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He Also Had A Hammer.

From: Kevin DuBrow, CEO, DuBrow Grains

To: All Staff

Subject: Company Morale.

Hello Everyone,

Word has gotten back to me that most of you are unhappy with my decision to fire James Alger, better known to everyone in the company as Jimmy. Well let me be perfectly clear about something: I liked Jimmy too. He’d been with us a very long time and from what I heard was always a good employee. Stories about his practical jokes got back to me. I’m glad he played a part in cheering people up even though I had to speak to him about not doing it on company time. There’s nothing wrong with a little fun. I know that better than anyone. I’m the one who hung up that poster of the cat hanging from the tree in the breakroom, the one that I then had to take down after someone wrote a bad word on it. But let’s make sure we focus on work when we’re working, people.

That brings me to my main point: the reason I fired Jimmy. His actions were bad enough but what really disturbs me is how the rest of you also acted. As you know we had a two and a half ton shipment of corn that Jimmy, for some reason, decided to run through the auxiliary mill. Now first of all every one of you knows the auxiliary mill is exclusively for wheat and millet, not corn. We have never used the auxiliary mill for corn and Jimmy’s decision resulted in extensive and costly cleanup. The corn was supposed to be delivered to the customer whole, since it was popcorn, and I’ve had to try and find a new buyer. If I can the corn will still be sold for a lower price. That will be reflected in everyone’s paychecks for the next quarter.

I’m really sorry about that but Jimmy used the mill when I wasn’t here, and I feel like everyone bears some responsibility. Nobody acted to stop Jimmy or tell him not to move that shipment of corn. No one stopped him from operating the mill by himself. Do I have to spell this out? Jimmy cracked corn and no one cared because I was away.

Everyone, we need to pull together for the success of this company. Please remember what my grandfather, who founded this company, used to say: There is no I in cooperation. We used to have a banner that said that in the breakroom, although I had to take it down when someone wrote a bad word on it. Maybe I should get another one made but banners are expensive. That’s why we only have one every year on my birthday.

I hope you will all reflect on this and I hope I can trust you. Don’t forget that my door is always open when I’m not in a call or really busy and I am always here if you need help or want to talk. Except next week when I’ll be at a conference in Duluth.

Thank you, and let’s all pull together to do a better job.

Kevin DuBrow, CEO, DuBrow Grains

P.S. Casual Fridays are cancelled until further notice.

Window Seat.

I like the window seat. In fact I prefer the window seat, even on airplanes, in spite of the possibility that on a long flight I might need to go the bathroom and potentially inconvenience the person sitting next to me, but that’s never happened. Maybe if I flew first class where they give you unlimited beverages and fresh fruit and play soothing waterfall sounds it would be a problem, but I usually fly steerage where the one ersatz soft drink and package of salty pretzels has never been enough to even wake up my bladder. The only time I’ve ever had a problem with my seat on an airplane is when we flew over the Grand Canyon and the captain tilted the plane so everyone on the left side could get a good look. I was on the right side and all I got a good look at was clouds and sky and tried to ask him if he could circle back around, but that’s another story.

On the bus I like the window seat too, but it bugs me that most buses are now covered with advertisements. Sure, they’re perforated so I can see through, and if I wanted to stick my tongue out or make other rude gestures at drivers going by they probably couldn’t see me. The seats on the bus sit higher than most cars so I get to look down on people in their cars and think, “Playing Words With Friends, eh? Did you notice the light changed?” And I like to watch the neighborhoods and businesses roll by. Things are always changing and it’s fun to see a new business or building going in or sad to see an old one go.

Still I get it that in order for public transportation to continue serving the public it has to be profitable and that fares–currently $1.75 per person–don’t come close to covering even fuel. So buses get to be moving billboards, mostly advertising lawyers which sometimes makes me wonder if I could sue for an unobstructed view. I’d probably have better luck against the airline for depriving me of a view of the Grand Canyon.

This post brought to you by DuBrow’s Hard Gravy. Celebrate summer responsibly by pouring it over fruit or your other favorite foods. Or drink it straight from the can. As long as you don’t sue us we don’t care.


