Thursday, January 29, 2009

The View From Outside

So here I am standing on the side of a Pennsylvania superhighway in a snowstorm, with 18-wheeler’s whizzing by just inches from my car. Sure, it sounds fun, but actually it’s a little nerve-wracking. I’m out here parked on the apron because my windshield wiper is falling off. My fingers are showing signs of frostbite as I fumble with a broken "refill". Snow turns to sleet, then freezing rain, as I frantically try to shove those limp rubber sleeves back into the wiper arm. It’s a losing effort, and those tractor trailers are getting closer by the minute.

Bet you didn’t know that when cars were first invented, drivers had to crank the wipers by hand. Either that or they just drove along, blindly, hoping they would somehow get to their destination safely. If they were lucky, they’d hit something non-vital; a cow, a moose or perhaps a member of Congress.

Ah, but progress came quickly. Car travel became much safer with the advent of automatic windshield wipers. An unfortunate side effect: the number of Congress members began to rebound. Automatic windshield wipers were invented in 1921. They were originally called "Folberths". No joke. Many people believe the device was named after its inventors, Fred and William Folberth. But in fact, the term "Folberth" is derived from the ancient Moldavian “Fol-broke-ee”. This term was used to describe something that frequently went haywire. "Folberth's" were not especially reliable.

Inventor Robert Kearns patented intermittent wipers in 1967. Kearns later sued some of the major carmakers for using his device and won a bazillion dollar settlement. This eventually led to financial ruin for the Big Three, GM, Ford, and Delta. Kearns’ financial windfall was such a tremendous financial blow to corporate America it eventually triggered the present day "Wall Street Meltdown". So when you look at your dwindling 401k you can thank Robert Kearns. And who can blame you for feeling a little "Fol-broke-ee" when you see your plunging bottom line.

Modern windshield wipers work very well. On the rare occasion they would wear out, you just bought “refill blades" at any auto parts store for a couple of dollars. What a money saver for consumers!

But those bankrupt Automakers were having none of it. They started selling a bewildering variety of windshield "refills". There were so many different sizes and shapes that consumers would often buy two or three pairs before finding the right ones. This produced some impressive financial gains. But it wasn’t enough. The Automakers needed more. And they got it, thanks to Automotive Engineer, Stanley Imgwanna Robbublind. Robbublind designed an entirely new windshield wiper arm pre-loaded with the "refill" wiper blade. So now, when you, Joe Driver, go to the store to buy refills, it ain't gonna happen. Instead of buying a couple of "refills", now you gotta buy the entire windshield wiper apparatus. The whole mushugana! And it costs like $5 to $10 per Wiper Arm! Even more if you drive a luxury car. You Lexus and Mercedes owners might want to bring some collateral and a loan officer.

I resisted buying the entire pre-loaded windshield wiper arm assembly for a couple of years. I'd been sneaking around, buying wiper "refills" on the black market. But it's getting harder and harder to find wiper "refills" that work.

All of this information was pinballing through my subconscious as I stood next to that highway, in the snow, desperately trying to re-install my ruptured wiper refills. That's when I caved in like the stock market. I went to the store, ponied up $4.63 and bought the entire wiper arm complete with the pre-loaded "refill" blade. Now, can somebody please explain how to attach this thing to my car?

Copyright 2009

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No part can be reprinted or reused in any way without express written permission from the author.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Christmas Memories, Call the Vet!

Our big surprise this past Christmas was chocolate flavored dog poop. There’s a mental image that’ll put some Ho Ho in your Holiday. As you may recall, my wife Trina & I own a golden retriever named Mika. And this time, Mika did a little foraging after everyone finished opening their presents. When nobody was looking, she cleaned out a tray filled with mixed nuts. Not good but tolerable. Then she downed an entire bowl of trail mix, including glazed bananas, raisins and other assorted fruit products. That’s probably bad. Emboldened, our precious pooch pounced again, devouring a whole bag of Hershey’s Kisses. That’s an explosive combination for anyone, man, dog, or even one of the Olsen twins. Did you know that googling “Olsen Twins” gets like four million hits?

When I was a kid we had a German Schnauzer named Heidi. She was a chow hound with a legendary appetite. And just like Mika, Heidi always went to work at Christmas time. Whenever we trimmed the tree, Heidi would start prospecting for precious metals. We always knew what she’d been up to. Eventually, long silver strands of tinsel would emerge from her backside, a semaphore signal of yuletide greetings we could’ve done without.

For pets, Christmas ‘tis the season for feasting’ on stuff they’re just not supposed to eat. We can’t put any ribbons on the gifts. That’s because our cat Barney will chew them up and swallow them. It’s like Lays Potato Chips. He can’t eat just one. Barney will gobble ribbons until he erupts, a Vesuvius-like blast of gaily-colored bits of gooey fluff. Speaking of erupting…

When we realized that Mika had eaten a boatload of snacks we went through all five stages of emotional response.

