Friday, May 27, 2011

Things I Find Fascinating #3: Zebras And The People Who Love Them

1) Zebras make great dentists.  This thoughtful zebra took time out of his busy schedule to do a teeth cleaning for his friend, the hippopotamus. The hippo was quite appreciative, especially when it found out that the zebra was offering this service completely free of charge. Unfortunately, the zebra was unable to continue his "practice", as he was soon thereafter caged by the zoo keeper for unlawfully impersonating a doctor.

2)  Zebras make house calls.  In the early 1900s, Rosendo Ribeiro, the first doctor in Nairobi, Kenya, was known to ride his zebra to call on his patients. It is not known for certain what the zebra's wages were (paid in grass), but the zebra was believed to be quite fuel-efficient as compared to other popular forms of transportation at the time.  (This is not Dr. Ribeiro below. They did not have cameras in Nairobi in the early 1900s. For Pete's sake, they only had one doctor!)

3)  No two zebras are alike. 
The black-and-white stripe patterns that so elegantly adorn zebras' bodies are unique to each individual zebra. So you can clearly recognize that that's Stan in the forefront. The three zebras in the immediate background are (from left to right): Lester, Camille, and Jonesy.

4) When they "talk", zebras sound more like a pack of wild dogs than a herd of striped horses. But don't take my word for it. Take a listen for yourself:

5)  A lazy Englishman once used zebras instead of horses to pull his carriage. Zoological collector Lord Rothschild was frequently known to ride through the streets of London in his zebra-drawn carriage. Most of the lord's neighbors (no pun intended) thought he was weird, but one woman in particular thought he looked quite dandy in stripes. She soon became Lady Rothschild. (Not really, I'm making that part up. Who would even marry a guy who collects zebras? – I mean, really!) Here's Lord Rothschild in action:

6)  Zebras travel in (gasp!) harems.  If you couldn't tell from the video above, zebras are very social creatures, and often travel and live in groups. These groups are called harems, quite appropriately, because they typically consist of one stallion and up to six mares and their foals. Bachelor males either live alone or with groups of other bachelors until they are old enough to challenge a breeding stallion. When attacked by packs of hyenas (or hyena or hyenae or hyenæ) or wild dogs (no interesting plural there), a zebra group will huddle together with the foals in the middle while the stallion tries to ward them off. This particular harem pictured below consists of (from left to right): Doris, Dave, Lucy, Imogene, and Suzette who's way back there in the back.

7)  The preferred mane-style for young zebras (foals) is the Mohawk.  While older, more mature zebras know that it is absolutely unseemly to be seen in public with such a subversive, punk-rock "do", these foals are determined to have their way and do their own thing even if it breaks their parents' hearts. Is this sounding familiar to anyone? This is a recent snapshot of Cato, who's smack-dab in the middle of his awkward middle-school years.

8) This guys loves zebras so much he dedicated an entire song to them.  So the lyrics aren't that great. In fact, the lyrics consist of only one word: "zebra". But I have to admit I've rarely heard a song so strange that I enjoyed so much for absolutely no reason at all. Look closely and you'll see that it's the same guy in all four frames, and he actually harmonizes quite well with himself. Check it out:

Thanks again for indulging my strange fascinations. Hopefully you've learned something, or just been entertained. If you were dissatisfied with this post in any way, I will be happy to offer you a full refund on the money you paid to read it. Until next time....

Monday, May 23, 2011

Extreme Couponing And The End Of The World

WARNING:  The following paragraphs may contain subject matter that some of you whom I consider my friends may find offensive. Please note that this is not a personal attack on you, merely a diatribe on a current consumer trend which slightly bothers say the very least. Reader discretion is advised.

It's the end of the world as we know it...and I'm a little ticked. No, I'm not talking about Harold Camping and his huge "miscalculation" (again) regarding the beginning of the end of time, which did not occur this past Saturday (and who is now conveniently unavailable for comment by all accounts). I'm talking about this extreme couponing fad that's spreading like juicy gossip in a beauty salon.

Now I'm all for saving money, that's all well and good. I will even go so far as to say that I applaud the efforts of all you couponers (by the way, since when did "couponer" become a word, and since when is "coupon" also a verb? – but I digress) who diligently pore over websites and newspaper ads and dark, secluded alleys, or wherever else y'all dig these things up, in order to save beaucoup bucks. I really don't mind these things at all. To each his or her own.

What I do mind is the apocalyptic chaos that ensues when foolhardy grocery store chains decide to make an entire week "Triple Coupon Day" and not tell poor saps like myself in advance! Now, I know what you're thinking – I could have, and should have, read the sign on the door before entering the store, and should have run as fast as Usain Bolt in the opposite direction in order to spare my sanity. And I would agree with you – but I didn't look; I wasn't paying attention to such details.

