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Still Looney After All These Years

The rain clouds of the morning had passed, leaving patchier and more dramatic cousins behind. A slight breeze wafted in the wide expanse of the open hangar door. The faint odor of old hydraulic fluid and axle grease mingled with the smell of the cool, damp concrete. It was peaceful and the temperature was just right.

Then I heard it. The familiar whooshing-whine of a business jet on its takeoff run. I laid down my tools and stood up to watch. The Hawker had already broken ground when it came into view. Gear up, it roared down the length of the runway, poking its nose skyward. It slowly climbed as it passed the airport’s resident red-tailed hawk that was gliding about the tempestuous sky. As the winged aluminum projectile slid away toward the horizon and its turbine’s fury faded, I had to smile. How many years have I been at this? How long ago was that first, now forgotten, takeoff observed? How many times have I stopped mid-task to witness another act of aviation? How many silhouettes have I squinted at droning over the backyard on a Saturday afternoon?

I don’t know, but I’m glad that I haven’t lost whatever it is that makes me do it.

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Shaving Lessons

A few months ago I got tired of paying two bucks a piece for Gillette Sensor cartridge razors. I felt that Gillette was gouging me for an activity for which I had no real alternative. After a little research, I realized that men in the 1940’s and 50’s used a double-edged blade in a Safety Razor. One of the better known models was the Gillette Super Speed.

They sell them on Ebay.

I bought one.

I also bought some high-end Feather razor blades. I did some reading online and figured out how to use it. I quickly found that the old-fashioned way, although wonderfully romantic and quirky, definitely had its drawbacks. Not too many knicks in the learning curve, but it took a LOT longer to shave. And to do it right, I couldn’t shave in the shower anymore. I had to do it in front of the mirror, fogged as it may be, so I could concentrate on my technique.

Then it happened; one morning I was running a little short on time. While shaving, my hand got ahead of my brain, and BAM, that honed Japanese edge caught the bottom of my nose and layed open a flap of skin that instantly produced copious amounts of my vital fluid.
I just thought I was late before. Now I was definitely set back.

So I seriously rethought the whole retro-shaving concept. You know, there’s a lot to be said for being able to indiscriminately rub a Sensor cartridge razor on your face and wind up with a really good shave. It’s called Convenience. And while at times I’m thoroughly disgusted with American Convenience and Ease, I decided I am willing to pay a little extra to improve my morning routine quality of life. I guess I just didn’t know what I was paying for until I experienced what Grandpa’s generation had to use.
I’m still gonna use the brush and shaving soap in a dish, though. That’s just too cool. And it won’t draw blood.

Honda Insight

Hey, I’ve got the “I Just Bought a Car” thrill!

It’s a 2000 Honda Insight. The world’s first (okay, don’t Google it and prove me wrong) hybrid. I have admired the first generation Insight for a while now. It’s as if the Honda engineers snuck off into the basement and crafted the Ultimate Gas Sipper, without worrying about what the marketing department thought. They pulled out all the stops on this one. I have to admire them for that singularity of purpose.

So how do you make a car more efficient? Well, for starters, you keep it small. A small car can run efficient little circles around a Hummer-sized vehicle any day. The small size is advantageous in several ways. For one, it has less “frontal area”. Think of frontal area as the perfect silhouette of Wile E. Coyote after he crashes through a brick wall. Every object that moves through the atmosphere has to punch a hole in it to proceed, and that creates drag. Not only that, but how much it ruffles up the air and how it leaves the air behind it also affects the drag it experiences. Which is another reason the Insight shines. It has many aerodynamic features that make it quite slippery. It has smooth panels underneath the car. You may not see under there, but the air does. It has smooth wheel covers and fender skirts. And the thing that I think is really cool, and shows how aggressive those Honda engineers were, is how the bodywork behind the front wheels “carve in” to keep the airflow smooth as it exits the wheel well.

Not only is it small, it also sits very low to the ground. This is an aerodynamic feature, as well. The lower the car is, the less air that can get underneath it. It’s much better to get the air going up and over the car. That way, the car is not trying to smoosh the air against the road. I realized the other day just how low this car is, when I was sitting in traffic and looking UP at the bumper of a Ford Taurus!

