Friday, December 28, 2012


I've been traveling this holiday, so this one will have to be brief.

As we come to a close of another year, it's time to start getting a resolution list together. Here's one that I intend to make next year: get my act together. More planning, less reacting. That kind of stuff.

For example, I resolve to be like those people who send christmas greetings in the mail each year. For those who sent us a greeting, I'm impressed. Thank you, we do appreciate the thought and snapshot of you and your little ankle biters. The greetings get a special space on our fridge and stay up there for nearly the entire year, mostly because I don't have my act together enough to tidy up afterward. (Another resolution for next year, noted).

I had every intention of sending a greeting of our own this year. That goes for last year and the year(s) before, too. Like this one, which goes back a few years, before I was married and before my kid brother Brendan was born.

Oh well, better late than never.  Happy Holidays everyone. Be safe and stay healthy.

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Favorite Christmas Present Ever. Like Ever.

What was the greatest Christmas present you ever received under the tree? I've had some good ones over the years.

The big wheel from Santa was undoubtedly breath taking.

A few years later, the wind-up Evel Knievel stunt bike from Ideal brought hours of entertainment.

The problem of receiving gifts like these was in trying top the experience year over year. That's all fine and dandy when you start off with rootie toot toots and rummie tum tums, but what happens when you climb all the way up to the top and have yourself an  Evel Knievel Christmas? Where do you go from there?

Flying Finnegan. That's where.

Flying Finnegan was a Kenner's answer to Milton Bradley's Mouse Trap board game. In Mouse Trap, you built this rube goldberg contraption as your mouse moves around the board collecting cheese. Once the trap was built, you hoped to avoid elimination by not landing on the crank wheel case, for doing so could lead to... MOUSE TRAP!

Flying Finnegan was like Mouse Trap, but supposedly better. Better because instead of building a mouse trap, you built a circus with a flying trapeze that launched Finnegan across the room and into a shark tank.

I can just imagine the Kenner marketing wizards pitching the idea.

Kenner Rep 1: "Hey, how's this sound: 'Flying Finnegan, like Mouse trap only better!'"
Kenner Rep 2: "Ew, ew! What about this: "'Flying Finnegan: think Mouse Trap with circus freaks and a shark jum--'"
Kenner Rep 3: "-- Circus freaks? Might as well say 'trailer park trash' while you're at it. No. We have got to believe that we built a better, uh, mouse trap. I mean, we got ourselves a frickin' shark jump don't we? No, we don't need anything fancy slogans, just a picture of two snot-nosed kids  --with hands waving in front of them for dramatic effect -- with the banner, "FLYING FINNEGAN, ACTION GAME OF SKILL AND DARING" right above Finnegan as he's going into the sharks. Shoot, it'll be a slam dunk!
-- Reps 1 and 2 sat dumbfounded, jaws agape --
Marketing Rep 3: "Anyway, no worries, PT Barnum's already shown that a sucker is born every minute."

I was one of those suckers. I wanted it. No. I needed it. No. I must have it, that Christmas. Resolved, my greedy mitts ripped the page right out of the Sears Roebuck and presented it to my parents. No Red Rider BB Guns, no Zeppelins, just Flying Finnegan. Thank you.

Christmas morning came and Flying Finnegan was under the tree with my name on it. I tore in and had it set up in minutes. The first few launches had Finnegan wildly missing the shark tank. But with each attempt, my range and accuracy improved until I finally dropped Finnegan right into that shark tank. The lid snapped shut with a loud bell. It was exactly like the picture of those bratty kids above. I repeated the process.  Finnegan again flies through the air, lands smack in the middle of that tank, lid shuts and bell dings. Sweet. Again, shark tanks, ding. Again, sharks, ding...

After a couple of more tries, I hated that game.

As it turned out, Flying Finnegan was a complete bust. It took about five minutes to master and then it was totally boring after that. I suppose the silver lining was that it taught this third grader a valuable life lesson on Moore's Law of diminishing returns. But it was a cruel lesson to learn at a young age. Flying Finnegan ruined the thrill of Christmas for me.

By the time I was in eighth grade, I could care less if I received a gadget or another acrylic sweater. It was all the same.

That was, until a pair of Bauer Turbo hockey skates appeared under the tree.

The timing couldn't have been better. That winter, a strong cold snap fell upon our hometown of Kirkwood (St Louis, MO). The golf course's hole #12's lake had completely frozen over, creating a perfect opportunity to learn how to skate. My brothers, who also received skates, and I spent our entire Christmas holiday at the lake. These were all day affairs. It wasn't pretty at first. But as soon as I got some of the basics down, I tackled the cross over, skating backwards, and then even the backwards crossover. When it snowed, we brought shovels to clear a sheet. Others arrived from around the area for pickup hockey. I was no Wayne Gretzky, but by then end of that winter, I could skate and manage a puck well enough.

I never outgrew of those skates because I stopped growing that year. I've still got them. And use them, too. That's 28 years worth of usage! Looky here, from this past weekend with Ms Katherine at ConAgra's downtown rink:

Thanks for the blades, Mom and Dad. It was my favorite Christmas present ever.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Bat, a Cat, a Dog and a Kat

As I mentioned previously, this past week's bat wasn't the first in our house. We had one a few years ago.

I was in the basement working on my bike. I heard a blood curdling scream upstairs from my wife, Kat.

I hurried upstairs to find Kat shrieking and eeeking while running around the dining room table.

Behind her was a bat. The bat, while chasing Kat, was flipity-flapping his wings every which way, causing its flight to suddenly droop and swoop.

