She Threw a Party and Everybody Came

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comMy mother-in-law, Ava, decided to throw my father-in-law an 80th birthday party picnic.

I was in the room the first time she floated the idea by Kim on the phone. I heard every word.

I truly thought she would sleep on it and decide having a nice family meal inside a cool restaurant would be a much better alternative.

But, she didn’t; and the party planning began.

First the guest list was 40 people. Then it grew to 50. 

It topped out at 60 and contained all the relatives from both sides of the family, friends, neighbors and people from church.

Red — that’s my father-in-law — has lots of friends.

Labor Day was hot, and the pavilion at the park didn’t offer much relief. Soon after we got there I was handed a bag of charcoal and a bunch of wieners.

This was a state park grill. You know the type. No lid. A big heavy-duty grate with the charred remains from a half million burgers stuck to it. A stick to stir the coals left there by the last people who used it.

I love to grill, but I like the home-field advantage.

Of course, it’s hard to mess up a hotdog. But since I was cooking in front of 60 people, I figured I had a fighting chance to do just that. 

And besides, barbecue was the main course.

I was sweating before I even lit the fire, and it only got worse when Ava asked me to say the blessing.

I should note here that about three-fourths of the family serve a church in some capacity.

They either currently are or have been deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers, choir directors or whatever other church titles you can think of.

It was like Bill Belichick asking me if I wanted to quarterback the Patriots on Sunday. 

“Surely I am the least qualified person here to do that, don’t you think?”

“Well,” she said, “I want you to know you were my first choice.”

I don’t know if it was the searing heat, or the holy spirit, or what, but I agreed to do it.

By now my shirt looked like I had just been baptized in the lake. Lighting the grill made it that much worse.

I put on the dogs and started practicing my blessing.

I considered pulling out “God is Great, God is Good” but figured I could do better than that.

When the dogs came off, we bowed our heads and I muddled through it.

It was short and sweet, but I guess I did okay. None of the relatives gave me any pointers, at least.

Now is when it get’s weird, though.

Since Kim and one of her cousins continued replenish the food while everyone went through the line, I decided to hold off eating until she ate.

I asked the old, “Is there anything I can do?” question, fully expecting to be told no.

“You can cut the desserts.”

Say what?

I can grill, even on a dinosaur from the ’50s. I can even pray in front of a bunch of people who are way better at it than I am.

But give me a red velvet cake and a knife, and I am a lost ball in tall weeds.

I think I ended up with 13 trapezoid-shaped pieces in a variety of sizes.

As long as the birthday boy got one of the big ones, I don’t guess it really matters.

I’m Not Sure We’re Ever Coming Back

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comEvery time I think we’ve hit rock bottom, we manage to sink lower.

This past weekend was a mind-numbing example on two fronts.

On Saturday, the news of Sen. John McCain’s death spread quickly.

I always respected McCain. He was a patriot in the truest sense of the word who dedicated his life to public service.

He was an example of decency — something that is getting harder and harder to find these days.

But on social media several of the comments on the late Senator were vitriolic and most of all, disrespectful.

And it seemed every negative comment I saw about him came from people within his own political party.

Anytime I read a political story on social media I always tell myself, “don’t read the comments, don’t read the comments,” but I almost always do.

I do so primarily because I always have a glimmer of hope that the positive comments will outnumber the hateful.

And I am almost always wrong.

The first comment I saw about McCain began, “He was an idiot…” Most of the rest couldn’t be printed in this newspaper.

It’s sickening. We are a sick society.

The second example came in the wake of the mass shooting in Jacksonville on Sunday.

A Christian religion page I follow posted a quote from a church official in Florida who called for a public response to gun violence.

He pointed out the Jacksonville incident was the third mass shooting in Florida in 3 years. He also said this was the 232nd mass shooting in the US this year.

Since I am dumber than a sheep that can’t stop running into an electric fence, I clicked the comments.

I really expected to see some compassion for the victims and agreement. I actually thought people would agree.

It’s a church page, for heaven’s sake — pun intended.

But oh, no. Not in 2018 America.

The first debate took issue with the claim that we have had 232 mass shootings this year.

