Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Monday, March 24, 2003

And you thought those commercials were annoying….


Posted by Rich
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Saturday, March 22, 2003

Rubber Hoses and Shop Vacs…It must be Friday Night at the Hailey House!

Yep, things can get pretty freaky here on the weekends. It's Friday night and daddy is ready to play!

Yeah, right.

I got into the shower this morning and turned on the water, bleary-eyed after staying up until 3 again, watching the war. I started washing, and after a couple of minutes realized the soap just wasn't lathering up like I expected it to. I rubbd a little harder, tried this and that, switched hands, but to no avail; it just wouldn't lather. Then I noticed that neither the soap nor I were getting wet.

Like I said, I was tired.

I looked at the shower head, and this pathetic little drizzle of water was trickling out of the showerhead. Yippee. It wasn't a complete surprise; I had noticed that the hot water was really no more than luke warm over the last few days, so I knew the water heater was feeling lonely, and wanted a little personal attention, but something must have gone seriously wrong to kill my water pressure.

So being the resourceful (broke) guy I am, I decided instead of calling a plumber, I'd fix the problem myself. I hooked up a hose to the heater drain, and opened the valve. Then I closed the valve and got out the electrical tape and fixed all the holes in the hose put there by my cat (may she rest in peace). I opened the drain valve again, made sure I had good flow, then left for the nearby home improvement warehouse, where I picked up 2 heating elements ($20.00), some teflon tape ($1.95), and headed back to do battle with the water heater.

I got back and checked the hose, and saw that the water heater was drained, so I got to work. When I got into the laundry room, I noticed an unusual smell. This is a normal occurance in my laundry room, so I didn't think too much of it, except that it got stronger as I got closer to the water heater. It was a hot smell, sort of like an old electric train transformer when you've run it too long. It just didn't seem right, so fearing a fire, I searched for the cause.

For future reference, there's a great big sign on the side of the water heater, telling you to disconnect the power before draining, or the elements will overheat.

You might want to pay atention to that sign.

After the heater cooled down a bit, I went to pull the element from the heater. They make a special wrench to pull the elements from the heater, but being the resourceful (broke) kind of guy I am, I figured I could do it with channel lock pliers. 45 minutes and 2 band-aids ($0.15) later, I headed out to my local home improvement warehouse for an element wrench.

I returned home, and once again set out to remove the upper element. I attached the hex shaped metal cylinder ($8.95 plus tax) and tried to loosen the element. It had been in place for 10 years, and was very comfortable there, and really wasn't interested in relocating. I tried to convince the element that it would be much happier in the land fill, where it could see all kinds of new and interesting things instead of staying locked in welded bliss to the water heater. It turned a deaf ear to my attempt, so I turned to gentle persuasion in the form of a three pound sledge hammer. One gentle tap sent the wrench rocketing to the floor, where it ricocheted up into my shin, causing considerable consternation on my part, and expanded my young son's vocabulary a bit more than I intended so early in his life.

I realized that the problem was one of leverage, not force, so I discarded the useless 5 inch handle for the element wrnech and substituted my biggest phillips screwdriver. Bracing my self, I gave a large tug, and the element began to pull free. With each turn, it got easier, until the it shot out, followed by a column of luke warm water.

I get my water from a well, and it's not really hard, but I can't call it soft, either. Minerals in water do a neat thing in a water heater. As the water heats, then cools, the minerals aggregate, then precipitate, which means that calcium chips form in the bottom. In my case, those chips were about 18 inches deep and had sealed off the drain, so the heater was still about half full of water.

I changed clothes, mopped up the mess, and started draining the heater again. I straigtened out a coat hanger ($0.15) and used it to stir up the chips any time flow slowed down. Eventually, the heater was emptied, for sure this time, and I got back to work. The old element was encrusted with calciun, so I threw it away, and went to remove the bottom element. This went much smoother, and the easy part of the job was done.

I checked the bottom of the heater, and it was filled with calcium chips and rocks, so I started scooping them out. This is a really fun job, because you have to work through an inch and a half hole. I used one of the old elements as a scoop, and pulled about a pound of calcium chips out through that hole a teaspoon at a time, when I was struck with an inspiration. I went and got my shop vac to suck out the chips. Unfortunately, the hose was too big to fit through the hole, so I could only get what was right at the hole. I could have run to my local home improvement warehouse again, but being the resourceful (cheap) kind of guy I am, I went and cut a short length of garden hose (which was ok because I don't have a garden) and duct taped it to the vacuum hose.

For once, something worked, and it only took an hour or so to remove 10 pounds of calcium, an old element somebody had left in because it was too crusted with scale to fit through the hole, one sock (don't ask, I have no idea) and two trilobyte fossils through the element hole.

It wasn't pleasant.

Eventually, that was done, and I was ready to install the new elements. I teflon taped the elements, snugged them down, and started refilling the tank. I had to open a couple of hot water valves to allow the tank to vent pressure while it was filling. I knew I had to do this from my Navy Nuclear Power training, which comes in handy every 2 or 3 decades. I plugged in the heater, and went to check my hot water.

Remeber when I said I had no flow in the shower? Well I didn't. Replacing elements does nothing for flow. Just in case you were wondering.

