Friday, May 26, 2006

To Everything Turn, Turn, or Do the Hokey Pokey

It's a sad day in the Muley household today. Sad not because of anyone's death or injury, or because of any financial setback or career-related tragedy, but sad because today is the last day that we have a child in elementary school.

We've had two children in elementary school, and it's hard to remember a time when we haven't been there dropping off or picking up, or attending kindergarten graduations, Christmas programs, open houses and parent-teacher conferences. There's lots of memories of making our daughters' day by buying a special lunch and bringing it up to them as we ate with them and their friends at the small little chairs in the cafeteria. I can remember me and Mrs. Muley being room parents, bringing up cookies and drinks for classroom parties, and even one time I was persuaded to sit down in a rocking chair and read a story to the eager group of little first graders gathered around me on the floor.

What's strange is that our 10-year-old daughter is quite sad to be leaving elementary school. Now, when I was a kid, I was always happy on the last day of school, no matter what milestone might have been passed. But both my daughter and her best friend have been somber and even teary-eyed this week when the subject of the impending end of school -- and the farewell to their elementary school days -- came up. A good friend and classmate of theirs is moving to another town in a few days, so that makes it even worse.

Yesterday, Mrs. Muley and I volunteered to take time off of work and be chaperones for the fourth grade end-of-year field trip. All the students went rollerskating at the rink here in Waco and had a blast. I decided that I didn't want to spend two hours just watching kids skate, so I strapped on a battered pair of inline skates and got out onto the floor. I'm sure my daughter was probably a bit embarassed, but she'll get over it.

Looking around at all the fourth graders yesterday, it really hit me how similar, but how different, they are from my classmates when I was in fourth grade in the late 1960s. They are the same in that, well, they act like fourth graders. They boisterous and loud, and overall very happy. That world-weariness and cynicism that starts seeping in somewhere in junior high has not affected them yet. It's possibly the last pure, unadulterated spring of childhood for many of them.

However, how different these kids are from the ones I went to school with. I looked around and saw a rainbow of skin colors and backgrounds. There were black and white students, students from Hispanic, Asian and Indian backgrounds, and even three young Muslim girls who wore head coverings as they skated around the rink joyously. In my elementary school, meanwhile, located in a upper middle class suburb of Houston, we were an almost totally lily white student body. There were no blacks whatsoever, and only a few Hispanic students before anyone ever used the word "Hispanic." Our one example of true multiculturalism was a blond-headed, blue-eyed boy who had moved here from England with his parents. The only place we would have seen a group of young children as diverse as that at my daughter's school in the late 1960s would have been in a Coke commercial.

So, time passes. We'll get used to it, as we always do, but if you don't take the time and notice the changes, even if that involves a little mourning, they're likely to pass you by much too easily and quietly.

FINAL THOUGHTS: If you ever happen to find yourself being with a large group of kids at a skating rink, make sure that when they are all told to take off their skates and return them to the desk that you don't happen to walk through them as they remove said skates. I did this, and the aroma of 120 kids airing their feet after two hours of intense exercise just about brought me down on the psychedelic carpet. A form of this airborne substance is probably among the biological weapons Saddam is suspected of once hiding.

Also, if you men out there want to take on a new and fairly unique physical challenge, try using a men's restroom while wearing a pair of inline skates. I have found that it's a bit of a challenge on a tile floor to navigate a urinal while eight wheels are where your ten toes normally are. You sort of end up just rolling slowly back and forth and hoping your aim is true.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

No Pain, No Brain, Again

As I am writing this, rivulets of hard-earned sweat are coursing down my ruddy face. No, I'm not being mugged, and I'm not listening to rap lyrics (sort of the same thing, don't you think?), but I've just completed a nice long jog around campus, and I'm trying to cool off here at the public computer terminals in the Student Center.

