Saturday, June 30, 2012

History Friday: The Gettysburg Address

I can see your eyes glazing over already.  But bear with me; with a little context, and by taking the time to know the speech - really know it - you'll love it like I do.

It's taught in such a flat way: schoolchildren are taught to remember it for the week they studied it, so they could copy the requisite 40-word sample and be graded on every 'the' and 'but' - and, at least in any classroom I was in, it was never taught as a speech, as a thing that was designed to be spoken rather than read and rote memorized.

In fact when people are asked, "What do you know about the Gettysburg Address," they'll start in with the Four Score and Seven Years Ago bit and maybe make it all the way to "conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," if you're lucky.

But what do you know - really know - about the speech?

Well first of all, President Lincoln was there kind of as a bit player; the star of that particular show was Edward Everett, known as the preeminent orator of his time.  The President was there to close the ceremonies with "a few fitting remarks," after a two-hour speech by Everett.  This actually suited Lincoln just fine; historians suggest that he was suffering the very first symptoms of smallpox during the train ride to Gettysburg and during the speech. The idea of the day was to dedicate a Union cemetery at the site of the battle of Gettysburg, which remains to this day, by the way, the single deadliest American battle, with 57,225 dead (counting USA and CSA casualties both as American, of course). The central message of the speech, though, was political in nature; that the living need to stay dedicated to the cause of the war effort.  The Chicago Tribune, a paper with leanings against the Republican party, panned it, in fact calling it uninspiring and accusing the President of being a bumpkin - they called the speech "...the silly, flat and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States."

But this speech was so much more than flat words on a flat piece of paper.  The speech was given by the President, who by his very nature has to be a strong speaker. Towards the middle of the speech, the remarks stop being a dry recitation of fact, and the oration, according to those who bore witness and wrote about it, increased in passion as the speech went on and ended in a stirring crescendo of thundering emotion.

For such a short speech, consider just how many phrases found their way into the national lexicon. I bet you have heard most or all of these snippets, even if you didn't know where they came from:

  • Four score and seven years ago
  • It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this
  • ...we cannot dedicate - we cannot consecrate - we cannot hallow - this ground
  • Far above our poor power to add or detract
  • (referring to soldiers who laid down their lives for the war) ...who gave the last full measure of devotion
  • The world will little note nor long remember what we say here but it can never forget what they did here
  • It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced
  • ...that this nation, under god, shall have a new birth of freedom
  • ...government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth
And when spoken, those words, those words that perhaps you know already, leap off the page and into the heart of anyone on either side of the aisle who would call himself "Patriot."

Here it is in its entirety, with a few of my comments in end-notes:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated,1 can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract2

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here3. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced4. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


1 "That nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated" is a reference to the first paragraph, where he speaks of our "new nation" and how it was conceived and dedicated. His use of "that" to refer back to his previous words is a little archaic now, which unfortunately hinders free and easy comprehension.

2 This paragraph to me is breathtaking in its emotional impact. It conveys the futility of the living consecrating land for the dead, while acknowledging that notwithstanding its futility, it's still the right thing to do ("it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this"). And once again it conveys this thundering emotion with an economy of words that is astounding.

3 Well, he was wrong here, wasn't he.

4 This is the political part of the speech; he's telling the people that they need to keep the faith, convincing them that this war is just, and that the material and human costs of the war are worth it.


Despite the harsh words from the Chicago Tribune, the speech was universally acknowledged, even at the time, as being rousing, moving, and important beyond its immediate purpose of dedicating a cemetery. US Senator Charles Sumner said of the speech that "...the world noted at once what he said, and will never cease to remember it. The battle itself was less important than the speech."

I'm not one for re-enactments but I found this clip and you should watch it, because I think it reinforces the fact that the Gettysburg Address was not an essay; it was a speech, a living breathing thing that was delivered with passion and emotion.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


I've never told you about my oldest friend, and that's a pity.

My mom and her mom were part of the same running crew, so we knew each other, and were apparently fond of each other, when we were both in diapers. The day I was born she was celebrating her 2nd birthday, giving us both the same birthday of September 19th.

We were kids together, and if my yenta mother's stories are any guide, we were close as kids.  I remember enjoying spending time with her, that's for sure.

When we were still young my mom's friend divorced her husband, Eden's dad, and moved to Arizona.  For eight years or so Eden existed in my life only as pleasant fragments of memory.

When I was a sophomore in high school Eden came back to live with her dad; she had a few family issues out west, and she also brought with her a tumor as big as a volleyball that she needed to have removed and wanted to do it at a Boston hospital. And so she spent her senior year back in Boston, and we reconnected and picked up exactly where we left off when I was 7.

She liked movies; we went to the movies a lot.  And she dragged me to some all-time stinkaroos.  Anyone remember Xanadu?  Or the reunion of Travolta and Newton-John in Two of a Kind? Or how about that sterling Sly Stallone/Dolly Parton matchup called Rhinestone? Yeah, it was exactly as bad as it sounds.  However it was she who similarly dragged me to The Princess Bride, which remains one of my favorite movies.

We had coffee and smoked cigarettes at Denny's; we shared secrets; we helped each other through adolescence. When her boyfriend broke her heart, she called me. When my drama queen girlfriend was tearing my heart out, I called her.

We were tight.

She is the most incredibly optimistic person I've ever met in my life.  And with the shitty things that have happened to her, she would have been completely justified in turning into a cynical douchebag, hating the world and all the miserable bastards who crawl upon it. But instead she chose a positive path and that positivity just oozes out of every inch of her.  For years it was she I turned to when all around was dark and I needed a little uplifting.

