Travels With Grumpy

Travels With Grumpy

This is me, Grumpy, with my owner. I’m the one in front. We have been together for over 40 years. One of us, on a good day, still has the maturity of a nine-year-old. I’ll let you guess which one.

This is me, Grumpy, with my owner. I’m the one in front. We have been together for over 40 years. One of us, on a good day, still has the maturity of a nine-year-old. I’ll let you guess which one.

Hi, there. I’m Grumpy. No, not that Grumpy. I’ve never met Snow White. Do I look like one of her minions? No, I’m Grumpy the bear. My owner, Tim Jones, adopted me in 1980 when I was a mere cub, barely 4 inches tall (and wide). I’m still the same size today because he never feeds me.

I need to get some things off my chest. I’ve kept silent for the past forty years. That’s in part because, technically, I’m a stuffed animal, with no vocal chords nor, for that matter, a mouth – unless you call this tiny strand of yarn below my nose “a mouth.”

You see, I’ve been bounced around by Tim, his sister Betsy, and their pal Dale for decades. The three of them have traversed the globe, taking turns with me riding shot gun. I’ve been to five continents – six if you count Iceland. Go ahead – correct the brainless bear by pointing out that Iceland is technically not a continent. Why would you expect a stuffed animal to be an expert on world geography? I’ve had virtually no schooling, since Tim and his cronies never saw fit to take me to school with them – , or even so much as let me watch a TED Talk. So cut me some slack, okay?

Over the past forty+ years, I’ve trekked to Paris, Berlin, Rome, Ireland, Switzerland, Russia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, South Sudan (during a civil war, I might add), Indonesia, China, Machu Picchu, Bali, and Scranton, PA, just to name a few. (Gotta say, I was surprised how much I liked Scranton. Good people.) Oh, and one more destination: The North Pole. More on that later. Dale, through his contacts at NASA, arranged for me to ride on the Space Shuttle, but then they cancelled all Space Shuttle flights forever. A pretty extreme way of keeping the Grump from exploring outer space.

Lest you’re thinking, “Wow, Grumpy, what a charmed life you’ve led. I’m so jealous,” – don’t be. These were not exactly Rick Steves tours – with the exception of a Rick Steves tour we took of Northern Italy. Um, what was my point? Sorry. With fluff for brains, I get easily distracted.

My point is that most of these journeys were no picnics. While I have explored all four corners of the globe, it is usually in cargo, in the bottom of a suitcase, inside a shoe, with no view and no free soda and peanuts.

When Tim and I flew to Paris, sure, he took a selfie of us in front of the Eiffel Tower. But did he let me check out the view at the top? Heck, no. It was one quick photo, then slam – back in the backpack.

Top row, L to R: Grumpy balancing atop a termite mound in Botswana; studying a map of Ireland in a B&B in Shannon; NOT catching the view of Mont Saint-Michel, France, from our hotel room. Middle: Grumpy checking out Komodo Dragons in Indonesia; downing Fanta’s with the locals in Zambia. Bottom: Grumps contemplates his empty glass of Merlot, oblivious to the 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple behind him; so close to bathing at a sacred temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; examining the wrought iron work on a balcony in Paris.

Top row, L to R: Grumpy balancing atop a termite mound in Botswana; studying a map of Ireland in a B&B in Shannon; NOT catching the view of Mont Saint-Michel, France, from our hotel room. Middle: Grumpy checking out Komodo Dragons in Indonesia; downing Fanta’s with the locals in Zambia. Bottom: Grumps contemplates his empty glass of Merlot, oblivious to the 9th century Mahayana Buddhist temple behind him; so close to bathing at a sacred temple in Yogyakarta, Indonesia; examining the wrought iron work on a balcony in Paris.

One time, Tim, Dale and I trekked to Zermatt, Switzerland, home of the world-famous Matterhorn. I was stoked to join them skiing down the powdered slopes, taking in the incredible vista. But Tim shattered my dream,  claiming skis didn’t come in my petit size. I doubt he’d try that lame excuse on his true favorite stuffed animal, his brainless beagle Snuffles.

When Betsy ventured to Machu Picchu, she made certain to snap the classic tourist photo of me with the ancient ruins in the background. But before I could ask, “Is there a Starbucks nearby?”, boom again, back into the duffel bag, wedged between a leaking water bottle and her sweaty socks. I gave her a scathing Yelp review.

