Monday, December 31, 2007
And it's good to know it's out of my control
If there's one thing that I've learned from all this living
Is that it wouldn't change a thing if I let go
Yes, I'll make a resolution
Then I'll never make another one
Just enjoy this ride on my trip around the sun
Just enjoy this ride ...
Until it's done.
-Jimmy Buffet & Martina McBride
Trip Around the Sun
Another year has come and gone. Looking back on 2007, I guess I could sum up my personal corner of the time-space continuum as a Year of Change. Most changes for the better, although some events set in motion have yet to play out for better or worse. Here's hoping for more good than bad.
Today marks our 13th Anniversary, so Mrs. Gnu and I will have lots to celebrate. Tonight, we'll enjoy the ringing in of the New Year from home. I'm not about to risk life and limb on the roads this evening. It never ceases to amaze me just what slow learners much of the population appears to be. Every year, we see stories on the evening news where one idiot after another wraps themselves around a tree or telephone pole. Or worse, smacks head-on into an innocent family. The damned fool staggers away without a scratch, drunk and clueless, while the family dies a horrifying death.
Please, if you go out to celebrate, be smart. Designate a sober driver for the evening or hail a cab. Being a designated driver for your friends isn't a chore, it's a lifesaver. They will thank you later and you'll thank yourself for ensuring your friends and loved ones live to party on in 2008.
If you insist on driving drunk, do the world a favour and drive off a cliff by yourself and take your mutant stupidity genes with you, out of the gene pool. The world is much, much better off without you. Take yourself out but don't take any of us normal people with you.
Hopefully, we'll all wake up New Year's Day, ready to start 2008 afresh. The hangover is optional, unless you drove yourself home, in which case may your head explode, you damn fool.
Got your resolutions ready? I do. Here's mine:
1. Grad School: Stay the course. I got a good start last semester, now I resolve me to not slack off, goof off, put off, or otherwise not take it seriously and do my utmost best for every class. Hell, I'm paying for it, so why not get all I can from the experience!
2. Family: Family first, all others later. I have a bad habit of being a workaholic, plus I take on too many projects in my free time. I've been working hard to simplify my life, eschewing most projects, officer/committee assignments in the community and charities, and keeping a sane balance between school and home. This year, more simplifying.
3. Me: Have fun, learn lots, work hard, love much, laugh often. 'Nuff said!
For all who celebrate intelligently...
Have a Safe and Happy "GNU" Year!!!
Monday, December 24, 2007
And the Angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
(As told by Linus Van Pelt)
I hate Christmas.
Not the quiet, humble remembrance of the miracle of the birth of our Savior Jesus of Nazareth, but the over-hyped, commercialized insanity that has so thoroughly corrupted most holidays in these modern times. I can almost understand why Oliver Cromwell banned the holiday and everything associated with it back in 1647.
It has gotten completely out of hand. It was bad enough when Halloween decorations were getting pushed aside by the initial onslaught of the tinsel horde back in October. It got worse when Thanksgiving was effectively co-opted into a launching board for the full-on insanity. Now we arrive at the Blessed Eve and everyone has apparently lost their sugarplum-addled minds.
It's impossible to walk into any grocery store, bookstore, or any other place of business and conduct any normal activity without getting run over, elbowed, shoved or otherwise violently ravaged by masses of panicked, brainless idiots acting like this year's Christmas is the Second Coming of Christ Hisownholyself.
Driven into a rabid lather by a constant bombardment of jingles, flyers, ads and coupons, the masses are stampeding like some monstrous hybrid of Cattle and Lemming, storming through the parking lots like they were interstate highways and jamming every store, post office and roadway in a desperate attempt to compensate for their total lack of foresight, planning and basic intelligence.
And the rampaging asshattery don't stop there. Someone always has to screw things up whenever there's a gathering of people enjoying themselves. Can't have the children singing Christmas songs in school. Reams of restrictions on decorations at work. The full-scale excommunication of greeting people with"Merry Christmas." Invading armies of athiests, ne'er-do-wells, terrorists and their Liberal enablers armed to the teeth with Nativity lawsuits and worse. Monks and priests duking it out over chair arrangements in the Church of the Holy Sepulcre- you think I'm kidding!
Enough already. Someone spank all these overgrown children and send every last one of them crying in shame to their beds without their supper and with sure promises of stockings full of ashes and switches to greet them come morning. It's time to bring back Reason this Season.
I find that the less I do for Christmas, the more I enjoy it. Every year, I have scaled back my holiday efforts, and every year since, a little more joy returns from the void. No more visiting relatives I can't stand to be around the rest of the year. No more huge spending sprees on extravagant crap no one wants or uses. No more fighting over decorations, wrestling with strings of lights, toy-store meltdowns, or last-minute rushing about.
All I want for Christmas is Peace and Quiet. I want to hear the stillness of snow falling on pines, the crackle of the fire, the soft breath of family snuggled up next to me, and most important of all, the still, small voice which God uses to bring hope, comfort and joy to those who listen for it.
I wish the same for all my friends and loved ones, too. I didn't get around to sending as many postcards as I would've liked to this year, not because I don't care but because I was busy living life. No oversight or offense at all, just an overflowing plate of life and blessings. I've had a lot going on this year. Holidays happen once a year; life is what happens between the holidays. Don't forget to live.
Remembering why we celebrate, who we celebrate, and above all praising God in the highest, Peace; Have a Safe, Quiet, Happy Christmas.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
I have been super-busy with work and school. I don't usually talk about work here, and for good reason. It's the same reason I don't go to office parties: why the fuck would I show up for a social engagement just to stand around and talk about work?!
