Thursday, January 12, 2012

Buzzards, Sno Balls and American Pie

The New Year has gotten off to an inauspicious start, though I remain optimistic. The Hostess company, maker of Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Sno Balls, is about to enter Chapter 11 bankruptcy for the second time in the past 10 years. (To steal a line, I guess that makes it Chapter 22.) Hostess products have been staples of vending machines in newspaper break rooms where I’ve toiled over the last 30 years. They appear to remain popular, with 36 million packages of Twinkies consumed in 2010. The fancy-pant equity investors who own — and owe — for Hostess are trying to shed debt to hold on, all the while blaming the rising price of sugar and flour. Whatever. Bunch of greedy muffinheads, far as I can tell.

I gave up eating Sno Balls after conducting a science experiment while working in the newsroom of the Lufkin Daily News, circa 1989. I bought a package of Sno Balls, with that sickly pink coconut covering. Then I formed a betting pool with fellow ink-stained miscreants on when the Sno Balls would develop the type of mold one finds on normal bakery products, such as bread. You know, the type of green stuff that spawned the invention of penicillin. If memory serves, the city editor had the most absurd prediction, something like nine months.

The Sno Balls sat on a shelf for the equivalent of the human female gestation period, never actually looking the worse for wear. The city editor won the pool, though nobody had the nerve to actually take a bite out of the cupcakes to see how they tasted. I concluded that unless it is beef jerky, dried fruit or red wine, one should avoid consuming anything that can survive nearly a year sitting on a shelf. So I have not eaten a Sno Ball, Ding Dong or Twinkie since. I reserve my empty calories for chips and salsa. They are essential to survival in these harrowing times.

I spent the first full weekend of the New Year apart from my peeps. My wife and I both needed to work, so I stayed in Austin while she prepared for classes in East Texas. We don’t like to do that, but there you go. On Sunday morning, after my morning walk and a light breakfast (actually it was two burritos from McDonald’s, but don’t tell her), I showered and prepared to spend the day in front of a computer screen.

While toweling off, I idly glanced out the second-story window over the tub at the sky, wondering if it was going to rain. (Not to worry. A curtain hides me from chin down.) My neighbor’s roofline is visible from that vantage point. Perched on the roof were three turkey buzzards, two of which seemed to be staring at me. I could see into their bloodshot eyes, practically smell that carrion cologne.

Hoo boy. Here I am feeling sorry for myself because I’m away from my family, as our lives seem to pass at warp-speed, and a trio of buzzards is peering into my bathroom window. And I’m in the middle of reading a Stephen King novel to boot!

In between bouts at the computer, I continued my quest to learn how to play Don McLean’s “American Pie” on my resonator guitar. I have discovered what most everyone who cares already knew — that one could find the chords to just about every song published on the Internet. I don’t know what possessed me to try to learn “American Pie.” It was a fine song the first 7,000 times I heard it, all 12 minutes of it.

At least that is how long it takes me to play it, since my chord-changing abilities are still at the rank-beginner stage. My fingers now have calluses, which allows me to play longer than 10 minutes before the pain becomes too much. And it is fair to say that I have improved 200 percent in the past four months of near-daily practice and biweekly lessons that just ended. I now am approaching the level of most 10-year-olds who have been playing for about a month.

A friend asked me what I planned to do once I became adept at playing. I told him I played guitar and banjo — albeit badly — at Shakey’s Pizza Parlor while in high school in Longview. You never know when a career change is in order.

Actually, there is probably a reason Shakey’s Pizza Parlors disappeared from Texas and can only be found in California and a few scattered spots in the South. They kept hiring doofuses like me to sing and play badly as the bouncing ball skipped over the lyrics up on the screen. I was doing karaoke way before karaoke was cool.

No, I will confine my guitar playing to the privacy of the home and only torture the family with my caterwauling and missed notes. I actually played “American Pie” all the way through last weekend. I had to take a nap afterwards to recover.

When I awoke, the buzzards were gone.

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