Saturday, June 25, 2011

On the Way to the Movies

On our way to the movie theater this afternoon, my daughter and I talked. Certainly, we covered many topics, but the ones that I remember involve my childhood. Especially the differences between our current media consumption and mine, thirty-some years ago when I was her age.

You see, we had three good television channels and a couple independent broadcasters. Everyone watched those three channels. Since we were on our way to a Disney movie, I mentioned that one of my favorite shows was the Wonderful World of Disney. Every Sunday night my family would gather in the living room to watch it. I really liked it when they showed cartoons.

I explained that, when I was a kid, we could only see cartoons at certain times on certain days. We didn't have entire channels devoted to them! Having fewer choices lead, paradoxically, to watching a greater variety of programs.

But we were on our way to a movie, so I had to mention drive-in movies. There were rows of speakers set in a wide, gravel parking lot. A huge screen, under which was a playground. A low, central building that housed the projector, restrooms, and snack bar.

I liked going with Kevin. His parents had a station wagon! You know the drill. You back the station wagon into the spot, put down the tailgate, and sit with your feet dangling. The speaker hung from the car window would crackle and squawk a bit, always tinny, but you didn't care.

There was no better summer fun than eating a hot dog served in a paper boat, watching Godzilla fight Megalon from the back of a station wagon.

Pictures Hung - Look Nice

A few posts back I mentioned our trip to Buffalo for the Allentown Art Festival. There, we picked up a set of three food pictures for our kitchen. Today, I hung the photos, and they look really nice.

The photos are by Charles E. Hull.

They weren't very expensive - just $15 each. They look like they'd be somewhat washable, since they appear to be vinyl stretched over a wood block. Just the thing for kitchen art.

Stores Don't Get It

This story is a few years old, but it still applies. I bought a nice coffee grinder, a Cuisinart, for my wife and I. I purchased it from Macy's.

There are a few reasons to choose a brick & mortar store over shopping online. There's the fun of walking around and looking at stuff. You can poke and prod the merchandise and its competitors. You interact with other human beings. The big reasons, though, are that you get your purchases immediately and you have a place to return them if something goes wrong.

As you may have guessed, something went wrong with this coffee grinder. It suffered infant mortality and quit working soon after we bought it. That happens, even with the best products. So I took it back, but they wouldn't take it back. I didn't have the receipt and I didn't have the box. I had my credit card statement, though.

I'm sorry, but that is why I bought it from a store. So they would take it back if it broke. If they can't bring up the record of my purchase given the date, time, credit card number, etc. that's their deficiency. Requiring the wrapping materials for a non-functioning device is nonsense - they cannot resell it. I suggested that they could simply pull another off the shelf and use it's box - I would take a new one without the packaging.


The result is that I no longer shop at Macy's. They broke their end of the buyer's contract once, evidently by policy, so I am better off shopping elsewhere. I am better off having my products delivered to my doorstep, for less.

At least Cuisinart was cool. They sent a new unit to me, no questions asked. Like Chris Elliot pointed out in a recent column, consumers don't care whose fault it is when something doesn't work. We expect to take it back to the company that took our money and get a refund. It's not an unreasonable expectation.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hooray for Indians

The beer can chicken came out just fine. The glaze was good - need to use it elsewhere. But that's not what this post is about.

Hooray for the Cleveland Indians. Two quick stories, both involving my son.

My son had a seizure. Just one, but given his disability it was cause for some concern. His pediatric neurologist suggested that we spend four days with him in the Cleveland Clinic, with his head wired to detect seizure activity. He didn't have any, but four days in a hospital, with your world constricted to your room, the hall, and another room, isn't any fun for anyone. But the Cleveland Indians had donated a gaming system, games, and a cart to help protect it - for the use of the children in this ward. My son loved that game.

For a present, my son's physical education teacher gave him four tickets to an Indian's game. Unfortunately, we could not use those tickets due to a prior commitment. The Indians sent us four other tickets for a later game.

Neither of these things are going to be in the paper, or mentioned on the radio. Many are liable to think that they aren't worth mention because the organization is so wealthy. But these little things - a video game to borrow and tickets to a summer baseball game - they matter to my son. And so, they matter to me.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Chicken Butt

I will be sporting the Jovan Musk smell for the upcoming year. Hooray! Dad will smell like Dad.

It is a little late to be planning our summer, but that's what my wife and I have been doing today, between other things. Turns out that, once you place everything on the calendar, our summer has planned itself. Our big vacation, Boston and Acadia, is well laid out.

Minor emergency. My wife just screamed for help from the kitchen. Expecting blood or fire, I found her incapacitated by laughter. She's making me beer can chicken for the first time and she had just shoved the half-filled can of beer up what would have been the chicken's butt.

This is what passes for excitement in the Zakany household.

Somewhat undignified for the chicken, I suppose. I hope it tastes good.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pissed at Bumper Stickers

I don't let bumper stickers get to me, as a rule. Sometimes funny, often trashy - never an improvement. Much like tattoos.

Still, it's an easy way to judge a person, these shallow messages worn with pride. So on the way to work this morning I found myself behind a car with a Speak English and a Confederate Flag bumper sticker. No big deal. If you're a racist and proud of it, fine.

No, what set me off was what was next to them.

Not that the third bumper sticker was provocative, by itself. Rather, it was the association of that third bumper sticker with the first two that I found particularly distasteful.

It was a US Marines bumper sticker.

I shy away from jingoistic rhetoric when it comes to our armed forces. I do not put our people in uniform on a pedestal. They're people, nothing more and nothing less. People who have taken a bit of themselves and served our country - but still mere humans. Still, although the men in uniform run the gamut, the corps means something. The organization is more than its parts ever could be.

