Sunday, October 28, 2007


You never know when you’ll be given an opportunity to do a good deed.

Last night, the wife and I had to make a WalMart run for the weekly grocery stockpile, and since she’d worked till 11PM, we didn’t even get there till almost 1AM (watching the end of Game 3 of the World Series delayed our departure) and it was almost 2AM as we left.

We had just pulled out onto the main road and started to accelerate when Crys jerked the wheel to the right and said “Holy CRAP!” I had been in La La Land looking out the window and wasn’t quite sure what we’d almost hit till she said “Did you see the little kitty in the road?” No, I hadn’t…

We quickly did the world’s most illegal u-turn and pulled back towards the cat, who was sitting smack in the middle of the traffic lane. I just wanted to get him out of the roadway so he wouldn’t end up a little roadkill smear. He turned and started to run back towards the woods, but as soon as he heard my voice saying, “Go, little kitty!” he turned around and ran straight towards me with the most pitiful mewling I’ve ever heard. I scooped him up off the road and the poor little thing started to purr and meow and nuzzle me. I thought I’d melt right there.

Here’s where it gets complicated.

I am a HUGE cat person. I’m a complete and utter sap for kittens. This guy was MAYBE 8 weeks old at the most, a little orange male tabby, nibbling at my fingers and talking to us, trying to climb my shoulders, and I simply couldn’t leave him in the roadway, so I jumped back in our car. The problem? Crys is highly allergic to cats. We tried to have a cat once, and once he hit about 7 months old & started to shed more, she broke out in WELTS. Some folks get hives; these were swollen to enormous welts, and in very inconvenient spots too. Her lip would swell up, or her eye would almost swell shut; it looked like I was beating her. Finally the cat was given to a friend, and the swelling went away immediately.

Now what?

We started driving, and all the while my new fuzzy buddy was trying to eat my fingers and crawl all over the car. Crys is in a near panic, expecting any second now to erupt into anaphylactic shock and swell up like a Zeppelin, and we’re trying to determine what to do. After a quarter mile we decided to run him over to our friends Cori and Robin, who were the only people we could think of who would take in a stray cat and who also might be up at nearly 2:30 AM. They recently had lost a kitten to a pit bull and this little guy could be a suitable replacement.

Sure enough, they were more than happy to take my little charge under their care. He was quickly fed, devouring a plate of food, and he curled up in Robin’s lap to sleep after exploring a bit. The little dude never stopped purring once the whole time. I think he was already socialized to people, since he showed no fear of us and was more than ready to crawl all over us, and he was already weaned. However, a busy roadway is no place for a half-pound kitty and now he has a safe & happy permanent home. He’ll get a once-over from a vet in the next couple days and best of all, I retain visitation rights. Having been rescued next to Wally World, he’s now been christened, of course, Wally.

I’m a regular viewer of all the Animal Planet rescue shows, based in Houston, Detroit, Phoenix, and elsewhere. I’ve wiped many a boo-hoo off my cheek while watching those shows. I’m looking right now at a sleeping Dachshund sprawled on my couch who was a shelter rescue last Christmas. That little dog is just the coolest. So be careful as you motor around town. That little speed bump up ahead could be an adorable little buddy in need of rescue.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Dumbledore's Gay?


It has now being widely reported that Professor Albus Dumbledore, beloved headmaster at Hogwart’s School for Wizards (ie: a character in a fictional book series) is gay. Oh, the scandal!

J. K. Rowling, author of the wildly popular Harry Potter book series, said recently that the character of Dumbledore was gay. Did I ever suspect that Dumbledore was gay? Nope. How does this affect me? It doesn’t. How does it affect my opinion of the Harry Potter books and films? It doesn’t. Does it even matter that Dumbledore is gay?

No, it doesn’t.

Why should it? Does being gay make him a bad teacher of young wizards? Not that I can see. Does being gay mean he’s a threat to the students? Not hardly; he’s gay, not a pedophile or sexual deviant. Does being gay mean you should stop reading the books or seeing the films? Only if you’re an idiot.

So what if he’s gay? In the same vein that Harry Potter is a positive role model for kids who feel a bit different and a bit outcast, teaching them to believe in themselves, mayhap Dumbledore’s being outed can serve as a positive as well. Maybe some young gay adolescent can look to the character of Dumbledore as a positive role model, a wise professor who is a respected leader in his vocational field, an admired colleague, and much revered and beloved friend to all.

