29 November, 2009

The puck drops here

A couple years ago, we residents of Allen started hearing about the two big malls planned for construction just up the road from our house. With the malls would come a shiny new event center, and with the event center a Central Hockey League (CHL) hockey franchise of our very own. I was pretty sure I'd never heard of the CHL, but a friend pointed out that our as-yet-unnamed hockey team would be in the same league as the Texas Brahmas, with whom I was familiar. Better still, the Brahmas are based in Richland Hills, Texas (near Fort Worth), so we'd have an instant cross-town rivalry.

Over time, the malls and the event center came together. Earlier this year, stores began opening and we learned that our CHL team would be called the Allen Americans. Compared to animal avatars like the Mississippi River Kings' attitude-filled turtle, Odessa's Jackalopes, and the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs, "Americans" seemed a bit lacking in pizazz – and, while on the topic, I sort of wish the Americans' red uniforms didn't remind me so much of the hated Detroit Redwings – but we had a shiny new hockey team, and it was good. No, really. In their first season, which started in October, the Americans are currently only two points behind the Southern Conference leading Odessa Jackalopes.

All of that to say that Turtle, her parents, and I finally attended our first Allen Americans game last night, against the Texas Brahmas.

Allen Americans players swarm the Texas Brahmas' net

Initial impressions were generally positive. The event center, which is conveniently located about five minutes from our house, is very nice: brightly lit and very clean – as one would expect from a brand-new facility. It's not a huge venue, so even the nosebleed seats provide a reasonably close-up view of the action. The seats are all nicely padded and, for those with a lot more money than I'll ever have to throw around, skyboxes ring the arena. Jumbotron, check. Flashing, animated advertisements, check. Ice Angels (cheerleader/dancers) in white lycra pants so tight that a single splash of water in the wrong place would turn into an anatomy lesson… check!

More important, the level of play is surprisingly high. The players attack the puck and one another with the same amount of energy and relish as in any NHL game, and about the only real differences I could see were that the passing was not as crisp, nor the goaltending as impenetrable. These guys are a blast to watch, without having to take a second mortgage on your home to buy a ticket.

The only real down side is a significant one for Turtle and me – and a significant one that, if not addressed, will prevent us from supporting our team as we otherwise would have done. The Allen Event Center's ADA compliance feels like a nod and a wink. As far as the seating, at least. When I set about trying to acquire tickets for wheelchair accessible seating, it took me several phone calls and an unanswered voicemail message before I finally gave up on reaching anyone with a clue and went to the box office. There, after about 5 minutes of back and forth and “let me go ask,” I learned that the only accessible seating is on the glass. Not a bad thing in and of itself, as these are prime seats, near one or the other of the goals. The problem is that these are the most expensive seats, at $30 per ticket (as compared to the terrace seats, which cost less than half that). Then, when we showed up for the game, we were repeatedly (but politely) moved every time someone with season seats showed up and wanted our spots. I drew the line when it was suggested that Turtle should have to sit behind the 6'5" fat cat with season tickets.

After the dust settled, everyone was able to see and we had an awesome time, but the lack of accommodation for those who can't climb stairs left a bad taste in my mouth. In fairness, the event center has only been open for a month, and I'm sure the folks who run things are still trying to get their collective act together. I can only hope that the city of Allen, which owns the event center, will pay attention to the feedback it will certainly get from disabled citizens and get it together so we can all support the team.

All in all, we all had a great time at our first Americans game and hope to have the opportunity to cheer on our new team!

15 October, 2009

Ooo, ooo... that smell

The moment we walked in the door, Turtle gave me a strange look and I knew we were thinking the same thing: cat pee.

We checked the obvious things first. I scooped the litter box; Turtle tracked down each protesting cat and gave it a thorough sniffing. Finding that neither was the source of the problem, we spent the next half hour moving from room to room, scenting the air like lions on the trail of a pack of wildebeest (or wildebai, of you prefer). Nothing. Through the evening, we’d occasionally catch a whiff but never strongly enough to identify the source.

The next day, Turtle met me at the door when I came home from work.

“I smell it again,” she said. “I think it’s in my office.”

I dragged out the Floor Mate and gave the hardwood floor a thorough cleaning (for which it was overdue, in any case). That ought to do it, I thought, but as I made my way to the closet to put away the vacuum, I smelled it again: cat pee.

