Playful, Pius or Remembered Stuff

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Tech Wonders

I was just a kid when the Russians won the race to orbit. I remember seeing the dusk reflection of Sputnik, and hearing the heartbeat of Lika the dog. It was amazing, but even then I wondered what practical benefit could possibly come of such expensive showing off.

Now I am still amazed at Google earth, and especially GPS. My wife bought one of those gizmos last year through her Avon Rep connections. We have found it an invaluable tool when traveling, and even when getting around L.A. to find places we haven't been. Once we load the address and press "Go" a recorded voice tells us every turn to make along the way. It still amazes me.

As the old Road Runner cartoons taught us, modern technology does have its flaws. Our GPS system is no exception. Sometimes our satellite thinks we are on surface streets and it has instructed us to make a "U" turn when in fact we are on the freeway. Many disastrous scenarios could be imagined if we all took our GPS instructions too seriously. It seems that even this wonderful technology needs to be modified by human common sense.

Most of the time we don't need the unit to tell us major highway travel. It is the details near the end of our journey that elude us. Often, however, it is just at that point that we hear the calm recorded voice say, "Lost satellite connection." "Oh great! Now what do we do?" Patience! Patience! It soon gets back on track. Or we may hear that same mechanical monotone repeat the word, "Recalculating." If we decide to take an alternate route, the machine goes berserk either with the recalculating thing or with advice to make a U turn at our earliest convenience.

As sure as I am sitting here typing this post, someone is going to make an extra buck by modifying the technology with specialized versions of the GPS. There could be the British gentry version. "You'd be well advised to turn to the left at the next corner, Sir."

Better yet, the Cockney version. "Blimey, Guv'na ya wonta turn left at da coner."

How about a GPS with a New York attitude? "You're such a schmuck. Now you gotta make a U turn."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Speaking of Dentists

Joe Hendrix is a valuable old friend in my memory. We had the joy of seeing him and his adorable wife, Kim, while we were in Modesto. Joe and Kim were newly married kids when I first met them, and now they too are grand parents.

I think they did a wonderful job of raising their own kids, and even some that were not their own. At least one young man who, in my estimation, may have been headed for prison without the interception of a loving family such as the Hendrix. Joe is a friend who will do anything for you, and put himself out a great way in order to help.

I am embarrassed to tell you that whenever I think of Joe, one story comes immediately to mind, and it is not really fair to Joe. But here it is anyway. Many years ago Joe had a neighbor with a terrible tooth ache. This neighbor tanked himself up with enough whiskey so as to kill any kind of pain, and then asked Joe to help him. It seems he wanted Joe to pull his aching tooth. Joe told him he could not do that, but the neighbor insisted. So Joe reached into his tool chest and found what he could use to pull the tooth. I don't even remember this part of the story. It may have been simply pliers, or it may have been vice-grip pliers. I'm not certain what tool or tools he may have tried. But Joe got him to lie down, and he gripped the tooth and jerked and pulled until it came out. He may have been in jeopardy of arrest for practising medicine without a license. But Joe is willing to put himself out to help a friend. The funniest part of the story is that he pulled the wrong tooth!

I was afraid that my faulty memory was exaggerating the story, so when we met for dinner last week in Modesto, I asked him to confirm the story, and he said "yes" that he had pulled his neighbor's tooth. And he admitted that, "yes" it turned out to be the wrong tooth. I hope I don't remember that story when I must return to the dentist next Monday.

All you need is love.

I never was a great Beetles' fan, but in this song title they got it right. The older I get (and that is becoming formidable) the more I realize the point of life is loving and being loved.

First, of course, is loving and being loved by God. We have great documentation of His love in that He loved and gave His Son to clean up our dirty tracks and open a bank account of infinite merit on our behalf. He did this because He loved us. When you believe that, you can't stop loving Him in return.

I was, however, thinking about relatives and friends. Life is work or boredom or terror without the joy of loving and being loved by friends. I was reminded of this during our vacation week of travels to visit just such people. Some of them drove a long distance just to see us. Maybe they had a dual purpose in driving so far. We couldn't be that important. Others are relatives who are pushovers for a place to crash. Do we take them for granted, or do we have that loving understanding that there isn't much we would not do for one another?

We saw a niece who has always been a winner. No surprise that she is now a pediatrician with a great husband and adorable little boy. We were with our son who is just beginning to make it as a chiropractor in San Francisco. It's nice to hear a satisfied patient who has taken a liking to Jonathan, and sings his praise to all potential customers she can meet. She is an older Asian lady, and for good measure she took us (Barbara, Jon and me) out to lunch at a beachfront landmark.

We visited friends--a couple that I married--in Modesto. They seem to have such a wholesome existence with a vegetable garden, several acres of almond trees and a landscaping business. Their boys are all handsome and courteous, and Brad has taught them hunting, as witnessed by the 7 or 8 deer heads mounted on the living room wall. The dark side is the story of a drifter who kicked in their door and stole all the loose money he could find in the house and rode off on a stolen bike. We have lived in crime-ridden Carson for 25 years and have never had anything like that. The lesson: depravity is in the hearts of all men everywhere.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Driving Dangers

We're on vacation (again) this week. Last night we arrived at my brother-in-law's home, and several family members gathered for dinner. Naturally I was asked to return thanks (either it is a courtesy, or an admission that no one else knows how to pray). When I finished, someone else kindly added a postscript "and thanks for a safe arrival". That got me thinking about our day's experience on California Interstate highways. Indeed it is a beneficent providence that brought us this far.

