Private Fartball.

“I am Gunnery Sergeant Grackle, your Senior drill instructor!” Grackle roared as he marched past the new recruits. “You maggots have just begun eight weeks of hell in my boot camp!”

Grackle was interrupted by the sound of farting followed by giggling.

“Who did that?” Grackle screamed. “Who’s the slimy little sock sucker who just signed his own death warrant? And I WILL find out!”

Grackle began sniffing as he walked around the room. Then his face wrinkled in disgust. “HOO! It’s getting stronger! I must be getting close!”

Then he found himself in front of a tall, skinny recruit who was trying to stifle his laughter.

“What’s so funny, Private Tweezers?” Grackle bellowed.

“My friend here just farted,” Tweezers giggled.

“So farts are funny?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I’ll fix that!” Grackle picked Tweezers up and squeezed him so hard that Tweezers let out one long loud fart before Grackle set him back down. Tweezers’ face now registered pain and discomfort.

“What’s the matter, Tweezers?” Grackle screamed. “I thought you said farts were funny!”

“They are.”

“Well, why aren’t you laughing?”

“That hurt,” Tweezers moaned.

“It’s SUPPOSED to hurt!” Grackle yelled. “Does that mean you’re not going to laugh at farts anymore?”

“Yes, sir.”

“GOOD!”

Grackle now turned to a short, fat recruit standing next to Tweezers.

“And you! Private Fartball! What’s the idea of farting around? Trying to make us laugh or something?”

“No sir,” Fartball stammered. “I only fart when I’m nervous.”

“DO I MAKE YOU NERVOUS?”

Fartball let out a short fart.

“WAS THAT A YES?”

Developing…

A notepad on my nightstand.

When I drift off to sleep, I often get strange ideas for names, quotes, lines of poetry and even melodies. I used to try committing these ideas to memory so I could jot them down in the morning, but by then they are lost forever.

Nowadays I keep a notepad and a pen on my nightstand so I can capture these ideas while I still can. Of course, the hard part is willing myself to grab that pen and write that idea down before it’s too late. It’s tricky writing in a dark room where the only source of light is the alarm clock. Then there’s that uncertainty of whether the pen I use even writes. Trying to write with an empty pen completely defeats the purpose of delaying my sleep this way. Using a Sharpie marker seems to be an ideal solution as it’s easy to see those thick lines in the dark.

But all that effort is well worth it as there will be some rather interesting reading material cometh the dawn.

Confessions of a hit and run driver.

Every time I read about a hit and run accident on the news, I am reminded of the time that I was once a hit and run driver myself.

One evening many years ago, I was leaving the mall on my way to work third shift at a hospital when I stopped at a crossway guarded by a stop sign. Just when I began moving, my car bumped into a pedestrian who was crossing the walkway. Instead of stopping and making sure he was okay, I foolishly drove off to work to avoid being late.

Once I was at work, I began to worry about the pedestrian. I called my answering machine at home to check for any messages and sure enough, there was a message from the police department requesting a call back regarding the incident.

At this point I was terrified, but I knew I needed to call the police department back. So I looked up their number and called them from work to identify myself as the driver responsible for the incident. I don’t remember what happened next, but I think the police contacted the pedestrian and got his number. The police could tell I was very concerned and told me to call the pedestrian at home.

Calling the man I hit with my car was the hardest phone call I ever made in my life. He was understandably upset but decided not to press charges despite suffering a bruise on his leg. I broke down and gave him a tearful apology. He wished me a Merry Christmas and ended the call. I continued sobbing long after I hung up the phone, but I could at least begin to put this nightmare behind me.

Although what I did was stupid, I’m glad I took responsibility for my actions and give everyone closure. Had I avoided making those calls, the events of that fateful night would have haunted my conscience every day for the rest of my life.

My cousin Raminta.

I have wonderful childhood memories of visits from my cousin Raminta, who is an accomplished pianist. Her late father, my Uncle Jurgis, was choir director at a Lithuanian church in Chicago. She, along with my late grandfather Vladas, sang in that choir, which would record several albums of traditional Lithuanian folk songs. I think it’s safe to say she came from a musical family.