So off I went, on my hands and knees, with my nose in the carpet, trying to sniff out where one of the kids had dribbled or expressed his/her displeasure olfactorily. I sniffed my chair. I sniffed the fireplace facing. I sniffed the sofa, above and below, and the pillows. I sniffed the basket of cat toys. Nothing.

Finally, I found myself in the living room and noticed that I only seemed to catch a whiff of the offending odor when standing in the vicinity of the fireplace. My gaze passed over the Fall flower arrangement I’d gotten Turtle for her birthday a couple weeks ago, and I absently wondered how long it would take a pumpkin to go bad when filled with water and used as a vase.

The answer is “a couple weeks”, apparently.

04 October, 2009

Now you're cooking

This weekend, I've attempted to make a dent in my home maintenance to-do list, which means I had to make a run to the home improvement emporium. I needed weed and crabgrass killer for the nutgrass and other weeds I discovered while mowing yesterday, and some bags of pre-emergent for the next crop, which typically emerges in January. I needed fluorescent tubes to replace the long-dead ones in my clothes closet. And I needed a tube of Liquid Nails and some grout/adhesive for the soap dish that mysteriously fell off the wall of the guest bathroom a couple weeks ago. You know: the usual stuff.

So off I went to the store, where I wound my way up and down the aisles on my own personal scavenger hunt, checking items off my list as I went. My last stop was Lawn & Garden, where I dumped a few bags of pre-emergent in my cart, did not buy a garden gnome, and took my place in the check-out line. There, I waited while a guy in a bright yellow rain slicker scanned the items in the cart ahead of me. Then I waited while he proceeded to have a rather intense discussion with the customer. Something about grilling. I wasn't really paying attention.

When it was my turn to check out, Slicker Guy set about scanning my items – and then it happened.

“So. Do you have a grill?” he asked me.

“Um… yes?”

I detected a rather disturbing intensity in Slicker Guy's eyes, and I wondered whether 'yes' was the right answer, or the wrong one.


I had my suspicions about where this line of questioning was headed and considered lying. But I'm a terrible liar, so I told the truth. “No, I have gas,” I said. Straight-faced. Somehow.


I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition! I thought. I turned to the diminutive Asian woman behind me, who silently pleaded with her eyes for me to just leave her out of it.

“No. Natural gas,” I admitted. “We had a drop put in when we built the house.”

Slicker Guy's eyes sparkled with evangelical fervor, and I knew I should have lied.

“Oh, man. You just don't get much heat from natural gas. I've got…” And off he went on a five-minute screed BTUs, the benefits of charcoal, and how if I really wanted to learn to grill – and who wouldn't? – I had to get serious and start watching some guy on the Food Network who only uses a charcoal grill.

That's when I turned to the woman behind me and said, “Didn't you say you needed some information about charcoal grills?”

Yes, I'm probably going to hell for that, but I escaped and lived to burn chicken breasts to cinders another day.

22 June, 2009

Remembered, nevertheless

Most of you know, by now, that I've never reproduced. (Some – myself included – would say that this is a good thing, but that's a discussion for another day.) But don't let my lack of biological offspring deceive you into thinking that I spend Father's Day sitting alone and bitter, surrounded by power tools purchased to dull the pain. Oh no.

For instance, this year the cats gave me a humorous greeting card “signed” in their own precious pawwriting, and they talked Turtle into picking up a cold six pack of the Shiner 100-year Commemorative brew that I've been wanting to try.

But that's not all. I have two godchildren who also send me Father's Day cards and sign them in their own precious handwriting. They also call me on the phone, to wish me a good day. First up was 5-year-old Ignatz:*

Foo: Thank you for the nice card, Ignatz.
Iggy: You're welcome.
Foo: Did you know my cats gave me a card too?
Iggy: Uhh…
Foo: Well, they did. They signed it and everything, but they only made paw prints because they don't have opposable thumbs.
Iggy: [giggling] I have supposable thumbs!
Foo: Of course you do! And that's why your handwriting will always be better than my cats'.

From there, the phone moved on to my 8-year-old goddaughter, Schnickelfritz.* We didn't have the sort of philosophical discussion that I'd just shared with Iggy, but only because Schnicky was preoccupied with finishing up her bath. She did, however, take time out from her ablutions to challenge me to an armpit-fart-making contest. I conceded without a fight, knowing that I'm way out of practice.