I have begun the folly I begin about this time every year. You see, about six or seven years ago, I was someone who managed to lose about 55 pounds through nothing more than eating a sensible diet and running and lifting weights every week. I was thrilled at my success and my theretofore missing self-discipline, and physically I felt better at 39 and 40 than I did at 22.

During the following years, I managed to stay on a maintenance program that kept my metabolism high enough that I could pig out every now and then and not worry about gaining weight. I was never quite as faithful to the regimen as I was at my time of lowest poundage, but every week I managed to run three or four times and lift weights at least once. I mean, I was not in fear of answering my doorbell and seeing Richard Simmons beckoning to me with a forklift.

In the past few years, however, something has happened. That resolve I had seven years ago started gradually to slip away. I ran and lifted weights less and less, and although I still ate fairly healthy, I pigged out like someone with only a higher metabolism should.

The bottom line is, I'm now about 20 pounds above my "maintenance" weight, and about 33 pounds from where I was at my leanest, and where I'd love to get back to if I could. After a spring that saw me gradually exercising less and less, I've told myself (for about the 10th week in a row) that I've got to get back on the fitness schedule. No ifs, ands and butts.

Of course, I always end up doing these exercise comebacks the wrong way. It would be best to start a stepped-up exercise program in the winter, or at least in the early spring. That's when the weather is too cold to do a lot of yardwork (freeing up spare time), and on days when it's not actually freezing, the weather is so cool outside that it's a pleasure to go and run.

But do I take advantage of that, like an intelligent person would? No. In the winter and early spring, I'm indoors all the time, relaxing or working, and a bathing suit hardly ever gets put on. So, those extra pounds aren't as much of an embarrassment. Besides, I can hide out in nice wram sweaters, and no one seems to notice.

But when summer approaches, the sweaters come off, and I realize that in a matter of a few short weeks I will begin escorting my kids to beaches and pools and water parks. I WILL BE SEEN IN PUBLIC LOOKING LIKE LUMPY RUTHERFORD FROM 'LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.' So, I put on my shorts, run out into the humidity and heat of a late Texas spring, and begin huffing and puffing.

I know that I don't have the metabolism I did even a year ago. Then, I could run around this 500+ acre campus, and not have to stop even once. The only time I would stop was if I felt like it, or if I needed to remove a dog's teeth from my leg. Today, I must have stopped a dozen times. Instead of daydreaming and coming up with ideas for blog posts, stories and poems (which is what I used to do), my mind was focused instead on, Okay, I'll keep running to that big tree up there, and then I'll walk for a bit. No. No. I'm not going to make the big tree. Okay, I'll stop at the far side of the driveway. No. No. How about the near side of the driveway?"

But dang, it, I did it. More than 30 minutes, and this is my second day in a row. I feel good, especially since I also lifted weights at lunch. The only thing that is possibly a little troublesome is that the coeds I passed on the jogging trail, who normally are in iPod brain control mode and don't even notice me, seemed yesterday and today to be looking at me with a combination of shock and horror. I imagine they saw this 40-something guy, sucking in air like a broken bellows, and wondered if--eww, gross!--they were going to have to put to use their CPR training on a smelly heart attack victim. Of course, what they might really be thinking behind those horrified glances is

Rapist. Rapist! But thank goodness, an out-of-shape rapist I can easily outrun if it comes to that!

I've cooled off now, in body if not in mind, and it's time to go home. Maybe since I exercised today, I can eat a big dinner and have some of that cheesecake for dessert. Hmm...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Smattering of Quotes

In lieu of something original, here are some more quotes I've recently collected. Hope you enjoy them.

Since America's favorite pastime has begun again, here's one of my favorite movie quotes about baseball. It's said by an over-the-hill player remembering his short time in the major leagues.
"Yeah, I was in the show. I was in the show for 21 days once -- the 21 greatest days of my life. You know, you never handle your luggage in the show, somebody else carries your bags. It was great. You hit white balls for batting practice, the ballparks are like cathedrals, the hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains."