People started posting links to stories which had the number in the mid-100s.

Oh, dad-gum you, preacher. We’ve only had 150 mass shootings this year. What a Philistine you are.

Actually, I googled it and found a source listing 291 so far in 2018, and that didn’t even include Jacksonville.

Then, the conversation — more correctly stated, the argument — turned to how we should even define mass shooting in the first place.

Several people gave their opinion on this. Some people think the number of smoking hot shell casings dancing around on the pavement should determine whether or not an incident should be called a mass shooting.

It was mind blowing to read how a large contingent of human beings didn’t have one bit of compassion for the innocent people who died.

So it seems only having a mass shooting every three or so days is okay. And, if the body count is acceptably low enough, it shouldn’t even count at all.

These are uncharted waters for our country. We can’t come together to respect a life-long congressman who died; and we can’t agree on how many people have to get shot in public before it even matters.

But here’s something I believe we can all agree on.

We are doing a dang good job at showing our backsides here lately.

Relaxing is Harder Than it Looks

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comWe all try to relax more in the summertime.

We deserve it. It’s hot, and the outside to-do lists grow as fast as the weeds.

But relaxing is hard work — at least for me it is. I sometimes wonder if it’s worth it.

I’m not the best relaxer to begin with. I’m wound just a tad bit tightly. I have a hard time stopping to smell the roses.

Even when I’m not in a hurry to get somewhere, I gnaw on the steering wheel when the traffic light sees me coming and turns red.

Yes, sometimes I truly think it works that way. 

My favorite place to attempt a little downtime is in our backyard. We have some trees and an umbrella for shade. We have comfortable chairs.

I like to sit out there when I can. When I do, though, usually within the first minute I see something that needs fixing, pruning, put away or tossed in the garbage.

This typically happens about a half dozen times before I realize I never made it outside with whatever I was going to read.

Then, after I get settled in again, I have to go back inside to pick up my sunglasses which I laid down when I went in search of my reading material.

Don’t be too impressed. My reading material is usually my phone, but sometimes I pick up a real book.

And after all those ups and downs, my time in the shade usually ends with one of those isolated thunderstorms.

Lots of people say it’s easier to relax away from your house where you can see someone else’s weeds and not be tempted to go pull them.

Some of my friends have boats. Judging by their Facebook posts, they look like they’re having a relaxing time.

I know better, though. They’re not relaxing. They’re exhausted.

I’ve been boating many times. I find it to be hard work.

Pack the cooler, pack the car, drive a half hour, unpack the car, carry the cooler forever down a pier and try not to fall in the water getting on the boat.

Plus, I have never, ever been boating when myself and everything I wanted to bring with me all set sail together.

Maybe I just did it wrong. Feel free to invite me out so I can give it another shot.

Vacations can be fun, but they’re rarely relaxing either — especially beach vacations.

We’ve all heard, “Are we there yet?” before we ever cross the county line.

We’ve all tracked sand through the room and made a mini-beach in the bathtub.

We’ve all experienced hermit crab funerals, sunburns, long lines for just-okay fried seafood and blistering hot cars.

We’ve all pulled in the garage at home at 10 p.m. Sunday night and set the alarm to get up for work bright and early the next day.

Now might be a good time to mention I am at least slightly more fun at parties than all of this suggests. Maybe I should stop writing this on Monday morning.

When it comes right down to it, relaxation is different for each of us. And I also think the things we find leisurely depend on our age.

Maybe I should take up knitting.

Nah, I’d spend all my time trying to find my needles.

My TV Buying Experience; Not what you are Expecting

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comLightning zapped our television Saturday.

I’m not really surprised. In fact, I wonder why it didn’t happen sooner since we’ve endured a stormy onslaught from mother nature just about every day for the past couple of weeks.

Power outages have been an almost-daily thing.

We bought that TV 13 or so years ago. I’ve been waiting for it to go out for 12 years or so.

Yesterday we bought a new one. We didn’t want to have to buy one, but since we had to, we decided to embrace it.

I know what you’re probably thinking. You’re thinking I am going to make fun of all the ridiculous choices in televisions.

