Ring ring ring ring ring ring ring ring Banana Phone!

Like many people, I gave up my landline a few months ago. No phones are plugged into any wall jacks in the house. However, there is a bell on the outside of the house connected to the landline that was installed by the original owner, so he could hear the phone ring in the back yard.

Last night, it rang.

I wasn’t sure I’d heard it, so I listened.

It rang again.

What the?

It rang a third time.

I opened the back door to take a look and didn’t see anyone back there. I called my old number to see if it would ring through and it wouldn’t. Creepy.

Two nights later, it did the same thing – three rings and nothing.

I have an abrasion on my scalp. Last weekend we took the kids to the Hands On Regional Museum in Johnson City. On the bottom floor, there is an exhibit which simulates a coal mine. I followed Max into the mine. Most of the tunnels weren’t tall enough for me to stand upright, so I stooped and followed. On my way out, I stood up too quickly and scraped the top of my head on the mine.

So when people ask how I hurt my head I say “coal mine accident” which sounds better than “old guy stumbling around children’s museum accident.”

I love Facebook. I didn’t think I would because of my inherent distrust of anything too popular, but I love it. One of the reasons I love it is because I now get the many of the jokes I see in pop culture that are based on that experience. References to status updates, vampire requests, Farmville . . . it makes sense to me now.

Another reason is the same as why everyone else likes it – I’m reconnecting with people I haven’t seen or heard from in years. There are people from my high school with whom I’ve had longer and more interesting conversations on Facebook than I ever had in real life.

Facebook is also, apparently, the place where bygones become bygones. People I disliked throughout my life are suddenly my best buddy. That’s cool. I’m a peaceful and forgiving man and never one to hold grudges to too long.

I also hate Facebook. There is plenty about the site to be annoyed at – the seemingly constant redesigns, the Farmville/Vampire/Mobster/Pillowfight stuff and the uncertainty about who really owns the information we post. But that’s not what really gets to me.

I’m learning too much about my friends’ and family’s politics. That may sound weird coming from someone who has been spewing his own politics all over the web for more than ten years, but there is a difference. Let me see if I can explain.

I write a lot about politics (more so in the old days than now) and I do research and I try to back up my opinions with some good information, cite my sources and do everything to maintain my credibility. That’s not something you can do easily in a Facebook status update. Instead, you get snarky comments without any sort of context. It leaves the reader thinking 1) this person is an idiot and 2) well . . . there is no No. 2.

I’ll give you an example. I have a relative who I see at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Until we became Facebook friends, I had no idea of his politics. We never discussed it (or much else). The day of the Senate special election in Massachusetts, he posted this as his Facebook status:

I would like to say thank you. Thank you to the voters of Massachusetts. Thank you for punching the democrats/liberals square in the mouth. Maybe the next punch will knock that stupid smirk right off Nancy Pelosi’s face, actually knock some common sense into that errant boy Henry Ried, and bring the dali bama off his high horse.

Leaving aside my usual snarks about the spelling/punctuation errors or the fact that I think the word he was looking for was “errand” boy or that the Senate Majority Leader is Harry Reid; there is nothing of substance in that at all. It comes from a place of hate and it’s hard to believe a guy I’ve known as long as I’ve known him, has this much bile in his heart.

My first instinct is to engage:

Hey, I hope you realize that the voters in Massachusetts elected a pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, liberal Republican who supported health care reform in Massachusetts. I’ll take all of them I can get. Also, the polling shows that one major reason the Massachusetts voters were unhappy was that health care reform wasn’t going far enough to help people who need it. I’m all for giving Scott Brown his due, but he’s got 13 months to make something happen and his party doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything.

But too quickly the comments filled up with more hateful, violent rhetoric from his friends like some weird right-wing echo chamber.  And while I’m not one to shy away from a political squabble in which I am outnumbered, every rebuttal triggers a notification and an email to my account and I don’t want to deal with that end of it.

Dollie just hides his updates so she doesn’t have to see them. I’m tempted, but I’d rather go into these things with my eyes open.

So I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I encourage everyone I know, both friends and clients, to get on board, but I’m not going to be all that sad to see whatever will be next to come down the pike.

The vagaries of the Internets . . .