--Crash Davis, the minor league baseball player portrayed by Kevin Costner in "Bull Durham" (1988)

This quote from E.B. White (the author of Charlotte's Web and other classics, was bandied about a lot as an example of eerie prophecy in the days immediately following 9-11:
“A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate millions...Of all targets New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.”

––from E.B. White’s essay “Here is New York,” 1949

I will now reveal my secret:
"Writing is a way of talking without being interrupted."

--Jules Renard

The rich, they say, are different from you and me. Here's one example why:
"I go to Bloomingdale's, to the fourth floor, and I buy 2,000 of the black bras, 2,000 of the beige, 2,000 of the white. And I ship them around between the homes and the boat and that's the end of it for maybe half a year when I have to do it all over again."

--Ivana Trump

I'm reading more and more Wendell Berry these days, and he's making me think on a number of things.
"We are destroying our country -- I mean our country itself, our land...Most of us are still too sane to piss in our own cistern, but we allow others to do so and we reward them for it. We reward them so well, in fact, that those who piss in our cistern are wealthier than the rest of us."

--Wendell Berry

I continue to give away my secrets:
"Editor: a person employed by a newspaper, whose business it is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to see that the chaff is printed."

--Elbert Hubbard

Finally, every now and then Hollywood celebrities let down the facade:
"With my sunglasses on, I'm Jack Nicholson. Without them, I'm fat and 60."

--Jack Nicholson

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Wild Weather in Waco

Well pardners, last night was a fun one in Waco. We had the usual line of spring thunderstorms head to town, and we went to bed figuring on nothing more than some rain and thunder.

Well, the thunder got very loud and bad, and before long we had the entire Muley family -- two parents, two kids and two dogs -- all in our bedroom for the night. Before we got to sleep, our power went out, like it did for 22,000 other residents of the Waco area. We dug out some candles and called the power company.

I must mention that my youngest daughter, who is nine years old, is terribly afraid of bad weather. It's one of those intense, unreasoning fears where she gets terrified and can't help herself. Logical talk and explanation will not make the fear abate a whit. My wife and I were up many hours comforting her as each wave of thunderstorms rolled in. My daughter slept between us, which is a comfy fit on a queen-size bed.

The storm finally abated over our area of town, and we all managed to fall asleep. When we awoke in the morning, our power was still off. We tried calling around to see how friends and family were doing, and learned that much phone service and power was still out. Anxious to see for ourselves, and not wanting to sit around a dark house, we all got in the car and drove around. That's when we learned that the winds had wreaked havoc over a large part of Waco. There were hundreds of trees down, many in the roadways, as well as signs blown down or destroyed, porta-cans blown in the street, traffic lights out, and even some businesses with roofs blown off. Even Wal-Mart, a place you think would have their own backup generator, was dark and closed.

We drove to the home of my mother-in-law, who unfortunately had her big tree in her front yard blow down on her house:

The good thing was the tree didn't appear to have pierced her roof. The amazing thing was that my mother-in-law somehow managed to sleep through this entire storm, a storm which knocked her power out and blew a big tree on her roof. We are not really surprised by this, however. She also slept through the Texas City explosion of 1947, the Alaskan earthquake of 1964 and the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

Not really.

Anyway, we're fine, and our local weathercasters I'm sure are dubbing off those airchecks to send off to the Emmy Awards people. Tonight we have power, and my belly is full of chicken fajitas. Life is good.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Rejected Romance Novel Titles #7

Oh man, please tell me this one's fake.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Piled Higher and Deeper: The Citations

One of my jobs at the university I work for is to be the managing editor of the university's faculty/staff newsletter. This is a large, 8-12 page publication that contains lots of campus news of special importance to faculty and staff. It also contains a section that lists the recent academic accomplishments of faculty and staff, such as papers or books they've had published, lectures they've delivered or honors they've received.