The only real downside I personally can see is that it gives new fodder for right-wing extremist religious zealots who have nothing better to do than bash the Potter books as being some sort of gateway to devil worship. These same wingnuts try to ban the Teletubbies as gay icons.

Tinky Winky is gay because he has a purse? Hulk Hogan has a fanny pack, so does that make him gay too? C’mon. Be real. Besides, no self-respecting gay dude that I’ve ever met would carry a red pleather handbag with a purple ensemble. That’s just tacky.

Just a reminder for you with boobs, and those who love boobs

Do your monthly self-exam. Get a mammogram if you need one. Do what you gotta do.

My mom's cancer was caught super early on a routine mammogram and was treated immediately and agressively. She's doing great, and has been cancer-free for just about a year now.

Don't become a statistic. Become aware, become educated, and become empowered.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Paying it forward...

Never underestimate the power of a random act of kindness. A simple gesture can make a tremendous impact upon the recipient. I myself benefited from a simple kind act that probably seemed pretty inconsequential to the guy who helped me out, but to this day I recall his name even though we only met once, briefly, and haven’t spoken since. I try my best to pay it forward whenever I can, to keep the wheels of common decency turning, but I never really got a chance to thank him.

Back on September 13th, 1999, my ex-wife and I drove 3 ½ hours from our home in Bangor, Maine to Foxboro, Massachusetts to see the band REM at the Tweeter Center for the Performing Arts (which to me will always be Great Woods). It was a long drive, and we got there early to get good parking and to get a good spot on the lawn, since our tickets were for the general admission area. With some extra time to kill, we rode through the surrounding area and found an open liquor store that seemed to be jam-packed and doing a brisk business. It was time to get some tailgating supplies.

We picked up some snacks and a six pack of Samuel Adams Boston Lager, since no trip to greater Boston is complete without some Sammy, and headed back to the stadium. All parked and set up with a couple folding chairs, it was time to crack open a frosty adult libation….and guess who forgot that Sam Adams doesn’t come with a twist-off cap? Yeah, me.

What to do? A Saturn lacks the big metal bumpers to pop a cap off with. Being a non-smoker, I lacked a Bic lighter with which to do that cool bottle-opener trick. My belt wasn’t equipped with a rodeo cowboy serving-platter buckle to try, and using your teeth only works in those mid-80’s Hollywood college party movies. Oh, crap.

Well, maybe one of the several groups of fellow revelers around me has a bottle opener I can use?

Sure enough, the next group over had an opener, and the very nice fellow that I struck up a conversation with gifted me before we parted. He produced a set of keys on a key ring, and from of this key ring he unhooked a simple plain silver metal bottle opener and bequeathed it to me along with his card, saying that no one should ever be without their own bottle opener and joking that I should never think that folks from Massachusetts were unfriendly.

That was just over 8 years ago; I still have that opener on my key chain. I managed to keep it in the divorce. I’ve used it thousands of times, both on my bottles and the bottles of others, at concerts, parties, cookouts, wakes, weddings, sporting events, and myriad other events. No one should ever be without a bottle opener.

So, thank you. Today I finally say thank you to that kind, unassuming fellow with the spare opener. Seth Taylor, founder of Molecularware, a biotechnology and pharmaceutical software company, and current managing general partner of Vectur, a bioscience consulting firm, holder of an MBA from MIT and a PhD in molecular biology from Johns Hopkins, and all-around decent guy, thanks. Your kindness has never been forgotten.

And to all my readers, I challenge you to go commit a random act of kindness. Go forth and be decent. You’ll feel better, and you’ll probably make a difference.

Quote of the Week!!!

This gets my vote as Quote of the Week:

“It’s the woman who can give up her youth, love and family for the fatherland and the nation, those who can put the mass and their comrades before themselves for the happiness of the people and prosperity of the nation who are the true beauties….Korean women are the flowers of the peninsula, who honor their country by marrying wounded soldiers, and are able to fight off a hundred invaders while achieving breakthroughs in science….. “

Noted ladies man and pint-sized fruity dictator Kim Jong Il of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

If North Korea is a peace-loving nation not at war with anyone, where are these wounded soldiers coming from? Who is invading North Korea in such hordes that women must fight them off by the hundreds? And when the entire country is pitch black at night due to a lack of electricity and people are starving due to crop failures, where are these scientific breakthroughs, unless you count nuclear testing and the selling of nuclear technology to terrorist states.

