How to Tie a Windsor Knot

November 4, 2011 by cynick | Posted in mundanities

Step 1: Learn that a dear friend’s father has not-too-unexpectedly passed away.

Step 2: Spend several days laboring under the delusion that lone remaining suit in closet, having gone unworn for nearly a decade, will be sufficient clothing for the funeral.

Step 3: At the eleventh hour, snap out of said delusion, and realize that said suit was worn for a wedding, and is actually quite ostentatious, and then race to a men’s clothing store and proclaim to the clerk, “I need what could only be called: A Funeral Suit!”

Step 4: Try on one suit coat, say you like it, be told, “We don’t want you to go away unhappy!”, try another coat, utter, “Mmm hmm, this one’s nice too,” hear, “Okay, try the other again”; reply, more firmly this time, “Yeah, I’ll take the first one.”

Step 5: Flat out say you want a simple, no-nonsense white shirt. No blue. No burgundy.

Step 6: Repeat Step 4, but this time with a pair of ties, conveniently pre-knotted.

Step 7: Purchase all, and have a nice dinner to congratulate yourself.

Step 8: Wake up very late the following morning, start getting dressed, and see that the bastards at the store, who claimed to be so concerned with your happiness, and who must have gleaned your general unease with formal dress, based on the shambles of the outfit you were wearing when you entered the store, had decided to unknot the oh-so conveniently pre-knotted tie.

You will have to tie your own tie, for the first time in many many years!

Step 9: Start swearing loudly.

Step 10: Search for a howto video on YouTube and click the first result.

Step 11: The video will have had several million views, so patiently watch pre-roll ad while looking at bedside clock and screaming.

Step 12: (repeat until tie is tied) a) Pull.. the wide end.. so.. that.. it.. is.. 12“.. longer.. than.. narrow.. end. b) Now! Pull-through-and-around-and-to-the-right-and-back-around-so-that-tie-is-upsidedown! c) ?????? d) And finally, pull.. wide.. end.. down.. through.. front.. and.. carefully.. tighten.. knot.

You did it!

Step 13: Realize that, even though a miracle has just occurred, the wide end is almost ridiculously short, but also realize that another miracle is not likely to occur, at least not in the next few minutes, so, leave it as is and sprint out the door. Make sure to keep your top button buttoned the whole time so that nobody can mock your poor dressing ability.

Drive carefully! And make sure not to forget everything you’ve learned, so that ten years from now, you won’t have to go through this again!


August 28, 2011 by cynick | Posted in mundanities

A few weeks ago, I attended an event that was billed as “The Minnesota Garlic Festival”.

When hearing the name of this festival, I pictured something perhaps maybe not in the same league as the legendary Gilroy Garlic Festival, but some kind of approximation to it, with all manner of products made out of garlic. Garlic burgers with garlic buns, garlic soda, deep fried corn-on-the-garlic, and of course, garlic ice cream. Garlic soap, garlic rope, garlic coffee – I had plenty of time to use my imagination on the hour long drive out to the thing.

Upon arrival at the county fairgrounds where it was being held, reality started to set in. I wasn’t really seeing any crowds of people. There was a $5 fee merely to park.

And where was all the garlic? We walked around in there about twenty minutes before we actually saw someone selling any!

The famed ice cream stand that has garlic ice cream? Here it was, just after twelve o’clock noon, and they were completely sold out of it! And this certainly wasn’t due to any crowds kicking down the door!

How about a garlicky pulled pork sandwich? Sold out.

Ooo – a garlic and beef pasty! Now THAT’ll hit the spot. “Sorry, hon, we don’t have any left.”

Dammit, I’m starving.. Look! Someone’s offering a lamb burger!

“Does it have garlic in it?”, I asked. “No,”, the woman replied, “but you can put some garlic salt on it!” – and I was pointed to plastic shaker of Morton’s.

We counted only seven people actually selling garlic. And only one of those was offering samples.

The rest of the place was full of chiropractors, hippie soap sellers, rain barrel makers, and all sorts of other crap that was highly ungarlic.

We shrugged and headed for the exit.

