Olympic sized thoughts

(These aren't really Olympic sized thoughts--just small thoughts on the Olympics.)

It was nice that benevolent dictator Kim Jong-un let his cheerleaders out of the country to attend the Olympics, along with his sister. Isn't he a good guy? Hopefully they had a chance to grab a nice meal--or any meal--before heading back up to the Dark Country. (Literally dark, take a look at a nighttime satellite view.)

Cheer ... or die.

Probably the only downhill sport I'd have a chance of making it through would be sledding, otherwise known as luge or skeleton. That's because I'm incapable of standing on any moving object other than my own feet, and sometimes the feet part isn't easy.

But while I used to sled a lot, that was at, oh, ten miles per hour or so. Anyone who goes face first at seventy miles per hour ... well, there's a reason why it's called skeleton. Because "mangled body" seemed a little too obvious.

There is another kind of sledding in the Olympics, but apparently competitors are required to be named "Bob". There's only so much I'll do for my sport.

Speaking of sports in which I'd never made it to the end of the course, I've noticed that downhill skiiers seem to be flying as much as they're skiing. Let's make it more interesting and fit them with small wings, just to see what happens.

I don't know this guy, but I'm very happy for his survival.

There's a skiing event that consists entirely of skiing down bumps. I can't stand to watch it: It kills my knees.

"Salchow" is pronounced "sow cow" ... and as such, just doesn't seem like a figure skating move.

That group snowboarding competition ... did some Olympic official happen to catch a NASCAR race and think, "That's what the winter Games needs: massive pileups!"

Figure skating has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. But I'll be the first to admit that back then I was all about the ladies and the short skirts. Now that I'm older I'm still fascinated, because how the heck do they even--? I mean, try just standing on ice skates. Their routines are, according to the laws of physics, as impossible as me making it to the other end of the rink.

I never tried pairs figure skating because I don't like getting stitches.

It's a magic trick--try to disconnect the rings! Nice try.
 I just watched a pair figure skate to music from Star Wars, and it made me realize Jedi would be fantastic athletes. Luke skiing, Anakin throwing Padme through about fifty spins on the ice, Vader as a bad boy snowboarder ... Yoda as a coach. Emperor Palpatine ruling the evil land just to the north. R2D2 as a judge. I've just created a whole new subgenre of fanfiction.

Curling. It's indecipherable, and a joy to make fun of. Unless you seriously watch it for about an hour, then it becomes addictive to 80% of the viewers. What dark magic is that? It's shuffleboard on ice. And I'm watching it.

Every time I watch ski jumping, all I can think of it the Wide World Of Sport's "agony of defeat". This removes much of the fun for me:

In the end I'm not a sport fan so much as an events fan: Every two years I watch sports that I don't even think about the rest of the time. It's the same reason why I like to watch the Indy 500 even though I have no interest in racing, and I used to watch the Superbowl even though I haven't seen a non-Superbowl football game in twenty years. I've even caught a World Series game, or two.

But not basketball. For me, basketball is the rap of sports: to be shunned.


Speak of the Devil: The Rise Of The Panther King

Speak of the Devil: The Rise Of The Panther King: “Tell me something. What do you know about Wakanda?” ~ Ulysses Klaue  “It’s a third world country. Textiles. Shepherds. Cool outfits...

Speak of the Devil: A Day In The Life Of A Cat

"No doubt they call this sport skeleton because the athlete is
increasing their chance of becoming one much sooner."

Speak of the Devil: A Day In The Life Of A Cat: It is time, once more, for the point of view of the resident cat.... 7:09 AM. Waking up at home. Yawning and taking a big stretch....

In Praise Of Snow Plows

I live on a state highway, so I generally wait to shovel my front sidewalk until after the plows have gone through. (Okay, the neighbor's been snow blowing my front sidewalk, having apparently taken pity on me. Something about those agonized groans and clutching at my back. The easiest way to make people think you have chronic pain is to actually have chronic pain.)

