May 11, 2007

Company, Cookouts, and Used-Truck Salesmen

Category: News — Ira @ 6:57 pm

Wilma, Johann, and Rhoda at the cookout

Wow, what a weekend. Marvin and Rhoda Yutzy arrived safely from Kansas on Friday evening (5/4). Their stay was too short; they left Monday morning early. My Saturday evening cookout was successful, and I grilled some naturally-raised “Steve Beiler” smoked sausage. Everyone agreed it tasted fantastic. My sister Rhoda baked some fresh strawberry pie the old-fashioned way Mom always made it, with a cream base and excellent crust (see picture below this paragraph), and thus my diet was shot for the weekend. This week the gym was my friend.
Well fed. Steve and Marvin at the cookout

On Sunday, Marvins insisted that they wanted to attend church with me, cementing my suspicion that they had driven 1300 miles primarily to support me and make sure I was OK. They didn’t ask if I was OK, they just packed up and came to see me, which, when I stop and think about it, is gratifying and pretty humbling. We attended Westminster Presbyterian, which I described in my last blog. Service was about as usual, except the pudgy main pastor (or is it vicar?) was gone that day and some young spritz preached in his stead. He seemed excited for the opportunity and did a commendable job. Because they had communion (of which we did not partake), we were able to slip out a few minutes earlier than usual and get back to Steves in good time for Sunday dinner (described in more detail later in this post).
Best friends relaxing after everyone left. Ira and Marvin

Shopping for a truck, I discovered last Saturday (5/5), is not exactly a picnic in the park. Marvin bravely volunteered to accompany me, and off we rumbled in my squeaky-clean Chevy to E-Town Dodge, arriving around 9:30. A genial, overweight (seems I notice and judge excess weight more discriminatingly lately) salesman named David approached us exactly ten seconds after we ambled onto the lot among the used trucks, and almost instantly after I assured Marvin that we could look around on our own and no one would bother us. David was very low-key, talkative, and accommodating. At around 11:00, after one test drive in a very nice 2005 gray Dodge 1500 4X4 with 20,000 miles, one free soda pop each, and at least six local (and very interesting) history lessons from David, we left.

That was dealer # one. After dropping Marvin off at Steves, I stopped by Giant to buy supplies for that evening’s cookout and unloaded them at home. I then ventured out to the New Holland Dodge dealer located about a mile east of my house. I stepped out of my truck and was immediately accosted by Adam, a very alert young salesman who looked to be no older than 17 (no exaggeration), who had recently moved into the area from Philly. You can imagine how that went. The only truck on the lot that even remotely interested me was a 2004 fully loaded Dodge 1500 4X4 with, guess what, 20,000 miles. One problem: it was bright, fire-engine Dodge Red, even the grill. Adam convinced me to take it for a test drive with him; it drove very smoothly and the engine roared with muted thunder from dual exhausts. Adam claimed that the dual exhaust system gets better gas mileage (I wouldn’t know.). He was undeterred even after I told him that by my calculations, the only person who would drive such a loud, all-red truck was someone who had to prove he was a man, something I felt was unnecessary for me to prove to anyone. “Oh no,” he assured me, “this color will grow on you.”

After we sat down at his desk, the pressure escalated, ending with Adam shoving a paper across his desk for me to sign committing to a certain price. After some brief reflection, I said that my truck was mine, fully paid for, and that I didn’t have to do a bleepin’ thing. Adam hastily agreed, but said he would like my truck to be theirs (a nice comeback). These salesmen are sharks. Feeling drained, I escaped and drove back home to prepare for the cookout. I have since mulled much over the apostle Paul’s admonition to be generally content in whatever state one finds oneself and have decided to be satisfied with my gas-sucking Chevy 2500 HD pickup, at least until a deal comes along I can’t refuse. By the way, Adam has my home phone number, and something tells me that more adventures with him are in my future.

New bumper sticker on my truck. Courtesy of Fred the Curmudgeon.
Available on his website on my Links Page.

I am no horseman (in fact, I hate horses), but each summer I watch the three major horse races; the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. The first of the three, the Kentucky Derby, was last Saturday, to be run at 5:30, or so I thought. The Queen of England was even attending (I pause and tug my forelock. As a Canadian, I am a subject of and proud to salute the Queen.).

