your 70s, it's all downhill. Stuff starts happening to you. Just look at all our friends who are in their 70s."


In actuality, this thought has been bobbing on the surface of my mind for several years, off an on, like a cork in a stream. While I am in reasonably good health right now, nothing is guaranteed. We discovered that I have atrial fibrillation in my heart, apparently resistant to conversion, which leaves me somewhat vulnerable to a stroke. Cancer took both my parents at the age I am now. You just never know.

I'm hoping I can bang out another 10 years, at least, and maybe 15, which gets me close to the national American average of 78.1 years. It would be nice if I could die healthy so as not to become a lingering burden to my wife. She was an exceptional caregiver to her elderly parents in their final years and I just don't want to put her through that again.  So if I woke up dead one day, at 78, that would be perfect.

There are several variables coming into play in those 10 good years. We hope to do a little traveling. There are still a few things we'd like to do to our house. Friends still to be made, sights still to be seen, foods still to be eaten.

I guess I can wait another 10 years for my next epiphany.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

One year ago...

This week marks an anniversary of sorts.

Last February 8 I created and wrote my first blog entry. Woohoo.

I had no clue what I was getting into. Not that it's a bother. I just like to write. I get enjoyment out of tapping on the keyboard and seeing what happens. Half the time I don't know what is going to pop up on the blank file page until I actually bang out something.

I have two platforms. This one (Blogspot) and a link to The Dispatch (WordPress), which is where I worked for 30 years before I retired in 2006. I create my posts on Blogspot, then cut and paste it on the WordPress site. Both blogs are actually one and the same.

According to the statistics that Blogspot keeps internally, I average about 20-30 readers per each posting, which I promote on my Facebook page (Listen to me: Blogspot, Facebook ... I don't know what's got into me). By announcing each new posting on Facebook, I alert my 115 friends to duck and cover because another entry is online.

So far, for the year, I've had about 3,200 pageviews on Blogspot. That comes out to about nine views per day. It sounds low, but I'll take it, given that I've had exactly zero expectations for this blog in the first place.

The most read entry is one I wrote during my series on the Lexington City Cemetery last March — "Walking Through History — Part II." This entry was about the grave site of former Lexington mayor Harry Anderson, and to date, it has received 175 pageviews. Most of those — about 160, I guess — came in the first few hours after it was posted. It was stunning to see as the pageviews increased with almost every passing minute. "Look at this," I shouted to my wife as the numbers rose. "The computer is going crazy!"

My second most-read blog is a poem I wrote to my wife for her birthday. I don't know why this has taken off. I wrote the poem because, after 30 years of marriage, my wife pointed out to me that I'd never written her a poem, although I've dashed off lines for other projects or simply for my own self-expression.

At any rate, the original poem generated the usual 20-30 pageviews, but curiously, has now grown to 160 views over the course of the year. I don't know what's going on there. Somebody is still reading it almost a year later. I don't get it.

Well, I guess it could be Kim who's reading it.

I don't have access to the stats as they appear on WordPress. Whenever I get curious, I ask Dispatch photographer Donnie Roberts to search the stats for me. This takes a little bit of keyboard time with a little bit of twisting and turning through the computer, so I don't ask him to do this often.

But The Dispatch gives me a wider readership. A recent entry I wrote about the passing of my father-in-law, Charles Martin, who operated the iconic Martin's News Stand in town, generated between 90-100 pageviews for several days in a row. That was satisfying.

I've been at this for a year now. I'm still not sure I know what I'm doing, except that I'm having fun with this.

Guess I'll try it for another year.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Steppin' out, steppin' up

I had my doubts.

I mean, I don't even watch the real Dancing With the Stars when it's on television, so why would I care anything about Dancing With the Potential Stars, a fundraiser for the Lexington City Schools Project Potential program, at the Edward C. Smith Civic Center this past Sunday?

Well, sure. We all know Mac Parrott is a hoot, and while we appreciate that Lee Mabe can sing, does he know how to dance? I mean, really?

But my wife wanted to go, so we bought tickets. What the heck. There was no NFL football on this Sunday. So we went.

Right off, before the show even began, executive director Cathy Coles announced that the online voting for the contestants had quadrupled their own expectations, bringing in a whopping $17,000.

Then the fun started. Most of the male dancers in the show looked hesitant about their moves, like they had to think about it before actually executing a step. Heck, that's how I learned how to shag. I always think about where my feet go before I put them where they're supposed to be, and as a result, I'm usually two steps behind the beat.

Couple after couple went through their three-minute routines in the packed Civic Center, each couple as entertaining as the other, each couple bringing a smile or a laugh.

But something totally unexpected happened when Mayor Newell Clark and his wife, Jennifer, took the stage. Hizzoner was dressed in a tuxedo, his wife in a red gown. The music cued up to "What a Wonderful World" and the Clarks then glided into a graceful waltz.

After a moment, the Clarks twirled their way to a darkened stage left, where Jennifer parted with Newell to be replaced by ... Ann Easter, Newell's mother! Wow! Nice touch. Never saw that one coming. Mother and son danced for a moment before heading to stage right, where Ann gave way to ... Edna Lanier, Newell's nonagenarian (soon to be 96) grandmother! Oh my God! A palpable "Awwww" rose from the audience as Newell and Edna swayed in place to the music. Eyes moistened. Throats verklemped. What could possibly top that?

We didn't have to wait long to see. Newell then headed back to center stage, alone, and dropped to one knee, faced stage left with his arms extended ... as 4-year-old daughter Eleanor, in full tutu, ran out to meet him, and they danced.

Well, that did it. The place became one giant tear. Four generations. Are you kidding me?

Emcee Lee Jessup probably spoke for most of us when he said, through his exaggerated crocodile tears, "I thought that was going to be cheesy, but it whuddn't. It was beautiful." Then he dabbed his eyes with the on-stage curtain. Most of us were dabbing our eyes, too. We had reached our emotional zenith for the night, maybe even for the week.

Later, Clark said that Edna had not been to the dress rehearsal practice, so her appearance was pretty much unexpected.

"Jennifer and I had a couple of 30 minute rehearsals with Kelly Greathouse and one rehearsal with Edna, my mom (Ann) and Eleanor and one dress rehearsal at the Civic Center Saturday night with the cast," said Clark.

While Greathouse laid out the choreography, the whole idea for the routine came from Mickey Sharpe, an interior designer who is involved with the arts.

"Due to the fact that my schedule is very busy, he (Sharpe) thought if we broke it down into smaller pieces it would work for my schedule and Jennifer's schedule," said Clark.

There was a contingency plan just in case Eleanor opted not to run on stage.

"The backup plan if Eleanor did not come out was Jennifer picking her up and dancing onto the stage with her and the three of us doing a waltz (at home we call it a group hug)," said Clark. "However, at rehearsal she shot out and we knew that it would not be a problem for her. She loved it and was telling everyone backstage that she was 'about to go on stage.'"

In the end, the show netted about $20,000 for Project Potential, about twice what the organizers had hoped for. It was an incredible night all the way around.

What a Wonderful World, indeed.