Plays Well With Others.

I used to listen to BBC Radio 4 at my desk at work. Sometimes it got too distracting and I had to turn it off, but I always made time for—and would sometimes schedule my day around—the show Just A Minute. It’s a hilarious show in which four panelists are given subjects to talk about for a full minute without hesitation, repetition, or deviation. And from the very first episode Paul Merton, whose birthday is today, stood out to me. That’s partly because I remembered him from the original Whose Line Is It Anyway, but he’s also one of the best players and most frequent guests—only Sir Clement Freud outnumbers him in appearances.

Some comedians like to work solo, but, as Merton said when he was interviewed for Richard Herring’s Leicester Square podcast, he’s never been comfortable working on stage alone. That explains why most of his work—and why he’s at his funniest—when he’s improvising with others. He’s also a scholar of comedy, having written a book on  early silent film stars. For Paul Merton comedy is a conversation.

Here’s a great episode of the TV version of Just A Minute from a few years ago, and the best part about YouTube is you don’t have to schedule anything around it.


Some people associate graffiti with crime and economically depressed areas which is why it’s funny to me that a lot of the graffiti I find—I’d even say some of the best graffiti—tends to pop up in Nashville’s nicer neighborhoods. Take, for instance, the Hillsboro Village area which puts the “hip” in “hipster”. Or maybe the “ster”, whatever that means. It’s got fancy boutiques, a funky local coffee shop, an indie movie theater, a used bookstore, and a nice park nearby. It’s adjacent to Vanderbilt University, and it’s home to many university staff and faculty. And it’s got Friedman’s Army Navy Store, a place that specializes in camping and other outdoor equipment and where I’m pretty sure my high school chums got the weathered army jackets they wore in all kinds of weather. You can’t get much hipper, or maybe more hipster, than that. And then there’s this storage container currently taking up multiple spaces in Friedman’s parking lot.

That’s some impressive work. Not the container itself, I mean, although that is pretty good engineering. I’m talking about the graffiti. Here’s a closer look.Someone, possibly several people—this identifies it as the work of Fish Club, a tag I’ve seen in other places—put some real effort into this.

What does graffiti really say about a neighborhood? I’m tempted to compare Hillsboro Village to London’s Soho, New York’s Greenwich Village, or even Florida’s Key West, places that, because of low rent, attracted starving artists whose presence made the places a destination, a locus for hip and hipster alike, making them desirable and driving up prices. I’m not sure if that’s an apt comparison, although the area has seen worse days. The Villager Tavern used to be home to a rough crowd whose only weakness was sunlight. Its conversion to a friendly neighborhood bar that’s even been known to host poetry readings could be a metaphor for the changes wrought on the area itself. The appearance of graffiti, though, suggests there’s still a dangerous edge, something wild, something about the area that’s still hip.


The Feast Of Stephen.

My cousin Stephen had a bee in his ear.

That’s not a figure of speech, like when someone says they want to put a bug in your ear about something, an expression that always bugs me, or when someone is said to have a bee in their bonnet, an expression that’s even worse because having any kind of stinging insect trapped inside headgear sounds like a nightmare. Anyway my cousin had a literal bee in his ear, crawling around like it was looking for a lost contact lens. It didn’t sting him because as we’ve all been told since we were small a bee won’t sting you unless you annoy it, and my cousin was letting the bee go about its business. In fact he seemed completely oblivious to the bee in his ear while I was completely freaked out by it.

