Got junk in your drawers?

My junk drawer

For those of you who are new to my ruminations my maternal grandparents lived in an old, two-story farmhouse out in the countryside of southwestern Michigan. And the door that served as its primary entry opened directly into the kitchen.

The kitchen was the central gathering place in the old house, with most activities focused on or around the table located in the center of the room.  Repairs to radios and other household devices were typically done there (one could actually repair a radio back in those days) as were myriad other tasks requiring a flat surface and the aid of kibitzers, including the preparation of the family’s federal income tax return, as I recall. In earlier days one would have found a deep sink in there with a cast-iron hand pump that piped water in from a cistern outside. But by the time I was a teenager the room had been fully modernized with electric appliances.

In the far corner of that room, though, one would have also found a tall, white, built-in cabinet with enclosed shelving below for pots and pans and glassed-in shelving above for dishes and knickknacks. And at waist height (which was about nose-height to me when I first discovered it), was a junk drawer.

It seems as though a junk drawer is a natural component of any American household. It isn’t always in the kitchen but, in my experience, that’s usually where it will be found. The junk drawer in my grandparents’ house was a cornucopia of miscellanea: candles, batteries, a ball of cotton string, ink pens, rubber bands, a miniature hammer, pipe cleaners, screws, padlocks with no keys, keys with no padlocks, a screwdriver, a 22-caliber bullet, a spent 410 shotgun shell, Sulphur kitchen matches (the kind that could be lit by scratching them against the back of a thigh when wearing denim trousers), various springs from unknown mechanical devices…

And a tiny hunting knife in a leather sheath.

When I first spied that little knife, my eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. It was about four inches in length with an ivory-like handle and the name of a Kentucky campground or something imprinted on the leather sheath. A perfect replica of a buck knife, in miniature. Well, upon stumbling across this excellent find I decided to borrow it for a while.

Fast forward to my house.

My father was an industrial engineer by trade and, at the time, was in the process of building the first of three homes he would eventually construct for our family and my paternal grandparents over the next twenty years or so. And in the garage, he had a brand-new coil of about 100 feet of what would probably equate today to Romex 20-amp electric cable, which was to be installed in the new house. I had been particularly curious about this cable. I could see the three copper wires at the tip of each end but could not help but wonder what it looked like in the middle. Was it the same all through? So, I set to work with my little knife to find out.

Interestingly, I don’t remember getting paddled for that first-of-many-to-come errors in judgment in my life. I could have just asked about it, I suppose—But I had been searching in earnest for something to use that knife on.

Well, Dad ended up tossing out the whole cable since it could not be repaired in a manner suitable for its intended use. He did ask me though why, for crying out loud, did I have to cut it right smack in the middle? I patiently explained, as I have above, and then never saw that little knife again.

It was the same in the middle by the way, in case you were wondering.

Make my (Memorial) day

After watching a couple of golf tourneys these past two weekends I found myself feeling a little “golfy”. This is the inclination that seeps into my subconscious after a sufficient amount of time has passed for me to have mostly forgotten the less than desirable outcome of my most recent foray to the links.

Thus, ignoring Einstein’s premise that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time, I cheerfully headed out to Blue Sky without a tee time to play a pickup round with someone or, perhaps, join another group who had room for me—this is something I used to do all the time back in my travel days. And, sure enough, upon my arrival at the tee box, the starter teamed me up with another solo player who was also looking for a game. And off we went.

My new acquaintance, a twenty-nine-year-old named Matt, chose to tee off from the “blues” (way back there) and I decided to stick with the standard whites (my dignity will not allow me to go up to the red ladies’ tee, thank you very much, which some have suggested is better suited to my capabilities). As it turned out we were surprisingly well-matched: he could hit the ball a mile but had no idea where it was going to end up; in my case, I don’t hit the ball very far, but also have no idea where it’s going to end up.

At any rate, as we worked our way around the first nine I was delighted to learn that I was playing golf with a baseball pitcher who had played in the minors for the Chicago Cubs for four-and-a-half years. Upon further enquiry I learned he was just finishing up a temporary assignment with an independent league while rehabbing through a shoulder injury.

Through the course of conversation Matt asked me about my background as well. My response included among other things an off-hand reference to my four years of active duty in the United States Coast Guard.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable afternoon even though neither of us played particularly well. And in keeping with my established skill level, I managed to double-bogey the last hole (that’s two strokes over par for you non-golfers).

Ah, but this is the hole where one is supposed to get a great score in order to “make one’s day!” and thus, (blowing off Einstein once again) be encouraged to come back as soon as possible and try the whole thing all over again. In my case, this mystical phenomenon could only occur in the event of the immediate onset of amnesia, which would cause me to forget how I managed to get all sweaty and covered in sand and mud and lose six brand new balls and a sock before arriving at the eighteenth tee. So, it certainly wasn’t that last hole that made my day: rather, it was a comment from Matt earlier in the afternoon when I made reference to my veteran status that made my day. He said something, in fact, I had not realized until that moment that no one had ever said to me. Here it is: “Thank you for your service.”

