Tuesday, July 29, 2008

As the Eagle turns Part III

Well, the merit badges are all complete. The last was signed off on Sunday night.

The Scoutmaster conference was held and passed and now it down to signatures and paper work that hast be handed in before 5 PM Thursday. I think it's safe to say it's done.

Tomorrow is a big day at the hospital where he hands out the goodies to people.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Be careful what you wish for

Over the winter we received a letter from our Home Owners association telling us that all our worries with the crazy neighbor behind us were over since someone had bought the property.

This turned out to be partially true.

It was true that our neighbor of the past 15 years was gone. He was in his late forties and "didn't have all his oars in the water". We never ever saw him, just evidence that he had been out during the night. The trash would be out, there would be something new in the yard, something like that.

It's been a rough 15 years watching the property go from a well kept home to Quigley Mansion. He inherited the property from his parents in about 1994 and then proceeded to do nothing. Actually he did do something. Something mysterious in the basement. Something with a lot of banging. It was like silence of the lambs. I thought he was digging a pit to hid the bodies in.

In 1998 he stopped cutting the lawn. Actually, he never cut the lawn since he never came out. I guess he stopped paying the people that were cutting the lawn. It was so bad I had to take pictures.

Here is Oldest Son, 10 years ago in front of the property.

This was just the beginning. There was also a pool on the property. A pool filled with algae, mosquitoes and frogs. By the end I was convinced there were elk over there by the sounds that would come out of the yard on a summer's night. If we had people over they would look over the fence in horror and say "what was that?

It was a duck and swan habitat. It just needed a name. The Hannibal Lecter game reserve.

Just watching over the years, you knew this was going to end badly. My greatest fear was the fence. It was old. It was poorly maintained. It blew down during any stiff breeze. However, this was the one area where our home owners association actually provided some value. They would make him fix the fence. Actually, I think they just fixed the fence and sent him a bill. Whatever, the fence got fixed. Still, I was convinced I would come home to find Action News out front. "He was a quiet man.... until...".

Well, that until happened last fall when he took a knife out to the Home Owners Association management folks. I guess he was feed up paying for fences and groundskeeping. The police took him away. By winter he lost the place to taxes.

It was stupid. The man should have never been living on his own, let alone in a house that he was incapable of maintaining. I'm just glad no little kids ever fell into the pool.

Through the spring we were excited to watch any sign of the great fix up over there. Nothing happened. Finally by Summer, workers descended onto the place.

They emptied the pool, put up siding, put on a new roof, got rid of over grown shrubs, emptied the house every stick of furniture and put all in giant refuse container. They filled several tractor trailer sized dumpsters. It was exciting.

Until the new fence.
This week they put up a six foot picket fence. Now you would think that we would be excited by this since it would give us a little separation from what ever is going on over there. But it was a six foot picket fence. Just like the kind we wanted to put up around our pool in 2003.

Our home owners association Architectural review board (ARB) denied our request. There were strict guidelines about fences and a six foot picket fence was "illegal". Their reasoning was priceless.

It went something like this. "since the home owners association was making rules about fences and if some one impaled themselves on the pointy pickets, the home owners association would be liable". Or: Since we are making rules someone can sue us over the rules. I thought of a rather simple solution: STOP MAKING RULES. Anyway, I had to settle for 5 foot rounded top fence so that criminals climbing my fence would hurt themselves. Except for the buckshot in their ass when I caught them going over my fence ILLEGALLY. Details, details.

I don't like the Architectural review board. I think they are silly. But I went along with it.

And now I'm looking over my safe, rounded, 5 foot fence at a foot of highly sharpened and obviously dangerous picket fence. The same with my other neighbor. When he was tired of looking at the raggedy old fence that Hannibal Lecter had, he asked the ARB for a new fence too. He wanted a six foot picket fence. He was denied too. He put up a safe, 5 foot fence.

Now we have a problem. Do we say something to the dreaded ARB and complain? Do we approach the new neighbor and warn him of the dreaded ARB? Do we just keep quiet?

The ARB is little crazy when it comes to fences. Yet another neighbor, the widow across the street, put up a fence that was not straight across the top like the ARB "guidelines" dictate. It was arched and that was cause for alarm. They made her hire someone to make the fence straight at the top.

So now I think that the new owner of Hannibal's House is going to meet a very formidable foe. The ARB.