My cookout was scheduled for 6, and I let it be known that everyone was welcome to come early and watch the race on the little TV in my garage. Marvins arrived around 4 to help with cookout preparations and to visit. At 5:20, we were in the garage, and I lighted the charcoal. Then we discovered that the race would be around 6:30. By then, almost everyone was there. I was working the grill, when a loud shout inside the garage alerted me the race had started. I rushed inside (about 2 steps) and we all hollered for our horses. I had picked Sam P. (reminded me of an Amish name), an unknown horse that was listed at 45:1 odds. It was a wild race, and Street Sense, the favorite, who lagged comfortably in 19th place for most of the race, surged to victory by several lengths. Sam P., aptly named, plugged along dismally and ended up ninth. The odds makers had him pegged right. Let’s just say that I’m glad there was no real money on the table for him.

Lancaster County’s gardens are bursting from the ground in full bloom, but mine isn’t. We always planted a small plot, probably 10×15 ft. square, beside the garage. I even bought one of those tiny little Honda tillers several years ago, the kind you can easily pick up and carry around. I like the Honda because it doesn’t require the gas/oil mixture like the Mantis does, and well, because it’s a Honda. This spring, on of our friends asked to borrow it for some landscaping work around her house. “Gladly will I lend it,” I said, “but let me sell it to you instead for a very good price.” My price was right and the little Honda tiller now has a proud new owner. My fresh veggies this summer will be harvested from the local farm stands.

After my comments about my bad experiences with the sleeping drug Ambien, Ellen emailed me that I should ask the doctor for a different drug. She suggested Lunesta. So on my follow-up visit last week, I asked Dr. Sammitt for Lunesta. After again unsuccessfully broaching the subject of drugs for my depression (I don’t know what it is with these doctors.), he agreed and gave me some free samples and a prescription. The TV commercials for Lunesta portray flitting butterflies above a peaceful, sunlit meadow of waving grass beside the placid sea. My Lunesta-induced slumber isn’t quite that idyllic, but it sure beats the Ambien experience.

I am now the proud owner of a new digital camera, a Samsung S630 with 6.0 mega pixels, whatever that means. I asked Patrick at work if it would be sufficient for my needs to take pictures for this site, and he assured me that it was more than enough. I bought it at Circuit City, where it was on a Mother’s Day sale for $99.99, not bad. They had a choice of green and pink and silver. I got the silver one.

CORRECTION: Last week I mistakenly wrote that the May primaries would be held Tues. 5/8. I was wrong; it’s this coming Tues. 5/15. I’m very embarrassed. I thought I was better organized than that. I also received a bit of mild chastisement for slamming Senator Mike Brubaker. So I concede that Mr. Brubaker is a nice man. But I still support Heidi Wheaton for County Commissioner. So on her behalf, I ask all Lancaster Countians to vote for her on Tues. 5/15.

Steves had everyone for Sunday lunch (we call it dinner) and invited Ellen’s brother, Paul Yutzy and his family as well. Paul is a cousin to Marvin Yutzy. After a delicious meal, we all sat around in a dull stupor digesting the food and drinking coffee. I decided to go home for a nap and to change clothes. Around 5 PM I headed back. I drove up the hill to Steve’s house and saw a large 15-passenger van, which I didn’t recognize, parked by the garage. Thinking to myself that this development can’t be good for anyone, I snuck into the kitchen, where Steve’s daughter, Ella, was sitting with little Johann, her son. I furtively asked her who was here visiting in the living room. Turns out it was the Lester Lambright family. Lester and Marvin had grown up together and were friends years ago in Bloomfield, Iowa. I knew Lester and his wife Sadie as well. They moved to the Lancaster area from Michigan a year or two ago and attend Charity Fellowship in Ephrata.

What to do, what to do? Go in and shake hands and visit and wait for the inevitable questions, or stay hidden in the background? (Them, in blithe, happy tones: “Where is your wife today?” Me: “She’s working.” Them: “Oh, where does she work and what does she do?” Me: “She’s a nurse and works in the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.” Them: “Oh…..Phoenix, Arizona?” Me: “Yup.” Them: “Oh……” Conversation quickly deteriorates into muddled embarrassment for everyone in the room.) After envisioning this scenario and considering my options for about one-tenth of a second, I made the obvious choice; stay in the kitchen. A few minutes later, much to my relief, Paul Yutzy, bored because he didn’t know Lesters and couldn’t really join the conversation, wandered into the kitchen. I nabbed him and we sat out on Steve’s deck on the back of the house for the next half-hour and had a very enjoyable discussion about various things. After awhile, the large 15-passenger van puttered away and Ella informed me the coast was clear, so I joined everyone in the living room. I thought the whole thing moderately humorous. Such is life after separation. (Lester and Sadie, if you read this, it’s nothing personal. I was just trying to avoid an embarrassing situation.)

