Thursday, June 30, 2011

“The Fridge” (left) and the kitchen variety both can inflict considerable pain. Encountering either one should be a young man's game.

 Refrigerators. . . Ouch!

I used to shudder while watching William “The Refrigerator” Perry run over pro football opponents when he was among the stars on some great Chicago Bears teams. Probably part of my horror was because “The Fridge” seemed to save his most ferocious attacks for my favorites, the Green Bay Packers, who were suffering through some bad years at the time.

The Bears added insult to the Packers’ injuries in one memorable game when they placed Perry, a defensive tackle, at running back. He promptly plowed over and through a couple of Packers on his way into the end zone for a touchdown. I remember wondering at the time how it might feel to be hit by “The Fridge” when he was traveling under a full head of steam. I got a pretty good idea a couple of weeks ago.

Perry claimed he weighed 382 pounds at his physical peak. That was in 1985 when Da Bears won the Super Bowl. The average weight of refrigerators in American homes nowadays is 400 pounds. As part of our ongoing home remodeling project, I was on a two-man team moving a slightly below-average-sized fridge down a flight of stairs. It and Perry probably would have been a match on the scales.

We were not novices at appliance moving. Equipped with a rented professional-model dolly, we securely attached the refrigerator and worked it into position at the head of the stairs. Being the oldest team member (by far!), I took the easy position below the unit. All went well for a while.

Then, about halfway down, we loused up our procedure somehow. The fridge started thundering down the stairs right on top of me. There was nowhere to go but down as fast as I could, and that wasn’t fast enough. The refrigerator bashed me against the wall at the bottom and pinned one arm and both legs to the floor.

I suffered a gash on one leg, a cut elbow, a slice on a hand, a terribly painful knee on the other leg, and assorted scrapes and bruises. When my moving team pal managed to crawl over the fridge and pry it up so I could escape, he asked, “Did you hit your head?”

“Are there any dents in the wall?” I asked.

“None that I can see.”

“Then I didn’t.”

For two days I could hobble about 15 feet from my bed to the bathroom with painful effort and help from a walking stick and anything else I could grab to take pressure off my knee. Two weeks later I could walk fairly normally, and most of the cuts and bruises had healed quite well. Today, everything is back to normal.

I’ve decided fooling around with refrigerators is a young man’s game. In a way I was lucky my encounter with a runaway 380-pound object happened late in life on a stairway rather than as a youth on a football field. Granted, those Packers “Refrigerator” Perry plowed through wore protective helmets and pads, but they didn’t have several weeks to heal up before their next game.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

In Grateful Memory                

Pfc. Brian J. Bakhus (U.S. Army), 21, Saginaw Township, Michigan. Killed by small arms fire in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, June 18, 2011.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Ah, Yet Another 
The right mix for the USA
A Cocktail Party

Our executive committee was entertained recently by a newspaper column written by two automotive experts. They were asked if cleaning an engine’s spark plugs with vodka was a good idea, and if so what brand was recommended.

The response to the main question was an emphatic “Yes,” with the observation that any type of alcohol is good for cleaning up accumulated grime and sludge. We have known that for years. It is only logical to believe that a few well-constructed, highly alcoholic, martinis ingested at decent intervals have played a key role in keeping our chairman’s piping in excellent condition for more than five decades.

The mechanical wizards went on to recommend using expensive vodka and avoiding any of the juice and vegetable additives favored by the younger set in what they erroneously claim are martinis. The mechanics were right on the second count, but way wrong on the first.

Their error was in succumbing to what we call the “James Bond Syndrome.” Who has not heard 007 ordering up his favorite drink, a “vodka (pronounced in Bondian British something like vuwadka) martini, shaken, not stirred?” Rubbish, we say. Bond was an exemplary agent, but a total failure as a martini connoisseur.

First, vodka is a tasteless beverage favored by Russian peasants and depressed businessmen who would rather get quickly drunk to forget their woes than have their palates pleasantly tickled. Gin, on the other hand, has a unique taste associated with imperial splendor and fashionable cocktail gatherings around the world. Second, shaking a martini is premature, and thus counter-productive. An excellent martini features two small stuffed olives and a very small amount of vermouth. If you shake the gin and vermouth and pour it over the olives, much is lost. Ice is important. Drinking martinis “straight up” can be disastrous to your equilibrium.

The proper way to make an excellent martini is to fill a glass with ice, add two small olives, pour in two jiggers of gin (large if you really want to get blasted, small if you don’t) and add a dash of vermouth. Stir the liquid gently with a toothpick or swizzle stick upon which the olives are impaled. Stand or sit with a compatible person or persons, sip slowly at intervals, and enjoy the experience.

Never drink only a single martini. That will unbalance your body chemistry and ruin your disposition. Two is the correct number. Three is too many, unless you have a fervent wish for something approaching oblivion.

Two more instructions should be heeded. For the very best martinis, chill the glasses for a half hour before you do anything else. Putting them in the freezer does this nicely. If you have no room, surrounding the glasses with ice cubes or chips in an insulated container is almost as good.