Anyways, the crunch is over, we're approaching the year-end code freeze. Finally, some time to breathe and rela-OH CRAP! My Final Exam!! I'm four chapters behind, working 14-hour days, gotta sleep sometime... screw that, I'll sleep plenty when I'm dead!
That's what my life was like last week. Scrambling from one project emergency to another as the entire company races to make year-end deadlines before the freeze takes effect. Run home from work, hit the books till the wee hours, wake up at Zero-dark-30 do it all over again. All day Saturday and Sunday, I read, re-read, reviewed, wrote, and tried to cram as much information into my head as I could without making my ears bleed.
The final exam had to be completed before midnight, Sunday. Four hours, multiple choice and essay - not just any essay, open-ended questions! "Tell me everything you know about...____!" Arrgh! Well, not much use complaining, just buckle down and hack through it. If I don't know it now, I never will.
Test anxiety was stuffed in a box and shipped to the Outer Hebrides. No time for self-doubt. I finished the exam with three minutes to spare out of four hours allotted time. Phew! My fingers were tired from the non-stop brain dump. But it was over.
Made a 94. That was below my average for the class (96.8) but enough to finish off with a solid A for the course. Yay!! No ass-kicking for me!
I feel like I've actually accomplished something. It was a tough class, actually. I learned a lot, which helped to solidify what I already knew from my own experience and add to it in ways I hadn't had the opportunity to explore before. I'm glad I put in all the extra effort because the study habits I've gained will come in handy when I'm faced with even harder courses down the road. I'm already working ahead on next semester's course. The books arrived the week before this class's final, and it was really tempting to crack them open and get a head start. One class at a time.
Next semester: Organizational Behaviour. A psychology course... hmm. Mrs. Gnu says I should do well because I like to fuck with peoples' minds and I'm a first-class bullshitter. She's got a point.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Thanksgiving, like Independence Day, is an American invention. Before the founding of this Republic, neither holiday existed. Yes, the pilgrims did celebrate their feast before the Founding Fathers were born, but it was America of all nations that remembered to give thanks.
To give thanks. Think about that. Thanks to whom? Does it matter?
It matters to me. I am thankful to a lot of people for a lot of things. Thanksgiving is a reminder to the nation to remember where we came from, how we got here, and who stood by us along the way.
So without further ado, the top 5 things I am thankful for:
1. I am thankful to God for everything. This life He gave me has a purpose, and it's a gift to be treasured every day. I am thankful for His gift, through the good times that I enjoy as well as the bad times through which I learn and become stronger.
2. I am thankful for my wife and daughter. If not for their love and support, I would be a broken, bitter man. They keep me sane and nourish me with happiness. I do not understand how anyone can take their family for granted. There are those in my past family history who failed to learn this lesson, and the sad, bitter loneliness of their meager existence serves as a warning not to follow their path.
3. I am thankful that I have work to do. Work may drive me nuts some days, but it is far better than not having any work at all. Work is a gift: of opportunity, of achievement, of improvement for me. Take the gift, make the best of it you can and give it your all. One of the rewards of a job well done is the joy you take in the knowledge that it was your job well done.
4. I am thankful for my friends. Over the years I am thankful that I have accumulated far more friends than enemies. I may not stay in touch with all of them equally well, but they're all loved and appreciated nonetheless.
5. I am thankful to be an American. America, in the immortal words of President Ronald Reagan, is the last, best hope for mankind. Nowhere else in the world, in no other epoc in the history of mankind would I have the freedom and opportunity to seek my highest level in life by the sweat of my own brow. I am thankful for our heritage, our way of life, our history - warts and all- and most especially my fellow Americans who face danger around the world defending our God-given freedom. To our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and coasties: THANK YOU FOR KEEPING AMERICA FREE.
What are you thankful for, dear reader?
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
The peak is never passed.
Something always fires the light
That gets in your eye.
One moment's high,
Then glory rolls on by,
Like a streak of lightning,
That flashes and fades
In the summer sky.
Well, I've reached the point of no return. Or maybe the "Point of Know Return" if you're from Kansas. I have passed the midway point of the class. So far so good. It's been a helluva challenge though, juggling work, family, school, sleep. This is no cakewalk, but I'm glad I'm doing it. We had our mid-term exam last week. I stayed up late reading , re-reading, re-re-reading - you get the picture. Reviewing notes, lectures and chapters till I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore. I really, really wanted to do well on the exam. For me, it was affirmation that I knew the tricks of my trade, that I am on the right track.
Problem is, I have test anxiety. Specifically, I go into exams confident and as ready as I can be, but halfway through, that dark-matter part of my brain marked "Doubting Thomas" starts second-guessing my answers. Is the answer A or is it really C? Did I answer that essay question completely enough? Did I write down too much and in doing so get it wrong? This armchair quarterbacking continues long after the exam is over until the grades are posted. Until then, sleep is fleeting. It bothered me all through school and I guess I never got over the problem. It's come back in spades.
Turns out I had nothing to worry about. Grades were posted yesterday afternoon. I aced that mother. I was in shock and had to read it twice to make sure I wasn't seeing things, but I'm a happy Gnu tonight. "Thomas" has been stuffed back into the cobwebbed recessed of my mind.
Finals loom large in the near future. Here, there be dragons.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
I dress up in a rabbit costume and answer my door when the doorbell rings.
Kids: "Trick or treat!!"
Me: "TRICK!" spray them with silly string
Kids: dumbfounded look
Me: "Silly Rabbit! Tricks are for kids!!"
Friday, October 26, 2007
Let me set the scene:
Tullio's Italian bakery on the Outer Banks. We're all ordering up tasty desserts. I spy the cannoli in the corner right as we're all wrapping up our orders.
Bakery Girl: "Will there be anything else, sir?"
Me: Yes, I'd like one of your cannolis, please."
