Answerman Rocks

Dear Answerman: I’m seeing a counselor because I have too much stress in my life. He suggested I get a hobby. He said it will relax me and lower my blood pressure.

I’m thinking I might like rock collecting. What do you know about this subject? — Uptight in Upper Michigan

Dear Uptight: Rock collectors are some of the most relaxed people in the world. This is because the planet is one huge rock, making this hobby easier than, say, looking for Bigfoot or collecting Jerry Mathers memorabilia. Intellectuals call rock collectors petrologists, and have done so since the pet rock era of the 1970’s.

Before you go petrologising for the first time, decide what variety of rock you want to collect. There are three species of rock to chose from: Ingenious, sedentary, and metallic. Ingenious rocks are more valuable, but sedentary rocks are easier to find. Metallic rocks are heavy.

Rocks also come in four geological classes: boulders, stones, gravel, and dirt. Most amateur collectors work with stones, but gravel will do in a pinch. Dirt collectors are generally looked down on by other collectors, and don’t get invited to the best rock shows.

The tools you need for rock collecting are a bag and a car. Put the rocks in a bag as you find them, and drive them home in your car.

You mentioned you are seeing a counselor for stress, so I will assume you are married. If this is the case, you need to rent a storage facility for your rock collection, because you won’t be allowed to keep it in the house. If you can’t afford storage, you might want to consider “catch and release” rock collecting.

Dear Mr. Crossett: On behalf of my client (hereafter referred to as the injured party), it has come to my attention that your column does not list a medical degree or any qualification for dispensing expert medical advice as expressly claimed in the addendum to your feature. I am hereby requesting to know on what basis you claim this “expertise,” specifically in the area of medicine. If you wish to avoid litigation I suggest you reply promptly and with documentation. — Attorney at Law in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Dear Salt Lake: I’m sorry to hear about your injury. My advice is to avoid such wild parties in the future.

As for my expertise, it is amazing, isn’t it? I’m not sure how I got this smart. At some point in my youth I hit the tipping point, and now my knowledge builds on itself, so I can create facts out of thin air. I also have an indelibate memory, which means once I make up a fact I never forget it.

I don’t send documentation to all my readers, but because you were so complimentary, I’m going to send you an autographed photograph of myself with two cats!

For expert advice on all matters, legal, medical, theological, romantic, involving quantum physics, ancient history, plumbing or sports, contact the Answer Man at larry@themidwestjourney.com.

Driverless!

It isn’t hard to believe that driverless cars will begin to appear on our highways and city streets in 2020. What is hard to believe is that 2020 is only five years away….

Congratulations on your purchase of the 2023 Driverless Googmobile! Please observe the following guidelines for your safety:

Use the seat belts and shoulder harnesses provided.

Keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle while in motion. Do not attempt to exit a moving vehicle.

If you have programmed your Googmobile to drive you to work at 8:00 a.m., enter the car before 8:00 a.m.

This car uses cameras and a top-mounted laser for navigation. Do not obscure the cameras with items such as bumper stickers. Do not decorate the top-mounted laser to look like a clown head, bag of groceries, gun turret, Disney character, antique rocking chair, politician, or glass of beer. This may interfere with its operation.

Be aware that falling bird droppings or windblown debris may trigger the Googmobile’s emergency evasive maneuvers. Always wear your safety belt and shoulder harness.

It is permissible to use this car while intoxicated. Avoid vomiting on onboard computer.

Be wary of downloading software from unknown manufacturers into your onboard computer. Remember the tragic “Slug Bug” virus of 2021.

In some cases, this vehicle may misinterpret law enforcement vehicles as obstacles to avoid. If a chase scene develops, put on the bulletproof vest provided.

If you need a restroom break during a long trip, you should have programmed that in to begin with.

Commuters who are late for work may want to put the car in “obnoxious driver” mode, so it weaves in and out of traffic. Commuters who resent being rushed may want to choose “obstinate driver” mode, which will cause the car to drive primarily in the left lane at five miles per hour under the speed limit. Commuters using “common sense” mode may want to keep their eyes closed.

If your Googmobile repeatedly plows into pedestrians, cyclists, animals, or other such debris, check the cyber-steering fluid levels.

Picking up hitchhikers is solely at the discretion of the Googmobile.

If your Googmobile approaches a “Road Closed” or “Bridge Out” sign and does not appear to be slowing down, dial our 1-800 number and select menu option #7.