I’ve had the same email address for many years. I’ve kept it through several different service providers and at least three physical addresses. I like it. It is easy to remember for both me and the person I’m telling. The one real drawback is that because I’ve had it so long, it shows up in a lot of databases and lists, so I get an unholy amount of spam on it.

Usually, I ignore it. I like to think I can recognize a phony email when I see one and for the most part that’s true. Lately, a few have been sneaking past my brain-based filter and I’ve ended up wasting precious seconds of my life that I’ll never get back. Today, however, I came across one that was just odd.

Here is what it said:

Subject re:
From: Pat Hooper <a7cygrenee@osakawtc.co.jp>
Date: Jan 22, 2010 8:06 AM
To: MISSING_MAILBOX@SYNTAX_ERROR

Hello, Steve, I’ve heard that your wife is about to give birth to your firstling and you’re going to be present at the childbirth. You know, two years ago I became a father too, but after I had seen my young wife in labor I couldn’t bring myself to make love to her for several months. So there are a few tips on how to avoid my sad experience.

And that’s it. No link to click, no attachment, no pitch for pregnancy porn, nothing. Looking at the metadata, it seems that, rather than coming from Japan as the “from” email suggests, it was actually routed through Serbia (mccannclipping.co.rs).  I’ll never understand the Internets.

I spent an enjoyable evening among my friends last night. We networked a couple of Xboxes and played “Left For Dead 2.” It was a zombie-killing extravaganza, plus pizza. One would think that, at 41, I might be over video games, but I grew up with them. That’s not entirely accurate. I grew up near them. I have a long history of having friends who had the latest video games.

My neighbor TJ had an Odyssey2 and then the Atari 2600. My friend Steve had the Intellivision. While the stereotype may be of a loner in his mom’s basement playing videogames, I’ve always found them to be a social activity – in someone’s mom’s basement.

The rain has put a slump on my running program. I’m on week 2 of the C25K, but I’ve been unable to run enough this week for it to count. I think I’m going to have to do the week two program again next week. From what I understand from those who have done this before me, slow going is good going. I’m all over being slow.

Lots to talk about, but so little to say

The fam has been successfully released into the wilds of East Tennessee while I hold down the fort here in Murfreesboro. Their departure was delayed a week by the death of Dollie’s grandmother, Catherine Copeland. I’ve known her for about 20 years and she has always been one of the sweetest, most generous women I’ve ever met. She influenced my life in ways she could never know. But here are a couple of examples.

My marriage: Dollie and I have been married for 15 years. We dated for five years before that. As I am 41, the math says we started dating when we were young and relatively stupid. As I was a dumb guy, I never gave too much thought to marriage.  We might have gone on like that a while longer, but word got back to me that Grandma Copeland was wondering aloud “Is he just going to be Dollie’s boyfriend forever?” That was a big kick in the head for me and I proposed soon after. Later, I found out Dollie had me on a clock and I made it just under the wire.

Our home: When Dollie and I were starting our family, we decided to buy a house. We both had good jobs and the timing seemed right, but as we were still just starting out, we didn’t have a lot of savings. Grandma Copeland helped us out and later insisted that we never pay it back. We kept that promise.

But here is my favorite Grandma Copeland story. Her birthday is just after Christmas, so when we gather at her home each year, folks tend to give her additional gifts outside of the traditional gift-giving ceremonies we’ve come to enjoy. A few years ago, one of her relatives gave her a hanging plant. It was big and full and not the sort of thing you can set down on a counter or the floor because of the overspilling vines. Grandma Copeland handed the plant back, went to the utility room and got a hammer and a huge nail. She came back to the den and hammered this railroad spike of a nail directly into the center of her wooden mantel. She then hung the plant there.

A very practical woman.

I mentioned to Dollie back in December that I was thinking of starting the Couch to 5K running program. I’d downloaded some information and read some testimonials and it looked like a good plan to follow. Evidently, she told some of her family about it because I got a lot of running gear for Christmas. This makes it more difficult for me not to do it.

So, two days ago I started the program. I ran my first run and everything seemed fine yesterday. Today, however, I’m a little stiff. We’ll see how tonight’s run goes. The problem isn’t motivation. I’m getting old and fat and so I’m determined to fix what I can. Since I can’t be younger, at least I can be in better shape. The problem is that it is freaking cold outside. But I am a tower of iron will.

