As a Cub Scout, every year I looked forward to the Pinewood Derby. If you have no idea what that is, allow me to educate you. You get a box, which contains a block of wood, four plastic wheels and four nails. The wood has two slots cut into one side, in which you would use the nails to attach the wheels. Before you put the wheels on, however, you cut and paint the block of wood into a car.
The main reason why I looked forward to the derby was because I got to use my dad’s tools to make the car. Cutting and sanding, forming the shape I wanted. My father would supervise and maybe nudge me along if I was doing something completely and totally wrong, but for the most part, I made my own car. It was one of the many things my father encouraged that lead to me being unafraid of working with my hands. The post last week about my car was one thing, but around the house I’ve fixed a broken fridge, installed ceiling fans and lights, run wires for new outlets, built furniture, and more.
The second thing I looked forward to was actually racing the car. It a simple race, the cars lined up at the start down a steep drop and a long straightaway to the finish. I never won. Not once. But, my car always finished, which is better than some. The kids who always won, you could just look at the cars and know that most of them probably watched while their fathers made the car. They were too sleek and properly weighted, too aerodynamic. And this was before the Internet made it easy to go look up a design to copy. I mean, what 8-year-old kid would think to counter sink weights into the front of the car at just the right places to properly pull the car down the drop start of the track but not so heavy or poorly placed to slow it down on the straightaway. Most of the winners looked like professionally designed and painted cars.
On the other hand, the losers, like me, had cars with superhero logos and often bizarre shapes, you know, a kid’s idea of aerodynamic born of cartoons and science fiction. I never got a trophy, except when they started giving out those silly participation ribbons – yes, we had those even back in the 80′s, it’s not a new phenomena – but I was always proud of my car.
Looking back, I’m happy that my dad let me make my own mistakes and didn’t protect me from failure. I think most people are defined not by their wins but by how they recover from their losses. I’ve had my share of blows in life, been knocked down a time or two or twenty, but here I am, still standing.
I think I’m going to buy a Pinewood Derby kit and make myself just one more car…
As long as I could remember, it had always been “us” on Christmas Day. My mother, my father, my older brother, my younger brother and me. My mother passed in 2003, and since then the four boys continued on. But then my younger brother and his wife had a son, and who could deny a child the joy of Christmas morning at home? Not me, not when those were some of my favorite memories.
I was in search of a new tradition.
My wife and I decided that we would take my father out for breakfast. That would be the new thing. We did that a couple years, and now… my father is gone. From his passing on the 28th of November to now the time just slipped away. We’ve made no plans. Christmas morning will just be us and the dogs.
Just before he died, just after Thanksgiving, the last time I saw him in person, I was getting him to sign checks for Christmas gifts. Every year he sent money to the children from his first marriage, my half-brother and half-sister, and he gave my brothers and I money with which to purchase gifts in his name for our families. In my case, for me to purchase something for my wife, and for my wife to purchase something for me. Christmas morning we will be opening the last Christmas gifts from my father.
As if that were not enough, two years ago, one of my best friends died on Christmas Day. This year, much like last, I can only assume he will be heavy in my thoughts.
This evening we will join with the rest of my family for some gift exchanging and such, and I am certain there will be merriment and cheer, yet a pall will fall across the whole of the day.
I expect, however, that many of you are not weighed down with sorrows so fresh. So, though my heart is heavy this year, I wish to you all, sincerely, a very merry Christmas.
The past few years, I’ve participated in a Secret Santa event from a community I belong to. Two years ago, it was just Quarter to Three, and last year too. This year it’s Quarter to Three and Broken Forum. The first year I participated in it, I was lame. I bought items from my Santee’s Amazon wish list based on a theme – all comic book related – and wrapped/packed them in old Comic Shop News issues. Last year, however, I took it upon myself to again pick a theme but to include something crafted, something unique. It went over extremely well.
Last year, I bought my Santee a couple of book in the Steampunk genre, and then I took a copy of his wedding photo and redid it as Steampunk. It’s the first image below.