This section is probably the most-read section of the newsletter. Faculty, who provide the large majority of the entries, apparently like to see their accomplishments in print, and everyone likes to look at what their colleagues are up to.

The hard thing for me is that I have to collect all the e-mails, departmental newsletters and scribbled notes sent to me by faculty and staff, then edit and assemble the information therein into readable form. The resulting entries can get quite dense and boring because, well, the subjects appear dense and boring to the layman. For example, here are some actual entries, altered only to protect the identity of the professors involved:

Dr. Richard Jones, professor of biology, had a co-authored article titled “Periphyton Nutrient Limitation and Nitrogen Fixation Potential Along a Wetland Nutrient-depletion Gradient” published in Wetlands (Vol. 16, pp. 439-448, 2005). Co-authors are Christopher Filstrup and J.Thad Scott, graduate students. He had a co-authored article titled “Recovery and Fractionation of Phosphorus Retained by Lightweight Expanded Shale and Masonry Sand Used as Media in Subsurface Flow Treatment Wetlands” published in Environmental Science and Technology (Vol. 42, pp. 4621-4627, 2005). There are multiple co-authors.

Dr. Frank Killen, professor emeritus of biology, had an article titled “Native Texas Avifauna Altered by Suburban Entrapment and Method for Easily Assessing Natural Avifaunal Value” published in Bulletin of the Texas Ornithological Society (Vol. 39, pp. 35-47, 2005).

Dr. Pamela G. Lawrence, assistant professor of English, had an article titled “The Worthwhile Life Heterodox Spinster: Frances Power Cobbe” published in A/B: Auto/Biography Studies (Vol. 21, pp. 1-18, 2005).

Dr. Brian P. Smith, professor of environmental studies, presented a lecture titled “Growth, Toxicity and Composition of Prymnesium parvum in Relation to Temperature, Light and Salinity” Oct. 15 at the Symposium on Harmful Marine Algae in the United States in Monterey, Calif.

Well, you get the idea.

One day last year, after editing and typing in what seemed like thousands of these entries, my always tenuous sanity broke its tether, and I began writing the kind of entries I would actually love to see in the academic section. Here's the alternate list I came up with. Notice I expanded the list to include the accomplishments of persons who are, shall we say, outside the academy.

Dr. Rusty Blade, hillbilly surgeon, had an article titled “Ooh-Wee! It’s A Biggun!: Memorable Goiters I Have Removed” published in Appalachian Medical Gazette and Seed Catalog (Vol. 14, No. 4, pp.18-23).

Chantay DeMilo, performance artist, presented a one-woman exhibition of underarm hair paintings titled “My Pits as Palette” Aug. 20-Sept. 24 at Barney’s House of Barf, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Rama Lama Ding Dong, newly enlightened master and The Vram and Mehta Rastipnul Chair of Advanced Mysticism and Weird Stuff, channeled the incoherent ravings of Ibin Takin, a 14th century Mongol maintenance worker, Oct. 22 at a Psychic Hotline training session in Altoona, Pa.

Irving Feinberg, retired mucilage tester, presented “Color Photographs of My Recent Hernia and Hemorrhoid Operations” Sept. 4 at the Show and Tell Supper, Days O’ Rest Nursing Home, Boise, Idaho.

Gash, abdominal artist, had a tattoo and body piercing collage titled “The Naked Anna Nicole Smith Tortured by Zulu Warriors” displayed on the stomach of Dank Sellar, homeless person, in Los Angeles, Ca.

Dr. Chauncey Leezay, professor of postmodern art, had an exhibition titled “Klunk: Discarded Auto Mufflers as Found Art” Oct. 13-31 at the Hot Wheels Institute in Matchbox, Tennessee.

Stig McNasty, drummer for the Intestinal Worms, presented “How to Cop A Plea on a Charge of Indecency With a Minor” Sept. 27 to his AA support group in Leeds, England.

