Short Steve: DST and Golf

English outdoorsman William Willet is largely credited with the current spring-forward-fall-back Daylight Saving Time model, which he proposed in 1905.

A similar idea was proposed independently about ten years earlier, in 1895, by New Zealand entomologist George Hudson, but 1) he proposed a two hour shift, 2) he was a New Zealander, and 3) he wasn’t a golfer (that we know of), so his proposal went nowhere.

And to be sure, the idea has been around for centuries, from the Romans adjusting meeting times during the summer to Ben Franklin’s “early to bed, early to rise…”

Willet WAS an avid golfer, and he suggested the time change to provide more time in the evening for leisure activities (such as golf).

The first city in the world to enact this new Daylight Saving Time (or Summer Time, as it was/is know in most of Europe) was Port Arthur, Ontario – leave it to those crazy Canadians to jump into the fire first!

The first country to adopt DST nationwide was Germany, at the outset of the Great War. This was done largely to conserve coal – longer days meant less coal burned in the evenings. Britain and other Allied Nations saw the advantages of this and quickly followed suit.

It became common practice again during World War II to adopt DST again, for much the same reason, and then became widely adopted by most countries not already observing full time (the U.S. and most of Europe included) during the 1970’s oil crisis, and it’s been a mainstay ever since.

In 1986, Ronald Reagan, at the urging of the Golf Lobby (yes, that’s a thing), moved DST from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in April. By some accounts, this single action added $400 million to the golf industry alone.

Currently, DST runs from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in October.

Golfers: getting shit done since 1905!

Gleaning the Cube

I’ve become obsessed with remembering how to solve this damn Rubik’s Cube.

I use the white cross method, and I’m able to get the top and middle sections solved with relative ease. It’s the bottom that’s been kicking my butt.

The white cross method is a series of algorithms that start with solving for the edge cubies on the white side (forming a white plus sign or cross), then solving the white corner cubies, then solving the four middle edges.

This is where it breaks down for me. When flipped over, with the white center on the bottom and the yellow center on the top, there are three basic configurations you look for. From any of those three configurations, there are a series of algorithms that can be run to get to another interim step.

The goal here is to solve the yellow edges, then finish with the yellow corners. Voila, it’s solved!

However, it’s not so easy.

(This is about to get pretty numbers-heavy, so feel free to bail at this point. I won’t judge you.)

There are 26 physical cubies (as they’re called), but there are 54 individual cubie faces exposed – nine each of white, green, blue, orange, yellow and red.

Let me do the math for you. If you call the current state of the cube it’s configuration, then there are more than 43,250,000,000,000,000,000 possible configurations. That’s 43 quintillion 250 quadrillion. That’s a huge number. And only one of those 43 quintillion possible configurations is the “solved” configuration.

Someone much smarter than I am figured out that there is a one in 43 trillion chance – that’s 1/43,000,000,000,000 – that you’ll “accidentally” solve the puzzle.

In 1974, when the Hungarian professor of architecture Erno Rubik invented his Hungarian Magic Cube, the story goes that he developed the puzzle as a way to demonstrate to his students how to build a structure with multiple moving parts without the structure falling apart. He didn’t realize that he’d created a puzzle until the first time he scrambled it then tried to restore it to its original state.

One account I read stated that it took Rubik a full month of testing, developing nomenclature, and logging test algorithms before he discovered a solution. But to be sure, his original solution is just one of many.

The Rubik’s Cube – or the solution to it, anyway – falls into the category of Group Theory. When considered as a whole, or in subparts, the groups of algorithms that comprise any given solution allow the puzzle solver to successfully solve the puzzle.

With much more than 43 quintillion possible configurations, it came as a huge surprise to me that the God Number for the Rubik’s Cube is 20. The God Number, or the minimax value, is the least number of moves (algorithms) that an omniscient being would need to solve the given puzzle from any configuration. The upside of this is that it makes competitive speed cubing, as it’s called, much less mysterious. With the potential of being able to solve any given configuration in twenty moves or less, it’s just a matter of memorizing the various algorithms and practicing for hours on end. Much like learning tennis or guitar or cooking, it’s an acquired skill involving much practice and hours of determination to improve.

