Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My Thanksgiving Gift to America

I am the cause of the collapse of gas and oil prices.

Call this version of chaos theory the Andersen Effect.

Just as the Butterfly Effect posits that a butterfly flapping its wings in Guatemala causes a typhoon in Malaysia, my decision to purchase an expensive wood stove has sent the global petroleum market tumbling.

Back in the summer, when heating oil was around four bucks a gallon, Kathie and I decided to seek an alternate means of heating our house. With an old stone house and oil heat we were facing potentially devastating heating bills this winter. I crunched the numbers based on our usual consumption and panicked.

I envisioned that the only way we could stay warm was sweating over how to pay the oil tab. Based on the numbers I came up with, Kathie and I could close the house up and move to Florida for the winter for free. However, since I have a working wife this was not a possibility. I couldn’t persuade her that we could at least save half by shipping just me and my golf clubs south.

We decided on a wood pellet stove insert for our dining room fireplace. This is a very expensive piece of equipment costing twice as much as the new oil furnace we put in a few years. However, based on the price of oil at the time I calculated a two year payback on the investment.

In August, we purchased our stove from a local merchant. We were not the only ones seeking alternate solutions to heating problems, so the stove we wanted was backordered. We made a down payment and were assigned an October 31 installation date.

Since that time the price of oil has marched steadily downward.

I also learned that since I did my research, which included investigating the supply and price of wood pellets, a pellet shortage had developed. Of course, the prices shot upward as well.

Another sign that things may not be going our way was the freak blizzard that arrived on our delivery day postponing it for a week.

Finally, the thing was installed. I was informed that I could not use it until it had been inspected by the local fire officer. After it passed, the installer would return and complete the hook-up. It took a week to get the fire inspector on the premises because he couldn’t find our house and then got mad at us and sulked for a few days. After five minutes of poking and prodding the thing, he pronounced it passed.

I called the stove merchant and for another week could get no one to return my calls. On one occasion, the aged proprietor put the phone down with me onboard and wandered off to tend customers. He never returned.

Finally I decided that a trip to the store was in order. After all, these people install woodstoves, a mid-nineteenth century technology, and obviously hadn’t caught up with phones and the like.

After launching into my grumpy old man routine, it was agreed the installer would be back the next day to complete the work. Mike, a nice and eager, though somewhat disorganized young man, completed the task.

For two days the stove did its thing. It made noises like the boiler room of the Titanic in its death throes, but it heated the house. On the third day it stopped.

Mike returned and pronounced the heat distribution blower dead. This thing apparently has more blowers than the Tijuana Brass. He said he had some coming in and would return on Monday with a new one. I waited all day but he failed to appear. I guess his horse and wagon broke down.

He arrived today and after much grunting and groaning got the thing up and running again. It didn’t inspire my confidence when I asked if he thought this would take care of the problem and he responded: “I know as much about these things as the next guy.”

As the price of oil continues to drop, I find myself in the awkward position of rooting for a rally. At this rate my break even point is fading into my twilight years.

I guess I should feel like a good little butterfly. My decision to buy a pellet stove has enabled millions of Americans to pack up the gas guzzling SUV and head for grandma’s house this weekend after all. Happy Thanksgiving, America!

The Answers

Enough of you had trouble with the quiz (see last blog) that I think it would be well worth everyone’s while going over the answers in class. Okay. Get your papers out.

The challenge was to distinguish between actual Chinese proverbs and the faux variety coined by your humble instructor.

Here we go:
1. Beat your gong and sell your candles. This is an actual proverb. A contemporary American way of articulating it might be “advertising is an important part of your candle marketing strategy.”
2. Never link whole global economy to debt swap derivatives. This is not a Chinese proverb. Neither is it an American one, unfortunately.
3. Do not allow the sheep to die for a half-penny of tar. This one is real. I think it’s like “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”, which is not a Chinese proverb because very often the ancient Chinese did throw the baby out with the bath water.
4. Cold water makes a limp noodle. I confess but it expresses a universal truth in any language.
5. An unhappy pig tastes the same as a happy one. This may have fooled a lot of you because it sounds like an actual proverb. Not!! I had a chicken in there first but switched to a pig when I saw I had a chicken in the next one. As the Chinese say, too many chickens spoil the proverbs.
6. The weasel comes to say “Happy New Year” to the chicken. This is the real deal and I haven’t a clue what it means. I suppose it’s like “beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” This refers to the Trojan horse. One time the Greeks screw up with a bad gift, and they hear about it for the next 3,500 years.
7. Never fart in silk pajamas. Good advise and deeper than it appears at first glance, but not a proverb.
8. Dead song birds make a sad meal. I couldn’t have made this one up.
9. Put the fat lady in the back of the row boat. Wise counseling that will be appreciated by anyone who ever put the fat lady in front, but not a proverb.
10. Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from a friend’s forehead. Except if your friend is a debt swap derivatives trader. This one is real.
11. Don’t believe the menu, it ALL contains MSG. This is me and I stand by it: it does all contain MSG
12. Falling hurts least those who fly low. I’ll bet you thought this one was a fake because the ancient Chinese didn’t have airplanes. Gotcha! It’s not. They had kites.
13. All people are your relatives, therefore expect trouble. I WISH I had written this.
14. Never bet on the eunuch to win the Most Eligible Bachelor contest. Me, again. It’s believable because eunuchs were commonplace in the Imperial Court. Also, it’s a well known fact that the Emperor Hon Lo was addicted to Most Eligible Bachelor contests because he always won.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Quiz