It's a blessing that Hannibal is gone but be careful what you ask for.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

As the Eagle Turns Part II

We now have a week to go. My stomach is in knots.

On Monday, he got 4 out of 5 merit badges signed off. including the two he had to repeat. The fifth is dependent on an assistant scout master who is on vacation until Sunday. His write-up is due now and the sponsor is signing off on the project tomorrow.

His scout master conference is Monday.

Oh, and the Sponsor (A local hospital) issued a press release. There may be press at the event next week when he hands over his project. So now he had to get a new uniform, one that he will wear exactly 1 week.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Kruger Industrial Smoothing

Only 6 weeks of the 2 person, 3 car tango to go before Oldest son heads to College. Yesterday was kind of a reverse workday where everyone else in the family had a commitment and I was home. My wife took my car to work and that left me to run the boys to work and a pole vaulting camp for youngest son.

Pole vaulting camp "cleared the pole" at 8:45 AM. No problem.

Oldest son had to be at work by 10 so I thought I'd do my errands at the same time, killing two birds with one stone. We drove over to the Tuxedo shop where he works before ten and as we drove up he said "ohhh no"

I'm thinking, what does "ohh no" mean? The store was locked and he is a very junior team member there so he never opens or closes himself. It's not clear what the plan was but here He was, out in front of the store, locked out at opening time. I am pretty sure someone else was supposed to open. Oh, well.

He had a set of keys, but there were inside the store.

Later when recounting the story to the more practical youngest son, he said:

"Why would you ever leave the keys inside the store?"


He also says this story is "Blog Gold".

Over the last 8 weeks he has been working here, it is quickly becoming apparent that the Tux shop is the formal wear equivalent of "Kruger Industrial Smoothing", one of the many fictional places that George Costanza works on the TV show Seinfeld. As you may recall, the people at Kruger really just don't care. In one episode, the boss, Mr Kruger, says something like "Well, my office is locked so I'm going home for the day". Oh well.

And now it's time to test the Kruger/Tux shop's emergency procedures which apparently are "Call or Text everyone on your cell phone to see if they have a key while nervously walking in giant circles in the parking lot".

Oldest son follows the procedures flawlessly.

It's not going well. His "manager" is in Florida, the "owner" is far-far-away in undisclosed location, the sister store, which 2 miles away, does not have a key. They gave their key to Oldest Son which, of course, is now locked inside the store. His only hope is a co-worker that went to the same Elementary school as he 10 years ago.

This is not one of the numbers in his cell phone. But he knows that her home number is the 10 year old Elementary school directory at home. Which is where I come back into the story.

Now people are showing looking for their Tuxs. Angry townspeople. With Pitchforks, clubs and torches. Angry townspeople with weddings today, I imagine.

I now race home, using 400 dollars of gasoline, to get the co-worker's home number from the 10 year old Elementary school directory. Knowing that finding this directory is going to be "a challenge" to say the least, I risk a ticket and call my wife at work and ask her where it is. (Here in Jersey, you can get ticketed for making cells phone calls behind the wheel).

She tells me "it's in our room". Which at this point is like saying "it's somewhere in the house" or"it's in New Jersey". Our room is normally a wreck and now even more of a wreck with all of the things from Oldest Son's room in there because we are painting his room. When pressed, she gives me a couple of more specific places to look. Great, the crazy Tux place is locked and now suddenly, it's our problem, we are yelling at each other, I am making crazy trips and I am not getting my errands done.

I get home and amazingly, I find the 10 year old Elementary school directory, find the number and call him back. Of course, this now unrequired information because he found her cell number through his network of Tux shop workers and called her independent of my quest to find the 10 year old Elementary school directory. She is a half hour away and is heading towards the Kruger's Tux shop.

Now it's a waiting game in the parking lot. It's us and the customers patiently waiting out in front of the store. The are standing, leaning against the wall, chatting on cell phones and sharpening their pitchforks. You know their cell phone conversation is going like "No, I don't know why they are not open!. Yes dear, You are right, I should have done this yesterday".

As we are waiting, we hear someone yelling Oldest sons name. It's an old friend from scouts, waiting in the parking lot. He works at the Staples next door to the Tux shop.

They are locked out too.