Just as interesting to me is the search by mathematicians for the Devil’s Number, or Satan’s Number. Whereas the God Number involves the minimum number it would take to solve any configuration just once, the Devil’s Number is concerned with determining the minimum number of algorithmic moves it would take to solve every one of the 43,250,000,000,000,000,000 different configurations. I know for certain that it’s a number between 43 quintillion and 865,000,000,000,000,000,000 (43 quintillion times 20), but anything beyond that I have to leave to someone with a more powerful computer than my Mac.

Whew, that’s a lot of numbers! I think I need a nap. But first I’m going to try to solve this last corner cubie…

(Credit for much of this goes to the SYSK podcast on Rubik’s Cubes and the geniuses that inhabit the math side of Wikipedia…)

Perfect Endings

There are no perfect endings.

It’s surprising to me, actually, how many of the songs that are in my current playlist have to do with endings.

I ordinarily have just one working playlist. When I grow tired or bored of it, rather than just create a new one, I’ll delete it and start over fresh. It can be anything from a mood change to hearing an old song that I forgot about to just being discontented with my current soundtrack, but it doesn’t take much for me to blow everything up and start fresh.

I don’t ordinarily have themed playlists, at least not beyond “current faves” or something equally trivial. So it came as a bit of a shock when I played a number of songs in a row that dealt with endings…

and if it’s over, just remember what I told you

it was bound to happen so just keep, movin’ on

there’s no perfect endings…

I enjoy a little Straylight Run now and then, and The Perfect Ending is one of my favorites. Formed as a side project by two members of the alt band Talking Back Sunday, they tend towards more moody, contemplative pop. Great for early morning drives to work in the early morning light.

…for once I’m at peace with myself

I’ve been burdened with blame, trapped in the past for too long

I’m movin’ on

I go through my country phases now and again, but Rascal Flatts is about as country as I get these days (see what I did there?). I enjoy the country-pop sound of Rascal Flatts – having grown up on ELO, Chicago, and the like, there’s a certain appeal for me in the straightforward love ballad. I’m Movin’ On fits the bill nicely.

…I’ll be the one if you want me to

anywhere I would have followed you

say something, I’m giving up on you…ˆ

A know very little about A Great Big World beyond the fact that they never should have let Christina Aguilera within fifty miles of this song. Their “solo” version of Say Something is stunning in it’s simplicity, and is a mainstay of my “mellow” playlists. Plus, it’s super easy to play on the piano, making it a mainstay of my piano setlist on the rare occasions I abandon my guitar for my keyboard on a gig.

…and if you were to ask me, after all we’ve been through

do you still believe in magic? yes, I do

yes I do, of course I do…

It wouldn’t be a mellow playlist without at least a couple of Coldplay songs, and this tune, written in the midst of a divorce, always surprises and impresses me with it’s hopeful ending. After the crushing lonliness and defeat, Chris Martin reveals in Magic that he is still able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, still able to believe in the magic of love even as it dies in his own life.

I am ready to be new again

I’m ready to hear you say

who I am is quite enough

Not an “endings” song per se, but still an upbeat alt-rocker in the same vein as the other songs in this list. New Again by Taking Back Sunday puts a nice endcap on things – after all the teeth-gnashing and navel-gazing of the previous songs, New Again strikes a hopeful chord, reveling in the fact that I know I’m good enough, I’m just waiting for you to admit it, too. It’s a nice counterpoint to Say Something, in which the singer admits defeat; here, the singer isn’t giving up, and is determined to see things through to the bitter end.

Truth

There is nothing more jarring than waking up to the truth.

Granted, truth can be an extremely subjective thing in this context. Can’t that be said about all truths, though? We take it for granted that the sun will rise in the morning, but we can’t know it for certain. We can make the assumption, based upon past experience, that the sun will rise, but we don’t – we can’t – know it until it actually happens.

But what if we lived in denial of this fact? What if we’d spent the last ten years telling ourselves that it wasn’t the sun that was rising, but it was actually something else? An enormous flaming chariot, for instance, ridden across the sky every day by Helios, as the Greeks believed?

And then came the morning that you arose from bed, looked out across the plains at the horizon, and suddenly you saw the sun for what it was – middle-sized star? And you also realized that the rotation of the planet every 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4 seconds was what caused the sun to rise, and not some mythical, fiery figure riding his flaming chariot across the sky?