We were picking blueberries in a field near my uncle’s summer cabin which was perched on the edge of a lake in northern Maine, an area known for long, brutal winters and short, intense summers with long days which causes the local insect population to work overtime to grow, feed, and reproduce. It was there that I learned that the name “horse fly” is a bit of a misnomer—they’re really closer in size to a small pony, but still big enough that we’d have to run for cover when the shadow of one passed over. It was a fun place to stay and I enjoyed picking blueberries with my cousin Stephen, although I think I would have enjoyed it more if he weren’t feeding every bloodsucking insect within a five-mile radius. The bee in his ear, which he eventually prodded out with his finger, was merely passing through, or at least I think it was since I’m pretty sure there was no pollen or nectar in my cousin’s ear and bees don’t build their hives out of earwax, or if they do they get it out of their own ears. He was also surrounded by swarms of gnats and mosquitoes so he always appeared slightly out of focus and it’s a wonder he wasn’t anemic by the end of the week. The insect attention never seemed to bother him, although later that week we would have lobster which is basically a giant aquatic bug so maybe while he was tearing into a crustacean’s carapace he got some kind of revenge.

The real mystery is why the bugs were so drawn to him when they more or less ignored me and other family members. A whole group of us trooped out each morning to pick blueberries and while a few mosquitoes and gnats would go after one of us the vast majority would zero in on my cousin Stephen like he was The Pied Piper of Anopheles.

This is something I’ve noticed in other people too. My wife isn’t nearly the mosquito magnet my cousin was but if we’re outside she’ll draw the attention of ten mosquitoes for every one that lands on me. And I don’t want to complain, but still, hey mosquitoes, what am I? Chopped liver? Maybe I am since every mosquito I’ve ever met has called pate overrated, but that’s another story.

Why insects are drawn to some people and not others is a subject of serious scientific inquiry somewhere, or at least it should be. I know that in laboratories where mosquitoes are studied there’s usually a lucky grad student who gets the job of offering up an arm to feed the subjects and surely scientists have noticed that some are preferable to others. When I was a kid I was told that eating sugar makes you attractive to mosquitoes and swallowing a spoonful of vinegar will drive them away which I would think was a ploy to keep the dental bills down if vinegar weren’t at least as hard on the incisors as a popsicle.

For now, though, it remains a mystery, one that may not be fully solved until sixty-five million years in the future when humans have become a shadowy mystery, a subject of intense study and debate for the insects who dominate the planet and perform a reckless experiment, extracting DNA from an ancient ancestor trapped in amber, so they can revive the hominids who once ruled from pole to pole. I expect the clone of my cousin Stephen to be a major attraction at Cenozoic Park.

The Next Generation.

Source: Billiards Digest

The future of every sport depends on the kids who play it. The reason soccer has finally gotten major recognition in the U.S., after long obscurity in spite of being the most popular sport in the world, is because the kids who were driven to afternoon and Saturday games by their soccer moms have now grown up. I remember playing soccer as a kid and being asked by my friends, “What’s soccer?” And then when I met people from other countries and told them I played soccer as a kid they’d ask, “What’s soccer?” and I’d have to explain that in the U.S. we have a completely different game that has usurped the moniker “football”. Unlike what Europeans call “the beautiful game” American football players hold the ball. With their hands. But that’s another story.

As a big fan of pool and billiards I’m really excited about the 2017 Atlantic Challenge Cup that’s going on in Klagenfurt, Austria, from July 5th through 8th, that’s sort of a junior version of the Mosconi Cup, with young players representing the United States and Europe facing off against each other. Pool and billiards have been in decline since, well, they’ve had their ups and downs, more downs than ups. The days when someone like someone like self-described “Billiard Bum” Dan McGorty could travel cross-country with no money in his pocket, hustling pool in every small town for just enough money for meals, are long gone. It’s hard to find a pool hall even in a large town now, and even when you do find one it’s likely to only have standard American pocket tables. Forget balkline or other kinds of tables. A woman I used to work with told me her husband, a professional drummer, regularly played snooker.

“Where does he go that’s got a snooker table?” I asked, intrigued because I love the game.

“Oh, he goes to John Prine’s house,” she replied breezily. Only in Nashville.

And I get it. Even a single pool table requires a lot of real estate. Soccer is popular because all it requires is a field and a ball. Or a slightly round object. Or at least something that can be kicked. It’s no accident that most professional pool players are the children of pool players. It’s an expensive hobby, and the shrinking number of pool halls makes it even more expensive, with players having to go as far as, well, Klagenfurt, Austria, for matches.