I unplugged the heater, drained it, which went much faster without all the calcium, and removed the elements to check the pipes. I looked through the bottom element hole and saw the cold water inlet pipe completely crusted over with more calcium.

Oh joy.

I disconnected the supply line from the wall, removed the pipe with a pipe wrench, and used my trusty clothes hanger to ream out the line. Unfortunately, the hanger wasn't long enough, so I headed out to my local home improvement warehouse for a plumber's snake ($25.47). I was too tired to be resourceful anymore. I cleaned out about 18 inches of calcium chips from insode the pipe, and closed everything up. Again.

I checked both elements for leaks, then checked voltage. The upper element was fine, but the lower element had no juice. So I went back to my local home improvement warehouse for a lower element thermostat ($8.95) caame home and replaced the unit. Then I read the label on the installation instructions, which said, "Non simultaneous operation." This is a fancy way of saying I just wasted time and money because both elements are not energized at the same time on this water heater.

But, I closed everything up, and checked the water. It flowed freely, and started to get hot. I had visions of my first really hot shower in three days. I knew it would take about an hour for the heater to finish heating the water, so I cleaned up the mess I made, and did a couple more chores.

About 2 hours later, knowing that the water would be hot, I went to take my shower. The hot water lasted about 3 minutes, then turned cold.

My three daughters were going out to a party and a school function, and each had taken a shower, plus done two loads of laundry. They did thank me for fixing the hot water heater, though.

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, March 20, 2003

And we trust these guys to make foreign policy comments?

I was just skimming through an article, and I found something so sick, so twisted and disgusting, so mind bogglingly stupid that I had to share it with the rest of you.

You know how I feel about 'celebrities' using their status to mount the soapbox and weigh in on issues that they really don't understand. Take movie starts for example. I hardly think that a demonstrated proficiency in long form lying (AKA acting) makes one suited for political punditry, although it probably does come in handy when running for office. Yet these folks feel no compunction when foisting their ill considered view on us, as if the thoughts of George Clooney on our military capabilities automatically have merit in the real world just because he played a soldier a couple of times. He played a doctor on TV for a while two; would you let him operate on you?

Yet because of their success on stage or screen, we automatically accord their opinions with some level of respect. This might be barely justifiable if there weren't so many examples bad career decisions by these same starts. I started thinking about this when I found this site

Yep. Somebody in Hollywood thought it would actually be a good idea to make a series out of Tremors. Now I'm sure Fred Ward needed the work, after all, he did do Tremors 2, but even he had enough pride to stay away from this stinker. Why on earth did anybody in show business think this was a good idea? And if they're capable of being so devastatingly wrong about something in which they are supposed to be expert, why should we listen to their blather about things which they obviously know nothing about. Let's look at the 'expert' moves of some of the more prominent anti war celebrities.

  • Ed Asner Just go here. The list is too long
  • Alec Baldwin The Shadow and The Adventures of Pluto Nash

  • Warren Beatty Ishtarand Redsand Bulworth Has Beatty made a movie recently that didn't wind up as a tax deduction for somebody?
  • Cher
  • PeeWee Herman's Christmas Special
  • Larry Hagman Orleans and JR Returns
  • Dustin Hoffman Ishtar and Sphere

  • Madonna Swept Away and Evita and Body of Evidence and... but why go on? Actually all by herself Madonna makes a good case for why expertise in one area (Music) does not automatically translate into another(Film).
  • Martin Scorsese Bringing Out the Dead
  • Barbra Streisand Yentl

      I'd have a hard time giving the guy who greenlighted Water World any credence whatsoever.

      But that's just me.

Posted by Rich
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An Interesting Question

My son and I were watching the news a little while before the deadline expired. Oliver North was interviewing a Marine Captain and my son asked me an interesting question.

"Daddy,' he said, "Marines are an amphibious assault force. What are they doing in the desert?"

He had me there. The logic was inescapable. They were in a desert, not a marine environment. Sure, the Army could be in the desert, and the Air Force as well. But the Marines? Then it hit me.

"It's the sand, son. There's sand on the beach, and sand in the desert."

That's why I'm the dad.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, March 03, 2003

It’s an Outrage!

You know, we've let our time be taken up with minor problems for so long that sometimes we fail to recognize when a truly major disgrace comes along. It's always "War this", and "al Qaida that", and let's not leave out poor little North Korea, who's throwing a screaming hissy fit trying to get somebody to notice them, but we never really discuss the important issues.

Like Drive-Thru service.

My son flew home from college this weekend, and while we were out shopping, decided he'd like some food from Long John Silver's, so we pulled into the drive-thru. I should have realized their diabolical plan when I noticed that unlike most drive-thrus, there was an 8 inch curb surrounding the area so there was no way to bypass the window or escape from the line. Once we made the fateful turn into the lane, we were prisoners of the stumpy pirate.

There was one car between us and the order speaker, and 4 more to the window. The car directly in front of us was a blue Dodge minivan with two women in the front seat. They got to the speaker and began to place an order. 5 minutes later, she was still placing her order. The four cars in front of her dwindled to two, and she was still placing her order.

It didn't look good, but we were trapped by that nefarious curb.

Finally, 10 minutes after we pulled in, she finished ordering, and we moved up to the speaker to place our order. 2 combos and 2 cokes, $18.00. That's why I don't go to LJS except on very special occasions, like the debut of a new Pauly Shore movie.

