And then there were two…


Because of a recent illness, I will no longer be posting here.  In fact, Bob may soon have a friend to share his shadowy existence.

Actually, that sounds like it could be fun!  Be sure and keep an eye on the bar room shadows, where ever you find your refuge.   You never know who might be lurking there…


Ghosts of cell phones past…

Here’s the cell phone you left in here the other day.  Sorry about that — our resident ghost is something of a kleptomaniac.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to have somebody call my cell phone so that I can find it.

Bob’s not as bad as Polly, however.  Oh, have I never told you about Polly the pooka?  Yeah, we share our home with a pooka — just like Elwood P. Dowd, although Polly’s not a rabbit.  She’s more of a giant spider.

Me neither — spiders make my skin crawl.  But you can get used to anything if you have enough time.  You got a few minutes?  Well then, tonight being All Hallows Eve, this would be a good time to fill you in, in case you ever visit me at home.

At first She Who Must Be Obeyed and I thought we were just forgetful.  You know, you mislay stuff and later find the milk jug in the clothes closet.  But then came the day of the toilet paper.  Let’s see…it would have been about 1968.  I was in the Air Force at the time.  It was the end of the month, so we’d cashed my check and gone to the base exchange.  Arriving home with a month’s worth of groceries, we took awhile to unpack the car, then we sat on the couch to rest a bit.  I propped my feet up on the coffee table (remember this — it will become important later).

Later I went to the bathroom to “think” awhile.  Coming out, I found Her in the kitchen.  “Where did you put the toilet paper?”

“What toilet paper?”

“You know, the giant, economy package we bought.  The one that was about three feet tall.”

“I don’t remember seeing it.  Maybe you unpacked it…?”

“Maybe I left it in the car.”  No, it turned out, I didn’t leave anything in the car.  I even looked in the trunk, although we didn’t pack any of the groceries in the trunk.  And then we turned the house upside down and inside out.  No toilet paper.

“Well, cripes,” I said.  “We must have left it at the BX somehow.  Give me the car keys and I’ll run back and ask around.”

“I don’t have the car keys — you drove us home.”

“Well, I don’t have them.”

“Search your pockets again.”

“Nope, not there.”  So we looked all over for the car keys.  Nada.  Finally, at Her suggestion, I went out to look in the car ignition.  Again, nada.  Shaking my head, I came back inside.

The front door of the house we were renting opened directly into the living room.  I opened the door and stopped.  Sitting in the middle of the coffee table, right where my feet had been, was the giant package of toilet tissue.  And on top of the package were the car keys.  I started to get mad.

“That’s not funny!”

“What’s not funny?”  I could barely hear Her voice coming from the bedroom down the hall.

“Where was it?  Where did you hide it?”  My face was probably purple by this point.

“What in the world are you…” She was coming out of the hallway when She spotted the paper.  She turned to me with such a look of innocence I couldn’t doubt Her.  “Where did you find it?”

“Right where it’s sitting.”

“Uhhhhhhh…yeah.”  We both sidled up to the package and gingerly poked at it, trying to find out if it was really there.  It was.

After that, we started to pay attention.  Sure enough, there were times when, like everyone, we’d mislay stuff.  But those items were quickly found by simply retracing our steps.  But there were those other times when something we’d just had would simply disappear — to be returned to some place in plain sight when Polly was given her due.  Due to the prankish nature of the activity, we first thought we had a poltergeist. But after a little research, we found that the symptoms really didn’t fit.  There were no fires, few noises, and nothing was ever thrown.  Then we thought maybe we were being haunted, but, again, the symptoms didn’t fit (the entity, whatever it was, tended to follow me around, whereas ghosts seem to pretty much stay put in a given location).  Eventually, we figured out that Polly was a pooka.  Why she chose my life to enliven, I’ll never know.  But enliven it, she does.

