SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            I didn’t watch the first Presidential debate, or the Vice-Presidential debate, for the same reason why I don’t watch most talk shows: I don’t like people talking past each other without actually considering what the other is saying. It’s like the late stages of a drunken family reunion.

            (In the second Presidential debate, Romney did a credible job against the tag-team of Obama and “moderator” Candy Crowley.)           

After spending four years studying the President’s performance and six months studying his opponent, I’ve pretty much decided. Besides, I follow politics, but not voluntarily. Studying the issues and candidates is simply a civic responsibility, like voting in the election, or for America’s Next Top Chef Shooter Model Idol (coming next season on Fox). )

 

The Joy of Cooking is in the Eating: 

http://www.markrhunter.com/2012/06/01/the-joy-of-cooking-is-in-the-eating/ 

“Cooking? Pure stress, a panic filled hour of spinning from place to place, measuring and timing and trying not to burn the house down. I hate cooking with every bran fiber of my being.”

Photos of the truck on my website:

http://www.markrhunter.com/2012/05/23/getting-pumped-up-over-fire-engines/

 

Getting Pumped Up Over Fire Engines

 

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

Most kids love to see a big fire engine, with all the bells and whistles on it. Since Albion just received a new one (fire engine, not kid), I thought I’d give you all a little overview of what a fire engine is and how it operates, ignoring the fact that most don’t come with bells or whistles anymore (fire engines, not kids … usually).

The Albion Fire Department has a twenty year truck replacement plan, and the one being replaced is 24 years old, so you can see why they were anxious to get to it. The idea is to avoid the situation we ran into in the 80’s: The first time I responded to a major house fire was in a 1952 engine, which meant that at 28, it was ten years older than me.

That’s 82, in car years.

It was a very cool truck. However, while a 1930 biplane is a very cool aircraft, you’d want to update your air force every once in awhile.

The traditional term for these trucks is engines, although they’d been called pumpers around here for decades. The Feds prefer “engine” and so do I, but it’s a pretty silly argument: For them to be successful, the trucks need both engines and pumps.

Ironically, Albion’s original fire engine was called an engine, but didn’t have one; just a pump. It was hauled by hand to a fire scene, and then pumped by hand. I think I can safely say we’ve improved since then.

Okay, so what do we need for an effective fire engine?

Well, tires. Tires are good. Also, a steering wheel with which to turn the tires. You think I jest, but some very early fire engines had to be picked up and carried, and when they finally got wheels those early wheels often didn’t turn – the firefighters would have to pick the engine up and change directions when they got to an intersection.

They were a lot lighter then.

Also, I mentioned an engine for the engine. It has to be powerful, capable of getting a truck full of equipment, firefighters, and water to the scene. Due to new Federal emission standards on the engine engines, the estimated cost of a fire truck has increased by around $15,000. When asked if they’d help pay for that, the Federal Government said … nothing.

Did I mention the water? The new truck carries a thousand gallons on board, which is especially helpful out in rural areas where there are no hydrants. Ask any farmer, and they’ll tell you hydrants don’t just spring out of the ground.

And, yeah, a pump. The main purpose of a ladder truck is to carry ladders, the main purpose of a rescue truck is to carry rescue equipment, and the main purpose of a fire engine is to pump water. Sometimes they mix and match and it gets complicated, just like my home repair jobs but with less bleeding. The new truck’s pump will have a capacity of 1,500 gallons per minute, enough to fill your bathtub in, oh, two seconds. The 1988 truck has a 1,000 gpm pump. It would take three seconds. Who wants to wait that long?

That much water flow isn’t needed for your typical house fire – well, not usually – but insurance companies like to see a nice, big capacity for the worst case scenario. For big fires, big water is there, and if one hydrant can’t supply the truck it could be fed from two hydrants. If Albion’s water system went down or a big fire broke out in rural areas, it could go to the nearest pond, lake, or stream and pump through large diameter hose for miles.

Also required for a fire engine to operate is a crew of firefighters. Technology hasn’t advanced that much. Most experts agree that a minimum of four human beings is required to crew an engine, and the new truck will have seating for six. The 1988 truck had, in theory, seating for three, on one bench seat.