This year, I was participating in two exchanges. For one, I went with a space theme – more specifically, Gundam. I got him a model that he wanted and then made up a photo to go along with it. It’s the second image. For the other, my Santee did not provide his wish list and he was fairly difficult to stalk because he actually keeps to himself a lot, but luckily he said he’d be open to anything. Since I’m a big zombie fan and he’s a chemical engineer, I decided to get him a selection of my favorite recent(ish) zombie books and created a photo of him working on zombie formulas in his lab. It’s the final image.
I’ve really enjoyed doing these, and I look forward to doing more of them in the years to come.
Once upon a time, a man could reasonable answer a request to perform a task with “I’m sorry, but I really don’t know anything about that.” In this modern age, however, saying that is equivalent to saying “I’m sorry, but I really am too lazy to Google that.”
When I was a kid, fifteen, and preparing to get my learner’s permit for driving, my father took me out to the car one day and popped the trunk. He showed me where the spare tire was and the jack and the lug nut wrench. He explained that even though many cars are different, there are standards and all the pieces I should need to change a tire were in the car somewhere. My father then showed me how to change a tire. Or rather, he pulled the car manual out of the glove box and showed me where to find the instructions on how to change a tire.
Years and a couple of cars later, I had my first ever flat tire. Pulled over on the side of the road, I didn’t panic or worry, I simply went to the trunk and located the spare, the jack, and the wrench. I got the manual out of the glove compartment and looked up where it told me the jack should be placed to lift the car without damaging it. Then I changed the tire.
That story is a perfect example of the two things by which I live most of my life: general knowledge and knowing where to go for more information. As a computer programmer, my entire philosophy and success is based on knowing the general principles of logic and programming, and then having books and websites I can go to to learn the specifics. If you corner me in an alley and ask me to program in JAVA or .NET I would possibly do okay, but it would be a struggle. Ask me while I’m at my desk, however, and I’ll pull out a book, open a few sites and get to work.
Last week, the serpentine belt came off my car. It didn’t break, it just slipped. I knew this was coming as I knew there was a previously diagnosed problem with the water pump I had been ignoring until I could afford to have it fixed. I’m not much of a car guy. I know the general principles on how engines work and what makes a car go, I know why oil is important and other tidbits, but I’m definitely not the guy you’d rely on to call up specific details on the fly. It’s just not my thing. However, I do have the Internet.
You see, I knew the car needed to get fixed, but I didn’t want to pay a couple hundred bucks for a tow to the shop. I knew that if I could put the belt back on, I could limp the car there on my own. So I Googled it. “1998 Jeep Cherokee serpentine belt”. I found dozens of websites and even instructional YouTube videos on the subject. I read, I watched, I grabbed my tools and headed out to the car. I put the serpentine belt back on and was able to limp the car to the shop.
Whether we know it or not we are learning all the time, and we may only come to realize the things that have become essential to the core of our being much later. Standing with the hood open, wielding knowledge from the Internet, my arms reaching down threading the serpentine belt back onto the pulleys, that’s when I remembered how I learned to change a tire and how the lesson I learned that day formed the person I am today.
My father knew how to swear. He’d been in the Naval Air Reserve and they don’t say “swears like a sailor” for no good reason. I occasionally heard my father employ the profane arts – often when he thought we weren’t around or was caught unawares by an errant swinging hammer or broken appliance. Despite all that, in deference to my mother, dad tried not to swear in front of the kids. This lead to his using words that were less harsh in the place of stronger words, or creating new word couplings that expressed his ire while remaining friendly to children’s ears.
The one I remember most of all is “jerk turkey”. The first time I heard it was in the car, after someone had cut him or done something stupid and my father called him a “jerk shit” which earned him a scolding from mom. Later when another road incident angered him, he reached for the same insult. “Jerk” came out strong but then he faltered. There was a pause as he searched for a suitable replacement for “shit” and finally “turkey” burst out of his mouth. Being older now, I can probably guess that the mental connection came from “turkey shit”, another popular phrase I had heard people utter from time to time, and my dad simply removed “shit” from both of them and slammed those two remaining words together.