If your car freezes up, reboot. Do not call the manufacturer as this is clearly the responsibility of a third party software vendor.

Perfektion

Perfection is a stick with which to beat the possible.” ― Rebecca Solnit,

The day I moved out of my parents’ home, I put into action my plan to become a successful author. I sat down at my apartment’s stained Formica kitchen counter and began to compose the perfect short story. Each word I put down on paper would be the right word and would build on the word before it. Once finished, the resulting story would surely catapult me to the top of the literary world (Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine).

It was a tedious process: The moment I realized I’d written something that could be improved upon, I had to go back to where I lost track of perfection and start from there. This was the age of the typewriter, of course, so that meant rumpling up the first piece of paper and rolling in a second one.

Isn’t this how scribes used to reproduce the Bible before the printing press was invented?

Now, before you go rifling through your collection of old Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazines looking for glowing pages, I have to explain that I never actually finished that perfect story. In fact, I think I gave up on the idea (or perhaps ran out of paper), later that same day.

Reflecting on my naive young self, it’s easy to see the flaw in my thinking: I not only believed perfection was attainable, I believed it was necessary for success.

Boy, was I wrong about that.

Nowadays, I work with people who are successful and with people who are unsuccessful. Believe me when I tell you: perfection is not what separates one end of that spectrum from the other. In fact, perfection doesn’t enter the picture at all.

Successful people operate the way we all do: trial and error. Make an attempt, pop it in the oven, and hope for the best. Eventually, you get it right. Then you toss all your failures into the trash and take credit for the finished product.

Probably the most useful attribute I’ve seen in successful people is the ability and willingness to judge what comes out of the oven and make a better attempt the next time. Unsuccessful people either keep following the same old recipe, or, like me in my youth, never dare expose anything to the heat of the oven.

By the way, I kept count as I wrote this article. Had I produced it as a single, typewritten draft without typos, I would have used 248 sheets of paper.

Driverless

It isn’t hard to believe that driverless cars will begin to appear on our highways and city streets in 2020. What is hard to believe is that 2020 is only five years away….

Congratulations on your purchase of the 2021 Driverless Googmobile! Please observe the following guidelines for your safety:

Use the seat belt and shoulder harness provided.

Keep arms and legs inside the vehicle when moving.

Your Googmobile uses a combination of cameras, laser technology, and radar to detect and avoid obstacles. Do not place bumper stickers over cameras. Do not decorate the top-mounted laser scanner to look like a clown head, bag of groceries, gun turret, Disney character, antique rocking chair, or politician. This may interfere with operations.

If you have programmed your Googmobile to drive you to work at 8:00 a.m., enter the car before 8:00 a.m.

Be aware that falling bird droppings or windblown debris may trigger the Googmobile’s emergency evasive maneuvers. Always wear your safety belt and shoulder harness.

It is permissible to use this car while intoxicated. Avoid vomiting on the onboard computer.

Do not download software from unknown manufacturers into your onboard computer. Remember the devastating “Slug Bug” virus of 2020.

In some cases, the Googmobile may misinterpret law enforcement vehicles as obstacles to avoid. If a chase scene develops while you are in the car, put on the bulletproof vest provided.

If you need a restroom break during a long trip, you should have programmed that in to begin with.

Commuters who are late for work may want to put the car in “obnoxious driver” mode, so it weaves in and out of traffic. Commuters who resent being rushed may want to choose “obstinate driver” mode, which will cause the car to drive primarily in the left lane at five miles per hour under the speed limit. Commuters using the “common sense” mode may want to keep their eyes closed.

If your Googmobile repeatedly plows into pedestrians, cyclists, farm implements, or ravines, check the cyber-steering fluid levels.

Picking up hitchhikers is solely at the discretion of the Googmobile.

If your Googmobile approaches a “Road Closed” or “Bridge Out” sign and does not appear to be slowing down, dial our 1-800 number and select menu option #7.

If your car freezes up, reboot. Do not call the manufacturer, as this is clearly the responsibility of a third party software vendor.

Puzzling Frustrations

A few months ago I started a jigsaw puzzle on the coffee table—just something to tinker with while the family watches television. I’ve done many of them over the years.

I dumped out the box and began sorting pieces. Our older cat, Patches, found the lid on the floor and tried to curl up inside. Unable to fit, she gave up, jumped onto the coffee table, and lay down right in the middle of the puzzle.

This is how I’ve grown accustomed to working puzzles. I dug several pieces out from under the cat and slid her to one end of the table.