We inched forward in the line, as first one car, then another slowly received their orders and escaped to freedom. Now it was the minivan's turn. She pulled up to the window, paid her money, and then waited.

She was handed a bag.
A few minutes later, they handed her a second bag.
After about 30 seconds, she handed the first bag back.
After a couple more minutes, she got the first bag back and handed them the second bag back.
There was a short puase, then she got the second bag back again, then counted her change.

Finally, she pulled forward, satisfied that her order was correct. Now, I figured that this merry go round exchange was either a prime example of money laundering or a drug deal gone horribly awry, but I figured the long delay would at least give them time to have my food ready when I got to the window.

We pulled forward, and the kid at the counter was busy writing the introduction to his autobiography. He'd write a few sentences, stop, stare at the ceiling for a moment or two, scribble over what he had written, then write some more. After a couple of minutes, he realized that there was a customer wiaiting on him, so he finished the paragraph he was on, then opened the window.

"That'll be $17.73," he said. I gave him 2 twenties tens and three pennies, which threw him for a loop. You could smell the hair on his head singing as he tried to figure out what to do with the three pennies. Eventually, he figured out how to make change, and gave me $3.20 back. It wasn't worth arguing over, so I took it.

Then told me that they were holding for my fish, and it would be a few more minutes.

We had been in line for 30 minutes by this time, and I had had enough. I could have caught, cleaned, and cooked my own fish by this time, not to mention whipped up a quick lemon chiffon pie for dessert. I asked to speak to the manager, and another punk kid comes out. You could tell he was the manager because his T-shirt was a different color than the first kid's.

He asked me what the problem was. I told him I had been waiting in line for over 30 minutes for food. Here is the sum total of his response, delivered in a snotty tone:

"That's what happens when it gets busy. What do you want me to do about it? Do you want your money back?"

OK friends and neighbors, time for a little math. We started with 6 cars, counting mine. 5 cars got their orders over a 30 minute period. That works out to one order every 6 minutes. Yet this young punk had the nerve to tell me he was busy.

"If that's all you have to say, then Yes, I want my money back."

He reached into the drawer and pulled out $11.00 and handed it to me and started to close the window. I blocked the window

"My order was for $17.73. You didn't give me all of my money."

He looked disgusted, fiddled with the register a minute, singed some hair, then handed me my money, and we left with no food, a bad attitude, and two watery cokes.

So much for fast food...unless they mean 'fast' as in refraining from eating for an extended period of time.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, February 28, 2003

Why I gave up ice cream.

The short version is it's just too darn expensive.

Now, if I stuck to the short version, what kind of blog post would this be? That's right; DULL.

Coming home from work Wednesday night, I noticed an odd noise coming from the engine, sort of a cross between a hiss and a click. The sound got worse as I got closer to the house, and the Tracker began to lose power. Fortunately, I was only a few hundred yards from my house, and I made it home.

By this time, the noise was definitely louder and nastier. It sounded like the engine was coughing, and the faster I revved the engine, the faster it coughed. I called my brother in law who's a mechanic, and asked what it sounded like to him.

"About $1500," was his reply.

Oh great!

He came on over to the house to check it out in person and found that the problem was actually much less serious. One of my spark plugs had come loose, and was allowing air to leak out past the seal. That caused that cylinder to lose compression, resulting in the cough, and the loss of power. Unlike the old days of the V-8, when losing a cylinder meant you couldn't accelerate as fast, and burned more gas, dropping a cylinder off a four banger pretty much ruins your day.

Well, I was pretty relieved, pulled the spark plug, replaced it, fired up the engine....

The noise was still there.

So I checked the next plug. A tracker doesn't have the familiar distributer with an octopus of wires leading to the spark plugs. Instead, a lead from the computer connects to a coil which sits on top of one of the plugs, and a wire leads to a second plug. So, I pulled the coil off the second plug and found a new problem. The coil came off in three pieces, instead of the standard one.

Not good.

To make matters worse, the spark plug came out with it, without having to be loosened. Apparently, when I changed the plugs, I didn't get this one tight enough, and it gradually backed out until it finally blew out., trashing the coil.

So, now I needed a new coil. $88.04
And new plugs $12.00
And new plug wires $44.74
And a thread chaser to re thread the spark plug socket. $9.00

What does this all have to do with ice cream? The car started messing up when I stopped at Baskin and Robbins for a double waffle cone. Like I said, that ice cream is just too darned expensive.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, February 26, 2003

This is blogging

The next time somebody asks you what a blog is, print out this from Possum blog and give it to them.
First, the word "blog" itself is an abbreviated compound word, derived from the combination of "barouche," a four-wheeled cart with a folding top over the rear seat, "loach," a carplike freshwater fish, and "soubrette," a minor female part in a comedy, or any flirtatious girl in general. (Do note that they make "blob," not "blog." The "g" was inadvertently inverted by mistake, and was allowed to remain uncorrected.)

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, February 19, 2003

My favorite french joke.

Heard this morning on the radio:

Going to war without the French is like going deer hunting without an accordion.

UPDATE: According to, this statement has been attributed to Jed Babbin, appearing on Hardball.

