Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I guess it was my lucky day; youngsters, too!

So I was out running a few errands this afternoon when I decided to satisfy my craving for a cup of Joe. There was a coffee shop nearby on one of the main thoroughfares here in the Land of Cotton; that place with the fried dough that once called my name.

As I neared the shop, I noticed a group of youngsters walking along the sidewalk with two adults. I’m thinking the children – giggling and playful – were probably students at a pre-school housed in a nearby church and were off on a little adventure.

I mention the kids simply because I was forced to halt in my tracks and wait for them to happily parade by before I could make a right turn into the coffee shop’s parking lot. I glanced into my rearview mirror and was happy to see that the road was empty.

That changed in an instant. After noting there were a few stragglers attempting to join the other students, I glanced once again into my rearview mirror. Several cars were headed in my direction; a white sedan leading the pack.

Instead of slowing, the sedan accelerated and I realized that even if I jammed on the gas there was no way I was going to be able to outpace the couple of tons of metal headed in my direction. In a panic, I started to tap my accelerator and pull to the right, only to jam on my brakes because several kids blocked my path.

A surge of adrenalin shot through my body and I braced for impact, thinking this might be the last seconds of my life. Worse, I was certain my car would be hurled into the children and we’d all be whipping by the pearly gates of heaven in a moment.

Instead, the white sedan just managed to cut off a car in the left lane and whip passed me in a blur. I’m not certain, but I think I heard a sonic boom. Then again, the noise could have been my heart thumping away, merrily announcing that I was still alive.

All of this happened in an instant, but this much I know is true. The driver of the white sedan was a young girl with longish hair, holding, as the Swedes might say, a mötherförken cell phone in her hand. I hate to end any posting with a cliché, but the only thought that comes to mind at the moment is “there but for the grace of God, go I” … and those happy youngsters!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Granite, tile, new appliances and Green Stamps

The lovely Miss Wendy and I are buried in remodeling hell at the moment. Having nothing better to do we’ve decided to tinker around with our home – patch up all the problems and add some fun and sparkly stuff mostly because we can.

We spent an afternoon earlier this week like kids in a candy store, exploring the bowels of a granite company. It was an eye-popping exercise maneuvering out way about slabs of cut stone; shiny, colorful pieces of rock, each weighing hundreds of pounds, tossed about by a robotic arm that allowed for easy inspection.

I’m familiar with museum fatigue, and now can report that the same sort of problem can become part of the house fixing-up process. After checking out a dozen or so pieces of granite, the colors and intricate patterns of our top four choices had become a darkish blur. Fortunately, the sales associate tracking our journey had chipped off samples to jog our memories.

Earlier in the afternoon we spent an hour or so at an outlet specializing in tile. We’ve been this way before and know it’s important to have at least an idea of what you’re hunting before beginning the process. In the brave new world of remodeling, choices are unlimited – colors, shapes, sizes, materials.

The good news is we have an idea of what we’re hoping to create in our kitchen and both Wendy and I have spent hours googling our way through online remodeling sites, magazines, new homes in our areas and shops offering a wide assortment of splashy and sparkly stuff.

The not so good news is we probably need to win the lottery – any lottery – to pull together the bits and pieces to capture our fantasy. That said, contractors have been hired and the work begins the second week of November. Donations are welcome and can be sent directly to the Grenief Family Fantasy Fund – don’t you just love the alliteration!

Oh, for every donation of $10 we’ll be providing a full book of S&H Green Stamps. If you have no clue what I’m referencing, check out the web or ask any old geezer hanging about your home.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

At a glance: The 411 on Herman Cain’s 9-9-9

Herman Cain seems to be the flavor of the week as the Grand Old Party goes about its tortured efforts to select a presidential candidate. The election is still way off in the distant future, but the political battle has already shifted into high gear. In another few months, I imagine the candidates and their strategists will be in overdrive mode.

The only reason I dabble my metaphorical toe in this political stream is to take note of a report I heard on CNN earlier this morning while running errands here in the Land of Cotton. The reporter / commentator was gushing on about Cain and why he has managed to momentarily leap to the head of the pack. For months he had been stuck back with all the other single-digit wonders as Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts with the really good hair, held tightly to the lead among GOP contenders.

Then Cain revealed his three-number plan to fix all that ails the country’s economy by updating the nation’s outdated tax code. Overnight, 9-9-9 turned Cain into a frontrunner. The plain – a 9 percent business flat tax, 9 percent individual flat tax and 9 percent national sales tax – is easily understood and seems to make sense.

It’s also a really catchy, memorable phrase; the sort of easily digestible name thingy you might expect from a guy who made a fortune selling pizzas. It certainly has helped Cain stand out among a field of politicians who collectively fade into the background among an electorate with the attention span of your average toddler.