To wake up to a truth of this magnitude can really mess with your day, let alone your week, month, or life. Maybe you’ve always suspected it. Maybe it never made sense. But it was always so much easier to believe the lie you told yourself, because the alternative was/is unpleasant.

Still, denial is a powerful ally. It is so much easier to maintain the status quo, to tell yourself that you’re better off not knowing the truth, than to accept yourself, and your situation, for what it is, good or bad. Knowing the truth, and not accepting it, is cowardice, pure and simple. It is living a lie, and that is worse than the alternative.

Self-esteem – value and self-worth – can only be fully, truthfully realized when the truth is accepted and dealt with.

Self-Esteem

Self-esteem can be a tricky thing.

We’re all born with self-esteem, but somewhere along the way, it gets systematically beaten out of us – sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively, sometimes both. Some people learn to deal with this at an early age, and adopt a façade of being well-adjusted, a fake air of confidence. Most of us, though, learn to deal with it in other ways – acting out, or adopting a self-deprecating sense of humor, or any of a dozen other ways of masking the pain.

Life can seem so difficult sometimes. Pride (or a lack thereof) convinces us that either we deserve more, or that we’re getting precisely what we deserve. It’s easy to look at the suffering of others and think to oneself, “Well, at least I don’t have it THAT badly!” But this is a false dichotomy – we all suffer individually, in our own little island of existence, and to varying degrees. Starving children in Africa, tortured citizens of Hong Kong or the Middle East, or victims of unspeakable crimes right here in the United States have no real bearing on the individual suffering we each experience.

Psychologists use the term “self-esteem” to describe an individual’s sense of value or self-worth. Abraham Maslow, in his Hierarchy of Needs, makes the case the we all need both esteem (or respect) from others as well as inner (self-) esteem. People who suffer from low self-esteem often find themselves in self-destructive situations or relationships. These situations become a self-fulfilling prophecy, validating one’s own low sense of self.

Although genetics play a role in it, most psychologists believe that self-esteem is shaped by one’s own environment. Allowing oneself to continue to exist in an abusive relationship – in fact, seeking out these relationships in the first place, whether consciously or unconsciously – is one of the hallmarks of low self-esteem. It is a hard habit to break, this vicious cycle of believing you get what you deserve, then being abused (either physically or emotionally) and believing you deserve to be treated in the manner.

How best to break this cycle, this merry-go-round of pain and suffering. There are many different strategies proposed by many different psychologists and therapists, but most all of them have one thing in common – it is best to rip the band-aid off rather than to continue to exist in the situation, hoping it will get better.

Sometimes, sadly, this is not always possible – at least not immediately. Certainly, if an individual is in imminent physical danger, getting out of the situation is (and should be) the main priority. But in cases of emotional abuse, the situation is not always cut-and-dried, not always so black-and-white. It may even be the case that no abuse is intended; it may be a matter of simple miscommunication. So many people are afraid of the unknown that they would rather live with the devil they know than take a chance with the devil they don’t know.

In the absence of the ability or opportunity to leave, the first step is to try to set definitive boundaries with the other party. Try to have an adult conversation with them concerning your wants and needs. Often, it is merely a matter of miscommunication between the two parties. However, if and when it becomes evident that there is (and can be) no common ground, it is time to start to think about moving on, to start preparing for the end of the relationship.

I don’t have the answer. I wish I did. Or maybe I do, and I am just too afraid of the devil I don’t know.

PSA – The Dangers of DHMO

I usually reserve this space for amusing anecdotes about my life or nifty little nuggets of trivia that I’ve come across, but this is serious stuff and needs to be disseminated to anyone who can read so they can be forewarned about the dangers of DHMO.

Dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO) can act as both (either) an acid or a base – it is amphiprotic. It can be found in solid, liquid, and gaseous forms.  Its pH is 7, higher than any other acid known to man. It is both tasteless and odorless.

Extensive research has shown that water bottles stored on grocery store shelves for more than a month contain extremely high levels of DHMO. This applies to both plastic and glass bottles.

Starbucks (as well as most all coffee shops) use thermally agitated dihydrogen monoxide in all of its coffee-based beverages. DHMO is known to cause severe burns when it comes in contact with the skin, and once DHMO comes into contact with skin, it cannot be washed off.

