Sunday, September 30, 2012

Feline Fury

Over the years, several battles have been waged here at the humble abode and against a variety of adversaries. But the one that remains everlasting, eternal, perpetual, and most maddening is the war against the cats. It’s the classic unwinnable conflict, for me, not the cats. They remain victorious. It’s a little like the cockroach scenario, the bugs will live on despite everything nature can and has thrown at them. The cats will rule long after I’m gone and moldy in my grave.

I won the war against the raccoons. Oh, they’re still around. They send out scouts every now and then to see if my defenses are down or weakened. I still see them on occasion  when the dog alarm goes off and I catch their shiny little eyes in the beam of my flashlight. But I know and they know, their once devastating attacks on my bird feeders are now nothing more than a hiss of a threat. Modern technology in the form of an electrified cable stretched between two trees, protects the feeders with an invisible force. The charger that gives them a “non-fatal but memorable” jolt hasn’t been hot for several months now, but the coonies haven’t noticed. Raccoons have long memories. I’m still considering a patent. (Note: Not only did the electrified cable stop the coonies, it also lit up the squirrels, an added bonus.)

But the cats battles, that’s a different story. Unlike the coonies, the cats operate under a shield of immunity upheld and enforced by the Missus. Cats can do no wrong.

 Pee on the carpet? “The poor thing must have a bladder infection. I’ll take her to the vet.”

Claw the furniture? “I’ll get a scratch pad at PetSmart.”

Knock over an antique vase and watch it smash to the floor? “She didn’t mean to do it.”

Yes, all those kitty sins wear on me, but nothing like when they take down the song birds that I so faithfully feed and coax in for photographs, luring them to their death as it turns out. Faithful readers might remember the cat fence. Another laudable invention where I encircled the area beneath the feeders with chicken wire. This idea worked far beyond my wildest expectations. Not only did it stop the ferocious feline charge on ground feeding birds; the cats would not scale or jump the fence even though they were quite capable of doing so. Something about the flimsiness of it I think.

However, there was one feeder, an expensive squirrel proof model, that hung by itself, away from the protection of the cat fence, there being no room left on the cable.. It hung at a higher altitude than the other feeders, seemingly safe from assault…until yesterday.

It wasn’t the first time I’d caught the Brat Cat, aka The Problem Child, hanging around underneath that particular feeder. I wasn't all that worried, the heighth of the feeder being out of range of even the most athletic of felines. Wrong! As I watched in horror, the Brat Cat gathered her strength, coiled, and sprang, snatching a bird off the feeder with fang and claw as easily as swatting a fly. Proudly, she then ran into the woods with her trophy,  feathers flying. I couldn’t believe it. The distance of the leap, and I’m not making this up, was 58 ½ inches measured by my trusted and highly accurate, Black and Decker ruler. Clearly, a new invention was in order.

What I came up with was the Acme Cat Shield. The idea was simple; a frame of stiff wire spanned by a network of plastic mesh commonly used in gardens and such for ivy to climb on. Tie wraps were used to secure a 24 inch square of the mesh to the framework. More wire served as a hanger to place the ACS (Acme Cat Shield)  approximately one foot below the feeder. I stood back, evaluated the invention, and deemed it to be a work of genius. Of course the final test, the make or break, the safety of the feeding bird, would not be known until the Brat Cat made another attack. I didn’t have to wait long.

Only a few hours had passed before the Problem Child made one  of her perfected stealthy approaches and parked her marauding little ass under the feeder for an another ambush. Remember, this would be the second kill of the day. No telling how many others I had missed.

With the ACS in place, I waited for a bird, the cat waited for a bird. Time passed. The tension was palpable.

I saw it out of the corner of my eye, a House Finch, it’s little reddish breast flashing in the sun, descended from the trees, hovering a moment at the feeder, and then… dropping to the ground.

 “NO! NO!”I yelled, “Not the ground you dumb-ass bird.” Sho nuff, before I could move, before I could find an object to fling at the cat, before I could charge to the rescue, the Brat Cat had another victim.

“It’s just doing what comes naturally,” the Missus says, a witness to the whole bloody event.