Posted by Rich
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Friday, February 14, 2003

Announcing a boycott

OK. That's it. No more Mr. Nice Guy. The French , Germans, and Belgians want to play games; we'll play games right back.

From now on, no more french fries. That's right, french fries are out. And I'm not done, either. No more French dressing on salads for this man. No siree bub. That stuff went straight down the sink just moments ago. And that french tickler that's been riding in my wallet for the last fifteen years?

It's history.

That's right folks, I'm pulling out all the stops.

And it isn't just France I'm boycotting, but Germany too. No more saurkraut, hot dogs, or German Chocolate cake, and the kids are not allowed to play the "punch buggy game" when we're in the car anymore. (I know that last really won't cost the Germans anything, but I'm tired of losing, and this gives me a good excuse.)

And don't think the Belgians are getting off scot free either. Of course, I had to think for awhile about what to boycott from Belgium. After all, they really don't supply much to us, except for Brussel sprouts and Jean Claude Van Damme movies, both of which suck, so boycotting them isn't going to be that difficult.

Just doing my part for truth, justice, and the American Way.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, February 03, 2003

Domestically challenged.

At last! A name for my disorder!

I used to worry that I was lazy or odd or maybe even mentally disturbed in some way when I was the only mother in the room who seemed genuinely troubled at being asked to bring a baked good for the school fundraiser. In years past, I would gawk in open-mouthed wonder when I would drop my child off for a playdate and notice his friend's unbelievably tidy, immaculately decorated home, complete with needlepoint pillows casually tossed to the sides of the sofa.

I long for a clean, tidy house. I yearn for freshly cooked appetizing meals. I dream of neatly folded stacks of freshly laundered clothes for me and my kids. But it's all in vain. If I can see the floor in the family room, I consider it a triumph. If I can walk from the kitchen to the living room without stepping on a LEGO, it's a miracle. Usually, it's chicken pot pie instead of chicken Cordon Bleu. If I don't have to launder clothing that goes straight from the folding table to the dirty clothes hamper without ever being worn, it's a good day.

I'm not lazy or unorganized! I'm domestically challenged! I always figured it was because I was outnumbered 6 to 1.

Thanks, katie! I will sleep peacefully tonight, sure in the knowledge that I am not a slob. Now if I could only afford a housekeeper....

Posted by Rich
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Friday, January 17, 2003

Driving in the Snow

Well, K-Town finally got a real snowfall, and as usual some folks acted like it was Armageddon. I left work at 4PM as the snow really started, and on the way home, it became clear that it was my duty as a son of the South to give y'all some pointers on how to survive the white stuff from the sky.

First rule: If you don't have to drive, DON'T! Trust me, I've seen you drive, and you don't know how to handle the snow. You drive too slow, or too fast, or your follow too close, sometimes all of the above. I know you've been conditioned to run to the Piggle Wiggly for milk and bread when the first snow flake falls, but I'll bet if you look around in your kitchen, you can find food for at least a week, giving you plenty of time before having to consider the Donner option. We live in the Southeast; we won't be snowed in more than a day or so. Let the groceries wait.

Second rule: I know you're going to break the first rule; you just gotta have that Ben & Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk, or life won't be worth living, so you'll hop into your car and head on down to the grocery store, never mind that even professional drivers are staying off the roads because they are too dangerous. You can handle the snow, right?


Everything you know about driving changes in the snow. reflexes which save your life and keep your insurance rates low will cause tremendous property damage, as well as inspire terror in everyone in your car or your path as you careen wildly down the road.

Or sidewalk as the case may be.

If you're going to drive, remember the following:
  • Understand that we don't get a lot of snow here, so chances are everybody on the road is just as incompetent as you are, and just as oblivious to that fact. One wrong move and you could be the featured attraction in a 60 car pile up.
  • Give the guy in front of you plenty of room, and by plenty, I mean at least 15 car lengths. Riding his tail does two things: it guarantees that if something goes wrong, your car will become intimately involved with his car, and second, by distracting the guy in front of you, it increases the chances of something going wrong 200 fold.
  • Your brakes are no longer your friend. Yes I know, you rely on your brakes to get you out of trouble all the time. They are your ally, your buddy. Normally, when you fail to notice the traffic slowdown in front of you because you are answering your cell phone, you slap on your brakes, and all is well. Unfortunately, now that the road is covered with snow and ice, your brakes have gone from allies to your worst enemy. If you get into trouble, hitting your brakes will make sure that you get into worse trouble. Avoid the temptation to slam on your brakes when you see the guy in front of you spinning out because if you don't you will join him in the Pirouette of Doom, and wind up swapping insurance information while the wrecker pulls your cars off the median wall. "But Rich", I hear you asking, "If we can't use our brakes, how do we keep from hitting the guy ahead of us?" which leads me to:
  • For God's sake, slow down! If the normal speed limit is 55 mph, 50 mph is not slow enough. Cut your usual speed in half, and see how that feels. You can save some time by going faster, but it takes more time to push your car out of the ditch than you save by going 5mph faster.
  • Pretend you are driving a load of nitroglycerin, and any sudden moves might set it off. Gentle turns, gradual starts and stops, that's the recipe for driving in the snow. Any sudden movement of the wheel, the accelerator, or the brake will cause your car to imitate Michelle Kwan in the Olympics, complete with a triple sowcow into a telephone pole. (Ewww, the East German judge didn't like that landing at all, Bob!)
  • When you begin to go into a skid, (and you will), turn into the skid gently, and allow the car to straighten itself out. Don't touch your brake or you will find yourself watching the world go by.


