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Regular friends of the decanter will have seen several posts here since last spring in which, after some initial trepidation, ol’ Robbo has had nothing but praise for the Honda Odyssey we bought (aka the Juggernaut).

Alas, I’m afraid I’ve discovered a weakness, thanks to the ice and snow we got last night.  Watching Mrs. R trying to get the thing up the modest rise of the driveway before I could clear the slush off was like watching a beached whale trying to struggle over the dune and back into the sea.  Front-wheel drive plus massive poundage in back means no traction for you!

So now I’m trying to think of a new name for our minivan.  One idea that popped into my mind is the Honda Fat Albert.  Another might be the Honda Brick. 

Other suggestions are, of course, welcome.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

No, ol’ Robbo hasn’t been silent the past few days to protest the SOPA legislation.  Instead, he got himself laid a bit low by the ‘flu.  Feeling better now, thank you, just in time to go out and shovel off the inch or so of snow and ice that blanketed the port swiller driveway last evening.  (I shall be off to the store shortly to see if any batteries or toilet paper remain on the shelves.  I doubt it.)

In the meantime, a few observations:

♦  In his Ripples of Battle, Victor Davis Hanson asserts that Lew Wallace’s Ben Hur, the story of a dashing and virtuous young prince whose life is destroyed by tricks of fate and the wickedness of those around him, was inspired by the fallout from his own unfortunate adventures at the battle of Shiloh.  Now I have no choice but to read some biography on Wallace to see if I agree with this assertion.

♦ FWIW, by the bye, I think Wallace did get wrongly faulted for his march on the first day of the battle.  His mistake was his refusal to shut up about it later.

♦  Speaking of knowing when to shut up, who is this Dr. Laura person? I was forced to listen to a bit of her radio show the other day, which seemed to consist of nothing but complete ding-dongs (if they weren’t fakes) calling up with the express hope that she would yell at them for their half-witted personal decisions.  I thought that was what parents were for.

♦  Which reminds me of a great little line I recently came across: “Foolish names and foolish faces are oft to be found in public places.”  I’m going to remember that one and start peppering the gels with it on a regular basis.  

♦  Speaking of such peppering, I was amused to overhear one of the gels recently using another expression of which I am fond: “If wishes were horses, beggers would ride.”

♦  Pitchers and catchers report in a month! Woo Hoo!

♦   Which is really just a tease, actually.  This is the drought season for me.  I’ve lost my interest in football (I don’t even know who’s in the playoffs), I never caught on to hockey (having grown up in the South) and I loathe basketball (except when watching the eldest gel’s CYO games).  This time of year, it’s pretty much Senior PGA tourneys in Arizona or nothing.

♦  Well, must be about my biznay.

In the course of my recent readings, the name of Walker Percy has surfaced more than once with much praise, leading me to think I really ought to check him out.  Well, I think this quote put up by Terry Teachout pretty much seals the deal:

“There’s Hawkeye and Trapper John back in Korea. I never did like those guys. They fancied themselves super-decent and super-tolerant, but actually had no use for anyone who was not exactly like them. What they were was super-pleased with themselves. In truth, they were the real bigots, and phony at that. I always preferred Frank Burns, the stuffy, unpopular doc, a sincere bigot.”

– Walker Percy, The Thanatos Syndrome

To the Amazon author’s page!

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

The other day, on a whim, ol’ Robbo tossed the movie Cowboys and Aliens into the Netflix queue.  (For those of you unfamiliar with it, the movie is about, well, space aliens invading an Old West town.)

It seemed to me that with such a preposterous premise, such a movie ought to be a lot of fun in a campy way.  You know, playing all the cliches with tongue planted solidly in cheek.

Well, it wasn’t more than fifteen or twenty minutes in before I found myself quoting John Cleese’s Gestapo officer interrogating the English P.O.W. about the world’s funniest joke:


Honest to Goad, the whole thing was abysmally dreary.  Not so much as a whiff of a smattering of light-heartedness anywhere.  (Even the riff on the face-to-face encounter with the monster in Alien came out looking tired and forced.)  Incredibly, I think the writers and directors were actually trying to take themselves seriously.

As for the leads – Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford – you’d think the aliens had shot them ahead of time with some kind of ray that turns people to wood.


