My thoughts on everything from albacore tuna to zebras
OK, so I've finally been convinced (read that strong armed) into doing a blog. Frankly I hate the name...|
It's simply amazing the things you can buy at the grocery store these days.
It’s Friday the 13th. So let’s recap the day. Based on some here-to-undiscovered astral projection charts and a half rotten apple with rancid peanut butter, I was able to determine that Friday the 13th actually started for me about 2:45 PM, yesterday. That would of course make it Thursday the 12th by current calendric standards but saying that bad things happen on Thursday the 12th doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as saying bad things happen on…well you get the idea. Sort of like saying Ivan, the Terrible, was just really Ivan, the Mildly Ticked Off.
At 2:45 PM yesterday I was ensconced in the men’s room of my office having a telephone conversation with God on the porcelain phone. I’d say that qualifies as the start of a very bad day, don’t you? There must be something to this astral projection thing. Of course it’s the “as” part that worries me. Seems to come awful close to saying I’m projecting a certain portion of my anatomy that would best be left unprojected. Then again, when I think about it, I was doing some projecting, and indeed, at times it felt like various parts of my internal structure were leaving my earthbound body, so maybe I’m on to something here.
Of course, according to recent news reports, if I was in the state of Maryland, (alas, I reside mostly in the state of confusion) then projecting my “as or ass, or arse, or bum, or derriere, or glutimus maximus, would have been perfectly legal. In fact, it’s consider an expression of free speech… Now I must admit, that over the years I have heard my glutimus maximus as well as a number of others extort verbally their virtues, I never for once thought that it would take a court of law to uphold their right to do so.
When I was in high school, it was a common activity for us neanderthal males (yes, I’m married) to “shoot the moon” at our buddies. There was of course, the half moon – one cheek, and the full moon – both cheeks. Now while Maryland views moon shooting as voicing a dissenting opinion, we were merely going for a chuckle. If that didn’t do it, well there was always the infamous “pressed ham” on the window of the school bus. You don’t even want to know about a ham sandwich or…nevermind (wink,wink).
To moon is a dissenting opinion, says the state of Maryland. Supreme Court justices take note the next time you are about to hand down a decision, be careful who you chose to give the dissenting opinion. But I digress
Friday the 13tth started at 2:45 PM on Thursday the 12th. My wife had to come pick me up at work and drive me home. She then called to cancel my stress test for this morning. It didn’t matter. They called at 8:00 AM on the actual Friday the 13th, wondering where I was? “Home sick,” I responded.
“Why didn’t you call and cancel?”
“My wife did, yesterday.”
I was beginning to think maybe this was the stress test.
Oh well, sleep ruined. 9:00AM go to work.
9:15 AM Return another call from stress test people wondering where in the world I was. Beginning to think about mooning over the phone. Stress, I’ll give you stress!
Stare at computer all morning trying to keep stomach from erupting – more stress.
Go home. Eat lunch. Back to work
1:00PM Return call from son at work who informs me he doesn’t need me anymore.
I said. “Okay, Have a nice life. Drop us a postcard every now and then.” He didn’t see the humor.
1:30 PM Hear the familiar distant ring of the porcelain phone. Go home to be miserable.
4:00 PM begin preparing supper for family, including son who apparently does need me after all. Hungry and nauseous at the same time. Figure between not eating anything that has salt in it and not, according to the Doc, eating anything that could cause migraines, I’ll be chewing on the napkin.
Friday the 13th? One day?
Gimme a break.
| This week, in the mail, I received my first copy of Horizontal Bowhunter magazine. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, horizontal bowhunter refers to someone who hunts with a crossbow. Now before you click on to something else, this isn’t a story about killing anything with a bow…or any other weapon for that matter. In fact, it’s not a story about killing anything at all. Something I’ve done quite a lot of in my days in the woods, the not killing anything at all part, that is. It is a tale about young friends. It is a story about being tight with a buck. It is a story about pliers.
About thirty years ago or so, probably less than more, I hung out with a group of my fellow bowhunters. These particular bowhunters happened to be my friends from college; roommates, etc. These same friends would later become my work buddies also. In the end we would go separate ways and lose touch, but back then we were inseparable.
Every year, in September, as the nights got cooler and we looked forward to the opening of archery season for deer, we would make a pilgrimage to Forksville, PA. If you were to do a Mapquest search you would discover that Forksville is nothing more than a crossroads, a scattering of houses, and a Pennsylvania State Park, appropriately named World’s End.
This annual pilgrimage was to the Pennsylvania Bowhunter’s Festival. The festival was located at the county fairgrounds just down the road from the park. I imagine it still is, the fairgrounds, I mean, and the festival, I suppose.
The Bowhunter’s Festival was three days of nonstop archery practice utilizing trails through the woods with realistic 3D targets, something of a novelty at the time. It also included a running deer target, as well as pop up groundhogs, etc. The fairground buildings were packed full of vendors trying to sell you anything and everything related to archery. The attendees were a mixed bunch. They ran from the traditional longbow archer dressed like he just stepped out of the L.L. Bean catalog to those of us struggling to pay off college loans on minimum wage jobs. There was never a dull moment, but there was a catch.
The fairgrounds shut down at 11PM and there was no overnight camping. Unless you were intelligent enough to plan ahead, something I’ve never been real good at doing, you usually ended up in the overflow parking lots at World’s End State Park where the good and kindly park ranger charged you 5 dollars to sleep in your pickup. As I said earlier we were cheap.
If you do a Goggle Earth search for Sullivan County PA, which is the location of Forksville, the fairgrounds, and coincidentally World’s End State Park, you will discover a large amount of the surrounding area is green. It’s green because it's covered by state forest and state game lands, both of which have their own peculiar nuances about camping.