Throughout these wanderings, I’ve spent countless nights in dodgy lodgings. Man, these three people are cheap. They seemed to prefer hotels without elevators. Picture me scaling the stairs on my half-inch paws to Dale’s 4th story room in Jakarta. Whoever manufactured me didn’t know much about teddy bear paw design. But there was a bed – which  Dale wouldn’t let me snuggle in. I had to crash in the sink. Not even a pillow, much less a mint.

Here I am at the North Pole, thanks to a really crappy cruise ship. Not complaining, but the all-you-can-eat buffet sucked, and they wouldn’t let me play shuffleboard unless I agreed to be the puck. So unfair. [This is a real photo of Grumpy at the North Pole. At top is a photo of the actual Russian ice breaker Grumpy took to reach the pole.]

Here I am at the North Pole, thanks to a really crappy cruise ship. Not complaining, but the all-you-can-eat buffet sucked, and they wouldn’t let me play shuffleboard unless I agreed to be the puck. So unfair. [This is a real photo of Grumpy at the North Pole. At top is a photo of the actual Russian ice breaker Grumpy took to reach the pole.]

When Tim and I flew to China, I was exhilarated! Maybe I’d see the Great Wall, or perhaps the Terra Cotta soldiers. Wrong again. Turns out, he was there to adopt some cutesy baby girls, not travel with Grump. In fact, my presence was an accident as I wasn’t even supposed to be in his luggage. Guess how much attention he paid me once he stared into their innocent googly eyes? Correctamundo. None. I would have been better off back home hibernating.

Don’t ask me what the food is like in London, Lugano, Leningrad, or Lusaka. How would I know? Tim, Dale, and Betsy rarely took me out for dinner. I haven’t a clue how I’ve survived these 40 years without a proper meal. Oh right, because I’m an inanimate object made of stuffing. Duh!

Even my trip to the North Pole was bogus. A friend of Tim’s booked passage on a Russian cruise ship sailing out of Murmansk and I hitched a ride. The view from our cabin? One star. Nothing to see see see but sea sea sea. The unlimited buffet featured only unlimited cod. Do I look like a seal? No casino, no wave pool, no Trivia Night. A total bust.

We fought pack ice for seven days before finally reaching the pole. I picked the wrong time of year to shed my winter coat. It was freeeeeeezing out! But what a thrill to step onto a massive ice floe. Not bragging, but I’m pretty sure I’m the first fake bear to have set foot, er, paw, at the North Pole. Talkin’ to you, Fozzie. After that fleeting commune with nature, I was back below deck.

Through all these misadventures, I’ve stoically accepted my place as the quiet, accommodating sidekick. I never complained, despite the fact that not once in all of my globe-trotting did my travel buddies let me bob in the hot tub or order room service – or even use the remote. That’s why I had to set the record straight.

Uh oh. I just overheard Tim talking about another trip to Paris. Oh, non, non, non! Parisians are such snobs.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps my owner, Tim Jones, is off base.

L to R: Dale, Cousin Betsy, Tim, Sister Betsy, Dave

L to R: Dale, Cousin Betsy, Tim, Sister Betsy, Dave

[Author’s note: The story behind the story: When I was in my twenties, I bought a small teddy bear. Round and about the size of a softball, he had a frowny face. So, I named him Grumpy. I decided that all my closest friends needed their own Grumpy’s, including my sister Betsy and my friend, Dale. So, I bought them each their own. I wasn’t going to share mine! See photo.   

It eventually became an ongoing challenge between me, Betsy, and Dale to take photographs of our respective Grumpy’s in increasingly exotic locales. The three of us have been doing this for the past forty years. 

Many of the most extraordinary trips mentioned in this piece were taken by Dale or Betsy, both of whom share a love of travel. But it was my Grumpy who actually sat on the pack ice at the North Pole, having trekked there in a Russian ice breaker. Suck it, Dale and Betsy! – TEJ]

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© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020. Edited by Betsy Jones.

The Time I Saved Ten Lives

The Time I Saved Ten Lives

[The following is a true story.]

Above: Ten very fortunate Survivors. Behind them lay icy cold waters that, had they not been lucky, could have caused their painful deaths.

Above: Ten very fortunate Survivors. Behind them lay icy cold waters that, had they not been lucky, could have caused their painful deaths.

Many years ago, I saved ten innocent lives from almost certain death – well maybe it was eight innocent lives, one borderline and one utterly without any redeeming qualities. But I digress.

I really don’t like to talk about it. Even my kids have no idea about my Herculean actions. I certainly don’t consider myself a hero – any more than Gandhi or Malala – or that guy who leapt onto a NYC subway track and rescued a man from an oncoming train. Like him, I was just in the right place at the right time. I did what I had to do. If you were as incredibly selfless as me, you might have done the same thing.