A fitting coda: on the way out, we found ourselves walking right into.. hey! a parade! .. which was a motley affair of a handful of Scotsmen (or wannabe Scotsmen) playing bagpipes, a bunch of kids wearing handmade animal masks, followed by another bunch of kids that were probably from the local dance school, and, bringing up the rear, what had to be the town middle school’s marching band in full out-of-tune glory.

I can still hear their last sour note in my ear: Bwaaah.

If it had been called the “Hutchinson Garlic Festival”, why, what would I have to complain about? Just a small town festival, with accompanying small town expectations.

But as a claimed statewide endeavor, I expected something more. My advice: save your money for a trip to Gilroy.

The Caper of the Picnic Table

October 31, 2010 by cynick | Posted in b-ark , mundanities

One of the magical things about all of this fancy wireless internet technology is that I can define my “office” to be any terrestrial location I wish.

I have spent a lot of time writing code at historic Bridge 15, a rather odd, asymmetric swing bridge over the Mississippi, built in 1915, and last painted in 1950. The area near the bridge is what I call an “unsanctioned” park: there are no woodchip-laden paths, no interpretive signs, no native prairie grass plantings; only some remains from the distant industrial past.

For over a decade, this area sported a rickety, etched, charred, splintered wreck of a picnic table. It wasn’t tied down to anything; people just used (and abused) it. I was constantly amazed at that table’s ability to survive.

It was my office on many a nice summer day. I would see eagles and trains and boats and ducks, watch the waves wash over the bridge piers – it was nice!

So, I was very saddened when I came back from my road trip last spring to discover that nature had done what humans never finally got around to doing: the table had been washed to the hereafter by the Flood of 2010.

Touched by the fact that the community of the area had supported and protected this table for so very long, I decided I would “give back” by procuring a replacement.

And where would I find such a thing?

I certainly knew of one such splinter factory, sitting behind a converted cut-rate department store building at which a company I formerly worked for had leased space.

Definitely more than a one man job, though. I messaged Shawn, a strapping young lad who used to work with us at that office, and asked whether he was up for some lunchtime larceny.

He was. 12 o’clock noon, I told him.

I showed up there, looking conspicuous, and Shawn arrived soon after with another former colleague, Nikki, along for the ride.

We made quick work of dismantling the table – it was just one o’ those DIY tables from Home Depot that was just as easy to take apart as it was to put together – and loaded it into my truck.

Alas, just as we were closing the gate, suddenly, from out of nowhere, came a small truck driven by what has to be a rare bird in this society: a maintenence man who actually gives a shit about the people he works for.

“What you think you’re doing?!”

“I would have thought that was obvious, we are taking this table.”

“You can’t do that, it belongs to the building!”

“Well, actually, it doesn’t. Do you remember us? WE bought this table for our own enjoyment, after asking building management to put one here for over a year.”

“Oh! you worked for that company that broke its lease, huh? That means the building owns it now!”

“Wrong again! We bought it, but never bothered to be reimbursed for it, so technically, we own it, and since we own it, we are now relocating it to a place where it will be more appreciated.”

The guy seemed to sense that we didn’t look like the kind of people who would make something like that up, but then he asked,

“Do you have a receipt?”

Do I have a receipt. What nonsense! A receipt? Who would I have expected to show it to, the hobos who live under the bridge nearby?

I told Nikki and Shawn to get in. “Let’s go.”

And then: some drama! The guy actually zoomed up and boxed us in so that we couldn’t leave! All of this over $10 worth of kindling!

And then he started talking about calling the cops. They would certainly want to see a receipt.

Just at that moment, the situation got even stranger. The building manager happened to come back from lunch, and came over to where we were.

I knew this guy. I’d talked to him many times, and in fact, one time he gave me some spare baseball tickets.

I thought he’d tell us to go ahead and take it, after I explained my purpose.

Nope, he was up in arms. Apparently, these people were still very mad that they didn’t get their $50K in early lease termination money, and they thought that this picnic table, as an asset of that company, should go toward the money that was owed.

My mind was still reeling over the silliness of that remark, when the building manager said,

“Hey! This table cannot disappear on MY WATCH! This is MY LIFE!”

Whoa! Dude! You mean, your whole freakin’ life would be at stake if we were to drive away with this thing? Who owns this building, anyway? The Irish Mob?

There is no arguing with a person of such pathos. His world must be very small, indeed.