And now a media report:

Watched “Up in the Air” and “A Serious Man” this week. I’m glad to see the return of “Better Off Ted” to ABC and have even enjoyed the reboot of “Scrubs.” I’ve got “Big Fan” in the hopper and “It’s Complicated.” “Leverage” returns tonight. I’m looking forward to “The Human Target.”

I was disappointed with Spurlock’s Simpson’s 20th anniversary special. I wanted more stuff about how the Simpsons is made and less about super fans who have Homer tattooed on their backsides. Plus, where was Harry Shearer? How can you have a Simpsons special and not talk to Harry Shearer?

Sad.

An update on the break-in. There really is no update and I’m guessing there won’t be one. Whomever did it will probably never be found. However, I believe we discovered a parting shot from the scumbags. About two weeks after the break in, Badger came over to the house to visit. When he went onto the back deck to smoke, I went with him to keep him company. I heard rushing water. Someone had turned on the garden hose in the back yard full blast. I turned it off and braced for the fallout.

a week or so later I got a postcard from the water company saying I’d used waaaaaay more water than I normally do and that I may have a leak. I called the water department and they said “Your bill is $996.”

I dropped the phone.

Then I printed out a form reporting that I did, indeed, have a leak, that it was okay now and that I would like them to adjust my bill, pretty please. We’ll see what happens.

Just my luck, I get hit by the Wet Bandits.

Replaced my Xbox 360 and got back up and gaming, which is great. Unfortunately, all my saved games were on the console that was stolen. Not a big deal, you say? Well, yes, it is a big deal. I tend to play the long-winded games – role-playing games that take months to work through the story. Character-building games that allow for painstaking customization. Mass Effect, for example, was four months out of my life. The sequel comes out in two weeks and I can’t import any of that character into the new game. I was in the final stages of Fallout 3, which I had been playing for the better part of a year. My files from Elder Scrolls III: Oblivion have taken years to build. All gone.

I know. I know. In the grand scheme of thing whether or not I can import my version of Sheppard into Mass Effect 2 is not at all important. But my blog, my prerogative to whine about whatever I want.

Okay fair warning. This next part is going to be a little scatalogical and if you know me (or even if you don’t) and have no interest in a story about  . . . well . . . poop . . .  then just go back to your Facebook page. I’m being totally serious here. What has been read cannot be unread. I don’t want to hear any complaints. I mean it. Just stop reading now.

Like many people, I tend to eat more on the weekends than during the week. It probably has to do with having more time and access to food when I’m home all day. Regardless, come Monday morning I’ve got a long drive to work and, like clockwork, when I get to the office, the first thing that needs to happen is a purge of my weekend overindulgence. I’m trying to be as genteel as possible here. Bottom line, I have a regularly scheduled massive bowel movement every Monday morning when I get to work.

I find it is a great way to start off the work week.

Okay, so the other thing you need to know about me is that, while I am a voracious consumer of news media during the week, I cut myself off from it on the weekends. So, if something big happens on a Saturday, it may very well be Monday afternoon before I know anything about it.

So, last Monday I get to work and notice that the streets and sidewalks around my building have that white, powdery appearance that comes with having been covered with salt. On the front door of the building was a notice of a public meeting about some issue with the water department, which I glanced at, figured it had nothing to do with me and went on.

At this point I realize that my regularly schedule massive bowel movement is coming a little early. So I quickly drop my things off at my office and hit the head for what can only be described as a “major transaction.” The kind of poop that Ron White is describing when he says that afterwards your pants fit better.

Are we clear? Are you sorry you’ve read this far?

Anyhoo, I finish up and as I get ready to return to work I flush the toilet.

Nothing.

Uh-oh. I check the bathroom sink. No water. As it turns out, the winter cold burst several water mains in the blocks surrounding my building. It was all over the news on Saturday. I’d be interested to know what you’d do in that situation. As for me, I abandoned the kids at the pool and pretended it never happened.

Now here’s the thing. This was a major water break. We are looking at a best-case scenario of 48 hours before the building will have water. It sat there for more than two days before it was flushed. As soon as the water came back on, I went to finish what I’d started, but someone had beaten me to it.

I can only offer this public apology and say, with as much sincerity as I can muster, I’m sorry and I’m not really a bad person.