You’re thinking I’m going to criticize the industry for having both high definition, ultra high definition and something called 4k resolution.

You’re getting ready for me to throw out a couple of zingers regarding the difference between LED and OLED screens, and whether 8 million pixels is really better than the old-timey 2 million.

Oh, and of course, you just know I will have a little fun at the sales guy’s expense for being either inept or too eager.

But I’m not going to do any of that.

We actually bought the thing without too much of a problem; and the sales guy was extremely knowledgeable and helpful.

I like it. It’s got all the bells and  whistles. I can talk to the remote, which is something I’ll probably never do, but I can if I want to.

The remote also has a little button labeled “Netflix” which is infinitely easier than our old system.

We got it home and unboxed it.

I immediately did the unthinkable when I said, “Looks like we can just plug this cable in here and that’s all we have to do.”

That’s just like saying, “I haven’t seen a cop all day,” while you’re speeding down the interstate trying to get to the beach as fast as you can.

That proverbial plugging in of the cable took about 6 hours.

I programmed it, attached it to the WiFi and introduced it to our cable box.

Finally, we were ready to go.

I hit the button on the remote that says TV, and the words “no signal” appeared on the screen.

Through the process of elimination, I finally theorized that maybe lightning got the cable box, too.

I called the cable company.

Forty-three minutes later the representative on the phone had done all she could do. The cable guy is coming sometime between 6 and 7 tonight.

Those 8 million pixels don’t mean a dang thing if all those little bitty actors and singers and athletes that somehow come through that little piece of wire can’t get from the cable box to the screen.

One day I’ll have to ask my remote how any of that works in the first place.

The Traffic Cone that Stayed

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comBack in the winter, one of the utility companies made an underground repair next to the main road that runs through our neighborhood.

In the process, they took a small section of the road — not much beyond the curb. When they were finished, they left a 2×5-foot rectangle space covered by gravel. Most of it was in the grass.

The gravel was flush with the ground and the road. It wasn’t a hazard. There was no hole or bump or one of those big steel plates. It was no big deal.

Despite that, though, the crew left three traffic cones on top of the space.

They were probably complying with some safety rule. I thought it might have been a signal to the city asphalt repair crew to fix it when they came by with a little extra.

The two cones on each end of the affected area were fine. But the one in the middle was bent over like a Santa hat. 

I live in a nice enough neighborhood.

The homes and yards are well kept. We have hills and curving streets lined with big trees.

My point is, the broken traffic cone looked a little out of place.

That all happened probably in January.

The traffic cones sat there until mid-March, I’m guessing. That’s when the gravel got replaced by soil. Straw was spread to keep the grass seed from washing away. And the street got fixed.

The workers took two of the traffic cones.

I don’t have to tell you which one got left behind.

Today is June 25.

The Santa hat traffic cone is still sitting there.

I woke up in the middle of the night last night and realized just how absurd that is. It’s been sitting there for 6 months.

Every day on our way to the office I tell Kim I’m going to throw it away on the way home, but I never do.

Public works trucks pass by it at least 200 times a week.

The trash man comes every Thursday.

I realize it’s not their job to pick it up, but you’d think someone would.

Thankfully, we hardly ever have police cars in our neighborhood, but yesterday I saw one drive by.

I think he was just checking up on it.

For at least 3 months, someone has been mowing around it.

I am going to make the traffic cone a project. I have a plan that I fully intend to carry out.

If it’s still there on Independence Day, I’m going to put a little flag beside it.

If it’s still there when football season starts, I’m going to give it a couple of shakers. It’s already orange for heaven’s sake.

If it’s still there at Christmas I’m going to attach a little felt ball to its bent-over top and put it in the Christmas parade on a float.

Then I’m going to bring it back, of course.

If it’s still there on Valentine’s Day, I’m going to put another traffic cone beside it because no traffic cone — bent over or not — should be alone on Valentine’s Day.

A nice reflective one only costs $17.75. If that’s all it takes to give a traffic cone a friend, then I can spare it.

Random Acts of Kindness Worth Mentioning

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI experienced two random acts of kindness last week.