I shook the guy’s hand, and said, “As long as I am alive, this table will not be molested by me, sir! C’mon, Shawn, help me unload the truck!”

We pulled it down, and put it back together. The maintenence man wouldn’t leave until we left.

Sure thing, pal, better make sure we don’t turn around and load it all up again. You know – after you knew who we were, and presumably, after you noted my license plate. Better play it safe. Where would all of the bitter old ladies who worked down the hall at that health services place eat their lunch without it? We drove away from there, our dobbers down. Nikki said, “Wow! I feel totally defeated now!”

Indeed. Except: what kind of idiot tries to pull off such a stunt at 12 o’clock noon, when the internationally accepted time for such shenanigans is 3:30am?

But, I gave the man my word. And Bridge 15 still needs a new table.

Purely Minnesotan

October 12, 2010 by cynick | Posted in mundanities

’Twas a fine afternoon for a bike ride.

I headed out to hit the trail along the river.

At Chestnut Street, the railroad crossing gates were down.. but there was no train in sight.

I went around the gates and over the tracks, and headed up the hill. About halfway up, I stopped and turned around to witness a wonderful spectacle that I think could only happen in Minnesota.

Chestnut Street is actually a boulevard for a half a block up the hill. That means that any cars that go past the intersection of Eagle St., toward the river are, in effect, trapped there while the trains go by.

In this case, there was no train, and as the minutes went by, that bit of road started to fill up with cars. The backup was getting close to 7th St. Finally, drivers waiting to cross the Eagle/Chestnut intersection got fed up and started taking Exchange Street.

Not the people trapped below. They were paralyzed. “What do we DO?”

Well, my answer is, you drive over the curb, and go up the other side! Not these sheep – that’d be illegal, after all.

Another ten minutes went by. Now the people started splitting into two groups: the first group was staying put, and the second group was getting antsy, and started getting out of their cars – but not to yell, but to reason with the other drivers that, gee, golly, maybe we should all back up, and then turn around in the intersection.

This discussion went on for some time, until finally, a consensus was reached, and backwards up the hill they all came.

This confused the living _ hell _ out of the people trying to come down the hill, resulting in several near collisions.

The people coming up the hill backwards turned around and drove away from there, and these new people, in too much of a hurry to ask why all of the other people were driving in reverse, simply filled in the road again, and the cycle started anew! No movement for ten minutes, and then another round of negotiations.

If this had been, say, New York, you’d have had sparks from frames and mufflers dragging over the curb, fisticuffs, verbal abuse, maybe even people driving through the gates!

I watched two more complete cycles of this strange social interaction – and then finally the cops showed up, hand waved everyone out, and blocked it off. All of the fun spoiled, I went on my way. I could have watched that for hours!

A Trip to the DMV

May 25, 2010 by cynick | Posted in mundanities

Whelp, since it is my birthday tomorrow, I was under some obligation to visit the DMV to renew my driver’s license.

For years, I’ve been going to Maplewood City Hall for sheer simplicity. There are never more than a handful of people there, and it’s typically easy to get in and out of there in under five minutes. The only catch is that you have to remember to bring cash; it’s 2010, and they have no ability to take credit or debit cards. On the other hand, they do have a rather convenient ATM in the lobby with likely large fees. Oh well, times is hard.

Of course, I went there by bike.  City Hall is a few feet off the Gateway Trail.

There were more people there than usual, but that’s okay, I had to fill out a form while I waited. How much do I weigh now? 200?  Gee, my old license says 230! Not bad!

Eventually, just as I was about to pull out the crossword, my number was called, I turned in my rather sweaty, crumpled up $24, and was directed over to the eye test. Man, you’d have to be practically blind not to pass that.

Next, I was asked to sign my application. I started to take out my space pen, but the woman insisted that I use her pen. Okay, I suppose it has something to do with how the signature will ultimately appear on the new license, but even so, I got halfway through my first name, and it crapped out. I had to retrace, and it looked like crap. Nothing like my signature at all, really.

Finally, the dreaded photograph. This is much less painful nowadays; since it’s all digital, they can shoot as many as it takes until it looks good. Except that since I had ridden there, my hair was all over the map, and without a comb, there wasn’t much I could do about that. Oh well, think it will be okay.