During one of her visits to Florida, Raminta brought along some of her friends who were musicians themselves. There was Michael, her boyfriend who played violin, Patras the flautist and Dirk the singer. One night they gave a concert in my parents’ living room with my neighbors in attendance. It was a magical evening indeed.

There is one moment from this visit that I will always remember. I myself was taking piano lessons and was practicing “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin one afternoon when Michael came along and played the same piece on his violin. I’d never heard “The Entertainer” on violin before and was impressed with how easily Michael was able to play it.

The only problem we had was deciding where everyone would sleep. Our house had three bedrooms and eight people, so my parents had to make modifications as to who slept where. I slept in my sister’s bedroom while some of the visitors slept in mine. After they all left, I was about to fall asleep in my own bed for the first night in days when suddenly I saw something glowing on my nightstand. My heart was racing as I reached for the light, and after the light filled the room, I saw some glow-in-the-dark vampire teeth left behind by one of the visitors.

The last I heard from Raminta was years ago when sent us a copy of her album featuring her piano music accompanied by a singer. There is also some instrumental music for violin and organ respectively. A little bit of everything. I really enjoyed hearing the album and consider it a quality production of the highest order. I still love listening to it.

I see Raminta has her own web site and from reading her list of accomplishments, it looks like she’s been very busy performing and teaching her craft. I’ll have to get in touch with her again and relive those fond memories I now possess.

Remembering Stick Figure Death Theatre.

One of the most memorable web sites I’ve been to is the original Stick Figure Death Theatre. It had just 4 simple animations of stick figures meeting their demises but it launched something of a revolution as dozens of additional sites appeared to further explore ways to kill stick figures. I too was inspired to create my own animations and share them on the web site I had at one time.

Over time, SFDT allowed visitors to upload their own animations where they were viewed and voted on. There were some seriously good animations to watch and you could easily spend hours watching stick figures meet their respective dooms. Soon there was a separate site for uploading non-stick figure animations for those in the mood for something completely different. SFDT seemed to be well on its way.

Then one day, all that disappeared when all there was to see on the main page was a message reading “We’ll be back shortly.” I checked in from time to time to see if SFDT had in fact returned but there was nothing but that same message. “Shortly” stretched to weeks to months to years until recently when SFDT disappeared altogether. Maybe someday it will return to inspire a new generation of animators.

 

Surviving Hurricane Jeanne.

As a longtime resident of South Florida, I’ve been through many hurricanes starting with David in 1979, but none were scarier than Jeanne in 2004. Of course, that was the year when Florida was hit with not one, not two, but three hurricanes. Charley hit the west coast of Florida while Frances and Jeanne struck the east coast near where I live.

When Frances struck, I joined my parents in evacuating to a neighbor’s mother’s condominium in Boca Raton. There we rode out the storm while enduring a blackout and lullabies of howling winds. While we were sitting there in the dark, we heard something heavy fall outside. Spending the night was miserable as there was no air conditioning or working lights. The mess we saw outside the next morning was unbelievable with branches, leaves and a large tree that got knocked down.

But Hurricane Jeanne was the scariest storm I’ve been through. My parents and I stayed at a friend’s house not far from where they live. Not long after the storm arrived, the power went out. I was lying on the couch in the warm, dark living room while listening to continuous coverage of the storm on my radio. At the same time I could look out the unboarded window and see trees bowing and branches making frantic gestures in the roaring wind. I also saw flashing blue lights that I thought was lightning but turned out to be explosions from the power transformer. That remains the scariest sight I have ever seen in any hurricane I’ve been through.

Enough was enough indeed.

Kudos to Twitter.

I found Twitter to be an extremely valuable resource during Hurricane Irma. While the storm was raging outside, I was checking Twitter constantly for nonstop coverage of the hurricane in near real time. I saw photos of conditions in my area and videos of the storm’s wrath. While I did check some of the local news sites, I always found myself going back to Twitter for the rapid, in-depth coverage of Irma.

I myself contributed to the Irma coverage by tweeting weather conditions outside along with photos I took of the stormy chaos. It was then I noticed something about Twitter I hadn’t noticed before. I was taking part in a worldwide network discussing the storm from our individual points of view. I got a response to one of my tweets from an out-of-state user whose mother lives in the city where I stayed and she had been unable to get hold of her. Was there power in my area? Yes, there was, I responded. That seemed to put her mind at ease.