I held the chupa at her wedding; gave the bride's toast, in fact. I killed, if anyone's wondering. Had 'em rolling in the aisles. This all despite the fact that just about a week earlier, I had broken my wrists and gave said toast with casts on both my arms.

But, you know how it is; life gets in the way sometimes. She went to college a million miles away, when transatlantic phone rates were ridiculously expensive, then went back to Arizona and started a family.  I got married, got a job, and was doing my own thing.  We'd talk a few times a year, wish each other happy birthday on the same day, and that was about it.

Drift, drift, drift, and before you know it, she was over the horizon.

But I just talked to her - out of the blue she reached out to me on the Eff Bee and I called her. And with no god as my judge it was like we last spoke yesterday.  We spoke for the better part of an hour and at the end of that I realized just how much I've missed her. I also noted with a little shock and a little embarrassment that her oldest child is going off to college and I haven't met any of them. And that has to change.

So I think, if I can get this through Tootsie, I'm going to go see her the next time there's a blogger meet-up in Vegas, and kill two birds with one stone.  Because I do want to meet all you happy assholes in person, I really do; you occupy a bigger piece of me than you might think. And I need to see Eden again, to cajole her into maybe smoking a little reefer for old times' sake, to find some shitty diner and drink bad coffee for six hours - and maybe once again be a little bit bigger part of her life than I am now.

I want my friend back, and this is something I think I'm going to have to do. So keep me in the loop for the next time, because now I've got plans to make.

Because I miss my friend, and that can't continue.

Eden and her brother Jason, whom I also knew when, and with whom I've had a lot of laughs

Sunday, June 24, 2012

While Everyone's Having Fun in Vegas, We Who Stay Behind Have to Talk About Something

First of all, my level of frustration at Blogger is almost as high as my level of frustration at Paypal (got scammed, no recourse, I look to be out 600 squeeds). I had a History Friday post, a long one, about half done, only to find that it somehow ate about 800 words, leaving me with maybe the middle 30% of what I wrote. So thanks to Blogger you guys missed a post about baseball forfeits. Eh, maybe later. So we're gonna do one of those "cleaning out the craniattic" posts and I'm telling you right now, it's gonna suck.

So let's see, let's see, what shall we discuss...well, that scumbag Sandusky was convicted of being icky to kids.  Too bad this isn't colonial Maine.  Know what they did there?  They gave you a shovel at dawn and gave you until dusk to dig a hole.  However big you dug it, that was your home for the duration of your sentence. Better hope you contrived some way to stay dry. And certainly Sandusky deserves no better.

I hope you don't take this the wrong way but I think there are degrees of what today is called child molestation.  A guy like Sandusky, a creepy old dude who preyed on children, is a flat-out child molester. He deserves all the "extra attention" he's gonna get in the hoosegow.  But lookit: my first sexual relationship was in high school, when I tagged a very annoying Greek girl who nonetheless gave it up like a champ with regularity. When we met, I was 15 and she was 17.  But you know what?  She turned 18 and for a few more months I was still 15.  According to the legislative nuances of statutory rape, she committed a felony every time she took her mustachioed mouth and did what she did best - and I ain't talking about whistling. Was anyone being taken advantage of?  Only when she asked me to get a wet paper towel and help with the cleaning up. And despite being deeply, DEEPLY annoying, she didn't deserve any time in the clink for making a man of Sue Jacobs' boy. But these days, a DA with an axe to grind could've made both our lives pretty miserable.

In other news...

There's this chick flick out there, it's called 500 Days of Summer.  Didn't watch it because I have zero tolerance for that kind of cinematic excretion. However, Tootsie, who is a sucker for this kind of nonsense, was watching it semi-recently. And as I was passing through upstairs I saw that there was this one sequence where Our Hero, Joseph Gordon Leavitt, walks to work after bedding his dream girl for the first time, to the lilting strains of Hall and Oates' You Make My Dreams Come True. I bring this up because I think the scene pretty well encapsulates what a man thinks and feels when he's found himself in a relationship with the great love of his life. Also I think it's directed quite well; a number of long takes, which I always respect, and everyone on the street is kind of color-coordinated, which is a plus.  It's a two minute segment - give it a watch:

Depending on your browser I think you might have to click the youtube link and then come back.  It's OK.  I'll wait.

In other other news...some quick hits:

I find myself jealous of everyone who's currently out in Vegas whooping it up and having a grand old time. I wish I were there, or at least I did until I called Josie to wish her godspeed and a safe trip (only to find that she'd already got there!) and she told me it was over 100 degrees.  No friggin thanks.  Here's the important equation: fat man + unbearable heat = Jew Jerky.

My brother and his family are about two hours away, they're coming over for some laughs and bologna sandwiches.  My niece Piper will be there, who just LOVES her Uncle Gary and Auntie Tootsie. She's by far the most beautiful thing that the Jacobs family has ever created; I'm still astounded at how that could have happened.  Like her parents she's whip-smart; unlike them she's a joy to be around, ha ha ha. Looking forward to some conflict-free family time. Here's her first picture and some background to her rocky debut.  The first comment is me; is anyone surprised?

When I see Piper I always feel a tinge of emotion at my Dad's loss, because he knew she was coming but never quite got to meet her.  Ross wrote about his passing far more eloquently than I ever could. It still brings a lump to my throat.