At some point, once things get settled, ownership wise, at work (Graber Supply), I want to start a new page with pictures of the Graber team. I love my job and enjoy working with everyone there, which is more than a lot of people can say about their work. I have also been working on resizing more pictures and hope to open a new “More Pictures” page this weekend (NOTE: New Page has been posted as of 1 PM Sat. 5/12). I have also posted several more pictures on “The Ellen Years” page.

STATE OF THE BLUE COOLER IN MY GARAGE: Occasional food appears, for which I am most grateful. On an evening when I open it and behold, there is food, I feel like Elijah being fed by the ravens (except for the prophet part, of course).


May 4, 2007

Churches, Pickup Trucks, and Football

Category: News — Ira @ 6:08 pm

For the last few months, I have been attending the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lancaster, along Oregon Pike. It was remodeled recently and has a huge new sanctuary. I usually go to the 11 AM service, slip up to the balcony, and unobtrusively find a seat. The choir leads in old-fashioned hymns and the congregation cites the creed and the Lord’s Prayer in unison. The good pastor (or is it vicar?), a middle-aged, rather pudgy man, then delivers his sermon. His sermons are firm and meaty, but not fiery. He usually finishes by 12:10 and as the choir strikes up the closing hymn, I slip back down the stairs and leave. All very convenient and anonymous. Thus I get my spiritual infusion for the week with no fuss or hassle.

I was a bit disappointed with the Presbyterians. At the service, only the pastor and the choir are clothed in flowing robes. That’s about the only sign of formality. I had expected a bit more. I have always been fascinated and impressed by the formality of dress and the icons of the more established and historical churches, especially the Catholics and the Anglicans. There is history in formality and high worship. Tradition is anchored in centuries and millennia of practice. For years, I have accumulated crucifixes, crosses, statues and other iconic paraphernalia, usually from flea markets and yard sales and specialty stores, and now have a respectable collection set up as a small shrine in my house, complete with a little wooden Benedictine monk in perpetual meditation mode.
In the grim days immediately after we returned from Florida, Ellen and I faced together, as (sort of) allies, the “sturm and drang” around us. Although we knew our union was temporary because she was soon leaving, we faced the adversity as a team. For five long and dreary weeks, the days crawled by, each day a week, each week a month. And yet, for what it was worth, there was some solidarity there, the knowledge that, in this at least, we were together for a time. I cannot speak for her, but during those weeks, it seemed that there was a sort of shield around me, barely perceptible, invisible, protecting. Pastor Dave told me more than once that in such situations, the grace of God specifically envelops those mired in the thick of things, but does not extend to those who are not immediately involved.

During those weeks (and since she left), I never felt really close to or really far from God. Sometimes days passed when I did not even talk to Him. But I had no doubt He was there. I knew He was. But I did not feel this encompassing, healing and calming presence about me all the time or even much at all. Throughout, I focused on my work from day to day. You plug on, you do what you need to do. You work, go to the gym, go home, eat, sleep the night, get up, and do it all over again. Eventually, the sun will rise to a new day and a new beginning, and the flowers will bloom again. I believe that if you are His child, God is there, whether or not you are aware of Him. I know without a shadow of a doubt that His hand protected me from much deeper distress during that time, and continues to shield me from things I do not know and may not need to know right now. It’s kind of like that sappy poem about footprints in the sand, where the Lord carries you through the times you are unable to walk on your own, and you look back and there’s only one set of footprints, His (if I may be forgiven such a tired and vastly overused cliché).

I’ve never been one to cry and moan and get up in church during my pain to be surrounded by others with laying-on of hands (“not that there’s anything wrong with that,” to quote Seinfeld) and great intonations from the preacher and long sighs and “Amens” of agreement from the brethren. Too shy, I guess. What it boils down to for me is an aversion of public spectacle. Anyone can claim anything, thus triggering the laying-on of hands and prayer thing for any slight affliction. Over time, in some groups (no particular group in mind, now), I think the practice of this method has become cheapened to the point where it has lost its power and is not special anymore.

my-chevy.jpg Me and my Truck

It is an established axiom, at least in my neck of the woods, that a man needs a truck. Not just any truck, but a pickup truck (and an Amishman needs a pickup buggy). A man without a pickup is like, well, like a bird without wings. There are a few such birds out there in nature, and a few, like the Dodo, are extinct, but everyone looks at them with a mixture of horror and pity. Sorry, guys, it’s true. No truck = freak (and muffled snickers when your back is turned). I’ve driven about everything there is to drive at one time or another, from the most rattletrap jalopies to a late-model Avalanche (but not a Lexis, at least, not yet. Still working on it.). But I’ve always felt most secure and comfortable in a truck.