In actual practice the older truck has a manual transmission, and the guy sitting in the middle sometimes couldn’t help at the scene because his knee got bruised so badly when he didn’t get out of the way of the gear shift lever. In my experience going from third to fourth was especially dangerous. Lately we’ve taken to hauling two firefighters on that truck, and I can also say from experience that being the only guy on board besides the pump operator can be a very lonely experience.

(I once drove that truck alone to a brush fire, then deployed, pressurized, and operated a hoseline by myself until more firefighters arrived from another call. It took me two days to recover.)

Something else required for a fire engine is safety. You can get two kinds of fire trucks. One is a standard cab, which means basically a pump was put on the body of a regular truck: the same thing that might be hauling grain, bread, or ice cream. Yum. Bread.

We chose a custom cab, because it’s designed to actually be a fire truck, from the ground up. More sturdily built, better designed, and more capable of keeping us alive in a worst case scenario.

So, let’s review: The new fire engine pumps more water, carries more manpower and equipment, has updated technology, is safer, and through sheer newness is more reliable.

Still no bells or whistles, though. I miss the bells.

All the News That’s Print to Fit:

 

http://www.markrhunter.com/2012/05/17/all-the-news-thats-print-to-fit/

 

Every now and then all the little news and pop culture items I collect go into one column, usually because, say, roofers are banging on my house and I can’t concentrate on anything longer.”

Stitching Together an Obama Opponent:

 http://www.markrhunter.com/2012/05/10/stitching-together-an-obama-opponent/

 “Now Republicans are left with Mitt Romney, a guy whose first name makes everyone think of frostbitten fingers. That’s why I’ve got twenty bucks on Obama being a two term President.”

Window Crushes Home Maintenance Dreams:

http://www.markrhunter.com/2012/05/05/window-crushes-home-maintenance-dreams/

“My main tool kit consists of a hammer, a butter knife, a roll of duct tape, and a credit card. An old credit card, which can do things like open locked doors.”

(posted on my newly redesigned website -- thanks, Emily! It'll be much easier for me to update, now. What shall I put on it?)

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            This might come out a bit more disjointed than usual, and not as funny, as I’ve just been through something of a rough week.

            What’s that, you say? I’m always disjointed and not as funny? Clearly you’ve never read the side-splitting account of my prostate exam, which never fails to clear the room.

            There are ways one can deal with medical problems: laugh, cry, or stoically carry on, for instance. I whine … but I channel it into a job. This makes me the Woody Allen of my block, complete with a much younger wife but without the movie credits.

            This all segues nicely into the story of my fiancée-wife, who I’ll refer to for the next year as my fiancée even though she’s kind of my wife. Segues aren’t just for riding around in malls anymore. (You have read my previous column explaining this, yes? Shame on you.)           

Humor at the expense of my own problems is expected, but when the medical problems are hers it’s harder for me to find the funny. That, plus the fact that we’re still going through it and I’m writing this almost literally at the last minute (and I don’t take the term literally lightly, figuratively speaking), make this column difficult. )

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            Oh, yeah – the boat that sank.

            I have well over a dozen books and movies relating to the doomed passenger liner, Titanic. While many date back to my kids’ fascination with the subject after James Cameron’s move came out, I kept them because of my own fascination with both history and disasters … and, of course, the history of disasters.

            We just passed the 100th anniversary of the date the Titanic, on its maiden voyage, hit a patch of ice and slid off the surface of the ocean, despite the efforts of the crew to patch the leaks with third class passengers. It was a story of human error, class differences, heroism and cowardice, and no small amount of irony.

            You want irony? Over 1,500 people died that night, but three dogs made it onto the lifeboats. But in all fairness, they were small dogs.           

As humans we’re fascinated and appalled by large scale disasters like ships sinking, wars, and the Kardashians. We want to understand what happened, how it effects people and societies, and above all how to keep it from happening again (Or, if you’re a reality TV programmer, how to make it happen again). )

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            There’s a certain irony in the fact that I finished doing my taxes just minutes before April Fools’ Day.

