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.

The Small Decisions That Drive Us Crazy

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comLife is full of decisions.

Some are big ones with life-changing implications. Do I get married? Do I change jobs? Do I buy a house?

Most of the decisions we are forced to make on a daily basis, however, are ridiculous and unnecessary.

I love orange juice. I always have. But I have almost turned myself against it because I always find myself standing there in the grocery store paralyzed trying to decide which kind to get.

The first question I am forced to ask myself is how much pulp I want in my juice. Should I get it with no pulp, some pulp or lots of pulp.

Once I solve my pulp quandary, I am then forced to decide if want it with extra calcium, extra vitamin D or 50 percent less sugar.

I just want orange juice, squeezed from an orange into a jug. Is that too much to ask?

Thankfully, some marketing genius at the orange juice factory had people like me in mind and decided to label some “Homestyle.”

I don’t know what Homestyle meant, and at the time I didn’t care. I grabbed it before I even gave myself a chance to read whether it had anything added, reduced or taken away altogether.

Coffee is almost as bad. How could anyone pick between dark roast, medium roast, classic roast or breakfast blend?

And I will eat your hat if you can tell me what French roast means.

The bathroom tissue aisle should come with its own grief counselor.

We shouldn’t need an advanced college degree in mathematics to decide whether 12 regular rolls at $5.99 is a better deal than 9 mega rolls at $7.49.

The grocery business in general is the worst offender, but it’s not the only one. 

I despise trying to figure out what kind of central air filter to buy.

Do I buy what the company calls the good one, which is also the lowest priced? Or do I splurge on the premium one? Or do I ride the fence and flip a coin between the two in the middle?

The expensive one supposedly stops something called microscopic allergens.

I don’t even know if I have microscopic allergens floating around, and if I do, I figure I need to get rid of them in the first place and not just try to corral them in the central air filter.

Now, in addition to not knowing which air filter to buy, I have to worry also about microscopic allergens.

I went to a website that sells air filters, and I honestly counted 168 different sizes.

It’s absurd.

Women have it rougher than men, though.

I’ve heard both my mother and Kim complain dozens of times over the years about trying to figure out which kind of pantyhose to buy.

Women pretty much don’t wear pantyhose anymore, and I think it’s because the decisions are too tough.

You go, girl. Burn those stockings and the eggs they rode in on. That’ll teach them.

I’m not sure why we ever needed a half million variations of this product. But I do know that hell hath no fury like a woman who bought reinforced toes by mistake.

Sometimes I think the big decisions are easier than the small ones.

You May Have Seen Me in Women’s Sunglasses

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI’ve always found it interesting that the more I like a pair of sunglasses the more quickly something happens to them.

Of course, the opposite always holds true as well.

A couple of years ago, I bought a pair out of necessity at a convenience store somewhere outside of Fredericksburg, Va.

As you can imagine, the sunglasses department was pretty slim pickings. The ones I was forced to buy looked like something out of a sci-fi movie. I think they were $8.99.

They fit my head like a little plastic vise. They were crooked. When I looked down, they made the ground look 3 inches farther away than it really is.

I still have them. They’re never going to break. I can’t lose them.

If I ever left them somewhere, I have no doubt a Boy Scout with a pet bloodhound would happen by, pick them up and track me cross country to return them.

A couple of months ago, conversely, I decided to splurge on a decent pair. I went to one of those outdoor gear stores where the employees always look like they just got home from spring break.

To me, splurging on sunglasses means spending about 30 bucks.

I bought a pair. I loved them. They broke after a month.

Having learned nothing, I went back to the exact same store to get another pair.

I decided on some much like the ones that had just broken. 

“Do you want me to put these in a bag?” the young lady at the counter asked.

“Oh, no. I am going to wear them.” It was less of a statement and more of an announcement for everyone in the store to hear.

When I looked at myself in the rearview mirror, I was a little disturbed by the way the arms were a little wider than my other ones. I noticed the same thing about the tortoise-shell curvy pieces that go around the ears.

Then I took them off and realized the arms had a little design on them.

I was the proud owner of a pair of women’s sunglasses.

You will find it difficult to believe I didn’t notice any of this in the store.

I sat there in the parking lot wondering whether to return them immediately or live with them. It was not tremendously obvious they were a bit feminine. I tried to pull a little hair over the design to hide it. 

I decided to keep them. No one would notice. And the best part is, I knew I would never, ever lose them, and they would never, ever break.

I left the store and cruised down the road trying not to rear-end anyone while I continued to argue with myself if I looked weird or not.

I did. As much as I tried to talk myself out of it, I looked weird.

I was a head scarf and a cigarette holder away from looking like Audrey Hepburn cruising down Sunset Boulevard on her way to William Holden’s house for martinis.

In the end, I bought myself a pair of men’s sunglasses — though I did it at another store.

Kim got the others.

She makes a much more believable Audrey Hepburn than I do.

Sports are Changing, but for the Better?

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comSports are changing.