Denial: “No way my angel would eat that crap.”

Bargaining: “Mika, if you give it back we’ll let you drive the car home with the top down.”

Anger: Trina, this is all your fault!

Despair: “It’s hopeless, we’re horrible dog poisoners.”

And finally, Acceptance: “Hey, It could be worse. It’s not like she’s shaved her head and joined a cult.”

Five stages or not, OMG! Chocolate can be poisonous for dogs! Do we give her the heimlich? Maybe we should stick a finger down her throat? Ewww! Is there such a thing as a Doggy Stomach Pump? Trina, who always travels with a pet emergency book, does some quick research. She says Mika should be okay. But Mika may display some minor symptoms in the next 12 to 18 hours. So all Christmas day, we hover over our dog. “Maybe we should give her some ginger ale?”, I offer. Trina goes back to stage three and tells me what I can do with that idea. At bed time Mika is perfectly fine. I awake at 4:00am to the sound of heavy breathing. No, it’s not Trina. It’s Mika, disgorging her stash of ill-gotten goodies all over the rug. In the dark, I slosh across the floor, stumbling to the door with a heaving dog in tow. Outside, Mika triumphantly finishes the job. Happily, we return to our beds, disaster averted. The next morning, under the Christmas tree, we find one last holiday gift. It’s a great big pile of dog poop, festively decorated with foil candy wrappers. Thank God Barney only eats ribbon.

Copyright 2009

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No part can be reprinted or reused in any way without express written permission from the author

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Promise of the Presidency

Tomorrow, Barack Obama becomes the nation’s 44th President. It will be an historic moment. But I find myself looking to the future and the daunting challenge Obama is about to face. An economy that’s cratered like George W’s approval ratings? No, more daunting than that. An unemployment rate that’s billowing up like Britney’s mini skirt? Not that either. Could it be simultaneous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that threaten to crush world stability like a swift kick to the groin? Nope. And it’s not the nuclear nut cakes in charge of North Korea and Iran. The Palestinians and the Israelis? Get real.
The leader of the free world, the upholder of American Ideals, the Grand Poohbah of all us Poohs, has made a solemn promise. He’s promised his two girls, they’re getting a puppy. Good work, Barack. Up until the puppy promise, your future was looking pretty good. But now, on top of all those other problems, you're going to the dogs.
I think most of us would like to see an All-American dog as the Presidential pooch. Something regal. But there’s a doggie dilemma heading for the White House. Obama says their family dog has to come from a shelter. And it has to be a non-shedding variety because one of the girl’s has allergies. Suddenly, we’re looking at a Mexican Hairless. We Americans like our Chief Executives to be decisive. But after weeks of dithering, the doggie debate rages on. So far, Obama says finding a dog has been tougher than naming a commerce secretary. That’s gotta make his cabinet members proud. In his defense, the incoming President has narrowed it down to either a Portuguese Water dog or a Labradoodle.
Joe Biden kept his dog ambitions to himself. He just drove up to a kennel and picked out a German Shepard. Joe doesn’t even have little girls at home. Maybe he’s just trying to show his boss that he's a decision-maker. The saying goes, In Washington, if you want a friend, buy a dog. George Bush had two friends, a pair of Scottish Terriers. Clinton had a dog too. Clinton’s best friend was a Yellow Labrador Retriever named Buddy.
So, let’s imagine that President Obama finally gets a dog. Who’s gonna housebreak him? Here’s a hint. It won’t be Michelle. The Commander-In-Chief is gonna look damned Presidential chasing some mutt around the South lawn waving a pooper scooper.
And then there’s the obedience issue. Bill Clinton hired a famous dog trainer to keep Buddy from acting out with visiting dignitaries. I can’t describe Buddy’s talent exactly, but it rhymes with thumping. Hard to believe Bill Clinton’s dog had that sort of problem…
My parents had a difficult dog, a Welsh Terrier named Teddy. By difficult I mean the damned dog would bite. And he refused to follow orders. ‘Sit’, ‘stay’, ‘for the love of god, let go of my hand!’ He ignored everything we said. So we took him to the same trainer who handled Buddy. True story! After a two week stay the train
er told us Teddy was “too smart” to train. And our uneducated Teddy lived to be a very old dog.
Mr. Obama needs to be very careful. He needs to choose a dog that
will make his girls happy, and one that will make America proud. He’ll be done with the economy, the North Koreans, and even the Iraqis in eight short years at the most. But whatever dog he picks may be around a lot longer. There's no presidential pardon on this one. It could be a very Ruff choice.

Copyright 2008

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