            Now that I think of it, I wonder if someday the director of the Internal Revenue Service will hold a press conference and say, “You know how we set up this huge, expensive, insanely complicated way of figuring out your income taxes that has more twists and turns than an Alfred Hitchcock movie? April Fools!”

            That would explain a lot.

            Anyone who wonders why I waited until so close to the deadline to finish my taxes never went long form. It was also about money: I expected to have to pay, and up until now didn’t have the cash. My part time job – which you’re reading right now – is as a freelance writer, which means my publisher doesn’t take taxes out. (But they do pay me, so yay!) Add that to the fact that I also don’t get taxes taken out for the sales of my novel, and you’ve got a recipe for that old joke about simplifying IRS forms: “1. How much did you make last year? 2. Send it in.”

            Luckily I had extra money taken from the paycheck for my full time job, and in the end got a bit of a rebate. A rebate, by the way, is when you jump up and down excitedly and make big plans to use the money that your government was so nice to send you, completely forgetting that it was your money to begin with.

            The bigger reason why I waited so long to file taxes is because I’m too cheap to pay somebody else to prepare them. That’s selfish of me, considering that by some estimates over $150 billion dollars are spent just filing taxes in America every year, and how many people does that keep employed? If the feds ever did simplify the tax code, it could collapse an entire industry. Not just one, but two – the market for headache medicine would decrease substantially.

            Because I worked four jobs in 2011 (thus explaining my exhaustion), and two of my employers didn’t take out taxes, going “EZ” was out of the question. Instead I had to use the long form, code named “SU”, which of course stands for “Stroke-Ulcer”.

            I have a carefully organized filing cabinet, with folders dividing up everything so that finding the necessary paperwork would be quick and painless. It would, if I used that filing cabinet. Instead, I spent the year piling bills and receipts on every available surface of the house.

            After ransacking my home I organized materials into one pile for the stuff I knew I’d need, and one pile for the stuff my paranoia told me I’d need but that I never really use. Then came necessary items such as calculators, pens, notebooks, highlighters, aspirin, highly caffeinated soft drink …

            By the way, do not drink alcohol during this operation. One wrong calculation or smart aleck notation, and you’re sitting in an office with a man whose job description includes the words “make miserable”.

            Then I fire up the online tax preparation program.

            Hey, I’m not completely crazy. I’m not going to do this stuff from scratch with no assistance at all, not when long forming. My wife short formed this year (EZ – ha!) and it still took her two hours.

            It took me a day to collect and organize everything, and four hours to do the actual paperwork online. Four hours, after laying out everything.

            Overall it took an entire weekend to do my federal and state income tax returns – a bit more if you figure in recovery time. Since I don’t drink, recovery time took longer.

            I know what you’re thinking: “Couldn’t we just find a way to simplify the tax code?” Capital idea, but it flies in the face of history. Every attempt to make figuring income taxes easier has just made it more complicated. Every attempt to close a loophole opened a dozen new ones. It’s almost as if Washington was full of lawyers, bureaucrats, and career politicians who know we can’t be bothered to vote them out, but surely that’s not the problem?

            In their defense, complicated as it might seem to us peons, it costs only eleven billion dollars or so to operate the IRS every year. That’s small change, in Washington. So small, in fact, that I sent a letter to my Congressman asking for just one percent of that to help stimulate my economy. He sent me a thank you and an invitation to his next town hall meeting, which I can’t afford the gas to drive to.

            So it’s done, and I get enough of a rebate of my own money to pay my property tax bill, which again – ironic. My donation will surely take the Federal budget out of the red, and they’ll have that pesky $1.48 trillion budget deficit taken care of in no time.

            Meanwhile, my refund will get me enough fuel to reach the pharmacy, for more aspirin.

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            It’s human nature to complain and want change, and I’ve come to realize why people can adjust to change so quickly: It’s so they can complain some more.

            Over the winter, I heard a lot of people complain about the cold. Yet here in northeast Indiana we didn’t have that much cold. On the day I wrote this it snowed in California, but rained here. By the time you read it we’ve had a series of record high temps. I’m not complaining.

            Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I’m complaining. It’s not 75 degrees right now, after all.

            That’s my point. We got out on a day when it’s 50 degrees and complain that it’s not 70 – even when the average is 30 that time of year. Meanwhile, as I mentioned in an earlier column, the people who like to ice fish complain that it’s not colder, even though they’re saving on their heating bill and aren’t as likely to fracture a skull on ice while just walking out the front door.           

Even I sometimes complain about being too hot. Two years ago, while vacationing in southeast Missouri, I got very grumpy when my glasses melted in the sun, especially since they were on my face at the time. Still, just as some people of dubious sanity prefer winter, I’ll take summer any time. )

 

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            A lot of great or famous people come from Indiana. (You can be famous without being great, of course – especially these days.) I recently read of the death of a man who isn’t well known, but probably should be – a man who hailed from Professor Harold Hill’s favorite place, Gary, Indiana.

 

            Gary is, of course, the former stomping grounds of the Jackson family, who have some small amount of talent in the singing and dancing field. People like that tend to migrate from The Middle to the Coasts, where the entertainment jobs are, so Michael and his kin are often thought of as Californians.

 

            Much as I love Indiana, I can see a certain advantage of being in California … especially around, say, January.

 

            The man I’m speaking of is Ralph McQuarrie, and if you haven’t heard of him you’ve definitely heard of the jobs he was involved with. McQuarrie, who sure enough moved to California, died this month at the age of 82.

 

           

Some celebrities came to Indiana, some stayed, and some moved on. (That’s why we can claim Abe Lincoln, who didn’t stick around.) John Chapman came from Massachusetts, but headed out looking for a state he could more easily spell. Looking to keep him busy and out of trouble, John’s father (a former Minuteman at Concord) apprenticed him as an orchardist, which is a real word. As a result, John’s purported burial place in Fort Wayne is now called Johnny Appleseed Park. )

 

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            Yeah, so, I got married.

            On a related note, I’m getting married next year.

            Oh, relax; I’m not taking up polygamy. I don’t have the energy for that. Can you imagine how exhausting it must be, to try and keep up with more than one wife? Even if they knew about each other … if they didn’t, it would be even more of a challenge. What would happen to some poor guy with five wives if it’s really true about women who live together all getting on the same cycle? I’m not talking bikes, either.

            Sudden death, that’s what would happen.

            I was engaged for exactly two years to a woman who’s wonderful, sweet, sexy, smart, and reads this column. For several reasons, including her college education and scheduling, we didn’t go ahead.

           

Have you ever tried to plan a wedding? I’m working on a novel in which one of the characters is an amateur wedding planner, so I did a lot of research. Men think all they have to do is show up without getting food on their tuxes. I thought a boutonniere was a pirate’s footwear. Many women, on the other hand, spend years planning their wedding, even if they aren’t even in one. )

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

I hear it’s been a bad year for ice fishing. I thought every year was a bad year for ice fishing.
 
I mean, it involves standing out on a frozen lake in the middle of winter, for crying out loud. That’s not a hobby – it’s something the Taliban would use to torture people into confessions.
 
A bad year means it’s been too warm to get good ice – “good” ice, by the way, is what you put in your drink – and so you either can’t go out, or it’s dangerous to go out. In other words, a bad year for fishermen would be a good year for me. Too warm to freeze? Yay!
 
I’m a supporter of global warming, and so I breathe out carbon dioxide as fast as I can. I’ve heard the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition is good for increased breathing.
 
Still, some people are fans of ice fishing, just as others are fans of basketball, the world’s most annoying sport. He runs back! He runs forth! He runs back again! He sweats! Gah. There’s a connection there, in that basketball playoffs in Indiana are traditionally accompanied by ice storms. Perhaps Mother Nature feels, as I do, that the only good thing about basketball is the cheerleaders. If they had cheerleaders in baseball and took away the spitting, it would be the perfect sport. Except they need to make it full contact. )

Now fortified with picspam!