My favorite NFL team held a fashion show last week, and I am not tremendously thrilled about it.

I had been hearing about the Tennessee Titans’ uniform reveal party for weeks now. The stage was set for a big block party on Broadway in Nashville, complete with appearances by current and former players, new coach Mike Vrabel, Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk, and others.

Some of the Titans players modeled the new uniforms.

Since it’s Nashville, naturally, attendees were treated to a concert both before and after the event. Fireworks capped off the night.

One estimate I saw said nearly 100,000 people attended.

That’s 30,000 more people than the team’s average attendance for a game in 2017, just so you’ll know.

I like a party as much as the next guy, but come on, let’s have some good-natured fun with this.

Here are a few more things I would like to see the Titans reveal this season.

How about they reveal 11 players jumping up and down in the end zone after a touchdown five or six times a game.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a scoreboard reveal that says Titans 84, New England 0.

How about revealing a picture of Vrabel and Strunk hoisting the Lombardi Trophy during a shower of confetti after the Super Bowl.

I truly believe the Titans should look a few blocks up the street and see what their sister team has done in hockey. The Predators — who are a favorite to win this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs — turn Nashville into a hockey-frenzied town season after season.

And I’m pretty sure they accomplish that by what they do during games, not on the catwalk.

I’m old school when it comes to sports, and some of the things that capture our attention these days befuddle me.

One of the biggest stories out of Knoxville this spring has been new UT coach Jeremy Pruitt announcing that the team won’t be wearing the smokey gray uniforms this fall.

Although Pruitt’s honeymoon hasn’t even started yet, he did rankle a few fashion — I mean football fans — with this decision.

Another big announcement out of spring camp in Knoxville this year is Pruitt taking away music from loudspeakers during practice.

You won’t find it hard to believe that Butch Jones is the one who started musical practices.

Pruitt said, “I don’t think they play music during football games. I’ve never heard it. I like to coach, and I like for the people to be able to hear me when I do coach.”

The nerve of that guy.

Last week, East Tennessee State University head coach Randy Sanders was suspended because he slapped a player’s helmet during practice. When he was reinstated, he was issued a letter of reprimand and lost a week’s pay.

While I don’t condone violence, I thought that was a bit much.

I participated in a few sports back in the day and I’ve seen coaches slap helmets, twist face masks, kick players in the rump and more.

Our seventh grade basketball coach paddled us during practice one day for missing free throws.

I wonder what he would’ve done if we would’ve suggested playing music during practice?

I Even Managed Not to Fall on the Tracks

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comEuropeans don’t give us Americans credit for having much sense.

That’s the primary conclusion I drew from my and Kim’s recent trip to Italy and Spain. Visiting Grant in Spain was the reason for the trip. We decided to tack on some extra days in Italy beforehand as an early anniversary present to ourselves.

And much to the surprise of the Italians and the Spaniards, we made it back in one piece.

A few people we encountered in Italy spoke English fairly well. Many spoke only a little.

But whoever painted the warning signs up and down the entire country of Italy on everything imaginable was fluent in English, that’s for sure.

Apparently no one who speaks Italian or French or German or Punjabi ever fell off of a train platform. That must be why every 6 feet was a sign saying “Stay Behind Yellow Line,” plainly written in English and in no other language.

Nothing else was written in English. Why was that?

What is it about English-speaking people, I wondered, that makes the Italians think we are just itching to to get hit by a train?

As we got deeper into the trip, I realized that every sign urging us either to do or not do something was written first and foremost in English — and usually only in English.

“Turn off light when leaving toilet.”

“Do not enter.”

“Not responsible for items left in gondola.”

“No smoking.”

“Wet floor.”

It was like the preacher was talking to us and no one else in the congregation.

I’ve been all over the US, and nowhere in the whole country have I seen a warning sign printed in any other language more prominently than it was printed in English.

I would be willing to bet that the sign at the edge of the Grand Canyon says “Don’t fall in canyon” and not “Non rientrano nel canyon” for all of the Romans who might be vacationing here.

Things didn’t change much in Spain.

When I got to the rental car desk, the clerk I was blessed with spoke very little English — at least that’s what I thought in the beginning.

He couldn’t even understand that I had a reservation. He had to get a co-worker to interpret for him.

But something on his screen must have flagged me as American, because he suddenly and magically learned the language.

“This is a new car,” he said.

“Ok, great. Thanks.”

“It has only 13 kilometers. You are the first driver.”

I guess I nodded or smiled or something. I knew what he was getting at, but he wasn’t sure I did, so he paused a moment.

Then he looked me dead in the eye over the top of his glasses and said painfully slowly, “I suggest you get the insurance.”

I don’t know if this guy has been watching too many Dukes of Hazard reruns or the Daytona 500 or what, but he sure didn’t think I was a good risk for his precious new car with only 13 kilometers. 

And yes, I took the insurance.

Then I grabbed the keys, yelled “yee-haw” as loudly as I could, slid across the hood and jumped in the driver’s side window.