BG: "Certainly. Anything else?"
The Skating Gnu: "Can I get some gum, daddy?"
Me: "Leave the gum. Take the cannoli."
Damn, I'm good!
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Greetings from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It's been perfect weather here. Mid-70's in the daytime, only spotty cloud cover, light breeze. The Gnu Herd rolled into town over the weekend and since we got here, the plan for the week is simple: zilch. No plan is a good plan. The cottage has an internet connection, so I can send a few postcards across the cyber-sea.
The Skating Gnu and I took a short trip by ourselves to the Currituck Lighthouse in Corolla while Mrs. Gnu stayed at the cottage and rested. We hiked to the top, looked all around, then took a short hike around the grounds to the old schoolhouse and historic village.
And made a somewhat dangerous friend:
photo copyright 2007, The Smoking Gnu
Yep. That's a Cottonmouth, or Water Moccassin. One of several poisonous species of snakes found in the Coastal Plains and Piedmont. We stumbled upon it sunning in the road on our way back from the village. It's a good thing the Missus wasn't with us: she would have freaked. My daughter, on the other hand, wanted to adopt it. She even named it: say hello to Connie, the Cottonmouth.
They say kids learn fear from their parents. I have gone out of my way to instill a fascination for all life - tempered with a healthy respect for living creatures - in her from an early age. I was raised on a farm and I spent much of my youth catching critters, from praying mantises to snapping turtles, and even the odd groundhog and injured squirrel. I even caught a rabbit with my bare hands one time, but that's a story for another day.
She is just as fascinated with wildlife as I am, completely the opposite of her mother who cringes at the mere thought of a cricket chirping. We stood there, each party sizing the other up, the snake probably scared to death, we on the other hand, completely mesmerized by its natural beauty. A perfect opportunity to teach my daughter what a poisonous reptile looks like in real life, how it's important to nature, and why it should be respected, and after a few pictures (using a telephoto lens - hey, I'm crazy, but not stupid!) we parted ways, everyone happy.
Oh, in case you were wondering, I was right. My wife freaked. The pictures were proof positive to her that we had completely lost our minds and would both wind up in the hospital before the year ended.
City girl. But I love her still.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Off the coast of Carolina
After one or two false starts
I believe we've found our stride
And the walls that won't come down
We can decorate or climb
Or find some way to get around
Cause I'm still on your side
From the bottom of my heart.
-Jimmy Buffett, Coast of Carolina
License to Chill
A well-deserved vacation that's been a long time coming. Finally here.
One brief stopover for TacoCon tomorrow, then we're packing the fishing gear, crab nets, Tabasco-jambalaya mix (yes, I am an optimist) and heading to the Banks.
1. I'm not wearing a watch.
2. Or socks.
3. If that goddamn cell phone rings and it's not a good friend calling, it's gonna get chucked in the ocean.
See y'all in a week!
Monday, October 8, 2007
And what sunrays we took in too. Thanks to her mother's Italian heritage, The Skating Gnu turned a nice olive bronze after 10 hours in the bright sun. Me, I looked like an evil witch turned me into a big tomato. And that was just the first 15 minutes. I went from "monitor tan" to "afterburner glow" in no time flat. The burning is going down, slowly but surely, and I've rediscovered the wonders of 100% pure Aloe gel.
Was it worth it?
You tell me:
all photos copyright 2007, The Smoking Gnu
Friday, October 5, 2007
Dear old golden rule days.
Readin' and 'ritin' and 'rithmetic,
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick.
You were my queen in calico,
I was your bashful barefoot beau,
And you wrote on my slate,
"I love you, so"
When we were a couple of kids.
William D. Cobb, 1907
Dear Mr. [Smoking Gnu],
Congratulations, you have been approved for admission as a provisional student in the Master of Science degree program in Information Technology...
Well folks, this is where the rubber meets the road.
My acceptance letter arrived today from the Graduate School. Wow, this is for real now. I'm officially accepted, complete with a stern admonition to earn a 3.0 GPA or else. These folks don't fool around. This is serious work. I'll have some prerequisites to complete before I become a regular student, hence the "provisional" notation.
I'm ready. Apprehensive, but ready to begin. I've been reading ahead in the course book, taking notes and working the exercizes to prepare myself. It's been a long time since I've had to take tests that really count for something. This is a much higher level than the technology certifications I've done in the past; I could always retake those until I got it right.
I'm glad I started reading ahead. I'm getting myself into some good study habits, and brushing up on my test-taking. The quiz work at the end of each chapter was a wake-up call. No rushing through: take your time, choose the best answer. Double check your work. Same thing I've been telling my daughter for her schoolwork, now she's fussing at me in return. She's earned the right to do that just a little.
She's making straight A's this term. Yay, Skating Gnu!
Were it to G-d I should be so lucky in my studies!
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Still, I have a reputation for leaving a "creative blast radius" in the kitchen, to the point where, if my family sees me staring at the spice rack with a pensive look on my face, they grab the phone and the Domino's Pizza magnet off the fridge and wait for the detonation.
Today, I was hungry. So, staring at the contents of the fridge, I thought I'd make short work of the various and sundry leftovers accumulating in there. In walks my daughter.
Surveying the scene, she asked, "Whatcha doing, Daddy?"
I replied, "Experimenting. Wanna help?"
Without skipping a beat, she deftly replied, "Sure, I'll get the bandages," and walked out of the kitchen.
Smartass. She's definitely her mother's daughter.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Foundations of IS (good start)
Computer Hardware (snort)
Computer Software (snicker)
Telecom and Networks (guffaw)
I've only been doing this for nearly 20 years. The first few chapters cover things I can do in my sleep. If I don't ace this course, I'll break a boot off in my own ass and I'll invite each of you to form a line to do the same, cuz I'll sure as hell deserve an ass kicking.
