Posts Tagged ‘travel’

It’s hotter than two cats fighting in a wool sock.

But far be it for me to complain about the heat.

As I sit here in my air-conditioned office with a three-speed oscillating fan blowing stale air directly at me from a position not 2 feet from my face, fluorescent ceiling lights off, bathed only in the daylight peeking in from the slats in the stylishly challenged 1990s vertical blinds, windows closed so as to keep the comfortable funk in and the hot air out, you’ll not hear me complain. It’s not winter. So it’s not a problem. Bring the heat.

I’ll complain about the central air conditioning at home, but it won’t be because it’s hot outside. Or because the machine itself is faulty. Rather, it’s because I’m an Idiot. With a capital “I.” Idiot.

Our two-story house is comfy, cool and dark on the first floor, and stifling, sunny and hot in the bedrooms upstairs. Always has been. I blame it on many factors: hot air rises; the rooms are closer to the Sun; and “we” chose to place the largest, heaviest, most cumbersome pieces of vent-blocking furniture directly on top of or in front of the vents that would — in ideal living conditions — spew air that has been either heated or cooled, depending on the needs of the inhabitants and the whimsy of the furnace and central air unit.

When the temperatures last month reached the 90s and stayed there for a good long time, I closed the sliding glass door to the porch, shut the windows upstairs (can’t imagine why it’s hot up here), and fired up the central air conditioning. I looked at the room temperature on the thermostat, said 80 degrees is probably a little warmer than we need it in here, and flipped a switch.

I also turned on the furnace blower fan that circulates air throughout the house — this is a separate switch operating a separate thing that makes a fan-like noise that comes from behind the wall in the room of great mystery and gas-fired machinery.

I heard the fan running, so I went back to my normal busy homeowner chore-laden routine of sitting in my chair and watching “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”

After about a half hour, I checked the room temperature and saw that it had gone up two degrees. Great, I said. The fan is working and is circulating all that hot air upstairs down and into the furnace room of mystery, which is in turn making the thermostat think it’s getting warmer in here.

Mind you, never once did it dawn on me that by turning the air conditioner on and making the house hotter, I should perhaps walk outside to see if the air conditioner is … oh, I don’t know … on?

Instead, when bedtime came, I turned everything off, set up my two oscillating bedroom fans — which, according to Karen, have three settings: low, medium and hurricane — next to the bed as close to my head as possible.

And another day in paradise came to a close.

I turned the air conditioner on again the next afternoon and noticed the temperature went up after a while. My decision at the time, which made perfect sense in the moment, was to say nothing to Karen (who spends her entire summer on the back porch and remains pretty much oblivious to the goings on and operational protocols I undertake in the spirit of keeping the house in working order while simultaneously looking busy and sneaking food).

This procedure became the daily routine for a good couple of weeks during June. I couldn’t figure out why it sounded like the air conditioner might be working, even though there was no evidence of this. Also, I had yet to step outside to see if it was running. But I did turn on the little thermostat switch every day, so I was at least trying.

Then one day curiosity and perspiration got the best of me. I stepped outside to see if there was more I should be doing. And as those of you who got bored and skipped ahead to this part have already learned, there was no sound coming from the giant green metal box that sits outside and generates cool air. So I immediately went into tactical repair mode. I called on all the skills and practical knowledge I have gained after 20 years of home ownership. I went looking for the fuse box.

It was in a corner of the garage in which there is little to no light. I didn’t feel like bothering to find the flashlight (it was all the way indoors) and couldn’t open the garage door — which would have given me all the light I needed — because I haven’t fixed the garage door yet. (Another story for another day. Some big springy thing busted and shot across the garage and made one heck of a racket. We’ve been using the side door and I’ve been hoping she doesn’t come in off the porch to ask when I’ll be tackling this mystery.)

So I did what I could. I looked at the fuse box (the parts that I could see), saw nothing that looked out of place, and called the repair man. I am so good and prompt at fixing things we have a service contract (for everything we own, including the spoons).