One year, we had finally had it. We had had a bad experience the year before with one of the good and kindly rangers. I can’t remember what about, but most certainly, I can state, it was not our fault, whatever it was. We decided that when everyone was pulling out of the fairgrounds and turning left for the World’s End. (Has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?), we would turn right and head up into the mountains of north central Pennsylvania. Surely, there was someplace we could camp for the night and save our five bucks a head.
After about twenty minutes or so of driving and not finding anything we came to the conclusion we were hopelessly lost. Sitting on the side of the road consulting a dramatically out of date roadmap, which by the way, didn’t show one-lane dirt roads in north central Pennsylvania, we began to have fond memories of the World’s End. (I do know how to turn a phrase, don’t I?)
About that time, my buddy John, whose truck we were riding in noticed a light bobbing through the pitch dark woods. As it came closer we recognized it as a lantern and soon the silhouette’s of three individuals could be seen and the barking of dogs could be heard. Did I mention this was about the time the movie Deliverance was in the theatre? Without saying a word we locked the doors.
The gentleman with the lantern came around to John’s side of the truck. John cracked the window just enough to talk. Without so much as a how-do-you-do he asked us if we had a pair of pliers. John nodded his head yes. I opened the glove compartment, got out the pliers and passed them to John. John passed them through the window. Without a thank you a hand reached out and took them. Almost as an afterthought he asked John to turn on the headlights. John obliged.
The man with the lantern went around to the front of our truck, handed the lantern to one of the other two and took a dog leash from one of them. At the end of that leash was a beautiful looking coonhound. They were hunting raccoons. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Fellow hunters. The moment’s respite was shattered by the most God-awful squeal that I had ever heard. When we looked again, the man with the pliers had locked the dog between his legs and was busy pulling porcupine quills from the dogs face and muzzle. We sat there dumbfounded. With each yank of the pliers the dog squealed again.
After all the surgery had been completed he walked around to John’s window and handed him the pliers. Giving us the once over he asked if we were “up” for the festival. John replied with another head nod. He then offered us a chew. We declined. Almost as an afterthought John asked him how to get back to the fairgrounds. He responded by telling us, “to go down the road about a mile until we cross the stream, then take the first left.” He paused for a moment as if he just realized something and added., “In fact, just keep making lefts and you’ll get there. You fellas have a nice night.”
Tails between our legs we rolled into World’s End and paid the ranger our five-dollar tribute.
Oh. Why did I start this with Horizontal Bowhunter? Well, right there, in the centerfold, is a photo of a dog with a muzzle full of porcupine quills.
Somewhere, a naked porcupine runs free.
Throughout my life, I’ve been confident of one thing. If I keep making lefts, I’ll get there.
|Somewhere, way back when…here let me look it up for you, (paging impatiently through pages of useless blog entries). Ahhh, here it is. Entry number 18, titled Tic-Toc, that’s the one.
Now as I was saying, somewhere, way back when I wrote a blog about my lifelong love affair with watches (not). In case you don’t want to get back and read it I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version.
I hate watches and mieces to pieces!
So it’s Christmas morning. I’m busily opening all the wonderful presents that Santa and my family brought me, when what do I find, nestled in a box from my son? You guessed it, a watch.
A watch should only do two things. Tell time and light up in the dark. It needs to light up so you can read it in the woods before daybreak, when you are hunting. If you are not a hunter or huntress, then…a watch only needs to do one thing…
My son, bless his little heart, bought me a Timex watch, non-digital, so I don’t have to worry about all those buttons to push. It does the following things:
It tells time. Passed test number one with flying colors. I don’t even care if it tells absolute correct time, as long as it’s within a minute or two or even three of being right.
It lights up in the dark. This is pretty cool. It’s one of those indigo deals. Looks neat. I’ve even locked myself in the bathroom with the light off so I can watch my watch glow.
It also tells me the date. Now this is one more thing than a watch is supposed to do, but so far it seems harmless. Just a simple number on a dial and I even figured out how to set it. Still, it worries me, so I’ll keep an eye on it, just in case.
I’ve had a number of watches down through the years, including Timex ones. This watch looks much the same as any other watch out there. But in my mind, it’s one of a kind because my son gave it to me and that makes it pretty darn special.
|Last night, when I sat down to compose my blog entry, my mind was a complete blank. Almost immediately, upon picking up my keyboard, a thought of Miss Muldoon floated across my tired mind. I decided to write her the letter you see as yesterday’s entry.
Now, I remember Miss Muldoon as being around my Mom’s age, maybe slightly older so as I wrote the letter I felt sure the odds of her still being alive were pretty slim. My Mom is 81. (Don’t tell anyone, she’ll kill me for telling her age.) I let my mind drift and I typed out all the things I would like to have told her if I had had the opportunity. By the time I finished the letter I started wondering. (That’s a relatively dangerous position for me to be in.) If my mom was still living, well just maybe, Miss Muldoon was also.
I picked up the phone and did what any good boy does when he wants a question answered. I called Mom. The conversation went something like this.
“Hi Mom, how’s things going.”
“Hi son, pretty good, we’re just sitting here watching TV.”
“Did you guys get any snow?”
“Nope, not yet. You?”
“Yeah, we’re getting a dusting or so. Mom, do you remember Miss Muldoon?”
“The name sounds familiar.”
“She was the librarian. I was wondering if she was still living.”
“Oh my, I haven’t heard of her in years. Why do you want to know?”
At this point, I stumbled for words to explain why to my mother and said something like,
“I was just working on something and I thought about her. Just wondering I guess.”
“I could find out if you want.”
“That would be great, Mom. And Mom, could you get me her address if she is?”
Now you have to understand something about my Mom. She is command central for the greatest phone network of family and friends that you’ve ever seen. I feel certain the Pentagon has probably studied her network to improve upon their own communications. I talked with my Dad for a while and then hung up.