I don't want to end this post on a downer so I'll drop in a quick joke: Guy walks into a podiatrist's office.  Says "Doc, you gotta help me, I think I'm a moth."  Doc says "But..but...I'm a podiatrist; why did you come to me?" Guy says, "well, your light was on."

Wokka wokka, and by the way, wokka.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wherein I Expose My Vagina

Any of you remember that scene in The Sopranos when they're all at Uncle Junior's party to celebrate his hung jury, and he stands up to sing Core 'Ngrato ("Ungrateful Heart") and all the old Moustache Petes start to cry?

I almost hate to admit it, but that's me.  Maybe it's because I've been a musician for more years than I count (not a good one, mind, but I've certainly put the time in), but music does indeed move me more than most.  And a song of subtlety, of great beauty, of message, can easily move me to tears, and stay with me for a long, long time.

I'm going to cite three examples here, and the odd thing is that two of them are re-workings of other people's work. I say it's odd because I have a decided prejudice against people who make their lives as performers of other people's art. Singing another's song doesn't necessarily make you an artist, unless you really step up to the plate with a re-imagining or just blow me away with talent and subtlety. But - there it is, two out of three, who knew?

Anyway, as I tell you which songs they are, I'm going to ask that you give them a listen, especially if you've never heard them before. I can't expect a similar emotional response, or even any emotional response whatsoever, but at very least you'll know what triggers one in me.

The three songs, in no particular order, are these:

First up is Eva Cassidy's Fields of Gold. This is a complete rework of a limpwristed throwaway tune by Sting. Cassidy, her life tragically cut down by cancer before she became famous, imparted the song with the emotional weight it deserves - the lyrics describing a couple growing old and looking back on their lives - and gives the song a feel that is 180 degrees different from Sting's.  Stories abound all over the Internet of people bursting into tears the first time they've heard it: in fact  I played it once for a coworker in my office, and when I looked up from some busywork I was doing I saw she was weeping.  Not just tears, but actually weeping, at the power of her performance.

The second song is Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. This one gets me just from the sheer beauty of the song.  It holds no particular deep message but it's just goddamned brilliant. A perfect execution of a song pretty damned good to begin with. Of the three songs here, this is the one that you'l likely know.

Finally the last song on the list, yet not nearly last in any other way, is the Pogues' Fairytale of New York. I'm not sure any words I have are fit here, so I'll just clam up and ask that you give it a listen:

So - there you go.  I'll admit it: I'm a pussy when it comes to music that stirs me.  Tough shit.  Don't like it? Stop reading me. Wanna fight about it?  Well, I don't, didn't I just say that I was a pussy?

Hope you like these songs.  Let me know what you think of them.

Leonard Cohen is a God Damned Genius

I went down to the place
Where I knew she lay waiting
Under the marble and the snow
I said, Mother I'm frightened
The thunder and the lightning
I'll never come through this alone
She said, I'll be with you
My shawl wrapped around you
My hand on your head when you go
And the night came on
It was very calm
I wanted the night to go on and on
But she said, Go back to the World.

Now the crickets are singing
The vesper bells ringing
The cat's curled asleep in his chair
I'll go down to Bill's Bar
I can make it that far
And I'll see if my friends are still there
Yes, and here's to the few
Who forgive what you do
And the fewer who don't even care
And the night comes on
It's very calm
I want to cross over, I want to go home
But she says, Go back, go back to the World

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tick tock - Times Two Billion

Been thinking about the passage of time lately. Almost completely unmarked this past December was the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. And it occurs to me that when I was a younger man there were still old-timers who would wander into my Radio Shack and fill my head with tales of their service in World War I. One guy I remember served on a ship in the United States Navy, he having lied about his age to join. As a 16-year-old he was a Morse code operator in the radio room, of a Navy destroyer. He took great pleasure in telling me that the name of the room he worked in was the radio shack.

They're all gone now. I'm pretty sure there isn't a single surviving human being who served in World War I. Even someone like the guy I was talking about, whose name I can't remember, about which more later, who joined up at 16 would have to be 109 today. And now the same thing is happening with veterans of World War II. Lying about his age to join the service in 1945, for example, would make a man 82, if my math skills haven't completely deserted me. And that's the best case scenario for World War II survivors. A freshfaced 18-year-old who joined up when Pearl Harbor got bombed would be almost 90 today. They're definitely still around but there are fewer and fewer of them every day.

On a more local level I'm 43, and I'm already feeling the effects of time in a number of very quantifiable ways. Don't get me wrong; I've never been what you'd call a prime physical specimen. But there are several things that have very noticeably changed about me. For example I used to pride myself on having the eyesight of a fighter pilot, able to read signs from further away than anyone else able to tell a blue Jay from a pigeon at 200 feet. But in the last two years, one of two things has taken place: either the publishing industry has conspired to shrink the typefaces of every publication that I stick my nose into, or my eyesight has transitioned from superlative to normal to downright bad. I can't read before bed unless I have my reading glasses with me and I move my bedside lamp to directly over the book I'm reading. With every day that goes by I can feel my eyesight worsen. My father, rest his soul, always had horrible up close eyesight. We would tease him about it all the time – would always say that would get him arm extensions for Christmas so he could read. I would ask him from time to time what he saw up close because my eyesight was so good I just didn't understand what it meant to have bad eyesight. He'd point to a line of text and say that all that he could see is one blurry line. I'm not there yet but I'm getting there.