There are several species of hazardous drivers out there, and someone ought to be able to categorize several of them.

Kamikaze Commuter: this is the guy who is almost late for work (morning), or hurrying to see his beloved family (evening). Don't look for courtesy from this guy. He's got blood in his eye, and every advantage in traffic was made for him and you had better cater to him or expect vengeance by way of an obscene gesture or worse.

Galloping Cowboy: this guy drives a truck that is about a size and a half larger than I remember trucks to be. He may have a gun rack behind the cab and bumper stickers that inform me that there are only two kinds of music: country and western. The truck tires are made for troop transport half tracks and they make an intimidating hum on the road. Whichever lane has the longest space forward to the next line of traffic is his lane for passing you and everyone else who is a potential threat to his masculinity.

Timid Titmouse: often this guy is the greatest threat to the flow of traffic. He is the cause of sudden convulsions of traffic as car after car switches lanes from behind him to regain the speed of the flow of traffic. When he enters the superhighway of 70 MPH traffic, he does so at a cautious pace of 35 to 40 MPH, wondering why so many rude drivers are frowning at him as they speed around him.

Weaving Willy: this guy works himself to death in order to get there 20 minutes before you. He sees a hole in the next lane just large enough for his vehicle and jumps lanes, looking for the next opportunity to do it again. Those who are really good at this can make you dizzy if you watch them. On our way here I had the leisure to watch one such driver whose car was equipped with a bubble luggage carrier mounted on top. I could see this bubble weaving its crazy way from left to right for several miles. If we were headed to the same destination, he would no doubt have arrived a good 20 minutes ahead of me, but why?

Taillight Tommy: this is the guy who seems to want you to admire his taillights. As soon as you leave anything close to a safe distance between your car and the one ahead of you, Tommy thinks you are wasting space on the highway. So he fills it by pulling in front of you and putting on his brakes just for good measure.

Fortunately, most experienced freeway drivers realize the simple logic of it all. We are all flowing at 65-70 MPH. Rudeness and lane changing will not improve your ETA more than a few minutes, so stay put and be glad you are not stopping for signals on surface streets. Unless your wife is in serious labor and you are headed for the hospital, take it easy, Jack!

Monday, August 17, 2009


Many years ago I served on the Diaconal Ministries Committee of my denomination. We met twice a year in Philadelphia. After our move to Modesto, CA, attending meetings involved travel. But we had made great friends when I was serving the church in Wilmington, DE, as pastor, so now I made arrangements to visit friends when I attended DMC meetings. In fact our meeting routinely lasted two days, so I would borrow our friend's car and help transport other commuters to the meeting.

This particular meeting we had made arrangements to stay overnight at the home of one local member of the committee for Friday night, and return to the Committee building Saturday morning to complete our meeting. We were a friendly bunch, so no one was in coat and tie. We wore our casuals. I had forgotten my razor, and was looking extra scruffy. In those days it was not the popular thing to sport a nascent beard all day long. It has become the style today, which frequently irks my wife's prejudiced comments. All the TV heroes seem to have sandpaper chins these days.

Anyway, here was this motley crew (no intended reference to any musical group) on their way to committee meeting early on a Saturday morning, when that fearful black and white with rotating red light appeared behind us. I dutifully pulled the car over to the curb. both officers approached our car. I was asked to get out of the car and come to the back of the car.Later we were told there had been a rash of home burglaries in the Philadelphia suburbs and the suspect car had out of state plates.

Well here we were a car with Delaware plates, my license was for California, another guy was from Rochester, NY, and just for good measure we had a black member of the committee from Denver, CO. No sooner had I emerged from the car when a backup black and white arrived. We were quizzed separately with clipped, accusative attitude. They only relaxed when our separate stories fit. They thought they had nailed the suspects for a moment, and truthfully, so did I.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

One more time

So the last two root canals were done today. They were both "do-over"s. Things that occurred to me while in the chair: this time I bet the zylocain doesn't work; did he just say "oops"?; he has the strangest pictures on the wall; I paid a lot of money for this guy to stick needles in my gums; there's that smell of singed enamel dust again; I think the dental assistant has a crush on me; does this numbing stuff ever go so far that it effects the brain?; I hope no one dinged my car door in the parking lot; he has been distracted too much and I think the zylocain is wearing off.

I've had three different rooms to observe those pictures, each one different. One of them has grotesquely elongated human and animal figures. One has an exposed woman's breast shone from the window of a non-descript mechanical contraption. In one pic there is a robotic looking figure that remotely resembles a woman's figure. Only the face is feminine. Another is a Dali-esque pocket watch, bending as it slips over a precipice. In my meditations I think I have discovered a common theme and the reason they are on display in the dentist's workplace: They are all painful approximations of reality. They might have been real figures, distorted by delirium. They are ugly distortions, and I, for one, find them painful.

