Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bad History, Teeth, Cats, Idiots


Bad History

I watched the first two episodes of "Sons of Liberty" on the History Channel. I might watch the final episode tonight, but it's hard. It makes good TV I guess, but it's lousy history.

I don't know why I'm surprised. Despite its name, there's an awful lot of non-historical crap on the History Channel.

Through the first two hours of the show I kept throwing up my hands, and a couple of times had to leave the room. It's like that Heath Ledger movie, "A Knight's Tale," which supposedly is about jousting knights and treats them like rock stars – literally, considering some of the music was by Queen. There's a 21st century mindset or attitude that I guess is supposed to help us "get" the issues. But what it really does is hide what's real about those times and those people under a simplistic veneer.

And in the movie, they were fictional characters in a fictional setting. In "Sons of Liberty," these are real people. They really existed and really did things that created this country. And the History Channel's effort gives lip service to some of it, short cuts, truncates and oversimplifies most of it, and then just makes stuff up because it makes good TV.

I forget who said "History is a great story that just happened to have really taken place," but there's a lot to that. I just wish the History Channel had bothered to tell the story that really happened.

Teeth

Went to the dentist last week. That's not particularly noteworthy, except it was the first time in six and a half years. The last time I went to the dentist it was about a couple of teeth towards the back that were breaking off, chip at a time. Necrotic (dead.) Not painful, just kind of annoying. That dentist told me how we'd take care of it over the next few months if treatment. I pointed out that I was moving to St. Croix in three days, and that was that.

So now that I'm covered on Tori's dental and optical insurance, she insisted I go to the dentist. It wasn't bad. Not painful. Yet. Now I have a treatment plan that the insurance will cover about half of. And some of it – scraping and planing and removing the roots of those two missing teeth – does not not sound painless.

But I'm a grownup, and I recognize that if I don't do something, I'll probably lose most of them. So I'll do it.

But first I've got a doctor's appointment next week. Haven't been to a doctor in eight years, since I didn't have insurance. Now I do thanks to the Affordable Care Act (thank you, President Obama.) I could have signed on to Tori's health insurance at work, but adding me would have been so expensive there'd almost be no point in her working.

I feel fine. Not great. I will turn 60 this year and there's plenty of little things. But mostly I feel fine. I've got a list of little nagging things that will make him sit up and keep him busy for a while, running tests and whatnot.

And with new glasses – that's also on the agenda – I'll soon be a new man.

I just hope I'm still funny.

Cats

We are down to zero cats – we're 3 of 3.

In November, Tori brought a kitten home from the Spaymart adoption center for us to foster. She was sick, couldn't be with the other cats. We fed Jane (Tori had named her Jane Austen) and fattened her up, took her in for her shots and neutering, played with her, shared the computer with her, cleared up her ear mites, and took her back so that someone could adopt her. She was a Christmas present for two young kids and is now a pampered and beloved member of that family. They brought photos by the Spaymart the other day.

While we were fostering Jane, Tori brought home Lucy. We were told she needed some discipline, she was unruly, attacked and bit and was unsociable. Sounded fun. She had been found on a boat. Young, probably not more than six weeks old, she was still a little feral and HATED being in the cage at Spaymart. Hissed, growled, bit. It took her a day to get comfortable in our house, but playing with Jane, she got used to us.

In fact, she quickly showed her true colors. She was a little love. She still played kind of wildly. Every morning for about an hour she'd be sort of manic, so much so that we thought maybe Lucy was short for Lucifer, but all of a sudden she'd leap – absolutely leap – into my lap while I was trying to work. She'd scrambled up my leg, up my chest (I still have a few scratches from that) and perch on or near my shoulder, purring. It's hard to type one handed. If you sat in the recliner, any time of the day or night, you were almost certain to wind up with a cat purring on your chest, vigorously rubbing the top of her head into your chin.

But every time Tori brought her back to the Spaymart she went berserk. It was all Tori could do to hold on to her, but no one else could touch her. So she'd come back here.