Now this is just unbelievable. Two stores, next to each other are locked and customers are peering in through windows trying to see why. Staples has a lot more customers peering in though.

Even more ironic, my wife is working today with the "friend from scouts" mother.

For the next 40 minutes it's like a party in the parking lot, hanging out waiting for keys to open.

In the end the Elementary school co-worker showed up about an hour and twenty minutes after the 10 AM opening time, but really, who cares.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Top Bertha headlines for the week.


Friday, July 18, 2008

As the Eagle Turns

There is now less than a week for Oldest Son to complete his requirements for his Boy Scout Eagle Badge. He had 5 badges and a project to wrap up and last week it looked like was going to make it comfortably. Three of the five were ninety-day merit badges and the other two were 95% complete and the project just needed sign off from the sponsor.

Then on Tuesday I came home late to a panic. The two merit badges blue cards were missing for the 95% complete badges. You lose the blue card, you start over.

My heart sank. My stomach turned.

I didn't sleep at all that night. I was miserable. I felt so bad for him, having come 99.9% of the way to becoming and Eagle and now this.

He had to start them both over. I have to give him credit he overcame the set back better than I did, he just started working on the badges and tonight he got one of the two signed off.

With less than two weeks to go He has a lot of work still to do but it looks good.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hey kids, let's put on a show.

Oldest son's deadline for his Eagle scout completion is about 3 weeks away. It's looks like he will make it but like father like son, it will be at the last minute.

And now, as if the Eagle scout, working, organizing for College isn't enough, he and his girlfriend are organizing an outdoor rock show to "Save Darfur" on August 9th.

You have to give them credit. The summer I graduated high school, my greatest ambition was to go to the Frampton/Yes show at JFK stadium. It would have never even occurred to me to find a venue, organize my friends, find bands, etc for some African country I had never been to.

It's amazing to watch. They have no idea what they are doing but yet somehow, they make it happen. It's as if they are just optimistic about the whole thing, they have no idea that it doesn't have to happen.

Two weeks ago, it looked grim. They had no venue, their supporters were dwindling and were just about out of ideas. They they found the Ironwood Outdoor Center in Lumberton, NJ.

The best part is they do everything with facebook.

From Facebook, here is a description:

Local Amnesty chapter out of Mount Laurel, NJ looking for help with planning, organizing, and staffing a benefit concert for the victims of the Genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. This event will require roadies to help bands and musicians set up their stuff, a bake sale, donations of products, an art show, and other vendors.

The date of this event is August 9, from 3 to 9 PM. The location for the show is TBA.

Oldest Son's band is playing as are bands of friends. I think they invited Moby. I'll let you know if Moby shows.

Friday, July 11, 2008


A couple of years ago I signed up for email alerts from the National Hurricane Center. I usually forget that I am on that particular email list until this time of the year and then I get dire messages about Hurricanes in my inbox every couple of hours when there is a storm in the Atlantic.

Other than I like all things about weather predicting, I'm really not sure why I am on this list. It's not like I live in New Orleans, Florida or the Bahamas. I live 50 miles from the coast along the mid-Atlantic coast. In the unlikely event of a Hurricane slamming into the Jersey coast I doubt that it would do any serious damage but I am on this list none the less.

Being on the list is like having a friend that loves Hurricanes and tells you everything about them.

However, it is interesting to watch a storm develop. They usually start off the west coast of Africa and then if the conditions are right, spin like a child's top on a kitchen floor across the Atlantic. It moves fast, it moves slow, it moves east, northeast, north. Predicting exactly where they will go is one of those things looks scientific enough but really the predictions are usually way off.

Take Bertha for example.

First of all, you have to love a Hurricane named Bertha. It just sounds like a real Hurricane. Bertha is somebody that comes into your life and just wrecks things. She might even have a sister named Beulah. Bertha just sounds like one of those old fashioned Hurricane names, like before they started alternating them with Men's names. Well, male names anyway. Bertha is no Gaston or Fredric. Let's face it, you name some poor kid Gaston or Fredric and you might as well paste a sign on his back that says "Please take my lunch money".

Gaston is someone that gets a wedgy. From Bertha.
Fredric is picked last for kick ball. By Bertha.

Hurricane Bertha is now a week old and looks as if it will brush east of Bermuda. When Bertha first became a tropical storm, it was predicted to head slightly north east and never become a Hurricane.