What I am afraid of, on a more serious note, is getting overconfident. I don't want to get cocky, so I'm definitely approaching this with the seriousness it deserves. So even though the class doesn't officially start for another three weeks, I'm cracking the book, reading ahead and preparing for whatever quizzes, tests and other assignments will be coming my way.
My wife, on the other hand, needs to be sent off to remedial driving school. Or at least rudimentary mechanics. I think I've mentioned before how dumbfounded she gets when faced with anything that has knobs, dials, gears, flywheels, buttons, levers and/or blinky lights. Today, she called me up at the office in a panic. It's raining outside, and she has the wipers on, driving around town on errands.
"So what's the problem," I ask.
"The wipers are not going faster when I turn the knob! And, OMG I turned the knob to 'Off' and they're still going!!"
"Wow, that is weird. Okay, if the wipers are still going, you're still driving, and it's raining, stop fiddling with the buttons! As long as they're going, even if it they are going slow, don't keep messing with them or they may stop working altogether on you. Go home, and I'll look it over when I get home tonight."
I'm thinking maybe an electrical problem or something. Seems logical. No. It was simpler than that. Much simpler. Paris Hilton simpler...
She called back later, laughing her ass off. She figured it out when she got in to the garage: the knob she was fiddling with the whole time was for the headlights, not the wipers. So the whole time she was flipping the "wipers" off, on, and on full, she was signaling the entire highway with her headlights.
Another day in the life of a crazy married couple... Wouldn't trade it for the world.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
I'll never forget that day and what I saw happen. Recalling my reaction, I understood how the Greatest Generation felt on another "day of infamy," December 7, 1941. My gut reaction, even before the second plane hit, was, "This is war."
Fascist Islam thought we'd run away crying and surrender. This picture, which circulated soon after the attack, speaks volumes about the will and resolve of true Americans:
Pray for the innocent dead. Pray for their families. Pray for our troops. Pray for Total Victory.
Remember who started this war. No prayer for the enemy.
Sunday, September 9, 2007
I'd planned to get started this year, back when I was working for a top-ranked software firm which shall remain unnamed, but that fell by the wayside in an unforeseen re-org. That was two jobs ago, and as a consultant, there's no safety net under me anymore. So, I've decided not to wait for someone to sponsor me; I'm taking a loan from Uncle Sam and doing it myself. Sometimes you simply have to decide if the goal is worth the sacrifice or not. Maybe there will be a big payoff for this, maybe not. Screw it, I'm doing this for me.
I'm kinda scared, actually. This is kinda like the fear one gets bungee-jumping for the first time, wondering if the rope's tenuous grip on your ankles will hold up to the G-force of all those White Castle burgers from across the years. And once you take that leap, it's no longer a simple physics problem, the consequences are real.
It's been a long time since I've had to really study for real tests. Granted, I've got certifications, and I've been to scores of technology classes to keep current for work, but this is completely different. If I don't maintain a 3.5 GPA they'll toss my sorry ass out on the street. And I'll still owe Sam the dough. So, yeah, the stakes are a lot higher in this game.
Fingers crossed, I should be walking the aisle dressed in a mortarboard and robes in two years or so. Will I be naked under the robes? Stay tuned for that answer.
Saturday, September 1, 2007
I tried to save it, but the poor thing just couldn't hang on. The postmortem autopsy revealed the culprit (yes, I am one of those types who likes to take things apart!) and just like in those pharmaceutical commercials, what felled my little printer was left than a half-inch in length:
It appears to be a guide bracket from the paper feed pathway. You would think that something like this, which is right next to the gearworks would be made of metal not flimsy plastic. The truly sad part is that the printer was one of those all-in-one types, so while it can no longer print or make copies, the scanner part probably works just fine.
Drop me a line if you want to make me an offer on it.
Monday, August 27, 2007
As promised, the queries, and their answers:
1. Briefly, but not too briefly, tell me why I am awesome.
Because you think a lot like me. Seriously, reading your blog and rants in other parts of the CyberSea, we seem to take much the same approach, even if we differ somewhat on the end results. Birds of a feather, dude. See you at TacoCon!
2. What is something about you that I don't know and would never guess?
I started college full-time at 14, part-time at 12. Graduated one of the youngest ever in the history of the University.
3. If you could take over the life of any person currently living on earth for as long as you wanted who would it be, why and for how long?
Wow, good question. Do I go for the boilerplate, cheesy answer of "powerful person, do some good" or "evil asshole, have some fun" like the rest of the herd? Perhaps I'd just take a page from "Heaven can Wait" and just be someone a bit more ordinary and see life from a different perspective. Maybe a child, or a new mother, or an old man near his end. Just to see what life looks like through Other Eyes. How long? Long enough to understand.
4. What do you want your last spoken words to be?
(You asked for it.)
5. What's the perviest thing you've ever done (did anyone really think I was going to get through five questions and not drag it into the gutter? really?)?
Do you really want to know the answer to that? You think my wife will let me tell you the whole story?? Put it to you this way: I'll never be able to order a certain "love-thy-partner by the seashore" drink in a bar without remembering the bewildered looks on the faces of that Scout troop.
And for the record, no, we did not stop.
Friday, August 24, 2007
So, here are some random thoughts that popped into my mind recently. Psychology students looking for dissertation material, pay attention, please...
I was driving home today and got stuck behind a minivan (scourge of the highway!!!!) that had one of those bumper stickers that said, "Proud Parent of a Terrific Kid." I want one to put on Mrs. Gnu's car that says, "Embarrassed Wife of an Opinionated Asshole." They cost less in bulk, anyone else want in on the deal?