Well, my first reaction to Matt’s statement was to be a little embarrassed, and here are the reasons why:

First of all, it seems to me that this gracious comment would best be directed to one who has courageously exposed him- or herself to great personal risk in order to protect the lives and property of others, such as in mortal combat. In my case, I have never so much as aimed a firearm at another person; nor, to my knowledge, has any person ever aimed a firearm at me (with the possible exception of one of my exes). In fact, the only time I ever had the opportunity to discharge a military firearm was in boot camp. I never set foot in a combat zone; and was only ever considered to be in harm’s way by virtue of being an aircraft search-and-rescue aircrewman (the Guard paid me hazardous duty flight pay for that, which was not undue since I managed to be a party to a helicopter crash during my tour of duty—but that’s another story.)

Another reason I felt a bit awkward was because I admit to harboring a little “survivor’s guilt”. This bubbles to the surface when I consider the stark contrast between my relatively mundane military experience as compared to those who variously sacrificed life, limb and, often, their innocence in the Viet Nam war as well as in countless other past and current conflicts.

So, I’m thinking maybe the acceptance of such a comment is simply not fitting in my case.

On the other hand, I did, in fact, dedicate four irretrievable years of my youth in service to my country. And I might add that four years, in the eyes of an eighteen-year-old, or twenty-year-old in my case, seems like an eternity, regardless of one’s duty stations. In the case of Matt, it would represent nearly his entire career with the Cubs to-date.

Given this quandary, Merriam-Webster comes to the rescue with an apt term: “honorable mention”, which is defined as a distinction conferred upon persons who are of exceptional merit but not deserving of top honors.

So, upon further reflection I decided to allow myself the indulgence of believing that maybe those of us who dedicated our time in non-combat roles might deserve at least a little appreciation as well, if only in the form of honorable mention. And everyone knows it’s nice to be appreciated. In fact, even nicer than a birdie on eighteen (that’s one under par for you non-golfers).

Regarding my golfing skills: I’m considering a recommendation made to Willie Nelson about his golfing skills, as reported by Chris Kornelis, a journalist. In an interview with Kornelis, Nelson said he was once joking with a golf pro about what to do about his on-again, off-again performance on the links. The pro told him to take two weeks off and then quit.

Counting calories

I recently noticed that my consumption of Häagan-Dazs has increased over the past few weeks. I know there are those who associate this behavior with depression or unhappiness—subconsciously, suicide by cholesterol, I suppose. Not the case here. Besides, my doc has me on statins. That should take care of the after-effects of my vanilla swiss almond habit. Right? Right. Or maybe I should be eating heartier, healthier meals in the evening to curb my after-dinner appetite (well, we know how that goes down around here). But I digress…

It seems to me that the nutritional requirements for a healthy diet change dramatically as we age. In my case I have found that as my body continues its unceasing march toward an advanced stage of decrepitude it does not seem to require as much fuel to keep it going as it once did. This seems to make sense in evolutionary terms: When we were all still living in burrows I suspect the feeble and the infirm were the last to eat. Needing less nutrition under such conditions would no doubt have been advantageous to those who found themselves relegated to the back of the cave buffet line. I could research the validity of all this but I don’t want to.

Back in 1981, the government created the National Commission on Social Security Reform to address what was deemed at the time to be a financing crisis in social security. After many months of diligent work this esteemed group came up with a brilliant, yet simple, recommendation (among others): apply federal income taxes to social security benefits. In other words, keep paying out the same amount, but don’t let them keep as much of it—problem solved. This recommendation was passed by Congress and signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1983.

So, as it turned out, the declining need of calories by older folks was once again fortuitous, at least for those on a fixed-income who had been relying solely on their meager social security benefits for groceries. Others, having already reduced their caloric intake to the minimum, found themselves downgrading their menu of canned cat food purchased from their local grocer to those dry versions that come in big bags at Costco.

But, sometimes there just isn’t enough to go around. I’ve heard that the Inuit of the far north (Eskimos) long ago figured out how to handle this problem through their seemingly unique extended care program for their elderly. At some point in time, when the fish-head soup started to run a little thin, they would bundle up Grandma, place her on a small ice floe and lovingly push it out to sea. You boomers out there in the lower forty-eight might want to take this into account if, out of the blue, your adult children become suspiciously adamant about how much fun it would be for you to accompany them on an all-expense-paid Alaskan cruise.

Many of us older folks can get by with less calories from traditional food products because we have substantially replaced them with calories from wine and other adult beverages. I have personally found this to be an excellent source of added sustenance, as do others at various watering holes around here that cater to people who have nothing else to do all day but drink beer and watch pointless sporting events on TV such as women’s cage fighting and fútbol reruns. Such patrons include, among others, retirees, laid off employees who have given up looking for a job and hapless salespersons whose bosses think they are out making cold calls.