I surprise myself sometimes when I speak with the scheduler for home repair visits. It takes me too long to call for help, but when I do, I want that help immediately. The very nice scheduler on the phone said the earliest someone could come was the next day between noon and 4. My needs were more immediate, I informed her, and because I have a service contract, I wanted someone to come to the house right now. Well, she poked around and through some miracle of trying harder, was able to arrange for a person to come between 8 and 10 p.m. that very night. I sure showed that scheduler who was in charge here.

The guy who showed up was very nice. And knowledgeable. One of those guys who admits to having invented air conditioning — and all machinery, in fact — and is not bashful about explaining how everything works. I tried to stay awake and look interested as he blathered on, but all I really wanted was to get the air conditioner working and get back to doing nothing.

He also explained to me that an extra special visit to fix a problem like this one was going to cost us extra because this was not part of the service plan. He then described the day he invented the concept of service plans and how each of them works.

Then, without the use of any tools, he took a very quick look at the air conditioner and asked me to direct him to the fuse box. I felt all important because this was an answer I knew. He took out a flashlight, noticed that one of the breakers was in the “off” position (as in, “not on”), flipped it, and the metallic sound of BTUs began coursing through the ductwork.

It wasn’t that the breaker was thrown or that a fuse blew. It was simply turned off. Hundred bucks, please. Enjoy your evening.

I wish I was kidding. Off. On. Hundred bucks.

But you’ll not hear me complain about the heat. I’m far too busy living down my stupidity.

I look so forward to tackling that garage door.

Wait. … What? … You’re supposed to lift it?


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Sometimes, it’s the little victories.

We had one here the other day that made me feel proud about my chosen profession and the chosen professionals with whom I share cavernous air-conditioned space.

It was the story that took 13 years to write: The Vainauskas triplets, graduating this weekend from Broadalbin-Perth High School.

You all saw the story on the front page of Thursday’s River City Tattler. (Those of you who haven’t should look ashamed.)

For those of you who haven’t read it (which is probably a very small number), in a nutshell, it was about (spoiler alert) three siblings who, 13 years ago, got their picture on the front page of the local newspaper on their first day of kindergarten and now, 13 years later, got their picture on the front page of the local newspaper on their last day of high school.

It was about other things, too, like what they want to be when they grow up, how often they fight, etc. The story wasn’t just about the local newspaper. Although it should have been. We had to include some stuff about the kids.

Professional journalist Jaime Studd roped the whole thing together — talked to the Vainauskas triplets, took their photo, typed the words into the computer, and spent the better part of an entire day digging through our no-longer alphabetized, cartoonishly jumbled and antiquated newspaper clipping filing system in search of the original photo showing them as kindergartners. (A search, by the way, that, before the afternoon was over, involved more than one member of the news gathering staff and, if my ears were correct, more than one syllable of colorful language).

And for all of her hard work, Jaime was rewarded with a bunch more work to do, quickly and with some accuracy.

But that’s the boring part, because nowhere in there am I mentioned.

Following is the good part, because it’s where I come in.

I didn’t know what year we wrote the original kindergarten story. Not only because I don’t pay attention, but because even if I did, it wouldn’t matter because I don’t remember things. So I have completely stopped bothering.

All I knew was, years ago, there was a story in the paper. The photo of the little kids was ridiculously cute. The idea for the story, which was probably not mine but for which I will take full credit because who’s gonna say otherwise, was the kind of idea that sells newspapers.

I said to myself at the time, lo those many years ago, that this is only half of the story. We need to find these kids when they graduate, take the same photo, and write about me and my awesome journalism idea.

Problem was, because I said this to myself, I didn’t have any help from the rest of my co-news gathering professionals, one of whom might have remembered when the story was first published. But that would have been no help either, because only one of them is still here after 13 years.

Well, maybe four.

Because I didn’t remember what year we published it, I have spent the better part of the past decade and a half wondering, every June when thoughts turn to graduation season, if these youngsters are still around and waiting for us to show up with cameras and typewriters a-blazin’.

The only positive contribution I have made to this entire scenario is remembering the original story once existed. Also, I make the first pot of coffee each morning.

I couldn’t remember the name of the kids.

It was before we had our current and modern excellent computer filing system made available by electricity, so I couldn’t just do a Google search (for a name I didn’t remember).

And our file cabinet archive is challenging, so little chance there.