I've also inherited the family's bad gums. There's going to come a time, sooner than I want it to come, when I'm going to have to have perfectly healthy teeth yanked from my body because they've got nothing to anchor themselves into. Let me tell you something: it's no fun contemplating having to get a bridge at 43. But such, I believe, is my fate. And there's going to be nothing good about that day, except for the great big bottle of happy pills that I'll be getting. And even then I'll need them for the pain so what's the good of that?

And there are dozens of smaller things, too, that remind me of the ticking clock: I cannot get into or out of a chair without making a noise; the pain from any minor mishap such as barking a shin on the furniture lasts longer and longer every day; a pulled muscle is now a four-day affair.

Thankfully one thing I don't expect they'll ever have to worry about is thinning hair or receding hairline. I say thankfully not out of any vanity especially, but the fact is that I'm such a gigantic carton of ugly that to be balding on top of everything else would be a crushing blow. It said that you inherit your head of hair from your mother's side, but both my brothers and I all have our father's thick, wavy hair. Although as far back as I can remember dad had a small, silver dollar sized bald spot right at the crown of his head, he was blessed with a fantastic head of hair. Even at 75 he had a decent amount of hair left. Sure the bald spot got a little bit bigger, but if I have the head of hair he had at 75 when I'm 75, I'll be ecstatic.

But everything I've been talking about lately is just cosmetic. There's a much more serious side to the progression of time, especially given my family dynamic.

My father had his first heart attack in 1981. He was 47, and although he was a pack a day smoker, he also weighed 60 pounds less than I weigh now, and in much better shape besides - he worked outside, with his hands.

I can't imagine that my first heart attack is that far off and I have the feeling it's going to be a lot stronger than his first, which was pretty mild in comparison to his later ones. Either way some serious mojo is on its way, and it's not going to be pretty when it comes.

And even if it's not...

Here's the rundown on my family.  On my Dad's side, my grandparents died at 60 and 72. Dad passed at 75 (which was a miracle of medicine; his number should have gotten punched March 31, 2000, at which time he'd have been two days short of his 67th birthday). On my Mom's side, her parents died at 72 and 78 (and he was koo-koo pants b'dee-b'dee b'dee that's all folks crazy for a couple years before that). Mom just turned 69.

In other words, at 43, I'm so far past the centerline of my life that contemplating the time I have left is god damned depressing.  I figure I've got no more than 30 left, and realistically it's more like 20, especially if you count just healthy years.

20 years.

I know how fast that goes.  Hell, I remember 23.  I was an adult 20 years ago, a thinking man who knew (or fancied he knew) his place in the world and was engaged to be married to the future Tootsie Southpaw.

And every day the aches and pains bite just a little deeper, the nooks and crannies get more filled with hair, and I look more and more like Morty the CPA.

It's a real bitch.  Time doesn't march on; it lunges forward in great ungainly leaps, leaving wrinkles and grey hair in its wake.

Eh, whatever.  The sooner done, the sooner to rest, I guess.  Might as well play out the string with a smile on my face, even if it's of the phony, painted-on variety; it does no good to pout anyway. And yes, by the way, I know that two billion tick tocks is only about 62 years; I'm trying to make a point here, Larry Literal.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Nagant Fever Running Wild in the Realm of the Crafty Southpaw

About a week or so ago I wrote about my most recent purchase, the Mosin Nagant 9130 rifle that cost me $130, in glowing terms. I also mentioned to some people that I was considering making a purchase of a revolver, the Nagant M1895, which sat on the hip of Soviet Officers for decades - and is still in fact in active use in many Russian police departments. They're actually cheaper than the rifles, if you can wrap your head around that.  I bought the best grade of stock they had: Double action, Soviet Union markings and crest, dated 1925 or so, for $119. I could have gotten a standard grade one for $99.  And this is a perfectly functional - many who have them say brilliantly functional - firearm, one more than capable of defending your house or shooting at targets.

If it looks familiar, it's because this design launched a million Smith & Wesson pieces 

Anyway, I got a comment from our local ivory tickler (Ah, JT, if only you were French, the jokes would just write themselves), on behalf of a friend, asking how one goes about acquiring such things as these. Well Jeff, I'm going for the sake of brevity to assume that your friend, like you, is both a resident of Iowa and older than 21.  If both of those things are the case:

