Sunday, June 29, 2008

Civic Lesson

Here in the United States we are taught from an early age that we enjoy a number of civic rights.

We have the right to assemble, that is, to meet in groups without being harassed by the authorities.

We have the right to free speech, that is, to complain against the government without being harassed by the authorities.

We have the right to vote without being harassed or threatened or restricted.

And we have the right to a trial by a jury of our peers, that is, the judge of our fate is not a judge person, but, rather, people who live in our community, fellow taxpayers, our peers. A peer doesn’t mean the same socio-economic level, or same educational level, or same political leaning or even same tastes in music. It means people among whom one lives.

So, with that preamble, I was summoned to Jury Duty.

Now, how should one react to receiving a summons for jury duty? After all, it’s a random selection and you might be called once in a decade, or never in your whole life. Most people, including myself, think as their first thought upon receiving the summons, “Oh, what a pain in the ass. I’ve got to go down to the courthouse and hang around all day, probably for nothing.”

That was my thought. And I’m retired. What else do I have to do, besides my personal interests and part-time job? Still, I thought, “Why me?”

I have only been called to jury duty once in my entire life. There were about 400 of us in the pool. Two trials were coming up and they needed a total of 24, twelve for each trial. I spent long hours calculating the odds of being selected, however, odds have little to do with it. Getting selected has all to do with the attorneys for each side of the case and how they try to get the best fit to give them an advantage.

In my first experience with jury duty I was excused after two days into the selection process.

“You are excused. See the clerk on your way out for compensation.”

I earned $24 for two days hanging around the courthouse.

This time around things proceeded quickly and I found myself empaneled on a jury. It happened fast and it was moments between when I was in the gallery looking at the judge, and in the jury box looking at the judge. I suddenly had eleven new friends and a new job.

I had not been trained for this, never taken a course, never read up on the subject, and there I was on a jury for a case of aggravated assault: a guy was accused of shooting someone.

To cut to the chase, we convicted the accused and sent him to prison for a long time. The victim will live with her injuries for the rest of her life.

Although I was keen to duck my civic responsibility and be excused, I am proud that was able to work with a jury of my peers to render justice, but that is not to say that it was easy. I feel that I am a better, more informed person, to have gone through the criminal trial process than to base my opinions on what I have seen on TV or read in the papers.

And, finally, I am fortunate to live in a country where a jury process exists because it does work, not always to the liking of either the prosecutors or defense, but it does work.

Did we have all the forensic evidence we needed? No. We had what we had.

Did the defense have an air-tight story? No, it had lots of holes.

In the end we did what juries are instructed to do. We weighed the evidence, ignored what was not in evidence and thought long and hard about what to conclude.

Try taking twelve people you don’t know and having them all agree on a pizza. Let’s just get The Works. No, I’m allergic to mushrooms. OK, The Works, minus mushrooms. No, a pizza is not a pizza without mushrooms. I’ve GOT to have mushrooms.

You get the picture.

It was not a happy occasion in the end. We were united in our decision, but it was a harsh decision. We convicted the accused and sentenced him to prison time.

After it was all over we chatted with the judge and the attorneys on both sides but mostly we wanted to get out of there and resume our lives.

Did we render a just verdict? Yes, I think we did. We didn’t have all the pieces of the puzzle but we had enough to get a clear picture of what happened.

Was our punishment just? Who knows. We wanted this dude off the streets and whether he gets out early on good behavior in prison when he’s eligible for parole is up to him.

I’m satisfied that this person is off the streets for a while and won’t shoot anyone else either on purpose or by accident for many years to come.

I’m exhausted from this week. I slept 14 hours on Friday and another 12 on Saturday and Sunday. I was wiped out.

Civic duty. Nobody told us how much effort it would take. We worked for hours to be fair. It was by no means a “slam dunk” decision. We worked hard to reach a consensus and nobody was frivolous in the outcome. It was deadly serous every day and we were all wiped out when allowed to go home.

In the end I can say that justice was served. We the jurors came to a consensus of opinion and stood by that opinion in court when polled individually. As jurors we came together as a team and were able to focus on the facts at hand wiping away our clouded individual feelings. Collectively we took our charge seriously and rendered a verdict.

On the one hand I’m glad I got a chance to participate in the process, and on the other hand I’m doubly glad that I won’t be eligible for jury duty for some years to come.

You can learn civics in school, but the practice comes in life. I’ve had enough practice for the time being. But, when I read in the paper about a jury trial I’ll be able to sympathize with the work they have ahead of them and think, been there, done that.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Light is On

Q: How many blondes does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: Five. One to hold the bulb and four to turn the ladder.