Technically there are parking spaces between my curb and the street, but I'm happy to say that doesn't stop the plows, unless there's something actually parked in them. Still, the state Department of Transportation trucks save those areas for last, and last weekend was no exception. The other day the Town of Albion got to the spaces first: I was sitting on the couch, doing that writing thing I do, when I heard heavy machinery slowly moving down the road. I drew back the curtain and saw a plus-size snow blower and a dump truck going slowly along the curb, picking up most of that snow in the parking areas.

It was a Sunday.

Snow plow drivers are one of those professions targeted by the arm chair quarterback. It starts with "they plowed in my driveway", and goes right on through everything else they do. And yes, they do plow in my driveway. They also once broke off a utility cap at the entrance to my driveway, which caused me to have two flat tires before I figured out what was going on. Oh, and they also allow me to get to work and the grocery store, reach the fire station for calls, take my kids to school, and just generally get out of the house.

Not that I want to get out of the house during winter, but still.

As is typical of such jobs, armchair quarterbacks have rarely actually done them. Visibility for drivers plowing snow is horrible even in their first hour at work, let alone their twelfth. They have to make multiple runs back to their base as their salt and sand run out. They have to put up with impatient drivers crowding them, and those trucks don't stop on a frozen dime. They have to work their way around cars abandoned in drifts, and often the car owners can't be found because they didn't bother to tell the police they got stuck. They go out, by definition, in the very worst weather.

But here's the specific thing that struck me that Sunday, as I watched the Town of Albion Street Department guys go by, and a short time after that an INDOT snow plow that still managed to deposit a layer of hardened slush on my sidewalk. It struck me that they were working ... and it was a Sunday.

I work in the emergency services, but as a 911 dispatcher it's shift work. It's very rare that things are so bad I have to stay over. If a snowstorm happens to hit during my days off, I almost never get called in. If the snowstorm is an hour out, and it's 7 a.m.--I go home. I don't have to brave the elements again until my next shift, unless my volunteer fire department gets called out.

But almost all snow plow drivers are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For most government entities and private snow removal companies, there aren't enough plows or people for the drivers to work eight hour shifts. When a storm hits, they don't get to watch it through the picture window just because it's a holiday, or a weekend. A snow plow driver works every storm, every time.

Okay, so they cover your sidewalk and block your driveway. Would you rather they lifted their blades as they go by, and leave the street covered? You would? Then you're an idiot.

Just sayin'.

I use this photo a lot, because it's the only one I have of a plow in action. Why? Because I don't go out in that crap if I can avoid it. Why? Because I'm not an idiot.

These guys, too.

Starman and the Space Roadster, Or: Musk to Mars!

When I was supposed to be sleeping the other day I woke up with a stomach ache (long story), and went downstairs for some soda crackers and 7 Up. (They're called soda crackers, so you have to drink soda with them. That's the law.) Naturally I flipped on the TV, only to discover we were thirty second from launching a car into space.

By "we" I mean Elon Musk, the rather eccentric rich guy head of SpaceX, who I now love more than ever in a not creepy sort of way.

So I got to see it live, and it was so much fun I could almost forget the part about how I spent the rest of that afternoon in the bathroom, doing a little launching of my own. (Long story. Never mind, I'll write about it later.)

Musk was testing the Falcon Heavy rocket, the biggest space vehicle since the shuttle. He intends to use it to send people to interesting places like the Moon, Mars, and Uranus, which I understand is infested with asteroids. Since this was a test--Musk actually said pre-launch that the chance of failure was high--he decided not to put any important cargo on board. But he needed something to test its payload capacity, some weight ... and, looking around, he spotted the vast warehouse that contained his collection of over ten thousand cars.

I'm making that part up. All I can say is that if I had several billion dollars, I'd be launching stuff into space, and I'd also have a collection of antique fire trucks in a vast warehouse. Clearly he and I are virtual twins.

Anyway, he did happen to have a Tesla roadster sitting around, and also a mannequin dressed in a spacesuit. I'm trying hard not to judge, here. Besides, I'd have a spacesuit, too.

