Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Day with the Moose People

As you probably know by now, I play pool in a league that meets every Monday night. The league plays three “sessions” every year that last for 14 weeks each. At the end of each session, the top three teams and one “wild card” team play a series of playoff matches. The ultimate winning team goes to the Tri-Cup tournament, where they compete with other winning teams. Win two rounds at the Tri-Cup tournament, and you move on to the Cities championship tournament. If you win three times at the Cities tournament, the league pays for your entire team to fly to Las Vegas to compete in the National Championship tournament. It’s the absolute goal that every team lusts after.

Unfortunately we did not win our playoff round last session. However, Russell (our team captain) got a call from the league a few weeks later, informing him of the date and time of the Tri-Cup tournament. “But we didn’t win,” Russell protested.

“I have you on my sheet,” the league responded, “If you don’t show up, your opponents will get a default win. Just come and play, nobody will make an issue out of it if you don’t say anything.”

So as a result of this clerical error, our team showed up today for the Tri-Cup tournament, which is played in a Moose Lodge hall. The league owns a bunch of 7-foot pool tables that are assembled for this tournament, including table lights. The tournament lasts one day, then the tables and lights are removed and stored until the end of the next session. The Moose Lodge sells drinks and food, putting up with a bunch of noisy pool players for a day to raise a little cash.

Here’s the hall, set up for one day of pool:


Teams sit at folding tables set up at the ends of the pool tables. Between each row of pool tables is an “isolation row” where competitors must sit when it’s not their shot. This is to ensure that other members of their team can’t coach them:


When we arrived, we were given our paperwork for the first round, and an envelope containing $100, which was our prize money for winning the playoffs, which we had not won. We were laughing giddily about it, wondering if it was some kind of FBI sting operation.

We put up our first player, and the match began. I wandered around the Moose Lodge, which was decorated with lots of moose-related stuff, some of which was creepy. This painting is hung beneath a large, blood-red, heart-shaped lamp. It depicts a small child praying, with the words, “God Bless Mooseheart” printed in the lower right.


I wandered into an area where there was an old man sitting beneath a gigantic moose head, which had a small Moose Lodge hat stuck between the antlers. “Do you want to join the lodge?” he asked. “We need young people like you.”


“I’m not that young,” I said, “I’ll be 60 next month.”

“I’m 86,” he said, “Everybody looks young to me.”

“Thanks, but I’m not really interested,” I told him.

“We have ballroom dancing every Saturday night,” he said, and then looked at me as though he had said the magic words.

I politely declined again, then headed over to the bar. Because the Moose Lodge is a private club, they had to station a member at the bar, whose only function was to transfer the money for each order. I couldn’t pay the bartender directly; I had to give it to the member, who handed it to the bartender, who then handed me my drink, even if it was just a Dr. Pepper.

My team had to win 3 out of 5 matches to advance to the next round. My team captain selected the members of our team that would play, and we won in four matches – I didn’t play. In the second round that afternoon, we once again won in four matches, and once again, I didn’t even pick up a cue. We turned in our paperwork, and were given another envelope containing $260. We looked nervously around for unmarked police cars in the parking lot, agreed to split up the ill-gotten loot on Monday night, and then headed for home. We’ll play in the Cities Tournament in June, 2008, and hopefully we’ll do just as well, whether we deserve it or not.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Nothing is Illuminated

I had a minor fender-bender the other day, in which I rear-ended an SUV on wet pavement. Nobody was hurt, the airbags didn’t deploy, but the rear-mounted spare tire on the SUV put a huge dent in my hood. So I called the insurance company and took the car to a body shop. Fortunately, my insurance included vehicle rental.

A young woman from Enterprise picked me up in one of the ugliest cars I’ve ever seen, called a Chevy HHR. “I think it looks like a hearse,” she said with a grimace. Of course, they gave me one at the rental office.


Last night when I was driving it in the dark, I noticed an irritating bright white light just over the rear-view mirror. It’s very tiny, just an LED in a little recessed hole, but there wasn’t any label to indicate its function, and no switch to turn it off. It only comes on when the headlights are on. The thing is just bright enough to be annoying, but not bright enough to be useful for reading maps or anything. It can’t be dimmed using the dashboard dimmer.


So today I opened the Owner’s Manual, and after thumbing through hundreds of pages, I found not a single mention of this light. It doesn’t appear on any of the interior control diagrams, it’s not described in the section on interior lighting, there doesn’t appear to be a fuse for it. Nothing. I went to the Chevrolet Web site, and once again, found nothing.

By now I was getting caught up in the mystery, so I called Chevrolet and was greeted by someone named Sandy Jensen, who had a distinctive Indian accent. I wondered if she’s a member of the UAW. Probably not.

