It doesn’t get much stranger than this

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"Tomer" Simpson

Yes, I did go to see The Simpson’s Movie. Why do you ask?

More to the point, one of my friends turned me onto www.simpsonizeme.com, a marketing site with a Simpsons and Burger King (Home of the Whopper) tie-in. You upload a picture and the “simpsonizer” scans it for facial characteristics and creates a Simpsonized likeness. I suspect that instead of creating something, it matches your pic up to one of many templates, to which you can make small customized changes.

Accordingly, I decided to post some pictures of my family. Above is my lovely wife of 17 long, long, wonderful years…
And my daughter, who has just discovered the online world and is now glued to the PC more than her father.


And this scruffy dude would be my son, who complained that I hadn’t done his pic when I first posted.

‘Twas grilling and the slithy toves…

From Movable Jewel comes part of the secret to Bro. Don’s “Top Secret” ribs:

“It starts the day before with selecting the best meat I can find.”

From Ashida Kim’s “Zen Koans:

31. Everything Is Best

When Banzan was walking through a market he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer.

“Give me the best piece of meat you have,” said the customer.

“Everything in my shop is the best,” replied the butcher. “You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best.”

At these words Banzan became enlightened.

It’s interesting to hear a bunch of middle-aged guys talk cooking. Invariably, it involves grilling.

This is a picture of the birthday present I bought myself last year. All stainless – although you’d hardly know it after a solid year of use; right now it’s pretty black inside. Black, however, is much better than how my twelve previous grills have ended up. I’m one of those guys who grills all year – summer, winter, monsoon season, dust storms, blizzards, plagues of locusts – and predictably I’d end up replacing the inner parts by the end of the year. Last year, I decided that I needed a more professional model.

I shopped for a month before deciding on this grill from Costco. It is very well made, and when compared to grills in a similar price range, the workmanship was superior to some of the better known brands. So I grabbed the shop pickup truck and went to Costco on a Friday afternoon. I wheeled a cart down to the outdoor department, and tried to drag one of the boxes onto the cart.

It wouldn’t budge.

I figured that it was hung up on the skid, so I tried the next box.

It moved about two inches and stopped.

A guy behind me who had previously voiced some good-natured jealousy that I was buying the rather pricey piece of cookware, pitched in to help. A third guy saw us struggling, and joined the battle. We managed to drag the box onto the cart. Just as we got the box situated, I saw the shipping label. Remembering that there are 2.2 lbs. in a kilo, I did the math in my head.

“Holy c*w!” I exclaimed, “No wonder we couldn’t drag it. The grill weighs 300 pounds!”

The two guys shook their head and wished me luck. At the checkout, I asked for help getting it on the truck, and after securing it in the bed, I drove home.

That’s where the fun began. The pickup has big tires and high springs. There was no way that I was going to lift it off the bed. I managed to drop the tailgate, and used a piece of plywood as a ramp and slid it to the ground. My wife was smart enough to come out just as I finished.

“How the hell are you going to get that up to the deck?” she asked.

Good question. The deck was in the back of the house, up seven steps, then up another two.

“No problem,” I assured her, “I’ll open the carton and just bring the pieces up and assemble it on the deck.”

I cut the metal straps and pried open the crate.

The grill was already assembled.

That’s right; in an age in which one needs an engineering degree to put together bookshelves and magazine racks from Ikea, my new grill was almost completely put together. I actually had to dismantle it in order to get the weight low enough to manage it up the stairs. For a half hour I undid screws and bolts, and managed to drag the now-200 pound behemoth around the back of the house. My wife, ever resourceful, remembered that she needed to clean the kitchen. I, stuck on the bottom stair to the deck, balanced the grill with one hand and called the house phone from my cell phone.

“I’m stuck,” I told her, “I need your help.” She reminded me that moving heavy objects was not in the wedding vows – her way of hinting that I was going to owe her a vacation, or at least a weekend painting the closets. She came out to the deck and while I held the back end of the crate, she lifted the front up one stair at a time. At the top of the first deck, she declared her part of the process finished, and retreated to the safety of the kitchen. Somehow I managed to get the crate up two more stairs and across the deck.

By that time it was 6:30 pm, and she poked her head out to ask if I could fire it up to cook some burgers for dinner. I reminded her that one third of the grill was still in the garage; we sent out for pizza and ate outside. That is, she and our daughter ate while watching the floor show called “Daddy trying to reassemble the grill before it’s too dark to see.”