Here are some early predictions of where it was going to go.

But Bertha, being, well, Bertha became a category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale in a matter of days. (And just who is Saffir and is He happy to share his scale with Simpson?).

This only proved that despite super computers, teams of very smart people and satellite imagery, the National Hurricane Center really has no idea where these things are going.

Here is the most recent prediction. Hmmm. Now Bertha is a Hurricane, moving slow and heading North.

The Meteorologists also have a lot of freedom with the verbiage they use in these reports. This is actual lead sentence from a recent report:


It just reminds me of something like this:

Now that's a large eye. I'm not sure if it's leisurely or not from this shot but it's large all right.

So, here a salute to Bertha, with her leisurely large eye. May she miss all land and fizzle out.

Monday, July 07, 2008

My campaign continues

My campaign for chooch of the year continued last week with primaries in the state of "having 20 friends over on a Sunday Night".

It started last week with a rescheduled soccer game for their high school/college aged self started township league. The game was rescheduled for 10 PM on a Sunday. That alone should tell you of the tight schedule my kids keep during the summer. The fact that they rescheduled a game for 10 PM on Sunday on a whim - speaks volumes.

When I asked a silly, silly question like "why 10 PM?" oldest son said he didn't know and he would text his team leader, Bobby.

Bobby replied "For the convenience of our west coast viewers"

Funny guy, that Bobby. I don't know where they get it.

With threatening thunder storms I let the fruit of my loins out to play soccer at God-only-knows where.

At 11:30, I got a call.

I was sure it was going to be "Youngest son was struck by lightning" but instead I heard "Can we come swimming after the game?". Relieved that no one was struck by lightning and remembering my bid for chooch of the year, I let them.

About 8-10 boys and girls showed up and got in the pool at midnight on Sunday before a Monday on which I had to work. There was party out there. I checked in on them at about 12:30 to remind them of the seemingly obvious:

If you see lightning or hear thunder get out of the pool.

I thought it was obvious anyway. I am a silly, silly man.

As the words were leaving my lips, thunder pealed in the distance. No one moved. Helllloooooo, that was thunder. Still no one moved. Finally I had to tell them directly to get out of the pool.

And what hits you after playing soccer and swimming? That's right, hunger. I went upstairs and heard a racket in the kitchen. They were cooking.

A half hour later I went downstairs. Youngest son had deep fried French fries (that freedom fries thing never really caught on, did it?) and covered them in melting pizza cheese. I gotta tell ya, it looked good. But, there was a colossal mess of oil and pots and drinks everywhere.

I told them make sure you clean up. I might as well have told the wall.
Wall, make sure you clean up, now.

Then I heard some of them leaving and I thought, well finally. At 2, they were still loud and I went down to find out what was going on.

They were planning an all night Dungeons and Dragons session. The people I heard leaving were the girls. Hmm, DnD comes out and the girls head out. Who would have thought that?

It was late, I was sleep deprived. That is when I lost it.

I'm pretty sure I said "what the F*&^ are you doing". A first btw.

In the end, they all left, the boys did clean the kitchen (and it wasn't bad!) and I went to work the next morning exhausted.

To the COTY committee: I know my seemingly having a spine at the end of the evening hurts my efforts thus far, I'd like to remind to you to view the evening as a whole.

Thank You.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Pass

We are still doing the three person, two car tango and on Saturday Oldest son had to work, my wife had to work and I had a commitment at a church picnic grilling hotdogs. Oldest son got the small car and I took my wife to work in the morning.

Of course that meant I had to pick my wife up at the hospital at 6. I took the two lane black top road that lead to the divided state highway when I got behind a late model Hyundai. The car was black and I just know the silver haired driver traded in a Buick or better yet and Oldsmobile for it.

He's doing 32 1/2 in a 40 and it's double yellow line territory.

We make a couple of stop lights together, slowly and I'm growing tired of watch the ETA on the GPS increase. I need to pass and finally I get a dashed yellow but there is traffic. After what seems like a lifetime, I get both a dashed yellow and no traffic and I pass him.

As I'm passing him, I'm thinking "When was the last time I did an real pass?", you know one that wasn't around some farm equipment moving 15 MPH pulled all the way to the right just begging you to pass them.