Sure, I’m rooting for Team U.S. and its members like April Larson, who’s such an exceptionally talented and dedicated player she’s already made the cover of Billiards Digest–and she’s still in high school, where she maintains a 4.0 GPA. But I’m also just glad there’s a new generation keeping what I call the other beautiful game alive.


Waiting To Go.

Even when I drive to work I have a pretty good hike to where my office is because my wife and I both work for the same major university, but we work on opposite sides and park in the lot nearest her office. And we have a parking sticker that only allows us to park in that one lot without being ticketed, towed, or getting one of those big metal boot things stuck on one of the wheels, which I have seen happen and I hope it doesn’t make me a terrible person that I’ve laughed and said, “That’ll teach you to park on the sidewalk, schmuck!” but that’s another story.

So my wife had the day off and I was flying, or rather walking and driving, solo. When I came out of the building where I work there was a bus parked right across the street, and this bus, I knew, would take me by the lot where I’d left the car.

It was also starting to rain. Who am I to turn down such convenience when it offers itself? I climbed on board, took a seat, got back up and swiped my bus pass which is a step most drivers won’t let you skip, then took a completely different seat just for a change of view because I was the only person on the bus. And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

It was a Friday afternoon and I was eager to get home.

Maybe it was because I was the sole passenger, but this has happened before. There have been many times when I’ve been on a bus and the driver has pulled over and stopped for what feels like an hour but has been, according to the clock, a staggeringly long five or six minutes. I can’t explain why but I’ve never asked the driver why we’ve stopped. There was one time that I sat behind a guy who whipped out his phone, called customer service, and demanded to know why we weren’t going forward. Why he was asking someone in a call center at least ten miles away when the driver who knew why we weren’t going forward was just a few feet away is something I can’t explain and I doubt he could either. I’ve never asked because I assume the drivers know what they’re doing. I assume they’ve gotten a few minutes ahead of schedule and are stopping out of courtesy to the people at stops up ahead who expect the bus to arrive at or even after a specific time, not before it. And at least the bus drivers aren’t blocking traffic, unlike a jerk UPS driver who used to park his delivery van in the vicinity of my building. There’s an alley that’s slightly bigger than a single vehicle and he liked to park in the middle of it and sit there. The one time I overheard someone ask him if he could move he replied, “Figure out another way around,” and used his hand cart to carry away his obviously heavy load of a single box about the size of a McDonald’s Happy Meal.

Anyway after what seemed like an hour but was probably only a staggeringly long ten minutes, time that allowed several people who greeted the driver by name to board. And then we finally got moving.

I was tired and impatient to get going, but I couldn’t be angry at the driver. Besides, by the time I got off it had stopped raining.


No Information Here.

In the mid-twentieth century a literary movement known as New Criticism became extremely popular. It tried to consider works, mainly poems, as self-contained and aimed for objective, even scientific, study. It was built mainly on the work of John Crowe Ransom, three-time winner of the Poet With A Rock Star Name Award, and was also influenced by T.S. Eliot who believed poetry and its study must be impersonal. This included disregarding the biographical and historical context of a work, and it’s understandable why that would be appealing. Most of what we think we know about some of the world’s greatest authors, such as Homer, Shakespeare, or Anonymous—author of both Beowulf and that limerick about the guy from Nantucket—is really based on guesses, and they’re not always educated guesses. Taking the biography out of the picture removes that guesswork and instead focuses the guesswork on the text itself.

And yet it also seems obvious that taking historical and biographical context away removes a lot of what can be said about a text. If you didn’t know anything about Emily Dickinson what could you say about Because I Could Not Stop For Death? It’s got an ABAB rhyme scheme and can be sung to the tune of “The Yellow Rose Of Texas” and that’s about it.

The reason I’m pondering all this is because sometimes it’s really hard to know what to say about graffiti which is often so anonymous it’s not even attributable to Anonymous. Even when it’s a piece I really, really like, one that has bold colors and a striking design, what can I say? Well, it’s got bold colors and a striking design and it can’t be sung to the tune of “The Yellow Rose Of Texas”, and that’s about it.