Large U.S. manufacturers routinely dump vast quantities of DHMO in our lakes, rivers and streams – and it never biodegrades.  Research has shown that dihydrogen monoxide is deliberately sprayed on organic crops in the U.S.

Scariest of all for parents: If you give your children juice boxes, you should know that each juice box contains more dihydrogen monoxide than an ounce of methamphetamine.

Breathing in too much DHMO can lead to certain death. In fact, the sad truth is that 100% of people who come in contact with dihydrogen monoxide eventually die.

Please be sure to check all labels – don’t mistakenly ingest this dangerous compound, lest you meet a horrible fate! Dihydrogen monoxide is not to be trifled with. If you’re the political activist sort, please write your Congressperson and/or Representative and let them know that you fully support a ban on any products containing this harmful chemical.

It’s up to us to be the change in the world we want to see!

Is that a supercomputer in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?

While listening to a podcast about the Simulation Hypothesis Argument, I ran across an interesting set of numbers.

To start, by way of comparison, the human brain can process anywhere from 38 thousand trillion (3.8 x 10^16) to one billion billion (1 X 10^18) processes per second, depending upon whom you ask. Those are pretty big numbers:

38,000,000,000,000,000

1,000,000,000,000,000,000

Per second. It’s breathtaking, and truly amazing.

By contrast, in 1985 the Cray 2 supercomputer came online at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, CA. If you took a small automobile and stood it up on its end, you’d get a general idea of the size of this supercomputer. Certainly not the room-spanning computers of the 1950’s and 1960’s, but not a small machine, either.

This state-of-the-art supercomputer could run 200,000,000 processes per second, and it was replaced within three years by the Cray Y-MP.

That’s 200 million. Not human brain-type processing, but pretty spectacular, nonetheless.

Just over thirty years later, Apple Computer released a supercomputer that could run 600,000,000,000 – that’s 600 billion, with a ‘b’ – processes per second. That’s a processing increase of 3,000%.

30 years. 3,000%. Astounding.

And the name of the supercomputer Apple released, this computational powerhouse that out-processed a thirty-year-old supercomputer by a factor of 3,000? You may have one in your pocket – you certainly own something similar, if not the precise model itself.

Apple called it the iPhone X.

Fast (and Furious) Food

Although I still eat way too much fast food – I’m a lazy “cook,” sue me – I find most of it gross and unpalatable. It’s more of a convenience than anything. This, of course, does NOT include the Frenchie sandwich at Jimmie John’s…mmmm, love me some Frenchies!

Here are a few of my favorite fast food (and fast food-related) facts:

Fried Chicken  Wild fowl were domesticated about 9,000 years ago in China and the Middle East. It made it’s way to Egypt, where you can see chicken represented in many hieroglyphs. It was also used to feed the slaves who built the pyramids.

Eventually making it’s way to Britain via Greece, it is believed that fried chicken was introduced to the U.S. by Scottish settlers (or invaders, if you prefer). These were pan-fried birds; the South were the first to fry them up in vats of hot oil.

In the late 1920’s or early 1930’s, Harlan Sanders opened a restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky to sell his secret recipe fried chicken. The restaurant bombed out, but Sanders soon hit upon a brilliant strategy. He hit the road, selling his recipe and the rights to use his trademarked phrase “Kentucky Fried Chicken” in exchange for a nickel for every piece of chicken sold.

By 1964, the year 1) I was born, and 2) Colonel Sanders sold his franchising business, there were 600 restaurants nationwide. As of 2014 (the most recent number I could find), there were almost 19,000 franchises around the world. That’s a lot of chicken!

Fast Food Stats  When it comes to fast food, there are a number of common ingredients. Here are a few I found interesting:

1. The most common fast food meat: Chicken. This isn’t by volume (that would be beef), but rather by number of menu items. McDonald’s, for instance, offers almost as many chicken options as burger options. And on average, fast food joints tend to offer more chicken options than beef options – when was the last time you had ground beef on your Caesar salad, for example?

2. The most common fast food spice: Salt.  There is sodium chloride even in things you wouldn’t expect – shakes and ice cream sundaes, for example. It is used in different combinations to add or enhance flavor to a myriad of items. One slice of the American cheese you’d find on a Big Mac contains 250mg of NaCl, making it one of the saltier options available. And that doesn’t take into account all the salt you may dump on your fries.