Well, my friends, wish me luck:  Ol’ Robbo doesn’t exactly go under the knife tomorrow morning, but he does get knocked out so that the tummy doc can stick a camera down his esophagus and see what’s going on.  I’ve never been anesthetized before, so while I’m not really afraid (indeed, I look forward to the sleep, which is supposed to be wonderful), I am nonetheless hoping that the gas-passer doesn’t sneeze at the wrong time.

I’ll let you know all about it when I resurface.

UPDATE:  Greetings, again! My name is Robbo the Port Swiller and I’m an utter eejit.  Somehow or other, while I set my alarm properly last evening, I managed to fail to actually turn it on.  The result? Slept right through the scheduled appointment time.  Thank yew!

I suppose there’s going to be a lot of fuss and bother sorting it all out and scheduling another try.  Mrs. R is, to put it delicately, livid.

Whilst chatting with Mrs P the other day, the subject of tornadoes somehow came up.  I mentioned that I had been absolutely terrified of them in my misspent yoot, and began to tell the tale of how this came about, given that I never had an actual, first-hand encounter with one.  Somehow the story got interrupted (we being in a sea of children and animals), so I never got to finish.

Well, this is my blog, so no one can stop me finishing the story here.  BWAAAA-HAHAHAHA!!!!!  Also, I have a follow-on story that links back to it and provides some sort of present day relevance.

So where was I? Ah, yes.

You see, when I was a small boy, we lived at the bottom of a hill in the outer ‘burbs of San Antonio.  You went up our driveway to the street, and then on up the opposite neighbor’s drive to the top of the hill.  From the summit outside their garage, one had a pretty fine prospect to the south.

One night – in fact, it was April 15, 1973 – we had gone to our neighbor’s for dinner.  As we emerged afterward and prepared to walk back across the street, we beheld a spectacular sight:  All around the southern horizon one could make out a wall of towering thunderheads.  There was no thunder (the storms were too far off) but the lightning was continuous.  Overhead, however, the sky was clear as a bell and full of stars.  (This was after nightfall.)  I recall that we stopped to admire the view for a few minutes, and somebody, the Old Gentleman I think, remarked that it was lightninging to beat the band.

The next day we learned from the news that these storms had produced a highly unusual F4 tornado that had hit a little town to the south called Pearsoll, killing and injuring something like twenty people.  I was old enough at the time (eight) to realize that this was pretty big news, and I remember how shocked everyone seemed about it.

Well, within a short time after that (I do not recall the exact chronology), my grandfather died and the Old Gentleman and I were involved in a minor, although to me traumatic, traffic accident.

Domestic upheaval? Meet headline news! Thus, a phobia was born.

I still recall the very first nightmare about it that I ever had.  I found myself standing again in front of the neighbor’s garage.  It was a beautiful clear day and I was admiring the view when suddenly the sky went pitch black.  I looked up and saw an enormous tornado headed straight for me.  In front of it, in the house next door to ours, I could see lights flashing in the windows and people running about in panic.  I could also hear screaming.  From the tornado itself, a voice suddenly boomed out, “Tornado Fiesta! HAHAHAHAAAA!!!” (The “fiesta” part, I believe, referred to the annual school fair at Coker Elementary that I had hoped to attend, but that we didn’t go to owing to the upsets around the household.)

I woke up absolutely petrified.

From that day in my eighth year until some time in law school, I managed to have just about every kind of tornado nightmare one could possibly imagine.  I dreamt of big ones, small ones, fat ones, thin ones.  I dreamt of black ones and pink ones and ones made of glass or ice and, once, of large wooden tops with blood-streaked sides.  Sometimes they spoke.  Sometimes they laughed.  Sometimes I knew they were hunting me personally.  Sometimes I seemed to be caught in some horrid game of blind-man’s bluff.   The worst nightmares were the ones that started out innocently (or, beginning in adolescence, not necessarily so innocently) and then suddenly turned to yet another terror scenario.

Finally, I remember having a tornado dream in law school in which I could see a frost-covered landscape, with about a half dozen twisters off in the distance, all of them made, apparently, of ice.  And I suddenly realized that I wasn’t particularly afraid of them.  It was shortly after that dream that I finally began to suspect what had caused my original terror in the first place.

I don’t have tornado nightmares anymore.  These days my nightmares center around something happening to the port-swiller residence or my family, something sinister and inevitable that I am powerless to stop no matter how hard I try.

Nonetheless, I had a dream the other night whilst on travel that almost harkened back to the bad old days.

