You might remember reading about an event in the summer of 1815, sometimes referred to as the “Year Without a Summer”. It seems that an Indonesian volcano erupted that year, dumping a bunch of ash in the air and creating unusually harsh weather conditions throughout Canada and the Northeastern U.S. Frost was recorded in every New England state in each of the summer months, and a foot of snow fell in Quebec City between June 6 and 10.
Why do I bring all this up? The 2011 Boston Red Sox are starting to make me feel as if I’ve somehow missed my entire summer, even though it’s only mid-April. As any New England resident will tell you, winters in the Northeast can be long and grueling. Consequently, many of us regard the brief summers like a fine cognac; to be doled out in careful measures, with each precious drop savored to the utmost. And nothing symbolizes summer like baseball.
I have a mental picture that I carry with me always. I’m 15 years old and I’m sitting in my midwestern living room, watching a rebroadcast of an Atanta Braves game with my Dad at 1:00 o’clock in the morning. It’s 1976, and most people still only get around a dozen cable channels, but everybody is an Atlanta Braves fan because a guy named Ted Turner has figured out that satellites are good for something besides spying on the Communists. It’s the middle of a heat wave, but air conditioning is still a luxury for most people, so every door and window is wide open. The house is finally starting to cool down, and both of us know that the next couple of hours will represent the only escape from the heat for the foreseeable future. We can barely hear the measured, soothing cadence of the announcer’s voice over the ebb and flow of the cicada’s buzz through the open windows …
So – to me – summer is about baseball. And the Red Sox are pissing away my whole summer before it even starts. Even if they get their s**t together within the next week or two, it’s starting to feel like they’ve just dug too deep a hole for themselves. And frankly, I see very little evidence that they’ll be turning things around any time soon. Their isn’t a single facet of their game that isn’t suspect right now. It’s like spring training never happened, and all of these guys just piled off the bus from their ranches in Montana, or wherever the hell it is that they spend the off-season. Has there ever been a team in the history of sports that looked so good on paper and performed so poorly on the field? There’s just no explanation for how dreadful they are. It’s like your kid got to the final round in the National Spelling Bee, and then couldn’t spell the word “cat”. Totally inexplicable …
I’ll never watch another baseball game with my Dad, but I like to think that I can count on the Sox every year to honor his memory. I know they can’t win every World Series, but I expect them to be competitive. This year they have let me down big time.
Copyright 2011 by Pat Moening
I note that there is a minor bidding war going on regarding the sale of the Ram Island Lighthouse in Casco Bay. Ummm … Can somebody explain to me why anybody would want to own this thing?
For those of you that missed it, here’s the backstory: The Coast Guard is selling the lighthouse in an auction with a $10,000 minimum bid. The winning bidder is required to perform upkeep on the lighthouse structure, but the Coast Guard itself will maintain the navigation aids. A handful of bids have already been submitted.
Just for the record, I’d like to point out that Ram Island isn’t really an island at all. It could be more accurately described as a pile of rocks whose tip is slightly exposed at low tide … usually. Similarly, the lighthouse itself appears to be strictly utilitarian. This is not some idyllic lighthouse out of a Norman Rockwell painting, with cozy little quarters for the salty old lighthouse keeper and his family: Based on the newspaper photos, Ram Island Light is a tiny stone structure, just large enough to contain the lighting apparatus and elevate it above rough seas. What’s more, it appears that Ram Island is so small and rugged that it isn’t even accessible for any practical purposes. In the story that got reported last week, a Coast Guard boat was unable to land on the island so that potential buyers could tour the property. I’m no sailor, but it seems to me that if the freakin’ Coast Guard can’t get you there, it doesn’t bode well for your weekend lighthouse getaway …
So … let’s review: You pony up 30 or 40 grand for the privilege of owning your own lighthouse. In return, you are legally required to maintain a 100 year old stone structure (in accordance with National Historic Landmark rules) on an island that can only be accessed via a Star Trek Transporter unit. Of course, if you don’t happen to have access to fictional travel systems, you won’t actually be able to visit your “island”. But you can take all the photographs you want to from a distance. Hey, wait a second, you can already do that now and it doesn’t cost you a dime …?