I recently bought a pickup from a friend who got a new one and sold his three-year-old model to me for a very reasonable price. It’s a 2004 Chevy Silverado 2500 HD with club cab, full tow package and only 53,600 miles. Very clean, always serviced. If I’m starting to sound like a used-truck salesman, maybe it’s because I am one. I love the truck in every way except for one thing. Fill up the tank for $60, get in and drive and watch the gas gauge literally creep to the left. It’s a guzzler. Causes heartburn to a man on a budget. So, after checking with my friend to make sure he wouldn’t be offended (he claimed he wouldn’t be.), I’ve decided to look around for a 1500 model with similar options, the same amount of or fewer miles, and the same year or newer. I’d like a Dodge. After getting my truck professionally cleaned, this weekend I’m going to see a few dealers. Meanwhile, if anyone out there needs a clean, heavy-duty Chevy with tow package, email me ASAP. Step right up, do I ever have a deal for you.
my-chevy2.jpgTruck for Sale

Last Sunday, I did not go to church, but went hiking instead. My planned Saturday hike did not materialize because of rainy weather. Sunday dawned with blue clear skies, so off I went with my little waist pack, water, energy bar, and hiking boots. The Tacquon (Seven Falls) Trail was wet, mildly soggy and picture perfect, and, best of all, almost devoid of other hikers. I went mid-morning, before the sun reached the apex of its heat. It’s too early in the season for mosquitoes and other bugs, so it was about as enjoyable a hike as I’ve ever had. The loop took a bit longer than I remembered, around an hour and 15 minutes. And because this took the place of formally attending church, I did commune with and talk to God. On the way home, I stopped at my brother Steve’s place for a good, home-cooked Sunday dinner. Hiking season has officially begun for 2007.

FOR LANCASTER COUNTIANS ONLY: My favorite local politician, Heidi Wheaton, recently compared the Lancaster County Republican Party selection process to that of a communist apparatus. From all the vile and vitriolic reactionary attacks on her by a host of local party hacks, her point is pretty well proven. These are the same spiteful people who managed to successfully demonize her in the last election and get the pasty-faced, colorless yes-man, Mike Brubaker, elected to the state Senate for the next term. As we all know, he sure has done a lot since then (NOT).

The local Republican Party abhors and despises its conservative members. If you are conservative, you have one choice and you can have the joy of poking the Republican Party in the eye while making it. Vote Heidi Wheaton for County Commissioner in next Tuesday’s (5/8) Primaries. So go forth and poke some eyes.

FOOTBALL NOTES: The NFL held its annual draft last weekend. While I’m not quite nutty enough to be glued to ESPN for the entire first round, I did keep an eye on it. Brady Quinn was a steal for Cleveland and was drafted way too late. He should have been the first or second overall pick, not the 23rd. I predict he will be the most productive quarterback in this draft, with the proper coaching, of course. He is a pure pocket passer, and will not run around and get hurt, like JaMarcus Russell will.

I also noted with great glee that the Eagles (thugs that they are) drafted Kelly Kolb, a high-second-round quarterback from Houston, to torment McNabb. Poor Donovan, to quote the poet Andrew Marvell, at his back now always hears “time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” I’ve said it before a thousand times, but what the heck, here’s the thousand-and-first: McNabb will never win a Super Bowl as the starting quarterback, and I’ll put my money where my mouth is (already have, in fact. Right, AJ?). Looks like the Eagles are finally reaching that conclusion as well. Meanwhile, the Jets shored up their defense with Derrelle Revis, the best cover man in the draft. Preseason games start in August. Can’t wait.

So far I have not installed a lot of new pictures on this site, because I don’t have a digital camera and have to bother my friends who own one. Rosita Beiler, office manager (and the one who really runs the place) at Graber, provided the last few. That’s about to change. I plan to go shopping this weekend (or soon after) for an economy grade digital camera with all the doohickeys needed to transfer pictures from camera to my computer. So you may soon see more pictures than you care to.

This weekend (May 5-6) we (Steve’s family and me) are looking forward to seeing my brother-in-law and sister, Marvin and Rhoda Yutzy from Kansas, for a few days. Marvin and I go way back as best friends. He is in a lot of the old pictures on this site, and I look forward to spending some quality, putzing-around-being-lazy time with them both. They plan to drive all the way in, stopping in the northern Indiana area to visit his brother and family. I am hosting a cookout Saturday evening in their honor, and much as I’d like to, no, you are all NOT invited.