In this dream, I was looking out the side door of the garage of the house in which I grew up (a different one from the one mentioned earlier) into the back yard.  The sky was completely covered by a heavy, dark bar of grey-green cloud rolling in my direction.  From the base of the clouds, long, thin tendrils began to drop, their ends beginning to form into fingers and hands.  I knew that once these hands had formed and clasped together, they would form a tornado and the storm would be upon me. 

Suddenly I noticed a figure leaning out from a billow in the clouds, a sort of nightmare Blessed Damozel.  She had skin and hair of the same gray-green as the clouds, although her hair, which was long and flowing, was tinged with silver, too.  She had large, almond-shaped eyes and an unusually pointed chin.  She was thin, and although I could see some kind of garland in her hair, I couldn’t tell what else (if anything) she was wearing.

The nymph or siren or whatever she was, was singing some kind of wavering tune, and I was convinced that it had something to do with the approaching storm and that the creature somehow was in control of it.  All at once, I noticed that she had spotted me watching her and that somehow this was a Bad Thing.  In fear, I quickly closed and locked the door.

A second later, I heard the spirit singing again, only this time the musick was much closer.  I was convinced that she was, in fact, right on the other side of the door and that whatever was going to happen was just about to start.

Now back in the day, at this juncture of the nightmare I would be frantically scrambling to find a means of escape or to get under cover.  I admit that this time I was also frightened, but at the same time, I was also compelled by some other feeling.  Instead of burrowing under something solid and heavy, I suddenly wrenched the door open again and sprang out into the yard yelling, “HA! HA!”

There she was, hovering in the air a few feet away from me.  I remember a look of surprise flash across her face, but nothing much else.  At the time, I had the curious sense of being afraid, and yet somehow excited.  I also knew that what I was doing was insanely dangerous, but also somehow that it was the right thing.

And then, as they say, I woke up.

Now, I will go on to something else which may, although I am not yet sure how, be connected with this most recent dream.  As regular port-swillers will know, ol’ Robbo is the original white-knuckle flyer.  I do it because I don’t have any choice in the matter, but I will never actually enjoy it.

Flying home from St. Louis on Friday we got caught up in the big storm that had blown out of the Midwest and was then subjecting the East Coast to all kinds of wind and weather.  The pilot (that baystard) had warned us even before we left that the landing was going to be a wild ride, and at one point I also heard the chief stewardess joking with another passenger that he was going to get his money’s worth when we started our descent. (As she so artlessly put it, “Yeeee-haaaaw!!”)

So I was already of something of a doo-dah when we began to lose altitude, my hands, moist with sweat, smearing the ink on the crossword I was trying to do to keep my mind off things.  As we got lower and the bumping began to take on the character earlier advertised, I could no longer even pretend to concentrate on the clues.  Therefore, I put the puzzle away, grasped the armrests and began to think.

And what did I think?  Well, I began to analyze my fear.  Not the psychological underpinnings or anything like that, just the objective fact that yes, I was pretty durn afraid.  And then I did something I’ve never tried before.

I offered it up.

Now, I say a little Offertory as part of my morning prayers every day, an offertory that includes, among other things, all my fears of that day.  But this is usually an exercise in abstracts.  Sitting there in the plane, getting bumped and tossed and plunged, I actually found myself saying something along the lines of, “Lord Jesus, I’m scared to death.  Will you please take this from me? Thank you.”

And you know? It worked.  After a few minutes, I found myself getting right past the fear.  Instead, I focused on praying – not for myself or for the other people on the plane, but for other people in my life, especially those I know to be in any kind of pain, misfortune or uncertainty.   I found myself completely taken out of my own worries and totally consumed with trying to use whatever miniscule pull I have with the Almighty in order to relieve the burdens carried by these others.

And the next moment, or so it seemed, I found myself on the tarmac.

Quite an amazing sensation, really.  And I am still trying to decide if this act of selflessness (I use that word in all modesty) has any kind of relation to my subconscious loony charging out the side door of the garage to face the storm demon regardless of the apparent dire consequences to itself.

Or in the words of Ted “Theodore”  Logan, “Whoa”.



Greetings, my fellow port swillers!

Yesterday was the youngest gel’s tenth birthday, and in order to celebrate the occassion she had a sleep-over with four of her closest friends last evening.

Let us do the math on this:  One house. One Robbo.  Ten females (including the cats).

Drama? What drama?

