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Graduation 2008

I wrote this back in the Spring of 2008, about the graduation weekend of my daughter.  It was written for the basketball message board, so it is full of inside references.

Saturday

The Boss and I actually get underway from Savannah a little early, which is unusual.   The animals are all at the vet.  The Boss told them they were going to a spa.  If they are upset about that, they will forgive us, since we are bringing them back a surprise.

I’ve established communication links with Pink Hair and ’04.  He’s flying down from Chicago for the event.  This text messaging thing can be really handy.

We stop for gas and food at exit 48 north of Columbia.  Standing in line, I hear a “Go Wildcats!” behind me.  A Cornelius man has noticed my red Witness T-shirt, and we have a short conversation.  I’m still not used to this kind of thing.

Thanks to modern technology we know ’04 is on time, and we call him from the airport lobby, and meet him at the proper baggage claim.  One group hug, and we’re off to Exit 28 and the motel.  Just as we get to the room, Pink Hair calls to complain about having to go to Baccalaureate, but gets no sympathy.  We rest a while, change clothes, and head for the campus.

With typical Davidson hospitality, there are shuttle carts available at the Baker parking lot, but we’re in no hurry.  We find a bench to sit on and wait until we see the black robes filing out of the church.  We locate each other, and Pink Hair and ’04 head off to her dorm room to ditch the robe.  The Boss and I head for the steps of Chambers, where we are meeting Michael Kruse.

After a while someone who looks like he could be a Michael Kruse shows up, and we introduce ourselves.  He’s been curious to see what a 40 year prodigal looks like.  We talk about the run and what things were like in Savannah.  When Pink Hair and ’04 get back, we head for the President’s Dinner on the lawn.

Michael is still researching of course, and I enjoy watching him work.  As Pink Hair said later, “He just asks a few questions, and then we start to perform”.  She is certainly just talking about herself, because I am much too quiet, shy and reticent to say much.  Tuba joins us at the table later on, and adds his comments.

We leave as the ever efficient staff are cleaning up and folding up the tables.  I always enjoy watching the sheer competence and organization displayed at these events.  Tomorrow all evidence of dinner will be gone and this same location will be ready for graduation. Michael has filled up enough pages in his notebook, so he heads out.  I think Atlanta is next on his itinerary.  Watch for him in your town!

Now it’s time for the departmental open houses.  We go first to the English department.  I expect the compliments paid to Pink Hair, since that is the nature of such events, and rightly so.  However, one professor actually points out the flaws in the first section of Pink Hair’s last paper, and only says nice things about the second part.  I’m impressed, and give more credence to the other comments.

There is lots of academic gobble-de-goop tossed around, and ’04 joins in with the big words.  I keep waiting for a question about accounting software so I can contribute, but it never happens.  And there is no beer.

Part of the discussion is about an academic conference coming up this summer in Chicago.  Since Pink Hair’s last paper for one professor fits the subject of the event, he has asked her to update her work and submit it.   If it is accepted, she may present it to the group.  One area for the conference is the old Brit TV show “Dr. Who”.  (I swear, I am not making this up!)

Then we’re off to the Anthropology event, so ’04 can catch up with his professors.  I discover a cultural fact.  The on-campus parent/graduate party later on is called “Beer Truck” for short.  I consider announcing that this is a very Post-Modern name, but I fear the wrath of my highly educated and easily insulted children so I desist.

We head off to “Beer Truck”. (That’s such a good name for a party!)  Pink Hair skips out for an hour to shoot more video for her YouTube series. Tuba is her cameraperson and she needs to get in a few more scenes. On the planet where I live, one does not delay a trip to “Beer Truck” for such an activity.

“Beer Truck” has all the feel of a DC event, lots of organization, efficiency and security.  I get carded, for the first time in “several” years.  I thank the staff for that.  They even pretend to carefully examine my ID.

It’s really a fine party, but the Boss and I find our tolerance for loud music and crowds has diminished over the years.  A short time after Pink Hair arrives from her video gig, we head back to the motel.  I guess this is my last chance to say “Beer Truck”. I really need to find more conversations where I can say “Beer Truck”.

