Monthly Archives: March 2010

Ode to a green Gremlin

I ran across one of those on-line “top ten” lists the other day. This was the top-ten worst automobiles, broken down by time periods. As scanned the list, sure enough, there it was, the 1970 AMC Gremlin.

In the fall of 1970, I was a freshman in college, and living at home. It was time to replace the family car, which up until this time had always been a full size station wagon. With two children driving (my brother and I) and a third coming up shortly, my parents decided rather than getting one large car, they would buy two small ones. I remember us walking into a Ford dealership, and when no one spoke to my father in what he considered a reasonable period of time, turning right around and walking back out the door.

My parents must have seen this ad. Note the back window on the nearest car -- no hinges or release handle. Why are these people so happy?

The next stop was the American Motors/AMC dealership. We had owned a number of “Ramblers” as I was growing up, so this was a brand we were familiar with.  When my father told the salesman we were interested in looking at Gremlins, the salesman replied, “Oh, a Gremlin!” His jaw dropped when my father replied, “No, TWO Gremlins.”

We drove off with two Gremlins. The first was very “stripped down” by today’s standards. It had automatic transmission, but that was pretty much it. No radio, no AC, no carpet, no power anything, etc. However, that Gremlin looked like a luxury car compared to the second one. Painted metallic green, that baby was as spare as you can get. The salesman told us that AMC wanted to be able to advertise a Gremlin for less than $2,000 and so they had one model that was stripped to the bone. It had a black vinyl interior and a “three on the tree” standard transmission with a clutch that took about 50 pounds of force to depress. No radio. “Two-fifty air conditioning” – roll down two windows and go 50.  Here is the real kicker – to cut cost, they eliminated the back seat. There was just this big empty well behind the front seat ands the rear hatch-window did not open.

Imagine it's dark metallic green, with a thin white "racing stripe."

This became my primary car for the rest of my freshman year and when I was home from college in Florida over the following three years. A couple of years later, when I was a senior at Florida and my brother and his girl friend were students at Penn State, the Nittany Lions were in the Orange Bowl. We talked my parents into letting the three of us drive the “stripped down” Gremlin from Pittsburgh to Miami for the game. The idea being they would drop me off at school in Gainesville after the game. That was an interesting trip. With no back seat, we piled our bags in the back. Either my brother or I would sit-lay-sleep on the stack of luggage.

About a year after I graduated, I was working in Jacksonville for a TV station that paid well in experience but almost nothing in wages. I was without a car and got around by bumming rides with friends and roommates, and doing a lot of walking. My parents offered me the stripped-down Gremlin. I jumped at the offer. Within a few months, I moved to a station in Mobile where they did not have news cars. We were expected to drive our own cars and were paid mileage. For more than three years, I drove that Gremlin all over South Alabama and the Florida Panhandle covering news. That black vinyl interior and “250 air conditioning” worked well in the Gulf Coast summers. (Not!)

Mrs. Poolman and I were married by this time and she drove a new Toyota Corolla hatchback.  That was our “nice car.”

Just before we left Mobile, we came across another car and sold the Gremlin to a high school kid.

As I look back on it, that car was a cantankerous beast, but we did spend a lot of time and miles together. I’m glad to see she is now getting the recognition she justly deserves.


Taxes and unhappy roommates, cats and dogs

The big excitement of the weekend was doing our taxes. We have used TurboTax for the last several years and strongly recommend it. Mrs. Poolman and I have the system down. I sit at the keyboard and she sits with all the paperwork in front of her. I ask the questions and she gives me the answers. I repeat it to confirm and then move on to the next item. We were done in about two hours. We pretty much broke even this year. We owed on the Federal but got a refund on the state. So it pretty much balanced out. I know some people get real excited when they get a big refund. I don’t think they realize it’s really their money they have been lending to Uncle Sam for the past year.

Poolboy’s roommate is giving him every reason possible to become a former roommate. They haven’t had any water in their condo since last Thursday. He came over to our house yesterday to take a shower. The two split up the utilities and Roommate is responsible for the water. For the third time in the past two years, they have had their water cut off because Roommate just can’t seem to find the time to pay the bill. I suspect that “happy couple” is headed for divorce.

Writer Princess and SIL moved in for a short stay last evening while their condo is being repaired for mold damage. They brought their cats which are quarantined in our second guest room. The kitties are not happy, but they’ll live.

Poolboy and GF joined us for dinner. We grilled some steaks and had a nice family feast. I’m still fighting a cold, so I took a half-dose of Nyquil and went to bed around 10:30 pm.

About 90 minutes later, I was ready to put Casey the Lab out of MY misery. It started raining with a little lightning and thunder – not really very much of either. It just drove the dog crazy. I was awakened by Casey trying to climb into bed and pawing at my arm.

