Anhydrous Wit

Are you pondering what I'm pondering?

Monday, December 18, 2006


I like to read. I’ve always liked to read. I began at the age of three. (If you believe my grandmother, I could read the newspaper.)

My preferred genre is mysteries, a habit I picked up from my mother. I just finished a fairly good one (not great because it became needlessly convoluted and contrived near the end). What I’ll take from the book, though, is a single quote.

"People might not get all they work for in this world, but they must certainly work for all they get." (Frederick Douglass)

That eases my mind somewhat. I’ve occasionally wondered if I "deserve" all of the good things I have: a nice car, a loving upbringing, financial stability, a job I love, and a kick-ass condo, to name a few. I can pin most of my doubt on comments made by my second boss during my unfortunate Alabama job experience. He used a story of his manual labor on a farm as a teenager to imply that my 12-hour days weren’t productive enough for him. It was if he knew that I didn’t have my first job until college and insinuated that I goofed off for my high school years.

You know what? I didn’t. Sure, I didn’t have a "real" job, but I contributed. I babysat for a neighbor. I helped first my older brothers then boys from the neighborhood with their paper routes. I did chores. I did things well and thoroughly. I didn’t have an allowance. I saved my birthday and Christmas money to buy things I wanted (mostly comic books).

I like that word: wanted. It ties in with the Douglass quote. I came up with a similar saying a few years ago, and it has impressed some people whom I have told. (Go ahead and quote me if you wish.) "My parents gave me only some of what I wanted but everything I needed."

I never "hated" my parents for not giving me something. I didn’t throw a tantrum for not getting everything on my list at Christmas, but I was lucky enough to visit seven countries (including Canada) before I turned eighteen. I was a good son. I thanked my parents. I behaved. I did what I was told. I enjoyed what I had. I loved (and still do) my parents. If you agree with Douglass, I earned what I have.

My parents were Depression babies. Then came World War II. They know the meaning of doing without, especially so that others will benefit. My maternal grandfather was a civil engineer with the Milwaukee Road (railroad). My paternal grandfather worked for General Motors. (Imagine hanging on to that job through a decade of people too poor to buy cars then five years of much of the steel being used for planes and tanks and ships and bombs.) My father had at least two jobs as a teenager, to help support his family. He worked as a mechanic at a Buick dealership and as an orderly at the town hospital. He started college, joined the army, married my mom, returned to college, and got a good-paying job with a good company and raised a family. My parents had hard lives and worked to improve them. I benefitted from that, but I’m not spoiled. I learned a valuable lesson from them.

I’ve been going through a rough patch at work the past week. I feel unappreciated, even used. I’m doing my job, doing it well, and getting dumped on by others, who aren’t even doing what they’re supposed to. It’s tearing me down mentally, and maybe trying to physically. If I weren’t going to the gym regularly, eating well, and getting enough sleep, I’d be sure to fall ill -- and I wonder why some people don’t get what they "deserve", or why I’m doing everything right and am no better off than those who are goofing off.

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me," is a commonly cited cliche. It is also wrong. The proper wording is "never harm me". Words can hurt, and we all know it.

Words also can inspire. I need to remember Douglass. I need to remember that I have worked for all that I have. I can hope that others don’t get what they want because they’re not working hard enough, but that takes energy and time away from my own work. I got what I have by working for it. I’ll keep what I have by working to keep it. I might not get all that I work for -- or all that I want -- but I won’t get any of it if I stop working.

There’s a lesson in those words.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Holiday Humor

I've been cleaning out old e-mails and wanted to share some humor posts on my blog, rather than store them on my hard drive. In the spirit of the season, I offer these.