3. The most common color additive: Caramel.  While Red No. 40 is the most widely used food coloring in the world, fast food places seem to love their caramel coloring. Part of the psychology of eating is that for something to taste good, it must look good, and a nice, rich caramel tone seems to serve the industry pretty well.

Photographer: Greg DuPree, Food Stylist: Emily Neighbors Hall.

Tacos  Before the 1950’s, you would be hard-pressed to find a taco anywhere at any restaurant in the U.S. That’s when a restaurant owner in Southern California noticed the migrant Mexican workers packing tortillas in their lunches, and stuffing them with meats and vegetables from home.

Deciding that might be a good item to add to his menu, he began offering tortillas folded in half and stuffed with food he thought his customers might like – ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, shredded cheese.

One problem in ran into pretty quickly was that flour tortillas didn’t keep for very long, so he couldn’t keep a very large supply of them at any one time. He solved this by shaping and deep frying the tortillas – thereby creating the first hard shell tacos.

This menu item went over so well that he opened a restaurant in 1962 devoted entirely to serving this new menu item.

His name? Glen Bell.

As of last year (2018), there were over 7,000 Taco Bells in 27 different countries. By state, California, then Texas, then Florida have the most restaurants. There is even a Taco Bell in Mexico…well, sort of. It’s actually in Tijuana. Close enough, right?

Mid-Year’s Day Resolutions

It’s been nearly four months since I’ve written anything, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to bring you up to speed on what I’ve been doing.

On July 1, I decided – a Mid-Year Day’s Resolution, if you will – to accomplish two things.

  1. Learn something new every day.
  2. Learn a new skill by the end of the year.

Number 1 is going very well. I’ve subscribed to a couple of very good email newsletters, and I’ve become immersed in the world of podcasts. Stuff You Should Know, hosted by Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant, is a particular favorite. Alex Williams’ Ephemeral is another podcast I’ve really enjoyed. The End of the World with Josh Clark, hosted by Josh Clark (duh!), is highly recommended (by me) as well.

When I can’t listen, or don’t have the time to devote 30-60 minutes to a podcast, short articles on the interwebs have become my go-to means of enrichment and entertainment. Google News, How Stuff Works, and Mental Floss all have permanent bookmarks in my phone’s browser.

I’ve given number 2 some thought, and I think I’m leaning towards learning to play tennis. Since I’ve done so well with golf – someone really needs to come up with a sarcasm font – I thought I’d give tennis a try. The worst that could happen is that I suck as badly at tennis as I do at golf, but I’ll be in better shape at least, right? RIGHT?!?!

Oh, who am I kidding? The worst that can happen is probably having a heart attack on the court as I’m lunging to return a well-placed cross-court smash from my opponent.

So, over the course of the remainder of the year, I hope to be able to share something new with you almost every day, whether it’s a status update on my tennis lessons or some seemingly insignificant-yet-interesting bit of trivia, like why golf balls have dimples or why you couldn’t get a taco in the U.S. until the mid-1950’s.

We’ll probably also get into my irrational fear of microscopic black holes – thanks, Josh Clark – but that’s another post for another day.

SpongeSteve SquareStudent

I find it odd, and a bit fascinating, how both my learning style and my general attitude towards school has changed over the last forty-plus years.

When I was in high school in the late seventies and early eighties, I was the model student, behavior-wise. I always paid attention in class and was somewhat of a teacher’s pet (although I never went so far as to remind the teacher when she neglected to assign homework). I am less of an academic brown-noser in college now, but I do pay attention and am usually among the first to participate during interactive exercises in the classroom.

In high school, I took reams upon reams of notes for each class. Rather than having one of those five-subject notebooks, I had a separate binder for each class, and often had to literally run to my locker, change notebooks, and run to my next class so as to not be late. Now, I just open a word document on my laptop and type – much easier, much more efficient.

Most interestingly, though, is how my level of effort has changed over the years.

In high school, I tried to be a sponge, soaking up as much information as I could. I tried to always be among the first to class so I could sit up front, and was usually among the last to leave when class was over.

As I’ve grown older and more experienced, though, and as my classes now seem to overlap with previous classes more and more, I find myself relying more on memory. How many different ways can Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs be covered in a classroom setting, after all?