I hope all you dads out there had as good a day as I did!

* Names have been changed to protect the innocents.

01 April, 2009

Out of the gate, slowly

[5:20am, scant seconds after silencing the clock radio with a slap across the top of its head]

Turtle: I'm sorry.
Foo: What?
Turtle: The cupcakes.

[dramatic pause. freshly-wakened neurons stretch, sputter half-heartedly, and ultimately shrug non-existent shoulders]

Foo: What the hell?
Turtle: 'Cause my leg kicked out.
Foo: Honey, what are you talking about?
Turtle: I don't know.

14 March, 2009

The gauntlet run

Most anyone who has read this blog for any period of time knows that I had a smallish run-in with thyroid cancer, back in 2001. Most cautiously agree that I'm cured – except the life insurance providers, of course – but ensuring that I stay that way demands a certain level of vigilance. What that means is that I must periodically submit myself to a week-long protocol of injections, followed by the ceremonial swallowing of a radioactive iodine capsule, culminating in an hour-long full-body scan.

It's all fairly routine by this point, but the week was not without its notable moments.

First off…

Since you've stayed with me this far, it's only fair to come right out with the good news (there is no bad news in this posting, so please… relax). After yesterday's scan, I received a phone call from the radiologist informing me that my scan was clear of any glowy bits. Glowy bits would have been bad, indicating thyroid cells that had absorbed the radioactive iodine. Since I no longer have a thyroid, thyroid cells could only mean cancer. So no glowy bits is a Good Thing™.

I thank God for granting me a continuation of my nearly eight years cancer free.

But there was a moment

The full body scan is actually done in stages, kind of like a series of x-rays. While the technician was repositioning equipment between scans, I happened to look over at the monitor where an image of the just-completed scan was displayed. It showed a bright blob of light (the aforementioned “glowy bit”), and I was filled with unease while lying there through the rest of the series.

As I gathered my things to leave, I commented on this to the technician.

“Oh, that's just a marker,” she said. “Remember when I was touching your neck? We place a radioactive marker on the [somethingorother] notch – where your collarbones meet – because it's right below where your thyroid used to be. It gives the doctor a reference point for that big dark area right above the notch.”

Big dark areas = Good Thing™, but I'd spooked myself. That's what I get for knowing just enough to be dangerous.

There Will Be Blood

After the scan in Dallas, I had to drive up to Baylor, in Plano, to have my blood drawn. I usually do this sort of thing at first light, at an hour that most people don't have the stomach for, but not this time. The waiting room at the lab was packed, and I carefully picked a chair that would observe the social nicety of preserving an empty chair between mine and that of any other occupied chair.

This honoring of personal space was especially important, because the occupant of one of those chairs was actually overflowing into the empty chair buffer zone. A short woman, her feet barely reaching the floor, she was very… colorful in her attire, hair color, and makeup selections. As I sat down, she lay slumped in her chair with the topmost of her three chins nestled in the others, snoring.

Her purse, which appeared to have been fashioned from the remainders of her dress, suddenly slid off her lap on to the floor. I spent a few moments in internal debate before deciding that, while the gentlemanly thing would be to pick it up and hand it back to her, it might be best to let sleeping potential litigants lie. Shortly, the question was made moot when one of the technicians came in to the waiting room, calling the name of someone who didn't answer. Several of us tentatively pointed to the sleeping woman.

Waking her was no simple matter, and getting her up and moving toward the lab was less so; but the technician managed, carefully leading her still-groggy, muttering patient by the elbow. As they left the waiting room, those of us who remained shot each other looks that said, Whoa, dude. That was, like, kinda weird.

I, of course, couldn't just return to examining the multimedia prints from Target that filled the empty space on the walls and leave well enough alone.

“I saw her purse fall and felt like I should pick it up,” I said, speaking more or less directly to a fellow patient who had smiled at me. “But then I sort of had this premonition of myself in handcuffs, trying to call my wife from a pay phone.”

For a moment, the waiting room was filled with tension-dispelling laughter before we all returned to the serious business of disacknowledging one another's existence.

Luck of the draw

After a while, I was called to have my blood drawn. My previous experience at this lab had been less than satisfactory, with the technician clumsily tapping two different veins before getting his sample. I drew a young woman, this time, and crossed my fingers as I sat down in the bloodletting chair.