As much as I agree with those who say round up all the illegal immigrants and ship their criminal asses back where they came from and build a big wall to keep them out, I still can't escape one nagging thought: Now you know how the Cherokee felt! Are we destined for our own Trail of Tears into exile on the shores of Baffin Island?
So the Little Gnu starts sixth grade on Monday. I'm moping around feeling old just thinking about that. Told Mrs. Gnu that I'd feel younger if we had another baby. Now I feel old and I'm bruised and aching all over. Ow!
When tax time rolls around again, how many welfare brood-mares, illegal aliens and third world tinpot dictators can I write in as dependents on my form 1040?
I walked into a Starbucks and didn't order a "tall" or a "venti" or a goddamn "grande" drink. I ordered a Large. Kid behind the counter said, "Oh, you mean the Venti, right?" I replied, "No, large. I don't speak 'Idiot.'" The look: priceless.
Well, my skull is now empty. Hope you've enjoyed this tour of the insane confines of my head. Please watch your step as you exit the vehicle...
Sunday, July 29, 2007
The worst offenders in my book are:
T. K. Tripps: Home of the ten-dollar hamburger - cheese and flavour extra, thankyewverymuch! Overpriced, mediocre food, but their pride and joy is their atmosphere! If I wanted atmosphere, I'd take a walk through the woods just after a late-spring rain. The penultimate snobbery hangout for yuppies in the 90's, this blank wall of nothingness charges way too much and delivers so very little.
Applebees: Big on pretense, small on results. They try to give the appearance of an upscale eatery but somehow the rich, savory delight of a true family restaurant got lost in the mail. Instead of a happy, enjoyable dining experience, you get fake smiles hiding behind a wall of glittering buttons as if it they were the gansta bling of the food industry. For some reason the less-intelligent of the Human species gathers here every day to celebrate birthdays, because every conversation I attempt to have with my friends and family in this place is interrupted by tone-deaf staff screaming some insipidly annoying version of Happy Birthday.
Ruby Tuesday's: Nothing sets this place apart except for the dim lighting and even dimmer staff. Except maybe the completely unimaginative menu. The layout of the place is horrendous, a special violator of common sense design. (See below)
Outback: I am so fucking sick of the fake Aw-straaahl-yan accent! I know REAL Australians, and every last one of them hates this place too. And for good reason. The food is extraordinarily ordinary, and the decor so stereotyped and fake it is an insult to the real denizens of the "Fatal Shores." If a Soul Food chain tried to duplicate this they'd plaster tap-dancing blackface stepin' fetchits all over the wall and the resulting furor would shut them down in less than a week.
Rock-Ola: Elvis is dead. I know this because if he were alive, he'd personally kick the asses of every single owner of this noisome franchise. Trying so hard so evoke a "rock-n-roll" feel, they somehow managed to excise all of the roots of rock-n-roll and instead leave you with a combination of pasty white crooners with pot-addled Woodstock rejects. The place is so noisy, I'm surprised they manage to stay open without violating local noise ordinances. Casual conversation is impossible here. If I wanted to shout at my friends over the top of generic pop music, I'd get tickets to a Hanson concert.
The [Insert City Nickname Here In Vain Attempt To Appear Local] Chop House: The ultimate yuppie hangout from the overpretensious 90's. The place to see and be seen. But not for eating. Portions designed to keep starving Africans starving, decor straight out of smoke-filled boardrooms, and waitstaff specially trained to be snottier than the French. Try showing up here while on business travel by yourself sometime. "Table for one, please." [Snotty look] "Only one, m'seur?" "No, stupid, I brought all of my imaginary friends."
Longhorn Steaks: A recent addition to my list, thanks to waitresses clad in Texas garb but spluttering Jersey accents whilst smacking gum. What. The. Fuck. So there's one open in a nearby town, now. I took the Gnu Herd there, thinking maybe things had changed. Nope. Completely empty place and they can't seat us right away. Something about having to find an open table. Guess they needed a map. Worst of all, we ask for non-smoking and we get a table in the no-man's land near the smoking bar while the real tables in the rarified "non-cancerous" altitudes remained empty. So I asked to be re-seated. You'd have though I'd just asked if I could set fire to the place. A huge dramatic production ensued between one empty-headed blonde and another to try to determine if such a thing as another empty table existed anywhere in the known universe. Remember, the place was nearly empty. We left in disgust.
Cracker Barrel: Remember the old commercial where a guy eating out of a jar of Peanut Butter runs smack into a girl wolfing down a Hershey bar? The result was Reese's magic. No such magic is apparent in this bastard lovechild of a wannabe country store and a greasy spoon truckstop cafe. You'll find these places popping up like poisonous fungi along the highway, just follow the ever-present columns of smoke from the misplaced Wal-Martians wandering the aisles in the gift shop right up front. This will really turn your stomach: a few years ago, the local TV station tested the tea they serve here and found that it contained more fecal coliform bacteria that a water sample from the wastewater plant. 'Nuff said.
Each entry above illustrates perfectly the underlying design flaw present in every last one of these miserable joints. First, from the parking lot to the hostess is the first hazard to overcome: The Outside Chimney Line. Scores of smokers puffing away, some two-fisting it for chrissakes! - as if the mere thought of a nicotine-free dinner was itself fatal.
Having made it past Cancer Cloud City, we arrive in the portico of misery: The perky yet dim-witted hostess who for some reason needs Air-Traffic-Controller grade technology to keep track of the tables. And yet, a mere peek behind the Wizard's Curtain reveals scores of glittering tables ready for the huddled mass of patrons anxiously awaiting reprieve from the billowing smoke emanating from the Chain-Smoking Gang outside as well as the eye-watering bar directly in front of them. It's like a cancerous Scylla and Charybdis.