About ten minutes later my Mom called back to tell me that Miss Muldoon was indeed still living, and here’s her address, and do you want her phone number also?
I thanked her, hung up the phone and sat there with a huge lump in my throat, tears in my eyes and an ache in my heart.
In tomorrow’s mail, there will be an envelope with a very special letter. It will be addressed to Miss Ann Muldoon. In that same envelope there will be something else.
Two years ago I took a number of my short stories and turned them into an Ebook. I gave it to family and friends for Christmas 2004. At the same time, because I knew my parents wouldn’t understand about reading a book on the computer, I printed three copies of it, and with the help of Staples had them bound. One I gave to my parents. One I autographed and gave to my wife. And the third?
Well, that’s what will be with the letter to Miss Muldoon.
|Dear Miss Muldoon,
I’m sure you probably don’t remember me. You probably remember my Mom, Helen Umholtz. The two of you were friends when I was growing up. I have thought of you often over the years. I’m 49 now and I haven’t seen you since I was in eighth grade. That was the last year I went to school in Carbondale, and though I spent the next eight summers there, I did not come to see you. For that, I am sorry.
You see, it took me a long time to realize how important you were in my life; too long. It’s not that you did anything extraordinary, or even went out of your way. You were just being you. Some of the little things you did stayed with me and I think about them often.
First, and foremost, you gave me my first library card. I still remember the day, being there with my Mom, and meeting you. You smiled at me. Imagine that, a pretty woman smiling at a pudgy little first grader. I remember the library. When you walked in the front door, I immediately smelled the books. It wasn’t a dusty, musty smell. It was a pleasant smell. If the truth were known, even to this day, from time to time, I bury my nose in the pages of whatever book I might be reading and inhale. I like that smell.
You sat at a big desk, not too far inside the door. My mother told me I was to be quiet, just like in church. On the first floor, behind you, were the rows and rows of bookshelves. I’ve been in many libraries down through the years and the Carbondale Public Library would not rank up there in size with many of them. But to a six or seven-year-old child, it seemed enormous. Imagine my surprise when I learned that the library occupied two floors and that the first floor was the adult section, a connotation completely different then from what it might mean today. These were the grown up books, you told me. The children’s section was on the second floor.
Together we walked up the stairs and you said I could pick out two books and take them home to read. I had to bring them back in two weeks or there would be a fine. In my mind I pictured being hunted down by a policeman and forced to pay the ten-cent a day fine or be tossed in jail. But more importantly, I had the whole upstairs of a library to choose my two books from. I was in awe.
For a while my mom or older sister, Twila, would accompany me to the library after school. But it wasn’t too long before I was allowed to go on my own. By fourth grade or so, I was checking out two books on Monday and bringing them back on Wednesday to exchange for two more. You took me aside and said if I wanted to check out more than two that would be okay. I remember carrying eight books at a time to my home.
By sixth grade I had exhausted the children’s section and was reading some of the books for the second and third time. Once again, you took me aside, and told me I could start to check books out of the adult section as long as they met with your approval. You even recommended a few for me to start with. Never was there a prouder moment in my childhood, than to know that I had graduated to the adult section. I was certain I was the only one you ever did that for and to this day I like to think I was. But I know, that probably wasn’t the case. I know your kindness extended beyond one pudgy little boy and that no matter who walked through those library doors, they got the same attention that I did. I am sure I am not alone in this world with my memories of you and the library.
I read every one of those books, Miss Muldoon.
Sometimes, I would read two or three at a time, leaving them in various rooms throughout the house, a habit I have to this day. At night, I would lean out the window of my bedroom and read by the streetlight. I carried a book with me, just about everywhere I went, and still do.
When I went away to school, high school and college, my reading skillsand vocabulary were things I never had to worry about. I sit here typing this and am surrounded by shelves filled with books, both my wife’s and mine. I married a wonderful woman who loves reading as much as I do.
I have a great career that requires me to compose documents from time to time and to even help write research papers. One of my favorite hobbies is to write short stories that I share with my family and my Internet friends. I am not a famous author and you will not find my stories on the shelf of any library, but that really doesn’t matter. I write for my own enjoyment and I share my stories with anyone that cares to read them.
The book attached to this letter is one I wrote for my family last Christmas. There are only three printed copies. The rest are on CD’s that I’ve shared with my family and friends. My parents have one of the printed copies. My wife has another. I would like for you to have the third. Consider it a repayment, long overdue for the kindness and encouragement you offered a pudgy little kid long ago.
You helped me discover new lands, new worlds. You showed me, through your love of books, your kindness and patience to see the world we live in, many different ways, and in the end you taught me to love reading and to love books; all that with a smile and a few kind words of encouragement.
Thank you Miss Muldoon, from the bottom of my heart. You have been one of my greatest teachers on this journey we call life.
Joseph R. Umholtz
|making an entry yesterday but I was a little busy worshipping the porcelain God. Man this vertigo stuff sucks. Stayed home from work today and I can't keep doing that. All I do is worry about the stuff I need to get done. What really worries me is I have a nighttime speech to give next week at a dinner and I'm afraid I'll have an attack while I'm there. Oh well enough griping. I was going to tell you about one of my Christmas presents, but I'll save that for tomorrow. There you have it. Short but sweet.
| Well, if you’re reading today’s entry without reading yesterday’s you might want to go back and read it first. It’ll help make more sense of things. Go ahead. I’ll wait…
Back, already? You just scanned it, didn’t you? Oh well, your loss.
As you can see, ice fisherman are, by nature, a gregarious bunch of guys. Take a look across any frozen lake with fishermen on it and you will notice them in small clusters. They may be fishing together, they may not be. They cluster, because…that’s where the fish are. But even single fisherman, clustered together, by day’s end will have met and talked with each other and formed a loosely knit group of sorts. You may even run into each other on a future trip and further develop that friendship.