Sorry, guys

My apologies, dear readers. I switched shifts at work last week and I'm still making the adjustment. Instead of working 4 days a week, noon to whenever, with Tuesdays off to write, it's now 5 days a week, 4AM to noon. So I get up at 0230 and leave at 3AM, driving the hour in to Charleston to start at 4. Yay me.

I promise to write more.....really!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I hear that train a-comin', it's comin' down the track...

I wanted to make sure the marriage lasted the weekend before I started laughing TOO hard.

Pamela Denise Anderson Lee Anderson Lee Anderson Ritchie Anderson…who married Tommy Lee the first time after knowing him for 96 hours and made sex tapes with him that were “stolen and leaked”, and who had a 5-month marriage to Kid Rock (Bob Ritchie), has now married Rick Salomon, who was married to Shannon Doherty for 9 months and is probably best known for marketing his own sex tapes with Paris Hilton.

They got married in between Pam’s performances in Vegas as the eye candy for Dutch magician Hans Klok, no less. This is all so delightfully white trash that it practically writes itself. Tommy Lee & Kid Rock just had a fistfight over Pam at the MTV VMA Awards, and now she goes & marries a fellow amateur porn star. Considering their collective pasts, the government in Baghdad is more stable than this marriage.

These two are single (or double?) handedly turning marriage into a farce, yet no one wants to legalize gay marriages? Why is it that pretty much all the gay friends I have are in stable long term relationships but can't get married, and straight couples treat marriage like it's just something cute to do on the weekend after one too many Red Bull & Jaeger shooters?

Is it finally over?

(Refer back to these for the back story:

Finally…seven weeks after this ordeal started, it’s finally over. After another round of bank visits and phone calls, Wachovia has finally relented and given back the money taken from us during this absurd fiasco. We FINALLY got a live human on the phone who had a clue, a guy named David, and between him and our local bank person, Dianne, we finally put this monster to bed. Yayyyyy…….

Of course it still took several calls and transfers and hassle, and it wasn’t even towards us all the time; poor Dianne got stuck on hold and sent to non-existent extensions and made to wait and tap-dance too. It’s bad enough when a company screws around the customers, but to screw around its own people, managerial-types no less, that just blows me away.

We’re sorta still held hostage by Wachovia, though. See, in a rural town of 6000 people, the banking is a bit limited. We have 9 banks in town, actually, but apart from Wachovia there’s only one bank in town besides Wachovia that’s a nation-wide operation. The rest are local banks and one regional bank. I already had a bad experience with the other national bank so I’m not switching to them, and I really prefer the convenience of being able to go anywhere nationally and have a branch there, or at least an ATM that I don’t have to pay a million bucks per transaction to use.

So I’m stuck with Walk All Over Ya for the meanwhile….we’ll see what happens next.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The interest rate is only 99%

Please tell me you’ve seen the commercial for The commercial where a smiling Gary Coleman tells you to call these guys for money when you need a little help? I guess Gary Coleman should know since he hasn’t had a steady acting gig since 1986, when Diff’rent Strokes was cancelled. Apart from a guest spot in 2004 on VH-1’s “The Surreal Life”, the last job I know he held down was as a mall security guard. At the hulking height of 4’8”, shoppers cowered in fear of Officer Gary.

Anyways, I digress. If you read the fine print of the aforementioned Cashcall ad, it says you can get a $2600.00 loan at a 99% APR (annual percentage rate) with only 42 payments of just $216.55.

I’ll let you digest that a moment. Now, after you wipe up the coffee you just spit on the screen, since you probably did the math like I did, think about this: if someone needs a cash loan from a fly-by-night place that badly, do you think they can handle a $216.00 payment every month? That’s more than my light bill was last month, and I know that I found that a bit steep. The average person did a cursory look at 2600 divided by 216.55, and it comes out to 12 payments, and then add maybe one more for interest, right? Not quite, Einstein….that FINE print said 99%!!!!! And it said 42 months!!!! Do that math again…. (insert Jeopardy Theme here)….and you get a total payment of…..$9095.10.