I knew this car was capable of insane fuel mileage, but I was still unprepared for it when I calculated my first tankful. I had driven the car pretty normally, i.e. I hadn’t used any “hypermiling” techniques. I decided to let the car show me what it could do on its own. The first tank of gas took me 539 miles on nine and a quarter gallons. That’s 58.2 miles per gallon!

Punch, Knockout

At work the other day, I needed an Old Man Screw Knocker. So I went to the tool crib to find one. I rummaged around in there for a while, shuffling past the long handled rivet squeezer, the clunky bucking bars, the clutter of Clecos, and the magneto timer. I moved the cylinder base wrenches and the tap and dies. But I couldn’t find the knocker. Then I spied a small box behind the tensiometer. I pulled it out and looked at the label. It read, “Punch, Knockout”.

“Aha!” I thought. “So THIS is where Mike Tyson has been getting them!”

I put the box back and looked around some more, but I couldn’t find any Right Hooks, Left Hooks, or Jabs. Not even one lousy Uppercut. Oh well.

Business Trip Musings

The countryside stretches out to the horizon on either side of the freeway. Mile after mile of cornfields roll by for hours on end at a 75 mile-an-hour clip. The vast farmland is punctuated with small clusters of human population and slopes littered with the dark outlines of cattle. It brings new perspective to how rich our United States of America really is.

“What are you hungry for?” my coworker asks, as we’re due to arrive at our destination around suppertime. We’re surrounded by endless acres of corn and steer, so we decide a good, juicy steak would be just the thing. You can’t go wrong with a steak out here, right? We get directions to a local steakhouse from the hotel desk clerk, and pull up in front of a neglected supper club tucked under the overpass at the end of a neighborhood street of broken pavement. Don’t let appearances fool you, I tell myself. The owner owns his own cattle and slaughterhouse, remember? We walk in and let our eyes adjust to the dimly lit interior. The place is all but deserted. I have developed a rip-roaring sinus infection on the 12 hour drive, but I can still catch the aroma of a million smoked cigarettes and cigars in the air. I order the anticipated steak, and for whatever reason, my coworker orders the salmon. The salmon proves to be lukewarm and dry, probably from being so far from it’s original habitat. The steak is similarly lukewarm, if not at least cooked properly to the desired Medium. As we finish the meal, the one other occupied table in the entire┬árestaurant┬ádecides to enjoy an after-meal smoke. My eyes start to sting. It hasn’t exactly been an auspicious start to our culinary experience in the heartland.

At lunch the following day, our clients take us out to “a really good place” for lunch. It’s a bar. Complete with cigarette stench. I have a chicken sandwich. Meh.

For supper we express interest in barbecue, so we are directed to “a really good place” for barbecue. We should have known better, right? But we’re strangers in town, so what can you do. As it turns out, The Spare Rib (a bar…) has but one barbecue selection on the menu. You guessed it, ribs. But that’s OK, ribs are my favorite. But I prefer them nice and hot. And a little more effort expended on the sauce would have been nice, as opposed to something out of a bottle that the Generic Foods salesman had on sale that week. (The cole slaw was pretty good, I’ll give them that.) We quickly polish off the meal and bolt as the one other table lights up for their de rigueur after-meal smoke.

We marvel at our string of bad luck in the dining department, but hold on to hope that our clients will come through for us at lunch on our final day in town. They promise us “a really good place” for fried chicken. Indeed, it is fried chicken. (And with no odor of cigarettes, a step in the right direction.) But like every preceding meal, it is just adequate. It’s not bad. It’s entirely edible. The service is even a smidge better than what I’m used to in my hometown. But it’s just nothing worth writing home about.

Which got me thinking.

It was as if the town of 25,000 was surrounded by the finest raw materials to assemble an unbelievable steak-n-potatoes meal, yet they decided to settle for mediocre. Are they numbed to the possibilities of the natural resources that are available to them?
And do I do the same in my spiritual life? I have been given the mind-blowing gift of eternal life and had my sins paid for me. My God even wants me to ENJOY him (imagine that!) and cultivate a relationship with him. I have been given a tome that reveals His wisdom and character, so that I can learn more about Him. I’m even surrounded by His creative handiwork, that constantly point to Him.

