Archive for July, 2011


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Today I paid final respects to a man who was very prominent in my formative years.

We all have had teachers like that when we were growing up.  These people touched our lives in ways that we cannot always express.  They are indeed, a part of us deep down inside, and death can never take that away.

Darwin H. Bistline was the director of the marching band when I was in high school.  Under his direction, the AAHS marching band won first place awards in 15 of his sixteen years at the helm.   He retired in 1982, the year I graduated.

They had several video montages for guests to watch, featuring marching bands from the late sixties, the seventies, and even a few pictures from my high school years in the early eighties.  They brought back many memories–band camps in the heat of summer, cold parades in November, and band trips in the spring.  Back in the day, the high school band was a fixture in the community and brought a sense of pride to the hometown.  Schools actually provided uniforms and weren’t cutting music programs from the budget to make ends meet.

Darwin H. Bistline

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d lead the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
We were young and sure to have our way

I guess its true.  You can’t go back.  You can never go back.

I thought I would meet more people I knew at the funeral home, but alas, I was alone except for my memories.  Nearly thirty years separates me from that time in my life and many of the people in our band are spread across the country.

One montage showed countless pictures of Darwin and his family.  Sometimes, as students in school, we forget that our teachers have lives just like the rest of us.  I saw him as a young director and you could see the fire in his eyes.  He was a demanding perfectionist when I knew him in the twilight of his career, but there was another man I never knew who preceded that one.

At one point, I even considered a career in music–to become a band director–because of the influence this man had in my life at that time.  In college, I joined the marching band and even designed one of our half-time shows.  But I didn’t have the musical skill or ear and my interests were drawn elsewhere.  I can’t even carry a tune in a suitcase.

Mr. Bistline taught his students discipline and a strong work ethic.  Do it with spirit, tradition and pride.  That was his slogan.  STP.

The 1982 AAHS Marching Band!

I still get chills when I hear his–our–signature march, Barnum & Bailey’s Favorite.  To this day, I occasionally throw some march music into the CD player and I know my appreciation for this music came from him.

The leader of the band is tired
and his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument
and his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt
to imitate the man
I’m just the living legacy
to the leader of the band.

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Mascot Malapropism

My family and I attended a baseball game tonight in State College, Pennsylvania–the Spikes.  They lost bad.

But at one point in the game, they scored a run.  This blue furry thing came out of the wall in center field and danced around.  The announcer introduced the mascot character that was celebrating the score.

Did I hear that correctly?

The dancing mascot was the Nookie Monster.

The Nookie Monster!

Being a fan of college football, I am never surprised by the strangeness of a mascot.  Perhaps the most famous is the Standford Tree.  It’s a tree.

Dutch Elm Disease?

UC Santa Cruz has the Banana Slug.  Xavier has the Blue Blob.  Dartmouth has Keggy the Keg.  Scottsdale Community College has Artie the Artichoke and  Delta State has the Fighting Okra.  Nothing more fearsome than angry vegetables.  You can peruse pictures of these mascots and a few others here.

Even my hometown minor league baseball franchise, the Altoona Curve, has Al Tuna.  He’s a fish.  He also dances in the outfield, but he doesn’t dance with wolves.

But the Nittany Bank Nookie Monster?

I understand the play on words, based on the character from Sesame Street–the Cookie Monster.  If the team were young, you could have the Rookie Monster.  If they played in Jersey Shore, you could call it the Snookie Monster.  A team of gamblers represented by the Bookie Monster.  If your team had space aliens, you could call it the Wookie Monster.  Truant student league?  The Hookie Monster.  You get the idea.

But Nookie Monster?

Here’s the definition from Urban Dictionary:

Nookie meaning having sex. Play on the name “Cookie Monster” from sesame street. Used as a pet name for someone that you have a sexual relationship with.

So there we have it . . .

But then, it is more subtle than Deadspin’s All-time best mascot, the unofficial mascot of the Rhode Island School of Design . . . . Scrotie.  I warn you, though, the link does have video evidence.  Thankfully, Rhode Island doesn’t play State College (Nookie Monster), Oregon State (the Beavers) or the Trojans of Southern Cal, prophylactically speaking.

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Our local paper carried an article on the release of Casey Anthony after her trial.  The accompanying picture was similar to this:

My first thought?  What is Alec Baldwin doing with Casey Anthony?

Somewhere along the line, there are going to be movie rights to this whole thing.  I’ve already helped the casting director out. 

Alec Baldwin should be her attorney.

But who should play the lead?

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I came across this article on The Huffington Post about Australian retailers who are charging fees to use their fitting rooms.  Actually, I heard about it on the radio and Googled it. Whatever.

You should pay me to try this on!