Christmas Carols for the Psychiatrically Challenged
Schizophrenia - "Do You Hear What I Hear?"
Multiple Personality - "We Three Queens Disoriented Are"
Dementia - "I Think I'll Be Home For Christmas"
Narcissism - "Hark The Herald Angels Sing (About Me)"
Mania - "Deck the Halls and Walls and House and Lawn and Streets and Stores and Office and Town..."
Paranoia - "Santa Claus is Coming To Get Me"
Personality Disorder - "You Better Watch Out, I'm Gonna Cry, I'm Gonna Pout, then maybe I'll tell you why."
Depression - "Silent anhedonia, Holy anhedonia. All is calm, All is pretty lonely."
Obsessive Compulsive - "Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock,
Jingle Bell..."
Borderline Personality - "Thoughts of Roasting in an Open Fire"
Passive Aggressive - "On the First Day of Christmas My True Love Gave to Me (and then took it all away)"

Christmas Puns
This guy goes into a restaurant for a Christmas breakfast while in his hometown for the holidays. After looking over the menu he says, "I'll just have the eggs Benedict." His order comes a while later and it is served on a big, shiny hubcap. He asks the waiter, "What's with the hubcap?" The waiter says, "Well, there's no plates like chrome for the hollandaise."

A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the middle of the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?" they asked, as they moved off. "Because," said the manager, "I can't stand chess nuts boasting in an open foyer."

Good King Wenceslas phoned Pizza Hut with his order.
"Is that the usual?", the employee asked.
"Yes, deep pan, crisp and even."

Friday, December 15, 2006

Life is Terrific!

That was the bumper sticker behind which I drove home tonight. It’s a lesson I need to relearn.

Today was the tree planting ceremony for the outgoing student regent at N.M.S.U. (Every regent who serves a full term gets the privilege.) Her parents and little brother were there, as well as her grandmother who came all the way from Iran and another woman, who appeared ethnically very different but I am assuming was another grandmother. Each of them tossed in a shovelful of dirt. Then the other regents participated. Then the university president and various administrators. Naturally, dozens of photos were taken. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves.

I’ve done so many tree plantings, it’s not special any more. I’ve lost my youthful enthusiasm (or optimism, or idealism). I don’t want to turn into one of the bitter old men I work with. Of course, recognizing the behavior is already a good step in avoiding it. Instead of criticizing other people, I need to focus on bettering my own behavior.

I need to dream more. I need to appreciate what I have. I need to find more to appreciate.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Money Matters

A recent dip in my financial solvency made me wonder where my money goes, even though I am very careful with it. What I uncovered with my analysis was very interesting.

Pre-tax deductions for my 401(k) and stock purchase plan take 17% of my paycheck. Federal and state taxes add up to 21%. My benefit deductions, a combination pre- and post-tax, come out to 4%. All in all, my take-home pay is just 58% of my total salary.

Seeing that I'm living on so "little", I wonder how my employees survive on less -- and with spouses and children to support. It's no wonder some of them have second jobs or their spouses work, too. Then they have to pay for daycare, a nice catch-22.

My mortgage is my largest expense. It's 28% of my total salary, but a whopping 49% of my take-home pay. Add to that my condo association fee (5% of total, 9% of take-home), and I've already used up 75% of my salary. Electricity costs me just over 2% of my salary and a bit more than 3.5% of my take home. The gym membership, internet access, and local phone bill are <2% of salary (<3.5% of take-home) each. Gas, water, sewer, solid waste, and cable TV are included in the condo fee. That doesn't leave me much for food, clothing, insurance, professional memberships, magazines, or Christmas presents, let alone any frivols for myself. (Bonus points -- but no money -- if you can identify the source of that word.)

I've decided to cut junk food from my grocery bill (unless it's really-really-really on sale), to see if that will improve my bottom line. Plus, I hope it will also improve the line of my bottom!

Trivia answer: In Keeping up Appearances, the fussy Hyacinth accuses her husband of being frivolous. Beleaguered, Richard replies, "In all these years, I can't remember a single frivol." (Incidentally, my dictionary lists "frivol" as a verb meaning "to behave frivolously".)

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Food for Thought

Apparently, I can feed people. I'm not that experienced at cooking an actual meal for anyone other than myself, but you won't go hungry at my house. I get this from my mom. Once, while I was in college, a friend commented that my mom made sure that we always had enough to eat. His girlfriend asked why she didn't know this. Simple: she was never there at meal times. Another example is when Robomarkov looked into my parents' refrigerator and said, "I've never seen a fridge that full before."

When I moved out on my own, I figured I'd start learning how to cook something basic. I like chocolate chip cookies, so I made them for myself. Then I shared them with friends and coworkers. Then I branched out with different flavors of cookies. None of them has turned out badly. Now I'm known as "the guy with the cookies" at the gym.