    This is not a driving method recommended by the Tennessee State Highway Patrol, and will result in a ticket, some moderately expensive body work, or both.
  • Never stop while going up a hill, unless you want to go back down the hill.


    At least for awhile, until the spin starts. It's an 'E' ticket ride until you shoot out into the cross traffic, but don't worry, you might get lucky and nobody else will be coming.

Follow these basic tips, and you will successfully avoid causing an accident. However, you are still at the mercy of idiots who don't follow the rules because they don't know them. You will have to prepare for and evade the guy who wants your lane, even though you're using it; the guy who is running late and figures that if he goes fast enough, he'll get where he's going before he has time to have an accident. You'll have to avoid the lady who gets almost to the top of the steepest hill in town, then stops to check her makeup, and trhe guy in the SUV who drives 30mph faster than everybody else on the road because "I have 4WD by god and I'm going to use it!" Sooner or later, he discovers that 4WD doesn't mean anything when you lose traction, except that the repairs are going to be more expensive.

Well, I hope I've helped in some small way to keep you safe on the road on the days ahead. Now , if you will excuse me, I have to run to the store for some milk and some bread....

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Rules of Etiquette for Yankees visiting Heaven (AKA the South)

More reader mail:

How to Get Your Butt Kicked in The South
  1. Don't order filet mignon or pasta primavera at Waffle House. It's just a diner. They serve breakfast 24 hours a day. Let them cook something they know. If you confuse them, they'll kick your butt.

  2. Don't laugh at our Southern names. (Merleen, Bodie, Ovine, Luther Ray,Tammy Lynn, Darla Beth, Inez, Billy Joe, Sissy, etc.) These people have all been known to kick butt.

  3. Don't order a bottle of pop or a can of soda down here. Down here its called Coke. Nobody gives a flying damn whether it's Pepsi, RC, Dr. Pepper, 7-Up, or whatever - it's still a Coke. Accept it. Doing otherwise can lead to an butt kicking.

  4. We know our heritage. Most of us are more literate than you (e.g., Welty, Williams, Faulkner). We are also better educated and generally a lot nicer. Don't refer to us as a bunch of hillbillies, or we'll kick your butt.

  5. We have plenty of business sense (e.g., Fred Smith of Fed Ex, Turner Broadcasting, MCI WorldCom, MTV, Netscape). Naturally, we do, sometimes, have small lapses in judgment (e.g., Carter, Edwards, Duke, Barnes). We don't care if you think we are dumb. We can still kick your butt.

  6. Don't laugh at our Civil War monuments. If Lee had listened to Longstreet and flanked Meade at Gettysburg instead of sending Pickett up the middle, you'd be paying taxes to Richmond instead of Washington. If you visit Stone Mountain and complain about the carving, we'll kick your butt.

  7. We are fully aware of how high the humidity is, so shut the hell up, spend your money, and get the hell out of here - or we'll kick your butt.

  8. Don't order wheat toast at Cracker Barrel. Everyone will instantly know that you're from Michigan. Eat your biscuits like God intended. Don't put sugar on your grits, or we'll kick your butt.

  9. Don't fake a Southern accent. This will incite a riot, and you will get your butt kicked.

  10. Don't talk about how much better things are at home because we don't give a damn. Many of us have visited hell holes like Detroit, Chicago, L.A., and D.C., and we have the scars to prove it. If you don't like it here, Delta is ready when you are. Take your butt home before it gets kicked.

  11. Yes, we know how to speak proper English. We talk this way because we don't want to sound like you. We don't care if you don't understand what we are saying. All other Southerners understand what we are saying, and that's all that matters. Now, go away, or we'll kick your butt.

  12. Don't complain that the South is dirty and polluted. None of OUR lakes have caught fire like scenic Lake Erie once did. Whine about OUR scenic beauty, and we'll kick your butt all the way back into Boston Harbor.

  13. Don't ridicule our Southern manners. We say "sir" and "ma'am," hold doors open for others, and offer our seats to old folks because such things are expected of civilized people. Behave yourselves around our sweet little gray-haired grannies or they'll kick some manners into your butt just like they did ours.

  14. So you think we're quaint or we're losers because most of us live in the countryside? That's because we have enough sense to not live in smelly, crime-infested cesspools like New York or L.A. Make fun of our fresh air, and we'll kick your butt.

  15. Last, but not least, DO NOT DARE to come down here trying to tell us how to cook barbecue. This will get your butt shot off (right after it is kicked). You're lucky we let you come down here at all. Question our sacred BBQ, and you go home in a pine box - minus your butt.

Y'all have a nice day!

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, December 12, 2002

A Christmas recipe

from Snopes, just in case you thought they just debunked urban myths:

The Ultimate Fruitcake
All this talk of dry fruitcake made me pine for the days of yore when I would help grandma make Christmas cake. Here's the recipe (as best as I can remember it, it's a little fuzzy):

You'll need the following: a cup of water, a cup of sugar, four large eggs, two cups of dried fruit, a teaspoon of baking soda, a teaspoon of salt, a cup of brown sugar, lemon juice, nuts, and a bottle of whiskey. NOTE: Whiskey may be replaced with your favorite swill^H^H^H^Hbeverage. Being of Scottish ancestry, me and grandma naturally used Scotch.