Sunday

We’re up early for the 7:30 Legacy Breakfast, for graduates with alumni parents.  Once again, and you may be getting bored with this, but it is impeccably organized and conducted.  The food is also a lot better than my usual grocery store bagel.

The Boss asks Pink Hair, “Is this the room where you usually eat?”

“Yes. In fact, we eat at this table a lot.”

“Is the food always like this?”

“No.”

Tom Ross (Tommy-Tom to the students) speaks, all the graduates introduce themselves and their families, and a graduating senior makes a short but compelling talk.  The basketball run gets a brief mention, but it’s not the main focus today.

The graduates are expelled from the breakfast to get ready to march, and the rest of us wander off after a while.  Graduates are streaming toward Chambers, with their robes open and showing a lot more individuality than the formal ceremony to come.  We pick out seats in the shade, next to where we think the procession will pass.  We’re wrong, of course.

Soon the faculty files out and forms their gauntlet, and the march begins.  The Boss likes the fact that the graduates and faculty talk and wave and hug during the procession.  This is a happy time.

The festivities go on, starting with the awards.  I’m pleased that the non academic staff are recognized right along with the faculty, as they should be.  I also am pleased the Davidson tradition of no outside speaker is still in force.  Just a tiny bit of Neil Diamond sneaks into Tom Ross’ address.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the main event commences.  The names are a lot more varied than 1968.  Average hair length has gone up a lot as well.

After Pink Hair makes her trip across the stage, we have time for a pit stop.  This is a major advantage to an outdoor ceremony.  At the risk of repeating myself, I note there are signs and attendants to make this important function run smoothly.

Walking along behind the crowd, The Boss says, “Look, there’s Steph.  Do you want to go touch him?”  That actually doesn’t sound like such a bad idea, but I keep walking.  I also see Coach McKillop standing in the back.  Somebody is introducing himself with some lame pretext.  Coach seems to be well dressed, and his hair looks pretty good too.

Since “Me” comes right after “Mc” we hear a few chants of “Boris, Boris” on our way, but the lines are long enough that we miss the “Ri” and “Sa” sections.

Back in our seats, we hear the last of the names and watch the hats fly into the air.  Chambers lawn turns into a freshly kicked ant hill, with creatures in black swarming all around.  Lots of hugging ensues, and billions of pixels are sacrificed in a multitude of cameras.

I pass behind two girls making their goodbyes, and overhear.  “Have fun in Vietnam!”  I don’t think I heard that in 1968.

As our little group finds some breathing room, I hear, “Look, it’s Pink Hair!”  Two sisters come up to greet us.  They are both message board fans (“I read, but I don’t write.”) Despite never having met her, they are somehow able to pick our celebrity daughter out of the crowd.  They are here for their own graduate, but spend some time with us.

Pink Hair has a photo op with her friends, and heads off to change clothes.  The Boss and I head for the book store, which is now open in true capitalistic fashion.  She looks for trinkets to take back to her fifth grade class, and I wander the aisles.  On one shelf I see a nice red coffee mug.  It shouts “It’s a great day to be a Wildcat!” and commits sellicide by leaping into my shopping basket.

We collect a few friends and all head off for a festive lunch, complete with multiple shared desserts.  After the morning’s early start, lots of excitement and more food than usual, naps seem to be in order, so the old folks (including ’04) head off for the motel.

Later on in the afternoon, a random thunderstorm douses the area.  This one is more polite than its cousin in 1968, which arrived in the middle of the ceremony.  My diploma still shows the water spots.

Throughout the last few days of celebration, Pink Hair has neglected to make any progress in packing up, so we head back to her room in the early evening.  I carefully refrain from making any references to the Aegean stables.  After we make enough progress that tomorrow’s task seems doable, we head out for supper at Bon-Sai.

The fortune cookies are all optimistic.

Monday

Hanging out in the breakfast room at the motel, we see several other sets of parents and naturally get into conversations.  One asks me my graduate’s name, but that gets no recognition.  Then I say, “Otherwise known as Pink Hair.”  “Oh, we saw her!”

