Saturday, August 8, 2009

An Oscar Nomination

We used to have a miniature Dachshund named Oscar. We didn't choose the name -- I'd like to think I could come up with something more original -- it just came with him. We got him when he was 3 years old , so instead of trying to teach him a new name and since he was already accustomed to Oscar, we decided to keep it.

We received him from a friend of Mrs. B's mother who had to get rid of the dog. It was a bit of a hard sell for me in the beginning. Not that I don't like dogs, I love 'em. It was just that we lived in an apartment and didn't have a lot of room for a dog. Plus, the inevitable house-training and all. I also didn't want to take the dog, fall in love with having him, then have the previous owner turn around and want him back. After assurances from the owner that he would not, as well as could not, change his mind and cajoling from the wife on how small and easy to take care of he was, I relented.

He was a wonderful dog, as sweet as could be, and great fun to have around. Not to mention, a chick magnet. But, me being married, that was more of a curse than a blessing. We had him from 1992 until the day he died which, unfortunately was a few years ago due to liver failure. I still think about him quite a bit. I have never been more upset over the loss of an animal than I was over Oscar. But I thank God for every day that we had him. He gifted us with an enormous amount of love and left us with many wonderful memories.

One of my favorite Oscar stories involves a routine trip to pick up some take out food. We often allowed Oscar to ride with us whenever it was reasonable and the weather wasn't too extreme. He loved riding in the car and being able to "snorfle". For those uninitiated, "snorfling" is when a dog sticks his head out the window of a moving car to allow the wind to blow his floppy ears back and start his nose to running like Niagara Falls (at least, that's how it worked with Oscar). It's a technical term, look it up. I just don't make these things up, you know.

Anyway, in this particular instance, Oscar and I went to Blimpies to pick up a couple of sandwiches. They were nicely wrapped in paper, placed inside a clear plastic sleeve, which was then placed inside another paper bag holding both sandwiches. On the way home, Oscar, as usual, was sitting in the passenger seat while the bag of sandwiches were leaning upright against a corner where the center console met the front of the passenger seat. This was standard operating procedure (SOP). We stopped a small convenience store, known to us simply as "the little store", approximately a mile from home to get a couple of Cokes. This also was SOP. We had done this dozens of times without incident.

So I go into the store while Oscar stands watch over the vehicles and the sandwiches. I can't be in the store for more than 3 minutes, tops. This is not a unfamiliar store. I know exactly where the Cokes are in the cooler and there is never a line at the one register in the place.

As I say, I'm in and out in a matter of 2 or 3 minutes. Oscar, as always, is sitting up watching for me and happy as pie when he sees me (SOP). Anytime we would leave him alone, be it in the car or the apartment, he seemed to think we were never coming back. His previous owner caused him to have great separation anxiety. Anyway, I jump into the car, head home, and Oscar and I grab the food sack, jump out of the car and head inside.

Once inside, I head to the kitchen and start unloading the sack (again, SOP). Now all this time, I never notice anything amiss. The sack shows no sign of being disturbed. Oscar has no remnants of any food on or around him. Nothing on the seats or in the floorboard. And did I mention, Oscar is NOT a tidy eater. In fact, one might call him slovenly. Especially with things that he is not supposed to be eating and have lots of condiments added. Yet, not a shred of lettuce, a crumb of bread, nor a fragment of paper was found in the vicinity of the bag. I, of course, was not suspicious at all because, say it with me, this was all Standard Operating Procedure (SOP, to those in the know).

Then it slowly begins to dawn on me that something is wrong. At first, it just looked like the sandwich maker was a little (not a lot) messy with the sandwich when putting the lettuce on or when wrapping the sandwich up. But as I pull the sandwich out of the plastic sleeve and unwrap it, I notice that the sandwich (mine, of course) seems to be a bit thin in the meat department. I'm thinking maybe the guy shorted me on some of the meat. But no, I stood there and watched him make the sandwich. There was plenty of meat on it. Then I open the sandwich and realize that the meat is gone. No sign that it ever existed.

What the hell happened?! I know there was meat on there when I left the sandwich shop. Then it hits me. Oscar. I look down and there he is, staring up at me with that sardonic look on his face that he always has when I have food and he wants some. Sure, I say, you couldn't have eaten HER sandwich, referring to my wife. His only reply is the perking up of his ears and the incessant wagging of his tail.

But how? How did he do it? It's like he sucked all the meat out of sandwich without even touching the rest of it. He barely even disturbed the lettuce, tomato and other veggies, not to mention the wrapping. And he did it all in under 3 minutes. I just don't believe it. He had to open the outside sack, get into the plastic sleeve, then through the wrapping paper and pull the meat out without noticeably messing anything up or getting any food outside the bag. And be finished and up in his usual spot watching for me, looking totally innocent, before I exited the store.

It is still hard for me to imagine that it was possible. He was a remarkable dog, but come on. I doubt a master thief could have pulled this job. He's just a sweet little 12 pound dog with short legs and a long, barrel shaped, body. It still makes me chuckle every time I think about it.

As you can probably guess, I ate rather light that evening.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Off the Air: Part II

It has been a little over a month now since we turned off the television. Things are going pretty well so far. There are some things that I miss; mostly, watching live sports. At the moment that is not much of an issue. For summer is the time of golf, tennis, baseball, and Major League Soccer (MLS).