Sample the whiskey to check for quality.

Take a large bowl. Check the whiskey again. To be sure it is the highest quality, pour one level cup and drink. Repeat. Turn on the electric mixer, beat one cup of butter in a large fluffy bowl. Add one teaspoon of sugar and beat again.

Make sure the whiskey is still okay. Cry another tup. Turn off the mixer. Break two leggs and add to the bowl and chuck in the cup of dried fruit. Mix on the turner. If the fried druit gets stuck in the beaterers, pry it loose with a drewscriver.

Sample the whiskey to check for tonsisticity. Next, sift two cups of salt. Or something. Who cares? Check the whiskey. Now sift the lemon juice and strain your nuts. Add one table. Spoon. Of sugar or something. Whatever you can find.

Grease the oven. Turn the cake tin to 350 degrees. Don't forget to beat off the turner. Throw the bowl out of the window, check the whiskey again and go to bed.

I think I'll go get me a piece.

Posted by Rich
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Christmas memories—Christmas eve

Another Christmas tradition is assembling the toys on Christmas Eve. Now, when I was a kid, my first suspicion that there might not be a Santa came when I got a brand new bicycle. I was all excited when I woke up and saw it sitting under the tree, a shiny orange 10-speed with only one speed. I don’t know how my dad found it, and I’ve never seen another one like it. It had the standard 10 speed frame, but no derailleur or gear shifts, or gears. It only had one gear, and by riding around on my friends bikes, I guessed it was about equivalent to 5th gear, which made uphill rough, but downhills just flew by. We opened the rest of our presents, and as soon as we got dressed, I went outside to ride my new bike. I rolled it out of the driveway, hopped on and rode out into the street. Everything went fine until I tried to turn. My foot slipped off of the pedal, and I fell forward.

Here’s something that has always puzzled me about bikes. A boy’s bike has a metal tube running from the front post to just underneath the seat. This bar reinforces the frame, adding rigidity to the bike. On a girls bike, this bar runs much lower, so they could get on and off while wearing a skirt without being immodest. The bike was slightly less rigid, but much more decorous. However, there was an important safety consideration the bicycle designer did not take into consideration when he designed the frame, and every man reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about. If your foot slips off of the pedals, you fall forward, leaving the comfort of your seat and proceeding through about a two inch drop, until the high bar arrests your fall by crushing your testicles. (I’d say nuts, but this is a family blog.) Incidentally, this is a good proof of the stupidity of men, since we continued to ride these bikes, refusing to ride a girl’s bike because that would make us look like sissies.

So, after I recovered, I got back on the bike, and began to ride again, a bit more cautiously this time. Sure enough, the next time I tried to turn, my foot slipped off of the pedal again.

Now, my mother didn’t raise a complete fool, so when I got back on the bike again ( OK, so she raised a partial fool) I paid close attention to my feet. I was going slow enough this time to realize that when I turned, the front tire was hitting my foot, knocking it off of the pedal. I rolled the bike back to the house, put down the kickstand, and gave her a good look.

That’s when I noticed that the front fork was on backwards. A ha! We have found the problem. I called my dad out (he was very happy to leave that warm house and come out into the frigid December morning) and showed him how Santa had messed up on my bike. Dad said he’d show me how to fix it, and walked over to the bike. I expected him to go to the garage for his tools, but instead, he clamped the wheel between his legs, and with a grunt of effort, twisted the handle bars all the way around, until the fork was facing forward. I thought that was just too cool. Tools were for weaklings! When my daughter asked me to fix her handlebars, I knew exactly what to do. I clamped the front wheel between my legs, grabbed the handlebars, and with a mighty tug, snapped the little retaining bolt that holds the handlebars on right off.

After I got her to stop crying, we went to WalMart for a new bike, which I assembled using the proper tools.

Anyway, finding my bike assembled wrong that morning was my first idea that all was not right with Santa, and something a little more sinister occurred on Christmas Eve. Of course, I eventually found out the truth, and began to look forward to surprising my kids with presents on Christmas morning.

Shows how much I knew.

I have another little Christmas tradition, one that I would rather avoid, but it seems destined to continue until I’m in my grave. On Christmas Eve, I invariably have some form of stomach flue. I suspect it is the same virus, as it always hits at the same time every year, around 7:30 PM, EST, and lasts until just after the last toy is assembled, usually around 3AM. It starts with a mildly upset stomach, and progresses through several full blown Vesuvian eruptions scattered randomly throughout the evening. I am happy to report that being a generous sort, I have shared this virus with my wife on several occasions. It’s just not Christmas unless you’re running for the bathroom every 15 minutes or so.

One Christmas, we were both too miserable to go upstairs to bed after getting everything ready, so we crashed downstairs, and waited for the kids to come down. It was actually kind of romantic. Most of the nausea had passed, and I had just enough strength to reach over from the couch to the papa san chair and hold her hand. Our oldest son, who was about 7 at the time, came creeping downstairs at about 5:30. He didn’t see us down there, and looked at everybody’s presents before going upstairs to wake up his brothers and sisters. They sat upstairs whispering until 6:30, when they were allowed to wake us up. We let them look for us upstairs for a few minutes then called them down, and the festivities began.