Let’s do something different.

My plummeting readership, if going from four to two is considered a plummet, leads me to believe I need to shake things up a bit for you not-yet-terminally-bored survivors.

How about a quiz? First off let’s make it clear that I am unemployed and broke, so there are no prizes. If you are the sort who likes to reward each of your life’s successes by going shopping, doing well on this test is as good an excuse as any. So consider this my effort to aid the ailing economy.

In my last blog, I made up a Chinese proverb. I did this for two reasons: comic effect; and I don’t know any real Chinese proverbs. Now in my opinion any writer worth his salt can quote Chinese proverbs, although no such writers immediately come to mind.

So I decided to broaden my literary range by Googling a list of Sino-Bromides (I invented this expression because I used Chinese proverb three times in the last paragraph).

Anyway, I found a site that had over 620 of them. So here is the game: From the list of proverbs below, you have to decide which are real and which are made up by little Norwegian-Irish-German-American me. The answers will be provided at the end of my next posting. Bet that’ll bring ya back, huh?

Pencils ready. Here we go:

One more thing, this particular form of humor used to be called Confucius Say jokes and was popularized by Burma Shave road signs in the 1930’s and declared Politically Incorrect during the Carter Administration.

Okay, here we really go:

1. Beat your gong and sell your candles.
2. Never link whole global economy to debt swap derivatives.
3. Do not allow the sheep to die for a half-penny of tar.
4. Cold water makes a limp noodle.
5. An unhappy pig tastes the same as a happy one.
6. The weasel comes to say “Happy New Year” to the chicken.
7. Never fart in silk pajamas.
8. Dead song birds make a sad meal.
9. Put the fat lady in the back of the row boat.
10. Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from a friend’s forehead.
11. Don’t believe the menu, it ALL contains MSG.
12. Falling hurts least those who fly low.
13. All people are your relatives, therefore expect trouble.
14. Never bet on the eunuch to win the Most Eligible Bachelor contest.

Okay. Pencils down. I hope you didn’t cheat by Googling. Confucius say person who cheat on dumb quiz is real lame-o.

By the way, don’t use the comment section to bug me for early answers. If that happens, I may decide to never release them. Remember: one bad apple spoils it for everyone.
That is not a Chinese proverb but the words of Sister Helen Maurice spoken in 1956 when she kept the whole sixth grade in because one misguided youth locked her in the stationery closet.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Monitor

My blood pressure has gone up.

I have had hypertension since senior year in college. It has been under control for years but bumped up on my last visit to the doctor. He decided that I should wear a monitor that would track my blood pressure for 24 hours before deciding if a change in medication was called for.

Nurse Phyllis fitted me out. Here’s the deal: a standard blood pressure cuff is installed on my arm and is attached by hose to a controller that hangs from my belt. As soon as she fired the thing up and it inflated, gripping my arm like a boa constrictor on steroids, I started to whimper and cry. She responded: “You have such big arms that we have to use our biggest cuff and it is still a bit too tight.” I quieted down immediately. Nurse Phyllis, a trained professional, knows that stroking a man’s ego is the best way to stop his whimpering.

She explained that the controller would beep several times before the cuff inflated. This would give me time to get my arm in position to get the best reading. It would take a reading every hour. I was to record in a preprinted log what I was doing at the time. The log had three columns labeled time, activity, and position. The position column offered only three options: standing, sitting, and lying. I suppose this would discourage people who were inclined to engage in sex while wearing this contraption from putting down things like “missionary” and “flying monkey”

As I leave, I take stock of my situation. The controller is not exactly an Ipod. It weighs at least 2 pounds and immediately starts pulling my pants south. There has to be at least six feet of hose from the controller to the cuff. Unfortunately, since the distance from the controller to the cuff on my arm is a foot or two at the most, this leaves four feet of hose hanging outside my pants.