We’re Americans, after all. Apparently we have a reputation to uphold.

While We’re at it, I Don’t Even Have a White Coat

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI’m big on do-it-yourself repair projects.

Sometimes they work out, and sometimes they don’t.

I can usually fix a leaky faucet or change a light switch pretty easily. Some problems are tougher, though.

I like to say I know my limits, but apparently I don’t know them as well as I think I do.

Like most people, I dabble a little in self-doctoring. I think it starts when we pull that bee stinger out of our foot for the first time as children while sitting teary-eyed in a patch of clover.

I probably self-doctor a bit more than most people, which is not something I’m necessarily proud of. I would’ve made a great Christian Scientist.

Last week, I expanded my medical repertoire.

I am now doing some of my own dental work.

This has not turned out as well as I had hoped it would.

Of course, I have no training in dentistry. Thank goodness for dental schools who turn out real dentists. For the record, I love my dentist, but I thought I could handle this problem on my own.

My big problem was that I don’t have any dental tools. Most non-dentists don’t, I suppose.

That’s why I was forced to make one using a chopstick, some sandpaper and a couple of inches of electrical tape.

Filing down a rough spot on a crown is harder than it sounds. I worked on it for quite a while, and I don’t think I made any difference at all. I thought about going with a coarser grit, but I didn’t know how that might work out.

The fine sand in my mouth was bad enough. I felt like I was on the beach walking into a stiff headwind. Anything coarser would’ve been unbearable.

No matter how hard I sanded, that little sharp edge just wouldn’t go away. I guess that high-speed dentist tool which sounds like a cat with its tail caught in a door is necessary after all.

Before you ask, yes, I considered using the Dremel but chickened out.

I’ve had to go to the dentist for some unusual reasons over my lifetime, and I’m sure my file looks like Mad magazine. I didn’t want to have to explain the injury I received from working on my tooth with a rotary tool. 

In the span of a half hour, I sent dental care back 100 years. I’ve seen museum exhibits of early medical tools, and I don’t ever remember seeing anything as primitive as my sandpaper on a stick.

By the time you read this, I will have been to the real dentist and had myself fixed up. And it will have been a simple procedure, which I will have had no reason to worry about. That’s the way it almost always goes — though I never look forward to it.

The main reason I tried my do-it-yourself scheme in the first place is because it was late in the day and late in the week, I was busy, and I really didn’t have time to go.

In hindsight, I think maybe I didn’t have time not to go.

Just for fun, I am considering filing a claim with my insurance company to see if they will pay their customary 75 cents.

Heck, that wouldn’t even cover the chopstick.

Let Me Tell You How Petty My Problems Are

barry currin, stories of a world gone mad, beaverdamusa.comI woke up yesterday morning feeling about as tired as I did when I went to bed the night before.

The same thing happened most days over the past week.

My mind has been in a whirlwind lately with a variety of preoccupations — lots of new aggravations and frustrations, along with some oldies but goodies that use my brain like a vacation home.

And for some reason, 2 a.m., is when the space between my ears thinks I should start thinking about everything all at once.

Throw in a couple of world problems I figure I can solve, and I become the general manager of the universe for the graveyard shift.

Yesterday ended up taking a different turn, however. When it did, I was forced to take a long, hard look at myself; and I quickly realized how little some of my problems mattered.

That’s because yesterday I learned something troubling about someone I admire and respect.

This person has endured some mysterious health issues for a few months now. Yesterday I found out his condition has progressed to the point to where he is being forced to quit his job while the doctors try and find out what is going on inside him.

This is an extraordinary young man I am taking about. He is much younger than I am. He is a man of God. He is a thinker. He is both a servant and a leader with a beautiful family Norman Rockwell never would’ve dared to attempt to capture.

For the record, I have complete and total faith this is only a temporary condition he must endure. That’s big coming from me, because faith is not my strong suit as is evidenced by the opening half of this column. But I believe it.

As I heard more and more about his situation, the smaller I felt.

I spent the rest of yesterday consumed by what he and his family are going through.

This gave me pause to look at myself. I spent plenty of time proverbially kicking myself in the rump for the pitiful outlook I can sometimes have when everything in my life isn’t 100 percent rosy, which is what I seem to expect.

Yesterday, I tossed each of my problems out of my head one-by-one by saying either “so what,” if such-and-such happens, or “so what” if it doesn’t.

With the proper motivation, that’s an easy thing to do. And yesterday — as unfortunate as it was — I had the proper motivation with plenty to spare.

Back when I was Mama’s overnight caregiver, I vowed never to take another moment for granted. Yesterday I saw again how wasting time worrying about the types of things I was worrying about is as big of a waste of time as anything can be.

Of course, I know me. I know full well all my little annoyances will come crawling back into my head soon enough like horror movie villains that can never be vanquished for good.

I also know that when they do, I am going to use my friend’s story as inspiration to do a better job at keeping things in perspective.

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