Golf is probably the sport I would casually watch the most. It was something I would tune into on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to see who was leading, who was contending, and who was fading (choking). I enjoy golf on television, despite the criticism of it being slow and boring. Sometimes I like my sports to be slow. And, as I am a golfer myself and understand the difficulty, frustrations, and nuances of the game, I don't usually find it boring. I find myself watching for hours on end. One of the exceptions to that is if Tiger is leading in the final round and no one is appearing to make a run. Unless it's really close, I know no one will catch him. In fact, they tend to fall back and not even make him work for it. I tend not to enjoy watching foregone conclusions. Even though I am a big Tiger fan. But, having said all that, I haven't been missing golf too much so far. Even if I did miss Tom Watson's great run at the British Open.

Tennis is a sport that I enjoy, but watch sporadically, usually only Grand Slam events and, even then, I seldom sit through an entire match outside in the semis or the final. Unless it is a player or players that I particularly like. Then I might watch an earlier round. I did regret missing that historic marathon final at Wimbledon between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick. That is one I would have liked to see. But still, not feeling devastated over it.

Baseball, while a sport I find fascinating, is not one that I think plays well on television. Baseball is vastly better seen in person. I don't watch a lot of it on television anyway. Therefore, I haven't missed seeing it. Especially since the Rangers started to tank (but that's another story).

Soccer, like golf and baseball, is a sport that is criticized for being slow and boring. Since I was an avid player in my youth and, like golf, understand the game, I find neither criticism to be accurate. As a matter of fact, soccer is my favorite sport. Like baseball, it is better viewed in person than on television, but I like the game anyway I can get it. So, surprisingly, what I miss most about no television is not having the Fox Soccer Channel (FSC). I can stream the MLS game of the week off, as well as other soccer matches and some other niche sporting events, but I have run into issues with the streaming. Occasionally, it will just lock up and go to black screen, leaving me with only a choice of starting over from the beginning - and risking the same problem again - or turning it off. I don't know if the cause is with the ESPN stream or my internet connection. Who knows? But it is nice to be able to see a little soccer anyway. And, I haven't missed it enough to regret the decision. It doesn't seem worth $90 a month to get back one channel (FSC is only available on the highest digital tier).

As for everything else on TV, I don't miss it at all. Of course, this is only summer, when most of what you have is reruns and filler series and shows. Soon the fall season will be here and we will find out which of our favorite shows can be streamed off the internet and which cannot. Then we will see how serious we are about this experiment. Not to mention, football season starts in about a month. That will be a real test for me. I need to watch my Cowboys. Especially with the new billion dollar stadium they have. Oh well, maybe I can hawk some of the wife's jewelry and actually buy a ticket to a game. I mean, they can't sell out a 90,000 seat stadium every week, right? The rest of the games I guess I will have to go to a sports bar to see. Hmm, that might be more expensive than cable. We shall see.

In the meantime, if you want to see how we do going forward, you, unlike me, will have to stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Failure is Not an Option

The other night, the fabulous Mrs. B and I were standing in the checkout line at Walmart waiting to get totaled up and bagged. Mrs. B then pointed out a cover on one of the many entertainment tabloids on display. It featured Kate, of "Jon and Kate" fame with a quote that read, "I feel like I have failed."

My wife then remarked, "Of course you feel that way, you did fail." The quote, and my wife's remark, were both in reference to the impending divorce of the former (present?) reality "stars". I nearly choked trying to type "stars" there. But this is not a treatise on modern society's celebritizing of ordinary people, so I will comment no further on that.

All this got me started thinking about failure and how we, as a culture, attempt to either justify it or, more frequently, deny it. Why is failure such a fearful word? Failure is seen as the end of everything, a deficit that is impossible to overcome, instead of a necessary experience of life. We believe if we fail at something, anything, then we are branded a failure in every facet of life. And if we fail the first time at something then we are destined to fail at every attempt at it. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with failure. Failure is an integral part of success. It has to be. Anyone who had become successful without a few, if not numerous, failures usually cannot handle success. And generally doesn't succeed for long. The reason is that they cannot handle the inevitable adversity that comes with success. The ability to pick oneself up, dust themselves off, and try, try again, as the old adage goes, is essential to success. A person who has "had success thrust upon them" will be destined to fall from grace by the first adverse event to ensue.
It is not a fault in their being. It is simply a weakness of character. Character, like a muscle, is strengthened through hard labor. That labor comes in the form of adversity or failure. All men of great character have failure in their life.

All the people we consider successes have had many failures. Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, etc. have all failed. There is a quote from Jordan where he talks about how many times he has taken the winning shot in a game and how many times he has missed. The quote reads, "I have failed many times, and that's why I am a success." Jordan also said, "I can accept failure. But I can't accept not trying."

To see a time when Jordan failed, all one has to do is look at his stint in professional baseball. He probably knew that he wasn't going to make it in Major League Baseball. But that didn't stop him from trying. Many people made jokes about him and thought he looked foolish trying to play baseball. But it didn't keep him from giving his all.

Not trying is the only true failure. Because it's the only one in which we cannot learn. The secret to succeeding despite our failures lies in the ability to learn from our mistakes. Whenever a failure comes along, learn what you can from it and then move along. Go on to the next thing. Try again until you find success. Don't let fear keep you from trying. Because that, my friends, is the true definition of failure.

Life is not a walk in the park. There are many hurdles along the way. And most of us will trip over some of those hurdles in our travels. The only ones who won't, are those who don't jump. So jump away! Fall and scrape up your knees! And imagine your character getting stronger and stronger. Because failure is not an option. It comes standard.