  • You do not need a permit of any kind to purchase the rifle, nor do you, when you get it, need to register it with anyone. Go in to any gun shop, big or small, and ask for the mo-SEEN na-GAHN 9130. They should either have them in stock or waiting for another shipment which should be forthcoming shortly.  If you don't mind cleaning cosmoline off it for three days, expect to pay $99-109.  For one that's cleaned off, expect to pay between $10 and $20 more.  It's worth it.  Trust your Unca Gary.
  • Regarding ammo for the rifle, it uses ammo specific to that model and its cousins, 7.62x54 ammo.  It is corrosive to the rifle, meaning every time you shoot it, before you clean it you need to run something with ammonia in it, like Windex, through the barrel lest it create pitting.  The good news is that it's cheap: you can pick up a great whack of ammo for a little money, like a crate of 880 rounds for about $140.  And it's a giant round, like a .30-30 round, just a monster.
  • For the revolver, you do in fact need a permit in Iowa, but the good news there is that Iowa is a "shall issue" state, as opposed to a "may issue" one; in other words, the county sheriff's office is compelled to issue you a permit as long as you meet the criteria, which is basically not being a felon, alcoholic, or junkie. The permit takes effect no later than three days after issuance in case they choose to run a background check on you. Once you get that permit you can buy the M1895 revolver. DISCLAIMER: For the love of Jebus, do your own research into the gun laws; please remember I'm an idiot who usually needs to be told to unwrap gum before I start to chew it. Ignorance of the law is no defense, and penalties for violating gun laws are never gentle.
  • If you can't find a shop that has an M1895, consider buying one on-line.  Many on-line shops offer a "best-of" option where for a nominal fee, usually ten bucks, they'll go through a handful of them and hand-pick the best of the bunch, and you can express a preference for year, factory, markings, anything you want (though nothing is guaranteed). They'll need to ship your gun to a local shop with an FFL (Federal Firearms License) who will examine your paperwork and make sure you're who you say you are.  Expect them to charge a reasonable fee for their part in the deal, maybe $20 or so. The canny Internet user should be able to find an on-line presence who sells surplus guns and ammunition. I certainly hope I don't have to draw you a picture.
  • It too uses ammo specific to that model, same caliber but 38mm long, so the ammo is known as 7.62x38R(rimmed), or 7.62 Nagant in many places. It's not the cheapest ammo in the world, even the old corrosive stuff is about $.20 a round. For reasons that have to do with the design of the thing, the cartridge's casing actually extends past the bullet; it looks a little bit like an uncircumcised pecker.
Well am I lying?
Jeff, as always, please feel free to ask any follow-up questions you may have.  Anyone else, if you need or want me to do a little research on your state's laws, I'm happy to oblige.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Jews with Post-Cruise Blues and Other News

Well, we're back from the cruise, and as usual we find ourselves needing a vacation from the vacation. That is kind of a righteous suck for Tootsie, who has to find her feet at work tomorrow, but even though I have things to fill my day tomorrow, about which more later, I have the luxury of sleeping in.

First things first, I guess: not only did I not earn my cruise for next year at the tables, I actually came back down a little bit. I had a really good first day and a half; by 10:00 day 2 I was up almost $350 and  table captain. Then I kinda got hosed a little by the Poker Gods.  Well in fact I got an urgent telegram from them, it was my death certificate and could I just sign there please.

Basically I experienced exactly the kind of cooler hand that always seems to haunt my steps at times of greatest import. Holding KJo (yes, the dreaded KJ, who long-time readers know as being the single hand by which I've lost the most amount of money) and out-of-position I raised 3x and, since it's a cruise ship, actually - this is true - got called by more people than were playing.

The flop came KKJ.  Boy's night at the castle.  I flopped Kings full of Jacks - the stone cold joint.  I bet out about 1/2 the pot, call call, raise, fold, fold, back to me. No Hollywood, no dicking about, I shoved and leaned back in my chair, oozing power, unable to control myself but not really caring.

I got two callers.  One of them had me covered, the other was down to his last fifty bucks or so. The table flips our cards over and the idiot with no money had a pocket pair, something like 88 or 99, something that made me think that for the love of god, he puts his last dime in the pot thinking that with this kind of action he's really good. - The other player had KQ. There was almost $900 in the pot, as memory served.  I was actually planning next year's trip in my head.

Until, of course - what else could POSSIBLY happen - my opponent turned a Q and the bigger house.  GG Crafty.  Care to rebuy? Got the whole bit - flop sweat pouring down my face, ears buzzing, almost started getting tunnel vision even. I couldn't believe it - still can't, really.

Except this shit happens to me ALL THE FUCKING TIME. It's really discouraging.  And you know the worst thing about it?  It was destiny.  I certainly wasn't going to do anything but push my hand - remember, cruise poker is ABC, nothing fancy, subtlety is wasted on the stupid and the drunken - and my opponent wasn't going anywhere with her - yes, her - king.  She flops trips and with that kicker it's what, the third nuts at that point? So it's not like SHE was backing down.  It just happened like a god damned train wreck and there was nothing anyone was gonna do but watch it all happen.

As for me, I went on opposite-tilt, and clamped down like a 90-year old nit. I folded QQ pre-flop to a $50 all-in, convinced I was beat, forgetting this is cruise poker.  The guy said - yes, said - he had 99, not knowing what I held. I ended up down $37 for the week, and only got my shizzle back the last night when the table and the cards both started cooperating.  In only an hour and 10 minutes or so I made back a good bit of change but I had to be back in the cabin by midnight to do the luggage thing.

As for the rest of the cruise, let's just say that although everyone had a good time I think everyone agrees that it's good to be home.  Mom did her best to try to not be a millstone around our necks but toward the end of the trip she'd call us up dangerously early in the morning and ask us "what are we doing today?"

One of the most frustrating elements of dealing with my mother is that she tends not to believe anything I ever say about anything, regarding any subject whatsoever.  Not because she thinks I'm lying, but because she thinks that I am her youngest child and how can I possibly be worldly enough to know anything that she didn't herself teach me?