’04 has a 9:00 appointment with his professor at the coffee shop.  He claims he’s getting career advice, but I think he’s avoiding more packing and loading.  When we get to the traffic light to turn right on Main, we look off to the left at the Admissions office.  A couple with their high school kid are starting the tour, escorted by one of the staff.   They’re all carrying bright red folders.  The cycle never stops.

Over the past year, Pink Hair has developed an intense emotional bond with her $30 Goodwill sofa.  That, and the fact that we have more human beings than usual along on this trip, requires me to rent a truck for this retrieval.  This means she will now have a $400 sofa, so I guess she’s moving up in the world.

One slight glitch arises, as the truck has not yet been returned by the previous renter.  We have to wait a bit, but when he does arrive he apologizes and gives me a nice new NASCAR hat as compensation.

I discover that loading up after year 4 is not much more pleasant than loading up after 1, 2 or 3.  Also, knowing we have the truck means that less culling has been done.  I’m glad we didn’t try to do this on Sunday.  We have to work around the Physical Plant folks who, naturally, are already hard at work on summer projects.

’04 redeems himself and actually does show up in time to help load.  I slice my finger on a nail on the stupid sofa and almost strain my back.  I begin to worry that it may become a $1000 sofa due to medical bills, but finally it’s on the truck and I have survived.  I definitely appreciate the elevator in Belk, although I’m surprised it doesn’t have a donor name engraved on it.

’04 has to catch his plane, so he and The Boss head for the airport in the car.  Pink Hair goes to turn in her Post Office key.  There is one box left in her room, so I head up to get it.  As the elevator door opens, two girls start tossing their stuff out of it into the hall.  I wait, since they are going to ride back up.

As fellow passengers, we get to talking.  “Congratulations!” I tell them.

“That’s right, we’re alumni now!”

“I’m going to go to the bookstore and get an alumni sticker!”

“We’re adults!”

This is a bit too much for me.  “Well, I wouldn’t go THAT far.”

“Oh, I guess you’re right.”

We reach the fourth floor, and they start singing as they go down the hall.  I grab the last box, and as I head back down I hear, “So good! So good! So good!”

Pink Hair and I meet at the back of the truck, and I pull down the big door.

Rumble Rumble Ratchety Rack – Click.  We’re done.

I turn to Pink Hair.  “Welcome to the Alumni Association.”

“Not ‘til we’re off campus.”

We make it to the airport, and Pink Hair shifts to the car.  Time has gotten a bit short and they need to ransom the animals, so they go on ahead.  I’m left in the big slow truck.

Driving those familiar 200 miles, I realize that my 8 years worth of accumulated knowledge of on and off  ramps, fast food populations and bathroom availability will no longer be particularly valuable.  But I’m happy.

It was a great weekend to be a Wildcat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Jeans

Well, it’s time to break into the holiday season.  I refer, of course, to my Biennial Blue Jean Buying Binge!  (Don’t worry, there is no obligatory cheesy music involved.)  Yes, about every other year I buy a new pair of jeans.  One of my customers commented today when he saw my jeans, asking if I had shifted to winter uniform.  I hang on to the khaki cargo shorts as long as I can, but it’s been chilly (by Savannah standards) lately.

I grew up in a small South Texas town where most everybody actually worked for a living.  That, and the fact that most of the plants wore thorns or spikes or other appendages of assault, shorts were not an option.  You needed long pants with some heft to them.

As a growing boy I was always provided with blue jeans which were too long to start with, so as to get adequate use before my ankles started to show.  We just rolled up the cuffs and adjusted them as we grew.  Laundry was easy.  My mother had adjustable metal stretchers which went into the legs out of the washing machine and kept them taut while they dried on the line.

Jeans were just what we wore, and there was no prestige to be gained or lost with any differentiation.  Somewhere along the line, though, probably in that dreaded realm of insecurity called High School, there was one change.  Rolling up your cuffs was just “not done”.  That was not much of a problem since we weren’t growing so fast.  You just bought them a little long and handed them down when they got too short.