“Jerk turkey” became a staple of my father’s lexicon. Other drivers on the road were prime examples. Also, umpires who make bad calls in games dad watched on TV. Comcast is a company full of nothing but jerk turkeys, from their technicians to their customer service. The guy who delivered his newspaper, also a jerk turkey. The wait staff as well as the kitchen staff at Chili’s who never got any of his orders right, ever – jerk turkeys, the whole lot of them.
The last people I ever heard my father call jerk turkeys were the staff at the two rehab facilities he was in before his passing. In both places, due to his high blood pressure, they placed him on “no salt” diets. Dad liked salt on everything. Food wasn’t worth eating if it wasn’t salted. And so, the people who refused to give him salt – jerk turkeys.
In my life, I’ve been known to swear. Very, very rarely ever around my father, but among friends when there are no kids around, I can soil the air with foul words just as well as anyone. I think, however, in the future, I’m going to try to do it less, but there are times when you need something to call people, something to yell at the top of your lungs and get the ire out.
I really wish this were a gaming post, but it isn’t so…
Mechanics. I always hear people talk about how they know a good one, but they never seem to want to give up that name, so most of use have to drive our broken cars to the local auto shop and prepare to be ripped off.
Let me just get this out there. Every single auto mechanic I have ever been to has always been nice and is probably knowledgeable and not a complete thief, but their business model is terrible and shitty and it makes me think of them as crooks.
So, my car is busted. Doesn’t matter how, there is something not working or it is making some sort of sound. I take it to the shop. I tell them the problem I am experiencing and they agree to look at it. They give me a complimentary ride home. Later they call and say, “$800.” I say, “Fix it.” Then they call back, “While we were looking at that thing, we noticed this other thing. $300.” I say, “Fix it.” Again they call, “So we pulled out the thing to fix the thing and found that the noise we couldn’t identify from before is coming from over there. $400.” I think about it, push some numbers around in my head, “Fix it.” They call again, “Turns out that the original issue wasn’t just a little broken, it was totally broken, so it’ll be $200 more.” “Okay, fine.” “Oh, and since we are already charging you $400 in labor to dismantle the whosiwhatsis, we looked at the thingamabob and it’s broken. If you fix it now, $300, but if you fix it later we’d have to charge the $400 labor for dismantling again, so?” “Go ahead and fix it.”
I’m up to $2,000 now, on a car that is only worth about $1,500. But I’m okay with that. It beats having a monthly payment since fixes like this only come along once every couple of years. Then they call again, “We’ve got your car up on the rack and noticed that you have a bunch of other problems, all of which are going to lead to your immediate death should they not be fixed, $2,000.” Now I’m angry.
If I had been told, up front, they would charge me a couple hundred to do a complete systems check and give me a full accounting of problems and come up with a $4,000 price tag, I’d have gladly paid them the couple hundred bucks and bid them a good day, sell the car for scrap and get a new (used) car. But the nickel and dime stuff, slowly climbing from a reasonable cost to a bearable cost to a completely unreasonable cost is for shit. Why in the hell would I spent $4,000 to fix a car that isn’t worth $1,500 in full working order?
So here I am, paying $2,000 to half fix a car when I probably could have taken that $2,000 and bought myself a used car that was in better working order. Mechanics, this is bad and you should feel bad. You might have successfully gotten my money, but you have lost my business, and now I’m going to go around bad-mouthing your store, America’s Service Station in Woodstock Towne Lake. I used to like you guys, you did alright by me for a few years, and now you’ve lost my business forever. Suck it.
And to top it off, when I explained my position to the office staff there, they just shrugged and said it isn’t their place to take the value of the car into consideration when repairing it, and they also don’t do complete systems checks because, and I quote, “they are a waste of everyone’s time.”