I don’t want to settle for squeezing mayonnaise from a packet onto a chicken sandwich in a smoky bar, when I could be having an incredible time getting to know the God of the universe.

Gradeschool Recess Memories

Getting back in touch with old schoolmates was one of the fun things I was able to do on FB. It brought back a lot of memories. Like memories of playing on The Ocean Wave at recess time. What was The Ocean Wave? Well, imagine a flagpole with a free-swiveling, upside-down metal cup on the top of it. From the rim of the cup were attached spokes that radiated down at about a 60 degree angle and supported a merry-go-round seat. In essence, it was a 3-dimensional merry-go-round/teeter totter hybrid. Sometimes a really crazy kid would jump into the middle when we really got it cranking and run around the pole to avoid being crushed between it and the annular seat. I still don’t know how we all didn’t get dismembered by that thing. But boy was it fun. You just don’t see good playground equipment like that anymore.

I would also like to correct any inaccurate recounting of a certain event in my young life. I believe I was in fourth grade when out of the blue, two third grade girls decided to have a crush on me. What Laura and Sherrill saw in a skinny, nerdy, misfit, I’ll never know. But they would come running out at recess calling my name and carrying crayoned messages that only third grade girls can produce. On the second day of this carrying-on, I had had enough. I was trying to play tag with the guys. I paused long enough to rip up their artwork and scatter it to the wind. Unfortunately, they didn’t seem deterred. On the third day I was heading to the four-square courts when I heard Laura’s voice behind me. She was breathlessly calling my name and gaining on me fast. I turned just as she came to a stop beside me. I felt embarrassed and didn’t want my pals teasing me about little third grade girlfriends. And she was invading my personal space. She was a girl, ew! Don’t stand so close to me! I gently pushed her on the shoulder and she took a step away. Then she tripped on her untied shoe lace and somewhat ungracefully landed on her bottom. She sat there a little stunned for half a second, then her face did a slow dissolve to a grimacing wail. I felt sorry for her. Really I did. It was her own shoe lace, honest. I never did get any love letters after that, either.

Other good times at recess were had when we would try to find rocks under the Big Monkey Bars that still had blood on them from the kid that failed at the Spiderman Jump. Ah, shoot. You don’t know what the Spiderman jump is, either. That was when you would stand on the highest chin-up bar and leap about three miles (well, OK- would you believe twelve feet?) through thin air and grab onto the large diameter pipe of the monkey bar. I tried it once. It scared me silly. It was during summer vacation and I was on a long bike ride by myself that wound up at the school playground, so nobody was around. The first two attempts allowed me to judge just how hard to leap. The third attempt I gave it all I had. I was shocked as my hands struck the cold bar and my fingers wrapped around it. The momentum of the leap swung my body perpendicular to the horizon as I clutched at the bar for dear life. In my mind’s eye I saw images of my head bouncing off the ground and trickling blood from my unconscious noggin staining the white gravel, to be found days later by my underclassmen. Slowly, my body swung back vertical, and I quickly dropped to my feet. It was a good thing I had chalked up in the dusty gravel. Watching summer Olympics had paid off. I shakily climbed onto my bike and weakly rode home.

Failed Experiment

Growing up, Dad told me how one of his High School buddies had a unique way of cooking hot dogs. Maybe I was a little young and impressionable at the time, but I always thought that it was an ingenious idea. I decided to try it. No open flame, no dangerous microwaves flying about, just the pure safe power of clean electricity.

I had an extension cord that I had severed accidentally (stupid hedge trimmer), so it was an opportune time. I wrapped the copper wires around two big nails, sank them into either end of a hot dog, and plunged the plug into the wall outlet.

And waited.

Soon, the dog started hissing. Then a geyser of steam rose from the middle of the dog. Big blisters swelled and fell, and an odd electrical aroma filled the kitchen. Tiny electrical sparks danced on the end of the wiener where the nails were inserted. The ends still looked cold, but the middle turned dark and appeared cooked. Not real appetizing, I thought. I pulled the plug. When I removed the nails, there was a nasty coating of black on them. Out of curiosity, I cut open one end of the dog.

Yep, burned.

So don’t try this at home, folks. It’s not that hard to rinse out a pan.