“This is usually a good producer,” I said, indicating a favorite vein in my left arm. “But the last guy I had here didn't have much luck.”

“Oh, I'm sorry. You must have had Peter,” she said, glancing at the technician working at another station.

“Um… that's him. I'm sure he was just having an off day.”

“Oh no,” she said. “Peter sucks. He knows he sucks. Just this morning, one of the patients accused him of being the janitor, he made such a bloody mess of the guy's draw.”

Just an unfortunate choice of words, I hope.

For the record, my technician was so smooth, I barely felt the needle and today show only the very smallest of bruises.

10 March, 2009

Dawn's early light

Act I

[6:30am CST]

Co-worker: [from a cubicle in the next row] Who's that I hear rustling around? Who's crazy enough to be here at this time of the morning?
Foo: It's just me.
Co-worker: What are you doing here so early?
Foo: I've been here this early for about 14 years.
Co-worker: That's just crazy.
Foo: Think about that, the next time you consider dragging me into a meeting at 4:00. It could be just the thing to push me over the edge. You've seen CSI. You know how unstable we crazy people can be.

Act II

Co-worker (a different one): There's no toilet paper in the men's room! And the soap dispensers are all empty! What the hell?
Foo: Please stop touching my cubicle.

04 March, 2009

Failure to lunch

Every workday for the past seven years, I've gotten out of bed, showered (and sometimes shaved), and then packed myself a lunch. If I'm reasonably awake, I make a sandwich, select some sort of fruit cup and maybe a pudding, bag up some manner of Frito-Lay product, and pack it all neatly inside a purpose-made Cordura® nylon lunch bag. If I'm not so awake, I may grab a hot pocket or a Lean Cuisine dinner instead of making the sandwich.

I then gather up my lunch bag, my travel mug filled with black coffee, and my sausage-egg-and-cheese biscuit and carry them out to the car. I open Dorian's rear hatch, set my lunch next to the old ball and chain my laptop, and close the hatch. I climb behind the wheel, set my coffee in the cup holder and my sausage bicuit bowl in the passenger's seat next to me.

It's all quite routine.

This morning, I seem to have missed a step, but I wasn't sure which one – until that “Oh crap. Was that a curb or a small child I just backed over??” moment. Fortunately, it was neither. It was my lunch, which I'd set down behind the car to open the hatch but then, instead of opening the hatch, had proceeded directly to the climbing behind the wheel step.

The lunch bag suffered minimal damage (being, as it is, Cordura®). The potato chips, slice of pasteurized cheese product, hamburger bun, and one of the two cutey oranges were totaled. The frozen pre-grilled hamburger patty was cracked but otherwise unmarred. The cup of pineapple chunks was, miraculously, unexploded.

I have far too much on my mind.

25 February, 2009

Credit where it's due

I suppose it was bound to happen, eventually. This past weekend, I was down at Geek Heaven MicroCenter picking up a new surge protector I needed after rearranging Turtle's office. After standing in the checkout line for… well, ever… I finally got my turn at the register. I swiped my credit card and prepared to snatch my receipt before sprinting to the door.

“Sir,” the kid behind the register sirred me. “Would you mind swiping your card again? It didn't go through.”

No big deal. The card was only a few months short of its expiry date, and the magnetic strip was probably on its last… um… bits. I swiped it again.

This time, the cashier picked up the phone and started punching in some numbers. When I asked what the problem was, he explained that the bank had flagged my card. Flagged. My. Card. Remember Galileo's experiments with gravity? The pit of my stomach is where his cannonballs struck (at the same time).

When I got home, I immediately logged on to my credit card company's web site to check my recent transactions. As I feared, there were a couple small charges from merchants I'd never heard of. I called the bank's fraud number and quickly learned that there was a handful of additional charges that the bank had already flagged as suspicious. The young woman on the other end of the line canceled my card right then and there.

So, props to the bank for noticing the suspicious charges – how, I don't know – and tipping me off. I still can't guess how someone got my card number. Or maybe I can and just don't like to think that our favorite waitress at the nearby bar & grill is the one who ripped me off. But I'm glad the situation was flagged before someone got a chance to take a big chunk out of my credit limit.

No matter how careful you are, there's always some scumbag who's thought of a way to get 'round you.