Use any cheap gin and the most expensive vermouth you can find (Martini and Rossi is recommended). This is important for your economic well-being. If you have followed the other steps to successful martini making and ingesting, you will enjoy the result and save a good deal of money in the long run.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Read It Your Way        

German friend Eckart Maier chided the geezer with several messages while he was reading Days With The Dads: Recollections of a Small-Time Journalist, by Richard J. Klade.

Maier read the book a few pages at a time over several months during his daily train commute to work. He advised that a version available on a hand-held electronic device would have made his journey through the memoir more pleasurable.

Eckart, it took a while, but your suggestion, and probably those of others, got action. Now, the 120 million or so readers who can shop at “iBookstore” and own an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch can buy an edition of Days With The Dads specially formatted for them to enjoy. The price is a bargain $8.99, a big discount from the retail cost of a paper version.

What will our intrepid production company president, Sancho Thuesen, come up with next?

Apple describes the contents of the new addition to its library thus: “An array of stories—many funny, some educational, and a few inspirational—take readers through the evolution of middle-class American society from the years just after World War II until the Iraq War era.”

Readers now can have it their way, whatever that may be.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

By Which Rules?

In sports, as well as in life, there are written and unwritten rules. And sometimes, the unwritten ones take precedence.

Two incidents in major league baseball just a few days apart illustrate the point. Both involved catchers. I toiled at that position as a youth on grade school, high school, American Legion, and county league teams, so the news got my attention.

First, Buster Posey, a legitimate all-star performer with the San Francisco Giants, had a broken leg after an opponent crashed into him instead of sliding as Posey awaited a throw near the plate. Posey is out for the season. Just days later, Houston Astros’ catcher Humberto Quintero was put on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained ankle after a collision at home plate.

What’s new? Not much. Catchers have led most leagues in injuries since the game began back in the 1800s. “Muddy” Ruel knew of what he spoke when he dubbed the face mask, shin guards, and chest protector (plus a cup to protect a young man’s most important parts) as “The Tools of Ignorance.” Ruel was a catcher for the Washington Senators. The implication was that intelligent people with some semblance of ability could choose more rewarding positions with fewer hazards.

I was a very slow runner with other limited skills, so working behind the plate was my only real chance to participate in what was then, without a doubt, America’s pastime. Green Bay Packers t-shirts were rarely seen when I was a kid in Wisconsin. Chicago Cubs and White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals (and eventually Milwaukee Braves) caps were common. Every rinky-dink town had a baseball team, and, especially on Sundays, going out to the old ballpark was the thing to do. Boys wanted to be part of the action, and donning “The Tools of Ignorance” was my chance for glory.
My baseball career ended at age 17. By then I was smart enough to know I couldn’t hit curve balls tossed by even washed-up former minor league players. I also knew by then I had a relatively weak throwing arm to go with my poor foot speed. Before those truths dawned on me, I had played in several hundred games.

Four things remain from my days on the diamond. A deep bone bruise in my left hand still hurts if something hits there hard enough. The thumb on my right hand is noticeably larger than the one on the left, the result of being split open (it resembled an overcooked hotdog at the time) by a foul tip. All four fingers on my left hand work just fine (I can type really fast), but I can bend them at the first joint in a way few other people can. My left kneecap has a small scar over an area that serves well as a weather forecaster.

That’s what catchers do. They get hurt, whether the hurt is applied by errant balls, foul tips, flying bats, or base runners intent on scoring any way they can.

During the time I played, and to this day, the written rule in baseball said a catcher cannot impede a runner by standing in the base path without the ball. I knew that, because I made an effort to be familiar with the rules of the game.

My high school coach, who was a former minor league catcher as well as a college football star, never mentioned it. He taught the unwritten rule: “Your job as a catcher is to guard that plate. Make the opponents respect your territory. Whenever you can, make them pay a price for crossing the plate.”

My mentor pointed out that catchers have an advantage. The “Tools of Ignorance” give them some armor-plating the runners don’t have. That doesn’t always help, though. It often didn’t help in county ball.

The Lincoln County League, where I played two summers, was made up mostly of men in their 20s and 30s with only a smattering of high school boys. It was a man’s game, no question.

In one contest at Tug Lake, a community consisting almost entirely of a tavern and a rudimentary baseball field with no fences, the going got rough. Early in the game, a runner charged in from third base after tagging up on a fly ball. I took the throw and had plenty of time to block the path between him and the plate. He chose to slide with one foot high enough in the air to rake a spike across my leg above my shin guard. There is no written rule against that kind of high-spiking; there is an unwritten rule.

He was the third out, so the father of one of our players had time to give me medical attention between innings. That consisted of pulling a piece of sod out of my wound, dousing the cut with beer, and applying a bandage brought by a lady who had been watching the game from a window in the tavern. I continued to play. We had no subs.