Such things are rare these days. Between our cancerous political divides, our general impatience with other people and the fact that this seems like the hottest June on record, it’s hard to find a silver lining.

But last week I did — twice.

And it was wonderful.

The first one happened late Friday afternoon. I had gone to a private mail facility to ship a package to one of Kim’s customers. I ship packages from there instead of the post office because it’s generally less crowded.

When I pulled up to the place, the mail truck was backed in next to the door, and the mail carrier had just finished making her pickup.

This was bad news, because not only was she making her final pickup for the day, she was making her final pickup for the week. Like I said, it was Friday afternoon.

I thought about giving her a pitiful look hoping she would take the hint and wait; but I’m not the kind of person who would ordinarily do that, even though it was important my package begin its little journey as quickly as possible.

Instead, something unthinkable happened.

She asked me if I was mailing a package. When I said I was, she told me to tell the person working the desk inside that she would make a couple of pickups then come back and get it.

It was Friday. It was nearly 5 p.m. Did I mention it was hot?

I’m sure this person was itching to get home, take off those navy blue socks and kick back with a cold, tall sweet tea. But she offered to go empty a couple of big blue mailboxes then backtrack for my package.

I struggled to find the words to thank her. I told her that was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me.

Still, I was skeptical. I truly thought she would forget to come back. But as I was pulling out of the parking lot, I met her heading back to pick up my package.

The next incident occurred at a fast food place. As you know, these joints are not exactly the epicenters for random acts of kindness.

I went inside and ordered a large drink.

As the cashier was pulling my cup off the stack of cups, another employee — presumably a manager — intervened.

“Is that all you’re getting, just a drink?”

“Yes.”

“Take it. It’s on the house. They’re too expensive anyway, and it’s hot outside.”

They both smiled at me when I fumbled with the words to thank them adequately.

I say thank you all the time, but I do it automatically — out of habit. We all do the same thing. We say it because we’re polite around here.

I am not used to saying it with meaning, and unless I miss my guess, those two kids in the restaurant aren’t used to hearing it with meaning.

Fast food restaurants aren’t exactly the epicenters for appreciative customers, either.

Maybe such things happen to you on a regular basis. Maybe you do such things for people on a daily basis.

If you do, good for you.

I’m going to see just how quickly I can pay those two random acts of kindness forward.

Anyone for Shuffleboard on the Lido Deck?

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI love my laptop bag.

It’s leather. It smells the way leather should smell. It feels the way leather should feel. It was a souvenir from our trip to Italy in March. I also got a wallet, and Kim got a purse.

We bought them late one afternoon on a cold, rainy day. We had already been to the small leather shop once and left the owner kicking and screaming. His sales had been as dismal as the weather that day.

When we returned, the deal he gave us was incredible.

Okay, it probably wasn’t too incredible, but I am choosing to believe it was.

I do know it is the best souvenir ever.

That’s not much of an accomplishment. My history with souvenirs is pretty pitiful.

Once on a family trip when I was in high school, we stopped at that big fireworks store on Interstate 24 at South Pittsburg, Tenn.

If you’ve ever been by there you know the one I’m talking about. The facade stretches for a couple of blocks and lights up the entire valley.

I bought a cowboy hat — a big, gaudy straw cowboy hat with a band made of feathers. I looked like I was trying to smuggle a peacock.

I am not a cowboy. I didn’t need a cowboy hat, even though I recall thinking I simply had to buy something on the trip, and time was running out. We were 2 hours from home.

More than two decades later — having learned nothing — I bought yet a second cowboy hat in Houston at somebody’s humongous world-famous western wear store.

I also bought the boots to go along with it.

And a belt.

Kim did the same thing.

It was another heat-of-the-moment purchase.

Kim’s not a cowboy, either. Neither is she Jamaican, but that didn’t keep her from bringing home — not one but two — purses made out of coconuts when we went there.

One was a gift for someone, thankfully.

The crown jewel of bad souvenir purchases, however, has to be something I bought when we went on a cruise back when I was in high school.

I bought a shirt similar to the ones the ship’s crew wore.