Holy crap, Batman! Ten GRAND! And these companies target the people who can least afford to be grafted & grifted yet need the money the most. That’s just wrong.

Rent-to-own operations like Rentway and Rent-a-Center do the same thing. They suck needy, broke, credit-risk people in with teaser payments on goods that look so great on the showroom floor, and by the time you pay it off you’ve paid three times the MSRP for the item. And you’re really only renting it if you plan to give it back. Otherwise, you’re paying a weekly/monthly fee with jacked up finance charges to buy something, which may or may not have already been used by someone else before it got repoed and squirted with Febreeze to drop off at your house.

These cash advance, title loan, and check cashing places are everywhere, like mushrooms after a heavy rain. I live in a town of approximately 6,000 people, and when I drove around town to check for myself, I found 16 cash advance/title loan/check cashing places, and another 5 alternative financing lenders. That’s freakin’ ludicrous. That’s one for every 375 people in this town. Of course we also have the obligatory Rentway and Rent-a-Center too, and I see their delivery trucks scurrying to and fro like ants at a picnic any time I venture outside.

Under the federal Truth in Lending Act, the cost of payday loans must be disclosed. Among other information, you must receive, in writing:
• The "finance charge" (a dollar amount)
• The annual percentage rate (the cost of credit on a yearly basis)

A cash advance loan secured by a personal check, such as a payday loan, is very expensive and risky credit. Let's say you write a personal check for $115.00 to borrow $100.00 for up to 14 days. The lender agrees to hold the check until your next payday. At that time, depending on the particular plan, the lender deposits the check, you redeem the check by paying the $115.00 in cash or you "roll-over" the check by paying a fee to extend the loan for another two weeks. In this example, the cost of the initial loan is a $15.00 finance charge and 391% APR. If you roll-over the loan three times, the finance charge would climb to $60.00 to borrow $100.00. So you can see how easy it is to go even further into debt doing this.

Again, these businesses, despite their public relations spins to the contrary, are most often located in lower-income neighborhoods and outside military bases, where young people with limited credit are seduced by the prospect of fast and easy money. Though payday lending is primarily regulated at the state level, Congress passed a law in October 2006 that caps lending to military personnel at 36% APR. The Defense Department called payday lending practices "predatory," and military officers cited concerns that payday lending exacerbated soldiers' financial challenges, jeopardized security clearances, and even interfered with deployment schedules to Iraq.

Payday lending is legal and regulated in 37 states. In 13 states, it is either illegal or state law makes it impossible for these establishments to operate. When not explicitly banned, those laws that prohibit payday lending are usually in the form of usury limits: hard interest rate caps calculated strictly by APR. Most states have usury laws which forbid interest rates in excess of a certain APR. Payday lenders have succeeded in getting around usury laws in some states by forming relationships with banks chartered in a different state with no usury caps (such as South Dakota or Delaware). This practice allows the loan to be governed by the laws of the state the bank is chartered in. This is the same doctrine that allows credit card issuers based in South Dakota and Delaware (states that abolished their usury laws ) to offer credit cards nationwide. That’s why every 3 days you get a credit card offer in the mail from a bank in Delaware.

I myself have never used a place like this, but I know folks who have. I used to get daily calls at work from these places looking for my co-workers trying to collect on debts. I’ve seen one guy borrow from one place to pay off another, continuing his debt cycle, and then having to go to a car title loan place to pay off the second lender. His truck has been mortgaged out so many times it’s probably been paid for 3 times over.

No wonder Gary Coleman is cackling like a madman as that commercial ends. He probably got an insane paycheck off the backs of people in debt up to their eyes. Job or no job, dude, have some ethics. As with anything money and credit related, it’s caveat emptor, or buyer beware. Make sure you know what sort of a hole you’re digging, because if you dig your hole too deep, someone’s just gonna pile the dirt on top of you to make room for another check cashing place to be built.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Whale Tales

Seems there’s been whales in the news these past few weeks. I’m a big fan of whales myself, and one of the few things I miss about living up north is going on whale watches.