Moving on, I was always jealous of the sailors when I was in the Navy.  They got to wear those cool bell bottomed dungarees, which were not in my uniform list.  I did buy a pair at the exchange to wear at home, though.

As I continued living, I continued growing.  However, the vectors changed, and vertical increases turned more to the horizontal.  As a result, my ample belly and stubby legs now relegate me to the extreme boundaries of the waist/inseam charts, and even there my jeans legs scrape the ground a bit. The part of me that is still in High School will not allow me to roll up the cuffs, so I have to find the short legged size. That makes it difficult to find a pair rummaging through piles at the local stores.

So lately I have been buying online, although I feel a little guilty not patronizing my fellow local businesses.  Of course, I’m not sure that matters all that much when the “local store” sends all its money to Benton, Arkansas.

But going online brings other difficulties, since there you have to choose styles and colors as well as sizes.  This is all new and confusing to an old guy, particularly when they keep changing the numbers, so I can’t just buy what I got last time.  So I make mistakes.  The 2013 pair arrived with a button fly, which can be a hassle for my old arthritic fingers.

This time I got the zipper fly, and the measurements seem OK, but things just seem a little baggy.  I can live with that, but The Boss was not impressed.

The first time she saw me in the new pair, she said “Legs too fat!”

I wasn’t sure which set of legs she was referring to,  but I chose not ask for clarification.

Strategy

if you buy fancy electronics or other bulky items, don’t put the empty boxes out with your recycling.  That’s just an invitations to potential burglars.

Think of somebody in your neighborhood that you don’t like very much, and sneak the boxes out behind their house.

Wrestling Alligators

I’m not going to claim that the following is a universal truth or anything, but I suspect a lot of you dads out there can relate.

There is a short time in the father/daughter time space continuum that most daughters think their dad is a cool guy.   Your mileage may vary, and the timing is wildly variable, but I think it’s a common occurrence.  It was during this brief interval, back when Pink Hair was about [mumble] years old, that I wandered into her room when she was having an online chat with some other adolescent miscreant.  They were into a “My dad/your dad” competition.

Pink Hair had just fired her first shot.  “My dad can fly airplanes.”

Well, only little slow ones, and he hasn’t done it for a long time, and he wasn’t ever all that good at it, but it’s basically true.

She got a reply, but did not acknowledge a hit.

“Well, my dad can drive ships!”

Only under intense supervision, and the Captain finally threw him off the bridge and banished him to the Radar Room, but he did get in a few rudder commands, so I guess that’s a moderately fair statement.

She got a reply that didn’t faze her, but she turned around and looked at me, obviously in need of more material.   I said, “Don’t forget the race cars.”

“My dad can drive race cars!”

That’s not a total lie.  He did drive some, he just didn’t drive any in an actual, you know, race.

While she waited for a reply, she looked back over her shoulder at me, obviously expecting more ammunition.

I brought a round up out of the magazine, ready to load.  It was about me wrestling alligators for fun on the weekends, down at the Monkey Farm on Highway 17. Two shows daily.

That’s of course an outrageous lie with no justification in fact whatsoever, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

But I didn’t have to go there.  The enemy surrendered.  “OK, I give up.”

It was a famous victory, and a few seriously wounded but still breathing kernels of truth lived to fight another day.

A few days later she realized, like most daughters eventually do, that the old man was actually a totally clueless relic from the Jurassic period, not worthy of any more consideration.

But I didn’t mind, having been to that particular rodeo before.

And she’s actually been a lot nicer in the last few years.

The Visitor

I was a bit surprised when I heard the knock at the front door.  Usually when anybody even walks down the sidewalk in front of the house, the eight legged security force makes such a racket I can’t hear the knocker, but this time they just went to the door and stood there quietly.  Out of habit, I opened the door carefully, but more to keep them in than keep the visitor out.  I don’t worry all that much about visitors, not with the deterrent of 150 pounds of dog at my back.

We get a fair number of panhandlers on our street, but this fellow was a bit different.  He didn’t start off with a long tale of needing money for diapers, or to put gas in his cousin’s car so he could go get his own car “just a way down the highway”.  He just said he was hungry and asked if I could help him out.  I appreciated the simple story.  I made sure to grab both collars before I invited him in and brought him out to the sunporch.  I thought about crating the dogs, but they seemed fine with him, and I was also cautious enough to want to keep them in reserve.