But, on that same lake, you will also notice the occasional lone fisherman, off by himself, traveling light, moving frequently. He’s the explorer, the scout. If he stays in one place long enough, the other fisherman will notice. They may watch him through binoculars and if they note he is being successful and they are not, there will be a mass exodus in the direction of that lone angler. It takes a special type of fisherman to spend the day on the ice alone. It is lonely, and sometimes frustrating, if you don’t find the fish. You have no one to talk to…or dance with. It’s just you, the ice, and your thoughts. I know I’ve done it. But believe it or not, there’s an even lonelier time. If you hit it right, it’s a magical time, a mysterious time, as well. And that’s ice fishing at night. Something very few anglers will ever try.
There is a species of fish, known as walleye that are primarily nocturnal feeders, although you can catch them during the day. They are also one of the sweetest tasting fish you will ever have the pleasure of consuming, and thus a much sought after quarry. Years ago, I read an article about ice fishing for walleyes at night. I decided to try it and this is the story of the first night I ever spent on the ice, alone. There have been quite a few since.
I decided to fish Prompton Dam in northeastern Pennsylvania, a lake known for it’s walleye population. Of course, when I tried to convince my friends to join me, they looked at me like I was some sort of nut. A look I get fairly often. So I threw my gear in my Volkswagen and headed to the lake at about four in the afternoon.
Prompton Dam is about four miles long, but at its widest point it is maybe 150 yards from bank to bank. Essentially it’s a flood control dam on a stream. I choose to fish down near the dam breast where the water was deepest. I had just enough daylight to haul my gear out on the ice and get set up before night fell.
In the article, the anglers had little lights on their tip ups that signaled when they had a strike. I didn’t. All I had was a Coleman lantern that I used to frequently patrol my tip ups looking for the flag that would signal my first strike.
Night fell and I settled back on my five-gallon bucket with the lantern between my legs for warmth.
Nighttime in winter is very peaceful. The blanket of snow helps to deaden any sound and when you are far from the trappings of civilization with only one country road close by, it isn’t long until the loudest sound you hear is your own breathing or the hiss of the lantern. That particular night there was a full moon. It hadn’t come up yet. It was preceded by a completely clear starlit sky unlike any I have ever seen since. The brightness of the stars made me forget about fishing and I spent quite a bit of time staring up at the sky, picking out constellations. I even lay down on the ice and put my hands under my head, so I could watch. The lantern was turned down until it was almost extinguished. I felt priveleged to see this show.
Slowly, over the far ridge the moon began to make it’s appearance. As it rose above the treetops, it sparkled off the fresh snowfall we had the night before. The entire lake looked like a field of diamonds. This was a new part of the show. I sat up. I was mesmerized. I was treated to the hooting of a couple of owls in a pair of hemlocks along the shore behind me. After a while I remembered to check my tip ups. No fish.
Somewhere, shortly after midnight, I heard a distant rumble from up the valley. For a moment I thought it was thunder and then I remembered the crystal clear sky. I listened closely as the rumbles rose and faded, coming closer, then going away. It was a symphony made up entirely of percussion instruments. By this time I knew what it was, and for a moment, it frightened me, and then I remembered I was sitting on twenty inches of ice. You see, the temperature had fallen below freezing and the ice was expanding. The lake was “making ice” and as it did so it expanded and cracked. Before the night was over I listened to one rumble begin four miles up valley and travel the entire length of the dam. I watched the crack form several feet in front of my lantern. This symphony continued throughout most of the night.
Along about two AM a fox barked on the ridge, at least at the time, I took it for a fox. Now, thirty years later I’m pretty sure it was a coyote. At three am, not to far behind me, on the same ridge, there began a wailing, unlike anything I had ever heard. Imagine a baby bawling at the top of its lungs. It penetrated to the very core of me. The hair on my neck standing up, I was afraid to even turn around, not that I could have seen anything in the darkness. It was the cry of a bobcat.
Close to six AM the sky to the east began to lighten and in time I could see the tip ups without the lantern. The snow lost its moonlit diamond sparkle and the stars disappeared from sight. I packed up my gear and headed, not for home, but for class. I was in my freshman year at Penn State. I hadn’t caught a single fish.
Thirty years later the memory of that night is so clear I can still feel the cold, hear the hiss of the lantern and see the moonlit diamonds on the snow. I went on to perfect my nighttime walleye ice fishing but no other trip has ever held such a special place in my memories.
|Well, it’s New Year’s Eve. It comes every year about this time. Tradition dictates that tomorrow I make a nice big pot of Sauerkraut (homemade), kielbasa (homemade) and pork (store bought). All this on a low salt diet. Shhhhhh! I won’t tell if you don’t tell.
I won’t talk of resolutions. I won’t talk of my top ten whatever’s of 2005. I’m not going to get sentimental...well maybe just a little, and I won’t tell you next year will be better, even though deep down I hope it is.
What I am reminded of at this time of year, every year, is ice. Not in the ice cube tray or your driveway, but large expenses of ice covering hundreds of acres sometimes. You may know them as frozen lakes. You see, every year, for a long time, this was the beginning of my ice fishing season. (The first person that asks me how many pounds of ice I caught is going to get one of those New Year’s Eve popper things shoved you know where.)
Yes, I know, when people hear about ice fisherman, the common perception is that they are crazy. I’ll be the first to admit that it does help. But I’ll be real quick to add that you don’t know what you’re missing.
There are as many methods of ice fishing as there are fishermen, but they all have one thing in common, cutting a hole through a frozen lake, or sometimes river (this is where the crazy part helps). I’ve seen many different implements used for this exercise in hole duggery, everything from a Craftsman screwdriver and claw hammer to a double bitted logger’s axe. Between those two you can include chainsaw, brace and bit, ice auger – manual, ice auger - motorized, planting bar, crowbar, and a few other implements I’m sure I’m not thinking of. No self-respecting fisherman is going to let a little ice stand between him and freezing to death… I mean, and catching fish.