It seems that now there’s a rampant fear among the local lighthouse enthusiasts that Ram Island Light will be purchased by someone from out-of-state. Consequently, somebody in Portland has stepped up with a plan to raise money by selling “shares” in the lighthouse to finance a purchase. This gentleman has suggested in the press that he intends to make the lighthouse a web destination by installing remote video and audio feeds. Wow, YouTube better watch its back …
Never underestimate the power of anything connected with a lighthouse to make people piss away their money.
Attention: Steve Ballmer
1 Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052
Dear Mr. Balmer,
After much resistance on my part, the Director of I.T. at my workplace has finally forced me to adopt Office 2007. Consequently, I just wanted to drop a note to thank you forg making me much less efficient at my job. The fact that I just spent ten minutes searching for the Microsoft Excel Print command is going to make my boss really happy.
In reviewing your website for some insight into this dreadful new version of Office, I can’t help but notice that you seem to take a lot of pride in what you refer to as the “Office Fluent user interface”. To quote from your marketing materials …
“…the new Office Fluent user interface replaces menus, toolbars, and most of the task panes from earlier versions of Excel with a single mechanism that is simple and discoverable. The Office Fluent user interface is designed to help you be more productive in Excel, more easily find the right features for various tasks, discover new functionality, and be more efficient.”
I couldn’t disagree more. A better name for this nightmare might be the Office EFFLUENT user interface. My impression is that you took every one of the Commands and Functions in the well-established Microsoft Office menus, put them all in a giant hat, and then proceeded to implement your own sick version of 52-Pick-up as a huge practical joke on the millions of people who actually have to earn a living using your products.
There is one feature of the new Office that really stands out for its utter stupidity. Incredible as it seems, when your so-called software designers were finished wreaking their destruction on Office 2007, it appears that there were a handful of basic Commands left over ( Open, Save, Print, etc.) that couldn’t find a home within the train wreck of your new interface. Consequently, you decided to group these all together under the new Microsoft Office button. However, with its generic appearance and isolated location, the Office button doesn’t look like a button at all! To ordinary users it simply appears to be a product logo! Who would think to waggle their cursor over the product logo in order to figure out how to open a file?!? Good one!
Look, I appreciate that your whole business model is predicated upon making never-ending changes (note that I didn’t say “improvements”) to your software so that your customers will always be compelled to purchase the latest upgrade. But … sheesh? Can’t you be a little more subtle about it?
I was in a toy store doing some last minute Christmas shopping the other night when I came across a Creepy Crawlers® playset. Many people have distinct recollections of the most cherished toys from their youth: For me, the Creepy Crawler set surpassed every other childhood possession.
Back in the 60s, every Primary School had one or two boys who’s prevailing interest was not sports, or cars, or girls, or juvenile delinquency, or any of the other subjects that are generally of interest to young males. No, these kids were interested in “monsters”: Specifically – monster movies. I was one such kid. Although it might seem bizarre to imagine it now, kids like me were numerous enough back then to engender an entire industry to cater to our fascination with all things monstrous.
There were monster magazines like “Famous Monsters of Filmland”, whose title I can barely recollect now and maintain a straight face. I probably owned 50 different issues of this magazine at one point in my life. Today, you might ask what kind of content the publishers used to fill up an entirely new magazine each month. Looking back, I can see that the writing (and I use the term loosely) didn’t matter in the least. In each issue, the editor would recycle the same studio produced still photographs from countless, low-budget horror films of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Unbelievably, I couldn’t wait for each new issue; scrupulously hoarding my pitiful allowance so I could buy essentially the same magazine with a new cover over and over again.
There were also monster models. If you asked a kid today to define a “model”, I suspect he might tell you that it’s spreadsheet that you make during the design phase for a new computer program. Back when I was a youngster, though, every kid knew that a “model” was a pasteboard box full of slate-gray, injection-molded plastic parts. In order to build these models, you needed to break each piece out of the interconnected tree that held the whole thing together. Then you needed to assemble the parts using an acetone based “airplane” glue THAT ACTUALLY CAUSED THE PLASTIC TO MELT ON CONTACT. A few years down the road, this kind of glue would be criminalized, and acquire about the same reputation for toxicity as enriched uranium. When I was a kid, however, this glue was regarded as an acceptable substance for kids to “play” with – probably in much the same way that an eighteenth century kid would have played with a discarded glob of mercury.