What’s a whale watch, you say?

A whale watch is where you pay an exorbitant sum to go out about 25 miles offshore with a passel of other tourists to look at whales swimming about. I’ve been on several whale watches, out of Newburyport, Massachusetts and Bar Harbor, Maine. A couple of the trips were in near-perfect weather with sunny skies and a smooth glassy sea. A couple others were gloomy and rough and had me tossing lunch to the gods of the sea. But each and every time I was amazed and awestruck while watching these graceful majestic creatures in the wild up close. To look over the side and see a 45-foot humpback just 15 feet away, with that giant, intelligent eye looking up at you, it’s mind-blowing. I’ve seen humpbacks, finbacks, and Minke whales, along with several species of dolphin & porpoises, and once I got to see a massive 40-foot long basking shark. If you ever get the opportunity to go on a whale watch, do so.

Last week, 5 members of the Makah tribe in Washington were indicted after killing a gray whale without a federal permit or tribal elder permission. Nominally, I’m against whaling for commercial purposes, but I can understand native tribes hunting a single whale annually as part of tribal tradition, in part because it does keep part of their heritage alive and in part because traditionally they don’t waste anything from the animal’s carcass.

The federal government removed the gray whale from the endangered species list in 1994. Five years later, with a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service, Makah tribal members killed their first whale in more than 70 years.

According to the indictment, the five took two motorboats into the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the tribe's reservation at the tip of Washington's Olympic Peninsula on the morning of Sept. 8 and harpooned the California gray whale. They then shot it at least 16 times with a high-powered rifle, authorities allege. The whale sank and was not harvested, which really makes me sad since the whale now died for no purpose.

Back in May, tribal Eskimo hunters killed a 50-ton bowhead whale in Alaskan waters, and as the carcass was being stripped, an amazing discovery was made. Fragments of a whaling harpoon dating back more than a hundred years were embedded in the blubber near the whale’s shoulder. The weapon was used more than a century ago by whalers, enabling researchers to estimate that the whale was at least 115 years old and providing more evidence for their long-held belief that the bowhead whale is one of the longest living mammals on earth, surviving for up to 150 years.

Experts identified them as parts of an exploding lance made in New Bedford, Massachusetts in the late 1800s, when the city was the world's whaling capital. Hunters would spear the animal with the weapon, which would detonate once inside. Because the bomb lance was patented and stocks were used up quickly, the experts identified a narrow window in which they believe the whale was shot, sometime between 1885 and 1895. That’s just amazing, and sad at the same time that the animal had lived so long and seen so much.

On a happier note, in August a right whale and her calf were spotted about 20 miles off Rye Beach, New Hampshire. Rye Beach is about 15 miles from where I went to high school, and that area of ocean is an excellent place to see whales. The right whale is critically endangered, numbering perhaps 350 left in the world. Before the whaling boom of the 1700’s and 1800’s, the numbers of right whales were in the hundreds of thousands.
Researchers are very encouraged to see that this whale and her calf were in good health.

Right whales occur along the East Coast of the U.S. and Canada, with five known “hot spots,” or high-use areas, from the Bay of Fundy and Scotian Shelf off the coast of Canada, south to the coastal waters of the southeastern U.S. The only known calving ground for this species has been identified off the coasts of Georgia and Florida. The whales migrate from their feeding and nursery areas in the northeast to the calving grounds during the fall months, arriving in the southeast U.S from late-November through January. As the only known calving ground this area is extremely important to the population, providing shallow, protected waters for newborn right whale calves.

So if you’re a boater on the Carolina coast, keep an eye out and you might see a wonderful sight over the winter.

Um...45 Days Later?

Blow the picture up to catch all the evil nuances...

Okay kids. We can add a couple more weeks to my “28 Days Later” blog.

On Monday, October 1st I get a Nastygram from Walk-All-Over-Ya Bank stating that they never received my affidavit concerning the fraud on my account and that if they didn’t hear back from me within 7 days that they were gonna drop the case and TAKE BACK the “provisional credit”; ie: the money that was MINE that they put back in my account. I had a few problems with this new batch of crap:

Problem A: I never received this affidavit from them
Problem B: This letter of theirs was dated Weds. September 26th
Problem C: This letter was postmarked Friday the 28th
Problem D: They said I could type something up and fax it over but
by the time I could get home to accomplish this, it would
then be after midnight, thus giving me ONE DAY to work
with before the week was up, since they were so late in getting it to me.