It’s hard for me to discuss the events of that traumatic day some 18 years ago. I can still see their seemingly lifeless bodies floating in the icy cold waters, unable to escape to safety. Death was knocking – no, POUNDING – at their door. To be honest, in some ways I blame myself for this near tragedy. They never would have gotten into their perilous predicament had it not been for my own carelessness. Even worse, there was no way to blame my wife for this disaster, as she was out of town at the time.

Let me take you back to the beginning. It all started when our then seven-year-old daughter Emily brought home a plastic bag filled with ten teensy guppies. Her teacher had entrusted her the school of fish on the condition that she take good care of them. Being a first grader, my daughter had not yet acquired the requisite level of maturity necessary to handle this immense responsibility. In the weeks that followed, she would grossly overfeed them and then neglect to feed them for days on end. She never bothered to clean their tank, so their habitat soon became discolored and grimy from, well, poop. Not a pleasant sight.

Not ready to broach the topic of where guppies go after they die (let alone Is there a Santa Claus) with my young impressionable daughter, I came to the rescue, as all competent helicopter parents do. I took over the care of these tiny, fragile, inch-long sea creatures.

After implementing a strict feeding regimen, I donned a Hazmat suit and faced the onerous task of scouring their tank. Using a net, I scooped these little critters one by one out of the murky waters and deposited them into a salad bowl we would plan to use later that evening for dinner, now filled with clean H2O. I scrubbed their glass dwelling thoroughly and refilled it with cold tap water.

I then dumped them all back into their sparkling clean home. They swam with fresh abandon. But did any of them give me so much as a nod of appreciation? Nope. Not so much as a flick of a fin. In case you’re contemplating adding guppies to your family, you should know they are incredibly self-absorbed and will never offer even the slightest acknowledgement of gratitude for anything you do for them. Not unlike your kids.

I started to clean up the bathroom. Then out of the corner of my eye, I noticed some of the guppies were no longer darting back and forth the way they usually did in relentless search of an escape from their glass prison. Before long, very few of them were moving at all. And some were starting to flip over on their backs. Something fishy was happening. In minutes, all ten of them were totally motionless. Uh oh. Somehow – I really did not know how – I had killed them. All of them. I was a terrible guppy dad.

What was I going to tell Emily? I tried to conjure up some elaborate fish story about the “ten that got away.” I had not fully formulated my lie, but I concluded our cat Boodles would figure into it. Since he lacked the ability to formulate words and gestures in his defense, he was the obvious patsy.

The first step was to hide the evidence by extracting the corpses from their watery graves and feeding them to Boodles (thus appeasing and framing our cat in one move). I put my hand into the tank… Whoa! The water was incredibly cold! Had I frozen the poor devils to death? What kind of monster was I?

As I stood over the tank, pondering how easy it would be to hide my crime, my mind leapt to cryonics – body freezing for future revival. “I wonder…” Maybe all was not lost. If they could be frozen, perhaps they could be unfrozen. I quickly poured out half of the cold water and replaced it with hot, making the overall mixture approximately room temperature. I held my breath….  Two agonizing minutes later, I spied a flicker. Then another. One by one, the once dead guppies were wiggling back to life. THEY’RE ALIVE! IT’S A MIRACLE! THEY’RE ALIVE!  The murderer had become the savior. Before long, all ten were happily zigging and zagging all around the tank – and of course, without a word of thanks to me for saving their lives.

I sometimes reflect back on that day and cringe about the near calamity I had caused. I had practically killed  these ten innocent young lives. Blood was almost on my hands. But in the end, I was able to save them all from an icy cold death. So, in a way, I actually was a hero. Now before you start posting congratulatory comments about how great I am for saving all those lives, just know that my heroism doesn’t make me a better person than you. (Okay, well, maybe just a little. Barely worth pointing out, if you ask me.)

[Footnote: In case you were curious about the photo at the top of this piece, it’s of some of the cast from Season 3 of the TV show, Survivor. I just always liked that show.]

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

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Check out my latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2020

My Cat Buddy Announces His Bid for the Presidency in 2020

My Cat Buddy Announces His Bid for the Presidency in 2020

[Note: Tim Jones is on vacation (pause for applause and sighs of relief). Standing in is his cat Buddy, who would like to share an important political announcement. – Staff at VFTB]

Greetings, my fellow Americans. I am Buddy. Just Buddy. No last name, as far as I know. That’s me to the right. In case you think I look familiar, it might be because I bear a striking resemblance to another kitty, my uncle Blackie, who, you may recall, composed a very important message in this blog a few years ago. (What can I say, my human, Tim Jones, really sucks at naming cats.)