We tried bringing another cat home to help Lucy socialize. but she was more standoffish than Lucy ever was. Lucy actually helped her socialize, rather than the other way around.

After a couple of weeks, we took the third cat (who had been given the unfortunate name Sweetie Pie. Max temporarily renamed her Bon Quee Quee) back to Spaymart, and she was finally adopted last weekend. back to Spaymart in the hope she'd get adopted.

Which left us with Lucy, and I was getting worried that she'd never get adopted. But Tori put ads on Facebook and Craigslist, and we got a call from a couple that were looking for a cat and thought she was the one. They came by and, instead of hissing and running away like I'd expected, Lucy played with the woman. And the guy has a beard, which Tori is convinced was an important part of the cat's imprinting on me. So she's adopted and I heard today from her new family that she's settled in, happy and loved.

We got them when they were kittens, and got to help them find families. And now they're out, and we don't have to deal with cats. Mission accomplished.

Until Tori brings the next one home.

Idiots

Tori has been having lots of fun with her Galaxy pad, my Christmas present to her. She just found (on Hulu) and binge watched a show that makes "America's Next Top Model" look like Shakespeare. It's called (ironically, I think/hope) "America's Most Smartest Model."

It pits models, male and female, in both modeling competition and quizzes by none other than that asshole Ben Stein. And those parts are hilarious.

My favorite was the blonde (had to be, right?) who somehow managed to last five episodes even though it was obvious she would not stand out intellectually in a vat of toothpaste. Asked the last name of Napoleon, she "thought" – if that's what you want to call it – for almost a minute and then blurted out, "Pierre?" Kudos to her for trying French (though Napoleon was Corsican, which would have blown her tiny mind.)

Even better was when asked "Who assassinated John F. Kennedy?" You could practically hear the hamsters in her head spinning the wheel as she thought and thought, and finally, desperately, said, "Brad?" I'm laughing just typing it.

There were others even stupider than her, but somehow not as flamboyantly stupid. When she finally got eliminated, her last words on camera were a whine, then "Oh no! I really AM dumb!"

And in the final salute to inanity, "America's Most Smartest Model" was won by a Russian. Go figure.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A Good Week: The Game, The Movie and Home Work


What a game!

We are Seahawks fans. I have been since '78, and Tori became a fan after she moved to the Northwest in the '80s. There has been little enough for fans to cheer about for decades, so their success of the last couple of years is all the sweeter. Seattle fans aren't bandwagon jumpers or fair weather friends. We've earned the right to crow a little.

And that was never more true than Sunday's game, sort of a microcosm of the whole long-term fan's experience.

Those who were watching Sunday's NFC championship game against the Packers know how it went. The game started great, with Richard Sherman intercepting a pass in the end zone. It was going to be easy.

But it wasn't. The Seahawk offense was awful that day. Awful. QB Russell Wilson couldn't hit anyone, and when he did they tipped it up and it was picked off. The running game wasn't moving. It was hard to watch. But the defense kept coming after the Packers, giving up yards but forcing field goals instead of allowing touchdowns. So we were still in it, but time was running out.

Tori was glum, and I was nervous. I literally cannot recall them ever playing that badly, not just in their recent successful years, but even back during the bad days when the owner seemed to be intentionally making the team bad so local fans wouldn't object when he moved them to Los Angeles. Tori kept asking, "Can they do it?" and I kept saying, "Yes," but I was getting a bad feeling that this wasn't going to be a happy day. But we stayed with it, rooting for the impossible.

Because that's what fans do. You root for your team no matter what. You stand by them in the darkest hours. It's your job. I know something about being a long-term fan of a hopeless team. I was born a Cubs fan, son of a Cubs fan who was the son of a Cubs fan. My grandfather, who I never met, was the last in the line of Baurs to actually see the Cubs win the World Series, back in 1908. It's been 106 years since then. One of my earliest sports memories is the '69 Cubs. Enough said.