By 9:00 pm, the grill was finally reassembled, the gas hooked up (I have not one, not two, but three tanks of propane – as I wrote, I do a lot of grilling), and the bugs were biting. I fired up the grill and admired the ceramic searing burner and the smooth, shiny stainless grill. I rummaged through the freezer and found a few frozen hot dogs; moments later they were sizzling… well, mainly that was the sound of the ice melting.

That’s when I discovered that “stainless” does not mean “immune to discoloration.”

And if anyone knows how to clean a stainless steel grill, I’d appreciate any advice – as I mentioned earlier, it’s beginning to look like it came out of an old diner. But that’s okay – after well over a year of near-continuous use, nothing has burned out, worn out or broken off.

I wish I could say as much about the griller as I can about the grill.

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Death by Blog Meme

Getting tagged with a blog meme is a love/hate thing. On one hand, since most of them are left-over teenager “Truth or Dare” games, they’re a PITA. On the other hand, if nobody ever tags you, then you start to feel left out. Proof that some of us never seem to leave junior high school.

Anyway, Chris Garlington over at my new blog discovery (and not un-ironically named) “Death by Childrengot sucked into agreed to play along when he was tagged by themolk and decided to spread the misery over here. This is an interesting meme because instead of asking for your favorite ice cream flavor or to pick random embarrassing fact about yourself, this meme has one pick five posts that you feel identifies, or gets to the core of your blogging. For me, this is interesting because this blog barely even has five posts; I started this as an offshoot of my Masonic blog, The Tao of Masonry, when I started getting the itch to write about things that are a bit off the Masonic path. With that in mind, I’m going to list posts from both blogs.

In no particular order:

Marriage, Memorial Day, and the Kobayashi-Maru
For anyone who’s ever gone shopping without a safety net.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation – Part 2
I’m not crazy about flying. But I certainly prefer flying to falling out of the sky.

Auntie Em! Anti-M!
In which I finally admit to the secret world-wide Masonic konspiracy.” (One of my favorite posts)

Guarding the West Gate
Was Freemasonry really better in the “old days”?

Master of My Domain
What I did wrong – and how it was okay in the end – as Master of my Masonic Lodge.

I’m not sure if these are my best writings, but I think that they are all good examples of what I’m trying to do here.

No blog meme is complete without the tagging, of course, so I’m picking on:
Burning Taper, Pagan Temple, John Ratcliff, Chris, and Christian Ratliff

How I spent my summer vacation – Part 2

I know – where’s Part 1, right? Briefly, I flew down to the Orlando area where my wife and her family were having a reunion of sorts. I hung around trying to relax amidst the various family and friends who stopped in, left, came back, stayed for dinner, slept over, left, and returned with others.

People from large families know what I’m talking about. However, I’m from a small family, so this was foreign to me.

It was nice to see nieces and nephews, and the weather was pleasant, and I managed not to get sunburned. Right away that puts it in the Plus column.

But I’m not writing about the family vacation, I’m writing about how I ended it. Specifically, the part of it in which I spent circling a storm over White Plains, NY. on my way home.


The rest of my family was staying the rest of the week, but I came back for work. Early Wednesday afternoon I headed out to Orlando airport, dropped off a borrowed car, and headed into Terminal A to find the AirTran desk. My first inkling of trouble came when I discovered that AirTran was no longer in the A terminal; that morning they had officially moved their operations to the B side. So, a long healthy walk later, I got to wait in line for the privilege of getting half undressed in public in order to pass through the security gates. Amazingly, I managed not to set off any alarms; I usually forget an item – cell phone, Palm, souvenir bottle opener, etc. Having been deemed acceptable steerage, I got dressed, packed my things into my backpack, and wandered down the concourse looking for Gate 92 and my flight. I was still almost two hours early, a “personal best” for me.

My second inkling of trouble came when I couldn’t find Flight 673 listed anywhere. I waited in line by one of the AirTran counters, and when my turn came I asked about the flight. “Sir, 673 has been delayed because of weather.” You’re kidding, right? It’s a beautiful day out there. “No sir, the weather is in New York. They’re having some pretty bad thunderstorms.”

 

Dang.