The smoking section itself constitutes a gauntlet that patrons must run through to get to the supposedly clear-aired non-smoking sections. One must endure the impenetrable wall of putrid carcinogenic smog that will stick to your clothes more permanently that a Sharpie in the hands of a four-year-old. Even after you arrive at your seat, the concept of air circulation completely escapes both the architects as well as the operators of these places: a mere waist-high partition separates the living from the dying.
Smoke, of course, knows no bounds. We always manage to get placed right on the border between breathable air and smog, a virtual no-man's land where the food, if it originally had flavour, now tastes like asphalt. And invariably there's some idiot smoker hanging his or her cigarette over the wall in our faces. I have actually tossed my water over the fuming hedge separating me from such imbeciles, thinking the carpet was on fire or something.
If the designers of these places had any sense whatsoever, they'd either make the entire restaurant smoke-free or place the Death Ward in the very back near the garbage bins. I'm not one to go around advocating laws and such to govern personal behaviour, but given the complete lack of forethought in civil engineering coupled with the fact that one person's "Low Tar Taste of Adventure" is forcibly shared with others who find the putrid smell disgusting, perhaps we need a little governance to rein in the nasty effects of certain personal habits. At least until those who insist on killing themselves learn better how to keep it to themselves.
One such place which has taken a lead in creating a true family-friendly atmosphere is Red Robin. I'd been to one out on the Left Coast, and was delighted to find two nearby the office. And a third one is opening soon right down the road from my home. Red Robin is 100% non-smoking. [Raucous applause from the still-growing lungs of children everywhere!] The food is fairly good, too. Nothing like a local mom-and-pop place, but at least it doesn't taste like pine tar. It is not overbearingly noisy; they actually have a working volume control on the muzak! The waitstaff are competent, unobtrusive, and to get a better feel for how far they will go to serve you, I call upon The Taco Prophet to share his experience dining there with his family.
Unfortunately, no franchise chain can ever replace the local eateries with long histories of local food traditions. Soul Food rich with wholesome goodness from the heart of the South, pier-facing fish houses on both coasts brimming with Neptune's bounty, steak houses in the Heartland where each steak is grilled to personal order over hot coals - and you occasionally taste a bit of real mesquite or hickory wood that popped out of the coals just to remind you how real men cook steaks! - or the exotic flavours of the Far East, brought to the New World from home far, far away. These places are disappearing fast, as the new generation fails to carry forward the venerable traditions of old. It doesn't help either that the local repositories of both food traditions and the histories of those who gathered in droves to partake thereof are being driven out by the invasive Kudzu of commercialized blandness.
Friday, July 20, 2007
I'll tell you what we do, my Blue friend: We mess with their minds.
Exhibit A: We went to Boone last weekend and stayed in a hotel suite with TVs in both rooms. Wife and I are watching one show in our room, and the Little Gnu is in the other room watching hers. Unbeknownst to her, the remote in my room works perfectly well on her TV over there. So I spent the better half of an hour randomly resetting the volume, changing channels, turning it off and just generally behaving like a poltergeist pointing my remote at the TV in the other room, until finally she cries out, "Daddy! The TV's messed up!"
Cue my hero shot: I walk in, bang the top of the TV, and boldly declare, "everything is fixed."
For about 10 minutes. Lather, rinse, repeat. Mwahahahaa!
Exhibit B: The Little Gnu is watching a nature show on the Discovery Channel about snakes. I amble by with a warm, unopened Pepsi bottle in my hand. I walk up behind her and say, "Snakes on TV? Hope there aren't any snakes in the living room here."
"Oh don't be silly, Daddy, there are no snakes in here."
I stand right behind her head and twist open the bottle cap with a loud "PSHHHHH!"
When the poor child finally scraped herself off the ceiling, she chased me out into the garage. Good thing I unplugged all the power tools.
Thursday, July 5, 2007
I shouldn't complain too much. That particular unit lasted for seven long years with us. Especially with Mrs. Gnu and the Little Gnu popping up popcorn and pizza every half hour all summer long. We got our money's worth out of it. But alas, it died so off to the local Hardware Superstore I went to get a replacement.
Brought back a really nice one for the low, low price of $200. Not bad, actually, considering Mrs. Gnu had her pretty little eyes set on one of the $600 ones. I won that argument. Dammit. The new oven has got automagical settings for all four food groups: coffee, pizza, popcorn and leftovers. Woo-hoo! One of the Helpful Hardware Experts at the store, after much arm-twisting to get me to spring for the in-home delivery and installation (a bargain at $150!!) to no avail, assured me installation was a snap. All you gots'ta do is unscrew the top bolts, slide the old oven off the back bracket, and ease the new one in. Piece o' cake.
Yeah. Murphy doesn't take a fucking holiday around here, folks.
First of all, I had about an hour and a half to get the two ovens swapped out before we had to head out for an afternoon Barbecue with friends. Shoot, if it's as easy as the nice salesman says, I'll have this done with time to spare. Who in their right minds would shell out 150 clams for someone to this? Well, pulling the old oven out was easy. Destruction usually is. Off to the boneyard with you, old friend.
Now we encounter the first problem: the bracket is incompatible with the new oven. We found that out after trying and trying to hoist the oven up into the slot and failing miserably. Arrgh! Fortunately, the new oven comes with a new bracket. Just have to pull the old one off and screw the new one in to the wall. Whoops, I dropped my screwdriver behind the stove. Time's up! Gotta go grill and chill with my peeps! Got home late from the BBQ and fireworks, off to work early in the morning.