So on Sunday we waited, and kept hoping against hope. I'm not going to do a whole play by play. If you care, you already know, if you don't – well, you don't. But it was the most magnificent, amazing, impossible and exhilarating finale I've ever seen. We were on our feet shouting. And when Kearse rolled into the end zone with the overtime touchdown pass that won the game, we literally screamed. It was the most amazing high I've ever felt.

I dare say if the team hadn't been misfiring so badly all day, if they'd battled the Packers without trying to gift wrap the game for them, if they'd just gone out and won, I'd have been very happy. But that would have been nothing compared to the giddy dancing feeling of that impossible win. If we hadn't been so downcast, hadn't been staring into the face of certain defeat, we couldn't have been thrown into the heights the way we were by the performance of 53 men – who we'll never meet – playing a game 1,500 miles or so away.

You've got to accept the possibility of heartache to get the chance for total exhilaration.

Go 'Hawks!

Movie

Tori and I saw "The Imitation Game" Friday. Really good movie and Benedict Cumberbatch was as brilliant as I'd been told to expect. It was a story I was familiar with. I'd first heard of Alan Turing and Ultra when I read "Bodyguard of Lies," Alan Cave Brown's 1975 history of Britain's secret war against the Third Reich, and had read it many more times since, most recently in "Cryptonomicon," a novel about many, many things including code breaking and Turing and Ultra and computers and Greek gods and the ultimate way to eat Cap'n Crunch cereal.

So we enjoyed a compelling movie about both the ultimate coup against the Nazis and the enigmatic genius who pulled it off and the tragedy of his life. A very layered, brilliant performance by Cumberbatch.

But as good as it was, it mostly just reminded me of how much greater "Birdman" is. We saw that on Christmas week, and my god, it's an amazing movie that works on so many different levels. Michael Keaton is phenomenal, best performance I've seen in years, certainly the best he's ever given. It's an actor's movie, an astonish tour de force for a great cast. The direction and the cinematography are incredible. It's not the kind of movie that wins a lot of awards, but I cannot remember a better, more compelling movie, ever.

Home work

Spent Thursday up to my elbows in the dryer. Of course, no one wants any appliance to go wrong, but if anything does, you want it to be the dryer.

A dryer does only two things – it blows hot air on a turning drum. That's it. For all the fancy stuff they add, the computer chips and the filters and the lights and buzzers, all it really does is blow hot air on a turning drum. And there's only four major parts to make that happen – the drum, a belt, the motor and the heating unit. So it's pretty easy to diagnose a problem. If the drum isn't turning, it's the motor, belt or drum. If the air it blows isn't hot, it's the heating element. That's it. Except ...

But this time the air was still hot, and the drum turned. But last week when the drum turned, it sounded like a cement mixer, like it was about to shake itself apart. So Thursday I started taking it apart, piece by piece.

I went slow, because I wasn't absolutely certain what I was doing. That's what made it so fun. I had the front and back off and couldn't see anything wrong. Nothing stuck in there that should have been, no loose belt (Tori, by the way, first put in that belt two and a half years ago when we moved in here) or spring hanging down that obviously should have been connected to something else.

I peered inside with a flashlight, everything looked OK, but clearly wasn't. It still rumbled away like a bulldozer every time I turned the motor over.

I paused between each step, consulting various youtube DIY videos and thinking very hard between each step. What should I do next and was I capable of doing it?

I finally pulled the drum and everything looked OK until I reached all the way back and spun the drum rollers, the two little wheels on axles bolted to the back that support the drum as it revolves. One of them was obviously broken, the hub broken out.

A quick trip to the appliance store (no, not Sears) and I was back with a replacement part. It took about another hour to pull the whole thing back together. When Tori got home, she didn't even realize the dryer was running.

The one frustrating thing – and boy was it frustrating – was that as I took the front and back off, etc., I dropped the screws in my pocket. There were twelve half-inch screws with 5/16 inch machine heads and two screws with Phillips heads. And almost every time I reached into my pocket for a machine-head screw, almost every single time, I pulled out one of the two Phillips heads. And of course, those were the last two I would need.