Every year at this time, my friends and I would get together on New Year’s Day to go ice fishing if there was ice. Without ice…what’s the point? There would be five or six of us, sometimes more. We would meet at a pre-determined lake, usually chosen by me, and proceed to haul all our equipment out onto the ice, caravan style. The equipment usually included a stove, venison, sausage, potatoes, hot coffee, tea, hot chocolate, liquid libation of the alcohol sort, and, oh yes, our fishing gear. There was also usually a radio.
We used tip ups for fishing mostly. They’re sort of like a bobber in non-ice fishing methods. You placed these in individual holes with your bait hanging below. When a fish took the bait, a spring-loaded flag would pop up, signaling the strike. The rest was up to you. Once that was complete we would set up the camp kitchen and begin to cook. The rest of the day was spent eating, drinking, running for flags, falling down and dancing to the polkas playing on the radio. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen five guys singing “Roll out the barrel…” and dancing with each other on a frozen lake. Nobody ever seemed to fish close to us for some reason or another.
This was a typical New Year’s ice-fishing trip for us. I tell you this, because tomorrow I will tell you about one not so typical, one that will stick in my memory forever.
|I've decide to reopen my short story contest. I closed it last time for lack of participation, but I'm hoping things have changed. So check it out and spread the word. Rasputin's going on a Writing Rampage! New prompts will be posted January 1, 2006
|Today was one of those days that make you sit up and take notice. Two news reports caused me to reflect on my life and the “there but for the grace of God go I” aspect of it.
The first came out of Colorado, where a tree trimmer was caught in a wood chipper and died. A tragedy we would all agree, but not unlike many of the other deaths we read about or hear about on a daily basis. One of hazards of this instant communication world is that on a sensory level we get inundated with repeats of the same type of information. The first death of a soldier in Iraq is interpreted much differently than the 1648th death. Especially when you are updated on the number on a daily basis. The horrific death of a tree trimmer in a chipper, however, becomes much more personal when you’ve walked in his shoes.
In another life, long ago, I cleared trees from power line right-of ways for a living. I spent time, just about every day feeding limbs and brush into a chipper, much the same as the one involved in today’s tragedy. They are without a doubt, dangerous machines. I’ve had gloves and even a wristwatch ripped from my hands and arm while chipping. I’m here to tell you it gives you pause to watch the glove that moment’s before was on your hand, exiting the chute on the chipper like a thousand pieces of confetti. Cutting trees is a dangerous job. Everything involved with it, power line or no power line, requires your unerring attention, every moment you are doing it. Homeowners end up in emergency rooms with terrible injuries from chain saws on a regular basis. Professionals do also. The reasons, I believe, for each, are quite different. With a homeowner, a weekend warrior, a lot of it is inexperience. I have not cut on a daily basis in over twenty years. Today I would put myself in the homeowner category. True, it would not take me long to get back in the saddle, so to speak, and some things, once learned, you never forget, but the simple repetitive experience gained from the day to day operation of a chainsaw and chipper is something a homeowner never gets.
And that same experience is the downfall of the professional. You do the same things, day in and day out. They become second nature to you, so much so that you do them without even thinking. Maybe you feed limbs into that chipper a thousand times the same way, but on the one thousand and first time, something is just not quite the same. You, however, don’t even notice. Bye-bye wristwatch…or worse.
The second news item today was much closer to home. In western PA, a gas well erupted in flames while a Halliburton crew was working on it. Two men were critically injured and flown to the hospital. At least five more were also injured to some degree.
In my current life, I work helping to regulate the oil and gas industry in PA. I have spent time at well sites and have been on drilling rigs. The job of drilling a gas well is every bit as dangerous as cutting trees. The details of the accident have not all been collected yet, but I feel certain that when they are, they will show that a moment’s inattention by someone who does this type of work, day in and day out, resulted in the explosion and injuries. I don’t know if any of the injured are people I’ve met in the course of my job, but they could be. I do know that dealing with explosive gas under pressure is risky business even on the best day, yet these workers do just that, with surprisingly few injuries. When it happens, it is not usually the kind of injury that lets you get away with a simple band-aid.
So, “there but for the grace of God go I” is a thought that ways heavy on my mind today. As well it should.
| As usual, today there were a number of thoughts floating around in my somewhat murky brain, any of which would have made good blog topics. I haven’t a clue what they were.
But sitting here, browsing through Wc I am struck by a thought. It is the same thought I have had a number of times since I resumed my writing several years ago. It is a thought accompanied by a certain amount of panic.
Will I have time?
I read the stories, poems and blogs and I see people with the same question on their minds. True, there are a number of people here with ambitions, dreams, pipe or otherwise, of commercial success as a writer. I cannot deny that those thoughts have filtered through this addled head. Would it be nice to become filthy rich doing something you love? You can bet your sweet bippy it would. Will we all achieve that level of success, if, indeed, that is what defines success? No, precious few of us will ever have the experience of being paid for our writing, fewer still will be able to turn it into a career and still fewer will attain the filthy rich category. Still, it is nice to dream.
But, that’s not what I’m talking about. I feel a sense of urgency, a deep inner need to put down on paper, or keyboard as it were, my words, all of my words, every blasted one of them and the question still remains. Will I have time?
True, it is a question with no easy answer. I could walk out in front of a bus tomorrow, or choke on a chicken bone at dinner tonight. To search for the answer is to search for the Holy Grail. Still, I write. Not as often as I would like. Not as well as I should. Not with any deep seated economic purpose in mind. I simply… write.