Anyway, apparently these stores are fed up with potential customers who try on their clothes, but then don’t buy them.  In other words, some people–you know who you are–try on the clothes or shoes at the Mall to see whether they fit and/or whether they make your butt look big but then you go home and order them online for less money.

The Sydney Morning Herald writes that thanks to a 4.8 percent drop in clothing and footwear sales, retailers there have come up with a series of new tactics to encourage customers to buy off the rack and not online (for a presumably lower price)…including a fitting room fee, which is then refunded upon purchase.

And according to News.com.au, that fee could be as much as $50, the amount some ski shops are charging to try on boots.

So in an effort to curb this practice of frivolous and frugal fashion fitting, the stores have decided to piss their customers off even further.

Granted, the “fee” will be refunded if you actually buy the item.

But what if you truly don’t like how you look after you put it on?  Not only do you look like a fool in that sweater (worse yet, you look like a shooting gallery with those ducks going across the front,) but now you’re out $20 because you don’t want to actually buy it.  Why don’t they just cut you with the price tag and pour salt into the wound?

Does the fitting room fee apply only if you use the fitting room?  I’m not shy, and if it means saving up to 50 bucks, I hope you look the other way.  If not, could you hand me those boxers over there?  What are you looking at anyway?  Haven’t you ever heard of shrinkage?!  The air conditioning is on in here!

What’s next?  An admission fee to the Mall?

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A woman contemplating cataract surgery asks her surgeon, “Will I be able to play the piano after my cataract surgery?”

The surgeon smiles and answers, “I don’t see why not.”

“Well, that’s great,” the woman replied ecstatically.  “I was never able to play before!”

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Adam Richman (Man Vs. Food on the Travel Channel) did an episode in Phoenix, stopping for a sandwich at Los Reyes de la Torta.

So while on vacation in Phoenix, we headed out to this Mexican sandwich shop.

Of course, I had to order the Torta Del Rey.  The King Sandwich.   Ham, melted cheese, pork sirloin, breaded beef, sausage, chorizo and
eggs.  Who could ask for more?  Who could get anymore on the sandwich?

Open Wide and Say Ahhhhh!

This was going to take some work on my part.  It was man versus food.  Face versus “the King.”  Del Rey.  Mano a Torta.

It put up a pretty good fight.  Things got a little messy, but in the end . . .

I can't believe I ate the WHOLE thing!

Doesn’t look much like the MyPlate food recommendation does it?  My GPS (gastronomic preference system) warned me to make a U-turn if at all possible.  But I couldn’t turn away from that sandwich!  I almost got lost in the middle of the meal!

I highly recommend the torta del Rey.  Just be sure to bring your A-game appetite.

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The heat is on
on the street
inside your head on ev’ry beat.

Glenn Frey

While vacationing in Phoenix over the Fourth of July holiday, I had the opportunity to take to the streets running.

I’m not sure the temperature ever dropped below 90 degrees, even at night.  Since I was “on vacation,” I refused to get up early.  That’s too much like work.  I didn’t want to be rude and not have breakfast with my family and the friends we were visiting, so I had breakfast.  I can’t run right after I eat (well, I could but it would not be pretty!) so I had to wait a couple of hours.  As a result, my runs were usually around noon.

This was Phoenix.  In the desert at high noon.

Running in the heat

The people who live there go swimming in the morning . . . because it’s too hot to go in the afternoon.  Too hot to go swimming?  Seriously?

Granted, I went swimming in the afternoon–after my run.  It was hot.  So hot I could barely walk on the pavement around the pool, even with my feet wet.

I did not see any other runners on any of my runs.  Does that make me crazy or special?  You decide.

If you’re goin’ through hell keep on going
Don’t slow down if you’re scared don’t show it
You might get out before the devil even knows you’re there
Rodney Atkins

Driving on I-10

But the heat would not keep me from my appointed rounds.  It’s a dry heat.  Like running in your oven.

The key to running in this environment is proper hydration.  It also helps to be a little insane.  I did have a belt with me that accommodates two small water bottles, but I don’t really like carrying them if I don’t have to.  (The belt makes my butt look big.)

And, I almost never carry water for runs under 8 miles, even at home in the heat and humidity of central PA.  I also was running in relatively unknown territory (this was our third trip to visit our friends and I had jogged in this area before,) so I wouldn’t be going very far away from the house where we were staying.  I could always loop back and grab a drink if I needed it.  Seriously, you wouldn’t want to be out in the open desert without water.  But I was always within a mile or so of water if I needed it.