No idea who they were, where they might be, how old, nothing.

But, to my own credit, I have at least been asking our reporters every year for the past several years to make sure they ask their high school principals if, by chance, there is a set of triplets graduating in that particular class that particular year.

Been doing this for years.

Nothing. No triplets here, they’d say.

Last year, when this happened again with another reporter hitting another roadblock, I figured we missed them and that the triplets were off living their lives.

I did it again this year, if I remember correctly. At least, I meant to. Several weeks ago, I think, we were discussing our annual attempt to fill our journalism pages with unique feature stories about graduation (the kinds of stories that sell newspapers), including this one about these three siblings.

Well, Wednesday afternoon, Jaime came into the newsroom saying she found the kids (they had started out in the Greater Amsterdam School District and since moved to Broadalbin-Perth). My decade-long search for work I had no intention of doing myself had paid off in the form of work done by someone more eager. And successful.

It was the stuff that boring movies about people who work at newspapers are made of. Jaime said they were graduating this week, they had a copy of the original article published (I now learned) 13 years ago. She was able to photograph them in a pose similar to the original one, she talked with them about their lives and plans. We (and by “we” I mean “everyone but me”) ran the photos and story at the top of Thursday’s front page.

This is the kind of stuff that sells newspapers.

But that’s not really about me, so, back to the original point.

What I am driving at is that I have been doing this now for 30 years, this newspaper thing. In fact, this weekend is the 30th anniversary of my first day on the job at the Courier-Standard-Enterprise in Fort Plain.

I have been working here, and at other newspapers owned by this publishing company, for more than half of my life. I hadn’t realized until typing the previous sentence that I had done anything for more than half of my life. Except beer.

But Wednesday I realized, while chair dancing in celebration of my personal victory of someone else finally landing this story, that this is one of my most, if not the most, satisfying professional successes. I can’t stop smiling about it. A plan actually came together.

For a story that took 13 years to write.

It will not be easy to top this one, but when we get back to work on Monday, at the beginning of year 31, we’ll give it the old college try.

And by “we,” this time, I mean me.

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I can’t for the life of me remember the dream I was having the other day. And that’s a shame, because it was pretty funny. Must have been.

But that, unfortunately, is what happens with dreams. The stupid ones we remember. We tell our spouses, they look at us funny, tell us some drawn-out story about some dumb dream they had when they were 12 that in no way compares to the story we were telling. So, we pretend to be interested while the whole time we’re trying to remember the dream that was really kinda fun.

Then she realizes I haven’t been listening, the covers get stolen, and the cold shoulder is exposed.

All because of a stupid dream.

But my dream from the other day was funny. And not because it happened at work, although it did. And that’s not even the funny part. I can’t remember the funny part.

It was Monday; I was seated at my desk, doing the trusted work upon which many among our swarm of readers unknowingly, and unwittingly, rely. Many of you have no idea what I do all day, and that would make two of us, but those chores, when it gets to be about 2 or 3 p.m. — also, any time after 10:30 a.m. — have no earthly ability to keep me from nodding off in mid-sentence.


I was in the process of making up very important newspaper information off the top of my head, fully intending to publish a correction in a subsequent edition, when I suddenly heard myself laugh out loud.

Kind of a sputtering guffaw. It caught me off guard. I can’t remember what was so funny, but whatever it was, it came to me in that limbo we enter between consciousness and deep sleep and, you know, making newspapers.

That unconscious point when thoughts lose their place in line and just show up in a seemingly normal (because we’re dreaming), yet incontrovertibly impossible and entertainingly random order.

And after I realized that I was laughing, I immediately learned I had been asleep. For, like, 1 second. (I think.)

Enough time for one hilarious thought. And for my computer to spit out a whole bunch of random letterrrrrrrrrrrrrs.

Must’ve had my hands on the keyboard.

My bad.

I looked around real fast to see if anyone had noticed I had nodded off (or, worse, if I had let out a “snork,” which is known to happen). Thankfully, it was a time of day when the rest of the crew was still out in the field, making up their own things to correct. The news cavern was completely empty.


I shouldn’t be embarrassed about slipping away for one whole second. I mean, I can tell you, but it’s not like anyone else will ever find out. It’s just disappointing that it’s already happening, is all.