I haven't tried many other desserts. I made lemonade icebox pie one year, and the cranberry pecan pie recipe I found turned out really good. I've seen fancy cake pans in catalogs, and I'd like to be able to make something like that, but it seems a little ambitious. Maybe I'll ask my mom to teach me how she makes her famous angel food cake first.

I volunteered to make mashed potatoes at our office Thanksgiving potluck a couple of years ago. (It's not that hard: boil water; add the box of potato flakes, butter, salt, and milk, et voila.) Everybody liked them, especially Boss. Now I'm stuck making potatoes every year.

I figured I'd experiment with soup one year. We had lots of ham bones left over from a winter holiday party at work. I made bean and ham soup. It was darn good. They haven't served ham since that year. One of these days, I need to walk to the butcher down the street and ask if I could buy some bones from him.

This year, it fell upon me to carve the Thanksgiving turkey because my dad is no longer here. I must say that I did a very good job for a virgin. Bring on the standing rib roast at Christmas!

I asked my mom if I could have the turkey carcass to make soup. I put in enough water to cover the corpse. I boiled it for an hour then removed the skin and bones, sliced the meaty parts, and returned them to the stock, along with veggies and seasoning. It looked good. It smelled good. Most importantly, it tasted good. Well, I froze some and took it home for my mom, but she hasn't sampled it yet. The verdict is out until then.

I bought an Italian cookbook recently. It's called The Silver Spoon, and it's supposed to be the cookbook that Italian women are given when they get married. I found lots of tasty sounding dishes. I even bought some ingredients -- which remain in my pantry. How many months have I had this cookbook without actually using it?

For my housewarming last year, I brought in sandwiches from a local eatery. This year, for Halloween, I cooked kielbasi on a borrowed grill. Maybe next year I'll be good enough to make something that needs plates and utensils!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Driving while Dumb

I found some notes I had written a while back that complement yesterday’s post, so I thought I’d add them here.

NMSU has a nice community for families of students. One day, I noticed a young boy on the sidewalk, watching me drive by. There wasn’t anyone else around, so I figured he was playing alone. "Wouldn’t it be terrible," I thought, "if I ran over his imaginary friend?"

Passing in front of the building that houses the campus honors program, I had to apply the brakes to avoid hitting three students that decided to jaywalk in front of me, barely 50 feet from the crosswalk. Obviously, honors students don’t have to be smart.

I always drive the speed limit. Why is it that other drivers either zoom by me or drive a full ten miles per hour under the limit? (An old Camaro made me think of this one.)

I had the green light at an intersection, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything in New Mexico. A driver on the cross street, to my right, made a right turn to end up in front of me. He was on a cell phone, so obviously his brain did not register that the light for him was as red as his SUV.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Sunday Drivers

I hate the way people drive in this state!

My hypothesis is that native New Mexicans don’t use turn signals, but we transplants do. I think it comes from them learning to drive on the farm, where there’s no one else on the road.

Inconsistent drivers drive me batty (pun intended). Why do you pass me and then slow down, making me pass you in turn? ... and then make a turn/exit? ... and then get stuck behind the guy who is the reason I was driving so slowly in the first place?

People weaving in and out of lanes make me nervous. The more lane changes they make (usually over the speed limit and without using signals), the more likely they are to cause a collision. (Notice I didn’t say "accident". Accidents can’t be prevented.) I recently saw a pickup truck pulling a trailer swerving in and out of lanes in Albuquerque. That guy cut his passing distance so close that I was afraid I’d have to dodge shrapnel.

Californians have been stereotyped for speeding, but I was entirely comfortable on the freeways around San Diego. (They used turn signals!) My only problem in the greater Los Angeles area was the way that Boss was driving. (Then again, he’s a native New Mexican.)

Texans usually speed. When I pass a Texan (which is rare), I look at the speedometer, to make sure that my cruise control hasn’t gone wonky. I think only Texans can read the fine print on speed limit signs that says, "For non-Texans only."

Arizonans actually come from every place else, so they’re too difficult to classify.

When I was back in New Jersey for my high school reunion, I drove with the flow of traffic. It was only five miles per hour over the speed limit.

This is why you need to drive defensively. You never know what turkeys are on the road with you.