Also to the casual observer, it looks like the hose is going down my pants and not up my shirt. I decide to forgo the trip to Shop Rite and Wal-Mart I originally planned. I really wanted to avoid hearing the following conversation on the check-out line:
First woman: “Why does that old man have a hose going into his pants?”
Second woman: “Maybe he's getting his cellar pumped."
Also, beep is an understatement. This thing sounds like a UPS truck backing up and will terrify small children and the elderly when it goes off in public.

This of course, is followed by the sight of my arm blowing up like Bruce Banner’s as he morphs into the Hulk.

I decide that the day, a rainy one anyway, is best spent on quiet activities at home.

As the hours go by I dutifully record my activities. As I read them, I begin to feel self-conscious:
1:00 PM watching TV
2:00 PM watching TV
3:00 PM watching TV
4:00 PM watching TV
Etc., etc.

When the doctor sees this he is going to think I don’t have a life. So I start zipping things up with activities like: “inventing”, “hypothesizing”, “parsing”,"dissecting" and (my favorite) “cogitating.”

Soon it is time for bed. Nurse Phyllis told me that the beeping stops automatically after 11:00, so I don’t have to worry about that. The main problems are that it is going to wake me up as it cuts off circulation to my arm, and where to park the controller and 6 feet of hose. I decide to put the controller under my pillow. I wake up during the night, but I am able to get back to sleep.

When I wake up at 7:00 AM the hose is wrapped around my neck. Kathie, all too familiar with my nightly contortions, says she is surprised I didn’t manage to get the cuff wound around my neck.

I am done. I find the off switch and shut the thing down.

As I am packing things up, I see a list of do’s and don’ts on the back of the log. It is my modus operandi to always read the directions after things have gone haywire. Sure enough, Don’t Numero Uno is “NEVER TURN THE CONTROLLER OFF UNLESS THERE IS AN EXTREME EMERGENCY.”

Oh well, I hope it is idiot proof. I have been hoping that a lot lately. I don't think I will tell Fearsome Phyllis.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I Almost Voted. I Think.

Well it has happened again.

Faced with a new device that performs a well-established function, I again went into Consternation Mode. This is happening so frequently that I suspect yet another of my brain functions has wandered off. Last week it was my run in with the McCormick salt grinder (see Salt Shaker Blues). This week it was the voting booth that bamboozled me.

Like putting salt on my food, I really thought I had this one down. Califon is a small town so every vote counts. That’s why I try to vote in every election. It’s not like it’s something new to me.

And I really wanted to weigh in on this the most important Presidential election in years.
This being so important and all, you might think I would have troubled myself to read the voting instructions on the sample ballot that was mailed before the election. You would be wrong. In the first place, I don’t usually read directions unless I break something that I am operating without having read the directions. In the second place, the ballot went out with the recycling on Monday.

As I enter the electronic voting booth I am faced with the ballot. What I do not see is any obvious box or button that I can push to place my vote. Immediately I am in Consternation Mode. I resort to reading the directions. It says to push the button to the right of the candidate's name to record your vote. Still not seeing a box, I push next to the candidate of my choice’s name. A green light goes on at the top of the column, but I see no indication next to the name that I have placed my vote for him. If I push again, the green light goes off. Now I hear the impatient shuffling of feet outside the booth. I fear I am seconds away from hearing the booming voice of the chief election lady cry out “WHAT IS HE DOING IN THERE!!!.

Now I am in Panic Mode. I cannot believe that I am screwing up voting. I push a bunch of buttons, record my vote, and leave the booth. The only vote I am absolutely positive I registered was for a public question that “provides that method of selection and appointment of certain municipal judges be set by statute rather than by the constitution.” This is a very important issue I am sure, but not why I shaved and put on a clean shirt to come out and voice my opinion.

Later in the day, I am telling Elisabeth about my difficulties executing my democratic privilege. She tells me not to worry because Oprah had problems with the voting booth as well.

I wondered if her problems were similar to mine. That evening I saw an interview with her and she said she was so excited about the prospect of Obama becoming President that she was “throbbing” and “pulsating.” Well I was for Obama as well (now it can be revealed), but I was not suffering from this condition. I was in the booth long enough that I think the chief election lady suspected I was throbbing and pulsating in there, but I was not. In some situations I do throb and pulsate, like when I am thinking about my supper, but I voted in mid-morning so this was not a factor. Being familiar with the condition, I could sympathize with Oprah if she was afflicted while in the voting booth.

In any case, the election was a rout so it didn’t matter. As the old Chinese proverb says: “All leaves fly before a strong wind.” Actually, this is not a Chinese proverb. I just made it up as I am sitting here watching my neighbors strategically placed pile of leaves blow into my yard.

I am beginning to throb and pulsate.