I remember it was cold out. Not like dead of winter cold, but enough that I was wearing a long sleeve shirt. So it was either toward the end of the first semester, or it was nearing the middle of the second. I was sixteen. It got dark early, so it was definitely during the standard time and not the daylight saving time. Whenever it was, it was report card time. I got home before my parents every day, and I had been checking the mail with purpose, because I knew there was damage that needed to be controlled.
I could go into the longer, deeper story, but I won’t and I’ll just say that I was a solid C student. My parents had been trying for years to get me to do better. I simply had no desire to do more than was required to pass. However, this particular report card was different. Among the usually assortment of Cs was a lone F. For the first time ever I wasn’t passing a class. I was on top of it, keeping an eye out for the report card and then… I don’t know. My sixteen year old brain was probably thinking I could alter the grade, turn the F into a B or something, like they do in the movies and on TV.
I came home, checked the mail and went to my room. My parents came home and went about their normal end of day routine. After a little while, my father calls me downstairs. I go. “Get a shovel and meet me in the backyard,” he says.
“Great,” I think, “yard work!” I was being sarcastic, of course, but yard work usually did mean getting some extra allowance. I get the shovel and meet my father in the backyard. He’s stand in one of the “islands”, you know, where they’ve put pine straw down between trees to keep from having to mow there. There are plants around the edges, flowers mostly, but this one is fairly barren in the center.
“I want you to dig a hole,” he says. “Two feet wide by two feet long and about a foot deep.” And then he walks off, back to the house.
I’m confused, but I start digging. It’s chilly out, and I didn’t get a jacket, so I’m trying to dig quickly, keep my body moving so I can stay warm. After a while, I’m nearly finished when my father strolls back out. He barely looks at the hole I’ve dug and says, “Now I want you to fill it back in.” And he heads back to the house.
I’m more confused, but I start shoveling again, filling the dirt back into the hole. As I finish up and am patting down the last of the dirt, my father returns. It’s dark now, the yard illuminated by the lights from the house. He is a silhouette as he approaches, his breath puffing out to the side as he walks. He points a finger at me, gaining my full attention.
“If you don’t improve your grades, this is the kind of work you’ll be doing for the rest of your life.” He stands there for a moment. He shakes his finger at me, once, twice, like he’s counting out the cadence in his head, maybe there is something he wants to add. Finally he says, “Put the shovel away and come back inside.”
That night I eat my dinner in silence, and after I go to my room and do my homework. I start doing my homework most nights. At the end of the semester I’ve pulled up my grades – the F becoming a C and even one or two of the Cs turning into Bs.
There is much more to my educational history, and not all of it is good, but I will always remember that it was my father who finally figured out how to get through to a kid who didn’t think school was worth doing well at.
The name makes me want to gently rest my face in the palm of my hand. Really? “Zafehouse”? But then I went on to read the features, look at the screenshots and watch the video. Annoying name aside, I’m in.
In the Zafehouse: Diaries you control the fates of people picked to live in a house during the zombie apocalypse to see what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real. Real World: Zombie Apocalypse! Hmm.. I just thought of a worse name than Zafehouse. Anyway, you start with your people, and you assign them tasks, and then they do them. A turn is an hour, and how successful they are depends on their own skill and their relationships with the rest of the people. When you finish, you get a nice AAR of the whole ordeal to share with your friends.
It’s available for sale now, but I’m on holiday lockdown – no buying anything for myself until the new year. I look forward to being able to give this a try, even more so if they manage to get approved for Steam, because I love having all my games in Steam.
In the meantime, seeing this reminds me that I have that pack of screenshots from Rebuild lying around that I need to do the writing for…
… we interrupt this silence with a bit of posting.
So, the server on which my website resides is having hardware troubles. It is being fixed, and in the meantime the are running and loading backups or some such… all I know is that I get a big notice in my control panel that says they are doing stuff and apologize for the inconvenience. Thus, I have avoided trying to post things in fear that something will go wrong and they’ll revert to a backup that is missing the latest stuff.
Until they get it all sorted, I’ll go back to hiding.