Perhaps most tellingly, though, as I no longer hold teachers, instructors and professors on a pedestal as I did when I was (much) younger. I can see now, as an adult myself, that they are just people who are playing the role of teacher, just as I’m playing the role of student.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the way I prepare for tests and writing assignments. I have now been doing this long enough that I’m confident – perhaps too confident – in my academic abilities, and so I find myself putting into the class 1) as much effort as it takes to get an A, and 2) as much effort as the instructor puts into it.

Currently, I am taking two college-level courses.

One class is being taught by an instructor who, while he knows the subject material very well, is new to teaching and therefore is still finding his way. He always comes to class prepared for lecture and discussion, but many of the assignments are not well thought out, and as he isn’t quite sure what to expect for the wide range of students in this class, he tends to grade more leniently than might be expected.

I find myself doing the bare minimum in this class, which thus far has been more than enough to carry a high grade. I would consider this class to be less than challenging, which is actually a good thing considering everything else I have going on (full time job, family, etc.).

My other class is being taught by a seasoned veteran of teaching. He also knows his subject extremely well, and his lectures are always entertaining and engaging. He assigns a plethora of written assignments, gives a quiz after each chapter, and tests frequently. This class has been a challenge because of the sheer volume of information that needs to be absorbed.

However, due to the sheer number of students he has over his numerous classes, he rarely has time to review the written assignments, electing to give this task over to his teaching assistants instead. It quickly became evident that these papers were not being graded for content, but rather that they met a strict set of structural criteria (correct font, specific formatting, etc.). This realization has made writing these papers simultaneously easier and more difficult. Intellectually, I know I just have to meet the physical requirements and stay relatively on-topic to get a good grade on these papers, but psychologically I still find myself trying to write the best content possible for an assignment that I’m reasonably certain no one will be reading for content.

So, upon further refection, I guess I haven’t changed so much, when it comes right down to it – I’m still doing what is necessary to get the grades I want. I’m still learning new things, of course, much of which will have no real application outside of the classroom. But my focus remains on doing well within the system – i.e. getting good grades – just as it was forty years ago.

Three Sport Star

This may come as a shock to you, but I ain’t exactly the most athletic dude in the world.

Sure, I can hit a baseball – well, a softball, anyway – and I can throw a football and I can dribble a basketball. However, I didn’t play in any organized sports leagues after the eighth grade (aside from the co-ed rec league softball team I coached in Denver), partly because I was busy doing other things, and partly because I never felt I was talented enough to make a contribution to any team.

The reason I bring this up is that I just got back from a two mile lunchtime run, and I spent the majority of that run replaying some of the highlights of my athletic career over and over in my mind. Let me share some of my personal highlight reel with you.

_____

First off, there was the time in seventh grade where I was promoted to middle outfielder. The grade school league we played in allowed for four outfielders – leftfielder, rightfielder, centerfielder and middlefielder, the last of which was a sort of rover behind second base, and would act as the cut-off between the outfield and the infield on deeply hit balls.

I usually played center field because, although I couldn’t really hit or field that well, I had a cannon of an arm (at least at that age). I could throw the ball from deep center and hit home plate on the fly, zero bounces.

Our home field in Miramonte, California, didn’t have outfield bleachers, because the outfield was bordered by a creek that ran through the school. Balls that were hit that far were often lost in the overgrowth, or landed in the water.

During one particular practice, I was playing middle field when a ball was smacked deep to left. My buddy Rick went trudging after it – we were a small school on a limited budget, and could scarcely afford to lose too many balls. I assumed he’d go looking for it, give up, and come back to the field of play with his hands raised, as if to say, “I tried, but couldn’t find it anywhere!”

My mind started to wander. Forty-odd years later, I have no idea what I was contemplating. It might have been a test coming up; it might have been what happened in the latest issue of Amazing Spider-man; it might have been how do I get the cutest girl in my class, Cindy, to notice me. Whatever it was, it kept me from noticing everyone around me yelling at me to PAY ATTENTION!

Because Rick hadn’t given up. He’d found the ball, and coming out of the thicket by the creek and seeing me standing there in the outfield, he heaved the ball with all of his might at me.