Now that I have finished with the root canals, I can look for the appointments back at my regular dentist for the crown to cap these vulnerable teeth. One of them was what the dentist called a "perforation". Instead of the earlier canal going all the way down, as it should, it went through the side of the root. He refilled it that far and explained to me that we just hope for the best. Obviously he was reaching for a disclaimer in case I have a problem with it. I told him that at my age it will probably last as long as I need it.

I was able to eat a hamburger for lunch, so I am a happy man.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dentist again

Trying to be a hero I took the first available appointment. Why not get it over with? You may have read that I had to go to a referral dentist because the first one did not take my insurance plan for root canal work. Well my first pain was getting up at 6 so I could make my 7:30 appointment.

No, I didn't get the gorgeous Dr. with the mesmerizing grey eyes. But he seems to be competent (in dentistry, competency is always to be preferred to beauty). Because of my hip replacement and my heart attack they must first pump me full of amoxacillin. Next is a thousand needles of zylocane. Now that my lip is very fat, or non-existent for all I can tell, it is time for that high pitched drill. As he tears into my tooth with a vengeance, I can smell the aroma of singed enamel dust. Anyone who has been to the dentist recently knows that smell. Just when I think the pain should send me through the ceiling, I realize that I can't feel a thing. The thousand needle zylocane accomplished its mission.

I finally climb from the chair and stagger to the receptionist counter to schedule the next assault on my mouth. Here comes the doctor and says, "We just had a cancellation and I can take you now, if you want." "You mean right now?" "Yes." I'm still in the hero mood, and so now I have been violated on both sides of my mouth.

In the car I have a bottle of water which I can't feel touching my anesthetized lips. That was yesterday. Today I may truthfully say, "It only hurts when I chew." Actually, I have found a way to chew without any pain, but I slip once in a while.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

It's Dentist Time!

I was doing just fine when we were lapsed on our dental insurance. Has it actually been 2 years since I sat in that chair? It seems like yesterday. They have new technology at the Dental Arts office. I't so cool that they just plunk this hard plastic domino with a cable in my mouth, buzz the xray and bing! The image appears on the computer screen. Okay, so maybe that's old stuff for you, but remember it's been 2 (maybe 3) years since I have been here.

Then the torture master pulls up a swivel chair, looks in my mouth and starts dictating to his lackey at his elbow. "Negative. Plague. Tartar. Gingivitis." he spouts like a submarine captain barking cryptic orders to his torpedo man. All the words are so very insulting and intimidating. Are they going to rip out all my teeth? What insidious plans are developing here? There is a code number and even though I know he is identifying one of my teeth, I don't know the code so I do not know the attack plans, even though I am hearing him myself.

I know whenever they are finished fixing my teeth, sometime during my final visit, he is going to tell me how to care for my teeth. Brush, mouthwash, floss, water pick. And he will talk down to me as though the teeth actually belonged to him and I have somehow violated a sacred trust by the sloppy way I have cared for them.

Okay, now I find out that my insurance is not good enough for the house specialist in root canals, and I need no less than four! So I am given a referral to another doctor a few miles down the road. This dentist happens to have an opening the next day, so let's get it over with.

More cool xrays and then consultation. Only this time I am assigned an associate, and it is a gorgeous young lady with mesmerizing grey eyes. She asks if I have had any pain in my teeth. I tell her that this tooth has been a little sensitive to hot and cold and even to sweets. So she takes her steel instrument and bangs on my tooth and then asks me if it hurts. Since that didn't really work well enough, she puts down the instrument and rubs the gums hard with her finger. "Yes," I say, "That's a little tender." She was successful. So we schedule that one to get drilled out tomorrow morning at 7:30.

But before I left the office I felt the first round of pain. They called my insurance carrier to see what my co-pay will be. Ouch! Was it that long ago that my entire dentist bill was less than that?!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Hair and Trust

A good marriage doesn't need any proof. But if you want to test the trust level between you and your spouse, cut one another's hair. Barbara cut my hair this morning, and just to jerk her chain I emitted a blood curdling scream when I looked in the mirror. It's just a tad too short for my 'drothers. But to tell you the truth, just as long as she is not ashamed to be seen with me in public I couldn't care less what others think. So the coiffure is fine.

What may surprise you most is that Barbara also asks me to cut her hair. Now there was the time that I may have been a little too enthusiastic, and the result required a couple of weeks before she boasted of how good a job her husband did. But most of the time she just washes her hair and raves about how nice I made it look. I never attended barber school, but we do have a secret. Barbara's hair is still naturally curly enough that it arranges itself after washing. Nobody could give Barbara a bad haircut.

When I used to go the barber, they never laughed when I complained that I was bald after they cut my hair. Do you suppose they heard that one before? Well, this morning I told Barbara to put some back, and she didn't laugh either. I am not very good at haircut humor.

I had a Mohawk haircut when I was 9 years old. I wonder...