I had always thought — or hoped, actually — that nodding off at random junctures would be something done only by fathers and old people and not something that I would eventually contract.

Dad used to do it. I’d walk into the living room, see him asleep in front of the TV, seize the opportunity to finally change the channel to a show that featured real humans, and as soon as I clicked the dial one turn, he’d startle awake and say, “Snork. I was watching that.”

And back we would go to “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.” Or, “Lawrence Welk.” Either way, no real humans.

And back he would go to the land of nod.

I blame staring, which I do all day long, and not a lack of sleep, for my problem. Well, this one, anyway. I no longer have to get up at a ridiculous time of day (although there was a time …), so I’m not tired in the morning.

I often go to bed relatively early — around grandma:o’clock p.m., as a rule, unless there is something compelling on TV that holds my interest after 9. But I’m not burning the midnight oil at this end either (although there was a time …).

One of the surest ways I have found to combat sleepiness is by going to bed.

This is another cruel hoax perpetrated by advancing age. Not a fan.

I have reached that stage (go me) when I start to get real dozy any time after 9 p.m. and have found the cure for it is crawling into bed.

There, I lie awake for hours, no longer remembering what it felt like to be tired. Going to bed is better than caffeine for curing that 2:30 feeling.

I get to a point at night when I can no longer keep my eyes open. I crawl upstairs, turn on the bedroom TV and the nightstand light, grab the iPad, and for the next three hours send that day’s crop of Words with Friends back to their rightful owners while watching the “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” marathon on the Foodporn channel.

It’s as if every night I forget how to fall asleep.

I have made peace with the knowledge that I have reached the age when forgetfulness has begun to take control of my life.

Also, I have made peace with the knowledge that I have reached the age when forgetfulness has begun to take control of my life.

But forgetting how to fall asleep just seems like a cruel joke.

I see the commercials on the TV for those products you can choke into your body when it gets that time of the day when we all — every human being, apparently — starts falling asleep while staring off into a computer screen covered with boring words and letters and numbers and Likes and LOLs and requests to play Words with Friends and gripes about how boring it is at work.

“That 2:30 feeling,” they say on the one commercial.

But I’m not about to drink whatever is in those teeny bottles of wonder juice that are so good for my health and well being they are sold next to the convenience store cash register, with the “Seriously, Dude, You Forgot Your Anniversary?” roses, emergency candy, cigarette lighters, lottery scratch-offs, mini flashlight key holders, and someone’s extra pennies.

I often wonder how long it will be before science discovers that all the power drinks society has been guzzling for the past couple of decades, it turns out, have actually been bad for our health.

I mean, if some animals and plants have been determined to cause death in people, how long before tiny bottles of taurine, glucuronolactone, malic acid, N-Acetyl L-tyrosine, L-phenylalanine, caffeine, and citicoline start curling our toes?

I mean, it’s nothing to lose sleep over, but you nevzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz


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Funny thing about memories. The ones from our youth become more vivid and important and dear to our hearts while the ones from yesterday and a half hour ago go pfffffffffft into thin air.

What were we talking about? I don’t know, but I remember the smell of the kindergarten finger paint; the first-grade teacher’s perfume; the police whistle the second-grade teacher would blow to shut us up; the third-grade teacher’s cardigan (always over the shoulders and one top button buttoned; rarely with the arms in the sleeves); and the taste of the very first Nutty Buddy ice cream cone I had in the fifth-grade cafetorium.

Until fifth grade, I thought the only ice cream available to school children came in a plastic cup, half vanilla, half chocolate, with the paper lid you pulled off by grabbing the tab. (Licking the ice cream off the back of the lid was a job requirement. Even though there wasn’t much ice cream there; and what was there tasted like the paper lid. And, hey look, half the lid is brown and the other half is white.)

The ice cream had to be eaten with a snowman-shaped tongue depresser that gave me goose bumps every time it scraped against my teeth. The very thought, today, brings the goose bumps back to life.

Leaving the wooden spoon in the mouth too long — sucking the ice cream off of it — made it taste like wet wood. Getting the spoon too wet made it split down the middle. And two wet half-a-spoons were pretty much useless to a kid trying to scrape every last drop of ice cream out of the corners of a round ice cream cup.