Casey the Lab in happier times

After having no success getting him to settle in his doggie bed, I went ahead and helped him into our bed with the hope he would settle at my feet. No such luck. Within a minute or two he was back up at the head of the bed where he laid down half on top of me. Even after arranging him so he wasn’t directly on top of me, he panted so hard the entire bed shook like it was equipped with “magic fingers.” (“Put in the quarter. Turn out the light. Magic fingers make you feel all right.” – Jimmy Buffet) We fought about it for about a half hour until he must have settled down somewhere because I eventually fell back to sleep. Mrs. P had taken a full dose of Nyquil for her cold and slept through the entire fight. Next time, I’ll sic Casey on her.

Weekend at last

I think I’m turning into a wimp in my old age. One busy week kicks my butt. From Tuesday through Friday of this week, I either had evening activities or I was traveling. By Friday evening, I was pooped. I must have slept 11 hours without moving Friday night.

Our “living stations of the cross” went well Friday evening.  Alejandro, the organizer, did a fantastic job with the middle and high school kids who played the roles of Jesus, Mary, the disciples, Romans, etc.  Eight adults were the readers. I was the narrator. Essentially, the script was like a radio play. Each station had narration at the beginning and end, and all dialogue in the middle. While the readers were handling the script, the kids posed in the role of each of the 14 stations. There was a little movement, but not much. Between stations, they dimmed the lights and the kids assumed their positions for the next station. All in all, it went well and was very well received by the roughly 100 people who attended.

When Mrs. Poolman and I finally got up Saturday morning, we took off to shop for a new washing machine. Our old one died. You know you are at least middle age when you can’t remember when you got your current washer or dryer. Mrs. P finally decided the dead washer was originally her mother’s, which put it at least 20 years old. We debated getting it fixed, but decided to just go ahead and buy a new one. I did some initial internet research so we didn’t have to do a lot of shopping around. We had a good idea of brands and prices. We ended up buying the first and only one we looked at. Mrs. P is very excited it is a model without an agitator. I don’t care. I just hope it works. Delivery is Wednesday.

Writer Princess and SIL are moving in with us for a few days. They have some serious mold issues in their condo. The workmen are coming first thing Monday morning to pretty-much rip their condo apart. It should be fun having them here for a few days. Their cats might not think so however. They have two cats that have never been out of their condo except to go to the vet. We are going to use our large dog crate to provide them with a safe haven from our “vicious” dogs and cats, and place it in the unused bedroom. They won’t like it, but I’m sure they will get over it. In either case, it will be better than having pissed off cats pissing all over my new floors. Don’t think so, kitties.

You’re fired!

The latest news here in Savannah is the school board has decided to fire the entire faculty, staff and administration of one of the public high schools because of poor performance, as measured by a sub-60% graduation rate. It will be interesting to see if this actually has any significant effect on the performance of the students in the school. Somehow I suspect it won’t. I’ll go out on the limb and predict that there will be a short-lived jump in measurable benchmarks, but it will not last.

The purge will allow the district to get rid of what weak teachers are there, and, apparently, satisfy some state agencies. Plus, because of this massacre, the school will be the center of attention of the district. But it all can’t last forever. The normal ebb and flow of attrition will return the faculty to the same kind of level as other schools – some good teachers, some bad teachers and many average teachers. And the school will not be able to hold the spotlight forever.

Although the school has been making progress under a relatively new administration  in the past few years, it wasn’t enough. This school has been a weak performer for years. Some time ago, the admissions director of a nearby state university told me she wouldn’t even assign a recruiter to that and one other Savannah school because, “…there aren’t enough students who can meet our admission requirements to make it worth the effort.”  This raises the question – is the problem the school (teachers and administration) or the students? Principals and teachers come and go. The only constant is the students.

The purge will do nothing to solve,what I suspect, is an underlying problem — the elementary and middle schools. If a student arrives in ninth grade unable to read or do the math to handle the work, there isn’t much the high school can do to remedy nine years of ill preparation both at school and at home. The high school is at the end of the pipeline.

As anyone can guess, this school is in the inner city, with a high minority (98% black) and relatively high poverty area.

Coincidentally, George Will wrote a column this week for the Washington Post in which he puts the blame squarely on the students’ families.

“Plainly put, the best predictor of a school’s performance is family performance — qualities of the families from which the students come. Subsequent research suggests that about 90 percent of the differences among the proficiency of schools can be explained by five factors: days absent from school, hours spent watching television, pages read for homework, the quantity and quality of reading matter in the home — and the presence of two parents in the home.”