So yeah, I felt pretty good. It had taken me hours longer than it would have someone who knows what they're doing and does it often. But like the man said, to the man who owns a wrench and knows how to use it, it's just a puzzle. I own a wrench – a lot of them, actually, way more than I need, but that's a different story – and solving the puzzle took a lot longer.

But the dryer works. Not sure it means much, but it felt good to do, and was part of a very good week.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Greeks Have a Word for It

And that word is "hubris." Go ahead, look it up. I'll wait. "Overweening or excessive pride."

OK, to begin with, I happen to make very good fried chicken. I am not saying I make the "best" fried chicken in the world. I'm just saying I've never had better. And Thursday I was going to make fried chicken for dinner, and I boasted of my prowess, to which Tori and Max and Kate all agreed. Mashed potatoes, zucchini, and fried chicken. One might call it one of my specialties. I certainly did.

So naturally, I blew it. It was not dreadful, but it wasn't very good. A little burnt on the outside, a little raw in the middle – still not sure how I managed that – and over spiced. Not so much so that it was inedible, but it was definitely not up to the standard I'd been bragging about. The worst fried chicken I've ever made, and probably the worst thing I've cooked in months.

The potatoes were good. How can you screw up mashed potatoes? And the zucchini was damn near perfect. But the chicken? Not so good. It was still better than KFC or most other chains. But karma had definitely put me in my place.

Lesson learned. You can't serve your reputation for dinner.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

An Old School Yule


I'm old school, a crotchety old holdover. This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me well, certainly not to my kids. Sure, I work online, and whatever share of international notoriety I've garnered wouldn't have happened without the Internet. But in a lot of ways I'm not that different from the classic TV dads of the '50s – Jim Anderson or Ward Cleaver.

On the afternoon of Christmas day, I looked up and saw Kate deeply entrenched in her new Game Boy thing. Max was working on his new computer. And Tori was learning all the things her Galaxy Tab can do.

And I was reading a book. John Cleese's memoir, "So, Anyway ..." My other major gifts were a cast-iron skillet, the kind that fits over two of the stove top burners, a pair of eight-pound dumbbells, and a really cool hat.

I'm not sure what style the hat is, it has the crown of a fedora and the rolled-up brim of a pork pie. I suppose I could snap the brim down to a point in front, but no. It's not as wide as a fedora brim, more like a trilby.

Besides, I like it the way it is. I'm a crotchety old fart, but I admit it, I'd like to think I'm still a little cool.

BOOK – "So, Anyway ..." is a really a good book. I've finished it by now, of course.

It's funny, of course, as you'd expect from a book by John Cleese. Surprisingly, it contains very little of his years with Monty Python and almost nothing directly about "A Fish Called Wanda." It stops right about the time Monty Python was taking to the airwaves and it's only the last couple of chapters that have much about the legendary comedy group. (There's a very funny bit about the origin of the justly famous cheese shop sketch, which includes a bout of real-life projectile vomiting.)

The book follows his growing up and into the kind of person who would end up as a Python. Great book.

The biggest thing that came across is how serious comedy is. As zany and wild as Monty Python was (and is on DVD and online) it was built by guys who took their comedy very seriously. Interestingly, they all saw themselves more as writers than performers, which was part of why they worked so well together. It was always about the joke, not about being a star.

But here's a question. Why do Englishmen, when telling you about their lives, ALWAYS start by telling you about their schools and the name of every master and teacher they had? There were two salient points to Cleese's school stories, maybe three – that he was a coward, that his mother was crazy, and maybe the fact that the teacher who seemed to be one of his greatest influences (but not for the reasons you think) had turned himself into the perfect Edwardian gentleman. And the schools days take about the first half of the book.

Then, almost 100 pages later, while he's talking about being a writer for David Frost, he mentions almost as a throwaway how as a boy he had loved comedy albums, collected them, studied them, tried to memorize and reproduce them. I think that's a lot more interesting, a lot more significant, coming from John Cleese than any number of rugby coaches and the headmaster who could get anyone to do what he wanted, except his wife.