The best I could do on such short notice was a tuna fish sandwich, but he seemed happy with that. After a while, I asked him where he was headed.  That seemed like a polite way to find out more about him.  He told me he was just traveling around, seeing what he could see with no particular destination in mind.

“Are you visiting family along the way?” I asked.

“No, not really.  My family situation is, well, kind of complicated.”

Having had a few family “complications” of my own in the past, I didn’t press him.

He went on, “I do have a lot of folks who say they’re my friends, though.  I’ve been trying to look some of them up.”

As we talked, I began to get a strange feeling that he seemed to be somehow familiar to me.

Finally I said, “You know, I guess this sounds strange, but I’m getting the feeling that I used to know you.”

“You did,” he replied, “but then you got annoyed with some of my other friends and we kind of grew apart.”

That was a bit more intense than I thought my vague feelings warranted, but I was the one who had brought it up, so I couldn’t really complain.

“And to tell you the truth, I really don’t blame you.  I’ve learned a lot on this trip.  Some of the folks who claim to be my best friends don’t seem all that happy to see me.  I guess they don’t recognize me at first since I don’t travel with an entourage and don’t dress all that well.  The sandals seem to raise a lot of suspicions for some reason.  And if I get past the dress code and they begin to figure out who I am, each group of friends seems most interested in my opinion of other friends, wanting me to declare the other groups to be wrong about stuff.  Some folks get pretty hostile about it.”

“And the thing is all these arguments are trivial!  Last time I was here I tried to keep things simple.  Everything really important I ever said would fit on a standard 3 x 5 index card, a 5 x 8 if you write sloppy.”

“You don’t need a 5 story library to tell people to be nice to each other and take care of folks who need help!  Some of my ‘friends’ seem to spend all their time trying to find exceptions, to set aside people they don’t have to respect or look after. I guess some things never change.”

He sat back in his chair and tried to calm down.  “And it’s mostly the noisy ones that act like that.  The people who do what they should are pretty much invisible.  But I can see them.”We stayed quiet for a while.  I was having trouble dealing with the idea that he might actually be who I suspected he was.  It’s not something you deal with every day.  But he was still bothered.

“If you’re looking to bring people in, does it make any sense to put up a lot of no trespassing signs and threats to tow their cars?  Do we care more about real estate than people?”

After a few more minutes of silence he stood up.  “Thank you very much for the meal.  I’ve never seen fish in a foil pouch like that.  It looks very convenient.  But I’ve got to be moving on.”

I really didn’t want him to leave, and I told him we could easily put him up for the night.  He said, “No, thanks.  I’ve heard there are a lot of folks camped out under the Talmadge Bridge, and I think that’s where I belong.  But I’ve enjoyed talking to you.”

I offered to give him a ride, if he really wanted to go to the camps, but he thought walking would be more appropriate.  He shook my hand and headed for the door.  He petted the dogs on the way out, and they didn’t bark as he went down the sidewalk.  He turned and waved halfway down the block.

 

 

Boring Speech

This is part of a presentation I gave at a convention of well boring companies.  It’s about protecting your money, and it applies to most any type of operation, including clubs and associations.

Finally, I’d like to talk about one of your employees, who I’ll call Betty.  She has been with you for a long time, helping in the early days as you tried to grow your business. She does everything around the office, from billing customers and paying your bills to running payroll.  She is indispensable.  She watched your kids grow up and bakes you a red velvet birthday cake every year.  You rely on her to take care of the office so you can run the rest of your operation, which is a lot more fun than doing paperwork.

Oh, there is one thing I forgot to mention:  She’s stealing from you.

Now before you get offended, I certainly realize that only a very small percentage of the Bettys in the world are embezzlers.  However, let’s look at it from the other direction.  The only people who will steal from you are the people you trust, because if you don’t trust somebody you won’t let them anywhere near your money in the first place.