Well, that, and I like it.


Lost And Fined.

Thank you for replying to my question with “That’s fine”. I just wanted to know where the bathroom was, but you reassured me that it wasn’t a question that violated some obscure rule of etiquette that I’m unfamiliar with. And while I’m at it let me also thank you, a completely different person who told me “That’s fine”, when I brought you your package. I didn’t think it was fine that the delivery guy left it at my office, three floors below yours, but rather than wait at least twenty-four hours to give it back to him I thought it would be easier to bring it up to your office. Maybe that’s what you meant was fine: that a stranger went out of their way to make sure your overnight package got to you on time. And also, thank you pharmacist, for assuring me “That’s fine” when I told you I wanted to pick up my prescription. I didn’t realize it might be a problem—I kind of thought it was part of your job description to fill prescriptions and dispense them–until you said that, but I’m glad it wasn’t. I’m glad it was just fine.

When did “That’s fine” replace “Okay” as a way of saying, “I am responding affirmitavely to acknowledge my understanding of what you have just said”? For that matter when did it replace “Thank you”? Or maybe I’m the only one who’s noticed this. Maybe it only happens to me. I do occasionally get a little flustered in social interactions with complete strangers and sometimes that causes me to babble out lengthy explanations of what’s usually obvious with the result that I sometimes include completely superfluous information.

“Hi, this is your package, the delivery guy left it downstairs by mistake and, uh, rather than wait and give it back to him so he could deliver it tomorrow I thought I’d come up here and drop it off with you because it’s just a short elevator ride and I needed a quick break from the spreadsheets I’ve been looking at all day and I remembered what a cool view you have from the plate glass windows up here. My cubicle doesn’t have any windows and sometimes I wish it did. I have to get up and walk to the other side of the office to see any windows and it’s amazing how the view has changed over the years and I remember when we could open the windows. They won’t let us do that anymore because they say it throws off the air conditioning, but sometimes there’s nothing like a little fresh air when you’ve been looking at spreadsheets all day, even though my office is right over the parking garage where some people go to smoke. There aren’t as many smokers as there used to be, though. It’s amazing how that’s changed, isn’t it?”

Granted most of this stays in my head but maybe people sense that I’m anxious when I’m dropping off a package or picking up a prescription although I’m not sure I want to know if, or at least how, people are sensing that I’m in need of a bathroom even before I ask. Maybe “That’s fine” is just a way of shutting me up before I start babbling away like a chipmunk on meth.

And maybe I’m getting cranky in my middle age, although I’m pretty sure I never thought “That’s fine” would be an acceptable substitute for “Thank you” at any age, but I have a problem with using “That’s fine” to replace “Okay”. Sure, it’s the same number of syllables, but it’s twice as many words, five more letters, and an apostrophe. If it weren’t a strictly spoken reply it would be typographical overkill.

“That’s fine” is a phrase used to reassure someone that something really is fine.

“Hey, I’m sorry I ate the last of the leftover pizza and then panicked and burned down the house to hide what I’d done.”

“That’s fine. I was planning to move anyway. Wait, what do you mean the pizza’s gone?”

Replying with “That’s fine” to an innocuous statement or question also seems condescending, a way of dismissing the other person’s statement or question, of haughtily telling them, “I’m in charge of deciding what’s acceptable around here.”

Although if you ask me there’s nothing wrong with being condescending or dismissive or even haughty. In fact if you do ask me I’ll just say that’s fine.

Sailing Lore.

Red sky at night

Sailors’ delight.

Red sky at morning

Sailors take warning.

Red sky at noon

Sailors seek shelter soon.

Red sky over sea

Sailors steer to the lee.

Red sky over land

Sailors make castles of sand.

Red sky all day

Sailors say, “What the hey?”

Red sky at dusk

Sailors play “Tusk”.

Red sky over there

Sailors know it’s five o’clock somewhere.

Red sky turns green

Sailors ask, “Did you see what I just seen?”

When the sky is orange

Sailors argue about what rhymes with that.

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