It just goes to show, I suppose, how we don't always understand our own journeys. Makes me wonder what I'm missing, or fail to understand, about my own life.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas Memory


My favorite Christmas photo, Tori on the beach at Vincent T. Mason Coral Reef Park, just south of Frederiksted on St. Croix. This was taken on Christmas Even, 2008. It explains why, despite the problems that have beset the island and the idiosyncrasies of island living, we miss the V.I. and why we DON'T miss snow. At all.

Merry Christmas to All!

From the Baurs of the Big Easy

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

We're Sending a Little One Out in the World for Christmas


Tori volunteers for a spay and neuter center in town, and about six weeks ago she brought home Jane, a kitten we were going to foster. Everyone thought, "Oho! You're in for it now John. You've got a cat."

No, no I don't. This is better.

Jane Austen
Tori named her Jane Austen, although you know about cat names. No matter what we think a cat's name is, we're wrong. She was about 8 ounces of fluff and orange dryer lint. She'd been found on a path in a swamp, so she was kind of scruffy, but a cute little thing.

Over the next three weeks we fed her and fattened her up, took her in for her shots and neutering, played with her, medicated her eye infection, shared the computer with her (she loved to jump up on the keyboard and "help" me write,) cleared up her ear mites, and took her back so that someone could adopt her.

That same day Tori came home with another kitten, Lucy. Hard to describe her – not quite black fur, because she has this sort of peachy/orange undercoat, and a peach streak that runs down the right side of her nose which gives it an odd effect. I'd have named her Schnoz, or Durante, if anyone had asked me, which they didn't.

We were told she needed some discipline, she was unruly, attacked and bit and was unsociable. Goodie. She had been found as a kitten on a boat, and was not at all happy with the change in accommodations.

When she came in, she was naturally skittish, and a little bitey, as kittens will be. But within a few hours she was out and exploring.

Lucy
She turns out to be the sweetest kitten I've ever seen. I'm not a cat-fan, so I may not be the best judge, but she's pretty sweet. Except when she's doing the manic-kitten-running-around-the-house routine, which she does for about half an hour in the morning and again in the afternoon, all she wants is for you to hold her while she purrs. If you sit on the couch or recliner, she'll end up on your lap – well no, not your lap. She starts there, then works her way up until she has her head wedged under your jaw – and just purrs for the next hour or so.

So last week Jane got adopted, but the family doesn't want to pick her up until Christmas Eve. The spay center needs the space, and she's awfully cute so people kept asking if they could adopt her. The center asked Tori is she could come back here.

I took Lucy down and swapped her out for Jane. Lucy was not happy, growling as I put her in her cage – which was clean and full of food and kitty litter. I brought Jane home and she acted as if she'd never left.

The next day the center called and said Lucy was having trouble, she flat out hated everything about being there, hissed and howled and wouldn't let anyone touch her. So she came back here.

At first she and Jane hated each other. There was much howling and growling and stalking and hiding, staking out territory. That lasted about three hours. Now they get along fine, chase each other playfully, share the various toys and food bowls. Their favorite thing to do is wait until Tori sits on the recliner, then both jump into her lap and spend the next hour sleeping on her. They've done it to me too, but Tori's their favorite.

But now it's Christmas Eve. Time for Jane to go to her new home. It's a family with two little girls who will love her, and name her Mittens or Muffin or Whiskers or something, and have tea parties with her and all that stuff. She'll be a happy cat.

Lucy is more problematic. We've put her up on the spay center's Facebook page, because she just can't abide the center. Hopefully we'll be able to get her adopted that way. All she needs is a place where she's comfortable and she'll be the sweetest cat you'd ever want. So we live in hope.

We like the idea of fostering kittens for a few weeks, helping them get acclimated and find a home. That way we get all the fun of a kitten without having the long-term commitment of a "cat" and all that entails.

We'll see how it goes.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Just a Quick Question

Oh pressure cooker! Where have you been all my adult life?

I've also acquired a Crock Pot. (An actual Rival Rock Pot, not just a slow cooker.) I know I've had them before, but I can't remember ever cooking in one. What a handy gadget.

But the pressure cooker – Ye gods!