I wasn’t taking into account that we had just added a second cat to our family. Sparkles was a kitten. She saw that mound of pasteboard pieces and assumed we were playing a game. I struggled to keep her at bay while protecting my work.

When she reached over the table edge and tried to slide a piece onto the floor with her paw, I hissed at her and pushed her away. When she jumped onto the table I carefully lifted her off. None of this chastened the cat, just challenged her to try harder. Despite her best efforts I got the edge pieces sorted out and assembled into a frame.

After supper the next evening, my family returned to the living room. We discussed what to put on the television. Then I got down on my hands and knees to collect puzzle pieces off the carpeting. During the night, Sparkles had wiped the table clean. I restored my work (forcing the soggy chewed pieces into place) and made some small amount of new progress. At the end of the evening I set Patches off the table, held Sparkles back with my foot, and covered the whole thing with a bath towel. Out of sight, out of mind, I was thinking.

The next morning, I came downstairs and let the dog out. We have a teenager in the house, so I didn’t give a second thought to the bath towel in the middle of the kitchen floor. It was only after my first cup of coffee that it dawned on me where the towel had come from.

From then on I used a spray bottle full of water to keep the cat at bay while I worked my puzzle. At the end of every evening I would cover my work with a towel and weigh it down with some other stuff—a couple books, the TV remotes, a footstool…. I began to make progress.

A couple weeks later, I mistakenly believed the game was over. Patches was resting on the edge of the table and the kitten was asleep on an empty chair while I filled in the last pieces of the puzzle.

Without warning, Sparkles came awake (if she hadn’t been faking sleep to begin with), leapt from the chair onto the slumbering dog’s back, and from there to the coffee table.

The dog jumped to her feet and lunged at Sparkles just as Sparkles crashed into Patches, who was terrified of the dog to begin with. They scattered everything in the scramble to get out of the room.

After that ended I recovered what puzzle pieces I could find. I put them back into the box and dropped the whole outfit into the trash.

Christmas came, and with a little free money I bought myself one of those felt puzzle protectors that roll up around a tube. It’s an improvement. Patches loves to lay on the felt. When Sparkles tries to drag my puzzle off the table, I use the tube from the center of the puzzle protector to beat her back.

Shameless Self Promotion

Once upon a time I was a die-hard heavy metal music fan. Everything from Kiss to Limp Bizkit. But my wife tainted me. She started playing contemporary Christian music in my presence. Pretty soon, all I wanted to listen to were groups like Third Day that play praise music.

That lasted a couple years until my daughter learned to program the preset buttons in my van. Afterwards, anytime I went for a ride, even alone, I would crank up the favorites of the pre-teen crowd: singers like Miley Cyrus, and Timberlips (something like that).

If I‘m exposed to something long enough, I get attached to it.

It’s either a spiritual gift or a personality disorder. Either way, it is a tendency that extends to my journalism.

One of my early stories was a preview piece about a men’s ministry conference. I got interested, and ended up attending the conference. Another time, I sat in on a meeting of our town’s sesquicentennial committee (I think it was) in order to write a report for the local paper. By the end of the evening, I was the committee secretary.

Then there was the feature I did on the long-term care ombudsman program in central Illinois. It led to my making a commitment to visit a nursing facility every month. I did that for a year or so.

I really sweated through the piece I did on the county coroner.

So it isn’t too surprising that after my first visit to a homeless shelter I went home and gathered up what food and clothing we could spare around the house.

That was several years ago—about the time this column started to run. But rather than quickly moving on to the next thing like a hyperactive puppy, as I am prone to do, my involvement with Inner City Mission has only grown. A good portion of my work is now dedicated to promoting this homeless ministry.

It’s a two way street. It was while working with ICM that I learned many of my graphic design and computer skills, often while on the company dime. I also receive a tremendous amount of support and encouragement there, from the staff and residents alike.

Because of that relationship, Inner City Mission of Springfield will receive 50% of the after tax profits from a new series of Midwest Journey books, the first of which has just been released on Kindle. The plan is to release one book per month for six months. At the end of that time the entire series will go into a print book.

I should also appreciate the newspaper editors I work with, also, for allowing me to write like a hyperactive puppy. Not every columnist is free to jump from family-centered humor to political commentary, to off the wall science, etc.

Then there is you, my reader, staying with me even though all I do in some of my columns is talk about myself. Thank you and please keep reading.

Find “Best Foot Forward: God Honoring Humor” in the Kindle Store at Amazon.com.