Come home this evening to a pair of very angry Gnus. They want their popcorn... Now!! Back to work on restoring the kitchen to working order. So, we have to move the stove out and then squeeze in behind the cabinets to trade brackets. Only to find out that the guys who put it in managed to miss every single stud and had improvised with drywall mounts. Big, ugly, useless holes all over the drywall! On top of that, my cordless screwdriver's batteries died. I tried every single battery in the house (we have a whole ensemble of Black & Decker cordless products, not a single one of them in working order presently) and couldn't find one that would hold a charge. Off to the Hardware Superstore again, this time for a speed square and a drill with a cord.
Back from the hardware store, time to see if the bolts line up in the cabinet. Nope. Gotta drill those out, too. There's an old saying, "measure twice, cut once." I measured three separate ways, to make those damn bolts line up, and in the end, I was still off by 1/4 of an inch on all four sides!!
It took all night, a lot of swearing, and assistance from Mrs. Gnu to re-drill the bracket holes, mount the bracket, re-measure the top-mount holes, and hoist the microwave up only to discover that there is a quarter-inch warp in time-space that exists precisely 30 inches above our stovetop.
"It's okay, dear," says Mrs. Gnu. "You're used to handling twelve inches at a time, so a quarter inch is nothin'."
God, I love that woman!
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
I guess it is fortunate that none would live to see the sad state of affairs today, when political animals, living here simply by accident of birth, work so hard to betray our country and bring ruin down on all our heads. These are Liberals: more interested in political power than safeguarding the lives and liberty of us true Americans who are forced to share our country with them. Since they seem to have infected the Democratic party like a gangrenous leprosy, I call then TreasonCrats.
Liberty is a very fragile gift. It requires maintenance, vigilance, and dedication. It is not a gift to us, it is a gift entrusted to our care for our children. It is not easy to keep Liberty. Most things worthwhile in life are not easy to obtain or keep up. TreasonCrats seem to believe that they have the natural right (not God-given because they hate God and do everthing possible to erase His name from our land) to be free to do as they will on a whim, and damn the cost that others will be forced to pay for their selfish happiness.
This "happiness at all cost" attitude is irresponsible and destructive. Note that there is a difference between Liberty and freedom. Liberty exists in the structure of civilised behaviour with a clear understanding of rules and boundaries, and respecting the unbreakable link between choice and consequence, right and responsibility, privilege and obligation, while unbounded freedom thrives in anarchy with no regard to the consequences and no thought at all to the future.
Here is an Independence Day message for all the Liberal TreasonCrats out there:
We're fighting a war for the survival of all civilised life here. And you're not helping. In fact, too many on the lunatic left are actively engaged in treason against the very country that allows them the liberty to act like assholes. But there is a big difference between the right to act like an ignorant douchebag and tearing down the very structure of your own country. You cannot separate cause from effect or choice from consequence; you can ignore the link between them, but only at your own mortal peril.
We're fighting a war against true evil: Islamic Fascists who are hell-bent upon destroying all human life including their own. There is no moral equivalency between our fighting to protect the lives and freedoms of civilised humanity and the wanton death and destruction that these Death-Cult types wish to visit upon our children.
We are not alone in this battle. Some people actually get it. Greetings from another country under fire from Liberal TreasonCrats and their Islamic Fascist allies:
If you are unable to distinguish a moral difference between the two images above, then you have something obscuring your vision. Ideology, perhaps?
Quotes from others throughout history who get it:
To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
We shall not flag nor fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France and on the seas and oceans; we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on beaches, landing grounds, in fields, in streets and on the hills. We shall never surrender and even if, which I do not for the moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, will carry on the struggle until in God's good time the New World with all its power and might, sets forth to the liberation and rescue of the Old.
Winston S. Churchill
It is the soldier, not the reporter
Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet,
Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the campus organizer,
Who has given us freedom to demonstrate.
It is the solider, not the lawyer,
Who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the solider who salutes the flag,
Who serves under the flag and
Whose coffin is draped by the flag,
Who allows the protester to burn the flag.
Father Denis Edward O'Brien, USMC
Happy Independence Day to all True Americans, who love Liberty and may God bless America and those who defend it.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
See, now that you know their secret, they'll have to kill you. Slowly, painfully. Be sure to invite me to the wedding, my friend.
He's got a good point, though. That sort of trap happens all the time to me.
Earlier this month:
I came home from work one afternoon and was greeted by an angry Gnu. Sometime during the day, the toilet got clogged somehow. Thankfully, instead of attempting to unclog the toilet herself, and thereby creating a man-made lake where our house once stood, she left that task to me. She's wonderful and sweet, but mechanically inept, to say the least. I forgot about it as I was unwinding from the workday, and she didn't remind me until later on in the evening when she decided she wanted to take a shower. So, she went to find me and get my help.
Folks, how would you reply to a question worded this way:
"Honey, are you going to unclog the toilet so I can take a shower?"
Monday, June 25, 2007
Well, just like Rip van Winkle, I'm feeling a bit old this month. Not in the usual smart-ass sense of being another month older. I pulled that on my daughter already: told her "You're the oldest now that you have ever been in your entire life." It's funny watching the gears turn as she computes that sentence and only comes up with "TILT" in her head. Then she smacks the hell out of me and continues her merry way. Ahh, to be a kid again.
I feel old because my sweet little angel is going to be -gasp!- a Middle Schooler this Fall!! Gaah! Where did the time go? (Screw that, where did my hair go!?!) I'd better start counting my eye blinks because sooner than I want to think about, she'll be asking for the keys to the car. But that little fucker on the doorstep with the bolt through his nose better damn well be delivering pizza! Hey! You kids! Get off my lawn!!
I also feel old because I have no idea what to do with my free time tonight. She is away at a statewide conference in the Big City Far, Far Away, and Ms. Gnu and I have the house all to ourselves. We have no friggin' clue what to do without a rambunctious little munchkin under foot. Maybe we could borrow a kid from the neighbors...