One thing it is not, however, is racist.

I find the juxtaposition inexcusable. The blond, middle-aged woman behind the wheel of the dilapidated car most certainly enjoys a double-digit IQ - but idiocy is a poor excuse for lumping the Marines with racism. Such a person, I would argue, doesn't deserve to display the US Marine emblem.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

I'm Allowed to be Wrong

One day, I learned that it was okay for me to be wrong.

I was back visiting a test facility that I had left a year prior. Probably asked to review a test facility for readiness to run. Anyway, I saw a schematic in someone's office. It was of a pneumatic system. Being pretty savvy about such things, I understood what it was meant to do, but it wasn't how I would have designed it. Something was off, and I didn't like it.

Being somewhat coy, I didn't tell the engineer what I was really thinking. I merely asked, "how did that work out?"

"Great," was the reply.

At that point I fessed up. "I wouldn't have designed that like that. I would have thought you'd have trouble controlling the pressure." We had a laugh, I learned another way to configure a pneumatic pressure system that, apparently, worked just fine.

More importantly, I learned that it was okay for me to be wrong. It wasn't much of a leap from that point to allow myself to be wrong. In fact, I often say exactly that. When challenged on a point, one of my standard replies is, "well, I can be wrong, but I think..."

I can be wrong.
It's okay to be wrong.
I allow myself to be wrong.

For an engineer whose training over the years has been to never be wrong. - to have every mistake punished by grade or derision - such a litany is quite liberating.

At those times when others are trying to punish me for my mistakes, it's quite disarming to reply, "well, I'm allowed to be wrong." After all, it's a truism that people will, on occasion, be wrong about something. You can't effectively argue that, but sometimes people try. To those, I merely point out how they are destined to go through life unsatisfied by their fellow human beings.

One of these days, I'm going to have to work on not being such a smart ass.

That would be easier if it wasn't so damn entertaining.

Obligatory Fathers' Day Post

Ah, Fathers' Day is coming up and so I must write something about it. Usually, it comes and goes without much fanfare. That's fine. My children love me and my wife doesn't need to buy me presents "from the kids." Except this year.

No. This year is different. I have needs that I've let go just so there would be something to buy good ol' Dad for Fathers' Day. I need cologne. I've been stretching some god awful dollar-store aftershave for months. Not that I wear a fragrance every day, but sometimes it's nice.

I've encouraged my wife to pick one that she likes. Go off the reservation, if you will, and get me something different. That said, I fully expect a bottle of Jovan Musk. Evidently, that's what I'm supposed to smell like.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Annual Rituals

There are certain things you do. Every year. Such things give structure to our lives. The annual ritual at play now are strawberries.

Strawberry picking at Red Wagon Farms is something we look forward to every year. It's not much, I guess. Nothing like fresh, locally grown produce that ripens on the vine and not in some warehouse or cargo hold.

Perhaps we will make freezer jam this year. After all, we have the strawberries and the mint. Just as long as they don't all get eaten before we get around to it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Allentown Art

I don't know why the Allentown Art Festival is such a well-kept secret. Then again, it took years for word of buffalo wings to spread from Buffalo, NY.

It had been over a decade since I had gone to Allentown. It used to be a yearly event for my wife and I. Imagine hundreds of artists, lining several city blocks with booths full of their work. Art at all levels. Everything from a $2 bauble to a $5000 painting. Much of it practical, much of it beautiful.

It is hard to adequately describe. Every town has an open art show. Yawn.

Miles of booths? Of art? Really? How many watercolors and pottery bowls can one person enjoy?

Let me put it this way: my daughter wasn't thrilled about the trip. She, too, thought it would be a bore. Well, she wandered into more booths than my wife and I together. There were hand-painted underwater scenes that, with polarized glasses, appeared 3D. That blew her away.

We only bought a few, useful items. A Corian cutting board. A pottery vase. Three photographs for the kitchen, depicting food.

Every year, we meet someone we know there. This year was no exception. We had dinner with some old friends, breakfast with others.

As a bonus, I bought myself a couple beer glasses at the Buffalo Brew Pub - where my wife and I had our first date. Nothing better than a Buffalo Lager, a beef-on-weck, and friends to share it with.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


The garbageman  came today. I'm not talking about the BFI truck. That comes later. I mean the garbageman, or perhaps garbage picker might be a better term. He comes in a pickup truck, not far removed from the things he fills its bed with.

Most neighborhoods have one, I suppose. One day, I had a brief chat with him. He is somewhat shy, because most people would rather shoo him away from their refuse pile than say, "hi." I asked him what he looked for. "Metal," was his reply. He takes metal and sells it by the pound. He was delighted at our old stainless kitchen sink. That was seven dollars right there.

I don't always have metal, but when I do I try to separate it out and put it in a conspicuous box. Consider it a lazy man's recycle program, if you will. It's not charity, though. The garbageman earns his dollar.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Why don't we talk?

Men don't talk, and we call it a virtue. I would argue that it is not. The stories of our lives matter to others, but they are often told - if at all - after our demise. My wife lost her mother at age four. But my wife never learned much about her, because her father didn't say much about her. I learned things about my father that were both interesting and inspiring - at his memorial service.

It is commonly thought a virtue to not brag about oneself. No one's achievements are, truly, solo endeavors. Even the man who climbs the mountain first does so with the aid of a multitude. Not just the Sherpa who carries the pack or the pilot that flies him in country. Even the woman in a far off land who sews the backpack together helps the man climb the mountain.

Tell the story of your mountain climb. The boy who pumps the water in the village would like to hear of his triumph.