“Yeah? Well my natural reaction is to get the .20 gauge.”

It was an idle threat of course. She knew it and I knew it. But it felt good to say it.

Of course, there’s nothing idle about the threat of another invention. This one also includes modern technology in the form of electrical current. 

There’s nothing quite like the smell of burned cat hair in the morning.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Gas. Why so much?

It’s that time again, my annual rant against gas prices. Once again, prices have soared as we near record highs of the year. As always, the question is, what the hell? Why the increase?

At least one spokesman for the American Automobile Association had the refreshingly good sense to admit, “We haven’t a clue.”

Let’s look at the excuses from the past and present:

         Hurricanes halts production in the Gulf.

Granted, Isaac shut down a few refineries for a few days and they are, as the media reports, “slow to restart.” Umm, have these people never dealt with hurricanes before? Are there no backup plans? No spare parts on the shelf?  Keep in mind, it doesn’t take an actual hurricane to slow production, a single black cloud over Cuba will do it.

         Tension in the Middle East.

Gee, that’s the first time that’s ever happened, huh? Iran and Israel are rattling sabers? Wow. Unheard of. Yet, this rerun excuse is trotted out each and every summer as the cause of higher prices. A slightly new twist blames the recent riots because some loony film maker insulted the Prophet Muhammad and given yet another excuse for every flag-burning extremist over there to riot and murder. However, I did not see where any refineries were torched.

         The refineries have to shift to a summer blend which means added costs.

Oh, poor babies. BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell—earned a combined $33.5 billion, or $368 million per day, during the first quarter of 2012. Recall that these companies made a combined record profit of $137 billion in 2011, mostly due to high oil and gasoline prices. Think they could find it in their hearts to forego a little profit in the interest of the country's economy? Hah!

      It’s Obama’s fault.

     That’s the latest one. News flash! The President does not set the price of oil.
     But we all know the real reason for the outlandish prices don’t we? It’s the boys on Wall Street and their ilk, the speculators, the pirates that bid the price up on the slightest whim or rumor.  We pay and somebody profits while these boys sit back in their chairs and try to come with unique excuses. Actually, they’re not even trying for originality anymore, they don’t have to. Any old reason will do. And if they can't think of one, raise the prices anyway. 

This just in: Tulsa World, 9-20-2012. Oil prices lower for 3rd consecutive day.
Why? What changed? Did the Mid-East sign a peace treaty? Did the lone black cloud over the Gulf dissipate? No. As one analyst explained, traders are taking profits after oil dropped below $100 a barrel.

Taking profits? Profits? Really? Suddenly, it all becomes clear.

And this: Crude inventories rose three times more than analysts expected.  

Three times? Poor judgment? I think not. Can’t we just see these bloodsuckers analysts sitting in their high rise Manhattan apartments? “Boy, we missed that one didn’t we? snicker, snicker. Sorry about that folks. Our bad.” At which point they all fall to the floor on their thousand dollar a yard carpet, spilling their drinks, and laughing hysterically.

Back in the day when I worked for Ma Bell, the Corporation Commission set the amount of profit that the company could earn because we were deemed to be a “monopoly.” Guess what. Despite the restriction, Southwestern Bell ( now AT&T... again) was and is one of the most successful companies in the United States.

 I think it’s high time we appointed a commission to set the price of oil. When one product can so drastically effect the lives of the entire population, there needs to be an oversight group than can stand up and say, “Hey, enough is enough. You can earn a fair profit, pay your employees, explore for new oil, and satisfy your stock holders, but you can not continue to hijack the American public. We are sick of your obscene profits at our expense and we’re not gonna’ take it anymore.”

Now some people may claim: you don’t understand how the oil business works. You don’t have your facts straight. Maybe, but our politicians aren’t bothered with any inconvenient truth, why should I be any different?

Until next year.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rumble at the Reunion

For as long as I can remember, probably before I was born, there has been an annual King family reunion. For years, the gathering was held in the town of Nevada, Missouri, the location being about equidistant for most Oklahoma and Missouri residents. We filled the local motels on the first weekend after Labor Day, then met at the city park. There was an old shelter house on the grounds, but with limited facilities.  It had a tiny sink, a faucet, and one electrical outlet. The lone, smelly pit bathroom was but a leisurely stroll from the shelter unless you were drinking beer and if that were the case,  the distance increased in a non-liner fashion to about three miles.