Having lived through several Christmas Eves I am amazed that my father did so well. At 3AM, tab A does not fit into slot B no matter how big of a hammer you use. And if I never see another sticker again, I’ll die happy. I think that if you spend $100 on GI Joe Superfortress with Twin Helicopters and Functioning Cannon (action figures sold separately), then by golly the dad gum stickers should already be put on the blasted thing. I’ve spent 45 minutes putting the toy together (which is kind of cool) and another hour and a half trying to get the stickers on just like it shows on the box (which is really uncool.) Bikes are nothing…try putting together a Little Tykes Play Kitchen with food, utensils, and silverware. Did you know that the seams in molded plastic can be sharp enough to slice right through several layers of skin? I do now!

Now the cool thing about assembling all the toys is you get to play with them first; it's in the Parents Rulebook. I looked it up. One Christmas, we got the kids Super Soaker Squirt guns. Let's just say that my wife and I thoroughly tested them out, and waterd the tree at the same time. On the other hand, when you play with your kids toys, you run the risk of breaking them, which can lead to severe emotional damage, and requires immediate replacement of the toy with a close substitute. A word of advice: At 11PM on Christmas Eve, the only store open is Mabel's All Night Truckstop and Pawn Shop. My daughter once got a fully detailed remote controlled model of an 18 wheeler with horn and reverse ($79.95 batteries not included.) She loved it much better than the etch a sketch($19.99) we broke.

The worst Christmas Eve disaster happened about 6 years ago. My youngest son wanted a hobby horse, and I looked all over the place to find the best one. I finally found one at Toys R Us that was perfect. It had real extruded nylon hair for the main, and a little speaker that made galloping sounds when the kid rode it. I got it, plus a little cowboy play set with guns, spurs chaps and stuff. I was really excited to see how he would like it. So here comes Christmas Eve, and I get all the boxes from their hiding places, and start putting stuff together. I save the horse for last, because it’s pretty easy to assemble, a few bolts, four springs and no bleedin’ stickers.

About 1:30AM, I get to the horse. I open the box, and dump out the contents. Onto the carpet falls one hobby horse. Period. No springs, no nuts, no bolts, no stand, no instructions, no FAIR! I was so mad, that I forgot to be sick. Here it was, 1:30 on Christmas morning, and the centerpiece of my youngest son’s Christmas was ruined. I was a failure as a father and a worthless human being. So I did the only thing I could; I propped the horse up in front of the tree and wrote a note to him from Santa. I explained that I went through some rough weather on the way down, and some parts must have fallen from the sleigh, but that I would come back in a day or two and fix it.

The cool thing was that my son couldn’t have cared less. He saw the horse, gave a loud yell, jumped on, grabbed the mane with one hand and the tail with the other and started galloping around the house. Yeah, the foot pegs knocked a few holes in the drywall, but I wasn’t going to complain. He was happy, and that was all that mattered. A few days later, I exchanged horses, and all was well, except that he sometimes took the horse off the stand so he could ride it around the house.

Now the kids are older, and Santa gets to sleep in on Christmas Eve. Now that I’m not assembling toys, my virus has subsided into a few rumblings and grumblings through the night, although that might have more to do with the eggnog than anything else. The kids still wake up early, especially the young ones, but the oldest doesn’t sneak down to spy anymore, since everything is wrapped, and they let dad sleep until 7:00:01. I hope that they remember their Christmas’s as fondly as I do, and find the same joys I did, playing Santa for their kids at 3AM on Christmas Eve.

Posted by Rich
Humor2 • (1) CommentsPermalink

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Christmas Memories—Trimming the tree

Like every other family, we have some Christmas traditions at my house. We hang stockings by the fireplace; we leave some cookies and milk for Santa; we open one present on Christmas Eve. We watch the Grinch every year, sometimes twice.(The real one, narrated by Boris Karloff, not the movie.) We watch Charlie Brown, and Rudolph, and sometimes I can even sit through Frosty. My all time favorite is still Santa Claus is Coming to Town, with the Burgermeister Meisterburger, the Winter Warlock, and all the rest.
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walkin’ ‘cross the floor.
Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walkin’ out the door!

They just don’t write ‘em like that anymore…

We play Christmas Music all morning long, from traditional to Mannheim Steamroller, and everything in between. My personal favorites are O Holy Night, and Springsteen singing Santa Claus is Coming to Town. There’s eggnog in the fridge, and every 5 years or so we buy a new fruitcake to replace the old one that only had one piece missing. We cook up a special meal every Christmas, something non traditional, since we just had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. One year we did seafood, another steaks, and this year I’m thinking about a Turduken. I'll probably cheat and buy mine. There are always seven layer cookies, cheesecakes, carrot cakes, and pecan pies all over the place, and plenty of hot chocolate and mulled cider to go with them. My mom roasts pounds of pecans, and we munch on those while watching football games or Christmas specials. The dogs get Christmas too, because they get all the leftovers.