Well… gets typed and faxed to Wachovia. And be DAMNED if they didn’t go ahead and just take my damned money back, which caused 3 of my transactions to bounce, at $35.00 a pop on top of what they’d already taken from me. It was now Friday, October 5th, a good 5 1/2 weeks after this crap started. And I am STILL getting screwed around.

Well…guess who was at the front door of the local branch banging his shoe on the desk like Nikita Khrushchev? After telling the nice lady that I really didn’t want to pull my money out of their bank and go elsewhere, several phone calls were made and another fax was sent, as well as an actual affidavit being faxed too. Would they put the money back in yet? Oh, hell no.

They said it would take 24 hours for the fraud department to get & process my fax and about 72 hours to get my money back. Bloody hell. So they MIGHT process it Saturday since the department runs supposedly 24/7, but Monday was Columbus Day, a bank holiday. I may or may not see my damned money again by Wednesday. That will make exactly 6 weeks without a finalized solution to this episode.

Needless to say, one more screwup and I’m changing banks.

Monday, October 8, 2007

I hate meetings

Meetings……ugh. I hate the words “staff meeting” or “employee meeting”, or worse…”Sales Meeting”. Seldom in my 20 years of adult life after high school have those little words EVER had any inkling of a positive connotation.

I once worked at a car dealership, and we had our weekly sales meeting on Saturday mornings at about 7:30 AM. Invariably, the meeting was a golden opportunity to badger the sales staff for not selling enough, even when sales were good. Nothing we ever did was good enough. For a good 30 minutes or so, we’d be berated, and then the floor was open if anyone wanted to say anything. Nobody ever did, because it did absolutely no good and it was easier to just sit there with a blank look, let the GM and the Sales Manager rant, and then be done with it. Afterwards, we pee-ons would congregate at the coffee maker and lick our wounds.

The saddest part of this was that after being whipped like dogs in the street we then had to go put on a game-face and try & sell cars all day on what was always the busiest day of the week. Needless to say, bad management was a primary reason that sales were flat.

I also once worked at a pool & hot tub establishment. Those sales meetings were just as big a goat rope. It was standard by-rote repetition every week, going over what that week’s sale was, and each week the sale was exactly the same. It was a total sham. We just changed the name of the sale each week. Without fail, 8:00 AM every Saturday morning, threats of dire consequences for sales being flat, and the latest swindle of a sales pitch. And that was just a normal sales meeting. God forbid the store owner or his lackey daughter stick their beaks into it. Then it just became a concentration camp. You all suck, now go sell & make me rich.

I just had a meeting Friday at my current place of wage-slavery, and as soon as my shift supe said “We’re gonna have a quick meeting after lunch”, I knew something crap was afoot, and I was right. Nothing good ever comes from unannounced meetings. Now our schedule is no longer 12-10…it’s 12 till whenever production stops. No set schedule anymore; you work till the SS guards set you free.

Tell you what, managers of the world. Here are a few simple rules of etiquette for running a meeting without making your employees want to garrote you with a bootlace:

Be respectful of other people’s time. Just because YOU have all sorts of unoccupied time doesn’t mean that others do as well. Don’t call a meeting just because you can. Don’t call a meeting when a memo will suffice. Pulling everyone together and stopping work just to say that there’s gonna be a 401(k) meeting next Tuesday is just stupid.

Don’t call a meeting without an actual agenda. Again, be prepared and have a plan of action. Don’t do it on the fly and waste people’s valuable time. The old line “I suppose you’re wondering why I called you all here” just serves to piss people off.

And finally, don’t use a meeting, especially first thing in the morning on a busy production day, to belittle and berate, and then expect people to go perform at peak levels. Don’t use a sales meeting as a bitch session. If you have a negative to cover, cover it first and then move on to positive notes. Don’t EVER end a meeting on a negative because, trust me, your employees are going to remember that as the only point to the whole meeting. And even if the sole purpose of the meeting was to address a problem, you’d better find something positive to end with. Don’t send them off pissed and dejected.