So, we're sitting here on the couch, bored out of our skulls. Ms. Gnu, sorely missing our Little Gnu, decides it would be a good idea to call the hotel room and check up on her. She puts this to me in a simple question, but as usual, ends up demonstrating how differently men and women think:
The Missus: "Dear, want to try [The Skating Gnu's] room?"
Me: "What? Are you crazy? We can't 'do it' in her bedroom! That's sick!!"
TM: "No you asshole! Call her hotel room and make sure she's okay!!!!" [stomps off]
Me: "Oh. Sorry. Wanna do it in the kitchen?" [ducks flying object]
Looks like I got the couch tonight. Again.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Found this little gem posted proudly on the door. Not the outside door, the one at the ice itself.
Honestly, if you need a sign for something this intuitively obvious, you have absolutely no business being out in public unrestrained, unmedicated, unmuzzled or without proper adult supervision.
Which means you're most likely on state welfare and breeding out of control.
A little Social Darwinism here, please? Or at least some chlorine for the gene pool?
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Cue "24" ticking-bomb sound...
The following happened tonight between 6:47pm and 7:06pm
Mrs. Larriken (The Talking Gnu? I didn't say that...) and I are sitting on the couch, hungry, each waiting for the other to get up, so the one can say, "Fix me a little sup'm-sup'm while you're up, dear." I lost. Dammit, I'm hungry.
The Missus: "Dear, will you fix me a scrambled egg sammich, please? On toast."
Me: "Yes dear. One or two eggs?"
TM: "Two please. I love you."
Me: "I love me too, thanks for noticing. You want one or two sammiches?"
TM: (with warning look from aforementioned snide retort) "Two."
TM: No. Just plain."
(pause, sound of pans rattling in the kitchen...)
Me: "Hot Sauce?"
Me: "Hot sauce. Want hot sauce on your eggs?"
TM: "No, just two plain egg sammiches."
(pause, cooking sounds...)
Me: "Sure you don't want hot sauce? I can make it mild..."
TM: "No, *dear*. No hot sauce."
(pause, toast pops out of toaster...)
Me: "Want me to mix your hot sauce with mayo, make a Southwestern sauce out of it?"
TM: (through gritted teeth) "No. No hot sauce. just two plain egg sammiches. On. Toast."
(pause, finished cooking...)
Me: "Okay, sweetie, here's your two egg sammiches, on toast with mild hot sauce, just like you ordered."
TM: "Oh for the love of - ARRRRRGHHHHHH!" (stomps off)
Friends, if you happen to see me running across the lawn in a zig-zag fashion, you'll know she's found the keys to the gun safe...
Monday, May 21, 2007
(unison) "Hi Larriken."
A good friend of mine was amazed at how openly I admit that I like the band. He says most people who like Rush don't like to say it out loud. Like it's some sort of shameful secret. Come on folks! This is one of the all-time classic hard rock bands that never got old! Thing I like about Rush is every few albums or so, they try something different. Blues-based hard rock to progressive conceptual albums, then radio-friendly tunes, to hard-grinding jam sessions.
Their latest is Snakes and Arrows. I was really looking forward to this release since their last release, Vapor Trails, was, in my opinion, one of their strongest albums in a long time. Whereas Vapor Trails was consistently heavy - a great follow-up to Test for Echo - Snakes and Arrows jigs back and forth from alternative blues to modern/progressive rock. Kinda hard to classify, which is what I've come to expect from Rush. That's why they never get old. This album pulls from a lot of old Rush combinations; in a way, it's a retrospective of their evolution as musicians.
It's a good combination overall. Although not a particularly strong follow-on to Vapor Trails, if you consider it freestanding, it works well. Lifeson's instrumental tracks are awesome to listen to on the road. Lee's vocals are still among the best in the industry - indeed a "far cry" from the old Rolling Stone insult he endured at the beginning of his career. There are some weak tracks, and occasionally the lyric writing gets a little too far out there - Neal Peart has been doing a lot of soul searching in recent years due to personal tragedies. His songwriting is more introspective nowadays, but sometimes gets carried away. Still, there are more than a couple strong rockers on this album that I'll be adding to my "Best of..." list. Overall, I'd give Snakes and Arrows 7 out of ten.
I know you are out there, you closet Rush fans. It's okay. We accept you.
Friday, May 18, 2007
He's also a pilot, and lemme tell ya, he can tell you flying stories that'll keep you glued to your seat for hours on end. He taught Aunt Suzie how to fly.
Yeah. My Uncle Clyde is the coolest uncle in the world. He can kick your uncle's ass for sure.
Check it out, he's breeding his own Air Force:
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
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Someone told me not to. So, NYAA!
Who am I? Just your average, ordinary, everyday guy, really. Regrets? I've had a few. But just as many good times, too. I've done extraordinary things as well as extraordinarily stupid things. If you haven't, then you haven't lived, my friend. The stupid things I've done, I usually do only once. Twice if I've been drinking. Thrice if it was fun. But I digress...
I won't go into some self-pretentious soliloquy about who I am and all my good and bad points. Not all at once, at least. After all, this is just the introduction.
I'll occasionally post musings about things that happen along the way, maybe a good story or two. I've always liked spinning yarns. Sometimes it's the extra flourishes a good storyteller adds to the tale that makes it magical for the listener. As a kid I always loved campfire tales. A good storyteller is worth his weight in gold, especially in this modern, sterile age of prepackaged pap and pablum, with cardboard characters, contrived plots, cliche dialogue and just overall craptacular inattention to the true magic of storytelling. No. Take me back to the good old days of tall tales, Just-So Stories, and ghost stories around the bonfire.
And don't forget the marshmallows, dammit!!