I described the little light to her, and she took my number and promised to call me back. Half an hour later, she told me she couldn’t find any mention of it in any of her research material. She said she’d contact a dealer and inquire about it and get back to me. A couple of hours later, she called me back and said, “The dealer has assured me that there is no light mounted in that location in that vehicle.”

Completely exasperated, I took the following time-exposure photo and solved the mystery:


The little LED light is an accent light, used to illuminate the instrument panel. The problem is, the instrument panel is already illuminated by many little bright lights that compete with the accent light so that you can’t see it under normal circumstances. But you can see it glaring into your eyes when driving at night.

The problem is easily rectified with a small piece of electrical tape. But what troubles me is that General Motors doesn’t know about it. Maybe they’re so busy managing offshore workers like Sandy Jensen, they sometimes forget about all of the cool, useful features they’ve designed into their products.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Just Say I Don't Know

If there’s one thing worse than ignorance, it’s not admitting that you’re ignorant. If you don’t know the answer to a question, the shame of admitting it is far less than the shame you incur trying to bluff your way through it.

I run into this most often in the grocery store. I’ll meander around the store for some obscure product that my wife sent me to get, such as clam juice or yeast. Eventually, I give up and grab one of the stock people and ask them where it is.

The result is always the same. Rather than say, “No clue, sir,” the stock person then leads me up one aisle and down the other searching for the product I asked for, as though I can’t manage to do that on my own.

Sometimes I confront them: “Hey, if you don’t know where it is, tell me. I can wander around looking for it without your help.”

They look at me blankly and then say, “Maybe it’s in one of the refrigerated cases…” and they take off, obstinately refusing to admit they don’t know.

Today, my wife sent me for some sinus medication – Sudafed PE Non Drying Sinus. I went to Walgreen’s and proceeded directly to the Cold and Allergy section. There were maybe 20 different kinds of sinus remedies there, but I couldn’t find that particular item. Some of the items had been replaced by cards informing me that I could only get them from the pharmacy desk, due to people using them to cook meth.

I went to the pharmacy desk and asked one of the clerks if they carry the product. She said, “Let me look,” and came out to the Cold and Allergy section, where she peered at the products on the shelf, as though this strategy had never occurred to me.

“You don’t have it on the shelf,” I said. “I already looked.”

“Let me ask the pharmacist,” she replied, and hustled back to the pharmacy desk.

A few minutes later, the pharmacist came down to the Cold and Allergy section, and peered at the shelf, as though her employee had somehow done it incorrectly. I couldn’t believe she left customers waiting for their heart medication to look at the shelf for me, as though I had some disability that prevented me from reading the packages. I tapped her on the shoulder, and said, “I’ve already looked here. The girl from the pharmacy looked here also. I don’t think you carry it.”

She turned to me, and with a straight face said, “I don’t see it here.” What followed was an uncomfortable silence, as I tried not to bite my tongue in half. All they had to say was “I don’t know,” and I wouldn’t be sitting here now building a pipe bomb.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Birth of Lizzie

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been working very hard trying to overcome years of shameful neglect in my yard. In Florida, if you neglect your yard for 1 year, it means you’ll have to buy a machete.

Because the work is so grueling, my wife has been trying to talk me out of it, in the interest of my well-being. She’d rather I wait until November, when things start to cool off, and she’s less likely to find me slumped in the weeds. But I worry that the shrubs I’m planting won’t survive the winter if I don’t get them in the ground early so they have time to root properly (we do get frosty nights occasionally in Central Florida).

She went to Miami with a friend this weekend, so on Saturday, I couldn’t wait for her to hit the road so I could run outside and start working. The friend parked in my wife’s spot in the garage, the two of them drove off, and I grabbed my tools.

I had a triangular-shaped planting bed that I wanted to edge with blocks, but unfortunately, there were three sprinkler heads that had been placed too close to the edge of the planting bed, where they would be covered with the blocks. So I dug them up and had to re-pipe each of them to move a mere 2 inches.

Next, I weeded the planting bed. I kept digging up these little pea-sized white things, which on closer inspection turned out to be rubbery eggs of some kind. I told my daughter about it, and she became very excited at the prospect that they might be snake eggs. She put them in a jar with some sand, and the next day found a tiny lizard in the jar. The following day, there were two lizards.


On Sunday, I made a jig to set the blocks in the soil at an even depth and only had to cut two blocks to fit at the apex of the triangle. In this photo you can see one of the sprinklers I had to re-pipe, just at the junction of the two blocks:


Unfortunately, I forgot to close the garage door while I was cutting the blocks in the driveway with a masonry blade, and found the two cars and everything else inside covered with a fine, gritty pink dust.