It was somewhere about six ack emma this morning, when the youngest gel appeared at the door of our bedroom in hysterics because she’d been fighting with her guests over how loud the teevee in teh basement ought to be, that ol’ Robbo had a sudden revelation:  The only way I’m going to survive the next eight to ten years is by continually asking myself the question, What Would John Wayne Do?

Well, pilgrim, I’ll tell you what he’d do in this situation: Instead of blowing his stack and simply augmenting the level of alarum and confusion, he’d calmly say something like, “Sister, you need to get hold of yourself. Right. Now.  And you need to go down there and tell your friends from me that I’d better not hear screaming and shouting too many more times, and that once more will be too many.  You can also tell them from me that it’s Sunday and I don’t want that teevee on at all.  Any questions?  Then vamoose!”

Worked, too.

Alan Alda and his ilk can go to hell.

Greetings, my fellow port swillers!  For those two or three of you together who still come round here, you may be pleased to know that ol’ Robbo has returned home safe and sound after his latest round of biffing about the Midwest.  And yes, I did get caught in the blizzard.  And yes, this makes four straight years in a row I’ve got caught in a Midwestern blizzard.  You would think that by now I had learned to pack boots no matter what the forecasters had said, but then again I suppose that would be too simple.

And speaking of biffing about, the hight point of this most recent jaunt was the visit I paid to Chez Peperium when I had finished my biznay elsewhere.  The plan was that I would drive on down to St. Louis after wrapping things up Thursday morning.  And indeed, just outside of Springfield, I called Mrs. P to let her know I was on my way.  Unfortunately, I forgot to mention that I am a somewhat lead-footed driver even, as was the case Thursday afternoon, with a howling 35 mph cross-wind and great billowing curtains of blowing snow.  I also forgot to mention that I am neurotic about punctuality to the point of near-mania.

Thus, I arrived at Chez Peperium perhaps a bit earlier than Chez Peperium was expecting.  Walking up to the door, I could hear musick playing somewhere in the house.  Reassured that somebody evidently was home, I rang the doorbell.

No response.

I rang again.

Still no response.

I rang about a half-dozen more times, trying to pick times when the musick seemed to be softer.


Pulling out my phone, I dialed up the Peperial phone number.  After a couple of rings (which I could also hear in the house), Mrs. P answered the phone.

“Hi, Robbo! Where are you?”

“Actually, I’m on your front porch.  Could you open the door? It’s cold out here.”

“Oh, I can’t.  I’m naked.  Maybe you should go sit in your car for ten minutes or so.”

“Perhaps I should.”

Yes, nothing makes for a better first impression that catching your hostess in the shower.  No doubt the neighbors are still talking about it.  Fortunately, I believe that Mrs. P waited until I had left yesterday before telling Mr. P the story, as he never confronted me with a horsewhip while I was there.


Well, my fellow port-swillers, in the fairly likely event that ol’ Robbo cannot get his mitts on Mrs. R’s laptop over the weekend, this’ll be it for posties for a bit.  I’ll be on biznay travel all next week out in the Heartland, fetching up in the end, as mentioned below, at Chez Peperium. Fortunately, it looks very much as if I’m not going to get caught in a blizzard this time – my first winter travel out there when that hasn’t been the case in three years.   Thank yew, Global Warming!

Once back, I have the endoscopy the following Monday.  In the meantime, we have a pair of at home birthday parties (the middle and youngest gels turn, respectively, twelve and ten next week), the beginning of the middle gel’s choir boot camp, the SSAT’s, softball registration, swim meets, CYO basketball……and somebody is going to have to get the Christmas Tree down, too.

So there it is.   One-armed paper hangers with the hives ain’t in it.

However, I promise to tell you all about my adventures, including whether Mrs. P tries to make me eat cabbage, when I get back.

In the meantime, as usual, the port stands at your elbow, the walnuts are in the bowl and the Stilton is over on the sideboard.  Feel free to linger over them as much as you like.



Dogs have the social skills of small children.

Dogs have similar social skills to two-year-old children and are more likely to listen if owners look them in eye, scientists have found

The findings might help to explain why so many people treat their pets like their children.

Researchers found dogs’ receptivity to human communication is surprisingly similar to the receptivity of very young children.

József Topál, of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, said: “Increasing evidence supports the notion that humans and dogs share some social skills, with dogs’ social-cognitive functioning resembling that of a six-month to two-year-old child in many respects.”

I think I would have put it the other way round.



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January 2012