Deep down, somewhere inside, is a driving force, a burning desire, an unfulfilled need, a sense of urgency, to write. Will it ever be satisfied? I truly hope not. Will there always be this sense of urgency to commit my words to parchment or hard drive. God, I hope so. Am I alone in this? I think not. As a pack of wolves will bay under a full moon, we all gather, at our respective writer’s garrets and pay homage to our Muse. We all lift up our voices, silent no more, and spew forth word upon word; one letter at a time, from a well that at times seems dry but in truth is inexhaustible.
Will I have enough time to do write it all down?
Sadly, no. No true writer ever does.
|Hah! I wondered yesterday if anyone was reading my blog and Val (Sultry) put out the word and today I had 6 new blog comments! True, 2 were from Sultry, but four weren’t. I guess it is true; the squeaky wheel does get the grease.
Today at work we had a blood drive. I’m not allowed to donate blood because of some strange problem known as ITP. If memory serves, ITP stands for Ideopathic Thrombo-cyclopenia purphora. Say that three times quickly. It simply means my body doesn’t produce very many blood platelets and nobody knows why.
As I understand it, these platelet thingies are fairly valuable, in that, when you cut yourself, they are instrumental in clotting the blood and stopping the bleeding. Seems like a good thing to me. I’m not in the range of having to get treatment of any sort, but I flirt with this limit from time to time. I’m nowhere close to being near the hemophiliac range which is really, really good news. But, I’m not allowed to give blood, because, I need all I have. Then again, doesn’t everybody?
My hat is off to the folks at Red Cross and to the donors. They are, without a doubt, under appreciated by society. Most people don’t think a thing about giving blood until some physician is standing in the hospital waiting room telling them their loved one needs a quart or two. When my sister hemorrhaged after giving birth to her second child, it was donated blood that kept her alive until surgery could correct the problem. Some twenty odd years, (and yes quite a few of them have been odd) I am still thankful for the donors who stepped up to the plate, or needle as it were, as, I am sure, her daughters. The youngest, who was the baby of the moment, recently got married, with Mom there to walk her down the aisle.
I won’t preach at you to donate blood. Not everyone can, but if you can, well, do it. Do it before you’re standing in some hospital waiting room, hearing your loved one needs a quart or two and there’s none to be had.
If you can’t donate, volunteer to work the blood drive. I worked my first one as a twelve-year-old boy scout. They’re always looking for help. You’ll be glad you did.
|Ok, I got two extra hours of sleep last night, so why am I so tired? It's snowing here and blowing and I've got to go pick up my son at work in a couple of hours. Tomorrow is back to work time.
I've been trying to think of something earth shattering and witty to say today, but it's just not there. Surprised, huh? There is one overiding thought I've been having though. Does anybody besides Val actually read this thing? Or am I just talking to myself. Not that I mind the sound of my own voice, but frankly, I even bore myself every once in a while.
So do me a favor, if you do read this blog, let me know. I don't care if you like it, agree or disagree with me, I just need to know I'm not the last man standing.
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|I wrote this for all my friends here at WC
I was sitting, eating lunch, and thinking about what I should write for my blog today. It is Christmas Eve, so naturally I’m sure, in some unwritten blog rulebook somewhere, it states on Christmas Eve and on Christmas you must write about the joys of Christmas. I have no doubt of this because the entire month here at WC has been a prelude to these two days. Just look around at the contests and other interactive postings; they all seem to have a Christmas or holiday theme. There is nothing wrong with this. It is as it should be. But I simply could not come up with anything to follow this directive. I fear I may be getting Christmased out, a not uncommon malady of these commercial times. And then I remembered something that happened to me this month. It happened not once, but twice and I thought, here, here, was my Christmas Eve topic.
Twice this month I received reviews of two of my short stories and both of these reviews started the same way:
“This was a very nice story, but you made me cry. I’m a middle aged man and men aren’t suppose to cry…” I’m paraphrasing of course, but I’m sure you get the idea. I have a standard response to reviews where readers tell me that my story has elicited a response on an emotional level, whether it’s crying or laughing or otherwise.
“Thank you for reading my story. No greater compliment can you pay me, the writer, than to let me know that what I wrote made you (inset emotion here)”
And that is what I did with both those reviews. I wrote it. I said it. It is truly how I feel and this is why.
When I gave up writing at the approximate age of 18 I also gave up something else; my ability to feel. It didn’t happen all at once. I built that wall slowly. But I built it expertly. In time, when I was exposed to others in misery or pain, I did not react on an emotional level. I acted with robotic calm. Not one tear was shed. Not one ounce of compassion was felt. Over the years I was called cruel, unfeeling and a number of other monikers I’d just as soon forget. I went through my life, feeling sorry for only one person, myself.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t kick dogs or make little children cry. Well...I didn't kick dogs. For all intent and purpose, on the outside, I was a perfectly average person. I would hold the door for the person coming after me. I would help carry groceries. I respected my elders, but I did so with robotic accuracy and no feeling. The one thing I most certainly never did, was cry. I am a man. Men don’t cry.
A little over 17 years ago, I met my wife. Her first impression of me (voiced to her friends) was that I was obnoxious. I plead guilty as charged. My friends told me that she was, and I quote, “ a stuck up feminist bitch.” Stuck up? No. Feminist? If you mean does she think she can do anything a man can do. Guilty as charged. And she can, too. Bitch? No way. Our relationship grew. And it wasn’t long before I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. Even then, I still guarded a good number of my feelings behind my wall.
I can tell you the moment the first piece of mortar loosened on that wall. It was the day of our wedding, when I saw her for the first time in her wedding gown; a more beautiful sight will never ever be seen by these eyes. Of that I am sure. We’ve been married for 15 years now and I wouldn’t trade a moment of it for anything.
