July 27, 2007

Checkout Woes and other Drivel

Category: News — Ira @ 7:06 pm

“I am not making this up.”
—Dave Barry

There was an unfortunate occurrence at the Giant grocery store last Sunday when I stopped to pick up a few things on the way home from church. I have long ago accepted as an irreversible law of the universe the fact that the checkout line I choose at any store, any time, anywhere in the world, will instantly slow and crawl along at a snail’s pace (or slower) or stop completely, sometimes for no apparent reason, for long periods of time.

Once, while a student at Bob Jones in Greenville, SC, I chose the very shortest line at a K-Mart, only one little old lady with two small potted plants. I swooped in triumph- antly behind her. What luck. The sale was rung up. But no.

“Wal Mart has these same plants for fifty cents apiece less,” the lady quavered in a querulous voice.

Angry, quick thoughts like, “then why don’t you go to Wal Mart?” flashed through my mind, as before my horrified eyes, the clerk stopped everything and CALLED THE MANAGER. Of course that took several minutes. The manager finally lollygagged his way over, stated piously that they would not be undersold by Wal Mart and gave the lady back her fifty cents per plant, or whatever trifle it was. He then spent much time punching savagely at the cash register, which buzzed and clacked angrily before acknowledging the refund and reluctantly spitting out a revised receipt. Meanwhile, of course, the other checkout lines, all ten of them, were clicking along at approximately the speed of light.

Anyway, back to Giant and last Sunday. I picked up a few items and some things for my lunch and got in line at the express checkout behind not one little old lady, but two, and they were together. I should have known better. I should have backed off and gone through regular checkout. They had put their stuff in one shopping cart, but checked out separately. The clerk, a middle-aged woman, obviously knew them and chatted inanely at great length, which was fine. I’m as patient as anyone, especially on a Sunday after hearing a stirring sermon at Westminster Presbyterian.

The first lady paid for her things, then decided one bag was too heavy and wanted her milk container separated from the other items. The second lady, standing behind their cart, directly in front of mine, then checked her things through and paid for them. She was also very fussy, deciding that one bag was too heavy (it was less than half full) and the milk jug too wet, and blah, blah, blah, on and on.

Meanwhile, the guy behind me, who obviously had labored under the delusion that Giant actually has an express checkout, had chosen to shop without a cart or a basket. He stood there stolidly like some great grocery monster, his arms outstretched and struggling to balance a vast pile of assorted items. I’ve never seen anything like it. Someone else must have loaded him up, but there was no one with him. I don’t know how he did it. He kept shifting and swaying, trying to keep any single item from escaping and splatting on the floor. I felt bad for him, but could not move forward to make room for him to deposit his pile onto the checkout counter. Oblivious to the crisis, the ladies yakked and fussed.

After enough time had passed for the pudgy pastor at Westminster to preach another full sermon (his sermons are brief, but substantive), everything was finally paid for and satisfactorily bagged and the change received and counted and the receipts thoroughly scanned for mistakes. The ladies slowly started forward out of the checkout line, and I pushed my own cart forward. The guy behind me immediately lunged into the small space that had opened and unleashed his pile of groceries onto the counter with a great rustle and clatter of plastic and tin cans.

Sadly, the second lady then suddenly stopped to impart one last particle of wisdom or admonition to the clerk. No one will ever know what she was going to say because the bottom chassis of my cart nudged, and I mean barely touched, the back of her ankle. I didn’t even realize anything had happened until she turned reproachfully and leveled a hostile glare at me.

“I am SO sorry,” I said politely.

“Sorry won’t cut it,” she quavered severely. But she moved out of the way. I hastily paid for my few items. The clerk looked grim. The two ladies trundled off to the side, the one I’d nudged limping in a very exaggerated manner, and sat primly on a bench. Maybe they were waiting for their ride. The wounded one reached down and rubbed her ankle vigorously.

“Next thing you know, she’ll need an ambulance,” I thought to myself. All I wanted was out of there. I grabbed my bags and fled. They glared after me, muttering and cluck-ing to each other about my uncouth and caddish behavior. I could only hope the store manager wouldn’t check the security cameras and decide to press charges for assault or something. It was an accidental nudge, I tell you.