You need good financial control systems.  It’s not personal and it’s not insulting.  It’s just sound business.  You don’t do employees any favors by having such slack systems that there are obvious ways they can augment their income a bit.  Many of these cases start when an employee has a bad week, and just needs to “borrow” a bit to get through the crisis.  Somehow they never quite get around to putting the money back, and it makes it easier to go back to the well the next time they are a bit short.

In addition, let’s assume that you find out that money is somehow going out the back door.  If the controls and procedures are not there, Betty won’t be able to prove her innocence, which is extremely unfair to her.

You need to get your outside accountant to review your systems.  There are many easy things to do to reduce your risks.  For example, the person who pays the bills and writes the checks should NOT be the person to balance the checkbook.  In fact, the owner should be the one to balance the checkbook.  Where possible, the owner should also be the first person to go through the mail.

I’m not trying to be anybody’s accountant, but there is one thing I want to point out from my area.  There are accounting software systems out there that allow you to print a computer check and then turn around and delete it so that there will be no record of it anywhere in the system.  It doesn’t take much imagination to see what could happen.

If you’re thinking, “This would never happen to me, my people are all trustworthy”, I’ll give you one last example.  The owner of a Mom & Pop business realized somebody was skimming money out of the company.  Pop arranged for an outside investigation which quickly revealed the culprit.  It was Mom.

 

 

A Tale of a Toenail

 

A while back I was watching TV in my recliner and looked down at my bare feet.  I noticed that the nail on my left big toe had grown to an excessive length.  I got to wondering what would happen if I just let it grow.  (I have always been attracted to scientific enquiry that involves doing nothing, such as leaving leftovers in the fridge for a very long time or not mowing the grass for months.)

Toenail growth is not a rapid process, and I didn’t notice much happening for a few weeks.  Since I don’t wear socks I didn’t have to worry about snags.  I generally put on my shoes while standing, sticking my toes in and then stomping on the heel to convince the rear of the shoe to cooperate.  At my age, any strategy that reduces bending over is preferred.

Eventually, however, I began to detect some serious interference in the left shoe.  Luckily, I remembered an old pair of shoes where the stitching had come undone near the toes, so I shifted to that pair.  I considered just switching the left and wearing a newer more attractive right shoe, but I thought that might direct too much attention to my little experiment.

The toenail seemed to like the fresh air environment and got stronger and tougher as it grew.  Eventually it was, pardon the expression, “hard as nails”.  I experimented on it a bit, trying to trim it up with ordinary toenail clippers, but it was beyond ordinary means of control.

I thought it might come in handy in the yard, but with my bad knees I couldn’t get my leg swinging fast enough to cut anything.  I began to consider the possibility of ending the experiment.

Then one night I stabbed myself in the right ankle rolling over in my sleep.  Another morning I woke up and found a small slit cut in the sheet.  I had to wait until The Boss went to work to remake the bed so that the damage was on her side, hoping to avoid suspicion.  I knew I had to take action.

Ordinary clippers were hopelessly outclassed, so I looked through my tools.  Most of them were sized for puny little electronics jobs, but I did find my big pair of lineman’s pliers.  It could cut OK, but the jaws were so big it was hard to avoid my younger toes.

Finally I put a grinding wheel in my drill and clamped it to a workbench.  I could lean back in my chair with my leg outstretched and work the nail down.  I wound up using a few Band-Aids on the fleshy parts after some slips, but eventually I was back to a normal dull and boring set of feet.

And that’s a true story.  (Some exceptions may apply after the first two sentences.)

 

Unimpressed

After all my effort I was somewhat proud of myself.  I told Pink Hair, “I actually created a blog and did a post!”

She replied, “Do you know how many people there are with blogs with only one post?”

So I came back and did this one, probably moving way up the standings with 2 posts.

Startup

Over the weekend I installed Word Press, thinking about doing some blogging.  I went through all the installation, but kept getting a system error when I tried to run it.  I searched for a solution, but my efforts not only did not fix the problem but I managed to break parts of my web site.  This was a bit higher priority so I shifted to work on that.  Eventually I got the web site back to normal and in the process found the glitch with Word Press so everything was back to working.  It was all very educational.