Now you might think that from the title of this piece that the greatest gift that I’m referring to is her love. Make no mistake, Love is a great gift and very difficult to surpass, but in my case, in my walled in, non-emotional life, my darling wife managed to do just that. It took time, lots of time and lots of patience. Slowly, with the skill of a surgeon, she removed that hard won wall of mine, until one day, going about our routine, I happened to look at her, really look at her, and then it happened. A single tear traced a path across my cheek. It wasn’t a tear of sadness. It had several components. It was a tear of love, of joy, of happiness. It was a tear that started in my chest, in my heart. It was a tear that had waited almost thirty years to occur. My lovely wife had given me back the ability to cry, the ability to feel, and that my friends, is the greatest gift of all.
Postscript: Yes, I’m a middle-aged man and I’m crying right now.
|Let’s see. What to write about today?
I’ve got two of them. They’ve been with me as long as I can remember. They’re rather big and sometimes they don’t smell so nice… at least so I’m told. Quite frankly I never got my nose close enough to them to find out. That’s a gymnastic event well beyond my capability. If my sneakers are any indication then you’d do well to keep your nose and my feet far apart.
They are interesting, my feet. They’re mirror images of each other. Well almost. The left one has a scar on it that the right one doesn’t. They’re pretty big. Size 14 extra wide. Extra wide gives me better stability and stability is a good thing.
I haven’t quite figured out the toe thing. I mean, there are five of them. I gather this is pretty much normal but then there was my great uncle Lawrence. He had seven on one foot and six on the other. He seemed happy with this state of affairs so maybe he was normal and the rest of us are just undertoed. I’ve used them to pick things up off the floor and while they don’t work quite as well as the fingers on my hands they do save my back from bending over. This is also a good thing.
My feet are relatively passive. I can’t remember the last time I got into an argument with them, though sometimes they burn me up. They are not very fond of walking much more than five miles without getting some rest. This used to be 20 miles. I think they’re getting lazy. They do enjoy being propped up, which is the position they’re in now and they like warm socks. They do not; I repeat do not, like to be tickled. This is a big no-no. Once in a while they get violent, but not often. I think the last time was several years ago when I gave number one son a boot in the rear to demonstrate the transfer of energy. I must say he was a quick learner. I think I only had to do it two or three times before he caught on.
They don’t like sports much, unless you can count miniature golf as a sport. They simply hate kicking footballs, etc, but they have been known to dilly-dally with the cheerleaders One in particular taught them a game.
You guessed it… they learned to play footsie.
I’m out of here!
|Several months back I started a free library in our office. Nothing special, just a table in the lunchroom where you could take a book or leave a book. It has been well received and at any given time there are a dozen or so books or magazines waiting to be read.
For last Christmas I created a CD book of my short stories and gave it to my close family members. I think I spoke about it in an earlier post. Well, this week when cleaning my desk, I found a copy of the CD and decided to put it on the table at work. I placed it there on Tuesday. I checked today and it’s gone. I was quite nervous about putting the CD there. After all, these are my coworkers, a good number of whom have known me for twenty plus years. Still, I was proud of my CD book and what good is writing stories if you don’t let people read them?
So now, somewhere in the office or at home is my CD book, being read by one of my coworkers. What will they think? Will I ever know who took it? Will it come back to the table to be picked up by someone else, or is it gone forever, passed on from one reader to the next? Will it sit in a corner somewhere gathering dust? It's sort of like the Where's George deal with the dollar bill.
A large part of me wants to know. An equally large part of me thinks this is very interesting and feels satisfied that someone picked it up at all.
If you have the opportunity to do something like this, try it. Let me know what happens and how you feel about it.
I’ll keep you posted if anything new develops.
| Last night I sat down to watch TV with Linda (my wife). Typically, we do this around 9 PM and we really don’t watch TV. What we watch are recordings of programs Linda has made that we both want to see. Sometimes it’s a movie, sometimes it ‘s a program from the history channel, but rarely is it ever your run of the mill sitcom type show. Not that I have anything against sitcoms. I just have a limited amount of time to sit in front of the TV and I want to watch things that stimulate me mentally and that (hopefully) I can’t predict the “surprise ending” on five minutes into the show.
Well, last night, we ran out of tapes. My wife has tapes of some shows that she watches that don’t particularly interest me so she popped one in the VCR and we started watching. I don’t know the name of the show. (If someone does, please let me know, I want to fire off a missive to the producers.) I can tell you it was some sort of medical based show and it revolved around the Thanksgiving Holiday and some interns/doctors preparing the Thanksgiving meal.
At first it didn’t interest me and then some guys showed up and started talking about going turkey hunting…and well… you know me, I got interested. But much to my disappointment and anger, what was to be an annual father/sons turkey hunt, a family tradition turned into a beer drinking, mishandling of firearms, misrepresentation of the hunting tradition. My wife asked, “Do hunters really take alcohol with them in the woods?” I had no choice but to reply truthfully. “Yes, unfortunately, some do.” I quickly added. “But I believe the number is a lot fewer today than what it was twenty years ago. This show does nothing to help matters. It just paints hunters and hunting with a broad brush.”
Was it funny? Sure, on some level, like a caricature, it was. But more important than humor was how would it be viewed by the non-hunters out there, a good number of whom are also anti-hunting? It gives people a one sided, unbalanced view of a tradition (I won’t call it a sport. I don’t hunt for sport) that has been in my family and many others for generations. I watched in horror as these camo – clad, beer guzzling buffoons, a father and three sons no less, effectively gave a blackeye to the hunting community, no, the hunting family, that I love so much.
Am I bias? Sure I am. Do I have blinders on? Not on your life. I’ve walked the walk and I can talk the talk. I’ve stood on mountaintops and watched hunters pull flasks from their pockets. I’ve politely told them that if you drink, that ends the hunting trip for today. And I meant it. Thing is, that was twenty-five years ago. I see and hear less and less of that these days. If we are going to hold up examples for our children to follow, and believe me, they will follow our examples, they should be positive examples and not ones created to satisfy the mania for good ratings on TV.