(Hey, while I’m an honorary blonde I can tell jokes like this.)

Q: How many Vulcans does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: Approximately 1.000000000000000000.

Q: How many people would offer unsolicited advice to a person planning on changing out his light fixtures?
A: Everybody on the planet minus one.

My week went sort of like this.

Yo, dude, whatcha plannin’ to do this weekend?

Hey, I’m changing out some light fixtures.

Yo, dude, don’t forget to turn the power off at the breaker.

Yeah, thanks for the advice.

Yo, dude, whatcha plannin’ to do this weekend?

Hey, I’m changing out some light fixtures.

Yo, dude, don’t stand on the top of the ladder. Get a bigger ladder.

Yeah, thanks for the advice.

Yo, dude, whatcha plannin’ to do this weekend?

Hey, I’m changing out some light fixtures.

Yo, dude, buy some extra parts because, you know, the box will be short something.

Yeah, thanks for the advice.

Yo, dude, whatcha plannin’ to do this weekend?

Hey, I’m changing out some light fixtures.

Yo, dude, remember the belt buckle rule. Don’t lean out farther than your belt buckle.

Yeah, thanks for the advice.

And that’s the way it went all freaking week! Finally, I just decided to make stuff up.

Yo, dude, whatcha plannin’ to do this weekend?

Hey, I’m robbing a bank.

Yo, dude, wear one of those big hats so the cameras can’t see your face.

I mean there was no relief!

Yo, dudes, it’s light fixtures not the Space Shuttle. I’m going to take down the old light fixtures that used those itty bitty 15-Watt bulbs and replace them with fixtures that use Manly 200-Watt Bulbs. Yes, we are going to Light This Place Up!

Turns out that no amount of advice can prepare you for taking out a ceiling light fixture and replacing it with another. I changed out six fixtures and they were all different.


I only didn’t get the power turned off to one fixture and soon discovered the hard way that it was “hot.”

The “hard way” is standing on the top of a ladder, trying not to dive off head first as amperes, volts and coulombs are coursing down your body at the speed of light giving you that tingling feeling and making sparks shoot out of your eyeballs.

“Uh, no problem, Honey, just as soon as I get the feeling back in my right leg. It’s sort of twitching, now.”

I hobbled into the garage, tempted to throw the main breaker, but, rather, spent a few minutes looking for the “upstairs hall lights” which was breaker 19 and I had turned off breaker 17.

Missed it by THAT much.

The most difficult fixture was in the stairway leading to the home office room. Positioned above the stair landing it required me to violate all the “advice” I had received.

“Don’t stand on the top step of the ladder.” Violate.

“Don’t lean out farther than your belt buckle.” Violate.

“Don’t stand on one foot.” Violate.

“Carry extra hardware because you’ll drop something.” Violate.

“Don’t do this alone.” Violate.

“Make sure you have the right tools.” Violate.

“Swearing doesn’t help.” Violate. Violate. Violate. Violate. Violate.

In truth, five of the six lighting fixtures went in with little problem. Yeah, there were some improvisations but that’s to be expected.

However, the stairway fixture was a challenge. For a start it violated all the safety rules. I could barely reach the old fitting by standing on the top of the ladder on one foot, on tiptoe, stretching.

Nobody gave me the advice of standing on one foot and holding my arms over my head for 20 minutes. Lack of strength training was nearly my undoing.

The first screw I dropped fell in slow motion, bouncing off step after step as it made it’s way from my hand to the floor about 20 feet below.

Twenty feet. What’s that?

An advisor of mine said that a fall of 30 feet will kill you. Twenty feet will just maim you.


I visualized myself falling as did the screw and it was not comforting at all. However, I had a job to do and as I teetered on the top of the ladder I made sure all my motions were careful and direct. No funny business way up here because one slip could be, well, not worth the effort.

With a final twist the last screw was in and I made the careful descent down.


In the end it was all my advisors who made this difficult job a safe job. I tied the ladder to the bannister so it wouldn’t fall down the stairs. I held on to a rail with one hand while I worked the fixture with the other. I carried several screws, connectors, pieces and parts in case I dropped them. And, I took my time.

I’m looking forward to meeting someone who is changing out his light fixtures so I can give him all my advice.

Yeah, I’d like to do that.

Monday, June 16, 2008

I Love This Woman

Thirty years ago, yes, 30, like Three Decades, I stumbled across this woman and thought...

“she could be my wife.”

I remember the thought and I remember thinking it and I remember the time I thought it.

However, “she could be my wife” was not an easy thought to put into action. It took time and dedication, but, eventually it happened.