Since it happens all the time, it's become a button, and when she presses it, it really goes up my ass sideways. So this might seem trivial to you but to me it was a constant source of irritation.  Here is a partial list of the things that my mother heard from my lips but chose not to believe:

  • That besides adhering to the rules of basic hygiene, there was no enforced dress code anywhere on the ship;
  • That she would have a place to store her insulin in her cabin;
  • That nobody was monitoring her food intake, and that she could indeed go to the deli and get a sandwich while subsequently hitting the buffet, while subsequently hitting the burrito place if she wanted to;
  • That the ship would be designed generally to accommodate the overweight and the elderly, or indeed that there would be either of those types of people on board;
  • (After hearing that they charged for booze and soda) That there would be anything to drink that didn't cost money;
  • That thanks to gigantic stabilizers and generally calm seas she wouldn't need seasick remedies such as the 1,200 Dramamine pills she brought;
  • That there was a state-of-the-art medical facility on board (she was so reluctant to believe this that she went down to deck 0 and asked for [and received] a tour, after which she was satisfied);
  • That Customs coming back in to the US would have no objection to her bringing back in the little chocolates that were left on her pillow, and that she could still be in the "nothing to declare" line;
  • That she did not have to go to the lobby to pick up her disembarkation paperwork, that it would be delivered to her stateroom; and 
  • That there were enough lifeboats to accommodate everyone aboard.
Remember: these aren't just things my Mom didn't know.  These were facts that she was told by someone who's taken THIS VERY CRUISE twice before, and actually been on the very ship we were sailing on, and chosen not to believe.

Tootsie, who got a really good look at her behavior up close for the first time, came back to the cabin one day and said to me, wide-eyed, "Your mother's out of her mind!"  Yes, honey, she is.  Come here, darling, and tell daddy all about it.  No, dear, I didn't mean we should call your father, I just, I was just being romantic.  No, I'm sure your dad is fine.  Sweetie, it's $2.00 a minute to use the phone, I'm sure he's fine, really.  Well fucking pardon me for trying to be nice! I'll never make THAT mistake again.  No - you go fuck YOURself.  Yeah, right back atcha, ya douchebag.

The final straw came this morning, disembarkation day.  She knew that we needed to be out of our cabins by 8:30.  She knew, because we told her over dinner, that we were going to have a 7:30 wake-up call. And notwithstanding knowing both those things she called our cabin at 7:06, and when we did not answer, she called back at 7:12, and then again at 7:34. With nothing to say other than "did you see us coming in to the port?"  So needless to say I was fucking cranky (with a small "c," you weirdos) all morning. Add to the fact that the plans SHE made to get us back to where our car was got all pear-shaped and let's just say I was glad to be back home.

Was it worth it?  Well, karmically, I suppose so.  She really did have a good time, couldn't have done it by herself, and can now cross off a huge thing from her list of end-of-life regrets.  So in that respect I was glad to have done it.  That, however, was the only perspective from which I could make that claim.

So that was the cruise.  Elsewhere in the life of the Crafty Southpaw:

  • The waiting period is over and I was able to pick up my new toy, my Mosin-Nagant 9130 rifle, discussed at length in a previous post. It's just gorgeous, in an ugly-duckling sort of way.  Now that it's in my hands I can really appreciate the power and the heft of the thing, as well as the simplicity of its manufacture.  It's funny; the guns that Americans buy are sporting firearms; they're designed to fire at targets, or clay pigeons, maybe a hunting trip a half-dozen times a year for the enthusiast.  But this weapon, this is a different thing altogether.  The 9130 was designed to kill the enemy, plainly and simply.  The metal isn't shined to a high gloss; that takes time and besides, you don't want your weapon to shine in the sun when someone is trying to kill you. It was meant to carry well, to stay clean under harsh conditions, and to destroy the Third Reich one Nazi prick at a time. That knowledge gives it a power, commands it a respect that is hard to describe. I'm glad I own one. I can't wait to put it through its paces.
  • I have decided that it's time, more or less, to move on with this phase of my life.  I guess what that means is that it's time to bury my father, as it were; I have to be able to say goodbye in a way that I haven't yet been able to do.  It also means that it's time to blow the dust off the ol' resumé and seek employment. So (in all likelihood) off comes the ponytail and out goes Gary to hit the bricks and see what there is to see out in the wide world.
  • Part of this process of moving on was going to be shutting down the blog. For good or bad I associate it with this phase of my life, even though I started it before Dad passed, and before my life got more complicated than it used to be. I strongly considered the notion that if I want behavior to change, and if I honestly felt that a new start was what was going to do that, then a new start was something I should endeavor to do as completely as possible.  But I'm keeping it going, at least for the present.  I've really come to value the connections I've made,  in some cases made some actual friends.  And really, even though every last one of you is an irredeemable idiot, you're non-judgmental, encouraging, warm, smart, funny idiots, and I'm glad you're all in my life to the extent that you are.  
  • Speaking of the blog I've gotten some comments recently about the new look of the thing and wanted to say thanks.  It was really as simple as making a few choices, clicking here and there, and spending literally 25 minutes on a new logo, which seemed to be going around anyway (I think Grrouchie was the first one on that stage). Glad you all like it.
Well, I guess that's it for now.  Didn't bring any herb on board; missed it. With that said: excuse me, got stuff to do ;)

Meant what I said about you guys.  Not so much the idiot thing.  The other things. Good to be back.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Postcard From the Road

Quick update - at 75 cents a minute it has to be quick.  Day 1, the table is exactly the way i thought it was, I played perfect cruise poker, which admittedly is not difficult against bad players who are also half drunk.  Day 1 I only played for about 2 hours, started with $100, ended with $300. Yay me! Just play ABC poker, don't get cute, hit your strong hands hard, fold down your crap (though if you want to let yourself be caught bluffing early that REALLY helps if you're willing to play tight thereafter) and you'll win. At this rate I should be able to pay for my next cruise before I leave this one, and Tootsie has indicated that if I win that amount of moola she'd be down with another trip. Wheee!

The seas are calm and picturesque as hell, my mother is trying her best not to force herself down our throats (results are mixed) but all in all not too awfully bad.