Will especially targeted one telling statistic — 71.6% of African-American and 51.3% of Latino children are born to unmarried mothers. If national statistics hold for Beach’s attendance zone (and there is no reason to believe they don’t), that means roughly three quarters of the students come from low-income and single parent families. This is not a formula for success for any new set of administrators and faculty.

Raising children well is tough and it takes time. Most children are not totally self-motivated to work hard, read a lot, do their homework, get out of bed to get to school, and so on. Left alone, children are like all other matter in the universe. The will tend to the lowest level of energy and organization. Children usually require a parents to set and enforce high standards and to create a culture of success.

So school district officials have decided to help those students by firing their teachers and administration, and replace them with supposedly better ones. It’s too bad they can’t do the same for the parents.

A busy week

I am not a particularly devout or religious person, but I sure have been volunteered into a number of church-related projects this Easter season.

–I have my fifth grade CCD class that occupies nearly every Wednesday evening.

–A friend of mine, who I originally met through the Gator Club, is joining the church this Easter and asked me to be his sponsor. Overall, this isn’t overly time consuming, but it does involve a couple of evenings over the next two weeks, including participating in the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil Mass. Ever since Mrs. Poolman joined the church in 1989, we have tried to avoid that holiday mass. The Easter Vigil Mass is a lovely liturgy, but it goes on for ever, and ever, and ever….

–Finally, one of my fellow CCD teachers has organized a “living Stations of the Cross” program that will be presented this coming Friday evening. He is using middle-school aged children from the parish to dress up and act out the roles of Jesus, the apostles, the Roman soldiers and so on. However, he needed some adults to handle the readings, so he enlisted many of his fellow CCD teachers to help. We have had two rehearsals so far, another Wednesday, and the program on Friday evening.

I cannot sing worth a darn, but apparently I can read OK, or at least people tell me I can. Maybe it’s the result of the years I spent in TV, trying to get rid of my high-pitch, twangy Northeastern delivery. In any case, it is tough to say “no” to a nice guy who is trying to do a noble, but thankless task.

A fine St. Patrick’s Day!

Our ninth consecutive St. Patrick’s Day “tailgate in the square party” came off well today.

As I mentioned earlier, St Patrick’s Day is a big celebration in Savannah. In 2001, we began what has become an annual family tradition by setting up a “tailgate party” in one of the downtown squares and inviting our friends, our children and our children’s friends to come and enjoy the day.


It all started early. Mrs. Poolman and I were on the scene at 5:30 am, a half hour before the police allow people to move into the square (and about two hours before it becomes light.) After some pre-rush negotiations with the other groups, we claimed a good site without much difficulty. We settled in to await the rest of the group, who mostly arrived between 9 and 10 am.

Our area around 930 am

The day was cool and cloudy, but that didn’t stop anyone. By mid-morning our spot was hopping. We had a good number of people who either stopped by for a visit or stayed for the day.

And, oh, by the way, a parade came by in the middle of it all for entertainment.

It’s a lot of work and an early start, but worth it. Happy St Patrick’s Day!

Fightin’ a cold

Since I fought off a case of bronchitis last fall, I’ve been able to make it through the winter without catching any “bugs.” That is, until this weekend. I woke up Saturday morning with one of those “hit in the face with a baseball bat” kinds of head colds. With Sudafed, ibuprofen, and Nyquil at bedtime, I am surviving, just not 100% on top of my game. I was supposed to attend 9 am mass this morning, with an RCIA candidate who has asked me to be his sponsor. I got up, but had to call him and tell him it wouldn’t be such a great idea for me to be snorting, sneezing and blowing all over the other folks in church.

That having been said, there isn’t a heck of a lot going on around Casa Poolman. Mrs. P is at work as a trade for having St Patrick’s Day off. I’ll leave you with a funny story.

A middle-aged couple had two beautiful daughters but always talked about having a son.

They decided to try one last time for the son they always wanted.

The wife got pregnant and delivered a healthy baby boy.

The joyful father rushed to the nursery to see his new son.

He was horrified at the ugliest child he had ever seen.

He told his wife: ‘There’s no way I can be the father of this baby. Look at the two beautiful daughters I fathered! Have you been fooling around behind my back?’

The wife smiled sweetly and replied:

‘No, not this time!’

Hey guys, don’t be too proud of your beautiful children.

Road hogs

I spent a fair amount of time driving up and down the interstate highways this week. I was reminded again why some drivers really should not be allowed in the road.

One of my pet peeves is the driver who is so in love with his or her cruise control that he/she won’t turn it off under any circumstances. They drive down the road, totally oblivious to the ebb and flow of the traffic around them, and never vary their speed by a single mph. They are frequently the same drivers who never figured out that their rear view mirror has another purpose other than applying makeup.