It was powder blue satin, and it buttoned up. It had a design on the collar and was embellished with two ruffled fabric bands that went down each side in the front.

The buttons were shiny. Of course they were.

Captain Stubing didn’t have anything on me.

I couldn’t really help myself at the time. We were down there somewhere in the Caribbean where everyone was merry. The gourmet meals were never ending. The steel drum bands played calypso music well into the night, and the bright lights were mesmerizing to someone my age.

I was never going to lose that feeling. That’s why I bought the shirt.

And then I got home.

There was no calypso music, no bright lights — just me and my shirt that was better suited for a 75-year-old snowbird from Ontario to go with his white loafers and black socks.

I would like to think I am wiser than that now, but it’s probably more like the deal I got on the leather. I probably just think I am.

I’m Sure the Dog Could Dress Himself, too

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comOver the weekend, I was on the lookout.

I had my eyes peeled, as the old expression goes, for something lighthearted to write about. 

I desperately needed to get back to what I enjoy most, which is trying to be funny.

Early yesterday afternoon, I had to run to the office downtown to pick up something. On the way there, I saw an unusual sight.

I saw a dog driving a car. 

Bingo. Subject matter.

It was white with a pink tongue hanging to one side. It was a small dog. I think it was a poodle.

There he sat, paws at 10 and 2, looking bright-eyed straight through the windshield. He was as excited as he could be, and I don’t blame him. I love to drive, too.

Obviously, I am confident he was standing in the real human driver’s lap, and I just didn’t see the real human.

That’s probably because when I saw what looked like a dog driving a car, my eyes locked on it and I didn’t see anything else.

On one hand, I was disturbed to see a dog sitting in the driver’s seat with its paws on the wheel. I’m not a real big fan of people who hold their dogs in their laps while they’re driving; and I seem to be seeing more and more of it.

On the other hand, however, the dog seemed to be fully engaged in what he was doing. He was watching where he was going. He wasn’t looking down at his phone or trying to dip a French fry in ketchup.

I was excited to write the driving dog story until I realized that no matter how much I stretched it, I couldn’t get 600 words out of it.

I got what I came for at the office and was leaving when I ran into a couple who was down there looking around. We get lots of people down there looking around. This couple, however, seemed very interested. 

We got on the subject of business in that area of town. They obviously had some entrepreneurial experience; and even better, they were looking for a possible location for a project they were brainstorming.

I took them inside and gave them the tour. We talked for several minutes. They were quite personable.

Later that afternoon, Kim and I went to get something to eat. While we were out, another acquaintance called to see if we could meet him to talk about a project he was thinking about doing.

We met him at the office and talked for 45 minutes or so.

When we got home, Kim and I talked about how strange it was that two random things like that happened on the same day.

Maybe we’re doing something right, we concluded. This positively must be the universe pulling in our direction.

Then she said, “Your shirt is on inside out.”

How perfect.

I have dressed myself for 50 years. Let’s just say for the sake of argument I wear two shirts a day.

That’s 36,500 times I’ve put on a shirt.

What are the odds that I would have two out-of-the-blue potentially important meetings on the day of the 36,501st shirt change?

They’re probably about the same as the odds of seeing a poodle driving a car.

Let’s Improve the Buildings We Already Have

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI’ve never actually hugged a tree.

Once when I was 3 or 4 years old, I did lean up against what I called the “wire tree” and got tar all over my clothes. I don’t guess that counts. 

Wire tree was what I called the light pole in the corner of our yard. Yes, I was adorable. Sticky, but adorable.

Our subdivision was relatively new. That’s why all the wire trees still had fresh tar on them.

There were several houses already, but also several vacant lots. Across the street from our house was a cotton field that became snow white each year until the new houses gobbled it up.

I realize the need for growth. But from my vantage point today, the sprawl in every direction seems unnecessary.

We’re clear cutting woods and sacrificing farmland to throw up new houses and apartments while perfectly good residences sit abandoned. It’s the same with businesses.

One of my passions is downtown redevelopment. A few weeks ago, Kim, a few other people from town and I went to an event called a downtown retail summit.

We heard authorities from all over the country talk about ways to spur investment in downtown areas.