The next thing I remember, I’m laying on the field with Mr. Buxman, my teacher (and also the principal) pressing a towel to my face and asking if I was all right. I reached up to my face, and all I could feel was wetness. I apparently let fly with a few choice words, from what I was told later. It is literally all a blur to me.

Rick had let fly with a rocket that sailed straight at me and pegged me square in my day-dreaming face. Knocked me out cold, bloodied and broke my nose, the works.

_____

We were a pretty small school. My graduating class of eighth grade, for instance, had seven total kids. There were nine kids in seventh grade, just below us. So, we had to make due with what we had. All of the boys played on all of the teams – flag football, baseball and basketball.

At that age, I had zero upper body strength. I can recall one afternoon on the basketball court – a cement slab outside, surrounded by chain link fencing to keep the wildlife out, with four goals and two courts painted on the cement – we were doing free throw drills.

I stood at the line and prepared to shoot. Twelve- and thirteen-year-old boys can be merciless, so I wasn’t about to try to do a “granny shot,” where you cradle the ball between your legs then heave upwards and fling the ball at the goal. I stood at the line, dribbled two or three times, then jumped and shot.

My hope was that the upwards motion of me jumping would give the ball the added boost it needed to make it to the goal. And I was right, it did. And I even made the shot.

That didn’t stop everyone – kids and Mr. Buxman alike – from laughing their asses off.

My form was, to say the least, interesting. As demonstrated by the much-more-athletic Jerry, I apparently jumped with one one leg while kicking the other leg back behind me, in a sort of bunny hop. Very masculine; very athletic.

Mr. Buxman considered my form for a moment, then made the proclamation, “You look like a bird, hopping around looking for bugs to eat instead of shooting a basketball. From now on, your nickname is ‘Magpie’.”

And it was.

_____

We weren’t necessarily dirt poor when I was growing up and we lived in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but we were definitely “you only need one pair of shoes” poor.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, this wasn’t an issue. I wasn’t terribly fashion-forward as a kid – I was happy in my JC Penney jeans with the reinforced knees and my hiking boots. “Waffle stompers” is what we called them, because of the pattern they made when you walked in soft dirt or mud – a sort of waffle-like pattern.

The other one percent of the time, though, was when I was playing sports. There were many times when I was chasing down a fly ball in center field or trying to do a pick-and-roll on the basketball court in my waffle stompers, and no one said a word. At least, not to me.

That was, until we played a game against our chief rival. Dunlop was the school just down the road from us, and they were bigger than us, but not by much. Their facilities were much like ours – a cement slab for a basketball court, a field that doubled as both a baseball diamond and a football field, depending upon how it had been chalked that day.

Mr. Buxman, who aside from being the 7th & 8th grade teacher and principal of Miramonte Elementary School, was also it’s coach. He decided to try a new play that we’d been working on, called the hook-n-ladder. This type of play is a staple for most teams, but this was forty years ago on a team that was coached by the principal who’s main goal in life was to make it as a painter. Trick plays were a new wrinkle for us.

We played six-man teams – quarterback, two halfbacks, center, two wide receivers. On this particular play, I lined up as the left halfback and my buddy Quentin would be the left receiver. Bobby would snap the ball to his brother Jerry, the quarterback, and Jerry would throw the ball to Quentin, who was doing a ten yard hook – that is, he’d run straight for ten yards and turn around. Meanwhile, I’d run wide, out along the sideline, making sure to stay behind Quentin. As soon as Quentin caught the ball, he’d pitch it out to me running along the sideline, and I’d make a beeline for the end zone.

We ran the play twice that day. The first time we ran it, I scored a touchdown, but it was called back because I’d gotten ahead of Quentin, and forced him into making a forward lateral. The second time, though, it worked perfectly, and I scored the only touchdown of my two year flag-football career.

It was glorious, that second time. Running down the sidelines to cheers of “Go! Go! Go!” and “Run, Magpie!” – it was like a drug to me.

I returned to our bench after scoring my second touchdown (and the only one that actually counted) to high-fives and laughter. I wasn’t quite sure what was so funny, so I asked Mr. Buxman why everyone was laughing.

“The sight of you running down the sideline in your hiking boots (he didn’t know they were called waffle stompers, apparently) with your laces untied and flapping in the wind, with the entire Dunlop team chasing you, was like a scene out of some movie, like you’d stolen that football and they were the cops trying to catch you!” he said, between fits of laughter.