The problem is once commentators, economists and other politicians started ripping away at the details of the plan, Cain has been forced to rethink many of the bits and pieces of the proposal. At least one alternative, the 9-0-9 iteration, is aimed at aiding the working poor – they would be exempt from the individual flat tax portion of the proposal. I’m guessing in another few weeks that 9-9-9 will be a fading memory.

Of course, sounds bites and catchy phrases have been the meat and potatoes of politicians selling themselves and programs to voters since the days of Washington – First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen. In the middle decades of the 20th century there was Roosevelt’s New Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier and Johnson’s Great Society. More recently there have been the less grand, more amorphous concepts and selling points of Reagan’s Morning in America, Bush’s Shock and Awe and Obama’s Dare to Dream.

I fear 9-9-9 might not have the heft and staying power of Tippecanoe and Tyler Too or Remember the Maine. Then again, our grandchildren might be writing essays on their iPads – or whatever high-tech gizmos are the hot and new thing a generation down the road – about Cain and how he managed to salvage the nation’s economy with a cute phrase and a few simple ideas. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gilad is home, back with his family in Israel

Gilad Shalit is home. After being held for over five years by Palestinian thugs, the young soldier was released to Israeli authorities today and quickly reunited with his family.

There is much to be thankful for – Gilad is alive. There is much to be angry about – a 1,000 or so terrorists will be freed over the next month, all part of a deal made with the devil that seems bizarrely out of whack. Such is life in the Middle East!

For a moment let’s push all the maneuvering, the wasted years and fear, the politics of the region aside and focus on the gentle scene of light and love captured in the photo above. Take a second and share the joy of Noam Shalit embracing his son; a moment that finally ends a nightmare that has lingered for 1,941 days.

For anyone with children, anyone with a heart, it’s clear that a measure of grace surrounds both Gilad and Noam; their lives are no longer on hold, hope has been rekindled in a world once gray and the future seems bright.

Bibi, that would be Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stands nearby. He wears a smile and I can only imagine what he’s thinking. Certainly there’s a sense of joy and elation, perhaps a momentary feeling of victory.

The dark stuff – the deals and compromises to make this day happen, the problems already casting shadows on the borders around Israel – can wait for a bit. Today let’s celebrate with Gilad, Noam and Bibi. One of our sons has returned to the warm embrace of his family. Gilad is alive and well and, in the words of psalmist, my cup runneth over!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Heebs among us; and happy New Year!

The lovely Miss Wendy and I are deep into home remodeling mode at the moment. Our collective wish list includes updating the kitchen, adding crown molding in the living and dining rooms, ripping down wallpaper in the foyer and breakfast nook and adding a few fresh coats of paint from, ah, here to there.

We’re also planning to replace the wooden siding that has lovingly caressed our castle with a happening new covering – HardiePlank. It’s a move, we’re hoping, that should add value to our home while protecting us from the elements for years to come!

So it was that a salesman from one of those mega-home construction firms came knocking at my door this morning. He was big, burly and filled with good cheer. He introduced himself, made a little small talk about the Falcons and Braves, then asked where I was from.

I mentioned that I had lived in the Land of Cotton for decades, but grew up a hundred miles south of here in a little village nestled along the Chattahoochee River just this side of the Alabama border.

“Didn’t know there were any Heebs around these parts,” he said. Ah, right. Check please!

For a moment I felt like I had tumbled down Alice’s rabbit hole in some sort of alternative universe where up was down and down was up. We both continued talking, the sales guy detailing the merits of HardiePlank, me mostly nodding my noggin in a distracted fashion.

The anti-Semitic blip continued to echo in the background as we walked around the house, checking out gutters and soffits, discussing various options for updating and beautifying the house. Mr. Sales Guy took a few measurements, called for a timeout and played around with a calculator in his van before presenting me with a formal bid.

He spent a few moments talking up the merits of his company, wished me a grand day and said goodbye. Five minutes after he’d left, all I recalled of the visit was his belief that there weren’t any “Heebs” living in the Land of Cotton.

For the next hour I tried to make sense of what he’d said. Did he really say what I thought I’d heard – was he serious; was he joking; was he a raving anti-Semite hiding out in the burbs? Then I spent another hour playing out how I should have responded. That conversation usually began with “beg your pardon” and ended with me showing him the door!

Finally, I simply picked up the phone and called him. I explained there was something he’d said when we first met that was troubling me, then outlined the bit of small talk we shared. When I asked if he recalled his comment after I mentioned growing up in the South, there was a moment of dead silence, then a whispered “oops!”

What was the Heeb thing all about, I asked, and Mr. Sales Guy revealed that, well, ah, he was also Jewish! Strained laughter, then he offered a rush of words – silly, stupid, unprofessional, sorry, strange sense of humor.

We both chuckled, then played a little Jewish geography before he apologized yet again. Just after saying our goodbyes and just before hanging up the phone, Mr. Sales Guy-itz added, “Happy New Year.”

And so it is – now !