Have you been downtown in your town lately? The buildings are old and made of brick. They were built to last. They’re not stuck together with vinyl siding and thrown up in a couple of weeks.

Those buildings matter.

The speakers talked about innovative steps cities are taking to breathe life into downtown areas.

They hammered again and again the need for local governments to do things like offer tax incentives and soften restrictions on old buildings.

Places with that kind of leadership are seeing success.

Over the course of the day, we heard lots of pie-in-the-sky stuff, but a point one of the speakers made stuck with me.

He said that every five bricks in a building represents one gallon of fuel. In other words, it takes one gallon of fuel to build roughly 90 square inches.

That’s about the same surface area as one piece of paper.

I might be wrong, but I don’t think you have to be a tree hugger for that to get your attention.

He said something like, “The green building is the one that’s already there.”

Back in March, Kim and I visited the Pantheon during our trip to Italy.

The Pantheon was built in 126 A.D. It is in excellent condition. It is still in use.

Almost 2,000 years later it remains an engineering marvel. It is exactly 142 feet tall and 142 feet wide. Its 16 columns are 39 feet tall and weigh 60 tons each. They were built in Egypt and somehow floated to Rome when the roads flooded. They still have the rope marks where they were hoisted into place.

Each of the Pantheon’s two front doors is solid bronze and weighs 20 tons. These doors are perfectly balanced and can be pushed open with one hand.

I looked all over the place for a can of WD-40, and I didn’t see one anywhere.

We don’t have any Pantheons over here, and we never will.

What we do have, though, are treasures we should embrace.

We might even save a tree in the process.

If You Dislike Waiting, I Have Some Bad News

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI have never liked to wait.

When I was around 14, the skateboard craze hit my hometown. I grabbed the Western Auto catalog and found the perfect one.

Actually, there was only one, but it was perfect enough.

I broke my piggy bank, jumped on my bicycle and rode downtown to the store.

My heart broke when they told me they didn’t have any in stock. They could order me one, though. 

I ordered it on a Thursday. I was assured it would be in their next weekly delivery, which — naturally — ran on Wednesdays.

While my friends mastered the fine art of riding a skateboard over that infinite week, I watched them from the sideline and waited for Wednesday to come.

I call that feeling of helplessness and anxiety Skateboard Syndrome, and it’s real.

I don’t have to tell you the skateboard didn’t arrive as promised. I guess it came the following week. I don’t recall exactly.

Before long, I was ready to progress from the skateboard to the vehicle. Getting my driver’s license was a huge deal for me; I thought I would never turn 16. 

On my birthday, we drove a half hour to the driver’s license office.

The sign on the door said they were only open on Tuesdays.

Naturally, it was Wednesday.

I don’t understand why people nowadays are so over the moon to order stuff online when they can get it just down the street.

I know it’s a money-saving thing, and I do it when I am forced to, but I don’t like it.

If I wanted my widget in a week, I would’ve ordered it a week ago.

Earlier this spring, Kim and I found some lawn chairs we wanted down at that big ol’ store I’ve made fun of before. After a half hour, a half dozen store employees came to the conclusion they were out of them.

We were told we could pay for them, and they would be shipped to the store in a week.

In a moment of weakness we agreed. We then blew the checkout person’s mind when we told her the employees back on aisle 706 told us we could do it that way. 

Within the next 15 minutes or so, another half dozen employees hovering over a computer screen determined no more chairs like that were going to be shipped to that store, regardless of whether they were specially ordered or not.

They told us we could go home, order them and have them shipped to our house.

You guessed it. They would be delivered in a week.

I needed some kind of assurance the chairs really would be available online. Those half dozen employees said they would, but after the comedy of errors we had been through, I simply didn’t believe them.

They let us buy the display models just to get rid of us.

To all the people behind us in line that day, it’s called Skateboard Syndrome, and it’s real. 

The preacher once said that when we’re waiting or anticipating something, it’s the same as worrying. And as Christians, we’re not supposed to do that.

If that one is on the final exam, I’m in trouble.

Hopefully, there will be an exception for those who suffer from Skateboard Syndrome.

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