Lunch at your favorite watering hole: an order of the child’s portion of chicken fingers and a pitcher of Bud Lite. If you don’t eat all the chicken, you can take the remainder home in a doggie bag and have it for dinner before breaking out the Häagan-Dazs.

Hey good lookin’, whatcha got cookin’?

Old faithful hand-me-down. First published by McCall in 1963.

I was having lunch with an old friend not long ago who asked me how I manage to stay so thin. I told him it has a lot to do with my lack of motivation in the kitchen.

The term “cooking” is defined by my trusty internet dictionary as the act of preparing food for human consumption with the use of heat, such as boiling, baking or roasting. There’s more to it than that, of course.

When my son was a youngster, most evenings I would come home from work and prepare a proper, well-rounded meal for him and any other kids from the neighborhood who happened to show up at the dinner hour (I was a single parent at the time). But now that he is grown and has moved out, and with me being a confirmed bachelor, I no longer cook often enough to keep my chops up (heh heh). And though I still enjoy putting together a nice repast for myself on any given Saturday or Sunday evening, I am rarely inspired to do so on a weeknight.

Okay, listen to this: dinner at my house tonight, a miscellaneous Wednesday (I’m sure you will want to save this too-lazy-to-cook recipe.):

Start with two fingers of Jim Beam, one slice of pizza saved from last Friday night and a solitary grilled pork chop from Saturday, two weeks ago (it had only one bite taken out of it—judging from the dental impression I’m pretty sure that bite was from me). Fold the pizza over and wrap it in foil together with the pork chop and then warm in the toaster oven at 350 for 15 minutes or so, or whatever, depending on how the Jim Beam works out. I also boiled up some water for an ear of sweet corn I stumbled upon in the refrigerator’s meat bin. (Had it been in the veggie bin I would have found it sooner. Days sooner, probably.) If you forgot to do that first, put the foiled stuff back in the oven and turn the temp down to “warm,” apply another jigger of Jim Beam where it will do the most good, and wait for the corn to be done. It will be done when the Jim Beam is gone. Remove it from the pot and immediately smother it in butter and salt. Dessert? Three of four remaining sections of a navel orange I peeled last weekend as a snack while watching the Cubs get their butts kicked by the St. Louis Cardinals—again (what is it about those Cardinals?). For the record, I discarded that last orange section: it was dry as a bone (I do have my limits).

In case you haven’t already figured this out, let me share with you a hint to my secret for staying so thin (so far, anyway): Years ago, back in my corporate days, I would sometimes grab a quick lunch at a sandwich shop near the office. The food wasn’t great but it was cheap and fast (insert old joke about the women I typically date). Well, one day I bounced in the front door only to find one of the elder senior executives at the company where I was employed seated alone at a table. When I returned to the dining area with my pita and tuna salad, he invited me to join him. I sat down and asked if he came in there very often. In full earshot of the owner and all his customers, he said, “I try to. The food is so bad it discourages me from over-eating.”

Antiques and collectibles

Me at 100 years of age

I was surfing through my TV channels the other day and happened upon PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow”. For those of you who might not be familiar with the program, the producer and his crew, which includes a group of professional specialty appraisers, take the show on the road to various cities around the country. Upon arrival at each destination they set up shop in a conference center or something and then invite the local citizenry to bring in items to be appraised. These items are generally deemed to be “antiques” and run the gamut including jewelry, furniture, artwork, musical instruments, floor coverings, various decorative objects and so on. The premise: Do you have some heirloom or flea market discovery that may turn out to be a rare and valuable collector’s item?

You never know!

As a teen I recall my grandfather passing on to me a few of his things he thought I might like to have. I left the items at his house for the time being but later told Mom about them. She responded with words to the effect, “You should hold onto those. Someday they’re going to be worth something.” They included among other things some old, yellowed books I discovered stashed away in his ancient, dirt floor garage; his ivory-handled straight razor, which he no longer used (he had upgraded to Gillette Blue Blades by then) and the front page of the South Bend Tribune announcing the assassination of President Kennedy.

On this particular show a young woman brought in some chintzy psychedelic-themed poster dated to the mid-1960s. As I watched I was disturbed to learn that an item created when I was barely out of high school is apparently considered by some to be an antique. An antique? Give me a break: I have dental work older than that.

According to U.S. Customs laws, an antique is defined as an object created or produced at least 100 years before the date of purchase. I am inclined to stick with this definition. That means I still have about 30 years to go before anyone can refer to me as such. In the meantime, just consider me a “collectible”. And as for those items I told Mom about? The razor was eventually stolen; the books are still in my den (upon doing a little Googling I learned that the proceeds from their sale plus five dollars might get me a latte at Starbucks); and I don’t know what happened to that newspaper although I’m pretty sure Grandma used it in the parakeet cage.

Yoda, when he was just a pup