Friday, August 31, 2012

The Numbers Game

It's not that people don't like numbers, it's more that they can't always get comfortable with the stark certainty that comes with them.

"I was only late a few times." 
"Fourteen out of twenty days last month?  I'd say that's more than a few." 
"Shut up."

As is often the case, the numbers tell the story, the real story.  Educated as an engineer and currently responsible for the dollars and cents and operating metrics of several decidedly unsexy businesses, I live and breathe numbers.  It's a language I speak better than English and it makes me the unpopular winner of many an argument.  If anyone knows Huey Lewis, ask him if it's still hip to be square.

Being number-oriented is an affliction of sorts; people without it generally think things are either better or worse than they actually are while the rest of us are constantly hazed by the bare burden of reality.  It comes with a reflexive urge to count, to track, to analyze anything and everything.  It has its pluses and minuses.

When I lived in a ski town the magic number was 100.  Ski 100 days in a season, a season holding roughly 150 possible days, and you'd done something.  You were legitimate. Women would swoon, bartenders would give you drinks all over town, you'd get a $5 an hour raise, Hollywood A-listers would invite you to parties.  No, not really.  A couple of your boys would say 'way to go, dude' and you'd most likely be a better skier than you were in October but that's about it.  But that would be good enough because you'd lived it.  It's not the number, it's everything that happened along the way to the number.

If there's such a number for bird hunters it's less an accepted standard and more of a personal thing.  Last year I shot dove 9 or 10 days, hunted quail 12 or 13, didn't make it pheasant hunting at all.  And I fancy myself a bird hunter?  That's only 6% of the year spent doing what I enjoy most.  Even if I stack the deck in my favor and consider that I can't (legally) hunt birds but six months out of the year, I still took advantage of barely 12% of the available opportunities.  I should call myself a grass cutter, or a trash taker outer, or bill payer.  Problem is that I have about, oh, zero passion for any of these.

But it's unavoidable.  I'm gonna count, and then I'm gonna compare and rate and rank based on that count, and then I'm either gonna smile or think it's pathetic and swear to do better next year.  What I should do is look past the number.  Ten more days this year would be great, but it's not just "10" at all.  It's knowing that I spent those ten days - days I can't ever get back once they're gone - carrying a gun or walking behind a dog or both if I'm really lucky, about as happy as this boy gets.

The count currently stands at zero, but come tomorrow I'll be on the board.

Blair Witch or GoPro?  Either way, he was on to something.

Friday, August 10, 2012


A friend of mine who raised cattle had a bumper sticker on his truck that said "The West wasn't won on salad".  There is a lot of good food in the world, a list as long as a check cord of things I would eat any time, anywhere.  But in a class all its own is a good cut of beef.

Earlier this week the family was out of town and I felt like firing up the grill for a party of one, chasing the heat of the day away with some brown liquor on ice and enjoying the roaring silence of a house without children.  The rapturous sensory overload of this is hard to describe and harder to understand unless you have kids and work at a job that has effectively sucked the life out of your summer.  Suffice it to say that the only disappointment in three of my most guilty pleasures converging at once was knowing that it wouldn't last forever.

Some like their steak marinated or coated with seasoning, which is an abomination.  If the cut is good it will hold flavor that shouldn't be altered more than a shake of salt and pepper, and then only once it's on the plate.  And rare is the only way it should be cooked.  A three quarter pound piece used to disappear quickly, but old age and the anchor of a slower metabolism have left me with a nagging sense of restraint.  Staring at the half I hadn't eaten, devil on one shoulder and angel on the other, I thought about what it might taste like on a sandwich for lunch the next day.

Still basking in the good fortune of a night at home alone and a dinner as scarce, I felt suddenly benevolent.  As I cut the steak into smaller bites I knew they wouldn't savor it like I did, not with taste buds at least.  I've been told they enjoy food more with their noses and given how quickly they make it disappear I'm inclined to agree.  Briefly I thought of photographing this canine delight but decided it would ruin the mood.

When the plate was empty I knew they were happier.  I was too.