Heed my words, or you’ll find yourself wondering why some smartass employee wrote “Arbeit Machts Frei” over the bathroom stall…

Sunday, October 7, 2007

It's the most wonderful time of the year....

Summer’s over, or so the calendar says. Then again, in South Carolina the weather stays nice almost till Thanksgiving. It’s not quite like New England, where there’s already frost on the pumpkins. It’s still hitting 85 during the days, but the humidity is a little less and the nights are certainly nicer.

Most people I know are deeply entrenched in football mania, both college and pro, the NASCAR fans are watching their final few races, and baseball fans are catching the pennant races. Not me. I don’t really follow football or baseball much more than cursory glances at the standings, and I just can’t get into watching folks drive in circles.

Nope, my attention is fixated and riveted upon a 200 foot long by 85 foot wide sheet of ice surrounded by a 40-inch tall wall topped with Plexiglas. I’m one of those weird people. I’m a hockey fan.

Some people subscribe to Time, or Rolling Stone, or even Cosmo. Most people watch “Football Night In America” on NBC on Sunday nights oblivious to the fact that NBC stole the idea from traditional Saturday ritual of “Hockey Night In Canada” on CBC. I get weekly deliveries of The Hockey News. My co-workers ask me if I saw that 99-yard punt return for a touchdown, and I shake my head “no”, and ask if they saw that guy steal the biscuit off a rebound in his own defensive zone, one-time it to the winger, who skated coast to coast, deked the d-man at the blue line and tossed a wicked wrister over the keeper’s shoulder, top shelf where Momma keeps the Vegemite. Of course, that always gets me a funny look. And when football ends in January, with the Super Bowl, I’ll be watching the All-Star Game and still have half a season left of action.

Instead of NFL football’s 16 once-a-week games, NHL hockey players endure an 82-game season. Both sports ostensibly play a 60-minute game with potential for overtime. Many footballs games, and all baseball games, are played on grass with players wearing cleated shoes. Hockey players don their gear and then balance on skate blades only 1/8 of an inch wide on a hard-frozen sheet of ice.

Hockey is fluid poetry, speed and agility, and elegance in motion, combined with brute force. Players strap on armor plating and helmets, lace steel razor blades on their feet, and wield 5-foot long sticks. In the normal course of play, one can expect to be slammed into the boards and glass, knocked to the ice, shoved and jostled, and sometimes struck by the puck itself, which is a 6-ounce disk of frozen vulcanized rubber 3 inches in diameter and 1 inch thick, easily reaching speeds of a hundred miles an hour. And then there’s the fights.

Fighting is a normal part of the sport. It’s penalized, and not an every-game occurrence, but it happens as an accepted aspect of the game. It’s a brutally honest way to handle on-ice “differences of opinion”, and once the tussle is over, it generally leaves no outstanding animosities. Two guys have a “heart to heart” and then sit out 5 minutes. Unlike other sports that degenerate into brawls that ooze into the stands. That’s just tacky.

So yes, it’s that magical time of the year when I dig into the front closet & pull out the hockey bag full of cowbells (You gotta have cowbells!), spare hats to toss for a hat-trick, and some of the props I use to do my now-famous Mojo Dance in the third period of Stingrays games. Time to break out the jerseys, hats, and t-shirts with the team logos. Time to see friends I haven’t seen in damn near six months in some cases.

Up in the NHL, things are off to a great start with plenty of surprises. As of the time I write this, the Washington Capitals are 2-0 and Alex Ovechkin scored his 200th career point. Sid the Kid Crosby is the Penguins captain at 20 years of age. The Bluejackets blanked the defending Stanley Cup champion Ducks 4-0, and then the Pens’ beat the Ducks. Only winning one game out of your first five isn’t really a great start, Anaheim.

Promising rookie Patrick Kane had the shootout game-winner for the Blackhawks over the Red Wings. The 2006 #1 draft pick, Blues rookie defenseman Erik Johnson, scored his first NHL goal only 2 games into the season. A third Staal brother is playing in the NHL now. Jeremy Roenick showed the tiger still has teeth by notching 2 goals in his first regular-season game as a San Jose Shark after a miserable season on Phoenix.

Oh yeah…it’s the most wonderful time of the year.