I can’t prove it, but I’m strongly suspicious that an irate and humor-deficient feminist defaced my bumper sticker. In Lancaster County! As you can see in the picture, someone keyed out the middle line, so the sticker says “Without Men….The oil needed changing,” which in an odd way, makes sense as well. I was extremely irritated when I first noticed it on Saturday afternoon, just as I was getting ready to leave on an errand. I have no idea how long it had been that way. I’m just glad the sticker was on the bumper and not on the tailgate, or they (she/he) would have damaged the paint with the key scratches. I ripped the sticker off, only later wishing that I’d taken a picture of it on the truck just as it was. But after returning home, I unfurled it and stuck it on a piece of wood and took a picture anyway.

Rush Limbaugh claims that feminism was founded by ugly women who couldn’t get dates. While that may be a tad simplistic, I will confess that almost all the feminist spokesmen (oops, spokeswomen) that I’ve ever seen on TV were less than stellar in the looks department. In any case, I sure wish I would have caught the defacer in the act. I would have pressed charges in a heartbeat. I suspect it was an ugly woman. Or a very weak, sissified man. Whoever did it was certainly ugly inside. Fortunately, in my last order from Fred the Curmudgeon, I purchased four bumper stickers. So I just slapped on a fresh one. If they (she/he) get this one, I’ll place another inside the back of my truck window. If they (she/he) break the window, well, let’s just not go there.


Since my old clothes dryer was pronounced a lost cause by my friend Paul Zook, I decided last week to enter the appliance jungle and buy another one. Paul suggested that I call some used-appliance dealers, but I decided to check out new pricing before making any purchase. Last Thursday (7/19) after working out at the gym, I headed down the half block to JB Zimmerman, the True Value store in Blue Ball. They have a wide selection of appliances. I told the salesman what I was looking for, and he showed me what they had.

I bought one on the spot, a medium-priced GE model. The salesman checked the delivery schedule and said they could deliver it the next day, Friday. It now sits proudly in the laundry room and works like a charm, very quiet. It even has a little light on the inside that lights up when you open the door. Never saw the like.

I was very impressed with Jeff, the salesman. He was polite, friendly, very know-ledgeable, and not at all smarmy. He showed me the models in the price range I requested and did not try to persuade me to upgrade. Most importantly, he did not try to sell me an extended warranty, a rip-off method that I absolutely abhor. I had planned on checking other stores, such as Sears, but because of the salesman, I bought on the spot. I even sent JB Zimmerman a letter of appreciation, something I very rarely do, because I was so impressed.


The movie we’ve all been waiting for is now in theaters. The Simpsons. I usually go to about one movie a year, and this year it will be The Simpsons. But I’ll probably go the second or third weekend, so the crowds will have thinned out a bit. Can’t wait. I’m way overdue for some gut-busting humor.



July 20, 2007

The Child in Summer (Sketch #1)

Category: News — Ira @ 5:44 pm

“…every drop of sun is full of fun and wonder,
You are summer.”
—Nicole Nordeman, Lyrics: “Every Season”


(RAW FOOTAGE FROM MY NOTES, 1992: Summer in my childhood “….the complete joy of contemplating a long three months of carefree frolicking, fishing, and swimming in the gravel pit. How the summer flew by: haying, the dust and thirst of it, driving the team and wagon for the first time, unloading the loose hay in the enormous loft…. Running barefoot, the soles of our feet as tough as the shoe leather they replaced, through pastures and woods, herding home the cows at milking time…..”)

Several times a week during the summer months, we enjoyed homemade ice cream, swirled to a stiff texture with the hand-cranked freezer packed with ice crushed from the heavy blocks we had stored in thick layers of sawdust in the sunken ice house during the previous winter. And salt. Homemade ice cream will not harden unless the freezer ice is liberally laced with salt. But the real treat for us was “boughten” ice cream, which we had once in a blue moon, and then only if we were good. Every two weeks, on Fridays, the Maple Leaf Brand ice cream truck pulled hopefully into our drive, usually only to be waved away with a “nothing today, thanks.” Once in a great while, Dad would buy a cardboard carton of half a gallon of Vanilla or Maple Walnut flavored ice cream. We would feast on the spot because we had no freezer to keep it hard.