Anyway, I'll be home Friday or so.  Stay cool till then.  I think you're all just grand.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Sign Said "Gone Fishin'..."

Sorry, no History Friday this weekend, had to get all my poop in a group for the big cruise departure.  As I sit here it's almost 2AM Sunday, so we'll be leaving for Ma's house in about 9 hours, so we can be FIVE HOURS EARLY just in case we needed to, I dunno, grow some aloe in case we burn ourselves on board or some goddamn thing or other.

Ma wants to suck up every single experience, what with this being one of her bucket list things, so I figure that it would be better if she got on board as early as she can, so I'm not going to begrudge that.  I got her convinced (with the help of the guy giving us a ride to the port) that since it's such a tight squeeze into the pier that they have a bunch of rowers who hand-row the vessel into and out of its berth! Oh the fun we'll have.

Well it's getting late, cats and kittens: it's time to shut down Radio Free Crafty for a while. Should be back in time for next week's HF. Wish me luck at my twin goals of winning enough money to book next year's cruise and not killing my mother. If there's any news regarding a cruise ship gone to the briny deep, just make sure it's not the Carnival Glory. And if it is, keep your mitts off my fucking stuff. I have a will.

Stay well one and all,

PS the final chapter of my quest to obtain the proper paperwork to legally purchase a handgun in Rhode Island has been written, but that would be like talking about dessert and not mentioning the entrée.  I'll tell you all about it when we get back.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Like Guns? Jewish? Oy, Have I Got a Deal for You...

The worst part about being a gun enthusiast is that it is an expensive hobby to maintain.  A firearm with sufficient horsepower to be considered a legitimate hunting weapon can cost $800 or more - there are a few exceptions, of course, but your average .308 in an AR-15 configuration is over a grand. Worse yet, the ammo is expensive - the cheapest stuff you can find will run you $.50 per round.

But knowledgeable folks know that there is an alternative to spending all your money to get a deer rifle. You can get a great gun - and a legitimate piece of history - for next to no money.

Is cool, da?  Da!

This rifle here is the Mosin Nagant model 9130. It was the standard rifle issued by Russia from 1892 until the end of World War II in 1945. The troops loved it, based on its reliability under just about any operating condition, its relative ease of operation, its ability to be field-stripped and cleaned quickly, and its otherworldly durability. Even if one ran out of ammo, it was still a dangerous weapon; at over eight pounds you could crack the enemy's ribs or skull by hitting him with the steel-coated stock-end of the rifle, called the butt-plate. You could run him through with a bayonet that fit on the end of the barrel - and in fact the rifle could be accurately fired with the bayonet permanently fixed.

The Russkies made over 17 million of these puppies.  The sheer number of Nazi scumbags that were killed by this weapon staggers the mind.

Now at some point shortly after the war ended, and they stopped making new 9130's, someone somewhere had the idea that instead of taking hundreds of thousands of crates full of guns and dumping them in the ocean, that instead they should store them away and sell them sixty years later. And that's exactly what they did. They took millions of rifles, coated every part with a lubricant/rust preventer called cosmoline, and put them away.

Cosmoline is messy, it's difficult to remove, and it stinks like a combination of crayons and feet. It gets in the wood stocks and you need to steam it out of the wood with one of those portable clothes steamers for about three days. But I'll tell you what: it kept these rifles in perfect shape for the seventy-ish years they've been in storage. I haven't seen a single one that had any rust or pitting on any metal part.

So if you want a good, reliable rifle that can take down a deer from 300 yards, and that started off its life killing Nazis, and don't mind spending three days wiping cosmoline off of it, you can get yourself a Mosin Nagant 9130 for under a hundred bucks.

Or you could do what I did.  I had an opportunity to take my pick out of a batch of ten, all of which had the cosmoline cleaned off, all of which were in perfect shooting condition and all of which had matching serial numbers. The one I chose had a near-pristine stock, a 1938 model made in the USSR's Izhevsk factory, for $130. Just a staggeringly small amount of money for a firearm in near-perfect condition.  I count myself lucky.

Oh, and one more thing:  the ammo that the 9130 uses is unique to that weapon: 7.62mm caliber and 54mm long.  There's also millions of rounds of THAT that have been preserved as well.  You can get a sealed can of 440 rounds for $65 or so.  That's about eighteen cents a round.  Remember, its nearest equivalent, the .308, is fifty cents a round for the cheap stuff.

So, to sum up: it's cheap to buy, cheap to shoot, and it's almost a guarantee that this very rifle killed actual Nazis. There's literally no downside to this transaction. I can't wait for the waiting period to be over and to get this puppy in my hands.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

In Defense of Doctors

Has the world turned completely upside-down?

I never thought I'd be writing a post that rallies to the defense of doctors, for the love of Benji. I fucking hate doctors and hospitals; always have.  My mom is a nurse and if you ever want to find an honest appraisal of doctors, all you ever have to do is find a nurse willing to tell the truth.

There are always exceptions but usually, doctors are prideful, arrogant little shitstains with God complexes and small dicks. They accommodate their God complexes by protecting and cultivating a giant ego; and they compensate for being small-dicked by buying Porsches.  Yes, they do an important job but so do many other men and women in the world and don't expect to be worshiped in return.

As a matter of fact, a friend of a friend, who also blogs, got some bad news recently, and that's a shame.  She mentioned how the doctor went past clinical and was downright cold with the news he had to deliver.  Typical doctors - doing what they do best, which is apparently not giving a shit about anyone else's emotions.