Ever since Donald Trump was elected president, my human has been pacing around his man cave, going on rants, like “How could such an inept buffoon be President?” and “The man is totally unfit for the office!” Now that I look at Trump, he does look terribly out of shape. He really should stop wearing those tight tennis shorts, if you ask me. He apparently has aspirations to become a bird, as he tweets all the time. I have no idea what he’s writing – but then, neither does he. I guess we are both illiterate.

Watching Tim scream at the TV each night as he watches Rachel Maddow or Lawrence O’Donnell describe the latest Trump abomination, it’s become as plain as the whiskers on my face that I could do a better job running this country. So, that is why today, I am announcing my plans to run for president. I realize some may view me as unfit as Trump, so I have hired a personal trainer to help me shed the kitty fat and get in shape.

You may be asking yourself, “Why should I vote for a cat?” After all, there’s never been a cat that sat in the Oval Office – unless you count President Clinton’s cat Socks. But I’m fairly sure Socks had limited veto power. So, why me? Where do I begin?

First, the only skeleton you’ll find in my closet is from a mouse I killed and left as a gift for my human. (He still hasn’t thanked me, by the way.) Full disclosure: Like Trump, I too have an embarrassing episode involving peeing on a bed. In my defense, I was only a kitten and not fully litter-trained. 

Unlike Trump, I have never said an unkind word about Mexicans and never will – unless they take my spot on the couch. Then they’re dead to me. I will never give any foreign leader a reason to get angry with me or brush me off – unless they’re easily upset by cat fur on their Armani jacket. My breed tends to shed a lot. Continue reading “My Cat Buddy Announces His Bid for the Presidency in 2020” »

How to (Almost) Kill Kittens Without Really Trying

How to (Almost) Kill Kittens Without Really Trying

Let me set the record straight: I love kittens – and cats of all ages and breeds – with the exception of Persians (I just don’t trust those shifty little eyes). My wife and I have had cats (or more accurately, cats have had us) throughout our entire marriage.

We even foster kittens to help get them used to being around people. We feed them, cuddle with them and play with them for six to ten weeks, until they’re ready to be adopted. It’s how we ended up with our two current cats, Zippy and Buddy, neither of whom, as best as I can tell, fear that I’ll try to murder them in their sleep.

I’ve never once thought about trying to snuff out any of our feline friends – okay, maybe I harbored a few nefarious thoughts when Patches peed on me, but that’s the only time – unless you count when Monster ran off with my digital watch and I later found it in the toilet.

With those very few exceptions – and maybe five or six others – I’ve rarely contemplated putting out a contract on any of our cats. But if I had plotted their demise, I could not have come up with a more fool-proof plan than the one we accidentally set in motion last week – one that almost drowned and / or electrocuted five adorable kittens and their mom.

Let me start at the very beginning…

Continue reading “How to (Almost) Kill Kittens Without Really Trying” »

The Very Happy Story of Snowball and MooMoo

The Very Happy Story of Snowball and MooMoo

This is the story of Snowball and MooMoo, two very, very happy kittens. At first, they weren’t very happy at all. No, they were scared. And cold – because they were born one November morning in a forest with nobody to love them. Their mommy had left them and never returned. Poor kitties. So, they were all alone and wishing that someone would take them home and play with them.

Then something wonderful happened. A nice lady found them and took them to a building called an animal shelter, where lots of other lonely kittens were living. They made lots of new friends. And they were fed and cleaned and had a good time. But they spent most of their time in a small metal room called a cage. They did not like living in a cage one bit.

A couple weeks went by and then another wonderful thing happened. A nice man came to the shelter and offered to foster them for a few weeks until they found a permanent home. And in less time than it takes a kitty to crush a mouse’s skull, they had a new home with the nice man. He named them Snowball and MooMoo – because one was snowy white, while the other was black and white, just like a Holstein cow. The nice man was very good at coming up with lame kitty cat names.

At first, Snowball and MooMoo stayed in a small room with a tile floor and a sink. There was this big box filled with what looked like sand, only rougher. It looked kind of scary, so they made sure to always avoid it. When they had to go poop or pee, they just went in a corner or in the sink – anywhere other than that scary box with the scratchy sand.

Continue reading “The Very Happy Story of Snowball and MooMoo” »