Austrian telemarketers, pig-dogs and missed opportunities

One of the great things about fancy new cell phones is that they tell you the location of callers. I suppose they’ve done this for quite some time, but I only joined the 21st century late last year when, after 16 years of mediocre flip phone service, I reluctantly upgraded to an Android phone.

This came in handy earlier this week when I saw that I had an incoming call from Austria. I don’t know anyone from Austria or in Austria. In fact, the only people I know of from Austria are Mozart, Emperor Franz Joseph, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Hitler. It seemed unlikely any of them would be phoning, so I ignored the call, just as I ignore any number I don’t recognize.

In retrospect, I missed a chance to try out my puerile German. While I speak extremely poor French, my German is utterly abominable, consisting of “Guten Tag,” Guten Morgen,” a couple of rudimentary sentences and the occasional derogatory remark.

I could have opened the conversation with “Guten Tag, du bist ein Schweinhund!” which translates to “Hello, you’re a pig-dog.”

I figure given my lack of contacts in Austria, it was most likely a telemarketer, so why not try out a little foreign invective, even if I was addressing someone I didn’t know with the casual form of the verb “to be.” They were calling me, after all.

Of course, they probably wouldn’t have understood me and simply hung up, but hey, I would have gotten a chuckle out of it. “Sticking it to those damn telemarketers!” That sort of thing. We take our victories where we can get them.

Speaking of the word Schweinhund, one has to admire the Germans’ ability to level an insult. Not just a pig, not just a dog, but a pig-dog. I’ve seen dogs that act like pigs, but I don’t think that’s what Schweinhund is all about.

One of my daughters has made friends with a German exchange student and she recently asked her friend if there was such a word as Schweinhund. The exchange student’s face lit up. “Ya, Schweinhund! How do you know this word?!?”

My daughter, drolly: “My dad uses it, often while driving.” It made the exchange student’s day to hear an insult in her native tongue.

I wonder if my daughter, were she studying in, say, rural Romania and had a Romanian friend ask if she knew the word “jackass” would light up similarly?

Toddlers and phones: as smooth together as onions and eyeballs

Enter this under: Things to do to torment my children.

An unattended Chinese toddler locked his mother’s iPhone for nearly 47 years earlier this year after repeatedly entering the wrong passcode while playing with it.

The phone was given to the youngster to watch education videos but when the mother, who was only identified by her surname Lu, came home, she was horrified to find that the phone had been locked until the year 2066.

“iPhone is disabled, try again in 25,114,984 minutes,” the phone notification read, according to the Global Times.

(The story did not detail if the mother left the 2-year old home alone, or with some sort of apparently lackluster supervision.)

When Lu took her phone into an Apple store in Shanghai, Wei Chunlong, a technician, told her she could either choose to wait a few years before attempting to re-enter the passcode or reset her device, which will cost her all data not yet uploaded to the cloud, added Newsweek.

And I’ve been getting a good chuckle out of locking my girls’ phones for five minutes when they leave said devices unattended. I look like a bush leaguer compared to this Chinese toddler.

Tales from the Riverbank remain happy, contented ones

albert fitch bellows the river bank

Some of my best childhood memories center on a couple of years I spent fishing along the banks of the Colorado River.

Living in a rural Colorado town, my friends and I were able to make our way by bike to the river to while away countless hours fishing for trout and squawfish, poking through rushes and reeds, tangling with turtles and snakes, chewing tobacco and generally enjoying a Huck Finn-like existence

To this day, there is something about spending time along – and in – rivers that brings me great contentment.

When the weather is warm, which is often in South Carolina, I make a point to take my kids to rivers and streams across our state where we can swim, fish and explore, enjoying adventures that, unfortunately, too few American children seem to experience any more.

If I’m traveling across the state for work I’ll sometimes bring a fishing rod. On more than one occasion I’ve taken off my shirt and tie, rolled up my pants legs and waded into shallow rivers to try my luck.

More often than not I don’t catch anything in the 10 or 15 minutes I spend throwing a lure into distant pockets of water, but I always feel better afterward.

I was reminded of the serene beauty of gently flowing water when I recently happened across Albert Fitch Bellows’ painting The River Bank (above), at the Columbia Museum of Art.

According to the museum, it’s unclear whether Fitch’s 1861 work actually depicts a river or, more likely, a mill pond. But the beauty and serenity of the scene is inescapable.

Viewing the painting took me back immediately to my time on the Colorado River, when my friends and I would fish, swim and hunt to our heart’s content, with the only evidence of human existence being the occasional distant rumble of a Denver and Rio Grande Western freight train and the steam whistle signaling shift changes at a local plant.