A bit later, one of my teammates, Joe Obey, retaliated. Obey weighed well over 200 pounds and had success as a football center and hockey goalie among his athletic credentials. He was clearly out at first base on a routine ground ball. The first baseman somewhat sloppily let his foot drag over the bag. Obey stepped on it. Howls of pain and a few choice words resulted, but there was no serious injury.

Perhaps intentionally, perhaps not, an opposing runner tried to run right over me several innings later. He was attempting to score on an infield ground ball. I blocked the plate without the ball, assuming it had a chance of arriving about the time he did. It did.

The runner threw himself into me with a sort of clumsy cross-body block. But he missed most of me. I heard a sharp crack as I tagged him out. The middle of his shin had collided with the middle of my shin guard. He had a broken leg. The game was stopped for some time waiting for a stretcher and an ambulance. There were no further incidents, and both teams adjourned to the bar after the contest.

In the wake of the major league collisions, some are proposing rules changes to make it illegal for runners to try to level catchers and to keep catchers from impeding a runner’s path to the plate. The latter already is the rule. Neither of the two injured big league catchers had the ball when they were bashed. They were the ones violating the rule, not the runners.

The better player of the two, Posey, made somewhat conflicting statements. “I don’t think he did anything illegal,” he said of the runner who broke his leg. Later, he suggested that runners might be required to slide if “a lane presented itself.” Why should they have to slide when they could score by just running straight ahead?

Traditionalists yowled that just because an all-star was seriously hurt doesn’t mean the rules should be changed, and that injuries in the battleground around home plate are inevitable. I’m pretty much of an anti-violence guy, but in this case I’m with the traditionalists.

And, it’s not all bad to have a left knee that throbs a little to warn you when a storm is coming.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

In Grateful Memory

Pfc. Robert L. Voakes, Jr. (U.S. Army), 21, L’Anse, Michigan. Killed by an enemy explosive in Laghman Province, Afghanistan, June 4, 2011.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

One Up, For Sure

The geezer used to get lots of laughs with this line:

“Utah has a higher birth rate than Bangladesh.”

Well, no one stays atop the comedy charts for long. Recently, blogger Kay Dennison ( provided a U-Tube link in which Bill Maher rolled them in the aisles while discussing presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Maher said:

“Mormons have a higher birth rate that Catholics on Ecstasy.”

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

He’ll Be There

A trusted commentator, who keeps track of such things, wrote on Memorial Day that many communities abandoned the traditional parades years ago. She said the holiday, originally established to honor Civil War dead, was becoming nothing more than a chance for family barbeques and other outings preceded by heavily promoted sales of outdoor merchandise. I was shocked.

By gum, Plainwell, Michigan, hasn’t abandoned our parade. People decked out in red, white, and blue came from near and far. The Martin Fire Department even dispatched a truck, and their village is seven or eight miles away. Imagine that.

I lucked out. A little bench in front of the Plainwell Ice Cream Company, the most popular place in town during summer, miraculously was empty. There I perched for the whole show.

Just as I settled down, a white-haired man wearing a Veterans of Foreign Wars outfit sat down on the other end of the bench. As he rose to offer up a salute when the honor guard carried Old Glory past us, I noticed his shirt and trousers were crisply pressed, the brass insignia on his collar and cap sparkled, and his black shoes gleamed. I also noticed, as the procession continued, veterans and military personnel in the parade often SALUTED HIM as they passed by our bench.

Things like that still happen in small towns.

The parade was almost a replica of those held a half-century ago in my hometown, which is just about the size of Plainwell. The high school band tried mightily to stay in some sort of formation and deliver a martial air. Children, young and old, followed the band in various costumes and vehicles. Restorers of old cars and tractors showed off their prize possessions.

Floats (I use the term very loosely) sponsored by businesses, churches, schools, and other organizations appeared at intervals. Most were decorated trucks of various sizes and vintages. Three displayed signs honoring a Plainwell boy killed in Afghanistan just a week earlier (see previous post). After the parade, a special ceremony at the city’s veteran’s memorial monument honored him. That was nice.

Everything wasn’t solemn, though. Few others seemed to make the connection, but I doubled over in laughter after a business “float” followed by a dozen girls decked out in Uncle Sam uniforms had passed. A point of local pride is that boys from our county formed the Federal unit that captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis near the end of the Civil War. Apparently unaware of which side Michigan was on, the operator of a CD player on the “float” programmed it to blare out the strains of “Dixie.”

What the heck, nobody in the parade was a professional, except the cops who kept things in order and the firemen who showed off their equipment. After the last police car signaled the end of the procession, many of the bystanders headed for an ice cream social on the lawn of the Community Center. The social was conducted by volunteers to benefit a women’s shelter charity.

The VFW guy and his wife just got up without a word and headed, arm-in-arm, for their car, which was parked not far from mine.

Abandon the Memorial Day Parade? I’ll bet if that old vet hears of any such nonsense, he’ll personally march through Plainwell to keep it from happening.