Thursday, November 19, 2009

Autumn Song

The last leaves have fallen from their perches on high,
And litter the ground right up to ones thigh.
In their legions and armies they boldly stack
Small children and dogs have to turn back.
As he thinks of his wife it gives him the lumps
She can't go to work with leaves on her pumps!

He rattles the heavens with a mighty cry.
“If you weren’t already dead, now you would die!”
He straps on his vacuum, the dreaded El Toro.
(Which he had to buy since he couldn’t borrow.)
He falls upon them from hillock and gulch
And grinds the quivering foe to a powdery mulch.

Like the heroes of old he absorbs all his licks,
Leaf dust up the nose and bites from the ticks.
Still he lays about him like a ninja on narcotics.
He doesn’t care, he’s on antibiotics.
For weeks and weeks the grim battle roils
On and on the suburban Hercules toils.
At missing his football and baseball, he curses.
He is caught in an epic with too many verses.
As the Aeolian blast delivers the neighbors pile,
“I’ll bet they’ll miss their cat,” he says with a smile.

The bags of the fallen line the drive.
Oak, maple, cherry, none made it alive.
He shoulders El Toro and surveys the field.
He is glad he fought on and never did yield.
His chest swells with pride like mighty El Cid
Then his wife whispers: “Next year, hire a kid.”

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Watson, Come Here. I Need You

Our downstairs phone broke.

It hung on the kitchen wall for about five years delivering faithful, reliable service: You spoke into it and you could hear another person speaking back. Mission accomplished.

Then its number two broke. We could still call a lot of friends and family, but only those without a two in their phone number. We could, of course, just drop any two bearing individuals from our social network, but this seemed harsh.

As usual, since I am home, the task fell to me to find a replacement. Kathie’s only criterion was that it had to be a wall phone and hence not take up precious counter space. Buying a phone used to be easy. In fact, you often didn’t have to buy one. A subscription to Sports Illustrated netted you a football shaped phone; an example of which was in my son’s bedroom for years.

When you got your new phone, you plugged the jack into the wall and you were in business.

Not so today. I was greeted at Best Buy with an enormous array of phones. Oddly, most of the true wall units are still corded and you can still attach a 20 foot cord to them and multi-task around the kitchen, as Kathie did twenty years ago, gleefully garroting spouse and children while dicing the carrots.

I decided not to go this retro. The helpful young man who waited on me suggested a model that did what I wanted: mounted on the wall, was cordless, had an extra hand-set, and an answering machine. The best news was that it was under fifty bucks.

As soon as I got home, I started the installation. In no time, it was hanging on the wall ready to go. It looked a little odd since it is not a true wall phone but a desk top model fitted with a wall bracket. It appeared to be emerging from the wall like something out of a Dali painting as it sat there without any visible means of support.

It also didn’t work. A read-out on the hand set said “Connecting……..” Of course, if it had said “this phone doesn’t work and never will”, I would have known right away that it had to go. But no, all those animated little dots implied that important electronic stuff was happening and soon all of the necessary handshakes, protocols, etc. would be completed and communication with the outside world restored.

Three hours later, of course, the same message and busy little dots were still there.
I went to the manual and, sure enough, there was a description of what to do if you got a persistent “connecting” message. I performed the steps as outlined in the book by disconnecting and unplugging the phone, disconnecting the batteries and starting over.
No luck.

The instructions then threw in the towel and confessed that if this procedure failed, the phone is probably being interfered with by some other electronic devise like a wireless router, TV, or microwave.

Well, this would be the perfect phone if you were a survivalist living in the great north woods who decides it would be nice to check in with mom once in awhile, but in a modern household like ours where the air crackles with every brain damaging wave known to science this phone is not going to hack it.

Although, you could use it like a canary in a coal mine: "Mary, the phone just died we must leave at once before our heads explode."

So back to Best Buy I went where another bright young man discovered that the returned phone was not compatible with my digital phone service. He sold me one that worked with my service and soon all our two bearing relations were back on the A list.

No wonder Sports Illustrated stopped giving out football phones.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Trip to New England

Kathie and I just got back from a quick trip to New England to attend a folk art show and have a visit with the kids.

I have been pleading for this because it felt like I haven’t been out of the house since July.

We left on Saturday morning and got back on Sunday evening. It was one of those trips where everything dovetailed perfectly. We called Elisabeth from the road and set up a lunch with her and her fiancé, Alex, at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant in the Natick Mall. They were coming from Boston and we were on the Mass. Pike. Not only did we get there at the same time, but they were parking in a spot two spaces over from ours when we arrived. The visit was great and the food was okay. The noteworthy thing about the Cheesecake factory is that they have an 18 page menu. How they turn any tables is a mystery since it took me a half hour to get to the end. I suspect most people are like me and order something from the last page, since by then they have forgotten the tasty morsels they spied on pages 5 and 12.

We got back on the road and headed north for Marlboro, Mass., the site of the craft fair. We checked into our hotel and headed for the show. There were lots of wood carvers there and I soon developed an inferiority complex. While most seemed to be more technically adept than me, they seemed to devote most of their creativity to carving images of Santa and Uncle Sam.

The highlight of the show was the presence of Will Moses, noted folk painter and grandson of the even more famous Grandma Moses. Kathie and I are fans of his work and actually own several lithographs. He was sitting alone at a table waiting to sign copies of his books and calendars. After a brief conversation with him, I understood why he was alone. He brings new meaning to the term taciturn New Englander. I asked what he remembered about his grandmother hoping to gain some insight into the life and work of this beloved American icon. “She was old,” he replied after a few moments consideration.

After the show we headed to Andover and spent a delightful evening trick or treating with our grandson, Owen, and Kris and Jen.

We had a comfortable night in our hotel room and in the morning decided to avail ourselves of the complementary breakfast. Here I had another in my long series of epic struggles with technology. As I perused the buffet I decided to have a piece of toast. The toaster was one of those commercial conveyor types where you put your bread in the top and it comes out the bottom all nice and toasty. I did this and got a piece of barely warm bread for my troubles. I tried again with the same result. Frustrated, I found the temperature control and turned it all the way up. My piece disappeared into the toaster and slowly made its way through the inner workings. After what only seemed a few seconds into its journey smoke started to belch from the machine. Of course I broke into a sweat as there was no way I could stop it or retrieve the toast.

After what seemed like hours, and just as management was arriving on the scene, the charred remains of my toast plopped onto the plate. “I like it well done,” I commented with all the cool I could muster to the panicked looking kitchen staff surrounding the smoking machine.

When I got back to our table, Kathie said: “Where is all the smoke coming from?”
“I just set fire to the buffet area,” I replied.
“Oh. I’m not surprised,” she said without looking up from her plate.
“You’re not going to eat that?”, she said as she gazed at the steaming slab of pure carbon on my plate.
“No. I just didn’t want to leave it for evidence.”

We checked out and headed down Route 28 on the way to Andover for another visit with Owen. Two fire trucks with sirens wailing passed in the opposite direction. I stepped on the gas.