I was looking forward to my usual, quiet during-my-Monday-lunch-break shopping trip, a system that works for me and my wife, since she works in another county, and often gets home later than I do. What I found instead, upon entering the store, was wall-to-wall shopping carts being pushed around by – my apologies to all you sane female and male couponers here – CRAZY LADIES, with honest-to-goodness three-ring binders full of coupons, which I can only assume must have been alphabetized by the item's name for each and every row of the grocery store, judging by the methodical nature in which each lady pored over her binder.

Side note here: I'm not criticizing the methodology of this. If you're going to do something like this, you should do it wholeheartedly, and with some degree of organization, as would I if I were so inclined (it'll never happen!).

Here I am with my pitiful little grocery list – filled out by hand on a printout of a Microsoft Word template that I found years ago – trying my best to get my deli ham, toothpaste, coffee creamer, etc. And I'm having to, literally, fight my way through each aisle of the store to get to what I'm looking for. I'm not looking for any particular brand, I don't have to buy four of anything, I'm just picking up whatever brand is on sale. I really don't give a rat's patooty what I COULD BE saving if I put forth a little effort.  No, this closet claustrophobic is just doing my best to tamp down the rising anxiety of simply moving through the store.

Finally, I got everything on the list, not a single "extra" thing, which befuddles my wife, but maybe makes her a little proud as well; I'm not sure. And then I head to the checkout line. Oh my word, I'm thinking, I have twenty-four minutes to get through this line, get across town back to the house, unload the groceries, and get back to work. This is never going to happen. Each open line, and there are far too few of them for "Triple Coupon Day" Week, has at least four people waiting, nearly all of them with full-to-the-brim shopping carts. And nearly half of the people in line stand proudly with their 40+ coupons in hand, ready to save LOTS and LOTS of money. I groan inwardly – strike that, I groan outwardly. Quite loudly. People in front of and behind me probably think they are in the presence of a mooing cow, my groan is that outward.

Running out of options and time, I find a line with only one couponer, and she's already checking out. Five minutes or so later, I'm done and out the door. I empty the contents of my cart into the trunk of the car as quickly as possible, being mindful that I don't break the eggs or smash the chicken, and head over toward the shopping cart docking station. Similarly to the store, the parking lot is also wall-to-wall with cars, and some of these people can't park worth a lick. So I'm – once again the panicky claustrophobic – trying to squeeze this empty cart between parked cars to get to the docking station without nicking anyone's side mirror or paint job.

I finally arrive, only to realize that I am on the back side of the docking station, and there's no getting around to the other side due to the close proximity of the cars (probably some of those crazy couponers, so excited to have arrived at the grocery store so they could SAVE MONEY that they didn't bother to notice that their minivan was as crooked as a politician in an election year).

Now running severely short on time and patience, I lift the entire empty shopping cart over the rail and slam it down inside the docking station. It bounces a little, but doesn't roll out. My back twinges a little, but I feel good. There's nothing like throwing a shopping cart to let off a little steam. You should try it sometime.

Twenty-five minutes later, and twenty minutes after I'm supposed to have returned, I arrive back at work, safe and sound, and not much worse for wear.

What's the moral of this story? There isn't one. This was just a straight-up rant. And I'm okay with that. If you were offended by this, I'm truly sorry. If you laughed a little, because maybe you saw a little of yourself somewhere, or because you didn't know I was half-crazy myself, then my work here is done.

And for all you couponers out there who may be reading this: Help a brother out and let me know when this stuff is going on ahead of time, so I won't have to throw another shopping cart. I just might begin to enjoy it TOO much!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Eight Things I Discovered (Or Rediscovered) On Spring Break Vacation

OK, if this post causes you to flashback to your middle school English class assignments (which I think they actually call Language Arts these days), I apologize. And if I write it as lazily and clumsily as you wrote your first college research paper, please forgive me. But it is what it is. goes nothing. Eight things I discovered (or rediscovered) on our Spring Break vacation last week:

1)  Spring Cleaning is hard work. We spent three days trying to deep-clean the house, in preparation to (hopefully sooner rather than later) get it sold. While we didn't tick off all the check boxes by the end of it all, we did a lot, and admittedly, a lot more than we had done in previous years. I'm actually proud of the way it looks, which is something I could never really say before. If we sell the house for even close to what we'd like to, then all this hard work was worth it.