Bit of a diversion there, but the sunlight looks warm and the birds are probably chirping on the other side of this office window. And there’s no sense in having an office window if daydreams cannot be cultivated on this side of it.

This, young people with your lives ahead of you, is the important stuff we grownups have to deal with while gathering our thoughts in preparation for another day at the grindstone. Some day, perhaps, you will also have thoughts. And pleasant childhood memories with which to fill them.

Spring does a thing to the sap that, during a cold, impersonal winter, tends to harden in our souls and shut us down.

And by “us” I mean “me.”

The promise of a new growing season reawakens the parts of us that can’t wait to start hibernating at the end of one year and can’t wait to thaw out and return to life at the beginning of the next.

You can tie off your YouTubes, dummy up with your smart phones, stick your joy sticks, and otherwise smother the technological advances that have since smothered what should be celebrated as the gift of childhood.

Give me a warm spring day, a stick, a rock, a creek and another chance to go home again. I’ll spend all day outside and come home in clothes covered in and smelling like the universe of my youth.

I’ll do this any day, every day. Maybe we can’t go home again. But we can wish it so.

Far too many decades ago, play and discovery, for me, were under-appreciated. Taken for granted. Today, with greater frequency, the memory of what I had and how much I frittered its value are taking the time away from the time I spend worrying, working and fending off the stupidity each new day, without fail, brings.

These are the things, technoboys and technogirls, that grownups think about when they’re seated at their desks in their offices. How to solve the next crisis? How to avoid the one after that? What happens if the top dogs don’t cover the bottom line?

This is not what we think about when the sun gradually begins to share more of its warmth, the birds return in full throat, and the office window unfairly separates us from all of it.

There are more important things to think about. And all of them are memories. Like threading a minnow onto a fishing line and the wzzzzzzzzz-click-plunk of flicking that minnow across the pond, off the end of a trusty spinning reel.

Like the day the mailman ran over Tim’s tricycle in the driveway.

Like how the water in the creek can be ice cold — even on the hottest day of the year. And how every time that sip of water — gathered in the shimmering reflection of the 10-year-old daring enough to get thisclose to the water’s edge without accidentally slipping in, face first — was more refreshing than mom’s lemonade.

This, technoboys and technogirls, is what your glassy-eyed parents are thinking about when, mouth slightly agape and ears completely tuned out, it looks like they are contemplating something very grownup important.

They are thinking about something much more important than anything found in life’s grownup world. Nothing holds a candle to the memories upon which that world is balanced, too often precariously.

I hope today’s entitled, with more electronic gadgets hanging off of them than seems practical (or affordable) for people that age, eventually reach this same conclusion. I further hope that when they do, they are looking up at it and not down at their thumbs, which are sure to be flailing away with lightning quickness as the next BFF ROFL(his or her)AO.

What will fill the memories of the next generation’s nostalgic years? Do kids still walk dogs, sip from a babbling brook, bait hooks, skim rocks, jar lightning bugs?

OMG. Are you, like, serious? Bugs? Walk?

I live in a very neighborhoody neighborhood. We all walk and jog and chat and mow and plant and stop and chat some more and care and smile on our quiet, tidy streets. The neighbor dogs are walked twice every day and their poop is carried home for them twice every day and I can’t for the life of me remember the last time I saw a dog walking with a kid at the other end of the leash.

OMG. Are you, like, serious? Poop? Walk?

I do find it ironic that if we old folks didn’t have access to the technology so loved today by the thumbs of the young folks, we wouldn’t all have reconnected with the other old folks we used to know as young folks and be so dripping with the nostalgia that has, from all appearances, engulfed us (or, me).

We’re fortunate, in this best of both worlds, that we can use new gadgetry to travel through time to the faces and names of our pasts, polishing the memories we’ve spent our lives preserving.

Today, Memory Lane is the main street in my perfect world, in my perfect neighborhood. Today and every day, it is crowded with grownup versions of our former selves. We all walk and jog and chat and mow and plant and stop and chat some more and care and smile on our quiet, tidy street.

Just outside this window.


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