Sunday, January 27, 2013

The TV generation

About a month ago, a salesman from Time Warner came to our house and tried to convince me to drop Windstream and sign up with TWC.

No, it's not The Weather Channel. It's Time Warner Cable.

It took me all of about five seconds to decide, even though he spent nearly two hours at our house explaining the benefits of switching over. I guess the other hour and 59 minutes and 55 seconds were me just being polite to a guy trying to make a living while he's sitting on my living room sofa.

He had me when he told me that I'd get about a bazillion new channels for the price I was paying for my current Windstream bill. This also included the triple play of digital telephone and Internet to go along with the cable service. Plus, because this was part of a new customer sign-up campaign, I'd qualify for $150 gift card to Best Buy, which means I can finally get that Kindle HD for which I've been lusting after in just a few more months.

Anyway, I love television. I freely admit that, despite the fact that there's a lot of stuff on the tube that's absolutely worthless. Hey, I'm a child of the '50s. Television and I grew up together. When my time on Earth ends, I'm pretty sure I'll expire in front of a TV. I just hope it's not in the middle of something that's going to be continued next week. That would hack me off.

Right now, I'm inundated with premium movie channels: HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, The Movie Channel, Starz, not to mention a passel of sports channels, news channels, a couple of history channels and, OMG, the Military Channel. I love the Military Channel, especially since I'm a Civil War and World War II buff. Because of my buffness, I know where places like Cold Harbor, the Coaling, Missionary Ridge, Coral Sea, Rabul, Port Moresby, Sainte Mere Eglise and Pointe du Hoc are located. I'm a wealth of pointless geographical information ranging anywhere from 65 to 150 years past relevance. But when those places jump out of the history book and show up on TV, I can say, "I know where that is." I've actually been to a few of them.

 But the key here has been the movie channels, and the nifty DVR thingy that lets me get flicks on demand, pause them, rewind them, record them. I have nearly as much fun with my remote control now than I do playing golf, and that's saying something.

I've been on a serious movie blitz the past month. Part of that is me trying to keep up with the Oscars, and who's been nominated for what. So recently we've seen "Lincoln" and "Silver Linings Playbook" on the big screen. "Argo" is next, I think.

But thanks to TWC, I've seen "The Descendants", "The Help", "Bridesmaids" and one or two others in the past couple weeks that have really surprised me. "The Help", in fact, inspired me to check out the book from the public library (I don't get my Kindle until after March). I'm reading it now. Author Kathryn Stockett may not be Harper Lee, but she can still spin a riveting tale.

At any rate, it's been like date night at our house lately. Kim now asks me, with some expectation, which movie are we watching tonight.

I just hope she doesn't mind watching "That Thing You Do!", Tom Hanks' delightful tribute to the music of the '60s with its catchy Beatle-esque title song, for the 33rd time in 10 weeks.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Trying to stay warm

A friend of mine mentioned the other day he finds that as he gets older — he's 60-ish, like me — his tolerance for cold, nasty weather diminishes.

As far as I'm concerned, a greater truth was never spoken.

We're already a month into winter, and the really cold days, I suspect, are ahead of us. Right now, we've been dealing with daytime temperatures in the 40s and 50s, with the nighttime mercury dipping into the 20s or 30s. Subtract 10 wind-chilled degrees from those averages on days when the wind is blowing, even if it's just a breeze. Wind penetrates to my 60-year-old bones.

So in my house, at least, it's a raging battle between the thermostat and the utility bill. We walk a fine line between freezing our tails off while trying to stay marginally comfortable while trying to stay marginally solvent.

This is how we do it:

1) We have our utility bill averaged out so that we know how much we're paying each month without any surprises or hits to the wallet. Since we know how much we are paying each month, we've set the thermostat in our 1,700-square foot, nearly 100-year-old house at 65 degrees, figuring at that temperature we can prevent icicles from forming on our noses and still function.

2) To help keep the gas furnace from cutting on every five minutes, we've closed off several unused rooms in the house.

3) To warm the two rooms that we do use — the den (where the TV is) and the bedroom — we use energy efficient electric space heaters. Our den, in fact, is fairly small, and we can close it off with French doors. So the space heater there gets the room toasty in no time.

