Better Living Through History

“Your wife has something she wants to tell you.”

It was my Dad on the phone and he was heading off the island to do some errands in town. Action Girl had been at work on the ferries since early that morning and the wind had been whipping with gusts pushing thirty-five miles per hour on the water. Winter had arrived with a vengeance and the temperatures were in the teens. I’ve never been able to remember how to correctly calculate wind chill factors and to be honest, I really didn’t want to this morning. I already knew what she was about to say. It was hard to make out her every word as Dad passed her the phone, the white noise from the wind covering up her voice, but the sentiment made it through.

“Anyone who would willingly go out in this when they didn’t have to is INSANE!”

That might not be a perfect quote, but it’s in the right spirit.

“Don’t care! I’m going! You knew I was nuts when you married me!” I momentarily distracted her with a tale of something cute the kids did and then made my telephonic escape with what I hoped was a completely stable sounding, “Love you!”

What I was getting ready to do was not only go out in this Arctic weather, but also do it while standing very still out in the elements in a big, open space.

Oh, and there would be guns.
The guns make it all worth it.

It has been since October the last time I made it to the range and I badly wanted to go. The rifle range is where I can relax and do something I truly love. I find it calming, head clearing and most of all, really, really fun. It was going to be bitterly cold but I had three things pulling for me.

The first card I had was the company of good friends. I had gotten a message that an old buddy of mine was in the area and had brought his 1917 German infantry rifle with him, “just in case” we could carve out an afternoon to slip away and have some fun. Another friend who lives near by had asked about shooing just the week before. His brother wanted to come as well and that made a group of four of us.

My great uncle Don had a saying about boys and groups. His theory was that to find the group IQ, all you need to do was find the median intelligence of the members… and then divide that again by the total number of males present. This, I feel, can give good explanation of some of the stupidity of what men do when present in large numbers.

The second card I had was that not only my wife, but also both my parents tried to talk me out of it. It wasn’t cold out. It was super-nasty-bonechilling-find-you-dead-in-a-snowbank-come-March weather. Polar bears, had we any in the area, would have looked at the day, thoughtfully chewed a strip of explorer jerky, and gone right back to bed. I don’t know what a polar bear bed looks like, but I’m willing to bet that it was more inviting that what was outside. Well, maybe not if you’re an Arctic explorer. BUT, as we all know, there is nothing that can change a single, dumb idea in to a burning quest faster like having your wife tell you that you shouldn’t do it… Except perhaps having your parents say it to you too.

My last card was my secret weapon. My ace in the hole. And though to an outsider it might have just looked like coffee, it was much more than that. It was coffee in… The Thermos.

This thermos was made by the Thermos Company long, long ago. Longer ago, in fact, than I have actually existed. It is big, plaid, made of metal and glass and is proof that they most definitely don’t make ‘em like they used to. It had been gathering dust in my folk’s basement for decades when I spotted it on my last trip back home. It was sitting on a shelf, wedged amongst other bits of family memorabilia and debris and with permission, I gleefully snapped it up and brought it home. Action Girl was unimpressed with it when I got home and showed her my trophy. I explained that it was, simply put, “The best thermos ever built.” She pointed out the rust on the bottom and the spots where the lovely nineteen-sixties faux plaid painting scheme that covered its surface was blistering off from corrosion in places. Wounded, I hugged it close for a moment and reverently put it on a shelf in the kitchen.

In her defense, she had good reason to be dubious. I have a fairly reliable tendency of looking at my past through a heavy miasma of rose colored nostalgia. Something that I ate and liked when I was twelve, easily comes back to me as tasting of ambrosia and honey. Maybe I really did love what ever it was that much when I was a kid, but often in the adult re-trying… well… these things do seem to fall a bit flat. This time, the thermos was being viewed with similar skepticism. I knew better though.

The really don’t, in fact, make them like this any more. At least not that I’ve seen. Outwardly it looks like you’d expect a thermos to look. The cap doubles as a cup, it has a built in handle and carries about eight mugs worth of what ever you want to fill it with. What makes it different from its modern counterparts is the glass. The entire lining of the thermos is a heavy glass and once you seal it up, it will keep stuff hot or cold for ages. I remembered that from childhood and it’s why I wanted it so much, now as an adult. I recall both of my parents reminding me to be careful with it lest I crack the glass and ruin it forever. I was being very careful and now. Filling it up to the tiptop with high grade, freshly brewed, black coffee, I headed out the door with it in one hand and my rifle gear in the other.

My GOD, it was cold out.

Within an hour, I was at the range with three friends, several guns, a pile of ice cold ammo and numb toes. The wind was biting, our fingers numb and, as far as we could tell, we had the entire complex to ourselves. It was great! When one of us couldn’t manage to physically pick up new rounds to load our weapons, we’d run back to the car and warm up with some of the atomically hot coffee in the thermos. I think we all burned our tongues at some point that day. When all was shot and done and I was heading back home on the boat, I poured my self another cup and had to blow on the contents of the lid before it was drinkable. It was just as good as I had remembered it!

This morning I was cleaning up the kitchen and found a few ounces of coffee still in the bottom of my rusty, plaid friend. When I started to move to pour it down the drain, I stopped and decided to try it, just out of curiosity. It wasn’t hot… but it wasn’t cold either. Actually, I’ve been known to drink colder coffee than this when it’s been momentarily lost and neglected in a mug somewhere. I carried it to the bathroom where Action Girl was just exiting the shower.

“It’s still warm. It’s from yesterday.”
She looked at me, and then the thermos with doubt. “No way, Seriously? What does that thing have, its own reactor built into the cap?”