 Another problem was the lack of activities available for anyone under the age of 65 ½, (that crowd being quite content to talk for two days about the weather and their latest operations). Other than the swings­–which held the attention of the little ones for just under seven seconds–the kids could either wade in the muddy creek or chase squirrels; that was it. And the young-un population was growing rapidly. Clearly, it was time for a change of venue.

Someone came up with the grand idea of moving the reunion to a resort near Branson, Missouri. It seemed ideal. The drive was slightly longer but hey, you got Silver Dollar City right next door for Pete’s sake. What more entertainment could the kiddies want? Plus, the lodge boasted of not one, but three swimming pools, a hot tub spa, an arcade hut, bicycles to rent, jet skies, and the latest rage, zip lining; a veritable smorgasbord of activities. Most rooms were nicely furnished and within a two minute walk of a large shelter with multiple tables and two giant grills. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, how about rain? It rained Friday evening for the hamburger dinner. It rained all day Saturday for the traditional big dinner, and it rained Sunday morning for the biscuits and gravy breakfast. It rained on the group zip line outing. It rained morning, noon, and night. The sign on the spa read: Closed Due to Weather. But the rain was only part of the problem for this particular reunion, it got worse.

The resort is so popular for group events, that the shelter house must be reserved months in advance. This was done, six months ago to be specific. But wait, even with this ridiculous time interval, we found that we couldn’t get the shelter for the traditional second weekend after Labor Day, it had all ready been spoken for we were told. Curses. Okay, we agreed to take the following weekend. 

 You folks come on down and enjoy. If you have any problems, any problems at all, just give us a call.

There was a problem, a big one. The problem was that another group began gathering at the shelter on Saturday afternoon, just hours before our family’s scheduled feast. “Who are these intruders?” we mumbled. “Surely they’ll leave soon. Did they not notice the huge banner, King Family Reunion, prominently displayed between the pillars?”

They did, and they didn’t care! Seems that this bunch was under the asinine assumption that it was they who had reserved the shelter for this date, not the King family, and we had some nerve for suggesting otherwise. It was a standoff. Both groups eyed each other, we from the rainy parking lot and they from the dry shelter.

A female envoy was dispatched to the enemy camp suggesting that if they could perhaps wind up their activities in a reasonable amount of time, say a couple hours, we could all eat, drink, and be merry. The offer was rejected, not only rejected, but dismissed with snide remarks–something along the lines of, “sending a woman to do a man’s job.” Uh oh.

Threats were muttered. Angry looks thrown. Battle lines drawn. The street between us suddenly transformed into a no-mans-land. Was it to be a family feud? Legendary perhaps? One not unlike the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s? Nope. Didn’t happen. The opposing forces called the law…the po-lice.

The boys in blue stepped from the squad car in full uniform, badges, guns, tasers, and asked what the problem was. One of our group whispered that these cops were notorious for their indiscriminate use of tasers. I quietly slid behind the biggest guy I could find.

The po-lice listened as our spokesman eloquently explained our position using a minimum of mild profanities, a feat worthy of note, especially when this particular individual is under the influence of adult beverages. The decision was made to drive to the office and talk to the folks in charge, the very ones responsible for this travesty of justice. Oh, and the cops suggested we remove the King Family Reunion banner while they watched. Seemed like a good idea.

Needless to say, the issue was not resolved at the office. The trespassers were not evicted. It was our word against theirs and the resort’s erroneous record keeping held up as the deciding factor as to who would stay dry and who would get wet. The only reasonable thing to do was have another beer and make the best of it. And we did.

A line of tables was arranged under an overhang in front of the rooms. Food was lined up, cafeteria style, with the usual goodies and all the trimmings and we packed on the obligatory pounds like we do every year. Some of the dishes might have been a little watery. There was that.

However, we did learn a lesson. Be prepared. Next year we plan to post guards and put up several strings of razor wire. Maybe a guard dog or two. We’ll draw straws for the first watch.