For example, the other day I was tightening a handle on my dresser drawer. I got it the way I wanted, lay my screwdriver aside, repacked all the stuff I’d removed from the drawer (some shirts and stuff) and put the drawer back in the dresser.  Then I turned to pick up the screwdriver, and it was gone.  I looked on the dresser.  I looked on the bed beside the dresser.  I checked my pockets (you never know).  I even opened the drawer and rifled through it.  Nada.  Finally, in frustration, I took the drawer out, set it back on the bed (where I’d been working on it), and, one piece at a time, removed all the clothing from the drawer.  I shook out each piece of clothing to see if somehow I’d managed to wrap my screwdriver up inside a shirt.  Nope — no screwdriver.

I got down on the floor.  I looked under the bed.  I looked under the dresser.  Finally, I stood up with my back to the bed and said out loud, “That was a good one, Polly.  You’re the best.  Now can I have my screwdriver back?”

A slight noise behind me made me turn around.  Picture this:  The drawer is on the bed.  Beside the drawer is the stack of clothing I’d removed. On top of the stack of clothes was the screwdriver.

Happy Halloween, my friend…





Long lost loves…

Greetings!  Welcome back — belly up to the bar and have a seat.  Is that a book you’ve got tucked in that bag?  Let me see it — I’m an old lover of books.  Or a a lover of old books.  I guess both would be right.

Why my stars and garters, it’s “The Portable William Faulkner”!  You know, he’s my absolutely most favorite writer.  Amazing!  I wouldn’t have taken you for a fellow Faulkner fan.  Mind, I wasn’t always crazy about his work.  I only discovered Faulkner in college, and then it was by accident.

Ah, college — the last days of freedom.  Remember how “important” everything was back then?  You know, I met the love of my life in college.  Yes, it’s true.  I experienced that deep and lasting emotion that a man only feels once in his life.  As I recall, I did that about every other week.

In fact, that was how I stumbled into Faulkner!  You see, I went on the GI Bill after I got back from overseas, and I was older than most of the other students.  So I my heart wasn’t only available to those giggling 19-year-old cheerleaders you see wandering around the campus.  I also fell hard for several of the teachers — one of whom taught a summer course on William Faulkner.  I don’t even remember her name, but I’ve never forgotten Faulkner.

Mostly it was the way he put words together.  They spoke to me in a language that I understood.   Like when, in “The Town” he said, “Poets are almost always wrong about facts. That’s because they are not really interested in facts: only in truth.”  That really pulled it all together for me.  Also, William Faulkner spent a lot of his life writing about the Snopes family, and those were people with whom I grew up. No one ever described my father better than Faulkner did in “Barn Burning”.

So, yeah, I knew those people.  Knew them very well.  I’m just a little surprised to discover that you enjoy Faulkner too.  What’s that?  You picked it up for your daughter, who’s taking a Faulkner course in college?  Is her teacher a youngish, poetic sort of fellow?  You’re going right home and find out?  Please tell her to drop in anytime she wants to talk about — oh, well, goodbye then…


Game face…

ChessHowdy!  Good to see you again.  Yeah, the place is pretty quiet today.  Oh, you’re going to sit at the bar?  That’s unusual.  Speaking of unusual, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you here without your buddy.  Oh….sorry to hear that.   The funeral would explain why you’re dressed up so nice.

How about one on the house?  You doing okay?  You know, the pair of you have pretty much been a fixture around here.  Nobody else ever asks for the chess set.  We have all kinds of games available, but we always reserved the chess set for the two of you.  What will you do for a partner now?  No, thank you.   I wouldn’t be much of a challenge for you.  I don’t play games anymore.  I was never any good at them, so they aren’t much fun for me.  Did you know that a game’s no fun if you never win?  I do.  Man alive do I ever…

My father taught me to play checkers but I could never beat him.  He always managed to set me up so that I’d jump one of his guys and he’d clear the board of mine.  I developed a severe dislike of checkers early on, and my mind worked too slowly to even start playing dominoes with him.