Some of my photographs of the storm have been well-received, and that gave me the rewarding feeling that I’m contributing something to the ongoing discussion and getting noticed for it.

Too bad it took the 9 years I’ve been on Twitter to get this kind of insight.

Surviving Hurricane Irma, Day 4.

It’s over.

Hurricane Irma has struck Florida and it’s time to go outside and survey the damage. Structural damage in Palm Beach County seems to be minimal but the real mess is the fallen branches and piles of leaves scattered everywhere.

I decided to go visit my house to see how well it fared during the hurricane. I was nervous about the drive home because I wasn’t sure if there was a widespread power outage that affected the traffic lights along my route. The one thing I hate the most about driving after a hurricane is coming to an intersection with no working traffic lights. Drivers completely disregard the rule to treat such an intersection as a four-way stop and as a result there’s plenty of danger and frustration. They seem to be enforcing an “every man for himself” rule instead. As much as I hate traffic lights, I actually miss them when they’re not working.

I managed to make it home in one piece. As expected there was debris everywhere in my neighborhood but I was pleasantly surprised to see I still had power. Judging from the correct time on my stove in the kitchen, I don’t think it ever went out. My phone service, on the other hand, wasn’t working, and neither was my Internet connection. I had a busy afternoon of taking down my storm shutters, moving my plants outside along with my patio furniture and then cleaning up the debris.

Then I decided to go check on my parents’ house. They left on a cruise out of the country just before the hurricane hit and were keeping in touch via email. I could imagine their anxiety about how things were back at home and I wanted to relay some good news to them to help put their minds at ease.

However, when I arrived at my parents’ house, I saw a huge mess of fallen branches around the house. I couldn’t get inside because there was no power to open the garage door and the rest of the house was heavily barricaded with hurricane shutters with drill-tightened wingnuts too tight to try loosening by hand.

During my walk around the outside of the house, I saw something that made my jaw drop. There was an aquarium stand that once stood behind the garage that my father used for his small barbecue grill. That stand was no longer there. The strong winds flung it across the yard where I found it resting on some bushes along the fence.

Anyway, the storm may be gone but the aftermath remains to linger for a long time to come.

Oh yeah, Hurricane Jose’s out there churning in the Atlantic and just might hit Florida again.

Isn’t life in paradise wonderful?

Surviving Hurricane Irma, Day 3.

Anyone on the road today going shopping for hurricane supplies is CRAZY.

I had a bizarrely amusing thought of a store actually open during the hurricane, catering to those who waited until the last possible minute to stock up on emergency supplies. Such a store must be desperate to make a profit.

I’m imagining two men trying to load some plywood outside in the stormy weather. So far, they’re not having much luck. Two pieces were broken in half by the heavy winds and a third was sent flying like a giant frisbee across the sky.

So far, so good here in Palm Beach Gardens. There’s still power, TV and Internet but who knows how much longer they’ll stay on. The lights have blinked a few times, sending me a warning signal of the worst to come, so I’d better hurry up and finish this post while I still can. The nightmare’s far from over. In fact, it’s just beginning.

To be continued…

Surviving Hurricane Irma, Day 2.

There was a brief moment of sunshine this morning while but the mood was anything but cheerful. I was too busy finalizing my preparations for the hurricane by moving my patio furniture inside and getting rid of any garbage that could be sent flying during the storm.

And now here I am, staying with family in Palm Beach Gardens to wait out the storm. I’m encouraged that Hurricane Irma has shifted to the west, so I’m hoping that any damage at home is minimal.

I did have an amusing thought that I think would make an interesting story. What if the city of Palm Beach Gardens has not been hit with a hurricane for hundreds of years?

Yes, the last time a hurricane tried to make landfall at the area that is now Palm Beach Gardens only succeeded in being attacked by the vicious natives living there. As a warning to future hurricanes, its remnants were mounted on bamboo sticks along the beach, and since then, no hurricane has ever made landfall at Palm Beach Gardens.

Anyway, there’s nothing to do now but wait for the storm to pass and hope for the best. Oh yeah, and hope everything’s still standing when I get home.

To be continued…