So he set the spaceman in the Tesla, a detail I didn't know about when I turned on the TV and found a giant spaceship on the pad. After launch the two booster rockets, in a display worthy of an Olympic event, landed simultaneously, ready to be reused. The main booster ... not so much, but two out of three ain't bad. Then the spaceship went into orbit around the Earth, and its roof retracted, and ... wow.

The last official Instagram from "Starman".

When Emily came in I got the footage online and played the whole thing over, still grinning ear to ear. It was just so cool. Elon Musk, in addition to understanding that the future of mankind lies in space, also has a great sense of showmanship and humor. When I grow up I want to be just like him, especially the rich part.

Musk sent the Tesla into deep space, having said there was a slim chance it might actually hit Mars, although apparently it wasn't aimed directly at the Red Planet. Instead the rocket overshot its mark, and is now on a long loop that will take it into the Asteroid Belt. I wouldn't be surprised if Musk did that on purpose, just to show off the capabilities of his rocket. I mean, the thing can haul 64 tons, so what's a sports car and an astronaut? Talk about an off-road race.

I applaud Elon Musk, and not just because I want him to send me seed money to launch my writing career. Space is still hard and dangerous, but it's also full of possibilities in resources, knowledge, innovation, and just plain being neat. One of the problems with the world today is that so many of us no longer have a sense of wonder, or understand the value of exploration for the sake of discovery. We need to get that back. And with our politicians busy infighting and backstabbing, it may be innovators like Musk who will take us into the next phase of the human adventure.

Or at least send me some cash.

My Funny Valentine's Back Up For Free

After a few days' pause, the e-book edition of our humor anthology My Funny Valentine is set back to free again--this time until the 13th, the day before Valentine's Day.


My piece is, oh, about halfway in, right about where the heart would be. Tell all your friends! Why? Um, because I already told all of mine.

Song Parody: Stop The Snow

  I first posted this a couple of years ago, but it seemed really appropriate today, since as I type this there's a winter storm raging outside. I hate winter storms. Well, only if I have to go out in them, or pay for heating the house during them, or if it's winter. Otherwise I don't mind.
Anyway, I worked foolishly hard on this, so I decided to put it up again. But here's the thing: parody songs are really only good if you're familiar with the original, which in this case is "Let It Go" from Frozen. If you have kids of a certain age, you've not only heard it, but you're sick of it. (I'm not--but my kids are all grown up, and I've only seen the movie once.) If you haven't heard it, you can here:
Or see the original lyrics here: 
I know what you’re thinking: “Why, Mark? Why?” Good question—I don’t even find it easy. But I present you with: “Stop the Snow”.
The snow’s piled high almost to my thigh
It’s so cold I want to scream
No sign of spring salvation
I’m stuck in a snow globe dream

The wind howls through windows, bringing swirling snow inside
Couldn’t keep it out, plastic sheets I tried

Let the dog in, his frozen pee
Is an icicle I never want to see
My hands can’t feel—this weather blows
Thanks to the snow

Stop the snow, stop the snow
Can’t get my car unstuck
If I had enough dough
I’d move away from all this yuck
I know just what the forecasts say
Get your storm rage on
I’m stuck in my drive anyway.

It’s funny how this temperature
makes everything seem blue
And if you don’t see the misery
there’s something wrong with you.

It’s time to go and break the ice
To start the car, oh please play nice
No lights, no juice, not to be rude
I’m screwed

Stop the snow, stop the snow
Just one day when it’s warm and dry
Car won’t go in the snow
Ice falls down from tears I cry
Here I push in four foot drifts
Till my hands freeze on …

A patch of ice takes me to the ground
Underneath the snow it’s all cold, dead and brown
And one thought penetrates my frozen brain
Summer’s not so bad—I don’t mind the rain

Stop the snow, stop the snow
My car’s buried in five foot drifts
I can’t feel, my own toes
I’ll never make it to my shift
My hands are blue and my face is white
I could use a lift
But the snow plow buries and passes by.


But ... I'm so cool!