One day in late July, my brothers and I were laboring in the field, setting up shocks with the heavy-headed sheaves of oats that lay sprawled across an endless sea of gold. It was labor-intensive, itchy, brutal work. The sheaves had been spit from the clattering reaper/binder earlier in the day, neatly tied up in bundles and deposited in long irregular rows across the field. The binder was a complicated contraption con-sisting of blade and platform and a confounding array of canvas stretched on rollers. It had a great wooden paddle with five or six slats (not unlike a steamboat paddle) that forced the oat stalks into the teeth of the blade and onto the platform. It always made a great, awful clamor when in operation, the whirl of canvas, the wicked clicking of the blade, the hoarse shouts of the driver (one of my older brothers) urging on his three-horse team. To watch it in operation was to witness the combined rhythm of ancient machine and raw, straining muscle power.


Probably since long before Cyrus McCormick invented the reaper more than a hundred and fifty years ago, the method of tent-shocking oats and wheat has remained un-changed. First, one takes two sheaves and places them together, slanted toward each other at the top. Placed so the dry south winds can whisper through. Then four more sheaves surround the two, then two more on the outside of the four. Finally, one last sheaf, the head, is taken, the heads of grain on the top fanned out, and laid across the top of the others, facing to the west. To fend off the rain. I have seen such grain shocks endure the most savage rain storms imaginable and dry naturally with a day or two of sunlight and wind.


We were working in the southwest field of my father’s farm. The time: midafternoon. The day: a Friday, oozing with heat. The woods just to the south blocked what breeze there was. We wiped the sweat from our brows and gulped lukewarm water from our jugs. Row upon row of sheaves stretched before us; the finished shocks kept mute watch behind us like silent monuments to our toil. Then one of my brothers, I think it was Joseph, the oldest, his brain stimulated to new heights by thirst and heat, suddenly declared an epiphany. We could flag down the ice cream truck and buy a box of popsicles. His suggestion was instantly greeted with tremendous enthusiasm and shouts of excitement.

A hasty Council, consisting of my four older brothers and me, surrounded by a thou-sand scattered sheaves, assembled in a knot to discuss the plan and its implications. I was delirious at the thought and all for it, not that my opinion mattered much. After some weighty discussion, the decision was made. Now for the money. Two quarters was all it would take. Somehow they materialized from someone’s pockets. Who would go? The Council decided that, as the smallest and the least useful for the actual field work, I would be the chosen one. I was six or seven years old. I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Not only would I savor the rare cold icy joy of delicious popsicles, I would get out of the hard work of shocking oats for the time it took to fetch them.

In solemn ceremony, the Council surrounded me. I was handed the two precious quarters. And given careful instructions.

“Now hurry. He’ll be coming along soon. Make sure you wave him down. So he can see he’s supposed to stop. He’ll stop. Just tell him you want a box of popsicles. You can do it.”

Thus instructed and admonished, clutching the precious quarters, I set off on my little quest across the oats field, a ragged, curly-headed, grimy-faced little boy on a mission. The stubble on the ground crunched beneath my bare feet. I navigated the shortest route through the oats field, stepped carefully through the stickered fence row, scrambled cautiously through a barb-wire fence. Next, a dusty pasture field with cow paths worn and ribboned throughout, the screeching of the killdeers falsely dragging one wing along the ground, faking injury to lead me from their nests of eggs or hidden young. Excited and nervous, I finally reached the dusty graveled road. There I waited in the sun.

The spot I chose to wait was just a few feet west of the crossroads leading north the quarter mile or so to Pathway Publishers, the print shop and offices where my father worked and wrote, and down the small sloping hill just east of our neighbor John’s place. Some concern had been expressed by the Council that my father might just happen to glance out his office window, discern the plot and crush our hopes with a stern wave of his mighty hand. Worse, he might decide, as was his wont at any hour, to leave the office and head for home in his rattletrap topbuggy, right past me. If that happened, he would no doubt be very curious as to why his small son was standing hatless beside the road, clutching two quarters and peering intently toward the west. An investigation would ensue. Questions asked. It would be awkward and would almost surely result in no popsicles for anybody. But the heat of the day was too high and the thirst for relief too deep; the reward would be worth the risk. Deliberately ignoring the north and my father’s frowning office window, I scanned the western horizon of the road. As each cloud of rising dust announced an approaching vehicle, I strained to see if it was the ice cream truck.