 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

 

The end of last week’s column left me thirty feet in the air, having smashed my ladder with the very first thing I threw off the roof.

 

Just another day in the Hunter household.

Go back and review, so I don’t have to recap the plan to demolish my chimney with hand tools, because nobody lets me use power equipment anymore. Back? Good. No doubt some of you wonder why it took me so long to write about this summertime event. )
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

Over the summer I demolished my home’s chimney, as a result of the earlier discovery that the chimney was trying to demolish itself. Many people, when faced with such a chore, will bring in various power equipment, up to and including such things as portable generators and air compressors, and maybe a lift to get them up to the top safely.
 
I did it with a hammer.
 
The bricks about halfway down my chimney started deteriorating not long after I bought my house, which as nearly as I can determine was built in 1879 by two drunk teenagers and a trained monkey. The monkey did good work … for a monkey. I had the chimney patched at the same time a new rubber roofing was put over my kitchen twenty years ago, and they both held up longer than expected.
 
But over last winter the roof started leaking again, and when I went out in the spring (I don’t go outside during winter; instead I send a robot who looks like me) I discovered a hole the size of my head all the way through the bricks to the liner. I’m not talking a normal head, either: I’m talking a big head, like the swelled one I got after my book was published but before I realized I still had to work for a living. )

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK

 

            This week – being Valentine’s Week – I must pay tribute to those who’ve fallen in love with questionable taste: people who choose to be with the crazed, the obsessive, the workaholic, and the occasionally moronic.

            In other words, I’d like to pay tribute to my fiancée.

            We met on a writer’s website, one of those places where geeks and nerds escape jocks, haters, yuppies, and the establishment, otherwise known as real life. You couldn’t see who you were messaging (which may explain why she fell for me), and based on my writing style she originally thought I was female. I choose to take that as a compliment.

 If anyone there made a pass, it would be with such sexy lines as, “So … what are you typing with?”

            “A Mac.”

            “Oooooohhhh…. Talk Apple to me.”

             You’ve heard of the May-December romance? Ours is an April-December romance. (March is illegal.) I no longer bother correcting salespeople who call her my daughter, although I haven’t yet given in to the urge to let them believe that for awhile, then start making out with her. These are the things humor writers think are funny.

            Because of our age difference I’m very close to being on the same emotional level as she is, although she has me beat on both overall maturity and intelligence. You might think she’s part of my midlife crisis, but I’ve yet to buy a sports car or get hair plugs; and she’s clearly not gold-digging, as my entire fortune consists of a collection of wheat-head pennies and a Johnny West action figure (both in fair to poor condition).

          

So it must be love. And in honor of Valentine’s Day, that tribute to pink and chocolate, I’d like to tell everyone just what I love about my Emily: )

 

SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK




Do you know what “meme” is?


Me neither, so I looked it up on that paragon of accuracy, Wikipedia. Turns out it’s a shortened version of“mimeme”, an ancient Greek word meaning something imitated, or to imitate, or in this case maybe to irritate. The concept propagated through the web, often in the form of a question and answer quiz you’re supposed to fill out, then pass along to all your friends.


I was sent an underwear meme.



Seems a bit personal? Well, that’s the nature of memes. Many are designed so people who become friends online get to know more personal details about each other, just as they would if they became friends in real life and, say, sat around talking about their underwear.‘Cause that’s what my friends always sat around doing. )
SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK



In December I hit a major milestone: My 20th anniversary as a member of the Noble County Sheriff’s Department.

                Doesn’t seem possible, does it? I mean, I seem so young and fresh …

                I’ve often joked that anyone who works for more than ten years in a dispatch center should automatically be considered certifiably insane. Since then I’ve learned that the average career length for a dispatcher is around seven years – which means my joke isn’t so funny anymore, is it?

                But I didn’t start as a communications officer (I didn’t make that term up, honest). I was working a factory job when I got the call to come in and apply for a job as a jail officer, known back then as a jailer or turnkey. I took a $1.22 an hour pay cut in order to put on a uniform and watch drunks throw up – clearly, I really hated working in the factory. )
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