A pass used to be a right of passage for becoming a man and was an art form I learned from both my Father and Grandfather. Theoretically, a pass could be performed on any two lane road with the proper markings, but I recall that most passes happened while driving to vacation and mostly on vacation to the Jersey shore.

Before the days of the Atlantic City expressway and the Garden State Parkway, there were the two laned black top roads with names like the Delsea Drive, Black Horse Pike and White Horse Pike. These were typical "state" roads of the day with two lanes of road playing connect the dots with every farm town between Camden and the shore points. They had developed as indian paths and weren't much more except for modern concrete, poured in slabs.

If you got behind someone slow between towns, there was only one thing to do - pass them. If you got behind a long line of cars - it just meant a longer pass.

My family traveled almost exclusively to Wildwood, NJ every summer along these roads and the men would take pride in how short a time they could travel the 90 miles from the Philly area across a bridge and down to the shore. Once they arrived that was all the men talked about for the first couple of hours of vacation: how quickly they made the trip. My Uncle Buddy once claimed he made the trip in 90 minutes using his secret "deer woods" route. Since Aunt Rita was the only witness, this record time remained unverified and unofficial.

When O was eight I traveled to Wildwood with my grandparents a week a head of my family. I guess it was to give my Mother a break from three boys under the age of 8 and so I made the trip from South Philadelphia to Wildwood, NJ with my Grandparents, Sam and Josie in their 1962 Dodge 880.

Sam didn't finesse the trip with exotic routes, he had more of brute force strategy: take the direct Delsea drive, drive as fast as you could without getting a ticket and pass as many cars as possible.

It was a thrilling way to start a vacation.

The Dodge didn't have Air Conditioning and so having the windows fully down only added to the sense of reckless speed. I would spend most of the trip unbuckled, with my arm out the rear passenger side window, my hand making an airplane wing as Sam passed long lines of cars. (Today if you saw some kid doing this, the parents would be arrested and spend time where a pack of Marlboughs is currency )

My Grandmother hated every single second of every pass. Later, I figured out this was because:

1. She had never driven in her life.

2. Because the car was wider than the Mississippi, she couldn't see the oncoming traffic until the huge Dodge was fully in the opposite lane.

3. She wasn't interested in going fast.

This did not stop Sam.

With each car we would pass, the air pressure would change dramatically and would make a Whooomp sound inside the opened windowed car. The tires would make a clack-clack on the partition between each concrete slab and my Grandmother would scream SaaAAAAaaaaaAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaammMMMMmm! with her voice being buffeted by the rapidly changing air pressure.

Of course Sam had to get the big Dodge going as fast as possible to make the pass and he would put the pedal to the floor and the car engine would scream.

And so it it went for nearly three hours:
VVVVVVVVVVroooooooommmmm, clack-clack, SaaAAAAaaaaaAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaammMMMMmm!, Clack-Clack, Whoomp, Clack-Clack, Whoomp, Clack-Clack,Whoomp.

VVVVVVVVVVroooooooommmmm, clack-clack, SaaAAAAaaaaaAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaammMMMMmm!, Clack-Clack, Whoomp, Clack-Clack, Whoomp, Clack-Clack,Whoomp, Clack-Clack, Whoomp.
VVVVVVVVVVroooooooommmmm, clack-clack, SaaAAAAaaaaaAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaammMMMMmm!, Clack-Clack, Whoomp, Clack-Clack, Whoomp, Clack-Clack,Whoomp.

Sam was a master of the pass. He would do it with 18 wheelers coming at him, barely getting back into his lane before the huge trucks would hit us head-on . Sometimes there would be aborted attempts where he would stick the nose of the Dodge out, only to come back safely to his lane or there were other attempts where he would pass 2 of the four cars in front of him and would have to get force he way back into the middle of the pack of cars he was passing. It was like passing on the installment plan.

After I made my tame pass of the former Oldsmobile owner, I was recalling that you just don't see that anymore, someone passing five or six cars at a time.

As I was approaching the end of the two lane blacktop road, with the final light before the merge on to the divided state highway ahead.

It turned yellow. I had to stop.

While waiting, I looked in the review mirror and sure enough, here comes Mr Hyundai. Pulling even with me to make a left. The light turned green and we left at exactly the same time.

The actual time gained for my pass: zero.

I wondered if that was the same for Sam going to Wildwood.