A car passed. Another. A pickup. Each time, the dust rose and rolled by in great choking clouds, then settled. Minutes passed. Then I saw it coming, the red pickup with the refrigerated white box on the back with the Maple Leaf logo. Half doubtful that the scheme would actually work, I stepped onto the road and, with all the authority of my seven years, firmly waved my right arm up and down with all the confidence I could muster. Stop. The truck approached. Slowed. Slid smoothly to a halt beside me on the crunching gravel.

The “Ice Cream Man,” as we called him, was a tall thin man with a harelip. He wore a hat and dark blue uniform and talked sideways from his mouth. A worn black leather money pouch with a flap nestled comfortably on his hip, diagonally strapped across his body over the opposite shoulder. He got out of the truck and greeted me cheerfully, as if he stopped for waving little Amish boys every day. So far, so good. A hurried glance in all directions; no cars approached. No buggies either. Good. All I had to do now was forge ahead.

“A box of popsicles, different flavors” I said bravely.

With far more dignity and cheer than was warranted by such a pitiful sale to such a raggedy customer on such a dusty road on such a brutally hot day, he unlatched and opened the freezer door. Great clouds of frost billowed out into the summer heat. He rummaged for a moment, then handed me a box of ten popsicles, assorted flavors. He closed the freezer door with a solid thunk.

“Fifty cents,” he said. I held out a grubby hand and he carefully plucked the quarters from my fingers.

“Thank you,” he said. I repeated the phrase back to him. The transaction was com-plete. The sense of accomplishment from all the trade conducted by powerful men in the gilded halls of commerce in all the far great cities of the world could not have matched the swell of pride and happiness that surged through me as I turned in triumph toward the fields.

Holding tightly onto my now-melting treasure, I raced back to where my brothers waited expectantly and eagerly. I was the smallest, but right now I was the most important. Five of us. Ten popsicles. Two each. Work ceased. We sprawled among the shocks and feasted on icy fruit. We were kings. And my father never knew.

Of the five books purchased as described in my last blog, I am the most pleasantly surprised by “The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf.” I have read the first three or four stories and almost immediately upon beginning the first one, stopped and said to myself, “This is really, really great stuff.” She writes with taut and total control, but with vivid and flowing description. I see her influence on Thomas Wolfe, who was born in 1900. He must have read her works in his childhood and later. I think they must have known each other. Wolfe is more descriptive, but far, far less controlled. I am delighted to have discovered another friend.

I have a confession. I have just subscribed to the New York Times Review of Books. No, I have not crosssed to the dark side. I depise the NY Times newspaper, but the Review of Books is a separate entity, quite in-depth and very interesting. All right, all right. It’s a bit highbrowed, and lofty too. And definitely liberal (or progressive, or whatever it’s called these days), some articles almost unbearably so. I won’t expect to read any reviews on books by my favorite conservative authors or any reviews written by them. But it’s an outstanding read nonetheless. An artist friend of mine always has several issues strewn about the house when I stop by, and each time I pick one up and become completely engrossed. Last time that happened, about a month ago, I decided to subscribe for myself. My first issue arrived this week and I’m perusing it with great enjoyment.

My friend Allan Stanley stopped by for a cookout Sunday evening. Allan and I go way back; I think I met him in 1989 when I first came to Lancaster County. We struck it off almost immediately after we met and have been close friends ever since. He traditionally stops by Sunday evenings several times a summer, and I cook out. We had a special treat this time, bear sausage. One of my friends recently shot a bear in Canada and gave me several packs of sausage. It pays to have connections. The meat is quite tasty, and just a bit sweet. This batch had a hint of Liverwurst flavor, I thought (and no, I am not a wine critic). Maybe it was from the pork or beef mixed in by the butcher.

Thanks to Ray and Maggie (my sister) Marner for the box of outstanding goodies. Thanks, Sis. The tarts will provide my breakfasts for a month.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JANICE!!!!! Love you. Can we all come to the party?