But I digress: Although the majority of model kits that were marketed in those days were comprised of car replicas, there was a small but well-known niche market for “monster” models. Just like the aforementioned monster magazines, these model kits generally depicted some famous scene from one of the Universal Studios classic horror films of the 1940s. Even better, some of these kits employed a special characteristic that was regarded at the time as a wondrous technological achievement: Some of the plastic parts ACTUALLY GLOWED IN THE DARK! This otherworldly glow pushed the spookiness factor right into the stratosphere! Needless to say, I was the proud owner of ALL of these kits, sometimes in multiple versions. I’m embarrassed to confess that I can still get a lump in my throat by logging on to Ebay and looking at some of the vintage monster model kits that are available there.
Of course, the over-riding factor in the life of every monster-obsessed kid in those days was monster movies. Monster movies were what made all of the magazines and model kits and other ancillary junk possible. The really pathetic part is that these movies didn’t even represent the state of the art for the time period. As previously mentioned, the movies that we loved so much inevitably consisted of creaky old Universal Studios films from the 40s, or low-budget science fiction “B” movies from the 50s. The thing that these movies all had in common was their wide availability on late-night weekend TV of that era.
Remember, this was a time when a typical small town TV household might have received six (!!!) channels. In those days, no matter where you lived, there was sure to be some kind of programming beginning at or near midnight every Friday or Saturday evening whose content consisted of horror movie reruns. In my own town, this program went by the moniker of Chiller Theater. It was hosted by an unknown staff member of the local TV affiliate – quite possibly the same guy who read the weather forecast – disguised in ludicrously bad “monster makeup”. Needless to say, we were completely enthralled by this character, going so far as to join his fan club and send him earnest letters seeking his opinion on some subtle thematic aspect of a movie with a title like “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman”.
Chiller Theater was the undisputed weekly highlight of my Elementary School career. More often than not, I arranged for a sleepover with one of my similarly monster obsessed and hopelessly nerdy friends. These days, most parents seem to feel that they must supervise every waking moment of their children’s lives. In those unenlightened times, however, our parents were unabashedly pleased about any distraction that would get us kids out of their hair for a couple of hours. Consequently, we were usually left alone to stay up as late as we liked and consume anything edible on the premises.
All of this brings me back to the Creepy Crawler playset that was the original impetus for this essay. Just in case some younger readers are unfamiliar with this classic toy, I’ll provide a description: Creepy Crawlers consisted of a set of steel molds that came in themed sets and were impressed with various spooky objects, such as bugs, or skeletons, or even shrunken heads. In addition to the molds, the set contained a large bottle of sickly smelling, viscous liquid that went by the remarkably appropriate name of Plastigoop®. The object of the Creepy Crawler kit was to squeeze the molds full of Plastigoop in order to create gruesome, rubbery monster toys and other accessories. But here’s the kicker: The liquid Plastigoop wouldn’t turn solid unless the material was subjected to extremely high heat; and the final component of the Creepy Crawler set was a device that supplied just such a heat source. Yes, this marvelous toy – presumably targeted at a primary school demographic judging from the cherubic tots pictured on the box front – contained a miniature hotplate!
Although this hotplate may have been small – containing a recessed opening just large enough to accept one of the aforementioned molds – it was undoubtedly just as powerful as a full sized cooking appliance! An entire generation of children can attest to its ability to ignite a piece of scrap paper, or cause an instantaneous and incredibly painful burn. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve long afternoons sprawled luxuriously across the living room floor with my Creepy Crawler playset, the 450 degree surface of the hotplate only a few centimeters away from my Mom’s hyperflammable, 3-inch rayon shag carpeting. Alas, on those afternoons I was creating Creepy Crawlers with reckless abandon, not considering that my supply of Plastigoop was limited, and that a single refill bottle of this remarkable substance cost almost as much as the entire Creepy Crawler kit (Is it possible that we were witnessing the birth of the ink jet printer industry business model?).
Mattel issued the first Creepy Crawler set in 1964. In 1966, they released a specialty set called The Fright Factory. This was Manna from Heaven for a monster-obsessed kid like me.