2)  They ramp up the music on the P.A. system at baseball games when managers are fussing at umpires to prevent the kiddos from hearing whatever string of profanities the manager is spouting.  We went to a Carolina Mudcats minor league baseball game last week. The seats were great – right behind home plate. At one point during the game, the Mudcats' manager came out to argue a play with the home-plate umpire. The two of them were quite literally no more than twenty feet away, separated from us by only a transparent net. Suddenly the P.A. system started playing the music so loudly that we couldn't hear a word they were saying. As a point of reference, we could clearly hear every "ball" or "strike" call that the umpire made throughout the game, and even the occasional chatter between a batter and the opposing team's catcher.

3)  It's not really that bad of a drive from my house to the Outer Banks.  When you're a kid and get driven everywhere, every destination – especially the highly anticipated ones – seems SO FAR AWAY. We constantly barrage our parents with a string of questions: "Are we there yet? Is it close now? When are we gonna get there?" But this time, making the trip for one of the few times in my experience as a driver, I realize that it's just a tad bit over two hours away from where I live. We could actually make a day trip of it if we wanted to avoid the ridiculously overpriced hotel rates (although it wasn't too bad in the "off season"). Awesome!

4)  I love the Atlantic Ocean.  This is not an intended slight against the Pacific, Indian, Southern, or Arctic Oceans. Maybe I would like them better if I had ever met them, but I haven't. We spent a few hours just walking the beach and letting the frigid waters of the Atlantic wash over our toes and – on a couple of unexpected occasions – splashing us up to our waists. The brilliant blue color of the water at the Outer Banks (it doesn't seem quite as vibrantly hued on the Crystal Coast) compares only, in my limited experience, with the Caribbean. The sound of the ocean waves crashing relentlessly, as heard from our hotel room, was so incredibly soothing. Quite honestly, I wouldn't mind falling asleep to that sound every night.

5)  Mind-tripping on historical perspective is fun.  I know that sentence doesn't really make much sense, and I'm sorry. I know what I mean, but not quite how I want to say it. (The curse of a writer, I suppose.) What I'm trying to say is this: when you're at a location of historical significance, and you read about its history, and realize you are standing on the very spot where that history happened, it's kind of surreal and, well, trippy! Case in point: We visited the Elizabethan Gardens, which neither of us had been to before. The Gardens themselves were quite lovely, and the location right on the sound was nothing less than picturesque. Realizing that we were standing on the very land where some of the first English settlers made a home for themselves in the New World there on Roanoke Island was nothing less than amazing. Remembering that this "Lost Colony" of people disappeared without a trace, never to be seen or heard from again, gave me considerable pause. Seeing the Ancient Live Oak in the Elizabethan Gardens, purported to have been in existence even as far back as 1585 when the settlers arrived, was also a bit mind-blowing.

6)  Not all pizzas are created equally.  After visiting the Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, we stopped at a "hole-in-the-wall" restaurant that had been recommended to us called the Garden Deli & Pizzeria. This place probably couldn't hold more than twenty customers at most, and was most definitely more of a hangout for the locals and not so much for tourists. We ordered a pizza they called The Rustler, which had pepperoni, Italian sausage, and ham on it. It also had cheese, marinara sauce, and a thin crust. I know what you're thinking: what's the big deal? A pizza's a pizza's a pizza! That's what we thought, too. But not all pizzas are created equally. Some are created with love. Which was definitely the case with the pizza we ate. Nothing fancy, no unusual ingredients, just honest-to-goodness delicious pizza. If you're ever in the area, you have to check it out. But don't blink or you'll miss it. And don't trust your GPS to get you there – ours failed us twice while we were looking for it. Just ask a local – and hope that they'll tell you the truth. They might not want their secret to get out.

7)  In another life, I might have enjoyed being a lighthouse keeper.  We visited the Bodie Island Lighthouse, which is currently under renovation. So you can't really climb it. You can't even see the glass-enclosed light at the top. You can only stand in front of it and look up at it. But it got me thinking. What is the life of a lighthouse keeper like? After listening to the ramblings of a very informative "old codger" of a tour guide, I still didn't have a clear answer. But I wanted to know more. I would think it might be a very peaceful life. Not one without responsibility, to be certain, but peaceful nonetheless. I'm sure there's a good spiritual application here, about how those of us who are Christians actually ARE lighthouse keepers, pointing people who have lost their way to The Light, guiding them to shore where they are safe and secure. But I'm not quite that profound. At least not this early in the day.

8)  There's no place like home.  It's nice to go away even for a little while, but it's always nice to come back home. Even if you don't particularly like (read: actually hate) your house. Even if the only reason the cats are happy to see you is because they've run out of food and water, because you stupidly under-prepared for the volume of food they could consume in just over 24 hours. Even if coming home means you have to go back to work the next day (or the next day after that, in our case). I tried to think of a clever and original way to end this, but I can't say it better than it's been said before:  Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.