I was simultaneously elated and crushed. On the one hand, I had actually scored a touchdown! On the other hand, though, I looked like an idiot doing it.

_____

My experience with Mr. Buxman, as deflating and crushing as it often was, ended on a high note. He gave me a gift when I graduated eighth grade, and it turned out to be one that changed my life. But that’s a subject for another post.

I graduated and moved on to high school shortly thereafter, and didn’t even make the attempt to play any sports in ninth grade or beyond. I discovered music, and concentrated on that, which I very much enjoyed. I’d learned my lesson – I’m good at a lot of things, but sports ain’t one of them.

But how did I know I wouldn’t develop into an athlete as I grew older? How did I know that my talents and abilities lie elsewhere?

A little bird told me. A magpie, in fact.

Murphy’s Law Strikes Again

I’ve never been much of a cook.

I can make a mean pot of mashed potatoes, but that’s about as sophisticated as I get in the kitchen. If something comes in a box that has directions, I like to think that I’m usually competent enough to manage that task. I can also navigate most recipes, as long as the directions are clear, concise and complete. None of this “cook it until it looks done” nonsense for me.

The catch sometimes is that you need to read the directions first.

A few weeks ago, a local grocery store was clearing out their stock of frozen whole wheat pie crusts. We use those to make homemade potpies, and so we bought quite a few of the two-crust packages.

Last weekend, my wife decided that quiche sounded good, so she thawed one of the pie crust packages and used one of them for her quiche – it was quite good actually. She’s a very talented and resourceful cook.

No one could decide what to use the second crust for – my wife didn’t want to make a second quiche, but also didn’t want to make the chocolate pie our daughter was begging for. It went into the kitchen refrigerator for later use.

Fast forward to Thursday, which is usually my night to make dinner. My wife suggested I make another quiche, but that sounded far too complicated for my basic cooking skills, so I declined. I spent the morning trying to figure out how I could incorporate the unused crust into dinner somehow, then it hit me. I could lure our daughter home from her dorm room for a midweek dinner featuring her favorite garlic bread and – drum roll, please! – the chocolate pie she wanted!

At lunch, I rushed to the grocery store – time was of the essence, since I had a meeting scheduled for immediately after lunch that I couldn’t afford to miss. I went directly to the baking aisle, looking for chocolate pie filling. This is apparently not a thing. I worked my way down the aisle to the pudding, casting about for alternative solutions, and that is where I found it – a box of no-bake chocolate cheesecake. That would work perfectly!

I rushed home and pulled out a glass bowl and the hand mixer. I put the powder and milk into the bowl and mixed it per the directions. When it looked ready, I retrieved the pie crust from the refrigerator and prepared to pour the chocolate mixture into the pie crust.

The crust looked a bit funny, so I put everything down and grabbed the plastic cover that had been on the pie crust and looked at the printing on the back of the label. There were clear directions printed there concerning using the crust for a no-bake pie, and that’s when I discovered that the pie crust needed to be cooked first!

Trying not to panic, I set the oven to 400 degrees and put the crust in. I set the timer for 20 minutes – the directions said to cook the crust for 15 minutes at 400 – then grabbed the bowl of chocolate and went into the den. The cheesecake filling was beginning to set already, so I spent the next 20 minutes occasionally stirring the mixture while watching the local midday news as the crust cooked.

The oven timer started buzzing twenty minutes later, so I returned to the kitchen, took the crust out of the oven and quickly moved it to the refrigerator to cool. I was starting to really panic at this point, so I took the it back out of the fridge seven minutes later and slopped the nearly-set cheesecake mix into the still-warm crust, trying to smooth it out as best I could…

Before…

Having finished and put the whole thing back in the fridge to properly set, I returned to work – in time for my meeting. Thankfully, I live less than two miles from the office, so made it back for my meeting with time to spare.

When I got home after work, I pulled the chocolate cheesecake pie out of the fridge. The top looked like a lake during a particularly rough summer storm, so I decorated it with whipped cream and graham cracker crumbles and served it with dinner – all three kids seemed to enjoy it, my daughter included!

After…

I may not be much of a cook OR a baker, but when it comes to whipping things up straight out of a box or a can, I’ve got it covered. Usually.