Juan D. Tenure, junior lecturer in English, had an article titled “Shakespeare’s Use of the Semicolon” published in Wasted Paper (Vol. 32, No. 8, pp. 6-7).

Whomp, Neanderthal chemist, presented “Rub Powders Together Go BOOM! Burn Hair Stink Bad” at the “Rock on Rock” demolition conference, second cave past the tar pits.

Brother Stuf Jam Yomamma, lead singer for Limp Weasel, had a song titled “Whack The Mutha in the Face Wit’ Yo @&*$*!” released as a single by Profane Records, Hollywood, Ca.

Numerous faculty members from various departments within the University made multiple presentations at the annual mid-winter conference titled “Very Important and Crucial Matters of the Highest Intellectual Import Which Defy Explanation to Untutored Laymen” held Jan. 2-27 at Buzz Tingler’s Nude Resort and Casino, Virgin Islands.
Today's quote:

"Midway on our life's journey I found myself in a dark wood."

--First line of Dante's Inferno

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Random Observations and Trivial Events

1. What do you think when you see a place of business sporting a sign that says “under new manage- ment?” Does it inspire a positive response in you? My feeling is that the only businesses that display such a sign are ones that have gained quite a bad reputation, either for bad service, bad products or both. I mean, if a successful business had built up a sterling reputation in the community, the last thing a smart new owner would want to do is to let people know the management had changed, for fear that they would begin to have doubts about whether the quality would continue. Right? In short, the only business owners wanting to advertise a change in management are the ones who sincerely hope those past unpleasant incidents with food poisoning or sexual misconduct or police raids will soon be forgotten.

2. Once a year, the City of Waco graciously holds something called a “Hazardous Waste Day,” where you can haul down all the stuff they deem hazardous – old paint cans, old batteries, unused lighter fluid, motor oil, etc. – and dump it for no charge. My question is, why do they only have these special days once a year? Yes, I imagine they cost the city money, but do they think people wait patiently for an entire year before throwing away things like old paint and oil? Sheesh, no. If there’s not an easy way of disposing of it safely, then we will likely toss it in the weekly garbage, where it will be taken to the landfill, and cost a lot more in the long run in terms of trash, cancer-causing agents and the underground creation of large, radioactive monsters that arise from the dump and wreak havoc on surrounding suburbs.

3. Here on campus I see all these college students looking bleary-eyed lately, and I know they are high on caffeine and going without sleep studying for finals. For all I know, it’s the first time they’ve studied all semester. I remember the stress and fear that came with finals, and I’m tempted to really feel sorry for the students, but then I remember that after a week of taking tests, they’ve got three months to basically sleep in late, party and do nothing they don’t want to do. Let ‘em suffer awhile, I say.

4. I know this probably sounds goofy, but I’ve seen the trailer for the new “Poseidon Adventure” movie (a re-make) that’s opening this month, and I want to see it. The original movie (the one where Shelley Winters constantly got stuck and Ernest Borgnine complained all the way through) was one of my favorites as a kid.

5. I was behind a college student at the convenience store the other day, and I noticed that she bought one item – a large bottled water – and paid for it with a credit card. I thought, this says something about modern society in a nutshell. We’re paying for things like water that we could easily get for free, and to do it, we’re in effect borrowing money from a bank at interest. I’ve done this before, too (with Dr Pepper, of course), so I’m not exempt.

6. I have been unable to finish a book, cover to cover, these last two or three months. Some books I have gotten almost all the way through, some I have gotten to the end of only by skipping big parts in the middle, and some I’ve abandoned after only a few chapters. But there's not one book I have read every word of. A lot of these were great books, classics, ones I was excited about reading, so I can’t blame the material. What is my problem?

7. On second thought, don't answer that.

Today’s quote:

”Do you think we should drive a stake through his heart just in case?”

--Actor Peter Lorre, to Vincent Price at Bela Lugosi’s funeral