Well, let me give you an example from a recent interaction with a doctor, when one of them had to tell my family that the old man had given up the ghost. This guy had to walk into a room where my family sat, chewing our nails, expecting the worst possible news. He walked in, told us that after a solid 1/2 hour of trying to resuscitate him, they finally had to pronounce him dead. The news devastated us, paralyzed us, stunned us into oblivion.

But that doctor had to excuse himself after less than five minutes, and go back to work. He didn't have the luxury of being upset, or sad, knowing that someone died and left a family to uncomprehending grief. He had to get himself together and be ready to fix the next problem that walked through the door.

They're cold, unfeeling bastards, yes.  But they have to be. So although I hated them before, and I hate them still, I'm prepared to give them a pass on how emotionally unavailable they are.  They really do kind of have to be that way.

Friday, June 1, 2012

History Friday: The Man Who Destroyed the World

When it comes to such concepts as "good" and "bad," there are few opportunities to use superlatives to describe human beings - people are rarely pure good or pure evil.  For example, even Mother Theresa was said to care more about publicity than the succor of the sick.  And even Hitler, that fucking douchebag asswipe, loved dogs and treated his non-military staff well.

When in comes to the environment, though, we have the ability to speak in terms of both best and worst.

The best, in terms of the environment, has to be Norman Borlaug.  He observed a problem endemic to wheat - that when it grew too tall, it would bend over from its own weight. This kept yields low, which meant that entire countries, like India, could not grow enough food to feed its people, resulting in widespread famine. He developed two strains of wheat that grew shorter - he called it "dwarf wheat" - and which did not droop.

This one innovation increased yield per acre by a factor of four.  Yep - he QUADRUPLED the amount of food that came from an acre of wheat. And countries that had been marked by chronic famine, like India and Mexico, could feed themselves with relative ease.

Norman Borlaug fed billions of people.  So he qualifies as best.

The man who might very well be the worst person in the entire world, at least as it pertains to the environment, was Thomas Midgely, Jr.

We pick up the story in 1921, as Midgely is a young scientist working for General Motors.  He and his team were charged with finding a solution to engine knock - which reduced engine efficency and caused increased wear and metal fatigue on motors.

He discovered that the addition of alcohol to gasoline would solve the problem. Unfortunately, since GM could not patent or regulate the use of alcohol, they stood to make very little money off the discovery.

No problem, Midgely said.  You can do the exact same thing if you add something else to gasoline, a compound called...

...Tetra-Ethyl Lead. And you can patent that. And boy, did they ever. Not wanting to call it "lead," they decided instead to call it "Ethyl." Mechanics of the day would joke that when they filled a car up they'd be "pumping Ethyl."

They set up factories to create the additive, only to have to close them down within months as employees would succumb to lead poisoning, a demon's brew of hallucinations, dementia, and ultimately, death. Midgely himself fell victim to lead poisoning a first time in 1923 and had to take a whole year off.

When he returned to work, he found that TEL had gotten a bad reputation, what with its killing people by the dozen and all.  Midgely went on a campaign to try and convince the world to un-learn what it had already come to know, namely that lead was a deadly poison, and that it was going to be ok if GM poured millions of pounds of it into the environment.

The funny thing was, it almost worked.  He held a press conference October 30, 1924, during which he "demonstrated" the safety of TEL by pouring the additive on his hands over and over, then taking a bottle of it and inhaling its contents for a full minute.  However the main goal of the press conference - to stop the state of New Jersey from shutting down a factory for being dangerous - was not met, as the state continued with its plans to shut the factory down.

And Midgely required eleven months to recover from a second bout of lead poisoning that his dimwitted demonstration caused.

During his convalescence, he was relieved of his Vice-Presidency of GM's subsidiary GMCC, the General Motors Chemical Company, and his work with lead was finally through.  However lead remained a gasoline additive in the United States until 1995.

So: Midgely is now out of the lead business.  What did he do for an encore?

He invented CFC's.  Yep, that's right. In 1937 or so, he discovered that adding fluorine to a hydrocarbon molecule had the necessary properties to act as a refrigerant. He invented with his own hands the chemical that we've known all these years as Freon, or R21.

 Characteristically he brushed aside any suggestions that unleashing fluorine into the atmosphere could in any possible way be harmful.  And in fairness he was not alone in this view; he received the highest honor the US Chemical industry can bestow, the Perkin Medal. Of course now we know that CFC's never actually go away, and that they slowly rise up in the atmosphere and react with ozone in the upper  reaches of the atmosphere and destroy it.

So one human being was responsible for the single most harmful atmospheric pollution in the planet's history and, for an encore, destroyed the ozone layer.  It's not for nothing that J. R. MacNeill, an environmental historian, said that Midgely "had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth's history."

EPILOGUE: In 1940, at the age of 51, Midgely contracted polio and was confined to his bed.  He developed an intricate system of ropes and pulleys so that his healthcare providers could get him into and out of bed with a minimum of hassle.  He died when he got tangled in his ropes and slowly strangled himself to death.

Some people, I guess, actually do pay for their actions.

Overheard at the Grocery Store

Me (after reading the checkout guy's name tag): Hello, Zach.
Zach: Hello, sir.
Me: How you livin'?
Zach: Doin' all right, I guess.
Me: Are they still saying that nowadays?
Zach: What, "doin' all right?"
Me: No (you idiot), I meant "how you livin'?"
Zach: Oh, oh.  Yeah, sometimes.  My dad says that a lot.
Me (long pause): I don't like you, Zach.