In closing I will also offer this. Turkey hunting accounts for a large number of the injuries that occur to hunters. It must be approached with a deep regard for safety. When you are in the woods and trying to imitate a turkey, guaranteed somebody’s gonna think you’re a…turkey. Every state has its own regulations concerning the wearing of fluorescent orange during turkey season. I’m not sure what state these hunters were in but I do know in what state the writers and producers reside…stupidity.
| OK, I’ll admit it. At times I have a bit of curmudgeon in me… maybe more than a bit. I can be grumpy, surly, obnoxious, and pretty much any one of those other dwarfs also. And if the plural of wharf is wharves then why isn’t the plural of dwarf, dwarves? See what I mean?
There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that when Mrs. Manley cast me in the roll of Scrooge in the 6th grade play, that type casting was involved. It is true, that at the end of the play, at the cast party, when they raffled off the roast chicken, I won it. And yes I wouldn’t let Mike Liuzzo have any.(Tiny Tim)
It’s pretty bad when you’re in a school play and they can’t even afford a goose. Of course, that wasn’t the only anomaly. I was probably the largest Scrooge ever to grace the stage. It was, until my recent years of involvement with the Cambria County Historical Society, my only thespian endeavor. Looking back on it, it was also the only time, if the play flopped, that I could blame someone other than myself. I can see the reviews now:
“Joe Umholtz, in the part of Scrooge, made a valiant and determined effort to hold the play together. If only the writer, one Mr. Dickens, had given him better lines.”
You see, with the historical society, I not only portray the characters, I write the scripts as well. “As well as what?” you might ask. Well as well as I can, of course. Ouch, that made my head hurt.
Now where was I? Let’s see. Curmudgeon? Check. Grumpy? Check. Dwarves? Check. Scrooge? Check. Chicken, no goose? Check. Holiday? Whoaaaa! Hold your horses.
There seems to be some sort of flack about what the correct phraseology of a...of a...of a small rectangular illustrated folded piece of stiff paper with words typically given out at this chronological point of the year should be. OK, you can inhale now. Back when we were in the 6th grade we all wished each other Merry Christmas… all of us of course, except for Jack. Jack is Jewish. At least he was back then, so I’m going to assume he still is. These things tend to stick with you, you know. Now, I’m pretty sure I didn’t understand the nuances of religion at that age, but Jack was my friend and it bothered me that we didn’t wish him Merry Christmas. We said “Happy Hanukah, Jack!” I was pretty sure Jack was getting short changed, what with missing out on the Santa Claus thing and all, but he didn’t seem to mind. I knew I was getting short changed by not being Jewish because for most of the year, a couple days a week, Jack got to leave school early to go to some sort of religious training. Not for once did I think the religious training could be quite as bad as staying in school. No Sirree, Jack had to be getting the better end of the deal.
The point is. Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Thanksgiving, it really doesn’t matter. They are just words. What we are really saying is, we wish you well, and we wish you happiness and joy. You are my friend and I’m acknowledging that. Think I’m wrong? Well, the next time someone wishes you Happy, or Merry something or other try responding with “Blow it out your butt, sideways.” And see what happens. A word of caution is necessary here. I advise trying this with someone you know. Otherwise, keep the phone number for 911 handy.
The bottom line is this. If I get a card that says Happy Holidays or a card that says Merry Christmas, or for that matter one that says Happy Hanukah or Happy Kwanzaa or Happy or Merry anything else, I’m not offended, because I know, that at least somewhere out there, is one person who felt I was special enough to remember and that’s a pretty good feeling.
So GW, Happy Holidays right back at ya! Hope somebody leaves you a present under your Holiday Tree.
I raise my glass of eggnog to you all.
“Here’s wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season and may everyone get a Christmas goose.”
Wait a minute… that didn’t come out right.
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|Yeah, now this is what I’m talkin about. It’s been three days since I worshipped the porcelain God. My appetite is back, no nausea and my energy level is steadily climbing. Woke up at 5 AM to write a story for the Cramp. Wrote it, then reread the prompt and realized it didn’t meet the requirements so I never posted it. Shame too, it’s a good story. If you want to read it here it is:
Helped Linda bake Christmas cookies, put a salmon in the smoker to cure and made three sticks of deer bologna. Now that’s what I call a productive day. Was going to stop this morning and see about the crossbow at a local sporting goods store that’s advertising a 12 month same as cash deal, but I called them last night and they told me not to come in until Monday when they can check my credit rating. Was going to ask, if it’s the same as cash, then what does my credit rating matter, but then I just smiled and said see you on Monday. Should be no problem with the credit.
The sun is shining and it’s a fine winter day here, even though winter doesn’t start for another few days. I’m hoping we get a snowfall on Christmas Eve. I always like that. Brand spanking new white snow to wake up to on Christmas morning. Adds a certain peace and purity to the day.
I keep wrestling with what to make for Christmas. We had turkey for Thanksgiving and the general consensus appears to be to do the same for Christmas but I’m in the mood for something different. I was thinking beef brisket but youngest doesn’t like beef. Any ideas? I’m going to be doing nothing but cooking this next week or so. Wednesday I have to take a crock pot full of homemade kielbasa and sauerkraut in to the office for our annual Christmas luncheon. The following Tuesday I have to do it all over again for the Red Cross Blood Drive, only with meatballs and sauce. I can’t donate blood (another one of illnesses I’ll tell you about one day) so I try to help out in other ways. We usually get a good turnout, but that’s because we feed everybody well. Pretty soon I need to start supper. A venison steak for me and a beef steak for my wife. She doesn’t know whats good for her…except for me of course.
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