Photos: Firefighter Ice and Water Rescue Training

Here are some photos of ice rescue training held recently at the Albion fire station. The AFD has a variety of equipment for water rescue, including a boat and inflatable rescue boats, flotation devices, and ice rescue suits that help insulate the rescuer.
Ice and water rescue training includes classroom sessions, practice in donning and using the equipment, and finally live training outside on the ice and in the water.
Please use extreme caution if going on the ice, especially in areas of springs and flowing water, in warm weather, and other times when the ice might be thin.

In a lake area, you want to have boats. We have the big boat--it's not really all that big. On top of it for easy transport is the inflatable boat, for difficult to access areas like shallow water and swamps. We also have a "banana" boat, for ice rescues--it can go in the water or be slid across the ice, and has an opening front and back for pulling victims in.

Ice rescue suits keep the rescuer (relatively) warm and (mostly) dry while they go out onto the ice, tethered by rope to a shore crew. As with most firefighter duties, for every one who goes into harm's way there are usually a half dozen or more working backup jobs.

At least four suits are necessary for an ice rescue: Two for the rescue crew, and two for the backup crew. Off behind them you can see a wheel of our antique hose reel, which the AFD put into service around 1900. (Yes, there's a photo of it in Smoky Days and Sleepless Nights.)

Luckily, the ice rescue suits are easy to put on and very comfortable. Hah! I'm totally lying. Assisting in getting them on is as much of a skill as actually wearing them.

More of our ice and water rescue equipment. You could climb a mountain and dive on the Titanic in this stuff. 

And more equipment, of course, requires more practice.

Practice, even with the basics. 

Speak of the Devil: All Hail The Furry Prognosticating Rodent

Stupid groundhog.

I noticed a Weather Channel meteorologist in Punxsutawney, PA this Groundhog Day. Was that a good idea? He might have gotten stuck in the movie.

Speak of the Devil: All Hail The Furry Prognosticating Rodent: I usually post on Saturdays, but today being Groundhog Day, it's time to present an image blog for the occasion. I have it on good aut...

Free E-Book To Celebrate Valentine's Day!

The e-book version of My Funny Medical will be listed for free over the next several days. Wait, let me rephrase that: FREE for the next several days! That's a heck of a buy, by which I mean you don't have to buy it.

Due to complications with KDP enrollment, the ebook will be free on Amazon from today until the 5th, then reset to free from Feb 6-11, giving most of the month; so it's free until three days before the big day. Did I mention free?

And of course I have a piece in there, which is why I can call it "our" anthology. I'm the one who had to sleep in the car. There are print copies available for anyone who wants one as a gift, but you can get your free e-version over on my Amazon page:


Valentine's Day gets treated by some of the funniest writers in America: the people who win the humor contests, write syndicated columns, appear on comedy stages, create the jokes you hear on TV. A fun read, and an open invitation to laugh at the jokes that make the world go around.

Some samples:
I don’t need a special day to be awkward, uncomfortable and falsely selfless. That’s what dating was for. Blythe Jewell

This is not to imply that the only men who remember Valentine’s Day are philanderers. Some of them, for example, are only thinking about cheating. Greg Podolski

We lovingly refer to it as Valentine’s Day because "Sex for Chocolate Day" was vetoed by the greeting card industry. Leigh Anne Jasheway

Valentine’s Day is about those five little words: Charge it to my Visa. Jim Shea

Inappropriate Valentine's Day Gifts include: Tickets to a ball game, box of chocolates left over from Christmas, vacuum cleaner, herpes. Jonathan Shipley

Clubbing a man over the head with a bat and dragging him into your love den has been interpreted as somehow criminal, by people who belong to fringe groups like the "police" and the "courts". What in heaven’s name is a girl to do?! Kate Heidel

GRADY HARP, Hall of Fame Reviewer, says:
"One of those `must have' books not only because it is terrific reading but also because it has a lot to say about contemporary relationships. Kudos to a crew of writers who are very in the know about love and relationships. This is a little treasure of a book with some of the most terse humor being written today!"

"Valentine's Day? You know what I love? People food."

And remember: Every time you buy one of our books, an angel gets its paper wings.

Since it's all about love, here's my two month old granddaughter when she was two days old. That's love!