Just then, our house cat Newton entered the room. Newton was attempting to catch the bat, the bat that was right behind Kat.

When the bat's flippity-flappings caused his flight to droop and swoop, the cat tried to pounce and trounce.

This commotion roused our dog Emmylou from her nap.

The dog came howling and growling just as Kat, being chased by the bat, being chased by the cat, went past.

OK, got it everyone? Sing along now! On three: one, two, three:

Kat shrieked and eeeked,
while the bat drooped and swooped
and the cat pounced and trounced
and the dog growled and howled...

I scratched my head and scowled, while I thought of ways to fix the situation.

Kat, the dog and the cat belonged here.

The bat needed to go.

But how, with the dog chasing the cat chasing the bat chasing Kat?

Kat was first. I grabbed her on the next pass and diverted her into the bathroom. "Wait here," I said while shutting the door.

Next came the dog, still chasing the cat chasing the bat.

I corralled the dog into the den and commanded, "Stay Emmy!" and shut the door.

Then came the cat chasing the bat. A furry-fury ensued, but into the sun-room went Newton. "Scat," said I, and then shut the door.

Whew. No Kat, no dog and no cat. I could now deal with the bat.

I opened the front door and grabbed a blanket from the couch before going back to the dining room.

The bat was there, still swooping and drooping, despite neither cat, nor dog nor Kat.

When the bat came around, I opened the blanket as wide as I could. Success! The bat was diverted into the living room.

In the living room, I stood near the open front door.  When the bat made another pass, I opened the blanket once more....

... and out he flew through the front door.

But then -- just as it cleared the stoop -- Shim popped out from behind a bush.

"I GOT THIS BARRY!" he whooped.

The bat swooped just as Shim scooped. It flew right into Shim's hand --and then Shim promptly bit its head off and spit blood and grimy guts everywhere.

The end.

Alternate ending:
My apologies for those who intended to use as a bed time story for young children. Don't fret, I've put together an alternate family-friendly version here.

The The end.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Wayne Manor, Part 2 of 2

In case you missed it, we had an interesting Monday morning on North 52nd Street this past week. Like most Mondays, I got up at 5:00 AM to go to the Omaha masters swimming workout. As I made coffee, I heard a strange sound coming from the basement: running water. To be more precise, it was running water hitting my basement floor that was strange. That's not a sound you want to hear at 5:00 AM, or anytime, for that matter. I went downstairs to discover a pond forming from water gushing from behind the washing machine. Apparently, its hose had ruptured sometime overnight.

The first step to resolving a problem like this was getting it under control. That meant stopping the flow of water. Fortunately, there was a shut-off valve at the source. I went to close the valve, but with one quarter twist, the valve's handle snapped off in my hand. Crap! The water was still gushing.

No problem. I sloshed across the basement and grabbed a pipe wrench from the work bench. This crisis would be over shortly.

Nope. That valve was really stuck. The wrench rounded the valve stem, stripping all the threads in the procsss. The valve itself didn't budge. Double crap! The water was still gushing.

I re-sloshed across the floor to the work bench for a garden hose splitter: one that has valves allowing the user to control which (if any) hose gets the water. Fortunately, the splitter screwed right on and I was able to shut it off completely.

Also fortunate was the fact that my basement is unfinished, and aside from two area rugs that were ruined, the water didn't cause any real damage. And since the concrete floor has a floor drain in it, I thought I'd give the drain a chance to handle the inch of standing water while I went to swimming practice. Time: 5:14 AM

Ninety minutes later, the water had subsided some. I spent the next 30 minutes as a one man bucket brigade, scooping the water into a bucket and dumping it into yard waste trash can. After the water was completely removed from the basement, I got the mop out to finish cleaning up.

That's when I found a brown fuzzy thing hanging upside down above the utility sink.

"That's weird," I thought. "That looks like a mouse. But why is that mouse stuck to the wall, all upside down and everything?"

I got a little closer and noticed the dark wings folded beneath her body.

Nice. My basement has a bat in it.

Golly, what a Monday morning! Let's recap. A minorly flooded basement. A broken, stripped water shut-off valve that required a garden hose adapter to close it. 3,200 yards at the swimming pool, a trip to the hardware store for replacement washing machine hoses, a bucket brigade, mopping. And now a bat. Sheesh! It wasn't even 9:00AM yet.

Before I did anything else, I called Katherine down to showoff how resourceful her husband was. I displayed the ruptured washing machine hose, the broken valve, the stripped valve stem, the garden hose adapter and even retraced the circumference of the water's high mark. I wanted to make a big impression. You know, to ham it up a little and show her how fortunate she was to be married to such a resourceful (and handsome) man. Until this point, I said nothing about the bat. The bat was my Ace in the hole.

At just the right moment, when Katherine's eyes were starting to glaze over with boredom, I pointed to the fuzzy brown spot above the utility sink and asked her if she knew what that was.

"I don't know, what is it?" she asked as she got a little closer.

Wait for it. She moved a little closer. Wait for it...even closer. Then she stopped dead in her tracks...

"A bat." I said proudly.

"Eeeeeek!" And just like that, Katherine was no longer in the basement.


I put on a flannel shirt, heavy working gloves and grabbed a towel. Towels are awesome. So many uses.

The bat was clueless of what was going on. One moment, he's dreaming he's in the dark cavern of Wayne Manor, gushing waterfalls, ponds and all; the next moment he's enveloped in 100% Egyptian cotton, placed in a cardboard box and being set outside in the cold light of day.


This wasn't the first bat in our house.