As you’ve probably guessed, Creepy Crawler playsets are still manufactured and sold today. Needless to say, the Plastigoop has been reformulated to “cook” at a much lower temperature, and the open-faced hotplate has been replaced by a fully enclosed mechanism that is powered by a pathetic 40-watt light bulb. Sadly, this device provides practically no opportunity for burning down your house.
Back in the 60s, kids considered these toys to be extremely high tech, embodying elements of modern chemistry, and using some of the most advanced plastics of the era. Today, however, most kids would rightly regard the modern version of these kits as hopelessly primitive and outdated. In truth, the majority of the Creepy Crawlers playsets sold today are probably more useful for satisfying some adult’s sense of nostalgia than providing entertainment for a Nintendo-savy, modern day kid.
Copyright 2010 by Pat Moening
I get cold sores. My wife doesn’t. She loves to make fun of me when I get one …
If you’re not susceptible to cold sore, then you’re probably not aware that they are caused by a viral infection. Likewise, you don’t know that this infection has no cure: Once you get it, you’ll carry it around in your bloodstream for the rest of your life. It won’t make you perpetually sick, but you’ll be subject to periodic outbreaks of painful and annoying blisters on a part of your body where the tissues are especially sensitive – your lips. If this sounds a lot like herpes, it’s because the two viruses are virtually identical. This aspect of the disease adds greatly to the mirth that my wife experiences during my episodic bouts with cold sores. Like it’s not funny enough that I have an enormous, open sore in the middle of my face, there’s the added hilarity of comparing my condition to a venereal disease! Ha!
Scientists aren’t exactly certain why cold sore outbreaks occur, but there are several well-known factors that can serve as triggers, such as acidic foods, or prolonged exposure to the sun. One of the most well-documented of these triggers is stress, and most sufferers can personally attest that cold sores are prone to occur when dramatic events are unfolding in their lives; in other words – at the most inopportune times. If there were a way to document such a thing, I’m sure it would be demonstrated that far more cold sore bearing people have been forced to attend their own weddings or important job interviews than can be explained by random chance.
Like I said before: If you suffer from cold sores, then nothing in this essay will come as news to you. However, if you’ve never experienced the pain, discomfort, and overall “oogy” feeling of having a giant blister on your lip (on your LIP for crying out loud!), then you just can’t imagine the length that victims will go to to obtain relief. The thing about any kind of skin blister is that the area is sensitive, and so you want to avoid touching it. And yet, when you have a blister on the sensitive tissue of your lip, there is a constant, unconscious compulsion to probe it with the tip of your tongue.
A couple of years ago, a pharmaceutical company came out with a topical medication that will decrease the duration of a cold sore outbreak, if not prevent it entirely. The caveat for use of this product is that you have to apply it at the first indication that a cold sore is imminent. If you wait until the blister actually begins to appear – usually only an hour or two after the first, telltale tingling sensation – then it will essentially be too late for the salve to have any effect. This means that you must carry the medicine on or near you at all times; or else you must be prepared to drop everything at a moment’s notice – your Annual Performance Review, for example – in order to rush down to the Rite-Aid and purchase some Miracle Cold Sore Cure.
And speaking of buying this stuff: Be sure to take along your credit card, because it costs approximately as much as antimatter. To compensate for the high price of the medication, its manufacturers have attempted to package the substance in “single-use” apportionments. That is – one container of salve presumably contains enough medication to treat one cold sore outbreak. Although the salve comes packaged in a tube by necessity, the amount of material that the tube contains would be more appropriately handled in one of those microchip laboratories where all the products are manipulated in sealed chambers under electron microscopes. Consequently, there’s a very real possibility of vaporizing your entire dosage by applying slightly too much pressure to the pea-sized tube.
Getting back to the subject of my wife: What explains the transformation of this normally compassionate woman into a malicious fourth grader whenever I get a cold sore? I’ve given this some thought, and I believe that this is her version of “whistling past the graveyard”. The idea of having a festering wound on her lip is so abhorrent that she must utterly reject the mere possibility of such a thing. She accomplishes this in her own mind by ridiculing the object of her fear … me. In her defense, I would note that I’ve observed a similar reaction in many other women in response to another common, feminine fear:
Male pattern baldness.