I typically will try to cruise the interstate about 9 mph over the speed limit. (Unless I’m in an area where the flow of traffic is even faster and I’m getting blown off the road.) On one trip this week, I came up on two cars traveling at the exact same speed, 73 mph, just 3 mph over the posted limit. The car in the left hand lane was about six feet in front of the car in the right hand lane. This wasn’t an area of heavy traffic. They had a wide open road ahead and behind. They drove along like this, like military aircraft in formation, never varying their speed or separation for about 20 miles, and effectively blocking anyone from passing them. Meanwhile the traffic backed up behind them.

Normally, I would flash my lights at the car in the left lane to ask them to move out of the way. However, I was driving a state vehicle with one of those “How’s my driving? Call 1-800…” stickers on the back. It would be just my luck I would get one of those sensitive drivers who consider a flashed headlight signal as an ultimate insult. I don’t need to take time out for a defensive driving course. So I just stayed in formation with these two totally oblivious drivers until the one in the right lane pulled off at an exit.

At times like this, I am reminded of an old WC Fields movie. I think the name was “The Road Hog.” In the movie, Fields plays the part of a wealthy guy who gets cut off by an unruly driver and plots revenge. He goes out and purchases about ten cars and hires nine drivers. He takes the first car out on the road, with the remaining nine cars following. He waits until someone offends him with their driving and then he just rams his car into theirs. He gets out of his car; tips his hat to the other driver; gets in the next car in line; and continues the process until he is out of cars. He is my hero.

Here is a segment from the film. Enjoy, my little chickadees!

Planning St Patrick’s Day

Mrs. Poolman and I started planning our annual St Patrick’s Day bash last night. As you may have heard, St Patrick’s Day is a big deal in Savannah. Several hundred thousand tourists usually visit for the celebration. The downtown area turns into a giant outdoor party, centered around the parade.

For the past eight years, we and some of our friends have set up a “tail gate party” in one of the downtown squares. Along with the Florida-Georgia Party, this has become one of our big annual events. We show up before dawn to claim our spot. We set up chairs, tables, awnings and bring out the food and drink.

We start very early!

It is just like a college football tailgate party, except we usually start around six in the morning and break up around three in the afternoon. We eat; we drink; we visit with friends; and we generally have a great time.

Within a short while, the fun begins.

Oh, by the way, a parade comes by in the middle of it just for our entertainment. Our children and their friends count on our organizing it. We get multiple generations and lots of friends.

Two years ago, the square where we had always been simply got too crowded. Lots other folks got the same idea and the “party-in-the-square” concept started to get out of hand. Last year, we moved to a square earlier on the parade route and considerably less crowded. There were still lots of people, but it wasn’t a mad riot.

Several years ago, Mrs. P came up with an idea for which she is now famous, among our small circle of partiers. The porta-potties tend to get fairly nasty by the late morning. The female members of our group get grossed out. Mrs. P worked a deal with one of Poolboy’s friends, Tommy. Mrs. Poolman's Private Porta PottyShe rents a private porta-potty, which Tommy picks up the day before and puts in the back of his pickup truck. He parks the truck, with the porta-potty in the back on a side street near our square the night before. It works out great. And Mrs. Poolman’s Private, Personal Porta-Potty is a tremendous hit.

Our biggest issue in past years has been the popularity of our party. We love visiting with our friends, our family, our family’s friends and so on.

Left overs — Food, that is.

We eat pretty well around Casa Poolman and always have. (I’ve picked up around 10 pounds since Christmas to show for it.) Both Mrs. Poolman and I cook. She is a much better cook than I, but I hold my own and she doesn’t complain.

One thing we both try to do is to get the maximum mileage out of what we cook. If we cook one big meal, it almost always stretches to another left-over dinner and maybe a lunch or two.

We are not as frugal as one of Mrs. P’s sisters, who will scrape the last six grains of rice from the bottom of a pot to save for a future meal.

I was thinking of this when I was eating lunch today. It was the end of a two-meal combo that demonstrated some food efficiency.

–Last Saturday, I grilled two rib-eye steaks and had some leftovers.

–On Sunday, I barbecued a whole chicken. Roughly one and a half breasts were left over.

–On Tuesday, I saute’d some sliced onion and red pepper with the sliced leftover steak and chicken and some fajita seasoning. We served it on flour tortillas with some refried beans and had great fajitas. Muy bueno!

–There was still left over fajita meat and vegetables. Mrs. P and I both took fajita salads to work for lunch on Wednesday.

Good lunch!

–And there was just enough left for another fajita salad for my lunch today.

All told, it was a pretty good use of leftovers. And good too!