Most rock lyrics are nothing more than unimaginative clichés, but among those I’ve come across that actually captures genuine feelings that I can identify with is the hauntingly beautiful Tales from the Riverbank, by The Jam:

Bring you a tale from the pastel fields
Where we ran when we were young
This is a tale from the water meadows
Trying to spread some hope into your heart

It’s mixed with happiness, it’s mixed with tears
Both life and death are carried in this stream
That open space you could run for miles
Now you don’t get so many to the pound

True it’s a dream mixed with nostalgia
But it’s a dream that I’ll always hang on to
That I’ll always run to
Won’t you join me by the riverbank

Paradise found down by the still waters
Joined in the race to the rainbow’s end
No fears, no worries just a golden country
Woke at sunrise, went home at sunset

Now life is so critical, life is too cynical
We lose our innocence, we lose our very soul

True it’s a dream mixed with nostalgia
But it’s a dream that I’ll always hang on to
That I’ll always run to
True it’s a dream mixed with nostalgia
But it’s a dream that I’ll always hang on to
That I always run to
Won’t you join me by the riverbank
Come on and join me by the riverbank

One of the blessing of my life is that I’m able to live in an area where I can recapture at least a little nostalgia of my youth, and also pass it on to my children.

Travelin’ the road with the Man in Black


Traveling with my four younger girls this past Sunday an impromptu a cappella concert broke out in the back seat, featuring an interesting array of songs.

The girls had been prompted by my wife, who had sung to them the night before as they were lying in bed, about to turn in for the night.

Mrs. Cotton Boll is blessed with a beautiful voice that could melt the stars, and she’s made a point of singing to my daughters since she came into their lives nearly five years ago.

It’s apparent from listening to my progeny warble away this past weekend that her efforts are reaping rewards.

To set the scene, daughters nos. 2, 4 and 5 were in the backseat and handled the singing. Daughter No. 3 was up front with me and chose to sit out the “session.”

The three began with songs that Mrs. Cotton Boll had taught them, including “In the Highways,” written by Maybelle Carter, of the famed Carter family; “Jesus, I Heard You had a Big House,” another Gospel song; and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

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No career prepares you for Career Day

thank you

In my neck of the woods, one of the highlights of being a dad is being asked to make an appearance at “Career Day” when your child is in 4th grade. I was fortunate enough to be invited by my youngest to speak to her class recently, and, as always, it was a treat.

The favorite part of this year’s appearance, however, were the Thank Yous I received afterward.

The notes were decorated elaborately; many in a variety of colors and inks, and all with the unguarded sweet words of appreciation that seemingly only a child can muster.

It’s important to note that I work for a state banking association – a job I thoroughly enjoy, but not exactly what most 9- or 10-year olds would consider a glamorous position, or even one many at that age can comprehend.

As a result I opted to skip planned discussions on the Federal Reserve System and Quantitative Easing, and a proposed Q&A breakout session on the merits of returning to a bimetallic monetary standard.

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Me, my girls and the magic of Looney Tunes

My four girls – ages 11, 10, 10 and 8 – still stare agog at me when I explain to them that once there was a time, long, long ago, when cartoons were a once-a-week treat, the sole motivation needed to pop out of bed on a Saturday morning.

In today’s world where entire networks are devoted to animation and stations run cartoons 24 hours a days, seven days a week, 365 days a year, it’s difficult for my girls to imagine a time and place where kids’ programming occupied such a small part of the television week.

(They also are completely baffled by the idea of a 13-inch television that got exactly three, count ‘em three, channels, but that’s a different story.)

Yet for all the seemingly endless hours of kids’ programming available today, the vast majority of it pales in comparison to what was available during the days of Saturday morning-only cartoons.

This is not only my own rose-colored remembrance of the past, either. Judging from the way my daughters gather eagerly around me when I grab my computer and ask who wants to watch Bugs Bunny, I’d say they’re as enamored with Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies as I was when I was their age.

I introduced them to Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the Warner Bros. gang roughly two years, when, while perusing YouTube, I decided it was time to show them what real entertainment was all about.

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Mom: how do I make my toddler volunteer?


Slate magazine includes among its many features a column titled “My Goodness: Advice on How to Make the World Better” in which a pair of Slate writers answer questions regarding “real-life, do-gooding dilemmas.”

The feature often ventures into the realm of the touchy-feely, but this week’s question, from Molly of Washington, D.C., stretches the bounds of credulity:

“Hi, Patty and Sandy,

“I’ve had very little free time for anything since my son was born, let alone for volunteering. Now that he’s a toddler (3 years old), I would really like to volunteer with him. I think now is the time to build the foundation by showing him the importance of giving and that others are not as fortunate as he is. However, I am hesitant about what exactly to do with him. What would you recommend for us?”

One of the Slate writers initially begins by correctly pointing out to Molly that her son is only 3, which is quite young for one to understand the concept of volunteering, but then launches into a bromide about his “commitment to service will be underscored if you find ways to have his service spring from his own values and observations of need.”

The other writer tries to come up with a few ideas that may be appropriate for a 3-year old, such as making birthday cards for seniors or, of course, taking part in Earth Day festivities.

It’s too bad neither pointed out to this mother that maybe her son, at 3 years of age, has the right to just be a kid, instead of being pushed into volunteering. Certainly, no 3-year old has the mental capacity to understand the concept of free will involved with “volunteering” to do good deeds for others, nor should he be expected to.

Forced volunteerism under the guise of showing someone that “others are not as fortunate” is nothing more than a dressed-up guilt trip, and for any mother to expect a 3-year old to embrace her daffy concept of social justice is ludicrous.

If mom is unfulfilled without being able to help others, fine. But leave Junior with a family member or a sitter, instead of dragging him along so she can feel better about herself. Childhood is short enough already.