Before we were married, my second wife and I would play chess,  but she found a book called “How to win at chess in 12 moves or less.”  It was a book of trick moves, depending on the setup, designed to make it a short game when playing a novice, which I admit to being.  The book was out of print so I couldn’t find a copy to read and she wouldn’t tell me how to avoid her traps.  Eventually I just stopped playing her.  The same thing happened with my third wife and Chinese checkers, although she didn’t need a book to quickly dispose of any strategy I threw at her.  And forget about Monopoly or Scrabble — my mind just doesn’t seem to work that way.

I remember when I taught my son to play chess.   I think he was about 8 years old.   At first I won every game, of course, but he persevered and within three months was winning half of them, if I didn’t pay close attention to the game.  By the end of a year, I couldn’t beat him on my best day.  With backgammon it was less than three months before he was winning every time.  Battleship took about a week.

And then there was the Chinese game called Go that I taught my big brother to play. He was the only person who would play it with me, however, and his heart wasn’t really in it.  It’s a long, involved game, which he drank his way through.  By the end he was either bored to tears, asleep, or would manage to turn the board over and spill all the game pieces onto the carpet.  Then he’d laugh and laugh and go get another beer.  When he moved two states away I always said he did it just to get out of playing Go with me.

Since I’m a magician, no one will play cards with me — and I don’t blame them.  Those little pasteboards seem to always turn into a trick, no matter how the game starts out.  Anyway, I hope you find a new partner for your game.  Ask around the bar — who knows what hidden depths lie in those rum-soaked brains?  Maybe there’s even someone who can give you a run for your money.  Tell you what, I’ll call my son and see if he’s busy.  Would that be okay, or is it too soon?  That’s alright — I understand.  Just let me know…

Two pieces of glass and a tube…

Hello there, good to see you again.  Did you happen to see the program on the science channel about how they’re building the new orbiting telescope?  No?  Well let me fill you in.  It’s called the James Webb Space Telescope and it’s going to put the HUBBLE to shame.  Scientists believe they’ll be able to see almost all the way back to the big bang with the thing.  Isn’t that amazing?

You know, I’ve always loved the night sky.  Whether camping out in the wilderness, or just watching the stars from a dark parking lot, I find something majestic about the view.  Until I got into college I was limited by my budget to using binoculars to enhance my study of the moon and stars.  But upon taking an Astronomy course in college, I gained access to some small telescopes and I was really hooked.  You can imagine how excited I was when, as a graduate assistant teacher in that same school, I was allowed to build a couple for my university’s Physics Department.  I jumped right to it.  Being chosen wasn’t exactly a random matter, since I taught Astronomy classes there, but I was amazed when I found dusty and incomplete kits for a couple of 8-inch reflectors in the storage closet.  The college owned a small patch of ground outside of town where I took students to study the night-sky, but an 8-inch diameter telescope would make our usual 4- and 6-incher view look like you were using a hand-held magnifier.

So I set about carefully polishing and coating the mirrors, painting the tubes inside and out, and mounting the mirrors and view-scopes.  Deciding on the proper distance between the 8-inch mirror and it’s viewing mount meant I had to do a lot of very tricky math on the first scope I built.  Imagine my surprise (and chagrin) when I discovered that I was slightly off!  Fortunately, drilling a couple of extra mirror mounting holes two-inches down the tube made no difference in the working of the scope.  And thanks to some brilliant insight, I was able to find the focal length of the second mirror by simply having another grad student slide it up and down inside the tube while I looked at the viewing scope.  (I only wish that had been my idea!)  I felt bad about that for years.  Right up until 1990 when NASA launched the HUBBLE telescope into orbit and discovered that they’d made the same mistake.  It took them three years to fix that one.

I haven’t had access to a telescope since leaving college.  There are some nice, compact 8-inchers I could buy if I really wanted to do so, but I’m happy just to enjoy the show with only a pair of binoculars to help me focus.  And several times a year I go out into the countryside during peak meteor showers and lay back on the hood of a car to enjoy the show with my naked eye.  It’s really a nice way to fill an evening.

So have a toast to the night sky, and all the different ways we can enjoy it…