During our time together we have supported each other in writing our PhD theses, moving from job to job, raising children and surviving the slings and arrows that Life throws.

I love this woman.

We have lived with each other more than apart from each other. We have laughed more than cried and celebrated more than commiserated.

In short, it’s been a grand 30 years and I couldn’t imagine having spent it with anyone else,

Yeah, I’m an idiot but I love you for supporting my idiocy, my foibles and nuttiness all these years.

Here’s to you, Helen, Light of my Life, the Voice and all the characters of reason on my blog and in my life.

I would still be on the Shelf without you, but, then again, you know that.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hair Today, Blonde Tomorrow

“Ewww, what’s that on the side of your face? You didn’t fall asleep in a puddle of urine again, did you?”

You know, you can live an exemplary life full of joy and good deeds and it just doesn’t matter how many joys or good deeds one has done if somewhere, somewhere in the dim, dim past, many years ago, one perhaps overdid it with a bottle of tequila or two and failed to be persnickety about where one passed out.

“No, I did not sleep in a puddle of urine, unless Sandy peed on my pillow which he has been known to do, but, then I’d exchange it with one of yours, so the short answer is no.”

Poor Sandy, the old cat. He gets blamed for all sorts of stuff, although lately I’ve been thinking about investing in a company who manufactures a feline Depends. Incontinent cats: don’t let it be a stain on YOUR cat’s reputation.

The non-sequitur of the subject, however, grabbed my interest like a rabid ferret in my trousers. “What brings up the subject of sleeping in urine, Light of my Life, been sniffing camphor again?”

“No, it’s just that the side of your face is all yellow.”

Instinctively, I rubbed the left side of my face and smelled my palm, relieved that Essence du Cat was absent. I turned and headed down the hall to the bathroom to find a mirror.

It was subtle, to be sure, but definite. My beard was definitely yellow. Also my eyebrows and part of my hair. Not exactly yellow yellow, but more like light tan or blonde.

Oh my God, I’m going blonde! I thought of all the blonde jokes I’ve told over the years and I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.

Granted, I’ll have more fun but at what price? I had to think but nothing was happening. It’s twue! It’s twue! I’m blonde!

Then I took a deep breath, calmed down, counted to ten (by threes) and looked around the bathroom. The answer had to be here somewhere. But where?

There lying by my sink was the answer in the form of a plastic tube. I grabbed it and ran back to the kitchen.

“It’s this!” I shouted, “Here’s the culprit!”

Triumphantly, I held up a tube of (expensive) skin cream with “Tanning Action.”

Breathlessly, I read aloud the label. “Expensive Skin Cream with Tanning Action. Get months of tan overnight. Simply rub into skin to moisturize and get the added benefit of a glowing tan!”

Better living through chemistry. I always say that. Why lay outside basting like a rotisserie chicken when you could slather on Expensive Skin Cream with Tanning Action and wake up perfectly tanned, and with moisturized skin in the comfort of your air-conditioned house? Seemed like a simple choice to me.

Let’s go for Tanning in Air-Conditioning for 500, Alex.

So, last night I went for Tanning Option A and slathered on the Expensive Skin Cream. What the heck, let’s moisturize the beard and eyebrows. Oops, a little in the hair. Not to worry. Hair doesn’t tan, does it?

Ah. The key thought.

Hair. Doesn’t. Tan. Does. It?

That is true. Hair doesn’t tan.

Hair dyes.

I stared at my face in the mirror. Obviously, I was not even-handed with the application of Expensive Skin Cream with Tanning Action because the left side of my face was definitely light brown, hair and all, while the right side of my face was not. Ironically, my beard picked up all the color; my skin looked cadaver pale as usual.

“Uh, if you get breakfast ready I’ll join you soon. I’m going to take a couple of showers.” I trotted off to the bathroom to wash the mess out of my beard.

Later, I returned to the kitchen for breakfast.

“Looks the same.”

“Thanks for the observation. Pass the cherry preserves.”

“You going to spread that on your toast or your beard?”

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you? You revel in the afflictions of others. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“Why, because you rubbed dye into your beard. I think your only option is to rub that stuff all over your head so you at least have a consistent color. Right now you look like a blonde zebra.”

“Oh, thanks for the support. In fact, I have a plan. I’m going to get one of those whitening shampoos and just bleach it out.”

“You mean a blue rinse?”

“You have a low opinion of me ever since that urine thing. No, not blue, white. See you in a while, I’m going up to the store.”

“If you get lost, call me!”

Geeze, I’ve been blonde for one day and already I hate the World. Memo to self: start a blonde support group asap.’

Later I returned with a very expensive shampoo designed expressly for “seniors.” Of course, the marketing department would have prevented a full description of their product, “for seniors or the blonde afflicted” but I’ll give them credit.