It’s not often that I’m definitively right about things like this and I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to bask in being correct. Triumphantly, I returned to the kitchen, carrying it before me like a chalice to be carefully cleaned up and returned to its shelf of honor.

I know I have a habit of equating “older” with “better” and I know too, that it’s not always the case, but boy, things like this do tend to cement my faith in the items of the past. My lawn mower was made before my Grandfather was born, some of my favorite hand tools were from before my father was born and now my favorite thermos is older than anyone who lives in my own house. They’re all awesome in their own ways.

I hope that one day my grandkids can say the same of me.

But I doubt it.

*Siiiiiiip* Ahhhh! That’s some good, hot coffee!

Computers, Classical Music and “Tough Guys”.

I swear I’ll try not to let this chapter deteriorate into a rant… But it’s going to be hard. The reason it’s hard is because it’s partially about a place I once worked at where I did my best to do my job and got “right sized” for my trouble. I say partially because to illustrate my point, I will be specifically be referring to an idiot who works there. To set the stage for this particular scene, here are the two main characters. First there was me. The second was the idiot VP who I’m sure, thinks he is the hottest shite out there.

First something about me..I like to think of my self as fairly normal in most ways. There is one major difference between me and most of male-dom that puts me on the out side of the main group though. Sports. More than not caring one whit about them, I actively avoid them. They bug the hell out of me. I like watching kids play a game, but when it’s adults (no matter how intellectually stunted they may be) get paid actual money to play with a ball… well that just sets off my bull crap alarm. The last bit that turns me off completely to organized sports is that the players have no connection to their team. If the Boston Red Sox actually came from Boston (or even New England), I might get interested in their games, but they’re not. There from where ever and the second they can make more money playing for the Denver Squirrels or Kalamazoo Kangaroos or what ever, that’s where they’ll go and the fans there will cheer for them like they’re home town boys. Which they’re not. So I’m not even slightly interested in men playing with their balls, and to top it off, I’m an artist, a computer junky, a classical music listener and fairly soft spoken. I’m not a 98 pound weakling. In fact I’m about six foot and 175. I’m not bulky in terms of musculature, but I stay active and like to do things like rock climb and mountain bike. I do not however, exude “athlete” or wear AXE body spray.

The Office Idiot was one of those people who immediately irritated me. Loud, pushy, arrogant, loved to point out faults in others in the office, and sucked up to the boss like a remora on a sharks hooha. He’s a HUGE football fanatic and talks about it constantly. He obviously spends a lot of time at the gym and likes to pretend that he’s Scarface and quotes him often. This is made all the more irritating by the fact that ethnically, he’s about as far away from that as you can get while I’m a healthy chunk Sicilian. He also sports a wicked combover that is just begging for a good breeze and apparently bought all of Bill Cosbys’s sweaters from his “Cosby show” years, and wears them often. 1986 would be proud.

So, I avoided him the best I could. The office was open concept so this was trickier than it sounds, but I tried my best. One day, things were apparently on the slow side for him, either that or he was working hard at not working much. Both have the same probability. He was dealing with the “stress” of nothing better to do by putting a golf ball around the office. What I mean by this is that, in an open concept office with no cubes or offices, he was hitting a golf ball with a putter, around under and sometimes through everyone else’s work space while they, the underlings, were actually trying to do work. Great for moral. The ball came my way and since I was actually being productive at the time, didn’t notice the ball until it bounced off my foot. I tried not to roll my eyes, which took immense effort. As The Office Idiot walked over to retrieve his ball. After regarding me for a second with arched eyebrow, he snapped, “You play golf?”. I replied that, no, I didn’t. It wasn’t really for me. He paused and folded his arms, I assume to make him self look important. Unfortunately for him, his Bill Cosby sweater rather undermined the attempt. “You play


sports?” he barked with incredulity. This is the part where I should have said “no”, but my back got up instead. Having to deal with him on a daily basis was bad enough but to have him question me like this was just… Grrrrr.

I don’t usually bring up guns as a topic, let alone at work. It makes people jumpy, which is unfortunate since they’re so dang fun to shoot. In this case though, I made an exception. “Well, yes. I do actually. I compete in high powered rifle marksmanship.” This stopped him. I love shooting and though I don’t compete in shoots professionally, I do like to try my hand at matches from time to time. Mostly it gives me an excuse to go to the range and talk with other gun collectors.

“I’ve got a set of clubs in my car” he added. I’m not sure what this was supposed to mean. I guess he was inferring that his sport was easier to carry with you. “I’ve got a high powered rifle in my car.” I helpfully added. This was true. I had visited the range that morning before work and in my trunk was my well loved 1916, BSA Lee-Enfield. On top of being a wonderful piece of history, possibly having been used in the trenches of France by a fresh faced Tommy, it also fires a .303 sized bullet that, with the shell case, makes an imposing looking round and a heck of a hole where ever it hits.

Picture via

There was another uncomfortable pause from the Office Idiot. With out another word, he turned around and walked away. Not a great move on my part but, my God, it felt good to shut him up. I had not made any kind of threat or intimidating statement of any kind, but I had ended the pissing contest in one fell swoop. After all his bluster, all the time at the gym and all the crap he gave everyone around him, it boiled down to the fact that he was the one tapping a little white ball with a stick while I was shooting targets at 300 meters with a battle rifle. Normally, I wouldn’t try to out “macho” anyone, but I must confess that it was a heck of a lot of fun to do, just this once. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some ammo to make. There’s a match coming up next month and I have some practicing to get in.

Epilogue: About six months later I was down sized along with about half the office. I doubt that this incident had anything t do with it, but it probably didn’t help my case either. All in all, not being there anymore is a blessing. I’m much happier away from tools like the Office Idiot.

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