4) We also throw a comforter over us while we sit on the love seat watching TV. We can use snuggling as an option.

5) I've discovered Under Armour and I wear mine constantly under my outer clothing. The stuff uses a moisture-wicking synthetic fiber and is very effective.

6) Sipping drinks of the adult persuasion.

7) We cap it all off with a cat between us when it really gets cold. Fortunately, the cat is usually agreeable to this. (I think this is because the cat is nearly 12 years old, which translates to something like 66 in human years. So she's where I am now. She understands.)

8) It's pretty much the same procedure in the bedroom. We have an electric space heater that oscillates, we have a comforter over the bed, the cat usually joins us there (sometimes she goes under the covers and curls up at our feet), and snuggling is always an option.

Apparently, all of this works. Granted, last winter was significantly mild. Nevertheless, when it came time to square off our utility bill in June, the city actually owed us hundreds of dollars. And it brought our monthly average down for this year. Insert smiley face here.

We still may not be done. My wife, Kim, saw an ad in the paper where a local retailer overstocked on electric blankets and is offering them at a discount. Hmm.

Summer will be here before we know it. In an era of global warming, the trick will be to see how we can stay cool. Right now, the only thing I can think of is removing layers of clothing to compensate for the heat.

And that's not a pretty sight.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Gridlock solution

Well, just how close did you come to falling off the fiscal cliff?

By that I mean just how ticked off were you that Congress took until after its self-imposed Dec. 31 deadline to reach a pseudo agreement on tax increases and spending cuts when, in truth, this entire sorry exercise probably could have been settled months earlier.

This circus was the latest episode of governmental gridlock in a partisan-driven Congress that can't seem to get much of anything done. Consequently, our national legislators have an approval rating of something like 18 percent.

That high, huh? It kind of makes you wonder who those approving 18 percent are, and what are they thinking?

Anyway, it's clear that gridlock is the problem. I think I have the answer.

Wine. Beer. Whiskey.

For the legislators, I mean. (Well, maybe for me, too, considering the pace of this government)

The current bouts of gridlock made me wonder if this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they framed the Constitution. Of course, there was gridlock back then, too — even among the 55 delegates while drafting the Constitution.

(I once heard in a movie a description of the Founding Fathers as "white, rich, chauvinistic slave owners who didn't want to pay their taxes." The movie was meant to be a comedy but it's hard to deny the truth of that description — all the delegates were white males; all but two of the delegates were wealthy landowners; it took until the 19th Amendment in 1920 before women could vote, and 25 of the 55 delegates were slave owners. Plus, it required a costly civil war to end slavery in a constitution that allowed it without naming it. Cowards.)

Nevertheless, the delegates managed to compromise their differences, which seems to be a lost art these days. I wondered how that was possible until I realized that they — the delegates — were probably soused most of the time. They started their mornings with low alcohol "small beers" and worked their way through each day with supplemental Madeiras, ports, porters, sherries, ciders, whiskeys and ales.

Sometimes alcohol was consumed during the convention itself (possibly because the water was so foul). And yet, despite all this imbibing, it took the delegates just a little over four months to replace the Articles of Confederation with the Constitution. That's less time than the current Congress had to settle the fiscal cliff.

There's plenty of documentation about the drinking habits of the Founding Fathers (see here for one example, but there are countless other citations to be found in Google), who ultimately produced a brilliant form of government that we hold in grateful high esteem. So, based on this working model, wouldn't it seem logical to send your congressman a bottle of Chablis along with your next letter of pique about his performance? Or maybe a six-pack of Leinenkugel's to make him more comfortable and therefore more compromising during debates? Or maybe even some Cordials to make him more cordial? A bill for a draught while he's drafting a bill? Sheesh.

Of course, under today's media microscope, any legislator caught popping a cork or a beer tab that isn't a legitimate photo op is liable for censure. Plus, there were no cars back then, and therefore no DUI arrests. Not too many horse wrecks, I guess. So maybe the answer lies somewhere else.

Or not. Maybe it's worth a try anyway.