Running experts will regale the virtues of sunscreen.  I personally don’t use it much, but if you burn easily or don’t have a good base tan, you might want to consider it.  I apply some on my scalp over my bald thinning spot and I wear a cap with a visor.  I have a pretty good tan already from running, swimming and golfing.  I have read some literature suggesting that the use of sunscreen may actually increase the risk of skin cancer, supposedly due to Vitamin A additives which may accelerate malignancy.  As an ophthalmologist, I know that Vitamin A can increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers (we recommend Vitamin A for macular degeneration) so it is not hard to believe that there may be a link there.  Also, people who wear sunscreen tend to stay out in the sun longer.  Burning is nature’s way of telling you that you stayed out too long.  I’m also not sure about all those chemicals on my skin, but I am not a fanatic about that.  I probably eat more damaging chemicals in one day than I could absorb through my skin in a sunny season.

I run listening to music (with one ear bud so that I can hear traffic and the world around me with the other ear.)  Running in intense heat can be distracting and demoralizing, and if you focus too much on how hot you feel, it will defeat you quicker.  Listen to the music.  Go with the flow.  Be the road.  Hypnotize yourself.  What heat?

I carry my phone clipped on my waistband.  You never know when an emergency will rise, or if you become too hydrated and need assistance.  I always run with a phone (covered in plastic during rain) just in case.

I did 4 miles one day, and two runs of six miles on other days.  I hydrated ahead of time, and did not have to stop for any more water during the run.  I like the different scenery that the desert offers, especially contrasted to Pennsylvania.

I can’t wait to get back out there again.

I survived!

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Being a runner, you never know what kind of things you are going to run into.

Surprisingly, I have never “hit the wall.”

I have run into cars, poles, and trouble, but I have not yet hit the wall.  But I digress.

Recently, I went running in a suburban area of Phoenix and saw some funny things.

Traffic calming???? Is that even possible?

Traffic calming?  Are you serious?  Traffic and calm should not be in the same paragraph together–nay, the same blog together–let alone the same sentence or on the same sign.  Thank heavens it’s just temporary!  After one mile, you are free to go back to being an uptight driver.

Being from Pennsylvania, though, I had no idea of what this traffic calming is that you speak.

So I continued running.  I would have done that anyway, but now I was a runner on a mission.  I needed to find out the secret to calmer traffic.

Here it is:

The Circle of Calm

I know what you are thinking.  (I have ESPN.)  Actually, I am assuming that you are thinking the same thing I was.

What the BLEEP is this?

It’s a traffic circle!  My cell phone doesn’t take great pictures but the YIELD sign instructs drivers to yield to cars already in the circle.  The circle is apparently a calming shape appropriate for driving.  You have round wheels.  Round tires.  Several rounds in the shot-gun.  Why not a round road?

What the BLEEP were they thinking?  All they need to do is drive around Boston, with its infamous “circles of death” to understand that traffic circles are not calming.  (They call them rotaries, but I suspect rotisserie might be a better term.)  Sure, if you know where in the circle of traffic you want to be you are okay.  But if you are a lost tourist–beware!  I swear I saw a car driven by a skeleton in Boston going around in the circle.  The poor guy died before he could figure out how to get out of the circle.  (Don’t ask me how he never ran out of gas, because it would ruin the humorous image this is supposed to elicit.)  I followed his remains for three days myself.

The theory is that these “circles” slow traffic down.  Isn’t that what the speed limit signs are for?  Can’t we accomplish the same thing with a STOP sign to keep people from raging down the road at unsafe speeds?  How about a speed bump (although they call them humps in Arizona?)  How many taxpayer dollars were wasted on this project?  I am anything but calm here.

Worse yet, as a runner, I now had to run outside the circle lines because I was pretty sure the vehicles weren’t going to yield for me!

And then I finally ran all the way to Paradise.  Well, Paradise Drive.  And it was a DEAD END!

You can't get there from here!

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Funny word.  Haboob.  Sounds anatomical.

Got Milk?  I got Haboob.  Or two.  That’s better.

But actually, a haboob is a type of desert storm.

And I survived the desert storm.

We were visiting friends in Phoenix, and two days before we were scheduled to leave, we met the haboob head on.  We had just returned to the house from dinner and looked up into the sky to see this:

It's coming fast . . .

It was just like those movies in the desert where a wall of sand is crashing down upon you like some huge, dirty tidal wave.  Well, that’s just what it looked like to us.  I’m glad we didn’t get caught driving in that!

It was the worst sand storm our Phoenix friends (who took the pictures) had seen since they moved there several years ago.

What's that in your eye? Could be dust!

It got to the point where you couldn’t see the houses across the street.  The wind howled through the roof vents.  The pool in the backyard looked like some muddy swamp in a horror movie.  But it passed quickly, which I suppose happens when the winds are traveling 60 mph.  It left everything dirty in its wake, despite a small amount of rainfall that followed it.  We saw one plane flying across the front of it.  We didn’t hear about any crashes so I assume they made it through the storm okay.

We survived the haboob!  Bring on the habeer!

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