The label proclaimed “guaranteed to wash out yellow, faded, hair and restore luxurious silver luster.”

Yep, just what the doctor ordered.

“This is a blue rinse.”

“No it is not. It’s a senior shampoo specially formulated to fix yellowed hair. I have yellowed hair. This is going to fix it. How difficult is that to understand?”

You know, being blonde gives you a different perspective on the world and, like, the people in it. I mean people are so, you know, to blondes. Like, you know? I am happy with myself and everybody else is just jealous. That’s why I’m, like, getting all this hassle about shampoo. It’s shampoo, people, not rocket science. If it was rocket science it would be all fire and stuff, but this is with, like, water. Get real!

I grabbed my senior shampoo and headed to the shower. Finally, we’ll take care of this once and for all and life will go on.

I turned on the shower, bathroom fan and got ready to end this charade. Hopping into the shower with my senior shampoo I was, I’ll admit, unprepared for what squirted into my hand when I opened up the stuff.


Bright blue shampoo.

Most shampoo is white or, occasionally, golden, but never blue.

This stuff was blue.

Through the steam I read the side of the bottle again.

“Wash out that dull yellow with our shampoo especially formulated for seniors. Brighten that dull grey hair and say good-bye to yellow.”

Well, I certainly wanted to say good-bye to yellow so I lathered up.

Rinse and repeat.

I did that several times. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.

Finally the water started to cool and I got out of the shower and toweled off. Checking out the mirror I could see that the yellow beard was definitely whiter. Maybe not so much white as different. It will probably look a whole lot better when it dries.

It didn’t.

After blow drying and combing, it was no better.

“Well, at least your beard isn’t yellow any more. I warned you about the blue rinse but, no, you didn’t listen. Blue and yellow make what, Mr. Scientist?”

“Green?” I croaked.

“Yes, green, like the side of your face. So, instead of blonde thoughts you’ll be having Kermit thoughts. Is it not easy being green?”

My hair was blue and my beard was green. I was like the Incredible Hulk without all the muscles. I looked like a Picasso after a bad night. I was like all those old ladies who invade casinos in Vegas, but if they were Leprechauns. Suddenly I had a hankering for Lucky Charms and an AARP membership. Wayne Newton, did I miss the show?

“You could always shave it off, including the eyebrows,” was the only advice I got, “There’s a razor in the drawer.”

Yes, that was the only solution at this point. My hair was blue, my beard green and my eyebrows yellow and my complexion pale. I’m not even sure there’s a country flag with those colors, certainly not one with a soccer team. I was well and truly stuck.

“I’ll tell them at work that I had a Bad Tequila Night. They’ll understand. I’ll tell them I visited a nuclear reactor, or swam in the bayou or it’s drugs. They’ll understand drugs. Lots of people have blue hair.”

I looked for support but there was none. “Where are you going?” I asked.

“Outside. I need to work on my tan.”

Sunday, June 08, 2008












Honey, are you watching porn again?

No, tennis.

You sure?

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Shining

Book signings are fun. I think I'll do them more often.

The fine people at Barnes and Noble made sure I was comfortable with a padded folding chair. Note "padded." I'm sure not everybody gets a "padded" chair. Some of the more rude customers suggested that a padded room might be more appropriate and I made a point to misspell their names when signing their books. Oopsie!

I provided chocolate treats as an enticement but refrained from hawking the book to get a free chocolate. I only made a few kids cry when I asked them for a credit card before I'd let them have a piece of chocolate.

Dove Dark, too. Nothing but the best.

One customer bought me a coffee and told me my hair looked nice. It's a real boost when your stylist shows up for a book signing. Memo to self: double tip for stylist.

Another customer came into the store and asked me if I worked there. Sure, I said, how can I help you? She was looking for a Father's Day gift and I said "Look no further, or is it farther. Your gift is here. Furthermore or farthermore I'll sign it at no additional charge. Sell it on eBay in a year and buy yourself a yacht."

She bought two. I guess she needs a couple of boats.

After the signing was over I managed to snag one of the posters. Kink settled himself on the poster and asked me how my day was.

"Well, it was interesting," I replied.

"How so," Kink inquired?

"Well, I met a lot of people who were interested in the book and many of them bought it for various reasons. In fact, one person laughed at the chapter titled "Conversations with a Cat" but became thoughtful as she read further. It's a thoughtful piece, you know."

Kink stretched out and yawned widely.

"Yeah, I was there when you wrote it and glad I could help."

"Don't mention it, my little friend." I scratched Kink's back. He closed his eyes, purring.