We hang mistletoe over the front door, (not that it’s done me any good the last couple of years, but hey, it’s tradition, right?) and a wreath outside, although we don’t do yard lights because the dogs will eat them. We put up the tree shortly after Thanksgiving and take it down promptly before the 4th of July. By then it makes great kindling for the pig pit! I do the lights, then the kids do the ornaments and tinsel. When the kids were smaller they couldn’t reach the top of the tree, so our Christmas tree was loaded down about 4 feet off the floor, then bare the rest of the way up. After they went to bed, Betty and I would even things out a bit.

One of the most amazing things about a Christmas tree is that no matter how carefully I inspect it at the lot, no matter how closely I look, when I get it home, there will be a great big bare spot located in the worst location. I’ll take the tree off the top of the car, spread out the branches, put it onto the stand, bring it into the house, set it up, and there will be this gaping void where branches used to be. They were there in the lot, I’m sure of it. I walked around the blasted thing 18 times, scrutinizing it from every angle before picking it out. But there it is, a Grand Canyon sized bare spot. The thing that drives me craziest is I can never find any broken branches. Where did this hole come from?

So I cheat, by facing the bare spot towards the wall. Then I notice that when the tree is turned in that direction, it looks lopsided, so I decide to move the tree into the corner, so you can cover up two bad sides. But no, my children say that the tree has to be in front of the window so we can stand out in the cold and admire the lights. So I haul it back in front of the window, and decide to camouflage the hole.

Now there are a couple of different approaches to this camouflage. Some use ornaments; others try to cover it in tinsel. I like the architectural approach myself, and re-engineer the tree so it meets my specs. I start with the very foundation of tree decorations, the lights. What I do is use the light strands to haul branches around to where I need them. Now you can’t do this with cheap light strands; they don’t have the tensile strength to handle the load and will part under the strain, adding a little extra excitement to your Christmas festivities. Back in the old days, this was easier, as the lights were actual bulbs on thick strands of wire. Yes, you had a slight risk of a fire erupting in your tree, or third degree burns if you accidentally touched one, (reds were the hottest, for future reference) but the soft warm glow of the lights sure was pretty! That is, as long as they were on. These older strands were wired in series, which means that if one bulb went out, the whole strand went dark. I can remember spending hours swapping bulbs, searching for the bad one, only to find that my test bulb was bad. Now of course, we have these weenie little peanut bulbs that barely give off any light at all. Sure, they flash and twinkle, but so would the old ones if you stuck a bobby pin in the outlet!

Anyway, I start at the top of the tree and wrap the lights in a spiral. Using the wire strand to reposition the branches, I slowly cover the bare spot. If you try this at home, use smaller branches, as they are easier to position, but don’t use the really small ones, because they can slip free, causing a whiplash effect that can be dangerous, especially if you’ve already hung your ornaments. Picture a medieval mangonel hurling shards of razor sharp glass, and you’ll get the picture. Experience will show you just how much tension you can place on the branch before you reach the breaking point of either the branch, or the wire strand. Also, remember that the load is cumulative, and each branch you move adds its own stress to the tree. When you get toward the bottom of the tree, the branches are much sturdier, and resist being pulled into their new configuration. A slight brush with a small chain saw near the trunk will ease this problem, although it will make that branch turn brown faster than the rest. A can of green spray paint works wonders to correct this slight deficiency.

Now, as you gain experience, you can make your tree do things that would cost hundreds of dollars using conventional methods. For example, a popular feature these days is a moving tree stand, which allows your tree to gracefully pirouette, usually accompanied by the holiday music of your choice. I achieve a slightly different effect by taking several branches right up to the maximum strain, then holding them there with strands of light. The resulting strain causes a vibration in the tree, which is really quite striking in the right light.

Once you have the lights placed properly, it’s time to hang the ornaments. This is a fairly safe procedure, as long as you remember the warning above, and stay out of the trajectory of any potential missiles. Just don’t cheat by hanging any ornaments on the light strands themselves. If you’ve done your job properly, they are already at maximum load. After the ornaments, comes the tinsel, which should be placed sparingly, one or two strands per branch. Or you can do like I do, and drape that sucker till she droops; it’s your call.

The final part of decorating the tree is usually putting the star on top. Now in my parent’s house, the star was a piece of a cardboard box cut into a five-pointed star and covered with tin foil. We thought that was just the coolest thing ever when we were kids, so if the star began to tatter, my mother would make a new one. We never had any other star on our tree that I can remember. When I had my first tree, I decided to strike out on my own. No tin foil star for this man! Nope, I wasn’t even going to have a star at all. I wanted an Angel. So I got one. 15 inches tall, beautifully dressed and painted, she was a thing of beauty. Someday when I live in a house with 10 foot ceilings, I’ll be able to buy a tree big enough so I can use it. For now, she sits on the mantle, along with the Nativity set, and on top of the tree this year will be a cardboard star, covered in aluminum foil.

Now notice I said this is usually the last step. In my house we have one other tradition. After decorating the tree, trimming it to perfection, we all go to sleep, and sometime in the night, no matter what kind of stand I use, no matter how many guy wires I attach, no matter how extensive the bracing is, by morning the tree will be laying on it’s side in a minefield of broken glass, and live electrical wires.

I don’t know why this happens. It must be one of those eternal mysteries like Transubstantiation and the Easter Bunny. All I know is that I am destined to put up a Christmas tree at least twice during the Christmas season.

Posted by Rich
Humor2 • (3) CommentsPermalink

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