I bought a couple of computer magazines, and parked myself in a chair near the gate. Several hours later, they herded us onto the Boeing 717, and we took off around 6:00 pm. We made good time up to New York, and sitting on the right (starboard) side of the jet, I could see the outline of the Atlantic coast. After an hour or so, one of the babies a few rows behind me woke up and started screaming. That triggered a second baby, and the two of them dueled with their lungs for the next forty five minutes. What is it about baby screams that is so irritating? Anyway, I tried to close my eyes and rest for a bit, in spite of the noise. I managed to doze off for a few minutes, when I was woken by the annoying sunlight coming in the window.

Sunlight? Wait – I was on the wrong side of the plane to see the sun. Either that or we were flying south…

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We are currently in a holding pattern while we await clearance to land. The weather is pretty bad down there right now, and they’re not allowing any landings. Don’t worry, we’ve got plenty of fuel to wait this out.”

So, it should come as no surprise to discover that an hour later, we were still circling. The captain came back on the intercom and explained that we still did not have clearance to land, so we were going to head back to a better terminal and figure out what to do. Forty five minutes later we were landing in Baltimore Washington airport, where we sat on the tarmac for close to an hour so AirTran could figure out what to do with us. Eventually they found a gate and a while later we were allowed to leave the plane. The terminal was empty, so we sprawled out on the chairs, and some people went hunting for vending machines. An hour later, the plane was refueled and we were herded back onto the plane…

… where we waited for yet another hour before being allowed to take off.

At some point the flight attendants thought to pass out snacks because most of the passengers were now long past dinner. They managed to rustle up 1/2 ounce bags of pretzels and some cinnamon flavored graham cookies. Served with either bottled water or soda, it was just enough to make the passengers hungry for an actual meal. The captain tried to call for a catering truck, but they had all gone for the night.

Now, I know that most of you are feeling pretty annoyed, if not downright aggravated just reading this. Few things can instill feelings of annoyance like air travel, mainly because the typical passenger has so little control over his environment. You can’t simply open the door and walk out, and a raging argument will now get you arrested by the TSA. At some point in the evening, I simply resigned my self to the idea that this was going to be a long night, and tried to relax. I diverted myself by reading the magazines I had picked up before the flight, playing with my phone, and reading on my Palm. I transcended the aggravation.

We made it to New York – again – without incident, where we circled the little airport in White Plains until about 3:00 am. Unfortunately, the ground crew had all gone home, so we waited – again – for another 45 minutes while the airport could find people who knew how to work the gate equipment. At nearly four in the morning we were released from bondage allowed to deplane and wander across the terminal to be united with our luggage.

If anyone is expecting some story about how our luggage ended up in San Francisco, or needing to be quarantined for a week, I’m sorry to disappoint you. My wheeled bag came around and I wrestled it off of the carousel and out the main doors, where the new commuters of the day were slowly beginning to filter in. I bid them a mental farewell, and lugged my 40 pound suitcase up several flights of stairs in the parking garage, and found my car in the same place that I’d left it five days earlier. I put the bag in the trunk, tossed the backpack on the passenger seat, and slid into the driver’s side, where I put the key into the ignition and turned the switch. The engine turned over.

Once.

I sat there in stunned disbelief. The battery had just enough juice to power the dashboard. I waited a few minutes and tried again. And again.

Nothing.

After pulling an all-nighter, this was almost enough to drag me down from my state of transcendency. I’ll admit that I was on the verge of getting pretty aggravated at that point. Somehow I managed to keep my cool, though, so I locked up the car and went back to the terminal. By now it was around 5:00am, and it was filling up with commuters. I managed to find a policeman, who explained that they did not have any emergency service and that I would have to call a tow truck. I told him that I had AAA, but he told me that AAA was not allowed in the parking garage, and that I would have to use the airport “approved” service. He made the call for me, and I went outside to wait.

And wait.

Having practiced waiting in a cramped airline seat, it was almost a pleasure to wait for a half hour on the sidewalk for the wrecker that eventually showed up. The driver – a young college student, I learned – explained that it was $70, cash preferred, and that he would not need to go into the garage as he had a portable battery booster. Ten minutes later my engine was running, and he cautioned me not to turn the engine off for the next half hour to give the battery a chance to charge. I determined that I had not left a door ajar or any lights running; we decided that the battery was simply old (five years, which is like 70 in human years) and should probably be replaced ASAP.

I thanked him, and began the hour and a half drive home to Connecticut. I was fully expecting to get a flat tire on the way home, but I made it back without further incident.