10 February, 2009

A matter of perspective

You know the economy is in the toilet when…
  • The boss calls your team in for an emergency meeting.
  • He prefaces his remarks with something like, “Well, I have some Bad News. I know this is something you're not going to want to hear, but…”
  • He then proceeds to announce that there will be no raises this year.
  • You're not only not surprised, but you realize that, under the circumstances, it doesn't even seem that much like Bad News.

05 February, 2009

Checking in

Wow. It's been a month to the day since my last post here. That and the fact that you haven't seen any comments from me in your blogs should give some idea how I've been spending my time. If you're not the clue getting sort, let's just say I've been working. A lot.

Before you start to suspect this is the beginning of a whinge, let me assure you that it's not. In an economy as bad as ours is (and when is that nice young Obama kid going to fix it?), just the fact that I am still working is cause for daily prayers of gratitude. Just last week, one of my favorite coworkers and a man I consider a friend was among the eight from my office who were laid off, along with another 25 from the Atlanta office.

It makes a fellow think twice about bitching about long, thankless hours and managers who can't seem to understand the limits of what can be accomplished in a day. So I think three times, keep my mouth shut, and try to smile.

I tried keep this attitude while I was spending a few hours in the waiting room of my new endocrinologist's office. After I finished filling out the usual forms and answering the same questions that I'd have to answer all over again, once I got to see the nurse (and again when I saw the doctor), I took my clipboard to the receptionist. It went something like this:

Muffy: Okay, good. Just have a seat in one of the chairs, and Miss Monique will come to take you back to one of the examination rooms. 'Kay?
Foo: Dude… did you just talk to me like a five year old?
Muffy: Like a… oh! No. No... we all call her ‘Miss Monique’. Um… did you just call me ‘dude’?

Funniest conversation I've had in weeks.

Actually, that may not be true. I finally got out for a training ride with my Wheeler Dealers buddies this past Sunday, and we had a pretty fun time replenishing with liquid carbs afterwards. It was only 25 miles, and I'm not even sure that my nutso work schedule will allow me to train up to do the MS 150 this year, but I was glad for the chance to finally get a few road miles on the books for 2009. Good times… good times.

05 January, 2009

In your face(book)

In the earlier years of internet availability, it was pretty unusual for some new time sink web toy to come along without my noticing. These days, I seem to be the last to know. Maybe it's because I'm a lot busier than I used to be, or maybe I'm just getting old, but I arrived a little late to the blog party. I only got on Twitter a month or so ago, not because I could see the point (lacking, as I do, the ability and motivation to send/receive text messages on my phone), but because I was curious.*

About a month ago, I received an invitation from my brother to join him on Facebook. I ignored it, partially because I'm already on LinkedIn and partially because Facebook doesn't give away any clues regarding what it is, unless you create an account. I thought, "Foo that noise" and never gave it another thought – at least, not until my wife informed me that all but one of my siblings and a couple cousins were on Facebook. And they were communicating.

So, too late to make a long story short, I signed up (using a false birth date, of course). In the few days I've had my account, I think I've tailored my settings to stop up the more aggregious security holes. I've posted some pictures and reconnected with a high school buddy I hadn't heard from (or, to my shame, thought of) in years. I've seen a couple more people I know come on, just within the past few days.

What I'm wondering is this: Why now? I know Facebook has been around for years, but it seems like it has really taken off in the past few weeks. Are the media talking about it because it has taken off, or has it taken off because the media are talking about it?

The first Monday of 2009

6:05am, and I'm in a little earlier than usual, thanks to a 4:57 wake-up call that came in the form of a cat throwing up a hairball all over the afghan under which Turtle was sleeping.

It's probably just as well that I got an early start, though. By the time we went to bed last night, the local news outlets were already whipping themselves into a lather about the potential for rain – and not just rain, but (oh my stars and garters!) freezing rain. My years in Texas have taught me that the more certain the weather people are that we're going to get all slick and crashy, the less likely we are to suffer any real meteorological chaos. But the majority of morning commuters don't know that, so I'll just be grateful that I didn't have to contend with their elevated anxiety on the way in this morning.

Coffee's probably ready, by now. I'm out.

Crying Fowl

This morning, at the end of this week's obligatory commute to the office, I turned in to the driveway and was accosted by the biggest ho...